The Dutch - New York City, NY



Oyster Sliders from The Dutch

One sky-less morning wandering down endless city streets, camera in hand, I pause. A benighted alley looms beside me. Eyes like pinpricks aflame sway suspended in the dark. Somewhere deep inside a fence rattles in the stale wind, a baby howls, muffled, a crone coughs. Trashcan fires spurt light hooded by gouts of smoke, illuminating bulbous shifting tatters. My neck hair prickles. This is a forgotten place, I think. Unchanged for ages.

            My city is vast, thriving and expanding for as long as human history goes back. In its corners and nooks nestle cultures once familiar, made foreign by time and isolation.

            From the near-black cove jolts hollow laughter, a vacant howl. Feet shuffle to a tunelessly twanged cigar-box guitar. This is their homeland, these alley people. The squalor is unimaginable. The cloying smell of human decay hangs heavy, even here, at the alley’s entrance.

            I linger in silence, wondering whether to venture in, hurry on or stay. My camera hangs impotent by my side. Can I help them? No. My knowledge of everything outside, everything they do not and cannot have, would only damage. Any gifts I gave them would be temporary.

            They’ve survived in this alley for decades, millennia, ages. They are alley people born of alley people born of alley people and on. They are none else and know nothing else. None leave and fewer still enter. They must be wretched, unhappy.

            But then again...

            I shift. My senses recast their information.

            Their minds are not mine. Their world is theirs. With different knowledge in our brains, how can I judge their space? What else is there but for them to laugh and growl and harrumph in their privation? The alley’s dim contours are all they know in total entire. The harsh notes of another cackle reach my ear. Yes. They are alive in their spot: rich.

            They eat what the city affords them in vermin and bugs, trapped and cooked with — to their minds — unimpeachable skill. They lap at the water that leaks down the mildewed walls as if it were Elysian mead. The errant comfort of the modern world — a snapped umbrella, a half-eaten bagel — are as manna to them from the great unknown. When they turn in on their moldy newspapers, thinly covering the damp unforgiving concrete, they are as kings resting their weight on beds of down.

            When one knows not what rich means, then one can never be poor. They know only the alley, have known only the alley. This is their world to relish. They are happier than I, who wants for little yet yearns for more.

            These spit-slipping, scum-scraping, odiferous, cackling, clammy, sunken, forgotten lot are gods of an inverse Olympus.

            I look at my polished shoes, frown and move on.

 

 

FOOD:

4.2 Stars

Sophisticated, curated, celebrated. Hey, what can you expect? This is a hot NYC spot. They make highbrow food for a highbrow crowd.

PRICE:

Bring the Card

Food in NYC at a nice spot will never be cheap, and this doesn’t vary much from that formula. Brunch entrees run ~$20, “Supper” Entrees in the $30s and $40s. Apps and other vittles will only raise the bill. Though the fare is quite worth the price (in a New York sense).

AMBIENCE:

Well-Designed, Hip, Cool, Traditional-With-A-Modern-Twist, Foodie Pleaser

The ambiance feels effortless and comfy. You can tell it was designed by professionals earning top dollar. Space is ample, yet you’ll still need a reservation for certain.

SERVICE:

New York’s Finest

Whether it’s the struggling actors trying to make a good impression, the higher-than-average tips or the general competition, New York’s service is second to none. The fine men and women of The Dutch keep the high bar on its proper rung.

EAT OR SKIP:

Eat

The Dutch is great. It’s tasty, you get ample food, you leave full and happy. Still, something feels missing. I think it’s this: there’s a lack of personal passion about the place, which is by no means a reason not to go. It’s simply to say that if you never go to the Dutch, your life will not be over. You will not immolate immediately in a flame of regret. Maybe I’m holding the Dutch to too high a standard. But then again, this isn’t Old York. Put another way, it feels like The Dutch is a calculated step, one made from experience, expertise and a keen eye on customer turnover and portion cost. That may be an artsy fartsy critique (it is), but still, I know of many other restaurants inside New York and out that seem like a chef’s dream come true, rather than another notch on a celebrated chef’s belt. Granted, it’s a nice notch, but it’s a notch nonetheless. Check the Dutch if you want a tasty, curated meal. However, if you want to feel like you’re experiencing the passionate outpouring of someone’s chef-ly heart, there are plenty of fish in the restaurant sea.  

 

 













Little City Pizza - Simsbury, CT




March 14th, 2015 was an odd day because at 9:26 AM everything humanity had ever made started using itself.

            I was thirteen. My bed bucked me onto a floor that wobbled under my feet. The steps downstairs tripped me onto a carpet that shuffled me, naked, out the front door to a morning-dewed lawn. Outside, clippers were sculpting the hedges, hoses were watering the plants and lawnmowers were cutting perfect, parallel lines in every yard. My Dad, also wearing nothing — all the clothes were wearing themselves, walking around in front of mirrors polished and reflecting perfectly — was wrestling with a pair of sheers that bridled in his hands. He cursed them as they went scrambling off under a Corvette that had taken itself out for a cruise.

            “Crap,” my Dad said, trying in vain to open our firmly locked front door. Sun beamed through the sparkling, newly washed windows and our vacuum cleaner could be heard hoving ceaselessly across the floor. All down the street people, like newborn hamsters, naked and shouting, were being expelled from their homes.

            “What’s happening?” I asked.

            “The stuff!” my Dad yelled, fish white body darkling with black hair in the bare sun. “It’s all just doing it.”

            Though poorly articulated, he had a point. Everything was simply doing what it was intended for, nothing more. Our house's clapboards and formerly sinking roof had all straightened themselves. The couch inside had plumped itself. And my Dad’s den was spotless, for once, his computer tip-tapping productively away. The house looked nicer than it ever had. But we were no longer welcome.

            In the living room a newly dusted TV was watching the news on itself. My Dad and I peeked through the bay windows from the backyard. The camera equipment over in New York was doing a fine job, with the microphone sounding crisp and clear and the camera framing the shots just right. The show was really entertaining, a perfect mix of humor, professionalism and introspection about the morning’s surprising events. In totality, it was better than any group of people had ever put on.

            We learned that all the guns had shot themselves. All missiles, grenades, mortars and even nuclear bombs met up in the middle of the pacific and blew each other up. The markets were soaring as money shrewdly invested itself or spent itself on mostly assets with a few, fun casual liabilities mixed in. New technologies were inventing themselves while commercials wrote and directed themselves so that new products could buy and use themselves.

            Simply put, all us people had nothing to do.

            Through the kitchen window we watched our food cook itself to perfection, plate and dispose of itself.

            “We’re going to the woods,” my father concluded. And to the woods we went.

            On our way out of town we saw pens scribbling heartfelt, perfect stories under their own volition. The materials for concrete climbed from the earth around us, mixed themselves and with the help of steamrollers and backhoes rolled out perfect new streets. The formerly low buildings of downtown Simsbury were already demolishing themselves and building themselves anew at random. It was clockwork the world over.

            Most people we met looked shocked, some terrified. Everybody wondered aloud why it had happened. Why everything we’d ever endeavored to create had suddenly found no use for its own creators. We didn’t talk much about how nicely they were all performing, though. Why add insult to injury?

            From up on the promontory next to our house where the Hublein Tower sits we could see people streaming from town, eddies of beige and brown. The cities of the world were probably in chaos. Of course, there was a lot of strife among humanity, everyone being forced from civilization and all, but it didn’t take too long for the majority to die away. It was only days before we began to spot people’s remains, behind bushes or by the road, burying themselves in the dirt.

            “Look,” my Dad said. “I made a weapon.” He held up a sharpened stick that promptly bent, broke and stabbed itself into unusable splinters. Luckily, fires made themselves in the woods and though animals turned out to be too hard to catch without tools, we made due with tubers, fungi, rainwater and roots — my Dad had been a mountain guide in his twenties.

            Now, it’s been two years of foraging in the woods and huddling for warmth. The air is already clearer, though the sunsets are less brilliant. My Dad and I don’t do much but sit in our filthy mountain cave, watching our former world expand and perfect itself. Rockets of unimaginable size light the sky morning and night, searching out new worlds. Buildings stretch across the horizon, lavish architecture of stunning materials. We wish we could be a part of it. Everybody left does. But we also have come to a kind of peace, knowing that us people will at least be remembered in history books that will no doubt write themselves, unbiased and pure accounts of humanity’s brief existence and the dreams it strove for but could never achieve.

 

 

FOOD:

3.9 Stars

As good as New York (but not New York’s best).

PRICE:

Little Town

My brother and I went and both guessed a full cheese pie would be around $18. It was $12. And it fed a virile family of four. Very pleasing.

AMBIENCE:

Traditional Italian Pizza Place Attacked With Comic Book Grenade

Really, this place has vintage Marvel and DC comic memorabilia everywhere. Pages laminated into the tables, comic book art on the walls. It’s cool. I like it.

SERVICE:

Simsbury’s Finest

It’s solid service. Takeout is quite fast. Dining in has always been a breeze.

EAT OR SKIP:

Eat

Little City proves that Connecticut’s pizza can stand toe-to-toe with New York City’s classic thin-crust icon. However, with New York’s recent proliferation of bespoke, artisanal, gourmet pizza shops in the past decade or so, I can’t say it is the best slice of pizza I have ever put past my lips (then again that slice cost me twice as much and I got -2 times the pizza). However again, if you’re looking for a classic NYC-style pie Little City is the only city you’ll need to visit.


LITTLE CITY'S INFO:

Simsbury Town Shops Shopping Center

926 Hopmeadow St.

Simsbury, CT 06070

PH: (860) 658-4001


 LANDSCAPE IMAGE C/O FLICKR USER Muffinman71xx









Palace Diner - Biddeford, ME




The PERFECT Sunny Side Up Egg

Heat pan over maximum heat until nearly red-hot. Remove eggs from freezer (preferably chilled over night). The ideal consistency is softer than a ball of lead but harder than burnished bronze.

Toss a bowl of olive oil at the pan from about five feet away or as close as you can manage. If the oven/oven area catches on fire, that’s ok. Simply wait the fire out, do not throw water on the grease fire. Grease fires love water.

Once the fire is manageable, take two eggs directly from the freezer and throw them at the ground. If thrown properly, they should shatter. Sweep up as much shattered egg as possible before it thaws.

NOTE: Egg shells, floor-crumbs, dust and hair are all A-OK. This lends a flavor to your eggs that the French refer to as l’essence du sol.

Dump semi-frozen egg/crumb/hair mix into pan. Leave for five hours or until kitchen is filled with a smoke similar in color to the ashes of a permanent nuclear winter.

Bury the pan in the backyard and erect a tasteful headstone.

 

Serves 2.

 

 

Fall-Apart Cinnamon Bun Surprise

Pre-heat oven to 82°. Sift flour, sugar and baking powder into a large bowl. With a tight fist, punch a hole in the wall. Gently, pour flour mixture through the hole. In another mixing bowl, combine buttermilk, oil and cinnamon. Once combined, dump into wall-hole.

Grease an 8x8 baking pan with non-stick spray or or butter (we prefer butter).  With boiling envy, crush three (3) eggs onto the carpet while looking at Facebook posts from friends who don’t have kids and travel often. Kick hole in wall directly below fist hole. Mixture should now be accessible.

Scoop whatever you can from the wall and pour directly into oven. Hurl greased baking pan at computer screen.

Allow buns to cook until 7 AM or PM, whichever is further away.

Scoop out of oven with automotive ice scraper while scowling.

Remember that, again, you’ve forgotten the frosting for the buns. Fail to work out a way to tell the kids that there will be no frosting for the buns. Fall into a black depression.

Serve cold.

 

Serves 6

 

 

 

Authentic Belgian Waffles

Mix flour, baking soda, baking powder and sugar in an empty aboveground swimming pool. Whisk in butter/egg/vanilla mixture with a barnacled oar. 

NOTE: Barnacled oar can be substituted with a rusty Victorian chandelier, two (2) foam “We’re #1” hands or one confused, flailing anchorite, preferably nude.

When the Pole star is at its height, fill the swimming pool with ten healthy drams of adder blood.

Let the mixture rest until the starling’s first cry of spring.

Add Strawberries and confectioner’s sugar.

Serve room temperature.

 

Serves 4

 

 

 

 

Scrumpy Scrambled Eggs

Warm pan to medium heat. Brand your outstretched forearm with the pan to enter the proper state of mind.

Slip one pat of butter into the pan, rolling as necessary to cover the entire surface. Be careful not to brown the butter with too hot a pan, butter will ideally be bubbling. Add dash of olive oil and crack in three un-scrambled eggs. Don bear-pelt jerkin.

While blowing a shofar (See: “Ceremonial Ram Horn” p.384), drop kick the handle of the pan. The eggs should spill within a 3-foot radius.  

To scramble, do a jackhammer (See: “Breakdancing Moves” pg. 58) in the spilled egg.

NOTE: If space is tight in your kitchen, top rock can be substituted for jackhammer. But be careful, top rock must be mad tight.

In a lime-green Subaru Baha, catcall approximately five (5) overweight, middle-aged men.

By the time you’ve returned, the egg will have hardened. Add dashes of salt and pepper as desired. Cover hardened eggs with a hounds tooth throw rug. Vacate the premises.

Break in five years later in the dark of night with the spare key you hid in your grandmother’s hatbox. If the egg has been cleaned up, mix up the magnets on the refrigerator in an ominous way. If the egg has not yet been cleaned, clasp hands and mutter inscrutable incantations until the heat of the morning sun alights upon your troubled brow.

 

Serves you right.

 

 

 

Sizzling Sweet and Salty Bacon Strips

Pre-heat oven to 350º. Cover a large baking pan in tin foil and lay down eight (8) slices of thick-cut bacon. With an authentic 15th century halberd, carve the name of your one true love into the ceiling.

Sprinkle the bacon strips with brown sugar and set timer for eighteen (18) minutes. With your book of spells, summon a portal to Ik’tho’nar, land of the hate lizards.  Put pan with bacon into oven. Step into the portal.

Once in Ik’tho’nar, enter the competition whose name roughly translates to The Bonemulch. With your 15th century halberd, fight off the hoards of weaponless — though razor-fanged — lizard men who hunger for succulent manflesh. This should take about eight (8) moons.

Upon emerging victorious you will be given the privilege of slaying and subsequently feasting upon the hate lizard’s brood queen. DO NOT feast upon the brood queen. Using what lizard tongue you’ve gleaned in your fighting, hiss “behold!” and lower your halberd, thus teaching the hate lizards the peaceful ways of civilized man. Return, through the portal, to your kitchen.

Bacon should be crisp but not burnt. Poke each strip with your halberd to check consistency.

Look at the name you carved into the ceiling; realize it is the name of the hate lizard brood queen.

 

Serves 4

 

 

 

FOOD:

4.1 Stars

A (recently re-opened) new “Top 5” brunch has re-arrived. Palace functions on two principles: simplicity and mastery. From the menu to the décor to the coffee to the hash browns (oh sweet child those hash browns) to the ambient music it’s all done right.

PRICE:

Fair Trade

A price that’s in the range of most other high quality breakfast nooks. A solid meal will put you at about $13-$15 per person. Both items that I sampled (the omelet of the day and the corned beef hash) were worth their weight in scrumptious gold.

AMBIENCE:

Gourmet Boxcar

With about fifteen (or so, I didn’t count) stools sitting beneath a bar, this is a spot-on throwback to the origins of dinercraft. You’ll feel at one with your sitting-mates, in that you’re all at the same counter, all waiting for the same fantastic fare. Sure, this seating arrangement creates some difficulties when trying to seat large groups at peak hours. However, I’m guessing the owners never intended it to be a “large group” type of place. It’s cozy and intimate and exactly what it’s supposed to be.

SERVICE:

Spectacular

At least two people service a bustling bar. At no time was my coffee not hot, my order not promptly taken and my every brunchin’ need not satiated. No rushing, just right.

EAT OR SKIP:

Eat

I am a vocal and unabashed fan of Palace. It’s probably because their philosophy (as evidenced through pretty much everything they do) is so apparent. They do brunch. They do the staples. And they do those staples to an absolute tee.

 

(I know they also do dinner, but that’s only once a week. I’m very much looking forward to giving that a try too.)

 

 


Elevation Burger - Portland, ME




Awake, Being of Supreme Evil, to find thy second coming. You have been reborn — after a life of diabolical and malicious pleasure — into the form of a decrepit 40-something man with low T.

            This, demon, is the bosom of an entirely foreign torment. Can you conceive of its depravity? No! The author of your dolor laughs at the horrors in store.

            Yes! Awake! Rise to a wife who is giving you the silent treatment for not putting out the trash last night. Do you not understand that it’s Wednesday and now you will have to wait a week?

            You alone — who was slain by Pietr III, Battle-Saint of Ygg — will know what your demonic ways have meted out. Open your sickening eyes, demon, to true pain. 

            Limp to the office, evildoer, in a POS Camry whose passenger-side lock will no longer rise to the remote’s command. Find a note at your memo-strewn desk, auguring demotion. Listen, demon! Listen as your be-goiter’d, sweating boss eats a cruller while lamenting your “consistent lack of initiative.”

            You, demon, who had every morning drank a hog-carcass of Elysium’s own mead, cannot even grab an after-hours drink with co-workers because you will be late in picking up your daughter from fencing practice.

            I bellow with laughter at thy torment! 

            You, who converted armies into strewn corpses — your battle-grin the most feared in the Yondersphere — just crossed a street so as to not walk by a particularly ragged bum. And what of the nubile maidens who lusted day and night after your blood-soaked loins, going so far as to make fellating motions using the hilt of your fabled war hammer Painlode? They bring cruel juxtaposition to these two girls wearing matching State hoodies that just walked by and paid you as much attention as they would a fallen leaf.

            Oh, how you wish, demon, that your son did not have dyslexia and a low-level form of autism known as Asperger’s. Would it be too much to ask for him to make a friend or two? Of course! All he talks about are the rare birds that he has been cataloguing meticulously despite the fact that — thanks to his dyslexia — he often spells the birds names wrong, invalidating the very data he is hoping to capture. Is this not your just reward?

            Look across the dinner table, demon, at a wife you feel only mild dislike for. Compare it, demon! Juxtapose it with the smoldering kiln of passion you felt for Ilrex Urmstum in the tent made from her slain husband’s skin on the eve of the Reddening. 

            Gaze upon your daughter’s genetically inherited ineptitude at fencing, demon. Her opponent, Jayden Springfield, is even now trying to help your daughter land a wobbling thrust out of pity, so as not to shut her out. And Jayden’s father, the be’goitered boss who recently demoted you, has not even said hi despite the fact that he inadvertently sat only two people-lengths away from you in the same row of bleachers. 

            When near-death at the fiery gates of Skuulnendorge you laughed! Even as Pietr III swung his lava-mace of holy wrath at your manacled frame. Yet now you’ve spent weeks in trepidation leading up to your first colonoscopy!

            Oh Demon, thy weakness is legendary.

            The Olive Garden endless breadbasket is a mockery of your past life’s heinous feasts. Sigh at the wilting flowers perched on the table and the acne-ridden waiter who can’t remember your order because he’s probably high. It is no coincidence they seem as wicked mummers to the lavishly grotesque celebrations of your past life. Whole kingdoms converted into dining halls. The lamentations of the newly acquired slaves as they were taken upon the tabletops — grisly writhing centerpieces. The bodies of slain royalty feasted upon by you, demon, not even rising to relieve yourself, simply making the lord’s former throne yours in every sense.

            And back in the office, genesis of misfortune, your workspace has been moved next to the noisy printer.

            Hear! Yes, truly hear the pain in thy mother’s voice as she mistakes you for your long-dead father and laments about how disappointed she is in her only son. Know that a new world of agony unfurls for you with her accumulating dementia that has, until now, only caused her to mistake the stuffed dog you got her last Christmas for a real one.

            Ah demon, can you even understand the lameness of the gifts your children offer you for father’s day? Compare this pinecone, haphazardly glittered — a gift from your twelve-year-old daughter — to the boon you received from Caanute: a seven tiered hot spring of pure platinum soaking a league of hand-picked pleasure-maids from the carnal gardens of Lady Laboris, their bodies covered in jewelry that could buy a hundred kingdoms or destroy them. And your son, he lost his gift running after a Boat-tailed Grackle in the nature reserve.           

            Yes, Demon, you heard correctly! Your wife has decided separate beds would be best!

            You could take your life, demon. You dwell upon it. I know this. Most often when you’re stuck in traffic on I-91 going west and the sun is right in your eyes. Yet still you know you could never end this life with the same grandeur as Lord Soalbandian, howling and aflame, setting light to what little was left of his kingdom with his own flaming hands. Indeed, demon, were you to slam the accelerator and plow into the silver Ford F-150 with the hunting stickers ahead of you, only three cars max would be involved in your suicidal blitz.

            Do you understand, demon? Can you feel the grinding knowledge that it can, and will, only get worse from here? Your last life, the millennia in which you took your eternal rule of darkness as a natural gift, do you see that metempsychosis has meted its just reward? 

            Weep, demon, for none can save you. None!

 

 

FOOD:

3.3 Stars

Ersatz Five Guys.

PRICE:

Sea level

Nothing cray. The whole lunch with fries and burger and soda will enter the low teens.

AMBIENCE:

Socially Responsible Meat Eating Venue

I don’t know why I got a sort of corporate vibe from Elevation Burger, but the design just felt a little too clean for a burger joint. I know they’re all about “elevated” meats that make you feel good when you eat them, but the ambience was trying so hard to tie into the whole ethos that it felt like it lost its personality in the quest for minimalist cleanliness.

SERVICE:

Registered

Ordered at the register, a fine young man brought me my food. Nice and prompt. Very fine.

EAT OR SKIP:

Skip

You’ll note I don’t hand out too many skips. This is because I have great respect for the passion and energy that goes into turning a restaurant from idea to reality. However, Elevation really doesn’t seem to have much vision beyond a “mindful” tweak to Five Guys’ formula. Not that that’s bad in and of itself, it’s just that the notion of “burger” and “healthy” don’t mix for me. If I’m going to have a burger, I have already resigned myself to the future hypertension I am inviting. Elevation Burger’s burgers were indeed less greasy than many of their competitors, but they were also less satisfying. If it were between Elevation and McDonalds, sure I’d go Elevation. But if it were between Elevation and Five Guys/In-N-Out/Shake Shack, there is no question I’d be heading in the other direction. Elevation Burger is the Diet Pepsi of craft/chain burger joints. Take that as you will.


Elevation Burger
Address: 205 Commercial St. Portland, ME 04101
























Street and Company - Portland, ME




I

Jerry Dresden, Hake Diver Elite, scooted up Lexington Avenue on a brilliant, late-fall Sunday. His SCABA equipment was working swimmingly. Against all odds he would, were his mission successful, be the first hake to successfully accomplish two of the most impressive feats the Phylum Chordata had ever attempted: to not only navigate New York City, but to fly.

            His grandfather, Budge Dresden, the pioneer of hake exploration, had chosen New York City to explore in 1990. On a rainy summer day Budge had flopped onto land in his rudimentary Walking Bell, only built to last for two hours above water. Budge’s series of yanks on the water supply-line — a one, two, two, one combination that signaled, “Haul me in” —came after an even ten hours. Despite his excessive, fresh air exposure, he insisted, to the protestations of his underwater research team, on going back ashore the very next day. He was up for a full eighteen hours before his team felt tugging at the line. When they reeled him in, only the dorsal fin-shaped fabric to which the hose was connected remained.

