I was in Moncton in 2006 and I asked a colleague who was a local where to eat breakfast. “Tim Hortons is good,” he said.
I’ve heard that Moncton contains more Tim Hortons per capita than any other city in Canada (and I doubt it would be wrong to say, by extension, the world), so I take it his was not a minority opinion.
That exchange came to mind this morning, when a link came through my Twitter feed to this article about Marilyn Hagerty of Grand Forks, North Dakota, who gained a measure of fame — totally in keeping with our weird times — for writing a review for the local paper of the Olive Garden. An unironic and positive review.
Like most of us, Anthony Bourdain, who died yesterday, laughed at it — at first.
But he gave it further thought and concluded that there’s a whole country out there that “too few of us from the coasts” have seen. Metropolitan sophisticates, supposedly educated and experienced and aware.
And maybe they’re insecure, or embarrassed because that world is where they came from. Having spent so much energy trying to get out of it, they’re still not confident enough to eat in a restaurant unless a city magazine like New York or Toronto Life tells them it’s OK to.
Bourdain ended up editing a collection of Hagerty’s columns (and Grand Forks has to be one of the most inspired titles ever) and writing the foreword. And as he pointed out, there was a time when the unpretentious, unassuming places she wrote about used to be found in our “great” cities as well.
But gentrification and snobbery have combined to squeeze the clubhouse sandwiches on toasted Wonder bread and the cheap (and gloriously greasy) breakfast specials (Two Eggs — ANY Style!) out of existence.
And then you wake up one morning and you find that even the dive bar where you spent too many hours in your early twenties has got rid of the dodgy hot dogs and popcorn (and the watered-down draft in eight-ounce glasses that you’d order two at a time) is advertising that the chicken wings are “sous vide.”
(At least they still have quarts of Labatt 50. And if you order one, you get change back from your $20 bill.)
Here’s an interesting quote from an interview with Anderson Cooper to promote his series Parts Unknown: “People are telling you a story when they give you food. And if you don’t accept the food … you’re rejecting the people.” Which I find in keeping with his defence of Marilyn Hagerty. There was something dehumanizing in the snark about her review.
Bear in mind, I don’t believe for a moment he was defending the Olive Garden — he once told Conan O’Brien that the saddest meal he ever had was a cold hamburger at a Johnny Rockets at some airport. (But in the same clip, he admitted a weakness for KFC macaroni and cheese. So you never know.)
So here’s to being a food democrat, and getting over whatever bullshit causes us to be food or drink snobs. I embrace the notion that one of the best glasses of beer I ever had was a PBR served in a go-cup that I sipped on as I wandered Algiers Point on a 90/90 day (90 degrees Fahrenheit, 90 percent humidity).
And to bring this back to Moncton, I never did have breakfast at Tims. I probably should have. Because instead, I ended up eating in the hotel restaurant, where I was alone, paid way too much, and quite likely, less effort went into the preparation of my breakfast than if I’d hit a crowded Tim Hortons a few blocks down the street. (There’s always one a few blocks down the street.)
My decision didn’t leave me in a three-day depression, as Johnny Rockets did to Bourdain, but neither was it the “good” kind of bad decision, where you’re out at two in the morning and you grab some comfort food as a nightcap. I dig those the most.
On the last day of my Moncton stay, the Tim Hortons–recommending colleague took me on a tour of his part of town, including the home he’d built, on a lot purchased in the ’60s and subdivided so that his daughters and their families would be able to build homes. Then, on the way to the airport, we stopped for lunch. At St-Hubert. It’s a meal and a day I’ll never forget.
A friend had told me his story, including his food. What could be better than that?