In Defense of Food Porn/Fat People Stories

So like (insert arbitrary made up percentage here) of Internet users under 30, I use Instagram. I’m not the most active poster and never was, but once I got a phone with a decent camera, and especially since I moved to New York, I’ve found more and more opportunities to snap off a photo of something interesting/pretty/funny/etc. Generally, I’m pretty happy with most of the things I put on there (a few drunken instances of “THERE’S TOTALLY ENOUGH LIGHT–oh wait” notwithstanding).

However, I’ve noticed a new contrarian trend that’s been popping up for lo these past few months (an eternity in Internet-time): the Anti-Foodporn Contingent. For whatever reason, the ever-growing slice of the online community that uses a heart-stoppingly amazing triumph of technology and communication to bitch about everyone and everything (yeah, I know, irony) has decided that it is COMPLETELY UNACCEPTABLE to post pictures of food to Instagram.

The justifications for this attitude have been wildly varied. Most people just tell me it’s “annoying” but can’t really give me any explanation beyond that vague word, and one author has claimed that people who post pictures of their food to social media are more likely to have eating disorders (hrm…). Overall, there seems to be a pervasive attitude: pictures of food, or “Foodporn”, in the common parlance, is totally lame. It even seems to be viewed as pretentious.

Is posting a picture of some particularly amazing meal you ate really worse than or equal to, say, posting constant pictures of your kids or cat? I’d say no, because EVERYBODY likes food (except people with certain eating disorders, I suppose). The only argument I can think of for being violently opposed to Food Porn is the suggestion that posting amazing meal after amazing meal comes off as a bragging, but isn’t that also true of people who post beautiful shot after beautiful shot from their amazing vacation most of their friends can’t afford?

My justification: I love food, and I think food is a social experience. I would much rather go and eat at some amazing restaurant with a big group than by myself, so it’s only natural that this would extend into “social” media. It’s also a great way to expose people to new places or types of food (“OMG what is THAT”), and hell, it might just make somebody’s shitty day a little brighter. I guess my nasty retort will always be that the Internet is steeped in annoying garbage, and nice pictures of tasty food is pretty innocuous compared to some of the garbage I’m subjected to daily on my social media feeds (Amanda Bynes, anyone?).

Speaking of social media and diabetes, I stumbled across the best/worst/best again place on the Internet. It’s a subReddit called “Fatpeoplestories”. It’s basically a content dump of stories built around the premise of “fatlogic”. Fatlogic is a word used to describe the attitude that is so very present in the frightening-as-balls “fat acceptance movement”: the idea that some people are just going to be fat no matter what (which does happen, but not nearly as often as people like to pretend), that anybody who isn’t fat is somehow oppressing them by not being fat, and that society as a whole trying to move towards a more healthy lifestyle is “discrimination” against fat people. Really, it’s mostly made up of stories about fat people being huge entitled jerks for no reason (and when I say fat, I mean ENORMOUS. Most people put guesses for height/weight in the posts, and they usually top 350 lbs).

Needless to say I feel a lot of schadenfreude cackling at these stories (I’m a sucker for r/justiceporn too, and I consider this a dietary offshoot), but then I discovered something very odd. Most of the people on r/fatpeoplestories are fat!

Huh? Apparently, it started as some sort of thing that fitness junkies were doing, and then the sub spun off as some sort of weird motivation-type thing. They have a a day called “fat 2 fit” in which members tell their own stories about how they used to be mired in fatlogic, and now they are no longer fat or they are well on their way to not being fat.

It’s more or less the RED ASPHALT of obesity.

The Cone of Silence

Yesterday I was at the gym (hey, I work out guys! Guys?), enjoying myself on the elliptical machine, listening to Jordan Jesse Go! on my ipod, and trying to follow the subtitles on ESPN. In general, it was a grand old time. Then it happened. Somebody got on the machine next to me.

