In a Good Rutt

I know that I made fun of hot dogs in a previous post, but that doesn’t mean I don’t like them – I had several on a recent weekend trip to Baltimore.  Most of them were traditional ball-park franks, doing the little round hot treadmill thing or grilled, but I tried one cooked in a manner that all those at-home specialty machines left out: deep fried.

I’m sure that there are some who already know where I’m going with this:  Rutt’s Hut in Clifton, NJ.  Yes, a deep fried hot dog is their specialty and it is everything you would expect or fear it would be, depending on your point of view: crispy on the outside, slightly greasy and quite different. 

We stopped as a lunch break after making it past the George Washington Bridge on our way to Baltimore.  I had heard about Rutt’s on the Food Network years ago, though I couldn’t remember the name of it. A quick search for "deep fried hot dogs" revealed it easily enough and it was close enough to the highway to be a convenient quick stop.  Apparently the concept of a deep-fried hot dog had lodged itself in my memory and now it is lodged in my arteries. 

So what did I think of it?  It was good.  The hot dog was good and the deep frying gave it a different texture, but I can’t honestly say it was quite as groundbreaking as I thought it would be.  Maybe I waited too long to try one after hearing about it and I had simply built it up too much.  I would go again if I found myself in the area, but wouldn’t go too far out of my way either.

I also wouldn’t say that Rutt’s is a defining food for the area.  Hot dogs in general may be a definitive food for the NYC and NJ area, just as coffee milk is for Rhode Island, chili is for Cincinnati, cheesesteaks are for Philly, deep dish pizza for Chicago, etc. etc., but Rutt’s is one of those pleasantly quirky oddities that you experience when you keep your eyes, ears, and mind open while traveling.

Almost Exciting Enough to Make You Wet

A recent article in Forbes spoke to the proliferation of bottled waters.  I can’t criticize the trend, since I have a bottle sitting on my desk as I type this and pretty much always have one in the car, at home, in the office, on the plane, etc. 

But there are times that I experience a weird mix of pride and shame when it comes to being a professional marketer.  Pride since we certainly seem to have successfully taken over the world and everyone’s opinions.  Shame for… well… pretty much the same thing, since we sometimes go overboard.   My first time experiencing this was going through the gates at Fenway a few years ago and seeing that there were ads on the turnstile bars.  I was both impressed that someone thought of that but also a little depressed that we had reached the point where marketers started to do stuff like that.

Anyway, along the lines of marketing run amok, this article on water has a link to a slide show of the "nine most interesting waters on the market" (or you can go to the bottom of the article for the link).  You will see water for good skin, for losing weight, one that raises money for the environment, with peppermint for freshening your breath, and a super-purified one that takes 13 hours to make (its WATER! I can make some in a split second by turning on the faucet).

There is also something called "glacial milk" which sounds absolutely disgusting, water from 2 miles below the earth’s surface, and water that is described as "molecularly separated and then condensed through a vapor distillation that removes dissolved solids, inorganic minerals and other elements found in water." 

I don’t know about you, but If I need to pull out my high school chemistry book to drink a bottle of water, then I ain’t drinkin’ it.


As part of my ongoing effort to bring the most fascinating material to you, my loyal readers, I made the great sacrifice of spending a weekend in Baltimore with my girl watching the Red Sox win two baseball games against the Orioles.   I know, I know… the sacrifices I make, huh?  It’s, like, Ghandi, Mother Theresa, and then me. 

Anyway, as a testament to what can happen when spontaneity gleefully interferes with personal responsibility, late on Friday afternoon Meghan and I decided that it would be fun to go see the Red Sox play the Orioles in Boston one weekend this summer.  Her sister lives there, so we had a convenient and cheap place to stay.  However, a look at the Red Sox schedule revealed that the only weekend which would work for us was that weekend.  So we got tickets and went!

A long drive down on Saturday thanks to rain and traffic got us down there a few hours late, but luckily the game was on rain delayed so got in there by the third inning, but not after a huge hassle of trying to get our will-call tickets.

If you are a baseball fan, it is worth the pilgrimage to Camden Yards.  As a life-long Red Sox fan, I never thought I would want to see a stadium other than Fenway in Boston, but I have to say that Camden Yards makes a pretty good argument for it.  Beautiful facilities, comfortable seating, plenty of open spaces and sitting areas and great views of the game all around.  Camden_yards

A few interesting observations: first of all, Red Sox fans made up at least 70% of the crowd.  I don’t know who would have been there if the Sox fans hadn’t been there.  Maybe the O’s fans stayed away because they knew there would be a lot of Boston fans there, but it was a really weak showing for them.  The fact that there are so many Red Sox fans willing to drive at least 6 hours – more like 8 for us – from the Boston area to Baltimore just to see their favorite team plays speaks to the sheer lunacy of Red Sox fans.  We’re sick and we love it.

