Pictures Or It Didn’t Happen…

I don’t know about anyone else who has a camera, but when I was shopping for my Nikon D5100, I knew once I got my hands on it that time would stand still like I was Barry Pepper as Joe Galloway in “We Were Soldiers”.  Head on a swivel, in slow motion, click-click-click, prominent cheek bones, misty background, my own somber theme music….with a PURPOSE; newly energized and reborn with laser focus in capturing timeless photographic truths.  Yeah, I guess, kind of a DICK when you think about it….I mean, Mel Gibson was pretty cavalier about that one napalm canister frying half his guys, but Barry Pepper could have put down his camera for a couple of seconds to help that one Asian dude.  But that’s the thing- good photography has a body count if you’re doing it correctly. That’s just the way it goes. If you have a good camera, you get to be like Barry Pepper.

But you DON’T get to be like Barry Pepper.  You get to be like the dozens of 70 year old women with the exact same camera pushing past you to cockblock the picture you’re trying to take in Thorncrown Chapel. And THAT…is the beginning and the end of the glory.  The added bonus is when you realize how long it’s going to take to process the gigantic fucking files you created after hearing people say “oh, you have to shoot in RAW”.  The inferiority complex that is created by having a rig with limitless settings yet choosing to shoot everything in Auto-mode (without flash) is only compounded by your lack of Photoshop software knowledge and the growing fear that you are colorblind in various ranges of pigment.  By the time your little preciouses are posted on Facebook or distributed via various electronic methods, you are totally sick of them and convinced they look like the work of a beshitted, cataract-heavy chimp.

 YAY! A closeup of my sandwich with the cool fuzzy background look to it!  All you really do to yourself is realize how much better everyone else’s pictures look.  One of those idiots who holds their iPad out like it’s a board their kung fu nerd buddy is about to roundhouse kick as they snap photos ends up with better pictures than your dumb ass.

 The one small comfort I have found as I beat my head against the wall is the strange sense of legitimacy that comes with owning a “real” camera.  Other than the old battleaxes who order their family members in and out of shots between you and your subject, people generally get out of the way when you are taking a photo….in a sea of cameraphones, whip out the Nikon and boom- people must think you really mean business.  Plus, you get to look like slightly less of an asshole taking pictures at the dinner table…real camera = real pictures = you are part of some level of media that requires your photographic prowess.

 While I’m working on lining up the next installment of The Squander Logs (which has given me a new respect for people who acquire, execute and document interviews BTW), as well as a yearly check-in with “3 Years Sober, and a Church at My Grandma’s House”, I thought some decent filler would be my photographic holocaust over the last couple of months.  I’ve got some “artsy” shots from our recent anniversary trip to the Ozarks, and food-nerd glory courtesy of The Rieger.

 

 This might be my favorite picture I’ve taken thus far, because it’s just creepy.  It’s a decrepit Kewpie Doll in a display at the Ralph Foster Museum at the College of the Ozarks.  I used a 10x macro filter and put it right up against the display glass.  Lesson learned here- $10 filters only exist to show you their limitations and make you want a dedicated lens.

Nothing special here other than the fact it was early enough to get the photo without the five billion cars and people that would be arriving in downtown Eureka Springs within the next couple of hours.

Sometimes I just fuck around with foreground/background focus (I have zero comprehension of actual photography terms, so fuck off) and the picture usually sucks until you put it in black and white, and then all you’re missing is the guy to advertise for London Fog.

When processing your pictures in Lightroom, it gets boring fast. But you can always depend upon your friendly saturation settings to make any picture say “Welcome to Jamaica!”.

 One of my favorite photos, and I call it “Go Fuck Yourself Instagram”.  I got up early as hell and waited to make sure the sun was coming up and there were zero cars or people. This is one of the rare moments where I actually thought of the picture the night before and went out to acquire it…..but none of that shit matters, because essentially all I did was reproduce one of the gajillion Instagram settings.

 

 It was at Green Dirt Farms, at the Rieger dinner, that I discovered my nice zoom lens wasn’t just for shooting things that are far off…like zebras and shit.  I bought a good fixed focal length lens in addition to the zoom, and it takes great photos like the creepy Kewpie, but with the zoom I find you can be both lazy and sneaky….and very artsy.  Just look at these bottles for instance. I was a good ten feet away with people on all sides, but I got one of those close-ups that allow you to delude yourself into thinking….hey, I am acceptable at this.

 

 

When visiting Green Dirt Farms with more than just your cameraphone, you are pretty much a dick if you don’t get a shot of the knives.  That’s just how it works.   And these are ACTUAL Laguiole knives…not those knockoffs that SOME restaurants use….you know who you fucking are.  Quality cutlery on a farm provides a dichotomous context in which you can think of all sorts of crazy shit to feel fancy about.

 

 

 You see this quaint corner of the barn and it makes you forget it wasn’t that long ago that sheep placenta reigned supreme in this space. 

 

 

If you take many pictures I don’t have to tell you why this one is shitty.  Is there something even flatter than one dimensional?

 

 

It’s lamb. Up close. But not so close that it blows your mind. I have those pictures too. But you couldn’t handle them.

 

 

The Bossa from Green Dirt Farms is one of the finest sheep’s milk cheeses in all the land.  This photo is all about the quantity of cheese.  It inspired me to start using Bossa cut like this as a bun.

 

 

 Bossa meets The Rieger….this will definitely make my “Best of 2012” list.   A mushroom frittata with half a Bossa sunk into the middle of it shortly before it’s done.  The quality of the photo doesn’t matter, this is a test to prove whether or not you have a soul……no love, no soul. You don’t have to want to eat this dish, but you need to think really hard before you open your fucking mouth with anything less than pure reverence.

 

 

 This isn’t a photo, it’s a cheesy obligation whenever the sun is setting.  No context, no depth, I can’t afford the camera it would take to make something like this a panty dropper.

 

 

 Next up- a few shots from the night of my “White Trash Picnic” Birthday Party at The Rieger.  The Rieger is my favorite restaurant in Kansas City, and I have zero obligation to food journalism or the food critic gods to be measured or evenhanded in my praise.  The party was a smashing success, but the important thing here is the degradation of quality from photo to photo.  I’m never going to be Barry Pepper in We Were Soldiers.  I can’t even keep my focus long enough to spend a few seconds setting up a shot or taking basic details into consideration.  Then you turn me loose in Adobe Lightroom, and I do some shit like turn the restaurant walls bright green. 

 

 

Now this looks pretty good….housemade cheese bugles and corn nuts.  Not too bad with the available light.

 

 

 It’s deviled eggs.  And that’s it.

 

 

 Hey, cool, you can keep switching lenses in the middle of dinner….at least the extreme closeup of the Pasta Primavera Salad (with housemade mortadella!) masks how boring you are.

 

 

 No, it’s not my dick in a box. It’s pimiento celery. I am NOT kidding you!

 

 

 Man. All on an angle and shit with the crockpot meatballs. Sunday Schools across the nation will be lining up to hire me.

 

 

 Sorry, I was nodding off for a minute there…..the wheels were officially off the bus at this point.  Sure, it’s a white trash picnic, but no need to disrespect wonderful food like this…especially the Shake n’ Bake pork chops.  I’m new enough to put part of the blame on available light, but I can only milk that bullshit for so long.

 

 

What’s good for a Kewpie Doll doesn’t necessarily work for onion rings. Lose the filters. How is it possible to make something round so goddamn flat?

 

 

 This had to be seen to be believed.  Creamed corn or the set from the movie Dune?  You decide.

 

 

 It’s a fruit cocktail icebox pie from Tasha Goellner.  But you would never know that because I apparently suffer from photographic Asperger’s Syndrome.

 

 

The End

 

 

All Content Copyrighted, 2008, 2012

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Filed under Fine Dining, Food, Food Blog, Food Photography, Food Reviews, Rieger Hotel Grill and Exchange

The Squander Logs: #001

The Squander Logs:  A series of anonymous interviews/conversations specific to food production, cooking and service. The identity of an interview subject is something I do not plan to intentionally reveal at any point, and the acquisition of an interviewee falls into one of three categories that will also not be revealed but are meant to minimize my influence in the acquisition and promote diversity within the subject pool. Anonymity serves various purposes that include but are not limited to:

1-     To keep the dialogue as honest, spontaneous and unedited as possible.

2-     To avoid some of the complexities inherent to self-promotion, cross-promotion, gratuitous social media competition, shark-jumping, over-saturation and various agendas/coalitions geared towards monetizing every aspect of the food community.

3-     To squander what would otherwise be a perfectly great opportunity to capitalize on my connections within the food community and drive traffic to this blog, just because I thought it sounded like a good way to follow a path through the Kansas City food community that creates itself without the same predictable and well-worn stops along the way.

Category: Type 1

Location: Midwest

Industry: Cooking

Topic: Foodies

ME:  It’s a Saturday night, you’re on the line, Friday was exceptionally brutal, you’re hungover and down a person. It’s around 7:30.  A server comes up to you and looks a little pissed off and they’re like “I just had a table of eight insist that I come and tell the chef WE’RE FOODIES!!!”. What’s your thought process?

001:  Well, first of all I don’t like that term. I do not like that term. To me it’s a dead term. Cause anyone who watches food network these days is a fucking foodie. Anybody.  Anybody who goes and critiques Applebees on Yelp is a fucking foodie.

ME: Yep

001:  So with that being said, I would say alright, I’m glad they’re here to enjoy the food I’m going to make, but at the same time I’m not going to go out of my way to do anything special for them.  I mean, I think you should treat everyone the same that comes in that door. Regardless if it’s someone who has saved for 2 months to go eat at the restaurant or someone who says “let’s go get some snacks”.  I don’t think anybody deserves any special treatment. I mean, if Thomas Keller came in today I’d be like “Wow, You’re Awesome!”, but I’ve got to get back to doing my job.

ME: I’d agree, I think your reputation isn’t built on treating anyone special, it’s consistency in everything you do.

001:  Absolutely

ME:  As far as foodies go, and I’m not a fan of that term, but it’s kind of a default term to use.  But being in that group, as someone who is not a professional, I’m curious to hear where YOU think the line is between someone who has a genuine love for food and somebody who just has a weird, OCD-like compulsion to collect food related data, compete for blog readership…

001:  I think the main difference is that if someone is truly into food and someone who loves food, they’re not going to go around saying “this was complete shit”, they’re not looking for attention for themselves they’re simply going to try what this person is doing. And if they’re going to truly call themselves a foodie, in my mind, that means they should like everything….and not just say “I don’t eat there because the drinks are just okay”, I mean, you go for the whole atmosphere. Someone who truly appreciates and knows where the food comes from.

ME: Not China Star Buffet Yelp reviewers.

001:  Exactly. Exactly!   Knowing where your food comes from is key in my mind. And you can call yourself a foodie all you want to, but deep down if you don’t even know who’s cooking your food….

ME: With that in mind…Bourdain, love him or hate him, he’s done a lot to communicate about the mad brigade of cooks back in the kitchen, and there is that clique of people in the industry who work the opposite hours of everyone else in close quarters and the camaraderie that that creates….and you have a lot of foodies who may try to seek legitimacy via the people they know at a restaurant, the amount of money they spend, or knowing pieces of industry, or gossip, but they “Never served in Vietnam”, so when it comes to their input, thoughts and opinions on how you do, or should do, your job, how much weight do they carry?

001:  I take everyone’s opinion to heart.  I am a firm believer that you can learn from everyone. So if one person comes up and says “You know what? I think it would be better like THIS”, I will think about it. Off the cuff I may be like “okay, you’re cute, just move along…unless you do this everyday you’re just a guest.” I appreciate that, but you may not necessarily know everything that goes into it, so how are you going to tell me it would be better like this?

ME: It’s funny you bring that up, because I have the tendency to be TOO protective.  If someone came up and said “So and so should do THIS to a dish”, depending on how they came across I’d have the tendency to react worse than the cook in question.  It’s stupidly protective, and I guess that’s not really a question, more just me wanting to hear my own rambling on the topic.

001:  And that’s fine, being loyal to somewhere,  that’s all that we work for. There’s a reason why someone works 70 hours and only gets paid for 45 or 50. We work a lot of hours off the clock, because we’re loyal to that person that’s above us. If someone says something about that person, I’m super, super defensive. If someone says something about the food, of course I’m going to be super defensive.  We kill ourselves for a reason.

ME: In your experience, have you worked for chefs that have your back when it comes to a critic or customer coming after you, and have you worked for some that have leaned on the side of kissing ass?

001:  Well, anymore nowadays it’s so fickle with Facebook  and Yelp and Opentable. Anyone is a reviewer today. Everyone has an opinion, and they should, I get that.  But, I think people are using the internet TOO much now.  The same person that gives said restaurant a 2 star Yelp review will give the gas station a five star because the oil service was fantastic. FANTASTIC!  And so I’ve been fortunate to work for people that will always stick up for the gentlemen that work for them, because I’ve always worked for people who have been there and done that and know how hard it is, you know?  And that means a lot. I know that I may mess up sending out something horrible, and I get that, and I”ll probably get my ass chewed for it. But at the end of the day, if anything is ever sent back it’s never automatically, “what in the fuck did you do?” it’s “what didn’t they like about it?”.  Tell me that so I can fix it.

ME: I think that is something that’s created by reality tv, like fuckin’ Gordon Ramsay screaming and throwing shit at people, going nuts. I think a lot of foodies have the assumption that is the way kitchens are.  It’s like they are expecting a show.

001:  Absolutely!

