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The (fried chicken) crisis in urban America
I started Snack Cart because it was something I wanted to read. *Someone* needed to collect restaurant reviews from around the country and package them into a newsletter, so it might as well be me. I’m still sort of surprised other people find value in it. Thank you for reading over the past 30 weeks and for all the great emails and feedback. Because you've been a loyal reader, I’m asking for a favor.
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Brentin Mock publishes a fascinating read in CityLab about a kerfuffle in Pittsburgh when two white owners tried to open a hip hop-themed fried chicken place. That’s just the peg, it's really about what he calls, “the New Urban Fried Chicken Crisis”. This piece has everything: race, urban politics, food politics, and more. I can’t recommend it enough.
Ina Garten eats the same breakfast every day. Because she is perfect.
It’s hard times in the food delivery space. Maple, a hot startup in the space, announced it is closing down. Logistics startups are incredibly complicated, and the food business has razor-thin margins. From the Maple story, we learn that investment in the food delivery space has cratered, from $4.1 billion in 2015 to $1 billion in 2016. This interview with David Chang doesn’t make it seem like Ando, his delivery startup, is going that great. It’s worth keeping in mind that these businesses are struggling in major urban areas -- they haven’t even begun to expand into the suburbs. Plus, you’ve got a number of major established players who are starting to think about the space. I think places like McDonald’s knows that even if the hype is dying down, there's a lasting demand to experience the joy of eating dinner without having to put on pants.
This Medium post by Nick Kokonas, the co-owner of the Alinea empire, is eye-opening. He gives a frank and honest assessment of how they released the Alinea cookbook and what they are planning for the Aviary one. Along the way, he lays out, in simple math, how he feels publishing companies are ripping off chefs and why Alinea has built its own publishing studio. This is a must-read for anyone who works in media or food.
I almost made this the top story, but I didn’t want to rely too much on sex for clicks. But still, Diddy is being sued by his personal chef for making her serve him snacks while he was having sex. This is a horrible workplace abuse, but also kinda the most baller shit ever.
Drew Magary, one of my favorite writers who mentions food a lot but rarely writes about it, published a pretty hilarious rant in Deadspin. He slams celebrity chef culture and worship, arguing that food media is increasingly fetishizing food and chefs. In particular, he takes aim at Noma Mexico and the obsession with places the average person will never eat. Like most great rants, it’s got logical holes that you can skip over as you laugh. Personally, I think of a place like Noma Mexico the way I think of really cutting edge art: a way for artists to speak to other artists more than the public at large. That being said, the idea that most top chefs focus on creating FOMO rather than food is worth examining.
Our President is an angry toddler, example 4356: everyone who eats with him gets one less scoop of ice cream (though I suppose it’s unclear if he’s just asked for extra).
Joe Biden is speaking at Cornell University’s Convocation and, of course, Cornell Dairy is making a special Joe Biden ice cream flavor. It’s just vanilla chocolate chip (his favorite flavor) but they are having a contest to name it.
This list of the 50 best taco stands in America doesn’t even manage to name a single one of the best taco stands in Los Angeles, so I very much doubt their opinions on some place in Cleveland.
Mother’s Day is this week, which among other things is apparently Kentucky Fried Chicken’s busiest day of the year. To mark the holiday this year, KFC has published a romance novel. NPR’s Marketplace stages a small dramatic reading (skip to 26:10). This woman read the whole damn thing.
Cauliflower is the new kale, writes Bloomberg, joining the rest of the food world about a year late.
In Granada, Spain, the tapas tradition is for small free plates to come out with each drink order. A newer wave of restaurants is embracing this tradition, and why the hell aren’t we all living there?
Dana Hatic at Eater writes a brief history of the McDonald’s apple pie. There’s a lot in here, including a ton of great links to other stories. I didn’t know the pies aren’t fried anymore! This is why Trump won.
The Parts Unknown website is growing by leaps and bounds. It’s moved beyond, “here’s how to eat where Tony did!”, publishing well-considered additional features accompanying each episode. This one, from Markel Redondo, is the story of a road trip through the French Basque country and a meditation on what it means to be Basque. Similarly, this essay by Nellie Peyton (originally published in Roads & Kingdoms) tells the story of how Vietnamese fried spring rolls became the national snack of Senegal. It started with the small community of Vietnamese wives brought home by Senegalese soldiers stationed there during the French colonial wars. Both this and the Basque article feature photos that will make your heart ache.
