Per yesterday's post, Yelp has scrubbed most of the reviews from gun nuts of Backstreets, a nondescript college bar in Clemson, SC, with a proprietor w/ the temerity to call gun owners "douchebags." As it happens, the Cod nurtured a Yelp person at his day job, but not sure if that connection led to the scrub.
1) Stand by for the predictable gnashing of teeth about "freedom of speech."
2) "Concealed Weapons," by a late and non-Wolf iteration of J. Geils, is a terrible song. And sexist. Come to think of it, "Centerfold" is iffy that way, too. It would be better if it were "My blood runs cold, because my angel is a centerfold, and I am proud of her, and support her decisions."
It's rare that there is a national food-related story coming out of the very town where The Cod's corporeal host does his day job. But! South Carolina passed a law permitting patrons to bring guns into bars and restaurants, (provided they do not drink) but allowed individual establishments to opt out. So the proprietor of one of the many college bars in Clemson, SC posted the sign at left.
1) The food at Backstreets is fine. It is pretty much like any other flatscreens and pool tables college bar establishment you've been to. Now and again, they get a little bit ambitious w/ their lunch special.
2) Can a restaurant be cyber-bullied? If so, this one sure is.
3) Related: Many of the Yelpers seem to feel that the worst thing they can say about Backstreets is that it caters to gays.* There are probably some folks in town who would welcome a local alternative to The Woodshed, but if they do have a glory hole, they've added it since the last time I ate there.
4) This is a terrible law. I mean, for the obvious reasons that nobody has ever been in a bar in SC and thought, "geez, some guns would make this a better environment." But also, it puts bar and restaurant owners in a terrible position. This law does not just cover wing spots in college towns, but also serious restaurants, including those in Greenville, (John Mariani's favorite restaurant town), and Charleston (which has reached the point where the local paper gets huffy when no CHS chef gets shortlisted for Best Chef). It's not hard to imagine that some folks -- The Cod included -- would be more comfortable eating in an establishment with unarmed patrons. It would not be hard for patrons to ask if a place allowed weapons when making a reservation, and then book a table at a place with a no guns rule. But if the person calling your restaurant happens to be a gun nut, then you lose their business for banning guns, and invite a Yelp-driven shitstorm. Indeed if I were a talented restaurateur considering a new venture, I might look somewhere besides a state where I have to tussle with a gun shibboleth. Gov. Haley talks a lot about promoting business in the state. It's a shame that she didn't consider that kowtowing to gun nuts would make opening a restaurant in South Carolina an untenable proposition.
*Nick's is probably a better bet for your gay-friendly Clemson college bar experience.
Yes, yes, indeed, it has been a long time since the Cod rapped at you here, in the TL;DR place, intstead of on the Twitters. But! For one thing, nobody reads or writes food blogs anymore, esp not now that Eater hired all of the restaurant critics. For another thing, any and all future meals I write about will all be at The Pig, in Chapel Hill, NC, where I enjoyed three exceptional lunches this weekend. The Cod will be taking all future meals there, until he is ejected, or dies of gout. Spencer put me on to the brisket, and I returned for pastrami and Vietnamese pork cheek. I die. Even brought some of their hotdogs home.
But! I digress. Guiteau Monday seems to be the only thing that gets this blog party started these days, which is a shame, but something like this makes it impossible not to:
"Brussels sprouts so good you'll... never mind, you already did." What else did you expect on a rainy March Guiteau Monday?
Readers of this space will know that 1) The Cod is a fan of Whitney Otawka's cooking, and 2) Hugh Acheson hates America. So, after Farm 255 shuttered, and Acheson's flagship Five and Ten moved out of Five Points and up next to the Tri-Delts, we were excited to hear that Whitney would be at the controls of the old 5&10 space, reimagined as Cinco Y Diez, and with a Mexican menu to match the name. (So, if you're scoring at home, a Canadian hires a Berkeley-indoctrinated chef to run a Mexican restaurant in the heart of America, which is to say in an SEC town and practically under the nose of the statue of noted American Vince Dooley. Thanks for NAFTA, Obama.)
But seriously. In a college town, seems like it would be hard to lose money selling burritos. Hell, you could probably empty the Dumpster behind the Varsity into a Diaper Genie and be able to approximate some college town burritos. Fortunately, Hugh and Whitney have chosen a more serious approach. WO spent months traveling and tasting in Mexico -- sounds like good work if you can get it -- and brought back all sorts of knowledge and some goodies. Did you know they make salt w/ ground up mezcal worms in it? I didn't either.
