The inside story of Dunkin Donuts attempts to ditch foam cups
Hello there! Been a while. A mix of J. Gold funk, late summer travel, and an unexpected move kept me from dedicating the time this newsletter required. But I’ve moved, the bachelor parties have happened (you should definitely eat in Asheville), and I’m excited to get back to things as fall starts (walks outside and dies immediately from heat exhaustion).
A reader sent in this fascinating story from the BBC about the challenges facing vanilla farmers in Madagascar. The demand for natural vanilla is on the rise, which has driven the value of their crops upwards. It should be good news, but farmers have to contend with thieves, many of whom are violent. This is a good read about the thrilling stories of some of our most ignored ingredients. A note, the fancy web page this story is displayed on has gone kinda janky.
Because my first job involved doing PR for Starbucks, I’m somewhat obsessed with recyclable coffee cups (they were getting attacked a lot in the press at that point for not having 100% recyclable cups). Alyssa Giacobbe, writing for Entrepreneur, dives into why it’s taken so long for Dunkin Donuts to ditch foam coffee cups and move towards something more eco-friendly. It’s a great explanation of how challenging these simple-seeming things can be. It also involves a ton of cranky Rhode Islanders and a guy nicknamed “Joey Cups”.
The Takeout thinks we should revisit liver and onions. I’m not the world’s biggest liver fan, but overall I am here for it. However, if we are looking at vintage foods I think we should all get back into elaborate jello molds. They are a food perfectly designed for Instagram.
New Yorker writer Kathryn Schultz tweeted that Sheridan, Wyoming has put up a statue of Hot Tamale Louie. Two years ago, Schultz wrote about Louie, real name Zarif Khan, a Muslim man who sold tamales in Sheridan for decades and became a pillar of the community. It’s a fantastic read.
Kat Kinsman’s instant pot cooking videos are surreal, inspired, and maybe the best food content out there. They should become the the core of some kind of weird Adult Swim style block on the Food Network. This one is about goth engagement chicken.
Speaking of food TV, Bloomberg News goes deep into Netflix’s expansion into regional language programming. One of the first new shows up? A Spanish-language version of Nailed It.
Jenny Zhang writes a lovely essay for Eater about her tradition of eating Pizza Hut pizza whenever she visits her grandmother in Beijing. It’s born of her own picky eating when she was a child, and she wonders how much her grandmother actually likes it.
Interesting story from Bloomberg Businessweek about the decline in celebrity chef restaurants. I appreciate any article that digs into the realities of restaurant financing and business deals, but this article needed to better define what a celebrity chef is. The things that make Guy Fieri and Thomas Keller restaurants successful are pretty different. Or… are they? *That* is an article I would read.
Michelle Zauner, for the New Yorker, writes about her love of H Mart and how it reminds her of her recently-deceased mother. This is a great ode to both what the Korean supermarket chain means to immigrant communities and the realities of how grief hits you.
One of the biggest food stories of the past month was Helen Rosner’s defense of iceberg lettuce in the New Yorker. She says it’s gotten a bad rap, and that it’s good for a lot more than wedge salads (I’ve never really liked wedge salads, which makes me a very bad food writing hipster). It’s a wonderful defense, plus a fantastic recipe for a soup that sounds much more compelling than “lettuce soup” should. This article touched off a bit of a firestorm, and Helen was everywhere talking about it.
Too, too real.
Speaking of the business of food, my friend Jeff (who works at Vistaprint) interviewed chef Johnny Burke about the opening of his new restaurant, Johnny’s Takeaway, for the Vistaprint small business podcast. I firmly believe that creative people do their best work under constraints, whether that’s haiku poetry or a take-out lunch counter.
If “Drew Magary gets almost two pounds of Wagyu beef and tries to ruin it” isn’t an instant click for you, then you need to find Jesus or something.
France Today published a short history/defense of the MIchelin guide. If you didn’t know it started from a tire company, read this to find out more. The horrifying fact I learned from the vintage graphics in this article is that the Michelin man is made of tires and gives away parts of his own body to help motorists in need. Can’t unsee that.