ME: Speaking of social media…with as much as I try to visit restaurants, and the number of people I meet and blogs and reviews I read, I see what I perceive as a lot of people who are pretty picky and humorless who just want to say “this makes me a foodie”….do you think there is a percentage of people these days that you run into that don’t really LIKE food?

001:  It’s more of a social status, so that they can check into their favorite place on Facebook and everbody goes , “Oh WOW! Glad to see THEM there!”.

ME: Speaking of that, I don’t want to call it a parasitic relationship because that’s way too harsh and doesn’t fit, but helpful vs. annoying…social media helps you but at the same time it curses you.

001:  Oh, absolutely it helps you!  If you think you’re doing something to the best of your ability, that this is fucking phenomenal…”I’m sending this out great every time!”…and five, six, seven bad reviews come in on either Yelp or Opentable, you kind of have to take that to heart because that means that you’re doing something wrong. You’re not cooking that properly. Or, maybe my dining room IS fucking gross. You know, something like that. Okay, there’s something I didn’t see. And that goes back to the fact that I take everyone’s opinion to heart.

 (Redacted rambling where I bemoan the fact that I really need to work on my interview skills)

ME:  There is kind of a push towards monetization of every aspect of the food industry specific to the social media we’ve been talking about, and it seems to lean towards people with near zero practical experience within the industry who wake up and reinvent themselves as a foodie or a chef….”Hey, I’ve got a background in PR or marketing, ba-da-BOOM, there you go, there’s money to be made!”.  How do you see that type of phenomenon benefitting or hurting the industry?

001:  Regardless of social media having an impact on that or not, there’s always people out there who go “You know what, I think I’m going to open up a restaurant”, and they could be in marketing as you said, and they just don’t get it. I’ve definitely worked for people like that, who have no idea, they have no restaurant experience. They may have been a bartender years ago, but they think they get it.  And so, they don’t take the time to realize that if you’re a well oiled machine you make a nickel off of every dollar. Profit.  If you are really, reeallly good, you make a nickel off of every dollar that comes in, after lights, employee costs, insurance, a nickel. And those are the types of restaurants that usually kind of fail out and die because they get frustrated and they don’t see the return so quickly, so they don’t try to build value and build a reputation.  I mean, for the first years you’re going to lose money. You’re going to.

ME:  In the best case scenario.

001:  Absolutely.

ME: Okay, you have fans, you have the people who love you, and you have people with money, notoriety, either real or imagined…friends, customers, regulars….I’m always curious to what level people try to lay claim to a chef or a restaurant.  I have a tendency to hang back, that’s just my personal rule.  On a Saturday night, no matter how much I know or love a chef, I will never approach the kitchen, that is bad form.  You see people come in who do not live by that code…..the first place they head for is the kitchen.

001:  They want to go and say hi so they can look cool. Now, I can see if it’s a legitimate friend and you haven’t seen this dude in forever. At the same time, you need to realize it’s a Saturday night and you probably shouldn’t be bothering them. BUT, everyone does it.  I recently went on a little vacation. Went and visited a friend. Me and two other people, we went to a GOOD restaurant, and we were all pretty drunk. I hadn’t seen this person in probably six months, so we went and tied one on before we went to a really well known and respected restaurant.We sat down, the waiter came over and we ordered drinks, the waiter came back and asked if we had time to look at a menu.  I was like “No, haven’t really had time yet”, and one of my friends goes “Three Chefs!  Impress us!”. And right then I’m like “You have got to be fucking kidding me. You have GOT to be kidding me.”

ME: (laughter) Oh my god, that is painful!

001:  The server just goes “heh”.  And like I said, this is a nationally known restaurant, they are getting to be big time now, so…

ME: “Gee, we’ve never had chefs!”

001:  They’re thinking..you’re cute!  You guys are cute!

ME: That kind of goes back to my WE’RE FOODIES”

001:  Exactly, yeah!  I’m just sitting there going OH MY GOD….no, don’t do that….that’s the one thing you don’t do.

ME: That brings up a side point…how careful are you of the people you go to eat with?  Do you have a set group you’ll go to a nice restaurant with, or when you’re travelling?

001:  Most of my friends aren’t in the industry. They don’t know about it.  They’re nurses or carpenters, just regular hard working people, and so they are at a point where Houlihan’s is a great meal out.  And you know what, that’s fine.

ME: It’s familiar.

001:  It’s familiar, it’s easy, for the most part, it’s okay…it’s a step up from Applebees that’s for damn sure.  Being a cook, I don’t get that much time off, so when I do spend my time of I usually don’t go out to eat. If I do I go to a bar I get bar food. Because that’s what I want when I go out. I’m usually drinking.

ME: That seems to be the norm as far as that goes.

001:  It’s one of those things….we deal with food every day…so nine times out of ten I’m not going to want go spend 150 dollars because I know damn good and well that food didn’t cost 150 dollars.

ME: The only reason I brought that up is because I’m really weird about vetting people. When I go out to a nice dinner,  the people are as important to the experience as the food.

001:  Absolutely, and along those lines I can’t remember a time when I went out with more than three people.  I mean, I don’t have that many friends on the given Tuesday I have off where we’re going to sit down at an eight top.  I don’t have that many friends, I don’t, I work in a kitchen and most of my friends I see once every six months…found out a friend of mine had a baby Didn’t know that!

ME: That’s funny because I’m having a birthday party at a restaurant here in town and was coming up with a guest list going “Holy shit, do I even have enough friends to have a party?”.

001:  I get that!

ME: Okay, we’ve already covered all the foodie shit, but I had this long thing written down about whether foodie is a relevant term or is it kind of like someone just now discovering “That’s what she said” and you’re torn between lighting a candle or cursing their darkness.

001:  Yeah, and like I said, I’m not a fan of the term, but I’m not a fan of the term “chef” either. I think it’s a derogatory term because, in my opinion, six out of ten chefs are non-working chefs.  I’m lucky and have been fortunate enough to have worked for very hard working and very good cooks who are there every freakin’ day and love what they do, and that makes my job so much easier.  But, most chefs, in my opinion, don’t work.  They leave it to the guys in the kitchen and they’re like “I’ve done my due…I’ll come in at two! See you guys at two!”

ME: Or, they have a bunch of restaurants…Mall of America, Las Vegas…

001:  Exactly!  If you’ think you’re going to see Gordon Ramsay at one of his restaurants, you’re freaking insane. You’re insane.  That man is too busy with all of his publicity bullshit…don’t get me wrong, I’m sure the guy’s a great cook. There’s a reason why he’s gotten this far.  But I think, in MY own opinion, I think people get away from that and think “I’m a good fuckin’ cook”…well, you were a good cook fifteen years ago, NOW you’ve just been riding on your name.  And you still have the ideas, but can you do them on a day to day basis?  No. And this is a hard enough business as it is, you don’t need to get the egos involved.

ME: That brings up another foodie trend….I know people who if they had the chance wouldn’t eat at a Gordon Ramsay restaurant because you’re either not guaranteed a Gordon sighting, or it’s no longer a COOL place because he’s on tv.  But, to your point, he got popular for a reason.

001:  He’s a Michelin star chef, absolutely.

ME: I had some hesitation a few years ago about whether or not to eat at Gary Danko when I was in San Francisco, until a good friend of mine was like “Hey dumbass, yeah, I know it’s popular and stuff, but the food is phenomenal”.  And it was.

001:  And just because it’s popular doesn’t mean the food is going to be BAD.  Places like The Big Biscuit and Houlihan’s are packed every day.

ME: Yeah they are.

001:  Every day….it doesn’t mean their food is phenomenal, it doesn’t mean it’s shit either.  It just means it’s close to where you live, they have great prices,  and anymore nowadays it’s hard to feed a family of four.

ME: Even if you cook mediocre food, if you’re consistent with that mediocre food you’ll get a following to some degree. I mean, I’m unashamed about my love for Red Lobster.  Once a year, I’ve gotta have it.  Is it great? No, but it’s consistent.  It tastes exactly like it did when I was twelve years old.

001:  And the thing is, people legitimately love mediocre food.

ME: Yeah!

001:  They legitimately love mediocre food. Or else we wouldn’t have restaurants like Applebee’s.

ME: To your point from earlier, are you gonna go out and eat a fuckin’ foie gras terrine on a Monday, on your day off?  Fuck no, you’re going to go have a burger.

001:  I went to Blue Koi today. Good dumplings.

ME: Vietnam Café is like a standard. Boom.

001:  Absolutely

ME: And to me it’s just as legitimate, just as good, and I look just as forward to going there as a lot of the higher end places in town.

001:  And I would much rather go there, because I’m not going to spend 150 when I could spend twenty. And just enjoy yourself.

ME: Everything about it is good.

001: And you know you’re going to go there and have a good time.

ME: Okay, all that shit was just a lead up, I wouldn’t have you here unless I was going to get into some juicier aspects of this industry of yours.   Setting up the theme for the next segment…..I’m not out to use anonymity as a platform for personal attacks or to talk about who is fucking who’s wife and where you can find photos….one less scandalous but still interesting tale of late in this town has to do with a chef who has been accused of selling choice beef as prime in an earlier restaurant.  If that is true, is there any type of gentleman’s agreement among cooks and restaurateurs not to out them and blow them out of the water?

001:  Well…I think as a cook, for a diner who like I mentioned may have saved for two months to eat at your restaurant, you have to say what is on your menu. And with the fickle social media out there, you cannot be caught publicly outing another restaurant. You can’t. That makes your place look absolutely horrible. HORRIBLE!  So, it would be one of those things where IN-house, absolutely, it would be like…”Are you fucking kidding me?  Did you hear about that motherfucker?  Are you serious?  Seriously? Why don’t they just up and buy it if they’re going to charge people for it?  Just buy it.”

ME: Is there a point at which the disdain for a local chef is going to start to bleed out, either from a restaurant directly or via emissaries who have a blog and can do the dirty work for you?

001:  Well, it’s one of those things that isn’t really talked about, but is just common knowledge.  There are definitely things out there, and I’m not calling out names, but…there’s a James Beard award winning chef in town that no cook would be caught dead at this person’s restaurant.  Because WE know, and if anyone on the street were to ask me?  Absolutely.  But would I ever say, at the place that I work, F THAT place?  No. Because that’s just bad.

ME: I guess there is a standard that you set for yourself because A) you look like a bigger douche than the person doing the deed if you out them, and B) the damage you would do in bursting people’s bubbles…because these chefs have a following, and one person who comes to mind, possibly the same one you’re talking about, has a VERY large and loyal following and has for a very long time.  SO to say something about them in a public arena….you’re going to lose business by proxy.

001: You’re going to look like a jackass…like HOW DARE YOU?  Mountain out of a mole hill.

ME: With blogs and whatnot, there are a lot of people who die for that type information….because we’re turning everything into a KC Confidential type thing…I mean, how cool would it be to become the Kansas City Perez Hilton of the food community? Granted, that would NOT be a cool thing to be…but how much of THAT annoyance do you guard against…..keeping your mouth shut around people who may try to gain contrived readership?

001:  Luckily, the position I’m in, nobody really listens to me or talks to me, I just happen to be there. So my opinion isn’t shit, and that’s kind of where I want to keep it. Because I do believe…loose lips sink ships, I’m a firm believer in that. Now, I have been known to talk some shit every now and again, but I keep it in-house.

ME:  And I respect that, I mean, I know chefs who have gone out of their way to blast other chefs and I basically lose respect….

001:  It just makes them look bad!  Oh, look at THAT! TATTLING! TATTLING! TATTLING!  Just realize that you’re better than the other place…and maybe it goes back to people liking mediocre food.  You’re never going to get them away from going to said restaurant just because you say something, they’re just going to look at you and go “I guess I’m not eating at your fucking spot!”

ME:  It kind of goes back to your point about consistency in treating everyone the same and not kissing specific asses…the same can be said for the consistency in not taking advantage of opportunities to do damage.  The loudest critics seem to have the shortest shelf lives, some of the same people fall multiple times and don’t learn.

001:  And this is public knowledge….Michael and Debbie….they are both VERY good about not saying anything about each other, but will they be caught dead in the same room?  Noooo.  They do that for a reason. THEY know that they are people that their opinion matters and people look forward to them.  And they are both great cooks.

ME:  I think there is a term for that….it’s called mutually assured destruction!

001: Absolutely! I mean, if one person starts the fire, burn that motherfucker DOWN!

ME:  And even if the reason for peace is selfish to some degree, the result is something I really, really respect.

001:  Yeah!

ME: Okay, I’m new at this whole thing without much of an idea how to switch things up, so as far as discussion I kind of just have to say, NEXT UP, going to go with stuff worthy of the most mundane blogs that I’ll probably just call GRATUITOUS SHIT!   So……FOOD ALLERGIES!  Real, or just another way to be a controlling asshole who should probably eat somewhere else?

001:  (Laughing) Umm…I fully understand food allergies, but a lot of times I think it is just another reason for people to say they don’t like something.  “I’m allergic to garlic!”…you eat onions, right? Well…..now, shellfish, people die from that. Unless you are absolutely sure you have an allergy, just say you don’t want any.

ME: I talked to a chef last night who had someone tell him they were allergic to black pepper…after eating at the restaurant for years and eating black pepper.

001:  Yeah, see, that’s bullshit.

ME:  Exactly, and it’s just an annoyance to me, when  I talk about my vetting process, picky people….

001:  Oh, they’re annoying as fuck.

ME: I’m not saying you gotta eat all the offal, I’m just saying don’t sit here and recreate a fucking dish on a Saturday night.

