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Zagat’s Fifty State Sandwich Survey: Beef on Weck Gets Its Due

October 14, 2013

When I was an associate at LeBoeuf, Lamb, “fifty state survey” was a dreaded assignment. It meant going to the library (no Lexis or Westlaw in those days) to determine the law governing some abstruse matter–say, eligibility of liability insurance on exterminators for export to the unlicensed or “surplus lines” market–in each of the fifty states and the District of Columbia. The good people at Zagat (yes, I really do like them) had a much more enjoyable task: finding the “unique regional sandwich” that best characterizes each state, as well as D.C. For the New York sandwich, I expected them to choose pastrami on rye with mustard, served with a half-sour pickle, and would have considered that a worthy option. Instead, I was surprised and delighted that they looked to the western end of the state and chose beef on weck (photo above). As I’ve posted here before, I came to love this sandwich years ago, during my tenure at LeBoeuf, when I was working on client matters in the Buffalo area.

In our neighboring state of Connecticut, Zagat picks another favorite of mine, the Connecticut lobster roll (photo above). There’s more about it here. Not surprisingly, the Maine version gets the nod as the Pine Tree State’s characteristic sandwich.

My old home state, Florida, gets what it ought to: the Cuban sandwich. The one Zagat chose to feature, however, doesn’t look like any Cuban I’ve ever had. That’s probably because it comes from a cafeteria in Miami, not from my old home town, Tampa, the Ur of el Cubano. My first, and therefore iconic, Cuban came from the Silver Ring Bar in Ybor City, an establishment that failed to survive the transformation of Tampa’s Latin Quarter into a corporatized tourist mecca. There’s a lively discussion in the comments on the Zagat piece about what a proper Cuban should, or should not, include. The Zagat description fails to mention what I consider the sine qua non: that the sandwich be pressed in a plancha, a device resembling that used to press panini.

My wife wanted to know what Zagat considers the characteristic sandwich of her home state, Massachusetts. She was amused and pleased to know that it’s the fluffernutter, a variant of the PB&J with Marshmallow Fluff in place of the jelly. Evidently the  General Court (what they call the legislature in the Bay State) and Governor made it the Commonwealth’s official sandwich. Zagat tells us that Marshmallow Fluff was invented in Somerville (though it’s now made in my wife’s hometown, Lynn) by a man named Archibald Query, who sold it door-to-door. Somerville now has an annual Fluffernutter Festival, and it seems we just missed National Fluffernutter Day. Did Congress and the President actually agree to proclaim that? Ah, for the days when they could find common ground on important matters.

The Zagat folks threw a few curves. For my native state, Pennsylvania, one might well expect the Philly cheesesteak, no? No. The “cheesesteak” award goes to…drumroll…Idaho. I put cheesesteak in quotes because the version Zagat chose is made with chicken and bacon. Turning to Philly, Zagat anoints as the Keystone State’s sandwich a hoagie made with roast pork, melted provolone, and broccoli rabe. It looks and sounds delicious, so the next time I’m down there I’ll try to find time to visit Tommy DiNic’s at the Reading Terminal Market.

Source: Self-Absorbed Boomer

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Around Brooklyn, Bloggers

Cape Cod Beer

June 5, 2013

On our Cape Cod weekend, rainy, chilly Friday begat rainy, chilly Saturday, so we headed down the Cape, around the elbow (see my description of Cape geography in my post about Truro Vineyards) to Hyannis, there to visit the Cape Cod Brewery. In the photo above, Tyler, who conducted our lecture and tasting with knowledge and panache, is approaching. The stainless steel tanks in the background are where the brewing is done.

We got an up close look at some brewing ingredients. This is crushed pale barley, which gives beer and ale their malt richness.

These are pelletized hops, which give the brews flavor. According to Tyler these are Chinook hops, native to the Pacific Northwest. The other two ingredients are yeast, which reacts with the barley to cause fermentation in the presence of the fourth, and most voluminous ingredient: water. “Our local water supply is very good,” Tyler said. “We use it, and run it through a big Brita filter.”

This is one of several brews we sampled. It’s the amber ale, which has a deep red color. The brewery calls it “Red Right Return” after the navigational mnemonic that says to keep the red buoys to your right (or starboard) while entering a harbor. I liked it, as I did all of the brews we sampled, which included a blonde ale called “Beach Blonde” which had more flavor than I expected, an IPA, and a porter.

Unfortunately, Cape Cod Beer isn’t available beyond an eighty mile radius of the Brewery, as it isn’t Pasteurized, and has to be kept refrigerated. The next time we’re up there, we’ll take a cooler chest so we can bring some home.

Source: Self-Absorbed Boomer

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"Framingham" by Nice Strong Arm and "Maddox Table" by 10,000 Maniacs: contrasting visions of mid 20th century America.

September 19, 2012

This video was made in the late 1980s by a band that broke up in 1990, so I may fairly be accused of exhuming a dead horse to flay it. In defense I offer first, it’s so screechingly awful (I’ve never liked the Heartland Records/ Sonic Youth/ “noise metal” genre) that I couldn’t resist sharing it (OK, call me a sadist); and second, it unfairly maligns a small city (technically a “town”) with which my admittedly tenuous connections are all pleasant.  The only time I ever spent there, apart from traversing its outskirts on the Mass Pike, was when I had Thanksgiving dinner in 1969 thanks to a delightful young woman, then a Harvard senior, who worked on floor staff at the now lamented Lincoln’s Inn, and her parents, who shared their table with me and several of my law school friends. My continuing connection is through two friends, one of whom grew up entirely (the one who introduced me to Dogfish Head 90 Minute Imperial IPA), and the other partly (the one who introduced me to the Brooklyn Bridge cactus), there.

