Gut Check

Gut Check

Gut Check

by Robert Morris

Story Farm

I’m a picky eater, so I write about theater and not food, but Bob Morris is the sort of extreme muncher who will travel the world to try goat eyeballs and frog soup and chocolate-covered cottonballs. But his main love is the cracker cuisine of Old Florida ranging from smoked mullet to okra to palmetto bug-infested swamp cabbage. In this collection of two-dozen short tales, he takes us from micro-distilleries in Umatilla to shrimp dipping in the Mosquito Lagoon and off to Iceland and Lebanon. His stories engage, but shouldn’t be read out loud as pre-dinner entertainment.

There’s the time he was eating “Blackfish Soup” and inquired what a “blackfish” might be, only to have the cook show him an assistant slicing up a small whale. Then there are tales of fermented sharks and stewed Airedales and three-hour-old Zellwood sweet corn. Morris takes us shrimping in the Indian River, gar fishing near Leesburg, and on treks for the fabled dried jellyfish in the Vietnamese quarter of Orlando, and what he does best is talk about the rituals and personalities he runs into. His description of some of the more exotic dishes isn’t enough to convince me to eat them, and I’m still too Yankee to risk a “Goober Rig” (a bottle of Coke topped off with salted peanuts).

Yeah, there are a few recipes (“Black Beans and Rice” looks the best), but that’s just part of the landscape. After drinking martinis from the tallest bar in Hong Kong and frying tadpoles from a pond, Morris clearly holds the high ground on gastronomic eccentricity. I love his stories, but I’ll stick with my Happy Meal.

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