(1) Rachel had obviously done a substantial amount of work prior to the interview, having even read the guest's books and being able to refer to various parts of them quickly; doing real work and real reading is far too burdensome for most of our coddled, vapid media stars.
(2) Rachel, despite being unfailingly civil and polite, was obviously indifferent to whether the guest liked her. She bombarded him with questions that made him extremely uncomfortable and which conclusively proved that he was simply lying. Media stars who host political interview programs would never subject powerful people to treatment like that for fear of losing access and/or their standing in the Beltway world.
Healthy Food Lithuanian Closing – Chicagoist – Healthy Food's closing marks the end of an era; they've been in business in Bridgeport since 1938 serving practically the same menu of fresh-squeezed juices, homemade soups, Lithuanian sausage dumplings (koldunai), blynai (rich Lithuanian pancakes stuffed with cheese and fruit), roast duck and the amazing potato and bacon bit pudding known as kugelis. Healt
Healthy Food Lithuanian Restaurant retiring along with its owner | Crain's Chicago Business – Healthy Food Lithuanian Restaurant, a Bridgeport staple, is closing Tuesday after 70 years of serving up kugelis and sauerkraut soup.
Owner Grazina “Gina” Biciunas-Santoski said she is hanging up her apron and retiring after running the restaurant at 3236 S. Halsted St. for the past 30 years. Ms. Biciunas-Santoski took over the neighborhood spot in 1978 from her parents, who bought it in 1960. Healthy Food Lithuanian opened in 1938.
the taqueria/bar in the former Pontiac space that he and his partners are working on, and he gave me the lowdown on the inspiration—the Bakersfield music scene of the ’50s and ’60s—for the hotly anticipated spot. Chef Paul Kahan has been dropping hints about his taco research on his Twitter—but up until today, very little was known about it. Today, Blackbird’s Justin Large spilled his (refried) beans at GrubStreet and Terry Alexander went on record with Chicago magazine.
As a fan of Buck Owens and some of the other California country acts, I thought it was an intriguing idea—though I can’t say Bakersfield-inspired-tacos-in-Chicago is a concept that visitors will immediately get. But I do like the idea—if only because I tend to think a curious clash of cultures often brings out a different kind of energy, of which Wicker Park could use a shot. Knowing that the principal partners are big music fans and that musician/Danny’s bartender Mark Hellner is going to be involved full-time, I’d say that the still-unnamed spot won’t be lacking for sonic style. The space has been totally gutted, and the layout will involve a central bar area that will serve drinkers on all sides.
The new joint won’t be some high-end, fancy, exclusive spot, but rather a street-chic joint where affordable food, cheap drinks and killer (mainly country) tunes rule. In other words, it doesn’t seem like the kind of venture that’ll put off the bohos and rockers who still wander Wicker Park. If anything, it should make them feel at home
This really sounds right up my particular alley of interest1, too bad I don’t live at Cortez and Paulina anymore, stumbling distance from Damen and North. And too bad this place isn’t next door to Blackbird2, even though that would mean less of a Wicker Park hipster vibe.
[what the Pontiac Cafe location looked like on September, 12, 2009.]
From Helen Rosner’s piece mentioned above:
“It’s definitely not Tex-Mex,” Large insists. “If anything it’s traditional Mexican with some California influence there.” If you think bourbon and tacos are an odd combination, all you have to do is look at the restaurant’s historical inspiration. The bar’s aesthetic and underlying theme is, as Dish noted, the Bakersfield sound that emerged in California in the mid-1930s, where westward-going Okies and northward-headed Mexicans collided, producing a southeast-meets-southwest hybrid that gave rise to the whole California country sound. But don’t look for vintage instruments decorating the walls — or even a Merle Haggard soundtrack. “I think it’s more what they’re going for in terms of bringing in the whiskey list,” Large told us. “Sort of a 1930s working man dirty south.”
To that end they’ll be making everything to order — right down to the tortillas.
