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Very Casual, $
They say people seek out the familiar when traveling, that we desire the comforts of home when in new territory. And despite how much I rag on Americans for socializing with Americans and eating American food while on their Caribbean cruises, it was this same need for the familiar that led me to Tacos Express.
That’s why, as a Detroiter visiting Chattanooga, I was drawn to the Rossville neighborhood. You see, Rossville isn’t even mentioned in tourist literature. Through the eyes of most Chattanoogans, Rossville makes a map of their city look like a Catholic’s forehead at the beginning of Lent. Rossville is so unsavory, even, that fast food restaurants have moved out and left their buildings deserted. ATMs are patrolled by rent-a-cops. You’re the only motorist not driving a Chevy Caprice™. And eventually, you come upon a mobile taquería in the lot of a tienda.
…The only thing that convinced me I wasn’t in Southwest Detroit was the pollutionless blue sky lit by that thing people outside of Michigan tell us is “the sun”.
A middle-aged man named Stuart, clad in a country club windbreaker and his head adorned with a rug rivaling Donald Trump’s, is the man behind Stuarto’s Olive Oil Company. He doesn’t know much about the olive oil, nor the balsamic vinegar, he sells. And once one realizes that this guy named his business after himself — by adding an “o” at the end of his name to ignorantly and condescendingly suggest a sense of Italianness — well, the entire business just becomes a bad joke.
This ignorant, misguided condescension permeates the entire being of Stuarto’s.
I have long berated pretentious pseudo-gourmands who think wine and tapas are the pinnacle of foodieism, or those who spend exorbitant amounts of money at high-end greengrocers despite not knowing a mimolette from a cheddar. But even more damning, though, is the espousal of flavor-infused olive oils. Nothing — absolutely nothing — screams uninformed pretentiousness like an infused olive oil or vinegar.
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Tony Ventimiglia, I think you and I were soul mates in a previous life. I think we sort of have a Like Water for Chocolate thing going on, or perhaps, Like Acqua for Cioccolato.
You see, I’ve watched all of your cooking videos, and you cook exactly like I do — you have an eye for fine ingredients, work free from the constraints of a fixed recipe, season your food with almost reckless courage, and achieve sophisticated dishes with complex flavors from very simple, grassroots methods. I love how you go out of your way to talk to me every time I visit your market. You know your products intimately — you know how your cheeses breathe, how your cured meats whisper as they traverse the palate, how your pastas waltz as they meet a pot of boiling water. You appreciate the concept of terroir.
And because of all that, Mr. Ventimiglia, your Italian deli and market is one of Detroit’s very few businesses that can compete with its counterparts in a more cosmopolitan city.
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On my way home from work yesterday, I got passed on the shoulder by a truck from whose rear bumper dangled a pair of apricot-colored truck nuts next to a hand-written “thank your girlfriend for me” bumper sticker. That’s the kind of dumbass who’d love Sub Sonic. You see, Sub Sonic is sort of an unintelligent, blue collar, brutish man’s idea of food: beefy, jockstrappy hoagies constructed without any consideration for gastronomic acuity, flavor pairings, technique, or overall sandwich harmony.
But I’m going to take it easy on Sub Sonic. They’re barely a week old. They suffer from an unfortunate location — a former Quizno’s® with little signage and, for the most part, hidden from street view by foliage. Yet however dispiriting this location may be, Sub Sonic’s owners are trying hard to make it work. They’ve poured a lot of sunshine into the interior, and they’re so eager for constructive criticism, admitting they’ll be tweaking the menu as they stockpile feedback. So although Sub Sonic is getting average marks for now, I’ll betcha a pair of truck nuts that they’ll improve quickly.
Knowing my time in the GTA — and the number of meals I can enjoy there — is limited, I try to make the most of every bite I take. I treat every meal like it’s my last. I inhale every wisp of spice that drifts from the kitchen. I study the way every component on every dish moves — how noodles vacillate timidly, how meats tremble, how leaves of coriander squirm under heat. I absorb the colors that sashay across my plate. I savor each bite like it’s a swig of merlot — muscling it over every taste gland on my tongue.
So amongst the most disappointing things I’ve ever done was waste one of my precious GTA meals on Chinese Halal Restaurant.
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On sports radio the other day, I heard a guy call in to propose a nickname for the Detroit Lions’ effervescent defensive tackle, Ndamukong Suh. Except, the guy had, for all this time, thought Suh’s name was “Dominick Shoe”, and thus based the proposed nickname “Shoelace” on this gross misunderstanding.
And while, at the time, I laughed so hard that my convulsing behind the steering wheel was severely impairing my driving, I later realized that Iraqi food is my Dominick Shoe. You see, Iraqi food is supposed to have all the mystique of Middle Eastern cuisine, but owing to geography, should have a whisper of influence from the Indian sub-continent (more so than any other Middle Eastern cuisine). In theory, Iraqi food should offer a vivid, bewitching fusion of flavors. I believed so strongly in this paradigmatic taste, that I spent nearly two years Iraqi restaurant-hopping amongst the cluster of them at Ryan Road and the 14 Mile and 15 Mile intersections. And Ryan Restaurant here proved to be the best of them.
Whenever I need to be knocked off my high horse, I go to Nick’s. You see, Nick’s brings me back down to Earth, by reminding me just how out of touch I’ve been with the common man. Here are just a few examples from a recent visit to this little family restaurant:
– A customer asked her waitress if the navy bean soup was spoicy (that’s “spicy” to those of you who don’t speak Upper Midwestern). Navy bean soup?!?! Spicy?!?! Has this woman ever *eaten* before?!?! Oatmeal called, hun. It said to man the f*ck up.