Sunday, February 26, 2012

The Tamale Place

This is a new-ish restaurant out on the far west side, and I have heard and read nothing but good things about it since they opened their doors. Unfortunately, the far west side is one of those places we just don’t get to very often, especially just to get something to eat. As luck would have it, though—I guess—one of Amy’s friends from church was getting married today, and we were invited to the wedding. The wedding was at Harmony Baptist Church, which is straight out 36 until you get to the part of Avon that isn’t booming yet—meaning the restaurant would be between our house and our destination.

A sign posted just inside the front door says that The Tamale Place is not fast food—but rather, great food, pretty darn quickly. (I may not have that exactly right, but it’s something to that effect; and it made me think of the episode of Seinfeld when Jerry’s friend gets fired from his job and winds up working at the Kenny Rogers Roasters, where “it’s not fast food, it’s good food quickly.”) As you step up to the counter, you see a dry erase board hanging on the wall to your right. They don’t always have every tamale that’s listed on the menu, so the board lets you know which ones are still available. It also tells you how many of each are left.

I had checked out the menu on the magic internets this morning, so I already had an idea in my head of what I wanted to try—before we got there and discovered that it’s a little bit like Yats, in that you don’t really know what your choices are until you step inside. At Yats, though, you’re stuck with what’s on the chalkboard; but at The Tamale Place, you also have the choice of tacos, tortas, and nachos—all of which are made to order. (The tamales are made ahead of time in big batches, which is why they only have a finite number each day.) That made it quite a bit easier not to be annoyed that they did not have the poblano chiles and cheese in green sauce tamale that had called out to me from the internet menu this morning.

The tamales are broken down into mild, spicy, no meat, and sweet groupings, with as many as 5-9 flavors potentially available in each group. I tried a spicy chipotle chicken and a Cuban (pork and chorizo), as well as a chorizo taco. Amy got a chicken in green sauce tamale and two steak tacos. For Jackson, we asked if they could make a quesadilla, and they said the best they could do was a cheese taco, because they did not have the grill (or whatever) that you need to make an actual quesadilla—but they didn’t bat an eye at the special request, which was nice. Most of the tamales are $3.25, with a few exceptions in the savory categories (including the Cuban, which was $0.99); and the sweet tamales are $1.75. Tacos are $2.50, or three for $7.25.

I was underwhelmed by the tamales. The spicy chipotle chicken had a little bit of a kick, and some chicken, but I didn’t detect much in the way of chipotle flavor. The Cuban was a short, thin little thing that had some kind of filling, but it could have been just about anything. The spicy chipotle chicken tamale was the standard size, which, here, is bigger than the usual tamale. The story goes that when the owner and her husband were starting out, before it was a full-fledged restaurant, they made the tamales big because they didn’t know they weren’t supposed to be that size. It seems to be working for them. There was a steady stream of new customers the whole time we were there. I’m hoping that some more of the meatless options will be available the next time we pop in.

But even if there aren’t many vegetarian options next time, there will still be the tacos—and that will be just fine. $2.50 probably seems high for a taco, but like the tamales, these things are hefty. They also make them in authentic Mexican fashion, in soft corn tortillas, dressed only with cilantro and onions; and you get a cup of salsa on the side (mild or hot), and a lime wedge. The chorizo taco I had was piping hot, practically overflowing with chorizo, melted cheese, and the aforementioned cilantro and onions. Jackson’s was so hot that he was afraid to touch it until we were almost done eating—and that meant that I got to have a few bites of it, and that thing was closer to a cheese bomb than it was to a taco. But it was excellent.

We also got chips and salsa for Jackson, and the leftover salsa came home with us. It was the freshest, most delicious restaurant salsa I’ve had in a long time. It was also the first restaurant salsa I’ve had that I could compare favorably with the salsa they used to make at a place called Casa Miguel’s, in Greenwood. Amy and I used to eat there all the time when she lived in Greenwood before we got married, and when we lived in Southport after we got married. Unfortunately, it closed a number of years ago; and we lost what was easily the best-kept secret in Mexican cuisine in the metro area. We have searched far and wide, and have yet to find anything that even comes close.

