Tag Archives: Kansas City Food Scene

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.

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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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Filed under Fine Dining, Food, Food Blog, Food Reviews, Kansas City Food Scene

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…..
 
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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

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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Being A Good Customer…

This week one of my favorite restaurants (“El Comedor”) that I’ve mentioned at least twice in my blog got an across-the-board four star review in the Kansas City Star ( http://www.kansascity.com/2011/09/14/3140292/review-uniquely-superb-port-fondas.html ). Well deserved….it’s the right combination of everything that is good about food and fun about eating, and I could ramble about Port Fonda, Patrick, Max and Katy all day long…but it’s just a jumping off point for what’s really on my mind. I have helpful knowledge to share today, goddammit.

I’ve eaten in El Comedor more than once and looking forward to going again… I’m insanely happy about it and proud to be a part of  the communal love shared by a great group of KC chefs, BUT there is a pretty long progression and a distinct learning curve when it comes to that sort of situation being a normal part of your life…especially considering the fact that I’m not in the service industry, I’m not an entertainer, journalist, hipster, millionaire or anything of the sort. I’m just a dude who loves going out to eat. To be honest, there are some intangibles here that I cannot help anybody replicate…I’m pretty good at mixing with just about anyone, I have a wicked sense of humor, and for God knows what reason I’ve always just kind of drawn people in (the freak magnet part of that is a big downside). I’ve seen a lot of crazy shit in my day, so I’m at ease in damn near any social environment. Worst case scenario, I was a pentecostal minister turned porno dealer prior to my very vanilla IT career, so I can be a good little dancing monkey and provide endless stories from back in the day. And that’s not even counting the drinking adventures….hoo boy.

When I was talking to a food critic outside the trailer a couple of weeks ago, they jokingly asked me who I had to pay off to keep scoring the hands-down hardest to get table in the city….probably one of the toughest in the country at this point. My inferiority complex tells me that the chef is just having mercy on the poor retarded kid, and while that may be true enough it isn’t anything I’m going to advertise, so I just said….”I think being a nice person who is obviously there for the food and fellowship goes a long way”. The whole hipster/coolest kid on the block angle doesn’t mean shit to me….the restaurants that are still on my bucket list are far, far outnumbered by the great places I’ve already visited. And nothing makes me want to vomit more than a restaurant being “THE scene”. If Patrick was just some dude doing this same type of thing in a trailer in his mom’s driveway, if the food was still that good and I could bring my friends along, I’d fucking eat there any time. I don’t give a FUCK about the velvet rope aspect. YES it is FUNNY to know how many completely clueless people who haven’t done their homework email him thinking that the type of annoying persistence that gets them some comped spinach queso dip at Chi Chi’s is going to get them a Comedor booking. BUT I would rather light a candle than curse people’s darkness, so today what I have for you is at least a brief beginning to what I think of as “being a good customer”. If you’re an idiot who already thinks what I mean by being a good customer is bending over for a crazed egomaniacal autocrat of a chef so that I can be one of the “cool kids”, you’re in luck….my dick needs sucked. So get to it, and then go enjoy some fucking slop at the goddamn Ted’s Montana Grill you love so much because they let you be the customer who is always right.

#1- YOUR PRIORITIES HAVE TO ALREADY BE A LITTLE FUCKED UP-

It’s all about what you value….the value of me and my wife’s cars combined is probably around three or four thousand dollars. I know people who go out and spend forty grand on a new Lexus and then piss and moan about spending ten dollars on a lunch, because spending that much money on food is just STUPID. If you’re just a casual diner who doesn’t branch out much and chain restaurants are your thing because they are consistent and familiar, you’ll get some decent food and maybe awesome service from time to time, but the world of serious dining is probably not for you. And that’s cool man, everyone has their thing they love….cars, guns, scrapbooking, stamp collecting, Chiefs season tickets…whatever. Dining for me is an obsession and something I truly love and enjoy…I love a million things about it, and I have put in the time and work required that allows me to blend into that community and make great friends who feel the same way about it. The food is just one aspect of the big dance.

