Category Archives: Food

This Is The World’s Best Post

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“The World’s Best” anything is nonsensical.

If you look closely, you’ll see that the woman in the picture is eating raw meat. On the table, she has a cut tomato, black licorice, and maynnaise. On the further counter, there’s a fruitcake and plate of sushi. Chances are, one of those things gives you the urge to hurl your lunch.

It seems like a good cliché for a headline or when used as an easy marketing hook. When I see it, though, I wince. In the past, I was blasted by a critic who screamed at me for using the cliché, as well the one comparing anything to crack. I pointed out that criticizing me was acknowledging that my opinion held value. (Because who goes out of their way to attack a meaningless opinion?)

Tastes vary wildly. One man’s poison is another man’s passion. Perversely, some people love eating or ingesting actual poison – and I’m not referring to people who enjoy eating at Hardee’s.

Whether it’s raisins, black licorice, mayonnaise, fruitcake, whiskey, celery, beets, meats cooked rare, meats cooked well-done, eggs over easy, or dried crickets, there is no universal standard for food.

When I was growing up, a lot of Southerners would foolishly say, “You don’t know what’s good!” They’d smack their lips in condemnation at my refusal to eat some of the things they identified as ‘food.’ Some of these same people loved eating raw hamburger meat, spoonfuls of Crisco or lard, and half-cooked chicken gizzards, usually as they cooked over their stoves with a cigarette dangling from their lips. They also invariably had a tub of warm mayonnaise always open and sitting on the counter.

“The World’s Best” is a meaningless title, much in the same way all awards based on subjective taste are without foundation.

I like bitter, smoky coffee. My wife hates it. I like burned, dry food of all kinds, unlike literally everyone else. Hash browns? Burned. (But I do love standard hash browns too.) Some people hate shaved parmesan because it smells like foot odor. A ripe tomato is like a mouthful of phlegm for some and a delicacy for others. Milk, which is literally nutrition for only baby cows, gives many people the urge to vomit.

The two words, “I like,” are the critical component. If you like it, it’s good.

X’s Food Opinion Edict states: “All food is opinion.”

We can overlap on taste, of course, but it’s a rarity to find any two people whose opinion regarding taste is congruent.

Stop pretending that a universal standard for taste exists.

Like Buddy the Elf, he thought he’d found the world’s best cup of coffee, simply because the sign outside said so.

On the other hand, this is the world’s best post, right?

Chef X: Zucchini Noodles in the Real World

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You can waste 27 hours watching videos about how to make fantastic zucchini noodles. Or, you can read what I have to say about it.

The same process can be used to make sweet potato noodles, squash, and so forth. Since none of them are terribly expensive yet yield a great result, you should experiment liberally. I’m a firm believer in the “I like it, so shut your piehole” school of culinary arts.

You can buy a julienne peeler or even a spiral slicer. (Or steal one from your mother-in-law.) You can also just use a hand-held vegetable peeler on your first couple of attempts. Since you’re experimenting and obviously have no sense if you’re reading my cooking advice, use a cheap hand-held vegetable peeler on your initial attempt. (If you don’t know what a julienne peeler is, congratulations, you’re normal.) You can also save yourself some time if you have a child or bored spouse to do the slicing for you.

You can buy some good spiralizers for vegetables on Amazon. You can also buy a new carpet there, too. You don’t need to waste your money on a spiralizer until you figure out whether zucchini noodles remind you of eating tapeworms or spiders. Some mandoline slicers can make narrow strips, too, especially of your fingers if you’re not careful or have too much to drink while you’re cooking. Science has taught us, though, that pain is more manageable if you’re buzzed.

Cut the ends off 3-4 zucchini. Since it’s your first time making zucchini noodles, you’ll want to use the peel instead of removing it. You’ll note that there’s a lot of needless arguing about whether the zucchini is better or worse without the peel. Despite the experts whining about it, it is 100% personal preference. Make long slices with your vegetable peeler. For your first time, don’t cut down into the middle portion of the zucchini.