AFAR sent Helen Rosner to Tokyo with one day’s notice, where she learned the art of waiting on line. I started reading this story jealous I couldn’t get assignments like that, and ended it realizing I could never do it the justice she does.
Arthur Bovino argues that Buffalo is really America’s pizza capital. No, but this is a good read to understand the city’s regional pizza style. I really gotta go to Buffalo.
Chef and diver Ali Bouzari writes in SAVEUR that we should be eating more purple sea urchin. Unlike its Atlantic cousin, the purple urchin is common. More than common, it’s growing out of control off of the coast of California. The urchin destroys the massive kelp forests that form the base of the coastal food chain and habitat. Bousari writes about how we should be using urchin roe (uni) in more ways than just raw, to help combat an invasive species.
I don’t know who Andrew Jefford is, but “cranky old man with a column in Decanter” is serious career goals. I kid, because this is an honest and brutal accounting of the effect money is having on wine. This line, on wine writers, could be expanded to anyone who writes about food: “At worst, they become a set of adjective-juggling courtiers, fools and jesters, there to lubricate the relationship between wine-making kings and queens and their luxuriously wealthy global public.”
Similarly Jon Bonne, writing in Punch, talks about how Anthony Bourdain’s death has caused him to reflect on the world of wine. Bourdain was someone who felt called to highlight the uncomfortable truths around food and restaurants that we often try to ignore. Wine, writes Bonne, has a huge number of issues that most writers (and readers) would rather ignore.
This is really more a profile than about food, but please read about Henry Winkler making pizza at Lucali. He’s the delightful grandpa we all wish we had.
Vanity Fair reached out to Anthony Bourdain’s fixers to get their perspective on the writer and TV host. I really like the idea of highlighting fixers, the local guides and freelancers who make travel TV possible but rarely get credit or attention. However, the editing on this piece is weird and a bit macabre. It really tries to trace the arc of producing his show and fit in a narrative that let to his suicide. Yuck.
Can’t wait until this guy lets the meat… drop (I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m trying to take it down).
Robert Sietsema writes up a food crawl of St. Mark’s Place, one of the best food streets in the city. This is a great crawl, combining new and old, hip and traditional, and about a dozen different cuisines. It does all that without even including the place you are probably thinking about right now!
Peter Wells reviews not one, but TWO Nobus, looking at the downtown and midtown offspring of the sushi temple. He finds some classic dishes which are as good as ever. He also finds that places for rich young people to come and be spendy never goes out of style. He awards them each a single star.
In a review I’ve been expecting for a while, Wells reviews Gem in the Lower East Side. Gem is the first restaurant from chef Flynn McGarry, who is only 19 years old but has been cooking in professional kitchens since he was 11. As such, he’s gotten a *lot* of media attention. Wells was clearly skeptical going in, but was won over by McGarry’s skills in the kitchen. However, seams show during a meal there. Wells ends the review urging McGarry to scale back and focus more on finding his own voice. He awards Gem two out of four stars.
Jesus Christ, East Village. Will you stop opening soulful and charming Asian restaurants? Please? I haven’t even been to the ones you already have. What’s that? A curry shop where a Japanese mom makes batches of curry from scratch that each take over 100 hours? FINE. WHY DON’T I JUST DIE!!!
Ryan Sutton provides new rules for bakery patrons that he argues will speed up ordering. Too many people find themselves stunned in the presence of all that sugar and gum up the works for everyone else.
Sutton also delivers his most important-to-me review of all, highlighting two of my favorite Crown Heights West Indian spots. I wrote this newsletter while eating Peppa’s take-out, and my new apartment is next door to the original Glady’s. Seriously, though, this is a stellar review. Sutton dives into what jerk actually is, New York regulations that make cooking this kind of food hard, and how West Indian traditions are often ignored when we all debate the best barbecue.
