Heading back out On the Road, this week Charles Kuralt has a short, simple piece about the old world way of making molasses in a Tennessee holler.
Usually when I head downtown into the city when I come to Chicago, I go to the Art Institute which tends to preclude me going to one of the restaurants I like. I tend to get to the museum in the late morning, and it's just too inconvenient to leave mid-visit for lunch and then return back afterwards to the rest of the paintings. This time, though, I decided to change my schedule a bit and took the L in to arrive around 11:15 so that I could go to The Berghoff for a very early lunch, and then go to the Art Institute after, which is only about two blocks away.
The Berghoff is a Chicago classic in every true sense of the word. It's been there on Adams Street for a long time. No, seriously long. For 119 years, since 1898.
It's a German restaurant, and you really feel a sense of heading back into time when you walk in, though there's nothing musty about the place. It's just Old World. They keep it as fresh as reasonable, although walking back in -- I haven't been there in decades -- was totally family. The only surface differences I noticed is that they now have women waitresses, and all the waiters were under the age of 60.
(Yes, it's empty here, but remember -- I said I got there a little after 11:15. The place was much more full by the time that I left...)
The Berghoff makes its own beer, so I got a couple of samplers of the Original and the dark. They also make their own bread, of give you a sort of "snifter" of pumpernickel, rye and some other. And I othered the bratwurst, which I love. It was all delicious.
Great to be back.
And then on to the Art Institute. It's quite an amazing place, as I've mentioned. Not just for the collection, which is remarkable, but how meticulously and thoughtfully it's all laid out.
When I was there last time, one of their famous paintings, American Gothic, was touring on loan. I was hoping it would be back by now, but I was told I was three days too early, that it wasn't due until June 11. However, when I got to the American Paintings of the early 1900s area...it was there! Huzzah.
But the real treat was that they have another famous American painting on loan right now, that I had no idea was there. It's owned by the Paris Museum, and rarely seen in the U.S. -- in fact, it hasn't been at the Art Institute in 60 days. But when I walked up the stairs to the American section, I saw a big sign for it.
I think there's a good chance you'll probably recognize it. (Please excuse the reflection.) --
In the little description for "Whistler's Mother" next to the painting, there's a a great quote from James MacNeil Whistler. It turns out that he acknowledged it was probably his best painting, not just his most famous, and he was pleased by it. The quote was something like. "When you're going to do a painting about your mummy, it's such a good thing when it's so nice."
All in all a good day.
And it's rare when the elves taking care of the homestead ever get jealous, but they did today. In large part, though, that's because they really love pumpernickel.
Yes, it's that time of year. Shocking that the banks haven't closed, and that there is mail delivery. But that's the way it goes.
To celebrate, Krispy Kreme will be given out free doughnuts at their stores. You can check here for the participating outlets.
Dunkin' Donuts is also giving free doughnuts, though you have to buy a beverage.
This has been a public service from Elisberg Industries...
There is a story out of Austin, Texas, where an openly gay pastor Jordan Brown is suing Whole Food because he ordered a cake to read "Love Wins" on the icing, but when he got it, the lettering had a slur that had him "horrified to tears," reading instead, "Love Wins Fag." He is suing the grocery chain.
It turns out that Whole Foods is counter-suing him for tampering with the product.
The first issue is that store surveillance shows Pastor Brown paying for the cake at the checkout cashier, and there is clearly a white scan label on the front of the box. In the video that the pastor made in which he showed the cake in a supposedly sealed box, as he says on the recording, there is no white label on the front of the box -- instead, it's on the bottom, over an edge to seal it.
Secondly, the store's cake decorator is a member of the LGBT community, so it would seem unlikely that such a person would slur another member for their sexual preference.
But I think there's a third problem here, which the article I read doesn't mention.
The box in question has a big plastic window on the front that lets a customer clearly see the cake that they have purchased. If someone bought this cake, it seems to me incomprehensible that you wouldn't see what was written on it -- indeed, check first to make sure it was all done properly -- and not see what was there. How on earth could a person possibly miss this??
