food

Let’s Talk About Sammiches, Baby

I saw an infographic recently and I’m a tad perplexed.

Maybe perplexed isn’t the right word. I feel ashamed of my fellow Americans. Sure, I don’t need infographics to feel disconnected from humanity. All it takes is a short conversation to know that ninety percent of the time, I’m on a little Wombat Island with no hope of getting a proper non-extradition treaty from anyone else nearby.

But I at least figured I wouldn’t be surprised when it came to culinary desires of my fellow Americans. Deep fried, good. Healthy, bad.

So then, why are people listing grilled chicken as their second-favorite sandwich?

Not sure if you saw this, but they polled Americans about their favorite sandwich. Here are the results.

And I’ve got lots of thinkies and feelies on this one.

First of all, if you’re a math genius like myself, you’ll note that these percentages don’t add up to 100%. So it wasn’t a matter of “list your favorite.” It was just a question of if you liked it or not. Which, in some cases makes it worse.

For instance, if you made me list my top two or three sandwiches,  pretty sure peanut butter and jelly wouldn’t be there. But as an overall “Do you like a PB&J?” Hell, yes!

But it only ranked at 66%, meaning one out of every three Americans doesn’t like it. Who the fuck are these Americans? I’d call them dirty commies, but most commies like Jimmy Carter, so they’re probably the peanut-butter eaters. Is it the people who are freaked out about peanut allergies? Maybe they think peanuts are some government conspiracy. So we’ve got communists and anti-vaxxers, but that still only adds up to about ten percent of the population. Who the hell else doesn’t like peanut butter and jelly?

Okay, maybe the great American staple has a few things going against it. It combines two rather distinct flavors, and if you’re not a fan of one or the either, you’re probably hoping to eschew the whole thing. And okay, if I’m honest, jelly’s kinda nasty. You’ve got these globules of sugar trying to mesh with the saltiness of the peanut butter, a dichotomy made even more awkward by all you rat bastards who eat that smooth crap instead of the proper chunky style.

There are plenty of other things that pair better with the peanut butter. I like bacon. Or, if I really want something sweet, honey is a great compliment. But neither of those detract from PB&J being a bona fide sandwich in its own right,  deserving higher than a D grade from the American public.

Maybe some people think PB&J is too childish. But then how do you account for grilled cheese at number one?

Don’t get me wrong. I love me some grilled cheese. It’s melty and gooey and buttery, with just the right amount of crispiness. The only thing it’s missing is meat. Unless you’re throwing some of last night’s leftovers in there, which I totally recommend. Or a nice slice of bacon. Chopped up.

Maybe that missing meat is what puts it over the top. The vegetarian contingent isn’t selecting the next batch of options, but they’ll have the grilled cheese. Vegans won’t go for the cheese, which should give PB&J a slight edge. But I guess that’s why they play the game.

Then again, who are the 23% of Americans that DON’T like grilled cheese?

But let’s get beyond the meatless options and look at the smorgasbord of charcuterie boards. Not too many surprises rounding out the top five. Chicken and turkey in a virtual tie. The deli counter prefers turkey, but restaurants and fast food are more likely to have chicken. I’m curious if the “grilled” chicken means hot only, or all chicken. What about fried chicken? Given the line in front of me at the Chick-fil-a drive thru on a typical non-Sunday, I think most Americans included a spicy chicken & pickle as “grilled chicken” in this context.

Then comes roast beef. Fine. Whatever. We all knew it would best it ham, right?  Nobody likes ham. I mean, sure, sometimes you have a real hankering for a salt lick dropped in a filmy formaldehyde, but nine times out of ten, you’re gonna take the beef or the poultry over the pig. Just not over PB&J, evidently.

Why is ham still an option when they’re are two other wonderful pig options? Astute readers, and decent human beings, will note a common ingredient that I added to improve both the peanut butter and the cheese sandwiches. In fact, if someone wants to make me a grilled peanut butter, bacon, and cheese sandwich right now, I’d probably nominate you for the Nobel Peace Prize.

Bacon makes its dominance known in the bottom half of the top ten. First up is the BLT. Alright, sure. This brings up the age- old question if there’s cheese on a BLT. Some say no. And if that’s a no, then I’m a no for the BLT as the sixth-best sandwich. Full disclosure, I’m not a huge tomato fan. Put avocado on that bad boy and we can have a talk. But nobody wants to have to order a BLAC. At best, you sound like you’re retching. At worst, well…

But what the heck is a bacon sandwich? I’m not saying I’ve never slapped some bacon between two pieces of bread and started munching away. After all, I was an adult bachelor for damn near twenty years. But I’ve never seen a straight bacon sandwich on any menu in any deli or restaurant. Not even fast food does that. I’m pretty sure Jack-in-the-Box has a Bacon Bacon Bacon Burger. But it’s still a burger. Could I order it with no beef? Probably. It’s just never occurred to me. And if a way to consume bacon hasn’t crossed my mind, it’s probably not a legitimate thing.

Then there’s the club. A club sandwich has turkey and bacon, yet it’s ranked below both a turkey sandwich and a BLT. Meaning there are people who said they like a turkey sandwich and they like a bacon sandwich, but they don’t like a turkey and bacon sandwich. Maybe they just don’t like toothpicks. Seriously, Club Sandwich, why do you insist on being chopped in four? Is your “club” underwritten by the toothpick industry?

And then we travel down the list to find the other pork product. Why the hell is pulled pork ranked so low? It’s five spots below ham. Four percent of Americans would rather consume their pork in slimy brick form than in wonderfully shredded strips of nirvana soaking up a tangy barbecue sauce or a spicy mustard sauce or maybe a teriyaki base. Because pulled pork can really be served any old way you want. One of our favorite things to do is let the pork sit in a crock pot all day then take its juices to cook a spicy ramen. Do the 35% of Americans who don’t like pulled pork know that? I don’t think they do, because I’m also aghast whenever I’m at a taco truck and some people order tacos other than carnitas. I assumed that the word scared people away. But maybe it isn’t the foreign word. It’s just the 35% of us who eschew the crispy, slurpy ambrosia.

