Let's pretend I sent this David Brooks take last week
*deeeeeep breath* Ok, let’s talk about David Brooks. He wrote a column last week about inequality and everyone freaked out. The column comes very close to a great point, explaining how society establishes structural barriers to exclude the poor. Halfway through, Brooks takes a wild right turn, saying structural barriers don’t matter and cultural barriers matter more. He argues that listening to the right podcast is more exclusive than zoning regulations (what?). Most of everyone’s anger focused on this anecdote:
"Recently I took a friend with only a high school degree to lunch. Insensitively, I led her into a gourmet sandwich shop. Suddenly I saw her face freeze up as she was confronted with sandwiches named “Padrino” and “Pomodoro” and ingredients like soppressata, capicollo and a striata baguette. I quickly asked her if she wanted to go somewhere else and she anxiously nodded yes and we ate Mexican."
First of all, striata baguette isn’t even a thing (a minor point, but it enraged me the most). People are rightly saying how silly and condescending this is. Josh Barro points out Panera and Starbucks are popular in plenty of places. I’ll add that the construction workers and homeless guys I wait in line with at Dunkin Donuts have no problem ordering lattes. Slate writes how he’s basically arguing in favor of trigger warnings, something he’s argued strongly against in the past (this piece is bigger and more nuanced than that, read it). That Slate article pointed me to this amazing piece, debunking a similar “two americas” style piece by Brooks. The debunking involves Red Lobster and is one of the most thorough owns I’ve ever read.
I’m sure if David Brooks walked into an East LA taco shop, a backwoods barbecue pit, or a Sweetgreens he’d panic a little at the menu. God knows I would. Food is always a bit exclusionary, because it’s how a culture expresses itself. It’s of a certain time, certain place, and certain people. If those aren’t your people, you’re going to be a bit scared and probably make some mistakes. To understand a new menu, you might have to learn some new words and accept some new ideas. Some older food tropes are more clearly focused on being exclusionary towards lower classes, but that’s fading a lot. I honestly think it has more to do with a mindset than with class. The current President, a fantastically rich man, only eats fast food and well-done steaks. The flipside is that most people are thrilled if you are interested in their food, because it means you are interested in their culture. You are interested in them. It’s awkward, but it’s one of the best ways to make real human connections. A real friend might have helped, flagged down someone to answer questions, or said, "I know you like X, so you will probably like Y". Instead, David Brooks used it to make a lazy and incorrect point that really boils down to, “Kids today with their rap music and their David Foster Wallace”.
Jesus David, even McSweeney’s dunked on you.
Correction! An alert reader reminded me that I was wrong about Mark Bittman’s final column (I was only off by about 5 years *tugs collar*). She pointed me towards his actual final column, which is about fantastic-sounding pizza from Pittsburgh that would actually be SUPER on-trend if you made it right now. I appreciate the correction.
Yet another reason not to go to Alabama.
The Tour de France is on, and Bon Appetit has a fun story about how competitors refill the 8000 calories they burn per day. Most teams make some kind of weird cooked rice cake that reminds me of a tamale or zongzi. Most competitors are choking down one of these every half hour, plus huge meals for breakfast and lunch.
Amanda Mull writes a long essay for Eater on Instagram food and Instagram celebrities. It really focuses on women, women’s attention, and women’s presentation of their relationship to food. It’s a bit old-man-yells-at-cloud-y for my taste, but it talks about a lot of really important issue. Self-presentation existed long before Instagram, and this trend affects a lot more people than professional influencers.
Cooked avocado is gross, don’t @ me.
This weird article for VICE is really a bunch of video clips, but each one details a lot of interesting stories about the relationship between agriculture and climate change (I sure as hell didn’t watch them all, I have a real job).
This is a wonderful story that breaks down the true costs of opening a restaurant. A San Francisco chef opens his books and details how he spent $700,000 before the doors opened and how he won’t make any profit for at least three years.
A very interesting story from Laura Carlson in Atlas Obscura details the history of the cocktail party. This piece is dense enough that I should probably read it again, but cocktails, and the idea of inviting people over to drink them before dinner, have surprisingly feminist origins.
This great history of the sugar cube kinda gets that part out of the way in the first three paragraphs, then goes on to detail all the insane things people have done with sugar over time.
Marian Bull is correct in her essay for GQ: Martini glasses are terrible. But they are also kind of great! I think owning them at home is a waste, but they are fun at a bar. Also, I’m fairly sure older martini glasses were smaller and less shallow (Keep an eye on what they drink in The Thin Man) so they were easier to handle.
Sami Main at Adweek writes what it’s like to try Vice’s new food delivery service. I sort of think all of these delivery services are a scam, and this one seems more so than most. Still, interesting to see media companies trying them out.
A very detailed look from the Atlantic at the state of the restaurant industry. How can we explain that we’re clearly in the best period for food in American history, yet restaurants seem to be struggling more than ever?
Read this entire damn Twitter thread.
I forgot to include this when I found it two months ago, but if you’re not jamming out to this Rosewave playlist we can’t be friends anymore.
You’re probably already listening to Still Processing, but if you aren’t then this episode about barbecue is a good entry point.
I also really think you need to watch this short rap video about bell peppers.
A Parts Unknown piece about the perfect day in Chiang Mai, written by Andy Ricker? Sure.