Framingham, Massachusetts (population 68,318 as of the 2010 census) sits roughly halfway between Boston and Worcester (a city with which my connection is even more tenuous).  It’s been designated one of America’s 100 best small cities by CNN. It has its normal share of annoying inhabitants, both human and animal, but it’s certainly no hellhole. It was at least for a time the home of Crispus Attucks, considered by some the first casualty of the American Revolution. In the years leading up to the Civil War it was, in common with my adopted home, Brooklyn Heights, a center of the antislavery movement. It has a large Brazilian immigrant community, so you can probably get good bacalhau and feijoada there.

The video starts, over a portentous repeated strum, with an aerial view of a treeless suburban spread of Malvina Reynolds’ ticky-tacky houses, evidently somewhere in the high plains or desert, certainly not New England. Then, with a hissing snare crescendo, we’re transported down to one of these houses, where the protagonist lies asleep, at first still, then agitated. Cut to the band, shot in near darkness, appearing to be the spectral figures who disturb his sleep. A voice begins a droning chant:

He was a company man, on the lifetime plan,
He gave them forty years; they gave him a watch…

What follows are evidently stock scenes from 1950s movies or Father Knows Best style TV sitcoms, as our protagonist has breakfast with his pretty wife and adorable toddlers, then leaves for work. We then get, as the droning voice continues, scenes of factory workers lining up to punch their time cards and views of huge industrial plants, mostly of kinds that never existed in or anywhere near Framingham. As we shift to the interiors of these plants and see workers doing repetitive tasks, and the voice drones on, we do get one glance of what appears to be an auto assembly line, something that Framingham actually had for a time. The voice shifts out of its monotonous drone into a shriek, then a bellow:

This is what I DO! This is what I AM! I want to LIVE FOREVER, in FRAMINGHAM! 

What, no retirement home in Florida? No, Framingham forever! Then the yelling ends, and we get keening guitar as the workers leave the plant, our protagonist arrives home, his darling daughter removes his shoes and puts on slippers as he reads the paper, and the family goes to the dinner table. There, Dad seems glum as he picks at his food, perhaps contemplating the Meaninglessness Of It All, or mulling over the gambling debts he’s run up without his wife’s knowledge, or both. The kids are excused, and Mom looks concerned. Cut to exterior, where we see the bedroom light going out. Nothing like a roll in the hay to chase away those existential blues, but we suspect it ain’t in the cards. 

What seems odd about this product of the late 1980s is that it mocks an America that was, if not entirely a thing of the past at that time, well on its way out: an America of plentiful manufacturing jobs that paid well enough to provide middle class comfort, and gave a reasonable expectation of lifetime employment. Also strange is the repeated description of the protagonist as a “company man.” A time card punching assembly line worker in the Northeast in those days would have considered “company man” an insult: he would be a “union man,” and proud of it.

Nice Strong Arm came from Austin, and moved to New York after the success of their first album, Reality Bath (“Framingham” is from their second, Mind Furnace). What made them pick on Framingham? I suspect they just needed a three syllable name to fill out the measure of those last shouted lines. Allentown would have done as well, but Billy Joel had already claimed it.

And now, for something completely different:

Jamestown, New York is a city about half the size of Framingham (2010 population 31,146). I got to know it well in the 1970s when, as a LeBoeuf associate, I did work for a client there.  Jamestown was a furniture manufacturing center, and Maddox Table was one of its largest employers. If you follow the link immediately above to the first installment of my LeBoeuf saga, you can read about my first visit to Jamestown and find the “Maddox Table” video embedded there as well.

“Maddox Table” is from 10,000 Maniacs’ first album, The Wishing Chair, which was produced by Joe Boyd, who had produced albums by several English folk-rock groups, including Fairport Convention. This should tell you we’re a long way from noise metal. The lyrics, by Natalie Merchant, tell of the drudgery of factory labor (“The legs of Maddox kitchen tables/ My whole life twisted on a lathe”) by an immigrant worker (“My first English was/ ‘Faster, boy, if you want your pay'”). As in “Framingham” we have a contrast with after work life, but here it’s a tale of courtship, with Vaudeville, movies, and Sunday trolley rides to Bemus Point, then an amusement park, now a more upscale attraction.  Ms. Merchant does give us some inscrutable lyrics: whatever does “Oh, my Dolly was a weak/ Not a burdened girl” mean?

Perhaps the most important contrast with “Framingham” is that “Maddox Table” recognizes the role of unions in factory workers’ lives:

To your benefit we strike or bargain,
With the waving fist a union man,
Not just for
Smokes, spirits, candy, and cologne,
But for
Automobile keys,
Cash in the bank,
And the deed
On a place called home.

Then, there’s the video. Instead of stock stuff from various repositories, we have scenes from the real Jamestown, from 1940 according to the text accompanying the video, though apart from the vehicles it looks as if it could as easily be from the 1950s. It shows the people of Jamestown at work and at play, and some of the scenes (particularly of the shirtless guy in the newspaper printing plant) show people who actually seem to be enjoying their work. I’m guessing this was a Chamber of Commerce production, intended to display the city’s best side. One disturbing aspect is the complete absence of anyone who isn’t white. Maybe this reflected the reality of Jamestown in 1940 (it didn’t in the 1970s, as I can attest) or maybe it was a deliberate editorial move.

“Maddox Table” is a song about a real place, made by people who knew it well. It doesn’t shy from the hardships of factory work, nor overly idealize what’s to be enjoyed outside of work. The accompanying video may present an airbrushed version of Jamestown as it was, but at least it takes us there.

Source: Self-Absorbed Boomer

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