#2- COMMON COURTESY, how in the FUCK don’t people realize that?-

I’m a fun guy, I’m engaging. I bring a lot to the table. Most of all, I’m a nice guy. If you’re nice to me, I’m in your corner and I’m a handy sumbitch to have in your corner. Simple things, man…if you’re going to need to split checks, mention that shit right at the beginning…no fucking suprises at the end of the meal where everyone tries to figure out who is supposed to pay for what appetizer. Be clear at the onset. OR, shit like- if you drink at the bar before you are seated, tab out before you go to your table, don’t have that shit transferred to your dinner bill. Pay your bartender, tip your bartender. Really basic shit….some substitutions are fine, leave off the cheese, dressing on the side, etc. etc., but there are people who try to completely rebuild the menu on a slamming Saturday night…want Caesar dressing specially made WITHOUT anchovies, crazy stuff….horrible human beings. Nightmares of the planet who pretend to have some weird allergy just to get their way. Make reservations if the place takes them…don’t go walking in on a Saturday night and be shocked that your ass is waiting two hours for a table IN the men’s room (and then when you ARE seated, act like a total pissed off asshole expecting them to blow you for your trouble the whole time because you’re too stupid to take the time to book ahead).

This could go on forever……..too many examples, but here is the big one-

TIP! And I begin this under the assumption that anyone reading it already knows shit like you tip on the original amount if you’re using a Groupon, coupon, gift certificate, whatever. If you don’t know THAT shit, then go start hoarding cats and get to know the state worker who will be managing you. If I am a “regular” somewhere, it is a place where I tip at least 30%…it’s also a place where I have a regular server, but even if that person isn’t working that night, then whomever takes their place still gets 30%. And to be clear, for any piece of SHIT reading this who doesn’t count tax, alcohol, etc. when calculating the tip….you tip off of the highest number, dumbass. Tax, wine, what the fuck ever…it counts, it ALL COUNTS! If you have some egocentric retard logic that says otherwise, you seriously deserve to have someone fuck up your face….restaurants for you are just places for you to compensate for your lack of power and control in your real life, so stay the fuck at Ruth Chris or McCormick and Schmick and all of those bullshit chains where they are happy to treat assholes like royalty. Seriously, you can know all you want about a chef and be a kiss ass and all that, but it’s your front of the house people who make shit happen…the amount of free food, great tables and VIP treatment I get is pretty cool….and you know how that happens? I’m a nice guy….low maintenance, genuinely invested in the experience, and I take care of my people. Common fucking courtesy. Politeness. If I have an early Saturday night reservation I don’t linger over coffee…I give the valuable real estate back so someone else can sit down and buy food. Simple respect….things often forgotten these days.

#3- LEAVE THE CHEF THE FUCK ALONE-

Okay, you’re impressive. You know the guy who just got the big review and you are also showing off your “faincy” new dress on a hopping Saturday night….so that trip across the dining room and straight back to the kitchen would probably be greatly appreciated by him, right? No. It’s not right. It’s wrong. It is so wrong. It’s Saturday, there are people at work who are making the place worthy of that review you just read…don’t go messing up the flow with a goddamn panty raid on the kitchen. As they have time, chefs make the rounds….they know that PR is part of their job, and all of my bitchiness aside, they probably really do like you and appreciate the fact you want to talk to them. Most chefs are very, very cool that way. But the time they have available forces them to be strategic with their table visits….chances are good that on a Saturday night they’re going to have to schmooze with a less-savvy/big money group or perhaps other industry folks who are visiting from another city when in fact they would much rather be chilling with you or another cool regular. That’s how it goes, don’t take it personally, and don’t be a whiny suckup. Have some self respect for Christ’s sake.

#4- KNOW FOOD-

Understanding different methods, ingredients, seasonality and things of that nature really make you a valuable customer….especially if your server is bombarded with people who need every fucking ingredient and word explained to them. Enthusiastic, collaborative discussion about food is therapeutic…you bond with people over that shit. It sets you apart from the weekend warriors because you know food well enough to be there for THAT. Overly simple, but this is really at the heart of it all. It’s exciting. It’s why we love food.

#5- ORDER RIGHT, DUMBASS!-

I swear to God, nothing pisses me off more than when someone I know FINALLY visits a restaurant I love that they’ve asked me a million questions about, and then acts like they are doing ME a favor….only to come back with THIS bullshit:

“So, we finally visited whatever-the-fuck-restaurant!”

“Yeah, how was it?”

“Well…it was okay, we didn’t really see what all of the fuss was about.”

“Seriously? What did you guys order?”

“We both got the house salad and shared one of the appetizers.”

