I think by this point I’ve harped on plenty about my love for sweetbreads. At the restaurants of Buenos Aires I ordered them time and again, and once I started befriending locals who would cook for me it practically became a staple. Mollejas sizzling on the grill, taken off when cooked through just right, doused with lime juice. They’re a wonderful starter to share before the onset of an epic asado but one to definitely avoid eating too much of.
Mollejas, like calf’s brains, are more about texture than flavor for me. Ideally they are creamy like a firm custard on the inside with the skin stretching around it tightly. When cooked on a parrilla, they crisp up beatifully around the edges and offer a slightly oily crunch to contrast the velveteen smoothness of the interior. Fresh lime is always, always, always served on the side and should be squirted on liberally so that the citric acidity has a chance to cut and curb the lip-sticking fattiness of the stuff. The sweetbreads pick up the flavor of the grill and lime juice; these combine with the visceral yet clean flavors of the meat. It’s a wonderful snack and one that I’ve been hoping to see more of in the States. So far they are featured on menus “for foodies only,” as part of the gimmick of incorporating offal into classic dishes. Baby steps… As much as I hate that word and hate even more being called it, I am in fact a foodie so I guess I will take what I can get. Maybe someday sweetbreads will expand beyond the Halloween themed spooky menu and be appreciated for what they are: wonderful and versatile pieces of jiggly cheap-meat.
Recently I went out on something like a blind date and instead of checking out his social media platforms to learn more about him, I checked out the menu of the restaurant he recommended in order to know what to order. The place he chose was Roofers Union in Adams Morgan.
Chef Marjorie Meek-Bradley, also of the celebrated Ripple in Cleveland Park, has a pretty damn impressive background and digs viscera. A menu featuring mostly classic American fare and all-over-the-world favorites – stuff like sausages (Merguez, Andouille, Italian, Brat), BLT’s and burgers – is spiked here and there with eyebrow-raisers, such as Trotter Arancini. Beers are categorized by flavor profile; they are good and accessible enough to make the place seem more like a modern biergarten than anything else. And I guess the gourmet, house-made sausages make sense in this context too. Signature cocktails have a lot of ingredients, though finish off a bit watery and small. The space is pretty cool. There’s an intimate little bar on the first floor that smells like a hamster’s cage and serves only the bar menu. The dining room on the second floor is spacious, with floor-to-ceiling windows that allow in tons of natural lights and offer a great view of the rainbow of row houses that characterizes Adams Morgan. Roofer uniforms hang casually on one wall. Servers are friendly.
And, yes, sweetbreads do appear in the “Snacks” section of the menu, in the form of a doll-house po’boy. It’s a miniature bun of fluffy, sweet white bread and lumps of lightly fried mollejas are packed between the halves. The bread is toasted to a slight crunch on the sides but remains airy light and caky on the inside. The spongy texture contrasts nicely with the crunch of the flour and egg crust of the sweetbreads. Squirted on is a simple and classic NOLA-style remoulade, a creamy, mayo-based sauce with a nice acidity and slight spice to it. The remoulade gets caught in the frilly ruffles of lettuce and glues these to the bread. Lime wedges are, very appropriately, included on the side.
I was warned by a handful of reviews that the ratio of sweetbread to bread would be disappointing, but it actually wasn’t – at all. The lumps of meat were rather large and they were left whole. There was plenty of the juicy, moist stuff to round out each bite of soft bread. I picked one of the sweetbreads out to try it on its own and had to slice it into two bites to fit into my mouth. The crust was crunchy, flavored mostly with the tang of the remoulade. The meat within was smooth enough in some patches, though it toughened up in others and became difficult to chew. The flavor was there and certain bits and pieces achieved the texture that first drew me to this organ meat, but it was nowhere near any molleja that literally any Argentine man will put in front of you, sizzling off the grill. It was inconsistent in texture and relied a bit too heavily on the crunch of its fried coat.
I appreciate Chef Meek-Bradley choice to incorporate trotters, ears and hearts in her menu, but the sweetbreads have yet to be perfected. But there is hope, yet.