Sunday, April 23, 2017

Don Rickles and the Comedians

The recent passing of the great Don Rickles got me reminiscing about Rickles and the comedians I've enjoyed over the years.

My earliest memory of  Mr. Rickles dates to the summer of 1969.  I got a summer job through a buddy of mine whose father and grandfather worked for a carpet outlet store. We were the carpet-hauling muscle for the summer.  My friend's father was kind enough to pick me up every day at the street-corner and we'd drive in together. One day he put a tape into the car's cassette player (very high-tech for the time) and said, "you boys will like this." We did. Don Rickles roasted everyone: Jews, Blacks, Catholics, Italians, Irish, and we laughed. My employers were Jewish and they laughed hardest at the Jewish jokes.

My earliest memory of comedians, in general, was watching the Ed Sullivan Show with my father. He loved comedians and his favorite comedian was Alan King. I liked him too, even at that young age, but the first comedian that appealed to me as a boy was Allan Sherman and his album, My Son the Nut, and its chart-topping hit, Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh. That was 1963. My parents owned the album. I would lay on the floor, face up, with my head to the "stereo" and play it over and over again, and even today can follow along with most of the songs.




Jonathan Winters was another old favorite of mine. Winters is rightly called a comic genius and the inspiration to the more widely-known genius, Robin Williams, who could make me laugh as well. In the 60s, I loved Steve Allen and his talk show skits, and Dick Cavett, although the latter wasn't a comedian, per se, but his quick wit as an interviewer appealed to me as did the king of late night interviews, Johnny Carson.

In the early 70s, Steve Martin turned the comic world upside down for the baby-boomers with his satirical skits, Wild and Crazy Guys, and King Tut. Martin and the talented group of Saturday Night Live satirists brought something new to TV comedy and walk in the footsteps of  Mel Brooks, Norman Lear, and Woody Allen. Billy Crystal combines qualities of both Mel Brooks' satire and the storytelling of Alan King (see the movie Mr. Saturday Night).

I'm too young to have seen Charlie Chaplin in silent-theater although I did watch replays on television, but never quite got it. I did get his comedic descendants, The Three Stooges. I'm old enough to have seen comedy change from slapstick to joke-telling to satire. And like all art forms, it has its highs and lows.

I was never a big fan of Lucille Ball or Jerry Lewis even though I recognize the talent, it just doesn't make me laugh. The old Dave Letterman shows I thought were funny. I did like some of Carole Burnett's work. I generally don't care for female stand-ups. My favorite female comic is Julia Louis-Dreyfus, although in the TV sitcom Veep, funny she is, but listening to a female use the F word a half dozen times an episode puts me off. Language, humor and everything else that is a part of daily life say something about who we are and what we value, and Veep descends into the banality of street jargon. That being said, her work in Seinfeld is as good as it gets. Hilariously funny.

I probably should add my favorite, more recent sitcoms, Office and Parks and Recreation, which I think are very funny, and cleverly written and performed, and which added another comic element to the sitcom, the acknowledgment of the third-party observer by the actors.

We find something funny for various reasons but it's almost always a "fracture" in reality as in an understated or exaggerated word, expression, or action, or a common frustration, or the accidental minor misfortunes of others. Humor like romance can't be analyzed and enjoyed simultaneously, it can't be commanded, and it's another one of those hard to define qualities that separate home-sapiens from the lower animals. Cows don't stand around and tell jokes.

Or do they?

THE FAR SIDE, GARY LARSON

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Postlogue

There's an honesty to the comedy of Rickles, Sherman, King, Brooks, Allen, Crystal and many more from that era that is rooted in the Jewish tradition of self-effacement and pathos; and a recognition of man's smallness; and of his frustration with himself, his world, and with God who is always there, albeit somewhat eclipsed (see the movie Fiddler on the Roof). The one Catholic boy that fits perfectly into the tradition mentioned above and who I have overlooked is the great Jackie Gleason. He stands alone as the greatest in my opinion.

One last song from Sherman which shows his cleverness with words, and which, I think, still stands today as a pretty funny tune (of course, the video's images were added later).

One Hippopotomi


 

Thursday, April 6, 2017

The Worst "Best of Fort Worth" Ever. 2017.

I begin with an apology: this is an incomplete list.