In a move that will make you say, “wait, weren’t they doing that already?” Chipotle is testing out Queso dip in their New York test kitchen. Chipotle apparently vowed to never put queso on the menu, since it contains a number of artificial stabilizers. I saw a few places theorizing that this is a way to drum up good PR after a rough year or so. I don’t really buy that. Queso is also going to appear on the menu in Wendy’s nationwide. Oftentimes, these kinds of industry trends are powered by commodity prices. A collapse in the price of chicken a few years back had both McDonald’s and Burger King were promoting chicken sandwiches. I would bet if you look hard enough there’s been a reduction in the price of cheese, peppers, or certain chemical additives that make this a smarter bet.
Rembert Brown (yes, that one!) stops by First We Feast to write an ode to Atlanta’s true hometown dish: lemon pepper wings. It’s a wonderful piece by a writer who loves his hometown and a has a lot to say about Atlanta.
Yes, Virginia, it is OK to eat Mac & Cheese out of a box.
Whether you are heading to Lollapalooza or not, make sure you stop by Logan Square, where a Run The Jewels-themed pop up bar will be taking place during the August music festival.
Phil Vettel reviews Lunatic, Lover, Poet on Randolph street. This review is kinda boring, but it seems as if the ownership of this wine bar are closely tied into Chicago food history. Worth a skim, and the bar also has some of the most affordable food in the area.
Mike Sula doesn’t much like Daebak, a new Korean BBQ spot in a corner of Chinatown. The food is under spiced and overly expensive, but it does sound like the sensory overload is kind of fun.
The chef at the new HaiSous is going all in on a traditional Vietnamese experience. That means sourcing pretty much everything from Vietnam, including clay cooking pots. Janet Rausa Fuller (new name to me) writes about the pots, the chef, and some of what can be expected at this new place on Carpenter St. I haven’t seen cooking like this outside of Southeast ASia, so this is really exciting.
Hannah Giorgis at The Ringer dives into Shaw Bijou. We’re pretty far removed from it’s closing, and it is an appealing story. A young black chef, sky-high expectations, and immediate and crushing backlash. This is a good read-through if you didn’t follow the story. It seems increasingly clear to me that chef Onwuachi is an immense talent, but doesn’t seem to have a lot of experience running restaurant. A tasting menu that meanders through dozens of cultures is great, but the logistics/expenses of procuring fresh ingredients and spices from dozens of cultures must be a nightmare.
Boy the organizers of Cochon 555 do not seem very smart.
There’s not a lot of food news from D.C. this week, so here’s a map of all the rooftop bars in the City.
New York City
Adam Platt writes a lovely ode to the disappearing New York diner. I love New York diners more than most, but it would be interesting to get a bit more context. Yes, high rents and chains and new residents matter. But so do changing tastes. People didn’t eat burritos or bahn mi during the heyday of the diner, so maybe they’re not vanishing so much as making way and taking place in a more diverse setting. Also, Platt needs to chill with hating on fancy coffee shops.
This story about New York’s manliest meals makes me sad for men and for meals.
No Pete Wells, so Ligaya Mishan gets to flex a bit. She does a double review of two Manhattan Vietnamese places, pointing out how hard it has been to get good Vietnamese food in that borough. Both Hanoi House and Madame Vo are in the East Village and opened around the same time but the former focuses on ultra-fresh takes on the food of the North of the country while the latter serves a slightly elevated version of the Southern food we’re more used to here in America.
Nooooooooooooooope. Though New York bagels are overrated.
Someone CAUGHT ON FIRE in a Chinatown restaurant and investigators have questions. FWIW, I was at Crave last week and it’s super weird but the chicken is good.
Devra First writes a really nice column about the chemicals in boxed Mac & Cheese. She gets at the heart of the matter, talking about how hard it is to cook for children.
Nestor Ramos writes a LOT of words about bourbon and… I sorta turned out halfway through. Mostly he details the empty hype behind a lot of what is driving the bourbon market.
Sheryl Julian writes a nice first bite of BenCotto, a new Italian-American spot in the North End. She briefly touches on something we don’t talk about enough: the huge amount of fantastic restaurants in the North End that aren’t the ones with massive lines. There are so many great places you can just walk into and sit down that get overlooked.
J. Gold is at Pizza Buona in Echo Park. This corner has held a pizzeria for a long time, and the newest incarnation is a elevated, if not perfected, version of the neighborhood pizza joint. Gold hints at beef between this place’s owner and his former partner, but is far more interested in the fact that PIzza Buona may have perfected the Mozzarella stick.
Many people are upset the The Gold Room, a long-standing and beloved Echo Park dive, has reopened after a brief hiatus with a much more upscale menu and vibe. It’s the same owners, but the gentrification of the menu has upset many long-time fans. Katherine Spiers in LA Weekly tells everyone to chill out. It’s still kinda the same old place and we should give it a chance.
Besha Rodell reviews the newest outpost of Tao in Hollywood. This chain is famous for being one of the most profitable in the country, but no one seems to quite know why. It attracts tourists and celebrities by the bucketload, but Rodell finds the menu alternately boring and inedible. It’s a fun takedown, but Rodell pivots near the end to say she wants to find out why people like it. Then she, doesn’t really do that.
Out of context J. Gold quote of the week
a dining room with low lights and high-backed booths that look as if they’ve been fitted into the tight space by the people who design furniture for yachts.