Tag Archives: bourgeois

If The City Shuts Down Food Trucks, What’s The Next Big Trend in Lunch?

If traffic has seemed to move faster and parking spaces have become more available in the last 24 hours, it might be because Baltimore City sent some obscure bureaucrat out onto the streets at lunchtime yesterday, a day after this article was published, to shut down the ever-growing fleet of food trucks that has been dieseling all over downtown and the surrounding neighborhoods the last couple of years.

We were able to watch the whole thing unfold on Twitter, as well as following the live updates on the Dining at Large Blog on the Sun’s website. It almost seems as if social media, the food trucks’ greatest advertising asset, could also be their downfall, since the Mayor is on Twitter too, and can see exactly where to levy fines. Of course, twitter is a good way to yell at city officials as well, and there was no shortage of that until the operators of food trucks, the upscale ones anyway, were granted an indefinite reprieve later in the afternoon.

One of Charm City's many mobile nosheries.

The Chop is a bystander in all of this. We typically aren’t around downtown during the lunch hour, and even if we were, we’d favor an actual restaurant like Werner’s or Burke’s. (Oops. Guess we’re SOL, huh?) We see food trucks mostly as a trend and a fad, and we don’t think Baltimore could support many more than it has now anyway. In the meantime we’re kind of dubious about the whole notion of ordering and eating as quickly as possible. If you’re not getting a full hour for lunch, you’re getting screwed. We’d rather stick with table service.

It got us wondering though… if the streets were emptied of food trucks, what will be the next great trend for lunch in Baltimore?

Tugboats and gentrification have historically not mixed in Baltimore. Maybe food is the missing link.

Tugboats. Part of the appeal in the food truck movement has always been the same appeal offered by the likes of Bourdain and his ilk, namely co-opting the culture of the working class and repackaging it for the leisure class. Take for example the lowly hot dog. Traditionally, a hot dog truck would be limited to places like construction sites, quarries and Bethlehem Steel, and workers would settle for hot dogs because their jobsite site was inaccessible, and they were likely too dirty to sit down in a real restaurant even if they could get to one. The hot dog was ground up pig guts, two for a buck, not something that was “finished with onion and tomato jam” or listed at “market price.”

Tugboats have long been renowned for their excellent food, and they’ve all got galleys already built right in. This was the next logical step in foodie fads anyway, wasn’t it? We can see it now, some enterprising chef steaming back and forth between the Inner Harbor, Fell’s Point, and the new Under Armour compound at Locust Point, with customers sitting out on the stern eating $12 bowls of pea soup and posting pictures to Facebook.

A bunch of trendy New Yorkers line up to buy junkfood from a wall.

Return of the Automat. Most people in today’s workforce are far too young to remember the automat, But it ticks all the boxes on the potential food trend checklist: Arcane and obsolete? check. Made for the Poor, re-sold to the Rich? check. Plain food with the potential for dressing up needlessly? check. A novelty which is more about the experience than the menu? check. Nostalgia for something you never lived through? check. Potential to overcharge? That’s a check, my friend.

There’s even a template to follow. It seems New York City has a shiny new upscale automat on the formerly gritty Saint Mark’s Place, complete with ‘opulent brownies’ and ‘Tijuana Taco Krokets.’ Their over-designed website even features a full page of schmoopy media gushing. Since Baltimore pretty much stole the whole foodie-food truck idea from NYC anyway, we might as well pony up $200k and jump on the automat franchising opportunity before the trend peaks.

Lexington Market is "ripe" for gentrification.

Lexington Market. Lexington Market has long been ripe for gentrification by the downtown lunch crowd, yet in 220 years of operation, it’s managed to retain its character. ‘Authenticity’ is at a premium these days though, and it could be the only thing that’s saving Lexington Market from an influx of suburban office workers is the fact that Polock Johnny’s isn’t nearly as adept at rebranding, merchandising and franchising as say, Ben’s Chili Bowl has been.

Of course, it’s kind of tough to repackage the working class experience with all those pesky working class folks hanging around and ruining it for the rest of us. If Lexington Market is ever going to become Baltimore’s hot new food destination, we’re going to have to cut off bus and subway access, and add some valets to the garages. After all, that’s not the safest neighborhood for parking your Prius. Why do you think you don’t see more food trucks there?

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The Best Brunch Drinks (That Aren’t Mimosas or Bloody Marys)

You already know that the Chop approves of brunch as a lifestyle choice. We even endorse mini-brunching on the weekdays. There is one little bone we’ve got to pick with brunch though, and although another Mother’s Day has come and gone, we’re going to address it now, because better late than never.

To our mind, the thing that makes brunch brunch is the booze. It’s not the cuisine that’s served or the time or place it’s eaten, it’s the booze and only the booze. You don’t drink at breakfast, and lunch drinking (if you’re lucky enough for that) is markedly different from the Sunday Ritual.

We never claimed we weren't an asshole. Now go fetch us some Campari, boy.

Our problem with brunch menus is that they’re dominated almost entirely by Bloody Mary’s and Mimosas. Now, there’s nothing wrong with these two traditional brunch drinks. They’re both tried and true classics to be sure. It’s just that, personally, we don’t really much care for either of them.

