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Making Memories and Eating Them

August 16, 2011

One day Mr. Dave will decide to introduce himself to me when he spies me in the P-Chops with the Fussy children in tow. Really, I’d love to sit down with him for a beer and a deep fried hamburger at Swifty’s. But he’s a hard man to nail down.

I don’t think our stances are as far apart as he may believe. It comes down to a matter of perspective.

Mr. Dave has been un-thrilled with the Fussy Little Tours, and I totally respect his opinion. In fact, whether he chooses to believe it or not, his watchful eye moderates how I think about the task at hand as well as the ultimate evaluation of the tour.

You should really read his entire comment from yesterday, but here is the part I’d like to talk about today:

Why must Mr. Dave quote Proust and ramble on for 4 paragraphs in response to a blog post on Fish Fry you ask? Because I think this wanderlust for the tastiest possible thing available is one of the fundamental issues with food in America. Fish fry is probably an awful analogue, but it speaks to the fact that the urge to treasure your hometown gem, your regional treasure is often lacking in our culinary decision making process. You heard that your local potatoes aren’t as good as the neighboring towns? Get in your giant car and drive twenty miles to get the better ones, or just have them airlifted to your local mega-grocer… I say be happy with the potato (or fish fry) you have. Treasure it for it what is, because should you find yourself in the land of the most delicious possible potatoes you will find that it is the crappy hometown tuber that you will [miss] the most.

He sees this as the problem of my tours. But I see my tours as the solution.

On one level the Fussy Little Tours are an evaluation, but more than an evaluation, they are an event. I might even go so far as to say a celebration. And they are all about our hometown gems and regional treasures: The cider donut, the mini hot-dog, the seasonal soft serve stand, and the fish fry.

I know that Mr. Dave cringes at the notion of his beloved mini hot-dogs being poked and prodded by evaluators and being reduced to a number on a score sheet. But I happen to think this task helps to encourage mindful eating. It helps to slow people down, pay attention to the food, and not take anything for granted.

Meat sauce can just be meat sauce. But when you really focus on it, you realize every place does it slightly differently.

It never ceases to amaze me at how many transplants to the area have never tried a Fish Fry, even after living in the region for several years. If you didn’t grow up with this stuff, it may not make it onto your radar that Fish Fry is a regional treasure.

Those who took the tour with me last Saturday are now well versed in the form. My hope is that they will now become Fish Fry evangelists and others will be inspired to take a tour of their own. In doing so I hope people find as I did that there are things to love about each of the institutions.

For those who consider eating five feet of fried fish too daunting, perhaps reading through the notes of the tour they will find one place that suits them best. And I’m okay with that too. I’d rather someone be turned onto a Fish Fry they like in another town than to go to their local joint and be turned off to this regional delight forever.

The truth is that there are differences between the regional Fish Fry places. And that is a great thing. I loved Gene’s with their thin tartar and red-pepper-spiked cocktail sauce even though they had a greasier crust. Others preferred the classic sauces and well-seasoned crunchy coating at Off Shore. Bob & Ron’s always transports me back to another era in Albany, and I like being part of that too, but there I’ve learned to stick with the clams.

Should people read the results of the tour and decide to check out Off Shore or one of the other establishments for the first time, I think this will have been a successful venture. If people read it and decide to only go to Off Shore, than I think it will have failed. But I don’t suspect that will be the case.

Mr. Dave and I clearly differ on the size of the hometown playing field. The thing is that for me, my new adopted hometown isn’t Albany or Guilderland, but rather the greater Capital Region. It’s really just not that big. In about thirty minutes I can be in Schoharie, Ballston Spa, Coxsackie or Valatie.

And it’s not that I don’t see his point. I’m not going to drive thirty minutes for a slice of pizza. Okay, that’s totally not true, I find reasons to make it out to Pizza King. But I’m not going to drive thirty minutes for a slice of pizza when I’m hungry. I’ll stop at the most convenient place that makes a passable version of the form.

Likewise few, if any, will drive from work in Albany to Rensselaer for a Fish Fry lunch. That’s crazy. However, Fish Fry can also be a destination, and I’m hoping to elevate this regional specialty by convincing fellow transplants that it is worth the drive.

Maybe this isn’t something Mr. Dave can get behind. But it’s important for me that he knows I’m on his side.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. August 16, 2011 9:57 am

    I sense a common theme here, that both of you (Mr. Dave & DB) seem to be missing. You are both searching for a deep meaning and purpose in an event that is (or should be) purely for fun. We are not talking about epicurean wizardry to make any of this stuff. Your tasting tours – fish fries, soft serve, cider donuts, hot dogs – all have one thing in common. Both the tours, and the object of the tours are *Fun*. Fun foods, and a fun experience – to taste as many fun foods as you can without going to a chili cook-off (which is also fun). Lighten up guys!

  2. August 16, 2011 11:51 am

    I agree, a bit, with Mr. Dave. I mean, on one hand, why should I eat something bad just because it’s what I know? (I’m looking at you, Kurver Kreme.) But on the other hand, I’m not going out of my way for the “best” if I’m not already going to be there at some point — I’ll tend to go with the handiest “good” option.

    With the soft serve, while Country Drive-In is closer, we still tend to pass by Route 2 from time to time, so we’re saving our soft-serve outings for those times now, so we can go to On the Farm instead. For fish, I’ll be heading to Matt’s, ’cause they were good and they’re nearby — while Off-Shore Pier was also really good, I’m not likely to ever find myself out there at dinnertime, and I’m not making a special trip just for fish. And Ted’s was also good, which is a good thing, ’cause they’re opening up on Wolf Road, and I’m there fairly often, too.

    But just because something is the closest to home doesn’t mean it’s worth your time/money/stomach space, either. If everything in town is awful, yes, I’ll drive a bit (a bit, not across the region, most likely) to get better. Life’s too short to eat bad food.

  3. August 16, 2011 12:59 pm

    Besides being mostly serious about my points, I will say that I do enjoy indulging in a little point/counterpoint repartee with Mr. Fussy for its own sake… I am really trying to express a fairly simple point (albeit with bombast and much waste of language) that a culinary experience is often more than the sum of its parts.

    The actual taste of something is merely a fleeting play of molecules washing over your tongue, the rub is in the thoughts and feelings conjured by the totality of the experience. I merely use Mr. Fussy’s fondness for le grande tours as a vehicle of discussion for my obvious point. The specific example of fish fry doesn’t really matter.

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