Sorry, I meant 31%. The four percent who like ham but not pulled pork are a lost cause.

Of course, these rankings are total bullshit because the single best sandwich isn’t even listed. Where the fuck is the cheesesteak? Maybe some people thought it was included in the “roast beef” option, but I doubt it. After all, they differentiate between bacon and BLT, so the implication is that additional ingredients make a different sandwich. Especially if it has its own name. After all, the French Dip is listed as a separate option, so roast beef can’t be a catch-all.

Wait, why is French Dip so low? Y’all know it’s just a roast beef sandwich with a side of juice, right? You don’t HAVE to moisten it if you don’t want to. Does the availability of an option really drive away 25% of the people? If I offer a pickle on the side of your grilled cheese, have I ruined it? Let’s be honest. We all just hate the French Dip because of its name, right?

Which is why you’ll note I called the best sandwich a cheesteak, not a Philly. Because fuck Philadelphia. The sandwich they make isn’t really all that good. Cheez Whiz? Really? When I say cheesesteak, I’m talking about grilled onions and grilled peppers with some provolone cheese. Maybe add some grilled mushrooms if I’m in the mood. Change the provolone to cheddar? Sure. Mozzarella? That can be fun. Hell, I might even allow a side of au jus sauce.

What about American cheese? Watch it, that’s getting close to Philly territory.

As a general rule, if I’m trying a new sandwich place or a new lunch restaurant, I’ll usually order a cheesesteak the first time I’m there. It’s a good barometer of their overall food quality. What kind of bread is it on? What cheese do they use? Do they add one or two ingredients or completely go off the rails?

And I can’t be alone in this regard. There are at least three Cheesesteak restaurants within ten miles of my house. One of them is part of a chain, the others subsist entirely off of variations on one sandwich. And bear in mind I live 3000 miles away from Philadelphia. This ain’t no regional appetite.

So why didn’t it appear on this poll? Hell, you guys asked about BOTH egg salad and tuna fish, and I’m pretty sure those are the same sandwich. It’s called a mayonnaise sandwich. The bacon sandwich shown looks suspiciously close to a mayo sandwich, as well.

And yes, this is only the top 15. Others sandwiches were polled. They had a Muffuletta and a Cuban. Those are more regional than a cheesesteak, although Cubans are definitely starting to leave the southeast. But I’ve never seen a Muffuletta farther than 100 miles from Louisiana.

But I looked at the entire list, and there was no cheesesteak.

Hopefully the missing cheesesteak means we can just throw out the results of the entire survey. The entire premise was flawed from the start. You don’t have to look with suspicion at your fellow Americans, wondering which weirdos rank a Reuben above a pastrami.

And if the results are bogus, you know what that means?

Come here, PB&J. Give us a hug. We were just joking.

New York, Part III

Read Part I and Part II, if ya want. Or read the Cliff’s Notes:

Wife and I spent five days in New York in June. It took me a while to write it all up. If you close your eyes and squint really hard, you can pretend this is a live blog. Just don’t look up when the New York Pride Festival was…

Food

How the hell did I make it to day three of updates before I mentioned food? I’m disgusted with myself. Who the hell cares how I GOT to New York? All that matters is I ate there. And might as well start from the beginning, which was also the low point.

I’m horrible at making decisions. Blame it on being a Libra, I suppose. I’m usually okay narrowing a choice down to two or three options, but from there it’s a non-stop back-and-forth of the pros and the cons. And if/when I’m finally forced to make a decision, it’s buyer’s remorse the entire way.

I think the “Freakonomics” podcast did an episode on this phenomena. The takeaway was to take away choices. People say they want to have a choice, but are almost always less satisfied with their experience if they were given a choice. If you don’t know what the alternatives were, you’ll make the best of the situation. Subway sounds fine if I didn’t know Five Guys was an option. But if I chose Five Guys, I’m spending all of lunch checking my phone for the specials at Subway, even if I haven’t voluntarily eaten at Subway in years.

Regardless, by the time we got to our hotel, after one hour of sleep on a redeye, with bodies feeling like it was breakfast time despite the clock and world saying lunch, we knew that we needed to eat before we did much else.

Oh, and we wanted to see Central Park first.

So I checked Yelp for anything in Central Park. I found one that seemed to have an okay aggregate score. Even better, it didn’t look like there were any other options short of mortgaging the house for Tavern on the Green, so boom. No shifting back and forth between different reviews, no half-hour spent trying to figure out what I want. Let’s just head straight there.

And ignore some of those reviews that say, “Great view, mediocre food.”

My review? To call the food mediocre is being generous. And the view was… I mean, it was Central Park, but… meh.

Central Park1
(The view was not as nice as this)

Well shit, this isn’t gonna do fuck-all for my propensity toward analysis paralysis. The few times I pick the first option, I get burned. Wade Boggs never swung at the first pitch, meaning that pitchers had caught on and were throwing the first pitch right down the middle and getting a free strike. A manager once told him he needed to swing at the first pitch to keep them honest. He swung at the first pitch and hit a weak groundout. He never swung at the first pitch again.

So after figuratively swinging at the first pitch, and ending up with the culinary equivalent of that groundout to second, where’s my next destination? We need to go to TKTS in Lincoln Center. Any guess how many restaurants were on that route? Good restaurants with happy people eating tasty-looking food? Wonderful ambiance, with beer and wine? Oh, I’d say a thousand. Or so it seemed. And they all looked a hell of a lot better than the lackluster meal we just ate.

You’re right, Wade Boggs. I’m never doing that shit again. Did I mention Boggs hit over .300 even with that free strike he gave pitchers?

But, like Wade, we got more hits than whiffs in our New York career. (Double-checking Boggs’s Yankee stats and…. yep). In fact, other than the first lunch and a lamb gyro from a cart in Times Square (really? $18? Maybe you should have the price written somewhere or communicate it ahead of time, cause I wouldn’t have bought that shit if I knew I’d only be getting two dollars back.), every other meal was good.

