Snack Cart: "Heroin, sex ... peanut butter and jelly."
Welcome to Snack Cart! I’ve loaded up the cart with some of my favorite food writing from across the country. Hopefully you’ll find something to like as you wind down the week.
We start off this a mailbag question about tipping:
This past weekend I went to the opening of Chop Shop's (http://www.coloradochopshop.com/) second location, which just opened walking distance from my new home. Chop Shop is called a "casual urban eatery" and to me it is a bit of a hybrid between Panera and sit down restaurants. They serve alcohol, you order at a counter but they bring you your food and clear the table for you. Drinks are from a soda machine and self-serve. They also accept tips...
My question about take out is an outgrowth of this experience. I tipped at Chop Shop and felt that the 20% was excessive considering that's my normal tip at a sit down restaurant - even though that was the amount I gave this past weekend. While I felt excessive - I would think 10-15% is more in line - this is hospitality, they are most likely hourly workers and they are serving me to some extent. I have no clue if tips are shared amongst the whole staff (I assume as much) and not sure if front of house and kitchen staff share. Then, last night, I picked up Chinese food and wasn't sure what to do. I'm sure the kitchen made the food, bagged it and just handed it to the hostess. Does it matter if they spilt tips at this more traditional restaurant? Does it go to the kitchen staff? Just the servers? Etc.
This core of this question is something we about a lot: What level of service requires a tip? But if we drill down, it’s something we avoid thinking about: why do we tip?
First off, this newsletter’s firm stance is this: tipping is terrible and should be outlawed. It too often leads to abuse of workers, it’s inconsistent, and most doesn’t make up for the reduced minimum wage for tipped employees. Most of the world doesn’t have it, and there’s a reason for that.
If you think it’s a way to reward excellent service, you are probably right, but I also think there’s a bigger problem there.
If you think it’s the only way to prevent bad service, I might ask you if you do a shitty job at work unless you think your boss is going to give you a little extra cash on the side.
That being said, tipping is part of life. It’s also part of the strange, kabuki experience that is going out to eat. In general, we tip based on two things: the price of the meal and the effort. Fancy restaurants tend to make us want to tip more (Hence Chop Shop making you question tipping when you might not feel the same at Chipotle) while cheaper ones (Chinese take-out) make us feel like tipping less. I think most people would consider effort the key metric. I always liked the guidelines in this article (that last paragraph is a doozy). Even if you order take out, the person does a lot of work. They take the order, coordinate with the kitchen, package and present it. You’re going to cut their tip in half because they didn’t carry it an extra 30 feet?
You could make the case that a place like Chop Shop doesn’t fit that category. The workers are probably on the regular minimum wage, and they didn’t do a ton if the food is just brought out. However, frequently tips at places like that are pooled among the chefs, waiters, and even janitors. In that case, maybe you should add a few extra bucks.
But effort is also a fundamentally flawed metric. If you are someone who takes pleasure out of dining out (like me!), then you are taking pleasure in an industry that grinds people up. Most people who work in restaurants make close to or less than the minimum wage, likely with no benefits. Tipping, with all it’s weird benefactorism, is one of the few ways people who cook and bring you food can make a living wage. Dithering over the right amount to tip is dithering over if someone’s life is worth an extra $5. It’s a fun semantic argument that gets ugly real quick as you take a step back.
Tip a lot. Tip more than you think you should or is appropriate. Tip a lot when you sit down, tip a lot when you pick up. At least 20%, probably more.
Be real with yourself. If you are going to the restaurants I write about every week, you can afford to tip more. Maybe it means you go out one less time per year. In exchange for that, you’re ensuring that the people who work at your favorite places can afford to keep working there. You’re also supporting the entire industry, in turn benefitting the people who eat at restaurants.
After all, if they can’t make a living wage, how can they open your new favorite place?
The best story of this week, and probably my life, is this long feature from ESPN Magazine about the NBA’s collective addiction to Peanut Butter and Jelly sandwiches. Starting with Kevin Garnett (of course), this weird obsession has spread to the entire league, defying trainers and nutritionists. Most teams provide sandwich spreads pre, mid, and post games, and players are EXTREMELY particular about their preferences. This story is long and keeps going. Read the whole thing.
Starbucks is launching Avocado Toast. I’m not really SURPRISED, per se. I’m just so very, very tired. Prepackaged guac is a hate crime.
Brian Feldman at Select All interviews John, the person behind Report of the Week, a more-than-weekly YouTube food review show focusing on energy drinks and fast food. John dresses in suits, sounds like he’s here to tell you about the war effort in North Africa, and pomades his hair. I watched a few videos and they are hypnotically compelling. I don’t know when this newsletter will turn exclusively into a space to promote nattily dressed fast food YouTube shows, but come with me on this journey.
The Wall Street Journal talks about the American artisan movement, the perfect grilled cheese, and a bunch of other stuff behind a paywall.
Libby Copeland profiles Elaine Khosrova and her new book Butter: A Rich History. The profile seems like a great way to get the gist without reading the book. Copeland goes into butter’s history and its continued cycle of embrace and rejection by the American public.
Eater does the impossible, and tries to list the best 38 restaurants in the South.
Cosmo Goss, chef of Chicago landmark The Publican, tells Lucky Peach about his favorite places in town. It’s only three, but I’ll visit each one next time I’m in Chicago.
Phil Vettel reviews West Town’s Eden. I remember the preview, where the owners talked a lot about game day traffic (it’s a few blocks from the United Center). There’s nothing wrong with that, but it makes me question your dedication to the food. Vettel sees a lot of promise in the menu (and some really inventive items), even if some dishes are outright misses. Still, you can open and close your meal with donuts, so I’m there.
