(This will be the last commentary of 2016 as I am taking a Christmas break and will resume the blog January 6, 2017. I wish all readers a very happy Christmas and a prosperous, healthy and fun New Year.)
Two popular restaurant trends I don’t like are wraps and small plates.
If I want a wrap I’ll go to a Mexican restaurant where they stuff flour and corn tortillas with gobs of orange stuff, green stuff and brown stuff that comes with a side order of chips, and a small bowl of red stuff.
When I want a sandwich I prefer two slices of rye, wheat, sourdough or just plain white bread (one on the top and the other on the bottom) with ham, mustard, cheese, tomatoes, and lettuce, layered neatly one atop the other in the middle. I don’t want it all rolled up into an unrecognizable mess in a tortilla where half the ingredients squirt out the other end when you bite into it. Try to make an old fashioned tomato and mayonnaise sandwich with a tortilla…it can’t be done.
Another annoying foodie trend called “small plates” has moved onto the restaurant scene, apparently borrowed from the Spanish “tapas” appetizers, that American restaurants have converted into “fashionable” meals with not so small prices.
Snooty restaurateurs call this silly food fad “grazing”, something that my Canadian grandfather’s cows did. Not me. I eat cows. And I like mine with a huge baked potato slathered with butter and sour cream, a pile of green beans or asparagus and a tossed salad. On Sundays on our back porch, Linda and I grill our cow medium rare, and share a bottle of Trader Joe’s “Three-Buck Chuck, ” while enjoying our “large plate” of steak, a Sunday evening tradition that we look forward to weekly. And there’s always enough left over for another not-so-small meal or two later in the week.
But don’t expect leftovers with a restaurant’s “small plates” as they already look like last week’s scraps or what your mother called “watered down stew” when unexpected company showed up just as dinner was being prepared.
I recall another silly food fad a few years ago while frequenting restaurants with business and social colleagues, and having thin towers of food stacked in the middle of my plate like a Jenga game. These slim structures of culinary architecture should have been served with tweezers so customers could attempt to pull a half scallop, tiny piece of lamb or an undistinguishable vegetable out of the slim structure to see when it would fall into the generous amount of decorative parsley surrounding it. I can’t recall a single memorable Jenga meal, but I do recall eating entire baskets of bread. Call me old fashioned, but I don’t want designer food. I want tasty food. I want a mashed potato volcano with brown gravy that flows onto my meatloaf that’s sitting next to a generous serving of butter beans.
I’m told by restaurant owners, servers and friends that small plates are for sharing. But after seeing the minuscule amount of food on these plates “sharing” is not a word that comes to mind. Small plates are for small people. I feel like turning to my server, small plate in hand and asking, “Please sir, may I have some more?” only to have him stare at me in stupefied annoyance like the pitiless Mr. Bumble in Oliver Twist.
And to add to the misery of the small plate experience, when the bill arrives it would appear as though I’ve just purchased enough food to stock a doomsday cult member’s larder. While futilely searching my “small plate” for any remaining morsel I have actually concocted a mental plan to drive on my way home to the Sadler Road Krystal Burger for a sack of steamed sliders.
“Bullet Bob” Barks: Robert “Bullet Bob” Weintraub is an angry man. But that’s nothing new. However, this time instead of publically threatening his neighbor (me) with “a loaded rifle and a loaded shotgun” on Facebook and calling me an anti-Semite (November 11) for placing a “Trump” sign in my yard, this time he’s come unhinged about an open discussion conducted by the Fernandina Beach City Commission to explore a parking situation facing Sliders Restaurant on Fletcher and Sadler.
In a lengthy Thursday, December 14 “Viewpoint” editorial screed headlined “They paved paradise for a parking lot” in the local News-Leader Weintraub lashes out like a deranged Yosemite Sam, attacking Commissioners Tim Poynter, Len Kreger, Mayor Robin Lentz, and Sliders’ owner George Stewart for publically discussing parking options for the popular ocean front bar and restaurant.