Large is particularly jazzed about the L.A.-inspired al pastor taco, for which the kitchen has acquired a special trompo (the traditional spit on which the meat roasts): “What makes this spit great is that the actual spit itself is heated. It’s not like your traditional gyro cooker where it’s just flames on the outside charring this giant hunk of raw meat. The spit will be on display – we’re going to do it old-school style and carve the meat right off the spit onto the taco.” The other fancy kitchen object will be the wood-fired grill, on which Large is particularly psyched to make a wood-grilled fish taco. “I love a good fried fish taco, when done well it’s outstanding, but the wood-fired grill is like magic. The flavor and what it imparts to the fish is amazing.”
So, a healthy dose of Buck Owens, Louvin Brothers, Don Walser, Asleep at the Wheel, Gram Parsons with or without The Flying Burrito Brothers, Willie Nelson, The Flatlanders, throw in a little Uncle Tupelo, Whiskeytown and The Jayhawks, maybe even some Doug Sahm, Townes Van Zandt and Dwight Yoakam, marinate with some Bloodshot Records contemporary artists, toss back a couple of bourbons or more, chow down on an al pastor taco, sit in the fading sun, sounds like bliss. When’s it opening again?
Cool, sounds like somewhere I’d go, if it wasn’t too crowded. The old Pontiac Cafe was located in a sweet spot, just north of the park that gives Wicker Park its name. Their food wasn’t anything special, but sitting outside on a bright, sunny day was a pleasure. Glad to hear the new owners are only tweaking the restaurant.
The rumors were swirling for months about Wicker Park’s old Pontiac Cafe space (1531 N. Damen Ave.)—and the plans that Alexander, Paul Kahan and the rest of their cronies from The Publican, and Peter Garfield (Alexander’s Violet Hour partner) had for it—before last week’s revelation that it would be a still-unnamed taquería. (ETA: late October.) We finally got some details.
D: What was with all the rumors?
TA: My partner Peter and I were presented with the possibility of taking over the Pontiac a year and a half ago, but that was when we were working on The Publican. The farthest thing from my mind was to do another operation. Everyone thought we were being secretive, but there was no secret.
D: What ideas did you discuss for the space?
TA: The last thing we wanted to see was another sports bar come in to the neighborhood. Paul started talking about barbecue, and other ideas with a Mexican twist. Our first ideas centered around the music. We wanted old country from the fifties to the seventies, alt country, and the Bakersfield sound that originated in California in the fifties and sixties. We’re going have a turntable behind the bar, and the bartenders will play these albums.
D: So is it a restaurant or a bar?
TA: It’s a bar next to a little tiny taquería. Seven or eight items. We don’t want the neighborhood to think a restaurant is going in here. Think of Dairy Queen. The way those windows slide open. That’s the way the kitchen will be. So if you want a taco, you walk up to the kitchen window and order it.
D: And the booze?
TA: There will be about 50 obscure whiskeys. About 40 tequilas that a lot of people don’t know about. We’re not going to do the in-depth cocktails that we do at the Violet Hour, but they are going to be amazing. The beers are predominantly from Texas and California, Mexico, and some from Chicago, of course. And we will be one of the least expensive bars—trying to do a $1 draught and a $3 glass of whiskey.
Actually sounds like an Austin, Texas bar, circa 1979, before Austin boomed into tech central, and the Armadillo World Headquarters turned into an office park. I like that Bakersfield sound, actually, and the Outlaw Country era of Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson, Johnny Cash and pals, plus any bar that plays Uncle Tupelo on a regular basis will be ok with me.
Hope it succeeds well enough to stay in business, but not so well that I can’t find a table when I want one.
Boy, it’s going to be harder than ever to get a reservation at the Rick Bayless restaurants in Chicago now. But congratulations are due anyway, Rick Bayless seems like a classy dude.
Though I didn’t get to taste everything, I can truly say that the food made in that kitchen was some of the best food ever made anywhere. Yeah, each one of us had a stumble here and there, but we weren’t in our home kitchens putting as much time as we would have liked in our prep. It was a serious, timed competition and with some of our country’s best chefs cooking the stories of their lives. I felt just as I had at the meal we cooked for each other during the first of the finals: incredibly previledged to have been there … to have been cooking there.
And now I feel incredibly priviledge to be able to bring home $100,000 to the Frontera Farmer Foundation, because lives of farm farmilies will be changed. The lives of all of us in the Midwest will be changed: the more our family farms thrive, the more local food we’ll have in our farmers markets and restaurants and the greater our sense of community and respect for our environment. Basically: the more local farms we have, the greater our quality of life.