I try to go to my gym in SoHo during off hours: either in the middle of the day or late at night. I hate having to wait around for machines, and a gym in downtown NYC is almost as bad as a gym near UT-Austin. Still, it was the middle of the day, and this was one of about six people in the entire cardio area. Satisfied that I wasn’t about to be besieged by gym rats, I returned to my run. A few minutes later, I heard a sound so loud and grating that it broke through my earbuds. At first I thought it was some sort of horrible mechanical failure, and I looked around, concerned that my machine was about to collapse from under me.

Nope, it was the dude on the machine next to me. Every ten seconds or so, like clockwork, he would make the sound of clearing phlegm from his throat, then follow with a rhythmic “huh-huh-huh-huh”. Every ten seconds. So loud I could hear it through headphones. Right next to me. What the fuck? First of all, I dont know why he was making this noise, but I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt and assume he was having some sort of congestion issue and not just being a deranged asshole. That said, if you know you’re going to be a nuisance in and enclosed space with strangers, why not go to a machine that’s a little out of the way so you don’t bother people?

I endured it for maybe three more minutes before hopping to a further machine. Then I stopped to wonder: when did I get so damn non-confrontational?

Despite it’s reputation as a burg for badassery, New Yorkers, in my experience, tend to shy away from confrontation quite a bit (drunken fights notwithstanding). You only have to sit on the subway on any weekend night to see carloads of people politely looking away from some obnoxious fool ranting and raving about what Jesus told them, and any day of the week you can see a bunch of people who will do nothing but violently glare at people holding up the train by holding the door for their nine friends who are 30 seconds behind them.

I count myself among these poor souls now, justifying my fear of confrontation with promises to myself that I’m above such encounters and also too busy. I can’t remember the last time I said anything to a stranger on the subway. In fact, I still get kind of weirded out when well-meaning strangers talk to you on the train (hint: if you’re under 50 and talk to people you don’t know on the train for any reason except to get directions, it immediately marks you as crazy or a tourist). There is, however, one place that I haven’t shied away from yet.

If anybody knows me or has been reading this blog for a while, you know that I am an avid movie-goer, and that nothing fills me with more rage than a movie talker or texter. Over the weekend I even leaned over to shush my own mother at “Motown” because her stage whispers to my brother were annoying me and probably everyone else around her (she in turn didn’t say anything to the 70 year old man who was keeping time with all musical numbers–badly–by slapping his knee, but I digress). If anybody lives in New York, you know that everybody talks in places where it’s totally inappropriate, and it pisses everybody off, but precious few do anything about it. One man, nay hero, did rise to the occasion recently: theater critic/common decency vigilante Kevin Williamson, whose phone-chucking justice you can read about here.

I myself have never quite had the gumption that Williamson had, but then again nobody has ever reacted to me in quite that brazenly rude a manner before. A few weeks ago, I was attending a screening of The Shining at IFC. It was a late weeknight show, beginning at around 9:30PM, in one of the theater’s smaller auditoriums. The usual crowd-gabbing and light phone usage continued over the advertisements an trailers, something that irritates me but that I’ve learned to accept and not comment on. However, a man three seats away from me, on the same aisle, was texting up until the opening credits rolled. I breathed a sigh of relief  as he pocketed his phone, hoping that was the end of it.

Nope. As those opening, beautiful Steadicam shots rolled out, the opening fanfare, with its ominous horn stabs, undercut my own personal horror show as the man took out his glowing cellphone, time and again, to answer what must have been some pretty damn important texts. Each time he pocketed the phone I told myself it was over, but then I would hear the music swell…Dun…dun…DUN…dun…and then little rectangle of light would be there again, half-assedly covered by his cupped hands. I told myself I would say something if he did it again. I repeated this process maybe two or three times. Then, finally, like a booze-deprived Jack Torrance, I couldn’t take it anymore, and leaned over Jen, my movie companion, tapped the texter on the shoulder (perhaps a little roughly), and addressed him in a normal conversation volume of voice:

“Excuse me, could you please stop using your cell phone? It’s extremely distracting.”

