Archive for the 'Rants' Category


A Mission To Make More Neighbors, Not More Enemies

Chef Martha Lou Gadsden, center. Photo copyright 2013 by Zachary D. Lyons.

Cynthia Pristell and I with Chef Martha Lou Gadsden, center, at Martha Lou’s Kitchen in Charleston, South Carolina. Photo copyright 2013 by Zachary D. Lyons.

At a time when it seems our president is trying to make as many enemies as possible, it occurred to me that now is an excellent time to make more friends. I’ll be damned if I’ll let anyone convince me that I should be afraid of anyone without a really good reason, and the color of their skin, their religion, who they love, or the fact that they are desperate for a better, or safer, life for themselves and their families is not a reason at all to fear someone, left alone a really good reason. Some of the most wonderful experiences of my life have happened because I have ignored someone else’s fears and decided to go to that place — to meet the people there anyway. From the south side of Chicago to the 69th Street Station in West Philly; from Rosedale, Mississippi to Central Kentucky; from the South Bronx to Macon, Georgia, I have had people tell me I should be afraid — that I shouldn’t go there — and I went anyway, only to enjoy some of the richest experiences of my life.

James Robinson and I with Ms. Izola White, owner of Izola’s Family Dining, known to locals as “Ms. Izola’s,” on South 79th Street in Chicago’s South Side. Photo copyright 2005 by Zachary D. Lyons.

Now, our president wants me to fear anyone from six predominantly Muslim countries for no other reason than he says so, and, I guess, because these countries lack Trump hotels. He wants me to fear undocumented immigrants from Mexico, and he calls them rapists and murderers without foundation. He wants me to fear refuges fleeing their war-torn homelands in places like Syria, Somalia and Yemen because they are Muslim. He wants me to fear these people and more without a really good reason, while he wants me to trust him without a really good reason either. But I prefer to subscribe to the sound words of the man who pulled us out of the Great Depression, won WWII and invested in America’s infrastructure on a scale the likes of which we had never seen, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, when he said, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” Not just a timeless quotable, these words represent a way of thinking that is a polar opposite to what we see coming out of Washington, DC at present.

The Todd Brothers playing “Rook” at the Block House in Hernando, Mississipp. Photo copyright 2014 by Zachary D. Lyons.

Instead of succumbing to fear of these people, then, why not embrace them? Why not befriend them? Why not reach out to them, like good neighbors, and share with them, learn from them, and enjoy them? What have we got to lose, but a few more enemies? And one of the best ways I’ve found to make friends over the years is to break bread with people. Few things are more powerful bridge building tools than food, and where there are immigrants, there are not only new foods to be tried, but also new friends to be made.

Chef Tamara Murphy (right), server, Hassan (center,) and I at Juba Restaurant & Café, a Somali eatery in Seatac, Washington. Photo copyright 2017 by Zachary D. Lyons.

My friend and neighbor, Chef Tamara Murphy, had expressed a similar feeling in a New Year’s resolution in the Seattle Times at the beginning of this year in which she said she would like to “experience at least one new ethnic restaurant per month, and get to know the owners and learn more about their food.” So I reached out to her to see if she wanted to join me in exploring the immigrant communities in the Seattle area. Our first adventure was on Friday, February 24, 2017, to a restaurant in a Somali immigrant community in the city of Seatac, just south of Seattle. This would serve as the genesis of my series here, called Making Neighborhoods, because after all, that is what are doing.


Walt’s Fish Market & Restaurant – Sarasota, Florida

4144 S Tamiami Trail
Sarasota, FL 34231-3608
(941) 921-4605
Open Weekdays 9am-9pm

I went to check out the Siesta Key “Farmers Market” on Sunday, April 10th, but like most “farmers markets” in Florida, it seems, I could not find any farmers there. How is it that the #2 (behind California) specialty crops (fruits, veggies, stuff you can eat with being processed by Cargill or ADM) state sucks so bad at this whole farmers market thing. I mean, #1, 3 & 4 (CA, Washington & Oregon, respectively) kick bottom at farmers markets.