Aaannnnd SCENE! I shit you not, people are that stupid. First of all, wasting real estate on a Saturday night like that is enough to knock them in the head. Secondly, BOTH of you ordering the safest, plainest possible thing and THEN only venturing in far enough to SHARE one damn APPETIZER….is more than likely, and I am no psychic, but it’s more than likely not going to be the greatest sampling you need to get an accurate accounting of the flavors offered. And of course, then I’m the idiot who actually goes there all the time as they go around the office with their emperor has no clothes bullshit directed at me.

Order right. Trust your server. Check out the specials. If the chef is pumped about a specific dish or ingredient…chances are it’s not going to suck. Don’t all order the same thing. Don’t look for a great burger at a Vietnamese joint. Don’t use goddamn Texas Roadhouse as your measuring stick. Be realistic. Oh, and these are not poor people I’m talking about, I’d never ding someone for not being able to afford the full smorgasbord, I’m not an asshole….these are professional people with enough money to order an actual meal…and they are stupid. Don’t be like them. Don’t be stupid.

#6- THINK LOCAL, LIKE THE FUCKING HIPPIES-

This whole dining thing is part of a much, much larger picture….get to know that picture. Buy as much local product as fiscally possible, get to know your farmers and your suppliers, get into the seasonal nature of cooking and GRAVITATE TOWARDS the types of restaurants and chefs who operate in that manner. It’s really simple, but it’s a vital link to that community….I personally know the farmers who provide much of the produce we eat in our home, and they also supply the restaurants where I eat…I literally shared one great meal with my butchers and one with my farmers in El Comedor…both times eating food THEY personally provided TO the chef. The goddamn circle of life and all that….get to know people, you’ll get to know the people that THEY know, and at some point you’ll be where I’m at….never having to worry about whether or not my meal will be good because it’s either a place I already love OR it is a place personally recommended to me by those people whom I already know and trust. Top tier five star dining, hole in the wall Mexican with fucking crime scene tape on the floor, and everything in between…all awesome.

Granted, money and calorie-wise the majority of your meals are going to have to be eaten at home…and here is the bonus- sourcing great products and learning tips, recipes and various recommendations from suppliers and chefs improves your home cooking exponentially. Being a good home cook makes me a better diner and vice versa…it becomes much easier to identify truly great food when I can connect with a dish because it’s something I want to try and replicate OR it is something so far beyond me I could never pull it off.

#7- SOME SIMPLE SHIT TO LOOK FOR-

It is only possible to visit so many restaurants per month, and it is important to continue to take recommendations and keep trying new places in addition to your favorites.  We have what we refer to as “the circuit”…it’s a group of Saturday night date night level restaurants that include places like Lidia’s, Justus Drugstore, Bluestem, The Rieger and obviously Port Fonda/El Comedor.   We’ve got a ton of other places for all sorts of ethnic, casual and greasy spoon meals, but the aforementioned places are some of our tried and true places where we’re pretty serious regulars when we want a “nice” dinner.

Long story short, what gets my regular business besides creative, delicious and spot-on cooking is a very basic thing….a shared sense of pride and ownership.  When the chef is all about their town, farmers, producers, etc., and the staff is all about their chef and genuinely love the food and want YOU to have a great time and love it like they do…THAT is the magic. That’s the dance, and it is what makes me excited to be there and to keep coming back.  I know that only makes sense to a handful of people, as evidenced by the “wham bam thank you maam” types of chain-loving folks I encounter. 

#8-SPREAD THE WORD-

I’ll be honest, I’m not some fucking patron saint of service industry good will and cheer.  There are some very grand, touchy feely moments and the highest hopes for your favorite chefs and all that, but there are also moments when it’s good to be king.  When you’re entertaining relatives from out of town and you’re showing off your favorite restaurant to them on a slamming Saturday night, and your server happily approaches your premium perch to inform you that the chef knew you were coming in so he held back the last two orders of softshell crab they’d probably have available for the season, and you get to sit there munching away while the table of moneyed yuppies next to you watches and collectively shit themselves because the dish wasn’t available to THEM….there is no price you can put on that.  Or another good one….getting a peak at a cool ass cookbook that won’t be available to the general public for a couple of months.  I share a lot of love and respect with many local restaurateurs, but when it comes down to brass tacks….they are there to make a goddamn living. Nobody wants to be a starving artist here, kids. If I like a place and I like you, I want you to love the same place and go there often.  BUT I’m also pretty cool about not using a restaurant as a dumping ground for every scenester or stingy, hard to please asshole that I know.  I’m pretty much a total dick about whom I will or will not spend time with; I just don’t like wasting time with dipshits. And I’m assuming the same can be said for any cherished server who would give me the stinkeye for blindsiding them with a douche.  You spread the word…word of mouth is how I do business in 99% of my various transactions…I want my money to stay local and I want to build relationships. RELATIONSHIPS….are key here.

In summation…I’m in kind of a weird place because I do not have a venue other than this blog to ramble about all of this shit….and that is honestly not my goal.  I’m a huge egomaniac, so I believe my writing is better than a lot of the popular bloggers and critics. And if people want to read my stuff, great, but I’m not going to shorten it, learn proper grammar or clean anything up just to be featured in some fucking rag.  And I’m not a food critic, that is a very important distinction for me….I do find restaurants I’m not crazy about, but unless someone is just a total FUCKER I’m not going to take the piss out of a place; I just don’t write about it and I don’t go back.  Between Yelp and the various food boards across the internet, one important thing gets lost…you can be real damn brave behind a keyboard and lose sight of the simple fact that you could unnecessarily and unwittingly fuck with someone’s livelihood.  I only know of one….okay two….chefs who would go out of their way to give you the finger if you said their food sucked.  One is just a goddamn savant and I will forgive it, and the other is locked away in the bowels of some hotel kitchen where he can’t do too much harm. The vast, vast, vast majority truly and from their heart want you to enjoy your meal and they appreciate your business.  If you don’t like something they want to make it right, and before you take to the internet to light them up I think you should give them a chance to make it right, or at least let THEM know about your issue before you start your march to the sea.  You’ll never meet someone more meticulous and self-conscious than a great chef.  And when you find that special blend of alchemy that is evidenced from the front to the back of the house, it deserves to be loved and respected, and it damn sure deserves to be shared.

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Calvin Trillin’s Pretty Mouth…

Okey dokey, heavy food content this time around. A couple of weeks ago I completed an 8-day food blog over on eGullet…specific to my version of Kansas City dining.  I know I love to rain piss down upon the socially inept and mind numbingly self-aggrandizing aspects of the way the site is run, but to be completely honest there are some really cool people over there who are all about food….big time.  Tons of unpretentious folks who approach the subject like I do….in that all-or-nothing completely unhealthy, OCD kind of way.  Oh, and it was how I ended up meeting my wife. So it was kind of a blast putting my energy into sharing a week’s worth of meals in painful detail, complete with pictures and tons and tons of rambling.  For anyone interested in wading through it, here you go:  http://forums.egullet.org/index.php?/topic/139733-eg-foodblog-zeemanb-2011/ 

When I write, the only time I’m used to editing myself is in work related emails. Other than that, I just go with whatever entertains me at the time.  I do my best to write in my actual voice, not in some awkwardly concocted affectation. I knowingly break many rules of grammar because of how I want it to sound. And my voice can be pretty filthy. Some very bad things.  Writing at eGullet was kind of like pissing your pants slowly enough so as not to draw attention by making too big of a bloom in your trousers too quickly. You just kind of edge around a lot of shit, make sure not to cuss, it’s not torture or anything but there are times when you just want to cut the fuck loose and write for the smallest minority of people who would find it hilarious.  And I mentioned that fact once or twice…and that is the inspiration for this post.  The following paragraph is an actual excerpt from the eGullet blog. If you are mainly familiar with my writing here, you may notice some differences.  What follows that is a longer version of the same type of thing, but written for HERE.  Enjoy. 

EGULLET:

“Recommending restaurants to co-workers…it may have already been chronicled on this site, no idea, but for me it’s a sticky predicament. I don’t ever want to come off as snobbish, because I hate those people…they don’t really enjoy food, dining out is just another way they can feel the control they crave. BUT I also don’t want to screw over one of my favorite restaurants by sending over a doofus. OR, have them come back saying the food was a rip-off because it didn’t fill them up, or it sucked because they can’t believe three scallops cost them twenty bucks. I generally try to gauge who the person is foodwise, and at the very least point them to a place that is local and dependable. It’s usually not the place they heard me raving to a friend about, which can also raise questions or hurt feelings (because people treat work too much like life, and you are their spouse or sibling…another topic entirely). I’m just protective of the places I love…I want the people I send there to be the type of folks who like to build relationships with restaurants like I do, and when you work someplace where a “normal” lunch outing is gorging at the local Chinese Buffet or the 5.99 salad and breadsticks at Olive Garden, those people are rare. Again, to each his own, General Tso’s chicken is awesome, I love Red Lobster, but the bottom line is “value” is important to everyone but it also happens to have one of the most subjective definitions on earth. I “value” bringing my lunch to work 99% of the time and having one really nice weekend dinner at one of my favorite joints a couple of times per month, vs. an array of $5-$8 lunchtime chowfests that probably end up costing about as much as my one dinner. Anyway, just throwing all of that out there. Rambling to impress myself at how I’ve written this much without letting Profanity Jerry off the chain…”

HERE:

As far as my dining habits and knowledge go, I never want to come off like a dick. I hate dinner “collectors” who look at it all like a big spreadsheet or fucking baseball card collection.  You can’t just relax and talk about food around these people.  They’re prone to bouts of heavy breathing as they pump you for information about some dish you got to try before they did….like they’re forcing you to recover a lost molestation memory or something.  I was actually happy when I heard El Bulli was closing just because I knew how badly it would tweak the nipples right off of those boors.  They had the space on the wall next to the plaster cast of Thomas Keller’s schvantz saved for some token of their visit to Catalonia…a server’s pinky finger perhaps….and now it can’t happen….the irritation of never having the option to eat there is more than worth the knowledge of their pain.

Oh, and of course the control freaks who feel like it’s their job to teach the restaurant how to perfect the craft of making them the center of the goddamn universe.  THOSE people never shut up, and reading a food review from them is like reading a coroner’s report and it’s always prefaced with the artful cocksmanship of either dropping every restaurant name possible or recounting in detail their five thousand prior visits.  They want to establish the fact that they probably know more than you do.  These are the dicks you see walking to the kitchen on a slamming-busy Saturday night so that they can grace the chef with their presence; creating an awkwardness and traffic jam of which they remain totally oblivious.  And then they march back to their table and figure the price of the meal without tax and alcohol before tallying the tip.  The next day they wake up and chronicle the rise and fall over time of some specific dish they ate the night prior, they are way more about the stick than the carrot and assume their target is appreciative of that fact, and when they complete the review it totally slips their mind to title it “Someday My Kids Will Award Me a ‘World’s Worst Bastard’ Trophy Before Filing Me Away in a Home”.

Now, I don’t mind coming off like a dick to THOSE people.  Being viewed as a mouth-breathing, shit-flinging Philistine by them is probably a good thing.  But basically-  I love food, I dine out a lot, I research the living shit out of a town foodwise before I arrive, but the bottom line for me is not only the enjoyment of the food but the act of dining itself.  Spending time with people you love and admire, great food and deepening your relationship with your local food community. With various exceptions, it is for the most part a very protected event for me. That is where the weirdo control freak in ME comes out.  And I say all of THAT to say- it scares the shit out of me if I ever recommend one of my favorite restaurants to someone I’m not 100% sure about.  That is one major burden that comes with being “the food guy” to everyone you meet…especially at work. You don’t want to come off like one of the aforementioned total bastards, but more importantly…you don’t want to put the dick to your favorite restaurant by unleashing a slew of motards on them.  Yes, I was one of those motards once upon a time, and I am keenly aware of the new experiences needed to grow beyond that. That’s why I really do put thought into recommending good, local restaurants when anyone asks, based on what I think they’d like yet still pushes them out of their comfort zone a bit. What I’m talking about HERE is keeping my personal temples of gastronomy pretty close to my chest when in mixed company. 

The greatest truth is this- the co-workers who push you the hardest to hook them up with your favorite restaurant will always be the biggest dipshits about it.