I’ll admit it, my heart was racing. I’m not used to doing this sort of thing anymore, thanks to the Alamo Drafthouse’s strict no-talking-no-texting policies and the general manners of those audiences. What if he responded the way Williamson’s villain did, and told me to mind my own business? Was I going to have to become a martyr for the cause as well?

Luckily, no such thing happened. As a matter of fact, he was the most polite and downright remorseful person I’ve ever reprimanded in a movie theater (I actually just remembered the asshole who had the balls to hard-stare me after I told him to stop texting at SXSW screening and got angry all over again): he seemed to momentarily pop out of a trance, suddenly realize what a raging asshole he was being, and then apologized to me before quickly scurrying out of the theater (guess it was important, in which case maybe he should have settled the damn thing before he sat down in a fucking movie, but what do I know).While I was impressed with the man’s ability to face the music, I was still a bit miffed that somebody who cared enough about movies to attend a 9:30 weeknight showing of The Shining didn’t care enough to not ruin the experience for everybody around him, but IFC remains one of the best places in the city to catch a flick without having to deal with hordes of rude-asses, and I can also say very good things about Williamsburg Cinemas (the absolute worst: Regal off Union Square, where the employees make every screening unbearable by checking logs in the middle of the film AT THE FRONT OF THE THEATER). I suppose I’ll have to make do until the Drafthouse opens their two locations up here.

Until then, would-be texters and talkers take note: it behooves you to follow the example of the thoroughly shamed man in this story, because the next time you decide to ruin somebody’s theater experience, you just might get a Kevin Williamson.

 

The Many Sides of Manhattan

My family was in town over memorial day weekend, and barring two unfortunate events (the L train, my main method of transport, was shut down through Monday; my brother and I were caught in a torrential downpour), it was an incredible time. It was a whirlwind weekend. When my folks, especially my mom, are in town, they hit it HARD. Rather than sum up all of our adventures in one long and meandering humblebrag of a post, I’ll summarize our more-or-less leisurely Sunday, in the hopes of exposing just how many different things you can take in over the course of one day in the Big Apple, even if you’re fighting a fairly nasty hangover because you were out drinking at Rudy’s with your friend Jen until 3:30 in the morning, and then you got awesome buffalo chicken pizza later.

I woke up on the pull-out bed of my brother Alex’s hotel sometime around 9:30AM, mostly because the hotel staff kept getting our room confused with our parents’, which was adjacent. Still, don’t let that sour you on the prospect of staying at The Benjamin if you’re in from out of town. It was booked well in advance, but for a convenient location (50th and Lex), the size of the room (a full queen bedroom plus a small living room area), and the amenities (even the pull-out bed was comfortable), it was a steal. After enjoying complimentary breakfast and lounging around watching Pawn Stars for a while (I don’t understand why I love this show so much), we hit the streets to take a leisurely walk over to the theater district to catch a matinee showing of The Book of Mormon.

The show was great, and I continue to be awed by the life of creative victory Trey Parker and Matt Stone continue to enjoy. I’d been wanting to catch the show since it opened long ago, but tickets are still scarce and expensive. However, a wonderful charity, Broadway Cares sells tickets through their offices, and many are usually available close to showtime. They aren’t cheap, but since it’s a charity, you can write up to 50% of the ticket price off on your tax return, thereby saving money, fighting AIDS, AND enjoying the theater all at once.

Afterwards we took a stroll on the Highline, since it was finally nice out after several days of storms and rain. This elevated park stretches for approximately two miles through Chelsea and is built atop an old, disused freight rail. It’s perfect for enjoying a sunny day in the city, and offers some great mid-level views that were previously only available to gallery owners and the sons of Saudi royalty. In addition to the sun, view, and greenery, there are also sometimes performers and merchants out and about.

