Tag Archives: Frank Bruni

In Which I Allege Prime Meats Has No Clothes…Or is At Least Half-Naked…

I’ve been Yelping.

Mostly because I realized I have opinions about local restaurants and it’s silly not to share them…even though I remain terrified someone is going to call me out, a la the Lucky purse disaster on Consumerist. I guess this proves that despite all the book rejections that have come my way, I still haven’t developed very thick skin.

Nonetheless, I did a bold thing today: I posted a review of Prime Meats in which I alleged the restaurant is completely uninviting. Angry mobs may be assembling as we speak.

I’m not sure whether I’ll become a hard-core reviewer on Yelp — after all, there are so many places on the Internet where you can review things and provide your opinions…like, say, on Epicurious…and there just aren’t enough hours in the day to write it all.

But I also know a little cross-promotion can’t hurt…and am kind of proud of this review. There — I said it. (Which probably means it is terrible as that is usually the case whenever I like something I write.)

Nevertheless…for non-Yelpers, here’s my review:

I am going to make a bold statement. And I’m fairly certain it’s going to ruffle some feathers, but I’m going to say it anyway: I think, to a degree, Prime Meats — like the Emperor in Hans Christian Andersen’s tale — has no clothes. Or it is at least half-naked.

The food is very good, to be sure. Prime Meats wouldn’t have garnered so much attention if that wasn’t the case.

I also think it was a bold move for the owners to focus on German cuisine – although perhaps therein lies their genius.

But somehow Prime Meats, despite its delicious food, doesn’t have the warm, inviting atmosphere of other restaurants of its caliber. That is not to say it is not aesthetically pleasing. But it is permeated by a sense of entitlement that belies the site’s humble history as a dry cleaning business.

On a recent weekday, one of the owners waltzed about with his French bulldog in hand with such an air of confidence, I wondered if he would actually get in trouble if a health inspector dropped by or if he could simply say, “Do you know who I am?” and get away with it.

I’ll repeat: The food is very, very good. You can get a fine steak here – and this is a neighborhood that cannot otherwise boast a good steakhouse.

But I think the fuss over this restaurant is partly psychological. In other words, I think part of the reason people rave about it is the same reason the head cheerleader and the quarterback of the football team are powerful in high school. It’s not necessarily because they’re good people…

Sam Sifton did an excellent job describing diners in his NYT review last May: “…brownstone bohemians, third novelists, people with Web sites, with good art at home.”

They are served by waiters in beards, skinny jeans and suspenders…or, as Sifton described them, “a crew of handsome men and women dressed as if ready to ride horses back home to Bushwick, where they trap beaver and make their own candles.”

I am admittedly a struggling writer with a degree that has so far not justified its pricetag…and perhaps if I had landed a job at the New York Times or Conde Nast, I would feel more welcome here. But I don’t. In fact, I’m hard-pressed to think of a restaurant where I’ve felt so unwelcome.

I could perhaps understand if I was dressed inappropriately or was spewing profanities. But I wasn’t. I just wanted to see what all the fuss was about. And I live very close. I walk by virtually every day. And yet when I decided to drop by to take advantage of an oyster special and the restaurant was unoccupied with the exception of one other party, it took 15 minutes for our drinks to come and yet another 15 more for the oysters to appear.

“I’m sorry, but the oyster guy is backed up,” our waiter explained as the table next to us received their second platter of oysters and we checked our watches.

We were eventually served and, as noted, the food was good. But at no point did I feel my business was wanted or that I would ever be compelled to return…unless I was suffering from acute hubris and needed my ego cut down to size by a staff eager to imply that I wasn’t good enough to eat there.

It’s not just me. I’ve heard stories from neighbors who were deemed unfit to mingle with the clientele and who were encouraged to sit at the bar or move along.

Take Frank Bruni on Twitter, for example. On January 5, he wrote, “At Prime Meats last nite, didn’t think: I’m in BROOKLYN!”

In his defense, he went on to say, “Didn’t mull geography. Just ate well at super place. The borough has plenty.”

But, at the same time, a Brooklyn prejudice seems terribly outdated and pompous…and somehow completely fitting for this restaurant that calls the borough its home.

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Roman Holiday

My latest Big Thought? Rome. I want to go to Rome.

It sounds like maybe Japan isn’t in the cards anymore…and I was happy as a little clam going all over creation last year. I’ve been in New York now for FOUR STRAIGHT MONTHS. It’s time to plan an escape.

And then yesterday, as I was finishing Frank Bruni’s Born Round (which isn’t about Rome outright…but there *is* a brief section on his tenure as the Rome Bureau Chief and he *does* hail from a large Italian family…), it hit me: I should go to Rome.