I reset the odometer triptych for the ride home, and spent most of that time in the car trying to rationalize driving all the way out there again if we didn’t have any other reason to go that far. The restaurant is on Rockville Road, just east of Lynhurst. Rockville eventually runs into Washington Street near the White River, and that’s about four miles from the restaurant, just west of the zoo. It’s about another six miles from the zoo to our house. That’s twenty miles round trip, and that might just be beyond the pale, all things being equal. (On the other hand, we have a membership to the zoo, and go fairly frequently, so The Tamale Place could maybe wind up being our lunch stop on days when we go to the zoo.) It might be too far away for us to frequent, but we’re definitely going back.

5226 Rockville Road

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Deep Thoughts #76

If Brian Bosma is the voice of reason twice in the span of a week, then something is extremely goofy in the world. Pass the cookies, please.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Peppy Grill

Amy and I both had the day off on Monday, so instead of going down to Bloomington for a good lunch, we popped in at Peppy Grill in Fountain Square on our way over to the State Museum, which Amy had heard was offering free admission yesterday (though that turned out not to be the case). It looked like a grungy diner should look, with the grill in pride of place when you walk in the door, and down-home signs hanging everywhere. Example: “Our Credit Manager is Helen Waite. If You Need Credit. Go to Helen Waite.” Not only is it flea market humor, it’s also grammatically incorrect. There should have been an ashtray at every table, preferably with one or two crushed Marlboros left from the people who were there before us; and the whole thing should have been attached to a bowling alley.

Which is not to say that places like that automatically suck. They don’t. Diners often have really good food, and they tend to treat the customer both professionally and efficiently. Your order is going to be correct, and they definitely won’t dally over bringing you the check. Amy and I went out to Scranton once, many years ago now, to visit her parents; and there was a diner not too far from their apartment, one of those places that actually had the shiny metal exterior, like the whole place might actually have been a trailer that could just pick up stakes and move on down the road at a moment’s notice. I don’t remember the service at all, but the reuben was quite good.

Peppy Grill is one of those places that has a reputation around town of being a good, solid place to eat, for what it is—which is a 24-hour greasy-spoon diner. I had always heard that the hamburgers were really good, and had formed in my mind an image of the kind of place that has about three things on the menu, all of which are amazing and cannot be had anywhere else on earth. (But even that reputation never got me there to eat, because I’m almost never in the mood for a hamburger anymore.) And then Ryan at work mentioned that he liked to sup at the Peppy Grill from time to time, and this little nugget of information gave me cause to re-evaluate my impression of the place. Ryan is a vegetarian, and not at all bashful about pointing out the fact that a restaurant’s non-meat offerings are not up to snuff, if that be the case. When he complimented their omelettes, the Peppy Grill took on a whole new dynamic of interest for me.

I should maybe have followed Ryan’s recommendation and chosen an omelette for my lunch yesterday. Instead, I was swayed by one of three specials for the day, Boston clam chowder, with grilled cheese, for $6.75. My eyes tend to be bigger than my stomach, especially the first time I try a place—so I added an order of onion rings for $3.75. The other two specials were Swiss steak with mixed vegetables and bread and butter, and beef and noodles with mixed vegetables and bread and butter. I don’t remember how much they were, but they were within shouting distance of the $6.75 they wanted for the clam chowder and grilled cheese combo. Amy had the pattie melt with fries instead of chips, and Jackson had safari buddies (fried chicken bits, roughly in the shape of dinosaurs, I think) with fries in place of tater tots.

The clam chowder was perfectly serviceable, despite being entirely indistinguishable from clam chowder out of a can. The grilled cheese was one or two slices of something like Kraft singles between two pieces of plain white bread, but it was adequately grilled—crispy and delicious, with just a little bit of carbon scoring, to indicate that the grill had not been properly cleaned off between my sandwich and whatever came before it. The onion rings, also indistinguishable from those out of a bag, were perfectly adequate (except that $3.75 for seven or eight foodservice onion rings is pretty close to larceny) and not at all remarkable.

