The Bruni Digest

In which I sit on a dirt mound somewhere in Brooklyn with my ears pricked, waiting for New York Times head restaurant critic Frank Bruni, who I imagine to be a Venetian count in a huge ruffled collar, to dole out stars from the inside breast pocket of his brocaded chamber robe. This blog is predicated on the suggestion that every Wednesday, in the Times Dining Out section, Frank lays a huge faberge egg of hilarity.

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Location: New York, New York, U.S. Outlying Islands

I am fiscally irresponsible, which means I have weak bones and a dorsal fin. And a penchant for dining out, even though I am, in the words of many rich people, a "poor people". I make a different face when speaking each of the foreign languages in which I am shittily proficient.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Freemans: The Day the Edgy Emo-Music Died

Alright people. It’s been a big week and I know I'm a bit late, but put on your American Apparel leggings and get ready to hipstercise.

If my college improv group, a university-funded exercise in pot-fueled public make-believe, had been reviewed by then theater critic Frank Rich, he would have said “These assholes are idiots, and they should put down their nancetry kits of wigs and tutus and get back in class.” He would have been totally right, but still, we had our place on campus.

Who else would the intramural badminton team have been cooler than?

The Count’s serious pan of Freeman’s this week seems like an analogous reaction to the one above: an older dude having the nerve to apply grown-up standards to a group of young dorks who just want to have some ironic fun.

But I think the Freeman’s KO might stand forever as a touchstone incident of Old Media v. New Hipster. Listening to Frank describe Freeman’s Appalachian 1950’s décor like it’s something strange (it’s not—it’s everywhere) is like listening to a foreign exchange student describe American college Greek life:

“The children divide into drinking teams, where they are brothers and sisters, and they label their beer teams in an ancient alphabet. What psychos. Now I will target-practice on housepets.”

Right off the bat, Frank invokes the staple brands of Hipsterville: “Like the folks who market Pabst Blue Ribbon and Converse sneakers...the impresarios behind Freemans understood that the nexus of retro and downscale is a lucrative spot”

The nexus of retro and downscale didn’t prove lucrative for Spanky’s Pants-Optional Jukejoint.

Must’ve been the health inspection fines that did them in. Because the shakes were delicious.

Owners William Tigertt and Taavo Somer “do it with a whimsical wink, which is what the artfully nicked walls, the stuffed ram’s head, the stuffed goose and all those antlers are about.”

I wonder if any of the snake-wrassling Appalachian types whose walls are loaded with their kill have any idea that taxidermy is now the instantaneous semaphore for hipster irony.

Doubt it. No irony here. Just bloody antlers and billowing shorts.

He's dropped some hints that this is going to be a pan...

"But first the positive:”

The positive: the décor of the place is “oddly hilarious” and sweet. This is his version of the “You did great in the baseball game!” that a parent uses to preface something like “Hey, Sport, no camp this summer. We’re going to Cincinnati to watch Grandma die.”

I think the smoking finally got her. Everyone hop in the Subaru!

Frank makes an odd comment about people coming in and out of Freemans. I’m assuming he’s referring to the way they react to the Wunderkammern walls, but all the giggling and smiling makes no sense to this frequent Freemans visitor:

“…I smiled every time I watched someone else arrive. That person invariably did a double take, then giggled. It’s sweet of a restaurant to make that happen.”
Are people really doing double-takes at the entrance?

I mean, I never thought twice about the white Indian ball-flasher at the door, but maybe other people do. Hm.

But now the fun is over. The Count must whip out the scimitar of duty:
“…it’s wrong to let so much else fall by the wayside,” he says, and embarks on a wince-inducing takedown.

I think the Victorian décor really got to Frank. The food doesn’t just suck, it sucks with pathos:

“Baby back ribs longed for succulence, while grilled trout with thyme and lemon cried out for a dash of excitement and a dew drop of moisture.”

That, my friends, is classic Frank. A Desperate Housewife of a trout, pulling its shirt open and crying out for a dash of excitement and a dew drop of moisture.

Maybe he’s on to something. He should talk to the execs, run it by them.

Speaking of catty bitches, Frank has zero appreciation for the surly Parisian-style staff: “A hostess had all the cuddly charisma of Cujo.” Nice. Classic moment of Frank’s misunderstanding hipsterism: Bitchy staff “had no place in a restaurant as studiously unfussy as Freemans.” Wrong!! Anomie and attitude are part and parcel of youth culture, Grandpa Frank.