001:  And that’s my thing, I understand people’s preferences, but say someone puts up a menu item and the guest comes in and says “That sounds great, but I can I put broccoli and mashed potatoes on it?”….go fuck yourself, eat at home.

ME: Next gratuitous thing…Is there anything you get tired of cooking and wish would go away, or a trend?

001:  As far as that goes, I’m not really tired of cooking anything yet. There are definitely techniquest I don’t agree with…..I think over-manipulated food is something that NEEDS to be there, but do I want to go and have a spoonful of air? No,  I’d rather have a spoon of mashed potatoes.

ME: Deconstruction is the first thing that comes to mind.

001:  Yeah, “I’ve got a deconstructed Caesar salad!”….so you’ve got a whole egg, an anchovy, lemon, garlic on a plate? Now THAT’S a fucking deconstructed salad. Do I want that?  Noooo……

ME: I’ve got a deconstructed Caprese salad at home…the shit is still growing on my deck.

001:  DECONSTRUCTED!  I do think that those places are there for a reason, I mean, El Bulli was amazing….I never got to EAT there…

ME: Me neither.

001:  But, those places, that guy was THE top chef in the world for years because he had a team of scientists breaking shit down and he was at the forefront….because he’s that crazy….he can just sit there and think of shit. And god bless him for that, but fuck ME, do I want to go and have 39 one bite courses? No.

ME: Even with that level of popularity, you are talking about the most impractical business model on the planet, you gotta be pretty liquid….”Okay!  Gonna shut down for nine months every year to retool…then I’ll let forty people in every night for three months, and then fuck all y’all, see you next year!”

Ah, here we go, word association…I’ll say a word and you tell me the first thing that comes to mind……YELP!

001:  Fuck it.

ME:  Good answer.  Here’s one that I thought of on the way over actually…I’m a big believer in loyalty to people who cook my food, serve my food….and because I interface with them the most- my server.  I will live and die with the same server as long as they work there, and I like to tip well.  Now, different interview for a different day, don’t want to get into front vs. back of house issues, but what is a good gesture for the back of the house?  715 in Lawrence lets you buy a six pack for the kitchen….what’s a good gesture?

001:  Honestly, that is a GREAT idea, I like that idea.  There is a restaurant in Canada, can’t remember the name but there’s a dvd where I work and we were watching it, having some beers, and it’s a restaurant where at any given time during service a guest can buy a round of shots for the kitchen. They ding a bell, the kitchen has to stop, doesn’t matter if it’s 8pm on a Saturday, they stop service, take a shot, get back to work.

ME:  WOW!

001:  That’s intense.

ME:  Is there a limit?  I mean, if Richie Rich comes in…..

001:  I’m sure they’re allowed two per night or something…

ME:  I would want to hit that limit. I would want to have the deep pockets to cause mayhem.

001:  I guarantee…no chef wants his kitchen staff drunk.

ME: I’d like to see it!

001:  Yeah.

ME: Alright, right now in Kansas City….one dish, one place, what’s good and what do you recommend?

001:  Extra Virgin had some duck tongue tacos.  I haven’t been there in a while, but they were fucking good.

ME:  Good and seasoned.

001:  They were fucking GOOD! That’s one thing that was legitimately one of the best things I’ve had in a very long time. So simple it’s stupid, duck tongue tacos!

ME:  They’re great.  A lot of people say they’re too salty, but I say fuck you, I come from the Mario Batali school of salt the shit out of everything.

001:  I smoke, so they were just dandy to me!

ME:  OKAY last thing I have for you….we’re starting to get into the good stuff at the markets this time of year, so….is there one type of produce you’d pick to be in season year-round if you had one wish?

001:  Ramps.

ME: Ramps?  Yeah, they aren’t available long and they’re so good.

001:  They’re SO good.

ME: And there’s so much you can do with them.

001:  Absolutely, you can pickle them, roast them, grill them, they’re awesome.  One thing I know everyone wants is morels. I personally don’t like morels.

ME: I like them, but you know, come on man. How much can you eat?  It’s kind of like truffles. I like them, but unless you’re going to have a whole goddamn shaved truffle on top of something, what’s the point?

001:  To me a truffle tastes like cardboard. I don’t like truffles, I don’t like truffle oil…it’s so overused, truffle FRIES piss me OFF.

ME: I don’t like truffle oil, to me it has a chemical aftertaste.

001:  IT’s because on the ingredient list it says “truffle essence”…what the fuck is truffle essence?

ME: They probably created it at El Bulli.  Truffle essence….it didn’t make the menu. That’s where all their money comes from now!

001:  Fucking truffle oil!

ME: They sell the shittiest truffle oil.

001:  God bless them for doing that!

ME: Ferran Adria sells the shittiest truffle oil in the world!  And that’s how he bankrolls his enterprise.

001:  Can’t blame him for that!

All Content Copyrighted, 2008, 2012

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Filed under Interviews, The Squander Logs

Lincoln Cafe- Mt. Vernon, Iowa

We headed up Interstate 35 last weekend, just as I did countless times before when I was living in Minneapolis and made frequent trips back home. However, this time when the highway forked left to send travelers up towards the Land of 10,000 Lakes, we stayed right and ventured onward through the farms and fields of eastern Iowa. Beautiful Midwestern expanse in spite of the coming storms, and a much needed respite for both of us as we took a relaxing journey that would include at least two brief stops prior to our highly anticipated dinner in Mt. Vernon that evening. My wife and I are people who would happily bypass The Louvre if we were forced to choose between it and…something like The Museum of the Inquisition. The heck with The Smithsonian, we would say…for us it’s all about the lesser known monuments, museums and displays of “outsider art”. Prior to ANY roadtrip we consult websites like RoadsideAmerica.com in order to determine if there is something worthy of venturing off the beaten path as we drive towards our destination. On the way to Mt. Vernon, there was the future home of Captain James T. Kirk in Riverside, the “cursed” Black Angel grave marker in Iowa City, and the crown jewel of this particular drive… L.J. Maasdam’s Wheel Art in Lynnville. Maasdam’s towering masterpiece was completed in 1994 when he was 90 years old, and its history includes endearing stories about his children re-welding some of the rusty wagon wheels at night because L.J. wasn’t a very good welder and they wanted to spare him any disappointment if he found out they were helping him. This is artwork well worth the ten minute drive off the main highway, and I believe this blog post will showcase the first pics using my fancy new camera….

I pulled my car up onto the small hill near the tower of wagon wheels. It is much bigger in person than one would think, and with a new camera and multiple lenses to play with, the potential for good photography would be endless….if I were a real photographer! The sky was overcast and there was a slight mist in the air that I had to contend with as I kept wiping my lens and moving around to find the best angles. Barren fields all around, out buildings off in the distance, a perfect backdrop for such a fascinating monument to folk art. My wife was back in the car waiting for me, and between my intense focus and the loud, gusting winds, it was a little bit of a surprise to realize someone had walked up to within fifteen feet of me without me noticing. There are the caricatures of farmers that exist on television and in print, and then there are actual farmers…I am familiar enough with both that I realized immediately the elderly man in the jeans, heavy workshirt, thick gloves and ballcap standing in front of me was a real farmer. After brief introductions and a handshake, he began to talk about the sculpture, and how even though he never knew L.J., he believed that it symbolized the hard facts of what it takes to make a life for oneself from the land.

Forging metal to turn the packed earth, making your vision worth all of the hard work, leaving behind a legacy that is about more than just one man….we spoke of those things for a bit, leaning up against the fence made from those wagon wheels, then he took off his right glove to accentuate one point. “A man does all of this with the only tools he truly owns; these hands”, he told me, “from the day you are born until the day you die, you always pray for the strength of your character to guide what you are building with these hands”. Much of what he said immediately rang true for me. Not that I have managed to always exhibit those traits, but anyone who knows me well and knows my story can attest to the fact that I really do try. “You keep an eye on the world around you”, he continued, “you keep your arms around the ones you love, and you keep it strong…THIS hand”, he said, putting the palm of his right hand three inches from my nose, “when all is said and done, son, you have got to keep your PIMP HAND strong!”.

Not knowing quite how I should react, I just calmly stood there, trusting the new direction his homily was taking. He never broke eye contact, but his stare did get a little wilder as he began to slowly step backward and kept repeating in a softer voice “your piiiiimp haaaand, keep your piiiiimp hand stroooong….”. For every two steps he moved backward, I took one, not wanting to alarm him, but all of a sudden he seemed to snap out of his trance, stared at my feet as they shuffled backward, looked back up at me, bared his teeth and hissed “PIMP HAND!” and kept saying it louder and louder while alternately slapping his face brutally hard (WITH his pimp hand). He did that at least twenty times as I continued backing up, afraid to just turn my back on him. Finally he stopped, dropped his head and took off his hat. He started scratching the top of his head, and a whining wail began coming up from somewhere deep inside him, and his body shook like he was readying for blast-off. As his whining turned into a shriek he slowly lifted his head and locked his eyes onto mine. At this point I was like “fuuuuuuuck THIS”, and turned around and bolted towards the car. For an old man, he was incredibly quick and I could hear him gaining on me. I started screaming at my wife “START THE CAR! STAAARRTT THE FUUUCKKIIINNNG CAAARRRRR!! START THE CAR! START THE CAR! START THE CAR!”. She was obviously startled, but I did hear the engine turn over. I was about to start screaming for her to get my pistol from the console as I ran like hell, but suddenly I stopped hearing the old farmer’s feet charging across the ground and heard instead what sounded like a single loud crack of a whip. I turned my head just enough in the same split second to see his body five feet in the air, parallel to the ground and facing straight downward, a taught length of chain holding his left ankle to some anchoring point just over the hill behind the sculpture. I quickly turned back to the car before he even hit the ground, but I did hear the thud and huge exhale of air from his lungs. Both of us safe, we drove on towards Mt. Vernon.

Soooo anyway, does anyone else remember Al Goldstein’s “Screw” Magazine?  Not the boring post-Goldstein version, but the old school 70’s and 80’s porn periodical classics.  How about Jim and Debbie Goad’s “Answer Me”?  When I think of whatever unique voice I could bring to the incredibly dense, generally repetitive and weirdly competitive world of food writing, I go back to those fine examples of visceral entertainment. I want to be THEM. The last thing I wrote with the uber-foodies yammering back and forth is really how I see elements of the social media drenched world of “artisanal” food…slow food at the speed of the internet. Now, I am not discounting someone’s personal history in their food community or their love for their favorite chef (and if I know you and you are reading this smarmy negativity, it sure as hell isn’t about YOU, you fucking egomaniac).  I know a lot of people who can cook, write or take photos, professionally or for fun, whom I totally respect.  The last thing I want to sound like is the sour grapes guy whining “Booo-hoooo! Now that EVERYONE does it it’s not cool anymore!”.  What I’m getting at is the increasing phenomenon where someone who is marketing or public relations savvy with almost no personal history with any aspect of the culture (not exclusive to food, obviously) can wake up one morning and reinvent themselves with such vigor and permanence that questioning the iffy provenance of their prefab calling could cause collateral damage within that culture.  Contrived expertise that fabricates a dependency upon it and breeds legions of succubi who wield their weapons from the safe confines of Yelp, Facebook and Twitter.  As the information on trends and the must-have reservations is disseminated more and more quickly, fond are the memories of a time when a chef or producer only had to deliver one handjob to one writer or critic to keep their world on its axis. Now, a billion blistered palms later, every personal universe of every armchair critic with an axe to grind has to be taken into account to slow the tide of potential bad reviews and miscommunications inherent to digital forums.  And it is the people who have their hands on the moon phases of that tide that worry me. In many ways, it’s not mine to judge…I’m not putting in the work to build the websites or consulting services, and I don’t make my living in a restaurant or on a farm.  Good people on both sides can benefit from this new relationship, no question.  I have no solid answers, I’m a guy with a prohibitively rambling blog who pushes his favorite restaurants on Facebook.  My speculation has to do with what I perceive as a cookie-cutter attempt to bring a corporate food and marketing angle into the food community and very aggressively pass it off as “locavorism”…. like Wal-Mart getting into the organic food game without bothering to mention that they bastardized the definition of “organic” in order to keep things cheap and the profit margins large.  I constantly wonder where the line is between my own overly protective, emotional investment in my most beloved institutions and being perceived as the same thing I fear most.  I guess the way I approach as much of the community as possible has to do with vetting….I am almost 100% a word of mouth customer.  I’m not a good target for bloggers, social media strategists, website developers or annoying hipsters, because my dollars and my energy usually only go towards a person, place or thing that I hear about firsthand from someone I trust. And once I try it and am convinced, I will ramble on about it incessantly….but even THAT is usually either relegated to this completely shill-proof blog or is lost in the avalanche of posts in the Facebook feeds of the whopping 150 people who even have access to this stuff.  I am loyal, and I think I’m a good guy to have on your side, and word of mouth has never done me wrong. Kind of like putting your money in your mattress. Fuck banks, and fuck purchases based on trending or shiny social engineering.  If I want a prime reservation, wheel of cheese, piece of meat or dried mushroom…I have a small but solid network of folks upon whom I can rely without fail, and they know they can count on me for the same type of favor.