One of the big things I’ve been following over the past month was the debate over Boston’s place in the restaurant world. After Bon Appetit named Portland the best restaurant city in America (skipping over Boston, just a hundred miles south), Devra First wrote a very honest look at why Boston restaurants aren’t respected. First cited a few things, most notably the cost of doing business here. She also blamed herself, saying the local food media isn’t doing enough to highlight our own restaurants. Amanda Kludt at Eater jumped on the bandwagon. Will Gilson, chef at Puritan & Co, published a long and sometimes rambling essay in Eater Boston that also blamed the media.
I think there’s a lot of blame to go around here. The Boston food media isn’t nearly as interesting as many of the other cities I read every week. In particular, the Globe has chosen to highlight restaurants in head scratching ways. That being said, Gilson’s essay is a bit much. No chef thinks they get a fair shake by their local media. I tend to believe the costs are the biggest barrier. Boston has 1/10th the population of New York but rents are nearly as expensive. Add in a half million for a liquor license, and it becomes very hard to open an interesting or innovative concept.
Also, one thing no one talked about is that all of these Best-Of lists are made by New York editors. Most of them don’t really come to Boston. If they do, they visit treasured college spots or see family in the suburbs. Portland (or Austin, or Seattle) are places New York people go for vacation. They try new restaurants and eat. Kludt herself gives the game away, saying, “I haven’t really eaten around Boston except on the occasional trip, so I can’t really speak to it.” When they are sitting around a conference table thinking about what cities should be finalists, Boston doesn’t come to mind.
MC Slim JB honors J. Gold the best way he can, writing up six out-of-the-way places that serve food you might not get anywhere else. The list varies from *really* classic New England to Thai to Cambodian (through the Cambodian restaurant sounds a lot more Thai). I still think Lowell’s Cambodian community is a really under-discussed culinary destination. Also, more of these kinds of places from everyone please! We’ll get on one of those lists yet!
VICE profiles Tenzin Samdo, bartender at ArtScience Culture Lab & Café in Cambridge. Samdo is currently serving a slew of cocktails designed to raise awareness of endangered species. This mostly reminded me that I don’t talk about ArtScience enough when telling people where to go in Boston. There really is nothing like it anywhere else. I’m not sure it *could* exist anywhere else.
Boston Public Market is expanding toLogan! This is such a good idea I want to take it behind the middle school and get it pregnant.
Nestor Ramos writes about the rise of beer gardens. There are like seven new ones just since I left eight months ago. He draws out something I hadn’t considered before: beer gardens provide a casual after-work option in a city that doesn’t allow happy hour. I don’t think he hits the family-friendly aspect enough, however. It’s hard to find a place you can bring a kid or a dog and beer gardens are a great option for that. Bonus points in this article for quoting man about town, urban placemaker, and the very person whose bachelor party and wedding is messing up Snack Cart delivery, Gustavo Quiroga!
Devra First reviews Celeste in Union Square. This is one of her best reviews in a while. She talks about the excellent Peruvian food, but also captures a sense of place. Celeste comes across the most of my favorite restaurants do: more like a great party at someone's house. She awards it three stars.
A D.C. bar that does a ton of pop-ups planned to do a Rick and Morty themed one. Before legions of overly obsessed fans could get angry, they were served a cease and desist letter. They agreed to not open the bar and to destroy all their memorabilia. To help them do that, they’ve turned it into a Gwar themed bar. Gwar is actually coming to trash the place, which will then reopen with tons of Gwar memorabilia. This is so excellent.
The headline of Tom Sietsema’s 0 star review pretty much says it all: “La Vie on the Wharf is so bad I’m only writing about it as a warning”. Sietsema outlines how he goes from uninterested to offended. The food was bad, the service poor, and the wine list had five bottles on it. That’s insane for a place where entrees are $30-$40. This is a great takedown of a place that doesn’t really care that it doesn’t have its shit together. As a side note, the Post’s PR team did a big push around this review. I’m not defending the restaurant, but that feels yucky.