I really liked Bruni’s latest book — and not just because I once went to a party at the apartment he talks about in the final chapters. I totally get his relationship with food — from the late-night binges as a means of self-healing and escape to the cherished articles of clothing that allow you to hide your imperfections (my beloved cardigan was at the dry cleaner for four days and I almost died. And it didn’t help that I had a claim ticket that said it would be ready on Wednesday…and when I arrived on Wednesday to pick up aforementioned-blogged-about-beloved cardigan, the woman was on the phone forever and then gave me serious attitude — “This says Wednesday!” — which made me panic for a moment and think, “OhmygodisitTuesday?” but then I remembered that I had fake-gambled that morning for the first time that week, so it was definitely Wednesday and said as much and she said, “This means Wednesday NIGHT.” And so I waited another day…). And, I mean, Dude was the restaurant critic at Times, so I suppose he has a way with food words…but, man — his descriptions of meals in and around Rome seriously made me want to go (in some parallel universe in which I have unlimited cash and speak flawless Italian…[which reminds me of an old roommate’s friend from Rome who once taught me to say, “Stai fuori come una Jacuzzi in giardino!” which, if memory serves, translates to, “You’re out like a Jacuzzi in the garden!” and basically means, “You’re crazy!”]).

Missing Italy (and, frankly, Greece…and Ireland…and Norway…) is one of my big regrets from my two years in England. (But, at the same time, I was a poor student…so it’s not like I never got around to it…[again, it’s unfortunate we don’t live in that world in which I have lots of money and speak lots of languages]). And it’s crazy to think that’s been eight years since I’ve been back (which is all beginning to sound a lot like “New York, We Have to Talk,” isn’t it?)…

I’ve also heard a lot of talk lately about Eat, Pray, Love (once from a fake-gambler who vowed to punch the next middle-aged lady he sees on the train reading it…but also from a J-school colleague). And…gotta say: I was totally with Elizabeth Gilbert when she was in Italy. Gorging yourself on pasta and practicing Italian with a charming young man are two things that make absolute sense to me. (But, alas, I found I identified with her less and less as her journey went on…and, honestly, I thought she was kind of a jerk to the guru in Bali. I know he *expected* her to abandon him and move on…but, still…seemed a little mean to me to drop him like a bad habit as soon as she met the Old Guy…)

And…so, minus the Praying and the Loving, I wanna do it, too — I want to go to Italy and eat pasta and bread and cheese and gelato until I weigh twice as much as I did before. And I want to sit on the Spanish Steps. And I want to throw a coin in Trevi Fountain. And I want smarmy men with slick hair to tell me I’m beautiful even if they don’t mean it and I want to say, “Ciao!” and “Grazie!” and to ride on the back of a Vespa with Gregory Peck. And I want to marvel at old things.

So…perhaps the Big Birthday is a reasonable goal. What better way/place to usher in the next decade of my life than in the Eternal City?

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St. Patrick’s Day with Mike Meyers, Judy Garland, Hal, Mal, Jill, Lance Romance, a Whole Lot of Tammies and One Single Barbie.

(…even though I’m not sure any of them are/were Irish…)

I feel like I’ve been in such a rut lately…and, like Austin Powers, my mojo is gone. But…to carry the analogy a bit further, I’ve been unable to find my Dr. Evil and somehow learn a powerful Dorothy-esque lesson that I never really lost it at all.

I still haven’t been baking much…even though a friend recently took me to Costco and I got 72 ounces of chocolate chips and could theoretically bake cookies for every last one of the 2,556,598 people who live in Brooklyn. And, sure, *that* would be one heck of a post…but…let’s be realistic.

Today is March 14…or 3.14…or Pi…which I suppose means I should be making pies. But I’m not. Cat-sitting, yes. Old-bill-shredding, yes. Laundry-doing, yes. Book-draft-tweaking, yes. Golden-Girls-watching, yes. But…pie-baking, no.

I just sort of accepted that maybe I’m not going to have anything to write about for awhile. And…I’ve been pitching stories — a girl’s gotta eat — and I was trying to think of some good ideas for St. Patrick’s Day and *that* got me thinking about the Sweet Potato Queens of Jackson, Mississippi and their yearly parade (or, rather, the yearly parade they march in…) and I realized the timing is perfect and I *do* actually have something to write about now.

