Thursday, February 26, 2009

Soul Food in Phoenix
Lots of people head to Phoenix this time of the year to enjoy the warmer weather and play golf. Not us. We went and, after I worked each morning, visited the soul food restaurants of Phoenix.

First we went to Mrs. White's Golden Rule Cafe, which is in downtown Phoenix, not far from the baseball stadium, but somewhat confusing to get to due to the fact that they've recently (at least since last time I was there) put a light-rail system in downtown Phoenix, which makes things like turning a little more challenging.

Mrs. White's is a tiny place, with about a dozen tables and a bar (for eating, not drinking). You pick a meat, and two sides. I had chicken-fried steak, which was pretty much batter fried goodness surrounding a tender, not dried out, steak. It was wonderful. I combined it with some macaroni and cheese, which wasn't particularly memorable, and some greens, which were good, and had a great meal for less than $20. No booze, but they sell sweet-tea and lemonade. The service is friendly. It takes a while to get your food, but that's because they're cooking it up right there. So have another sweet-tea, enjoy the atmosphere and, if you have a sharpie with you, sign your name on the wall.

The next day we went to Restaurant 28, in Glendale, which is a suburb of Phoenix that gets made fun of a lot, I'm not really sure why. The Arizona Cardinals play there, but I don't think that's the reason. Restaurant 28 is the biggest of the three soul food establishments we visited, and it looks more like a traditional (casual) restaurant than the other two, which are converted houses with not a lot of space. It's run by a guy named George, who is from North Carolina. On our visit, George walked into the restaurant, trailing a cart of barbecued meat, and asked us all how we were doin'. The place is called Restaurant 28, commemorating the fact that he and his eventual wife went 28 years without seeing each other before they were reunited and married. His wife was from Arizona, they re-met in North Carolina and, the next thing you know, George packed up his barbecue equipment and headed out west.

Restaurant 28 has a huge menu. And they serve chittlings every day, which is apparently a pretty big thing. It was a big thing to my girlfriend, as we seem to always show up at these restaurants the day after chittling day. But at Restaurant 28, every day is Chittling Day! And they were good, my girlfriend said, although not as good as those of her cousin, who, unfortunately, doesn't have a restaurant.

I'm not much of a chittling eater, so I opted for some of George's barbecue -- chopped brisket. You generally get your brisket sliced, but chopped is much better. You don't have to do so much chewing, and there's more surface space for George's great sauces, most of which I was unaware of until George was telling us about them and I had finished eating. I also enjoyed some fried okra, which I munched on as my girlfriend made her way through her chittlings. Based on the quality and variety of the food, and the friendliness of George and his colleagues, I could eat at Restaurant 28 every day. If I lived in Arizona, at least. And I guess I'd eat there every day for about three years, at which point my arteries would be as hard as concrete and I'd drop dead.

Oh, and you can get beer there, too, which is always nice.

Day Three took us to Lo-Lo's Chicken and Waffles (if you follow this link, check out the pictures section where you'll see a photo of Matt Leinert wearing a stylized Nationals' cap). Like Mrs. White's, this is downtown and in a coverted house. It's run by Larry "Lo-Lo" White, who is Mrs. White's grandson. Of course he is!

I'm certainly familiar with the whole chicken and waffle concept, but I was never quite sure if I got it, and was a little bit afraid to ask. After experiencing it, I'm still not sure that I get it. It is, indeed, chicken AND waffles (I thought maybe you ordered chicken or you ordered waffles). At Lo-Lo's, you get a plate filled up with fried chicken, eggs, grits and a couple of waffles. The fried chicken was very good, crisp on the outside, juicy on the inside. Big pieces. I'm not much of a waffle-eater, but the waffles didn't really seem exceptional, and I'm still unclear as to why chicken and waffles is such a famous combination. But who am I to arguewith the likes of E40 and Cassidy, who, apparently, are hip hop musicians that are big fans of Lo-Lo's? The eggs were good, and the grits were good, and it tasted all right when you just kind of mixed everything up and sopped it up with a waffle. But the chicken was the best part, and I just wanted to pick that up and eat it, not messing with any waffles or anything else.

No beer here, you can have lemonade or fruit punch Kool-Aid, served in Mason jars.

Unfortunately, I was not up to the task of dessert, which featured a red velvet cake, that has been deemed "the best" by none other than ex-Sun and noted red velvet cake expert Shawn Marion. Marion actually majored in Red Velvet Cake during his days at UNLV. So he should know. It was also noted that the Arizona Cardinals considered Lo-Lo's their "good luck" charm during their improbable run to the Super Bowl. (Note to Dan Snyder: Open a Lo-Lo's Washington branch out by the stadium. I'm sure it won't give the Redskins good luck, but it would be a good place to go get chicken.)