            Budge’s journey, though unsuccessful, had yielded enough data to spark the hake public imagination and other expeditions were undertaken. Bilton Peabody, a closeted alcoholic and wife-beater, made deep and fruitful forays onto the boardwalk of the Jersey Shore from 1993-96. Renaldo Nestle, brother of famed conservative hake politician Dill Nestle, traveled up the Seine in 2001 and made four  tours of Paris that were later adapted into the blockbuster hake film, “Paris by Land and Love.” Recently, though, there had been only quotidian trips: beach buzzes, dock flop-bys, coastal sneaks, but nothing groundbreaking thanks a tightening of the THE — Terrestrial Hake Expeditions — budget and a contracting public imagination.

            An impressive mission was needed to reignite the public imagination. And so, instead of piddling the rest of THE’s meager budget into more flop-bys, the hake powers that be had decided to bet it all on one last-ditch act of bravado. That was why they’d chosen Jerry. He was the grandson of a hake hero, the best in the THE class of 2014 and, likely, the best ever. He’d been proven stalwart, unflappable and generally a nice young fish, genial to a fault.

            The stakes were immense. If his mission failed, it would most likely denote the end of above ground hake exploration indefinitely. Success, though, promised an expeditionary resurgence and possible rallying cry for all hake-kind.

           

II

Jerry’s SCABA whirred across the street at 21st and Lexington in search of Madison Square Park. Looking up at the buildings he felt a pang. Something about the way the buildings hemmed the streets and tipped…

            Jerry stopped where his mind was going by focusing on the humans.

            With no known predators but themselves, homo sapiens sapiens seemed oddly nonplussed at Jerry’s SCABA suit. The suit’s fuselage was built to resemble a Cairn Terrier — the only archival footage available to THE researchers in constructing this newest suit had been, oddly enough, the Wizard of Oz — though, hair being a sticky wicket for hake craftsmanship, the suit looked less like a dog and more like a slimy badger.

            But none of that mattered. His grandfather’s first expedition had delivered the invaluable discovery that no humans really cared about hake explorers. With no known predators but themselves, humans had seemingly regressed to a state of permanent un-vigilance. Certainly some were curious enough to glance at the SCABA suit— usually these inquiries came from adolescent humans, older ones tended to simply go about their business — but most lost interest quickly.

            It couldn’t be ignored. The restriction of movement aboveground affected Jerry more than he’d imagined. He had the urge, as any fish would, to explore all the surroundings: up, down, left and right. Being stuck to one surface was altogether disorienting… Everything felt too close. Jerry’s extensive training had never prepared him for this intense a feeling of immobility.

            Jerry pushed it out of his mind again. He had not been chosen for nothing.

            After gathering up a NY Daily News, a gum wrapper, seven cigarette butts and a paper plate he activated “Service Dog” mode and artfully snuck aboard a bus bound for JFK.

            While snappers were hailed as being the most technologically advanced and bluefin were known for their nearly religious investment in terrestrial research, no fish in the sea could beat the ingenuity of a hake. It was why hake-kind had always gone farther and seen more: they could get places. And Jerry was doing just that.

            Human flight had long been a fascination of the hake researchers. Attempting to glide through air as fish so effortlessly danced through the water seemed the ultimate act of hubris. Impossible even. Yet, they had accomplished it and the fish were determined to understand its implications firsthand.

            In the terminal Jerry slipped effortlessly past the nitrile rubber gloves of security.

            Feeling the hubris of success, Jerry fished in a trashcan for exploratory samples of a pumpkin spice latté, one of many boons desired by the THE.

Though he was closer to the plane, Jerry’s mind remained an un-ruffled slate. His movements precise and his manner perfected. I’ve got this, Jerry thought. Easy.

            Yet in stepping aboard the plane, he thought have planes always been this… tight?

 

III

What sort of tube had he crept into? Surveying the plane’s less-than-crowded interior Jerry secreted himself under a seat about midway-back in the plane. The flight attendants announced that the cabin door had been closed. And like a stiff, wooden frame, gnawed and gnawed by tiny termites, Jerry began to feel his poise crumble.

            Through his suit he could smell the noxious recycled air inside the cabin — acrid propane smog. There were bangs, the sounds of grunting drills. Surely the humans knew what they were doing, Jerry thought. But then again, thought Jerry, perhaps they didn’t. Gill-tightening claustrophobia seized him. The clinical walls of the fuselage crept inward. Jerry felt the water rushing through his gills. Panic caromed through his head. His SCABA suit felt as if it were constricting. He had to get out. Had to get out!

            Jerry ejected from his SCABA suit and leapt onto the carpet. Blind with panic, no plan of escape, Jerry’s mouth gawped helplessly on the mid-century modern rug of the plan. He was flopping and his gills burned and he felt the life draining… seeping out of him…

            “You gonna stick this one out, Jerry?” said the voice of Budge Dresden, hake explorer.

            Is this what happens when you die? Jerry thought as his last watery breaths escaped him. Hearing the voice of your hero before an ignominious death?  

            “Hey,” said Budge. “I’m talking to you.”

            Jerry turned and forgot everything he’d been thinking. Sitting in a fine tweed suit, cane at his side, bowler hat resting upon his lapless lap was Budge Dresden himself. Alive, 5-feet long from unchecked growth and breathing recycled air as if it were crystalline Bermuda reefwater.

            “You don’t need that muskrat suit,” said Budge. “Come up here.”

            Jerry remained limp.

            “Stop holding it in,” said Budge. “Let yourself breathe.”

            Jerry did. The cabin air had cleared of its dreadful stench and passed cool and crisp through his gills. He lay, breathing, for a little while, feeling the walls decompress, his mind return to its familiar, calm state.

            “Now get up here,” Budge patted the seat beside him with a flipper. Jerry, using the terrestrial movement techniques he’d practiced, flopped up.

“How—“ Jerry said.

“Not right now,” said Budge, flapping a fin at the window. The plane was taxying itself into position. “Don’t want to miss the fun part.”

            The engines cascaded to life, their hurricane gyrations rumbling the fuselage of the ship. No longer was Jerry worried; he was confused, in awe. Jerry looked over at Budge, the same Budge Dresden captured in a coral statue outside the hake Memorial Museum of Exploration: impressive jaw jutting outward, un-shuttable eyes looking patricianly upon him.

            “How are you still alive?” asked Jerry.

            “Don’t you know?” asked Budge.

            “Know what?” asked Jerry,

            Budge nodded at the words they were made of. The bedraggled manchild at his computer, blearily typing at six in the morning on a damn Tuesday trying to finish a story that was already beyond the pale of implausibility.

            “This is a story,” said Budge. “None of it made sense so far. Why should it start now?”

            Jerry gaped. “Story?”

            “A story,” said Budge. “A modality of speech with the intention of evoking emotion or understanding in the reader.”

             Jerry, or at least the words of which Jerry was made, shifted uncomfortably in his seat. “What does that mean for the mission?”

            “Well,” said Budge, rolling the bowler onto his sloped brow with a deft flick of his flipper in a movement that could never in real life be physically accomplished. “That depends.”

            “OK,” said Jerry.

            They sat in silence for a spell, feeling the plane gently rumble up into the crystalline sky.

            “Depends on what?” Jerry asked.

            Budge, or the brain of budge that was really the writer’s brain, thought about it for a second.

            “Considering,” Budge said.  “That you’re just an analogy meant to represent realistic human emotion and hopes, I have two options. One, I could disappoint the reader by actually remaining real, thus returning with you to the hake kingdom as the true hero: the one who learned how to live on land. That would, of course, make you a less than stellar side note in history and leave the question of how the heck we’re both breathing up here in a plane in the sky that the writer still hasn’t fully figured out how he wants to handle. That’s not what the readers want, though.

            “My second option is to remain what the readers most likely think I am right now: a figment of your imagination — a deus ex machina of an image meant to calm your crippling claustrophobia long enough for you to get back into your SCABA suit and complete this daring mission, sending you back to the hake kingdom to the fanfare and veneration you truly deserve.”