Okay, that said, I did meet a fishmonger there from a place called Walt’s Fish Market & Restaurant, and his fish looked pretty good, so I grilled him a bit. The salmon was wild king from five or six boats the market’s owner knew from Kodiak, Alaska, and the rest of the stuff was local Floridian seafood, like yellow-eye snapper, swordfish, Key West pink shrimp and stone crab. He told me to go check out the storefront on US-41 (a.k.a., South Tamiami Trail), just south of Bee Ridge, on the west side.

This market made my northwestern heart proud. These fishmongers spoke, believe it or not, FISH! They knew not only about the species, but they knew where it came from. And not just the port — the boat! Beautiful, fresh stuff, and almost all local to Florida. (Try finding that in, well, just about any grocery store in Florida. Oy!) They had shrimp in like 10 different forms, only one of which was farmed crap from SE Asian, hidden in the back of the case out of disgust and apparently only carried because some folks just have to have their “normal” tasting, mangrove forest destroying, tsunami accelerating, pumped full of drugs and eating too much processed feed made from perfectly good seafood we could be eating directly farm-raised shrimp. (Why? Because when it comes right down to it, humans is still stupid animals.) The rest of their shrimp were from the Keys and the Gulf of Mexico.


They also have a restaurant there — mostly chowders, salads and fried stuff. I decided I needed a snack. They really pushed their fried shrimp. Being from Seattle, where we eat the local sea insects either raw or lightly steamed, and in a real pinch, sauteed, I balked at this, but their insistence, and the fact that they had already impressed me with their fish market case, won me over.

These were the best flippin’ fried shrimp I have ever had! Seriously. Delicate, crunchy crust had a light flavor that did not overpower the shrimp, which were sweet and tender and perfectly cooked — unheard of normally with fried shrimp. And they used just the right amount of breading, too, instead of serving me shrimp fritters — all bread, little shrimp. And the cocktail sauce, too, was perfect, complimenting and enhancing the shrimp, not covering up a lack of shrimp or shrimp flavor, or simply serving as a means of moistening the lump of breading.

I also got a little container of their freshly-made conch salad — basically, a conch ceviche with orange and yellow bell peppers, some onion, and a hint of Scotch bonnet chile. Lovely!

If you are ever in Sarasota, go here. Make your ancient relatives shop for fish here. Support a great local business with great local fish and great local food. Don’t waste your time at Publix, and cut out the three-plus middle men between you and the boat at Whole Paycheck (I mean ‘Foods’).

And skip the Siesta Key “Farmers Market”. Visit us in Seattle for the real thing until Florida gets its act together.


Pizza Hut makes it “Natural”

Speaking of Pizza Hut treating us like we’re stupid, what’s up with “The Natural”? I guess they figure none of us are quite smart enough to ask the question, “if this stuff is natural, what were they serving us before?” Why on Earth would anyone seeking a natural diet eat somewhere that is treating the concept as some sort of revelation? Instead, maybe try a local pizzeria that has always used natural ingredients.

To Pizza Hut, “natural” is about marketing trends, not lifestyles.


Pizza Hut Markets “Lasagna”

Would everyone who honestly believes that Pizza Hut went to Italy and surprised a bunch of Italians into thinking their corporate fast food version of lasagna was actually made by some Italian chef or grandmother please stand up? (Okay, I guess it is pretty difficult to count those of you standing in this format, so you can sit down again.)

Recently, Pizza Hut began airing a TV commercial for its new lasagna in which they paint a picture of setting up a restaurant full of Italians with lasagna they are supposed to think is made by a local restaurant that is in fact, surprise, made by Pizza Hut. Ignoring for now that lasagna is not something Italians probably are going out to eat, if they were, you’d think one of them might think something was afoot when everyone in the restaurant was eating the same thing. You think they also might have noticed the cameras everywhere filming their “candid” reactions — reactions that, of course, are full of big, sexy Italian words that no one in real life, even in Italy, would likely be using in that context.

