Before this is allowed to go any further, I have to make it clear that i am not a foodie. My palate is not sophisticated by any definition. It it is so weak that eating anything with carbonation, black pepper, or coffee is a question of determination rather than enjoyment. My interest in food stems is not motivated by a lifelong quest to find the utopian bite, but from an entirely different source of indulgence.
The truth is, I am an online menu fanatic. The minute I catch wind of a new restaurant I rush online to digitally devour its menu. Most of the time, the restaurant provides a website with this information itself, but sometimes it requires sifting through scads of Urbanspoon or Yelp reviews in hopes that I will find menu descriptions or the rare smart phone shot of menu pages. Once I finally light upon a menu, I examine the details of every dish, compiling a mental list of menu options to fire my dreams until I am finally able to visit the restaurant itself. When I finally hold the menu in my hands, it’s like meeting a longtime pen pal. What I could only previously comprehend through a limited selection of words comes alive in an endless supply of smells, waitresses, and interior decorations.
Placing my order is my nervous manner of beginning the dialogue (if only I could tell this to the many frustrated restaurant workers who have glared through thousands of variations of, “Wait, actually… I know you just took out that spinach tortilla, but can I have the BBQ Tofo on Vegan Challah instead of the Greek wrap? It just looks so good!”) Then inevitably comes the seemingly endless anticipation of the arrival of that dish. That dish that I had so agonizingly selected from amongst all of the other options whose details had become equally familiar to me. Sometimes it turns out exactly as I envision it, but most of the time the true enjoyment was in the painstaking discovery and analysis of the menu itself.
Living in Bloomington, IN as I do now, I’m surrounded by as many eclectic restaurants as any small (speaking more in terms of city layout and atmosphere than the 81,963 person population bustling Big Ten University campus that inhabit it) Midwestern town has to offer. The restaurants may have shown up everywhere from Bon Appétit to the Food Network, but nowhere do they have a stronger presence than in the annals of my browser history, which brings us to the point:
My recent for day weekend provided me with ample time to try many of these restaurants for the first time.
I’ll admit. This was an online menu that I had practically memorized. See, I’ve only recently started truly appreciating Mexican food, and there aren’t a huge amount of (non-chain) Mexican places in town known for its international cuisine options. (Maybe that’s a testament to the meshing of Hispanic and “American” culture, at least that’s my wishful thinking). El Norteño was a big hit with me the minute I discovered that it had a full PDF copy of its menu (which incidentally included tamales, possibly my favorite street-cart food of all time) posted right on the front page of its Fiesta-ware colored website. But I was sold the minute I crossed over the threshold of its converted vintage movie-house store front and walked down the steps to the main seating area that was the scene of my very heartily portioned dinner for the night.
Of course, my forever unsatisfied stomach growled only minutes after dinner, and I returned to one of my favorite Bloomington locales: Baked!, the local almost-all-night-made-to-order-fresh-from-the-oven cookie shop. The college student in me is an ardent cookie dough worshipper. I’m not sure if it’s because I don’t have an oven, or if I’m too easily swayed by community hype, or I appreciate the cheeky restaurant title/atmosphere, or if I have an unflagging determination to gain the freshman 15, but I could eat Baked! every day of my life. I think I spend hours just staring at their menu, which is really more a list of cookie ingredients, plotting what my next cookie will be (lately I’ve got dark chocolate dough with butterscotch chips, toffee, and cinnamon sugar on my mind). This Thursday night, it was pumpkin dough with dark chocolate chips, pecans, cinnamon sugar, and a caramel drizzle. They were divine at 10 pm, but they were positively mystical on Friday morning.
This was a downer for me. The online menu had me completely sold. Not only did it list all of the different options of their exotic Asian-Peruvian fusion cuisine, but it included a list of the live jazz performers that would be providing the entertainment of the coming weeks. It seemed like a newer, more sophisticated older sister of Baked! Something I could go to and feel a little more adult. I think that was the problem. The atmosphere was perfect and got me entirely in a jazz mood. However, the food didn’t cut it. The menu that I had focused on was entirely wrong. If I had been about ten years older and an alcohol expert, it would have been a delightful evening. Instead, that homestyle Peruvian Locro that was the food of my dreams for weeks was more of a distraction to the jazz performance with its sloppy presentation and generic taste than a perfect cap to the perfect evening.
Luckily The Trojan Horse made up for the failed sophistication of Cafe Django. It’s online menu was straightforward and, incidentally, pretty inexpensive. Everything sounded like a yummy hybrid of comfort/diner/international food. When that menu reached my hands amidst the snuggly wooden walls and food counter of the restaurant’s cozy corner locale, I didn’t know what to do. All of those lovely options I had seen online were whizzing by on server’s trays and carry out orders all around me, and they looked damn good. In fact, they were. Even the whole wheat pita still lurking in my stomach from lunch didn’t stop me from helping myself to several servings of their delicious pita bread, coupled with some recently flaming Saganaki of course. Turns out, I’m much happier being a cheap date than an expensive one. My boyfriend apparently agreed because he offered to take both of our tabs this time.
They have no menu online, because their stock changes frequently by day and season. Still, it requires a mention. Anybody reading this post. Stop everything. Put everything down. Throw out all of the dessert in your house. Start focusing all of your energy to figure out how you can get your hands on a Caramel Ganache Brownie from BLU Boy Chocolate Cafe and Cakery. Warm it up in the microwave for a few seconds and I guarantee your world will be changed. If it isn’t, order a macaron. I’ve never met a macaron that didn’t make me smile. I volunteered to pay for this one.