It's incomplete because Fort Worth and its contiguous burgs have gotten too big for this old guy to cover. And because my eating-out interests have narrowed.  The result of which is a "Best of" list that doesn't include dozens of new restaurants scattered around Fort Worth.

I'm not saying that the wife and I have defaulted to the LuAnn special at Luby's on Friday night. We're haven't--yet--but with the children gone we like our quiet dinners at home with Netflix.

Notwithstanding, here are my favorites and some observations. If you have any thoughts I'd like to hear them, or if you think another restaurant should be considered a "Best of Fort Worth" please let me know. I'd like to try it.

We start with pizza...

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Philadelphia-style pizza: Picchi-Pacchi downtown. Nothing fancy but their pizza and calzones are as Philadelphia as you'll find in Fort Worth. Good people, too. Unfortunately, they're only open in daylight hours during the week. They moved from their Main Street location to 411 W. Seventh. Just south of the YMCA.

Neopolitan pizza: I guess you have to say Cane Rosso. I'm not as quite as excited about it as everyone else. My favorite Neopolitan style is still Cavalli Pizza in Lewisville and Irving. I have heard that Central Market is making fire-cooked pizza on Friday and Saturday nights (this from my granddaughter just to show how out of touch I am). Cibo Divino just west of Dallas has great woodfire-cooked pizza and a deli and is great place to meet Dallas-bound friends for lunch.

A Cibo Divino Pizza

Ice cream: As I've mentioned before you're welcome to pay $5.50 for a single dip at Marble Slab if you want. Seriously, five dollars and fifty cents for a single dip. I'll take the single dip at Braum's for $1.50. Does the Marble Slab ice cream have 1% higher fat content? Probably, but I can't tell.

I haven't quite caught on to the Paciugo movement but I do like a good fro-yo with toppings in the summer sometimes and go to Yogurtland in the Montgomery Ward Plaza.

I'm happy to see a place like Melt Ice Creams open up and keep improving. They have moved to Magnolia and seem to be doing well.

Better "Street Tacos": I like Torchy Tacos. But really most of these Fuzzys type taco places are good in my experience. Most of the time for lunch I'm happy with the tacos at Taco Bell because I'm a cheap SOB and the Fuzzy's-type places have a very high ratio of millennials per square foot.

Mid range Mexican restaurant: I like Lupe's in Arlington. Their brisket tacos are as good as you can get and their food is made fresh. Locally owned and operated by people who care about customers. I also like Benito's on Magnolia. Their pork tacos are fantastic and I can't eat all three of them in one meal. I tried La Familia again recently. They've fallen off the cliff. See Tacos Los Tavares below. My new favorite.

Finer dining Mexican:  Pappasito's is not fine dining but their fajitas deserve to be in the high-end category. Pappasito's serves the best fajitas in town period. They're tender, perfectly marinated and the side dishes served with the fajitas complement them well. The medium serves 1-2 and it's fair to say that when all the fixings are included two people will not leave hungry. Price: $29, which is not bad all things considered.

Mi Cocina isn't what it once was but it is a great location downtown and the outside seating is an enjoyable setting for dinner. Also fading in my view is Taco Diner on Sundance Square. Sorry. We've been twice in the last year and the quality has declined. Great location though. We tried downtown's new Wild Salsa: first, the "Day of the Dead" theme does nothing for me, second, the portions are small and the tacos are mediocre.

In contrast, Taco Los Tavares, not in the finer dining category as far as the atmosphere and location, but the food is high quality, served hot and reasonably priced. The pico de gallo is excellent. It's the best new authentic Mexican restaurant in the area.

My daughter and wife like the Southwestern cuisine at Blue Mesa. Blue Mesa has been as successful as any restaurant in Fort Worth for about twenty years now. Successful enough to move out of University Park Village and build their own much larger facility off 7th Street near the Target. It's a very good-looking restaurant. Sometimes I get Blue Mesa and sometimes I don't. Most of the time I don't.

I'd love to see an authentic fine-dining Mexican restaurant in Fort Worth of any kind. I've been to some great ones in central Mexico and when it's right it is without question my favorite cuisine. If you've ever had real slow-cooked mole' you know what I mean.

In no particular category but worth a mention since it also is on Sundance Plaza: Bird Cafe. Good food. Great location.

