Friday, December 23, 2011

Sigh. Another Outrage.

During a soccer match in Holland the other day, some idiot ran onto the pitch and attacked one team's goalkeeper. The keeper, who had been looking the other way, turned to see the young stranger a few feet away and running at him. They both jumped in the air and kicked at each other. The idiot fanatic landed on his back, and the goalkeeper, in the space of maybe a second, took a step towards him, kicked him again, then moved to a different position as the idiot spun on the ground, and the keeper kicked him once more. Then others intervened and the incident came to an end.

Except that the referee of the match then red-carded the goalkeeper.

The goalkeeper's team was so incensed at their teammate's sending-off that they left the field, refusing to play any further. Officially, their justification was that they felt unsafe on the pitch, but everyone with the good sense God gave a turnip knows that the real reason they left was as a protest at the referee's politically-correct idiocy.

The Dutch football association, displaying at least a modicum of understanding about the natural reactions of a man toward an attacker, the sort of reactions that kept individuals alive in less law-abiding times when attacks like this were more commonplace, has ruled that the keeper won't face suspension. 

The referee should.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Mmm. Now, That's Coffee

The Cup
3909 Camp Bowie Boulevard
Fort Worth
(between Montgomery and Crestline)

When my friend Rick and I stepped into The Cup, I had one of those flashbacks that can make you think you've entered a time portal, and were going to be forced to relive an unpleasant childhood. Four women of a certain age, expensively dressed and absorbed in conversation, were seated in a circle between the door and the counter, with empty cups and a tray of pastries uneaten on the coffee table. I thought I had stumbled into that period of my youth, circa 1970, when life seemed to be infested with these society types, coyly issuing platitudes to one another, claws a-quiver in their sheaths, knives ready to hand in Italian-leather shoulder bags. I made it a point to find a seat out of sight of the group, who were probably no more lethal to bystanders now than they were then, but with whom interaction is to be avoided. Sadly, it was too chilly for the attractive patio out back, but we found our refuge.

We were just there to find a light breakfast and kill some time before the Kimbell Museum opened at noon, and I've always felt comfortable enough in Fort Worth's near-west side, an area where women dress for committee meetings while men dress for the stock yards, and everyone seems to be doing fund-raising for one charity or another, usually connected to TCU or the museums down the street. The Cup has not long been on the Boulevard; its pedigree stretches back only to around July, but it is a perfect fit with its surroundings: clean, tastefully decorated, only slightly fru-fru (which I'm sure most of its customers would call "understated"), with the air of an elegance that considers Camp Bowie Boulevard to be the winter home of knowledgeable Fifth Avenue denizens. The Christmas decorations were up: several dozen monochromatic silver ornaments hanging on ribbons from the acoustic-tile ceiling over the service area, an arrangement I found a pleasing contrast to the usual clutter of holiday gewgaws, doodads and whatnots.

Well, that's OK; we just wanted coffee and a little something to eat. We turned out to have made a fortunate choice. (Everybody gets lucky, some time.) 

The counter attendant was helpful, if not quite knowledgeable about coffee culture. When I asked her if their coffee was slow-drip, she shrugged and said, with a slight grin of confusion, "I guess." It turns out the correct answer was "no," which was what I'd expected. While slow-drip coffee is de riguer in snootier locations on the Left and Right Coasts, here in the Real World it's the sort of impractical, wasteful thing one associates with rom-com movies and snobs on the Left and Right Coasts. It was plain ol' high-quality drip coffee. 

The coffee is illy, an Italian brand, which appealed to my distaff side, and is good stuff even without the benefit of prejudice. It hovers between the burned-corn taste of American coffee, which I like when it's not too strong, and the bitter taste of dredged-up river-bottom that characterizes coffee in Europe and, from what I hear, other parts of the Old World. At The Cup, we were served fairly thick coffee that reminded me of the best I've had in Latin America. I'm not one of those people who view coffee as an art form; I think of it as a drink, one that forces me to relax while it cools, then revs me up with a dose of caffeine. This coffee did that, and did it well. 