Mix your zucchini noodles with a bit of olive oil. I prefer to add minced garlic and other spices before I cook them. As with the other steps, some cooks get pissy about adding salt, garlic salt, red wine vinegar, lemon juice, or balsamic during the cooking process. Those critics need to chill out with a glass of wine or by being hit on the head with a bottle of wine.

Put the zucchini in a large skillet pan with a bit of oil. Cook and stir them until they are the desired tenderness. As with pasta, I’m going to avoid the stupidity of the al dente-versus-soft argument. I will say that it’s pointless to add water and cook them down. If you are careful and stir sufficiently, the zucchini strips will succumb to the heat if you give it enough time. With a decently sizzled pan, the zucchini will cook in a few minutes.

Place your portion on a plate and sprinkle with parmesan cheese and spices, or you can also use traditional sauces such as alfredo, pesto, or marinara. If you’re a hipster, sprinkle some cigar ashes on the noodles and enjoy.

If you’re not a purist, you can also use this mixed with actual pasta to give your regular pasta dishes a healthy boost.

If you make too much, it can be chilled and eaten later, hot or cold. (The food, not you.)

Zucchini noodles can be made with almost no added calories, which means that if you get your mix of spices and toppings just right you can eat enough zucchini to actually eat yourself into a food coma without all the guilt.

Some people call zucchini noodles “zoodles.” These people are dangerous.

In my opinion, it’s best to use a lighter pan, one which conducts heat quickly.

For those who need to be told, I recommend using a spatula to stir the zucchini frequently; if you use your hands, you’re likely to need medical attention. I never know if the person reading my cooking advice is from this planet or has ever cooked before.
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Gringo Needs a Taco

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One of the worst restaurant experiences I’ve ever had happened this week. It wasn’t because my stepson was with us, either, because he coined one of my new favorite phrases/restaurant names: “Gringo Needs a Taco,” in comedic response to our increasingly despondent faces as we realized that we were in the middle of a culinary catastrophe.

We have some amazing restaurants in Northwest Arkansas, especially Tex-Mex ones.

Our closest go-to Tex-Mex place, Acapulco, is still closed due to a kitchen fire in January. They claim they’ll re-open in July, although I don’t believe it. Most of the great staff they had have found positions at other restaurants. One of our favorite people surprised us at Las Palmas in Springdale. The other similar eatery on this side of town has never managed much success. (Which basically applies to any restaurant on the east side of Springdale.) I’m convinced that Americans mistakenly believe that the other Tex-Mex place is taqueria-style. It doesn’t help that it’s in a shopping center that seems like the shooting stage for season one of the Walking Dead. By the way, Playa Azul has a buffet some days. It’s great, especially since it’s impossible to find a Tex-Mex buffet anywhere.

The shining grace was an effort by one of our favorite waitresses – one not assigned to our table or area of the restaurant. We tried to reward her with a tip before we left. She noticed that my 4-lb. order of pico de gallo had been left negligently on the serving shelf. Evidently, I’m the only one who orders massive quantities of this delicious menu item. She came back later to hesitantly ask, “Has someone taken your order?” I think her first clue was that we had read the entire first book of the Harry Potter series since we entered. Our assigned waitress seemed like someone had swapped her favorite beverage with a chilled cup of straight white vinegar.

She might have been Amish, as her shunning ability was expert level.

It seems like we were unwitting participants in a customer dissatisfaction experiment. We felt terrible about the experience. The manager was simply speechless at how badly things had gone and struggled to explain it. He was relieved when I told him, “No harm, no foul,” even as I complimented the waitress who wasn’t assigned to our table. We left and were rewarded with a torrential downpour. Our spirits were so hammered that we all drove to Burger King. As you probably know, its new motto is, “Where Dreams Go To Die.”