So….word of mouth.  In my world it’s a very normal thing to drive for hours and spend the night in a different town just so you can try a new restaurant.  Especially when said restaurant is recommended by someone whose cooking and opinions on food I trust implicitly.  Lincoln Café got a big nod, so we picked a weekend, loaded up a care package with some of the best products KC has to offer, and lit out.  We love a nice roadtrip, so that works well with my desire to find great midwestern cuisine that exists outside the lineup of my local haunts.  Good food is good food, and one thing I’m hypersensitive about is when dickheads from much larger cities, or dickheads who ate in fucking Paris one time, come across like their personal calling is to always do that thing where they are polite but they still let you know they are being patronizing when they give any level of approval to someplace you recommend in flyover country.  I try to be even more hypersensitive to the fact that I could look like an even bigger asshole if I went from the whopping metropolis of Kansas City to an outlying hamlet and acted like I was doing anyone a favor.  When I check out new places based on what I hear from my friends, it is out of a genuine love for it. And if I take a care package with me, it has nothing to do one-upsmanship….sure, it is nice to show off your favorite producers, but it’s more about showing a level of hospitality that we midwesterners are famous for.  So when you’re showing the love to OTHER midwesterners, you have to ramp it up a bit because we are all just so damn friendly and generous.

Long story short, Lincoln Cafe has a specific combination of elements that make it pretty perfect.  First of all, Mt. Vernon is a beautiful little town where it seems like everyone walking down the street knows everyone else walking down the street.  There is an incredibly cool repurposed middle school building that houses everything from antique stores to a community center and even a martial arts studio….the perfect combination of old school small town charm along with a palpable youthful vibe that can be attributed to the nearby universities.  Okay, re-reading the last sentence made me want to kick my own ass, so I’ll just say that the cafe itself is like going to your favorite diner and your favorite Saturday night date spot combined. Jeans and a t-shirt or two hours of pimping yourself in a mirror, it’s all the same thing because it’s just a friendly place to be, and the food is the thing. And yes, I meant pimp, NOT primp, I constantly drop shit like that in my writing to fuck with people who live to play online editor on news sites.

Special app of the night- homemade cotechino sausage over Italian lentils w/spinach and preserved lemon. Great level of spice and fat, salt from the preserved lemon, earthiness of the lentils and sweet spinach....

After our stop at the wagon wheel sculpture, and the cemetery with the Black Angel, we still got into town earlier than we expected and strolled around for a bit.  I called Lincoln Café a few days earlier and tried not to sound like some kind of weirdo when I asked if there was a convenient time for me to stop in and take some pictures without getting in anyone’s way.  They were totally cool about it, after lunch service on Saturday sounded like the best plan, so we hung around and enjoyed the town.  To their credit, I will say that even though they officially “close” at 2pm, from what I could tell they were still seating people until then and nobody was getting the bum’s rush.  It’s little things like that I tend to notice and add to the list that comprises really great customer service. Saturday lunch pushing out closer to 3, dinner service starting up at 5 for a totally packed house….I respect that.

One of our surprise "extras" from the chef...housemade charcuterie sliced right, thin enough to melt really nice on your tongue. A fantastic chorizo on the right, with the perfect hit of funk to it, and if I remember correctly, a good and fatty Italian salami.

I have a legitimate reason to mention THE RIEGER in this post…not that I need one, so suck it.  Anyway, Howard told me about this place “up in Iowa” a couple of months ago and assured me they were great people who knew food.  He had cooked with them in 2010 in the Cochon 555 event in Des Moines, and had nothing but good things to say.  We met sous chef Andy that afternoon as I gave the spiel on the different items in the cooler I brought them.  Totally cool guy, knows his shit, does great charcuterie….man, if you could get him, Howard and Michael Beard to do one big charcuterie collaboriation/contest/orgy, that would surely be the event of the decade. Better include Alex Pope too…that goddamn coppa and all.  ANYWAY, Andy is cool, didn’t get to meet chef/owner Matt on this trip.  He walked through the place a few times during brunch, but I’m not the type of douche to go “Pardon me chef….I am from the metropolitan area of Kansas City, and even though you are obviously busy I want to bore your dick off for at least ten minutes on a Sunday when you probably would rather be anywhere else”.

Surprise course #2- homemade pasta with a braised pork shoulder ragu and fava beans. Very rich, just a killer because we each got a bowl of this...great texture to the pasta, favas are a smart addition to wedge something fresh and clean in there.

Foodwise, you can read the little blurbs under the photos, but the short story is- Lincoln Cafe is worth the trip. This is another element of the aforementioned perfection….a pretty standard permanent menu of chips and guac, awesome fries, hummus and pita, burgers, salads, etc…..all items ten bucks or less, and while we only tried the fries, the menu staples we did spy looked good. Especially those burgers. Then there are three entrée specials up on the board, an appetizer special and three desserts if I remember correctly.  You can go high end, low end, mix and match, whatever.  Including soup or salad with the entrees is a brilliant addition..how often do you see THAT these days, and also have it be of the highest quality? No liquor license, but you can bring in beer or wine for a flat $5 fee which is waived if you buy at least one bottle from their Wine Bar down the street (the fucking pizza there looks insane, definitely on the list to try next time).  They do take reservations now, and you are welcome to call ahead and have them put your name down (or just show up and try your luck), but I’d recommend a reservation because that place packs out.  We pulled up a minute or so before our 6pm table right as they were calling us to let us know our table was ready….very nice, mutually beneficial, addition to the service.

We had two out of the three nightly specials- this one was a very, very high quality piece of butter poached salmon with some very light gnocchi, asparagus, leeks and citrus bechamel....solid dish, both entrees contained proteins my wife named the best version of either she's ever had.

Lamb with green garlic and fava beans, falafel and meyer lemon ricotta....awesome amount of crisp sear and fat on the lamb, reminded me a lot of great Colorado lamb, but this was from Australia. Great dish at any restaurant, anywhere.

Speaking of the service….again, good combination of very friendly and casual mixed with a level of professionalism and detail that is required to get dishes of varying complexity fired and to your table in a seamless manner. Everyone was really sweet, and obviously into what the place is all about….that pride of ownership I never, ever shut up about.  In a packed and busy room, it was apparent that the only way to get everything done was for people to help each other as the need arose.  And in a room that size where it’s hard to hide, if there was any strife, competition or discord among the staff, then they were geniuses at covering it up and deserve even higher praise.

We pretty much had to order dessert even though they had almost killed us at this point...chocolate cake with different citrus and coconut sorbet. Well composed with good balance of sweet, rich and tart.

Most fun surprise dish of the night....the chef took some of the Shatto cotton candy milk we brought them and created a custard with it, accompanied with different elements like peanuts, apple sorbet and funnel cake...creating the perfect homage to fairground classics. Excellent dessert, and they sent two...excellent, but also brutal. We were shocked to be hungry again by breakfast.

Since we loved dinner enough to definitely make the trip again, we figured….why not stop in for brunch on Sunday before heading back to KC?  They open at 10am, and we walked right in and got a table. By the time we left, there was a decent sized crowd outside.  Again, there is a basic menu of some brunch items as well as many of the burgers, fries, etc.  The specials on the chalkboard included an omelette with spinach and pancetta as well as biscuits and gravy.  We got one of each, along with an order of some very good locally made breakfast sausage and an order of their spiced up potatoes.  Everything was very good, a few steps above your average smalltown diner breakfast for sure, but the major standout had to be the biscuits and gravy.  I’m the level of fiend that a dipshit like Guy Fieri pretends to be when it comes to B&G.  I don’t go throwing out compliments just because the people were nice to us…these things were awesome, definitely among the best I’ve ever had and I have had a LOT in my lifetime.  Perfect density and flavor to the biscuits, as well as ratio of sausage to gravy.  We weren’t going to get dessert, but when they offered us one with their compliments we went with the homemade lime bar with crème fraiche whipped cream.  Great spin on a classic, crazy-good crust.

 

So that is the story of our trip to Lincoln Cafe, with all of the usual extras that add a couple thousand words. It’s how I roll. You won’t hear about every restaurant I visit, you’ll generally only hear me talk about the ones I really like.  And when I really like a place I ramble on like a motherfucker…highly complimentary and usually appreciated by the objects of my affection, but jacked up enough to make me feel like I’m doing something a little different from your run of the mill Urbanspoon dickhead.  If it ever gets too fucked up even for people in the service industry to enjoy it, I may rethink my methodology.

Up next: I’m putting a lot of thought into a very specific style for an ongoing series of interviews.  I need to make a final decision about the actual interview questions, and approach enough people to guarantee I will have enough of them to sit back and watch the overall evolution. IF you are in the service industry and have any interest in taking part, be sure to reach out to me.  I guarantee it is nothing that will reflect badly on you…in fact, it probably won’t have any reflection on you at all.  AND this is actually real, not like any fake interview stuff I’ve done in the past. Anyway, there’s that. And other shit too, I’m sure.

All Content Copyrighted, 2008, 2012

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Annoying Customer 2.0

There is an inspired conversation happening all across the Midwest right now, and with an abundance of talent in Kansas City positioning our town to be THE next big food destination, the conversation that all of us industry outsiders with a camera, a blog and a subscription to Lucky Peach are having sounds exactly like THIS…..

 TRUDY: So did you have dinner at The Second Coming yet? …….HA! HA! HA! RHETORICAL!!!!

 TAD: HA!….Yeah, made it to the first night of the pre-soft opening dinners before they do the actual soft opening.  Just fabulous….the food…and what they’ve done to utilize the repurposed lawn furniture while still maintaining the integrity of that abandoned mine mirrors the inherent generosity of the menu.

 TRUDY: Agreed.  When our server told me “No seriously, you really need to stay over here, that section of the mine isn’t safe yet”, I knew the food was going to have a lot to live up to…and it did. BUT…you were there that first night of the pre-soft opening?   Did you get stuck with a later seating?  We didn’t see you at the first one.

 TAD: Actually, we managed to get the last two spots at family meal, totally different menu.  We had rabbit sausage water and the crusts off the mini grilled cheese sandwiches that came with whatever you guys ate.

 TRUDY: OH! I HEARD about that!  So jealous!

 TAD: Yeah, but of COURSE, as USUAL, annoying Trip and Jenny scored the ultimate reservation.  They actually rode TO the restaurant with Chef Schvantz Grande and ate Wendy’s drive-thru on the way, then dessert course sitting on a box in the walk-in.

 TRUDY: Fuckers. I was wondering why I kept seeing those weird status updates of their middle fingers next to a Frosty and a big basket of chanterelles. 

 TAD: Well, they have money and tons of connections from their corporate non-food circles as a built-in marketing tool, therefore they have the most popular and respected food blogs.

 TRUDY: So I guess it’s safe to say that the next big trend is eating fast food with your local chefs?

 TAD: I’ve thought about that quite a bit, and while popular bloggers with major PR connections who get way more “Likes” than I do annoy me, I have to say…they may be on to something.  I mean, I’m starting to see meat and cheese from local producers in major grocery stores, even my mom belongs to a CSA now…these are both problems that indicate we’re hitting a level of saturation that will spawn the next big trend.  I think it’s fair to compare the current local, sustainable, farm to table trend with more of a Neoclassical approach to cuisine if we are still considering cooking an art form, in that it has managed to recapture a former grace and grandeur in its simplicity.  With what appears to be a trend where dining is more like theatre, and the artists themselves choose fast food over a waning locavore movement, one could make the argument that we are moving into more of a Mannerist period that emphasizes structure over nature.

 TRUDY: Isn’t that from the foreword to “Modernist Cuisine”?

 TAD: No, you probably saw it on my blog post about how the only legitimate food blogs are ones that will agree to a set of rules like Dogme film directors.  Oh, and if you have actually have a job in the industry there is a handicapping score you have to agree to as well.  AND if you’re a chef with more than one restaurant you have to let everyone else weigh in on a topic first.

 TRUDY: That’s it!  Well, great observation, and it’s a shame to see the toll that locavorism is taking on the food scene.  Just when things started getting good, did you read that piece the fucking Star did on Midwestern Cuisine? What fucked up timing.  

 TAD: Oh yeah….from Silva’s lips to Bourdain’s ears to the fat asses of the Paula Deen crowd. I am not sharing my space with those buffet behemoths on a Saturday night.

 TRUDY:  I know, I really think that the exclusivity that comes with niche dining is the only way any of us who aren’t in the industry are going to be able to get recognition IN the industry……being the best at eating food is not that hard to achieve…carving out a loyal audience of people who appreciate the unique way in which you chronicle your eating- THAT is the difficult part.

 TAD: Oh, not to interrupt, but back to that rabbit sausage water from family meal….perfect example of something we’re going to lose before it got a proper start.  You know much about Chef Grande’s new sous chef?

 TRUDY: I’ve only heard the rumors that he quit his chef position at Blue Hill at Stone Barns in order to spend the last seven years staging across the American southwest.  Oh, and that he will NOT buy a piece of cutlery outside of a garage sale.

 TAD: Yeah, very different dude, real dedication to the craft.  From an aboriginal family.

 TRUDY: I thought he was just Mexican. He just goes by Segundo.

 TAD: Wow, nice racism.

 TRUDY: Saying Mexican is racist?  I thought Aboriginal was racist….you’re supposed to say indigenous I think.

 TAD: Christ, okaaaayyyyyy…so is he an INDIGENOUS Mexican or an INDIGENOUS Australian?

 TRUDY: You ate his sausage water, I figured you’d already know that.

 TAD: HA! Totally fucking with you, I DO know….the little bastard is Australian.  But I’ve been telling everyone he’s Mexican to put them off the trail until I can blog about it.

 TRUDY: You’re pretty good.  But I don’t get the cloak and dagger over naming Segundo’s heritage.

 TAD:  He’s just a very enigmatic character.  You see his Facebook page?