Our point of contention is that both brunchers and restaurants should be a little more imaginative. Some restaurants try to get creative, but end up being way too cute; adding okra, lemons, limes, green beans, tomato slices, rhubarb, olives, and anything else they’ve got laying around until your Bloody Mary approaches the absurd. These “house recipes” often look more like a garden in a glass than an actual drink. And don’t even get us started on the so-called ‘Man-mosa’ in any of its hideous variations. Gross. Stupid. Childish.

Instead of just offering all you can drink bloodys or mimosa’s, we’d love to see more restaurants coming up with their own cocktails for brunch. How about offering the first drink free, eh? Think that might get some asses in the seats? Whenever we’re awake and aware in time for brunch, we make sure to do our part to confound the bartender by ordering something he might actually have to turn around to make. Here’s five of our favorite calls for brunch cocktails.

  • The Madras. The Madras is a classic, and we can never understand why it doesn’t get more love at brunch. Orange and Cranberry aren’t ingredients you’d reach for immediately after dark, but if the sun is shining you can’t go wrong. We say pour it a little weak and don’t be afraid to have more than one.
  • Kahlua. You know those cereal commercials where they show the product next to a bunch of healthy food and say “part of this complete breakfast?” Well, Kahlua completes brunch. Skip the vodka, just put it on the rocks and serve it.
  • Pernod and water. Take a shot of Pernod, pour it over ice, and add as much water as you like. Since this is brunch, and not a Friar’s Club roast, feel free to top off that highball glass with water. Then sip liberally. Pernod’s bittersweet licorice-like flavor will remind you you’re supposed to be awake and help jumpstart your appetite. If the restaurant doesn’t have it, ask for Strega instead.
  • Campari and soda. Sure, Campari is bitter, but it’s bitter in a good way. Espresso is sort of bitter. So are a lot of herbal teas. These have their place at the brunch table, and so should Campari. Plus, you can make up little songs by rhyming it with safari and Rastafari. You’ll never be able to do that with a mimosa.
  • Anything with Saint Germain in it. Trendy restaurants love to sell you $14 elderflower cocktails on Saturday night, but come Sunday morning they conveniently forget all about it and try to foist off cheap champagne on brunchers. If we were in charge of the Saint Germain brand we’d be sponsoring brunch events all over the place, with custom cocktail menus, food pairings, the whole works. The truth is that it’s damn near impossible to make a bad drink with Saint Germain. For brunch, take some Saint Germain, something fizzy, and a splash of liquor. There are 10,000 possible combinations, and they’re all great choices.

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House Rules: Credit Card Roulette

The Chop is not typically given over to gambling. We used to frequent Pimlico when the horses were running, and we’re loathe to back out of a bar bet if we’re absolutely sure that it was Paul Rodriguez who co-starred in DC Cab and not George Lopez. Aside from that though, we tend to eschew games of chance believing the odds are always in favor of the house.

So it may be a bit uncharacteristic of us to come out and endorse credit card roulette, but endorse it we do, and heartily.

CCR is great for fancy restaurants. Just make sure you don't eat like a horse...

For the uninitiated, credit card roulette is a game played by a group of friends out dining or drinking. When the bill comes, all parties at the table produce a credit card, which cards are then shuffled and one is picked at random, usually by a waiter or busboy. The owner of the card picked is then gracious enough to pick up the entire check, while everyone else’s card finds its way back into their wallets unswiped.

Credit card roulette is not new, per se, as the earliest reference to it we found in a quick Google search was 2006. It is however new enough that it has yet to gain much in the way of popularity. Despite a few mentions here and there on TV and in the movies and print media, many people have still never heard of it, and those who do know about it often balk. With the great recession taking hold in mid-2007, most people out there were lucky to be eating at all, let alone in restaurants, and that’s to say nothing of picking up the whole table’s bill. We’re slowly crawling out of that mire though, and we hope that 2011 will be the year that CCR really takes off as a social phenomenon.

Granted, it’s not for everyone. For those who go out often enough though, and who tend to go out with the same groups of friends on a regular basis, the rewards easily outweigh the risks. Hell, we endorse paying the bill out of sheer generosity if you can swing it. The reaction to a surprise check pick-up can range anywhere from genuine gratitude to outright awe. If you’ve never felt this from your guests (and at this point they are your guests), you owe it to yourself at least once. Even as a winner (loser) of credit card roulette though, a hearty round of thanks and appreciation are still your due.

Another great aspect of this game though, and the main reason we endorse it with so much gusto is because of the social bonds it can create and nurture. If nothing else, it’s an inducement for the loser to invite everyone else back out for another meal in the hopes of getting back to breaking even. After a few meals are exchanged and it all evens out (and maybe a few new marks get to pay once in a while) the whole thing becomes more of a gentlemen’s society and rotating supper club than anything else. And hey, who doesn’t like a free meal once in a while.

What about you? Have you played credit card roulette before? Won? Lost? Was the loser a sport or did they get all huffy about it. would you try it again? Let us know in the comments.

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