Saturday, Dawn and I went to another Tex-Mex restaurant. We walked out after 15 minutes. On the way over, we discussed the consequences of not following our instincts. The person seating walk-ins could not have been more reluctant, with the exception of the admiration and attention she was giving her personal cellphone. The matriarch of the family by the door was throwing eye darts as she uneasily shifted back and forth, waiting, while attempting to corral two young boys. We had the misfortune of being seated in the far back corner. The matriarch and her family received great attention. I could tell that woman simply wouldn’t tolerate shenanigans or inattention. It’s difficult for me to be pushy, though. The manager was so engrossed in something unrelated to work that I couldn’t even let him know that we were leaving.

I’ve been known to get up, go outside, and then go back inside sometimes as if I hadn’t just walked out. Usually, this either makes people confused or laugh. We left. I’m glad we did because our final choice was a delight.

We ended up at another restaurant and were delighted. The food and service were impeccable. We joked with all the staff. I drew pictures on my index cards as we chatted with everyone, even as watched a table of gringos make their faces numb with way too much alcohol. (The one bad moment was when one of the gringos was a little violent with a precious curly-headed little girl. He doesn’t know how close he came to being force-fed a plate.) It was strange to have such a great eating experience after two terrible ones.

As I always do, I ensured that karma was paid forward by tipping the waitress 100%. She was delighted. So was I. Belly full, and smiles for all.

One consequence of a bad dining experience is that I always find a way to pay it forward to the next great person we encounter.

P.S. I didn’t even order pico de gallo at this restaurant, as I didn’t want to tempt fate.

Gringo needed a taco.

Vicks Recipes For Southern Survivors

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Vicks salve was invented in 1905. The same person Frenchman who invented BenGay was ultimately responsible for creating Vicks VapoRub, as he inspired a pharmacist here in the United States to modify the recipe for BenGay.

On a personal note, I’d like to say that I l-o-v-e the smell of Vicks. I like the smell of creosote and diesel, too. None of them are good on a sandwich, an ice cream float, or on a spoon on its way to my mouth, however. As anyone who ever used Vicks in steam can attest, the aroma is inescapable and rich. If eaten or allowed to melt in one’s mouth, it manages to embed itself between teeth and the gums for several hours. If you’ve never eaten Vicks, get a slice of Dominos pizza and put an entire package of mint gum on it, and then topped with vaseline, and attempt to eat it. A slice of Dominos is bad enough, I admit.

The cobalt blue bottles were also immediately recognizable. One could clean them completely with very hot water, followed by vigorously adding soap and wiping them out.

Evidently, Vicks became a household staple thanks to the 1918 flu epidemic that killed millions of people. It’s hard to imagine the effect of such an epidemic, one which killed more people than any other in human history. We don’t hear much about it anymore. At least 7000 Arkansans died officially from the flu in 1918, a huge number, compared to the 600 who died in WWI. Because of the huge number of poor rural people in Arkansas at the time, family history and circumstantial evidence tell us that many more died from the flu. Additionally, because Arkansas was deeply affected by Jim Crow, thousands of blacks also went under the radar. It’s interesting to delve into the story of this epidemic; it’s undeniable that Arkansas lost at least twice as many people as officially reported.

Interestingly, I had heard stories that a great-grandfather of mine died from the flu in 1918. Research proved this to be erroneous, as he died in February 1918 before the first known case in the United States that year. Almost no family escaped death from the Spanish flu that year.

You can’t study the history of Vicks without factoring in the trauma of the 1918 epidemic. I found several news articles from early 1919 regarding the Vicks shortage as a result of the flu epidemic which had killed millions of people worldwide. Vicks was relatively inexpensive and easily obtained. Almost all households in the rural South had a bottle of Vicks. Most were smart enough to avoid eating it. I like to think that some ate it simply to accelerate meeting their maker.

For those of us who had ignorant ancestors who made us eat Vicks, most of this tendency is a result of misinformation and the worldwide scare of the deadly flu over 100 years ago. They didn’t mean to unsuccessfully poison us. At least, for the most part. During the epidemic, Vicks was considered to be a disinfectant if applied on or inside the nose. It’s no wonder that even level-headed people began to ingest it directly.

