Wednesday, July 30, 2008

It's Evolution, Baby!

Today's Bizarro comic strip:

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Gonzo: The Life And Work Of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson

Okay…I’ve tried a couple of different times now to sit down and write up some comments on this new documentary about journalist and counter-culture icon Hunter S. Thompson – but each attempt wound up with me having relatively little to say about the film. It’s not the kind of documentary that transcends its subject, like March Of The Penguins or some of the more recent Michael Moore films. It’s well done, but its target demographic is pretty narrow – those who are familiar with and like Thompson and his work, and those who are not familiar but have some passing interest.

For those in the target demographic, it’s an enjoyable film – tracing the origins of what became known as “gonzo” journalism, a sort of manic coverage of a particular subject or event that so thoroughly involves the writer in the story that he becomes a part of the story himself. Two of the more famous of these instances were when Thompson spent a year as part of the Hell’s Angels motorcycle gang and his coverage of the Presidential election campaign between George McGovern and Richard Nixon in 1972 – both of which experiences Thompson chronicled in books. He also wrote extensively for the fledgling Rolling Stone magazine, back in those heady, hippie days when people were actually interested in what was written in Rolling Stone.

Director Alex Gibney (No End In Sight, Taxi To The Dark Side) and company unabashedly romanticize their subject, enlarging and perpetuating the mythos of Hunter S. Thompson, despite the fact that he was an addictive (and sometimes violent) personality who apparently never met an alcoholic beverage, psychotropic chemical, or rolled herb that he wasn’t more than happy to drink, swallow, or smoke. Like it or not, alcohol and drugs have fueled quite a lot of great art and music over the years – and the filmmakers here do not apologize for the fact that a crucial aspect of the Hunter S. Thompson legend turns on the prodigious amount of chemicals he put into his body.

The stories told throughout the film come from interviews (especially with his first wife Sandy and Rolling Stone publisher Jann Wenner, but also with: illustrating partner Ralph Steadman, who wrote a memoir of the time he spent working with Thompson, called The Joke’s Over; Thompson’s son Juan; and even some seemingly random folks like right-wing lunatic Pat Buchanan and pirate crooner Jimmy Buffett), stock footage of Thompson, and readings of excerpts of some of Thompson’s writings, narrated by Johnny Depp (who played Thompson alter ego Raoul Duke in the film adaptation of Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas).

The only thing missing from the film is an honest look at the negative impact of Thompson’s often-manic behavior and his persistent drug and alcohol use. Though certainly one of those larger-than-life icon types, Thompson was, in fact, plain old human – and his behavior presumably had effects (both positive and negative) on the various people in his life and who were close to him. I think it would have been beneficial to the film as a true exploration of Thompson’s life and work for Gibney and company to have shown how Thompson’s behavior negatively impacted his life – and how he managed to survive for so long in spite of that behavior. In the end, though, this is a minor quibble, and certainly not enough to derail an otherwise very fine film.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Another Poorly Constructed Reason For Voting Against Barack Obama

First there was all of that Jeremiah Wright nonsense, and the racist hatemongers like Rush Limbaugh who flogged it like Jim Caviezel in the days leading up to the Indiana primary - and now there's an e-mail that has gone viral on the ol' Interwebs, one that paints Obama as a cat who would rather shoot hoops and pose for pictures than talk to the troops. It's supposedly from a captain in the Army, but if that is really the case, then the Army should be embarrassed that it made an officer out of someone who is such a horrible, horrible writer. (That's not a comment on the content of the e-mail, which is all lies. It's just a comment on the actual writing itself, which is really quite bad.)

It's bovine fecal matter, and it's a pretty half-assed job of it, too. Who says so? Not in so many words, the following: The New York Daily News (MSM, true), Snopes (run by conservatives),, and the Army itself.

