One evening earlier this year, I ate the thymus gland of a cow.
The culinary name for the organ is sweetbread, and I didn’t know what it was before I bit into it.
But that was kind of the point. And, though I’m surprised to say it, it wasn’t terrible — actually kind of good in a purely carnivorous sort of way.
Several months ago, I, my boyfriend, Niel; and friend, Corey, went to 732 Social, a restaurant in Louisville’s NuLu neighborhood. Not sure what to order, the waiter pointed us to a little visited part of the menu that offers tastings of food and drinks at $5 a piece.
So it was essentially $10 a course for a small dish and cocktail.
You can tell the chef what kinds of dishes you have in mind, or, as the waiter told us, be adventurous and let the kitchen and bar pick your delicacies.
This explains the sweetbread.
It was a night remembered for exploring mystery cocktails and offal gastronomy, though the sweetbread was by far the most daring dish of the evening.
Last week we decided to try it again, giving our taste buds and stomachs up to the whims of the chefs.
We didn’t get anything quite as exotic as glands, but our experience still didn’t disappoint.
We sat at the bar, with a view straight into the kitchen, able to see all the lovely things popping out of stoves and onto the counter, ready to be served.
One of the cooks or the waiter would bring us our dishes, laying them in front of us and explaining what we were seeing much like contestants on a cooking reality TV show unveiling dishes in front of judges.
The first dish was carmelized Brussels sprouts with candied walnuts and candied apples, accompanied by a drink with a name that could work for an ’80s heavy metal band: Satan’s Whiskers, a mix of Tanqueray, Vya sweet vermouth, Vya dry vermouth, orange, Grand Marnier and orange bitters.
Each dish brought forth the Anthony Bourdain in each of us, to add in one more TV reference. We carefully surveyed each surprise as it was laid before us, savoring the first bites as if we were eating food from a world-class chef working in a flower market along the Ganges River.
“Mmmmm, yes. These Brussels sprouts come alive in my mouth. I love this. I could live off of it. Perfection.”
The next course included barbecue pork with “hot house slaw” and Keep Your Composure, a drink with Old Weller 107, Lillet Rouge, Cointreau, orange, Gammel Dansk and sassafras bitters.
This course was my favorite of the night. The pork was full of flavor without looking so. It wasn’t slathered in sauce. The richness was cooked into the meat.
And the drink was by far the prettiest.
Next up: heirloom tomatoes, watermelon, basil and bleu cheese.
The drink: Or’Alize (Hendrick’s gin, St. Germain, d’Orsaria wine, Gomme syrup, cucumber and mint).
I had never thought of this mix of fruits and cheese, but it worked really well. The sweetness of the tomatoes and watermelon contrasted with the bitterness of the cheese. I might try making it as a salad.
Similarly, cucumber as a cocktail flavoring also was unexpected but worked.
We had only planned to go to three courses but were intrigued by a fourth.
And we got a small plate version of one of my 732 Social favorites: a scallop with cauliflower, split peas and “secret sauce.”
We drank a Smash — whiskey, mint and demerara syrup. The waiter called it a “redneck julep.”
The entire time we ate, though, we kept eyeing the monstrous German chocolate peanut butter cake sitting on the counter in the kitchen.
It was roughly a foot tall and four layers — much too big for even the three of us to conquer.
So we bought a piece, boxed it up and ventured down the block to the Louisville Beer Store, our favorite bar, and Daniel, our favorite bartender.
732 Social wouldn’t lend us forks to-go considering they didn’t have plastic cutlery, and the Beer Store only had knives for its cheese and crackers.
So after a gourmet dinner, dessert was served in paper bowls, also provided by the Beer Store, and eaten with knives.
Daniel picked the pairing this time: Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout.
The beer after the cocktails wasn’t as out of place as one might think. The hearty, sweet brew complimented the rich cake well.
And the contrasting bits working together kind of summed up the experience.
Cheese knives. China.
Cake. Sweetbread of evenings past.
An open mind along with a discerning palate can make for culinary glee.
P.S. Right after I finished writing this, I learned that 732 Social has closed. I hope it finds a way to reopen in a new location soon.