Red meat for rednecks

BRAINFOOD: Dress code at the nearly all-male bar consisted of garments sufficiently loose to contain huge shoulders, bear-butts, beer- bellies and ham-hands: the general effect was chequered, woollen and unbuttoned

There we were, on a cheerless errand, wandering among the green hills of the Susquehanna valley, ultimately resting hungrily in Oneonta, New York, home to both the one American college that specialises in football, and to the oxymoronic US Soccer Hall of Fame. As we pondered who could possibly be memorialised on its walls (Tony Dorigo? Surely not the gangly Alex Lallas?) we switched on the telly to hear a string of redneck jokes. None of them were particularly funny ("If when your porch collapses they find three dogs buried underneath, then you're a redneck") but the presenter's smile was so toothy, so full of wholesome cheerfulness, that I wanted to leap right down her decollete.

No, I have not gone bonkers; I merely want to bring into focus that at times the business of food-writing partakes of the anthropological expedition. As Trollope in America noted the extreme toughness of the steaks, and Dickens the character of the beer-hall free lunch, so we had a field-trip to redneck eating.

Rednecks, for those of you who do not know the term, is US for "peasants", for uncouth rural folk: the sort who nurture strange religions, indulge in occasional incest, breed lantern-jaws, tote guns, and generally offend against political correctness - in a word, the heart of America.

Well, Christopher's - one of the three restaurants in town, all owned by the same man - was full of them. Nay, custom-designed for them.That is to say that the attached "lodge", in faux-Adirondack style, is an oversized log-cabin with all the Victorian fretwork, plush, fringed lampshades and dark colouring of a bordello. Dress code at the nearly all-male bar consisted of garments sufficiently loose to contain huge shoulders, bear-butts, beer-bellies and ham-hands: the general effect was chequered, woollen and unbuttoned. We sent one of our sons to collect drinks at the bar. My request for a Bloody Mary iced but with no ice in it resulted in a quart jam-jar full of tomato juice and an unspecified amount of alcohol, plus a whole root of celery; his Martini came, complete with olive, in a glass the size of a flying saucer.

Despite the warmth and good feeling generated by our intake, the sound system proved too much for us and we made our way to the restaurant. This, as such places are, was tended by fresh young things reduced to waitpersoning by the need to pay college tuition fees and fix the muffler on their cars. The boys wore jeans and sodden hair, the girls were dirndled and checker- shirted. They exuded the kind of bumptious friendliness which I associate with American restauration: as though they couldn't do enough for you, if only you really existed. Oddly enough, the wine list was plentiful, well chosen, and cheap. As we had finished one bottle before our waitress returned to take our orders, we were reckless in our selection.

Naturally, we all ate steaks; descending from the hungry cook's 20-ounce (his restaurant had just eliminated staff meals), down through my 12-ounce and my wife's ten-ounce filet mignon. Another bottle down, one could barely see the table for fries, baked potatoes, platefuls of sour-cream and butter, sauce, great wedges of bread, ashtrays, gingham napkins, super-sized toothpicks with frills, and other such impedimenta that the lonely redneck might yearn for on his occasional visits into town.

The whole thing, of course, from the char of the steaks to the obsessive antlerisation of the room, the bare wooden walls, the coarseness of the flavours, the ingenuous mix of potent ingredients, the excess, was an extension, to eating, of the theme park. Redneckery is about an earlier, cruder, America; about plenty, or even surfeit; about the manners of times gone by.

European tourists, who seldom stray from the beaten path, and who certainly will not seek out Oneonta - or Schenectady, Binghampton, Elmira, Cairo, Nineveh and other choice spots in that part of New York State that lies between its capital, Albany, and Buffalo - do not know what they are missing. The perfect time-warp. Small-town America as seen in the Saturday Evening Post. On the main street of Oneonta, the windows of the local department store held a living-room ensemble just as seen on I Love Lucy. Yes, Lucy, whom rednecks loved and love

Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Flack became the tenth winner of Strictly Come Dancing
tvReview: 'Absolutely phenomenal' Xtra Factor presenter wins Strictly Come Dancing final
Arts and Entertainment
J Jefferson Farjeon at home in 1953
booksBooksellers say readers are turning away from modern thrillers and back to golden age of crime writing
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Hewer is to leave The Apprentice after 10 years

TV review Nick Hewer, the man whose eyebrows speak a thousand words, is set to leave The Apprentice

Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says

film George RR Martin owns a cinema in Santa Fe

Arts and Entertainment
Clued up: John Lynch and Gillian Anderson in ‘The Fall’

TV review

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
News
Shenaz Treasurywala
film
News
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars Director JJ Abrams: key character's names have been revealed
film
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams won two BBC Music Awards for Best Song and International Artist
music
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

    Panto dames: before and after

    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

    Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
    The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

    The man who hunts giants

    A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
    The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

    The 12 ways of Christmas

    We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
    Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

    The male exhibits strange behaviour

    A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
    Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

    Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

    Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

    The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'
    Marian Keyes: The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment

    Marian Keyes

    The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef creates an Italian-inspired fish feast for Christmas Eve

    Bill Granger's Christmas Eve fish feast

    Bill's Italian friends introduced him to the Roman Catholic custom of a lavish fish supper on Christmas Eve. Here, he gives the tradition his own spin…
    Liverpool vs Arsenal: Brendan Rodgers is fighting for his reputation

    Rodgers fights for his reputation

    Liverpool manager tries to stay on his feet despite waves of criticism
    Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

    Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

    'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
    Michael Calvin: Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick