Tuesday, June 3, 2014

The Law of Unintended Sandwiches

In 1936 Meyer R. Schkolnick n.k.a Robert K. Merton published a paper titled: "The Unanticipated Consequences of Purposive Social Action" in which he tried to analyze the unintended negative consequences that often result from deliberate attempts to cause positive social change.  Now related to "Murphy's Law", the "Law of Unintended Consequences" is often utilized to remind us of the hubris that humans can fully control the world around us.

Which of course brings me to the subject of sandwiches in Montgomery, Alabama, a.k.a (affectionately know as) the "Gump" (for you newbies).  Our loyal following on our Facebook page (see the link to the right) has been chattering about a chain know as Jimmy Johns coming to Old Cloverdale in the Gump.  However, as you Old Montgomerians know, the corner of Narrow Lane and Carter Hill Road is not in Old Cloverdale and is known as the old Chevron station now known as the old Moody Tire location. (Isn't it quaint how we natives refer to locations as what they used to be as if we are still living in the past?)  The relevant question I had upon learning of this encroachment was how in the world one would be able to get into or out of the parking lot of Jimmy Johns when it is located smack dab in the middle of the most F*ed-Up intersection even the most well-meaning of traffic engineers never could have possibly intended. (My exhibit A is the turn lane on Carter Hill headed out of town which allows you to go by the cars waiting for the straight arrow and then beat the cars going straight onto Carter Hill).  I thought that when they added the Sonic drive-in to the mix it would only be a matter of time before a waitress roller skated into that spaghetti junction with a load of tater tots causing a chain reaction accident startling a golfer teeing off of No. 8 at MCC and causing them to shank a shot through the glass door at Martin's and into a pile of cornbread.  As if things could not get worse, now they open a fast-food sandwich shop with a drive through lane, hoards of hungry hungry hippos and dozens of delivery drivers ready to bolt into traffic with a Vito sub destined for the tummy of someone too lazy to open a jar of mayonnaise.

The intent was--as we find on their web page--to distinguish Jimmy Johns from the rest because "it's honest, it's damn good, it's damn fast, at a decent price." To paraphrase, it appears they intended to make our lives easier by providing convenient access to decent sandwiches at fair prices. The unintended consequence is that they further screwed up an already disastrous intersection with the result being that I could not get near the place during lunch hour and settled for an average tasting sandwich after stressful encounters with traffic.

I have learned that when you have to serve hundreds of sandwiches in a very short time at "fair" prices, it is almost impossible to serve truly great sandwiches regardless of your good intentions.  That is sort of why we founded Lunch in the Gump: to support local places that make our sandwiches to order in groups of two or three at a time to be consumed at a table with friends or, at least, comrades in cuisine.

Which, finally brings me to the real reason for this particular post.   After trying several fine "fast food" sandwich places in the Gump--like Jimmy Johns--I have to submit that I believe I have located the absolutely best lunch sub-like sandwich in the entire Gump from the River Regions to West Shorter.  I know that such a claim will evoke howls of protest from devotees of various very good local establishments, but today I confirmed that what my gullet had been craving for weeks was in fact the real deal.  What is this sandwich you ask?
The Intended Consequence of Ordering a Combo.

For me, right now the best non-hamburger sandwich you can buy in this area is the Combo sandwich at Corsinos. When Corsino's says "combo" they do not mean it comes with fries and a drink.  They mean a combination of various Italian meats and cheeses. The bread is like the bread they use in New Orleans for Po'Boys. Warmed just lightly with thin-sliced Italian meats and provolone cheese topped with shredded lettuce and tomato. It looks too large for one person to eat but it is so good I have rarely seen anyone attempt to take 1/2 home.  Given the even light use of mayo that would probably not be a good idea anyway for these sandwiches travel about as well as a Hamburger King cheeseburger. For anyone who does not love one of these sandwiches I will give you a refund of your Lunch in the Gump subscription. Just remember its cash only at Corsinos.

The intended consequence of diving into a Dago Salad (do you see a smiley face in that bowl?)  
To make it even more wonderful, you should try the sandwich with the (Politically Incorrect) antipasto which comes with Italian dressing, olives, cheese and lettuce.  I'd love to show you a picture but I ate it before I thought about writing about it.

The moral here: Take your time for lunch and enjoy a hand-made, one at a time, sandwich at a hometown icon like Corsinos.  Its an intended consequence of taking your time to make something special.

