The Random Restaurant Tour (XXIV)

In my book, meat loaf is under-appreciated from a culinary creativity standpoint.  There’s room for a little flair in the choice of ground meats to use, and also in the amount, and kind, of bread crumbs to add to the meat mixture.  Depending on the deftness of the preparation, the consistency of the meat loaf can vary widely, from moist to dry and from almost crumbly to a dense, almost impossible to cut brick.  And when you put a slice of meat loaf into a sandwich and think about the different toppings you could add, the possibilities become almost endless.

Saturday afternoon Kish and I took in a film at the Drexel and, because we got there a bit early, we decided to see whether we could find a place for a quick bite to eat.  That’s how we stumbled upon Newfangled Kitchen, a practitioner of the meat loaf arts located in the same block as the Drexel.  The NK offers different kinds of sandwiches, salads, and soups, but the meat loaf sandwiches are appropriately placed at the top of the menu.  In short, the NK gives the meat loaf sandwich the respect it so richly deserves.

All of the meat loaf sandwiches looked good, so I asked the counter person for her recommendation.  She said The Fang is the most popular meat loaf sandwich option, because people love the Fang sauce, but her personal favorite was the Southern Melt because of the pimento cheese.  I’m not a big pimento cheese fan, but I really like grilled sandwiches, so I went along with her suggestion, but hold the tomato.  It turned out to be an excellent decision.  The marbled rye was crisp and crunchy, the meat loaf was succulent, and the melted pimento cheese and red onion gave the sandwich a very hearty and much appreciated zing.  Kish and I split a bottle of diet Cheerwine, a kind of cherry cola that fit perfectly with the Melt.

It’s hard to believe that the Fang sauce could make a better sandwich — but when you find a place that takes a meat loaf sandwich seriously, you’ve got to try all the options just to be sure.  It’s nice to know that, in the future, we can get to the Drexel early and enjoy a little meat loaf artistry to fortify us for the art film to come.


Cherry, Cherry

I’m at the tail end of my sinus drainage/coughing condition.  Thanks to the frequent coughing, my voice sounds as rough and gravelly and throaty as Kathleen Turner during her Hollywood heyday.

I’ve been taking a knock-off of a night-time cold medication — one that helpfully includes a plastic shot glass that looks uncomfortably like a miniature specimen cup that you’re supposed to use to drink the stuff — to help me sleep through the night.  A slug of the mixture coats the throat thoroughly and, for the most part, has minimized the times when I wake up to go into a coughing jag.

There’s just one problem — the flavor.  Like virtually every form of cough syrup devised since the dawn of human history, this “Nite Time Cough” medicine features the strongest, most pungent, ridiculously over-the-top cherry flavor and smell that you can possibly imagine in your most appalling nightmare.  You smell it and you instantly think “cough syrup.”   You drink it and you feel like essence of fortified cherry has infused every molecule of your body.

It’s not a light cherry touch.  There’s nothing subtle about it.  It’s hit-you-over-the-head cherry flavor, cherry flavor to the factor of 10, cherry flavor like the chemist who works on the mixture inadvertently knocked over the entire bottle of cherry extract into the vat when the recipe called for only a teaspoon and decided to bottle it and send it out to market rather than admit his blunder to the boss.

Why do so many cough medications go with obscene cherry flavoring?  Perhaps the nose and taste bud assaulting cherry flavor simply does a better job of masking the actual taste of dextromethorphan HBr, doxylamine succinate, and antitistamine that are the key ingredients of the cough suppressant.  Or maybe it’s a bit more basic than that.  Maybe the manufacturer has concluded that people with coughs expect the cherry flavor, and the sickly taste is a key part of the successful treatment of the cough.  Perhaps an over-the-top, throat-coating cherry flavor more effectively communicates that you’ve got a cough and you’d better take care of it.


Intuitive Eating

Tired of having to follow some strict dietary regimen?  Tired of having to weigh your food, or buy weird special foods because your dietary plan says you must do so?  Tired of weighing yourself constantly and feeling disappointed because you’re not meeting your weight-loss goals?

10-principles-ofMeet “intuitive eating.”