Jeff Ruby at Chicago Magazine review Evanston’s The Barn. This steakhouse seems trying to find a balance between pure retro and a more modern take. Ruby sees mostly misses and way too much table-side service, but hey, caviar sandwich!
Michael Gerbert drives up to Milwaukee to write about Karl Ratzsch Restaurant. It’s a great profile of a beloved restaurant and the challenges a young chef faces taking over a place like that and making it their own.
The real center of the Boston food world is Canton, Massachusetts. There, in the Dunkin’ Donuts kitchen, they announced this week they are discontinuing the Coffee Coolatta. So young.
We head farther south down I-95 to Rhode Island, where my hipster beer of choice is finally going to start brewing in Rhode Island again. Narragansett, which was a New England staple for most of the 60s and 70s, has existed only as a brand in its most recent incarnation. All current cans are made on honor in Rochester, NY (then sold on merit regionally). Actual locally-brewed cans should hit stores starting this summer.
It’s almost Easter, which in my family meant lamb. Scott Kearnan at the Herald looks at a few different lamb preparations around town.
The Globe smartly cues up their best critic, Nestor Ramos, to tackle one of their biggest reviews. Benedetto, which has replaced the irreplaceable Rialto in Harvard Square, finally gets an official look. Ramos is just so good, and he’s firing on all cylinders here. The food is terrific, with a homey and inviting space. The breads and desserts are the stars, with a few misses in the small plates. Also, it’s *very* Harvard Square to combine a Jill Abramson reference with a story about dessert.
With a great review like this, they totally whiff by relegating Gourmet Dumpling House to a “Cheap Eats” piece. Catherine Smart does a fine job, but I’d argue the most famous Chinese Food restaurant in Boston deserves more serious consideration on its tenth birthday. That shit’s racist, man.
New York City
Alex Stupak is expanding the Empellón empire. The chef and taco enthusiast already has a small empire of well-regarded downtown Mexican places, and is taking on his most daring challenge yet: keeping a restaurant open in Midtown.
Ligaya Mishan, starting with a story about a weird Chinese superhero, proceeds to criss cross Gotham herself in search of jianbing. This Chinese street food dish, essentially a savory crepe, is beginning to gain traction in New York. Also, there’s a reference to that grandmother hot sauce I mentioned in last week’s newsletter.
Robert Sietsema announces the fourth annual (I think?) Golden Slice Awards. This is a fantastically democratic celebration of the two-slices-and-a-soda special that is the bedrock of New York dining. There’s nuance and change, though, in his descriptions of some places.
Sietsema also found time to visit Wangxianglou, which I won’t even try to pronounce. He uses the review to talk about the ins and outs of Hunan cuisine, which is even spicier than Sichuan. There’s a lot to learn in this review. He gives the place three stars.
Pete Wells’ one-man war on Los Angeles continues. He reviews beloved Southern California staple Sugarfish, which just opened its first New York location. If you haven’t lived in LA, know that EVERYONE goes there for 'special work lunches'. It’s fans love it. Wells hates it. He finds the rice too vinegar-y and the fish bland. He uses the phrase “poop emoji”. He even quotes J. Gold (definitely worth reading the linked article)! He does get at a tough question, which is the difficulty of finding sushi that’s a step up from Duane Reade but not quite a $200 omakase.
Los Angeles Times previews the opening China Cafe, a mainstay of Grand Central Market for decades. I have immense affection for this place, even if I think I ate there just once. The neon sign seems to me an icon of Los Angeles. Not Hollywood, but Los Angeles, for whatever that difference is. This is a lovely story of how even if a place changes, it can stay true to it's core identity: a place for people to come together.
“That platter is a statement of intent disguised as a crudités arrangement” -- J. Gold goes to Manuela in the Hauser & Wirth gallery, and really, really likes it.
This LA Weekly headline -- Find the Best Shrimp Toast in L.A. at This Auto Repair Shop -- is basically Josh catnip.
LA Weekly has dropped their own mega list, the 99 Essential Restaurants. They have a new rule: only restaurants open for more than a year are eligible. I love it -- too often these lists shed classic places for whatever is currently hot. A quick scan of the list shows a lot more places that I would consider classics than the Los Angeles Times’ 2017 list.
Tom Sietsema drops a rave review of Fish by José Andrés. Sietsema says the best fish in the district is now in Maryland at the National Harbor casino. I don’t know the last time my mouth has actually watered at a review like this. He talks about the flawless seafood execution, inventive bar program, and the chef’s tasting table completely focused on frying. THAT’S RIGHT, THERE’S A FRY BAR. Coming features include a crab shack, a giant cider barrel a la Basque Sagardotegis, and me pitching a tent on the patio.
He drops another mini-review, absolutely eviscerating Boulangerie Christophe in Georgetown. The pastries are stale, the sandwiches bland, but the soup is OK.
Tim Carmen splurges a but at Little Coco’s, a serious Trattoria with a punk gloss. Honestly, this contains a lot of things I should hate but it seems like a blast. If you’re young, cool, and in D.C., go here.
Washingtonian has a great story about an exclusive Mario-themed pop up bar and the man behind keeping you out of it.
A headline about a Middle Eastern pop-up bar called The Green Zone seemed extremely problematic. I went to this Washington City Paper article ready to judge, and instead found the story of an Iraqi emigre bartender creating a safe space for Middle Eastern Americans, while also serving Fuck Trump Punch. Rad.
Out of context Pete Wells burn of the week
Where sushi is concerned, wasabi isn’t just a condiment. It’s the air in the tires. Sugarfish lets you apply your own from some concentric bloops of stuff that tastes like watery horseradish and looks like a green version of the poop emoji, without the smile.