Friday, September 25, 2009

What we have here, is a failure to communicate...

I recently saw a movie about someone unjustly accused and convicted of murdering his wife. While in prison, he’s befriended by a grizzled old inmate, with a “tough on the outside, soft on the inside” persona, a rag-tag band of half-wits, who together, ultimately outsmart a cruel warden and his vicious head-guard. After he makes his escape, in a complicated scheme, he ends up in a beachfront community where his friend meets him up and they live happily ever after in freedom.

Of course, I’m talking about “Deathrace” but I am wondering if I’ll ever get those 2 hours of my life back.

I have some friends (you know who you are…) who claim that “The Shawshank Redemption” is amongst the greatest movies ever made. That may be true, if the greatest movies list includes “Caged Heat” and “Mannequin 2”, and any movie with Judd Nelson, but I have to admit, it was a disappointment for me. If you’ve seen one “beating all odds” type of movie, you’ve seen them all. Sure, it was better than some prison movies, but not as good as some others, like “Papillon”, “Brubaker” or “Con Air”.

These movies follow a set formula: unjust conviction, abuse at the hands of vicious guards/warden/other inmates, an old, wise inmate helping the new guy, new guy survives and thrives, and justice prevails in the end. Society loves underdog stories, and somehow prison movies make us root for the underdog, even if he murdered his wife.

“Deathrace” is a loose remake of the 1975 Roger Korman classic “Deathrace 2000” starring the sexually repressed David Carradine and an up and coming Sly Stallone. The premise was a race across the United States, where the drivers won points for running down spectators and each other (if only someone had come up with this for the Cannonball Run movies...).

Roger Korman and Hollywood had the brilliant idea to “re-make” the movie-there must have people clamoring for this; behold “Deathrace” starring Jason Statham. Instead of a race across the country, this game is played with inmate on an island prison; win 5 races and earn your freedom. Like “Shawshank”, Statham is unjustly accused and convicted of murdering his beautiful wife, is smart and soft-spoken, is befriended by a “tough on the outside, soft on the inside” older inmate, is admired by a rag-tag bunch of half-witted inmates, and outsmarts a cruel warden and head guard. Spoiler alert!!! After busting loose, he ends up in a sunny paradise with his inmate buddy. Sound familiar? Try “Deathrace Redemption” or “Shawshank Deathrace.”

I guess this speaks to the bigger problem with Hollywood-a dearth of original ideas. Did we really need a remake of “Deathrace 2000”? Do we need a remake of “Fame”? Isn’t Irene Cara already unfortunately living forever? (I was gonna run with Gene Anthony Ray, but tragically, he’s gone to the big performing arts school in the sky). What’s next, “The Eleven Commandments” and “The Godfather, 4D”?

For a look at what high school lunch is usually like...

Let's Go to the Mall...

Back in the late 70s and early 80s, if you wanted to eat at the Natick Mall, your choices were Brigham’s, The Sandwich Board, a café’ in Sears, or my favorite, The York Steakhouse (Number 4, medium, baked potato with butter). In the early 80s, the mall renovated and added a small “food court” which brought such dining delights as Papa Gino’s pizza, Orange Julius (whoever he was) and some generic Chinese food stand. I’m sure there were a few more, but they were so generic, they just blended right in. Dining at the mall was nothing special.

I avoid the malls like the plague, Celine Dion concerts and Meryl Streep movies, but I found myself wandering the Natick Collection briefly at lunch yesterday, so my mall companion and I decided to stop at the Food Court for lunch.

I don’t know when the trend changed from crap to more exciting and exotic choices, but the new Natick Mall, among others, now features P.F.Changs, the Cheesecake Factory, the Met Bar and Grill, Sel De La Terre, California Pizza Kitchen and Friendly’s. Other malls have some selection of the foregoing, but also Bertucci’s and TGI Friday’s (but when you eat there, you really wish it was Mondays.) Obviously, the array of choices has expanded to suit any palate, but for pedestrian fare, there’s still the food court.

