Thursday, November 04, 2010

Today's headline: Attempt at a Life Stymied By Bad Sandwich

In my attempt at establishing some sort of getting-out-of-my-one-room-apartment routine (aside from grocery shopping and getting my hair cut), I thought today, with its absolutely gorgeous crisp fall Austin weather, would be a perfect time to walk to the cafe about 3/4-mile down the street for the first time and get a sandwich and pick up the local weekly paper (with the idea of making this a regular fun Thursday treat for myself). I'd been eyeing the place for the past 4 months, since I've moved into this neighborhood. It looks funky (the kind of place I used to like to go to), and it was neat that there was outdoor seating, where I always saw people hanging out.

Why didn't I check it out before now? Oh, a combination of heat-lethargy and depression and poverty, basically! But today the weather was 70-ish, I'd been working hard on a good-paying freelance job all week, I was feeling mildly sassy...

When I got inside the place, it smelled and looked great! I love the smell of coffee (though I don't like the taste of it) and I love wood floors, and band flyers in the windows, and the local free rags stacked up just inside the door. It was about 3 in the afternoon, not a peak hour, but the cafe was about half-full. A few couples, some people singly on computers.

And, I noted for future reference, they sell beer and stay open 'til midnight! About 9 years ago, I wrote almost my entire screenplay at a similar cafe, now closed, that used to be located just a few blocks up the street. At the former place, I'd go early for their poetry readings one night a week, notebook in hand, then stay after for the next 4 or 5 hours writing furiously, pumped up by the reading and Heineken and atmosphere. I didn't feel weird sitting there by myself because I was busy WRITING... (Not just for affect, I was really doing work!)

I'll have to keep the "future reference" in mind. Maybe night-time drinking and writing will be nice there, but... That sandwich I got there this afternoon SUCKED! AND it cost over $8!!

I wanted roast beef, but they were out, so I just got a chicken on focaccia bread... Which looked NOTHING like the picture I have up here! The smushed-bread completely dwarfed the from-a-frozen-bag-of-chicken-wedges-tasting meat... I'm serious: That couldn't have been fresh chicken. And every bite I took rendered up mainly bread, very little chicken. (I finally opened up the sandwich to look: I think there were 4 "chicken" wedges in there.) It was nasty. Worse than a shrink-wrapped bologna/American cheese/wilted iceberg lettuce sandwich you'd pick up in the fridge of a convenience store. The only difference being, the convenience-store sandwich costs $3.95 and you already know that you're in for crap, but you're just buying it because you're desperately hungry at that moment and don't have access to any other source of food. PLUS, you certainly didn't go to the convenience store looking to TREAT yourself!

But $8.00 for a crap-sandwich (and a little one at that)? Somethin' just ain't right! To put this $8 sandwich in context: A BIG, fresh, fully-packed sandwich at the famous Katz's in NYC (Katz's also has a branch in Austin -- the owner lives here now) costs $7.95. A BIG, fresh, fully-packed sandwich at my local Weehawken, NJ, deli costs $6.95. And by "BIG" I mean TRIPLE the size of this local indignity!

In a similar vein, just a few blocks away from this cafe, a little trailer set up shop in a parking lot about a month ago, offering burgers and steak sandwiches... In my quest to participate in local fast-food cuisine (and mainly because I don't have a car to go anywhere else), I stopped by last weekend to get what I thought would be a good, greasy burger combo... Burger, fries, and can of Coke. Out of a trailer in a parking lot. $7.50. Yes, $7.50. (Let me again put this in context: In NYC, one of the most expensive cities in the world, the same combo served up in a million greasy spoons, costs $5.95.) OK. I paid the $7.50, got home, bit into the burger... Aside from being really low-grade hamburger meat and not tasting like anything, it was frigging pink inside! I had to pull the meat out and go broil it before I could even eat it.

WTF. Seriously. And here's exactly what I think the "F" is: Austin prides itself on being "hip." And one aspect of being "hip" is "eating from trailers in parking lots and at funky cafes" and then telling everyone how GREAT the food is there. You know, if my sandwich or burger-combo had cost $4 or $5, I probably wouldn't be mentioning it here. As with the convenience-store shrink-wrapped bologna sandwich, I'd just shrug it off and think that I was desperate for food at the moment and I got what I paid for. But what I cannot fathom, and cannot stand, is the local ethos of bragging about eating at "funky" places whose food actually sucks. And paying $8 for the "privilege" of being able to say you ate at the crappy place. Emperor has no clothes, man.

I experienced the same insane psychological phenomenon when I lived in San Francisco, attending grad school, in the mid-1990s: The college refused to allow corporate (cheap) fast-food restaurants like Wendy's, McDonald's, etc. in their food court. Instead, local food servers provided lunch. Their food was awful (worse than corporate fast-food chains) and cost, even back in the '90s, $6 or $7 for a meal, but, hey, at least it was local. I suppose, if you were PC enough, you could feel superior, in a ridiculous way not based on any actual gastronomic or economic criteria, for eating it...

Here's what I like about New York/New Jersey: You pay $7 for a sandwich, you get a fuckin' big, good sandwich. If $7 seems a bit much, at least the food was good and you're full for the next 8 hours or so. If you buy a gyro combo or a burger combo from a street grill or a greasy spoon for $6 or $7, it's edible and, with the gyro/rice/salad at least, you get enough to last you for 2 meals. It's not this sucky "small portion/high price/bad food/but we feel we should say we like it" scam. Ugh.

OK, so my attempt at an addition to my meager "routine" failed! Cute place, terrible sandwich, won't ever eat there again on a Thursday afternoon. Too bad. I was looking forward to liking it.

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