I like Donald Link and have since I first met him. He wrote a letter to the editor that was published in The Advocate the other day, and I think he pretty effectively expressed the issue a lot of restaurants have. There are risks in everything, and dining indoors is not something I would do at the moment, but private gatherings have been a larger source of infection than restaurants, which when managed properly, have a lot more control over the environment and can limit exposure.
As I drive around the city, I see a lot of places that did not previously have outdoor seating that now have outdoor seating. I see a lot more delivery and a lot more pickup business. I also see a lot of places struggling, and I worry whether a lot of these small businesses are going to fold despite having tried to hang on over what seems to me to have been the longest year in the 51 I’ve spent on the planet.
But there are still restaurants opening, and that’s a good sign. I think.
It means there are people willing to risk a lot to do what they love to do: cook for others. It also means, in many cases, that there are people willing to loan those people money, which is another sort of optimism and, in my mind, a good one too, probably.
Right? Because it’s hard to believe that the “bubble” is continuing here despite the pandemic and resultant economic downturn unless there are people who legitimately think our restaurant economy is going to turn around in the very near future.
In other news, I had a really, really good meal from Marjie’s Grill recently. The menu changes pretty regularly, so what we had may not be available if you dine there tonight, but I can tell you that the grilled broccoli was tasty.
The latkes were ridiculously good; on the night I had them they were “everything bagel”-style, served with a schmeer of smoked fish. My wife and daughter got most of that, but I felt pretty good about my portion, particularly given how much of the entrée I enjoyed.
As I write, the latkes on offer are smothered in smoked Wagyu beef debris and fried shallots. That sounds pretty good, doesn’t it? It should, because they know how to smoke things at Marjie’s and while “Wagyu” is not all that meaningful most of the time I bet it means a beautifully-marbled piece of meat at Marjie’s.
The crab Caesar was also a hit. Cornbread croutons and a lemongrass Caesar dressing hit all sorts of buttons for my wife and I was more or less equally happy with the salad. The crabmeat was well portioned and well-cleaned, too.
The coal-roasted sheepshead I ordered was delicious. It comes “on the half shell,” which means they leave the skin intact on one side. It helps to keep the fish from drying out during cooking and of course the skin has a good bit of delicious fat that flavors the meat as it cooks. A few bones here and there wouldn’t stop me from ordering it again, that’s for sure. The Autumnal Som Tam includes fall vegetables from Mississippi “pounded with chilis, lime & dried shrimp.” The lime could have used a lot more pounding, as it showed up in inedibly thick slices, but contra, I will cite the house-made pickles, which are excellent and good for you.
That is not an exaggeration: you should eat more pickles generally, and these pickles are a great way to do that and more likely than not better for you than the average pickle. They are salt-forward, but beets and cabbage can take a lot of salt and these were fine pickles.
If I have a complaint, it’s that they don’t offer rice or some sort of rice-adjacent starch along with the cornbread, greens and roasted sweet potatoes they generally offer as sides. Most of the entrees would benefit from a side of sticky rice.
I understand the folks behind Marjie’s, Marcus Jacobs and Caitlin Carney, are also opening a new joint on Oak Street in the space that was most recently La Casita. I hope to report on that to you in the future. That space has been a lot of things over the years, but I have a feeling they’ll succeed where others have struggled because they serve really bold food at a reasonable price.
Jacobs, Carney and their team swing for the fences every night. It’s easy to forgive the occasional foul ball when more often than not they hit it out of the park.