January 16

National Fig Newton Day

Red Fish. Dizzy. Prohibition. Spicy Food Day. Pepper. Ruth Reichl. Refrigerator Cars. Fig Newton. Hot and Spicy Foods.

Days Until. . .

Mardi Gras--32Valentine's Day--27

Restaurant Anniversaries

The Red Fish Grill opened today in 1997. Ralph Brennan was running Mr. B's with his sisters and cousins. He offered them the opportunity to buy into the new place he was planning for Bourbon Street, but got no takers. It proved to be a good investment. The Red Fish was (and still is) the most casual of Brennan restaurants. Its design is singular: it looks as if a bomb had been set off inside an old building, which was then patched up and painted, with cool furniture and neon installed. The design was by Luis Colmenares, who would do many more restaurants after that one. The Red Fish was the first full-service restaurant to open in the French Quarter after Hurricane Katrina.

Beer And Sports

Today is the birthday in 1911 of Dizzy Dean, the ace pitcher of the St. Louis Cardinals in the 1930s. Later, he was the first major baseball play-by-play announcer on television, on the Game of the Week, sponsored by Falstaff Beer. I watched that every Saturday afternoon with my dad, who usually had a cold long-neck Falstaff in his hand during the game. To this day, Dizzy Dean reminds me first of Falstaff, second of baseball. Falstaff was the biggest-selling brand of beer in New Orleans in the 1960s, making millions of gallons of brew here. I did radio commercials for Falstaff in 1979, and after that I have no further impressions other than regret for the abandoned brewery, with its tower that tells what the weather would be like, based on whether the letters in "FALSTAFF" lit up from top to bottom or bottom to top. In recent times, the weather ball has come back to life.

The Old Kitchen Sage Sez:

Never fry beignets on a day when you see the letters on the Falstaff tower light up top to bottom before dawn and and bottom to top after dusk the same day. Don't ask why, just remember.

Annals Of Temperance

A federal law that would be repealed only thirteen years later went into effect today in 1920. But its effects are still felt today, and in some places the law is still in force. Prohibition began, and from that moment on very few alcoholic beverages were legal to sell in the United States. The worst result was that most of the winemakers around the country went bust, and thousands of acres of great old vines were ripped up, to be replaced with everything from table grapes to almonds. Morris Sheppard, who wrote the amendment, said that it would result in "a rise to a higher and better plane of civilization for the United States. It means more savings, more homes, better health and better morals. It means that the American republic has achieved a distinctive triumph for right and righteousness in the low and bitter struggle between good and evil." This sounds a lot like what they've ben saying about trans-fat in New York City.

Food Calendar

This is National Fig Newton Day. How they're made is more interesting than how they taste. The inventor, Joshua Josephson, used a rectangular-tipped funnel inside of another, larger one. The thick fig jam filling went into the funnel in the middle, the dough went into the one on the outside, and the whole thing was extruded in one operation. Then it was baked, cut, and named after the town of Newton, Massachusetts. I used to love them when I was a kid. Maybe they've made them sweeter, or maybe I don't like sweet stuff as much as I once did.It's also International Hot and Spicy Food Day. My favorite way of making food hot and spicy these days is to sprinkle what I would have considered way too much crushed red pepper (the stuff you shake on a pizza) into it. As it cooks, it seems to mellow and spread out over a wider flavor spectrum. My taste in this regard is changing, too. I find myself liking my food hotter and spicier as I get older. Maybe I can't taste it as well as I once could?