All of this is to say that Cinco Y Diez is a heroically brave thing - a serious and upscale Mexican restaurant in a college town. It's not quite at the level of Empellon-style WD-50ish trickeration, but the chilaquiles come with chicken confit, rather than, like whatever the chicken in that usually is. As with her food at Farm 255, WO's mania for details and technique shows. The cinetrix were there on a busy Saturday, exactly ten days after the open, and it felt like eating in a restaurant that had been open for months. (I know Whitney a little bit, and we were well taken care of, but meals at adjacent tables moved crisply along, too.) There's practically nothing on the menu we did not want to investigate, but the chilaquiles and huarache were early standouts. The only slight hiccup came in the sequencing of dishes, which we could have avoided if we'd been clearer about who wanted to eat what.
Between restaurant success in Athens and ATL and soon in Savannah, Georgia has been berry berry good to Hugh Acheson. As such, it's gratifying to see him put one of the best cooks in the state back in a restaurant kitchen, and to push the conversation about food in his home town. One of the impressive things that always impresses the Cod about the Anglo Five & Ten is how it manages to keep regulars engaged with new dishes, while keeping a comfortable base of familiar items for the birthday/anniversary/graduation/semiformal crowd. On the other hand, it's impressive to see that Mexican Cinco Y Diez makes no concessions to the much lower common denominator of the college town Mexican joint. The margaritas cost eight dollars and fit in a standard highball glass. They are available on the rocks or up. Frozen is not in the discussion. The word "burrito" does not appear on the menu, not to mention "quesadilla." There are tacos, but braised lamb neck barbacoa w/ sorghum and mint salsa verde, or wood roasted hen-of-the-woods mushroom, or fried Apalachicola oyster tacos. As the kitchen settles in, there will be still more imaginative dishes, one imagines.
CYD was busy when we were there, and the Cod hopes it stays that way. From here it looks as if Hugh Acheson is betting some of his success and celebrity that Athens is ready for a place like this. Certainly, Whitney Otawka's talent and focus tilts the odds in his favor. I'll be back soon, if only to see what this pozole is all about.
So, thanks to The Calabrian Magistra for inspiring me to fire up this space. But with something this awesome, how could you even not? If you are not a big fan of post-45 literature -- and who is, anyway? -- you might miss the reference. While it might seem like "somebody's choice" is a foolproof name for a foodstuff, as in President's Choice house brand ice cream and such, even if you have an aunt named Sophie who is a veritable Segovia of dumplings, it's still not such a hot idea for a name for dumplings, because spoiler alert. You don't need to hire a fancy brand manager to tell you that "Holocaust" is not what you want people to think of when they think of your dumpling brand. But that's why they call it Guiteau Monday.
Hola. It has, indeed, been a long time since I have rapped at you here. Apologies. If eating and cooking is an excuse, then ok. As the years and responsibilities increase, it's harder to find the time and the energy to write blog posts, and harder still not to feel as if writing blog posts are more than a charmingly anachronistic quirk, like using a straight razor or having chickens in the back yard. Increasingly, the kind of 500-1,000 word post on a meal or an ingredient or an issue has given way to commentary of 140 characters max or 5,000 words minimum. Times is againstboth, (Longform is too long! Twitter is too short! Fishwrap is juust right!) But I digress.
The 13-14 Please Everyone Tour, in which Fesser and cinetrix drive around like idiots to see friends and family does offer a chance to check in on some food options not present in the back yard. Tack on a bonus lap to Chicago for the big English Professor Stampede, and you get some more choices By chance or predilection, a bunch (almost all, really) fell into a category of new resto I might call Serious Meats & c. We hit Kirkland Tap & Trotter, Worthy Kitchen, and Worthy Burger in New England, and in Chicago we insulated ourselves from the Polar Vortex at Two, Publican, Little Goat, and Trenchermen.
