Tag Archives: Cheese

My Favorite Thus Far

J writes via e-mail on 10/3/10 at 3:28 p.m.

I remember years ago when I first read that airports were going to start offering higher end restaurants, beyond the typical McDonald’s/Burger King fast food fare. Comedians and commentators had a field day. Airport prices were already sky high, so who was going to pay even higher exorbitant prices for a nice meal?

Well, me. Yes, that’s right. On my last day of an eight day stretch on the road I was on the hunt for a nice restaurant in the Miami International Airport. When you don’t have to spend your own money, you tend to be hungrier than normal. On my own, I might never spend $25 for lunch, unless it was a special occasion, but that’s what my per-diem is for lunch, $50 for dinner, so I went looking for a place where I could burn through $25.

I found the something Grille, it’s exact name escapes me now. I suppose I could go looking for a receipt, but I’m really tired. What I did know is that anyplace called Grille with an “e” is usually pretty high end, so I figured what the heck.

Well, I’ll tell you it’s just a damn good thing that I can’t remember the place’s name because it stunk. I mean it really stank like that garbage that was left overnight in the office I was working in at the hotel (yes, N, before you got there this morning I went apeshit on the poor custodial staff for leaving the stinking hummus sandwiches out overnight–it was a bad scene and not one I’m proud of).

In any event, the selection on the menu should have clued me in from the beginning. This is Miami, famous for what kind of food I don’t know, probably fish, but I know they do not know how to make a cheesesteak. Yet, there it was, a Philadelphia cheesesteak with peppers, mushrooms, and SWISS CHEESE!!!!!!! Now, I get that some people like peppers on their cheesesteak; I’m not a fan of mushrooms, but I can accept their existance. BUT SWISS CHEESE???? Are they not aware that John Kerry basically lost the 2004 election because he asked for Swiss Cheese at Pat’s King of Steaks in Philadelphia??? I should have known right then and walked out, but like I said, I was really tired and, at this point, almost delirious.

All I had to drink was water, which I think pissed my waiter off because not only did he say, “fine,” when I ordered it in the same tone your wife might use the day after she caught you sleeping with the maid and you asked how she was doing today, he never refilled it either.

I started my lunch with a Caesar Salad. I have always liked Ceasar Salads because they really don’t expect much from me. Ever noticed how sanctimonous people who eat salads can be? Yes, I’ll have “just” a salad is a phrase you hear often usually from someone who is looking down their nose at another someone who ordered deep fried meat with cheese. Good for you, honey. Go ahead and take your salad and shove it up your smaller ass.

Here’s my thing on salads. Some salads come with cheese, others do not come with cheese. I like to eat the ones that come with cheese. If even after you put bar-b-q sauce on it, it still tastes like the ground, I’m not going to eat it.

But often I’m at restaurants where everyone else orders a salad, usually a “house” salad, which is another problem. I’m at a restaurant; why do I want to eat something called “house?” If I wanted to eat something called “house” I’d be eating it at “home.” I’m out; I don’t want “house” anything.

So I usually ask if I can have a Caesar Salad, to which the general response is “a couple of dollars extra?” To which I almost always consent so I don’t have to eat a “house” salad and so I can eat a salad with a lot of cheese.

Cheese is just one of Caesar salad’s virtues. The other is a lack of extraneous vegetables. House salads tend to come with a lot of things like tomatoes, cucumbers, and carrots, which just have the effect of sucking up the dressing, the only good part of a salad. Often I wind up picking them off, and losing some delicious blue cheese in the process, but with the Ceasar salad that’s not expected or required. It’s really the perfect salad for those who do not like salad but who feel guilted into ordering it–maybe that’s why it’s more expensive.

But there is a rule. That is, the dressing needs to be tossed with the salad so that each sprig of lettuce is covered with Caesar dressing. This restaurant put the dressing ON THE SIDE!!!! And it wasn’t enough. I wound up munching on a bunch of dry lettuce. I may as well have had the house salad.

For the second course I had chicken parmesan. Chicken parmesan is American comfort food–I’m sure no actual Italians eat it. Whether you order it in the high school cafeteria or at the highest end of high end restaurant chains, it’s always the same deep fried meat and cheese concoction with a red sauce of unknown origin. And it’s always pretty good.