The whole thing should be terribly embarrassing, on multiple levels, to conservatives and Republicans and people-who-hate-Obama-for-no-good-reason - people like this are your rank and file, although you should be used to the false patriots and Power Of Pride assholes since 9/11. If you're going to vote against Obama it should be for a good reason. Would you like some? How about his position on trade, or his claim that he will negotiate with Ahmadenijad (never mind the fact that Ahmadenijad might not even be in office by the time that Obama or McSame is sworn in), or his somewhat Orwellian plan to have the IRS send pre-filled-out tax forms to taxpayers. We can talk about those. I think it was brave of him to say he would talk to Ahmadenijad, but I don't know about the others. Hell, even voting against him because he's a Democrat is better than buying into crap like this e-mail.

(Actually, you know what? You should maybe discount this whole post, except the part about that Army idiot's e-mail being bullshit. That e-mail and the dumb-fuck Army idiot who put it together is stupid, low-rent bullshit whether I'm having a shitty day - which I am - or a great day - which I most certainly am not.)

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Bistro et Crèpe

UPDATE: I noticed that this post has been getting some traffic recently, and I thought I should update it with the information that Bistro et Crèpe has closed. (06.09.11)

We decided to try Bistro et Crèpe for an actual meal rather than just a crèpe or coffee either because the menu is reasonably ambitious without overreaching, or because Amy likes to eat anywhere that has falafel on the menu. Also, neither of us - oddly - felt much in the mood for either Snow Lion or Café Pizzaria-slash-Nick’s. We were the only ones in the place when we walked in, and the first bits of information from our server signaled an inauspicious beginning. They were out of falafel that day, and even though the menu still listed espresso drinks, those were no longer available as they had divested themselves of their espresso machine. (I’m no expert, but I suspect that making espresso without an espresso machine is both messy and cumbersome.)

I wasn’t fussed by the lack of falafel - none I’ve ever had at a restaurant have been anywhere close to the falafel my mom makes - and Amy wasn’t set on it, so we were able to proceed. We both ordered water and then perused the menu. The interior is one big space that feels a bit more like a coffee shop with lots of tables than a restaurant, but the attempt to evoke the mood of a Mediterranean bistro is well-executed. If it were a bit more worn, or the trappings slightly more ornate, you could almost picture Hemingway and Fitzgerald sitting in a corner and arguing about the best way to tell a story. Maybe.

Amy settled on the gyros platter ($12.95), and I chose the mushroom and Swiss crèpe ($8.95 and vegetarian); and though I did not clock the time it took the food to come out, I also did not look down at my watch wondering if, somewhere in the back, the animals to be made into the gyro meat for Amy’s platter were, in fact, still alive. An unassuming little salad dressed daintily with a homemade vinaigrette preceded the entrées.

Now, if you’re thinking that the thing pictured above is the most boring picture of a lunch entrée you’ve ever seen, I’m not going to disabuse you of the notion. In appearance, certainly, ‘twas the comestible equivalent of Melville’s Bartleby. Crèpes are thin pancakes made by pouring batter onto a griddle and turning it either by hand or by manipulating the griddle (or pan) to form a large circle. Once cooked, they are filled, folded (or perhaps rolled), and served - not exactly the French equivalent of the tortilla, but close.

This one was filled with mushrooms, Swiss cheese, garlic, shallots, and a sauce that was just a tiny bit spicy. I was expecting more cheese than mushrooms, and for the cheese to be less than completely melted. Not so, in either case - it was packed full of mushrooms and the cheese was beautifully melted; but the best part was that no one flavor overpowered any of the others, and when you’re talking about mushrooms, Swiss cheese, garlic, and shallots, that’s a lot of flavor ego for one little French pancake to support.

Amy’s gyro platter was exactly what you would expect, if perhaps heavy on the lettuce and tomato entourage. The meat, though a bit dry, was well seasoned; but it’s the tzaziki here that is worth mentioning. Tzaziki is a cucumber-yogurt sauce (often with sour cream and sometimes with garlic, too - especially at Santorini) traditionally served with Greek food in general and gyros in particular. The operative word is sauce. What is served here is closer to a relish - chopped cucumber mixed with just enough yogurt and sour cream to hold it together, and flecked with dill - not an unpleasant departure from usual zaz territory, although I do like the heavy garlic flavor of the Santorini kind. The hummus and pita served with the platter were excellent, as well - the pita more closely resembling the traditional Indian table bread called naan, and the clearly homemade (like the tzaziki) hummus creamy and earthy and gone before we knew it.