Amy’s pattie melt looked like the best thing that came to our table. It was two ground beef patties with cheese and onion, grilled between two slices of marble rye. One of the best ways to tell whether the guy on the grill knows how to do his job or not is how well the cheese on your sandwich is melted. Cooking meat to the preferred state of doneness can be easily taught, but knowing the exact moment when cheese has reached the perfect state of meltiness is a gift. Amy’s pattie melt looked like the cheese had been melted by someone who knew what they were doing. Unfortunately, the fries on both Amy’s and Jackson’s plates were another story entirely.

The fries on both plates were limp and greasy, a sure sign that they had been cooked in oil that was not hot enough for the task at hand. Frying oil has to be at a certain temperature in order to cook the food and not soak into it; and the temperature has to be checked and adjusted between batches of food, too. If this isn’t accomplished properly, you wind up with limp, greasy food. I hope that they were just having an off day, because I would like to go back at some point and try one of those omelettes. I just don’t know when that might take place. Amy was sufficiently dissatisfied that I could tell from the way she talked afterward that she will never eat there again ever. I won’t be going in for takeout, since there is a 10% surcharge for carry-out; and my days of going out drinking and stopping on the way home for something to eat are probably over, so that option is off the table, too.

I’m not sure I had what you would call “high hopes” for the place when we went in, but the Peppy Grill failed to meet even the lowest of expectations (except that I did not die or contract an illness). It did not match the level of culinary ineptitude I encountered when we got takeout fish and chips from the Steer- In about a year ago, but it was maybe the most disappointing meal since. (All of that said, though, I would still be interested in seeing what the place looks like—and how the food is—at two or three in the morning. Night brings out a different element of disclosure.)

1004 Virginia Avenue

Deep Thoughts #75 - Special Topical Conservatism Should Be a Capital Crime Edition

“Who's the more foolish? The fool, or the fool who follows him?” And then below that bar come mouth-breathing conservatives who spread lies.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Deep Thoughts #74 - Special Topical "Conservatives Should Be Set on Fire" Edition

Now that Osama bin Laden is dead, does that make Eric Miller the worst human being alive? Or has he always been the worst human being alive?

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Deep Thoughts #73 - Special Topical Bizarro Edition

Indiana House Speaker Brian Bosma, a despicable human being who is a disgrace to his party and his state, has done something right for once.

Thursday, February 09, 2012

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

It's a Wonder That You Still Know How to Breathe (#2)

So there’s this article in the current issue of Time magazine, about a so-called conservative identity crisis that is apparently taking place in America right now. It quickly—in barely more than a page—enumerates a number of different styles, or ideas, of conservatism, and how those ideas have mostly wandered around in the desert, without benefit of one singular person to bring them all together, for a good chunk of the time since the Cold War ended and the specter of the Soviet Union went away. Then there is a small sampling of “ideas” about what it means to be a conservative, nine little snippets written by people as varied as Grover Norquist, Ann Coulter, and Sam Tanenhaus; and it was one of these little snippets that got me thinking.

A person called Pete Wehner writes, of American conservatism, “It looks to the future rather than remaining fixated on the past. And it is eager to embrace change and reform as social circumstances shift.”

I had to read it again, sure that I had read it wrong, or crossed my eyes while I was reading it—or something. But on the second pass, those words were all still there, and they were all still in the same order: “It looks to the future rather than remaining fixated on the past. And it is eager to embrace change and reform as social circumstances shift.” I think the other conservatives might want to kick this guy out of their clubhouse. If those two sentences represent the actual thought process of Mr. Wehner, then he has demonstrated an almost complete lack of understanding about his own political philosophy.

And if you don’t understand the fundamental errors in Mr. Wehner’s statements, then let’s go to the map. (I’m not actually trying to convince any conservatives that I’m correct, here. I’m just trying to show the evidence, to avoid the journalistic ineptitude to which I am sometimes prone. I know that the facts won’t convince the conservatives, because if the conservatives could be convinced by facts and logic, they would not be conservatives.)

