When I started blogging about food and restaurants in the area, I wanted to keep it local. I mean, if Applebees makes a pre-cooked, microwaved entree that's REALLY awesome, I might go out of my way to try it and write about it...assuming, of course, that I'd ever be caught dead in an Applebees. But really, my goal is to get to know an area through its eateries. Note, I said eateries, not necessarily food.
National chains and franchises are comfortable because they're familiar and identical. Save for the occasional regional variations (like the time I had "McRamen" at a Hawaiian McDonalds on a family visit in 1987), every McDonalds is going to be the same--decor and menu. If you're of a certain age (read: old), you may remember a scene from the movie Gotcha, wherein our hero, having escaped "bad" Germany into "good" Germany runs right to a Burger King to order an "American" Whopper. His whole point was to reconnect with a familiar place after a brief trip behind the iron curtain. So at least for right now, I'm avoiding the big chains. That's not to say that I won't hit a chain or franchise, but there's no need to write about the nationals. I'm looking for the smaller places that people might overlook or not be familiar with. For me, local eateries are a part of a city or region's identity.
Even though I grew up in Flint, Michigan, my mother's family was from the south...like deep south, Batesville, Arkansas. At least once a year, we'd visit my maternal grandparents down there. This is a part of the south so southern, I saw men in KKK robes, on the side of the street, having a mini-rally when I was driving over from Memphis to visit my grandmother during the Labor Day weekend holiday in 2002.
But digressions aside, one of the things about going to visit my parents in Batesville was completely getting away from the "normalcy" of Flint, especially when we ate out. That was half of the excitement--new places to eat: new food, new environments, and stories from my mother about the places in Batesville where she ate as a teenager. I've long-since forgotten the names, but I remember having burgers and fries at a little greasy-spoon she'd visit after school as a teenager. I remember fried catfish at a seafood place we went to during a family reunion. When I think about Batesville, those are some of the things I think about--places I'd never have eaten at were I not there. The environment helps to make the impression.
So I was thinking about jumpstarting this blog last spring. I sent the link to an acquaintance. "OMG, your food blog sucks, man! You never talk about food!" I was a bit taken back...because I recalled talking about food. I mean, I didn't throw myself into armchair "food porn" mode, where I'm sitting at my Macbook like a fatter, ruddier, even more abraisive Godon Ramsey, deconstructing flavor profiles like an WASPy, NPR-fueled culture snob might try to break down a wine...despite the fact that science has proven that most of
us just can't tell flavor nuances to that degree. Maybe it's just because I'm more of a glutton (seriously, food in my proximity rarely lasts long. I don't inhale, but I'm not a slow, delicate, dainty eater either), I've never developed that pinpoint palate that allows me to articulate food like that.
Let's be honest here, food pretension was hip way before hipsters, Alton Brown, and a glut of bad reality cooking TV shows made any middle class white person with access to the Food Network and a box of wine (funneled into expensive bottles, to show off for friends) into an instant food critic. I'm pushing 350 pounds these days. You don't get there with a shi-shi, restrictive palate. You get there by eating. So when I think about food, I'm not looking so much at the buzzword of the moment as much as a few guiding questions:
- Does the food taste good? If so, why? If not, what's wrong?
- Do I want to go there again and eat more?
For me, a food blog is about more than just the food. It's the whole experience--from my thoughts and feelings going into it, to the environment itself, to the staff, to the food. I mean yes, I could do a "food porn" style blog. I could easily be the Bob Guccione or Larry Flynt of southern flood blogging, but I think that the experience of food is about more than what's on the plate. It's more than just the organic chemistry. It's the experience. Part of the old India Mahal's charm was the divey nature of the interior. Part of Tijuana Flats' charm is the unique art deco scheme for each location. Part of Strombolis' charm was its cast of characters behind the counter, the prominently-featured brick oven, the cheap and tacky sponge painting on the bathroom walls....and a gawdy mural that the owner installed. These things all give the food character. They're all part of the experience.