There was no trouble with the service this time, which (along with the menu overhaul) leads me to believe, though I did not ask, that the place has undergone a change of ownership since it first opened - improvements, both (though the dessert crèpe on that long-ago first visit was worth the wait). We will be back, though it may be awhile - there are so many options along a two to three block stretch of 4th Street (including a new Ethiopian place that recently opened in the space above Puccini’s La Dolce Vita) that repeating any place other than Snow Lion seems almost a culinary sacrilege.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Chakaia Booker: Mass Transit

I heard something in passing on the news a couple of weeks ago about a new public art exhibition that would soon be on display here in Indianapolis, but when I checked that news channel's (don't recall which one) website I was unable to find the story. Then earlier this week, Amy and I saw some of the pieces being placed for installation while walking from City Market to the State Museum. And, just now, I read Bill Benner's Indy Insights blog and found information on the exhibit, called Chakaia Booker: Mass Transit - as well as a link to a website all about public art here in our fair city. The exhibit - sculptures made of tires that are cut and shaped and folded onto stainless steel frames - is set to open on Tuesday (7/22) and be in place through next March. I imagine I will have pictures to post once Amy and I get around to checking it out.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Disturbing Revelations In The New Yorker!! Disturbing Revelations In The New Yorker!!

I managed to snag the last copy of this week's New Yorker at Northside News this afternoon - possibly the very last copy in the city, the guy told me - and I flipped through it whilst enjoying my lunch from Yats at work this afternoon.

There's a picture on pages 48-49, from when Obama was running for state Senate in Illinois - and he's not wearing an American flag lapel pin.


How did he ever get elected to anything without wearing an AMERICAN FLAG LAPEL PIN?!?! How do we know he's really, really a patriot and that he really, really loves this country if he's not wearing an AMERICAN FLAG LAPEL PIN?!?!

(Granted, the picture only shows his coat and not his jacket, but still, on the coat, HE'S NOT WEARING AN AMERICAN FLAG LAPEL PIN!!!)

All you have to do in this country to be allowed to vote is be eighteen years old and fill out a form. We should probably work on making it harder than that.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Simon Hall

It occcurs to me that I have mentioned the new Simon Hall building on the Bloomington campus of Indiana University twice now without having posted the two shots I took of it when we were in Bloomington back in March. So without further ado - and I know you've been dying to see these pictures - here is the new Simon Hall building. It's tucked into a space that was once just a sort of grassy knoll, between the Chemistry Building and Myers Hall.

First shot shows Lindley Hall in the background, and second shot shows Myers Hall to the right.

Weekend In Bloomington, Sans Enfant

I had both Saturday and Sunday off last weekend, so Amy and I roped my folks into watching Jackson and we headed down to Bloomington for the night with the intent of having more fun this time than we did the last time when it rained like hell the second day and we didn’t get to do much of anything other than wander around the outlet mall in Edinburgh. The last time we went was at the end of March for our anniversary and we walked around Bloomington for a little bit on Saturday afternoon and then woke up Sunday to extremely heavy rain and the drive out to Edinburgh - most of which was along a waterlogged and sloooow 46 - wasn’t much fun.

We rolled down there Saturday afternoon and checked into our really dumpy motel just north of 17th Street on Walnut and then drove into town and pondered the possibilities for an early dinner and decided to eat at Bistro et Crèpe on 4th Street. This is a place that has evolved over time since it opened a few years ago as a coffee and crèpe place. We tried a crèpe there once but the service was so slow that we could never convince ourselves to go back, other than for coffee the last time we were in Bloomington. When I got the coffee that last time, though, I noticed that there was quite a bit more on the menu than just coffee and crèpes, so we marked it as a place to try for an actual meal on some subsequent visit. I’ll spare you the details here, as there will be a separate post about the meal (with pictures!) forthcoming.