It’s been a really long road over the 55 years of my life. From a kid who grew up in a barbeque restaurant in Oklahoma, went to Mexico with an anthropologist’s passion, then settled into Chicago with a conviction for bringing respect for the complex and varied cuisines of Mexico to American diners, all the way to fine dining–I can think of only one thing to say, my last words of the show.
I did manage to find a reservation (at 6:15!) for Topolobampo when my sister is in town. Excited, haven’t been there in a while. Allegedly, they will be serving the menu from the show.
A little about the Frontera Farmer Foundation from their website:
The Frontera Farmer Foundation is a nonprofit organization committed to promoting small, sustainable farms serving the Chicago area by providing them with capital development grants. The Foundation envisions a year-round interchange between sustainable farmers and consumers, including farmers’market patrons and chefs, in which seasonal local agriculture provides the foundation for sustainable regional cuisine.
“Great food, like all art, enhances and reflects a community’s vitality, growth and solidarity. Yet history bears witness that great cuisines spring only from healthy local agriculture.”
—Rick Bayless, Proprietor of Frontera Grill and Topolobampo
The Frontera Farmer Foundation was established in 2003 to attract support for small Midwestern farms. Rick and Deann Bayless, founders of Frontera Grill and Topolobampo, along with the restaurants’ staff, created the Foundation out of their concern for struggling farmers and the importance of local produce to the vitality of Chicago’s culinary culture. Small local farms promote biodiversity by planting a wide range of produce, are more likely to operate using organic practices, and add immeasurably to the fabric of their communities. By their artisanal approach to agriculture, these farmers insure the highest quality of food.
Nonprofit organizations devoted to the growth of sustainable farming are becoming more prevalent and necessary due to the increasing dominance of large corporations in the agricultural sector. Without small sustainable farmers, great local cuisine is unreachable.
Some additional reading August 17th from 14:48 to 16:44:
Laundering Lies – “It’s one thing if Dick Armey, or some other repulsive hack, goes out and gives a speech which contains a bunch of lies. It’s another thing for a major news outlet – print or teevee – to give its stamp of authority on those lies. I’m sure he’ll be back.
I’ve said a bunch of times that elite journalists oddly cling to authority rather than expertise as the reason they need to have very well-paid existences. But then they don’t bother to use that authority to actually inform their audiences. Instead they use it to bolster the claims of conservative liars.”
Foods of my labors | The Blog | Chicago Reader – Last week I spent a fair amount of time doing laborious data-scrubbing of our restaurant listings; by way of making lemonade from lemons, here are some of the more intriguing restaurants I discovered. I can’t recommend them personally, but that’s sort of the point: they’re the places that piqued my interest enough to go on my list.
A few interesting links collected August 14th through August 15th:
Atm Skimmers: ATM Skimmer Ring Hits Chicago Suburbs – Reader Kellie reports being the victim of an ATM skimming scam in the Chicago area. Mostly, she was amazed that the thefts weren’t reported in the local media, and she asked bank employees why. Here’s what they told her
PRESS NOTES: GODARD X 2 (OR 3) – From the Current – Two of Godard’s most breathlessly awaited sixties classics—Made in U.S.A and 2 or 3 Things I Know About Her—are now available on Criterion DVD, and for the New York Press’s Armond White, it’s not a moment too soon. “They provide a refresher course in movie aesthetics: something desperately needed this summer,” writes White. “Both these widescreen spectacles can help remind moviegoers how important it is to appreciate movies as a visual art form that represents the world and the imagination with creativity and integrity.” In Black Book, Edmund Mullins also can’t quite contain his excitement: “If you don’t think this is cause for celebration, you haven’t seen the films… [T]hey collectively represent one of the more thrilling moments in Godard’s constantly evolving canon.”
Michael Atkinson singles out Made in U.S.A in a review for IFC.com, calling the film “one of the fifteen essential rockets Godard launched that made the decade his and his alone.”
