Freelance Food & Drinks Writer

Tag Archives: Anne Brockhoff

Eat Like a Local, 2016 Edition

Ramen! Oysters! Donuts! So shouts the cover of the May 2016 issue of Bon Appetit I unearthed while cleaning my office recently, urging us to “Devour America’s Best Food Cities.” How strange it all seems now. The cities are certainly still there, but the restaurants? Who knows. Survival is iffy at best in the restaurant world, even under the usual circumstances. According to a study of the same vintage as the magazine issue I was reading, of those restaurants and food service businesses that last a year, 70 percent usually fail within the next 3 to 5 years. Ouch.

And now, in these unusual times? Forbes reported in January that more than 110,000 eating and drinking establishments closed due to COVID in 2020. We’re now at the 18-month mark, and I can’t bring myself to Google Seattle’s The Walrus and the Carpenter, no matter how incredible the name or the photo of its Steamed Clams with Chickpeas and Green Garlic. Borneo Kalimantan Cuisine, Yoma Myanmar or Omar’s Xinjiang Halal in L.A. all serve food I’ve never heard of from places I’ll never go, and odds are no one’s eating there anymore. Ray’s Happy Birthday Bar in Philly, Little Octopus in Nashville and Detroit’s Sister Pie are equally iffy.*

Reading about such places has always been transporting, and I especially love reading about them in slick, colorful magazines that toss in a few recipes to further the fantasy. It’s easy to forget, as I turn the pages now, that the world has changed. Sure, we still crave food and connection, but the places where we find it outside our own homes are broken. They’ve always been tough places to work, a fact that was at one time glorified—albeit unintentionally—by writers such as Anthony Bourdain. His seminal Kitchen Confidential was something of a siren call to a generation of young cooks, eager to prove themselves in the rough-and-tumble underbelly of the kitchen. We now know that the system Bourdain survived might just be fundamentally broken. Racism, sexism, addiction and other stressors routinely take their toll on restaurant workers who are exhausted, underpaid and often struggling with the mental and physical health problems it can all cause.

When the industry shut down in March 2020, thousands of workers were cut loose. Now that bars and restaurants are open-ish, many of those same workers have returned only to be faced with the ugliest of customer behavior. We’re having to be coached again on how to behave, as my father used to put it, like ladies and gentlemen—advice that should still apply no matter which noun you identify with. Food & Wine recently ran an article about the “new rules” of dining out. Some aren’t (or shouldn’t be) actually new: be clear about food allergies, stay off your phone, respect your reservation, be patient and kind. Others are: don’t “weaponize your online review,” and if a restaurant asks you to provide proof of COVID-19 vaccination or a negative test, do it. Not surprisingly, restaurants and bars are struggling to find workers. Who wants to work in an environment where customers have to be told to be kind?

Of course, you don’t see any of that in those pages from 2016. It’s all smiles, gorgeous food (it’s called food porn for a reason), beautiful lighting and enticing prose. The images draw me in. I wish I’d found this copy months ago, when my girls and I had picked flats of local blackberries—we could have made the Sweet Granita with Blackberries, Toasted Almonds and Mint. Bookmarking the recipe while thinking ahead to next year’s picking trip puts me in a mellow mood that lasts all the way through to the last page, with its typical B.O.T.N. feature. This back of the napkin sketch and snapshot profile, however, features Bourdain, who died 2-1/2 years after the issue hit newsstands. How much more has changed since that day in September 2018. What will the next few years bring? Only the truly foolish would venture a guess. But I hope that magazines are still here to capture it for us.

*Whelp. In a burst of optimism, I did search online for the restaurants whose descriptions so captivated me. Only two (Borneo Kalimantan Cuisine and Little Octopus) have closed! The Walrus and the Carpenter, Yoma Myanmar, Omar’s Xinjiang Halal, Ray’s Happy Birthday Bar and Sister Pie all seem to have survived thus far. Maybe I’ll have to think about traveling again…

Pope Pumps it Up at CCVI Food Fight

Chefs are a competitive lot, but it was all friendly competition at last week’s CCVI Food Fight 4. Three of the city’s best gathered on stage at The Guild, cooking to beat the clock, impress a panel of judges and benefit the Children’s Center for the Visually Impaired. Alex Pope of Local Pig topped the… Continue Reading

Conatser tops PoPFest Bartending Competition—again

In the weeks leading up to the Paris of the Plains Bartending Competition, much was made of the fact that Chris Conatser of Justus Drugstore placed every time he entered what was formerly known as the Greater Kansas City Bartending Competition. And last night he kept the streak alive, taking first place with his Manhattan (in)Verse.… Continue Reading

PoPFest Bartending Competition goes big

There’s nothing like strolling into your favorite bar, takin’ a seat and watching a great bartender go to work. Unless you go to the Paris of the Plains Bartending Competition on Sunday night, where you can see a dozen of the country’s best mix it up on Sunday night as they vie for the $1,750… Continue Reading

A Dale DeGroff Top 10

What’s the big deal with this Dale DeGroff guy? Someone asked me that awhile back, and I hardly knew where to start. So, here are 10 reasons why you should care that DeGroff’s at the Paris of the Plains Cocktail Festival.   10. He’s the king. Really, when a guy knows so much about cocktails,… Continue Reading