So...we had our early dinner and chose not to go walking that afternoon because it was so hot and humid (thunderstorms were forecast for later that night, which promised that Sunday would be much more comfortable for going walkabout), so we ran around to various places that were air-condidtioned, including the mall and Best Buy and Borders and then got back to the dumpy motel (where there was water leaking from the ceiling in the hallway just beyond the hallway that contained our room) and turned out all the lights to listen to and watch the promised thunderstorms that had developed while we were running around and began to fire shortly after we got back to the motel - but the parking lot lights were very bright and shone directly into our room, which spoiled the effect of a reasonably vigorous line of storms that were blowing rain almost sideways at one point. After the storm died down, we had cheesesticks delivered from Mad Mushroom (Oh. Hell. Yeah.) and then called it a night.

We checked out of the dumpy motel at around nine the next morning and went for coffee at a place called The Copper Cup at 8th and College, thinking that it would be a nice indie place to get a non-Starbucks cup, but...not so much. The coffee wasn’t bad, but The Copper Cup does not scream out indie coffee shop so much as it screams out that it desperately, desperately wants to be Starbucks. The shelves of merchandise for sale at the front of the store, the espresso bar itself, the menu boards, and the layout of the café section are all clearly modeled on Starbucks. There were even two big fluffy purple chairs that looked like someone had stuffed Barney and placed him strategically as furniture. Like I say, not bad coffee - but the ambience leaves much to be desired, especially for someone like me, who has been terribly spoiled by the indie-ness of two exceptional Indianapolis coffee shops, Lazy Daze and The Abbey.

With coffee in hand, we set off back toward the motel, because directly across Walnut Street from it is Miller-Showers Park, a little park that was built several years ago and which I see every time I come into town on College (its borders are, roughly, Walnut Street east, College Avenue west, 17th Street south, and its northern edge is a non-thoroughfare about halfway between 17th Street and the bypass). I always mean to check it out, but this was the first time we actually got around to doing it. The park’s function is to filter water from a large part of downtown Bloomington before sending it further downstream (or possibly upstream - the park moves water from south to north), and there is a walking trail that circumscribes the greenspace and the retention pools - Amy spotted a bullfrog in the water at the south end. I have some photos of the park here, and you can check out a Powerpoint slideshow about the park here (somewhat bulky PDF file, option-click to download).

So then...after coffee and Miller-Showers Park, we drove into town and parked the car and started walking around campus, up the brick path leading into the woods next to the Kirkwood Observatory, behind Lindley Hall, past the new Simon Hall building, then down the steps into the Ballantine Hall courtyard and then across that little service street to the path that runs along and across the Jordan River behind Woodburn Hall and the Lily Library.

The shots that follows this paragraph are all of the Jordan River, a normally peaceful little stream that flows through most of the heart of the Bloomington campus. It is so peaceful that it is sometimes referred to jokingly as the “Mighty” Jordan. A little over a month ago, however, it was clearly mighty. The massive flooding that occurred then did some major damage to a number of counties in south central Indiana, and you can see in these pictures just how high the water got and how much of the bank it carved away. The first two shots are between Ballantine Hall and the back of Woodburn Hall, where the river curves a lot.

This last shot is near the sidewalk that leads out to Jordan Avenue. If you look closely at the water, then look to the right, you'll see where the water stops and what looks like debris starts. I'm pretty sure that line is what used to be the bank of the river - before the flood. The bank is now located several feet farther to the right, under the treeline.

I was expecting to see some damage along the Jordan River because of the massive scale of the flooding, but I was taken aback at some of the things I saw - especially things like that second shot, where great sections of a tree's root system were exposed by the rushing water. I only have the handful of photos, though, because I never got around to getting a memory card for our camera. For various reasons (including almost always being near my computer to upload them), the seventeen or so photos the internal flash memory could hold were sufficient - but not so on this trip. However, for the modest sum of thirteen bucks, I got a memory card - the lowest-end one, don'tcha know? - that boosts the photo capacity of the camera to over five hundred pictures. I don't know that I'll have the occasion to get back to Bloomington anytime soon, but if I do, there will be a lot more pictures of the wrath of the Mighty Jordan.

