Give me your tired, your poor — just not your epicurious

by stephanie.mlot@gmail.com. 0 Comments

Before you read another word, pause for a moment of celebration: Today is my father's 60th birthday (sorry for spoiling the illusion, Dad!). To the man who makes me laugh so hard I need a puff of my inhaler, always answers my calls for important paperwork help, and makes solo trips up the east coast to ride the Coney Island Cyclone and eat Famous Nathan's hot dogs with me: Happy birthday! And many more, Pops.

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You don't actually know what food is until you spend time in New York City. (And even then, it's still a complete deep-fried, gluten-free, organic mystery.)

A couple of weeks ago, I spent an evening out with a friend: dinner and a movie -- what would be a fairly innocuous adventure for most Fredericktonians. Grab a bite at Brewer's Alley. Chomp down on the best burgers south of the Mason-Dixon Line at Wag's. Splurge on a hefty check from The Tasting Room.

But New York has turned the life-sustaining task of eating into an art form worthy of a permanent exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Accepting my limited understanding of city eateries, I left the task of choosing a pre-film dining spot to my friend -- a New Yorker of four years and an expert at deciphering indistinguishable menu items.

"What's *insert fancy food name here*?" I ask, at least seven times per meal, pointing to each item with a disgusted look on my face and yet hope in my heart.

So when I told her to pick a restaurant fairly close to the theater where we'd be watching the re-released "Beasts of the Southern Wild" later that night, she responded with a perfectly innocent "Do you want to go to Jacob's Pickles?"

Excuse me? Jacob's what? Like any good Jew, I love me a good pickle. But when did the free deli side dish become a snack that merits its own restaurant?

I know dill. And kosher. Even bread and butter. But that's where my knowledge of the dried-up cucumbers ends. So you can imagine my astonishment at a menu boasting a list of at least four types of pickles formerly unknown to me, and probably 98 percent of the human race. There is no doubt that our waiter's dirty look as I ordered my dinner was the result of my query about which of the establishment's provided pickles would be best suited to replace the spicy option normally accompanying the honey chicken and hot sours.

Sure, the pickles turned out to be delicious -- But has the food industry gone too far? Or is Jacob's fine establishment just the beginning?

I've been out for grilled cheese and tomato soup at a tiny storefront that offers nine "super fancy" variations of the delicious lunch ... And nothing else. I stopped for a plate of mac and cheese from famed hole-in-the-wall S'Mac, where I had the choice of 12 menu items, each and every one with varied ingredients, and macaroni and cheese. And then there were the pickles.

According to Wikipedia -- every good journalist's first bookmarked source: Foodies [are defined as] (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Foodie) people with "an ardent or refined interest in food." "Gourmets," if you will.

"A foodie seeks new food experiences as a hobby rather than simply eating out for convenience or hunger," the entry goes on to say.

That's right: Food is now a hobby. Something people set aside time to complete, and subsequently pat themselves on the back once accomplished. Alton Brown and The Barefoot Contessa have led the way for an entire nation to feel at home in their not-so-guilty pleasure of turning a snobbish nose up at your store-bought creme brûlée.

But back in the Big Apple, people are donning their thick-rimmed glasses and messy haircuts to visit the two-day meat festival or stand in line to celebrate the re-re-opening of the bagel shop-turned-Chinese buffet-with-Asian-fusion celebrity-backed restaurant.

Ethnicity really has nothing to do with it. Chinatown. Little Italy. Korea Town. The 184 Indian and Thai restaurants that populate the East Village like Starbucks does the West. I can appreciate a good Greek gyro once in a while. The heart of the matter is the fact that there is a rice-pudding-only nook on Spring Street, when that could have been a walk-in clinic. Or a Panera.

(This entire argument is moot when it comes to the 99-cent pizza joint a block from my apartment, where triangles of cheesy goodness are the only item on the menu, but two slices and a can of soda cost less than $3. Don't ever change, 14th Street 99 Cent Pizza.)

Putting aside the "West Side Story"-like rivalry between the two boroughs, Brooklyn is the true culprit for blame in the foodie revolution. Sure, Manhattan touts the occasional specialty restaurant (chocolate from Max Brenner, anyone?) But only Hipster-lyn is home to two-day meat-and-beer extravaganzas and the weekly Smorgasburg Williamsburg Food Market.

Brooklyn: It's from where the foodies flock, and to where the 80-hours-a-week businesspersons flee.

What does it really mean to be "a foodie," though? If you brunch every Sunday and know where to find the best macarons (think Oreos for the sweet-tooth, meringue-based crowd), does that automatically induct you into the club? Like putting on a pair of slim-fit jeans, a plaid button-down and a smug look on your face does into the world of hipsters?

I love food as much as the next hungry New Yorker, I just never thought to name that feeling.

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Stephanie Mlot writes a regular column for fredericknewspost.com.

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