Corsinos Italian on Urbanspoon

Monday, April 14, 2014

You Cannot Digitize Good Restaurants

A friend of mine made a fortune in the movie rental business and sold out to Blockbuster about 10 years ago. He then went into the tanning booth business.  I asked him why and he told me: "You can't digitize tanning."

You have to take your hat off to any person, group or organization that can properly and successfully manage a restaurant over even two years.  Like math for Barbie, it's hard. Once you realize you have been consistently enjoying a restaurant for lunch for over that period of time, its time to swallow your pride and recognize them even though everyone probably already knows them and already has their own opinions. You probably should even recognize them despite being a little embarrassed that you like the food or because they really do not qualify as a true locally owned restaurant.  So in my case, its time to praise Chappy's and Zoe's (you know, the one with the diaeresis over the e). They have each been successful over 20 years.

I have literally eaten at every restaurant you have seen reviewed on this blog since its humble beginnings.  I, along with Bama Bing, personally trained the elite LITG guinea pig commando unit: Squeal Team Six.  In other words, I've been around the steam table a few times.  It is with this background that I have to admit that Chappy's Deli and Zoe's Kitchen consistently provide fresh and tasty lunch fare efficiently and at reasonable prices with good service. Let's start with Chappy's.

Chappy's has been a locally owned and family operated Gump/New York style deli since 1989. Now, it's not really comparable to a New York Delicatessen such as the Stage Door,  but they do have a pretty good Reuben and Pastrami & Swiss sandwich.  Now the problem is that I also have been presented so many lunch-meeting Chappy's sandwich trays that I think I could build a triple-Decker sandwich ladder to the moon and back. It's enough to make you avoid the restaurant during lunch away from the office.  Don't make that mistake.
Do not confuse these tray sandwiches with the much better sandwiches at the restaurant.

I swung by the Perry Hill Road Chappy's for lunch recently and found the place to be running smoothly.  They have a take out counter that functions very efficiently with attentive counter personnel.  I was in an out in a few minutes with a Ricky Ricardo Cuban sandwich that was quite good.  Again, not up to the Columbia Restaurant Ybor City version,  but a solid effort.

Actually, I like breakfast at Chappy's even better than lunch.  It's the usual country breakfast fare but everything is prepared properly with good ingredients.  Coffee is fresh and strong.  Great for the little crumb snatchers (who personally I would pay you to leave at home cause your 'little snowflake' grand kids are not as cute as you think). 

Chappy's is a true Gump/Castanza family gem that deserves a little love from LITG. And they are spreading.  They have locations in Pratt-Vegas and ... wait for it...Ozark, Missouri of all places.  Someone must have a vacation home in the Ozarks maybe?

Do not confuse these trays with the sandwiches you can get for lunch at one of their local restaurants. The freshly made sandwiches are mucho bettaro than the trays.  Despite this, I have some pretty funny video collected by an Internet camera in a conference room after a 2 p.m. email was sent out that said: "There are some leftover Chappy's sandwiches in the conference room."  It looked a little like roller derby without the skates and helmets.  Hats and helmets off to the Castanza's.

Now about Zoes (and I can't find the ALT+ key that generates the two dots above the "e").  Zoes means "life" in Greek.  It means "bank" in the restaurant business.  Zoes is an example of a well-run restaurant gone big time.  The restaurant was founded in Birmingham in 1995 by Zoë (cut and pasted from their webpage) and Marcus Cassimus with a Mediterranean feel and menu.

The Zoes on Zelda always serves very fresh salads and sandwiches in an efficient manner.  You place your order, pay and get a number to put on your table.  In a few minutes--not long after you serve yourself at the drink bar--a server brings you what you ordered.  On your table is the oil and vinegar dressing that goes with almost everything they serve.  One of my colleagues goes there every week and always gets the chicken salad fruit plate.  I really like the Mediterranean salad with chicken.  I almost feel like I am losing weight as I eat it.  But that is quite unlikely.  It's an easy drive from downtown, the service is quick and--on days like we have been having recently--you may dine al fresco.

Yes, Zoes is now a chain. They have 110+ locations.  In fact, they just went public April 10, 2014 and, as of today, they have a stock price in the NYSE of about $24.  They are now run by a guy with a degree from Texas A&M with their home offices in Texas.  But it does have Alabama roots and shows how a good restaurant can be replicated and franchised.  It may even show the pathway for Chappy's.

