Years ago, I read a book by Crossett native and former OU and Dallas Cowboys coach Barry Switzer called Bootlegger’s Boy, mostly because my parents hail from Crossett and my grandmother always shook her head when referring to those white trash Switzers. In the book, Switzer describes the Oklahoma football program as a “monster” that can never be fed enough wins to keep it happy — feed the monster a national title once, and it wants another every year. I feel like this blogging game is a bit like that from time to time: research a post, write it, edit it, post it…and take too long to savor it and a week’s gone by and nothing’s been posted. Readers drift away, and a touch of guilt sets in. Writing for a newspaper is even worse, which new issues coming out weekly (in my case) or daily that leave very little time to say “Good. That was good work. I’m proud of that.” But I wouldn’t trade it for anything, except maybe the freedom to do it full-time. It’s been an up-and-down week for Arkansas food, so let’s take a look.
A particular high note was the annual Arkansas Times “Readers Choice” issue, a food-packed issue that I had a good bit to do with. A feature article about our friends at Loblolly Creamery was my main by-line, but I also contributed a dining review as well as several capsules in the feature discussing the 52 best dishes in the state of Arkansas. The 52 dishes were a lot of fun to work on, bouncing ideas back and forth with my Eat Arkansas colleague Dan Walker and our editor, Lindsey Millar. Both of those guys are quite knowledgeable about good food; they’re both also damn fine writers, so it was an honor to be included with them and the rest of the Times staff in this issue. Check the issue out online, or grab a copy — and soon, because feeding that monster means a new issue hits newsstands on Thursday.
You have to have a thick skin when it comes to writing, and as a matter of fact, you have to have a thick skin when it comes to cooking, too. I’ve been guilty of letting my temper get the better of me, like the time I blocked one of our crazy-face local bakers from my Twitter feed because they told me I didn’t know what I was talking about one night. Blocking somebody on social media is one thing, though, and melting down completely is another. Which brings me to the mysterious case of Jay’s Pizza, whose owner, Jay Baxter, responded to a negative review on The Mighty Rib blog by going supernova all over the comments section and his Facebook page. Unfortunately, I didn’t save any of the now-scrubbed comments from Facebook, but you can read his initial comments at the link above.
Now Kevin over at The Mighty Rib is a good friend of mine; but despite the bias of friendship, I really didn’t see what the issue was with the review. He said good things (that the people were nice) and he said some negative things (the pizza wasn’t good). Bad reviews happen. If you can’t handle them, stop cooking or get better at it. I’ve never been the sort of food writer to go after somebody just to be mean (neither is Kevin), but sometimes the food just sucks. And if there’s a place you visit with the intention of writing about it, you’ve got to write about it, good, bad or in-between. It’s a competitive world out there, and you’ve got to get good or get out.
Which brings us to the last bit of Little Rock food doings, the return of the inexplicably popular Hot Dog Mike. Now, I’ve got no problem with the guy, although he’s not nearly as friendly in person as his online persona would lead folks to believe. But in January, he made a big deal out of leaving Little Rock, stayed gone for 28 days, then came back with plans for some sort of wiener empire. The news stations went nuts; Twitter went nuts; and a lot of us food writers were left shaking our heads and wondering what all the hoopla was about. Because here’s the thing about Hot Dog Mike. While I respect the work he’s done for charity, and I admire his abilities to successfully self-promote…his hot dogs aren’t anything special. They’re basic store-brand hot dogs in store-brand buns with canned chili and the like on top. Sure, he mixes it up by grating chocolate on them or throwing some tomatoes on the top, but the dogs aren’t that great. They’re pretty generic, in fact. It’s all style over substance, and as somebody who goes to eat looking for well-executed tastes that broaden my horizons, the whole Hot Dog Mike mythos in Little Rock is a mystery to me, because his food does none of that.
If that sounds harsh, it shouldn’t: the guy’s far more popular than this blog ever has been, and we’ll do nothing to tarnish his image. But I’d hope that the people of Little Rock might find better food to treat with such adulation — because there’s certainly better food out there. I, for one, am a little bored of the whole saga, and consider this post to be the last words I’ll write on the subject.
And thus the monster’s fed. For now.