Thursday, April 17, 2008

Foodies Who Make You Feel Bad (With bonus rant on the world domination of chains)

I think of myself as a foodie in training. I love to cook and I love to eat, but my palate is pretty unsophisticated in many areas. I probably couldn't tell the difference between a Sysco steak and one from Peter Luger's if I didn't taste them side by side. I'm clueless about authentic Asian food and Latin American food. I am completely in the dark about wine. That's one of the reasons why I love food blogs. They do a very good job of educating me. I also enjoy foodie message boards because they allow me to "converse" with a broad range of tastes and experiences on one page. My current fave is Chowhound.

While I usually find the conversation stimulating, sometimes these people make me feel like an unsophisticated bumpkin. Maybe they don't intend to, but I sometimes come away from these exchanges feeling stupid.

Here is my most recent example. About a year ago, I made a post about a restaurant in my neighborhood called the Jolley Trolley. It had been there for years and I had never been in it. Kevin and I tried it one night and found we liked it. Granted, the first time I went, I had let myself get distracted by the cuteness of presenting petite filets on top of onion rings and the fishbowl-sized margaritas. On subsequent visits I came down to earth a bit and realized that the food isn't all that good. Don't get me wrong. It's not bad. If it were bad we wouldn't have kept going back, but it's hardly gourmet. They do some things pretty well and there are some things they do that are quite mediocre. They have a really good salad bar. You have to just take your chance and order. The restaurant's main draw is that it's a decent, low-end, American bar and grill. Many of the restaurants in my neighborhood don't have good bars for hanging out, are pricey, or are ethnic. Our only other options for that sort of cheap American classic food is either the diner or Applebees. We get tired of eating at the diner all of the time and we don't like Applebees (I've developed my palate that much at least).

A couple of weeks ago, through the Chowhound boards, I found out that the Jolley Trolley had very suddenly closed its doors. I was shocked because the place had quite popular. Just a couple of weeks earlier Kevin and I tried to go there for dinner and ended up having to go elsewhere because of the long wait. Why had it closed? I made the comment online that I would miss it. It has been our go-to place for some casual fare. Otherwise, our only other choice is Applebees.

Well, I got a rather highbrow response from another poster that the Jolley Trolley is not better than Applebees. It's just as bad and they serve inferior wine there and try to pass it off as something better. Well, I don't go to places like the Jolley Trolley to drink wine. I go there to drink big fruity drinks made with cheap liquor (can I admit that sometimes Sandra Lee's cocktails look good - I drink like a girl) or a Coke. I'm know they don't use the best quality ingredients in their dishes, but I know that they are at least prepared in the kitchen by a cook and that some of them do taste good.

I just felt like that person was talking down to me. I must be an idiot to think that the Jolley Trolley was somehow better than Applebees. The poster informed me that she always just went for ethnic food or to the diner when she didn't want to spend a lot of money. I got the impression that she thought she was better than me.

It's not as if I don't try to be a better foodie. I'm really working hard to educate myself right now on various Asian cuisines for example. The blogs I read really help to educate me about so many aspects of cooking and eating. I like to learn from people who are far more experienced than I am in terms of dining experiences and cooking skills - AS LONG AS THEY'RE NICE ABOUT IT. Besides, I'm sure there are plenty of serious foodies out there who admit to the guilty pleasure of liking something made with cheap ingredients, or store-bought, or containing mysterious chemicals. I might spend years developing a better palate and still feel that some of the Jolley Trolley food tasted good.

If people who are passionate about quality food don't want to be seen as a bunch of elitist snobs, they really need to avoid talking down to people.

That brings me to my next point though. Classic American bar and grill type places have all but disappeared from my neighborhood. There aren't many restaurants where there are bars where you can hang out and eat bar snacks (the only one left is Chinese). The diner is fine, but it only serves cheap wine, beer, and Mike's. (I'm not complaining. I love Mike's. Seriously, I drink like I'm still in college and experimenting with alcohol for the first time.)

I used to love the fact that my neighborhood is filled with mom-and-pop restaurants. The only Starbucks in town is pretty far away from where I am. You can walk down my street and find Italian, French, coffeehouse (of the independent variety), Mexican, Chinese and Chinese takeout, and a huge proliferation of Japanese and Asian fusion places (there are three Japanese restaurants on my street and three Japanese/fusion places set to open all on the same strip). I've always been pleased that the major national chains have stayed out of my neighborhood except for Applebees. Then I realize that Applebees is now the only restaurant of its kind in my neighborhood!

Well, I should clarify one thing. The Jolley Trolley was part of a chain. It was owned by Charlie Browns. But Charlie Browns is hardly a big chain. You don't find them outside the tri-state area. But even as a chain, you can't compete against the big guys anymore. I wonder if in a few years' time if anyone will be able to eat in an independent restaurant anymore.


Emiline said...

I admit, Sandra Lee can whip up some crazy cocktails. Good looking, creative stuff. I would say that's her specialty.

How can you not love the name, The Jolley Trolley? I feel like eating there just because it makes me feel happy.

