Monday, December 20, 2010

Does St. Louis even exist?

St. Louis may have been the location that such great inventions like Dr. Pepper, Cotton Candy or even the Ice Cream Cone could have been invented or were first introduced to the masses.  However, it appears that this city is dead and I am just too naive to know it.  I think that a city that has a diverse culture as well as almost 3 million people can come up with a way to get on the map, nationally, as far as food is concerned. 

Well, what does St. Louis have for anyone to even stop by and see?  Well, Crown Candy was featured on an episode of Man vs. Food for its challenge of taking down 5 large milk shakes.

But is that all?  With all of the travel shows and cooking shows, St. Louis seems to go by unnoticed.  This is odd because St. Louis, was settled in 1703 and founded in 1764.  It is rated at about the 15th largest city in the nation and for some reason always comes up bottom when it comes to press and people knowing about it.

This makes me wonder what people think is located or happening in St. Louis. I know we have Anheuser-Busch, which still is classified as the world's largest brewery, as well as Brown Shoes, Energizer, Purina and even Macy's-Midwest.  We used to have a huge Chrysler plant just outside of the city and TWA was also here. 

The picture above denotes exactly what I and many other St. Louisans feel.  Anthony Bourdain, chef, writer and TV personality was here in St. Louis 2 months ago to promote and sign his new book.  From what we learned by asking him, during the Q&A part of his show, was that he doesn't view St. Louis as nothing more than an airport hub.  When asked if he was coming to St. Louis, he told us all that he is doing a show based in Missouri, but covering Ozark cuisine, which most St. Louisans find appalling.  St. Louis culture and people are completely different from Ma and Pa Kettle.  What is sad is that I had even contacted a staff person for his company and was assured that when Mr. Bourdain does come to St. Louis, I would be allowed to take him locations.  This was the highlight of my day or even the year, but as the reality starts to set in, I discover that this holds me over about as much as a single White Castle would, on one of my hungry days. All and all though, the whole thing reminds me of a young kid who is such a fan of a superhero and when he gets to go to a convention and meet his hero, he stands face to face with a pot-bellied, drunk, clown in a cheap costumed getup.  Mr. Bourdain was a hero of mine as a chef and writer and while I like the way he talks and writes and while I was a fan of his show, after he basically said that St. Louis is good but not good enough to do a show on and show the world, I lost faith in him. 

What makes St. Louis bad, I wonder?  I know as a food and restaurant critic that St. Louis has a few minor flaws involving restaurants, but that can't be the only reason, can it?  I know that there are great restaurants like The Stable or Mosaic, but do those places outshine the bad places like Mayan Cafe' or Riefschneiders Grill and Grape?  Celebrity chefs come to St. Louis to open their restaurants but don't seem to care about the quality that they produce, as my wife and I experienced when we ate at Sleek, Chef Hubert Keller's restaurant. Maybe they are right in that people only hear about those bad places and not the good places.  If that is the case, then I am sorry about that as my regular full time job does not allow me to go out each night and eat at a different location.  In some cases, when I go somewhere for food, I actually bring my whole family and the location may not be child-friendly.  Also, in some cases, if we get in and wait for more than 20 minutes before someone even talks to us, we skip it.  So, there may have been a diamond under the rough, but we never found out because no one even noticed us.

Hopefully through this new year in less than 2 weeks, I will be able to check out more restaurants for you, get more interviews with some of the St. Louis chefs and try to find more things to place this city on the map. Whichever the case, I hope everyone has a good Christmas season.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

My castle is the white one...

While having a quick discussion at work with an employee, I thought about a food product.  These tasty and small morsels have infiltrated ever level of American culture since their invention in 1921!  The small burgers which have been mass produced and sold out of white edifices, complete with parapets and stone walls, showed up first in Kansas in 1921 where they were first sold for 5 cents each.  Can you imagine paying a nickel for a white castle hamburger now?

The story has it that after the novel, The Jungle, was release and showed how unsanitary the meat-packing industry was, two people set out to bring ground beef back to the tables of so many families.  They tried to make their restaurants look as clean as they could and did so by designing the interior with stainless steel and white walls.  The very first castle buildings were made of porcelain.

The two partners who founded White Castle, Anderson and Ingram, became well known for delivering the same quality of product, in any of their locations, partly because not only did Anderson invent the hamburger bun, but he also invented the food assembly line.  This was the first fast food restaurant and everything that we associate good fast food with, started with White Castle.  They started making their own meat plants and even their own bakeries.  A restaurant could get freshly ground beef, onions and freshly baked buns all for their restaurant.  They soon started to make their own factories to make paper hats, building materials for other castle restaurants and even the boxes and packages.  It was completely self sustained and did everything but raise their own cows and grow their own wheat.

Musicians from Eminem to the Beastie Boys have sung songs involving White Castle hamburgers.  Movies, such as Harold and Kumar go to White Castle, show off how popular the food is with those who smoke pot or do other drugs. 

While things are done a bit differently now, no one can argue that even at the inflated price, White Castle hamburgers are not worth their weight in gold.  I feel like picking up a crave case right now.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Your punishment is to wash the dishes...

I know it sounds like a punishment but I know that other people get paid for it and some people do it for free.  This morning, after 5 years of service, our dishwasher died.  Once a year, we have had to call in a service request and have the pump fixed.  So, it cleans the dishes but cannot pump the water out when it is finished. I know that after spending 30 minutes cleaning the pots, pans and other dishes by hand, that there is someone who will tell me "when I was young we had to wash dishes every day by hand."  This kind of a statement is fine but not one that should be taken seriously when you live in a first world country.  People used to have to dig a hole in the ground for their latrine, but no longer as we now have indoor plumbing.  When a toilet breaks, do we go outside and pee on the side of the house?  No.  In America, air conditioning, heat, indoor plumbing, electricity and a dishwasher are pretty much considered necessary for life.

 So, our 5 year old dishwasher has died.  It was the first dishwasher we purchased when we moved from our apartment to our house. I looked and as a first time homeowner, after 1 year being married, my wife and I looked for the best we could afford.  The Frigidaire was the best we could get at Best Buy for $299.  Thank God we purchased the extended 4 year warranty as this dishwasher had a broken pump or motor, every year that we had it.  Sure enough, the pump broke this year, after the warranty has expired.  I consider us lucky to have used the dishwasher, sometimes running twice a day, and not even using every cycle.  It lasted this long!

The dishwasher was first patented in 1850 by Joel Houghton.  It was wooden and used a hand crank to power the device and spray water onto the dishes.  It didn't work too well.

In 1886, the first real dishwasher was invented by Josephine Cochrane and was the first motor powered dishwasher. She had said that "If nobody else is going to invent a dish washing machine, I'll do it myself!" Josephine was wealthy and had servants that did the washing but wanted to make a machine that would do the cleaning and not chip her dishes so easily. She started by measuring the dishes she had then created a rack that would fit them. She then made a large copper drum where the rack and dishes would sit as hot soapy water sprayed over them and then were rinsed afterwards.  She later formed a company, that would later be called KitchenAid. Her grandfather was the inventor of the steamboat and she had enough money to make many of these dishwashers and show them off at the 1893 World Fair.  She hoped everyone would get them but only restaurants and hotels bought them up.

In 1924, William Howard Livens invented the first dishwasher that was run with indoor plumbing.  It had a front door for loading, a spinning sprayer and even a rack for loading dishes onto. Although rumor has it that didn't work properly and flooded the kitchen floor with water.

By 1970, electric dishwashers were commonplace and in almost all US homes for domestic use.