It seems to be the latest “new” approach to eating.  As a recent article about the concept in The Atlantic puts it, the idea is to “encourage followers to work on their relationship with food without worrying about their weight, and to reject the notions of virtue and sin that have underpinned cultural ideas about eating since time immemorial.”  Intuitive eating teaches that weight loss isn’t the top priority, and the cycle of losing weight and gaining it back is harmful.  And here’s the key point:  “Eat what you want, with no rules about what to eat, how much of it, or when. Intuitive eating has 10 tenets, but the most well-known one is that no foods are off limits, and that there is no such thing as a “good” or “bad” food.”

So how is that supposed to work, exactly?  One underlying theory of intuitive eating is that there is a strong psychological component to eating.  The notion is that people are attracted to the forbidden fruit — or in this case, perhaps, the forbidden ice cream — so saying that something is off limits just makes it seem all that more irresistible.  People who switch to intuitive eating sometimes binge on their favorite guilty pleasure that had been strictly outlawed, but advocates of the approach say they ultimately strike a balance with food that is healthy and sustainable.  With all of the mystique and the calorie-counting and guilt stripped away, the intuitive eaters do what people traditionally used to do:  they eat when they’re hungry, and don’t eat when they aren’t.  And they spend a lot less on diet books, and scales, and special foods that strict diets require.

Does intuitive eating make sense?  I don’t know, honestly — but I do think that our notions of food seem to have gotten out of whack.  There are so many health issues associated with obesity that avoiding obesity obviously should be a lifelong goal, and if you are looking to lose a few pounds — or more than a few — a diet can help to kick start the cycle of loss that gets you to your desired range.  In my case, going low-carb for a few months a few years ago was an important step toward feeling healthier.  But you can’t stay on diets forever, and at some point cycling over to a more sustainable approach to food and eating has to happen.

Who’d have thought that, with all of the diets and food advice out there, human beings might get back to the simple concept of eating when you’re hungry?

Water Is The New Coffee

We’ve got a nice water fountain on our floor at the office. I like to drink cold water and the fountain is only a few steps from my office, so I visit it regularly. The water bubbles out ice cold and really hits the spot.

Recently, though, I’ve noticed that the fountain water has fallen decidedly out of favor. One day I was enjoying a few hearty, quenching gulps when one of the people who work on the floor looked at me aghast, and asked how I could drink from the fountain. “It tastes good,” I responded as I wiped the water from my lips with the back of my hand. “It doesn’t taste as good as my water,” she replied.

And last week I got onto the elevator with one of our attorneys who was lugging an empty half-gallon jug. “What’s with the jug?” I asked. He responded that he is trying to drink a half-gallon of water every two days and goes to our kitchen to fill up on some special filtered water. When I asked about fountain water, he said: “I don’t drink that stuff. The kitchen water is vastly superior.”

I think water is the new coffee. No one (except me) wants to drink the office coffee; they’d rather go to Starbuck’s or Cafe Brioso and shell out a few bucks rather than drink the free stuff. Now they’re snobbishly turning their nose up at our free water, too.

I guess my “water palate” is just not sufficiently educated. It it’s cold and wet and doesn’t have a funny or metallic taste, that’s good enough for me.

Debunking Drinking Wisdom

Shortly after I passed the legal drinking age and started drinking adult beverages, I first heard the aphorism “wine, then beer, and have no fear.”  Some years later, I heard the flip side:  “beer, then wine, and I feel fine.”  The idea behind each of the sayings — which are seemingly contradictory, in case you hadn’t noticed — was that if you sequenced what you drank, you could avoid a hangover.

wineandbeerAre either of the sayings true?

No, of course not . . . and now a study has confirmed it.  Researchers from the Witten/Herdecke University in Germany and the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom — two countries, incidentally, that are very serious about their wine and beer — studied whether the sequence in which alcoholic beverages are consumed might affect how people who overindulge feel the next day.  One group drank beer, then wine, and another drank wine, then beer.  A third, control group drank only one or the other.

The study found that the drinking sequence made no difference in the hangover impact.  One of the researchers explained: “The truth is that drinking too much of any alcoholic drink is likely to result in a hangover. The only reliable way of predicting how miserable you’ll feel the next day is by how drunk you feel and whether you are sick. We should all pay attention to these red flags when drinking.”  (No kidding!)

And get this:  another of the researchers makes the dubious argument that hangovers actually can have positive effects.  He stated: “Unpleasant as hangovers are, we should remember that they do have one important benefit, at least: They are a protective warning sign that will certainly have aided humans over the ages to change their future behavior. In other words, they can help us learn from our mistakes.”  Boy, scientists are perverse, aren’t they?

