The six worst restaurant chairs
Plus stories from the front line of food service, a great profile of Chicago's first restaurant critic, and Pete Wells loves New York, New York.
Great story by Joshua M. Bernstein on the decline of craft beer bars. As is so often the case, those at the vanguard of the revolution don’t get to reap the benefits. In this case, the rise of brewery tap rooms and the fact you can buy craft beer just about everywhere took away what made these bars special. Most were hanging on until the pandemic.
I’m going to assume you are already a fan of Desus & Mero. So it probably isn’t a hard sell to get you to watch this extended cut video of them doing a blind tasting of various wines and liquors and trying to guess which celebrity is behind them. It’s pure chaos.
A recent episode of Death, Sex & Money focuses on former food and restaurant workers. If you’ve read stories about the stats on how hard it is currently to hire, give this a listen to hear some individual stories behind the numbers.
Eater ran a phenomenal special section on restaurant design. There are some absolute bangers here, including a piece on the six worst restaurant chairs that absolutely spoke to my soul. I also loved to see a byline from Besha Rodell, who wrote about LA’s Night+Market Song and teenage bedrooms that smell like weed and sex.
N.A. Mansour criticizes the rise of the refugee cookbook. She reframes a number of recent Middle Eastern mega-hit books and questions what their largely white audiences are really getting from buying them. There’s a lot of insightful points here, but I think the argument gets a bit too broad at the end as she excoriates food media more generally.
TASTE publishes a lovely essay by Nico Vera. In America, Coca leaves have two main associations: cocaine and Coke. Vera outlines their place in Peruvian culture and cuisine, which is much more interesting and complicated.
The article most people sent me this week: This amazing profile of a guy who realized that for $150/yr, he could survive on just meals from Six Flags. I’m excited my dirtbag food aesthetic is still respected. I’m also horrified, but that turkey dog special looks great.
Soon, the tiny clothespin began marketing itself toward creative cocktail designers looking to class up while paring down. ‘The idea was so sexy,’ said Zelda Wingarten, former head mixologist at craft cocktail bar Pin Up Babe in Atlanta. ‘The tiny clothespin was like the ant of garnishing tools: so small and elegant, but mighty enough to hold a basil leaf to a highball glass rim so precisely. Amazing.’
I loved this feature from Food 52, who is also hitting the dinner party beat. They ask a number of folks with cookbooks coming out to put together dinner party menus sourced from their books. I have already texted my sister about making the thit kho trung for Christmas and gotten a, “I dunno would Dad deal with that?”.
Megan Paetzhold writes for Grub Street that it’s time to bring back paper menus. I found myself nodding along as she described the enjoyment of the paper experience as well as the frustrations of being taken out of the dining experience by QR codes (though who am I kidding, I will take literally any excuse to check Twitter as many times as is socially acceptable). More interestingly, California casual-dining chain BJ’s Restaurants brought back paper menus and saw a 70 cents-per-check increase in sales. So… we’ll see them back.
I also have a very funny reply to this tweet but didn’t want to embed my own tweet.
Texas Monthly’s top 50 Barbecue list is one of the most important in food media. It creates legends (and 4-hour waits). This year’s list goes hard into the newcomers. Some of the classics, like Franklin, are still in the top ten, but are no longer dominant as a new generation of places take classic technique in new directions. It says a LOT about Texas that the top barbecue restaurant in the state now has a partially Laotian menu.
Niche Wine Meme As Explained by My Sister Hope
We are debuting a new weekly feature in Snack Cart: niche wine meme as explained by my sister Hope! I’m hoping this becomes a weekly feature but she said, “boy that’s a lot!” Here we go!:
“When you’re studying for wine exams (like the WSET or the Court of Sommeliers), you can overly concentrate on European wine countries since all of the rules (aging requirements, yields, etc.) are codified by the government. You end up focusing on details about names of wineries and tiny sub-regions in Italy thinking that’s what’ll trip you up on the exam. So you’re deep in the weeds about Europe, and forget to get into nearly the same detail for new world regions like South Africa. Then when the exam comes around and you get one question about Chardonnay in Franschhoek you are FUCKED.”
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All locations of Pizza Parlor Bar, a small chain from a decently well known restaurant group, are closed after raids by the Chicago PD and the IRS. This reminds me of the time my college roommate’s favorite pizza place was raided by the FBI and turned out to be a front for cocaine. He was the only person going there for pizza.
My favorite thing I read this week: A lot of the first really interesting food writing came from the alt papers. Chicago Reader publishes a beautiful reflection on their first food writer, Sally Banes. Banes is more famous for her dance writing, but she started out in 1971 as a University of Chicago undergrad writing reviews for $10-20 each without an expense account. The quoted prose from Banes is very, very good. Plus, apparently there was a Reader series (not by Banes) that featured stolen menus with notes/reviews written in the margins. Why doesn’t everyone do that?
Stephanie Casanova at the Chicago Tribune profiles Maria Salamanca, or, as she is better known in Bronzeville, Taco Lady. Salamanca has been selling tacos in local parks for more than 40 years (one of the many charming details is that she doesn’t even know how long). She’s been doing it long enough that parents are bringing their kids to the lady they loved as a child. This is a great story about what street vendors can mean to a community.