            Jerry nodded. He kind of understood. It was all getting a bit heavy.

            “Which do you think it’ll be?” asked Jerry.

            “Well,” said Budge, turning to look Jerry full on. “The writer is looking for an easy way out and there is none simpler than old deus ex machina. Plus, I’ve had my glory, I think it’s time you had yours too. You’ve earned it.”

            Jerry nodded as his mouth pulled into a slimy, involuntary grin. Beneath them the fang of Manhattan slid into haze. The two hakes gazed out the window — silent together in mutual admiration and contemplation — while the sapphire sky and sea melded into one endless horizon.

           

 

 

 

FOOD:

4.6

I’ve been saving this review for quite some time. Before Central Provisions slapped the Portland culinary waters with its formidable flukes, I would have said that Street & Co. was the best meal to be had in Portland (yes, even over Fore St.). I know that probably galls many of the Fore St. fan  club (it’s the better Street restaurant damn it!), but it’s purely from my experience living here for the past two-ish years. Street & Co. with its fisherman’s stew, its sole francaise and, last but not least, one biblically moist swordfish steak has proven itself to be a sumptuous pescitarian feast waiting to happen.

PRICE:

Thar she blows

It’s not cheap by any means, but it’s not going to bust you wide open like a Hugo’s, per se. It’s a restaurant made for “occasions.” Take a date. Take your parents. Take yourself. Unless you summer on an island, you probably won’t be able to afford to make it a daily excursion.

AMBIENCE:

Foxy Fo’c’sle

Not that this place actually feels like the below decks living quarters of a working ship, but it’s got a comfortable and intimate feel that lends itself perfectly to their fish-focused menu.

SERVICE:

At the Ready

Most often, when the prices rise, so does the service quality. S&C is no exception.

EAT OR SKIP:

Eat

I said it before and I’ll say it again, this is a Portland staple. Street and Co. has yet to serve me a meal that was less than belly-pattin’ fine. Even Ahab would (perhaps) crack a smile.

 

 

 

 


Dutch's - Portland, ME




By first impressions you’d think of Jared L’Armbrustier as the sort of guy who knew the best way to completely and cleanly dispose of a human body. His aquiline nose hung precariously over a sparse, ill-groomed mustache known to capture errant crumbs meant for the misaligned, yellow-rimmed teeth behind his thin, pale lips. Greased black hair draped his acne-dappled forehead. His eyes could only be described as crow-like — set oddly far apart they were nearly totally black from pupil to iris. His gait was lumbering despite his waifish frame, each step a leaden stomp that appeared the precursor to an unintentional tumble. His curved spine, forward-thrust cranium and the training wheel of wudge around his middle — an incipient spare tire — made him look, in short, like a goon. Upon seeing him, you would say he was a goon. Let’s face it, he looked like a goon.

            He wasn’t a goon.

            Jared L’Armbrustier volunteered at a local animal shelter on Mondays, Tuesdays and Saturdays. On the other days he was an administrator at the New Beginnings soup kitchen, helping to organize semi-annual food drives and other community-minded events. Jared also made frequent visits to Buford Estates, an elderly community, where he would read for and interact with residents with whom he had no consanguineous connection. Jared was a good guy.

            Jared was also a dead-ringer with the fairer sex.

            Seriously, Jared brought home Eddie Murphy levels of vixens. Impossible, you say? Hardly.

            He did so by cherry-picking certain less sinister methods from widely read pickup bible, The Game: Penetrating the Secret Society of Pickup Artists by Neil Strauss. His tactics included approaching large groups of women, intentionally not addressing the actual object of his desires and instead aiming his attention at another member of the group, placing false time restraints on conversations among various other stratagems.  Jared rarely spent a night alone if he didn’t want to. Though at the pith of his success was confidence — the universal attractor. Plus, he was actually a nice, caring, and witty individual. How could he take home oodles of women innocent with his borderline stalker-ish tactics and still be a “good guy” you ask?

            Jared never slept with these women.

            After returning to Jared’s apartment, any physical contact ceased at fully clothed heavy petting and was not related to any pursuit of hooking up but to another goal. At the moment when a positive relationship begins to form in a new and comfortable place, Jared found, women would usually open up and truly talk about their lives and their troubles and existence in the world in a way that they would not in almost any other situation. Jared loved these moments. These passionate conversations would end with either joy or sadness, but always with some sort of personal revelation that, without the help of Jared, these women would most likely never have arrived at alone. Often, the women called him afterward to thank him. On top of this deep conversation, Jared simply enjoyed the feeling of sleeping next to someone with whom he had just gained deep connection.

            Jared had also actually killed someone.

            In 2006 when Jared had still been in college at NYU a young man broke into what he thought was Jared’s empty apartment. The man simply jimmied Jared’s un-dead-bolted front door with a crowbar and an electrician’s screwdriver to gain entry. Jared, who had been asleep on the couch just next to the door awoke as the light of the hallway hit his face. Leaping up from the couch, Jared delivered a crisp elbow to the intruder’s windpipe. Now would also be a good time to note that despite Jared’s stature and gait he was in reality a highly trained practitioner of Muay Thai, a discipline he had managed to stick with since the fickle age of ten. Jared understood that an elbow to the neck was a dangerous, possibly fatal, maneuver, yet in his deluge of adrenaline had gone with the first thing that popped to his mind. The crowbar carried by the intruder — later identified as Xien Biabao, a twenty-five year old bodega cashier with multiple previous counts of larceny on record — clattered to the floor as he, clutching his crushed windpipe, expired before Jared’s eyes. This incident convinced Jared, who had previously been enrolled in business classes, to completely change the direction of his studies to more sociological and anthropological pursuits in the hopes of serving the greater good after reconciling with himself that life could indeed be brutish and short and should not be focused on material gain.

            Thus, if you simply just met Jared L’Armbrustier you would think of him as a goon. Because, simply put, he looked like a goon. But in talking to him and understanding the fullness of Jared L'Armbrustier as a human being you would find yourself attempting to crack a wholly more variegated and complex nut.

 

 

FOOD:

4.2 Stars

I’ve only been to Dutch’s twice and it opened just over a week ago. It almost feels disingenuous to put up a review this early. First-ish impressions can be deceiving. However, after one bite into their Traditional Breakfast Sandwich — a homemade biscuit lovingly hugging a hearty slice of cheddar cheese, an egg and a homemade sausage patty — this review basically wrote itself.

PRICE:

No need to go dutch.

I filled up with a breakfast sandy and cheddar grits (devastatingly good) and a fresh-squeezed OJ and ended up at ~$11. That’s good eatin’. For my second meal, I had the crispy chicken sandwich, which ran me about $9. A hefty-seeming price, though I’d say it was a rival for some of the most succulent chicken I’ve ever found between bread. Check plus.

AMBIENCE:

What Ambience

As a non-native Mainer I might have missed the boat on exactly the look they were going for. It’s part soup kitchen, part Jamba Juice, part wide-open space. I’m no interior designer but there’s something generic to the feel of Dutch’s that, to me, doesn’t entirely fit the made-with-love-and-butter victuals they serve. Luckily, I care much more about food than ambiance so for the homemade sausage alone I’m giving this one a pass.

SERVICE:

Order Up

On my first visit I went in early and chatted with a young woman woman working the register. She was nice. I saw the cook in the back (I could only assume he was one of the two eponymous Dutches). He looked nice. It’s a good vibe. Second visit went just as smooth. I wish them the best of luck.

EAT OR SKIP:

Eat

After a little research, it appears that the Dutch couple have intense culinary backgrounds — having worked for capital C Chefs like Todd English and Jean-Georges Vongerichten — so it’s no fluke that they know how to cook an egg or two. Thus, I have high hopes for Dutch’s and their bid to become a beloved establishment in the Portland food scene. Go. Eat. Enjoy.

