The Food Almanac: June 17, 2011

Staff Writer
The Food Almanac: June 17, 2011
Cheeseburger in Paradise.
Keeler, Scott/ZUMA Press/Corbis

Cheeseburger in Paradise.

In The Food Almanac, Tom Fitzmorris of the online newsletter, The New Orleans Menu notes food facts and sayings.

Eating Calendar
Today is Eat Your Vegetables Day. Because it's good for you, reduces incidence of mustache cancer, etc., etc. Most of us actually like vegetables. I could be a vegetarian if I didn't like steak so much. It's easy to understand why some people don't like their vegetables. It's because diners expect to get a vegetable side dish with their entrées at no added cost. Because it's free, restaurants and cooks feel little pressure to give the sides much attention. This is true even in some expensive, allegedly gourmet places.

Some restaurants, fortunately, take a different tack. They buy unusual vegetables (baby turnips, salsify, broccoli raab, pea shoots). They don't treat these with particularly more care than the neighborhood café does its peas and mashed potatoes, but it at least creates an illusion that they care. At the lower end of the prices spectrum, the few restaurants that try to make their vegetables special usually do so by melting cheese all over them. If you don't believe all of this, ask a vegetarian how tough it is to get a good vegetable plate in most restaurants. Such a thing is a collection of afterthoughts.

It is getting better. A few restaurants are going after locally-grown vegetables with much greater interest. But the problem remains: the typical diner is much more interested in the protein on the plate, which must be done well. He won't pay extra for vegetables (except, curiously, in a steak house, where the vegetables are no better than in the places where they're free). And so the pressure is down on the vegetables.

Deft Dining Rule #52
A restaurant with excellent vegetable side dishes probably does everything else excellently.

Appetizing Places
Sweet Potato Knob is in extreme western West Virginia, ten miles from the Kentucky state line. It is a classic Appalachian knob of bare rock rising to 1,143 feet. It's surrounded by woodlands. As is also the case in much of this part of the world, the nearest break in the woods is a strip mine for coal, about two miles away. This is wild countryside, ribboned with clearwater creeks. The nearest place to eat is nine miles up Highway 37 in Wayne: the well-named Pioneer Restaurant.

Edible Dictionary
edamame, [ed-eh-MAHM-ee], Japanese, n. — The Japanese name for soybeans. It literally translates as "beans growing on bushes." In this country, it refers to the lightly-boiled pods of soybeans served cool as an appetizer in Asian restaurants, particularly sushi bars. They seem uninviting until you squeeze the pod, pop a bean out, and munch it. After that, it's hard to stop eating them. The beans are underripe, green, and soft. The water in which they're boiled is quite salty, so the beans are too. It may be a plot to get you to drink more beer, with which edamame goes well.

Music to Eat By
Jimmy Buffett's song Cheeseburger In Paradise hit its high point on the charts today in 1978 at only number 32. It gets played a lot more than bigger hits of the time. It's the food reference, I tell you. On this date in 1972, the song Brandy was released by a one-hit wonder called Looking Glass. Brandy, I know you'll recall, was a fine girl. The last major hit by a classic big band — that of Jimmy Dorsey, no less — made it to number two on this day in 1957. It was a song about how to cook a steak: So Rare. The sax solo was by Dick Stabile, who led his own big band at the Blue Room here for many years.

Whiskey In The Funnies
This was the day in 1919 when the comic strip Barney Google premiered. It evolved over the years into Snuffy Smith, which is still being published. I hear that Snuffy lately has turned his skill at distilling "corn squeezin's" into making small-batch bourbons aged in oak for 12 to 15 years. But he still refuses to pay the "revenooers," so it's still illegal. I haven't tried the stuff myself.