Along with the majority Uzbeks, minority Russians, Tajiks, Kazakhs, and Tatars have overshadowed smaller but significant groups of Bukharan Jews (who emigrated en masse after the fall of the USSR) and even Koreans who were forcibly settled there by Stalin in the 30s. . The cabbage, carrots, and tomatoes aren’t predominantly spiced by chiles, though they’re heavily impregnated with other flavors–cumin, clove, garlic, dill
A few interesting links collected June 3rd through June 6th:
Paying For Coffee by digby This post… – Those coffees and the Lincoln Bedroom were among the stupidest of the Clinton scandals — The DOJ said that the two events were unrelated, but that’s very hard to believe. If you were around during that time, we were in the grip of an hysteria not sen since the Salem Witch Trials. As far as the Village was concerned those coffees were worse than Watergate. I don’t believe for a minute that that the withdrawal of Tiller’s protective service was related. The prevailing narrative was that anyone who contributed to Clinton and attended those coffees had no legitimate claim to government services. It was automatically corrupt.
You can’t blame Tiller’s assassination on this, of course. It was over ten years ago. But it underscores the fact that the culture wars are inherently political and that you can’t separate the conservative movement from the fringe. It’s a seamless system.
Thomas lawyer: court must ban all MediaSentry evidence – Ars Technica – “MediaSentry found Jammie by (1) using KaZaA to request a file transfer from Jammie’s computer to a MediaSentry computer; (2) using a separate program or programs to intercept the Internet packets being sent from Jammie’s computer to the MediaSentry computer as a result of this request; (3) reading the IP address of Jammie’s computer from these packets; and (4) tracing this IP address back to Jammie. This kind of investigation of network traffic is lawful only after certain procedures are followed: when there is prior approval by a court and when the person conducting the investigation is properly licensed. When these procedures are not followed, such investigation constitutes criminal wiretapping and the illegal collection of evidence by an unlicensed private investigator.”
A few interesting links collected April 12th through April 14th:
Adventures In Foodie Land: darkness, lasers, ninjas, and child labor » NileGuidance: A Travel Blog – “Moto: In Chicago, the epicenter of the molecular gastronomy, Moto is the place to go for an adventure in food technology and what even qualifies as ‘food.’ Listed on the edible(!) menu are post-modern, multi-sensory concoctions by chef Homaro Cantu using mediums such as liquid nitrogen and Class IV lasers. Chili-Cheese Nachos as a dessert, made with chocolate and flash-frozen mango? Sounds like an adventure to me.”
Hint: Don’t go saying they give “the public sector a bad name”.
Can the Statusphere Save Journalism? – Recently, I enjoyed a refreshing and invigorating dinner with Walt Mossberg. While we casually discussed our most current endeavors and experiences, the discussion shifted to deep conversation about the future of journalism in the era of socialized media with one simple question, “are newspapers worth saving?”
[photo by swanksalot]
Too many allegations of manipulation: I’d be surprised if they survived the year without substantial changes to their business model. Too much controversy: I know I would never look at a Yelp review on my iPhone without wondering if it wasn’t paid for. Until Yelp address this article directly, and credibly, they will not be trusted again. I know I’ve deleted their application off of my iPhone.
Monica Eng investigated the local Chicago variation of the story:
With the Web site Yelp still responding to allegations by San Francisco businesses that it manipulates the prominence of positive and negative reviews, some Chicago merchants are adding to the heat.
They allege that Yelp representatives have offered to rearrange positive and negative reviews for companies that advertise on the site or sponsor Yelp Elite parties.
Ina Pinkney of Ina’s restaurant in the West Loop said that last summer a Yelp salesperson offered to “move up my good reviews if I sponsored one of their events. They called it rearranging my reviews.”
The owner of More Cupcakes, Patty Rothman, said that last fall a Yelp Chicago staffer walked into her Gold Coast shop and “guaranteed us good reviews on the site if we catered one of their parties for free.” Offended but resigned, Rothman complied. And just as promised, positive reviews bloomed for the business right after the party, Rothman said.
Other Chicago businesses told the Tribune of similar experiences but asked to remain anonymous.
Since the allegations were first reported in a San Francisco alternative weekly in mid-February, Yelp’s CEO Jeremy Stoppelman has been taking his side of the story in this controversy to the Web, the media and even Twitter.