Is it possible that Pastor Brown didn't look at this cake until he got home? Sure, it's possible. Is it likely? Not only is it not likely, it seems utterly improbable and preposterous.
Could the pastor have seen it and decided to buy the cake anyway as "evidence" and not say anything until he got home, so that he could make a case out of it and sue? Again, certainly, it's possible. It is also again, implausible. Given that he said he was horrified to tears, not only does he appear nonchalant and not remotely horrified in the video (which you can see in the linked article above), but it seems a far more believable reaction -- most especially for someone horrified to tears by it -- would have been to instantly start screaming bloody murder for the manager, or at the very least buy the cake first so that it was your possession and couldn't be taken and destroyed by the story, and then immediately start screaming for the manager and take a photograph while you were still in the store as evidence that it couldn't have been tampered with.
I assume if this case ever gets to a deposition (I doubt it will get to court), this question will come up. How could it not? I'm just a bit surprised that it wasn't addressed in the article, since it's what struck me first -- and blatantly.
I don't know what happened. But if I had to guess, it wouldn't be that things happened as Pastor Brown said they did. Which would be deeply unfortunate, because such actions only hurt real slurs and harmful actions when they actually do occur.
I know that people flock to Elisberg Industries for cooking tips, so who am I to disappoint. Here's one about a product I came across the other day.
As I've mentioned, there is a terrific, high-end outlet mall in Primm, Nevada, at the state line with California, where I generally stay on my last night coming back from the Consumer Electronics Show. One of the stores there is Williams-Sonoma.
I like to browse through kitchen appliances for reasons that aren't quite explicable, but they have such great items, many of which I'd like to use, most of which I never will. But I came across something on my recent visit that intrigued me.
I like to make rice (and actually have a good recipe for something so simple that I read in an interview with Julia Child. Two parts water to one part rice. Bring it to a boil, then cook it covered on a low heat for 15 minutes. And then turn the heat off and let it sit for 10 minutes. I play around with a bit because I like a "crust" on my rice, but that's basically it.). However, there's one issue that I think plagues everyone who makes rice -- the starchy water bubbles up and spills out of the pot over the stove. You either have to watch it all the time (not high on my list of things to do), or leave the top off a crack to let the steam out (something Julia wouldn't approve of)...and even then there will be spillover.
What I saw at Williams-Sonoma was something called the "Kochblume Spill Stopper" from a Swiss company, Kuhn-Rikon. You can find it here.
It's a disk made of very heavy silicone, that you place over the top of your pan instead of the cover. It creates a a sort of bowl, and has a centerpiece that lies flat and covers holes underneath. When the starchy water boils up, it flows through these holds -- lifting the flaps -- and the water sits in the concave bowl, rather than spilling over the side. I tried it the other day -- and it worked! Wonderfully.
It can also be used as a steamer, and is microwave safe, so it can be a cover in your microwave. Also, the centerpiece pops out, so that it can be used as a splatter guard. (It says so on the package, but that made no sense to me. So I went to the website. What it refers to is for use in, generally, baking. You put it over your mixing bowl, remove the center, and stick your electric mixer blades through it.)
I think it retails for $30, a bit steep, but the Williams-Sonoma outlet store had it for $20. Given that the annoying spill of starchy rice water annoys me enough that I often don't cook rice even though I like it so much, I figured it was worth trying. And I'm glad I did. I think it also is available at Sur La Table stores, and I believe that Kuhn Rikon has an online U.S. distributor through their website (linked above). I would also assume that there are other like-products available, some fairly inexpensive. After all, it's just a piece of rubber with a floppy cover in the center. But the Kuhn-Rikon is very well-made and therefore can serve other uses. And especially worthwhile when it can be found, as here, for a reasonable price.
And that's today's food tip. Buon gusto...
I just got back from a Rosh Hoshana dinner with some friends at a restaurant in Culver City, Akasha. It was selected because they actually have a special Rosh Hoshana menu. Not that there's a whole lot to choose from for holiday delicacies, basically brisket or a boiled chicken, though with a bunch of good-looking starters.
