She had me at "bunny sausage."
Not rabbit. Not hare. Bunny. Bunny sausage.
When the wait staff described it that way in the restaurant, I knew I found the place for me.
Playful, profane, smart -- that is Carman Luntzel and her Carman's Country Kitchen in South Philly. The eatery will be no more as of Dec. 16. Her landlord wanted to put in something else after 23 years.
Philadelphia was the first city I found my way around mostly by its food. Its history, its culture, its values, its excesses, its self-image are all laid bare on the plate. Carman's was one of a handful of places I couldn't stop going to.
The food made me start thinking of what I ate in terms of ideas. How those flavors and textures and temperatures worked together and how they came to be on my plate. How anyone had those ideas in the first place. Lobster risotto omelet. Seared duck breast with a sour-cherry sauce. Challah French toast with buttered yams, toasted almonds, cream cheese, persimmons and dates -- and bacon.
But I went for Carman as much as anything. I'd find excuses to go to Philly after I moved away just so I could go to that little place across from a police station in South Philly.
It was her place. No question. No exceptions. If she wasn't there to cook, the place was closed. She tested the recipes for her employees often at her apartment. She took care of them and they of her.
From her tiny kitchen at the restaurant, she'd laugh, yell, flirt, cuss. She is particularly fond of a particular Oedipal expletive. Her slogan, on everything from her business cards to the magnet decals on her catering truck, is unprintable on a blog attached to the website of a family newspaper.
So last weekend, after I heard she was closing, I drove 300 miles from Pittsburgh essentially for breakfast. Then I drove 300 miles back. Read about my visit here.
Still can't believe there won't be a next time.
Jacob Quinn Sanders photos