 TRUDY: Yeah, that’s kind of what threw me off with his name and all, his photo is just a blank, black space.

 TAD: Ding! Ding! Ding, Matey!  He is from the old school, still thinks the camera will take his soul.

 TRUDY: VERY old school…. Very abandoned mine.

 TAD: So there’s THAT, and if you’ve ever seen him stir a risotto or a roux, you’d have noticed something very peculiar…

 TRUDY: Ohhhhh, right right right, I haven’t seen him cook but  I assume what you’re getting at is that piece you did on tribalism and the significance of handmade wooden spoons…..the whole…

 TAD: COREOLIS EFFECT!  Our little friend from the southern hemisphere only stirs to the left!

 TRUDY:  And I know he’s responsible for the latest trend in butchery and sausage making…using the dying breath of an animal to blow open the end of the casing before you thread it onto the machine.  Makes me feel really bad for Chef Grande.

 TAD: How so?

 TRUDY: I mean, he put a lot of work into getting zoning permits for that mine, and he’s bravely sticking to his guns with the fading farm to table fad, but his restaurant is pretty much over with.

 TAD: Trudy, he hasn’t even opened the restaurant yet!  They’re still busy selling out the series of soft openings! What the fuck?

 TRUDY: You’re kind of proving my point.  Already proven it actually with all of your enthusiasm for Segundo, whose first service at Second Coming was also his last.  The unknown Sous Chef IS the new Celebrity Chef.  THAT is the real trend that will put Kansas City on the map.  Terms like “ingredient-driven”, making up new names for the same old regional cuisines….that is all last-gasp material.  At one point the trend was for a chef to grow up in a smaller town, get trained and open a restaurant in a larger city that highlighted their culinary roots.  THEN you had those same people come BACK to their hometown like a king returning from battle, open a restaurant, and combine what they grew up eating with whatever they learned abroad.  We’re still in that “chefs returning home” trend, and it has hit such a point of saturation that pretty much anyone can eat stuff you only saw in the major food blogs.  When my own mother knows what sous vide is, things are getting too weird.

 TAD: I see your point, I can’t say I disagree, but…I feel kind of sick, like I’ve been set up here.

 TRUDY: I’m so sorry!  I was afraid that would happen!

 TAD: I mean, you obviously knew more than you led me to believe…

 TRUDY: I’m sorry, you were just so enthusiastic and I’ve always admired your work and level of knowledge…and now it’s like watching a dying comet.  But I mean that in a good way.

 TAD: Okay. I guess.  I just figured my focus would always allow me to predict any upcoming food movements.  I guess I got to a point where my ability to be the first to do what nobody else would be doing for another few months put me in a dangerous comfort zone…..

 TRUDY: Tad, I’m sorry, but don’t feel bad about your outdated methods. It was bound to happen eventually. But the good news is, there is a brighter world to come!

 TAD: Yeah, I trust you. It’s just a hell of a paradigm shift.  So go ahead…it is obvious you are DYING to get on with the Segundo intel……

 TRUDY: It has literally been killing me this whole time!  And I wouldn’t even know any of this if Segundo himself hadn’t walked in to my office to inquire about a graphic design for his upcoming “Real Chefs Stir to the Left” social media blitz. 

 TAD: Do tell, sensei.

 TRUDY: SO- the whole premise is based on two things: First, try to name one sous chef at any of your favorite restaurants.

 TAD: I can’t. Oh, Segundo.

 TRUDY: EXACTLY!  Being unknown or, God forbid, the “best kept secret” isn’t enough anymore…it’s over with.  Now it’s a matter of literally nobody knowing who in the fuck you are.

 TAD: But we know Segundo. WE know who he is.

 TRUDY: Obviously, and I could explain that but I was sworn to complete secrecy on most of the details…let’s just say that on opening night, as the first seating begins, Segundo is going to pass out disposable cameras and “sell his soul”.

 TAD: Hooooly shit.  Now THAT…is dedication to his art.  I mean, there was that trend where traditional Chinese chefs were cutting off their braids after reading bad Yelp reviews, but that petered out quick…there’s only a finite number of braids and hair takes so long to grow back…..ANYWAY, can you divulge the NAME of this new restaurant?

 TRUDY: SOFT OPENING!

 TAD:  The man leaves during a soft opening to open Soft Opening….totally next level stuff….

 TRUDY:  Balls-Out is the new Next Level….just FYI…you probably want to stop saying next level.

 TAD: Thanks, so anyway…enlighten me on premise NUMERO SEGUNDO!  Sorry, that was stupid, had to do it…

 TRUDY:  Second thing is really simple…the next trend is the last trend.

 TAD: Huh?

 TRUDY: The NEXT trend is whatever the trend before it was….and do NOT fucking mention this to anyone when I tell you the menu for opening night….but to illustrate the point, Segundo’s first menu is going to revolve around Gourmet Hot Dogs and Macarons using sustainable ingredients.

 TAD: Nice!  I totally get it now….wow, you can take that and run with it. 

 TRUDY: Totally. To get his point across he’s opening with a really obvious one, but I think in the fall he’s just going to make “Umami” the trend again.

 TAD: So you just keep going backwards in order to keep it fresh…..so, like, in a couple of years he could work his way BACK to doing sliders, or a noodle bar….just advertise the SHIT out of the fact he uses a local coffee roaster…

 TRUDY:  Comfort food, cupcakes, deconstruction, pine nuts, low carb…..it’s pretty endless.

 TAD: But you KNOW, at some point the food is going to get kind of shitty…and not in that “I’m making an ironic gesture towards molecular gastronomy in order to out-Achatz you” kind of way, but genuinely crappy…I mean, there is some nightmarish aspic and overcooked asparagus-laden crap when Haute Cuisine first made its way across the pond….

 TRUDY: And THAT is the process, you nailed it exactly.  The latest trend is made up of incrementally fading trends, and exclusivity for foodies becomes the desire to eat food that fewer and fewer people even give a shit about anymore. And the fact that the food starts tasting worse and more predictable with each year, really shows you who the die-hard, dedicated people are.

 TAD: Eating bad food cooked by a chef that nobody even knows about….welcome to the future, where in a few years we won’t have to sneer at being called a foodie and we know it because it’s predetermined….it’s like some kind of goddamn culinary supralapsarian genius….

 TRUDY: Shit man, you’re going to be GREAT at this…..supralapsarian….hang on to that shit, there’s not a foodie PR schmoe in the world who can compete with THAT.

 TAD: And perhaps, one day you will have to pass the role of teacher back to ME!

 TRUDY: I have to pee.

All Content Copyrighted, 2008, 2012

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Nurture My Pig…

 

Basically the coolest possible mural...

 
This weekend I had the opportunity to attend a pretty cool event at the soon to open butcher shop- Local Pig…it was the first in a series of pig butchery classes sponsored by Slow Foods Kansas City and taught by Chef and Owner of Local Pig, Alex Pope. The series will go from nose to tail, and this weekend’s instruction focused on the head….braised cheeks, guanciale made from the jowls, pork stock and headcheese created from boiling the trimmed head. On the way there, I couldn’t get a recent Portlandia skit out of my head….possibly the most brilliant one I’ve seen thus far….where everything was just like it was “back in the 90’s”….the 1890’s. Butchering, canning, pickling, microbrewing, handlebar moustaches, and the excessive amount of untrimmed facial hair that is a requirement these days for that “hillbilly hipster” look. Actually, you can’t ding Kansas City too much for getting back to a time where anyone who doesn’t live here in “flyover country” apparently assumes still exists…just like it did back in the 1890’s.
 

The key to a magical afternoon in a young man's life...

This is my pig head. There are many like it but this one is mine.

I have never, and will never, apologize for my enthusiasm for the Kansas City food scene. I don’t care where you are from, if I’m your guide in this town you will eat food that impresses you.  We’ve been getting more and more much deserved press over the past few years, to the point where travel shows and publications don’t immediately feature Stroud’s and Bryant’s and then trundle onward. This is the point at which, if I were a real food blogger, I’d cite all kinds of goddamn examples…but that is not my milieu, my site is more like a teenage girl’s diary. The recognition is due, in large part, to the fact that we have amazing farmers and chefs in the area who are starting to put a hell of a dent in the Sysco Foods, stripmall chain dining that is typical in a town where eating out is a major pastime. Local, sustainable, farm to table, seasonal, artisanal, organic…if I’m leaving out any annoyingly overused terms let me know. But it’s true, we’ve got all that shit and we have an abundance of industry professionals who maximize what is available. As far as this weekend’s event is concerned, we drift on back to the 1890’s to a quaint storefront, down a quiet road past an industrial area that has GOT to have about fifteen “It puts the lotion in the basket!” style kill rooms dotting the landscape as well as the bar from “The Accused”….I’m not kidding you. It’s fucked up. It doesn’t scare me or anything, I’ve lived in worse, and I’m a Buford Pusser style badass. I’d open a bar down there and call it “The Cadaver Dog”. I would take payment in human ears. And the only song on the jukebox would be “Goodbye Horses”.

Class #1 down, three to go....cannot wait for the grand opening.

 

Cool storefront...

 

The front counter and meat case...

 

Looking back into the kitchen and workspace...

 

The "wish list", I am personally wishing they'd put Pad Thai Pate at the top of the list

 

In addition to meat products, they'll offer different salts, rubs, spices, nuts and house infused honeys...

 
 
Offal and charcuterie are two of my favorite things…ever. I kid you not. Even shitty stuff…..I’ll eat the hell out of that horrible braunschweiger in the orange-yellow tube from Price Chopper, canned deviled ham, I’ve never met a cheap piece of pepperoni I didn’t love. They could just come up with a line of processed meats called “GOUT” and I’d be the first in line to try it. SO WHEN I GET AHOLD OF THE GOOD STUFF…..watch out. This is another point at which, if I were an actual food writer, I’d give you the rundown of all of our local sausage makers, artisanal charcuterie gurus, and tie it all together with some historical info and a humorous anecdote or two….but again…LAZY! Justus Drugstore’s Farmer’s Platter, as well as whatever the guys at The Rieger have on the current menu, and most recently the sweet goodness at 715 are all examples of must-try charcuterie as well as nose to tail cooking in general. Different textures all in one bite, unctuousness, richness…there just isn’t anything like it. So when I showed up at Local Pig for our class, it was nice to find that our hosts had gone above and WAY beyond to guarantee us some quality deliciousness…..and they have scratch and sniff business cards.
 
 

Grass fed beef meatballs and guanciale...with a touch of tablescape.

 

Another shot of the food, it was way beyond what I expected for classroom snacks.

 

The money shot....if it doesn't excite and entice you, then it's because you have a rotten soul.

 

I’ve been to a bunch of different events attended BY Chef Pope, but I don’t think I’d ever eaten any of his food before Saturday… never ate at R Bar and didn’t go to either of the Vagabond pop-ups. So I won’t do the annoying high school girl foodie blogger social butterfly name-droppy oneupsmanship thing. But I will say, he was a hell of a nice guy, a great host, and it is obvious the man is very serious and dedicated to his latest venture. And it is always fun to watch someone butcher purely from muscle memory. The class moved swiftly, and was very informative in a way that…if you HAD questions about the basics they would be happily and thoroughly answered, but the assumption was that you came to the table with SOME knowledge and you weren’t eeked out by the carving of meat. I will say that was one thing that will bring me back for the rest of the series….Alex is a knowledgeable and enthusiastic instructor, but the class isn’t geared towards the biggest dumbass in the room like many, many…okay nearly 100% of cooking classes seem to be structured (go roll with the Coffee Klatch contingent out at The Culinary Institute of Kansas City…sweet baby Jesus, the instructors deserve medals and all the oxycontin they can eat).  With it being a Slow Foods KC event, it was a good crowd and pretty much everyone I spoke with was really cool. I know that if he is as successful in this venture as I predict he will be, there will be many, many classes geared towards “The Ladies Who Lunch” in Alex’s future, and for that I applaud him because I realize that patience with morons translates into dollars in the restaurant world. As a different kind of moron myself, I have had to count on that level of kindness. BUT I could never be in the service industry unless there was a need for someone who could make the impatience of the late great Tom Macaluso look positively restrained and precocious in comparison. He was famous for ringing no-call-no-show customers at 1am to let them know everyone at the restaurant was worried sick about them and that their table was still waiting. On a bad night, I could see myself taking a more direct approach, like John Goodman in The Big Lebowski, wailing away on that new Corvette…”Do you see what happens, Larry? Do you see what happens when you fuck a stranger in the ass???”….sure, I’d be a local hero and I could count on my service industry compadres happily chipping in to post bail, but long story short- I don’t belong in that world. I leave the hosting and the cooking to the professionals. May God have mercy on their souls.

ANYWAY, here is some carnage…..I won’t go into instructional detail, go and learn this shit for yourself, but it basically goes- cut off the jowls, skin them, cut out the inner and outer cheeks, make stock with what remains on the head, make headcheese with the chopped up bits and the stock, rub the jowls down with a spice mixture and cure them in the fridge for guanciale, and braise the cheeks.

Lots of meat in that head! I know, that IS what she said!

 

This will take some serious practice, jowls are one thing but getting the inner and outer cheeks will be pure trial and error.

 

Important note: You must skin your jowls, I think...I plan on it anyway. Because no matter how hard you try, it's tough to get those pigs shaved closely enough.

 

This is what a workspace should look like.

 

Guanciale and braised cheeks-to-be

 

Pork stock...first batch you make is with the whole head, sans jowls and cheeks, and then you recook it with all of the meat for headcheese, and THEN you have this...reduce at will.