Lo-Lo's was just as friendly as the other restaurants. It's even smaller than Mrs. White's, though, and when it fills up it can get loud and a little hectic. Part of the experience I guess.

The soul food tour was a good way to get a feel for Phoenix, beyond the $250 greens fees and fancy sports cars zooming down Camelback Road that I associate with the city. There are many other soul food restaurants in Phoenix (thanks, Google), I actually think they have more there than in DC. Which is interesting when you realize that Arizona has never been blazing the trail in making black people feel welcome, as famously illustrated by their reluctance to accept Martin Luther King Day as a holiday, despite the pleas of Ronald Reagan, and despite the fact that the NFL moved a Super Bowl elsewhere to protest this reluctance. I'm glad things have changed.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Who's Smiling Now?
So remember that kid "Smiley" Gonzalez that the Nationals signed when he was 16? A little over two years ago Smiley inspired people, like Todd Jacobson of the Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star (I didn't even know Lance Star was in prison.), to gush:

Esmailyn Gonzalez drives his gleaming white Cadillac Escalade through the narrow and pock-marked streets of Pizarrete, stopping often. He is 16 years old, he is almost a millionaire, and he's a celebrity.

Townspeople wave from storefront bars and fruit stands, approaching the driver's side window to offer handshakes and greetings. He picks up one woman and gives her a ride to the bus stop.

And when he pulls into the small plot of land on the edge of sugar cane fields that has served as home for the last 16 years, his sport utility vehicle sticks out like a bulldozer in a cornfield.

What an inspirational story, I remember that I teared up at the time.

Turns out, Smiley is really Carlos Alvarez Daniel Lugo (that's right -- Carl Lugo!), and he's now 23, not 19, which is how old he would have been if he really was 16 back in December of 2006. Evidently, a key part of the scam was that he figured that no one would ever suspect a guy named Smiley of lying about stuff. Sure fooled the Nationals, who gave him $1.4 million dollars. His next most aggressive suitor, the brilliant minds at the Texas Rangers, were thinking more like $700,000.

Smiley had a great year last year in the Gulf Coast League. A great year if he was 18, but not such a great year when you figure he was four years older than the kids he was playing with.

They really saw Jim Bowden coming on this one.

Friday, February 06, 2009

Nationals Promote Conformism
Nationals' brass have come up with a slogan, and a marketing theme, intended to stir up the apathetic masses and create some real excitement about their crummy team. Nats Town! is apparently the place to be, and we're supposed to Get Your Red On, and wear red to the games. That should work!

You know what I hate? Being told what I have to wear, what I have to say, or how I have to act at ball games. I went to a college where you were expected to go to football games in khakis and, sometimes, a tie, sing a song when the team did good, and drink as much bourbon as you could. I was at least able to semi-conform to this, as I compensated for my poor wardrobe choices by drinking extra bourbon; and the singing was directly related to the bourbon consumption.

I hate when you're ready to go to a baskeball game or something, and you remember at the last minute that it's going to be a "white-out," so you have to scramble to find something white, and you realize the only white shirt you have is the white dress shirt that you just wore to work that day. So you get out of whatever comfortable shirt you wanted, and put the work shirt back on. That's dumb.

I can deal with the National Anthem. But are we really living "o'er the land of the free," if we have to stand up and wave our hands during The Wave? While wearing red? Can't we just watch the game? I even find myself getting a little self-conscious before the 7th inning stretch, as I'm sure the people behind me have never been to a game before and are going to yell at the big guy standing in front of them.

I think the Nationals need to work a little on their record before they start telling us what to wear to the game.

Monday, February 02, 2009

A Sad Story
Yesterday, the Washington Post Magazine published a story about the tragic episode last summer where Prince George's County cops busted into the home of the mayor of Berwyn Heights, and killed his two dogs. A rather large package of pot had been delivered to the home of the mayor, his wife and mother-in-law. Not taking into account that drug dealers aren't brazen enough to have the drugs actually sent to their home, so they send their packages to other homes and then take them from the porch, the cops assumed the residents were drug dealers. They didn't even take a moment to Google the name of the homeowner, so they were not aware that he was the mayor. A SWAT team stormed the house, scared the hell out of the mother-in-law, and shot and killed the dogs. The dogs were non-aggressive; they were labs, one of them was trying to run away when he was shot. The cops quickly realized their mistake, but it was too late. They don't even seem to really feel bad about it.

My dog, who turned one year old yesterday, slept across my lap as I read this, and it was really too horrible to read in one sitting. It seems like the "war on drugs" has been going on since I've been old enough to read about it, and nothing has changed. Precious financial resources disappear into thin air, and -- even worse -- things like this happen, which make you wonder if the combatants remember who they're fighting for.