Tom Thumb West 7th Street


Up-market Groceries: Central Market is still the best even if they stumbled on my last visit to the bakery department. It happens. Fort Worth loves Central Market and for all the good reasons. The new Whole Foods on Bryant Irvin may dent the activity at Central Market but I don't think so.

Eatzi's, on the other hand, is competition for CM in the prepared foods segment. Eatzi's is opening their first Fort Worth store at the old Chili's on University. Eatzi's is more prepared foods than it is groceries and they'll take a place in the high-end food sales. I think the Eatzi's bakery is the best of the "grocery store" bakeries. The breads are consistently good, the cookies and pastries are great, and their almond croissants are as good as you can get anywhere.

I just got back from the grand opening of the new Tom Thumb on West 7th. Impressive, very impressive. It's a Central Market style combination of groceries, bakery, deli, coffee bar, and beer and wine bar in a contemporary grocery store setting.  It looks the part of a West 7th grocery store. Based on the crowd I'd say they are off to a good start and the perfectly cooked deli roast beef at $8 a pound worked for me.

The Target nearby does very well in food sales. Add 1400 new apartments under construction in the Left Bank and there's fixin' to be a whole lot more folks shopping around there.

The challenge for Tom Thumb is to keep the prepared foods fresh and high quality -- at a profit. It's a restaurant within a grocery store and restaurants require chefs, quality control, and lots and lots of help day after day. I'm not saying Tom Thumb can't do it. I'm saying it's hard to do and expensive to do, and big corporate accounting offices like profits, not expenses. Count the number of employees the next time you're in an Eatzi's. They're everywhere but that's what it takes to provide good customer service and good food.
(A month later: After visiting Tom Thumb several times now I'll say their fresh market/deli foods are too generic to appeal to the demographic of their location. Compare a sandwich at Eatzi's with a sandwich at Tom Thumb. Similar price but if Eatzi's is an 8.5 Tom Thumb is a 5 and that's being generous. Same with the pizza: frozen pizza dough with average to below average sauce and cheese. To be blunt: the sandwich and the pizza were terrible. The pepperoni was good. In my opinion, they'll have to do better if they want the prepared foods to be successful. The exception in their deli area is "The Wok." It was fresh, hot and reasonably priced.)
While we're talking about Tom Thumb, the new small-footprint Tom Thumb on University appears be doing well after replacing Fresh Market which bombed (deservedly) from day 1.

Bakery: I'm not sure why a city as big as Fort Worth doesn't have a bakery where you can get an honest baguette or Italian roll. As stated abovethe best bread in DFW is made at Eatzi's. Black Rooster bakery is okay but expensive. Panera Bread baguettes are very good, not great maybe, but they're good and relatively inexpensive. Great Harvest Bread is new on Magnolia. I like their white sandwich bread. It's hearty and good for sandwiches and toasting. And Bread Winners Bakery & Cafe is opening soon at the old Blue Mesa location at University Park. They have a Dallas location but I've never been.
(Just reported today: Panera Bread sold for 7 billion and change and will go from a publicly traded company to privately held. The new owners will keep the same management. Panera Bread is a restaurant chain that did things right and it paid off.)
Chinese: Cannon. I like it. Their menu according to their website is "inspired by traditional Chinese cuisine." It's certainly not your typical American Chinese restaurant, and as I say, I like it a lot. I'm told their happy hour specials are good and inexpensive.

Thai: Spice on Magnolia was once my favorite. No more. Not sure what happened there but it's very mediocre. I've tried most of the Thai restaurants in Fort Worth proper. None of them draw me back for a second visit.

Coffee: It's hard to find a good espresso, I don't know why, but it is. If you read the post on Coffee Folk you know that the best coffee in Fort Worth is Coffee Folk in the Meadowbrook area. Honorable mention goes to Buon Giorno. Also, Buon Giorno's panini sandwiches are very good. (Speaking of sandwiches, I think the Which wich toasted ham and cheese sandwich is excellent. Good bread, a good portion of meat and cheese and fresh ingredients. I go to the Lincoln Square location in Arlington.)

