Reputation Problems

February 10th, 2008
Beer Can on a Lawn

I confess to some ambivalence about the reputation I’ve developed among my neighbors. I’m now known as “that guy who walks down the street with a can of beer in his hand—at ten o’clock in the morning.”

It’s remarkable how often I fit their description. With more than a bit of glee, I also admit that it’s a great conversation starter. Just today, as the couple who live across the street were backing out of their driveway, I was able to give them a cheerful salute with a sixteen-ounce can of Miller Lite. They winked at me.

Moments later, I toasted another neighbor who commented that I was “getting an early start.” I gave him my heartiest “Go Gators!” cheer.

There’s just one hitch: I haven’t had the pleasure of having actually drunk the beer. The can I was carrying today, like those every other morning, was one I’ve picked up from someone’s lawn—very likely the property of someone trying to sell his house.

I don’t go out looking for litter; if I did, it would keep me pretty busy. But occasionally, when the weather is making me feel particularly smug about having moved here from Connecticut, and if I happen to see a can on someone’s lawn, I’ll bring it home and add it to my recyclable bin. The fellows who come by to pick up our recyclable trash have yet to say anything about the volume of our aluminum contribution, but I think it’s only a matter of time…

I did the same thing back up north. But—small-town Yankees being who they are—people seemed blind to my altruism but wide-eyed at the prospect that I was a more-than-social drinker.

Here in my Sarasota neighborhood, I seem to be most productive on the streets near the hospital, between Osprey and Orange. Perhaps it’s a measure of the relative quiet here, that those bent on littering find these unpoliced streets with plenty of nice homes for sale a convenient place to toss their empties.

I confess that I too, enjoy tossing the odd bit of litter out the window of a moving car. However, I try to confine myself to organic matter like apple cores and banana peels. It’s sort of fun…I think of it as compost in motion.

Probably it would be best if no one threw anything out of any vehicle. But if someone felt the overwhelming urge, well then, if it were, say, a bottle of Belgian lambic rather than a 16oz. tallboy, I might be more tolerant. And who knows, maybe one day, someone will toss out a full one. When that day comes, I promise, I’ll dispose of it properly.


How Do Things Get This Far?

November 30th, 2007

When I got the e-mail reminder about an International Day of Action on Global Climate Change, I thought it was interesting. When I read, “Hundreds of people are needed, some to form the shape of an hourglass and the rest to move from the top of the hourglass, one by one, to the bottom of the hourglass,” on Siesta Key Beach, I thought it might be kind of fun–in an aging hippie sort of way. Probably not as much fun as the drum circle, but my Saturdays are mostly flexible anyway.

But when I read that “A helicopter will be overhead with a camera team to record the movement symbolizing that time is running out to stop global warming” I thought, “Are they serious?”

How do things go to such extremes? A well-intentioned someone has managed to charter a helicopter for at least an hour to hover above Siesta Key Beach in support of a “green” cause? Did this person not consider that aircraft are prodigious burners of fossil fuel? More specifically, a “TV-news” type helicopter, say, a Bell Longranger, or Jet Ranger, consumes approximately 40 gallons of fuel per hour. That’s nearly three tankfulls of gas for my car.

And if, indeed, hundreds of people show up to be part of the human hourglass—or the human sand—it doesn’t seem likely that many of them will get to Siesta Key Beach by public transportation. Even with a downturn in real estate values, the people who turn out for events like this probably don’t live within walking distance. So, even if they come by twos, the choreography of the hourglass will demand fifty or more cars that might otherwise have sat in the driveway on a Saturday.

But getting back to the issue of energy consumption, I wouldn’t expect the organizers of this event to know a lot about aviation fuel. But it’s not the unleaded stuff that Mom puts in the Camry at RaceTrac. Aircraft fuel, “avgas,” contains lead. While, on the surface this whole beach “happening” seems noble, I don’t think any cabbage-palm hugger wants to stand around on a public beach while a helicopter burning leaded aviation fuel hovers approximately 500 feet overhead.

Whoever is underwriting this event must have some deep pockets—or maybe a donor with a helicopter. I’ve just checked, and it costs approximately $1,300 per hour to charter a helicopter. I’m not even sure if that includes gas, but these days, if you want to fill up at Dolphin Aviation, it will run around $6.00 per gallon.

Now a day at the beach is always fun. But it seems more reasonable to me that with that kind of budget, it would be a no-brainer to hire a Computer Animation major at Ringling College of Art to do a stylized presentation of sand falling through an hourglass. There would certainly be enough money left to hire the local news anchor, or perhaps one of the understudy baritones from the Sarasota Opera Company to read the voice-over litany with the appropriate amount of gravitas. Furthermore, I feel confident that at least one of our local television stations would be only too happy to broadcast the piece as a public service, if they had not already covered the stunt as a news event. And, of course, someone could post it on YouTube.

I know Al Gore spends a fair amount of time traveling by aircraft. Nonetheless, I think he’d agree that while the time to avert the catastrophe of global warming is running out, we are already in the midst of a full-blown crisis of common sense.

New Life for Fred’s

November 20th, 2007
Fred's Logo

We’re taking bets: Will the Porsche convertibles be parking curbside before or after Fred’s signature sidewalk tables reappear?

Denizens of Sarasota’s Southside neighborhood have been counting the days until Fred’s on Osprey reopens. The restaurant went dark in May of this year when the Epicurean Life Group put its holdings—Fred’s, Anabelle’s and Morton’s—up for sale.