His misguided rant concludes that a parking lot is a foregone conclusion but he obviously has no clue that no decisions were made on anything and that the only thing the commission agreed to do was vote to study the issue further.
That didn’t stop “Bullet Bob” from accusing Mayor Lentz of “waiting for Commissioner Poynter to make his opinions known before she decides” on issues, despite the fact that as mayor she is obligated to be the last to speak. He also called local restaurateur Poynter “Commissioner Developer” and claimed that Stewart and Poynter tried to “sneak one by.”
In addition, the frothing-at-the-mouth Weintraub obviously doesn’t understand that due to the state’s Sunshine Law the only time commissioners can learn what their commission colleagues opinions are on various issues is by holding public discussions such as this one.
Of course anytime anyone has a negative comment to make about Tim Poynter, News-Leader Publisher Foy Maloy, who has an irrational dislike for the gregarious and popular commissioner, will be more than happy to print it, no matter how misguided, incoherent or unreasonable.
I also found it ironic that the paper’s Editor Peg Davis, had an editorial on the same page headlined “Fake news.” It’s obvious that she didn’t read Bullet Bob’s rant or, like Bob, has no idea how the commission works.
Maloy should be ashamed of himself. Giving this perpetually angry and confused guy a forum in the local paper is inexcusable.
Driving Down The Ditch: Democrats continue to focus on the “popular vote victory” and a recount effort, but it seems to me that a better use of their time would be to investigate what has happened to their party that only eight years ago, wielded tremendous influence throughout the country. Democrats are oblivious to the fact that the Obama presidency harmed their party tremendously, leading to losses throughout the country in city, state, and national elections. But much to my delight they appear to want to keep driving down the ditch Obama put them in with losers like Chuck Schumer as Senate Minority Leader; loopy Nancy Pelosi as House Minority leader; and radical Keith Ellison as head of the Democratic National Committee. What the hell happened to the party of Adlai Stevenson, Hubert Humphrey, John Kennedy and Daniel Moynihan, men I respected, admired and felt comfortable with in government leadership positions?
Do They Do Voodoo? Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe said last Thursday that his family’s pet chicken named Hillary died right before the election. McAuliffe, a Democrat and strong Clinton ally, was asked about his four chickens in an interview with the Atlantic. “I hate to say this, one chicken died,” he said. “About a month before the election, Hillary died.” Maybe the Democrats — hoping to cover all bases — were taking a clue from the voodoo religion where the use of chickens–specifically for sacrifice–is prominent. Who the heck keeps chickens as pets anyway?
Did Somebody Say “Pony Express?” A couple of months ago when I wrote about the Pony Express I left out some fascinating statistics such as: The Pony Express lasted just 19 months (April 1860-October 1861), done in by two things: the telegraph and the cost of mailing a letter — $5.00 for a one-ounce letter nearly $150 in today’s dollars. Even when the price dropped to $1.00 that was still too much for most Americans and delivering that letter cost the company $16, not exactly a sound business plan. The entire 19 months that it lasted it used more than 400 horses, employed 80 riders that moved the mail 250 miles every 24 hours, delivered a total of 34,753 letters and covered 616,000 miles, the equivalent of circling the globe 24 and one-half times. I think all of that is as impressive as it is interesting.
Things I Wish I Had Said: “We are here on earth to do good unto others. What the others are here for, I have no idea.” — poet W.H. Auden.
Drinking, Dining & Dancing: In the four and one-half years it’s been open, Al Waldis’ and T.J. Pelletier’s downtown Front Street Salty Pelican hasn’t raised prices on anything that I can think of and I know for a fact that the one-pound ($16) and one-half pound ($9) huge peel-and-eat locally caught shrimp continue to be one of the best deals of any local restaurant on the island or off. The lines waiting to get in are testimony to the owner’s understanding of what their customers want. On the other hand the Fletcher Avenue Surf is a fun place to watch a football game but the folks running it apparently want to thin out the crowds. For example, the price of beer is probably the highest on the island (not including the Ritz, but who goes to the Ritz to watch football unless you’re on expense account?) with a single 12-ounce bottle of Coors or Bud Lite selling for $4.75 and a bucket of them (5) for $14.75. I could put up with that nonsense until they raised the price of the muffuletta from $11 for a half to $14 and then from $19 to $22 for a whole one, an almost 20 percent increase. A sandwich, one beer, 20 percent tip and tax and you’re looking at a $35 check. I love those delicious muffulettas but not at those prices and it appears from the empty seats and ample parking spaces that I saw last Sunday I’m not the only one. For the same amount I can go to the Pelican any day of the week and order an appetizer of a half dozen oysters, a 12-ounce rib eye with a side, and a couple of draught beers and get change back. Oh, they also have football on all the screens at the Pelican too. And it gets even better as during the month of November, the Pelican donated a percentage of each Jacksonville Veterans Brewery’s Scout Dog 44 beer they sold to the local VFW Post 4351 providing that group of veterans a check for $1,400 that will be used for a variety of charitable events sponsored by those vets. Lorenzo Church took over the helm at the South 8th Street Halftime Bar & Grill this past Monday in time for the New England Patriot- Baltimore Ravens game and he got off to a good start with the parking lot filled with cars of folks who were watching the game, quaffing beers and munching wings and more, just like old times and for very good reason as the personable Lorenzo was offering 16-ounce tall boy PBRs, Yuenglings, and Rolling Rocks for two bucks, all day, every day; $3.00 pints of domestic draughts; huge wings for $10 for 10, daily specials including two buck domestic draughts on Tuesdays all day, a $9.00 build-your-own-burger on Thursdays with a side, and more. When I see old pals such as Pete Loda back at his Halftime perch along other familiar locals it’s obvious management has decided to return to the original friendly spots bar formula that worked so well in the past. The now shuttered North 2nd Street Dog Star Tavern will become the Decantery, a wine and cheese emporium where patrons can sip and munch there or take some home or to a local hotel or B&B, a much needed addition to downtown. I’ve heard that a wine cafe will also be built on the corner of Ash and South 3rd Street but have no details. Getting back to Al Waldis, the highly successful restaurateur, but lousy pigskin prognosticator, who will, for the third year in a row, wear my Washington Redskins jacket during an NFL playoff game while wandering through the crowds at his crowded Salty Pelican since he continues to wager with me that the hapless Jacksonville Jaguars football team will win more games than the Washington team. A seven-screen theater with reclining leather seats, mixed drinks, beer and wine will take over the old Amelia 7 on South 14th Street as soon as the B&B Company owners finish tearing down the interior of the old building and constructing their new one, which they say should be done by late February. Thursday, December 15 Linda and I enjoyed dinner with friends Colson and Pat Hillier and Jeff and Tammy Malone at the recently opened Cantina Louie at Gateway Blvd, just south of Shave Bridge before leaving the island. The service was excellent, the atmosphere very Tex-Mex, the prices reasonable and the large crowd didn’t begin to thin out until about 9:15. The food is no different from what I’ve experienced at most Mexican eateries with a massive selection of red, green, brown and orange stuff, that to me, all tastes the same. However, there were no complaints at our table and what wasn’t eaten went home in take-out boxes. If you’re searching for a Christmas dessert to impress your in-laws, neighbors or friends then check out Sugar Flour Pastries owner Vickymarie’s offerings at the Centre Street Picnic Basket Thursday, December 22 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. and later at the Green Turtle Tavern from 4 p.m. until they are all gone of her pecan pies and caramel Bouche de Noëls. This lady makes some of the tastiest holiday desserts I’ve ever eaten and if you can’t make it downtown, call or text her at 904/699-5009.