When the mall re-opened in the mid-90s, the new “Food Court” was big news. There were a number of new choices, and there was a lot of puffery about how many people it could seat (more like how many head of cattle it could slaughter…) an how bright and airy it was (remember, even prison dining halls have windows…). There was a soup place (with their “cutting edge” “bread boule), a grill where they could make sandwiches and salads, a Nathan’s hot dog stand, Hagen Daaz, and the usual other suspects.

Now that the mall’s been opened for almost 15 years, things have changed. They have cleared out a lot of the seating, changed the flooring and gotten rid of the H1N1 magnet-the kids play area. Most noticeably, a number of the places have changed or left, leaving only one wall of selections, and frankly, not very good ones at that. After all the fanfare, now that the smoke has cleared, all that’s left is Sbarro, Salad Creations, Master Wok, Cajun Cafe, McD, Gourmet India, D'angelo, and Sarku Japan. A motley crew…

One thing that interests me about the food courts and these places is that now they have someone standing in front of each place offering you a sample. Stop past Master Wok and try a sample of “General Chicken”; go past Cajun Café and try “Bourbon Chicken”; walk past Gourmet India and try “Curry Chicken”; walk past Sarku Japan and try a sample of “Teriyaki Chicken”. After circling the food court 2 or 10 times, I don’t need to order anything anywhere.

Standing alone, the samples aren’t bad, but when did each of these places essentially turn into Chinese buffets? At Master Wok, you can get “General Chicken” with white or fried rice, or lo-mein noodles, mixed vegetables and either a chicken finger or an egg roll. At Cajun Café, try the “Bourbon Chicken” (that tastes suspiciously like “General Chicken”) and get it with white or fried rice, noodles, and some “Cajun vegetables”. At Sarku, get the “Chicken Teriyaki” with white or fried rice or noodles, and steamed vegetables. There is almost not differentiation at any of these places. I don’t think it really matters, since in my mind, there’s just one large kitchen in back making all the food then pushing a little to each place.

If you’re Master Wok, or any other Chinese food court establishment, I embrace you and want you to stick to your strong points, but all others…GMaB!!! I don’t recall any Cajun food really having an egg roll with it, or spicy Cajun wonton soup.

I have so much more to say, for someone that spends such little time at the mall. I’ll leave you with this thought-is that really chicken? I noticed the pigeon population has diminished…

You’ve been great. Enjoy “Tiffany”.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Good to the Bone

While still holding on to fresh memories of Wings Over Framingham (and probably the wings themselves), Sterling enticed me to go to The Chicken Bone Saloon (aka “The Bone”), less than a mile from “Wings Over…”. The Bone has been there for years…I remember going there once, when I felt tougher. It’s in an area of Framingham that is literally “on the other side of the tracks” and if you went, you went down two steps, physically, and socially. Glad to say, while still a bar room, it is much more family-friendly, and becoming so popular tat they’ve opened a second seasonal location right near Fenway Park. Check out The Bone here!

Sterl and I decided to get take-out and bring the stuff back to the office. I was afraid I hadn’t set up a fair fight with “Wings Over…” because I ate those at the airplane hanger/warehouse fresh from the kitchen, but we were on a limited schedule.

The Bone has a very extensive menu…reminding me a bit of the Anchor Bar, both in choices, and décor. After much consideration, I ordered the “garlic hot” (which is traditional hot Buffalo sauce with added garlic) with a side of “thermonuclear”; Sterling got boneless wings with traditional hot Buffalo. With nervous anticipation, we opened the to-go cartons, and were duly impressed. The aroma was sublime and they were still scorching hot and fresh. First impressions: these really held up well in take-out containers, and they were very appetizing looking. Second impressions: very meaty and fresh, similar to “Wings Over…”. What was especially impressive was that the skin was still crisp even though they were doused in sauce-that can be hard trick to pull off, and they did it well (since I had dry wings at “Wings Over…”, I’ll have to go back to do this comparison.)

Other impressions: the ratio of flats to drummies was not aligned. In an 8 piece order, I had 3 flats and 5 drummies (must have been from Chernobyl chicken!). Doesn’t much matter to me, since I like both parts equally, but I just thought it would be even. Also, “The Bone” tosses in a tremendous handful of carrots and some celery, whereas “Wings Over…” just gives a couple pieces of celery (and what do you do, if you’re like me and hate celery?). Also, “Wings Over…” gives you a food service container of blue cheese dressing, about the size of a shot glass with a hermetically sealed foil cover. “The Bone” gives you a cup twice that size (the size of a kid’s beverage), filled with chunky blue cheese dressing…advantage “The Bone”.

