Sunday, August 16, 2015

PBR & "Presentism"

True historians deplore the application of current values to the words and deeds of historical figures. They call such sloppy and lazy thinking "Presentism." Persons with such a view of history tend to discount our founders because of the compromises they made in the context of the times they lived. I am no professional historian, but I feel sort of the same way when I order a Pabst Blue Ribbon beer and an observer asks: "You drink that?" (The 'that' pronounced with two syllables).

What could possibly the connection between discounting, for example, the legacy of Abraham Lincoln because he believed in repatriating former slaves to Africa and discounting the quality and flavor of a PBR because today it is a "cheap" beer? Well, if you believe the present view that PBR is the hipster equivalent of "Fatty Natty," only a short history lesson can connect the dots for you.

Back in the day the history of PBR was a case study at the prestigious Harvard Business School used to teach the value of branding. The lesson it taught: Do not screw around with a formula that made your brand the most popular product in your market just to save a few cents per unit in production costs.  The lesson I also see is to avoid "Presentism."

You may know that Pabst was the blue ribbon beer winner at the World's Fair in 1893.  But you may not know that until the 1970s it was considered a premium beer with sales that exceeded Budweiser. In fact, Pabst reached its production apex in 1978 after which it suffered a precipitous decline that has taken years to reverse.  So what happened?

They screwed with success.

Like "New Coke" which came later, the managers of the Pabst brand changed their formula to make production a little cheaper. It was, after all, the most expensive mass produced beer to brew. The change had something to do with buying grains with lower sugar content. The effect however was devastating. The once strong and popular premium brand quickly lost market share and, more importantly, respect as a premium lager.

You also probably do not know that after it was clear the formula change was a bad idea, the company returned to their original ingredients and lowered the price to try to attract former fans back to the brand.  Sales did go up, never to the high of 1978, but the perspective that it was now a "cheap" beer remained.

To most applying a "presentist" view of the product, that has not changed. But recent beer history tells us the PBR has won medals as one of the best American lagers at least 12 times since 1990. It won the World Beer Cup as a "Premium Lager" in 2006.  Once hard to find, you can savor this premium draft beer on tap for ridiculously low prices at Buds. Bottles and cans of PBR are staples at The Pine Bar and Capitol Oyster Bar. Those iconic 16-oz "Tall Boys" are available at El Rey, LeRoy and The Midtown Pizza kitchen.

So though I have been accused of bringing PBR to parties because it was the only beer others would not pinch from the community coolers and that "Bud" snob Cornbread Carp once declared it was the only beer he would not drink, history and my own taste buds have taught me to stick with my favorite beer because it has a premium taste for a "Natty Light" price.

The moral, if you pay attention to history, is that Lincoln is still a great president and PBR is still a great beer.  Rampant "presentism" is truly a lazy and false way to evaluate history. Thankfully, PBR is still around to defend its brand. But "Honest Abe" has to depend on honest and persistent historians.

Let's all raise a cold PBR to him.

"Ever notice how you come across something once in a while you shouldn't have messed with? That's my PBR."

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Dr. Strangreek or: How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love Tomatoes

Clemenceau once said "Lunch is too important to leave to the Chefs."
He may also have said that "Financial matters are far too important to leave to the Greeks." We certainly have been bombarded over the past months with the impending Greek debt crisis that, as appears at the moment, has been kicked down the road a few more years as the Greeks try to implement austerity goals imposed by the Germans they have already failed to meet one or two times before. I have struggled to make sense out of the fear of Greece pulling out of the Eurozone that has caused the Heiress (yes, I am still seeing her occasionally) and others in the investment class to be all a twitter about the fluctuations in their IRA accounts. The fear mongers had us, and even those of us of meager wealth, all living in fear of something called the "ripple effect" that could supposedly be caused by a very small economy like Greece collapsing. Remember Cyprus not too long ago? I was beginning to wonder what kind of mischief the high-spending socialist Greeks were going to get into and how it was going to affect us here behind the safety of the bypass in the Gump.

After intensive study I came to some tentative conclusions. First, the Greeks have a social security system that is unsustainable (I mean worse than ours). Retirement at 55? Really? Second, way too many of the Greeks work for the government and all of them belong to a union. Third, they have 25% unemployment despite that (or because of it). So I can tell you I have realized that the Greeks as a nation are pretty bad at running a government or paying their bills. They compounded their problems when they made some recent bad choices in a socialist leader and an "OXI" (No) vote as to a bailout plan (and then got stuck with a deal that was worse). Damn Germans.

But there is one thing I know for sure about the Greeks: They have some of the best food in the world.  Exhibit A is yours truly. Let me explain.