We finished up the trip with lunch at the Runcible Spoon and a dash over to Nashville. A separate post on the Runcible Spoon will also be forthcoming, with picture, but for now this concludes the tale of our latest trip to Bloomington.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The Big List #9

McCain Blogette

Last week’s issue of Newsweek (okay, a couple of weeks ago - I got behind again), which has a horrible picture on the cover of Cindy McCain looking like a Stepford wife dropped unceremoniously into the Village Of The Damned, has a long article about the aforementioned wife of the presumptive Republican nominee. In the course of reading the article, I discovered that one of the McCain brood runs a political blog. Meghan, John and Cindy’s first child together, has also previously worked as a Newsweek intern.

Thousand Days

This is a band, not the Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., book about the Kennedy presidency. The lead singer (and bassist - what is it about cats who play bass and sing?) is a woman called Pardis Sabeti, and I heard about her and her band, where? You guessed it - on a PBS science show. Turns out she’s Dr. Pardis Sabeti. Her day job? Assistant Professor at Harvard, where she’s doing work on the evolution of the human genome.

Global Warming Growing Glaciers?

From the Blue Marble at Mother Jones, could this possibly be...the far left acknowledging that global warming sometimes does cause effects that you would not otherwise associate with the notion of “warm?” Yes indeed, it could in fact be just that. Warmer temperatures mean more moisture in the air and that means more precipitation in the forms of both rain and snow - in this case, California's Mt. Shasta. See...the news isn’t always bad - it’s just almost always bad.

Snakes...Snakes...I Don’t Know No Snakes

A giant rubber tube filled with water may be able to funnel into a turbine the energy created by ocean waves, thereby producing energy. Neat idea. It’s still in the early stages of development across the pond there in the U.K. Red Lobster will probably find some way to complain about this, though, right?

• New Blogs - Hoosier Political Report and Huffington Post

Probably Huffington Post needs no explanation, but Hoosier Political Report might. It’s a local Democratic blog run by Jennifer Wagner, who previously blogged from Taking Down Words. I haven’t made up my mind whether her new blog is really all that interesting or not, although she does post quite a lot of regional headlines.

Monday, July 14, 2008

I've Got Five Terrorists Going Southeast On Bakalakadaka Street!

I think it's sad that this New Yorker cover is being hyped in today's news as offensive and tasteless. Before rushing to that particular (incorrect) judgment, how about a modest proposal that people go back through past New Yorker covers and try to come up with some reason why this particular one is so much more offensive than, say, the one with Bush and Cheney that spoofs the movie poster of Brokeback Mountain - or the one from shortly after 9/11 that had a turban-clad cab driver peering in fear out of his cab window while American flags fly all over Darwindom in the background.

Or is everyone still too busy remembering Tony Snow?

Thursday, July 10, 2008

La Hacienda - Washington Square

Amy declared this evening that Mexican sounded good for dinner, and I had no strong objections to that, so we headed out to the far east side to try the newest version of popular local chain La Hacienda. The (I believe) original is located in Irvington plaza, along Washington Street between Arlington and Shadeland, and the newest one is in Washington Square, occupying the space that used to be, in order: José Frog (part of another popular local Mexican chain that includes Cancun in Castleton and Mexico City Grill in Southport), Fortune House, and Ruby Tuesday.

We got there as a party of about a million high school/college girls were getting their chips and salsa, and I suppose I could have taken that as a bad sign, but I didn’t. Considering how many of them there were, the effect on the service was minimal - by which I mean I think that the service would have sucked regardless of whether the throng of lasses had been there or not. We were seated and brought beverages quickly enough, but there was a wide gulf between when we asked for a few extra minutes to look at the menu and when our server finally came back to take our order.

The chips and salsa portion of the service, however, was pretty good. A heaping basket of light, crisp chips and two - count ‘em, two - kinds of salsa were brought out as we were sitting down. One kind of salsa, in one of those wee little wine carafe-looking jars, was your standard medium salsa, not too thick and not too thin. The other was a slightly thicker, darker salsa made with grilled tomatoes. Hello, nurse. It was milder than the bright red version, but it had a nice earthy, smoky flavor to it that was unlike any salsa I’ve had at other Mexican places around Indianapolis.

