A View From the Kitchen: Conflicted Part II
I have recently recognized bigotry in myself — signs of a rising level of intolerance that first concerned me while dining with my wife in a Middle Eastern restaurant.
Upon arrival, I was disappointed to discover that the suggested restaurant was located in a dumpy strip mall. “Just great,” I thought sarcastically, in a “plan-to-be-disappointed Plath” sort of way. (I talk to myself, like, a lot.)
Once seated, our coarsely shaven waiter brought over a basket of nearly-stale bread, ineffectively preserved in plastic wrap. The tiny butters came in those plastic squares with the peel-off foil common to diners. And pizzerias. You know, the kind you have to dig-spin your knife to clear the corners? Psh. “Tacky,” I said, in my head. (I’ve learned from many kicks under the table to internalize my ongoing critique, thus sparing less discerning diners from such “truths.”)
It was here that my epiphany occurred, silently dope-slapping myself:
“You, sir, are becoming that guy.” A real food snob.
This troubling realization began to consume my thoughts as I considered how generally offended I am by all applications of pepperoncini peppers (unless I’m in a pizzeria), and how I’ve come to view neon-red maraschino cherries as the devil’s cocktail garnish, unless in a Shirley Temple. (In a pizzeria.)
I went on to debate myself in mock wonder whether serving old bread is akin to “nose-to-tail” dining and the lofty goal of 100 percent utilization? Or if the bread vendor sneaked in the day-old? Of course, maybe the restaurant just wasn’t very good. Because everyone knows why the pita chip was invented; today’s lunch is tomorrow’s crunch. Restaurant 101, dudes.
In a state of unrest, I struggled to reconcile whether that bread was good or evil! The frugal son of ’60s parents and business owner in me challenges my dining enthusiast alter ego, which more fancies house butter churned from local goat’s milk, finished with a Maine sea salt. (What a snob!)
One of my — OK, my only — New Year’s resolution was to try to reverse this obnoxious trend before it is too late and I start trashing restaurants on Yelp.
I find this all somewhat ironic, because I’m not sure exactly how or when I began identifying with this generally annoying society. After all, I was a public school kid and attended a state university. (Go UMass!) Oops. I suppose that, too, sounds a little judgy-judgy. I don’t mean to say that if you went to Harvard you’re automatically a snob. Much. (Sorry, Arthur, but …).
Maybe my mutation began when I stopped (admitting to) eating McDonald’s. I was both blessed and cursed by my early exposure to diversity and whole food; Ring Dings were banned from my youth. (“Have an apple.”) Back then, my school chums traded Oscar Mayer bologna and Miracle Whip on glowing-white Wonder bread, for (orange) American “cheese” sandwiches, while I huddled alone at the end of the lunchroom table. I struggled to keep my sandwich of Mom’s hand-cut, homemade whole-grain bread and natural peanut butter from crumbling between my hands or, worse, getting stuck halfway down my gullet, choking me dead before recess.
So anyhoo … After visiting with our financial adviser in Lexington that day (OMG, that is exactly what a snob would say) and realizing that we are not doing nearly as well as, well, my friend Arthur of Harvard, I asked said consultant to recommend a (cheap) place to eat in the surrounding burbs.
Whenever a progressive restaurant is not an option, my general rule is to seek the independent and authentic, for kimchi or curry, chimichurri or pho; ethnic pursuits ideally owned by immigrants with legacy recipes and an American dream.
And (here I go again), that does NOT include Italian, Chinese or Mexican. What the frijoles? The 1900s called — they want their exotic restaurants back! (Snob, snob, snob.)
After screening his suggestions through the generally trustworthy TripAdvisor — Korean, Indian, Brazilian and Middle Eastern — I drove with visions of tender lamb, tart tzatziki and buttery sheep’s-milk feta dancing in my head.
As we entered, a snob might have muttered that the foyer tiles looked more like they belonged in the bathroom. Yes, yes I did. From our table, I watched the Celtics and Bruins on two of the three TV screens over the bar, and on the third, scrolling photos of steak kebabs and the like — other items from the restaurant menu. What the …
I kept waiting to see a tacky and grammatically flawed tagline appear on screen, like, “Eat good in the neighborhood.” Oy.
Maybe I should have just gone for a Big Mac. Or an apple.
From a farm stand. (Stupid resolution.)
Scott Plath, along with his wife Kathleen, owns Cobblestones of Lowell and moonstones, in Chelmsford, Mass. Scott possesses a deep well of humorous and insightful stories which you can read in each and every issue of Merrimack Valley Magazine.