Two places stick out: On the first night, fresh off our Central Park faux-pas, we went to Becco in Hell’s Kitchen. Again, I had found it online, but this wasn’t an instant Yelp check, I had researched it before we left California. That being said, I still worried when the cab drove by ten to twenty good-looking spots en route. Who knew Hell’s Kitchen was such a culinary hotspot? My only cultural reference to Hell’s Kitchen prior to this trip was Daredevil comic books. And the Gordon Ramsey TV show, but I don’t think that’s intended to be literal.

But while I’m sure that Cajun Italian place is wonderful, there’s no buyer’s remorse this time. Becco was wonderful. We felt more confident in our decision as soon as we arrived. The wait list was overflowing wait list and no, they could NOT moveour 6:30 reservation up to 6:00 because we “happened to” there early in an attempt to make our show. They’re in the theater district. Do you think you’re the first try-hards to hocus pocus that particular bullshit?

becco.jpg

At Becco, their specialty is daily pasta dishes. There are three of them. And here comes the kicker: I didn’t have to choose between them! You get all three. And ALL YOU CAN EAT! Let me repeat that: Three different all-you-can-eat pastas, changing daily. Why do they even need to print the rest of the menu?

The night we were there, they had a spaghetti in tomato sauce. Just plain ol’ spaghetti. Guessing they have to have something run-of-the-mill each night. It was fine. Nothing to write home about. Definitely not going to cede any more of my dwindling stomach space to it. Not when there’s…

An artichoke ravioli in a light cream sauce. Now we’re getting somewhere. The ravs were a bit too big, but my family’s Piedmontese, and from what I can tell, everyone else considers our ravioli to be Mini Coopers. Size notwithstanding, the flavor was very good. I flagged the guy walking around with ravioli refills over once and was happy to do so. So long as it didn’t take up the third corner of my plate, where I had fenced-off a permanently vacant lot of real estate so that it would be ready for the return of the…

Penne pasta with short rib ragu. Oh my freaking lord. It’s been a month and I’m still dreaming of this dish. To be clear, wife is absolutely not a fan of short rib, and she thought this dish was wonderful, too. If there was short rib on a menu and she wasn’t forced to have it in order to get at the ravioli, it never would’ve touched her plate. And now even she is craning her neck around to find the refill guy. So imagine her husband, who likes short rib under normal circumstances, sitting across from her, salivating over the remaining portion on her plate since he’s already devoured his portion and is now just swirling around the pomodoro in a holding pattern.

And let me tell you, that short rib ragu guy was the one circling the least often. It always happens that way, doesn’t it? Like the sausage and pineapple guy at the Brazilian ststeakhouse. No thanks, chicken dude. There’s a reason your sword is still ninety percent full and it ain’t your lack of salesmanship.

So yeah, spaghetti dude passed by four times and every time, we responded with, “No thanks, but if you see the short-rib guy…” When the messiah finally returned, he had to weave his way through the ravenous beasts throughout the entire restaurant. Beset on all sides by the inequities of the selfish and the tyranny of evil men. When our hero finally emerged from the tumult and the travesty, he scarcely had a smittance of his holy grail full. But it was enough.

And fuck all of you patrons with the audacity to sit behind me. Just keep scooping, pasta boy, don’t look at them. What did I tell you about eye contact?!?

The other major culinary win for us was going to be a win whether the food was worthwhile or not. Because HISTORY!  I decided long ago that the next time I went to New York, I would dine at Lombardi’s Pizza. Not because it’s named after a famous street in San Francisco, but because it is, officially, the first pizzeria in the United States. It might not actually be. But it’s got a fancy plaque out front and, more importantly, it’s been featured on the History Channel, which is where all proper Americans get their historical knowledge. And alien conspiracies. I mean, who cares if Paul Revere didn’t actually complete is midnight ride and it was actually William Dawes who delivered the “Regulars are coming.” Dammit, “America: The Story of Us” claimed it was Revere saying “The British are coming,” so that’s how it fucking happened. It is not for us to question what the alien overlords tell us. After all, they built the pyramids.

But Lombardi is credited as the first, and furthermore, they own up to that. So to Lombardi’s we go. Even if I’m not a fan of thin-crust, and if their aversion to shredded cheese seems downright communistic.

Lombardi

But I’ll be dammed, it was fucking good. The crust was what my wife described as “the perfect amount of fluff.” Odd, because Lombardi allegedly trained most of the early pizza chefs and is considered the godfather of that “calling it cardboard-thin is an insult to cardboard” New York-style pizza. I mean, if the guy and the place who invented it thinks dough is not a bad thing, why does the rest of the city want it to be the consistency of a Saltine?

And the no-shredded cheese? Okay, that fucking WORKED. I know real mozzarella is a tender cheese. And I know that the shredded mozzarella that you buy in the store is just an overly-processed facsimile of what it’s really supposed to be. But at the same time, a pizza with strips of mozzerella placed throughout its circumference going to leave some cheeseless territory, like when I attempt cheese toast in the toaster oven. And you need cheese in every bite, right? Otherwise it’s just tomato bread. I can’t be the only one who shudders when a cheeseless pizza is an option on some menus, right? Because without cheese, it’s just bread. The cheese is what MAKES IT PIZZA.

But my worry was unfounded. It turns out that there is enough cheese to go around. I don’t think I took any cheeseless bites, and if I did, there was at least enough going on with the other stuff. And the ninety-plus percent of the bites that DID have cheese were divine. Oh my goodness, I didn’t think pizza was supposed to taste this way, this combination of crunchy and pungent and smooth.

The best proof of conversion? I told my wife that I’m making the extra trek to the Italian store to get some real goddamn mozzarella the next time we do a Boboli. Although I don’t feel like Boboli is sufficient for legitimate mozzarella. Because, let’s be honest, Boboli is much closer to French bread than it is to pizza crust. We might have to splurge and get the Pillsbury.

