dining niblets: ur doing it wrong edition

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Notes from Ranty McRanterson, Eugene Curmudgeon, who shakes her fist at today’s world:

1)  The grocery store bag hysteria is sweeping the nation.  Yes, I do need a bag for the dozen things I have just purchased at your grocery store.  Yes, I have a reusable bag, but I rarely use it at the grocery store.  Yes, I know plastic bags damage the environment, and paper bag manufacturing pollutes.  But I actually REUSE my plastic AND brown paper bags, and I NEED them in my efficiently run, eco-conscious domestic economy.  I’m happy to pay a few extra cents for them, if necessary.  I am not happy to be chided at the grocery store for using them.  I am also not happy to have all my groceries stuffed so full into one bag that I can’t lift it by the handles, just so I can save another bag from extinction, like a spotted owl or something.  I am also even more not happy to have to tell the clerk to rebag my groceries so I can carry them.  Am I alone in this?  This happens at all our local markets (not just Market of Choice), and it drives me crazy.

2)  Dear gyros establishments in town, thank you for existing, but please put more garlic in your tzatziki.  As in put SOME garlic in your tzatziki.  We can handle it, I promise.  And no grated cheese.  Ack.

3)  Bought my first tayberries of the season at Lone Pine Farms the other day.  The prices!  OMG!!  Even worse than strawberries.  Looks like it’s U-Pick for me this year.  Good news is that strawberries, on their way out, are being discounted at some local farms.  Thistledown has Bentons and Shuksans.  Lone Pine thought it has Shuksans (it did, from the looks of it) but had no idea what kinds of raspberries it was selling.  Time to get on that — people are asking.

4)  On my way home from the airport, I spied a Thai food cart way out on Hwy. 99.  Ubon Thai is like a cry in a desert — why so far out of town?  Haven’t checked it out yet, but the menu and hours are posted on Craigslist.  Craigslist?

5)  Bar 201 recently took a debilitating hit; will it survive?  I was sad to hear bartender and cocktail menu developer Richard Geil left for understandable reasons and is now manning the bar at Café Zenon.  Good thing for Zenon, as I was recently horrified by a friend’s “Old Fashioned,” served with scotch.  Bad thing for 201, since no one else seems to know how to make a standard, much less a creative cocktail. What a shame.  And “Dressed to Kill” ladies night, with prizes for the best dressed barfly?  Ugh.  Well, maybe it will distract from the drinks.  But a rather bad PR move for female customers who want to enjoy a cocktail without having their bodies mauled by prize-giving eyes.  Jesus Christ.

6)  I’m getting irritable, as I always do writing about Eugene’s dining scene, so…Dickie Jo’s.  My husband, who doesn’t mind it, was spot on when he said it was a restaurant designed on a spread sheet.  Simplified menu, cheapest ingredients possible that still allow the gold star of keeping the ‘premium’ label, highest prices possible.  Soft-serve instead of real ice cream for the shakes, high school sweat shop labor, thin burgers that encourage ordering up to a double patty, etc.  The faux 50s diner branded with “Westraunt Concept” absolutely repellent.  Someone stop these people.

“There’s no pickle on the menu so I couldn’t order a burger,” I said grumpily, when the weirdly hovering owner came over with my iceberg and blue cheese salad, noting aloud that the lettuce wedge was too big and needed to be downsized.

“You have to ask for them,” he said. “They’re the best pickles in town.  All natural, with no lactic acid.  And the secret code for getting double pickle is to tell the cashier to ‘hit it twice.'”

Lactic acid is crucial in the fermenting process of “all-natural” pickles made with brine, and I hardly think his pickles are better than mine.  But whatevs.  I was more interested in way the West Brothers are appropriating the In-n-Out concept.  For those of you who haven’t had the joy of living in Southern California, In-n-Out is a local chain/cult.  You can read more about it here, on one of my fave food blogs out of Portland, Guilty Carnivore.  The red and white color scheme, the “secret menu,” the limited options: all In-n-Out.  The huge difference, of course, is the prices.  Westronauts, take note: a double burger at In-n-Out costs $3.50.  Dickie Jo’s charges double that.  You’re charging WAY too much, even for Eugene, which is used to getting reamed for mediocre food.

My iceberg wedge was saturated in blue cheese dressing, the burgers were decent but greasy, and the garlic fries were soaked in oil and a little bit of parsely and garlic.  (There’s no need to add more oil when you toss them with the garlic topping.)  A pickle, I’ll admit, when brought to the table after my grumbling, was pretty good, though I think I detected some lactic acid in there.