Better Burgers: Five Guys is still my favorite for a consistently good combination of burger and boardwalk fries. The last time we were in the downtown Five Guys they were understaffed and the place needed a good cleaning. Tommy's, once my favorite in Fort Worth is way below average these days. John at Horsebits blog suggests Charley's on the southside of Fort Worth. I finally made it over there the other day. Excellent burger and fries. Chop House Burgers of Arlington has a new location downtown Fort Worth. I liked the burger, but it was slightly overcooked which may have been my fault because I asked for it cooked medium. The fries are the thin McDonald's-like fries, not the fresh cut boardwalk fries which I prefer. I'm told the burger at Del Frisco's Grill on the Sundance Square Plaza is very good.
Burger news: Last week McDonald's changed their quarter-pound burger from a frozen patty to a fresh meat patty. I ordered one and I think it's a little better than before but until they change the operations from a "pre-grill and hold" back to the "grill and serve" they will be just another bad burger. 

Italian: I stopped looking for good Italian food in FW years ago. ( I mean pasta, sauce, meatballs, bread, etc.)


WHAT'S NEW OR OPENING SOON 
FOOD, SHOPPING, ENTERTAINMENT, LIVING, OUTDOOR ACTIVITY, ETC. 

If North Texas continues to grow in population and the new developments succeed, Fort Worth will be a city built along the Trinity river. Developers and the City of Fort Worth are developing from Gateway Park on the east, which will be a 1,000 acre developed park, through downtown, to University Drive then onto Bryant Irvin Road on the west; of the following nine developing areas, only two are not on the river.

West 7th Street
More restaurants, bars, apartment complexes, shopping and the Left Bank (see below). No area in our city has seen more change than 7th Street. And with that comes success and failure especially for restaurants. Gone are: Patrizios, Fireside Pies, the two places on the corner whose names I don't recall, Fort Worth Marketplace, the bowling place. Fred's is still doing well. Times Ten has been there from the start and doing well as is Terra Mediterranean. Left Bank will add a new dimension to the area and make it more of a destination than it already is.

7th Street Left Bank
The difference between the average working man and a real estate developer is that the latter bets on population growth and demographic trends continuing and risks millions of dollars on that bet. The trends are two: North Texas is growing like a weed, and, alongside that, baby boomers and millennials are moving back to the city. The Left Bank developers believe that those two trends will continue for a while. I agree but that's one hell of a lot of apartments they're building.  http://www.centergyretail.com/properties

Downtown
Convention bookings are increasing and, we are told, they'd increase more if there were more hotel rooms. Sundance Square Plaza has been a huge success and draw for conventions.  Restaurants and bars seem busy and believe it or not retail clothing stores have returned to downtown.

Magnolia and Near Southside
It will always be my favorite section of Fort Worth. Anchored by St Mary's on the east and the hospitals on the west something new is moving into the Near Southside. almost daily and when Main Street construction is completed it will grow even faster.  Besides all the new bars and restaurants the stained glass windows at St. Mary the Assumption are a Fort Worth treasure.
For a short but thorough review of the revival of Magnolia and the old "Medical District" see this recent article in Fort Worth Business Press.

Panther Island
If it succeeds, and there's no guarantee it will, it will be the anchor for Fort Worth as a city built along a river. Critics don't like the cost which I understand. I think it's a risk worth taking. Panther Island.

Clearcreek is the western edge of the river development.  The Farmers Market, Trailhead, shopping center and walking and bike path along the river make it a destination. Can Clearcreek's new Neiman Marcus make it today in the age of Amazon? I'll be surprised if it does but I'm often surprised.

East Rosedale and Texas Wesleyan
I love what Texas Wesleyan has done with their campus and surrounding buildings. The only food establishment thus far is a Subway but I'm told more will be added soon.

Riverside North of I30
Yes, I said Riverside, a once thriving neighborhood just north and east of downtown. If you don't believe me drive over there on a Friday night. Martin Brewery, right on the river is packed. And nearby, soon to open, Top Golf which you have to see if you like creative sports/entertainment ideas. It's a driving range like Disneyland is a park.

Gateway Park
1000 newly developed acres along the river, north of I30 between Riverside and Oakland. Ball fields, walking and bicycle paths, dog parks, basketball courts, etc. The Gateway Park development


Saturday, March 4, 2017

The Best Cup of Coffee in Texas.

I've been known to use a little hyperbole from time to time. This is not one of those times.