We grabbed a random and rather unimpressive slice before heading back to rendezvous with my parents before heading out for dinner at Les Halles with Ajai, James, and Jen. Now made famous by former head chef Anthony Bourdain, Les Halles is a French restaurant that specializes in hearty country fare, with an emphasis on steaks and other meats. Bourdain himself once remarked that Les Halles served the best french fries in the world, and while that might be an overstatement, the golden and crispy frites were certainly delectable, as was the flatiron steak, the crawfish pastry appetizer, and the vanilla bean ice cream.

Thoroughly stuffed, we ventured down to the Lower East Side to meet some of Alex’s old friends from Toyama, Japan, where they had taught English for several years through the JET teacher exchange program. Jarad had suggested we meet at a place called Saints Tavern, and our crew beat the Toyama contingent by about half an hour, which we spent drawing a variety of nightmarish phallic and yonic chalk illustrations on the slate tabletops before heading to the greatest dive bar below 14th street, Spanky and Darla’s.

I didn’t include S&D on my round-up of NYC bars because I thought I had too many village bars on there, but let me tell you, this place is swiftly becoming one of my favorites. It’s cheap, loud, and dirty, and it has an excellent juke box stocked full of country, Southern rock, Motown, and other classics. It’s also usually a shitshow, especially on weekend nights, but that Memorial Day Eve it was a bit more calm, though there was a group of fratty guys at the far end of the bar who would periodically chant a series of indistinguishable acronyms before yelling gibberish. One actually looked at me across the bar, threw up his hands in glee, and exclaimed “FOOTBALL!!!!!!” Other highlights included a giant man in the most pimpin’ outfit I’ve ever seen outside of the Player’s Ball and the lone female bartender who kept buying Jen shots. Alex remarked that it reminded him of  Texas bar, and I had to concur; as Ajai aptly put it, it’s a bar that has a “thin edge of menace” to it, though I have never actually seen any fists fly.

We drank until perhaps 3:00am, with many shots, beers, and drunken jukebox singalongs; one man very solemnly clinked his beer glass with mine as I belted out “The Night They Drove Ole Dixie Down”, though my selection of “Always on My Mind” didn’t go over so well with the dance-happy crowds. After we had exhausted our cash supplies, we walked back up St. Mark’s to Sing Sing karaoke, and belted out all the hits until closing time. Then we got some fairly terrible pizza from the place across the street and parted ways.

So you see my friends, Manhattan isn’t all trendy Asian fusion places and investment bankers. There’s also lots of good to middling pizza, plenty of weird drunks, and great places to hang out and maybe get in a fight with friends!

“It ain’t never gonna be what it was…”

Last night, before I fell asleep, I was indulging in a horrible nighttime habit. No, you sick bastards, get your heads out of the gutter; I’m talking about non-stop Internet browsing, porn-free (ok, maybe a little porn). What I ran across was fascinating: a collection of pictures, presumably taken by amateur photographers, of New York City in the 1980s.

If you’ve ever heard New York City mentioned in any context, you probably know that the city is notorious for a being a crime-ridden hell-hole from approximately 1965 to somewhere around 1995. Rudy Guiliani is often credited with “cleaning up New York”, but the jury seems split on whether or not this was the best thing for New York. That is to say, most people who lived in the city for that entire time period tend to get nostalgic about the days when NYC was a rough, rough place, and people who weren’t even out of diapers in 1980 tend to proclaim that “real New York” was ruined by the former mayor and his broken window theory.

Now, I’m not suggesting that gentrification and the process by which New York “bounced back” are without their flaws. It’s apparent that not much is being done to address the deep-seated problems of the inner city rather than moving demographics seen as “undesirable” out of prime real estate with price hikes. We haven’t fixed the problems of New York, we’ve just made them less visible, as residents of places like Brownsville (where mail carriers have recently refused to deliver) can tell you.

