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.)
You say goodbye to your charming new food blogging friends Amy (Mac & Cheese & Peas) and Tracy (Wicked Potatoes) who put up with your non-stop rambling.
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.
Fun read! I like your use of the 2nd person. It’s quirky and memorable. Maybe sometime I’ll try doing my own restaurant review in the 2nd person as a writing exercise.
I was on the list for the Boston Food Blogger’s dinner at Maggiano’s, but I couldn’t make it because I got sick. I had browsed the menu online and suspected that it was a more upscale Bertucci’s or Olive Garden — similar to your “Banana Republic to Old Navy” analogy. Good to read in your review that my expectations were pretty much accurate. Your insight about the Farfalle and corporate chains’ relationship with creativity was helpful, too.
Sounds like it was a nice evening overall. Hopefully I won’t be sick for the next BFB event!
Thanks Nicole, hope to see you at the next one! (that is if I am invited haha)
Hey David! I like your review, you are so creative to write in the second person like that. We have to meet up again, it was so nice to meet you and It was my pleasure to put up with your rambling! 🙂
Thanks Amy! Don’t forget to hit me up for some 5k’s!
I would read more food blogs if they were like this.
Great post! Love those food blogger dinners! Didn’t get invited to this one, but there’s always another one around the corner. Thanks for the messenger bag info. What cool bags!
Glad to see someone else experienced this dinner much like I did (and wrote about it honestly).
[…] last bloggerish event I went to went something like this (worth reading). [I am sad to report that nothing so dramatic happened on this excursion–but I did […]