I’d never argue that hangovers are a good thing, but I do know this — any perceived folk wisdom about drinking that rhymes and is capable of being remembered after a few drinks probably isn’t that wise after all.

The Last Cookie Code

Yesterday someone left a deli tray of several dozen cookies by the coffee station on our floor. Within a few minutes the first cookie locusts had descended, the office grapevine communications network had sent out word far and wide that cookies were on the fifth floor, and after an hour or so all but one cookie was gone.

But that one cookie was a holdout. It sat, alone, on the black plastic tray for hours. It made it past lunchtime and endured well into the afternoon. Finally, as the end of the workday neared, some ravenous soul who could bear it no longer gobbled it down, and the last cookie vanished from our sight.

There’s a curious code of honor that prevails when cookies, brownies, or other baked goods or sweets are left near an office coffee station.  When the plate of goodies is full, workers have no hesitation about taking one, or two, or even three of the items — hopefully, without anyone else seeing that they are doing so.  But when the plate gets down to the last cookie, a different rule prevails.  There is tremendous hesitation about taking the last cookie and leaving an empty plate behind.  Perhaps it is the pain of a possible guilty conscience, or a feeling of goodwill toward co-workers who might not have had a cookie already and might want one in the future.  But the last cookie code acts to restrain the final act of gluttony.  In some cases, people who can’t resist will actually break the last cookie in half, or into quarters, and only take a piece so that there is at least some fraction still on the plate.  By leaving the remains of a broken cookie, their conscience is clear.

The code of the last cookie is strongest early in the day, when it first becomes apparent that there is only one cookie left.  As the workday wears on, rationalizations erode the force of the last cookie code.  After all, it’s 3 p.m., and nobody else has taken it.  If someone had wanted it, they would have eaten it by now.  It would be unfortunate to let perfectly good food go to waste, too.  And why should the cleaning crew get stuck with more work?

So the last cookie gets taken, the plastic deli tray gets quickly pitched, and the coffee station counter is once again clean.  Although the last cookie code has had its impact, the last cookie is now gone, and all’s right with the world.

The Random Restaurant Tour (XXIII)

Kish and I are lucky to live in one of the great “walk to a restaurant” zones in Columbus.  We’re surrounded by great food options at virtually every point of the compass.  Last night, we walked a few blocks to the west on a cold, blustery night to check out Ambrose and Eve, a new place that opened recently on High Street.

Ambrose and Eve is one of those places that offers an intimate dining setting, with a seven-seat bar and tables positioned in different room-like segments of what looks to be a converted house.  It’s got a snug, welcome feel that is much appreciated on a frigid winter evening.  The place was hopping, so we sat and ate at the bar, which is dominated by the painting of the two people shown above.  We like eating at the bar from time to time — you always get great service, because the bartender is right there, and it’s also got a more urban, communal feel than sitting at your own table.

(To digress for a moment, sitting at the bar encouraged us to spend some time enjoyably analyzing the painting.  It’s interesting because the two people — we’re taking a wild guess that they are Ambrose on the right and Eve on the left — almost appear to be from different eras.  Eve’s got that ’40s coiffure and wide-shouldered look, and Ambrose looks like he stepped out of a bowling alley in, say, 1970.  But they looked very happy together, and we were very happy discussing them.)

The restaurant has an interesting menu, which can be found at the link above.  I ignored the “Eat Your Veggies” section, of course, but was a bit perplexed by the array of choices, all of which looked quite good.  If you’re sitting at a bar, the logical course is to ask the bartender.  He strongly recommended the chicken and dumplings, which I promptly ordered and is shown above.  I got the sweet bread nuggets as an appetizer, and Kish went for the wedge and the eggplant parmesan.  The food was great.  You don’t often get the chance to have veal sweet breads, and they were served with a scrumptious, light breading and two very tasty dipping sauces.  And the chicken and dumplings, which featured a delicate ricotta gnudi, will probably become Ambrose and Eve’s signature dish.  I ate it all with pleasure, and Kish reported that her food was also excellent.

When you really like a restaurant’s food, its ambiance, and its nearby location, you’ve pretty much covered the waterfront.  Ambrose and Eve means we’ve added another terrific option, at the west-by-southwest point of the compass.