HOWEVER, the bulk of people I hear bemoaning the cleaned up and sanitized New York seem to be upset over the perceived drop in street cred, rather than any sort of ill-thought out public policy. Also, judging from my admittedly small sample size, most of the people who bitch about New York not being “the same” would either never have the stones to move their in 1980, or they would have been the first to wind up on the evening news with their severed head in a newspaper machine (remember those?!).

Here’s a sample from the above-mentioned collection of my neighborhood, Bushwick, which currently features at least three organic supermarkets, a handful of trendy bars, and a combination yoga studio/hot dog restaurant/bar:

Whoa.

 

A slightly similar thing is happening in Austin, a city currently undergoing so much rapid growth that their have been delays on moving dirt out of construction sites. There’s a sizable contingent of Austinites bitching and moaning about people “Dallasing” their Austin, which isn’t surprising since “Austin used to be cool!” has been the world-weary hipster’s battle cry for lo these past thirty years.

Remember the Yassine brothers? They were a clan of club and bar owners who go into Dirty Sixth real estate prior to the boom, and anybody who lived in Austin (especially UT alumni) from around 2000 onwards should be familiar with their string of shit-show saloons: Pure, Fuel, Spill, Treasure Island, et al. If anybody was a part of “old Austin” (Austin old-timers who have been shouting abou the city turning lame since 1985, you can sit down), it was these guys. Everybody who went downtown in search of erasing exam-related stress with $2 you call-its knew these places. And you know what? They were horrible.

I remember the day the raids went down. It was a developing story throughout the day, and though I’d like to say I immediately thought of the Yassine clubs when I heard that the FBI’s presence in downtown Austin was related to bar owners, but the truth is, I don’t remember. Once the news began rattling off a list of bars that were raided, I DO remember thinking “Wow!” followed immediately by “Hmm, I guess that’s not surprising.”

These places were truly horrible. They had all the trappings and pretensions of destination city dance clubs with none of the prestige or luxury; they were basically greasy Sixth Street shot bars with the prices jacked up and a bunch of frat guys who thought they were ballers guzzling Grey Goose inside of them. Half the time they were mostly empty, and I know that on at least one occasion, when I stepped into Treasure Island, nearly abandoned on a Saturday night, I wondered half-seriously if somebody was using it as a drug front.

If the allegations against the Yassines are true (you can read more about this fascinating story here), they were involved in a quite a bit of bad stuff indeed, but all that aside, maybe there’s a lesson to be taken away from all of this. If there’s one thing that history has proven time and again, it’s that the old guard isn’t always right on the money, and maybe downtown Austin is better off now that 9 or so really shitty and shady clubs (among the accusations: turning a blind eye to sexual assault, stealing employee wages) are all getting the boot. I don’t know who is going to grab those leases and what they’ll put in there, but change always has the potential for good, right? I DO know that I’m very happy that the jerkoff hut that operated in plain sight for over a decade finally got booted to make way for Tim League’s cocktail lounge, Midnight Cowboy.

I guess my point in all this rambling is that things never stay the same, including cities, and especially including cool cities. People find out, and the landscape shifts. The reason people say it’s not the same? Because it’s not, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing, or at least, it doesn’t have to be.

REVIEW: THE SHINING

“Your credit’s fine, Mr. Torrance.”

The Shining

Directed by Stanley Kubrick

Written by Stanley Kubrick and Diane Johnson

Looking back, one has to wonder if Stanley Kubrick knew exactly what he was getting into when he decided to adapt The Shining for the silver screen.

Legend has it that Kubrick had been paging through stacks and stacks of books as he looked for source material for his next film when he picked up a copy of King’s novel. The story held his attention (all other volumes had been tossed aside by the director after a few pages), and some time later, Kubrick had delivered one of horror’s strangest and most iconic works.

It seemed like a match made in heaven: a story penned by America’s most celebrated horror writer at the apex of his career, adapted by a living legend of the visual arts. However, the people who are familiar with King’s disdain for the finished project probably outnumber those who have actually seen it from start to finish. Odder still, the film has permeated the cultural lexicon to an absurd degree, apparently via word of mouth, yet, judging by the small crowd that gathered at IFC Center to attend a screening last week, a surprising number of young adults have never sat through the film credits to credits.