So the chicken parmesan didn’t disappoint, except for the fact that my shirkey waiter who was already pissed at me for ordering water brought out my chicken parmesan after I had taken no more than two bites out of my Caesar salad. By the time I got to the chicken, it was cold. This, I suppose, was my own fault, but I should point out that I was eating cold chicken parmesan while sitting about 20 yards form one of those fast food Italian stands, La Famiglia, that would have likely served me the same thing at 50 percent of the price without all the attitude. So I felt like I was missing out on the full experience of it all, or maybe that was the point.

I finished up with a Key Lime pie. I’ve eaten a lot of key lime pie this week. It’s one of my favorite deserts and while it’s not exactly rare it’s not served everywhere. The Key Lime pie was passable (I ate a really good slice this week at Grill Fish, a nice restaurant in Miami. So good in fact that when my friend K–I can call her my friend because I just said yes to a friend request on Facebook. While I do like her very much, I only see her once or twice a year and then only because she’s married to one of my colleagues who I likely wouldn’t know except that we work together and who, while I also like very much, don’t talk to very often. In a normal society this would hardly qualify me to call her a “friend,” but Facebook has changed the social rules almost overnight for all of us, and ain’t that grand?).

Where was I?

Oh yes, the pie.




This key lime pie was so good that when my friend K offerred it to my colleague M (who is also a Facebook friend, come to think of it, and also someone I’m quite fond of, but I don’t want to go through that whole thing again) she immediately stopped eating her creme brulee, pronounced the key lime pie the best thing she had ever tasted and left the creme brulee on the table looking lonely. Please note that K shared her pie with M. I ate my entire slice myself; you all know how I feel about sharing.

I did offer N a piece of my steak, but let’s get back on topic, and stop being distracted by the pie.

The pie at the airport restaurant was not near as good as the one at Grill Fish. It was sort of the jello pudding version, and nothing against Jello pudding, but there’s a reason why we feed it to our children while they are still pooping themselves.

The disappointment was made worse by the fact that my waiter had taken my fork and brought a spoon with my pie. I don’t eat a lot of pie with a spoon, but I guess the waiter was conceding wordlessly that the filling came out of a mix, so why keep lying to each other and pretending that this high end airport restaurant was anything else than overpriced?

At the end I sat there with my empty water and a strong sense of disappointment while I waited for the check.

And here came the coup de grace.

Wait for it.

Wait for it.

The check came with a 15 percent “service charge.” Gratuity, in other words, was automatic. Perhaps this whole exercise was a social experiment in what happens when waiters don’t have to work for their tips. In short, they don’t refill water, they don’t stagger courses and they bring out improper utensils. And they do it all with a shirkey attitude.

But hey, at least it was expensive, which I suppose in the end, is the definition of a nice restaurant.

P.S. Sorry that this post was ridiculously long, but it’s been a while since I submitted anything to N for this growing blog. N is the blog’s manager and in many way’s its inspiration. That is, the whole thing started when I kept sending her random e-mails about my lunch hour and other pointless ramblings that for some reason she found funny.

Ladies, if you laugh good naturedly at a man he will only continue his behavior, and thus the blog was born when she decided my humorous musings needed a wider audience.

For the past week, we’ve been sitting three feet from each other running an offsite office and when I had something I thought was funny I would just say it, she would laugh and that would be the end of it. I didn’t have the energy to write it most of the time.

Sorry you’ve been left out of all that, because some of it was quite brilliant, particularly our conversation about documentaries where we both congratulated each other on being smart enough to enjoy being bored while the rest of the world insisted on being entertained.

Rest assured, N and I are now separated again to go on and live our mostly separate lives, thus correcting the balance of the universe and getting back to the really important business of keeping Cake in the Conference Room up to date.

Stay tuned.

No Subject

J writes via e-mail today at 1:53 p.m.:

I hate being disappointed with food, but after walking a block out of my way and spending $5.94 I am calling them out. Paganos. Your pizza sucked today. It reeked of sucktitudinosity. I wouldn’t eat it again if someone paid me to. It was dry. It was tasteless. It was way below what is normally served by your restaurant.