For the uninitiated, the Sweet Potato Queens are a group of women in Jackson who dress up in spangly green outfits with pink fur and fringe and big red wigs with sparkly crowns and accentuated body parts. They march in Hal and Mal’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade every year and are led by Jill Conner Browne, who calls herself the “Boss Queen,” and has written numerous books on being a Queen that are both amusing and empowering…even though I sort of feel like if you’ve read one, you’ve read them all. She’s a good writer — and has definitely found her niche — but I think (and I mean this in the nicest way possible as I really do think it’s a good example of someone who found a way to make a living doing something she loves…) it’s the same brand of fiery Southernisms packaged under different themes, like Love or Money or Divorce or Getting Older. Nothing wrong with it. Just…like I said, if you’ve read one, you pretty much know the gist. (Although…to be fair, I don’t think I’ve read anything after the Big-Ass Cookbook (and Financial Planner).

And yet…despite the repetition or whatever, I really like those ladies and part of me wishes I was en route to Jackson for next weekend’s parade.

I went to the parade one year while I was living there…but I only vaguely remember the very end in which Tiny Tim — the Grand Marshal that year — passed by on the back of a convertible with his ukulele. And…it sort of begs the question how I could possibly miss and/or not remember a brassy gang of Southern women in sequined outfits and giant boobs who go by “Tammy” while Lance Romance tickles the ivory and they dance on a float…but I have absolutely no recollection of them. It’s kind of sad. I guess I had different priorities circa 1994…

A few things I *do* remember about the Magnolia State:

  • The boiled (pronounced “bald”) peanuts sold on the side of the road by an old guy with a crusty nose. When my mother first saw his sign, she said, “P-Nuts? What’s that? Pine nuts?” and our real estate agent furrowed her brow and said, “No. Peanuts.”
  • The prisoners wore pants with big green and white stripes and served lunch at a barbecue festival called Red Hot in July…which was a little weird. I’ve never had a felon serve me food before. (I don’t think.)
  • I had my first pulled pork sandwich at Red Hot and Blue (which my parents tried to find again when passing through Jackson last year but it maybe doesn’t exist anymore?).
  • My dad’s coworkers called him, “Mr. Brian,” because they wanted to be respectful, but also friendly…
  • I was on the yearbook staff with the mayor’s son and I played basketball with the Secretary of Agriculture’s daughter…and we had a dress code that said we could only wear t-shirts from the school itself or from colleges…and every time someone walked into the gym in a Yale shirt, my basketball coach would scream and when that person looked around, confused, he’d say, “Well it said, ‘Yale,'” but he pronounced “yell,” and “Yale,” just about exactly the same…or if anyone walked in with a shirt from say, Brown, that wasn’t Brown, he LOVED saying, “That ain’t brown, that’s blue!” (or gray or white or whatever). He was born in California, but only lived there for a few months when he was an infant…and yet still felt we had some sort of bond because of it. “My mama said you could get green beans real cheap there,” he’d say. He was the first person I ever met who actually chewed tobacco and he would spit it into the back of his truck. And, for whatever reason, I can remember him talking about getting fire ants in the innards of his truck and watching them spit out at him when he turned on the AC.
  • Mississippi also introduced me to king cake and beignets (I’m not a big fan of either)…fried pickles (which I like better), a grocery store chain called Jitney Jungle…and the sweetest little four-year-old boy named Connor who used to live next door to me and who I used to babysit every Saturday night. He saw Free Willy and fell in love with orcas…and, 15 years later, I still have a drawing on my refrigerator that he made for me with the Ross Barnett Reservoir and his house and some boats and the warning, “No Killing Orcas.” It’s really scary to think that he’s 19 now…and the same age as Levi Johnston. He was just such a sweet little boy…and — spoiler alert — I’ve often thought that if I ever have a son, the name Connor will be at the top of my list.

These are just random memories from Mississippi…and don’t likely paint a very good picture. I haven’t been back since…1996? 1997? I imagine a lot has changed. But it’s what I remember. (And I say this even after catching a little bit of Wanda Sykes last night in which she interviewed Constance McMillen and said that Mississippi always has a knack for being on the wrong side of history…and…gotta admit she sorta had a point…)

Back to the Queens: I’m not really sure how Jill Conner Browne became the Boss Queen…but I’m glad she did. She’s definitely on the list of people I admire (…and whose career paths I wouldn’t mind following…) From what I’ve gathered in her books, it sounds like things haven’t always been easy for her — she’s divorced and was a single mother and it took her a long time to find the Cutest Boy in the World…so, I mean, I guess I see her as another example of how important it is to be tenacious and that things work out when they’re meant to be…even if it doesn’t always make sense when you’re in the thick of it. (Amen? [Seemed the appropriate way to end that paragraph…])

And, heck, I think this whole thing got started when she decided to declare herself a queen one day. Which sort of begs the question why I don’t just call myself the Queen of Something and get the ball rolling. But I can’t really think of anything that I’d like to be the Queen of — Artichokes? Endives? Soybeans? — nor do I really have a place to march…or anyone to play the piano for me as I do it. Although — one thing’s for sure: I’m pretty sure the Sweet Potato Queens got the boob thing right. I have a friend who went as Doralee from 9 to 5 for Halloween…and she told me that she learned that men do not care what your boobs are made of as long as they are huge. So…perhaps the lesson here is that I should get a boob job if I want a successful media career?