 

 


Gritty McDuff's Brewing Company - Portland, ME




Dick Buford’s home smelled like drying paint, yeast and sausages. Dick himself was splayed recumbent on the couch, a plate rising and falling on his bare, hairy orb of a stomach. In his other hand he held a small canvas. Above him sat a hunting rifle, the one he’d used to fell the lion whose taxidermy head snarled beside it.

            “Ham!” he said, giving me a wave with a sausage-skewered fork. Dick’s face was that inflated, ruddy kind that always looks like its owner is under considerable physical strain.

            As I approached he twisted, burped, and, using his sausage, raked a tube of mauve acrylic paint toward him. I caught a whiff of hops on his breath and heard bottles tinkle somewhere deep in the couch’s cushions.

            “Look at this,” he said, holding up a painting of what might have been a mountain but really looked like a monstrous tit, purple clouds circling its magenta areola. “I call it, Ol’ Benamuckee.”

            I nodded and patiently let him explain to me the cultural insignificance of altitude among the natives of the Juan Fernandez Islands.

            Dick Buford’s exploits were as legendary as they were true.

            “They don’t worship height as we do,” Dick said. “Listen!”

I had been.

            “Theirs is a worship of flesh…”

            Dick nodded off. The plate slid from his stomach and shattered on the white tile floor. With a roar, Dick awoke. “The yeast!”

            Springing from the couch, Dick bowled me out of the way and did that beer belly shuffle where his ass and legs oscillated around the orb of his stomach with splayed feet, knees wide. Dick no longer went on adventures to all points of the globe. He made bread now. Famous bread, of course.

            “Ham,” he called from the kitchen. I followed.

            My name is actually LeSean, but Dick just called me Ham because during our first lunch together I had decided to get a ham sandwich for lunch and Dick claimed it was my favorite and I ate it every day. I doubt he even remembered my real name. I’m Dick’s driver. I have been for ten years.

            “You ever think about kids?” said Dick.

            “Having them?” I asked.

            “Of course having them you pederast.” The smell of yeast smothered the kitchen. The room was painted orange with countertops of white tile: a creamsicle of a room. Dick sprinkled a careful spoonful of light brown sugar on his prized bacteria.

            “Sure,” I said. “I’ve considered it.”

            “Right,” said Dick, slamming the yeast back into the refrigerator. The matter was settled.

             “Well,” said Dick. “We better get going.”

            I looked out the bay window behind the sink as Dick went to put on shoes. The sole foliage in the yard was an elm, its topmost branches withered, while the rest was a violent green. The lawn around the elm sloped long and emerald all the way down to the tree line. Dick had settled down in Nice New Jersey — a world away from the New Jersey everyone thought they knew.

            From the other room, I could hear the grunts that came with Dick attempting to reach anything below his belly.

            Why had I been driving Dick around for ten years? Sure, there were other jobs out there but this had been the most interesting. Plus, it paid damn well since I have to be on call five days a week. Dick chose not to have a weekend driver. Needed time with his yeast alone, he said.

            Dick continued to work away at his shoes. Between his grunts were wheezes and peeps I’d only heard when he was getting really worked up.

            “Toadpiss,” Dick said. I poked my head around the corner just to double check.

            Dick was on his back beside the bench like a giant pill bug, grappling with his left boot’s shoelaces.

            “Almost…” said Dick. I knew more than well enough never to offer Dick assistance when he was in a bind. He was a rugged individualist who’d grew up in an orphanage and made it his sole mission to never ask for anyone’s help again. I’d once asked if he wanted some help getting into his jacket only to find myself pinned against the wall with a Ka-Bar to my throat.  

            “I’ll just go get the car ready,” I said.

            I sat in the car. I listened to country. I watched the other luxury vehicles native to Dick’s neighborhood whisper by. The sun had moved significantly across the sky by the time I decided to go back in. I’d become incredibly patient with Dick, but this had been too much time.

            Beyond the wrenching squeak of his front door’s massive iron hinges, there was no other sound in the place. I found Dick nearly where I’d left him, sitting silently on the wooden mudroom bench, elbows on his knees, his head hung low. His shoelaces lolled onto the ground, still untied.

            “Still want to go to the gardens?” I asked. We always went to the New Jersey Botanicle Gardens on Wednesday. Dick was silent. Two small dime-sized pools reflected up off the slate tile floor, just between Dick’s shoes.

            Dick looked up at me with red eyes.

            “I couldn’t,” he said. “Couldn’t…” He held his open palms above his untied shoes, looking at his outstretched fingers with growing hate. “Protesilaus…”

            “What?” I asked.

            “Go home!” said Dick, rising and stepping out of his shoes. “Get out.”

            I left quickly. I never questioned a direct order from Dick.

 

            The next day I came the same time I always did. Dick was in none of his usual spots. The couch was bare. The kitchen was as we’d left it yesterday. Only the smell of sausage had dissipated, the caustic smell of yeast and wet paint remained.

            I found Dick on the back porch, wearing sandals and the same clothes as yesterday, his hunting rifle stretched across his thighs. On the lawn, the elm stood straight ahead of him.

            “Ham,” Dick said. His voice sounded thick and he was curled in a way that suggested a stomachache. He sat with his back facing me.

            “You’re fired.”

            “Huh,” I said. “Fired?”

            I approached him from behind.

            “Stop,” he said. Commanded. “Envelope. The table. Take it.”

            Dick didn’t move. It was the first conversation I’d ever had with him that he hadn’t looked me directly in the face. Where he hadn’t made sure I broke eye contact first. Alpha male dominance maneuver he’d learned from the Surma of South Sudan.

            On the teak picnic table next to me was an envelope, no name written on it.

            “What’s this?” I asked.

            “Severance.”

            He still hadn’t turned. Hadn't moved at all, in fact. The words he had managed seemed squeezed out of him — like an automaton with just enough energy to force them out. He stayed stationary, looking out at the elm, that hunting rifle draped across his knees.

            The envelope was thin and I could see the silhouette of one of Dick’s signature rainforest-themed checks. I ripped open a corner

            “Not now!” said Dick.

            “OK,” I said, putting the envelope into my jacket. “Sorry.” I didn’t want to leave it like this. I wanted to shake Dick’s hand, or at least thank him for the job and companionship if you could call it that.

            “Can I at least give you a hand shake?” I said.

            “No!” Dick barked.

            “Well,” I said, wringing my hands. “Thanks, Dick. For… um, everything.”

            It was a lame goodbye.

            “Leave the keys,” said Dick.

            I did.

 

In my dusty car I opened the check. Its contents had been written with deliberate effort, though the penmanship was still shaky. Even in his writing he’d tried to hide his loss of control. I wish I could say it was for a million dollars or ten million or something, but it was still an impressive five thousand dollar bonus on top of a month’s pay: something to help with my mortgage.

            You might wonder why I didn’t call an ambulance for Dick. Why I didn’t try to help more. You don’t know him like I did. Help in his time of greatest need would have been a knife in the back, twisted — the ultimate betrayal.

            The next week Dick’s obituary appeared in the paper. No service. No next of kin. No cause of death. But I knew what it was.

            You might wonder why I told this story, since it’s sad and it’s anticlimactic. I told it because it feels like the sort of story that actually happens, rather than the kind anyone wants. That’s what I like about it. It’s a story that makes us know we’re not alone. That bad things happen to everyone all of the time and that everything hard and terrible in the world has been endured before. That especially in loss and in grief we’re closer to everyone else than we are in happiness — though it always feels the opposite. I think that’s the sort of story that really matters. But that’s just what I think.

 

 

FOOD:

2.7 Stars

Gritty McDuff’s — Gritty’s — was the first brewpub in Portland. Essentially, it was the seed that became the forest of brew pubs we Portlanders now enjoy. You can nearly feel the rich ambience oozing out of the bricks while sitting at one of the picnic-style tables at their Portland location. Unfortunately, though the culinary landscape of Portland has evolved, Gritty’s seems in stasis. Is their menu extensive? Absolutely. Is their food made with care? Check. Is it just fine? Yes. But that’s just it. It’s fine. This is the undisputed first brewpub in Portland! I want the food to be amazing.