I'm sorry about the rude person. I would NEVER be so mean.

StickyGooeyCreamyChewy said...

Some people are just clods! They hide behind the anonymity of the Internet and think that it gives them a license to be a jerk. Don't let it get you down and DON'T sell yourself short!

I've been having similar issues on my blog. Some deranged person has been leaving nasty comments on my posts. That's what the delete button is for. ;)

michelle @ TNS said...

holy crap, i want to eat at a place called the jolly trolley.

stories like that are why i stay away from message boards, by and large. blogs are so much more welcoming. i feel like even the more mundane comment i make on a message board gets flamed or snotted at (except at the leftover queen, but that's cuz we're all bloggers!)

Patricia Scarpin said...

I can relate to what you wrote. Some people are such imbeciles that the only pleasure they seem to have in life is to make other people miserable.

What's wrong with liking a certain restaurant of type of food? Who said that only haute cuisine is good? Oh, give me a break, right?

you go and you do what you like and what pleases you. It's no one's business!

The Short (dis)Order Cook said...

Em and Michelle - The Jolley Trolley is a fun name for a restaurant. I've always been drawn to things that sound silly.

SGCC - It's pretty horrible when people start making rude comments directly to your blog when you're not actively engaging them in conversation. I allow anonymous commenting here because I do have non-Blogger friends who might want to drop by, but the risk you take is that people can be nasty. I hope your stalker has gone away by now.

I've been a message board addict from way back. Even 20 years ago in high school when they were first becoming popular. I just can't believe in an area where people are having civilized food discussions someone would make you feel stupid just for thinking that The Jolly Trolley is better than Applebees. I never even said it was a particularly good restaurant. I just said it was a better choice than Applebees! It's amazing how some people just can't abide by people having different palates from theirs.

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We Are Never Full said...

I LOVE YOU. I really do. This is one of the most inspiring posts I've ever,ever read. NO LIE. I've have been very lucky to have traveled growing up and have parents that made me try things like escargot and blue cheese when I was 7 years old. But, besides that, i had a very special aunt that i loved that was crazy about food. she introduced me to so many fun things about cooking and eating. they are who forced me to know what a vinaigrette was, to try new meats and to close my eyes and taste food. I'm really love this post because you are so real. You want to learn. You want to try and get it, but you're also true to yourself by admitting that there's stuff to learn and also that you love some of the downhome stuff! I desire to know more.

To me, I think that's the key... the desire to WANT to know more. To maybe want to investigate the authenticity of things and ask questions like how did this dish come about? what's the culture like that makes this dish? am I willing to try something new? see, sometimes this is why i bash sandra lee and rachel ray b/c i feel like they ignore going a bit farther to teach us more than the recipe they made up.

i'm sorry if that idiot talked down to you. Let me guess, it happened on chowhound? that is the WORST place for food snobs. i consider myself an food lover and i would never post on the boards there b/c they are such absolute snobs. they admit it too! on the NYC board, you should read what these people have to say.

anyways, i welcome you to check out our blog anytime and if you ever feel like we're talking down to you, please let me know. i have said one bad thing - i said if you can't find south america on on a map you shouldn't be reading our blog. i apologize for that...

ok, that was a really long commment... sorry!

amy @ we are never full

ps: applebees has good burgers.

The Short (dis)Order Cook said...

WANF - (Ooh. I like that acronym) Your comments are much appreciated. Yeah, I've become disenchanted with CH these days. It's amazing how the NYC people will work very hard to find things wrong with restaurants.

It's funny because I grew up in the NYC area with a foodie father and a health nut mother, but nature made me a picky eater, so even though I loved eating, it took me years to really appreciate good food. Even though I ate at a lot of ethnic restaurants, It's only been in the past 10 years or so that I've come to really understand and appreciate authenticity.

Sue said...

That nasty comment is more about the other person than it is about you. What a jerk! As I used to say to my kids, ”Does it make her feel big to make other people feel small?!!”

It seems like that person is more concerned about going to the “right” places than going somewhere that fits the bill for that particular situation. There is excellence to be found at all price points.

Sometimes you want a more casual, quick in and out place that is just reliable and sometimes you want to be looked down at by servers as they present your incredibly high bill.

Frankly, I would scoff at that snob for even being surprised at the less than great wine. Of course, you go there for the fun cocktails. What a poser (as my kids would say).

I was surprised that PF Chang’s was so good and I don’t care who sneers at that. Tell that person that she can stuff your cannoli if she doesn’t agree with your choice of restaurant.

Benjamin said...

The art of being a foodie, is no more complicated than loving the preparation and consumption of food that makes you happy.

Some of the chowhound gang can be seriously elitist in my experience. There's a great wealth of knowledge there, however, some really eclectic stuff I don't find anywhere else. In exchange: elitism and snobbery.

So +1 for big fruity cocktail drinks(the cheaper the liquor the better). And +1 for "going out for ethnic cuisine" consisting of hitting up there nearest Chinese buffet. Sometimes at least. :)