For the light meal, I went with the vaguely named Breakfast Sandwich: ham and cheese with a poached egg on something called a "morning round," for about $4. I chose it because I wanted something to bitch about, and when the cheerful young lady behind the counter described it, I thought I had my subject. Alas, no; it proved to be not just good, but very good. The ham had a hint of rosemary about it; the cheese was good quality Swiss, not that oily corner-cutting stuff you often get; the poached egg was actually poached, and poached correctly, to just the right degree of doneness to give you all the flavour and none of the gelatinous liquidity of an undercooked egg. And the "morning round" turned out to be a sort of better Pepperidge Farms version of raisin bread, with a soup├žon of maple sweetness. The whole thing got some time in a panini press and I was presented with a breakfast of exquisite flavour and texture. If I'd been hungry, I'd've ordered another.

Rick, who seemed on this trip to be on a quest for the Kolache Of The Gods, ordered a couple of sausage bagels, which are breakfast sausages wrapped in bagel dough to resemble kolaches. They must have been good — they certainly looked good: slightly reddish sausage links in admirably browned wrappings — because they disappeared before I could make a detailed inquiry.

We enjoyed another cup of coffee, and chatted with the shop's owner, a pleasant, sensible-seeming woman who is the spitting image of Van Cliburn's piano teacher's daughter (except, forty years younger). She, I suspect, is as much at home with the junior-league crowd that frequents her shop as she is with the boots-and-jeans crowd that passes by on the way to Denny's.
The Cup on Urbanspoon

Bitchin' Burger Joint?

Peace Burger Dive Bar & Grill
1228 William D Tate Avenue
Grapevine, Texas
(just outside the construction area, near where all the world's freeways come together)

During a short trip up to North Texas to see the Caravaggio exhibit at the Kimbell (which we both recommend enthusiastically), Rick and I drifted up the freeway to the homogenized northern suburbs of DFW, intending to mock the grotesque excesses of the ridiculous-sounding annual Christmas exhibit, Ice! At The Gaylord Texan, and to wonder how much of a carbon footprint was required to chill a 140,000-square-foot exhibit hall in Texas to nine degrees fahrenheit for two months, so that kids and their oblivious environmentally-conscious parents could have a little fun to relieve their lives of high-paid corporate drudgery. As it happens, the feeling of superiority promised by such a venture could not overcome our revulsion toward the mechanics of getting to the display. So we never saw the ice, only the SUV-choked parking lot, and the shuttle buses ferrying visitors back and forth. But I'm sure it would have been reprehensibly spectacular, or spectacularly reprehensible, in keeping with the Gaylord chain's theme of excess in everything that might make a buck.

But the visit to Grapevine wasn't a total loss: I did pick up a new art-glass sculpture by Kevin Doerner from the Vetro Glassworks on Main Street. And saw the new Sherlock Holmes movie. And found Peace Burger Dive Bar & Grill, making an unlikely trifecta of enjoyment amid the postmodern dross.

Nestled in a strip-mall like a John Birch Society mole, Peace Burger succeeds in making its customers comfortable enough with themselves to face the car-culture that dominates the surrounding prairie. Its plate-glass front, darkened with film to increase the interior's separation from the mundane world outside, is almost covered with bumper stickers, some of an iconoclastic bent, others celebrating lifestyle choices from, presumably, the owners' younger years: surfing, the Grateful Dead, New Orleans. Tables for four line the outer walls of the cozily dark dining room, with high-top tables in the central area of the concrete floor. In the back is the bar, and behind that, the kitchen where irreverently-named dishes like Voodoo, Mexi-Dog and Piggy are prepared. The bar offers eight, mostly mainstream, beers on tap, plus a full selection of hard liquor attuned to the taste trends of the thirty-something crowd, who know what to like because they read about it in GQ and Cosmo. The service is competent, with what a certain Dane once called an antic disposition. In our waitress's case, this was signified by the hot-pink T-shirt she wore (for sale at the counter) with the legend, "Buy me another margarita, you still look ugly."

We started with a couple of handfuls of peanuts from the barrel by the door. Rick, who is from Florida originally and doesn't get out much, had never been to a place that embraces what was once, long ago, a widespread custom in the less sophisticated parts of the country (i.e., Not New York): throwing the peanut shells on the smooth floor, where they are trodden underfoot and swept away upon closing. Eating peanuts this way, with the faint hint of sinfulness their mess produces, makes the leisurely consultation of the menu a pastime. That, and an ice cold beer. 