Morton’s Market, repurchased by the original Morton family, recently held an open house and holiday tasting…the daily temperature is no longer above 90 F…lights on the cross-walk palm trees are illuminated…and now, there’s the very welcome sound of power tools and the smell of sawdust emanating from Fred’s.

The new management includes Sarasotan Jordan Leschert, himself a former manager at Fred’s, who has had considerable experience in front-of-the-house operations. (His uncle, Titus Leschert owns Café L’Europe on St. Armand’s and Café on the Bay on Longboat Key.) Patrick and Michelle Murphy, owners of seven restaurants in the Toronto area, are the other principals.

The new Fred’s will focus on steaks and seafood. According to Mr. Leschert, negotiations are ongoing with vendors who can deliver fresh, locally caught seafood, with the emphasis on local.

The executive chef will be Scott Kuhling, most recently of Fred’s Lakewood Ranch, and formerly sous-chef at Fred’s Southside.

Dale Mattern, who also returns to Sarasota from Fred’s Lakewood Ranch, will manage the day-to-day operations. He’s been in the restaurant business for more than twenty years and enthusiastically tells us that he’s assembled a top-flight, fun team to offer superb service.

With the change of cuisine, comes a change of goals for the restaurant. Mr. Mattern would like Fred’s to become a place where people feel as comfortable with an impromptu meal on a Tuesday night as they would for a special night-out on a Saturday. The team hopes that a little less fuss and more casual appointments will allow Fred’s to offer a menu of top-quality food at prices that make a weekday dinner an affordable treat.

Candles will light heavy wooden tabletops and booth seating areas. (One of the changes will be the elimination of white linens.) Mr. Mattern goes on to say that Fred’s will accept reservations, but that two-thirds of each night’s seating will be available to walk-ins, who (on crowded nights) will be given beepers. Patrons will be welcome to have a drink in the redesigned bar and lounge space, which will feature leather couches and chairs as well as stand-up ‘pub space,’ with newly-installed bracket shelves large enough to hold a pair of pints or martini glasses, and even an appetizer plate.

The bar will feature four imported beers on draft and a selection of martinis. A less rarefied wine list for both bar and restaurant will be offered. Appetizers will also be available at the bar, which will open at 3:00 p.m. daily. For patrons who like late lunches, Fred’s can still be an afternoon venue in which to see and be seen.

The new owners will reopen as ‘Fred’s Restaurant and Bar.’ The restaurant will retain the name ‘Fred’s,’ in part because of its iconic status in the community, and partly, as Mr. Mattern tells us, because the letter ‘F’ is set in mosiac tile in so many places throughout the building!

Though opening hours will be later, the new management will actually expand hours of operation. At this writing, plans are that the kitchen will be open until 10:00 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and until 11:00 p.m. on Friday and Saturday. The bar will be open until midnight Sunday through Thursday and until 1:00 a.m. on Friday and Saturday nights.

So, for those who toil at nearby Sarasota Memorial Hospital, there is the welcome prospect of a late-night draught and upscale bite at the end of the day. Mr. Mattern assures us that surgical scrubs and clogs will be welcome at Fred’s.

Management is aiming to open to the general public on December 10, 2007.


An Indian-Fusion Thanksgiving

November 14th, 2007
Spices in Bags

Having recently published a review of American Masala by Suvir Saran, we were pleased to learn that Mr. Saran would be featured in the Celebrity Chef program at Apron’s Cooking School here in Sarasota. Lately, we’ve been writing about fusion food, and his Indian-fusion dishes in particular, but what really got our attention is that he’s doing some exciting things in American public schools.

So we thought we’d have a chance to chat with him between his book signing and demonstration dinner here at Apron’s. However, we arrived to find him and two Publix sous-chefs already well into food prep, patter, and pouring of wine because copies of his new book had not yet arrived from the publisher.

So, sometime after Thanksgiving, Chef Saran says he’ll be happy to have a long phone chat with us about his school programs. We look forward to that, because both in print and in person, we find Chef Saran a charismatic spokesperson for the civilizing effects of good food shared with family and friends. Like Alice Waters, whose Green Schoolyard program has addressed the spiritual and nutritional benefits of educating children about food, Mr. Saran is stepping into a realm where the rewards are not another Michelin star or effusive food magazine accolade. We’ll plan a future post about his activities.

Interview postponed, last evening, we stayed to share the demonstration meal with his audience—a slightly Indian-influenced Thanksgiving dinner: Sweet Pepper, Onion, and Chevre Bruschetta, Tamarind-Glazed Turkey with Corn Bread-Jalapeno Stuffing, Sweet Potato Chaat, Brussels Sprouts with Apples and Almonds, Sweet-Tart Cranberry Chutney, and Fig Flan. (All the recipes and the stories behind them appear in American Masala).

Mr. Saran fielded questions, discussed his background, suggested applications of Indian cooking techniques to non-Indian dishes, and voiced strong passions about food (and his fellow food celebrities). The two dozen class participants appeared to be thoroughly engaged and as nourished by Chef Saran’s own masala of personal history, gossip, and nutritional and political opinion as they were by his delightful meal.

For further information about Indian food and Chef Suvir Saran, see his Web site.

For information on Publix culinary programs, see the Apron’s Web site