The American Heritage Dictionary on my desk defines conservatism thusly: “n. 1. The inclination, esp. in politics, to maintain the existing or traditional order. 2. Caution or moderation, as in behavior or outlook.” (Yes, I have a dictionary in book form on my desk. Why don’t you?) Merriam-Webster’s website defines conservatism as “a political philosophy based on tradition and social stability, stressing established institutions, and preferring gradual development to abrupt change.” And defines conservatism as “the disposition to preserve or restore what is established and traditional and to limit change.”

We will now pause for a few moments, in case anyone out there wants to try to reconcile any of the above paragraph with the two sentences of Mr. Wehner’s. Go ahead...I’ll wait.

The Excedrin is in the medicine cabinet, Sisyphus. Okay? All better? The sad thing about this kind of writing is that there are people who are going to believe it. People who already don’t think very well for themselves are going to read things like Mr. Wehner’s sentences, and they might find themselves feeling sympathetic for a system of ideas that they don’t even understand; and that’s how conservatism propagates itself. If it tells the truth, anyone who is intelligent and thoughtful turns one hundred eighty degrees and runs screaming; but if it lies, or is even just disingenuous, it can bring believers to the collection plate. This is also why Republicans and conservatives are against education and libraries. Those are places where people go to learn things and get smarter. If education and libraries are suppressed, then the Republicans and conservatives have a much easier time growing their ranks.

Conservatism is wrong about most things, but it should have the courage to stand up for its own ideas. Mr. Wehner has appropriated the ideas of some other system of thought. I’m not sure you’d call it liberalism, but it is most certainly not conservatism. That he tries to pass it off as conservatism is not just disingenuous—it’s outright lying; and it’s one of the many reasons that conservatives cannot be trusted.

Friday, February 03, 2012


This might wind up being sort of scattershot and hit-and-miss. I’m not entirely sure how to write about Shame, a film that is by turns disturbing and compelling. Some of it is difficult to watch, but director Steve McQueen employs a steady hand throughout, alternating moments of controlled chaos with long takes that are often uncomfortable, and which force the audience to look frankly at Brandon and try to see inside of him. Mostly I want to tell you about the ending, which I really liked; but the problem, of course, is that it would ruin the picture for you. Maybe. I don’t know. Maybe the NC-17 rating has already ruined it for you, or maybe you don’t even know about the movie and will never see it and could not care less.

It’s the story of Brandon Sullivan (Michael Fassbender), a thirtysomething New York suit with a nearly crippling sex addiction. Based on what I had read about the film before seeing it, I was expecting something actively unpleasant, in the vein of Blue Valentine; but I was surprised to discover, fairly early on, that there is a not-so-thin veneer (which is an idea that might actually be counterintuitive, but go with me here) of normalcy, underneath which Brandon acts out his sexual impulses with something close to total secrecy.

There is a minimum of dialogue, which serves to let Brandon’s actions speak for themselves; and Mr. Fassbender does a remarkable job of using facial expressions in a wide range of situations, though most notably to make the audience aware that he is aware that he has a problem...and that he is aware that the problem has grown beyond the point where he can even attempt to rationalize his behavior...and that he is aware that he is completely unable to change his behavior. He understands the nature of his problem in a way that seems to convey both desperation and acceptance. Brandon is somewhere between the two—a true addict, who accepts his problem as part of his self, at the same time that he can still but barely glimpse light at the end of the tunnel. He can, in theory, see a Brandon Sullivan who is completely free of this affliction; but most of him has begun to realize that this is a probem he can only hope to manage, not cure.

Addiciton, of course, is wrapped up in repetition and routine, which Mr. McQueen establishes early in the film with scenes of Brandon going from bed to bathroom by way of his answering machine. Not only are his motions the same, but the message on the machine is always virtually the same. It’s his sister, she wants him to pick up, she keeps saying, “pick up,” as though she is certain that he is screening her calls; but Brandon, of course, does not pick up. He seems to show no reaction at all to his sister’s exhortations. There are desensitizations on top of desensitizations, and patterns are established that will re-emerge throughout the film.

