As always these days, Anchower. The Cod got to swim up to NYC and visit Diner w/ Cookie, Pasquale Jones w/ Addison, not to mention assorted other foolishness. But, on the way out, also swung by the Carroll Gardens Milk Bar. Might have been a question of being on the way to the airport, but it did make me realize I like the idea of the Milk Bar better than the reality -- more specifically, what I've had of theirs on the savory side, I would be happy to have offered to me on an airplane, but it's not as good as the standard issue BEC you can get at almost any bodega.
Extrapolating from that realization to a series of speculations that are basically guesswork:
1) Good restaurant help is hard to find.
2) For a business, either your footprint is expanding or contracting.
3) You can grow to a certain scale based on charisma/cult of personality, but only so far.
4) If you want your chef/owner brand to grow past that scale, it pays to figure out a way to keep your brand, but deskill the way you cook your food.
This seems to be something that Meyer has nailed w/ Shake Shack, but that Chang/Tosi struggle with with Milk Bar.
And yes, it has been a while since I rapped at you, but that Awl piece today about the Pete Wells Per Se review has been getting some love on the internet today, and I am not sure why. I've been a fan of the Awl since its inception, wrote for it one time, and a fan of Alex Balk since TMF/TML. This piece, though, I do not get. As it happens, I'm teaching a class about criticism at the day job this semester, and mentioned Wells' Fieri review as an example of why negative reviews are more fun to read than the other kind. But this piece? IDK. I have not read much of Matt Buchanan's stuff. He is admirably well versed in the recent history of NYT restaurant reviewers, though I was sad not to see Grimes in the conversation.
As impressive as it is to see this knowledge, it bears on an argument that is rendered basically incoherent by its embrace of a single word -- the subhed is "The ceaseless downshifting of 'populism' in dining."
There are at least two completely different was that this does not make sense, which is something in itself. In both cases, "downshifting" is just not the word Buchanan needs. In a literal sense, to "downshift" is to shift from a higher to a lower gear. It's not a great word to use figuratively, because you might downshift a) to accelerate to pass a slower car or b) to use engine braking to slow your vehicle. Given the evident prominence of Uber in Buchanan's opus, it's likely he does not drive stick, and the nuances of this word escape him.
That said, if you get out of the car, and imagine that he is using "downshift" in the more literal (figurative?) sense of actually shifting something down, the article gets more confusing, because what is getting "downshifted" is "populism." If we assume that "downshift" means something like to "diminish" or "reduce," in the same way that men like Mike Gundy use "downgrade" when they mean "denigrate," it only gets more confusing. Is a diminished populism one that is more or less populist than the original? Eventually the piece gets around to something like the idea that maybe it's not so cool that a Michelin-starred chef getting involved in a fast-casual chicken sandwich place makes them William Jennings Bryan 2.0. Indeed, it is messed up to live in a world where a heavily capitalized salad chain can identify Greenwich Village as a "food desert," but it would help if we knew ahead of time if a "downshifted" populism was more or less elitist than the regular kind.
Hoping for new signs on the bridges: "Welcome to Brooklyn! Come for the hot dykes! Stay for the hot gruel!"
Under the right circumstances, paying someone to fix you a hot farinaceous breakfast might be just the thing. Asked the porridge folks a menu question, and they use Bob's Red Mill grits, which is nice, in that they did not say "corn grits," but also disappointing in that it's not Anson Mills, or Red Mule, or Timms Mill or other grit with more personality. They were at pains to tell me the grits were gluten free, which considering grits are made out of corn seems unnecessary. However, the entire resto is very focused on being gluten-free, which is nice for those folks, though alarming in that there is a market for a gluten-free restaurant. Also, the grits are "creamy," but all the porridges are "dairy-free"? Butter is available, for a seventy-five cent surcharge on your seven dollar bowl of grits. We are not quite in gravy sommelier territory, but not far off. Would welcome intel from any boots on the ground in the Slope.