A bunch of us did a mix-and-match, picking some starters off the holiday menu, like potato pancakes, and the main course off the main menu. That's what I did. I figured that brisket wasn't all that far a leap to barbecued ribs.
The restaurant is fairly nice, somewhat modern with a hint towards old world, with a lot of heavy wood. The food ranged from fair to tasty, with small portions that are vastly overpriced. Most of the other people at the table loved the place, so I'm glad for that. Me, it was fine, but not more than that. And did I mention small portions that are vastly overpriced?
The potato pancakes were pretty good. The barbecued ribs were okay flavorful for restaurant ribs, not much for rib-joint smoked for six hours ribs. A bit too dry and they dropped off the bone if you starred at them. And they cost $27. Now, I know from ribs -- it's my favorite food, and I get them reasonably often. I went to a new rib place just last week. For $27, I was expecting a slab. I got four ribs. That's expensive, even if they were great. Which they weren't close to, but fine. There was also a large cup of cole slaw, something that I normally love. These were almost tasteless, almost dry, sort of like eating a cupful of cabbage. Some people don't like creamy cole slaw sauce -- you'd have been in heaven here.
It wasn't a bad place at all. It was pleasant and if someone invited me there again as their guest, I'd be fine going. But to meet? Probably not.
Still, I liked my idea of barbecued ribs as a replacement for brisket. It was great in concept.
Apropos of nothing, I came across this 2-minute from Conan of Louis C.K. commenting about people's reaction to the miracles of technology, and I found it a hoot and spot-on.
It reminded me of a decade or so back when I was doing my penance as unit publicist and was working on-set for some movie. And being on location, as all films do, they had a caterer putting together a buffet lunch. Now, I do recognize that when you're on location for 40 days there's gong to end up being a lot or repetition in the menu. But that's not only understandable, but it's the case on ALL movies, and has been since probably the first catered movie set 70 years ago.
(Note to people who don't work in the film industry -- this is not done to be oh-so fancy, it's that when you're on location, the crew doesn't have any transportation to drive to a restaurant, and living out of a hotel room, you can't make brown-bag lunches for yourself each day. Plus, film companies don't want their crews wandering off for lunch in unfamiliar areas, trying to find where to eat, and then having to wait for 60-80 people to come wandering back so that they can start filming on time. It's just much more efficient to provide a caterer.)
Now, this one day, I was seated at a long table when a couple of Teamster drivers started whining about the food, how it was the same, and how they didn't like what was being served that day and the choice wasn't great and on and on. Now, usually, one doesn't argue with Teamsters on a movie set, especially when you're the publicist and also when you're half their size. But it was not only what they were saying, but also what had been in the news recently, and finally I had enough. So, I turned to them -- I'm not even sure they knew who I was -- and said, "Are you kidding me?? They just had Hurricane Andrew in Florida where a third of the state either lost their homes or were displaced. And the Mississippi River is flooding right now and it's devastating the entire middle of the country. And there are wild fires in Wyoming that is spreading over the state. And you are being given a free buffet lunch every single day. And you're complaining about it. Three meat entrees, a pasta entree, four salads, half a dozen side dishes, four different desserts, two flavors of ice cream, six kinds of beverage and more. And you're complaining." Not shockingly, the Teamster drivers were a bit taken aback, and when they finally caught themselves they recovered and got all defensive and puffy again, and one guy snarled, "Well...well, we work hard for this, and they should do it right." I looked back at them and said, "It's -- a -- free -- buffet."
No, I don't believe I convinced them of anything, though they did stop complaining for that meal. And best of all, I was able to finish mine without my head being busted open.
And by the way, the food was good. Yes, the menu got repeated more than was ideal, and I've had better (I once worked on a movie that was catered by a company who's just been named the top caterer in a survey done by Premiere magazine, and I could see why. They were tremendous), but it was all good. And the reality is that if they were working in L.A. and bringing in their own lunch each day, it would probably be the same sandwich, the same bag of chips, the same soft drink, and the same Pop Tart for dessert. Every day.
That story isn't the same as what Louis C.K. is talking about here, though I think they are cousins.