First, I do realize that it took having my stomach stapled to keep from eating myself to death.  I GET IT. And the fact that I don’t, and can’t, eat nearly as much at one sitting as a hungry eight year old is not lost on me. But STILL, the most common worrisome thing I hear from a co-worker who asks me about a restaurant after hearing me talking to SOMEONE ELSE about it, is along the lines of “Now, am I still going to have to go and eat at McDonald’s afterwards to feel full?”.  Well, yes motherfucker, you ARE going to have to eat at McDonald’s!  I’m sorry that the seared diver scallop dish at Bluestem doesn’t have an all-you-can-eat option. I guess it should. I guess you should be able to stuff your gut wherever you go until you resemble a monster from Bosch’s “Garden of Earthly Delights”….eating and shitting, eating and shitting, eating and shitting, right there in your seat. For every goddamn bite you take, your body is forced to expel waste to make room.  Quality, flavor, atmosphere, fellowship…..all of THAT bullshit takes a backseat to making the whole world one big casino buffet. If it were my fucking BOSS asking me that question I’d still give them the address of an empty parking lot far, far away from any of the places I eat.  Eating to the point of almost puking for minimal cost is the gold standard of quality here in the Midwest.

The “greater the money greater the gorgefest” crowd aside, the ones who scare me the worst are the fucking cheapskates.  I’m not rich, I don’t pretend to be rich, but apparently some people hold a weird grudge against you for spending what they think is way too much money on dinner. They act like you are a mentally retarded socialite even though they make at least as much, if not more, than you.  So when they do you the great honor of harassing you for intel about your favorite place prior to going there and expecting to have their asses wiped all night long, I guess you’re supposed to feel lucky.  For those pricks, the food is NEVER, EVER going to be good enough to justify the price…so I am very specific with them- my wife and I usually spend between $100 and $130 including a generous tip when we go out for a “nice” dinner about once or twice per month. In the fine wine and dining world, that isn’t jack shit, but for that amount you can eat well almost anywhere in Kansas City if you’re not drinking wine or booze. About twice per year we’ll double that and go top-tier dining.  We make up for our spending by taking our lunch to work nearly 100% of the time and eating dinner at home at least 90% of the time.  Eat out less often so that when you do it can be spectacular…that’s how we do things.  And when we eat out, it tends to be a different experience than a lot of people will get…I don’t get fucking blowjobs and a key to the walk-in, but I’ll get some extra chat-time with the chef, or a comped dish, I always have a regular server who treats me great…and I can always count on a good table.  I’m not special, I’ve just invested time in building relationships with the places I love….and I’m super low-maintenance, pleasant, I don’t need a ton of shit on the menu explained to me, I don’t ask for substitutions, and I’m a good tipper (30% is the norm at my regular haunts, sometimes more, we enjoy spreading the love).  I’d never eat at a place where I’m treated like a king and everyone else is treated like low-lives, there are just benefits to being a serious regular…and the cheapskates can never understand that shit. Anything above Olive Garden money and the server had better be willing to act as a footrest.  

I really don’t know where the chip on the shoulder comes from, but I know that no matter how many times you explain it in detail for them and do everything but tell them “don’t go, you’re not going to like it”, they are still going to go and they are going to be an inconsolable dick the whole time. They are the aforementioned control freaks in training. When it comes time to pay the bill they’re going stand there all wide eyed and breathless and shit like Major Toht in the tavern scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark.  They’ll probably retrieve a coin purse to collect their exact change…and then pull out three fucking quarters, put them in the server’s open palm, take the time to shut their hand back over the quarters, pat their hand, smile at them and then creepily, Lost Arkily, whispers something like  “Yeesssss, for youuuuuuuuu..”.  Then they’ll saunter off with a little limp.  But they don’t even have a limp!  At least not when they came in! What in the FUCK? Just thinking of that shit and being involved in any way with dicking over a favorite restaurant just makes me want to end it all.  What a nightmare.

There are a ton of other possible scenarios, none of them good.  People who compare everything to their favorite chain…or the ones who will hang out for an extra hour at their table after dinner is over, whittling a big pile of oak shavings onto the floor on a packed Saturday night. Sure, I do know normal human beings who have been very happy with my recommendations in the past. I’ve just seen it go the OTHER way enough times to make me super protective of the places I love. If someone came back from a trip to Lidia’s bitching because the heritage breed rib chop didn’t hold a candle to Outback, I don’t think I could be held responsible for my actions. I know that taste is subjective, I just don’t want to be an enabler for these morons. 

So that’s it.  If you know me or have eaten a meal with me don’t go and get all self-conscious, you fucking egomaniac. This isn’t about you. It’s about the people we bitch about from work who we’d never friend on Facebook no matter how many times they send a request. I’m not good for a whole lot, but I’m a hell of a dining companion.  Go and read my eGullet blog, it’s got some good stuff despite the fact I was chained up pretty tight.