Since I was a boy in Ireland and until May 2015 (a span of about 60 years) I had never NEVER ever even once tasted or eaten a raw tomato. Ketchup and salsa was fine, but a sliced or cubed tomato was consistently removed from every hamburger or salad presented to me by the chefs of Dublin or the Gump. I was Chase "Hold the Tomatoes" Allpots. I know some of you understand where I was on the question of tomatoes.  I see you picking them off your sandwiches.

So what changed?

The answer is: Greece.  More specifically, the Greek salad as served in Athens and Thessaloniki, Greece.

You see the Heiress--who is one-quarter Greek--decreed that I could accompany her in May 2015 to a Papanikolau family reunion in Palouri, Greece (on the Kassandra Peninsula) where she would meet her cousins for the first time and introduce me as her "male friend" or 'fi le mou' in Greek. Since I had never been to Greece, we were flying first class and, most importantly, she was paying for everything, I gracefully accepted. Bait a trap with a free trip to Greece with a handsome woman and you will catch ole Chase every time.

After arriving in Athens and before departing by train to Thessaloniki, we spent a few days at the Hotel Electra (separate rooms of course) near Syntagma Square where the Greek Parliament meets and where you saw all the demonstrations on CNN. While the Heiress was off shopping in the Plaka district under the Acropolis, I was left to my own devices to stroll up and down Ermou Street where during lunch time I took a turn over to Metropoleos Street and came upon a restaurant on Monastiraki Square named Thanassis. There, for some unexplained reason I ordered the same salad I saw on a table next to me oddly called a "Greek" salad.

This is what a Greek salad looks like.
The observant of you will immediately note the lack of any lettuce whatsoever. And that block of white stuff sprinkled with olive oil and spices is feta or goat cheese. No thousand island or blue cheese dressing, just olive oil and vinegar sprinkled over tomatoes, peppers, olives, cucumbers and onions.  Why I decided to eat all of it cannot be explained any more than one can explain why the Greeks think other countries should continue to pay them to retire early.  But I did eat the tomatoes along with everything else and proceeded to fall in LOVE with tomatoes and Greek salads. On my birthday I had another salad in Athens while the house band played "Sweet Home Alabama" on their Bouzouki's.

Another Greek salad with a jug of wine. Opa!
My obsession with Greek salads exceeded my desire to own one of their little goats. Thankfully, I was not allowed to bring one home. Also, thankfully, my new found love of tomatoes followed me home to the states after the Athens ATMs stopped giving the Heiress her Euros.

My Big Fat Greek Adventure and the Greek crisis is over and my life is changed: I have learned to stop worrying about Greece and love tomatoes. Like Dr. Strangelove, who was German, learned to love the bomb.

For more Greek food porn check out: Our Big Fab Greek Adventure

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

The History of the Biscuit in the Gump

It was hsssing and shaking its little arms at me....

[Ed note: On July 15, 2015, the Montgomery Biscuits were featured in NBC's Today Show.  The Cornbread Carp received none of the credit.]

Back one morning in 2002 when I was still drinking against the advice of my probation officer, I awoke to this one-horned demon biscuit with soulless dark eyes and a butter pat for a tongue.  In his mouth was a link sausage playing dead like a grey seal. It was his only defense. As I recoiled in disbelief my eyes focused and I inhaled the smell of cookies (doesn't the devil smell like cookies?). The only thing I knew to do when confronted with abject fear or the possibility that someone may be injured in an epic fail is, of course, to reach for an iPhone and snap off a picture to post on social media hoping for more "likes" if, of course, I survived the encounter with this flaky equivalent of a Great Martha White.

Soon enough I regained full consciousness and realized that this little fellow was actually a small token of love from Tuffy a/k/a "She Who Must Be Obeyed."  False alarm. Move along. Monkey's dead, shows over I thought.  I laughed off my temporary panic and then enjoyed devouring the little devil biscuit and washing it down with a Screwdriver. If God had not meant for us to like bread and meat, He would not have made pigs so tasty.  Actually, he tasted very good as far as I could tell in my condition but in a few days I forgot about all about the incident and the biscuit. Such is the fog of drink.

That was until early 2004. By then I had completed my probation and kicked vodka to the curb.  I had a regular job and Tuffy was no longer on my ass all the time.  Funny how that works: Drink less=wife likes you more.  I guess that might not be great if your wife is a Biggest Loser "two-bagger" but in my case its alright. Good actually.