Or…I could always marry a pop star from the 70s?

Frank Bruni wrote a story recently about Katie Lee (formerly Joel)…and, gotta say, I envy this chick’s life. Basically everything I want to do (with the exception of my own cooking show and marrying Billy Joel), she’s either done or has in the works: the Chelsea-Handler-esque collection of short stories; the monthly entertaining column in Cosmo; the Good Morning America appearances…if I had accomplished any one of those things, I might be happy to rest on my laurels for all eternity. (It also sort of reminds me of those bumper stickers that say, “I want to be just like Barbie — that bitch has everything!” Except my bumper sticker would say, “I want to be just like Katie Lee…”? No. That can’t be right either…)

Or, you know, maybe I can just print my resume on a shirt…?

I’m not sure how we ended up here. It’s a long way from existential crises to Happy St. Patrick’s Day…but, believe it or not, that was my point. So. I’ll slam the brakes and throw this post in reverse and wrap things up with, “Don’t forget to wear green on Wednesday! And have a happy St. Patty’s Day…!”

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If I hadn’t been writing about Frank Bruni, I wouldn’t have known it’s Ann Coulter’s birthday…

So…I got home last night around 8:00ish and all I had consumed was coffee and water on the planes (I had, like, the perfect amount of time to get from Terminal A to Terminal C in Dallas…without a ridiculous amount of waiting time *or* having to run with my cat-in-a-bag…but it *also* meant I didn’t have a chance to procure sustenance). So. All of this is to say that I was pretty hungry by the time I got back to my apartment…but I obviously didn’t have anything on hand. (Except milk that didn’t spoil! Like magic! Coffee was SO GOOD this morning!) So…SeamlessWeb! (And, like silver white winters that melt into springs, it is one of my favorite things…)

And, you know what? I really wanted Thai food, so I ordered Thai food…and the Thai place near me is one that the Bartender liked a lot, but ordering from there didn’t make me sad *at* *all* (See?? Progress!)…*and* I saw this thing with peanut sauce on the menu that I *had* to order because I was reading Frank Bruni’s latest book on the plane(s) — Born Round…in which he discusses what it’s like to be the proverbial fat kid with an endless appetite who grows up to be the restaurant critic at the New York Times…and I’m only up to his stint at the Detroit Free Press, so I certainly don’t know how it ends yet…but he *did* have a torrid relationship with cold noodles and a peanut-y sauce that he discovered during one of two internships at Newsweek…and so when I saw the peanut thing on the menu, I couldn’t not get it.

And…Frank Bruni is fun to bring up because…I had a coworker once who knew a guy who works at the Times…and who was being relocated to a bureau outside of New York and so Frank Bruni threw a going away party for said coworker’s friend at his apartment. And…I was lucky because my coworker said I could come with him…(as if, after meeting me, Bruni would be instantly enchanted and ask me to be his #2. Or something.) So…what a strange moment it was to be in Frank Bruni’s apartment…and marveling at, you know, the framed photos of him with George W. Bush and whatnot…and my coworker and I were in his living room because there were fewer people in there (read: none. I am nothing if not antisocial…)…and Frank came in to talk to us for a little bit and that Lisa Kudrow show — The Comeback — was on in the background and I remember Bruni talking about how he thought it was an underrated show…and then his phone rang and he excused himself…and he came back and said something like, “I have this friend and I’m not sure if she’s going to show up, but I really hope she comes…and if she does, you’ll all know who she is.” And so we said, “Who is it?” and he said, “Oh, I can’t tell you that! But you’ll know as soon as you see her.”

So…fast forward a little bit. Doorbell rings. And who do you suppose it was? Why, none other than Ann Coulter! (Ack! I just Googled her and it turns out that today is her birthday! Weird, right??) And, folks, she was the most freakishly skinny blond woman I have ever seen in my life…

My old coworker *swears* that Ann Coulter proceeded to hit on him…but *my* memory of the exchange is merely that she said, “You look familiar,” or the like. And — who am I to judge? — perhaps in old, skinny, blond, conservative ladyspeak it’s the equivalent of, “What’s your sign?” (And, who am I kidding? If Glenn Beck said something comparable to me, I’d be tweeting all over the place.)

And, I mean, sadly, that’s basically the end of my story: I went to a party at Frank Bruni’s place once and Ann Coulter showed up. And peanut sauce makes me think of him now…which made me think of her. Which turned out to be on her birthday, of all days. That’s it.

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