OH, some local chefs have put together some kind of invite-only after hours get together for this Monday morning- midnight to 3am.  I don’t know a whole lot about it, I’m interested to see what it’s all about….an eclectic group of people eating and chatting is what I know.  And boy am I cool. I made the cut. Maybe I’ll invite a bunch of these work pricks and try to fool everyone into believing I’m doing performance art.

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Two Years…No Big Whup…

So two years ago this Tuesday some nice people were monitoring my vitals and making sure I was past the stage where the death knell seizures could be an issue.  Anybody else here get to experience a good old fashioned detox?  Isn’t it awesome? When the body and mind completely detach themselves from your control and drag you through an emotional darkness and pain that, in hindsight…..is fucking HILARIOUS!

Seriously, we’ll be watching Celebrity Rehab, Intervention, something of that nature and once in a while I’ll just go “oh yeah, I remember that shit”.   If you’re going to make it through to the other side you’re going to earn your stripes in the process.  You have paid the admission fee in full once you get into some kind of program.  The glimpses of euphoria you experience as your dishrag of a body wrings itself clean are a trap.  They don’t last, so pay them no mind.  All of the things you learn in rehab are great, but nothing more than the equivalent of packing an overnight bag for a lifetime journey.

You can always tell when someone is either brand new or they just fail to grasp the big picture…too much focus on how much they drank, how much you drank, way too much euphoric recall, high minded philosophizing, reinvention of the wheel, nervousness and bravado…all of the short-term shit that means absolutely nothing.  When I’m joking around with people I already know I’ll get into some legendary drinkalogues, but when it comes to the alcoholic dick-measuring all I really have to say is “How much did I drink? I drank until it couldn’t make me sick anymore. The only time I would get sick is if I stopped”.   Brief, to the point, honest.  One of those things that makes non-alcoholics go “oh dear, how sad”, and makes the rest of us go “HA! Oh yeah, I remember that shit! CLASSIC!”. 

Last night I went back to my old finishing school to give the “how this thing works” speech to the outpatient group, and tonight is my celebration down at the hall.  Two entirely different things.  And I have a very long drive to and from work, so they’ve been on my mind quite a bit.

Last year I wrote this incredibly long post once I hit my first anniversary, and had similarly lengthy things to say to the aforementioned groups. All of that stuff is still very true, applicable, but another year has helped to make things…simpler.  I still rely upon the program, I will always rely upon the program, I go to meetings, work with my sponsor, work with my sponsee, it is fully and permanently integrated into my life….but LIFE is your focus as time goes on.  If I was still fidgety about having a drink after 2 years, or I was all pissed off about labeled an alcoholic…somebody put a bullet in the back of my head, or just give me a fucking drink because all I’m doing is spinning my wheels.  Now it’s all about getting to the root of “I was an asshole when I was drunk, I’m still an asshole sober, I guess I should address that”.   DO NOT MISINTERPRET- I stay the hell away from situations where it would become normal for me to be around booze regularly. Simply put- if it became normal to be around temptation all the time, eventually I’m getting the proverbial haircut. How do I know that? I’ve seen the shit happen about a thousand times. My family or friends having drinks at dinner, or people bringing beer to a bbq aren’t an issue….but they take that shit home with them and I don’t EVER have liquor in the house (cooking with wine…hell no), and I keep my bottom close enough to me to keep me from romancing the thought of a drink or some wine with my meals. I have my life to keep me occupied, so that kind of distraction is totally unnecessary.  It all sounds like overkill or micromanagement….if you haven’t been on the hell-ride.