The Pride of High Line

We knew that Pride was going on the weekend we were in New York. It’s kind of hard to miss it. The entire Island of Manhattan was strewn in rainbow. The Night Bus narrator seemed to be surprised by this. I mean, she knew the Pride parade was the following day, because she warned us about the upcoming changes in the bus routes at the end of our ride. But every time we went around a corner and saw a new building. “Oh, and it’s always fun to see how they change the decorations to… hmm… it’s another rainbow…”

So yeah, we knew there was going to be a big parade. Google was even nice enough to tell us the route of said parade. South of Empire State Building, down to Washington Square Park, then over and back up 6th or 7th Ave. At least, I think. This is from memory. New York peeps, does this sound like an accurate parade route, or did I just give directions to some “Wrong Turn” West Virginia cannibals?

We planned to meet a couple of my high school friends who have been living in New York for a few years. We texted each other in the morning about where to meet up. They asked what we were planning on doing that day, we responded with either the Brooklyn Bridge or the High Line or Harlem. I thought they lived in Brooklyn because the husband posts about a lot of Brooklyn breweries. No, they live in very, very north Manhattan. So they tell us there’s a good spot at the southern end of the High Line, and they can take the A Train (cue the Duke Ellington) there. So that’s the plan. I briefly thought about mentioning the Pride parade, but I thought, “Nah, how could they live in Manhattan and not know about the parade?”

Spoiler alert: they knew about the parade, but not its route.

As for the High Line, it was okay. I had been told it was something surreal and sublime. It was, meh, a nice walk.

For those of you who don’t know, the High Line is an old elevated train line that they’ve turned into an elevated walkway. It’s location is awesome. It was for shipping, not for commute, so it’s right along the waterway, which I’m going to guess is the Hudson River, because it’s on the left side if the island, so I’m guessing it’s not named East.

Seriously, New York, why does one river have the name of an explorer and the other is named after a direction? Some consistency, people!

There are plants along the High Line. The sign said something about nature reclaiming civilization, urban jungle, “Life After People” type of plants. I believe some of them are naturally-occurring, but I have to believe a lot of it is planted to look that way.

Highline

Which leads me biggest problem with the High Line. For all of the nods to reclaiming wasted space with an innovative new urban plan, it’s really just an elevated walkway. I assumed I’d be walking along rickety old train tracks a la “Stand By Me.” But for most of the track, they’ve built the walkway to be a foot or two over the train tracks. With the exception of the newest part, where the sign said they are making an effort to let the track still be seen, you would never even know you’re on a train track. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if they took the train track out for most of the southern half of the trail. Even on the newer parts, where the tracks were still visible, they were enclosed by a large chain-link fence, so there’s still no coming in contact with them. It’s like a zoo where you can see the past, but not really interact with it.

Continuing in my “Stand By Me” let-down, there was also no blueberry pie-eating contest. But there was a person selling ice cream sandwiches at the midway point, and they were abso-fucking-lutely awesome. Totally worth the price of admission. Actually, the price of admission was free, so maybe they were worth the price we paid for the sandwiches.

High Line Ice Cream

We finished our trek a little bit early and meandered through the Chelsea Market. It was pretty much what I thought it would be. Lots of good looking places to have a drink or a bite to eat. This information might have come in handy in a little bit, but it didn’t. Instead, in retrospect, this would be a reverse of that first-day lunch. This time, we passed all the good places to end up someplace very mediocre.

The text came in. “Meet us at the corner of 16th and 8th.” Okay, no problem, we’re on 16th and 9th, so it’s only one block.

Except for the barricade. Oops, the block between where I’m at and where I’m going is blocked off. A cop is only letting people in if they have a wristband. And, despite the fact that I looked NOTHING like I was going to a Pride Parade, the cop would hear nothing of me just wanting to get to 8th Avenue.

Wait, you need a wristband to watch a parade?

No, I would later find out that this block, and the next few, were staging areas for the floats. So the wristband was to get you on to a float. I guess I’m fine with that.

But others weren’t. When I finally made it to my friends on 8th, there were some protesters  walking down the street with signs that said “No Wristbands,” “Allow Everyone.” Clearly I wasn’t the only one who needed to get from 9th Avenue to 8th Avenue and didn’t want to go around. I can only assume that’s what they were protesting, because these guys had to know they could still watch the parade, right?  And that the wristbands were just to get ON a float? Or was this some reverse “Little Red Hen” protest? Without working on or helping build a particular float, they just think anyone should be allowed on any damn float they want? Why even have a parade? Just put the floats on display and have everyone climb all over them like a jungle gym, I guess.

But before that, when faced with the initial barricade, I figured I’d just go around. One block down to 15th Street and… same problem. We doubled back and went up to 17th Street. Well, shit. Finally we heard rumor that 14th Street went through, so a few more steps on the Fitbit and I was finally approaching my friends at the corner of 16th and 8th. Now let’s eat and drink and catch up on the olden…

Oops! The place they wanted to go was behind another barricade, blocking off the next block of 16th Street, where another float was being staged, which would require another wristband. Again, at this point, I’m thinking it’s the actual parade route that’s being blocked off, and I’m thinking this is the most fucked-up, non-inclusive parade ever. They go for a block at a time and don’t let anybody in? Maybe I should join that protest!

With the lunch spot my friends had chosen blocked off, they decided to go up a few blocks, hoping to get away from the crowd. I thought about mentioning the Chelsea Market, but nah, these two are locals and probably have a better handle on where everything is. Chelsea Market looked kinda hipster, anyway.

But the crowd wasn’t thinning out. So the next thought was to go across to the other side of the island. The Little Italy/Chinatown area should be far enough away from the insanity. Again, I thought about mentioning that the parade route was supposed to go right down 5th Avenue, but nah, these two are locals and probably have a better handle on where everything is.