That's a mess.

You’re slacking. I don’t appreciate it.

I ordered steak and bacon and chicken and bacon. Both tasted dried out if they tasted like anything at all.

The pizza crust was chewy instead of that thin crispness.

In short, it sucked, and I had anticipated it too. Was really looking forward to it.

Thank you, Paganos, for ruining my day.

By the way…

Via e-mail at 3:24 p.m.
J writes:

…you’d be proud of me. I had a chicken cutlet sandwich for lunch. It had broccoli rabe on it. I ate the first half of the sandwich with the broccoli rabe on it. Not the second half, but the first half I did. It’s growth man, growth.
I respond:

I AM so proud!

Could you even taste the rabe? Or was it a texture thing?
J bounces back:

A little of both. My previous experience with broccoli rabe was that it was almost inconsequential. It was small flecks of green stuff that claimed to be broccoli, but I couldn’t tell. More importantly, I couldn’t really taste broccoli, so I just went with it. This sandwich had huge broccoli florets that were impossible to avoid and, well, tasted a lot like broccoli. The problem was this sandwich had the sharp provolone cheese melted on top of it, so you couldn’t just pick the broccoli off without losing the cheese. On the second half of the sandwich I cut my losses.

Actually I spent most of the lunch distracted by the bread crumb in R’s head.
I retort:

Are you one of those people that doesn’t like broccoli? Or more accurately, one of “those people” that despises it?

Because I love Love LOVE broccoli. It’s one of the only vegetables I have liked all of my life. However, I only like it fresh (not cooked).

So I can see how broccoli rabe may have been a challenge for you as far as texture goes. But taste…mmmmm, broccoli tastes delish.

In regards to the cheese on top of the broccoli, I don’t understand why restaurants put cheese anywhere on a sandwich but directly on top (or on bottom) of the hunk of meat the sandwich is built around. I really don’t. This is why Taco Bell confuses me. PUT THE CHEESE DIRECTLY ON TOP OF THE MEAT.  It’s like they don’t want the cheese to melt.

But regardless, I am proud-very. Is Indian food up next?

Also-who is R?
J writes back:

I don’t like broccoli. If that’s wrong, then I don’t want to be right. I don’t even like the look or the smell of it.

Your point on how cheese must be on top of meat is valid and well taken. The thing is though, with this sandwich, the cheese had melted on top of the broccoli, but when I attempted to remove the broccoli I managed to save most of the cheese, because as anyone who knows about cheese will tell you, provolone does not melt well.

It also didn’t help that R had ordered a vegetable sandwich; that was two points against her from the start.

I’ve had Indian food. Didn’t I tell you about my adventures at the Indian food buffet?

R is the new ***** ****** person in the ** office.

Pretzels: Savory AND Sweet Snack Option…?

An e-mail exchange that spans two days (beginning yesterday at 3:50 p.m.)

(Note: it starts off about flavor combos, but then ends up being about argument logic in general, and the law of diminishing returns-it’s looong.)
J writes:

Don’t be fooled by the marketing gimmicks. Not all great tastes taste great together. Yes, peanut butter and chocolate is a wonder, but peanut butter and fish sticks? Probably not, unless you’re pregnant.

Frito Lay, maker of the fine Doritos line of products, recently embarked on a series of unfortunate events where they combined two flavors into one bag. They rolled out a whole series of them in a test marketing campaign they never really explained to the public. My personal favorite was blue cheese and buffalo wings, but those are gone now and the company has apparently decided that what the public really wants is a combination of ranch and pizza flavored chips.

Not this member of the public. The combination makes no sense (ever dip your pizza in ranch dressing? I didn’t think so) and because these items are actually CHIPS, by the time you get to the bottom of the bag the lovely Dorito Dust (nectar of the snack food gods) has combined into a nebulous flavor one can only describe as sharp and salty. Not good at all.