In other words, standard operating procedure. Pay for good reviews to be at the top, or else, your business will suffer. A Yelp mafia. “You wouldn’t want your pretty place to be messed up, would you?!”
Kathleen Richards of the East Bay Express started all the hair-shirtery:
During interviews with dozens of business owners over a span of several months, six people told this newspaper that Yelp sales representatives promised to move or remove negative reviews if their business would advertise. In another six instances, positive reviews disappeared — or negative ones appeared — after owners declined to advertise.
Because they were often asked to advertise soon after receiving negative reviews, many of these business owners believe Yelp employees use such reviews as sales leads. Several, including John, even suspect Yelp employees of writing them. Indeed, Yelp does pay some employees to write reviews of businesses that are solicited for advertising. And in at least one documented instance, a business owner who refused to advertise subsequently received a negative review from a Yelp employee.
Many business owners, like John, feel so threatened by Yelp’s power to harm their business that they declined to be interviewed unless their identities were concealed. (John is not the restaurant owner’s real name.) Several business owners likened Yelp to the Mafia, and one said she feared its retaliation. “Every time I had a sales person call me and I said, ‘Sorry, it doesn’t make sense for me to do this,’ … then all of a sudden reviews start disappearing.” To these mom-and-pop business owners, Yelp’s sales tactics are coercive, unethical, and, possibly, illegal.
“That’s the biggest scam in the Bay Area,” John said. “It totally felt like a blackmail deal. I think they’re doing anything to make a sale.”
I wonder if my review of Sepia was buried for this exact reason [my Yelp review]. If you peruse Yelp’s page for Sepia, most reviews on the front page are raves, not the negative reviews like mine, and so many others.
The New York Times was interested too:
Local news outlets have raised questions about the company’s practices, including a recent article in the East Bay Express, an alternative weekly, with the provocative headline: “Yelp and the Business of Extortion 2.0.” It reported that Yelp sales representatives had promised to move or remove negative reviews for advertisers.
Mr. Stoppelman said that Yelp does not move negative reviews for advertisers and applies the same ranking system to all companies on the site. Many advertisers, including Mr. Picataggio of Tart restaurant, have negative reviews.
Some of the confusion may come from the fact that advertisers, who pay $300 to $1,000 a month, are allowed to choose which review shows up at the top of their profile page and block ads from competitors. For other businesses, the first two listings a reader sees could be an ad for a competitor and a one-star review.
“If there’s no clarity about that process at all, it exacerbates the suspicion,” said Eric Goldman, a professor at Santa Clara University School of Law and the former general counsel of Epinions, another review site.
Yelp’s lack of transparency does not affect its relationship with businesses alone. It also risks eroding users’ trust in the site. Eric Kingery, an engineer and frequent Yelp user in Chicago, discovered that a review he had written of a jeweler disappeared. “It just makes me suspicious of the impartiality,” he said. “It is a very useful service, but this kind of harms the integrity of the site.”
President Obama’s fondness for Chicago’s Spiaggia has already been documented, but apparently fondness is too mild a word. Levy Restaunts flew Spiaggia’s chef to a Washington Wizards vs. Chicago Bulls game and surprised the President.
Levy Restaurants handles specialty catering for the Verizon Center and, it just so happens, owns Spiaggia. So when the company got the heads-up (with about 24 hours’ notice) that President Obama would be dining in the owners’ box Friday night, somebody got the bright idea to ship Mantuano out to make the president’s favorite dish. “I got on the plane the next morning,” Mantuano says. “And next thing you know, I’m riding up the private elevator.”
And what, pray tell, is the president’s favorite dish? “Wood-roasted scallops,” Mantuano says. “He always orders them. Because we run the Verizon, I knew we had a wood-burning oven there.
“When Obama walked out and saw me there, he did a classic double-take and said, ‘What are you doing here?’ It was hilarious. He called the photographer over and said, ‘Take a picture of me with my favorite chef.’
“He said favorite chef,” Mantuano says. “I’ve got witnesses.”
