La Dolce Vita November 19 2014
Should food really cause this much angst? The thought weighed on my mind as I scouted out one of the many food vendors at Spokane’s annual Pig Out in the Park event in the summer. I felt like the day a friend gave me a couple of record albums he didn’t want when I was 13 or 14. Excited, but a bit trepidatious after he told me, “They are really heavy.” Heavy as in rock music (they were Steppenwolf albums, and would earn a place among my all time favourites) and not as in the burger I was about to order.
We were in our motel room watching the news before we walked over for our first day at Pig Out and I had watched a local news clip about some of the food available on site. One of the items featured was the Glazed Donut Burger, one of the new rages in the US as Americans compete to see just how many calories can be packed into a meal that can be held in one hand. I have to try one, I decided. Not that I thought that a beef patty and traditional fixings would be improved by putting them between a split glazed donut, but I would volunteer for the mission in the spirit of research. Take on for the team, I told myself.
I stepped up to place my order. Do I want fried onions and bacon on it? Uh, yeah, sure. Want to make it a triple? I was tempted to say yes, of course, but just couldn’t get the word out of my mouth. No, I said, make it a double. Wrapped double burger with bacon and onions in a glazed donut in hand, I did what any normal person would do under the circumstances. I walked over to a beer garden, bought a mug of draught, then found a seat as far from anyone else as possible. Steppenwolf came to mind as unwrapped my lunch. This is really heavy, I thought, with more than a twinge of worry, knowing that eating it was also going to be really stupid.
The donut held up a bit better than I expected, but my immediate impression was that the sugar glaze added nothing to the flavour of the beef, bacon or onions, all of which I happen to really, really like. I don’t even put ketchup on my burgers, preferring tangy mustard to go with the other not sweet flavours. I persevered, washing down bites with my dark draught, but I couldn’t help but think about how much better it would be with a nice fresh bun, and not a donut, to told the contents together.
Later, we got a kick wandering around the food vendors, seeing the extremes to which food is being taken. Bacon-wrapped corn dogs. Deep-fried apple pie on a stick with caramel. Deep-fried lasagna (no lie!). Deep-fried Pop Tarts. The list goes on. To be fair, there were appealing alternatives like roast corn on the cob, wok-fried soba noodles and veges and the like. But even the servings of French fries—most commonly referred to as a Block of Fries (curly potato strings packed tightly enough in the fryer so that they stayed in a block shape when plopped into a cardboard tray)—were enormous.
That night we sat in front of a stage to enjoy the music. Los Lobos was playing and it was a thrill to see how good the band still is after all these years. How Will the Wolf Survive, indeed. We decided some popcorn would be nice so I wandered over to a rare vendor that didn’t serve the kettle corn I dislike so much, again not liking sweetness with my salty snacks. I’ll take a medium I said, handing over my money. The vendor reached down beneath the counter hand hauled up a three-foot-long bag. We eventually headed back to our motel, bag in hand, and it was far from finished when we checked out a day later.
Not having learned my lesson—the memory of poor experiences seems remarkably short—a few weeks later I found myself perusing menus on a dozen food trucks on the banks of the Bow River in Calgary. My eye was immediately drawn to one illustrating Chix ‘n’ Waffles. Deep-fried chicken on a waffle, with goodness knows what kind of topping. Maybe maple syrup. Then I noticed the Sold Out sign. I took it as an omen and headed over to another truck to order a wood-fired thin crust Pizza Margherita. Not exactly a kale smoothie, admittedly, but I was reasonably sure it wouldn’t kill me.