Crime and Punishment at Applebee’s
Padre’s Note: While sitting at the family lake cabin, slugging Old Style from the keg and grooving to the delicate sounds of AC/DC, I realized that nothing worth confessing has occurred to me since the last column. This is partly due to Chris Castino’s heart surgery, (what could be of real importance after that?). Other than that, I obey Newton’s laws of physics: objects that are at rest tend to stay at rest. Especially when said object is drinking beer.
But the monthly deadline for this column, combined with the haunting presence of Jon Schwartz’s career-crushing whip, inspired me to get my ass in motion.
Every story needs a villain. Without one, the reader is left with Dick and Jane seeing Spot do nothing with the ball. But the more sophisticated reader may wish to find out what Spot saw Dick and Jane doing, or whether Jane saw what Spot did with his dick, or perhaps Dick spotting Jane chasing Spot’s balls… Whatever.
Some kind of conflict is needed to give a story sense of motion, and with any luck, resolution. For this confession, I chose a protagonist so unworthy of redemption, guilty in their evil, a foe so diabolically swollen with pride and prejudice that even the most law-abiding Jambands reader would side with me: I chose chain restaurants.
The account below is true, including the criminal behavior. While I’m not proud of myself, I want you to know that I did it for you. The rest I report so you, the gentle reader, may sympathize with what the average musician must do to keep the summertime blues at bay.
Pray for me…
I grew up in Rice County, Minnesota. It’s the small town and diary farm part of America that John Mellencamp can’t stop crooning over. Just as one may suspect, it’s full of the kind of folks who pop up in his songs- earnest, hard working, not too Republican or Democrat, but very Lutheran or Catholic. If you were to read the Rice County Shopper, you would find a social column written by a wife of a fore-mentioned farmer, reciting the week’s events like a nostalgia piece for those with short-term memory. In short, you might actually read the words "Ice Cream Social".
Among the farmers, car salesmen, and everybody else, there’s always talk of the good old days. Conversations always implied that the children were nicer and the weather was sunnier. Even politicians are spared the third degree; Gerald Ford may be too dumb to fart and chew gum at the same time, but according to the local populace, he wasn’t a public menace.
While I’m not accusing anyone of first-class Rubeism, change in Rice County has a way of arriving in moderate doses. Perhaps a little redesign of the Ford Tempo here, an earring in that mischievous nephew there. Just a little, not too much, thank you. Thus the big things, such as growing a gazillion bushels of corn year-in and year-out go unnoticed, just business as usual, while the little things tend to stand out like a BMW at the grain elevator.
My uncle, who has lived in Rice County his whole life, stated that there’s nothing inherently "wrong" with the Indian curry joint that opened up downtown. But he lamented that something "normal," like a Timberland Steak House would come to town. So when Applebee’s opened up on Hwy. 3 between Northfield (my small hometown) and Dundas (an even smaller town) last winter, folks in Northfield reacted in one of two ways: Either they were eager to have the grand allure of a restaurant advertised on television grace their town or they lamented the so-called progress that it represented.
As for those folks that shared a prudent suspicion of Applebee’s, I wouldn’t fault them if their curiosity got the best of them. However, I bet they found themselves a little embarrassed to be seen so interested in the inevitable experience of paying too much for an overcooked piece of Grade B beef hamburger and a pitcher of flat Miller Lite. Perhaps the Awesome Blossom deep fried onion pedals (with tangy Southwest Sauce!) possess a mystical attraction that cannot be shook until ordered. I don’t know. But we all agree that there is something to be said about something new. And that is exactly what Applebee’s is. Brand-spankin’ new.
For the rightly suspicious, I suspect that the new-ness will rub away from Applebee’s, leaving the dull brown glow of shit that permeates these tacky commercial wrecks. Without apologizing, they will go back to Grundy’s Corner Bar & Grill in downtown Northfield to indulge in burgers that have been cooked the right way for fifty-eight years.
As for the eventually faithful and ultimately recalcitrant Applebee’s clientele, I’m sure they’ll be "eatin’ good in the neighborhood" until their turds assume the shape, smell, and taste of those Awesome Blossom deep fried disasters they so eagerly paid $8.99 for. By the way, these are the same jerks that recently moved to Northfield from the Minneapolis suburbs because the town is so cute. These pricks will dutifully transform Northfield from a small college town into another suburbian Shitburg full of 7-11s, Pottery Barns and Best Buy Superstores. Ten years from now they’ll wonder what happened to the quaint little haven they moved to. My only hope is that they don’t strain themselves thinking while waiting for an order of Awesome Blossoms.
