Welcome to the first and possibly only episode of The Sack-Up with your hosts Skirt Steak (a.k.a. me, Charlotte) + Dirt Candy (a.k.a. Amanda Cohen):
I don’t know how I missed this last year, when it was inaugurated. Maybe it’s better this way. Otherwise, I would have been forced to get riled up twice. That’s a lot of energy wasted, and on something inanely regressive. Men’s Health magazine’s “Manliest Restaurant In America” competition is a jeroboam of stupido.
What the hell is a MANLY RESTAURANT? Is it a place where a man with a Manwich appetite goes to fill his belly? Is it a place with a hyper-macho dude chef in charge? Men’s Health doesn’t bother defining terms (probably not manly behavior, that). But, we can figure a few things out based on its venue categories.
BBQ Joint, Pizza Parlor, Steakhouse, Seafood Shack, Brew Pub, Sandwich Shop, Taco Stand, Burger Spot and Adventurous Eating.
First off, some of these aren’t even RESTAURANTS (a brew pub? that would be a bar, that happens to offer food; a SHACK? not a lot of room for sitting down and being served there; how about a STAND?). Probably not best to dwell on that.
Next, let’s cast Adventure aside for a second (we’ll get back to it shortly), and look at the rest. Minus the tacos (and one Argentine-style steakhouse in New Orleans), it’s a pretty jingoist agenda. It’s the kind of stuff stereotypically cast as American food. There’s nothing Asian on the menu, unless you count the Taco Stand winner, Korean-Mexican mash-up Hankook Taqueria in Atlanta, Georgia (how appropriate that the single nod to Asian cuisine is part of a “fusion” concept, and swept under the one “ethnic” category in the contest). Unless it’s bundled up in a Mexican package, Asian food in any form must not be very masculine. Ramen, go home. Nice try, Korean Fried Chicken—just because you’re fried, doesn’t mean you’ve got balls. It doesn’t matter how much heat that Sichuan food’s packing, it’s not “manly” material. And while a sandwich shop called Bakesale Betty was on the list of nominees (for its fried-chicken sandwiches, no less) and somehow my neurotic people the Jews made the cut with Katz’s, a Vietnamese bánh mì establishment is, we must assume, for wusses. Indian or Middle Eastern food is also testosterone-free. All those Scandinavian chefs with their foraged gooseberries and black grouse, they’re nothing but girlie men. Tapas? Ditzy. Same goes for paella. Izakayas are like pubs, for drag queens. You get the idea.
Your turn, Adventurous.
Here were the nominees:
1. Representing team offal and emerging as the victor in this division, it’s Incanto, Chris Cosentino’s restaurant in San Francisco (Man, I love this restaurant. As I typed that, I could swear my boobs shrank, just a touch).
2. Piling on the charcuterie, Olympic Provisions in Portland (OR) is next.
3. Hot Doug’s Encased Meat Emporium in Chicago … freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose, and “encased meat,” is merely a synonym for sausage—as manly as it gets.
4. Husk, the much-‘scussed nouveau Southern restaurant in Charleston. Let’s go to the video tape: “Chef Sean Brock, the tattooed genius running the kitchen at Husk, has taken traditional Southern fare, kicked it in the balls, and served it up with a side of pig ear. You may not have grown up eating offal, but somehow a Southern twist makes even the oddest bits of the animal taste like comfort food.” In short: tattoo, Southern food, balls, offal.
5. WD-50 in NYC, Wylie Dufresne’s 9-year-old house of modernist cuisine—one of the best known and respected kitchens for this kind of cooking in the country.
In a nutsack (sorry, nutshell), Adventurousness comprises offal, sausage (offal light, sort of), Southern offal, and, for something different, sci-fi techy stuff. What do these phenomena have in common? They’re all mega trendy. When Cosentino first opened Incanto a decade ago, people hadn’t caught on to offal. Now that everyone has jumped on the nose-to-tail bandwagon, he’s finally getting props for his mad skillz. Those making reservations aren’t doing so because they’re adventurous; they’re signing up because they got the memo. Charcuterie? Which au courant “artisanal” restaurant isn’t house-curing some meat right now? Moving right along … there’s no reason to talk about the wieners, or, really, the Southern spot (we’ve already covered offal, and should be talking about Husk’s reclaiming a regional cuisine instead of writing off all the food below the Mason-Dixon line as a single stereotype). Did anyone at Men’s Health hear about a guy named Ferran Adrià and how he closed El Bulli? When he took over, “molecular gastronomy” was the new final frontier. Now, avant-garde cooking has become part of the bigger food picture and many chefs are incorporating its techniques. The adventure has run its course. The magazine seems to have confused adventurousness with trendiness.
While we’re trying to slow the pace of our mental processing to match the magazine’s way of thinking, there’s something else to consider, especially in today’s world when it’s all about being “on-brand.” There’s a word in the publication’s title that rhymes with WEALTH. This list of genres—BBQ, pizza, porterhouse, lobster rolls, beer & shepherd’s pie, subs, etc—isn’t the HEALTHIEST assortment. So now, I’m forced to assume that healthy food is NOT manly, and therefore, that a magazine devoted to the subject of men’s wellbeing is, in fact, not at all manly. I’m sure the publication’s marketing whizzes have come up with a good explanation for that and are all way too manly to bother explaining or justifying. I’m probably not manly enough to understand.
I asked Amanda Cohen of Dirt Candy in NYC (dirtcandynyc.com) to weigh in. She specializes in vegetable cookery, opened a tiny restaurant to showcase les vegs, and has just penned an “untraditional cookbook” (http://eater.com/archives/2012/08/20/amanda-cohen-on-her-new-comic-book-cookbook-vegetables-and-opentable.php). I know what you’re thinking: Vegetables? Untraditional? That sounds like a whole lot of unmanly, or, adventurous. What does she know of manly?