 

Chopping the chilled meat that will go into the headcheese.

 

The meat for the headcheese is chopped up and ready for the spice mixture....

 

Then a curry blend was added, along with the hot stock and was portioned out for carryout treats....

 
 Now, anyone who has ever read any of my stuff knows one thing…no matter how normal I sound compared to many of my rants, although I’ve been pretty well behaved here, there is no way I’m letting anything out on the web without “share-proofing” it. I have to address the blessing and the curse of social media as it relates to our food community. I’m totally proud of my town, and I’m not one of those over-protective “as soon as people know about it, it’s not cool anymore” pretentious assholes. That said, the popularity of damn near anything brings with it the “great dumbing down for mass consumption and maximum profitability”.  I’ve got a million examples from Paula Deen and pop-up thermometers on turkey to “street tacos” now available at Taco Bueno and those pans where a red dot appears to let you know the goddamn thing is hot.  But here is a favorite of mine….Greek fucking yogurt.  I guess Greek was just easier to fit on the package than “Hey dumbass, we drained it. It has less water. So between that and the cool marketing we charge you more.  We know your ass isn’t going to go and find some fucking cheesecloth to drain your own…so HA HA HA!”. 

Social media and the millions of food blogs allow whatever is new (or OLD recently made new once again) to be pounced upon with extreme prejudice…it’s not enough to know where your favorite food truck is going to be parked, you have to track it on an app via GPS.  The chocolate Boulevard Beer debacle….fortunes made and reputations tainted within hours.  While I don’t see Local Pig needing security to keep the throngs of Twits in line, I am sure there will soon be specific products that will disappear minutes after they are available.  No harm no foul there, again, I’m not venturing into possessive mode….the whole thing just speaks to the ultra-modern desperation to leverage that 1890’s goodness. We want it to be authentic and artisanal, but we also demand that it be available immediately and in an unlimited supply. 

 Another thing that has fascinated me over the past couple of years, in a town this size dealing with overblown and sometimes unrealistic expectations in regard to foodie hipsterness, is the parasitic relationship between expat foodies and the native malcontents.  I use the term “foodie” negatively here, because I just don’t like it….”foodie” is what someone who doesn’t really know about food has to use to describe themselves in order for everyone to know it’s their thing. It’s like someone with an honorary degree insisting you call them “Dr.”, or the whole “Life Coach” concept…the shit that Napoleonic complexes are made from.  You know, the “maestro” episode of Seinfeld. I like to eat at local restaurants, buy local products and cook like a madman.  If I’m too cool for ANYTHING, it’s calling myself a “foodie”….if you HAVE to put a fucking name on it, then I’d prefer something like “Stud Powercock” or “Consumptive Whore”. 

 So…the expat foodies…those people who have come from much larger metropolitan areas and can never pass up an opportunity to point out why whatever we have that manages to be edible is still not nearly as good as the worst version in the magical land from whence they come.  I’m convinced that these people just couldn’t hack it in the big city, and if we knew the real truth about their foodie exploits in that town it would be like finding out that the alleged former football hero at work who won’t shut up about the good old days was actually the kid who showered in his underwear after riding the bench at every game. Nobody who actually knows anything has to talk that much shit.  If it were not for their parasitic twin, the native foodie malcontent, they may actually shut the fuck up at some point. But no, the malcontents keep them well fed with an inferiority complex that they must assume is shared, or should be, by everyone in this town. EXAMPLE:  Whenever there is an article or online discussion about the availability of vegetarian food in Kansas City the expats will predictably chime in with the usual shit about their hometown, and I can forgive that to a point, it’s the one thing they’ve got.  But those other dicks, who are FROM here are so quick to pile on….and it’s always framed in an incredibly patronizing and self aggrandizing manner….”unfortunately Kansas City isn’t as ENLIGHTENED as the more PROGRESSIVE cities with which I am intimately familiar”.  Yes, intimately familiar. When you consulted your Zagat’s NYC to look up “vegetarian restaurants” before your three day choir trip, there were four pages of listings in Manhattan alone. When you looked up Zagat rated “vegetarian restaurants” in Kansas City, they didn’t even list Fud yet….just Eden Alley and Bluebird Bistro…which sent you into a spiral because the two places listed by Zagat’s weren’t broken out into fifteen subcategories like NYC.  The height of unenlightenment.  Zagat’s, Yelp, and pouting at Outback Steakhouse because you won’t venture two miles from home…that’s your wheelhouse. Even the stupid expat realizes you’re a fucking retard, but you’re the only lackey they’ve got, so they live with it.

 So there you go….Local Pig is opening soon and you need to check it out, and social media is key in turning assholes into major assholes.  I think I’ve got some stuff coming up that may be of interest…as I’m sure I already mentioned I’ll be learning how to make povitica, I’ll go back to some classic religious ranting when I share the tale of the Church At My Grandma’s House, hopefully spring will be here sooner than later, AANNNNNDDD I’m going to buy a meal for anybody who will assist me in doing some site updates here.  Mainly want to get stuff categorized to make it more user friendly, find a better editor than what WordPress gives me, eye-friendly layouts, fonts, that kind of shit….I really don’t get enough traffic to warrant anything major, but if nothing else I need to be more web savvy when it comes to writing/publishing software. AND if that Santorum dipshit gets any more sway he’s going to need his own page on here…..if you’ve been with me for a while you remember 2008…..
 
                                                                  Local Pig KC

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All Content Copyrighted, 2008, 2012

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Filed under Charcuterie, Chef Alex Pope, Crossroads Art District, culture, eGullet, Farm to Table, Fine Dining, Food, Food Blog, Food Reviews, Kansas City, Kansas City Food Scene, Local Pig Kanas City, Paradise Locker Meats, Slow Foods Kansas City

715- Lawrence, Kansas…

                                                                                                                                                                    

So we all know how this works, I have fun reliving some gratuitous crap that is loosely related to the real subject of the post, and once I’m feeling fully entertained I get around to doling out information on a meal or meals that just leaves you wishing I was the type of dick who won’t let anyone at the table take a bite until I get a picture….”Oh, oh, hold up that butter, I didn’t get a shot of all the butters…WHO TOOK A BITE FROM THE COMPOUND BUTTER!?!?!…Oh man, now I’m going to have to come back here again to get a shot of that BUTTER!  I can’t post ANY of this until I can account for all the buuuttterrrrrs…..if I were my father I’d beat the shit out of ALL OF YOU!”.  Trust me, the schtick is starting to bug me too…it was cool the first half dozen times, now I’m just sounding like any other formulaic food blogger with the possible exception being my implied goal of  consistently low readership.  I’m not out to be edgy or underground, this is the way I actually talk and I genuinely enjoy talking about food related topics. At the same time I have to include stuff that amuses me enough to stay excited about writing anything, and how all of THAT peripheral bullshit fits into the formula is this- I would honestly feel bad if at some point some chef or owner stumbled upon one of my reviews on the interwebs and forwarded or reposted it without first noticing a phrase like “In my confused brain, the juxtaposition of the icy sorbet and the piping hot broth forced me to imagine what it would be like to be a young lady subjected to dueling Jekyll and Hyde ObGyn’s….COLD speculum-WARM speculum-COLD speculum-WARM speculum…..”.   All across Johnson County, scores of Yelpers who were trying to decide between eating at Mestizo and jamming an emery board into their urethra would see THIS jumble of shit and be like…”Hey HON, is it good or bad when the review mentions vagina tools?  I’m so confused now.”  So yeah, I just blow any chance of an actual self-respecting human in the industry counting this shit as “Media” right up front…it entertains me and at the same time it is polarizing enough to let people decide if MY speculum is too hot, too cold or juuuusst right.

So anyway……

I went to some shows at the Outhouse when I was a kid, but it probably wasn’t until around 1991 that I started visiting Lawrence with any regularity….trips to Yello Sub, first run indie flicks like Slacker at Liberty Hall, Love Garden Records…typical fare.  One of the most memorable trips that pretty much set the tone for the next several years happened when I was still an associate pastor in KCK.  I was with our senior pastor officiating a funeral somewhere down near LaCygne.  It was a Friday and I was supposed to be all the way out in Lawrence later that afternoon because a bunch of us were going to see Throwing Muses at The Bottleneck.  Normally, it would be a no-brainer even though we were an hour from home….funerals generally went pretty quickly.  This one got a little complicated when it was discovered that the grave had been dug in the wrong spot, so we had to wrangle the funeral director to confirm the correct plot and then wrangle the guy who ran the backhoe.  This was out in the country in a little country cemetery, the lady who had passed away was an older member in our church and in addition to being the clergy I had to be a pallbearer because there weren’t enough able bodied men to carry the casket.  That fact made me feel bad. What made me feel worse was that I’d done enough funerals to learn about caskets, and these folks had to go with the cheapest possible casket…the silver-greyish felt covered model. And what made me feel even worse than THAT was when we had to set that cheap casket down on the ground and leave it there in the open while we went to sort things out.  So long/depressing story short, they located the right plot and we all stood around as the thunderously loud backhoe ripped up the ground to make room for a little old lady in a cheap casket. 

And it is against that backdrop that I DID make it to Lawrence in time for Throwing Muses.  It was a good show, it was dollar well drink night, and I think I drank about twenty five or thirty rot gut vodka tonics before I had to run out to the car and throw up in the parking lot for the last half hour or so of the show.  That night began a pretty solid tradition of getting so drunk that upon arrival at home I went ahead and slept in the car. For many years, when the question “Where in the hell is Jerry?” was asked the next morning, the reply was often “Did you check the car?”.  Correct answer eight times out of ten.  You are indeed reading this correctly- pastor by day, party animal by night.  That trend lasted for almost a couple of years, at which time I moved to Minneapolis to attend Bible College…then the REALLY crazy shit began….

Since I’m on the subject of getting wasted in Lawrence, I simply MUST bring up what is quite possibly the greatest establishment in the history of lawless redneck counties situated next to a college town….Little Reno’s Paradise Saloon.  Way, WAY too many crazy stories about that place to fit into a food review that takes place fifteen or twenty years later, but I will say…..as a man who ran an adult bookstore for several years and had the misfortune of knowing a LOT of strippers, the Paradise Saloon was the best of the best.  Three dollar drinks, five dollar lap dances, tons of girls, no laws of any kind, and a psychotic bouncer named Meatloaf who loved nothing more than taking misbehaving frat boys out into the parking lot and braining them with his mag-light.  Seriously, it got bad enough that even the Reno sheriff finally said cut it out.  I burned out on strip clubs a very long time ago. They are pretty sad places. But THAT establishment was beautiful.

Of course this is where I could construct a bridge with the cute local girls stripping their way through college  on THAT side, attractive young guys and gals hauling food to older men with mag-light imprints on their forehead on THIS side….too much work.  Back then it was getting our Yello Sub delivery driver buddy stoned for free food, and truckloads of cheap pizza.  Yello Sub remained a constant through the years, and I still love Planet Sub, but at some point life progressed to a point where I could put Lidia’s into the rotation (several lost years prior to the Lidia’s phase, and what a great story that will make once I know more about statutes of limitations), and my regular server there turned me onto Pachamama’s…..for whatever reason, that habit did not survive the move from their original location.  And my dining habits took quite a hit during my last relationship….after attaching myself to a mortgage and moving her in, I was quickly informed that it is the man’s responsibility to be the provider….downhill quickly, etc. etc., flash forward, sobriety, marriage, gravy train with biscuit wheels, yada yada and 715 became the place to check out.

So finally, here we are.  Long story short, after three visits, 715 is an official member of “the rotation”.  It only took 2 visits to make it into the coveted spot, the third trip on Saturday night was just an excuse to go and try some more food.  Even though comparing 715 and The Rieger would be like comparing apples and POV porn, henceforth we’ll refer to it as our “Rieger West”.  The Rieger is like an extended family to us at this point, but considering the mutual love the respective chefs and staff all share, and the extreme high quality of food and service at both restaurants, we’re happy to have them ALL onboard. 

715 is a place that is serious enough about sourcing great products to transcend what is quickly becoming an overused cliché….”farm to table”….it’s the new organic.  The menu is always changing, some days hurt worse than others when I see a daily special that reminds me I’m too lazy to drive to Lawrence on a random Wednesday.  Chef Michael Beard and his crew do food correctly….solid products are given the respect they deserve by dedicating the time it takes to maximize flavor.  You don’t have to go fucking around with food very much when you start with that solid of a baseline.  So first and foremost we have the time and thought that goes into making dishes work on all levels…major “rotation” material.  While I don’t generally count it as a make or break component, the restaurant itself is a great space and that sure as hell does not hurt.  Sure, a nice restaurant in Lawrence is a pretty big douche magnet…former frat jocks who think they’re funny holding a server hostage with a very bad and overused “We have a complaint!” joke, and the cartoonishly thin and stiff turquoise jewelry wearing Portlandia extras who…do…not….stop it with the “Unless you’re in academia it’s hard to understand blah blah blah…..true, oh very true as far as a career in academia…..leave it to academia!….ACADEMIA!!!”.  But hey, I’m thankful for annoying fuckers because they help me narrow down the list of people I want as friends.