A few weeks ago the Chicago Tribune profiled black-owned breweries. This week, Chicago Magazine highlights black-owned wine companies.
Nick Kindelsperger profiles Dina Cimarusti, the driving force behind Logan Square’s Sugar Moon Bakery. Cimarusti sounds unbelievably impressive, taking a brief detour from baking to become a highly-regarded special effects make-up artist. Kindelsperger focuses on the cookies, but I made quite a noise when I saw the picture of the spicy giardiniera focaccia.
Louisa Chu reviews both locations by the team behind Bar Goa (a River North restaurant and a food stall at Time Out). The food sounds outstanding, but I don’t have a lot of experience judging Goan-Portugeuse dishes. I hope Chu feels more comfortable criticizing restaurants in the future - she clearly had a bad experience that would have tanked a number of other reviews. She shoe-horns in halfway through almost apologetically. I get it, but that’s the gig!
A few weeks in, I’m starting to get the Chicago Reader Monday Night Foodball program. It’s a chance to give a home to and shine a light on the constellation of innovating and delicious popups that have been circling Chicago during the pandemic. This week, amazing-sounding Creole food from the team behind Bumbu Roux.
The Worcester Railers kicked off their new season with a special guest. Professional Eater Joey Chestnut visited the Heart of the Commonwealth to take on four local teams in a Table Talk Pie eating contest. Chestnut absolutely dominated, even though he’d never had a Table Talk pie (Poor bastard. Buy a lemon pie next time you are at a New England gas station). Shoutout to friend of the Cart and Pop It podcast host Molly, who came in last (COME ON!).
The Economist visits Maine to find out what impact climate change will have on the future of lobsters. A lot! For science-y reasons, the Gulf of Maine’s waters have warmed faster than 99% of the world’s ocean over the past 30 years. That means… lots of change.
Wait, this article has both Buffalo Wings AND Frasier in the lede? Am I being punked?
The single most mind-bending change I’ve seen in Boston during my adult life is that there are now a ton of fancy and good places to eat near the Boston Garden. Halftime pizza and Sullivan’s tap or GTFO.
The Globe is truly embracing the digital age: they published a list of the best Halloween candy. I wonder if I agree with this so much because they are correct or because we are all from New England. Either way, I appreciate the Take 5 being recognized as the S-Rank candy it truly is.
Pete Wells writes a beautiful ode to dining in Midtown. It’s not something a lot of New Yorkers my age do (unless it’s semi-ironic visits to Margaritaville). Wells highlights the many layers of the neighborhood and how it rewards persistence and exploration. Especially in New York, the city has felt small during the pandemic. My world shrank massively. As we open back up, I’ll need to remind myself that the city is made of neighborhoods and that each of them have layers that make them wonderful.
Speaking of layers, the New Yorker profiles a cheese-aging cave six blocks from my apartment? I’m going to need a crew.
If The Brooklyn Paper is creating a list of the best pizza in the borough, it’s time for all of us to sit up and listen.
Everyone planning to attend a Nets game at Barclays Center this year, take one step forward. Not so fast, Mr. Irving. If you are planning to check out the new look Nets, Brooklyn Magazine has you covered with a rundown of all the new food options available in the stadium.
Grub Street wonders what is going to happen to outdoor dining. They interview the team at Brooklyn's Victor about their thoughts, as the restaurant is highly reliant on their outdoor space. I’m kind of confused why the author keeps bringing up winter as this huge thing -- we all ate outside last winter and it kinda sucked sometimes but generally was fine. Most people I know are still pretty unsure about indoor dining.
This Adam Platt review of Cadence makes the place sounds great, though it is 2021, I think we are past starting a vegan restaurant review with 3-4 paragraphs of throat clearing (but maybe not?).
I raised my eyebrows at calling Boyle Heights a suburb, but this Bustle piece by Esther Tseng on the history of the neighborhood is tremendous. Tsend profiles a number of neighborhood institutions and briefly dives into their radical and community-centric histories (including the radical, pro-union and pro-Latino Jewish bakers behind the original Canter’s location). She ties it to the current anti-gentrification organizing movements in the neighborhood.
KCRW’s Good Food highlights a new study by USC on how COVID-19 affected food insecurity in Los Angeles. There’s actually some optimistic news, but still a lot of issues for certain demographics.
I generally find Gustavo Arellano’s aggressive anti In-and-Out posturing on Twitter to be a *bit* tiresome, but he was definitely the best choice to write a tremendously insightful column on the chain’s refusal to check vaccination status. He dives into the Republican and evangelical forces behind the beloved burger chain (secret bible verses!), and how it’s popularity taps into the mass delusions required to live in California. I do think he skips too quickly over how well they pay their employees -- that matters a lot more to me than $50k donations to the CA Republican party.
Steve Padilla at the Los Angeles Times writes a terrific article about food’s importance to Día de los Muertos. He examines how the combination of Christian and ancient Central America religious symbols can be tied up in the same loaf of bread.
Out of Context J. Gold of the Week
“a man whose special skill is pulling leaves from heads of iceberg lettuce and riffling them into perfect sheaves, like a riverboat gambler shuffling a deck of cards” - link