Laura Hayes previews Punjab Grill, a new Indian restaurant opening in 1001 Pennsylvania Ave. NW. The owner appears to be building a palace in his attempt to bring upscale Indian food to D.C. (and eventually the country). The showstopper is the Sheesh Mahal, a room decorated with thousands of tiny mirrors spiraling up to the ceiling.
Hayes also profiles restaurateurs who embrace Yelp reviews rather than shun them. Some view it not as a place for entitled customers to vent, but as a font of free advice and unvarnished feedback. I’m a huge fan of Yelp, and the easy punchline of people who leave Yelp reviews always drove me nuts. This is a great read.
The Inn at Little Washington held their first annual “Innstock” food and music festival this past weekend. Click through for photos of (possibly a little drunk) Jose Andres petting a llama.
Washington D.C. has its first tinned fish bar! Listen, I know it’s weird, but go to Georgetown, go to Dyllan’s, and order a few tins of absurdly expensive anchovies or sardines. Get some wine and bread alongside. You’ll never want to eat any other way again.
The Chicago Tribune profiles Othea Loggan, a busser at Wilmette Pancake House for the past 54 years. This avoids a lot of the cliches you can see in pieces like this. It’s an amazing story that leaves a lot unsaid about racism, segregation, and basic human dignity. I’m having a hard time recapping it. Kudos to journalist Christopher Borrelli.
The story of Chicago this year seems to have been the story of a bunch of excellent, slightly more upscale Asian restaurants. Passerotto, a new Korean spot in Andersonville, is a great addition to the list. Phil Vettel loves it, maybe because it trends more towards European conventions and flavors. Still, there are some great approaches and amusing nods to fusion. The idea of rice cakes shaped like gnocchi is really, really good. Vettel awards it two stars.
Mike Sula actually expands on this idea in his review of San Soo Korean BBQ, the newest outpost from one of Chicago’s original Korean BBQ restaurants. This one is helmed by the son of the original founders. It’s stayed true to the original menu, but has made a few gestures towards approachability. There’s a rolodex explaining the banchan and a Mega Man mural. It is River North, after all.
This photo essay, about what wines to pair with Chicago fast-food classics, is absolutely wonderful. It’s also a very helpful guide for the kinds of wines to pair with hot dogs or pizza, something that we don’t do enough.
Chicago Magazine is out with their 50 Best. It’s a nice reminder that I can write a lot about a place and still not recognize most of the names on this list.
CNN (???) published a list of the best tacos in Los Angeles. I was getting *really* mad as the list went through Home State and Salazar (both great but not really… LA) and then it included Mariscos Jaliscos. Still, a list that has two Texas-style taco places as two of the top three isn’t to be trusted.
To get a better sense of Los Angeles, follow along with Gustavo’s great tortilla tournament. Gustavo Arellano and KCRW are hosting a bracket-style contest to name the Southland’s best tortilla. Flour and corn each have their own brackets!
The New York Times is sending writer Tejal Rao west to become their California restaurant critic. It’s logical that after J. Gold’s death new voices would step up, but it’s surprising that the Times would send Rao, whom I had heard was being groomed to replace Pete Wells. Good for them, and for her. Eater’s Meghan McCarron writes a good feature on what this means for the California food, and food media, scene.
The leadership behind In-and-Out drew criticism last week for a large donation to the Republican Party. Some called for a boycott of the chain. I’m conflicted. While the donation is stupid, In-and-Out treats their workers better than almost any other fast food company. Do we punish a company for political values when their lived values are so much better than most?
Noelle Carter dives into the discada, a cooking implement/style native to the American Southwest. It’s grilling in a massive plow wheel converted into a sort of outdoor wok. Extremely sold.
I wasn’t able to fly out to Los Angeles for the official J. Gold remembrance, but I definitely scrolled through Instagram crying for a while. In particular, the dedication at Grand Central Market really got me.
Out of Context J. Gold of the Week
...akin to the prefab places out past the Wal-Mart, which always seem to have better enchiladas or barbecued brisket than the historic, atmospheric dives near the center of town. - link