Indeed, the NYer is famously not for the little old lady in Dubuque. However, there are, even in 2013, large swaths of the USA where French artisanal bread cannot be had unless you make it. If you've ever wanted to make fondue (who eats like that anymore?) but decided to late too make a baguette, (me, Saturday), you might take issue.
On occasion, we've noted in this space that Durham, NC has become the Brooklyn of the South (in a good way even, once, if memory serves). However, the less appealing aspects of this affinity are now spreading West, to the hitherto unassailed hippie stronghold of Asheville, NC. Via @phillygirl, (via @Mr. Brion), alarming reports of a "gravy flight." The perpetrator is Biscuitheads,* a new spot specializing in biscuits. (At $3 per each with nothing, they better be good.)
If the artisanal food movement of recent years has offered one lesson, it is that taking familiar receipts and making them from scratch out of real ingredients can produce remarkable results. Sadly, the food world often suggest that the problem is too much creativity, not too little. If there is a second rule of artisanal food, it's that there are plenty of good ideas already, and you can do well executing these ideas. You can do less well with new ideas. Not surprising, folks who run restaurants get restless, and thus otherwise solid-looking breakfast spots in North Carolina put seven different gravies on their menu. And then, the temptation to put a "gravy flight" on the menu is overwhelming. Worse, at this rate, soon there will be a young man who says "gravy sommelier" when you ask him what he does for a living.
Coco Chanel's advice about removing one accessory once you think you are ready to go out was in fact an extrapolation from her advice about opening a biscuit focused restaurant: write the menu, and then get rid of all of the gravies that are not the kind of gravy you serve with biscuits. That said, there is every reason to suppose that this place will move in the direction of being the Baskin-Robbins of gravies, because, people, and further proof that it is just another Guiteau Monday.
There is something powerfully dated about this piece. Throughout, the tone is "How about those dames? They start working outside of the house, and the next thing you know, they want to take a lunch break. What next - voting?"
More important, the entire article is animated bt a presumption that while professional women in New York want to take advantage of the networking opportunities afforded by a meal with business assocates in the midde of the day, first and foremost, their job is to be skinny, so the news in this piece is... fancy salads? I can understand that not everyone wants to have a crab cake eating contest with Henry Kissinger at Le Cirque, but it made me sad to see an article about meals focus so much on restraint, and so little on pleasure:
1) The headline is "Millennial Fired for Tweet." This seems unfortunate, in that "Millennial" is emerging as a designation that automatically trivializes the concerns of the person identified as such. Generational namecalling seems to be a persistent phenomenon, rather than something unique to this moment -- a generation or two ago it would have been something about storming the beaches of Normandy at your age, and you're sitting there watching WKRP.
2) The author, Brendan O'Conor's, response to getting zero tip on a check of $170 would be reasonable - in a restaurant. At a food truck, I am not sure. Once upon a time, you went to a restaurant, sat down, and someone performed the service of telling you about the specials, answering questions about the food, bringing you food and drinks, etc, and you compensated them for this service by tipping them 15% or more of the check total. Similarly, there is an understanding at bars that a tip is appropriate for having someone fix you a drink or pour you a beer. More recently, the range of services deemed tipworthy has expanded, to the degree that one sometimes sees a tip cup next to the register at some retail stores. (I was thinking about this over the weekend during my stops at Diesel cafe, where I tipped a dollar on my three dollar iced coffee, and wondered if that kind of outlay might warrant having the server put a lid on the drink -- evidently not, BTW.) It's not clear to me where a food truck fits on this continuum, but it seems like it might be a case where tipping would be appropriate, but not compulsory.
The Cod has been tussling w/ some social media questions elsewhere, but a) the Instagram Panopticon is a pretty terrible development. Also, the golden ring on this particular merry-go-round is a $25 iTunes gift card every month? I like music as much as the next person, but this does not seem like it would motivate me to pretend I was working for Danny Meyer.
