When Chef Travis Peters wants to integrate the flavors of prune, ginger, clove, and nutmeg into a dish, his first thought is whether there’s a doctor in the house.
Encouragingly, for both Peters and his patrons, there’s rarely a time when a doctor isn’t on duty at his Northwest side gastropub.
Dr. Pepper, I presume.
Peters was first introduced to the idea of using the bountifully flavored Dr. Pepper in cuisine as a kid growing up in the small Texas town of Spicewood, less than 100 miles from where the popular soda was created, and his ongoing fascination with the 23 distinct flavor profiles that reportedly define the drink has made it a permanent fixture in his kitchen at The Parish, 6453 N. Oracle Road.
“Growing up in Texas, I can tell you that there was always Dr. Pepper in the barbeque sauce,” said Peters. “Actually, our barbeque sauce back in those days was only ketchup and Dr. Pepper, that’s it.”
Peters later discovered that the rich and complex flavors on which the drink is built had potential beyond the backyard barbeque, and today he lovingly calls it “Texas umami.”
Dr. Pepper plays a foundational role in The Parish’s grilled steak salad, with heirloom tomatoes, red onion, blue cheese croutons, baby romaine, and anchovy vinaigrette.
“Before it hits the grill, we marinate the New York steak in Dr. Pepper, garlic, black peppercorns, and bay leaves for at least 30 hours,” Peters told me, “and while I have zero science to back it up, I’m sure that the soda’s carbonation helps to break down the meat a bit to let those prune, molasses, almond, ginger, and other notes from the Dr. Pepper really shine.”
Peters loves what Dr. Pepper brings to beef, and he believes it can work just as well with some cuts of pork, poultry, and even fish like salmon and sea bass.
While Dr. Pepper is clearly among Peters’ favorite sodas, there’s only room for one at the top of the list.
“I’m really a Strawberry Fanta guy,” he admitted, “and we’re starting to test it in some vinaigrettes and creamy dessert sauces.”
Peters isn’t the only chef in town who celebrates the flavors that Dr. Pepper expresses in food. And if ever there was a place for the beverage at a Sunday dim sum brunch, leave it to the Carriage House, where Chef Devon Sanner’s imagination reigns at 125 S. Arizona Avenue.
Sanner starts with a pork shoulder wet rub of Dr. Pepper, brown sugar, salt, Santa Cruz chile powder, ground cloves, cinnamon, and garlic. He then slow-roasts and slices the pork, places it on top of griddled buttermilk biscuits, and adorns it with house-made pickles and a cabbage-radish slaw dressed with lime juice.
“This dish originated as a sort of regionally anchored response to Momofuku pork buns,” Sanner said, suggesting that this is what pork buns should look like in Southwestern America.
It’s virtually impossible for anyone of my generation to mention Dr. Pepper without reciting the jingle that catapulted the brand to its leadership position in the 1970s.
“I’m a pepper, he’s a pepper, she’s a pepper, we’re a pepper, wouldn’t you like to be a pepper too.”
If being a pepper means experiencing a whole new spectrum of flavors in some of my favorite meats, I say it’s time for a 12-pack.