To be the champ you gotta beat the champ…Sterling was right all these years, “The Bone” wins, in quality of packaging, crispness after saucing, quantity of veggies, and menu choices. That’s not to say that “Wings Over…” isn’t good-they are, but even with a tie in wing quality, the tie has to be broken with the veggies.

Epilogue: Nothing like a food coma to prevent you from being effective at work, and there’s nothing worse than a fried food coma. I gotta admit, two days in a row of fried wings forced me to realize that I can’t eat like this anymore, though I’m not sure I ever could. But, as always, I am here to serve you, my dedicated and hungry readers.

You’ve been great…enjoy the chicken dance.

Wings Over the Bone...

I was reading “This is”, and I saw that “Wings Over Framingham” has opened at the old Long Pontiac location on Rte. 135 in Framingham. In an odd twist of market research, they decided to put it less than a mile from their main competitor, “The Chicken Bone Saloon.”

In the spirit of “” (authored by the same woman from "This Is", I decided to do a taste test to see which one was truly “King of the Wing” and which is the derivative impostor. Not quite a side by side, but day by day test.

For a couple of years, Sterling has been singing the praises of “The Bone” and now, we could put the rubber to the road and get these two giants of the chicken wing to go head to head, or “beak to beak”, as the case may be. Having eaten at the Anchor Bar in Buffalo, NY, the recognized inventor of the Buffalo wing, I feel especially well qualified and prepared to render my opinion. Who am I kidding? Even if I hadn’t eaten there, I am still full of opinions.

A few weeks ago, I dined at “Wings” with faithful reader Mike S. and Thursday at the “Bone” with charter subscriber Sterling. Ezekiel saw the wheel…this is the wheel he said he saw (gratuitous shout-out to the first person to email me telling us where that quote is from, and I’m not referring to the Woody Guthrie song.)

First stop, “Wings Over Framingham.” You can find out more about the “Wings Over…” franchise at their website. Since it began in Amherst, MA (long after my departure), I should be inclined to like it. Back when I was stalking the mean streets of Amherst (with some brass knuckles and a sock filled with a few rolls of quarters), the only choice was “Wings Express”, which was down a small alley behind the stores on North Pleasant Street, just around the corner from that bastion of fine Mexican dining…Taco Villa!

The “ambiance” of ‘Wings Over…” is sort of like the ambiance of an airline hanger. Convenient, since they somehow try to confusingly incorporate an airplane theme. It is very industrial, and the Framingham location, located in an old car dealership, is mostly take-out with extremely limited seating. Thankfully, we employed the patented “stand over the people and make them uncomfortable” technique. However, I’ve seen fraternity house kitchen tables cleaner…I felt bad for the girl working clean-up.

Mike got the “West Texas Mesquite” wings and I got the “Cajun Blackened.” Both of these are dry-spiced wings, as opposed to the sopping wet wings you get at most places. We washed these down with waffle fries (Mom, we shared them), and Diet Cokes (just to kid ourselves into thinking we were trying to keep it lo-cal). My wings were fried, then re-spiced and grilled over a flame, I think. We both liked mine better than the “West Texas Mesquite” which was a little sweet; there was a good ratio, 50/50 of “flats” or “wings” to “drummies” or “drumsticks”. They were tasty and meaty, and I give them good marks. Other than the limited seating, I recommend “Wings Over….” I admit I’m not rushing back, but mostly because there’s only so much fried chicken wings you can eat.

However, to be fair to Sterling, who’s been riding me about “The Bone”, I let her convince me to go there the very next day.

Tomorrow, the saga continues, along with filling my Crestor prescription…

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Thanks to Jordan Rich for having me on-air a couple weeks back. Lot's of interesting calls about your favorite local restaurants and your pet peeves...I have a few myself.

For a list of the places people raved about, check out

Just back from vacation, and percolating a few thoughts...more after the bump.