The Eater Upsell interviews Fabian von Hauske on the challenges of being an immigrant chef. It’s a really introspective interview with someone I had never heard of before (though he’s quite food-world famous). With all the attention on illegal immigrants, I’d forgotten how difficult being a legal immigrant can be.
Trader Joe’s is launching its own wine-in-a-can product. Real OG’s have been making their own wine in a can for years to be more conducive to our active conversational styles.
Bumble Bee Tuna has pled guilty in a massive price-fixing scheme to artificially keep the price of tuna high. Since cans of tuna are like a dollar, this doesn’t seem like a very good price fixing scheme.
I take back everything bad I have ever said about Sandra Lee.
“Federal authorities are investigating whether a former Cabot Creamery employee committed what could be one of the Vermontiest crimes ever: stealing parts from a major Vermont cheese company to make maple syrup manufacturing machines.”
Correction from last week! Boston Magazine’s Jolyon Helterman is a man. I apologize for this mistake in last week’s newsletter. I should do a better job of researching new writers I encounter. Anyway, this error also made me think of this.
Katz’s is not coming to Boston any time soon, so calm down everyone.
MC Slim JB reviews Wink & Nod. Well, sort of. If you haven’t been following, the South End cocktail lounge changes chefs and menus every six months. JB talks about how some of those chefs have gone from these pop-ups to some of Boston’s best restaurants. The current popup, Kaki Lima, delivers pungent and spicy takes on Indonesian food. He loves the menu, but sees how the chefs are struggling with the concept: How do you sell interesting food in a place most people don’t go to eat?
Boston.com runs an AP story about The Lost Restaurant, a tiny farm-to-table place in Central Maine. The chef’s journey has been a difficult one, but she's recently gotten a lot of attention. When she opened for the season this year, she received thousands of calls per minute. It’s a nice story about earned success.
The Globe profiles Union Square Kitchen, a community professional kitchen that supplies a number of small- to medium-sized businesses. Chicken & Rice Guys, who just spent a few weeks shut down for health violations, use the kitchen. The kitchen itself has a pretty shoddy health history and may have been the source of the outbreak.
Nestor Ramos can write as well about cheap food as he can about haute cuisine. He’s in Sturbridge, writing about a B.T.’s Smokehouse, a side project from a classically trained chef that’s become the best barbecue in New England. It’s Texas-style here, and Ramos recommends the brisket and the sides.
Scott Kearnan at the Herald highlights how, in kitchens across Boston, chefs’ treasured childhood dishes are making it onto menus.
Num Pang, a New York Cambodian sandwich chain, is opening in the Pru. I’ve eaten in a few of the locations, and while the food is good, I find it sort of offensive that the menu isn’t really Cambodian. It feels like they took a pan-Southeast Asian menu and called it Cambodian to be different. I asked a Cambodian friend what he thought, and he basically said, whatever, they just make the food bland-er to overcharge white customers anyway.
Sheryl Julian reviews Catalyst Cafe. The Kendall Square spinoff of Catalyst sits right next door to it’s parent restaurants. This is the kind of place that helps a bunch of buildings become a neighborhood. I wish she had talked about that a bit more. I didn’t need a review of the muffins.
President Trump’s head of the FDA was confirmed this week. This pick seems a lot more about the drug side, but he is in charge of our nation’s food supply.
Tom Sietsema review Le DeSales in the Golden Triangle. He finds a place that’s really, really hard not to like. Honestly, I’m surprised that classic French bistro dishes can be put together as creatively and inventively as are described here. Seems like the perfect place for work dinner or lunch.
I thought this was going to be a lame throw-away, but Tim Carman writes a really great article about the various ways the flavors of Buffalo wings are served around D.C. Even if you don't live in the district, you'll be surprised while reading this to realized just how often you eat something inspired by buffalo wings. This probably warrants more thought, but it struck me this combination actually hits all of the Thai flavor notes: heat and sour from the tabasco, sweet from the butter, salty and umami from the blue cheese.
Carman also writes about the first non-Vietnamese restaurants popping up in Eden Center. This is a good read to truly understand how important the mall has been for the Vietnamese refugee community. It’s gotta be one of the few places in the world where the South Vietnamese flag flies.
The Washington City Paper found the average price of a burger in the District to be $13.75. They averaged the prices at 75 restaurants across the city, skipping chains and fast food. It would be interesting to factor those in and calculate based on the number of locations. I wish there was a bit more meat to this story (I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m trying to take it down).
James Beard nominee Oriole actually stocks their bathroom with house-made Altoids. This is such a good idea I can’t believe everyone doesn’t do it.