Now, to complete the circle, it was just announced that a Japanese-themed restaurant will open in the Westminster shopping center.  It will be called Maki Fresh.  Guess who came up with the idea of a serving sushi with an Asian flair?  It's John Cassimus of Birmingham, the founder of Zoes. Apparently, it will allow you to pick your food out and self-checkout.  They will also have burgers and bang-bangs. 

The moral?  Because the food industry cannot be digitized, if you can consistently serve good food at a fair price, the sky is the limit.  Congratulations to all successful restaurants from LITG!

Chappys Deli on Urbanspoon Zoes Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Sunday, April 13, 2014

New Slogans for a few of Montgomery's Night Spots

We at LITG think every local bar should have an honest-to-goodness slogan to let patrons know exactly what they're getting into. With that being said:

Pine Bar - Young attorney's gotta have somewhere to drink too!

LeRoy's - Wanna go to a bar in a storage room and order a beer you've never heard of?

Rock Bottom - Looking for somewhere to wear your new Affliction shirt?

1048 - When those 12 steps just didn't take.

Bud's - When you're pretentious enough for Pine Bar, but Daddy hasn't hired you at his law firm yet.

El Rey's - Nothing goes with morning "beer runs" like an $18 burrito!

The Exchange - Winter: God, it's FREEZING out here! Can't wait for summer! Summer: God, it's SWELTERING out here! Can't wait for winter!

Stuckey's - Your weed guy is here.

SandBAR - Too cheap to go out of town but still want to pretend you did?

Sous La Terre - Good LORD, are you still out?!?

The Blue Iguana - When you're too classy to drink in a bowling alley, but too drunk to leave.

Aviator Bar - Because Air Force plebs need assistance from the decor to act cool.

Club Liquids - Because you want to dance like a fool and get applauded for it.

La Jolla - Pretend to be cool, try to forget you're drinking at the mall.

AlleyBAR - We could be cool, but hey, it's Montgomery; why put up the effort?

Head on the Door - Remember us? Not really? Well, we're still here!

The Tipping Point - I know the sun is still out but it's closing time, get the kids.

--Thanks to LITG Facebook stalwarts: Robbie and Erik Poole

Thursday, February 20, 2014

A Winter's Tale at the Railyard Brewing Co.

While walking from my office to the parking lot recently a snowflake landed on my cheek and, like most Southerners, I immediately forgot how to drive.  I came upon the lot where I saw several things with rubber wheels and realized it would not be prudent for me to try to operate one of them when snowflakes were falling in the Gump and Rich Thomas had on his Depend's in preparation for a long night of “severe” weather.  So I did the only rational thing I knew to do: I walked straight for the Railyard Brewing Company across from Riverwalk Stadium and ordered a draft beer crafted right here in Rivercity and pondered “global warming” or as you now hear it described: “climate change.”

Mmm, how do you spell "Meister"?

As I sat at the bar gazing over the stainless steel vats out the window at the occasional snowflake, I listened as head brewer Kade Miller conversed about beers of the world with a military customer who had been in Germany.  They sampled several beers and “seasonal brews” with names I cannot recall but sounded like: Alvin Holmes’ "Uncle Tom Amber” or Scott Beason’s "Dark Aborigine" as I devoured my favorite RBC lunch item: the fried chicken club sandwich (which they may not still serve based upon the latest menu).  I felt a warm toasty glow as the yard bird and beer worked their magic in my gullet.  All seemed well.  I was safe and warm.  I bathed in the smell of hot specialty burgers.

But there upon on one of the flat screens above the bar stood a smiling Weather Channel “meteorologist,” wearing their North Face jacket with that unnecessary microphone firmly in hand excitedly pointing out the number of drivers sliding on the ice in Atlanta with cutaway shots of tires spinning and underdressed chubby people trying to push those big things with rubber wheels. The closed captioning streaming below read something like: “The Polar Vortex is the result of global warming….”

