Welcome to the Chubby Chatterbox Newsletter, where I’ll be posting favorites from the Chubby Chatterbox archives. In addition, my complete thriller Return of the Mary Celeste will soon be serialized here for those who have asked for something beyond a regular post.

My novel is based on a true event, arguably the greatest maritime mystery of all time. In 1872 the crew and passengers of Boston brigantine Mary Celeste abandoned their seaworthy ship and its valuable cargo, vanishing in the middle of the Atlantic. Speculation over their fate has never abated. History records that after the Mary Celeste tragedy no one from that fateful voyage was ever seen again. History is about to be rewritten…

Return of the Mary Celeste

Prologue

Tragedy struck the brigantine Mary Celeste on the morning of November 25, 1872. The hourly log was later recovered from the deserted vessel; At 8 a.m. the last notation was made. By 9 a.m. no one remained aboard to chalk the next entry.

Something had terrified Captain Benjamin Briggs and his crew, prompting the seasoned skipper to make a decision certain to affect not only himself, his ship and crew, but his family as well—his wife and two year old daughter were aboard Mary Celeste. Much ink has been spilled in fanciful and scientific attempts to explain the calamity that engulfed this perfectly seaworthy ship, yet all that is known for certain is this: in a matter of minutes Captain Briggs became convinced that the only way to save their lives was by ordering everyone into a hastily launched lifeboat. By giving the order to abandon ship, he also launched the greatest of all maritime mysteries.

On December 5, 1872, a month after leaving New York Harbor, Mary Celeste was found drifting on a calm and empty sea. The ship was in fine condition, perfectly intact with valuable cargo safely stored in her hold, but the crew and passengers had vanished. None were ever seen again.

Until now….

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The Elusive Knuckle

June 24, 2015

 

I don’t drink beer, and I’m not particularly fond of German food, but I was determined to try an appealing-looking dish I’d seen in a magazine, although you might be put off by the name—pork knuckle, a name that conjured an image of porcine cloven hooves. I wasn’t deterred; being Portuguese I was raised on pork, so on day one of our trip I began hunting for pork knuckles.

           

They weren’t hard to find, but nabbing one proved elusive. Many restaurants had rows of them on rotisseries in their front windows. I’d start salivating, but every time I bolted for the restaurant door I was herded off to a place that didn’t serve them. I’d read that pork knuckle has a crispy crust covering tender succulent meat. My mouth is watering as I write this.

           

In Vienna I finally obtained the subject of my quest. We were driven outside the city into white asparagus country. Here, asparagus is king, and local festivals celebrate this delicacy. I wasn’t particularly interested in asparagus, but I was told there would be pork knuckles on the menu.

           

The restaurant, Marchfelderhof, was one of the most famous in Austria. Located in an old country mansion, former patrons include Napoleon, the Emperor Franz Joseph, Luciano Pavarotti, Liz Taylor and Arnold Schwarzenegger.

 

 

 

The yellow banners advertise the local asparagus festival. The staff is waiting to roll out the red carpet for us.

           

 

The restaurant was a feast for the eyes, and I’m not talking about the food. The interior was filled to the rafters with antiques and curiosities, metal plaques dedicated to VIPs, and autographed photos. There wasn’t an inch of this place where you could rest your eyes, You transported to quite a different world. Never have I been to such a unique restaurant, with so many items to look at. Musical instruments like old violins, banjo, tambourines, drums and other paraphernalia adorned the ceilings. I could only imagine who dusted this place. And the kitsch in the restroom was just as eye-popping—especially the nudie cards from the early 1900s. I learned a lot in there.

 

 

 

 Our lovely bathroom attendant

 

 

 

 

Packed to the rafters with treasures.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Outdoor seating. I wonder if they’ve ever lost anyone in here.

 

           

Violins serenaded us with Viennese waltzes while we waited for our food. Everyone was drinking beer (except me) but most of the folks at our table passed me their complimentary glasses of schnapps. I got quite a buzz and had to be careful not to accidentally sink my teeth into my own knuckle when my food arrived.

 

 

The front door handles were bronze asparagus

           

Our traveling companions ordered schnitzels, turkey, beef, spareribs and meatless dishes. They al looked great, but my eyes bugged out when my pork knuckle was placed before me. It was all I’d hoped it would be—a dish so good it haunts my sleep. Oddly, we were never served white asparagus.

 

 

 

The elusive pork knuckle

 

 

 

 

Mr. and Mrs. Chatterbox dining with Emperor Franz Joseph. He didn’t talk much but he was a good listener.

