Elevated Bar Food is Pretentious and Dumb

"Good evening and welcome. Do you gentlemen have a reservation?" said Kurt, the bartender and manager of First Editions, as we entered our favorite literary-themed bar.

"Kurt, it's us," said my friend, Karl. "The only thing I have reservations about is the chicken parm."

"Very good, sir," said Kurt. "Very droll."

Kurt, what's the deal? I asked. We come in here once a week, and we've never needed reservations before.

Kurt leaned forward, "The owner has decided he wants to change things up."

"Why would he want to change things up?" said Karl.

"He binged on The Bear a couple months ago, and now he wants to 'elevate the dining experience.'"

How do you elevate bar food? I said.

"Why would you elevate bar food?" said Karl.

"You'll have to ask Chef André about that," said Kurt.

Who's Andre? I asked.

"Not Andre," said Kurt. "André. See the little accent? It's really Andy."

I rolled my eyes. Nine-Finger Andy is now Chef André?

Kurt continued, "Yes. He's created several new dishes, and we're unveiling them tonight. He and Geoffrey the owner—"

"You mean Catfish Jeff?" said Karl.

"He's Geoffrey now. Anyway, he sent Andy to Le Cordon Bleu cooking school for a weeklong seminar, and now he's André, and he's all about gourmet cooking."

"Gourmet cooking?" groused Karl. "You serve cheeseburgers and deep-fried jalapeño poppers. What the hell is Joff turning this place into?"

"Geoffrey," corrected Kurt.

"I said what I said!"

Kurt hissed, "Look, I don't like it any more than you do, but I'm trying to make the best of it. I suggest you do the same." He straightened up "If you gentlemen will follow me, I can take you to your table."

He seated us, and a server came over.

"Good evening, I'm Armand," he said. "Tonight, we're offering a tasting menu of Chef André's creations. First, we have Cheeseburger a la André." Armand set two plates in front of us.

"We start with an artisanal brioche bun topped with a 3-ounce bison patty. It's embellished with fried onions, vegan guacamole, a fried quail's egg, a slice of organic Gouda cheese, plus a new take on the traditional lettuce, tomato, and onion."

We looked at the plates, but I wasn't sure what I was seeing.

What is this? I asked.

'This' was a bun topped with a tiny burger patty that had been butterflied. 'This' was a sprinkling of fried onions, a tiny fried egg, and a green paste smeared across the plate like a comet trail. 'This' was a small pile of chopped lettuce, with six cherry tomatoes and white pearl onions sitting on a slice of cheese.

"Is something the matter, sir?" asked Armand.

I thought you said this was a cheeseburger.

"Yes, a deconstructed cheeseburger."

What's a deconstructed cheeseburger?

"Chef André has put a gourmetic twist on a down-home favorite, breaking it down into its most basic elements."

"Gourmetic?" Karl said.

Armand ignored him, "Simply construct your burger into any combination you prefer and enjoy the synergy of the flavors."

Karl piled all of the ingredients onto the bun, and the result was nearly five inches thick.

"This is an abomination," he thundered.

"Sir, please calm down. You're causing a scene," said Armand.

"I'm causing a scene? I'm not the one who's trying to elevate bar food. You go tell Nine-Fingers that I want a proper burger, not a piece of modern art."

"Sir, this is a gourmet dining experience. Chef André has put his vision and heart into this."

"I don't care if he carved it out of petrified wood with a toothpick! I shouldn't have to unhinge my jaw just to eat it."

"Sir, if you could just—"

"And I don't want cherry tomatoes. I want a proper backyard Indiana tomato that my neighbor put in a paper bag and snuck onto my porch because he grew too many!"

As Karl spoke, other patrons rose and cheered. He stood on his chair and began to shout.

"I want a grilled cheese sandwich like my mother used to make, not cubes of unpronounceable French cheese next to a baguette!"

The crowd roared their approval.

Karl picked up his cloth napkin, which suddenly looked like a French flag, and waved it over his head. "Will you join in our crusade?" he bellowed. "Who will be strong and stand with me?"

The crowd roared its approval, and they hoisted Karl on their shoulders and paraded him around the bar, singing the finale of Les Miserables. 

"Isn't this great, Kid?" he yelled to me. "Kid? Kid?"

I started awake. Huh? I said. What's going on?

"You dozed off there," he said, taking another bite of his very regular cheeseburger. We were seated in First Editions, and everything looked normal, including Kurt.

Sorry, I had a late night. What were you talking about?

"I said, why did Andy put parsley on our plates? Is he going gourmetic on us?"

Photo credit: PickPik (Creative Commons 0)

My new humor novel, Mackinac Island Nation, is finished and available from 4 Horsemen Publications. You can get the ebook and print versions here.