The world was smaller and people didn’t have access to a wider community of people. Home remedies and folksy cures tended to become ingrained in cloistered communities. This is exactly why so many of us were subjected to the stupidity of our parents telling us to eat Vicks, even if the bottle were clearly labeled “do not ingest,” or “toxic.” We can laugh at such goofiness now, despite the fact that the modern internet has brought us anti-vaxxers and other idiots clamoring for attention to spread their modern snake oil ideas.

Vicks also contains varying levels of turpentine, another old folk remedy that can be quite poisonous but was once very popular. It’s important to remember that people scoffed at the idea of germs until fairly recently, too, or believed that blood-letting and blowing smoke up one’s anus could reduce serious ailments such as hernias. (It’s where the term “blowing smoke” originated.) By the way, I’m referring to the mistaken idea that all turpentines are the same, even the ones found in hardware stores versus distilled turpentine oil.

Another point I’d like to make is that so many people could make a living in the South selling Snake Oil. Like all ridiculous claims, Snake Oil appealed to those without a proper understanding of science or medicine. Paradoxically, thanks to the internet, we now find ourselves in reversed roles: some of the stupidest health claims for completely useless products are made by those with advanced education and training.

In the same way that people say, “Riding in the back of a pickup didn’t kill me,” or “We didn’t have seatbelts back then,” people excuse away eating Vicks VapoRub with the same ridiculous claims, “Well, it didn’t kill me!” Any examination of our safety record clearly demonstrates that seatbelts made our lives much, much safer. Science easily demonstrates that ingestion of Vicks is dangerous. Convincing people that they were terribly wrong about such an obvious thing is a difficult feat. They didn’t die after all.

Were my mom still alive, she’d roll her eyes and cluck like a chicken if she heard me picking on her about this. My favorite cousin will point out that my mom learned to feed Vicks to children as a result of my Grandma. In Grandma’s defense, she was born after the turn of the last century and her world was very small, in the Arkansas Delta area around Monroe County. She loved me like no one ever did; she also had some strange ideas about the weather, driving in the dark, and eating things like Vicks. She lived to be over 90 years of age, so it’s difficult to argue with her methods. Plus, she loved bacon, and as you know, bacon is the single best medicine available.

I’m convinced that my mom enjoyed forcing people to eat Vicks. I’m only saying that because she could be quite sadistic, a fact that is a simple truth today, but one which would have resulted in my murder had it voiced in her vicinity as a kid. As I grew older, I joined my brother in reading the labels on ‘medications’ my mom was fond of. Several of them literally had poisonous logos on them. Munchausen Syndrome By Proxy would have been a relief to us both as we endured our mom’s ignorance about all things medical. Mom was one of those people who would not listen to reason and her stubbornness was legendary, even among mules. For most of my childhood, my mom worked at Southwestern Bell and had excellent insurance, yet I never went to the dentist between ages 5 and 18  and only got medical treatment after trauma. “You’re breathing!” she’d say.

In 1983, the FDA decided that products such as Vicks couldn’t have more than 11% of a concentration of camphor. Camphor can be fatal to small children and studies demonstrated that it actually made most people less likely to breathe more freely. Weirdly, many people report that it allows them to sleep better.

Any discussion regarding Vicks needs to take into account the historical differences of the ingredients used compared to the modern version. I’ve read anecdotes of people who claim that the bottles once recommended ingesting small amounts. I don’t doubt these claims given the ointment’s history. I can’t find evidence of it, however.

Interestingly, Vicks labels have warned against using it under one’s nostrils for any reason, as well as ingesting it. Obviously, you should never eat it, either, or put it anywhere it can penetrate into the skin. I was surprised to learn that it can damage one’s corneas, too.

Vicks VapoRub actually confuses your brain, which makes it think that you’re breathing more easily while actually reducing your ability to breathe more freely. I think it works the same way that the internet does for modern versions of my mom.