Some additional reading February 20th from 09:50 to 18:29:
Reviews: Companies Accuse Yelp Of Review Extortion, Yelp Says No Way – Some San Francisco companies have accused the review website Yelp of manipulating reviews, either in exchange for buying advertising or as punishment for refusing. Yelp flat out denies the charges. They say that the posting and removal of reviews are determined solely by an algorithm and that their sales staff has no access to the reviews. But in this detailed article published this week in the East Bay Express, several restaurants cite phone calls and emails that they say indicates otherwise.
50 Greatest Guitar Albums – Guitar World – Highway 61 Revisited introduced Bloomfield…his next major recording, 1966’s East-West with the Butterfield Blues Band, … The tune “East-West,” a 13-minute exploratory fusion of blues and Indian modality that features Bloomfield’s and Bishop’s guitars, flipped the switch for long-form rock improvisation. His shimmering slide licks and shrieking, treble-toned lead on “Walking Shoes,” akin to Hubert Sumlin’s playing on Howlin’ Wolf classics like “Killing Floor,” are ghostly, needling, vicious and patently unforgettable. On the band’s showcase, “Work Song,” Bloomfield’s melodies climb through scales in a manner closer to free-jazz saxophonist John Coltrane than to B.B. King, balancing chromatic ascents and descents with radically slurred bends and off-the-beat accents. And Bloomfield’s linear single-note playing on “I Got a Mind to Give Up Living,” which acknowledges his debt to King with wrist-shaking vibrato, captures the soulful essence of simmering slow blues.
Media Matters – Austin American Stateman , unlike AP, others, notes Heartland Institute’s energy industry ties – Well, yesterday the Austin American Statesman came out with a story making reference to Heartland and what did they do?: He is “regarded with reverence,” said Dan Miller, a publisher at the Heartland Institute, which puts out a newsletter asserting no scientific consensus on global warming and gets money from energy corporations. […] Climate scientists, however, hold that carbon dioxide emissions have a significant effect on a changing climate. A 2007 climate change study by an international group of scientists found that “warming of the climate system is unequivocal” and said with “very high confidence” that the net impact of “human activities since 1750 has been one of warming.”Atmospheric and climate scientists at UT and Texas A&M University have said that temperatures will rise in Texas, coastal communities are at risk from rising sea levels in the Gulf, and weather conditions are likely to include more severe droughts and flooding.
My neighbor, Donnie Madia1 wants to open a “green” bed and breakfast over in my old stomping grounds (I lived on Paulina and Cortez in the mid-1990s). Cool, hope he succeeds.
A local builder would like to covert a building near Division and Paulina into a boutique, eco-friendly hotel with retail offerings.
Dan Sheehy of Third Coast Construction imagines the project including a small restaurant on the first floor, shopping and a 13-room hotel.
Sheehy and his partners want to develop the project in the building at 1659 W. Division, which currently houses Pump Shoes and Accessories. The shoe store is under a long term lease.
If the plans are approved by 1st Ward Alderman Manny Flores and the city council, construction isn’t expected to begin for 14 to 16 months.
Sheehy presented his plans to neighbors at a recent meeting of the East Village Association, and got a warm response.
Previously, the EVA board unanimously voted not to oppose a special-use zoning permit that the hotel would need to open. After a half hour presentation, EVA’s general membership unanimously agreed with the board’s decision.
“The entrance to the building will be on Paulina Ave., giving the hotel a ‘neighborhood feel,'” Sheehy said at the meeting.
“We love the building and we’re not going to tear it down,” Sheehy said. “It’s almost like a call-back – we’re going to re-create it.” The building had in the ’70s functioned as a tavern and a restaurant.
Sheehy, who focuses on sustainable developments, is planning to pursue Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED, certification for the building and expedite processing of building permits through the city’s green permit program.
Calvin Trillin ruminates about Texas barbecue, and a recent Texas Monthly article purporting to list the top 50 joints. I’ve never been a huge fan of BBQ, Texas, or any style, but I’ve eaten it enough times, and have stopped into many a shack on the highway between Austin and East Texas.