Well, given that I had time to actually relax and read the newspaper in the morning I recall one morning reading that a group had been chosen to bring a AA baseball franchise back to the Gump (we had not had a team since the 1980s) and we were going to have a new stadium right downtown in the old Southern Railway building which had once housed Yankee prisoners of war.  I read they were soliciting team names and that the person with the winning idea would win a years supply of bratwurst.  I was engaged. I was all in.

I was awash with ideas.  The Riverrats, Grays, Senators, Gumps, Sliders, Gump Busters, Marchers, Dexters, Pork Chops, etc.  But nothing had that ring to it.  I was a fan of the old Rebels and the newer "Wings" but those names were dated or taken.  My sobriety had robbed me of my creativity and I wanted that bratwurst.

I knew I would have to leave the wagon to come up with inspiration since we have not yet legalized weed in Alabama.

So, truth be told, I visited the master mixologist known throughout the Gump only as "Reggie" or "Reg." (In his world last names are for chumps).  Knowing I was not in drinking shape I asked Reg to pour me a "light one."  "I don't weigh 'em," said Reggie.  "Just pour me a half a drink then," I suggested.  He smiled and said without a pause, "I flunked fractions."  After the vodka displaced all the water he handed me what could accurately be described as a pentadruple and I began the process of freeing brain cells to help me come up with a name---the name. Word to the wise:  One Reggie, Two Reggie's, Three Reggies: Floor.

I have been cursed to have a total recall of bad evenings in the past.  You know, those horrible times when your body is completely drunk and useless but your brain is recording all your buffoonery for posterity. However, on this occasion I was blessed with welcome amnesia. But somehow, when I gathered my wits my phone had on the screen--for some unknown and unknowable reason--the picture of the 2002 biscuit that had almost scared me out of my wits.  My drinking buddy--whose name will be changed to protect the ignorant--was still railing on about how a minor league team was doomed to failure in Montgomery and that he would bet me $100 they would leave under the cover of midnight in three years.  He had apparently found the angry biscuit photo and was laughing, why they will probably come up with some lame name like "Cornbread" or "Biscuits" or some other stupid name.

Well, it sunk in for a minute and I made the bet.  Then, when I was able, I sent in my idea for a team name to the new ownership, an idea born of a love for baseball and vodka, not really hoping it would be selected but knowing only that it was original as hell.

I am back on the wagon now and well, the rest is history as they say.  Here was the mascot selected:

A perfect match down to the butter pat tongue

Yes, there were scoffers. "The dumbest minor league team name in history," some said.  But they sold more merchandise than any other minor league team in history and remain the best AA franchise in the country.  While the credit goes to Dickson & Meyers who are terrific owners, I'd like to think that I had a little to do with what has become one of the most popular team names and most appropriate name for a team from the Gump: The Biscuits! By the way, the food at the ballpark is great all you Lunch in the Gumpers.

I, of course, collected on my bet and think of that big dufus who bet me the Biscuits would be gone by now every time I pick up my season tickets for Montgomery Biscuits Baseball.  Play ball!!!! Schwing bratter, bratter, bratter, schwiiing!

[Ed. Note: I am pretty sure this is an April Fool's joke.  The Carp was not recognized by the Biscuits front office as the originator of the name of the team. And, if he had unlimited access to Bratwurst, he would have exploded long ago.  Nice picture though.]

Monday, March 16, 2015

March Madness in March

This March has ushered in a greater than usual amount of Madness in the Gump. Especially in the restaurant trade.  According to our Montgomery Advertiser, restaurants were lining up to peacefully open new locations within the historic heart-shaped environs of the Gump.  Why, in our new downtown Foshee development, we see Island Delight, Cuco's and Mama Goldberg's joining the Irish Bred Pub on Dexter.  Happy St. Patty's day by the way to our Irish brethren who marched in Dublin for freedom from British Rule only to be gunned down by machine guns in a stadium in the first "Bloody Sunday."

Up in No-Clo everyone is buzzing about the new Kudzu Noodle Bar and rumors of franchising for them abound ala Zoe's, Chicken Salad Chick and Maki Fresh.  Love those Asian wings bro.
A dramatization of the famous Noodle March projected on the wall at Kudzu. 

Good stuff in there.

The Red Phone to the bar next door in case you have to wait or to reach Chairman Meow.

Then of course we all are geeked up about filling out our brackets for the NCAA basketball tournament featuring not a single mens team any of us care much about. This one looks like a shoo-in for the Kentucky Blue Grass.  And  now they have dumped their PETA un-friendly and endangered species of Wildcat mascot, we can all watch the ASU women complete as we feed our carnivore cats tuna flavored tofu. But if I were you, I would watch out for those pesky Wisconsin Badgers.  Badgers are not endangered you know.
A state trooper rustles up some Oklahoma SAE's to get them out of the Gump (Will we ever not have "a long way to go"?)