With my new cookbook of recipes, those who survived eating Vicks when they were young can once again enjoy the undeniable taste of this treat. I recommend that you start with a PB&J&V sandwich.

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Yesterday, I decided to try to eat at a particular local eatery again. I gave Dawn time to roll her eyes a few times and for her to realize that I wasn’t joking. This place is atop our “Never Again” list, tied with Neal’s Diner and AQ Chicken. Being in New Orleans warped our sense of the ordinary.

We’re still in vacation mode and therefore were willing to eat a little less healthy. Our go-to place near our house is still closed due to a fire. (No, I didn’t start the fire, despite what Billy Joel might say.) East Springdale is the armpit of death for good eateries, and while I’m a fan of Springdale, our selection of restaurants compared to Rogers and Fayetteville is ‘no contest,’ especially for healthy or interesting food. We can’t even count on Subway anymore, as the turnover rate is higher than mathematically possible and they sometimes insist that a napkin is, in fact, a sandwich topping if cooked.

Since the new stretch of Old Wire Road is finished, we can drive easily to many places toward Rogers in comfort. Old Wire Road turns into 1st Street as it enters Rogers. This road is fabulous. We’re waiting on the last leg of it to be finished by Randall Wobbe Lane. At that point, we’ll have one of the most modern roads to get us around and out of Springdale.

We’ve had a few attempts at this local restaurant fail miserably. It used to be a relatively dirty dive, but you could count on decent food, even if the bathroom resembled something you’d find in an abandoned bus station. It moved to a new building. Ever since then, being able to assume you could get both decent food and decent service on the same visit became a dubious endeavor. On our last attempt, we walked out after hearing the employees argue about whether they wanted to seat anyone. It was a bitter discussion, too, not a casual one. Surprisingly, my wife agreed to give it a try yesterday. Because of the rain, cold and the early hour, I ignorantly decided to call her bluff and go. We arrived a few minutes after the restaurant opened. I walked up to open the door for my wife and the door jerked. It was still locked. This was no “it’s 11:01” situation – it was way past time to open the doors. Weirdly, there were 5 people already inside and seated. I’m not sure how they got in there unless supernatural forces were involved.

Dawn was cold, so she went back to wait in the car. Because I had decided I was going to act crazy, if necessary, I called the number on the door. A woman answered. I used the craziest, high-pitched broken voice I could muster and shrieked into my phone, “What time do you open?” She said, “11 a.m.” Using the same stupid voice, I shouted, “We be freezing out here. It’s way after 11.” The woman didn’t know what to say. She finally said, “Oh no, you’re right,” and hung up. When she came out, she said that the manager had the only set of keys and he was both late and missing, as usual. Those words inspired confidence that my culinary experience would be excellent, as you might imagine.

We both survived the experience, although it was touch and go for a few moments. Dawn’s food was strange and mine was wrong but I carefully got my situation fixed without the risk of eating a floor-wiped tortilla.

I didn’t mention the restaurant by name, as you may have noticed. When people ask about this place, I always mention this as the “don’t go” place. I’m not entirely convinced that the Mafia or a Cartel doesn’t own it.

The service there is a crime, anyway.
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P.S. We also tried the Big Orange in the Pinnacle Mall the other day. It was divine. Two people can easily share a sandwich and a side and leave filled – or you can do as I did and eat so much that I almost had to cut a vertical slit in my shirt in order to be able to breathe.

¿Capers: Nature’s Prank of Deliciousness?

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My wife noticed that the market offered Great Value capers as we scavenged the aisles. We use a shopping system consisting of two parts: meticulously-compiled lists using a digital system, followed by an uncontrolled bout of consumerism and selecting one of everything which strikes our fancy. To outsiders, we sound and look like we have been on a deserted island for fifteen years.