But here’s the crux of the suckage for Frank:

“ of the ways it pales beside a peer like the Spotted Pig” is that its food “could be quickly and easily replicated at home. If cooking were a sport involving a pool, a springboard and numerical degrees of difficulty, nearly everything Freemans does would be a swan dive. There’s not a triple flip in the bunch.”

Listen, not all competitions are the same. Maybe a swan dive is enough for some people.

Unless performed by a pregnant teen, a triple flip won’t get you points at the Tuskeegee Olympics, my friend.

But seriously, Freemans is in a different realm, and Frank hints at it:

“Freemans must be commended for keeping the average price of entrees to about $20.”

THAT, that right there is the point.

You know, as usual earlier this month I was having my fall suit tailored (it’s a nice mohair) and my prostate examined (also mohair) whilst reading men’s Vogue and noticed that the Count had penned a little piece ostensibly about his workout regime. But as those of us who read the piece know, indelibly, intimately, it had almost nothing to do with exercise (he runs; he has a trainer). It was a captain’s log for the S.S. Pricy Pigout, a laundry list of indulgent, mostly super luxe items gobbled in quantity and with relish (“I had downed osetra caviar as if it were Orville Redenbacher popcorn”). Item after item.

I know what you’re thinking: “Stop writing and show us a stupid picture already.” FINE.

But now I'm going to keep writing.

My point is, Manhattan is squeezing out its mid-priced restaurants, and I love Brooklyn, but sometimes you just want to wear a party dress and go to the Big Island. Freemans’ popularity isn't a perverse result of its hidden locale. Freemans is crowded because people without a ton of cash can have a rich night out in a place full of character. And the artichoke dip is nothing to shake your Osetra tin at. Which doesn't mean it deserves a star.

The last sentence of Frank's review smarts. It so perfectly reduces the whole playland sophistication of Freemans to its childish props. You can hear the air sucked out of the nursery as Frank pops his head in.

Of the diners lined up outside Freemans he warns that "what awaits them isn’t a memorable feast. It’s iceberg with ranch dressing under a stuffed boar’s head."

In other words, Grow up.


Blogger Barrett said...

Jules, you had me at "dorsal fin". One day after my discovery of the Bruni Digest and already a loyal reader. You've probably seen it, but here is the owner's take on Bruni's visit, before Wednesday's tongue-lashing.

3:50 PM, September 23, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Brilliant as always, Jules...and what with Trout's delightful cameos on primetime shows, maybe it might finally get its own spinoff? Couldn't be any worse than Joey... does seem the Count's tastes are getting more dated lately - perhaps he would feel more at home amongst the walking cadavers dining at Le Cirque...

2:14 AM, September 24, 2006  
Blogger Jules said...

OMG!! You remember Friends and a Trout!! That was my fave.

11:34 AM, September 24, 2006  
Blogger Yvo said...

Hmm... I definitely enjoy your takes on Bruni's reviews, but I went to Freeman's last year and found the food to be highly overrated. I agree that the prices aren't bad but for the same price you can get so much better (without resorting to "Would you like fries with that?") - my dish, along with a friend's, were both way over-salted and another friend's hadn't seen even a pinch of salt in passing. Terrible. Perhaps I'm too old for the whole scene or perhaps I'm missing the point like Frank... but definitely not for me. (I'm 25.) Regardless, as usual, great send up :)

12:07 PM, September 25, 2006  
Blogger bellastraniera said...

As soon as I read the words "dew drop" in the original review, I wondered what delights awaited us here on the Bruni Digest. Even if all we take away from that review are the cringe-worthy bits of prose, it truly contributed something to this great world of ours.

p.s. check out my blog!

3:03 PM, September 29, 2006  
Blogger theblognut said...

I really think Frank needs to cool it with the foodie schtick and cram a box full of donuts.

Great review!

4:39 PM, October 03, 2006  
Anonymous ginger said...

The only thing more fun than reading the Count's column this week, was reading your review of it. I peed myself. Seriously. Now only if I could get one of those Graydon Carter maxi-pads.

5:38 PM, January 28, 2007  

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