Monday, April 28, 2003

Culinary catchall

Where I grew up in small-town central IL, the food was pretty basic and conservative. Meat and potatoes, yes sir, with corn or green beans on the side. Maybe a salad once in a while, or lima beans or brussels sprouts. But that was about it - even onions were exceptional, and breakfast sausage was about the spiciest thing we ate. Pizza showed up in town in the mid-60's, but even it was bland. All other Italian food was Chef Boy-Ar-Dee. And but for a restaurant that served chop suey once a week, Chinese and Mexican food came in cans.

The potatoes were boiled, mashed, baked, or maybe even scalloped or au gratin. Occasionally they might assume the form of French fries. But these were usually frozen, and were eaten with ketchup.

Later I heard that some people eat their french fries with mayonnaise. Ugh. I suppose it's not so much different from potato salad, but it's the thought - this just isn't done. (Then again I thought it would be disgusting to get sauerkraut on a pizza but it actually wasn't too bad - you'll find this near the Mississippi River around the Quad Cities and points north.)

It gets worse. I've never had poutine, and until I stumbled across it on Colby Cosh (yeah, just try to link to a post there) I hadn't heard of it. No doubt purists will scream at this description, but near as I can tell it's french fries covered with gravy and curd cheese. We have Quebec to thank for this, but now the virus is spreading via McDonalds and others to points west and south.

Then there's this concoction found around US 66/I-55 in downstate IL and St. Louis called the horseshoe sandwich. It's kinda what you'd get if you ordered a hot beef sandwich, but swapped the mashed potatoes for french fries and the gravy for cheese sauce. It doesn't have to be roast beef though - as interpreted by the Ariston Cafe in Litchfield, IL (salute!), you can have it with turkey breast, ham, bacon and tomato or hamburger. (Maybe somewhere you can order a horseshoe sandwich with poutine on the side and a deep-fried Twinkie for dessert. Throw in an extra-large milkshake and you might as well call the coroner.)

Food doesn't have to be good to be good. If you ever go to Atlanta, check out the Varsity and you'll see what I mean. You can't miss the place, just off I-75/85 at the North Avenue exit, just east of that bulwark of civilization known as Georgia Tech. I'll probably be passing through there shortly, and I'll stop for chili dogs, the world's greasiest fries and an FO. The stuff must be brain food, because generations of engineers and scientists have lived off it.

Enough - it's time to eat.

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