Okay, I am now officially fed up (no pun intended) with people reviewing pizza in Chicago and stating, for the record, that they don't like Chicago-style pizza. This is no different from someone writing an article about the best barbecue ribs in Kansas City and saying they don't like ribs. They have no idea what makes the food good, and only end up telling you what someone who specifically doesn't like ribs feels is something that they, as a non-rib lover, can personally stomach.
To be clear, I don't care if someone doesn't like Chicago-style pizza. It's significantly different than most other pizza, so if it's not to your taste, fair enough. I don't even care if someone does like Chicago-style pizza, but after tasting all manner of different pizzas prefers those to Chicago-style. It's different. It's not for everyone. I happen to love it. I think it's incredible, and when done right (which only seems to take place in Chicago), it's enthralling.
This comes up because the other day, the Serious Eats website assigned Nick Kindelsperger to rate Chicago-style pizza in the city. And in his article here, beginning right in the first paragraph, he writes --
No matter what what you think about this style of pizza, it's hard not to be impressed by its stature. Which explains why so many visitors to Chicago want to experience the spectacle for themselves, even if food critics tend to disparage the stuff as greasy and too much like a casserole.
Hey, that's exactly who I want to read to tell me who makes the best Chicago-style pizza! Someone who dismisses it and find it overwrought and heavy. And describes other pizza as "better." Why even write the article? Why not say, "the best Chicago-style pizza in Chicago is None of the Above" and save one the typing?
[Note: contrary to what he says, food critics don't "disparage the stuff." Not as greasy and too much like a casserole. Or anything. Some food critics do. But "some" food critics will disparage pretty much any kind of food. To state that food critics, period, dislike what you're about to review puts a pretty dismal spin on what you suspect is about to come.
C'mon, if you're going to call your organization, "Serious Eats," at least be serious enough about eats to assign a reviewer to write about a kind of food he at least likes. That way, he understands what's actually good -- and even bad -- about it.
To be fair to Mr. Kindelsperger, and Serious Eats, as well, he does do a diligent job in researching his assignment, and writes about food quite well. The problem is, as I said, that someone simply out-of-hand does not like Chicago-style pizza is not going to find The Best Chicago-style Pizza in Chicago. He's going to find the best pizza that's close enough to the "better" kind of pizza he likes.
And indeed, that's precisely what happens here.
This is what I mean. For starters, he makes an effort to describe the difference between "deep dish" pizza and "stuffed pizza," as well as "pan pizza." The problem is that his explanation, as far as I can tell, bears no semblance to any criteria I've ever heard. The main difference between deep dish and stuffed pizza is not the crust, but that the latter has a thin layer of dough on top, which lets you put more toppings on. And pan pizza isn't really Chicago-style at all, but just thick, bready dough, which, as he correctly notes, you can get anywhere.)
More to the point, is that his number one selection as "the best" Chicago-style pizza in the city is Burt's Place. Okay, fine, let's step back a moment before we continue. In your mind, picture what you envision Chicago-style pizza to look like. Pizza made in a round, blackened pan with a flakey dough up the side of the pan and the inside piled high with sauce, gooey cheese and all manner of toppings.
Right? Okay, here's the photograph he offers for his #1 choice, Burt's Place --
Seriously now, how many of you out there had an image of something even close to this as Chicago-style pizza??! Let alone for "the best" in the city. Hands? Anyone?
Now, to be fair, it might be absolutely delicious. (Actually, it looks a bit dry, but I suspect it's really good.) But mainly, this looks like any New York thin-crust pie. The only giveaway is that the crust does look somewhat flakey, though it's hard to tell.
And this isn't an exception. His second choice really isn't all that much different. Here's a picture of the pizza that they offer up at My Pie.
That looks almost as thin. And the only slight giveaway here that we're in Chicago is that the sauce appears to be thicker and richer than pizza in most other areas. (Sorry, I mean "better pizza" in most other areas.)
Again, it looks pretty tasty, and may well be delicious. But this isn't a Chicago-style pizza loaded with cheese and piled with stuffings. This is a pizza that's fits much closer to the type of thin-crust pizza that Nick Kindelsberger likes.