And then there is Sissy (Carey Mulligan), Brandon’s unimaginatively-named sister. At some point, she decides that calling Brandon isn’t going to get her anywhere, so she crashes his apartment instead of waiting for an invitation. If Brandon has forgotten that he has given her a key to his apartment should she need it, he can perhaps be forgiven; he’s got quite a lot else on his plate at the moment, thanks. That he forgot the fact of giving Sissy the key, however, sets up the scene in which he returns home one evening to hear music blaring on—seriously—his record player. He gets his trusty baseball bat out of the closet and creeps slowly through the apartment until he gets to the bathroom, into which he bursts, brandishing the bat. He scares the bejesus out of Sissy, of course. All she wanted to do was take a hot shower and try to put out of her mind for a moment or two the breakup that brought her to Brandon’s place. Instead, she gets into an argument with her brother while standing before him stark naked.

You could probably say that this is just gratuitous nudity, and you might be right. The camera lingers on Ms. Mulligan for a long time (even if she is mostly seen in a mirror and not straight on); but it’s neither sexy nor lascivious. It might even be metaphorical. Sissy is nearly at rock bottom; she would not have come to Brandon if she had had anywhere else to go. Unlike her brother, she has no shame; she is willing to stand naked before the world, willing to account for what she has done—or not done—with her life. She is a mess, as Brandon is a mess; but Sissy is honest about it. When she sings “New York, New York” at a nightclub (she gets a temporary singing gig, Brandon goes to see her), she delivers a haunting rendition of the song. She has not come to New York to make it, but rather to try one more time—maybe one last time, it’s that haunting (and that’s actually Ms. Mulligan singing)—not to fail.

Something else I’ve been thinking about is whether or not it is important to know why Brandon and Sissy are a mess. There are oblique references to their having been born in New Jersey—though Brandon also at one point says that he lived in Ireland until he was a teenager. Being from New Jersey does not make one a bad person; nor does it give any one a person a decided disadvantage in life over a person born in any of the other forty-nine states (or anywhere else in the world, for that matter). Toward the end of the film, we hear Sissy say in voice-over, of herself and her brother, that “We aren’t bad people. We just come from a bad place.” More metaphor, of course, but unlike the shower scene, the symbol doesn’t immediately leap to mind—probably because it doesn’t matter that they have come from a bad place (though I’m not married to this idea). What matters is where they go from here.

I also can’t decide if some of the narrative thrust of the third act is hokey or not. It felt hokey when I was watching it, like Mr. McQueen felt like he had to hurry up and get to the end, by way of a couple of familiar tropes from the school of family melodrama; but looking back on it with almost a week’s worth of hindsight, I’m not sure that’s a fair assessment. There is certainly a shift in urgency, but I’m not sure whether it’s an organic shift that necessarily accompanies a story hurtling toward its climax, or a directorial slip; and if it is the latter, Mr. McQueen can certainly be forgiven, having to that point done a very fine job of controlling a potentially chaotic story.

And so now we have come to the end. It’s a silent moment, but it says so much with eyes and facial expressions. Mr. Fassbender did not receive an Oscar nomination for his work on this film (which is unfortunate), despite his having garnered nearly two dozen nominations from other festivals and critics groups—and a win in Venice. His work is excellent throughout the film, but the degree of nuance in the final scene is just magnificent. Actors nominate actors for Oscars, so I can’t blame the Academy’s prudishness for this particular slight. Some of Mr. Fassbender’s fellows may have chosen to nominate him for David Cronenberg’s A Dangerous Method, rather than for Shame. I would have liked to root for this film come Oscar night.

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Deep Thoughts #72 - Special Topical PINK Edition

Komen for the Cure is divorcing Planned Parenthood because of Republican fearmongering - so go here to let them know it’s a really bad idea.