That grilled tomato salsa, however, was the highlight of the meal. I had combination #11 ($6.99), which consisted of a chile relleno, a burrito, and an enchilada; and while there was nothing actively unpleasant about any of the items, there was also nothing special to remark - it’s exactly the same kind of chile relleno, ground beef burrito, and ground beef enchilada you’ll get at any other Mexican restaurant that lists their combination plates by number.

Maybe mine was less satisfying because I went cheap. Amy’s chicken fajitas ($10.25) were pretty good, nicely seasoned and generously portioned. The plate of accoutrements that came with the fajitas (sour cream, lettuce, tomato, guacamole) had nearly as much food on it as the sizzling plate of chicken, onions, and bell pepper.

There was also a significant amount of time between when we stopped eating and when anyone on the clock noticed that we were finished. Our server appeared to be doing double duty as bartender, so that might have had something to do with it - but it was not as though the bar were across the room and down the hall or anything. The dining room is one big space where you can see everything, and the bar is in one corner of that space.

Thus, I am still in search of a really good Mexican restaurant in the greater metropolitan area. Not since Mike and Angie Lee shuttered the absolutely excellent Casa Miguel’s on Main Street in Greenwood have I had a really good Mexican meal. Casa Miguel’s has since reopened with new owners, and Amy and I tried it - once. The new people kept some of the interior decor and tried to copy the menu, but they do not seem to possess much in the way of culinary skills, and their failure at the new establishment is on the order of spectacular.

(Yes, the once-very-excellent El Sol de Tala has recently reopened on Washington Street on the near east side, but they have a new chef, and he’s still getting his legs under him. The fresh coat of paint throughout the dining room looks nice, though. I genuinely feel for owner Javier Amezcua, who had to close the east side location to focus on keeping the Union Station location afloat - a project that ultimately failed. Hopefully in time the new version of El Sol de Tala will reclaim the glory of its previous incarnation.)

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

I Drank The Kool-Aid (#2)

Gosh darn all those technologies on the Interwebs. I signed up for Netflix. Why? Too damn lazy to drag Amy to the video store to see if I could convince her to watch Snow Cake (although it contains Alan Rickman, so she might not have needed much convincing). I'd never even heard of Snow Cake. How did I find it? Reading the press kit for Bottle Shock, a movie about how Napa Valley got on the map (vis a vis winemaking, anyway). Bottle Shock just might be coming soon to a Mainstream Art House near you! Who knows about these things? Anyway...I'm a little more hip now than I was this morning. I don't know how I feel about that.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Hey, Picasa Su Casa

Turns out that Flickr was not all I had hoped for and dreamed of when I made the leap into photo sharing on the Interwebs. Picasa, on the other hand, seems to be just the thing - it loads a whole lot faster than Flickr, and it has a funky cool little upload application that runs independently from the website. (Or it could be that uploading directly from the website is in some way so Windows-centric that they had to write a separate program for the tiny little subset of people who had the sense enough to buy good computers.) Either way, the Jackson photos (and any others I feel compelled to post) will now be living at Picasa, and you can click here to have a gander at them.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Troy's Wish Comes True

By way of introducing two new contestants here in the Bloggerwebs, I give you this: In the comments section of this post from a little over a week ago, Troy Myers said that Ryan Micheel ought to start a blog of his own - and I noted that I agreed, as Ryan and I have had a number of conversations about pop culture (specifically music from the 90s) that would make for great blog posts. Ryan is as tuned in to pop culture as anyone I know, and his observations on same are typically very insightful (and often painfully funny). Check out his blog here - and check out Troy's blog while you're at it.

Coming Soon To A Doomed Storefront Near You

Speaking of Italian restaurants, Susan Guyett reports in Thursday's Star that Pacers co-owner Herb Simon is wooing an upscale Italian place called Il Mulino, perhaps with an eye on having them go into the space recently vacated by Bertolini's, a quasi-upscale Italian restaurant that I think had been in place on the first floor at the north end of Circle Centre since the mall opened. It took thirteen years for Bertolini's to fold, but fold it did - as has every single non-food court restaurant without a street-level entrance that's taken a run at the downtown mall. Anybody else remember California Café, or that place where everything was made with turkey? Have a gander at the Il Mulino menu here - the link to it on their website is broken at the moment.