And this is not the only ill-fated combination I’ve seen recently. One of my colleagues recently brought in bacon flavored chocolate. Yeah, I know. She also likes American hoagies, but bacon flavored chocolate? It came in a nice wrapper and she said it was expensive, so I guess…but listen, as our president said, you can put lipstick on a pig and it’s still a pig, at the risk of mixing my pork metaphors.

And pretzels. Pretzels are meant to come in one flavor—salty. If you want to dip them in cheese, that’s fine, a little redundant maybe, but as long as you are not dipping them in gorgonzola you still can keep your membership in the human race.

But I am going to call a halt to the hysteria that has gripped a lot of chain (no food truck would dare attempt this) pretzel stands. They do not need pepperoni. They should not come with cinnamon sugar, or sesame seeds or even garlic really.

Just enjoy the goodness that is a classic pretzel. If you like cinnamon and sugar, go get a cup cake.
I respond:

First of all: I’m not fooled by marketing gimmicks. I agree, there are some tastes that coalesce nicely; chocolate and peanut butter, banana and peanut butter, chocolate and mint, blue cheese and buffalo flavoring, salt and chocolate, etc. But someone had to be the first to combine the aforementioned flavors together. Don’t forget, even the portable dessert staple of the chocolate chip cookie was only invented in the 1930s. We owe much to innovation in food, and as far as flavor delivery goes (I’m talking carbs here-pasta, breads, other doughy products-all serve to provide a base for another more poignant or delicious taste sensation), pretzels are a great candidate.

Second-of-ly: Why can we dip pretzels in cheese but in nothing else? You’re just biased towards cheese…VERY biased towards cheese. You’re as into cheese as I am into ice cream, which is to say, it’s an almost religious-like devotion. So OF COURSE it’s okay to dip pretzels in cheese for you. But I say you’re missing out on other delicious flavor options.

Thirdly: Am I to take it that you don’t indulge in an Auntie Anne’s pretzel every now and again? Those are tasty because they are immersed in butter. Is butter another ingredient that you deem inappropriate for soft pretzels? (The PA Dutch use butter in their pretzels which are very traditional as far as recipes go.)

And last of all: Pretzels, because of their doughy/salty nature are perfect for dessert. Cinnamon and sugar pretzels are pretty darn good. Now, if I’m going to eat that much sugar, my instinct is to go for something “worth it”, like a cupcake, as you say. But I can see the merits in the cinnamon and sugar pretzel, and have tasted one, and they’re pretty tasty-too tasty, in fact, for you to condemn them wholesale.  Which brings me to a more pressing point…do you disagree in principle with pretzels as dessert? Because if so, then you eliminate one of God’s gifts to mankind-the chocolate covered pretzel. And that, well, that is just incomprehensible to me.

J retorts:

A couple of quick points before I get to the artery clogging heart of your argument…

…first, I take umbrage to the defining of my affection for cheese as “religious devotion.” I am, after all, engaging in a food debate with a VEGAN, which shows that I have an open mind, whereas you have closed off your taste buds to anything that moos or oinks.

…second, being first is hardly a criteria for credibility. Haven’t you seen the list of “firsts” that never got off the ground because they were stupid? Didn’t think so. No one thought it was worth writing down.

Auntie Anne’s is a case in point. If you really knew the chain as well as you thought you did, you would know that the pepperoni pretzel, the sesame seed pretzel and the garlic pretzel are all Auntie Anne’s products. This greedy corporate conglomerate figured it had wrung all the profit it could out of the unsuspecting consumer (Auntie Anne’s pretzels are among the highest in terms of price, which is why you find them at airports) and it would quickly reach market saturation with just the classic salty pretzel. So it introduced a whole new line of none thought out products purely for the fattening of its bottom line. It’s not creativity; it’s corporate greed.

What’s most interesting to me is that you defend the cinnamon sugar pretzel by mentioning other desert pretzels. You can’t defend one mistake by pointing to a bunch of others that by rights should fail.

Since this is an office-based blog about food, I will cite as evidence the once great comedy The Office. In the 5th episode of the 3rd season (the show’s 33rd episode overall), Pam has to followed Michael Scott’s productivity for the day, but he spends all his time waiting in line for…

…wait for it…

…wait for it…

…a desert pretzel.