It’s a long and deliberately paced movie. All 146 minutes (a colossal length for anything lacking spandex these days) inch by with precision and grace that can at times seem plodding. I remember being a vocal critic of The Shining when I first saw it in my late teens, but a large chunk of that may have been due to my stalwart devotion to the King novel.

Kubrick had quite a task laid out for him. Save for a few memorable set pieces (many of which Kubrick wound up eschewing anyway), a great deal of the book’s conflict is communicated through interior monologues. There were two options for the screenplay. Option one was to insert endless chunks of exposition in place of those interminable bits of reflection. Option two was to shoot the moments exactly how they might appear in reality. As usual, Kubrick took the riskier route.

The performances of all three leads are somewhat stilted in the beginning. Kubrick opts for a theatrical style, and much of the dialogue between characters is mundane and designed to take up space. Watching the film on a large screen again, it’s apparent that this choice serves two deliberate functions. First, it brings the setting rather than the interaction of the characters to the forefront of the audience’s attention. Much of the film, especially the opening third or so, is shot inside of massive frames, highlighting the cold, empty beauty of the Overlook Hotel and its grounds (by contrast, many of the scenes away from the hotel, such as those in Florida and Boulder, are shot much more tightly). This begins to change as Jack Torrance drifts further and further towards madness, and at this point, the second effect of the film’s stage-play performances presents itself. The pleasant facades of Jack and Wendy Torrance have been slowly crumbling the entire film, but right at the point of Jack’s nightmare (and Danny’s encounter with the woman in Room 237), the masks are obliterated entirely, and we’re left only with raw, blind rage and frantic, all-encompassing fear, respectively.

Visually, The Shining proceeds like some sort of twisted museum tour in which the once beautiful and awe-inspiring frames shrink down into little twisted and sneering canvasses. Aided by the use of the then-brand-new SteadiCam, Director of Photography John Alcott forces us to (despite the museum analogy) consume the film not as audience members looking in, but  to live inside the worlds of these characters and feel each progression with claustrophobic and horrifying detail. We’re given no quarter with editing or camera movement, forced instead to linger on the chilling and beautiful grounds of the Overlook Hotel as the walls close in around us as well as the Torrances.

As mentioned previously, Kubrick’s alterations to the meat of The Shining’s story are the subject of much debate, especially amongst fans of King’s novel. Kubrick’s adaptation throws out many threads of its own, but ultimately, the horror of the film gestates inside the uncertainty and lack of resolution that washes over the audience as the clock winds down. There’s mention of the Overlook’s seedy past, and Jack’s alcoholism and short temper are briefly touched upon, but for the bulk of the story, the audience is kept somewhat in the dark. Once again, we’re forcibly placed in the shoes of Danny and Wendy Torrance, two characters who are simultaneously afraid of and fearful for their loved one. As Jack spirals further and further into insanity (or possession, or both), both Danny and Wendy must eventually make their peace with the fact that the Jack they know and love is gone. This makes for a very powerful metaphor, not only for the ravages of addiction (which figures much more heavily in King’s book), but for the all-consuming nature of rage.

The greatest departure from the original text lies in Kubrick’s refusal to draw conclusions about the nature of the Overlook Hotel itself. Is Jack experiencing cabin fever, made all the worse by alcohol withdrawal and anger at his own inability to write, or is something much more sinister at work? Wendy eventually begins seeing horrible sights, as does Danny, which certainly suggests that there is a supernatural presence in the hotel, but it’s not a stretch to wonder if Wendy and Danny are themselves suffering from hallucinations brought on by the claustrophobic conditions and their growing fear and emotional distance from Jack.