PRICE:

Pretty McStandard

Just your societally agreed-upon bar food prices. ~$10 burgers/sandwiches. Normal-price Beers.

AMBIENCE:

Great-y

Gritty’s shines when it comes to two factors, ambience and brew. The Portland location especially warms the cockles of my heart with its convivial atmosphere and sense of monument-like solidity in the heart of the Old Port.

SERVICE:

Goodness a-Brewing

The bartenders and service staff have been tip top. They know how to handle a crowd.

EAT OR SKIP:

Drink

I’m breaking convention here because I really do like Gritty’s. I like the mugs — of their exclusive Mug Club — hanging above the bar. I like how much they’re involved in philanthropy in the Portland community. I like that they’re the pioneers of the Maine microbrew explosion, and their beers continue to delight. It’s simply their food that could stand a 21st century renaissance to match the excellence of everything else they offer.






















LFK - Portland, ME

 

Verily did Kent Spoonthistle, dandy of limber limb and virile vivacity, flounce up yon street of Congress in lively Portland-town. His 17 years did belie his aged elegance — or so Kent bethought.

          Darkening the doorstop of one LFK — bar of swell repute — Kent hied for frothy quaff to sop his drythirsted throat. Yet into a doorwayman did he dap.  

          “I.D.” said the doorwayman, a rascal of generous structure and rustic eyebrow.

          “As you wish,” quoth our man Kent, prestidigitating from a money-pocket of chrome tanned leathers the aforementioned item. With necessitous fastidiousness did our swarthy doorwayman scrutinize the flimsy card. In this capturing of his countenance Kent Spoonthistle appeared even more the cub. Yet upon the card there lay a trick! A delectable ruse! This writ of passage had been bedeviled, the age of Kent’s birth ingeniously re-writ. 17? No! This babe-faced bouncing boy was 25!

          Swinging a-to and a-fro didst the benighted brow of yon doorwaybluff trace the contours of both Kent’s likeness and that of his authentic, scruff-bereft prognathous chin.

         Despite this scrutiny, not a touch of flop sweat did spring from smooth Spoonthistle’s pate. In Kent, the nickel-plated confidence of youth was at full burnish.

         With one last glance and an absence of flourish, Kent’s card was returned by the brobdingnag’s paw.

         Entrance achieved!

 

~ Intermezzo ~

 

Packed ‘mongst rowdy ruddy rapscallions Kent hailed ye barmander with a hale haloo. “Prithee,” sung Kent, voice a-crack with puberty’s parting vicissitudes. “Perchance wouldst I swig a dram.”

         “Wazzat?” questioned the beau barmander, clad in tee of black, a bewitching maiden. Truth be known — upon reviewing our young dandy’s porcelain grin — a spark of uncertainty did tickle our barmander’s countenance. But professionalism was the day’s wont and she asked his druthers.  With glove-shorn hand did Kent flag the West End Mule. Presently, the barmander gathered spirits to concoct the admixture and Kent, our voluptuary, didst not long wait.

          Naught but a sip of the proffered sup and Kent’s dome was a-swoon with a spirituous elixir his puerile liver would dismiss with the alacrity of mother’s milk. Oh frabjous day! thought Kent. That he had secreted his underage self into this apotheosis of bars. Suckling at sweet ambrosia’s glassy teat, Kent Spoonthistle was whisked to his own inebriated hosanna.

          But sooth! How the Gods weave fates anew. For each flower of fortune is sprinkled with life’s fertilizing manure.

          Into the door burst a procrustean guard of lawfulness! 5-0! Hand to buckl’d hip, our officer, gimlet-eyed, scanned the rabble.

          And lo, did his gaze fall on Kent.

 

~ Intermezzo ~

 

Had our Kent not been bathing in lovewarm pools of ethanol, had he not been garbed in his puce dandy’s nightsuit, had he not been ‘pon the stool closest the point of ingress, perchance he could have absquatulated from the thrall of that bilious martinet. ‘Twas not to be. Kent did not even note the policeman’s arrival.

          Patrician claw falling upon Kent’s shoulder, yon officer slavered over swift justice’s proximity. Kent whirled, loosing a mephitic zephyr up the officer’s madwide nostrils.

          “Chuff!” our official-officer bellowed. Egads, thought Kent, as his spirits fell from elation’s elevation to dread’s dungcave. Trapped! Caught! Ruined!

          “ID,” bellowed Hammurabi’s herald.

          Mano a-tremble did Kent sacrifice his fabricated card. Steel-eyed, with pain’s precision, did the officer peruse Kent’s particulars. And all the while a mute orison Kent sent to whatever pantheon watched over this folly; deus ex machina deliver me from this catastrophe! Though time’s hammer tapped on and with each tick Kent succumbed to resignation’s chill.

          From his side, our officer produced a pamphlet, into which he began to scrawl. Surely, this was Kent’s epitaph he writ. A summons to the court of law. The judgement? Immediate death by pancuronium bromide no doubt.

          But the officer’s scratching was interrupted by a sight unequivocally unexpected, through yon ingress strode two more keepers of the peace. At their arrival, didst Kent’s bowels further sink. Yet so too did our officer evince unduplicable fear. Indeed where fate’s manure is cast, so too do luck’s wildflowers spring.

 

~ Intermezzo ~

 

Still clutching Kent’s ID, our primary officer dallied for the point of departure. “Stop!” boomed the rightborn sentries of most recent introduction.

          Thence did Kent spot the perfidy of his putative jailor’s garb. Primary point, his badge of cheap plasticine. Point the second, his billy club naught but a scuffed plunger-handle. Third, his garb a wrinkled sham. And most fourthly, a lack of holster’d weapon altogether. He’d been a scurrilous scalawag. An ignominious imposter. A ruse of a rapscallion. Disabused of this mendacity, Kent’s amusement returned.  The fake-officer’s come-uppance was swift in hand.

          Lex talionis thought cackling Kent.

          From his perch, Kent cachinnated as the scene evolved: a less-than bradykinetic brouhaha. Our lying lawman was tackled to the terre. Yelping, the ID clattered from his unmentionable mitts, falling by Kent’s swiveling stool where it was swiftly returned to Kent’s pocket. Our true officer’s barked, our impostofficer yelped. Soon justice’s steely claws clutched his wrists. Weeping was the un-offiver pulled by law’s long arms through the door. And Kent Spoonthistle, illegal imbiber, new-freed luck-haver, didst order another round.

 

 

FOOD:

3.7 Stars

If a bar can be described as literary, then LFK is just that. You’re coming for the drinks and the ambience; the food is a cherry on top.

PRICE:

The Right Stuff

Drinks range from quite cheap (~$3) to soberly reasonable (~$12). The craft cocktails will run you in the upper range but they’re all well worth it. The food is also worth the drachma. Protip: if you like deviled eggs, GET THE DEVILED EGGS.

AMBIENCE:

Cat’s Cradle

With enough writerly equipment — typewriters lining the walls, books aplenty, an actual story built into the bar — to keep fartsiest of artsies happy, this really is a wonderful nook in which to exchange some solid conversation. Just beware, it gets crowded on weekends so if you want a seat, come early or late.

SERVICE:

Rabbit, Run

They bring the drinks, remember who ordered and split the check like pros. Great great great.

EAT OR SKIP:

Eat

LFK is the spot to come after — or during — a long workweek when you just need to cozy up to a regenerative boozy drank.

 

 


Cliff Bell's - Detroit, MI


Cassius played jazz but nobody would pay him to play. In all the world he possessed only a nearly broken white piano jammed into a rat hole apartment on Tuxedo St. and 3rd Ave with a creaky bed and a weak stove that only held one pot.

            One day a bent, sagging man came knocking on Cassius’ door and said Cassius needed to pay or he wouldn’t have heat and Cassius said he didn’t have enough money for rent and heat both so the man slumped away and Cassius didn’t have any more heat.