Almost as important as the food, an element that is absolutely, 100% mandatory for any restaurant I’d consider as a regular destination….the pride and shared sense of ownership in the front of the house.  We’ve had consistently great service, but if you know me I’m a very, very loyal sonofabitch when I find “my server”…if they are working, I’ll wait for a table in their section if I have to.  And I’m not looking to have my ass kissed, or the hottest hottie, or anything like that…I just want someone who is personable, knows the food, loves the food, is fun to get to know, no cheap waiter tricks, and has enough actual opinions to help guide my decisions as I piece together the best possible meal.  That type of service is critical, I would never, ever be a regular anywhere I could not find it (Mostly talking about mid and upper tier dining…they could throw shit at my head at places like Vietnam Café and I’d still go. Thankfully they do not…).

What I lack in actual writing skill I more than make up for in word count. Taking the time to read all of THIS is an impressive feat. But that shit aside, here is the laundry list of food to the best of my recollection….Sunday Brunch, then apps from 2 visits, entrees and desserts in the same manner….

Beverages– I can’t say enough about how much I love tasty non-alcoholic options…715’s Lavender Vanilla Cream Soda is almost like a dessert, but it is damn fine.  And while I love the “burn my face off” effect a big glass of very lightly diluted Ginger Green Tea Soda at the Rieger has more than anything, the lighter version of Ginger Soda with bits of pulp in it at 715 is a winner too.   My wife has tried a couple of the cocktails and really liked them, but my boring ass cannot speak to their deliciousness.  I don’t drink, but if I still did, none of those cocktails are straight bourbon, so what the fuck good are they?

Smoked Trout Bruschetta– got this during our first visit, Sunday brunch.  Great flakey, house smoked fish with all of the nice little accompaniments.

Pastrami Hash– another brunch dish, pretty hearty, house cured, all that jazz. The first good example of the price being misleading…wasn’t counting on a trucker portion for the money. Big score.

Fried Rabbit and Waffles–  I obviously had to get this for my main at brunch….I mean, it’s fried rabbit and waffles. Front and back quarters breaded and fried up pretty perfectly, and another massive meat missile.  Seriously, for anyone who eats here and does the whole “I expected to get more food for the money”….you need some serious self-examination. Your rotted soul is leaving an empty space where you cram food.

Aranciniarborio rice, stracchino cheese and ragu, served with marinara and hot calabrian chile oil–  this is where stuff really started to get interesting…during our first Saturday night visit. Brunch was good enough to get us back there, but here is where the real show began.  This version of arancini was somewhere between baseball and softball sized, which is no small feat since you need to get it hot all the way through to get a good melt on the cheese without burning the crispy breaded exterior.  I defy you to find anything wrong with deep fried balls of rice, cheese and meat sauce.   The Calabrian chile oil is really something else….I sat there for most of the evening thinking of different  applications for it.  Just the right amount of heat and a ton of flavor.  I will be putting in an order online at Taylor’s Market soon for an array of Calabrian chile goods.

Red Wattle ‘Surryano’2 year dry aged hoof-on pork leg– You order this by the ounce, and on the advice of our server we only got one ounce to  share which ended up being the perfect amount.  My wife goes “oh man, country ham”….she pretty much nailed it.  It is damn good, a lot of flavor and I actually much prefer the texture over far more expensive imported hammy products like Prosciutto.

Lamb Chips w/lemon, parsley and parm– Lamb balls…no mystery here, the awesome photo on 715’s Facebook page put this dish on my radar and was part of the reason we headed out there.  Sliced, breaded, fried….great texture, mild, went very well with the chile oil left over from the arancini. Definintely needs more sharpness of some kind…a few capers in with the lemon and parsley maybe.

Soppresata, Pate, Mortadella Sampler– One thing I need to follow up on here is the Soppressata, I usually think of it as just salami, on the menu it lists it as headcheese, the chunky fattiness definitely says headcheese but it’s sliced thin as hell like salami…just a Basilicata vs. Toscana thing here and I’ve somehow never sampled the latter?  Who gives a shit, the flavor and texture is just dynamite.  This little plate really did end up being one of the best representations of housemade charcuterie I’ve eaten in the KC area.  The flavor and texture of the mortadella was outstanding as well, and the depth of flavor with some spicy sweetness in the pate made it stand way, way out from others I’ve eaten.  Across the board, solid as hell.  To be honest, I’d prefer to just eat the housemade stuff vs. the La Quercia products listed along with them.  La Quercia is obviously fucking phenomenal, but I’m more about the rustic flavor profiles.

Fried Livers– Obscene and total false advertising.  You can’t go and list these fucking things as “fried chicken livers” and then only charge about eight bucks without giving motherfuckers some warning. It’s like back in the day at Sanderson’s when they’d wheel out the world’s largest tenderloin for unsuspecting newbies. Crazy shit.  I will eat any chicken liver any time…from gross and overcooked specimens under the lamp at a prepared foods counter to Go Chicken Go, and everything in between.  For the sake of brevity- huge and batter fried, best livers ever, enough for 4 people.  If I had to make one improvement it would be to maybe throw in some lemon slices or some kind of vinegar based something…..no complaints though, the Calabrian chile oil aioli was fiiine.

FegaloTuscan liver sausage with braised sweet onions, golden raisins and white balsamic– That was one tasty burger patty.  A juicy patty of caulfat wrapped goodness. Really, really rich, minerally, fatty, crisp exterior, heavy dark spices, sweetness, sharp vinegar…ultimate, ultimate dish for a thirty degrees below zero day.  Assuming we ever see another one of those. JINX!

Rabbit RavioliRare Hare Barns rabbit confit over homemade parsnip and goat cheese puree ravioli–  Very solid example of well made ravioli…the pasta was thin enough and the amount of filling was perfect in accentuating both components. The shredded rabbit meat on top was an added bonus.  I really need to try more pasta dishes in the future…so far so good there.

Tilefishseared and served with farro salad, grilled radicchio, watercress and red wine vinegar– You’ve got your fatty liver sausage over there, your light grouper-y seared and roasted filet on this side.  And honestly, the fish dish was strong enough to contend with everything else, the farro, veg and vinegar combo was a very welcome change of pace and stood out. Believe it or not, I’m not ALWAYS in the mood for an overload of animal fat, so it is important that the fish options be worthy of a visit all by their lonesome.

Pork Confit and Spaetzleseared pork belly with chive spaetzle, duck fat seared apples, watercress, fennel and walnuts– I know my 3,000 word reviews are punishing, BUT with this dish we have to go back to last month’s “gay jock hate crime of love” topic. This pork was right at that line, and I have to find out more about the order of preparatory events here….I’ve eaten many times my weight in pork belly, I do a passable version of a Thomas Keller recipe at home, but this rendition took all of the best things about the myriad examples I’ve tried and managed to blend them all into one little package. Salty cure, warm and melty fat, meaty texture, crisp exterior.  I don’t know if it’s the exact same thing that goes into the pork belly salad, I haven’t tried that yet, but I will say…this is something you have to try.  I am never wrong about pork.

Soppressata Pizza– This is what gets the most talk from the 715 fans I’ve spoken with, and it is damn good. You get that headcheese melted down into a pizza and you are on the road to success. Great crust, right ratio of meat/sauce/cheese, seasoned just right, good crispiness giving way to that micro-layer of tongue cauterizing heat. AND it travels well.  We’ll try each of them before all is said and done.

7-Layer Honey Cake– My wife is the dessert fan, and she went crazy for this. I love a good dessert, this one was delicious, but I what I loved and respected most was the construction…very impressive….now that I can do a decent macaron I want to learn how to do this multi-layered rustic entreme thingy.

Sticky Date Cake– Oh, you have to try this and that is no bullshit. This is the type of thing that prompts me to always at least TRY dessert at a new place….for such a small and unassuming little dish it’s a freakin’ monster. Date cake, toffee sauce, ice cream, get it inside you. It’s a world beater.

Lastly, pricewise it’s the kind of place where you can go any direction. We went full-bore with our first dinner there and still barely hit our benchmark $100 tab, which is usually exactly what we spend at Justus, The Rieger, Lidia’s, etc.  Last Saturday we dropped that by ¼ and STILL had way more food than we could ever finish….so honestly, a couple of apps, a shared entrée and a dessert would probably be the perfect amount of food and would make regular “non-date night” visits very doable.  I love the constant Facebook updates that keep me informed of specials, because I am exactly the type of crackhead to make the drive from Parkville on a whim.

SOOO….after thousands of words about one goddamn place, I will shut up after saying- I realize sometimes that my glowing comments make me sound like a Johnson County housewife who never gets to see daylight, but I only usually talk about the places I REALLY like.  So I hope the fact that I know I will never make money on any of this, and the fact that I can (for the most part) eat wherever I want lends some weight to my enthusiasm.  You find a good local place with a solid philosophy, putting out thoughtful food with an emotionally invested team, and you make sure the people on your short list of friends knows to get the fuck over there asap.  I’m not a food critic, I don’t want to potentially mess with anyone’s livelihood just so I can bitch about bad soup, and I’m too lazy to put myself on a schedule with all of this.  This time it’s 715, next time it will be my first experience learning how to make Povitica from a lifelong master, then I’m sure I’ll have some really good fundamentalist-related shit as soon as I’m sure it won’t cause collateral damage, etc. etc.

Now it’s back to my email campaign to get TLC to change the name of “Toddlers and Tiaras” to “WOW! Your Six Year Old is a WHORE!”…..

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Filed under 715 Restaurant, Charcuterie, Crossroads Art District, Crossroads Social Club, culture, eGullet, Farm to Table, Fine Dining, Food, Food Blog, Food Reviews, Home Cooking, homemade, Kansas City, Kansas City Food Scene, Lawrence Kansas, Michael Beard, Paradise Locker Meats

Best Food of 2011…

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 “My son is a homosexual and I love him…..I love my dead gay son!”

 Oh yeah, let’s open this with one of the classics.  It always struck me as strange when Patrick Labyorteaux stripped off his shirt how weirdly fat and muscular he looked at the same time. His core was like a chubby triangle. Great movie, Heathers.  And whenever I think of the most awesome, inspirational bites of food in my life, my mind immediately goes to that awkward funeral….and then to Brokeback Mountain….and then to some Lifetime PSA movie that doesn’t even exist.  This phenomenon is new to me as of this year, after a single bite of food that I will eventually get around to talking about.  But first I must elaborate upon a rating system that I touched on during my trip to DC…..

 2011 was a MONSTER food year, and my rating system is this- If I didn’t like it, unless it was REALLY horrible, you just don’t ever hear me talk about it. I’m not a food critic, I’m not going to bore you with all of the shit that is wrong with a place unless I get poisoned or physically threatened.  If I like it, but I’m not going to rush right back, you may or may not hear me mention it….The Farmhouse here in KC comes to mind as an example. Good food, I’d throw it out there as a recommendation, it’s worth a second and third try at some point, it’s just not going to break into our dinner rotation.  Then there are the restaurants and single dishes that I LOVE….and in the past year you’ve heard me talk about most of those.  I am always trying new places, but I’m a creature of habit.  If I truly love a place, it makes it into “the rotation”….no small feat. Then we go there all the time, and you get totally fucking sick of my Facebook updates from that point forward.

 But THERE IS a personal rating I possess that makes all of the Michelin stars in the world totally superfluous dogshit in comparison…..and THAT rating, which came to me straight from God in the middle of a single bite of food (which I WILL eventually get around to talking about) is….”Gay Jock Hate Crime of Love”.  Or as it will be referred to from this point forward, GJHCOL.  For the uninitiated I am going to break it down for you in a way that will unsettle you like a burp that smells so bad you think you may need to see a doctor.  With that said, I am obviously in no way advocating actual hate crimes if a bite of food sends you over the top.  My brain is just kind of fucked up, and this is how extreme sensory input and my grey matter have to talk to each other if they want to get my attention.

So anyway….in a vision it came to me…..  We are all familiar with those horrible zero budget Oxygen type movies that highlight something that was a relevant issue two years ago.  They always star Meredith Baxter Birney and some twenty five year old actor who is being passed off as the troubled teenage jock or the bulimic princess.  Well, in THIS movie it’s the jock, complete with his awesome letter jacket where he hides his secret smokes a la Greg Brady. But this jock has another, much bigger secret. FLASH FORWARD!  It’s the end of the football season, and the awkward semi-secret newly formed friendship he has developed with a yell leader (even though they’ve been neighbors forever…long story) transforms into an emotional bond that finally reaches its logical conclusion one night when they are in the gym putting some equipment back into the closet (the director had to throw some real softballs out there imagery-wise, Oxygen watchers are pretty goddamn stupid). Long story short, a “hey man…I never told you how much it meant to me when you…taught me how to read” confession turns into a long embrace, which turns into some very consensual kissing, shirts off, no Laboryteaux doughboys though, they are totally ripped, aaaannnnnd….love story turns to TRAGEDY!   With hot tears streaming and snot bubbles the size of grapefruits, the jock suddenly backs away as if struck by lightning.  He begins to emit an “Eeeee…eeeee…EEEEE” noise like that dude who was banging Forrest Gump’s mom, time stands still and the barometric pressure in the immediate vicinity changes so rapidly their ears begin to pop.  In a fit, he rains very vicious yet still ineffective blows down upon the object of his affection…the camera panning away as his conflicted, soul-cauterizing wails continue to boom throughout the halls. Then we fade in to Meredith Baxter Birney, quietly crying as she sits on his bed, wondering aloud what she could have done to help her son who now sits in the county jail….YEAH, maybe a little more understanding from YOUR sorry ass when you forced him to play football after finding him rifling through your makeup drawer and this would aalllll be different….not every child is as perfect as your precious Alex Keaton, whore.