Plus I thought that the parade was going DOWN 5th Avenue, and that the parade was already over. That the blockades and such were at the END of the parade.

Nope.

And… Nope.

We tried to cut across 23rd Street, because certainly Madison Square Park would be accessible, and “Hey, have you guys seen the Flatiron Building?”

“Yes, we have seen the Flatiron and, HOLY CRAP, is that an actual live parade, in progress, down 5th Avenue?”

Yeah, we’re not cutting across to the other side of the island.

All four of us finally come to the conclusion that we should’ve reached from the get-go: Let’s take the subway. Did you know that New York has a rather extensive public transit system?

Of course, the subway stations near the parade are closed, so now we’re huffing back west toward 7th Avenue. Are you tracking this so far? We started at 9th and 16th, we are now near 5th and 23rd, but are doubling back to 7th.

We go down in the first subway station we see, figure we’ll just take the subway a stop or two and figure it out. Of course, it’s a north-south line, not an east-west line, so no going to Little Italy. But as long as we get past Times Square, the city should be somewhat sane. And the first stop past Times Square is… right the fuck in front of our hotel.

But hey, we finally had that beer! At a Whole Foods…

Technically it was an Asian restaurant inside the Whole Foods at Columbus Circle. And they didn’t have a bad beer selection. The wine selection wasn’t thrilling my wife, but we’re northern Californians, and it takes quite a bit to thrill us with wine. In fact, the best wines we found were Northern California wines. Oh hey, they have Bogle. That winery’s thirty minutes from my house. 

So to racap: We left our hotel on 57th Street, and they left their home on 180th Street, in order to both meet down on 16th Street, so we could walk another ten-to-twenty blocks, in order to take the subway back to where we had started. In retrospect, we should’ve just walked the Brooklyn Bridge, or, I don’t know, just met them at the Whole Foods in Columbus Circle.

The food at the Whole Foods wasn’t bad, either. And it’s between our hotel and the TKTS, so let’s add one more spot to the list of places we could’ve gone for lunch on day one. Oh, and the place that I was really salivating for after that lackluster lunch? P.J. Clarke’s? Yeah, my friend told me it’s pretty good. I should totally check it out.

Damn you, Wade Boggs!

At least my Fitbit was happy.

As for the Pride Parade, it was more or less the same as those in other major cities. I mean, I only saw one topless woman, so maybe it’s not quite as brash as its West Coast counterparts. I’ve never really understood why that happens. At some point, it was determined that the most appropriate way to celebrate homosexual love is to expose oneself in public. This is particularly true amongst heterosexual women. They’re co-opting this celebration just as they have Halloween.

Oh, it’s time to celebrate? Here are my asscheeks.

Don’t get me wrong. I love asscheeks. And breasts, for that matter. And as a heterosexual male, I gotta be honest that the six-packs on the dudes wearing the mesh shirts are impressive as hell, too. I just don’t know why they necessarily all have to be on display at this particular event.  I worry that, when the dress-up becomes what everyone gravitates toward, the original purpose of the event might get lost. And what happens when Aggressive Hetero Dude-Bro starts to realize that he can ogle attractive females at Pride events? Welcome to Mardi Gras 2.0.

Besides, what the hell do these people do with these outfits the rest of the year? I guess they get put in the same spot in the closet as my Silent Bob and Santa Claus costumes. Probably take up a lot less space, too.

Cuckoo for Coconut

I really like the latest food fad.

Which worries me. Because a fad is bound to fade. And I don’t want another bacon.

Remember bacon?

Bacon was once a breakfast staple. Then somebody decided to put it on a burger. And it was good. And the world said, “Wow, I hadn’t thought of that.”

But let’s face it: bacon is awesome. Fat, crunchy, and salty are the cornerstones of any healthy diet.

Sorry, did I say healthy? I meant American.

The real fad part of the bacon journey wasn’t when it took its natural spot atop hamburgers, though. That came in the early aughts, when we started bacon-wrapping everything. Some of it was great. For instance, if you cover your meatloaf with bacon, it protects the outside, and the fat renders down to keep the whole thing moist. Plus the salty and the crunchy still work.

Hell, Emeril Lagasse made an entire career out of it.

But then we went overboard. Some things aren’t meant to be wrapped or rendered in fat. Ever been able to actually eat a bacon-wrapped item on a stick? The bacon loses its structural integrity as soon as you bite into it. Unlike a corn dog, where the rest of the sheath remains intact as you eat it, once you bite into a bacon-wrapped hot dog on a stick, you’re stuck with half a slice of bacon hanging from your mouth (or falling to the ground) with the remaining “entree” being 100% hot dog.

I have yet to meet the french fry that can hold onto its bacon bit all the way to my mouth. And don’t get me started on cheesy fries.

Then we started infusing things with bacon. Of course, to “infuse” something is supposed to mean steeping it in liquid over time. But in practice, it usually just means you add a flavored syrup. With a bacon infusion, you’re losing most of what makes bacon good. The crunchy is gone. The wonderfully-marbled curve of fat, that mouthfeel of heaven, is replaced by a vague smokiness. And I don’t care how many times the Food Network repeats the lie, smokiness and fat aren’t the same taste.

So when you take a shot of bacon-infused vodka, you’re basically just gulping down some alcoholic seawater. I tried a bacon soda once, which I’m pretty sure was just a dirty dishrag strained through a sugar cube.

When Peak Bacon hit, you couldn’t swing a blood pressure monitor without hitting some bacon-flavored contraption. When someone, probably Guy Fieri, proposed bacon-wrapped, bacon-infused bacon, we should have known we’d gone too far.

Remember the chocolate-covered bacon? Yeah, nobody could admit this at the time, but it was never all that good. You never got the proper mixture of the different flavor profiles. It was usually a sweetness on the front, although not too sweet because it was usually dark chocolate, followed by a flood of salt. You never fully got the chocolate flavor, and even the bacon was just lost in the salt. Some brands have forayed back into that realm recently, when you can do it with neither fanfare nor eye-rolls, and I think some of the modern candy bars are getting closer to a proper blend of bacon and chocolate, but it usually needs to be done with bacon bits, not giant strips in the middle.

