Unlike the Oscars, you won't see much here. As sucky as 2008 was (I'm thinking the economy here), food-wise it really wasn't bad, and for me I had some very nice adventures that I'm thankful for. So here they are - the somewhat sparse Second Annual Best Brains Awards for the Very Worst and Inescapably Average Food of the past year. Named for Mike, Joel, the Bots and their creative masters and mistresses, the men and women who brought us MST3K and now bring us (separately) both RiffTrax and Cinematic Titanic. I've tried squeezing in cheesy production numbers like last year, but I'm tired and busy so don't expect the kind of crap you get at the Oscars each year. Servo, the envelope if you would...
The Best Brains "It looked better in the dressing room" Award for a second-guessed dining experience
Essex Diner (diner - Essex) - I actually struggled to find a restaurant to put here, so the Essex Diner only half-deserves this award. Their sliders sandwiched in dinner rolls really aren't bad, their service is fine, and the photos up and down the wall are kind of homey. But in retrospect, their sliders were nothing special. But I'd still go back to try other stuff.
The Best Brains "I need some hot stuff, baby, this ev'nin'!***" Award for an exceptionally overrated dining experience - They're not all that, chips or no chips...
Tie - Benny Greengrass (deli / Kosher - Upper West Side, Manhattan, New York, NY) and Rutt's Hut (hot dogs - Clifton, NJ) - The last time I went to New York I wandered around my last day, having checked out of my hostel, er, hotel, looking for good grub. I was sure I had found it at the legendary Benny Greengrass, the "Sturgeon King". Maybe I'd be satisfied had I gotten their uber-expensive fish. But all I got for $12 were three overpriced latkes with a semi-frozen clump of sour cream and a teacup of milk with a big blob of chocolate syrup at the bottom (that last part was just shameful). I guess this is why they're not known as the "Latke King." Having made the long trip and not expecting to be back for a while, I at least wanted to make the half-hour detour from Iselin (where I parked and took the New Jersey transit into the city - yes, it was cheaper than parking in Manhattan) to Clifton, where I could find the much-raved-about Rutt's Hut. Everyone from the Travel Channel to the Food Network raved about their "rippers" - hot dogs that are juicy on the inside but cooked so that the outside is crusty and rips open when you eat it. All I got was a slightly juicy, mostly dried up crunch out of my two dried out sticks of hot dog meat. To do that to a weenie should be a crime.
The Best Brains "Seventh time around...***" Award for places that you just have to wonder why they're still open after all these decades - They got away with being a local institution by serving this slop?
Tie - Avenue Diner (diner - Hampden, Baltimore) and Uncle Eddie's (American / family-style, Essex)
I'm not picking on Essex, I promise. I just didn't have the best eating experiences there this past year. Case in point: Uncle Eddie's, an area institution that recently moved into a very yellow building. I ordered dinner there for my Beltway Snacking series. The service is extremely friendly, so I felt bad writing about their "popular dish for six decades" panfried haddock. Dense, dry, bony and devoid of all flavor. They must stay open for other reasons. I didn't write about the Avenue Diner, which was actually the first place I ate out at in 2008. I can't quite remember what I had, I think it was pancakes. Or eggs. Whatever it was, it was big, forgettable and flavorless. Except for the Diet Coke, which tasted like dish water. The City Paper claims it's closed, but I won't since I've made that mistake here before.
The Best Brains "NoDoz***" Award for an exceptionally average dining experience - Quality. Yay.
Akbar Restaurant (Indian - Mount Vernon, Baltimore) - I am really befuddled as to why so many people say this is such a great place. The last time I went to Akbar - admittedly it had been a while - I went to the buffet. Yes, it was the tail-end of the buffet, but I've caught many a Baltimore-area Indian buffet just before closing, and they've all pretty much satisfied me. And it's very easy to please me with South Asian food. Akbar gave me some tasty food - the channa chaat is not to be missed - and some average food - the chicken tandoori is definitely to be missed - along with slightly crusty basmati rice (for shame). I'm glad others like it so much, but I am not impressed.