I don’t think I ever told you, but I majored in anthropology at St. Olaf College in Northfield. For those who don’t know, (or never cared), anthropology is a social science based upon the careful observation people and their interaction with their surroundings. For the most part, it’s bullshit. First off, an anthropologist attempts to blend in with a group of folks who pretend that they’re not being watched. Secondly, the anthropologist pretends that he has no effect on his subject’s behavior. Lastly, the observed are so disjointed by the awkward (and usually unwelcome) presence of the anthropologist that they give up on living their normal lives. As a result, the anthropologist goes home when his funding runs out, reporting to his superiors that everyone is "normal".
I firmly believe that the "normal" behavior expressed by anyone being watched leads to the establishment of milquetoast franchises such as Applebee’s. Somewhere between the desire of Joe Sixpack to appear normal, and the directive of Applebee’s corporate office to sell Awesome Blossoms to the normal customer, a terrible rift is born. In fact, I would like to wager that if I had enough funding and a Harry Potter-type invisibility cloak, I would never see anyone go to Applebee’s on their own volition. I wouldn’t be surprised if nine-out-of-ten hungry folks chose Applebee’s for no other reason than it sounded like "a normal choice".
Anthropologically speaking, this is known as "cultural relativity". The uniqueness inherent to any group of people becomes disguised by the fear of being seen as "weird", or worse, "abnormal". Thus, the best way to observe behavior is secretly, without anyone knowing. Generally frowned upon in legitimate social science circles, outright spying lends the observer an edge. I decided to patronize the dreaded Applebee’s as a rogue social scientist, observing without the constraints of professional ethics.
The fun part of this mission is that you, the curious reader, would be the recipient of my clandestine research- eagerly digesting the unnoticed habits of my subjects, vicariously getting your rocks off at the expense of others, fulfilling all of your omniscient voyeur fantasies…
And I would have something of merit to write about.
However, something happened that I didn’t expect. I showed up too late for the dinner rush and nobody, and I mean nobody, was there. Aside from one guy watching the Twins game from the bar and another waiting for his girlfriend to get off work, I was the only customer. So I did the next best thing, if only for your benefit: I drank two beers, ate half an order of those dreaded Awesome Blossom deep fried onion pedals, then drove off without paying. That’s right, I pulled the old "Dine-N-Dash".
I hope you’re happy.
Truth be told, I can’t remember for the life of me where I stumbled upon this month’s recipe. But I would be a big fat liar if I didn’t vouch for the ease of preparation and happy results you’ll get by trying it.
Don’t freak out by the ominous-looking shopping list. All of the spices are available at any good grocery store. Better yet, you won’t need to purchase large amounts of any of the spices. Don’t sweat the cost, and don’t buy much more than you need. And if you can’t find a spice or two, fuck it. They’re just fish tacos…
Chile Seared Fish Tacos with Pineapple Relish and Ginger-Lime Aioli
1 lb. of tuna (any fish will work)
6 – 6" flour tortillas
2 cups shredded cabbage
1 cup pasilla powder
1 Tbsp. ground cumin
1 Tbsp. ground coriander
1 Tbsp. ground star anise
1 Tbsp. salt
1 Tbsp. black pepper
Mix all ingredients together in a small bowl
2 limes, zested and blanched
Juice of same limes
2 cloves garlic
2 oz. extra virgin olive oil
3 spinach leaves
3 oz. ginger, grated and squeezed for juice
2 cups mayonnaise
Salt, to taste
Puree all ingredients except mayonnaise and salt, pass through strainer and fold into mayonnaise. Salt to taste.
1 pineapple, diced
1/2 red onion, diced
1 red bell pepper, roasted, peeled and seeded then diced
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
Juice of 1 lime
1 Tbsp. olive oil
Salt, to taste
Mix all ingredients in a bowl.
For tacos, cut fish into six long, narrow pieces; dust in spice mix and sear in a pan over medium-high heat. Remove from heat and place fish in tortillas with a small amount of aioli, cabbage and pineapple relish.
Serve with Old Style beer.
This month’s Old Style Zealot is none other than my father, Van Miller Sr., and his newly-wed wife, Ruth-Ann. A true inspiration, Dad opened the can in the photo, sipped its heavenly nectar and proclaimed: "Son, I’ve traveled the world several times over. I’m sure I’ve had a better beer, but I couldn’t tell you when!"
Then he went to bed.
Sweet dreams to all,