These spots are all very different one from the other, but collectively, they represent a new step in an ongoing interplay between fine dining and more casual spots. If we've seen in recent years efforts by chef X to "elevate dish y from its humble roots," we now seem to be seeing the opposite, where Beard-winning chefs are opting to do something with more barstools and Formica. KT&T Little Goat are both siblings of top-5 restaurants in their respective towns, and were the most exciting places I visited. Telling that on a short trip, I found a way to make return trips to both of these places. Little Goat is basically like if Steak and Shake died and went to heaven, via Seoul. KT&T is like Valhalla where there is food at River Gods or People's Republic you actually want to eat. Details TK -- in entirely unrelated news, I am on my way to the gym.
Anchower, I know, but stay tuned for PHC on the new Maws joint, and a Chicago safari.
Anyway, I mentioned this briefly in a tweet yesterday, and wanted to expand just a little. I've been aware recently of how much cooking is the repetition of similar tasks at different times in different contexts. There are new ingredients, better equipment, new friends, new techniques, etc. There is also displacement, isolation, and bereavement. It's jarring every time I realize I don't have access to a staple b/c there are not Asian groceries where I live now, and so forth.
But what struck me last night was the experience of returning to an old recipe after time away from it. It's a green Thai curry receipt I learned off of the back of a can of Westernized coconut milk, but it was a favorite back in the 1990s. I cooked it on third dates, and my folks really loved it. It goes like this:
Heat green curry in coconut milk, add diced chicken breast, add brown sugar/fish sauce, add basil, add stock, add frozen peas, serve over rice.
Nothing fancy, but comforting on a cold night. I doubt if I've made it though, in the time I've been doing this blog, which is now longer than I care to consider (2005). I was working from memory, and a couple of things immediately struck me. Somehow the process reminded me of long-ago agit about how to cut up a chicken breast, which I've done many times in other contexts since, or at least spent more time with a knife in my hand. Also, it occurred to me that I wanted to punch up the jar of cury (now Maesri rather than Taste of Thai), w/ real aromatics, so I added some fresh ginger and shallot at the beginning. Then I browned the chicken in the curry/aromatic mix, before adding liquids. This receipt was a favorite winter choice for my folks, b/c it's a non-assy application of frozen peas. However, reheating was a disaster, as peas got untenably mushy. I barely thawed some frozen peas, rinsed in cold water, and added as I served.
This version was objectively better, but somehow it felt strange to improve upon something my parents (now dead) had enjoyed so much when I cooked it for them. Cooking is funny like that.
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.
Like many of you, when Lou Reed died recently, I went on a VU/Lou binge. I bought New Sensations, listened to Rock n Roll Animal for the first time all the way through in forever, and so on. And now the news that Judy Rodgers, of Zuni Cafe, has died. I only had the chance to eat at Zuni once. I had the chicken, of course, and it was good, of course. What I learned from that meal, however, was how good Judy Rodgers was at writing cookbooks -- when a dedicated home cook took the time to read the receipt, get the proper ingredients, and take the time to do it the right way, the result was within maybe not spitting distance, but within a biscuit toss, maybe, of the restaurant version. That's rare for chef cookbooks. There is a lot of great stuff in the Zuni cookbook, and you should go get one now if you don't have it, but the bond between Ms. Rodgers and her roast chicken and bread salad is about as strong as any I can think of between a chef and a dish. As it happens, it's also figured in some moments in the Cod's life - I cooked it the night my mom died, and I mention cooking it for the first time when I remembered my father.
As it happens, we have the cinetrix' grasshoppers over for dinner tonight. I was tempted, for a moment, to scrap the plan and make the chicken and bread salad, in the same way I went on a Lou Reed binge recently. Then I remembered the recipe, and that starting now and making it for tonight would mean a series of halfass compromises, inimical to the spirit of her cookng. So I'll fire out something nice for the kids, and plan on roast chicken and bread salad for the weekend when I can get good chicken, good bread, and take the time to dry brine. With luck, I might be able to find the Charles Joguet Chinon she suggests as a pairing. I might just pick up Live, Take No Prisoners as a soundtrack.
For reasons easy to imagine, but tedious to relate, not the Cod's favorite time of year, specifically the part where we pivot from being thankful to trampling oneanother for flatscreen discounts. And "cyber Monday" is not part of the solution - a) it carries this spasmodic consumerism into the next week, and b) "cyber" is a word best left to the 900-baud era of online pornography.* That said, it is phyisically impossible to get mad at a Cheerwine robot telling you how to get some Cackalacky** hot sauce for Xmas giving: