Thursday, December 20, 2012

The Ordinary: A Review, Based Solely on a Dream

I think it's a pretty good sign that a new restaurant is getting a lot of buzz if you dream about eating there, and last night I dreamed that I was dining at Mike Lata's and Adam Nemirow's new King Street oyster bar venture, The Ordinary. And, I have to say that, based upon my dream, I was not particularly impressed.

For starters, it was really, really loud. As I sat at the bar, which was made of boring brown wood and not nearly as impressive as all the pictures I'd seen online and in the Charleston City Paper, I tried to chat up Mike Lata and get his recommendations on what was good and fresh that day, but I had a hard time hearing him over the roar of the crowd, and I ended up ordering a bowl of chili.

"You can't order a bowl of chili," Lata scolded me. "This is an oyster bar!"

And I found that quite rude. I mean, really, it's your restaurant. If you don't want people ordering the chili, then why is it on the menu?

"So what would you recommend then?" I asked, which is actually what I had just asked a little while before but couldn't hear his answer because Lata's joint had such poor acoustics.

"Try the pizza," he said. "It's really good. Baked in a wood-fired oven."

Which struck me as kind of weird, since why would the chef at an oyster bar recommend pizza? I didn't even know they had a wood-fired oven, but they are all the rage now, and I believe in trusting your chef. So I ordered the pizza.

It arrived, surprisingly enough, in a big Domino's pizza box, and I couldn't figure out if that was some sort of intentional ironic dig at mainstream food culture or just poor planning on the part of new restaurant that had forgotten to order its own pizza boxes. I envisioned Brooks Reitz sneaking down the street and buying an armload of boxes from the closest delivery joint. Either way, it was pretty low rent.

And, when I opened the box, whoever had put the pizza in it had put it in upside down, the cheese all gooshed against the bottom of the box, and I had to flip the whole box over just to eat it. I would have complained to Lata, but by then he had moved on to chat up some other customers. But, despite the cheese being smeared all over tarnation, it was pretty good pizza.

So, that's the Ordinary in a nutshell, at least how I experienced it in my dream: crowded, loud, rude, and downright sloppy on the service.

I'm not sure what people are making all the fuss about.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

And we're launched!

It's official. Going Lardcore, my new collection of Southern food pieces, is now up on Amazon and available for the Kindle.

Update (12/16/2012): For the Nook users, Going Lardcore is now available for download at, too.

Here's the table of contents, if you want a look at what it contains:
Section 1: That New Southern Thing
Two New Southern “Classics”: Fried Green Tomatoes and Shrimp ‘n Grits
Fried Green Tomatoes: a Southern Movie Star
Shrimp and Grits, the New Fangled Way
A New Old Variation: Shrimp and Rice Grits
Shrimp and Grits: The Irresistible Seductress
Roe is Me: An Odyssey Through the Streets of Charleston in Search of She-Crab Soup
The Curious Case of “The Pate of the South”
A Visit to Benton's
Going Lardcore
Does Authenticity Matter?
Section 2: Good Eats
Serious Burgers
And Some Fries on the Side
Death to the Bistropub
Lowcountry Barbecue
Six-Packs of Sauce and "Fast Casual" Barbecue
Section 3: Boozing It Up
The Bourbon Boom
What About Rum?
Rye Revival: The Forgotten Whiskey of the South Makes a Comeback
90-Proof Yankee Hornswoggling
Section 4: Prejudices & Animadversions
Please Don't Tuck Me Away in a Strip Mall
Barbecue for the Uneducated
Sushi Fatigue
Why Do We Tip?
A Seat at the Chef's Table
The Death of the Entrée
Cracking the Inner Sanctum
I Mean, Really, Can You Even Afford a Coke Anymore?

Sunday, December 09, 2012

Going Lardcore: the Cover

Here's the cover for the new collection. It turned out a lot better than I thought it would.

I actually took all the photos myself. That any of them were usable is a bloody miracle.

Saturday, December 08, 2012

Going Lardcore: A Pending eBook Launch

Learning the Hard Way: Galley Proofs are Still Important
A couple of years ago, intrigued by Amazon's then-still-new Kindle Direct Publishing, I undertook to publish my own e-Book. More than anything, I just wanted to understand how the whole process worked and what the possibilities were. I knew e-Books and Internet distribution promised to transform the book publishing industry and the business of writing even more than the Paperback Revolution of the mid-20th century had, and I want to get inside and take a look around.

The result was The Fried Green Tomato Swindle, a collection of various pieces I had written over the years. I cobbled the text together pretty quickly because I wanted to get to the actual production of the eBook, which requires everything from creating HTML and Cascading Style Sheets to designing a book cover. I figured it would be a good learning experience, and, boy, was it. I stumbled through various versions and iterations, and perhaps the hardest part was just figuring out what tools to use and how the ePub books are structured and how to make it all work so the text looks good in the end on the various reading devices.

And so it was with a feeling of accomplishment and a little nervousness when I had my "final" file ready. I uploaded it to Amazon (and, subsequently, to Barnes and Noble for the Nook), waited a few days until it had been approved, then purchased it on my Kindle and became my own first customer. The text downloaded to the device in less than a minute, and I was holding in my hands a published version of my writing, all delivered electronically, and all put together by me and me alone (except for the massive Amazon infrastructure, of course.)

"This is really cool," I thought to myself. I could feel the disruptive potential of the technology, how it might open whole new worlds for ambitious and creative authors.

People more ambitious and creative than me, that is. I figured I would probably be both my first and my last customer, since my mom doesn't own a Kindle. So, imagine my surprise when a few days later I checked the stats and saw that three people had bought the book. And every day or two another sale would occur. And, this was just from people stumbling across the book by accident: the extent of my promotion had been to put a link on my blog.

And that's when I realized that I probably should have paid a little more attention to the text when I was rushing to get the thing assembled. There were typos and misspellings, the kind of things that close editing would have caught, as well as numerous issues with formatting and rendering, since I had created the book through a convoluted process of going from word processor to HTML to ePub, which created a lot of styling and markup issues.

Fortunately, unlike printed books, it's easy to make corrections to eBooks and distribute the revised version, except, of course, for the hours of work involved. So, I undertook a thorough proofreading and made extensive revisions . . . and then learned the pain of trying to incorporate changes into an ePub and also updating and maintaining the right versions on multiple platforms. Changes I thought I had made mysteriously wouldn't show up out in the actual ePub ready for downloading, some changes overwrote others, etc., etc.

After a month or two of wrestling with it and still having problems, I pulled the book down and stopped selling it. My plan was to take it all the way back to the manuscript (that is, Word processor) stage, re-do the whole thing, and get it back out there the right way. Which is to say, to go back to the exact same process--manuscript to galley proofs to page proofs--that I knew well from the old fashioned dead-tree publishing world.

And that takes a lot of work, which meant it kept getting pushed aside for more pressing (i.e. paying) projects, and it's been sitting dusty on the shelf ever since. In the years that have passed, I've produced a lot more material on the same themes as the contents of that original eBook--especially, Southern food history and dining in the contemporary South today. Finally, it seemed like I had the critical mass needed to take another stab at a collection. And this time, I started back at the beginning of the processes and, having been through the whole thing before, was able to avoid about 90% of the pitfalls that tripped me up the first time.

And, so, I'm preparing to roll out a new eBook collection, which I've entitled Going Lardcore: Adventures in New Southern Dining. It includes what I felt were the best pieces from the old eBook collection, and adds in a bunch of new stuff, including several long pieces on liquor and cocktails as well as a look at the current state of "good eats" like burgers and barbecue. As a whole, it provides a multifaceted look at a remarkable decade of dining in the South at large and Charleston in particular.

Going back over old pieces and revising and combining them together into a longer form has been quite rewarding, a nice way to look back and reflect on how the Southern dining scene has grown and evolved since I first started writing about it in the early 2000s. All told, it's been a great time to be an eater in the South, one full of rewarding experiences like the ones captured in Going Lardcore.

So that's the backstory. I'm putting the final touches on the "page proofs" (ePub file) right now and should have it out to the world through the magic of the Interwebs in just a few days.

Sunday, December 02, 2012

More Rye Whiskey (And a Recipe, Too)

Having just uncorked a post on the enduring appeal of high-end bourbons, I wouldn't be true to my most recent hobby horse if I didn't follow that up immediate with an update on rye.

I recently made the following inflammatory claim in a story on the revival of rye whiskey for the City Paper: "We Southerners need to disabuse ourselves of the delusion that bourbon is the 'quintessential spirit of the South.' Bourbon is about as authentically Southern as Hazzard County, Georgia, and Bo and Luke Duke. . . . Rye whiskey, not bourbon, should properly bear the mantle of the South's favorite spirit."

I stick by that assertion (see the article for the evidence), and also by my prediction that rye's best days are still ahead of it. In recent news, we're seeing more and more of the big boys from the bourbon business agree and starting to move into the rye market.

The latest of the crop is Diageo, which just came out with a 90-proof rye whiskey in its George Dickel line, which previously consisted solely of bourbons.

Retailing around $25 for 750 ml, the Dickel is not quite as cheap as the reliable Old Overholt (which you can consistently find for  under twenty bucks), but it's firmly in that much-needed category of affordable ryes that you can use in abundance in stiff classic cocktails without needing to take out a second mortgage on your house.

I figured it would be worthwhile to try it side by side against some Old Overholt and see how it stacked up. Both have the same sharp, dry bite that is the hallmark of ryes, though the Dickel is a little darker in color, slightly richer in aroma, and a little smoother on the tongue, too. That's a good candidate, in my book, for cocktails with citrus and fruit juices, like the Cherry Rye Sour (recipe below).

Fast on the heels of Diageo, Bacardi Brown-Forman is bringing out its own rye whiskey in its Jack Daniels line. In an interesting twist, it will be an unaged rye whiskey.

Why unaged? The Cocktail Enthusiast relates that the company distilled 800 barrels of rye in 2011, with the intention of putting them into barrels to mature. But, the distillers liked the flavor of the unaged stuff so much that they decided it was worth releasing. In an interview with The Spirits Business, Jack Daniels' master distiller Jeff Arnett added, "We would all agree that white dog is not going to be the best thing to ever produce, but it’s a seller that can be offered as a teaser to say 'Hey, we’ve got this new aged whiskey coming, do you want to try it in its raw state?'”

It sniffs a little of a company trying to play catch up with the market, and at fifty bucks for a 750 ml bottle, it's pretty darn expensive for a teaser (a bottle of the splendid Willet Rye retails for just $40). Perhaps I should wait to judge until the JD unaged version hits store shelves, which it should in the next few weeks, and I can actually sample it. In any event, that rye bandwagon is getting pretty crowded now, and I couldn't be happier.

Rye: the original whiskey of the South. Its comeback continues.

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