Meh.  Am I just bitter about another burger joint in Eugene when our dining scene so desperately needs diversity?  Perhaps.  But the last thing we need is an independent local business that acts like a chain, and a pricey, gimmicky one at that.  Some of us are really, really tired of “fun” dining concepts and being treated as unsophisticated chumps.  Feel free to disagree.  My dollars are going elsewhere.

6)  The good news is that just a block away, a little slice of heaven has burst from the clouds, and drifted down into my coffee, dreamlike.  Vero Espresso House, on the corner of 14th and Pearl, is the opposite of EPIC FAIL.  It’s a cute renovated house, with great coffee (Stumptown) prepared well, and cozy indoor and outdoor seating.  There is a limited menu of pastries, cookies, panini and soups.  According to the barista, the menu’s in flux, so expect some new sandwiches (e.g., roast beef) and a more stable soup menu (i.e., set days for specific soups) soon.  I’m a huge fan already.

16 thoughts on “dining niblets: ur doing it wrong edition

  1. Jess 24 June 2009 / 10:17 am

    So where do you go to get a decent burger here? I mean, if I have to go to the bar in order to get one, I’ll keep doing that, but if there’s a local burger joint actually deserving of my money and attention, I would love to know about it.

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  2. Janet 24 June 2009 / 11:24 am

    BTW, E and I just ate the best fish and chips we’d ever tasted the other night at Cornucopia. Thanks for pointing us there.

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  3. Rebecca 24 June 2009 / 11:48 am

    Not to raise any hackles, but why not just get a few reusable bags to take to the grocery stores that will otherwise tick you off? If it will spoil an otherwise pleasant shopping trip to use one of their bags, it might be worth it. Grocery shopping happens too often for it to be an unpleasant experience.

    Don’t know what you need the bags for, but perhaps you could just snag some bags from one of those grocery bag recycling spots or buy a box of small bags.

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  4. papa tom 24 June 2009 / 11:54 am

    bags, oy… I have the opposite problem. I show up with a big reusable canvas bag and a couple used paper ones, and the bagger puts just a few items in each bag when everything i just bought could be easily packed into the one big canvas bag. It’s not like I look feeble or anything either …I’m six feet tall and fairly muscular.

    Ok, I’m done kvetching.

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  5. Eugenia 24 June 2009 / 12:12 pm

    Jessica: We go to Cornucopia for burgers. The beef is truly local, from Knee Deep. And the burgers are large & in charge. They don’t have the best service in the world, and I’d love it if they revamped their menu (and tasted the au jus dip for the French Dip, since it is inedibly salty) but we like it.

    Rebecca: I use all the bags I get, and need more, not less! But when I do take in my canvas bag, and am patted on the head like a good dog, I make it a point to tell them that I need the plastic and paper bags and not to stop supplying them to customers. Why would I use someone’s used bags that have been wet and/or gathering dust in a receptacle (is it even legal to take them?) when I know where/how mine have been stored? I use them for food, kitty litter, camping, travel, gardening, wet things, etc. And why on earth would I buy new ones if I can get gently used ones with my groceries? Honestly, it doesn’t make sense.

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  6. Sara 24 June 2009 / 5:53 pm

    I also love Turtle’s for burgers, I think they use nice local beef as well. I was so sad to see the annoying Dickie Jo’s go up right there, and I’m even sadder to hear that their food is bad.

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  7. Mike 24 June 2009 / 7:09 pm

    Haven’t been to Dickie Jo’s (and the name alone makes a visit highly unlikely) and I agree that In & Out makes the best fast food hamburger out there (can’t fly in or out of LAX w/o stopping at the Sepulveda branch) but the best fast food restaurant overall is Burgerville. I sure wish they’d come down the 5 just a bit further and open in Eugene. The burgers are good, not great, but they’ve been doing seasonal and regionally sourced since way before it was cool (or profitable) and when avail the sweet potato fries, onion rings and chocolate hazelnut shake can’t be beat sitting on a plastic seat.

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  8. trillium 24 June 2009 / 7:15 pm

    I’ve been eyeing that Thai cart the last few times I’ve been out to the airport. It seems to have possibilities, but so far the SE Asian in the house won’t bite and he’s been in the car each time rolling his eyes when I say it could be good.

    The other truck I’ve been eyeing is the one on W. 11th (by “My Coffee”) hawking fry bread tacos. Last time I had one of those was on a rez and it was really tasty in a trash-food way. If I wasn’t carrying a physical handicap in the digestion dept these days, I would be all over it.

