Friday, June 25, 2010

Oh, Albany!

I'm an Albany native. People think it sucks, but it's actually a great town. A couple of years ago, my mother, my brothers and I had a good chuckle over a couple of lists published in Forbes (I think) on the "Least and Most Stressful Cities in the U.S.," after my father moved the family business from Loudonville (Albany suburb where Siena College is located) to Miami Beach. Most stressful: Miami-Dade. 2nd Least Stressful: Albany-Schenectady. My mother has complained pretty consistently about the move over the years, but I think she's got it pretty good now, spending winters down here and summers up there.

Albany has low crime, practically no traffic. Low divorce and suicide rates. Relatively low unemployment because everyone works for the state and can't get fired (it's the capital). But the chicks are kind of fat and people still perm their hair and wear acid wash jeans. This reminds me that I wrote an email once with a list of ways that you "might be from Albany," à la Jeff Foxworthy, after reading one that I thought was completely inaccurate to my upbringing. Of course, I grew up overlooking the first green of my country club and went to private school, but, uh, that's what I had to work with. This comes from an email that I wrote in December of 2005, just one month after moving to Miami full-time -

Given, all of us identify closely with the jokes in the attached email, especially those gems about ice fishing and camouflage, but I think a slightly more accurate version of this would go as follows-

Blah blah blah, Upstate New York:

If you’ve been in a car accident with Donna O’Higgins.

If you hate the fact that no one knows that Albany is the capital of New York.

If you went to St. Gregory’s and are now an alcoholic.

If your dad swims naked at the FOC.

If you get irritated when people assume that when you say "New York" you mean the City.

If your mother thinks driving to Crossgates Mall is really far.

If your father owns winter golf gloves.

If you own a pair of those itchy LL Bean wool socks. I hate those things.

If you have a mud room. I mean, you come in contact with so much mud that you have an entire room dedicated to it? That’s crazy.

If you think the Albany skyline is really beautiful.

If your town has one country club for every 100 residents.

If you think that El Loco is the greatest [Mexican] restaurant in the world.

If you’re a member of the LBL. (that’s just for Loudonvillians)

If you know what "all whites on Sunday" means.

If you’ve ever played paddle tennis.

If you’ve ever even heard of "paddle tennis."

If you’ve worked at Saratoga race track.

If you get all excited at the mention of ‘Albany’ during episodes of Law & Order.

If you get excited about Albany for any reason.

Yup, I'm a regular William Kennedy.

So anyway, when I saw the headline "Bar owner charged in food critic's beating" on Drudge, I immediately clicked. Once I saw that the article began "ALBANY, New York (AP)," my interest piqued. Peaked? No, piqued.

Beware, all you cantankerous critics of comestibles. And also you would-be-criminals who might consider counteracting criticism with crowbars to the cranium. Man, how do I do it? It's a gift.

Albany's most well-known food critic and blogger, the Times Union's Steve Barnes (I actually have no idea if he's really the most well-known, but I have a hunch that he is. I did meet the guy once when I was out on Lark Street with my brother and friend who owns McGuire's, and he is kind of a douche bag,), was assaulted after leaving a restaurant in Stuyvesant Plaza. He had told his readers that he would be dining at the establishment that night, and he was allegedly ambushed by some alleged thugs who were allegedly from Troy, allegedly hired by allegedly Timothy "Allegedly" Rankins. This all allegedly happened back in 2008. I think we can remove "allegedly" from Troy. They're from Troy. That's where you go to find thugs to beat people up in the Albany area.

What a great story. I feel bad for the guy who got punched in the face, but that's what happens to jerks sometimes. Other people want to punch them in their faces. That's why I never tell anyone where I'm eating in advance. Did I just call myself a jerk? Man, what a jerk. I also carry several communication devices to throw off powerful enemies that might be tracking me through email and telephonic communications. Am I texting you from Surfside, confined by the Eruv (in which case I'm probably not supposed to be using my mobile phone)? Or do I only look Jewish and am actually down on Lincoln Road rollerskating in my fuchsia speedo, sending witty BBMs to my boys? Or maybe I'm tagging a wall in Overtown with my homies, listening to Pandora on my'll never know, Barton G. Weiss.

I thought of a new dish you can serve at one of your stupid restaurants, by the way. "Summer Steamers." They would be littleneck clams from New England, but you eat them in a steam room. Get it? Then you'd be in a steamy place, eating steamers, and people would think "my oh my, that Barton G. is such a clever restaurateur. I hope his restaurants don't all go out of business at the same time." Of course I don't really want him to go out of business. That would be like Red Sox fans saying that they wished there were no Yankees fans or that the sun would come out once in a while so they weren't so miserable all the time. I love to hate that restaurant the way I like that most people speak English as if they never passed 2nd grade. It makes me feel intellectually superior and better about my insecure self.