I submit that any food idea endorsed by Michael Scott, probably is not one that should be followed.
I counter:

I’m leaving for the day…we’ll continue this tomorrow.

But before I go…

I love that you used the word “umbrage.”

And (I don’t know how many times I have to tell you this), I AM NOT A VEGAN. I don’t eat meat (I eat certain seafood though) or milk-based products. I do, however, still consume eggs and honey. I just happen to eat foods that are vegan because then I don’t have to worry if there is any butter or milk in said product (or whey, or nonfat milk powder, or lactose, or whatever-the-heck-else-I-can’t-pronounce-that-isn’t-real-food is shoved into my “food”).

AND as someone who has “closed off my taste buds” I should point out that I eat a larger variety of foodstuffs than you do, I’m sure. This is evidenced by the fact that you know WAY MORE about Auntie Anne’s evolving menu than I do (and Taco Bell’s, MickyD’s, Wendy’s, food trucks’ menus, etc). Sure, I don’t eat chicken, or turkey (oh how I miss thee turkey!), or beef (not so much), or, heaven forbid-bacon, and I don’t have milk or cream or butter…BUT, I don’t really miss them (except for ice cream-oh how I miss ice cream), because there are non-animal based products that I can use to substitute (almond milk is DELICIOUS for example, coconut milk ice cream, avocado or hummus instead of mayo, tofu instead of meat, etc…).

This conversation isn’t over…this will continue tomorrow.
This morning at 9:42 a.m. via e-mail, I write:

To continue the argument from yesterday…

I will invoke what I said to you when walking to the train: it is completely logical to use chocolate-covered pretzels as a point in my argument to disprove your argument against cinnamon and sugar pretzels. I bring up the Glory of chocolate-covered pretzels to point out an inconsistency in your Food Puritanism (which, conveniently-as mentioned yesterday via email AND in conversation-does not include cheese).

Also, it doesn’t matter that Auntie Anne’s is the greedy corporation manufacturing a variety of delicious overpriced “fancy” pretzels. The point is that such pretzels DO exist and are delicious. How you can defend a pretzel and cheese, which is hardly conventional, over a pretzel with poppy or sesame seeds instead of salt is beyond me. At least the poppy and sesame seeds somewhat mimic the texture of salt and add the same amount of crunch.
J swings back:

The issue is one of a law of diminishing returns. You get a satisfying snack experience from a classic salty pretzel. You might get a satisfying experience from a chocolate covered pretzel but is it that much better than the experience you got from a regular salty pretzel? Unlikely. Add the poppy seeds. Any better? Nope. Stick with the classics.

And cheese is in a class by itself. I refer to my staple source of evidence, really bad television. Hell’s Kitchen, Gordon Ramsay’s profanity fest, once had an episode where the chefs had to prepare a high school lunch and the students voted on which one was best. Winner? The deep fried chicken sandwich with a slice of cheese.

I conclude:

If you’re going to bring up the law of diminishing returns, then it applies to ALL food. Everyone knows the anticipation (and first bite) are better than every subsequent taste. I believe Pooh or A.A. Milne (I’m reading The Tao of Pooh) said it best with, “Because although Eating Honey was a very good thing to do, there was a moment just before you began to eat it which was better than when you were, but he didn’t know what it was called.”

As we argued only several moments ago in my cube, your judging the value of anything other than a plain soft pretzel is a personal taste preference or subjective evaluation, which, I’m sorry, doesn’t hold up in this argument.

I’m still bothered by your dodging my attack on your “stick with the conventional” branch of your argument. It’s not about what’s conventional anymore is it? It’s about what you like to eat which is apparently, cheese. Which, I believe we discussed yesterday on the way to the train. You said that combining flavors is silly…if you want X, just eat X. You don’t put mashed potatoes, steak and peas all in the same bite (though some people do), so why do that with snack foods (even though this whole email chain began with you bemoaning the stupid flavor combos to come out of Doritos as of late)? I countered with something I can’t remember now (it was witty and intelligent, I’m sure) and then asked you why you don’t just eat plain cheese, to which you replied, “Because it’s not socially acceptable to eat just a slice of cheese! But if it was, I’d be all over that.”