I controlled myself and bought only two jars of capers, even as I silently wept at my sin of leaving some capers on the shelf, sentencing them to a solitary life. Capers are one of those things which I will consume until the last one on Earth is in my belly. I work hard to temporarily forget about them. Despite my efforts, they sometimes summon me in my slumbers. I love capers so much that I even eat them on air-popped popcorn, in soup, and straight from the jar.

Note: If you rinse your capers prior to ingestion, you are not the type of person who will be reading anything I write. It’s a fact that rinsing anything conveys the wrong message to your loved ones.

Technically, capers are either flower buds or cleverly-disguised rabbit droppings. I’ve learned that the answer depends on whom you ask. Many argue that they aren’t actually edible at all. This is a specious argument: anything is “edible” with enough will power and enthusiasm.

My mom’s onion-laden “cooking” proved this thesis decades ago. I was forced to try many dishes and foods almost at literal gunpoint. Unfortunately for me, capers were nowhere to be found anywhere among my parent’s choices for food. It would have been easier for me to request a lit cigarette at twelve years of age than ask for something as exotic as a caper. Instead of capers, I ate boatloads of onions and cigarette ash.

Years ago, I discovered that the Romans used capers to treat paralysis. This confused me, as many people who’ve tried capers in my presence immediately freeze with a horrific grimace of disgust on their face. That sort of person cannot be trusted, so take note. For some, capers taste exceedingly lemony. The taste is so pronouncedly lemony that some who eat them report seeing nothing but Ford motor products for an hour after eating.

If you’re interested in using capers in your meals, the single most important note is this: whatever amount you think is reasonable, quadruple that and sit back and enjoy the puzzled looks of your soon-to-be former friends and alienated family members as they share your culinary gift of capers. As far as you know, it’s impossible to have a caper allergy. If you inadvertently discover that someone does have such an allergy, you should rest easy, knowing that you found a way for them to live a moment of intense joy as they tried this treat.

Among other health benefits, capers will prevent you from getting a cold or the flu. This isn’t due to their medicinal properties; rather, the odor tends to keep normal human beings at an adequate distance, one which precludes airborne germs and viruses from reaching you.

Joking aside, capers are purported to have many health benefits. If I owned an MLM pyramid scheme (aren’t they all, though), I might list the benefits here. I will take the time to admonish you, though. If you eat capers for any reason other than the divine flavor of this briny foodstuff, you should be forced to march half-naked in the Alaskan tundra. Capers are their own reward. However, if you’re a real human being and appreciate fried food, fried capers are your answer to a long, happy life. I don’t ever fry food, so I can only imagine enjoying them this way again.

Note: don’t take health or eating advice from anyone unless you can see everything they themselves eat. Regardless of what they might say, they’re eating pork rinds and mayonnaise, like the rest of us.

Today, I made spaghetti squash with a tomato alfredo sauce. On my portion, I lovingly carpeted my squash with over half a jar of capers. My wife, on the other hand, savagely refused my generous offer to do the same justice to her plate.

Last week, I was deprived of both spaghetti squash and capers. Some villainous fiend had circumspectly placed a couple of bright-yellow honeydew melons in the spaghetti squash bin. Noting the pronounced color, I chose one without further review. It wasn’t until I used a hacksaw to cut the alleged squash lengthwise and noted the incredible ease with which I cut the object, followed by the pungently sweet scent of honeydew melon, that I realized my idiocy had once again prevailed.

Well played, Walmart Produce Villain. We’ll meet at some future point. If I catch you as you laughingly switch lookalike produce, I shall grab your pants and yank them down to your ankles in full view of our fellow Walmart shoppers. It’s not like we haven’t witnessed that before, many times, shopping there.

Which reminds me to add buns to my Alexa shopping list.

As I sit here writing this, my caper addiction calls my name. I’m probably going to use one of the online grocers and surprise them with a 128-bottle order of capers.

Pictured: capers with a side of capers, garnished with capers. The pistol is in anticipation of all the interlopers who will attempt to separate you from your plate of capers. The lemon slices are to squirt in said assailant’s eyes if your gun is taken.

