THIS BEING the start of the outdoor cooking season, I went looking for the Holy Grail of grilling, and in the leafy back yard of Richard and Mary Lou Pagella's rambling Victorian farmhouse in Perry Hall, I found it.
It rises from the patio like a gleaming, stainless-steel altar: a 48-inch, top of the line professional DCS gas grill, which, if you were so inclined to purchase it at Barbeques Galore in White Marsh and did not catch a sale (as Richard Pagella did), would cost you five large.
Pagella got it for a song (although maybe that's not quite the word): about $3,700. Then, to accommodate this huge, restaurant-grade piece of cooking equipment, the Pagellas had a brick patio put down, new lawn furniture carted in, landscaping done and outdoor lights installed, to the tune of nearly $20,000.
From the moment the grill cover is removed, I can't take my eyes off this baby.
It has enough grill space to cook a rhino, two 25,000-BTU side burners and a 5,000-BTU smoker burner.
It has an infra-red rotisserie that reaches cooking temperatures in 30 seconds. ("It'll do a turkey like you never tasted it in your life," Pagella says.)
"It's got all the tricks, all the toys," Pagella, 58, says of this 400-pound monster, which is when I get up the nerve to ask: What kind of guy shells out that much dough for a - heh, heh, no offense now - a grill?
"A guy who's stupid - we can start there," he says, chuckling.
Nah, that's not it at all. A successful businessman who, with Mary Lou, sells draperies and furniture to interior designers, he's just a guy, explains his wife, who likes to have the best of everything.
Watching him putter around the grill, I don't sense a guy who has monstrous insecurities gnawing at him each night as he puts his head on the pillow, the kind of macho headcase who has to have the biggest grill in the county.
Anyway, who cares about all that right now?
Because right now, to demo his grill for us, Pagella has agreed to cook up a pound and a half of sea scallops and a Vidalia onion, which I have brought, along with fresh asparagus and green peppers from the Pagella garden.
Look, we are not about to waste this man's magnificent grill firing up hot dogs or burgers, OK?
I could do that on my own shabby little grill at home, which, compared to the sleek aircraft carrier on which Richard Pagella now grills, is but a puny tugboat.
And, to make this meal even more delightful, Pagella has soaked the scallops in a light sauce of olive oil, parsley flakes, roasted garlic, pepper and white wine.
We're going first class here, people. So let's not hear any more nonsense about burgers and dogs, OK?
As he lights the burners, a soft whoosh! is heard and warm air gushes from the grill, as if we've been caught in the exhaust backdraft of a powerful race car.
Then ... it's show time.
First, Pagella dons his black "Happy Happy" apron popularized by one of his heroes, famed TV chef Emeril Lagasse. Then he pulls on a pair of red grill mittens thick enough to fight a warehouse fire.
Soon, the sea scallops and vegetables are sizzling merrily on the grill, and the aroma is so wonderful and overpowering I'm surprised the neighbors aren't lining up in the driveway with plates in their hands.
If I lived next door to Pagella, I'd be coming over to borrow a cup of sugar every time he made a move for his grill.
"I did a 15-pound turkey for Mother's Day on the rotisserie," Pagella says now as the scallops begin turning a golden brown. "It had an orange glaze and was stuffed with two whole oranges, cloves and garlic. Everyone raved."
In the month that he's had his new grill, he says, he's also cooked chicken, steaks, fish, pork chops, onions, clams and "a good ol' hotdog, but no hamburgers."
Listening to all this, it occurs to me that if Mary Lou ever dumps this guy, I might marry him myself.
As he fusses with the scallops and vegetables with a huge set of tongs, Pagella says he grills outdoors all year round.
His bible is "Weber's Big Book of Grilling," a 416-page tome with a foreword by "Today" show weather guy Al Roker, who's supposed to be quite a griller. Although it must be pointed out that Big Al grills on a Weber Ranch Kettle, which is a fine cooking instrument, don't get me wrong, but no DCS.
Pagella also has another 50 cookbooks crammed into three shelves in his kitchen, although he says he's not one to really follow recipes. ("I just grab stuff and throw it in ... Emeril doesn't measure.")
It is at about this point that Mary Lou Pagella whispers about Richard: "His famous comment when he puts [a dish] on the table is: 'You're probably not going to like this. ...' "
In a little over 10 minutes, our food is ready. The scallops are perfectly cooked - not tough or rubbery, the way amateurs like me tend to grill them - and delicious. So are the grilled vegetables and so is the homemade ice tea.
Before he sits down to his meal, Pagella does a little scraping of the grill, then decides to let the heat burn off some of the grease first. The grill, I had noticed earlier, comes with something called an Advanced Grease Management System for easy clean-up.
For 5 G's, I point out, that baby ought to clean itself. Hell, for 5 G's, it ought to roll itself inside and clean the whole house.
Pagella laughs and nods in agreement.
But I get the feeling if they ever come on the market, he'll be the first to snap one up.
Probably catch it on sale, too.