However, there were enough O’s fans to scare the daylights out of us during the national anthem.  It is apparently a tradition of theirs in Baltimore to SHOUT "O!" during the second to last line of the Star Spangled Banner: "O say, does that star-spangled banner yet wave"

This was my first time seeing a baseball game outside of the Boston area, so it was interesting to see the stadium have to put up requests for the home crowd to make more noise and to simply see a stadium that wasn’t sold out.  Never experienced that at Fenway and even not that often at McCoy stadium.

Besides seeing the two games, we also hit the local Hard Rock Cafe real quick – just to pick up a few shirts and pins.  We ate dinner at the Wharf Rat (wing review here) on Saturday night, trying the traditional Maryland crab cakes.  Basically a ball of crab meat barely held together by some bread crumbs with plenty of Old Bay seasoning.  Perfect!

A road trip can be such a great experience and this one was.  In 40 hours we drove to and from Baltimore, watched 2 Red Sox Games, went to the the Hard Rock Cafe, ate at a Brew Pub, tried Maryland crab cakes, had breakfast at Denny’s, ate deep-fried hot dogs, and laughed a whole lot.  It was a ton of fun and so glad that we we spontaneous enough to do it.

Vindigo + Me = BFF

If your cell phone is capable of carrying Vindigo, I have two words for you: GET IT!!  Especially if you spend a lot of time in a big city or traveling or will be traveling to a large city. 

Instead of carrying around scraps of paper and maps and books in our pockets all weekend in Chicago, I just had my Treo loaded with Vindigo and looked everything up on there, including walking directions, addresses, etc.  Three times I was able to tell the cab driver where something was that he had no clue about (of course, one of those was Buddy Guy’s Legends, which doesn’t say much for the cab driver).  It seriously made the weekend easier, more fun and more spontaneous.

Vindigo gets the first Pop Culture Gangster Seal of Approval!  (not that there is really such a thing or that if anything else will get it ever again, but just go with it)

Chicago Food

One of the joys when traveling is trying regional specialties.  Whether it is white chowder in New England, cheesesteaks in Philly, barbecue in the south, or chili in Cincinnati, it is fascinating to see what certain locales have latched onto as their favorite cuisines.

In Chicago, the obvious choice is deep dish pizza.  Originated at Pizzeria Uno and Due in 1943, it has become world-famous thanks to not only the sheer gluttonous deliciousness of the original, but thanks to the Uno’s chain of restaurants.  I’ve tried a few other pizza places in Chicago in previous trips and have enjoyed stuffed pizza from Giordano’s several times, but never made it to the original Uno’s.  I guess I was always skeptical of it, assuming it would just be like the chain.  Boy, was I wrong.

The deep dish pizza at your local Uno’s is good, but is nothing compared to the pizza at the original Uno’s or Due’s.  Not greasy or soggy at all (which the chain pizza can sometimes be) and obviously hand-formed with fresh sauce and a perfect balance of lots of cheese, lots of sauce and lots of sausage, it is a totally different experience.  The dough is both thick and chewy as well as light and airy – almost like a soda bread.   I can’t say enough good things about it.

The other specialties in Chicago that aren’t quite as easily recognized by outsiders are Italian beef sandwiches and Chicago-style hot dogs.   Italian beef sandwiches are unlike any other sandwich – paper-thin slices of roast beef that has been roasted and then simmered in beef broth, garlic, onions, and peppers.  It is served soaked with broth and has a delicious underlying spiciness.  The meat melts in your mouth and is loaded with flavor unique to the sandwich.  To get an idea of what goes into the sandwich, just look at some of the recipes.

The hot dogs in Chicago are great if you like a lot of "stuff" on your dogs – mustard, relish, freshly chopped onions, sliced red ripe tomatoes, kosher pickle and peppers piled on a steamed poppy seed bun.  Basically, the thing weighs about half a pound by the time its done.  However, even if you don’t like all that crap on it, the hot dogs are beefy and actually taste like meat.  Chicago is known for its hot dogs and sausage, and other encased meats, and for good reason!  If you find yourself in Chicago, go beyond pizza and steaks, and try a beef sandwich.

