Sunday, May 31, 2009
Cleveland, OH 44113
by Beau Cadiyo
There were plenty of police cars on the road, and the bars were packed with people drinking. West Sixth had all of the elements of a fun, safe evening, but nobody was having a good time. For myself, trying to think of all of the good things that happening in the world did nothing. Counting blessings did nothing. Focusing on right thought did nothing. There was no joy in Cleveland.
In Ultra, there were lots of people but the men were drunk and surly and the girls didn't want to dance, so everybody just stood around. Similarly, in the Sixth Street Pizzeria, the booths were subdued. The sole waiter, a gentle giant, seemed uneager to serve, and I had to catch him while he was walking outside to smoke on the patio. You could see in their faces that everyone felt horrible. A few Indians fans wandered in, wearing jerseys, and looked around. Their faces had the half-smiles of drunk siblings who walk into a family reunion without knowing that the patriarch had died an hour earlier.
My chicken Philly arrived in a small Styrofoam container, wax paper sticking out of the edges. Inside, the sandwich was too hot to touch, let alone eat; I admired the toasted crust of the roll, the medium-sized chunks of browned, grilled chicken, and the few green peppers scattered in the melted cheese. A second later, though, I began to have misgivings; while it looked good, the "Philly Chicken" was clearly not enough for this roll. The filling-to-bread ratio was too low, meaning that if the bread was not simultaneously toasted and doughy, the filling would be overwhelmed with dryness, no matter how moist it was. While it looked like the elements were in place for a good sandwich, it was not guaranteed, and a detour could be disastrous.
Unfortunately, there were many detours. The bread was as dry as a crouton, breaking off in chunks and crumbs. When pressure was applied to the outside, it offered no resistance, crumbling on the inside. Faced with this environment, the cheese retreated, and any oil or flavor it had was absorbed by the bread. The peppers were few and far between. One fell out, and upon sampling it by itself, I found it limp, tasteless, impotent. The chicken, which should have been the star, was parched, the fibers sticking to my teeth. I finished each bite with a sip of water, which breathed some life into the food but nowhere near enough to salvage it. It was exactly like having an MVP on your team, and the best coach in the league, and the most winning season, and the record for most number of playoff games with 10 point leads in a row, and not making it to the finals. Again, the elements were there, but it didn’t come together.
Later, I drooped my girlfriend off at her apartment as soon as I got back on the road, huge fat rain drops started dropping on my windshield. Then, they stopped.
Tuesday, May 26, 2009
Cleveland, OH 44113
By Beau Cadiyo
It was the Oyster Po’ Boy that got me. It got Scarlet, too, who talks at least once a day about her time spent working in a seafood restaurant, and who distrusts Po’ Boys with sausages. And it was the Oyster Po’ Boy that lured Frank Fu from her fourth-year medical school studies to the Prosperity Social Club on a Monday night.
Thus, when they did not have Oysters, there was a general murmur of discontent around the table. The waitress, sensing mutiny, decided to go elsewhere and return while we settled on a new dish. Comparatively, none of the other sandwiches attracted; Scarlet got the Fried Fish Sandwich and Frank got a Reuben. I settled for a Killer Gouda Burger, described thus: “Black Angus beef, smoked Gouda, bacon, lettuce, tomato. Topped with two homemade onion rings and spicy soy-mayo sauce on toasted ciabatta bread and hand cut french fries.”
With orders out of the way, we were able to look around. The Prosperity Social Club is, admittedly, beautiful in a dilapidated way. The bar itself is ancient and dark, with old signs and knick-knacks lining the shelves, and an mid-20th Century bowling game in the back. At the same time, it’s in the middle of Tremont, and seems designed to attract the thin young men in skinny jeans and wider young women with tattoos and black hair who sat at the bar. It’s like a 40-year-old beauty queen, just past her prime, luring in a younger man who gives her a jolt of excitement.
My burger was long in arriving – they served in three stages, and I was at the end. I would re-christen this the Napoleon burger. It was ambitious – while the volume of the description indicated something massive, the reality was the opposite – the ciabatta bread were scarcely larger than croutons, and everything else was apportioned accordingly. When it and the fresh-cut fries – admittedly, not bad – were done, I was left searching for other sustenance. I had some of Scarlet’s fish sandwich, which was disappointingly average, and then a cut of the Reuben. Corned beef and sauerkraut were placed between two potato pancakes. The beef was good, as was the sauerkraut, but the pancakes were more grease than potato. It was simply repulsive. Frank got through perhaps 1/3 before pushing her plate away; after the first bite, I don’t think anyone else wanted to try it.
We got the bill and divided it up. To me, it seemed absurdly expensive for what we got – I ended up paying $20 or so for a burger and a share of appetizers that were, frankly, not very good. I sensed a general unease around the table, and the waitress seemed to, also, ducking in and taking payment quickly. I’ll likely go back at some point, for a drink or a round of mini-bowling, but even the promise of an Oyster Po’ Boy will not lure me back for the food.