In discussions of Texas barbecue, the equivalent of Matt Damon and George Clooney and Brad Pitt would be establishments like Kreuz Market and Smitty’s Market, in Lockhart; City Market, in Luling; and Louie Mueller Barbecue, in Taylor—places that reflect the barbecue tradition that developed during the nineteenth century out of German and Czech meat markets in the Hill Country of central Texas. (In fact, the title of Texas Monthly’s first article on barbecue—it was published in 1973, shortly after the magazine’s founding—was “The World’s Best Barbecue Is in Taylor, Texas. Or Is It Lockhart?”) Those restaurants, all of which had been in the top tier in 2003, were indeed there again in this summer’s survey. For the first time, though, a No. 1 had been named, and it was not one of the old familiars. “The best barbecue in Texas,” the article said, “is currently being served at Snow’s BBQ, in Lexington.”
I had never heard of Snow’s. That surprised me. Although I grew up in Kansas City, which has a completely different style of barbecue, I have always kept more or less au courant of Texas barbecue, like a sports fan who is almost monomaniacally obsessed with basketball but glances over at the N.H.L. standings now and then just to see how things are going. Reading that the best barbecue in Texas was at Snow’s, in Lexington, I felt like a People subscriber who had picked up the “Sexiest Man Alive” issue and discovered that the sexiest man alive was Sheldon Ludnick, an insurance adjuster from Terre Haute, Indiana, with Clooney as the runner-up.
An accompanying story on how a Numero Uno had emerged, from three hundred and forty-one spots visited by the staff, revealed that before work began on the 2008 survey nobody at Texas Monthly had heard of Snow’s, either. Lexington, a trading town of twelve hundred people in Lee County, is only about fifty miles from Austin, where Texas Monthly is published, and Texans think nothing of driving that far for lunch—particularly if the lunch consists of brisket that has been subjected to slow heat since the early hours of the morning. Texas Monthly has had a strong posse of barbecue enthusiasts since its early days. Griffin Smith, who wrote the 1973 barbecue article and is now the executive editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, in Little Rock, was known for keeping a map of the state on his wall with pushpins marking barbecue joints he had been to, the way General Patton might have kept a map marked with spots where night patrols had probed the German line. I could imagine the staffers not knowing about a superior barbecue restaurant in East Texas; the Southern style of barbecue served there, often on a bun, has never held much interest for Austin connoisseurs. But their being unaware of a top-tier establishment less than an hour’s drive away astonished me.
Trillin asked Evan Smith how come Snow’s came to be chosen number one.
He did acknowledge that his decision to name a No. 1—rather than just a top tier, as in the previous barbecue surveys—came about partly because everyone was so enthusiastic about Snow’s product but partly because its story was so compelling. Smith himself was not in a position to confirm the quality of the product. Being from Queens is not the only handicap he has had to surmount in his rise through the ranks of Texas journalism: he has been a vegetarian for nearly twenty-five years. (The fact that he is able to resist the temptation presented by the aroma of Texas pit barbecue, he has said, is a strong indication that he will never “return to the dark side.”) As a longtime editor, though, he knew a Cinderella story when he saw one. It wasn’t just that Snow’s had been unknown to a Texas barbecue fancy that is notably mobile. Snow’s proprietor, Kerry Bexley, was a former rodeo clown who worked as a blending-facility operator at a coal mine. Snow’s pit master, Tootsie Tomanetz, was a woman in her early seventies who worked as the custodian of the middle school in Giddings, Texas—the Lee County seat, eighteen miles to the south. After five years of operating Snow’s, both of them still had their day jobs. Also, Snow’s was open only on Saturday mornings, from eight until the meat ran out.
Cool, I like grabbing a quick nosh at Sultan’s Market.
[Sultan’s Market, Wicker Park]
The folks behind Sultan’s Market are making the jump from quick-serve Middle Eastern to a full-service spot featuring live music, belly dancers and Middle Eastern-style tapas in Logan Square1. Look for a multi-level 4,000-square-foot space with both restaurant and lounge seating – you’ll be able to see the stage from all floors — plus they’re planning a posh outdoor patio fitted with lush landscaping and more. The kitchen will kick out freshly made pitas from a brick oven, plus there will be offerings like sumac-crusted rotisserie chicken and lamb ravioli in yogurt sauce. The restaurant takes its name from chef/co-owner Masada “May” Ramli, the matriarch of the clan behind the eatery (and it’s also an ancient Israeli city).