In closing, I'm flying up to Albany tomorrow evening to attend the New York State Writers Institute at Skidmore. I'm taking two non-fiction workshops to hone my skillz. So, I guess what I'm saying is that all of you restaurants are totally f*****d. When I'm done I'm going to glow like Leroy from The Last Dragon-

Friday, June 11, 2010

Eat It - Steak n Shake, 8701 S.W. 157th Ave, Miami, FL (305)752-2060

I might be stepping on some toes, but I am going to do a burger restaurant review, which I have done before, I think. I at least have a bunch of unfinished drafts of reviews of burger places. Oh, I remember, I definitely did one for Burger and Beer Joint.

I suppose that specialization is the key to an efficient economy, but I think it's kind of a cop-out to say you're just going to review burgers. Of course, now those guys do review other things (that they should probably not be eating, like fried chicken). Um, I don't want to be unchristian, but would it kill those guys to eat a salad once in a while? I know that the staff over at that blog looks like the kind of people whose opinions you would trust when it comes to food, and I was just told by a friend that she wanted to sponsor me like one of those children in Africa (She happens to be a huge b*tch, by the way, I mean, who would say that? She clearly has no sympathy for those poor kids. I'm not going to mention any names, though. I'll just call her Erika Blank, wait, no, Blank Estrada.), but there should be some moderation practiced every once in a while.

So, let's stop causing trouble and talk about the restaurant. I have been meaning to try Steak n Shake since college, when my buddy, Nick Brown, who grew up in Zionsville, Indiana, expressed his shock at the fact that I had never been to one. I always found the name of the place amusing, for some reason. So, I do this thing on my Blackberry where I have lists of movies to see, t-shirt ideas, restaurants to try, etc. Steak n Shake has been there for a while, and I recently was running some errands with my girlfriend, when we decided to go on a little adventure looking for one, which was much more difficult than it should have been.
According to the internet, there's one in the Hialeah Walmart, but it seems to have left. The phone number was disconnected and there was some other restaurant on the Walmart sign. I don't like to get out of my car in Hialeah, so that was as thorough an investigation as I was willing to conduct. We also didn't know that it turns out there's a new one in Hallendale, just north of Aventura Mall, and we ended up at the one in Kendall. It's actually kind of nice out there. If you look at a map, it's seriously the end of Miami. If you keep driving west, roads just start ending. Maybe in 50 years when the economy recovers and people need more homes again, they'll start building out there.

We were greeted by an extremely friendly staff. This must have something to do with the distance of the restaurant from Miami proper. It's like Publix. The further from Miami you drive, the nicer the Publix. Have you been to one in like, Sunrise? Amazing. Naples? You'd think you were living in the Truman Show. By contrast, if you go to the one in Surfside, it's like the customers have never been to a store before. They block the aisles. They take 20 items into the "10 Items or Fewer" aisle. Cars back up at the entrance to the parking lot while someone waits for an 80-year-old woman to pull out of her spot even though there's tons of parking further in. The cashier doesn't know what a credit card is. There are puddles that no one knows how to mop up (hint: use a mop). They're out of ketchup. You know, that kind of stuff. 

Well, the Steak n Shake in Kendall is awesome. The waiters are super polite and speedy. They take your drink order as soon as you sit down. They check to make sure everything is ok, but not in an annoying way. The place is clean. Bathrooms are spotless. The men's room is, at least. I didn't use the ladies room.
I ordered the Double n Cheese, which was delicious, but not quite enough food for me. The patties are pretty thin, but that doesn't mean it's not a good product. So, then I ordered another one.

My girlfriend is a health nut and gets all low-fat, fake stuff like butter that's made out of yogurt (which makes it not butter, by the way) and drinks skim milk and all of that, while I prefer to eat the real deal. She was kind of horrified by the amount of food I consumed during my meal. Afterward, I looked up the nutritional information on Steak n Shake's website, and these are the numbers:

Double n Cheese: 440 calories, 25 g fat, 22 g protein (Ate 2 of those)
Reg fries: 440 calories, 21 g fat, 5 g protein (Ate 2 of those)
Mint Cookies and Cream shake: 1000 calories, 34 g fat, 22 g protein (Only had 1 of those)

The milkshake was amazing. One of the best I've had in my life, and I know milkshakes. I went to boarding school in Rhode Island, home of the Newport Creamery's Awful Awful.

So, I ate about 2500 calories or so, given that she had some of the fries. 126 grams of fat. Good news is that I had 76 grams of protein, give or take, so I had that going for me, which was good. Plus, since it was Mother's Day, they asked if my girlfriend was a mother, which she wasn't the last I checked, but they gave us a free bowl of ice cream anyway, which was nice. I didn’t see info for plain old ice cream. 

Prices are great. The bill came to 22 bucks for the two of us, with gratuity included. And it's open 24 hours. It's a great country.