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Thursday, September 13, 2012

My Fantasy Restaurant Menu

If you have ever worked in a restaurant, or eaten in one, or perhaps driven by a restaurant on the way to church, or heard about them from books then you have also probably thought about owning your own restaurant.  I’ve thought about it a lot and I often think about what I would have on the menu. As a cook I’ve had too many ethnic influences to be able to narrow it down to a single one, say an Italian, or Greek, or Spanish, or Mexican, or Lebanese restaurant. 

The greatest influence in my cooking has been American white trash cuisine. I consider myself a member of the tribe without ever having distinguished myself in any meaningful way—par for the course for a subculture of mediocrity, indolence, and alcoholism (three of my strongest qualities).  Perhaps I could be a standout if I opened the first American white trash in Spain? I have cooked many of these dishes for my Spanish friends and they were always well received.  Perhaps my Spanish friends are the equivalent of white trash—and I use that description as a compliment.

Even in the casually humorous and self-deprecatory way that I say white trash and how it relates to cooking is in itself probably vaguely racist as my tribe borrowed or stole much—if not most—of what we know about food from other subcultures like soul food, immigrant Italian cooking, Tex-Mex, and proletariat cuisine (if you dare to call it that) from folks who were kicked out of their countries and found themselves on the shores of the United States of America. As I have said many times, the USA is the world’s easiest club to become a member. All you have to do is say that you are American and most of us will take your word for it. Who the fuck would lie about being American? Our complete lack of exclusivity is one of our most endearing traits.

I often tell my Spanish friends that we in America know next-to-nothing about Spanish food. Sure, everyone has heard of paella but few have experienced one worthy of the name.  One of my favorite Spanish dishes is a torilla de patatas often horribly translated as a potato omelet. To call this masterpiece an omelet is a complete insult but such are the limits of the art of translation.  Unfortunately most Americans have never tasted even a bad tortilla de patatas. After returning from a trip to Spain years ago when I lived in Seattle I saw the very European chalkboard outside a very reputable Seattle restaurant announcing that the special of the day was tortillas de patatas. I practically squealed in delight. My euphoria was short-lived as the waitress set a plate in front of me of scrambled eggs with potatoes. It wasn’t even a damn omelet. It was obvious that no one in the establishment had ever been to the Iberian Peninsula.  This was about 8 years ago and things are changing rapidly in America as we discover the great food of Spain.

If Americans are ignorant of Spanish food it’s safe to say that they know little about what we eat in America. Most people here—and all over the world—think that we eat nothing but cheeseburgers. Even if this were true they also have only had the cheeseburger equivalent of my tortilla de patatas in that Capitol Hill restaurant. Which brings me to the first item on the menu of my fantasy restaurant: the cheeseburger.

Cheeseburger as Paradise

A real cheeseburger, as everyone knows, doesn’t come from McDonald’s nor is it the welfare burger prepared by Eddie Murphy’s mom in his youth when they were too poor even for Mickey D’s.  A real cheeseburger begins at the butcher shop when you make very specific instructions to the butcher (who should be a very important person in your life, on a par with your priest or rabbi or drug dealer).  You need ground beef with about 25% fat to make the perfect burger. Here in Spain I have my butcher throw in some fatty pork along with the very lean beef we have. This is by far the most important aspect of a cheeseburger and whatever else you do to it you will have something delicious. Sure, it helps to have good bread, cheese, and condiments along with a good charcoal fire but the meat is essential.


I don’t want to have the old argument about whether pizza is American or Italian.  I thought we settled all of that with World War II.  In my place all pizzas come with anchovies. Sorry, the world is made up of two kinds of people: those who like anchovies and those who are letting one of the best things in this world pass them by.

Macaroni and Cheese

Once again, I suppose you could argue that this is pasta and pasta is Italian but Italian Americans used to be the backbone of the white trash demographic. 
Fried Chicken

I rarely make fried chicken and besides the neighborhood KFC outlet it’s just about impossible to find in a restaurant in Spain. There is nothing like Ezell’s Fried Chicken here in Valencia, and I should probably thank someone for that as I would eat there every day.  The Seattle Ezell’s was difficult to get to from where I lived in Lower Queen Anne so I didn’t get there very often. Had there been one near my apartment I would probably weigh about 500 pounds instead of my trim 475 pounds.  The only thing better than good fried chicken may be cold fried chicken. Just thinking about it makes me drool.


I’ve never really perfected a recipe for meatloaf and from in my experience I can say that few restaurants can say the same.  The best meatloaf uses a mixture of ground beef, pork, and veal along with a mire poix, at least as a starting point. A cold meatloaf sandwich on a baguette with ketchup and garlic mayonnaise is another item for my restaurant.

Pho/Ramen or Some Other Damn Asian Noodle Soup

At first glance you wouldn’t think this dish is American and certainly not White Trash but what college student survived without packs of crappy noodle soup? I’ve never been to Asia but Seattle is close enough as noodle shops can be found in every neighborhood. A bowl of pho costs with a Vietnamese iced coffee goes for about $3 and it’s at least as fast as MacDonald’s.  It hasn’t caught on yet in my corner of Spain so I make a pretty good version of it myself at home. I can’t think of a more welcome dish on a cold day.


  1. Ahhhh, tortilla de patatas. Sometime in the mid 90s I dated a southern Spanish lass while living in London (I'm Australian). One night she made tortilla de patatas but after the potatos softened she added thinly sliced tomato, mushrooms, paprika, Ras El Hanout (Moroccan Spice) and grated zucchini. Our relationship ended not long after but her recipe lives on and is eaten every Sunday morning by my family. I love Spanish food.

  2. Perhaps as an added bonus to your new joint you could have on your staff a qualified cardiac catheter surgeon to stent all those clogged arteries!

  3. Mmm. This has long been a gripe of mine here in Spain, too, convincing Spaniards that there does in fact exist an American cuisine. My father-in-law used to trash-talk American food, until he visited us there in the States. After we took him to a couple of real hamburger joints, he was converted. Now you will find few advocates as passionate as him for authentic American food.

    Though granted, there is very little authentic American food being endorsed by the U.S. Surgeon General quite the way they endorse the so-called "Mediterranean diet".

    1. My Spanish friends are always impressed when I make American food.


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