A History of Violence and Layer Cake

A quick comment on two films I saw a little while ago:

First of all, A History of Violence was up for some Academy Awards this year and deservedly so.  It was an intriguing drama with a big plot twist – not a just a shocker, but just a big knot that actually made up the plot.   I highly recommend the movie, but have one word of warning: though it looks like a deep, intrigue-filled drama, it is directed by the same guy who did The Dead Zone and the 1986 version of The Fly.  What this means is that while there isn’t a lot of opportunity for a lot of blood and guts, where the opportunity does arise, LOOK OUT!  This guy isn’t messing around.  Lots of blood and lots of lingering close-ups of deep, scary gunshot wounds.  Just be warned – it doesn’t bother me, but it did surprise me at first.

As for Layer Cake… it came up as a recommendation in my Netflix queue and I saw that it starred Daniel Craig, the much-maligned new James Bond.  I was curious what all the hubbub was about, so I gave it a shot. 

First of all, let me say that I think its a great film and I really enjoyed it.  However, while watching it, I’m saying to myself, "this reminds me of Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch an awful lot."  Turns out the film was the directing debut from Matthew Vaughn, who was the producer for Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch.   Not that its a bad thing – there is nothing wrong with a movie that is actually interesting, multi-layered and captivating with good acting and directing. 

What it did get me wondering is if there now constitutes a small sub-genre: the British amateur crime picture.  Kind of like the American mafia picture, but instead of being about professional criminals, it is about amateur-ish ones in situations that go bad.

Nothing Junior About The Blues

Friday night in Chicago we saw Andrew "Junior Boy" Jones at Buddy Guy’s Legends.   Andrew Jones is a classic journeyman blues performer, working with a variety of singers and playing in back bands since he was 16.  In the 90’s, he started recording his own stuff, putting out some solid Texas-style electric blues.  This is the stuff that most people now think of as "the blues" thanks to performers like Stevie Ray Vaughn and the electric blues that many rock band state as major influences.

Friday night showed why this version of the blues is so damn popular.  Rockin’ and swingin’ with a wailing guitar, a howling organ, and a screaming harmonica player (Cheryl Arena), Junior Boy played over two hours of entertaining electric blues, from slow burns to fast shuffles.

The blues is one of those things where I find myself coming back to it every once in a while as a "musical palette cleanser."   A week or two of listening to the blues regularly and any music rut I was in is washed away and opens my head up for new sounds.  Not sure what it is – maybes its the primitive sound – guitar, drums, bass, maybe keyboard or harmonica – or the simple structure of the songs that do it.  Its like a taste sherbet between courses: good on its own but makes everything around seem even better.

Next time you’re feeling a little ambivalent about what to listen to… not sure what to put on… try some blues.  Pick up a little Stevie Ray Vaughn (recommended: Couldn’t Stand the Weather, Texas Flood) or the Alligator Records 20th Anniversary Collection. That will take care of the most casual of blues fans.  Listen to it.  Enjoy it.  Appreciate where it comes from: starting as hollers among the slaves in the deep south as they worked the fields, to the front porches of the emancipated blacks whose music mingled with that of the whites and moved up the Mississippi river, morphing along the way in Memphis, St. Louis, and eventually Chicago where it met up with electric instruments.

Don’t get me started… back in college I was a blues fanatic, a member of the Blues Foundation and everything.  Wrote research papers and gave presentations at academic seminars about it.  One thing that I found really funny about the blues in modern America is that the most popular icons of the blues are that of a white Texas boy (Stevie Ray) and two white comedians who put out a movie called The Blues Brothers when the music couldn’t possibly be any more rooted in pop culture .  Whether that’s a sign that the music has moved beyond the limitations of race or has been co-opted by white culture, I’ll leave up to you to discuss and decide.

Inside Jokes

A few more random things from the Chicago trip that I wanted to share but couldn’t fit into the narratives of the earlier posts…  good luck finding any of this interesting – it just here for posterity:

  • Official quote of the weekend: "Wha happened?" from John when he wasn’t paying attention to what was going on during simple processes like ordering drinks and meals.
  • Erock hitting all the elevator buttons each time we went up and down in one at the hotel.  I think we only got to someone once so that when they got in they faced a panel full of lit buttons .
  • A drunken John not quite "getting" what the elevator button game was all about and pressing the buttons of the floors that we still hadn’t passed yet.
  • We noticed that you could get the audio tour guide of the John Hancock Tower in a variety of languages.  I wanted to ask them if they had it in any dead languages, preferably Latin.
  • An obvious pun made about the name "Hancock" and two body parts.  Figure it out.  Not original, but it still cracked us up because we knew it wasn’t.