Fort Worth has a new coffee shop and it's in the Meadowbrook area. I mention the location because we Eastsiders have grown accustomed to driving miles to get a decent cup of fresh coffee. No mas.

Not hyperbole: This is the best cappuccino I've had this side of the Mississippi.

Coffee Folk opened last weekend serving coffee from a beautifully renovated trailer just outside the Firehouse Pottery. Coffee Folk's roaster is Spella Cafe from Portland, Oregon. Of Spella the New York Times wrote, "the best espresso in Portland." I mention that because the Coffee Folk folk are serious about procuring good coffee.

My first visit was today, Saturday, their second weekend open. My wife and daughter had been and reported to me that the coffee was very good, my expectations were high.

I liked it so much I returned an hour later for a second cup.

I'm not a coffee snob but I do appreciate when coffee's done right. For me, the high watermark is a cappuccino from La Colombe in Philadelphia. Every time I order a macchiato, espresso, or cappuccino, it's compared to La Colombe's. If La Colombe is a 10 on a good day everything else in these United States has been less, until today. The Coffee Folk cappuccino was as good and maybe a little bit better than La Colombe's. I'll admit the tipping point in that opinion may be that Coffee Folk is a bicycle ride from my house. And that there is a secondary enjoyment to this coffee bar for those of us in Meadowbrook who have endured less than stellar food and restaurant availability, and that is seeing and conversing with dozens of neighbors who are enjoying good coffee as well.

But the coffee is the centerpiece of this table and the coffee is good.

Thank you Coffee Folk.

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Coffee Folk is just outside at the Fireside Pottery at the corner of Meadowbrook and Oakland Boulevards, Fort Worth, Texas. For now they're open Friday and Saturday only. Coffee Folk also serves a small selection of fresh pastries from Rooster Bakery in Fort Worth and a selection of teas.

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Photo credits
Top: Rebecca Smith
Bottom: Jaime Brabander / The Plumbing Place

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Rambling about the Beatles & When I'm 64 . . .



Paul McCartney composed this whimsical love song when he was sixteen years old. Eight years later "64" would become an unexpected hit and take its place in the most significant album in the history of 60's rock and roll.

I refer, of course, to the song, "When I'm 64," and the album, Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band. "When I'm 64" was released in 1966 as the B-side of the juke-box single, featuring "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds. In 1967 it was placed on the Sergeant Peppers album.

Everyone back then loved the Beatles. They were a sensation that even they couldn't explain. At first it was all fun, a fusion of Buddy Holly, Elvis, Carl Perkins, The Everly Brothers, Chuck Berry and Little Richard by a British guitar-playing quartet and hits like "Twist and Shout."

Then something happened and art imitated and abetted the changing world.*

In 1965, the Beatles produced the transitional album Rubber Soul, the first album where John, Paul, George and Ringo had complete control of the music, and, where the Beatles produced songs like "Norwegian Wood." "Twist and Shout" it wasn't. A year or so later, the Beatles went "all in" with Sergeant Peppers. Everything about it was different from the iconic album cover, to the full orchestra, to songs like "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" and with it rock and roll had the permanent imprint of the psychedelic age. Fifteen million albums were sold worldwide. It was a tidal wave.

The White Album followed in 1968, a double album set, and so also the beginning of the end of that short-lived musical era. The despair of John Lennon, and to a lesser degree the other members, permeates the album in songs like "I'm So Tired," "Revolution 1," and "Revolution 9." Notwithstanding, some of their best music is found in the White Album: Harrison's "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" and McCartney's "Blackbird."  (Sidebar: Now,  fifty years later,  the Musak version of "You Say You Want a Revolution" plays in continuous loop on elevators across America, leading me to think that Lennon's despair was not so misguided.)

Abbey Road and Let it Be, released in 1969 and my favorite albums, were the final albums for the Beatles and with few exceptions for 60's music in general. By the time you get to Led Zeppelin and "Stairway to Heaven" in 1971 it's over. Indeed, many of its luminaries were gone: Hendrix, Morrison, and Joplin come to mind, and the Beatles as a band were no more.

Many of us who came of age in 60's were formed in some way by the music of the Beatles. I was 15 when the song "When I'm 64" was released on Sergeant Peppers.

I'm 64 today.

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*Sorry for the gross simplification but you try to explain the 60's in a sentence or two.

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