Tyler Fenton estimates that in four years of business, his downtown restaurant Reilly has served about 20,000 plates of Brussels sprouts. They are the most popular item on the menu, the dish that people seek out. On a typical weekend the restaurant might go through 50 pounds of them, prepping the sprouts "basically constantly."
That's pretty impressive, when you consider the fact that Reilly serves the best food in the world: pizza. (11 different kinds, in fact, and they're all good.) How can this lowly vegetable compare with something hipsters tattoo onto their forearms?
Brussels sprouts have become trendy, it's no secret. That's one of the reasons Tyler put them on the menu ... because they're not exactly Italian food. The crunchy greens come smothered in a velvety hot sauce of ambiguity; a flawless brew that keeps you guessing. Is it Chinese? Is that sherry vinegar I taste? Why does it remind me of spicy chicken wings?
I for one have probably eaten about a quarter of the aforementioned 20,000 orders, and I still couldn't figure it out. So I asked ... Turns out, the spicy sprouts came to be after a good deal of menu testing.
The team started off with a jar of cured Calabrian chiles, a fruity red pepper from southern Italy. (FYI: We tracked some of the Delallo brand chiles down at the Fry's at 7050 E. 22nd St., $8.29 for a 6.7 ounce jar.) After taking off the stems, Tyler throws them into the blender along with some oil from the jar and a good dose of white wine vinegar. Exact proportions are a secret.
The hot sauce that comes out is viscous and tart, and although it's not on the menu anywhere else it could easily be rubbed onto flatbread or used as a dip for cheesy garlic fries. But for the sprouts, it just wasn't complex enough by itself. (It needed a ... salad dressing?) Eventually the team thought to add some of their housemade sherry vinaigrette, tinged with shallots and garlic and sweet honey. When the sprouts are finished, they also get a little sprinkle of crushed candied pecans from one of the house salads.
Instead of roasting the Brussels sprouts, which could take an hour, they get dunked in the deep fryer until they're brown and crunchy little goblins. They don't look so good, but they taste buttery with a burnt crackle that no healthy thing should have. The uglier they look, the better they taste, Tyler says.
The menu changes several times a year, but Reilly's sprouts are "one of the few dishes that's safe from the chopping block." So if you haven't tried them yet, you've still got time ...
Dig in at Reilly Craft Pizza and Drink, 101 E. Pennington St., 520-882-5550.