 

 

I wonder what Napoleon had for dinner when he dined here. I bet it wasn’t Beef Wellington.

 

 

 

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Comments

24 Comments
Perhaps Asparagus wasn't in season when you graced their dining establishment... or they were put off by your choosing not to drink their beer. ;-)
By: Daniel LaFrance on June 24, 2015
well, it looks more appetizing than pickled pig's feet like my father used to eat. :) that restaurant is dizzying!
By: TexWisGirl on June 24, 2015
As someone who practically dragged her mother all over Sicily looking for the perfect cannoli, I can relate! BTW, that looks amazing!
By: Cherdo on June 24, 2015
I've never had it, so good to know it's better than it sounds. That restaurant is incredible. Good place to lose your children if you wanted.
By: Alex J. Cavanaugh on June 24, 2015
Was it as good as you'd hoped?
By: fishducky on June 24, 2015
Dazzling and eye popping! That knuckle looks magnificent. Never before this post had I entertained a thought about pork knuckles, but now I fear an obsession begins to grow. Wow! I've enjoyed pork osso buco. I think I'll begin by asking the chef who does that so well if he could venture into the land of pork knuckles.
By: Tom Cochrun on June 24, 2015
what a terribly interesting place. I love all the "stuff". You and the Mrs. look adorable. xoxo Oma Linda
By: Oma Linda on June 24, 2015
wow...eye popping visual treats! What a place- glad you got your Pork Knuckle! The two of you look so happy too!
By: Kathe W. on June 24, 2015
Lose a kid -- i'd be afraid to take a kid in there! Mine would have broken something antique, and i'd have never lived it down. It is an amazing place, and i'm glad you got your dish to try. Maybe you could get a recipe and try it at home, i know you were a home chef for a while (you've told that story).
By: mimi on June 24, 2015
Bronze asparagus and pork knuckle. Can't beat that with a stick!
By: Val on June 24, 2015
I think I would have been overcome with claustrophobia in that jewel box of a restaurant but the pork knuckle looks magnificent.
By: Catalyst on June 24, 2015
Pork knuckle, huh? When I saw the words, I thought, Gross. But the photo makes me hungry. I don't like beer and probably wouldn't enjoy most of the food in that part of the world. I think I would feel uncomfortable in such a crowded place--I mean all the stuff. Love, Janie
By: Janie Junebug on June 24, 2015
While I'd love to visit Austria, I'm afraid I'd have to pass on the asparagus. I've tried to like it, but failed miserably every time. Now the pigs knuckle looks good! Thanks for the guided tour. :)
By: Scott Park on June 24, 2015
Pork knuckle? Great stuff. Extremely tender. It usually goes with sauerkraut.
By: red on June 24, 2015
That much decor would interfere with my appetite. I also would be thinking about dusting and things breaking! That knuckle looks good to me, but I used to eat pickled pigs feet with my dad!
By: Tabor on June 25, 2015
That place looks like a whole day of exploration on its own, And that pork knuckle had exactly the same effect on me, yummy!
By: John on June 25, 2015
What a weird place - like an upper-crust hoarder lives there. I'm glad you got your pork knuckle - and I loved your jokes! :)
By: Lexa Cain on June 25, 2015
I could have spent a day at that restaurant alone. I have just eaten but that pork knuckle sure looked good. That crust especially.
By: Akansas Patti on June 25, 2015
I am sucker for a great dining atmosphere to a restaurant. The food doesn't have to be all that when the restaurant itself is. I can certainly do without musicians playing for patrons at their tables, though.
By: Jerry E. Beuterbaugh on June 25, 2015
It looks like quite the interesting place! And yes, I'm hungry now.
By: Pixel Peeper on June 25, 2015
I'm with you regarding pork knuckle - delicious. Regarding pork in general, I've recently returned from a two-week Egyptian holiday where, as a Muslim country, no pork dishes can be found. And it's surprising how much I missed 'proper' bacon, pork sausage, chops etc. And that restaurant looks amazing.
By: Bryan Jones on June 26, 2015
Hmm. Okay I guess I need to add this to my bucket list (both the restaurant and your elusive pork knuckle). And as far as Napoleon goes, I think that you could do many things right by including a meal of beef wellington in a day's activities.
By: Michael Offutt on June 29, 2015
That knuckle looked delicious! What a cool place too. I'd love to see that.
By: Bouncin Barb on July 5, 2015
Stephen: Anthony Bourdain is no match for your travels! ;)
By: Michael Manning on July 5, 2015

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