Newbury, OH 44065
by Beau Cadiyo
I’d last seen the Hick after Frank Khan and I had met a girl, Frank Brennan, at Punderson, and she brought us there. We were definitely out of place – two young, highly educated males with all of our teeth and no prison records drinking with a bunch of people who were none of those things. (I’m not joking: none of the men we sat with had any degrees nor all their teeth, and they all had prison stories and accused each other of being bottoms.) They were eager to talk to us, though, and extremely warm and welcoming.
I returned, almost by accident, with Frank James, an old college friend. The Hick hadn’t changed – it was still run down and the clientele still looked a little worse for wear. On second view, though, I found it more open and bright than I remembered, and it was clean and orderly. The clientele, while perhaps only remembering better days, were warm, welcoming and friendly to both each other and to us newcomers. It was a community, the kind I’d be hard-pressed to find in any city.
We sat down and ordered two Dortmunder Golds, and Frank went outside. The bartender said “three-fifty,” so I took Frank’s five dollar bill and my five-dollar bill and gave them to the bartender. He came back with six dollars and fifty sense. “Excuse me, sir?” I said, “I think you gave me back too much.” He looked and said, “No I didn’t. It’s three-fifty.”
$1.75 per beer. We weren’t in Cleveland anymore.
Reasoning that I had some cash for food, I ordered a fried fish sandwich. The barman offered regular fries or sweet potato fries. Normally, this might not raise eyebrows, but context is everything: at the Hick, I didn’t expect the relatively posh luxury of sweet potato fries, just like I wouldn’t fly coach on Southwest and expect the choice between peanuts and Beluga caviar for a snack before takeoff. I’d choose salted peanuts over caviar any day of the week, and regular fries over sweet potato, too.
It was a good choice: the fries were crisp yet tender in the middle. The fish was hot, crisp and had little breading – it was not the best I’ve ever had but it was far, far better than I would have ever expected. The bun was soft, and the lettuce and tomato was fresh; the tartar sauce, served on the side, was average but seemed somehow excellent.
When tipping, Frank started berating me for leaving change. She argued that it was rude to leave change, and that only bills are acceptable tips. First, I didn’t care, and second, it doesn’t make sense to me that anyone would object to receiving more money in tips in metal form than paper. She sulked out, angry, while I finished my beer. Then, we got in the car and rode back to the city in silence.
Wednesday, May 20, 2009
by Scarlet Pumpernickel
When I first went to a 5 Guys many years ago, I was disappointed that they didn’t have the option for a double cheeseburger on their menu. Little did I realize that the double patty burger is the default at 5 Guys. I was delighted: finally, a place that realizes a fast food burger is vastly improved by doubling up on the meat and which relegates the single patty burgers to the kid’s menu. Now, a few years on, eating at 5 Guys my perspective has changed - not on the double patty issue, I still believe a two patty fast food burger is just better, but on what the acceptance of the double burger really means.
While we were there, I mentioned to Beau the fact that the Big Mac was called the Big Mac because when it was introduced, it was big. The “standard” burger from 5 Guys was somewhat larger than a Big Mac, which is just not that big anymore. Over the decades, the perception of how large a normal meal should be has steadily increased. When I said it, it was just idle speculation on my part, but I started to wonder: what if it was true? What if we really have a different perception of meal size than earlier generations did?
I was shocked to read an article the other day that shows that were are eating more than we used to. Actually, the fact that we are eating more is just a minor point in the article on the way to explaining why America is so fat. The Department of Agriculture keeps track of how much food is consumed in the US (from which we can figure out per capita calorie consumption), and this per capita calorie consumption has steadily increased over the past 30 years. The study indicates that Americans are not obese because we don’t exercise, it’s that we eat too damn much.
So the solution is to eat less. It seems simple, but it isn’t. It isn’t because I know that a two patty fast food burger is more delicious than a one-patty fast food burger. It would be like someone trying to use their BlackBerry as just a phone and not checking it every thirty seconds to see who emailed/texted/IMed them. We all know that on some abstract metaphysical level it would be better, but we simply can’t help ourselves. The only realistic thing I’ve seen BlackBerry users do when they actually want to get away from all the interruptions is leave the thing at home. Technology has become such a burden that we need to take a vacation from it.
Perhaps what we must do with our food is to take a vacation from the excess. It is certainly possible to do - plan out a week of healthy, satisfying meals. Really, the funny part is that we aren’t taking a vacation to a world of culinary excess, but from it, because we live in the world of excess. Then again, when I eat a 5 Guys cheeseburger and an order of the hand cut fries, I know deep down that it’s home.