Is the block party an American cultural phenomenon? I don't know. I like my neighbors but I seldom see them. Why is that? I guess we're on different schedules. Work hours vary and there’s no denying the tendency to stay inside the house once you’re at home. Other than walking my dog at certain times, my activities in the neighborhood, shopping, working in my yard, or walking to the local alehouse, are random. So, we have block parties and I look forward to seeing my neighbors at the annual block party. It's always a good time. I love catching up and meeting people that are new to me.
I am the instigator as the Block Captain. So it’s fun to me to get the mental momentum going for this potluck gathering by highlighting the dish I’m bringing in the announcement to save the date for the event. “I’m braising a beef brisket to serve plain on the plate with beef au jus or on a bun with Stubs Sauce.” How could you not start thinking about what would be good on the side? At least that’s my idea.
You need a crowd to cook a brisket because to get a good deal you need to buy the whole thing, maybe 14 lbs. untrimmed. I prefer braising for the most sweet, meaty, beef taste enhanced only by sautéed onions, carrots and wine or stock for the liquid. The beef au jus is simply the pan liquids from braising that have been strained and defatted. That jus is elixir quality.
Heavy smoke aroma and flavor from oak or other specialty woods is distracting to me. Do you put A-1 Sauce or blue cheese on your steak? I don’t. If the meat is high quality, all it really needs is salt and pepper. It's personal. If someone has devoted 10 or 20 hours to hovering around a smoker, I will eat whatever with enthusiasm, but I don’t do it at home.
Which brings me to the other essential side dish: what is your beverage of choice? Beer and lemonade are pretty traditional summer choices. I prefer red wine and given the setting on the street where we all live on a beautiful summer night, I suggested a box wine tasting. Several people volunteered to bring a box of red, so there was no organization to the selection.
My trustworthy local wine expert at Ken’s Market guided me to a Washington winery I had never tasted, Powers, that sells a 3-liter box of Cabernet Sauvignon, supposedly the same grapes/wine as they sell by the bottle at a higher price. We ended up with the cab, a shiraz, a red sangria and a white blend. The most serious tasters, the man with the best cellar on the street and me, went back and forth between the boxes several times to be sure we agreed on what was the top wine of the evening. The cab and the shiraz were close in our opinion with the cab winning. But the true merit of the selection over the course of the evening with all sorts of people, of all ages, helping themselves to the four boxed choices was in the weight of the boxes at the end. The Powers was empty, and the Block Red felt like it had a few glasses to go.