            On a particularly cold morning Cassius’ Ma-Ma came by as she always did and Cassius said, “Brrrr! It’s cold! This is no good! This is so bad!”

            And his Ma-Ma said, “Cassius, you might be right.”

            Cassius had to get warm somehow so he banged away on his nearly broken white piano to keep his body moving. In fact, Cassius played so much that he got better than anybody had ever seen. He started getting booked on all the main stages of Detroit and he got all sorts of famous and made all sorts of money then spent all his money on a big fine house and left his nearly broken white piano behind.

            So Cassius’ Ma-Ma came by the new house as she always did and Cassius said, “Look at this house! This is grand! This is so great”

            And his Ma-Ma said, “Cassius, you might be right.”

            Not a month later when Cassius was away on tour — crossing the country playing howling shows from Miami to L.A. — some mean folks broke into Cassius’ big fine house and stole everything he had.

Cassius’ Ma-Ma came by as she always did and found Cassius’ sitting amongst the emptiness of his living room and Cassius said, “everything is gone! This is no good. This is so bad.”

            And his Ma-Ma said, “Cassius, you might be right.”

            The next day, the insurance lady showed up to confirm the damages and she was sharp and beautiful and kind — not like any of the groupies Cassius had met on tour — and he knew that she was the one. So, with a little flirty talk and some dinners filled with passionate conversation and laughter they found out that they really were meant for each other and she became Cassius’ girlfriend then his wife and after not too long they had two little boys scampering around their house.

            So Cassius’ Ma-Ma came by as she always did and Cassius said, “What a lovely family I’ve got. This is grand! This is so great”

            And his Ma-Ma said, “Cassius, you might be right.”

            As it goes, one evening Cassius woke up in his basement recording studio to choking plumes of smoke. He sprinted upstairs to a living room filled with a roaring veil of fire and tried to get upstairs to where his family was sleeping but he passed out on the way. Cassius woke up in a howling ambulance where people with gray faces told him it had been an electrical fire and his family was gone. Cassius spent the next week in the hospital trying not to cry and failing.

            So Cassius’ Ma-Ma sat by his hospital bed as she always did and Cassius said, “I’m lost. What a tragedy. This is no good. This is so bad.”

            And his Ma-Ma said, “Cassius, you might be right.”

            After a respectful mourning period Cassius tried to get back to playing concerts but it was never the same and the people stopped listening and the money dried up. Ten years later, in all the world Cassius possessed only a nearly-broken white piano jammed into a rat hole apartment on Tuxedo St. and 3rd Ave with a creaky bed and a weak stove that only held one pot. It was amidst a frosted November dusk with his breath puffing over the keys that Cassius finally allowed himself to truly let go of his departed family. The thoughts were so brittle and crushing and sweet that something shocked back into him, a part of his soul he didn't even know he'd lost. As sobs shook his sides the heartbreaking melody sprung into his mind and the words tore out of him with all the hurt dripping off and he wrote the most beautiful song in the world. The next morning Cassius took his one song to an old recording friend still in the business and that man said it was the most beautiful thing he’d ever heard and it turned out everyone else in the whole world thought so too.

            So Cassius went by the home where his Ma-Ma lived as he always did and his Ma-Ma said, “Cassius, I heard that song of yours on the radio. It’s the most beautiful music that’s ever been written. This is grand! This is so good!”

            And Cassius said, “Ma-Ma, you might be right.”

 

 

FOOD: 

3.7 Stars

With solid takes on New American cuisine, this is a heck of a nightspot. And though the food is tasty, it’s certainly not the main attraction.

PRICE: 

Music to Your Wallet’s Ears

While the décor and drinks are classy, the prices are reasonable as heck. Hit it up at happy hour? You’re looking at $3 drafts, $.50 (yes, fifty cent) PBRs, and half-off cocktails. Dinner gets a little more real, moving up into the ~$20-plus range, but the food fits the bill.

AMBIENCE:

Swank Jazzy 1930s Perfection

You will feel transported to a Detroit that was in its prime. When Jazz was on the radio and cars were leaving the factories in droves. This is the real reason to visit Cliff Bell’s. The music acts, accompanied by the impeccable décor, make you feel like a metropolitan boss. Plus, the monthly Moth night is so packed they don’t even sell tickets any more, you just have to find a seat. Fantastic.

SERVICE:

Respectable

White shirts. Vests. Doin’ it.

EAT OR SKIP: 

Eat

Cliff Bell’s is what everyone wishes downtown Detroit still was. Sure, there are a lot of other notable places downtown, but this is most likely one of the coolest. If you’re in Detroit and want a feel of something essentially “Detroit” this is your spot.

 

Paciarino - Portland, ME


1)

Finding yourself enwrapped in a thick blanket with warming hands around a steaming cup of coffee as immaculate snow drifts onto the window sill on a Saturday morning.

 

2)

As a child, crawling into your parents’ bed after a bad dream and feeling the vital body heat of two adults sap all fear from you as you drift abruptly to a peaceful sleep.

 

3)

Peeling off ski boots after a full day on the mountain and sliding your foot into sneakers that feel like soft slippers by comparison.

 

4)

After an overlong time apart, feeling the arms of a significant other cinch around you and their body press into familiar grooves and their unique scent — the one that manages to trace the fullness of your relationship — cloud your joyful mind.

 

5)

Laughing with old friends around a crackling campfire while above you stars, like countless impossible candles suspended, encompass the sky.

 

6)

Losing yourself in an engrossing book on a softsanded beach before aquamarine waters hearing, but not hearing, the carefree yelps of children as they scamper through the whispering surf.

 

7)

Nakedly embracing a lover after an effortlessly intense and satisfying sexual romp, feeling the exquisite juxtaposition of their slick warm skin and your own cool sweat prickling your bare chest and thighs.

 

8)

Just stepping into a steam-billowing shower after spending an entire day on the ocean, the driving water melting the damp freeze out of your bones.

 

9)

Drifting awake to the sizzling pops of breakfast being prepared and the smell of waffles mingling with coffee on the first sun-dappled weekend of autumn.

 

10)

Breathing in deep and holding it as you stretch your legs and arms after arriving home earlier than expected from a long car ride.

 

11)

Putting numb hands into your father’s dry, worn, warm gloves as a nine-year-old while picking out a Christmas tree on a sun-strewn, crisp November day.

 

12)

Lying on the couch with your significant other prone on top of you listening to music and feeling the rise and fall of your chest and theirs as, out the window, you watch the neon sun slip beneath a rose-splashed horizon.

 

 

FOOD: 

4.6 Stars

Paciarino is near the pinnacle of (Italian) comfort food. Seriously, this is pasta done to the utmost. It’s homemade. It’s lovingly prepared. It’s absolutely tear-jerkingly delicious.

PRICE: 

Mi Piacci

For what you receive the price is more than fair. Plus, their carafes of house wine are a steal. While not a cheap meal, this is only a minor splurge — nothing like a Fore Street or Hugo’s that’ll test the limits of the layman’s bank account.

AMBIENCE: 

Italian Bed and Breakfast

The seating is a mite snug, but nothing that should deter any but the mortally agoraphobic.

SERVICE: 

Everybody want-a eat-a the pasta.

The only difficulty I’ve had has been occasionally in getting a table on time. Most tables, because of the leisurely, convivial atmosphere of the place, end up going a little longer than the average dinner. This is not exactly a problem unless your reservations are for late on a busy night, in which case you might find yourself waiting for a bit despite making reservations. Otherwise the service has been molto bene.

EAT OR SKIP: 

Eat!

Oh yes. On top of the list of “Things You Must Try” is the goat cheese ravioli. Sweet mother, those things are divine. I will say that I’ve only had one pasta dish that I wouldn’t recommend (unless to someone who liked spicy-hot foods) it was called the Spaghetti Aglio Olio e Peperoncino. It was tasty but DAMN was it hot. Anyway, Paciarino is an established Portland institution and a top contender for my personal favorite Italian restaurant ever. If you want comfort food straight from the boot of Italy — especially as the winter descends — head to the big P.