    The falafel at the Quik Mart on W. 11th are not bad, especially if you ask for extra hot sauce (and haven’t been eating the falafel at Karam in pdx for 5 years). The gyros did not pass the muster. I saw a sign up the other day for chicken and lamb shwarma. Could be good if made in house by “Mommy”.

    Did the newish gyros place with graffiti signs have grated cheese on their sandwiches? If so, it’s getting crossed off my list of places I’ve been meaning to try (it’s right there with the waffles, I live two blocks away and can’t seem to get inspired to go…no sweet tooth).

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  9. Veronica 24 June 2009 / 10:33 pm

    I just noticed the Thai food cart a few days ago and was intrigued. I may have to try it soon. The menu sounds good and the price is right!

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  10. Eugenia 25 June 2009 / 5:43 am

    Mike: I have to admit I’m one of those people who doesn’t get In-n-Out, other than my morbid fascination with the secret menu and religious citations on their wrappers. I’m more a Fatburger girl, myself.

    I have been meaning to try Burgerville. The problem there is that when I go to PDX, the last thing I want to do is eat a burger, knowwhatimean? From everything I’ve heard, though, Burgerville is the model of everything that can go right in a fast food joint. Dear rich Eugene business people: check it out. And bring me a side of sweet potato fries, thanks.

    Trillium: I saw the frybread tacos sign the other day but couldn’t see the truck/shop so I passed it over. Maybe someone else has tried it?

    And what in the world were you doing at the Quik Mart on W. 11th? I don’t even know where that *is*.

    I’m scared to admit I’m leaning more toward your SE Asian better half on the Thai cart, but I’ll be so happy to be proven wrong.

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  11. Mike Aronson 25 June 2009 / 7:15 am

    Fatburger is very good (great with a fried egg), but I guess I dont’ really think of it as a true chain. Key to the In & Out DD is to ask for the onions grilled (I’m sure there’s a secret password for it but if you just ask in plain English they do it).

    The time to hit Burgerville is either on the way home at the last one, in Albany, or on the way to Seattle or further once you’re north of PDX. They don’t franchise (another sign of caring just as much about the food as the spreadsheet) so our only hope is that they move themselves down here.

    Currently on tap, fresh strawberry milkshakes, OR strawberry griddle cakes and a balsamic and strawberry goat cheese panino (haven’t tasted it).

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  12. Eugenia 25 June 2009 / 7:37 am

    Mmmmm. Albany’s not too far!

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  13. cheezilla 2 July 2009 / 12:15 pm

    Despite the warnings above, I am currenly in a 12 person line to get an overpriced Dickie burger…nice concept on paper. The owner is talking business with the guy in front of me (look for a Dickie Jo’s/mucho gusto combo in Beaverton next year…). I told the 17 year old taking my order to “hit it twice” but she had no idea, but she cheerfully added pickles to my order. Nice to see a genuine Chicago Dog on the menu. I also like the bags of russet potatoes stacked as functional decor. I’m sitting at the bar watching the crew double fry the potatoe – a good sign. This place is hoping with college kids and duck fans obviously and I feel a bit out of place. Burger coming; stay tuned…

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  14. cheezilla 2 July 2009 / 1:05 pm

    …took a solid fifteen minutes, but I’d say it was worth it overall. The bun was fresh and homemade(ish) as advertised, the toppings were crisp and the pickles were indeed quite good and obviously not from Sisco. The frys were crisp and yummy if not a bit on the salty side (which I don’t mind) and the ‘fry sauce’ reminded me of the good ‘ol Bob’s Burger from Oregon days gone by. Yes overpriced ($6.70 did not include anything to drink – I didn’t even want to look at the shake prices) buy I’m hoping some of that goes to a health care plan for guy cooking up the fries: he was nice.

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  15. brandon 3 July 2009 / 4:31 pm

    Thanks so much for the insight on all the local restaurants,,,,Eugenius, you seem to be so knowledgeable about food and it’s preparation that a few friends and I are really pulling for you to open up your on place, maybe with the same name as your great blog. Keep up the great work:)

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  16. Mr. Eugenified 22 August 2009 / 12:03 am

    Tried Dickie Jo’s and I agree, it is not quite right. Sorta like a fuzzy xerox version of In-N-Out…but with higher prices. I do appreciate that they leave the delusional slogans off the food wrappers at Dickie Jo’s.

    As for Cornucopia, I was literally insane for their burger, until I received it drenched in pickle juice on two separate occasions. Wet buns…gross!

    As of today, I still give The Cooler the award for best burger in Eugene. Just close your eyes and imagine it is being served in a much nicer surrounding.

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