Lots of restaurants, lots of food to cover, but that whole scenario is what flew through my brain after one bite of the following menu item.  “I HATE this thing….I LOVE this thing….I do NOT KNOW HOW TO FEEL SO I MUST DESTROY!  DESTROY!!! BUT OH MY GOD I LOVE IT SO! Eeeee….eeeeee…EEEEEE!!!” 

Categories are out of order, photos are spotty at best, and not everything I talk about will be “gay jock hate crime of love” good….but this little fucker was:

Best Bite of the Year- the Foie Gras BLT at Eola, Wash. DC

The only bad thing about this dish is the photo.  Bacon cured foie gras with a tomato-madeira concoction inside of truffled brioche. As God is my witness, this is one of the richest, most delicious bites of food….ever.  I mean, it spawned “GJHCOL”, just out of the blue.  If you love offal, you will love Eola. So much good shit, go back and read my DC reviews.

Best “It’s a Classic For a Reason, Dumbass”- Citronelle, Wash. DC

I’m not including Citronelle because it’s insanely expensive and I got my ass royally kissed….this place gave me a double whammy of GJHCOL back to fucking back.  First was the Blanquette of Nantucket Bay Scallops..tons of butter and the most perfect little scallops I’ve ever eaten…slight caramelization on the tops, translucent in the center.  Then the death blow- Halibut with saffron lobster sauce….the sauce was the thing…beyond lobster stock, saffron and butter I do not know what all was in there, but it was probably the best sauce of any kind I have eaten in my life.

Best “Where In the FUUUUCCKK Did This Place Come from?”- The Corn Exchange, Rapid City, SD

 

The Corn Exchange was an absolute surprise shot between the eyes as far as food and service.  I’d read great reviews, and it was the only “fine dining” option within a few hundred miles of where we were staying in Deadwood that sounded worthwhile.  As with most of these “best of’s”, for more info consult the original write-ups, but I will say….the young people on staff had incredible training and if they so desire will be able to go on to work at ANY high-end establishment in any major U.S. city. Their enthusiasm for the restaurant was as enjoyable as the food. And the food…if you’re anywhere near the area, I give it my highest recommendation.  Above I’ve featured their corn pancake topped with smoked salmon just to give you something to look at.

Best “I Feel Bad for Having to Tell My Local Chefs About It”-  Crab Pasta at The Boiler Room, Omaha, Neb.

The handcut tajarin with peekytoe crab at The Boiler Room was the best pasta dish I’d eaten since I dined at Quince in San Francisco.  And I’m not throwing that reference out just to sound cool, if you know your shit you know that Quince is the real deal. There are a million little intangibles when it comes to toothy perfection in a pasta, and Chef Kulik just destroys it up in Omaha.  GJHCOL level deliciousness. I shit you not, if I saw it posted on their website menu in the afternoon for that night’s special and I had the time to make it up there, I’d seriously consider a spontaneous trip to Nebraska.  The Boiler Room is the real thing, eat there.

Best “Softshell Crab at The Rieger”- the Softshell Crab at The Rieger, Kansas City, Mo.

I know, this one was a surpise winner in this category.  Your asses all knew The Rieger was going to show up here….just a matter of when and what.  No secret that I now just refer to it as “headquarters”, and I do look forward to softshell season 2012.  I’ve eaten plenty of softshell crabs and THESE…they are special.  But there’s so much good shit at The Rieger I just kind of settled on this dish because our time with it shall always be fleeting.

Best “Recovering Alcoholics are People TOO”- soft drinks at The Rieger and Justus Drugstore, and the Van Verde at Bluestem

Now I know these things weren’t all formulated just for my sorry low-bottom ass, BUT I am forever thankful for delicious and thought provoking non-alcoholic options when I dine out.  The Rieger Kola, pictured above, is just King Motherfucker and that’s the way it is. Flavorwise, it is the killer.  I’ve been opting for the Green Tea Ginger soda more often recently, but I always go back to the Kola.  At Justus you simply choose between savory and sweet when ordering a mocktail, and I promise you whatever you receive will be as incredible as any of their alcoholic drinks….okay, obvious bullshit THERE, but hey, they are still awesome.  And honorable mention absolutely goes out to Van at Bluestem…the no-booze version of the Van Verde with all of its cucumber smoothness is the perfect beginning to a five course meal in the dining room.

“Best Storyline”- Port Fonda

Like The Rieger, here is another place that I’ve ranted and raved about since our first visit to El Comedor on the hottest day of the year….July First Friday.  It has been chronicled here at least twice, but has to be included in my personal best-of for this year.  It got its start early this year and since then has exploded in popularity with dynamite walk-up Mexican street food, and a private dining experience that blows the mercury straight out of any hipster-cache thermometer. Great food, awesome people, and one hell of a story.  With the passing of Starker’s chef and owner John McClure this fall, a huge gap was left in our food scene and the fate of Barrio, the taqueria set to open in Westport in 2012, was unknown.  With the type of loyalty and love that makes me proud to be a KC food nerd, the folks at Port Fonda and McClure’s business partner Dan Doty teamed up and that taqueria is still going to open in the Spring of 2012.  The Port Fonda storyline expands and the collaboration and respect that is shared amongst some of my personal favorite people in this town will continue to be legendary. 

Best “Comfort Food- Redefined”- Vietnam Cafe, Columbus Park

One of the major food groups my wife has been missing badly since she moved up here is Vietnamese.  I took her to one place in the River Market where I’ve eaten for years, and we tried a couple of places that were new to both of us.  After a couple of visits to each of the (unrelated) Vietnam Cafe’s we have in KC, the one in Columbus Park just sucked us in.  Pretty much every chef I know and every friend who loves food has raved about Vietnam Cafe, but I never want to jump on a bandwagon even if I trust your opinion.  The place delivers, and has leap-frogged over restaurants like The Corner when we’re seeking soul warming comfort food. The pho, the rice dishes, the crazy low prices, the insanely fast service and people watching….I NEVER eat quickly anymore but I always find myself hoovering in whatever they put in front of me.  We need zero reason to head over there, so if you have not been….go, dummy.

“Best Way to Guarantee You’ll Need Your Entrees To-Go”- The Italian Nachos at Cascone’s

This dish will go on every “best of” list I do for the rest of my life….totally non-traditional, insanely unhealthy and filling, and absolutely mandatory.  Fried pasta chips, ground Italian sausage, asiago cheese sauce, parmesan, pepperoncini’s, black olives, tomatoes…..the only way you’re going to touch your entree is if you’re eating with at least three other people.  Total stoner bliss, death row meal material, this is something that will remain legendary.

Best “Only Reason to Drink Coffee Other Than My Own”- the espresso at Grunauer

You know me, I roast my own coffee and have for at least a decade. I generally only use beans from Ethiopia or Yemen with the occasional use of Sumatran or Indian Monsooned if a good crop is available. I make my shit STRONG, my regular cup o’ joe will leave the flavor of most espressos in the dust.  But the Meinl espresso they make at Grunauer is probably the single best restaurant coffee I’ve ever had.  Usually if I can even detect coffee flavor when dining out I’ll say it’s “good”…so when I actually get flavor overload, then holy shit, I’ve stumbled upon the beverage version of GJHCOL.  More places like Justus and The Farmhouse are doing French Press these days, and there are many choices for locally roasted beans, but Grunauer’s espresso is far beyond anything else I’ve ordered in KC.

Best “Made Me Wish I Was a PMS’ing Teenage Girl So I Could Truly Appreciate It”- the Christopher Elbow/Port Fonda drinking chocolate collaboration

These crazy fuckers got together and took what is ALREADY a ridiculously rich and flavorful beverage (that you can’t call hot chocolate because it truly is “drinking chocolate”) and took it to the next level.  I’m not a huge chocolate lover, but God in heaven, the addition of what tasted like orange peel and spicy chiles made a believer out of me.  No need to go looking for it, it was a one-time thing as far as I know, and you know it was delicious if I’m not even mentioning the freshly fried churros they served with it.

Best “Yes I Am Aware It’s a Polarizing Place, But the Food is Phenomenal and  My Street Cred is Such that I Can EAT WHEREVER THE FUCK I WANT”- Justus Drugstore

The title of this award pretty much sums it up.  Do I know diners and restaurant professionals who do not like Jonathan Justus?  Oh yeah. Absolutely. But until I hear stories about him poisoning Tylenol bottles or happily serving Rick Perry or Sarah Palin, I will continue to be a fan. The man puts out some consistently thoughtful and well-executed food. It is rare for my wife and I to spend a thirty minute car ride combing over the finer points of the meal we just ate, and more often than not that’s what happens after our meal there. And the service….excellent.  If you know me, you know the only chef’s ring I’m going to kiss in this town is Howard Hanna’s, and that’s only because we have the same wedding band….I don’t fall for the fanboy bullshit.  If the food was not top notch I wouldn’t eat there just to remain in the KC dining elite, much less rave about it.  Anyone who doubts my ability to completely alienate and terrorize a REAL douche of a chef, feel free to consult the local archives. 

 

Best “Who Knew That Shit Went Together?” – the Sweetbreads and Scallops at The Rieger

That’s pretty much it. Who knew?  Two of my favorite foods on the same plate together, both executed individually and perfectly.  If I’m a dumbass for not knowing this is some legendary goddamn Escoffier classic, well then fuck ME…

“Best Reason to Own at Least One Chest Freezer”- Paradise Locker Meats

I’d say at this point about 85% of the meat we eat comes from Paradise Locker. We are lucky to be able to buy from a place that caters to many, many top tier dining establishments.  Smartest half hour drive ever.  They know their product, and it’s not like Lobel’s… you don’t have to have an upper-east side salary to afford to buy most of your meat there.  Now, it’s not as cheap as your factory farmed grocery store truckload sale selections…..but the trade-off is YOU CAN ACTUALLY TASTE THAT IT’S MEAT!   We are happy to eat a slightly smaller quantity of a much higher quality product, and the selection is varied enough to make it a lot of fun.  It’s a whole circle of life thing…you support a locally owned operation that supports local farms…a meaty and delicious goddamn hippie dream.

Best “Better Late to the Party Than Never”- the radish pods from Crum’s Heirlooms

This was the year we joined our first CSA because it was the first year our favorite farmers (from whom we buy every week during the season ANYWAY) offered one. There were many, many items we loved and lusted over….kohlrabi comes to mind, mountains of kale, RADISHES, tomatoes….but the big one that stuck out due to its uniqueness (and newness to MY clueless ass) was definitely the humble radish pod.  Everthing that is good about a snap pea and spicy radish rolled into one little package.  Eaten alone, on salads….everything about them is good.  Our favorite thing is to mimic a Rieger dish and top a piece of grilled Farm to Market Bread with a salad that features the pods, radishes and greens, all topped with an over-easy egg.  Definitely loving the CSA way of life and the Crum’s are the best…..cannot wait to see what 2012 has in store for us.

“Best Testaments to the Fact That My Kitchen Kung-Fu is Strong”- Macarons and Sous Vide cooking

I’ve featured both of these things on my blog, so I won’t spend a ton of time here.  Mainly just wanted to say that between learning how to successfully make macarons, and bringing sous vide into my regular cooking rotation, I feel like a pretty goddamn accomplished home chef.  Above you’ll see the assorted macaron colors and flavors that were part of my Christmas gift selection for  very lucky recipients this year, and below that is some Ad Hoc fried chicken that was brined and sous vide prior to frying.  Macarons are a bastard to make, sous vide is like falling off a log….and both result in impressive and delicious offerings.  Oh, most recently the 48 hour shortribs (Piedmontese from Paradise Locker, naturally) shot to the top of my best-ever special occasion recipes….or not so special occasion…whenever I have shortribs on hand counts as special.

Best “I Don’t Often Choose to Read, But When I Do It’s About Food…”- Lucky Peach

Yeah, I like reading some gratuitous Bourdain rambles and I worship David Chang as a fellow lover of finely crafted profanity.  And you KNOW YOU’RE COOL when you can drop little nuggets out of THIS publication. Seriously though, a great read, I’m just about done with Issue #2.  Awesome recipes, and it doesn’t take itself too seriously.  I feel a kindred spirit when reading Lucky Peach, and it forces me to read….something I swore I would never do again after grad school.

Best “Poised for World Domination”- Colby and Megan Garrelts, Bluestem and Trezo Vino

And we will finish this hell-ride up by bringing it all back full circle….folks that took my expectations for fine dining in KC over the top.  Colby has made like forty trips out to NYC to be continually shot down by the James Beard dicks, and Megan has always been like “you all WILL believe that dessert is just as vital a part of your meal as a first course or main”.  Now I don’t know if any of THAT shit is the impetus behind the juggernaut, but they are vivisecting the local scene like a pageant mom with a grudge.  A second restaurant, a third on the way, any and all collateral damage to the flagship addressed with a vengeance, and the greatest thing of all for those of us who have been there since the doors opened….a cookbook (complete with signings and a media blitz that probably includes the outer banks of Siberia for all I know).   I don’t mean this to sound condescending AT ALL, but “watching Bluestem grow up” has been a total joy.  I eat a ton of different places, I always have some current obsession, but I always know that I can go back to Bluestem and get service and food that reminds me why I continually champion the KC food scene.  Well played, demons.

So wasn’t it great how I included the gay jock thing for no real reason and then only made gratuitous references to it throughout this whole mess in order for it not to be completely unnecessary?  Maybe in 2012 I’ll get a totally new yet still homoerotic vision that ventures into the land of the male g-spot….we can only hope and pray for that.

And that’s about all I’ve got….Santa was kind, we’re co-hosting a huge NYE party tomorrow night, and all is well.  Happy New Year, pricks.

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