Chicago is on a roll with awards. Roister was named one of Food & Wine’s best restaurants of the year.
Kalsarikannit is the new hygge. The word means “the feeling when you are going to get drunk home alone in your underwear with no intention of going out.” To help enable your kalsarikannit dreams, Seaside has started delivering fried chicken in Lincoln Park.
Phil Vettel heads to Humboldt Park to review Cafe Marie-Jeanne. He finds a mom and pop place in the best sense. It’s like an all-day diner of upscale and homey French dishes.
Jeff Marini subs in to write a review of The Lunatic, the Lover & the Poet for The Chicago Reader. He *really* doesn’t like it, and this is one of the meaner reviews I’ve read in a while. I love a good bad review, but this one doesn’t seem really fair. The food doesn’t seem bad enough to earn this level of ire. He makes some good points about how it’s so similar to every other generic “new” restaurant (his line about Edison bulbs made me chuckle) but why crucify this place for the sins of the industry? Overall, this read a bit entitled and spiteful.
Very rarely do you see a genre in its purest form. This Adam Nagourney New York Times piece is a perfect distillation of the “Did you know they have food in LA?” genre. People are casual! They eat tacos! It’s nice all the time! The piece praises, but ignores the fact that the LA food scene has been dominant for the last 10 years at least -- this isn’t new.
Pete Wells visits Atoboy in the Flatiron. He spends most of his review talking about the chef, Junghyun Park, who seems to be on the cutting-ish edge of rethinking what Korean cuisine can be. With a restaurant taking its cues from banchan, expect lots of pickled and fermented things. Wells gives the place two stars.
Sam Sifton writes an ode to the hard shell taco. My roommate and I have had a number of taco nights and they are fantastic.
This is a neat story if you’re not sure exactly what the Southern Foodways Alliance is, or its complicated politics. This story has racial food politics AND academic squabbles.
Ligaya Mishan visits Caffé Lanka in The Bronx. Even though there are only a handful of Sri Lankans in the borough, they now have their own restaurant. Her descriptions of the ingredients and techniques take my breath away.
This Ryan Sutton breakdown of the prices at the new Four Seasons mostly makes me want to eat the rich.
I am super into the idea of small and simple restaurants, and Stefanie Tuder at Eater NY writes about the flood of cheap omakase sushi restaurants opening across the city. In, though I have questions about quality.
NEW FATHER’S OFFICE SIREN. (it’s opening Downtown)
Edwin Goei for OC Weekly reviews Hendrix in Laguna Niguel. He praises the large menu and dishes that are more creative than they should be, but the thing you are ordering here is something from the massive rotisserie. He also notes that it’s surprisingly affordable, considering it’s a town full of really rich people.
An existential discourse on grilled cheese.
As movie theater food gets better, it’s also getting harder and harder to eat quietly and cleanly while reclining in a chair. Josh Scherer (a favorite of mine) writes about this trend and tells a pretty hilarious story about eating at a new restaurant-style AMC.
Besha Rodell reviews Ponte in Beverly Grove and gives it three stars. She makes a strong case that the base of Los Angeles fine dining is Italian food (probably because of the climate, LA dropped French Continental and went Mediterranean before anyone else) and that Angelenos really love a good bowl of pasta. Ponte isn’t particularly adventurous (in fact, she lightly criticizes it for being a bit of a by-the-numbers successful restaurant) but you also can’t argue with its excellence.
Double Gold week! First: J.Gold visits Noma Mexico. He elegantly touches on all of the things people are talking about: the trip to Tulum, the Instagram envy, the residency, appropriation, economics, and the ant eggs. Still, the meal is clearly ethereal, and if this Art designed for other artists, he makes a point that I neglected. In all fields, these kinds of impossible high art trickle down to change the world. You know, like that scene in the Devil Wears Prada.
J. Gold is also at Ponte! So we get to see the same promotional photos twice (I don’t mind, those mushrooms look damn good). He focuses on the same thing Rodell did. He talks a lot about chef Scott Conant, for whom this is just the latest and greatest outpost of a burgeoning culinary empire. If you’ve eaten this Conant’s food and been to other places run by this restaurant group, you know exactly what you are getting. But, you are getting something great! An incredibly good time, a few flashes of culinary inspiration, and a pasta al pomodoro that still has people talking after a decade.
Out of context J. Gold of the week
At the moment, an Instagrammed Maya ruin or mezcal negroni conveys what "I went to school near Boston" does if you happen to have graduated from Harvard