Of course, I never would have admitted to that opinion back during peak bacon. Saying anything with bacon wasn’t wonderful in 2002 was kind of like admitting to being a communist in 1952. You only did it behind closed doors with people who had sworn a blood oath. Nothing said “Unamerican Activities” more than “it’s a little too much bacon.”

And then, poof, before you knew it, bacon became blase. That bacon-wrapped everything booth at the state fair went from an hour-long line to a walk-up-and-get-it booth. I think the last time I was at the state fair, the deep-fried catfish had a longer wait than the chocolate-covered bacon. Cause deep fried never goes out of style!

All of a sudden, a restaurant that carried more than one bacon item seemed like it was trying too hard. Saying a new bacon idea sounded intriguing became the equivalent of shouting out ‘Murica. If you’re not doing it ironically, you might need an intervention.

That’s the way fads go. Put bacon on your ice cream now, and you might as well be wearing a mullet.

Over the past decade, we’ve had a few smaller food fads, but none of them have approached the bacon craze. They tend to pop up for a season or two then fizzle out. For a little while there, I thought bleu cheese/gorgonzola was poising itself for a breakout. It started popping up in more foods, starting, much like its bacon forebear, in burgers and pastas. Salads started to come with bleu cheese dressing AND bleu cheese crumbles.

But bleu cheese is too intense, too pungent, a flavor for a lot of people. It has a tendency to overpower whatever it is paired with. So does bacon, but maybe we’re learning. Whatever the reason, it never went mainstream. I don’t envision any gorgonzola cookies in the near future. We never bleu-cheese Torani coffee flavoring. No bleu-cheese margaritas, although I’m pretty sure I’ve seen it in martinis. Bleu cheese seems to have settled into an accoutrement, slowly expanding its foothold over the past twenty years.

And I’m good with that, because I like bleu cheese and I don’t want it to go away.

A few years ago, New York Magazine predicted that the “next bacon” would be pumpkin. There are certainly some parallels. Pumpkin’s grown from its dessert roots. It went the coffee route instead of the burger route, because tying yourself to an addictive chemical seems a pretty sure bet. I’ve started seeing dinner pumpkin casserole recipes pop up in my social media feed. Last autumn, there were at least three cereals that came out with pumpkin-spice flavors.

But while I can see pumpkin extending its autumn empire more, I can’t imagine it expanding its borders to become a year-round flavor. It’s a hundred degrees where I live right now. When my armpits and crotch are setting new world records in the World Cup of Moisture,  a nutmeg and clover-flavored squash sounds about as appealing as an adult diaper. For dinner.

Which leads us to the current trend. I wrote about it a little bit in my Hawaii posts, but I love me some coconut, and the month of June seems to be prime-coconut time.

Like some of the previous fads, the flavor can come from multiple sources. Unlike bacon, the extra sources are usually still legitimately coconut. The shredded coconut has a texture that’s rare in other foods, almost crunchy and chewy at the same time. As a milk or water, it has a sweeter element to it.

And, of course, there’s the Torani flavor.

Over the past few summers, coconut seems to be venturing beyond its home base of desserts. It’s made some pretty serious inroads into the coffee and health food fiefdoms next door.

You didn’t know the dessert and health food fiefdoms are next to each other? You must not have the same culinary map as I.

So far, I’ve been loving this coconut expansion. As I mentioned when I was in Hawaii, my wife is no fan of the flavor. She was hoping to give me so much coconut in Hawaii that I would be done with it when I got home. No such luck. All she succeeded in was making me aware that these wonderful Coconut Clusters are available in Costco on the mainland, too!

And hey, I just saw them at Starbucks:

coconut

Then there’s the whole coconut oil, coconut water thing. Coconut oil was briefly being sold as a healthier alternative to vegetable oil. Then there was backlash because it has more fat. Somehow it’s the second decade of the twenty-first century and we can’t figure out that healthy and non-fat aren’t always the same thing. As for the coconut water, I’m not particularly a fan. It doesn’t really taste like coconut, nor like water. It’s just a sweet water. Maybe it “hydrates,” but it doesn’t quench my thirst. But unlike the oil, coconut water doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. Every time I’m at the grocery store, there seems to be some new flavor.

But this is where I start to get worried. Because if coconut expands too fast, or if it starts to cross over into non-coconut friendly areas of the menu, there will be a backlash. The M&Ms were fine. The coated seafood? Okay. Potato chips? I’m starting to get worried. Sure, the chips “made with coconut oil” are one thing, because they don’t taste like coconut. Trust me. But I just recently saw a bona fide “red curry coconut” flavored chip. Naturally, I bought it.

Then saw a menu that put shredded coconut on steak. And to that, even I have to say: “Dammit, coconut, you’re going too far!”

I’m sorry. I take it back. Oh, coconut, I’m going to miss you when nobody will be caught dead trying a new fusion of you.

There might be one saving grace from the future backlash: if coconut becomes the summer flavor. The first time I noticed the new incarnations was at Peet’s Coffee two summers ago. They had a coconut latte. It was delicious. They had a coconut black tie, a mixture of cold brew coffee and condensed milk that they usually do with chicory. It was also delightful. I kept going back to order them. Then one day, probably in early September, I popped in to order a coconut latte, and the barista said, “Sorry, we just switched over to pumpkin spice.”

Oh, so that’s how it’s going to be. A little bit of forewarning would’ve been nice, but whatever. I guess I’ll just wait until May to get my fix again. Shit, how far away is May?

But maybe that will keep things fresh, like the McRib of good taste. Wow, did I just write McRib, fresh, and good taste in the same sentence?

But seasonal flavors have a way of lasting past their shelf life. Pumpkin spice isn’t going anywhere. We roll our eyes at it, but the phrases Autumn and pumpkin-spice are damn-near synonymous. Just like eggnog has its hold on December, although it seems to be ceding ground to whatever the hell “gingerbread spice” is.