C'mon, now, this is what Chicago-style pizza looks like, when you had to envision a picture of it in your mind. Right?!!!!
This is from Giordano's, the author's choice -- down the list a bit -- for "Favorite Downtown Option." That dismissive word "option" is worth noting. I'm not quite sure why he uses it, unlike the earlier categories, as Favorites, period. Here it reads like, "Okay, if you're downtown and out of other places to eat, here's your best option of Chicago-style pizza."
Indeed, most of the list is this way. Most of them being fairly thin-crust, with only a few the way most people (especially in Chicago) think of Chicago-style pizza.
I'm sure that every pizza on the list is wonderful. Maybe even exquisitely so. And I'm sure that those here with thin crusts can be described in some way as being a cousin of Chicago-style and related, for having a flakey crust or thick tomato sauce. But these aren't quintessential, "Chicago-style pizza." These are pizzas for people who live in the city who have been eating Chicago-style pizza all their lives for many decades and decide they want to have something a little different, that still has some of the qualities they love. Or pizzas for people like the author don't like Chicago-style pizza and who dismiss it as "too much like a casserole."
To be clear, this isn't just a diatribe against Nick Kindelsperger. It's about all reviews of Chicago-style pizza by people who don't like it. In the end, what you get is not a review of Chicago-style pizza. You get a review like this -- of pizza that's as close as possible to what kind of other "better" pizza the author likes.
Chicago-style pizza is Not Like Other Pizza. That doesn't make it better or worse. I like it more. I like other kind of pizza, too. But when you have someone reviewing it who doesn't like it, who doesn't understand why those who absolutely love it do -- this is what you get. An article about something else entirely.
I was in the grocery store today and walk looking at packages of dry beans. One company, Paco brand, had among the most fascinating cooking directions.
Things started off fine. For quick soaking, cook the beans for two minutes in hot water and then let them sit for an hour.
Well, that's reasonable. Now, on to the cooking --
On a low simmer, cook the drained beans for 56 minutes or until tender.
Yes, "56 minutes." Not 55 or an hour. That's 56 minutes. Got it?
But not even 56 minutes. You'd think that for directions that specific, it would be all you needed to know, and that would be that. But no, if it turns out that the beans aren't quite tender enough in 56 minutes, keep cooking them until they're tender. Like for a total of 58 minutes, maybe.
This is mainly of interest to readers in Los Angeles. But it will still be entertaining for others.
There's a show on the Food Network called Mystery Diners. When a restaurant thinks it’s having employee problems, they call the investigators in who set up hidden camera, send in "mystery diners" or have "mystery employees" with hidden cameras hired by the owner, and check things out. I only watch it on occasion, since it’s a bit forced and overly confrontational for my taste, and I find the pay-offs at the end tend to be a bit unsatisfying. But I watched tonight because, scrolling through the program guide, I saw that they were called in a place called Lenny’s Deli -- that's a delicatessen in Westwood that that took over Junior’s a few years ago..
It’s actually a fairly good episode, more directly dramatic than most and with a fairly acceptable ending. (It also has one of the greatest lines I've seen on the show, when someone under "investigation" (and caught on camera in a big way) comes into the Control Center, sees all the monitors and asks, "What's going on here??" Another employee, also in trouble, but who's been already called into the Control Center and seen her entire meltdown, slowly turns and tells her in as dry a voice as you can imagine, "It doesn't look good."
Anyway, they’re repeating it tonight (Wednesday night/ Thursday morning) at 12:30 AM, Los Angeles time. Set the DVR.
One quibble: the new owner comments how they took over a failing restaurant, and my understanding is that it was more of a lease dispute between Junior's and the landlord.)
Robert J. Elisberg is a two-time recipient of the Lucille Ball Award for comedy screenwriting. He's written for film, TV, the stage, and two best-selling novels, and is a regular columnist for the Huffington Post and the Writers Guild of America. Among his other writing, he has a long-time column on technology (which he sometimes understands), and co-wrote a book on world travel. As a lyricist, he is a member of ASCAP, and has contributed to numerous publications.
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