4) Also, speaking of small potatoes and social media, the offending stiffers are Glass, Lewis, "The leading independent corporate governance and proxy adviser," evidently corporate governance and proxy advising is not so time-consuming that you don't have time to scan twitter for tweets about your employees' twitter practices. (It is not clear to me how a) Mr. O'Connor knew that his party was from Glass, Lewis, or how Glass, Lewis knew it was from this particular food truck that the Tweet had emanated.) And it's improbable that someone from Glass, Lewis would contact this food truck, and complain. Imagine making the call where you say "um, yeah, we bought $170 of grilled cheese sandwiches from you and didn't tip and your employee pointed that out, and we are mad about that."
5) More improbable still, the owner of the food truck, The Milk Truck, responded by firing the offending employee. I understand that the customer is always right, but if you don't back up your employees, you won't have customers, because you won't have a a business, because, you guessed it, you won't have employees. Perhaps, as we've seen in Boston, success in the food truck business brings out the despot in us all.
So the Cod saw where Gael Greene is advertising for an intern. The burgeoning culture of internships is problematic, and as internship coordinator for my dept at my day job,* the Cod's corporeal host is part of the problem. The tricky thing with internships is that they are working for no pay, so there must be some other compensation, or it's, you know, slavery. Typically what interns get instead of money is college credit. However, college credits cost money, so in addition to working for free, the student is often on the hook for summer tuition.
In these desperate times, folks will make that bargain, even after graduation -- I've had students mad I did not sign off on "custodial internships" at Disney World, and I've read horror stories about retailers hiring "merchandising interns." However, the GG internship seems to mark a slide down a slippery slope. A good bit of what an intern gets for his or her labor is a claim on an institution -- a magazine, a website, a lawfirm, etc. The idea, not surprisingly, is that this experience will create advantages on a real employment market in the future. However, being able to say one did an internship at Us, or a university press, or Eater, or something like that, seems like a tanglible Thing that an intern can draw on. Working with an individual, less so. To her credit, GG is offering $40/day for expenses. On the downside, working for an entity that is, essentially, an individual person, seems harder to leverage as employment-worthy experience. I'm sure ol' Gael would be full of stories, but I worry that individuals less famous and fabulous than Gael Greene might follow suit, and a serf from Vassar might become the next must have thing for rich folks in NYC.
*Do you need an intern? If you have a worthwhile experience, I have a line on smart young folks w/ good manners who can write the doors off your local talent.
So, it says here that Googa Mooga will be different than last year. Last year, you will recall, people paid lots of money to wait in long lines for food from one of the 75 booths. But this year, Googa Mooga organizers claim, they've fixed it, because there are.... 85 booths. So, if my math is correct, you can anticipate something that is 11% less of a total fiasco! Have fun!
So, while "Didn't have to read no Bruni" would be a line in the Cod's reboot of "It was a Good Day," we noticed folks in our feed making approving mentions of Bruni's current "Sexism and the Single Murdress." I can save you the click and tell you that he explains to us that there is a double standard in the way the media covers defendants in violent and sensationalistic murders, and moreover, slutshaming is a thing that happens:
It's important to recognize double standards that inflect our understanding of gender. At my day job, I spend some time every semester talking about the words "Coquette," and "Rake," and usually most of the kids get it before I've finished explaining, because, they, like, live it.
But good for Bruni, in that decrying slutshaming in the media is progress from someone who decided it would be fun to make fun of strippers in one of his final NY Times reviews, including an encounter with a different Foxy:
So, we should respect female murder suspects, and respect their sexuality, but by all means, let's haul out tired stripper cliches. Granted this review ran in 2007, and one hopes that Bruni, like the rest of us have grown up a little bit. It is a) worth noting that the fellow getting likes right now for sticking up for murderesses used to get paid to make fun of strippers. And b) as good a time as any to revisit the Bruni Digest's take on this review.