So maybe coconut will become the summer flavor. I don’t know what’s so summery about it, because as I said, I don’t think sweetness quenches thirst. But I’m not going to question it as long as it stays relevant.

And I’ll just ignore the fact that Peet’s now keeps the coconut black tie year round. Dammit! Don’t ruin it, guys.

In the meantime, I’m going to go put my head in the sand.

Or maybe my feet.

With a pina colada.

Eating Habits of the Elderly

My mom came to visit last weekend. Always an adventure. But between the “fun” of having someone in our space constantly and the “why is grandchild getting tired of me” and the off-hand comments on our parenting, I found a few oddities about her choice of food.

I found a few of her choices odd because they align with my in-laws, who we dine with more often. My mom grew up in the suburbs of Southern California, my mother-in-law grew up in the rural foothills of Northern California, and my father-in-law grew up in Vegas, so there shouldn’t necessarily be too many common threads between them, geographically.

Except that they were all firmly entrenched in the Baby Boom era. Which means they grew up in an era where Kool Aid was considered healthy and Wonder Bread was the preferred avenue toward the mandatory carbohydrate input of the day. And the only proper spice to put on any dish is salt. And if that’s not enough, add a little more salt.

So it must just be the children of a certain age that have a couple of tendencies toward what I might call double-wide culinary school.

And, other than a few go-to’s, all three of the eaters in question are prone to the finer things in life. Their tastebuds have definitely progressed beyond their meager beginnings. I wouldn’t necessarily call any of them foodies, but they’re not those “same five dishes we’ve always had” types. Especially the females. My mom won’t bat an eye at a Thai restaurant and my in-laws love to discover new gastropubs in San Francisco (provided they have been well vetted by a known source). My mom and mother-in-law are both very good cooks. Both of them can make Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner for twenty, and are even sometimes willing to tweak one recipe or another. One at a time, of course, but still. My father-in-law watches every single competition show on Food Network and my mom is hellbent on visiting every Bobby Flay restaurant in the world.

And yet… And yet…

Mustard. 

I love mustard. I will put mustard on just about anything. I’ll take mustard over mayo on a sandwich any day of the week. I hate when you’re at a conference that’s “providing sandwiches,” because those sandwiches are inevitably half mayonnaise, and the mustard is relegated to tiny packets. So there I’ll be, standing over the trash can, trying to scrape off the mayo and using my teeth to open the five mustard packs it’s going to take to offset the slimy meat and… you know what? Screw it, I’m just going to have a mustard sandwich.

My jaw hit the floor when I saw Alton Brown put mustard (and cracked pepper) on a grilled cheese sandwich. My life has never been the same.

And don’t get me started on In n’ Out’s mustard-grilled patties. They’re a slice of heaven, but I can only get them right about 1/3 of the time. Every other time they assume I want animal style.

“Can I get a double-double, mustard-grilled?”

“Okay, one animal-style double-double.”

“No, just mustard-grilled.”

“Okay, mustard-grilled with pickles.”

“No pickles. Just mustard-grilled.”

“Okay, thousand-island dressing.”

“No, I don’t want fucking animal style. I just want fucking mustard-grilled.”

Blank stare. “Okay, I’ll just write animal style, and I assume the cook will know what to do.”

And there’s I’ll be, scraping shit off of his burger over the trash can.

About a year ago, the in-laws were over for a barbecue. Burgers and hot dogs. Of course, all three of the baby boomers prefer hot dogs over Brats or Polish or Italian or Hawaiian, but whatever. I get out the condiments and…

“Do you have any mustard?” Father-in-law asked.

I hand across the mustard. He looks puzzled, turned the bottle over in his hands, put it down.

“No, I mean mustard.”

See, the problem was that I had given him what I consider mustard. I don’t remember which specific type it was. I can’t imagine it was anything overly spicy. Nothing with horseradish, no Colman’s English, no nuclear-orange sweet and hot. It was probably a generic stone-ground. I probably had some better stuff on hand, but I wouldn’t waste it on my in-laws.

And don’t get me started on the coffee swill I bust out when my mom is visiting.

But no, my father-in-law didn’t consider this particular bottle to be mustard. Of course, we all know what he meant by mustard. He wanted the neon-yellow sourpuss mustard. Good, old-fashioned American brands like… French’s. Or Heinz. What I had handed him was a natural-looking yellow-brown, with a couple of speckles indicating that it did, in fact, come from a plant. Maybe even a mustard plant.

I know the seeds are only for effect. I worked in a homemade ice cream shop in college and can attest that the beans in the vanilla bean don’t add squat to the flavor.

Well, I was a tad bit embarrassed at this barbecue to discover that, although I had three different types of mustard in the fridge, none of them were what he was looking for. I resolved to have some the next time they were over, and he settled for ketchup. I was smart enough to not bust out the malt-vinegar ketchup.

The earlier incident had been lost to the annals of experience. We now keep a bottle of French’s yellow mustard around for the in-laws when they visit. I never thought more of it, and often forget it’s in my refrigerator, even though I see it next to the good shit every time I open the refrigerator.

So while my mom was visiting, I absentmindedly asked her if she could put all the condiments out while I was cooking the burgers. Three guesses which yellow condiment was waiting for me when I got outside.

And look, I’m not opposed to the yellow mustard. It serves its purpose. It gets the job done. It’s cheaper and usually more accessible than the good shit. When I’m scrounging together a mustard sandwich from the Subway spread, chances are it ain’t Grey Poupon I’m slathering on the soggy bread. When I’m at the ballpark, if yellow’s all they’ve got, I’m still getting a hot dog. Whereas, if Coors Light is the only beer they have, I’m getting water.

Although I have noticed that more ballparks are giving good mustard as an option. Just sayin’.

