As the food publishing juggernaut cranks out ever more books to assuage the various hungers of culinary daydreamers and practitioners, occasionally an opus title gets lost in the fracas. Stalking the Green Fairy, by veteran food writer James Villas, is one of them.
Villas has built his reputation on being outrageously opinionated, and this collection of essays, released in the spring of last year, is no exception. He likes to rant: "I don't get along too well with more disciplined superficial foodies, who spend endless time talking about bogus gastronomic trends, offbeat ingredients, superstar restaurant chefs, and diets rather than, like myself, simply eating and drinking with wanton abandon." His strident, slightly smug introduction almost turned me off from reading further.
Then I opened to his section on Southern foods.
A native of North Carolina, Villas is a dutiful son of the region. His righteous tone softens as he praises the pig and passionately reports on Brunswick stew. By the time he recounts his frustration at trying to locate a box of grits at a grocery store on Long Island, I'm cursing the Yankees along with him (even though, by birth, I'm one of them).
Many of his subjects encompass the everyday: odes to tuna fish and peanut butter, a meditation on meatloaf, the bolstering nature of chowder. But my favorite piece in the batch is the title essay. The "green fairy" is absinthe, and his exhaustive, demystifying research — matched by his own ecstatic encounters with the maligned spirit — illuminates Villa's gifts of persuasion. I'm ready to shell out a hundred bucks for a bootleg bottle by the story's end.
I sense this is a book that will disappear from print and be rediscovered for its copious merits in 20 years. Grab a copy before that happens.