P.S. I can’t understand why you’re still reading this. Have you learned nothing? You should be either eating or shopping for capers right now.

Danger: Soup For Lunch

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I found myself being shaken violently.

As I opened my eyes, I felt the cold kitchen floor on my back. The overhead lights blinded me momentarily.

“Hey, X, wake up! What happened?” my wife asked me as she continued to shake me.

I raised myself to a sitting position, trying to clear my foggy head.

As my hands began rubbing my sore eyes, my wife said, “Be careful, you’ve got bruises under your eyes and on your face. Who hit you?”

I couldn’t remember anyone else being in the house with me. As I tried to process what might have happened, I remembered that I was about to eat a bite of lunch. I had gone to the cupboard, which we jokingly call “The Sarcophagus.”

“Aha!” my wife exclaimed just I recalled randomly pulling out a can of soup to open it.

“Look, honey.” My wife held up a partially-opened can of soup as I turned my neck painfully to look.

It was a can of whoop ass.

Baby Diaper Domino’s

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Dawn and I were headed back home. I opted to take the scenic route through Tontitown. As I turned off Hwy 112, or Maestri Road if you’re weird, I began to smell the unmistakable odor of old baby diapers in the air.

As I continued driving east, the smell grew in intensity to the point it smelled like a mountain of baby diapers left carelessly out in the August sun.

My wife and I were both making odd faces of disgust by this point. Both of us were actively questioning the source of such a foul, inhuman odor. I don’t have a weak stomach but this stench instinctively made me want to roll the car into a ravine and risk possible death to escape it.

“Look, there it is!” shouted Dawn excitedly.

She pointed in front of us. A newer gray Toyota Camry was cresting the hill about 100 meters in front of us. Evidently, we were gaining on it as we sped down Har-Ber Avenue. I could see that its windows were all down – and for good reason.

On top of the car was a Domino’s Pizza delivery sign.
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Legal Note: this post is not endorsed by Domino’s, much less appreciated.

A Culinary Misadventure

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As we were driving out of town, we skipped several eateries along the way, ones which we knew would be great. Absent being sidetracked, we were holding out for a repeat experience in the town of our destination. We had eaten at the tex-mex in question once before and although it had some issues, we were very interested in giving it another try. We had hunger and enthusiastic anticipation to ensure our experience would be great.

And the universe noted our idiotic expectations and drove them headfirst into the rocks.

We stood at the door as various employees jockeyed toward the front register and seating chart. I said, “Yes, two please” at least 4 times. Finally, one of the people decided to seat us. This undoubtedly was part of their strategy to make us work up an appetite or perhaps wisely flee the building. After a long wait, a waiter appeared. He seemed very uncertain. He came back twice to ask about the drinks and appetizers. The salsa was tasteless, even though it felt like it might contain a numbing agent.  While Dawn went to wash her hands, I attempted to salvage the salsa by using a chip to pluck onion and cilantro from my pico de gallo bowls and mix it with the lifeless concoction.  Upon tasting it, she said, “This tastes like tomato sauce from a can.” I laughed. I poured all the juice from pico bowl and managed to get some flavor in the salsa.

I’ll forego most of the usual jokes about bathrooms and Tex/Mex eateries. I’ll say this, though. When I used the restroom and opted for toilet paper to blow my nose instead of the hand-activated sandpaper dispenser at the sink, I laughed when I discovered that all of the toilet paper holders were empty. The odds of all the holders being emptied were so slim that I defaulted to another of my theories: if the bathroom smells like a lakeside bathroom or there’s no toilet paper, it’s generally a bad idea to frequent the eatery unless one of your hobbies includes studying infectious diseases. I usually trust my instincts about these things. I knew we had made a critical error in our eating selection. The men’s bathroom had all the allure of a WWII latrine trench.

A few minutes later, I noted a man hurriedly scampering toward the restroom. Although I didn’t actually hear his reaction, I imagined that a shrill cry of “No!” followed by a tirade of profanity wafting through the air. Pardon my specificity, but I hope he discovered the absence of the necessary bathroom accessory prior to engaging.

