Monday, October 31, 2011

Unjust Desserts

Seeing the allegations of sexual harassment against Herman Cain by two former employees of the National Restaurant Association reminded me of a story that has nothing to do with sex or harassment.

About 15 years ago, during my long run as a morning radio host in Washington, DC, I was invited to emcee the National Restaurant Association's annual awards banquet. Thinking that, at the very least, we'd get some really good food, I agreed and took my wife. I won't bore you with the details of the ceremony, which dragged on for almost three hours, but I will tell you how disappointed we were in the actual dinner.

Each of the five nominees for Restaurant Of The Year prepared a course -- appetizer, soup, salad, entree, dessert. We were fine through the first three, but then we got to the main course, which was squab.

That's pigeon.

Having spent most of my life in or near major American cities, pigeons were nothing more than an annoyance -- birds that don't get out of your way on the sidewalk and, if they do, take out their grievances on humans (both real and in statue form) by bombing us from above. Bottom line: I had never looked at a pigeon and thought, "You must be delicious!"

It isn't. It's also not a large bird, with seemingly more bones than meat. Picking apart and eating one is a challenge for the world's finest surgeons, let alone a hungry layman (does Swanson still make the Hungry Layman line of frozen dinners?).

I don't know which restaurant prepared that course, or the earlier ones, but I remember to this day which one prepared the dessert. It was (and still is) Vidalia. Naturally, when your business is named after an vegetable, you want to make it memorable by using it in your featured course. And with a name like Vidalia, that meant two things: onion ice cream and onion cake.

I have eaten a lot of ice cream in my life. At one point in my teens, I could have told you every one of Baskin Robbins’ 31 flavors and recited the Howard Johnson's menu by heart. There was never any onion ice cream. And there shouldn't be. No ingredient in ice cream should make you cry as you prepare it. If you went around the world and asked people which taste they would least like to have in their ice cream, I'm pretty sure onion would be way up there on the list. Right next to squab.

Happily, Vidalia did not win Restaurant Of The Year that night. If it were up to me, their membership in the National Restaurant Association membership would have been revoked right then and there.

Then I would have made them finish their foul-tasting leftovers and write, in chocolate sauce on a thousand plates, "I will never make dessert out of onions again!"