Which brings me to my final point in this tangential argumentative free-for-all: If you want to eat cheese (which is apparently in a class by itself) just eat cheese. Who cares what society says! Follow your heart! By the way…of COURSE the chicken sandwich with cheese was the best high school lunch-EVERYONE knows (including me who doesn’t eat them anymore) that there’s nothing…absolutely NOTHING like a good ol’ fashioned “meat and cheese.”

So to sum up why your argument is flawed: You can’t dismiss the pluses of various pretzel combos just because you have a thing for cheese. You especially can’t use the “the combos are newfangled and un-traditional” because the so-called “new and fancy” flavor groupings mimic your favorite traditional salty pretzel more closely than cheese-which you make all sorts of special allowances for because it is simply Cheese, and therefore, imposing your subjective tastes onto the rest of us.
J closes:

In my college classes, there’s a point where my students start figuring out that I never actually read anything they send me so that if they just put enough words to paper they’ll pass. There’s a certain merit to that, but we talk about things like theories of argument and grammatical principles, not important things like salty pretzels, desert pretzels and cheese. So, unfortunately for you, I am paying attention.

Your focus on my love for cheese is a distraction, and not germane. Cheese is of the savory line of food stuffs. Someone who likes cheese probably likes cheese puffs, but not necessarily cream puffs from a bakery. You could make the argument that junk food is junk food, but not really. I like cheese, but that doesn’t mean I like sweet foods.

And therein lies the problem. Pretzels, in their original pure form, are a savory snack. And they occupy a significant market niche in the savory snack arena.

When we make them cinnamon sugar pretzels or chocolate covered pretzels, we’ve created disgusting hybrids similar to the genetic anomalies we all feared after Dolly the Sheep was unleashed on the world.

When pretzels become desert food, they are just trying to be something they are not and, in the final analysis, screwing up the junk food universe. Just like chocolate shouldn’t be flavored with bacon, pretzels shouldn’t be flavored with cinnamon, sugar or chocolate. It’s the cross-over effect I have a problem with.

And, incidentally, yes I’d have a problem if someone put chocolate or sugar on my cheese puffs.
That was long. Sorry. We left the argument there, sort of. We actually yelled about it at each other a bit over my cube, but have yet to come to a conclusion. Who do YOU think wins? Leave a comment and let us know.


Via e-mail at 2:02 p.m. today:
J writes:

It appears that one of my favorite food trucks near the Public Ledger Building across from Independence Park, roughly 5th and Walnut, has begun feeling the effects of the recession. That is they have raised the price of cheese from $.25 to $.50. I’ll admit it’s hardly a budget buster for me, and when you sell as many cheeseburgers or cheese hot dogs as they do, it likely helps their bottom line, but here’s the incongruity—the price of everything else has not changed. And they don’t charge for a lot of other things.

At lunch today I got a kielbasa. I had them put it on the grill (they are always better grilled and they have to be just shy of burnt to get the full effect) and dressed it up with fried onions, brown mustard and, of course, the aforementioned cheese. Total cost: $3.00. Money well spent. Without the cheese it would have been $2.50. Without the onions and mustard, it still would have been $3.00.

What makes cheese so special that they feel entitled to charge $.50 for it? And why do we pay?

My sandwich had a lot, I mean a lot, of onions. Free.

They were also quite generous with the mustard. Free.

Cost of grilling (some trucks charge an extra $.25 for “anything on the grill.”). Also free.

Sandwiches often rise and fall on the quality of their condiment supplements. Even as Heinz dominates the ketchup market, we all know not all mustards are created equal. When you are making sandwiches in volume, condiments are a cost to consider.

When I was a kid, my McDonald’s hamburger came with three pickles. Today, they come with one. What’s a pickle? Nothing, unless you are making as many hamburgers as McDonalds, in which case it’s a big item on your condiment budget. If I wanted extra pickles I suppose I could get them, but they’d likely charge me for them, like they do for the extra sauce packets I keep in my refrigerator because my kids won’t eat regular bar-b-q sauce and I have yet to find an equivalent for their hot mustard.

But I digress…

You know how much McDonald’s charges for cheese?


What a world.