That’s it, I swear.  Well, except for some other stuff I wanna write about that came out of the Chicago trip, but that’s all you’ll hear about our sick senses of humor for now.

Hot Dog!

Why does this world need so many ways to cook a hot dog?  Specifically, why do we need so many specialized devices to cook hot dogs?  This really bothers me.  I like hot dogs as much as anyone, but if you’re eating them regularly enough that you need a dedicated kitchen appliance, then you may want to re-think your diet.

Think I’m kidding?  Looking through the recent issue of SkyMall on a recent flight, there were three for sale.  Here’s what a quick Google search turned up:

OK, first of all, methinks the guys at (its guys – check out the site.  Believe, its guys running that place) like hot dogs just a little TOO MUCH.

In any case, that is six specialized devices with the sole purpose of cooking hot dogs.  SIX! To cook a sausage product that can be wrapped in plastic wrap and cooked in a minute in the microwave.  Boiled or pan fried in about five.   

Most of these descriptions also talk about how there  is nothing better than a hot dog cooked on hot rollers.  Seriously – a quote is "the great taste of stadium-style hot dogs."  Have any of these people actually paid attention to what the hot dogs taste like at stadiums?  They are disgusting.  The only reason you think they taste good is because you just paid $100 to be crammed into a bleacher seat in either scorchingly hot sun or freezing-cold wind and you’re gonna enjoy that hot dog no matter what.   And no one buys the hot dogs at a 7-Eleven because they want to – its because they are deadly hungry and need a food-like product NOW.  Those hot dogs have more miles on them than a Lance Armstrong bicycle and taste like his seat does at the end of the Tour De France.  Why would anyone want to recreate this at home?

Google also revealed a link for an article about a in-car hot dog maker.  God, I wish it still existed, since that would ROCK!  I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve been driving along going "I wish I had a hot dog right now.  Or even better… be able to cook one!"

However, if cooking your lips, hoof and rectum-filled intestinal skin rockets (I even made myself gag with that) over electric heat isn’t your thing, then may I suggest this battery-operated stadium hot dog griller.  All the entertainment of rolling hot dogs without the convenience of not having to stand over them!  Whee!!

Mash-Up In the (Creeping, Crawling) Flesh

Every once in a while things come together so nicely that it would appear that it was simply meant to be.  After some wrangling over which weekend to go to Chicago for our second annual long-weekend trip together, we finally decided on the first weekend of April.

The first night we were there, I picked up a copy of the Chicago Reader, the local weekly entertainment newspaper at the White Hen convenience store down the street from our Hotel.   As I read through it, the name "Beatallica" caught my eye on the listings and I mentioned it to the guys – I was assuming it was a Beatles/Metallica mix-up mash-up of some sort, but they brought up some good ideas on alternatives: dance music versions of Metallica or house music versions of Metallica or even reggae-styled Metallica.

A quick check on a Treo’s web browser however, revealed that the band was indeed a Beatles/Metallica "parody" band that took Beatles songs, re-wrote them as Metallica would, and then played them as Metallica-style heavy metal.

How could we resist?  With plans for Thursday and Friday night in place, this solved the opening left on Saturday night.

After a fairly lengthy cab ride from downtown to Subterranean, we managed to walk in just as the band was starting.  We knew we were in for a great show, as their chops were clearly good enough to pull off the joke and to make for a fun and entertaining evening.

Beatallica is everything that you would hope from a band like theirs – not a Weird Al parody that gets old entirely too fast, bur rather a genuinely entertaining night that also keeps you laughing AND rocking.

They accomplish this by taking the best parts of each of the bands – the harmonious lyrics and melodies of the Beatles, and the raw heaviness of Metallica to create music that both reveres and parodies both bands.  Parody isn’t even the right term, I guess, since they aren’t making fun of either band in a straightforward manner – it is more of a "satire" band, as explained on their web site. 

For example, the tune "Sandman" is clearly based on "Taxman" by the Beatles, but then goes into heavier guitar parts taken from "Enter Sandman" and throws in a few Metallica-worth twists on the lyrics and melodies.  It is really difficult to describe how the end result is ultimately listenable and enjoyable, making for what may be the world’s catchiest heavy metal ever.  Listen for yourself.

Playing to a crowded club, the band kept things lively, light-hearted and fun, without becoming a joke themselves.  They acknowledged the silliness of what they were doing, but they clearly take the quality of their performance and music seriously, as neither wavered the whole night.  They were rewarded with an enthusiastic crowd who fed them plenty of energy back.

Beatallica will never become a number one hit seller doing what they are doing (however, stranger things have happened) but if you a fan of both or either bands, I recommend checking them out.