No matter how you explain to your coworkers what a food blogger’s dinner is, it still sounds like an episode from Portlandia.
“I’ve never been to one of these things, but I think it’s a dinner specifically for food bloggers… I think we are expected to write about the food and take pictures of the food. And then talk about the food.”
“So, free food.”
You wore your favorite sneaks and now they are getting ruined by a ridiculous pounding thunderstorm. To make matters worse you only have a vague sense of where this place is. After a side trip through Boston’s Southend you determine it’s time to risk losing your iPhone to the elements.
As you stand under a construction scaffolding juggling your messenger bag, camera bag, umbrella and iPhone an older gentleman approaches you and asks if you know where the closest gay bar is. It’s pouring fucking rain. You are dying from the humidity and can only think about the suede on your Tigers being ruined by every passing second.
“Um, maybe try Buttery. It’s on Union Park between Washington and Tremont.”
“Is it a gay bar?”
“Well, it’s in Southend so I am sure you will be welcomed.”
“You’re probably taken.”
“Yeah, sorry…,” you smile and then for some completely bizarre reason you tell him that he’s cute, even though you don’t really think he is. As the words leave your mouth you wonder why you even said this. Perhaps it was a way of controlling the situation, the thrill of commanding the engagement.
“It’s just so hard meeting people…”, he says.
You look down at your phone, “Sorry, but I really need to find this restaurant. Good luck.”
He turns to leave but then casts out one last desperate line, “your arm hair is really sexy.” You can’t imagine anyone ever, ever, ever thinking your arm hair could possibly be sexy especially considering that due to the rain your forearm looks like one-hundred miniature bad comb-overs.
Naturally, you are standing almost right in front of Maggiano’s. In fact you realize you probably have passed by this place a million times on your lunch-time run.
You enter the restaurant and are shown the private room for the blogger’s dinner.
As you scan the room you immediately surmise that most of the people in attendance are single women, don’t have children and are young professionals. After some small talk you determine that you are correct, correct and also correct. It’s hard for you to not qualify the demographic of females between the ages of 23-32 with that of your own.
The thirty-something manager comes out after everyone is situated and serves Sangria while simultaneously (and repetitiously) mentioning that everything is handmade from scratch on the premises, most likely a rebuttal to your question, “is Maggiano’s a chain?” [Maggiano’s is operated out of Dallas, Texas by publicly traded Brinker International–home to such brands as Chili’s and Macaroni Grill.]
You decide to suspend your prejudice against chains and try and give the place a shot, but it’s tough considering that the full name of the Dallas-based chain is Maggiano’s Little Italy and Northend is five T stops away.
The first course is a thin flat bread with shrimp, arugula and some sort of pesto dressing. Not bad, but you find the bread component to be just about impossible to negotiate with as it is molecularly impenetrable. You end up scraping the toppings off and picking around at it.
Most of what you try is expectedly “ok”. You think to yourself that Maggiano’s is to Olive Garden what Banana Republic is to Old Navy. (Olive Garden being Old Navy in this scenario.)
You wish you could’ve left with a sense that not all chains are bland, safe, focus group approved, pandering… but unfortunately most of what you sample is not that astounding. But this is what you did like…
Someone at your table was vegetarian thereby unable to eat most of the dishes that were presented. To accommodate a few of the twenty or so bloggers, your table was presented with several not-on-the-menu bowls of Farfalle with roast veggies and (I’m guessing) some sort of pomodoro sauce. “We just threw this together for you guys.”
See? This is what corporate restaurant brands don’t understand. Authenticity. Brands can’t simply state authenticity via shitty commercials and bad brand management. Authenticity can only be achieved when a real person makes a real connection in a real and meaningful way. In this situation, the manager presented something not on the menu as a special request–an authentic gesture–and it was the best thing we sampled.
Think about it… the staff in the kitchen is making the same shit over and over and over but is now presented with a very brief moment of creativity. Of course it’s going to be better.
The evening comes to a close and you are offered a CD with Maggiano’s musical selections and discount coupons. (You subconsciously forgot to take one.)
The T shows no mercy as you bounce down the hot humid tracks of the Orange Line. Standing in front of you is a cute, blonde, tallish and well-dressed young woman with the coolest messenger bag known to the universe. It’s strapped tight and close to her back but you can’t make out the label.
She fortuitously exits your stop. Because you must have this bag you tap her on the shoulder (momentarily forgetting that most people don’t appreciate being tapped on the shoulder by a complete stranger). She removes her earbuds one at a time, tilting her head each way as if she was removing her earrings.
“Sorry to bother you, but I really love your bag!”
She smiles and says, “Oh thanks, It’s made by Rickshaw.”
“Rickshaw. Cool, I’ll have to remember that.”
She eagerly adds, “They’re made in San Francisco!”
“Nice. Thanks so much.”
You walk away and as you leave she says, “Hey… you’re cute.”
No, she didn’t really say that. You made that part up.