Saturday, April 16, 2016

French Fry Wars: a Rant

Not long after the Canadian French fry chain, Smoke's Poutinerie, set its sights on Philadelphia, another is slated for Rittenhouse. Shoo Fry, being billed as a "French fry bar," because, well, why not? Add the word "bar" to your model, throw in the word "artisan," and serve things Gwyneth Paltrow loves, and New Philadelphians will line up around the block then circle back with a hand crafted Yelp review.

Apparently French fries are the new popcorn, which was the new doughnut, which was the new cupcake, which was the new cereal, which was the new bagel...which takes us back to the '90s when cities were nightmarish war zones that actually made sense.

So where's that rant I promised?

Well, I declare in my best Andy Rooney impression, why is everything being dubbed a "bar"? I'm not asking why does everything serve booze (more on that when I rant about Be Well Philly's obsession with Beer Gardens), because they don't, which is exactly why I'm asking why they be called "bars." 

The trendiness with bars started with smoothies, which kind of made sense, as sexy health nuts were serving up cocktails of fruits and veggies to customers who wished they were hot enough to work at Jamba Juice. But then came cereal bars, ice cream bars, burrito bars, and anything that could be Chipotle-fied with an organic trough of toppings to slop on top of top of your burger, hot dog, or other various and sundry carnival food items. Which brings us back to the root of the bar: the salad bar, a feeding frenzy from the world of Golden Corral that turned every salad in America into a carb, sodium, and fat laden nightmare from Atlantic City to San Diego. Not something with which any reasonable businessperson - or customer - would seem to want to associate.

Of course today's urban business logic doesn't make a lot of sense. The ironic hipness of linking healthy smoothies to Golden Corral is long since dead, or should be. Just as it was once hip to refer to a business by one vaguely relevant word: Fork... or stylize it in all lowercase: needful things... or pair two nonsensical words with a plus sign: Lapstone + Hammer, it's not hip to do it again... and then again, and again, and again. French fry stands aren't bars. They're restaurants that serve French fries - fried potatoes, literal poverty food - at a 1000% markup. 

Which brings me to the food itself, and the second leg of my Rooneyan rant. Why is "poor" food suddenly all the rage, or rather why is it still the rage? Is it because Millennials will pay $13 for literally anything? Is it because New Philadelphians feel like their embracing "the real city" by eating fried potatoes? Or do the newly urban think it's ironically cute to drop a ten spot on fried potatoes? I mean let's just cut to the chase and start serving frozen Tombstone pizzas on high school cafeteria trays to outer-borough transplants for $15 a pop. How do you sell Toaster Strudels to Millennials? Build a toppings "bar," play a 20 year old commercial in the background, and jack up the price.

And sadly that's what the price point comes down to. Even if these kitschy here-today-gone-tomorrow food trends wanted to offer their organic, non-GMO, locally sourced carny fare for a reasonable price, they'd go out of business. Today's urban spendthrifts equate pricy with value, and little more. If Bareburger or BurgerFi charged a fair price for their meat, they'd be relegated to the annals of McDonald's and be done for.

Of course, now that the rant is out of the way, and gazing at pictures of cheese smothered fried potatoes, all I really want is a greasy heaping helping of disgustingly delicious fried potatoes...and a Tombstone pizza.

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