That’s a big point I’ll drive home to the newly sober people.  I don’t want to be a hardass, but last night there were about twenty five in the outpatient group, so at MOST three of them will be sober a year from now.  The three that ARE sober have about a 90% chance of being in AA.  That’s just the way it works….the newly sober who debate it are the first ones to go off the wagon. The agnostics are being too stupid to even address. Always. No exceptions.  I was joking with my sponsor (he’s got 27 years) after a meeting one recent evening and said “Hey buddy, I’ve been around for TWO YEARS!  I’ve seen ‘em come and I’ve seen ‘em go!”.  He just stopped and said, “You know what? You HAVE!”.  And it is the truth. In this short amount of time I’ve seen countless people come in and go out, come in and go out, come in and go out…..I’ve seen people I’ve come to know and love go out and die….I know people with ten years sobriety who have gone back out drinking……this shit does not take a vacation.  SOOOOO…it’s funny to go back and listen to the newbie with forty five days talk about how cool it was to go out to the same old bar with their same old friends (who totally support their sobriety) and just have a Pepsi.  Fucking idiots. It’s like the movie Groundhog Day watching those scenarios go south…every…single….time. But it’s obviously not completely hopeless, because in the middle of watching the same shit go down time and time again, I’ve managed to compile two full years of sobriety. And some of my best friends are other folks in that “three people out of twenty five” category.

I’m not saying I know everything, and I am annoyingly aware of the AA-rebuttals…usually spouted by people who have no actual knowledge of the disease or can quote everything the internet has told them about why it’s NOT a disease.  Intellectual wannabes and angry dry drunks aside, all I know is I’ve been sober for two years, I don’t go around missing alcohol or wearing my sobriety on my sleeve, and my life is about as good as it was in those fleeting first sip of bourbon moments when there was peace and all was right with the world. Except now it’s a reality.  I told those people last night- two years from now, if you are alive and on this planet, you will look back at your time in treatment as the easiest you ever had it.  Period. No exceptions. Full stop. If you remain sober, it will be the easiest you ever had it because the process of learning to LIVE sober is a sonofabitch. The rewards far, far outweigh the heartache, but still- it’s actual for-real hard work that does not end. If you do NOT remain sober, you will look back on this trip through treatment as the easiest thing you ever did because when you relapse it is never, ever, EVER easier on you than the last time.  It only gets worse. You lose more of everything you CAN lose. That is how this beast works. And no, it’s not fair.  It’s not fair, but you’re not special. And the cherry on top of that shit sundae is…nobody owes you a goddamn thing. It’s the pride, the anger, the self loathing, the selfishness and the ego……all of those things left unchecked, with drugs or alcohol thrown into the mix, never go easier on you when you let them off the leash.  I’ve never seen sheer willpower work, I’ve never seen the hope and love from a supportive family work, never seen anger work, never seen smarts or money or staying busy….never seen ANY of that shit work for very long as far as staying sober. So yeah, as much as working an outpatient program annoys you, this is the easy part. Learning cursive and your times tables comes later.  So shut the fuck up about quantum mechanics and listen to the people who have been steadily grinding away at this for a very long time.

 After two years of steady grindin’, I’ve achieved a level of supreme knowledge and spirituality that assures me, “You are still a dumbass, and you have to admit you’re way better off than you deserve, so focus on the simplest shit possible and repeat it”.  And THAT is basically the message for this evening.  Oh, I’ll provide some giggles with some “what is was like” stories that I’d never even share on HERE, because I’m a high spirited joker and all that, but it all comes down to the profoundly deep simplicity of this thing of ours. Ah-HA moments. When I suddenly realized after hearing the fucking reading during EVERY SINGLE meeting that “How It Works” is actually….how it..works. And meeting makers? They make it.  It works if you work it, Keep It Simple Stupid, keep coming back….I’ve got many many dollars worth of education and life comes down to phrases like that. They are all bigger than me. Bigger than my mind. So instead of doing the usual thing where I’d try to disprove them or pick them apart, I try them, and if I stay sober and my life continues to improve, I keep repeating them.  There are the 12 steps, I work those things, I really do, but that’s all cursive and times tables and all that shit….they are how you continue to grow. As far as basic sobriety and keeping this train on the tracks- go to meetings, listen, share, help others, do what my sponsor says.  The kind of simple that just pisses you off. But….it works.

So that’s really about it. It’s hot as hell outside. I honestly do not want to get back out and go to get a coin tonight…but it’s great to get back out and go get a coin tonight.  And this train keeps moving. Gotta clean the kitchen tomorrow, folks coming over for fried chicken on Sunday….laundry.  Grass is getting too high, but fuck all that in this heat.  The Sous Vide Supreme is awesome. OH!  Dinner in El Comedor AGAIN tomorrow night!  And as a special bonus, we’ll be sharing the table with my favorite family of butcher from up in Trimble. So yeah I’ll take it. This life is okay.  It’ll do pig, it’ll do.

 

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