Madison played host to Travel Channel personality Andrew Zimmern and his Bizarre Foods crew for a couple days over the last week. While he was here, he recorded an episode of his podcast, Go Fork Yourself. The comments he made about dining on the Capitol Square rubbed me in a couple ways.
Apparently, Zimmern and a small production crew arrived at The Old Fashioned on Monday night. They were greeted, he says, by a young hostess with a deer-in-the-headlights expression who told him that there would be an hour and a half wait for a table. Zimmern described his disbelief at this kind of delay, and said he confirmed a couple times that this was indeed the real wait time. Given no quarter, he and his peeps heel-turned and alighted upon Graze. There, the wait was similarly long, but his party was offered space at the bar and an assurance that they'd get seated in short order -- if possibly broken up between multiple tables.
Zimmern's complaint is two-fold, and my appreciation of his argument is similarly split.
1) When a restaurant is "red-lining," as he puts it, the youngest and least-experienced server should not be working front-of-house; the managers should take over, to handle the crowd and to take the brunt of any customer dissatisfaction rather than a poor kid. Zimmern describes seeing manager-types behind the hostess on Monday, doing the "menu shuffle" and looking like they were hovering rather than helping.
I agree with him 100% here, and I've noticed the same thing about The Old Fashioned. And Graze's offer to see what they could do while his party waited at the bar is a good move for any restaurant dealing with customers expressing a need for a quick seat.
2) "If I'm wandering around Yountville, California, and it's ten o'clock at night and it's on New Year's Eve, and I'd like to eat at The French Laundry, I pretty much can guarantee you I can get fed there." This is how Zimmern begins his tale of facing The Old Fashioned's infamous 90-minute waits. And if you haven't heard of The French Laundry, it's a three-star Michelin restaurant with a $270 prix fixe tasting menu. So, y'know, not that different from The Old Fash on two-for-one cheeseburger night.
Zimmern points out that the beleaguered hostess had an expression that seemed to indicate she "couldn't quite place" him. His cohost, Molly Mogren, reminds everyone at one point that Zimmern had "done [The Old Fashioned] a solid" by including them in a previous episode of Bizarre World. So in other words, he was due for a little back-scratching of his own, but that damned college student didn't recognize he was a celebrity! Quelle horreur.
Zimmern and Mogren acknowledge, at another point in the conversation, that The Old Fashioned is staffed by a lot of college students, yet the idea of a college student not being totally well-versed in the world of cable television hosts doesn't seem to cross their minds. And let's not forget, Monday is indeed The Old Fashioned's biggest promo night of the week, when their lauded cheeseburgers are buy one, get one free. It's highly unlikely anyone'd get a quick spot at the bar on Mondays, to say nothing of a table for three or four.
Maybe I was predisposed to be at odds with Zimmern over another comment in the early-going of the podcast, in which he complains that no restaurant, regardless of its artisanal intent, should put a hot dog on the menu. He doesn't "want to see that." Mogren reminds him that he liked the hot dog at Tilia, a hot (and yes, terrific) new Minneapolis restaurant. He immediately excuses that item -- a product, like he is, of the Twin Cities -- as being presented as a Chicago-style dog, not some twist or modernist take on a dog.
Ahem. Tilia's menu reads: "BLT Dog: Bacon, tomatoes, dill pickled cauliflower, mayo & mustard." So, sure. Exactly like a Chicago dog, no tweaks.
As a fan of the late Underground Kitchen's pretzel dogs, and an aspiring eater of Butcher and the Boar's footlong hot dog, I take issue with the claim that a hot dog has no place on a restaurant menu. For Zimmern, it appears that only Twin Cities restaurants get a pass. Homer apologism just kinda rubs me the wrong way.
Maybe I'm doing that with The Old Fashioned, whose M.O. for seating precludes reservations, thus bottlenecking the entire operation at their cramped entrance. But I think Zimmern's "Do you know who I am?" indignation kneecaps any legit argument he could make against The Old Fashioned's unaccommodating behavior.