Then, when the “chef” announces to everyone that it is, in fact, Pizza Hut lasagna, and a bunch of guys dressed in Pizza Hut uniforms walk in, everyone laughs and applauds. Never mind that it is probably more likely in Italy that the locals would be incited to riot against the invasion of their country by another corporate fast food restaurant. This is the birthplace of the Slow Food movement, people!

All this leads me to ask, does this ad prove that Pizza Hut thinks Americans are that stupid, or does it prove that Pizza Hut can even find stupid people with no taste in Italy?


Breaking News: KFC Has Cooks!!!

A recent TV ad campaign for KFC features a woman walking and talking. She’s talking about how fresh the chicken is at KFC. She explains, you see, that KFC receives a delivery of fresh chicken every day. Cut to the image of the Tyson factory-farmed chicken truck backing up to a KFC, as if Tyson is delivering its “chicken” directly to each of KFC’s 11,000+ “restaurants” directly, and individually, on a daily basis. As if.

Anyway, the woman then asks viewers rhetorically (since it would be pretty silly if she expected us to answer her, and even more silly if we did), “How do I know this?” She then answers her own question, now wearing her kitchen whites, with, “I’m the cook here. There’s one of us in every KFC.”

Stop the presses! This is serious. Apparently, if we are to believe KFC’s commercial (and I know there are some who won’t), there is someone in every single one of the 11,000+ KFCs out there actually cooking their food! Who knew?Sounds like KFC is jumping on the cooks cooking cooked food bandwagon. How knee-jerk of them.

I guess we can now all feel comfortable about eating at KFC, knowing they get chicken from Tyson, and that after they get it, someone there cooks it. What are they going to come up with next? A commercial that brags about their lights using pure and natural electricity? Now that would get me in the door.


Subway Stinks

Have you ever gone into a Subway sandwich shop? If so, you likely know its distinctive smell — the smell of its signature sandwich bread being proofed and baked. It smells exactly the same in every Subway everywhere always.

Have you ever been in the Vietnamese restaurant next door to Subway? Which Vietnamese restaurant next to which Subway, you ask?  It doesn’t matter. Pick any of them. Or a Thai restaurant neighboring a Subway? Or even an outpost of The Paper Zone that happens to be so unfortunate to inhabit the same building as a Subway, even if it they are at the opposite end of a large strip mall?

They all smell like Subway. They are all infested with the signature smell of Subway’s bread.  It permeates the entire building, polluting every cubic inch of air. That Vietnamese Pho shop can have the most fragrant basil and savory beef broth, but all you will smell when you walk in the door is the smell of Subway’s friggin’ bread.

I don’t expect Subway to change its practices in any way that would result in the protection of the airspace of its neighbors anytime soon, though you’d think there really ought to be a law about it. But I cannot stand that smell. It smells like big, corporate sandwiches to me — nothing like the hoagie and sub rolls I revere back East that vary in flavor, smell, texture and appearance depending on who made them, how they made them, or even what city’s water system they used. No, Subway wants it so that no matter where you go on Earth, your Subway sandwich will taste exactly the same, and no matter what kind of business neighbors that Subway, it will smell exactly the same, too.

My advice to any would-be restaurateurs, and anyone, really, who wants my business, is to refuse to sign a lease on any commercial real estate that shares a building with Subway. In fact, demand a clause in your lease that prohibits your landlord from leasing space in your building to Subway in the future. Maybe then, when Subway finds itself unable to lease any space for its omniodorous franchises, it will figure out a way to keep its smell from invading the space of its neighbors. I could hope for Subway’s sandwiches to stop being so corporate, but I think that would be hoping for too much.


More “Real Ingredients”

Everyone is getting in on the fun now with making their food products (not to be confused with food, of course) with what they call “real ingredients.” For the love of Mike, how stupid are we?!?

The latest to join the “real ingredients” claims craze is Stouffer’s Lasagna. They proudly boast in a television advert that their frozen lasagna is perfect for your family because it is “made with real ingredients.” Um, again, what did they used to make it out of?