Gourmet Gazetteer

Three places in the United States are called Coffeetown. How is it that all three are in Pennsylvania? And within less than a hundred miles of one another? Coffeetown #1 is in Lebanon County, nine miles east northeast of Hershey. It's a suburb of Harrisburg, the state capital, whose population is spreading out into the former farm fields so rapidly that many houses are across the street from cropland. The restaurant of note in Coffeetown #1 is Tatiana's, an Italian place a mile from the center of the community. Coffeetown #2 is sixty-nine miles east-northeast of #1, in Lehigh county. It's just west of the steel-making towns of Allentown and Bethlehem. The nearest coffeeshop is Ambika's Donuts, two and a half miles south. Coffeetown #3 is twenty-seven miles southeast of #2, on the other side of Bethlehem. It's the most rural of the three towns, less than a mile from the Delaware River and the New Jersey state line. The place for coffee and lunch is Mueller's Too, with a view of the river.

Alluring Dinner Dates

Today is the birthday, in 1948, of Ruth Reichl. After working in a Berkeley, California restaurant for a few years, she became a restaurant critic on the West Coast and with the New York Times for years before being named editor of Gourmet Magazine in 1999. Her three-volume autobiography--Tender At The Bone, Comfort Me With Apples, and Garlic And Sapphires--is fascinating, occasionally sexy, and delicious.

Annals Of Restaurant Criticism

Andre Michelin was born today in 1853. He founded the Michelin Tire Company in France in 1888, to make rubber tires for farm equipment. It grew into one of the world's largest makers of the early removable automobile tire. To encourage people to travel around France more (and buy more tires), Andre Michelin published a guidebook to the points of interest, including restaurants. Ratings were added later, and that more than anything else contributed to the fame of the Guide Michelin series. It was the first published to award stars to restaurants, to a maximum of three. No accolade is more valuable to a restaurant than a three-star rating from Michelin.

Edible Dictionary

falafel, Lebanese, n.--A mixture of roughly pureed chickpeas, onions, garlic, parsley, a little flour, and seasonings, formed into a flattened ball or a pattie and fried. Falafel is one of the most popular street foods throughout the Middle East, but especially in Lebanon, Syria, Israel, and Egypt. It's served both alone as an appetizer or in a sandwich. The latter is as often seen on a bun-like bread or pita, with lettuce, tomatoes, hummus, or tzatziki. It's a staple on Middle Eastern restaurant menus in this country, especially among vegetarian customers.

Moving Food Around

The railroad refrigerator car was patented on this date in 1868 by William Davis, who quickly sold it to a Detroit meat packer. The car used use and salt in racks to keep meat cool as it traveled from the place where it was butchered to markets. Although the railroads didn't like the idea, it quickly became a huge force in the distribution of meat, and made a fortune for Swift and Company.

European Food And Drink

In a blow to standards of gustatory excellence, the European Community ruled today in 2003 that confections made with vegetable oil instead of cocoa butter could be called chocolate. Spain and Italy, sensibly, were opposed to this. Most of the questionable chocolate came from England. . . In a related story, the first Starbucks in France opened today in 2004 in Paris.

Food Namesakes

A lot of sho-biz today. The group Brandy had a Number One hit today in 1999, Have You Ever. . . A really stupid movie, Half-Baked, premiered today in 1998. . . Tennessee Williams's play Milk Train Doesn't Stop Here Anymore premiered today in 1963. A milk train, in case you miss the reference, is one that stops at every depot along the line. . . Mass murderer Alfred Fish was executed today in 1939. . . Two actors named Bacon: Lloyd Bacon, who was in many Charlie Chaplin movies, was born today in 1890, and Frank Bacon (a rare double food name!), who was also a writer, in 1864. . . Osip Brik, a Russian writer, was born today in 1888. (Brik is a Tunisian appetizer of puff pastry and various savory fillings.)

Words To Eat By

"Sea urchin is the sexiest flavor on earth, a shock of soft, sensual richness that resonates in your mouth long after you have swallowed."--Ruth Reichl, born today in 1948.

Words To Drink By

"That's the problem with drinking, I thought, as I poured myself a drink. If something bad happens you drink in an attempt to forget; if something good happens you drink in order to celebrate; and if nothing happens you drink to make something happen."--Charles Bukowski.