4 Restaurants Where You'll Never, Ever, Get a Table
Today on The Daily Meal
Restaurants used to be places where people went to relax, be comfortable, get waited on, places where part of the appeal was that they got to choose from a whole menu full of dishes — with sauce on the side if you wanted it that way. (The very word restaurant, remember, comes from the French verb restaurer, to restore; you were supposed to feel better leaving than you did going in.)
Today, restaurants are something else: experiences, challenges, sometimes ordeals. Arrive at 5:30 or 10:30, not any reasonable dinner hour; sit in cramped quarters on tiny chairs; eat what the chef tells you to eat, and you'll take the damn sauce and like it. Oh, and no friggin' photos, dirtbag! What's important isn't being cosseted and well-fed, anymore, it's submitting to the authoritarian strictures of some arbiter of culinary taste who is obviously far, far hipper than you'll ever be. And — even more important — doing it before anybody else does.
Competition for reservations at such establishments is heated, and actually winning a (probably uncomfortable) seat at one of them is considered by some restaurant-goers to be the ultimate personal accomplishment. With that in mind, The Daily Meal has decided to showcase the four restaurants around the country that everybody who's anybody wants to go to most — places that are too cool to show up in the guidebooks, and far too in for any outsider. Restaurants, we regret to inform you, that an ordinary food-lover like you can only dream about.
Chunkie's Corner — Brooklyn, N.Y.
Taking the concept of "street food" to its inevitable apotheosis, 19-year-old Otto "Chunkie" Blutwurst— who honed his skills as a grammar-school cafeteria monitor, then went on to earn instant acclaim for his ill-fated Eat It Or Starve on Manhattan's Upper West Side, which opened to great fanfare in late 2010 and closed after lunch — has eschewed not only bricks-and-mortar but also trucks, trailers, carts, and stands. "You could call this a 'virtual restaurant'," says Blutwurst. "If you were some stupid phony, or something."
How does it work? Exactly 19 lucky souls (chosen at random from the membership rolls of Match.com and the New York City Municipal Credit Union) gather on the corner of Keelhaul Terrace and St. Flocellus Street in the Rottenwood section of Brooklyn exactly 19 minutes after sundown every evening (a security force of pensioned-off Guardian Angels enforces the temporal parameters), mill around aimlessly until the unmistakable rat-a-tat-tat of a driveby gang shooting is heard from two streets over, and then line up in ascending order of height along the curb while Blutwurst and his team race by on their vintage Schwinn Couriers and toss exquisitely crafted morsels (Mangalitsa pork-fat shooters, rattlesnake-and-cannabis hand rolls, rabbit tartare with catfish-liver crostini, and the like) — though never quite enough of them to go around —into the air above their heads. Hilarity ensues.
4-Edge — Poisonfish, Mont.
Diners at Abraxis and Aphelion Satansdottir's rustic retreat — with its damp log walls covered with undulating bog moss, dirt floors alive with earthworms, and mismatched kiddie-size camp stools haphazardly arranged around massive moldy tree stumps — don't have to ask how fresh their food is: They know because they've had to forage (get it?) the ingredients themselves. "We're loco for locavoring," chirp the stylishly emaciated sisters in eerie unison.
Would-be customers have to pass a 30-page written exam covering botany, orienteering, divining, and warp knitting, among other topics. Those who get at least a B+ receive a trail map to the restaurant (be forewarned: rock-climbing, whitewater rafting, and a slog through quicksand are involved), and an illustrated guide to victuals they might encounter along the way — among them, 49 varieties of leaves, six species of river toad, and two kinds of edible pebbles.
"You eat what you bring, period," note the siblings, who add that they are minimalists in the kitchen: Most foraged foods are simply steamed over glacier water, then seasoned with nothing more than cobwebs from the Satansdottirs' extensive personal collection.
Me — San Francisco, Calif.
Chef Thane Pompadoo is something special, a glorious creature not like the others.
"Some chefs have 'whims'," says the heartbreakingly handsome dreamboat. "I have divine inspiration. I mean that literally. God tells me what to cook, and he's great on the details. Just the other day, for instance, He said 'Why don't you dust those sand crabs with seaweed pollen?' 'Er, God,' I replied, 'There's no such thing as seaweed pollen.' There ensued the most tremendous racket, with a blinding flash of light. 'There is now,' he said proudly, pouring a heap of iodine-rich powder into my hand. 'Show-off,' I said with a smile, punching him familiarly on the shoulder. But I have to tell you, Michael Bauer positively swooned when he popped one of those polleny little critters into his mouth."
The Adonis-like head-turner pauses to look at himself in the mirror, then continues, "Of course, I could have figured out something just as good on my own, since, well, I am Thane Pompadoo."
Applicants for a seat at Me — those seats being plushly upholstered wingchairs silkscreened with portraits of Pompadoo made up as various famed culinary figures from the past — must write a 2,000-word essay explaining why they think they deserve to sample Pompadoo's ethereal specialties. Oh, and they must be really hot-looking. "I mean, why would you want to sit in a room with ugg-os?" asks the enchantingly chiseled hunk.
Tough Guy Spike's — Chicago, Ill.
The sign on the front door sets the tone: "No Collarless Shirts, No Gang Tattoos, No So-Called Gluten Allergies, Lactose Intolerance, Diverticulitis, or Other Sissy Affectations." This relentlessly funky dive on the wrong side of the tracks — the side that's slipping into the Chicago River — offers little in the way of amenities. There are no chairs, just a chipped Formica counter stenciled with the legend "Do Not Lean." The utensils are cardboard, washed and reused until they're little more than pulp. The "bathrooms" are a row of old paint cans behind the dumpster out the back door.
Yet the small number of customers who successfully gain admittance — the ever-changing process might involve winning a leg-wrestling match with the proprietor's 150-pound Bouvier de Flandres, Fifi, and doing the foxtrot in hockey skates on a floor sloshed with lobster bisque — can't say enough about such specialties as the three-and-a-half-pound Choker, a patty of raw coarse-ground beef tongue slathered in peanut butter and blue cheese dressing concealed inside a loaf of Wonder Bread; or the spaghetti-with-white-clam-sauce spring rolls with pineapple aioli; the spicy catfish oatmeal with smoked snail eggs; or the ranch dressing milkshakes with Baco-bits and pickled chard. This is real food — or about as real as food gets at a place like this.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: I regret to inform any readers who are offended by my description of various aspects of these restaurants — or who have spent hours searching for them on Google, perhaps in the hopes of actually being able to sample seaweed pollen created to order by God or maybe leg-wrestle a Bouvier de Flandres — that the foregoing is a work of satire, meant to poke fun at certain trends in contemporary dining.
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