Last but not least we have been host to some pretty important historic March marches which caused some of our finer restaurants (Central) to be bought out by big wigs.  Bet it was an eye-opening experience for the wait staff when guys with badges started giving them those "voluntary" background checks. (Thankfully my ankle bracelet did not go off).  I am sure everyone's papers were in order and anyone whose papers were not did not show up for work.   Could all the ruckus have been because the guests were a present/former president or just some run of the mill Senators/Congressmen? In any event, whomever it was I heard they raved about Chef Leo's fare.  Did they learn about him on LITG by chance?  Not likely but as Randy Newman sings in Harps and Angels: "You never know". Our little blog does get a few hits from D.C.

Kudzu Noodle Bar on Urbanspoon See reviews in YELP.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

No Decent Cubans Up Here?

The photo from Ybor City that started it all.
Current events concerning the recognition of Cuba after 50 years of embargo have encouraged me to break my silence about the harmful effects US policy may have had upon this country. You see, I fancy myself a connoisseur of the Cuban.  As a young man in Panama City I was spoiled by easy access to the 2 for $1 Cubans sold from a small stand on the main drag.  These were wonders to behold. Thin slices of "meat" and cheese surrounded by fresh and thin bread with little or no condiments.  They were lovingly made and sold by a refugee Cuban family and were manna from heaven to a working man with a voracious tapeworm.

This was a decade after the Bay of Pigs fiasco and in at least one northwest Florida city (What? you thought I was talking about Central America?) you could find at least one place that could produce an authentic Cuba sandwich. Alas, when I matriculated to the Gump in the 60s, after an exhaustive search for anything approaching the Cuban sandwich of my past, I gave up and relegated myself to the next best thing: the Combination sandwich from Pasquales, the Sahara and finally Corsinos.

The Grand Opening of the Sahara--forerunner of Corsinos--where you could get a Combo sandwich in lieu of a Cuban.

But fast forward under forty years of embargo.  Our brave secretary of state and Vietnam war hero John Kerry now says the embargo harmed America more than Cuba just like building the Berlin Wall hurt East Germany more than the West. Well, as ridiculous as that may sound, there is at least one instance where the embargo hurt the US more than Cuba: We have no decent Cubans up here in the Gump.  Good maybe.  But all the great ones are in Florida.

My brother--a foppish dandy named Basil--has retired with his wife to an upscale "seniors" community near Tampa.  He knows that every time I visit I have to go to the original Columbia restaurant in Ybor City for my Cuban fix. Of course, there they include salami along with the traditional ham and sliced pork which is sometimes called the Tampa variation.  But the mix of Swiss cheese and pickles on the thinly sliced Cuban bread makes a visit to the Columbia a must for me.

There have been heroic attempts to develop Cuban sandwiches here in the Gump and we thank all of those who tried. We mentioned the decent Cuban sandwich at The Wagon Wheel in our very first post back in 2009. That year we reviewed the better Cuban at The Wishbone Cafe. In 2011 we mentioned the ill-conceived Cuban "pannini" at the now-defunct Alley Deli. We explored the "Torta Cubana" at the Latino Super Market Taqueria y Restaurant but--as should be plain--that is not a Cuban sandwich but a Central American sexist parody of Cuban women. In 2012 we thought we finally had hit it big with the Cuban sandwich from the Cantina in the Alley. Unfortunately, the owner died soon after it opened and they closed down. Even the old Olive Room had a fairly good Cuban on the lunch menu back when it was a going concern. Recently, we noted the Ricky Ricardo Cuban Sandwich at Chappy's as a good effort.

But something, perhaps as says John Kerry (Vietnam war hero), was lacking because of the embargo? Were we too many generations removed from real Cuban sandwiches to replicate the originals here in the Gump?

I, obviously, do not pretend to know or understand how the exercise of presidential fiat resulting in the normalization of relations with Cuba will play out. But now with all the uproar concerning the unilateral executive action taken regarding Cuba without Congressional approval aside, I am somewhat hopeful that the normalization of relations with Cuba will eventually lead to the availability of Cuban cigars and authentic Cuban sandwiches in the Gump that will rival the Columbia or Las Olas Cafe on South Beach.

To land this plane let me tell you that it was ironic that today, the dawning of a new age in U.S./Cuban relations, my brother decided to torture me with a text and picture of his Cuban sandwich and 1905 salad from the original Columbia restaurant.  To which I thoughtlessly replied, "We just don't have any decent Cubans up here."  After sending that text I chuckled to myself that someone might take that the wrong way....