In other dubious food notes, the signature "food" of this year's State Fair has been announced: Deep fried (are you surprised?) bananas foster cheesecake on a stick. The other contestants included a hickory-smoked pulled pork sandwich with shagbark hickory syrup barbecue sauce, hickory-smoked beef kabobs, deep-fried maple latté, and maple twists on a stick. This year's fair theme is "Year of Trees," and all the food entries had to fit into that theme in some way - which makes one wonder how deep fried bananas foster cheesecake on a stick fits in, unless the stick counts.

Thursday, July 03, 2008


So exactly one week after I could not stop singing the praises of dining in Fountain Square, I return to this space having taken that road again - though this time with a far less pleasant result to report. Now, some of it probably had to do with the fact that Jackson was being a screamy little turd pretty much all day (with the heaviest concentrations of turdishness coming at lunch), but being served a plate on which part of my lunch had clearly been burned (and here we’re talking “carbon scoring,” as in the scene from A New Hope where Luke is cleaning the droids, right before R2 projects the message from Leia) didn’t help. The place in question is Gusto!, in the Murphy building on Virginia Avenue.

First words out of our server’s mouth: “We just ran out of Pepsi.” Amy asks for iced tea. “We have raspberry iced tea.” That would be the sweetened Lipton kind from the fountain. Amy asks if they have just plain old regular iced tea. “Sorry...” I ask for water. “Bottled water?” Hrm. “I’ll have a Mountain Dew?” And yes, I did include an upward voice inflection at the end so that it sounded like a question. The server actually breathed a sigh and sounded relieved that she did not have to apologize again.

First thing you see when you walk in is the bar, and the chalkboards above it tout the many different kinds of beer they have, including a board for “craft” beer, which shows that they know how to appeal to the flip-flop wearing visor-hatted twits who hang out at Chumley’s on weekday afternoons. Next, you walk yourself down the long, narrow dining room that basically consists of tables and an aisle. The stripped wood floors were designed that way, to make it look old, and the paintings - unmounted canvases hanging flat - on the wall are expensive. You sort of get the feeling that if you spent enough time watching from a table in the back that you might eventually see Michael Corleone walk in and whack Sollozzo and the dirty cop.

I’d give you the link to their menu, but the website doesn’t have one! It’s all basic, though - salads, breadsticks and cheesesticks (although they use the letter Y to spell breadsticks and cheesesticks - it would be an improvement if they were kitschy enough to paste little pictures of Dennis DeYoung or Tommy Shaw next to those menu items, but I won’t hold my breath), standard appetizers, spaghetti, and pizza.

I had spaghetti and meatballs, mostly because nothing on the menu sounded interesting other than the meatballs. It turned out, however, to be baked spaghetti, and when it was put down in front of me, I died a little inside. You don’t bake spaghetti. Ever. Even Olive Garden has sense enough not to do that. The meatballs were good, though - very meaty and flavorful, if slightly small. The website describes their tomato sauce as “zesty,” though what they really mean is salty and spicy and heavily herbed. That could have been a consequencce of the baking, however - which removes water and concentrates the flavor of a sauce, and in this case turned what might have been an interesting combination of flavors into a dense, confused mishmash.

Amy’s baked ziti was covered by so much cheese that if Paul Sheldon had rolled his car in it, Annie Wilkes would never have found him. Hers did not have any carbon scoring, however, and the cheese on top was nicely melted, so that it had just started to bubble and brown. Both dishes came with two of their breadsticks, which are rolled from the same dough as their pizza dough and come out flat (like the pizza crust they brag about on the menu) and topped with some herbs and grated cheese. Both crunchy and chewy, they were not bad, but nothing to write home about.

Finally, to the real question - would I go back? The answer there is probably not. I’ll try a new place pretty much at the drop of a hat, but once I’ve tried a place for the first time, it loses that virginal advanatge over places that I know to be better. In this case, one needs only to traverse Virginia Avenue back over the interstate and then turn north on College and follow that for about three blocks to get to Iaria’s, which is both authentic and unpretentious. Gusto! is neither. I could probably be convinced to go back and try the pizza - but it would be a hard sell.