This, coupled with the steady ramp-up to violence and cruelty is what makes The Shining special. It’s not particularly violent, at least, not when viewed in conjunction with other horror films of note, and especially not by modern standards. Above all, The Shining succeeds because it zeroes in on something that is more terrifying than all of the bloodletting in the world: the loss of control. From the word go, we’re made to face the fact that we humans are very small, as Alccott’s camera zooms over the majestic Colorado landscape, gradually honing in on the small, insignificant blip of Jack Torrance’s car as he unknowingly hurtles towards his doom. As the film progresses, we’re made to empathize with a variety of characters and their varying degrees of helplessness. Wendy is attempting to keep her family together despite her husband’s failings as a provider, husband, and father (Duvall’s performance was, infamously, helped along by Kubrick and Nicholson, who supposedly treated her so badly on set that she suffered a nervous breakdown). Danny has it perhaps the worst of all, as he can see the horrors that lie ahead but can do nothing to stop it, nor can he get anybody to listen to him until it’s too late. Jack is probably the least sympathetic character in The Shining, but anybody who has felt the gnawing hunger of a blank page or the cold sting of disappointing your loved ones knows that his personal road is no less rocky. Danny and Wendy end up escaping the Overlook Hotel, of course, but in the end, it’s the hotel that emerges victorious. Another family has been destroyed, and judging from the film’s final shot, another soul has been added to the employee rolls. The Shining, above all else, introduced American audiences to the notion that sometimes, the bad guys won, and there was nothing anyone could do about it.

BARBECUE IN THE BIG APPLE

As an itinerant Texan, I’ve often found myself in the position of pining for the amazing foodstuffs of my homeland. When you live in a destination city, this not only solidifies your status as “interesting yet obnoxious other”, it also makes those trips back home extra-fucking-awesome and amazing.

The list of things a Texan in New York City misses are numerous. NYC certainly has a ton of great food. You may have heard the place has been known to bake some pizza pies. I will say that Chicago definitely wins the hot dog contest: I’m not even sure why New York has a reputation as being a hot dog place. Every single dog I’ve seen has been a tiny vienna wiener floating in disgusting water., but I digress. The city also has great delicatessens, bakeries, Indian, Greek, bagels (though I’ve never gotten why everybody on the East Coast is so obsessed with bagels). Hell, you can get food from pretty much any country on earth if you know where to look. That said, here’s a short list of things I’m constantly craving:

1. Whataburger (the ability to have Spicy Ketchup shipped to me will soon mend this hurt a little)

2. Lonestar that doesn’t cost $4.00 per bottle

3. Breakfast Tacos

4. Tex Mex (there is good Mex Mex to be had)

Now that summer is closing in fast, however, there’s one fatwish, one desperate, slobbering pining that I find it increasingly harder to ignore: barbecue.

Unfortunately, many New Yorkers are under the impression that meat+bbq sauce=barbecue, which is as infuriating as it is adorable (if you want to watch heads explode, explain the notion of sauceless bbq to somebody from the city). Fortunately, there are a handful of places that allegedly “do the q” (I’m copyrighting that phrase) passably. I recently dined at not one, but two of these places, so loosen your belts, grab yourself a wax paper cup full of lukewarm Big Red, and get ready to chow down on some BBQ snob reviews!

#1 Hill Country Barbecue Market

Note: I did not take this picture, but just stole it from Google. Sorry.

I’ve been hearing about this place since I first decided to move to New York. It’s a lively spot for expats, a popular spot for watching UT games, and generally has an “Austin” vibe to everything. Apparently they have lots of live music here. Anyway, Lindsay was in town a few weeks ago, and as she has been struggling with her own longing for the foodstuffs of her adopted home, we decided to stop in, based on the educated guess that they would be serving Ruby Redbird on tap.

This turned out to be true: Hill Country is currently one of the only places in the city that operates Shiner taps: Bock, Black, Redbird, and Wild Hare were all available. The bar area at the front of the restaurant was great, with a very friendly and attentive bartender, a small seating area, and OK prices for beers (I want to say it was around 6 bucks per mason jar). The bartender also gave us a sample of a sausage slider platter he was getting people to taste, and it was awesome.