I ordered a “Flat Tire” or "Fat Tire" and pondered the years of over exaggerated and breathless dire warnings I had heard from television meteorologists coupled with their recent inability to be able to accurately predict the arrival of one winter storm in Birmingham Alabama and the havoc that ensued.  “OK,” I said to myself, “Let’s say I buy the whole idea that we can change the climate.”  I then interrupted the brewmaster and customer and said: “Gentlemen, if we control the climate shouldn’t we take a vote on whether we want it to be warmer or colder.  I mean, who gets to screw with the thermostat?”  They looked at me and smiled so I finished my thought.  “By golly, if I get to vote on what we do to the climate, I vote WARMER.”  By then, the group around the bar had become aware of my pronouncements and smiled. “Hell Yeah!” said one guy with an Alabama logo on his hat.  But another guy said, “But hey, what about the sea level?” That was a question I was ready for.  “Man, didn’t you see they just found an ancient Cypress forest in the Gulf of Mexico in about 60 feet of water?  Looks like the sea level is always changing.  Even if I lived on the coast I would hope in 200 years I could adapt to a rise of a foot or two.”

Somebody bought me another beer, a “Butt Face Amber Ale”, the irony of which I appreciated as I turned my gaze up to Channel 12’s Rich Thomas telling me to stay off the roads.  That is good advice for Southern drivers 100% of the time. By this time, after a great sandwich and some fine beer, I realized that Rich was finally right.  Even a blind meteorologist finds a bad storm every now and then.

Railyard Brewing Company on Urbanspoon

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Old School Sunday NFL Lunch at Buds

Years from now men will wax nostalgic about "back in the day" when you could eat unhealthy but awesomely good hamburgers with a draft Pabst Blue Ribbon breathing second-hand smoke while watching pro football players trying to cause concussions. This past Sunday, after watching my first "Breaking Bad" episodes which caused me to have dreams that I had lung cancer,  I decided, instead of cooking crystal meth, that I would indulge in epicurean and visual gluttony with a drinking man's pro football lunch at smokey Bud's bar deep in the Gump at Old Cloverdale.

To those few of you who do not know about Bud's, let me give you a warning: This is not your hip, light, kid friendly, airy, slick, shiny sports bar with a full menu, peppy wait staff and dozens of flat screen TVs and cool sports memorabilia on the walls.  Bud's is the opposite of all of that. The idea of "heart healthy" fare would make a Bud's customer laugh until their smoker's hack kicked in.  Children--even your precious snowflakes--are held in the same disdain as vegetarians.  The place is dark and lit only by the CRT's of the fat TVs that display a variety of sporting events with absolutely no "closed captioning" for those not watching the only game connected to the sound system.  Smoking is not prohibited--it is encouraged.  Even cigars are allowed.

Bud's in the daytime ready for customers.

There is no neon sign out front, no matchbooks or napkins with a "Bud's" logo and certainly no web page or Facebook page to "friend."  The folks at Bud's don't want Facebook friends.  They want a friend with a match and an extra unfiltered Camel.  There is a land-line phone, but if a neglected wife or girlfriend calls, the bartender will look right into the eye of the offending patron and deadpan: "Haven't seen him." ("Eye" singular was used intentionally).

For the true sport's fan there are actually plenty of TV's and they are connected to the NFL network. This means that as you smoke your cigarette and sip your cold mug of draft beer at the bar you can watch at least six football games at the same time.  As you do, you will sit next to those with the jersey's of their favorite players in far off cities like Minneapolis or Baltimore. Why, if you hold your mouth right, they might even tune one to the Premier league.

There are also some healthy activities.  There is shuffle board and pool on tattered, well-worn equipment for 50 cents a game.  There was a "Golden Tee" in the corner, but it has not worked in months and, at Bud's, they do not consider that routine maintenance.

So why would a guy dreaming of lung cancer go to this throwback sports bar filled with smoke?  There are three reasons: (1) I do not want to "Break Bad;" (2) They have PBR on tap and (3) They serve a delicious, big, greasy, bacon cheeseburger with real fries that will clog your arteries faster than the smoke can kill you.  The burger is said to be made with Wagyu beef and seems to come in a around 1/2 pound and served with melty Swiss or cheddar cheese.  Whether or not it is Wagyu or not does not really matter.  It is old-school delicious.  Deep fried potatoes, tomatoes, pickles and lettuce provide the other elements of the food pyramid.  My suggestion, cut the thing in half and take some home for later if you have the stones to ask for a "to go" box.  There are many good burgers in the Gump and we have rated them all.  But the Bud's burger is right up there with the best of them and on a dreary winter Sunday afternoon, there is nothing quite like having a cheeseburger chased with a Bud at Bud's.

Yes, there is a place where consenting adults can destroy their health while watching consenting football players try to knock each other out.  It is called Bud's and you should enjoy it while it is still legal.

Bud's on Urbanspoon