Of all the things I didn’t expect about turning 40, my increasing intolerance for mediocre food wasn’t on the list.
Let’s be honest: When I was 20-something, I ate a lot of food that was honestly meh. I shopped at Sam’s and bought Hamburger Helper by the case. I had my share of processed, canned, and crock pot meals that somehow tasted good to me at the time. We ate where we could afford (though even in my 20s I knew White Castle burgers are gross and Skins hotdogs are vastly overrated).
It’s no surprise that one’s taste’s mature as we age, but I didn’t anticipate the side order of snobbery that seems to have come along with it. 😉
Case in point: A couple weeks ago, the hubs and I stopped by one of Green Vegas’s up and coming hipster paradise locavore farm-to-table restaurants. The place has a carefully curated interior (I’d die to have those raw brick walls and rough-hewn tabletops in my own house).
But the food? Underwhelming. Tastes like…. well, not much of anything. Despite having “delicious” in the title of the restaurant, the food….wasn’t. It was weak. Good quality, but lacking any nuance in flavor.
I looked around at a crowd of Millennials with their knobby knit scarves and fall boots and flannel shirts and trimmed beards, munching down on food that I could have made myself far better. I longed to throw an arm over their shoulders and bring them into my kitchen to taste tonight’s beef stew, rich with the flavors formed in the pan by a little pork and a spike of both sherry and balsamic vinegar over the local farm beef chunks, slow-basted in the oven, married to carrots/onions/celery and creamy with pearl barley. There are flavors under the flavors, flavors that unpack themselves inside your mouth like a spy who’d stowed away in a shipping container, springing out to surprise you with truly golden-brown and delicious tastes.
Or consider one of our really popular hangout joints here in A-town. Formerly a noisy street tavern full of loud music and shouting drunks, the reimagined Earle Street Kitchen throbs with activity every night. Can’t even find a place to park on Fridays and Saturdays. How’s the food? Well, the goat cheese potato fritters ARE really tasty, and I can usually find something worth drinking on tap. The rest of it? Salt. It tastes like salt. No nuance here either. People from age 18 to 65 are packing out the place. What gives? (I was genuinely offended when someone I know raved about their mahi-mahi & grits. Yeah there was goat cheese in the grits and that’s a good idea and I plan to steal it but…. the rest of it still tastes predominantly of salt with a side of garlic.)
**UPDATE, Dec 2017**
I have to be honest: I was at this restaurant again a few days ago, and my meal was genuinely good. The crab cakes in particular were tasty and well-seasoned. Perhaps the kids are learning to cook. 😉
I’ve got more money in my pocket than I did at 25 (more bills too, so I think we’re even, younger self), but I’m loathe to spend it on food that, while may be the freshest and most environmentally conscious, fails to thrill. If the cooks haven’t learned to layer flavor in ways that provide a satisfying experience for my taste buds, why am I giving them money?
And can someone explain to me how Mellow Mushroom stays in business? The pizza is tasty, don’t get me wrong, but the prices are like “holy mother of beelzebub, why does this pizza cost more than what I pay for groceries monthly?” And since it seems to take 45 minutes for your pizza to arrive at the table, they must start the second rise of the dough when you place your order. I don’t get it. Am I just impatient now? #getoffmylawn #takeyourbadservicewithyou
We’ve also been mourning the demise of some of our old haunts. Maybe it IS me and my finicky tastebuds getting cranky with middle age, but the fries at McGee’s are soggy now, and everything seems to have dropped a notch in quality (except the wine list). I wish they’d team up with the brewery in their backyard to beef up their beer offerings and reopen the back deck to liven up the place. Maybe I don’t like the food as much now that the pub is funeral-quiet every time I walk in, as if it were a retiree rocking on the front porch waiting to die. The food at Fiesta doesn’t stand out like it used to compared to L Taco (but I have a soft spot in my heart for Fiesta’s burro de la roqueta). The faithful Empire Chinese on the corner is under new management, after we basically watched the former owners’ kid grow up from nugget to teenager. It’s still good, but I can taste the difference. I hope the owners have moved into a business where they can get a day off.
Even Starbucks has lost its luster for me. I like my caramel macchiato because it’s not usually overly sweet (try swapping in the PSL syrup for the usual vanilla syrup – it’s less “candy-sweet” than a PSL but you get some nice spice). But most of the Starbucks syrups just taste like chemicals to me nowadays. Blech.
But I have digressed.
To my lovely Millennials: I adore how earnestly you want your food to be sustainable and genuine. I love that you’ve said “bump this!” to boring grocery stores and are happy to let Amazon drop groceries on your doorstep. I’m glad you’ve forced Baby Boomers to learn what avocado toast is, even if they mock you for it (without good reason). I think good experiences trump having a big bank account. Your generation gives me a lot of hope that 2017 may not be the only dark apocalyptic vision available for our future. Thank you for reviving Saturday farmer’s markets and telling O’Charley’s to go die.
But please come over sometime and let me cook for you. You don’t need to spend all those hard-earned dollars on mediocre food. Learn to roast vegetables and chicken in your oven. Learn to braise a pork shoulder and serve it with good crusty bread from a local bakery. Buy a large cast iron skillet, keep it oiled, and use it for everything including those grass-fed, free-range steaks you bought at the Saturday market. Make your own damn coffee – it takes five minutes, a $30 grinder from BBB, and a $20 Bodum.
Hipster places we DO love:
– Tandem Creperie
– Methodical Coffee
– Nose Dive
– White Duck Taco (be still, my heart!!)
Non-hipster places everyone should try:
– Inky’s (Philly cheesesteaks in Easley!) – thanks, Mel! ❤
– L Taco in Anderson (owned by my neighbor!!!)
– The Pita House, a Greenville classic
– the Tropical Grille out on Pelham & 14 (and only that one) for the slow-roasted Cuban “chop” (pork & beans & rice bowl)