Our waiter was inexperienced. I left my readers in the side door of the car, so I was attempting to find a safe selection on the menu. Dawn helped me read the menu as if I were already 80 years old. As I mentioned the number I wanted, the waiter began asking me a series of perplexing questions, some of which convinced me he might have killed the actual waiter and took his order book as a cover story. To add insult to injury he then asked me to read verbatim the combination I had asked for by number. Also, these don’t allow substitutions, so I was confused. After being polite, I told him to bring me whatever the cook thought belonged on #3 and that such a course of action would be fine with me. (He had visibly flinched when I asked about ‘tacos de alambre’ and similar items.) When my alarm bells begin to sound, I always opt for plates containing no meat. It’s a lesson Dawn is slowly learning, too.

My wife foolishly ordered a selection with grilled chicken fajita meat on it. When the plate arrived, she was surprised to discover that they had used what I now call “squirrel chitlins” instead of chicken fajita slices. I’ve come to learn that restaurants that use the chicken pieces which resemble small sections of curly french fries can’t be trusted. Using that type of chicken under the guise of grilled fajita chicken is a dead giveaway that cost has surpassed quality as the main guideline for inventory. In NWA, I stopped getting my favorite dish and then abandoned my favorite restaurant precisely because of this. Dawn initially ate with the enthusiasm that hunger demands but her enthusiasm quickly faded as the texture, flavor and strange aftertaste of her meal overwhelmed her hunger. The sour cream that had been added to her plate was runny and tasted like it had been left out for an hour. I won’t critique the guacamole in fear that the Avocado Mafia will kill me for my honesty.

Dawn found almost nothing savory to eat from her selection. She picked at her plate like a spoiled turkey buzzard might after discovering a whole pizza on the road. The waiter never returned to ask us about chip refills, salsa, or drinks. It might be a good thing, though. Dawn might have had commentary. She knows better than to return food except in emergencies or to ask for something else. He was around us, though. I watched as he moved around. I could tell that he was very concerned about his coworkers needing him to help them or to bus tables, even though there were 3 buspeople on duty. Dawn was showing a little frustration, something that’s unusual for her. I already knew the waiter wasn’t coming back absent a lassoo in my hands. I tried to get Dawn to accompany me to the front register to expedite the process. It took the waiter 4 or 5 times to actually have our ticket. For me, it was hilarious. Dawn wasn’t amused, especially at the part regarding me finding hilarity in the failed dining encounter. She just wanted out of there instead of being forced to look at the inedible carcass of her food selection on the plate in front of her. Even as Dawn attempted to pay at the register, she didn’t know how to answer the cashier who asked, “How was it?” I dared not turn around, lest I pantomimed sticking my index finger down my throat. Adding another insult to injury, the payment system didn’t allow her to customize her tip. Only 3 high-tip options were available. Instead of asking, she chose the lowest with a grimace. Dawn, like me, is normally a great tipper. We both found it appropriately hilarious that the one time we might have tipped badly, the restaurant’s payment system didn’t allow her to do so. We added this observation of our list of signs that a place might not deserve to survive.

As we left, I snapped a selfie of us, as I was riffing jokes about “What could go wrong?” Evidently, the universe had kept the tex-mex eatery in business to provide an answer for us. So, even though we had just survived the culinary equivalent of an equestrian kick in the crotch, we laughed as we walked away. The numbness faded from our tongues within an hour, even though our stomachs saluted us well into the night.

The good news is that Dawn now completely agrees with my rule regarding fajita chicken strips coming to the table disguised as squirrel chitlins.

I’m not calling out the restaurant by name. I want you to accidentally discover it one day. You’ll know if you have. Something primordial will trigger in your lizard brain. Your first instinct will be to call 9-1-1, if you’re still conscious. P.S. Fight or flight. I suggest you run if you remotely suspect you’ve entered the place in question.