In the fullness of time, at the appropriate juncture, after giving full play to all considerations, and when the moment was ripe, we made our choices. First, we would split a Beach-N Quesadilla; then we would split a Havana and a Texas Steak "sammitch." Meanwhile, we would enjoy our beer and peanuts.

The quesadilla arrived first. It was a large flour tortilla folded over chunks of beef, with cheese and peppers and served with a side order of fries. It was cut into four barely-manageable strips, which made it flimsy and messy, a challenge to our dainty sensibilities. But because it was so good, we allowed ourselves the mess. It was the best thing we had at Peace Burger. The fries were good, too; thin-cut and slightly crispy, hot and not greasy.

Our other choices, while sounding more promising, disappointed. The Havana, Peace Burger's take on a traditional Cuban sandwich, would have been much better if the dill pickle chips had been forgotten in the kitchen; their overstated taste was both intrusive and jarring. Instead, it appeared the kitchen had briefly forgotten to take the sandwich off the press, as the hoagie roll was slightly burned on both top and bottom, just enough to convince me that a proper kitchen manager would have insisted that the sandwich be re-fabricated.

The Texas Steak sandwich ("Philly never had it so good! So good! So good!"), on the other hand, was made without obvious flaws, but neither did it possess any intrinsic exceptionalism. It was just a Philly steak sandwich, and not one such as Philadelphians argue over with great fervour and life-threatening passion. Just an ordinary steak sandwich, grilled with onions and peppers, with jalape├▒os and queso dip added to give it a vaguely Texan identity. 

All the burgers and sandwiches on the menu are five bucks. For five bucks, it appears, you get near-misses rather than greatness. Overall, the food at Peace Burger disappoints because of its unrealized potential; it's just good enough; while the atmosphere makes it a pleasant place to pass some time. 
Peace Burger Dive Bar & Grill on Urbanspoon

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Coffee for a Cause

The Loft
4400 US 281
Spring Branch
(half a mile beyond Highway 46, on the northbound side)

It's just a coffee shop. It sits out on the highway in a limestone house (with a loft, yes, and a fireplace) to provide a meeting place for the locals, and a spot to relax, have a cup of coffee and some light refreshment. The need for such a place in that area is matched with the desire of a local church to raise money for causes it supports, a current trend in the coffee-shop trade. On the day we visited, the money raised was going to a project to build a home for victims of human trafficking, and to an anti-poverty project in Africa. It doesn't make the coffee any better, but it makes you feel better about choosing this place over any others. Because most of the work, if not all, is done by volunteers, the shop produces more money for the causes.

The volunteers who staff the shop are uniformly cheerful and friendly. I suspect that if we stopped in more than once in twenty years, we'd begin to develop relationships with these people, finding the points of common interest. But even as strangers passing through, we felt welcomed and cheered by the attitude of the staff. And the place itself is airy and clean and nicely decorated, adding to the pleasure we took in being there.

The food isn't particularly remarkable. Breakfast tacos, made up in advance and wrapped in foil, are in bins on one side of the room. There is a bakery case with various small treats, all home-made for the cause, and all reasonably well done. I selected a sausage kolache that looked more like a biscuit, and a potato-and-egg taco. The kolache had a very nice, slightly sweet flavour in the dough, and was filled with a tasty portion of sausage, nicely seasoned. The taco was, well, a tad bland, but at least the egg wasn't dry, as so often happens when tacos are made and stored in that fashion. Rick also had a sausage kolache, along with a ham-and-cheese kolache which wasn't as good, and could have used a little more ham in it.

The main draw, though, is the coffee. There were four types on offer, one of them decaf. I went with the breakfast blend, a nice medium-strength drink. Rick's choice was the Texas Pecan coffee, which smelled heavenly and made me regret my choice.
Loft Coffee House on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Words. Words. Words.

MSNBC, one of the self-appointed arbiters of cultural affairs in the 21st Century, has posted an article saying that LAX is the "most social" airport in the world, because more people check Facebook from there than from any other airport.

Remember when "society" actually involved personal interactions with other people? Facebook, and other, similar, social media, are the opposite of "social."