Yellow mustard is a perfectly fine product. But if there’s a yellow mustard right next to a stone-ground horseradish mustard, is it really a question which one you should grab? Well, evidently, it is, because I now have one Baby Boomer who refuses to eat the latter, and one that, I don’t know, doesn’t know it exists? Because what surprises me the most is that my mom opened the refrigerator, saw this, and it never even occurred to her to grab more than one.

mustard

Oh, and that mayonnaise is also only there for when Baby Boomers are in tow.

Bisquick

I’m a little less understanding about this second culinary foible.

Whenever my wife’s sister is in town, we do breakfast at the in-laws. I usually try to steer us toward a restaurant. We have a wonderful breakfast place that specializes in mimosas. I am usually overruled.

Breakfast at the in-laws is usually a smorgasbord of chaos. Mother-in-law cooks up bacon and then leaves a bunch of options out for us to cook for ourselves. There are eggs, which I usually opt for. And then there’s a giant batch o’ Bisquick.

I could have said “pancake batter,” but I’m striving for accuracy here. And whatever the fuck Bisquick is, it ain’t pancakes.

The name implies it started as a biscuit mixture. That might explain the odd baking soda-esque tinge that remains on my tongue whenever I eat a Bisquick pancake. Maybe if I were to eat the pancake with a big ol’ batch of country gravy on top, it would taste a little better.

Bisquick officially lists itself as “Pancake and Biscuit Mix.” So even they have acceded to the fact that they are usually used for the former. Didn’t bother changing their name to Panquick, though.

Oh hey, they also say you can make waffles with their product. Just… let me see here… well, it’s the same as pancake batter, but with a little oil. Are they aware that waffles are supposed to taste different than pancakes? No? That might explain why I also didn’t know that until I was twenty.

My mom is on the same Bisquick-wagon my in-laws are on. About six months ago, she was excited to make some Mickey Mouse pancakes for my daughter. She had been practicing! Because it’s super hard to make Mickey Mouse pancakes. You have to… make three pancakes… but simultaneous! And connected! I assume it takes up a whole semester at culinary school.

But sure, Mom, knock yourself out.

She goes to our pantry and comes out a few hours later like a bewildered spelunker returning from the Land of the Lost.

“I’m sure I’m just missing it, but I couldn’t find any Bisquick.”

“Oh yeah, I usually make pancakes from scratch.”

Blink. Blink.

“From that standard, in-every-kitchen-in-America, Betty Crocker cookbook right there.”

Blink. Blink.

“The one you gave me twenty years ago when I moved out?”

“Oh. Um. Okay. I just. I don’t think I’ve ever made them that way.”

So for this visit, my wife decided to get a box of Bisquick at the store.

“Oh, thank you. Thank you so much,” my mom said when we showed it to her. I think she was more excited at the Bisquick than she was when I told her a grandchild was on the way.

Again, don’t get me wrong. I’m not going all hipster, anti-processed food here. I am perfectly fine with boxed meals. If I could eat Zatarain’s Caribbean Rice fortnightly, I would. I survived a good portion of my bachelor years on Rice-a-Roni, Pasta-Roni, and their ilk. My mom probably had to look behind three boxes of Shake & Bake and a barricade of Mac & Cheese (for the child, naturally…) in her ill-fated search for the Bisquick.

But I’ve got a few problems with Bisquick. First and foremost is the taste. There’s something acrid to it. Something that tastes like they couldn’t figure out if they wanted to taste like biscuits or pancakes (or waffles), so they split the difference and banked on being nondescript enough or ubiquitous enough that nobody would notice. It is not a flavor you would find when you go out for breakfast. Fortunately the IHOP/IHOb rebrand wasn’t alluding to International House of Bisquick. All of these Bisquick-lovers opt for fluffy, flavorful pancakes when we’re out for breakfast, yet don’t bat an eye settling for substantially less when at home.

I suppose I get that a little. I love getting Eggs Benedict when I’m out for breakfast. Because poaching eggs is a pain in the ass. And I can only assume hollandaise sauce would take effort. And I’m guessing the packet hollandaise wouldn’t taste as good.

But there’s a big difference between Eggs Benedict and pancakes, and it’s my biggest problem with the Bisquickers. PANCAKES AREN’T DIFFICULT TO MAKE! Bisquick requires three ingredients: Bisquick, milk, and egg. The Betty Crocker recipe adds four more ingredients: Flour, milk, egg, brown sugar, oil, baking powder, and salt. And I can’t imagine either of the Baby Boomers I know are having issues with brown sugar, oil, baking powder, or salt.

Seriously, I’m shitty at baking because I never measure things correctly. My wife’s the baker and I’m the cook, because I like to toss it in the pan and sample and add a little of this and try to offset a pinch of that. Who does my wife get her baking ability from? Her mother, who loves to bake. My mom makes enough Christmas cookies to feed a battalion. They both make homemade pie crusts and cakes that I would have to buy from the store.

You know what pie crusts and cakes and cookies all have? Oil. And sugar. And probably some baking powder.

Yet neither of them can be bothered to put the extra three minutes and one dirty measuring spoon into a morning meal.

So my mom made a batch of Bisquick pancakes for my daughter. She used the number four mold this time, since my daughter just turned four.

Then she put the rest of the batter in the refrigerator.

Two days later, she busted out the two-day old Bisquick batch. Even my daughter thought that was much. Those refined four year-old taste buds took one bite and said no, thanks.

So my mom made another batch.

Look, I love me some leftovers. But all three of these Baby Boomers are prone to hold on to every morsel of leftover food. A refrigerator becomes a veritable minefield of day-old, week-old, and when-the-fuck-did-we-have-Chinese food. I’m prone to a bit of this, myself.

But Bisquick batter? The whole fucking box cost five bucks. It’ll last twenty years. I may only be a teacher, but I think I can afford a little batter dump.

But then I have to remind myself that our parents grew up during the Great Depression.

Right? Like in “Grease.” The malt-shop, poodle-skirt, Elvis-Presly-pelvis-shaking Great Depression.