On to the BBQ itself. Bottom line: mixed bag. Granted, we only had the brisket and some sides. The mac ‘n’ cheese was good, and the brisket was pretty much spot-on: very tasty, with a nice pink ring and very tasty char. Good, moist, solid all around. The problem…this place is expensive. REALLY EXPENSIVE. I’m used to Manhattan in general being pricey, and I’m sure the costs of running an establishment like Hill Country adds up, but fatty brisket is a whopping $23.50 PER POUND. By contrast, Franklin BBQ in Austin, one of the trendier spots, runs $16.00 per pound. More established and old-school places like Cooper’s in Llano or Kreuz Market in Lockhart run around $12.00. As if this wasn’t bad enough, I suspect they underserved us. I didn’t have a scale handy, but we ordered a half pound to share, and got what looked like 1/4th of a pound, if we were being generous. Onions and pickles were also not free, which I expected, so I’ll let that slide. The sauce was good.

So, I’m torn. Big points for making a Longhorn feel at home, great service, and for having Redbird on tap. Big points for serving up some damn tasty meat, but $23.50 per pound is borderline criminal. I looked at some of the combo plates they offered, and realized that their “deals” for large parties charged over $100 what you could get at any real Hill Country place for around $30-40. I won’t say I’ll never go back, but I’m sure I’ll grumble about it. Also, I happened to be wearing a UT hoodie at the time, and I kept catching people sneaking glances at me. Felt like  the Asian person at a Chinese place that all the white foodies are excited about because he proves the place is “authentic”. Anyhow.

Fette Sau

I also didn’t take this picture.

This is a place in Williamsburg that I had a little bit of leftovers from when some friends of mine met me at a bar, toting a sack full of stuff they couldn’t finish from their meal. It was cold, but still tasty, so I wanted to make it back when I could. Eric and I made the short hike to Williamsburg to chow down on this barbecue of indeterminate origin.

Given the German name, I assumed that Fette Sau was run by some Central Texas expats, a suspicion furthered by the website’s gentle suggestion that visitors consume the meat without sauce. However, once I was inside, I noticed a dearth of Texas crap on the walls, as well as Texas beers (two big holes blown in that theory). Curiouser and curiouser.

Place certainly smelled awesome, and the guys behind the counter were friendly enough. I was slightly hungover and definitely ready to chow down, so I stocked up. I felt briefly ashamed when the cashier asked if I was eating for one or for two, but apparently they ask everybody that to determine how many rolls to give you (that’s my story and I’m sticking to it). On to the meat: the brisket was the third hole blown in my Central TX theory. It was slightly dry, definitely needed the sauce that sat on the tables (very good sauces, I must say), and the char had a weird, dusty taste, almost as if it had been fired on a grill instead of appropriately slow ‘n’ lowed. It wasn’t BAD…but there was definitely something off about it. I didn’t want to eat it until I felt like vomiting, which is always troubling at a BBQ joint. The pork was much, much better (as is to be expected from a place named “Fat Pig”, I suppose): the pulled shoulder was extremely moist and flavorful, and the sausage was juicy. Paired with the darker of the two sauces, which had a bit of a spicy kick to it, it was like sweety, fatty mana from heaven.

So what did we learn today? Brooklyn isn’t always better, but it’s almost always cheaper. I guess everybody already knew that. All the meat from Fette Sau is also locally source and hormono free yadda yadda yadda nobody cares. So, bottom line: if you’re willing to pay top dollar for damn good brisket and you just have to get your hands on some Ruby Redbird or watch a UT game, Hill Country is the way to go. If you want a bit more of a bang for your buck and some damn good pork served to you by a dude with tons of tattoos and piercings, head on over to Fette Sau. Whatever you do, always keep in mind: there’s no substitute for the real thing (although I am looking forward to when that ex-Franklin worker opens his place near Barclays).