Best Bets: Spicy greens

Matt Owens' greens at McEwen's on Monroe.

Photo by Michael Donahue, Michael Donahue/The Commercial Appeal // Buy this photo

Matt Owens' greens at McEwen's on Monroe.

As a child, greens were at the top of the list of things I hated to eat. The lengthy list included liver, beets, Mexican food, bananas, sweet potatoes, lamb and Milk Duds. With the exception of Milk Duds, I now eat everything on that list. I like greens, but I've never tasted greens like the tangy, sweetish-tasting greens Matt Owens cooks at McEwen's on Monroe.

They're the best greens I've ever eaten.

When I saw Owens, who is the lunchtime chef at McEwen's, at Schnucks the other night, I gushed about how much I liked his greens. He told me he uses brown sugar, cider vinegar, bacon, onions, garlic, salt, pepper, chicken stock and sambal, which is a spicy chili paste.

He began making his greens at McEwens 1 1/2 years ago. They already were serving greens, but he took them and "made them his own," he said. He added the sambal, which "gives it the heat, the spiciness." He also added a little more brown sugar and sauteed the bacon and onions.

Owens, who is from Memphis, said his grandfather used to grow turnips and collard greens. His grandmother used vinegar and brown sugar when she cooked them. "She did hers in a pressure cooker."

His grandmother also used ham hocks and poured vinegar over the greens after she cooked them, he said.

His greens aren't dry; he uses a lot of chicken stock. It's almost like a soup, he said. He scoops the greens out of the stock and serves them. "I like them juicy."

The juice or "pot likker" is another plus. I dip everything from my roll to my mashed potatoes in the juice.

Owens also makes the greens for McEwen's dinner menu. At night they're served with catfish and macaroni and cheese.

His greens are very popular, he said. "I make about five gallons every two to three days."

Some people just order the greens, which sell for $2 a side order, and rolls.

Another popular Owens dish is his white bean cassoulet. I began craving the dish after I heard him recite the ingredients: caramelized onions, bacon, sage, thyme, roasted tomatoes, a little chicken stock and cumin.

It's "like a stew," Owens said. It goes perfectly with cornbread.

I'm going to try some of his cassoulet this week. With greens on the side, of course.

McEwen's on Monroe is at 120 Monroe; 527-7085.

Michael Donahue: 529-2797;

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