The Best Brains "Semi-Homemade Angel Food 'Harvest' Cake***" Award for the worst in food on television - She's still making new episodes, you know that, right?
Big Daddy's House - Aaron McCargo had real potential, but it's just embarrassing to watch this fourth Next Food Network Chef's new show. Thanks, Gordon Elliot >:(
SUPERPERKYPEOPLE!!!!! - So, Kelsey, OMGWTFBBQ?
Kalamarakiaphobia - That is, fear of squid, for which Nipa is being treated.
You'd think I hated The Next Food Network Star and loved Top Chef. Not so!
Winning cheftestant personality of the year...
Asshats and their weird, weird buddies. That's be Spike and his man-crush Andrew
Oh no, I think I'm straight now! And I'm blind!
And not to leave this season out: This season's asshat-in-training
The Best Brains "Ho Ho Ho... I'mmmm Aaaanndyyyy***" Award for the most disturbing food video - YouTube should have food censors.
Puss-Filled Pimples - A YouTube Halloween recipe from the Gluten Solution. Yep, that just about sums it up.
It's not such a bad recipe - until you call it "Puss-Filled Pimples." Again, ick.
The Best Brains "Marshmallows aren't supposed to be crunchy!" Award for the worst packaged food of the year - Not everything that came into my kitchen was edible.
Diet Chocolate Cherry Dr. Pepper - Isn't this swill one of the signs of the Apocalypse?
SoyJoy - Fortified with bleh
Joyva Cherry-Flavored Marshmallow Twists - Kosher for what, insulating your attic?
The Best Brains "Should my oven actually be smoking?" Award for my most failed attempts at cooking - Not everything that came out of my kitchen was edible, either.
Low-fat low-taste pumpkin-instead-of-oil-and-eggs cake mix - It. Don't. Work.
And last and certainly least...
The Best Brains Second Annual "Grill Art Cafe" Award for an exceptionally horrible dining experience - Like how the GOP felt after this year's election? Yep, you'll feel like that.
Tie: La Tasca (Spanish / Mediterranean / tapas - Inner Harbor, Baltimore) and Fisherman's Wharf (seafood - Nottingham)
For competing reasons, each of these places earns the top spot among the heaping pile of mediocrity and ick that is this list.
La Tasca is more popular than it should be - and why not? It's in a prime location. It's part of a chain of several restaurants that serve the ever-popular tapa to droves of hungry diners. I went with Cathy and a few friends for January '08's Restaurant Week. And boy, were we, um, let down. Apart from the one edible thing on our table - the calamari - just recall some of the crapola that was served to us: bland meatballs in a plain, forgettable tomato sauce, a boring-ass'd plate of mussels (at least one was dead before it hit the pan), equally flavorless salmon, the driest paella one friend had ever eaten, watered-down sangría, throwaway shrimp in "butter sauce" and garden veggies from a bag. Yuck. I'm heartened to see that so many people agree with me.
The other place is at the opposite end of the spectrum from La Tasca. Fisherman's Wharf on Belair road near Rossville Blvd had okay food. So why is it on my worst of list? The service. Here's what I ordered:
That's a fried rockfish sandwich with onion rings and hush puppies (the best part of the meal). How many customers were in there? One - me. How many people were working that day? At least two. How long did I wait for my food? A whole hour.
Yes, a whole fucking hour. By the time I left they had me wondering if they'd gone out and killed the rockfish just after I put my order in. The food was tasty, but not so tasty that it merited a whole hour wait. Long story short: if I want faster service, I'll catch, clean and fry the damn rockfish myself.
And that's it, ladies and gentlemen, and not a fashion faux pas in the house. Let's hope for as little bad dining in the '09. Gypsy, play us out, would you?