The Readers’ Choice

I filled out Grandma Advertiser’s 2010 “Reader’s Choice Awards” form. It took an excruciatingly long time – some kind of paleo-Internet form software that required you to write in nominees in dozens of categories – as if everyone who lived here would have an opinion on everything from the best nursing home, church, or wine shop. I gritted my teeth and clicked through page after page of stupid categories, but I did it. Despite my professional training, I believe that there’s something to value in democracy, in the expression of the voice of the populace.

You have not disappointed me, Montgomery. I know now that there is something to the process, and that something is revealed in your horrifyingly bad taste. There. I said it. I have defended you against all comers, against the people who moved away; against the people who are scared to walk your streets during the day, much less at night; against the Homewood snobs, Wiregrass purists, Tuscaloosa hipsters, the South Alabama gin-and-sun crowd. I once cornered an unfortunate lawyer on a cross-country flight and berated him about his decision to move his family to Auburn because your “schools were bad” – I simply observed that the flight of people like him were why the Montgomery schools were bad and waited for his half-assed and quasi-racist response.

I have staked my good name on your gentle charms, Montgomery. I have talked up your surprisingly good taste, your aspirational spirits. And how did you repay me? You have declared the Olive Garden to be the town’s best Italian food, Montgomery, and Books A Million the number one bookstore, and Hardee’s the best milkshake. That’s right, Grandma Advertiser has again come out with her annual Readers’ Choice awards (When you are thankful they got the apostrophe in the place, you know your standards have been irreducibly lowered). And if you can make it through their 1995-era Internet display function you’ll be able to discern the “tastes” of your fellow citizens.

Hardee’s? No wonder you are fat. Is this a cause or effect of your overmedication? What else could explain your persistent love for a milkshake with a flavor profile somewhere between Bhopal and BP? What explains your preference for Italian food notable for its abundance of salt, or for a bookstore that reliably stocks all the latest Tony Robbins and Joel Osteen but whose fiction begins with Grisham, dallies at Meyer and ends with King?

I did consider that perhaps your metrics were off, Montgomery. That maybe you found Olive Garden to be more reliable than Sa Za (fair enough), Books A Million more wide-ranging than Capitol Books and News (sure, if a fully articulated selection of self-help minutiae is your idea of a sufficiently wide range), that Hardee’s … well, nothing justifies Hardee’s, Montgomery. And as for the others, if those are your metrics, you are obviously doing it wrong.

Look, we won’t hassle you about saying Ixtapa offers the town’s best Mexican food. Sure, we thought it was basically a terrible grease pool papered over with bad margaritas, but it has its charms. Why bother you about that choice when we can be positively apoplectic about your decision to declare Papa John’s to be Montgomery’s best pizza? Honestly, in a town where we are hard pressed to choose between Tomatino’s, Sa Za and Sal’s, the idea that we would even discuss the home of “garlic sauce” and the specific ennui engendered by a lone symbolic pepperoncini rattling against a cheese-rinded cardboard box makes me want to vomit. In terror. Which deserves a name of its own and will be henceforth called “feargurgitation.”

Yes, we get it. We’re transplanted big city outsiders unfamiliar with your simple middle American ways. Except, um, that we aren’t. One of us is from an Alabama town that makes Montgomery seem like Manhattan, and the other of us hails from a state where people count themselves lucky to be in the same area code as a Domino’s Pizza (the state has one area code). We were also raised in families that valued the local and unique, among people who thought that handmade was good. Which is not to say that we didn’t eat plenty of bad food. Hell, just tonight we ate at Ming’s Garden. On your recommendation, Montgomery (much good that did us when we ate at East China and regretted it for days afterward – word to the wise trying to follow this year’s awards’ multiple inexplicable East China recommendations). Thanks a lot; no telling how much hot yoga it will take to make ourselves feel better after eating all that “brown sauce.”

Not that we weren’t prepared. Like all self-respecting digital literati, we get Netflix. Which means we can see what you rent. The Montgomery Favorites section, full of Tyler Perry and prominently pimping Aloha, Scooby-Doo!, set the stage for the larger curtain-pull on your profoundly bad taste. But still, we’d hoped for better. Despite our more cynical natures, we’d hoped to see you repping the Tomatino’s incomparable crust, Martin’s fried pie, Thomas’ divine buffet…but perhaps we are less gourmands than gluttons for punishment. Or perhaps we are unredeemed elitists, overdue to be hoisted with our own petard and hurled backward unconscious into a neverending sea of breadsticks and salad.

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6 responses to “The Readers’ Choice

  1. Anyone who believes the MA ratings also believes that professional wrestling is real.

    It’s nothing but an advertising gimmick.

  2. Being a newcomer to Montgomery, we too were flabbergasted at the ratings. Especially when Montgomery has already surprised us with great restaurants such as El Rey, Thai Gratiem, and Sa Za! Why anyone would chose Olive Garden…I just don’t know. I think the frozen food section at the grocery has better food. Come on people….get out and explore your town and stay away from Hardees! There are so many other great options!

  3. I don’t understand why residents don’t frequent and support locally owned restaurants. Montgomery has enough local options to keep everyone busy for a while. Not to take away from the development going on downtown but that is what is so great about the Cloverdale and Midtown areas. The choices are varied and our dollars would go to support local restauratuers who took a real risk – not just a demographic study and and location analysis. When most of us travel we look for those special places to eat that offer the local flavor – why not do the same thing in our own town?

  4. What’s even stranger is that people feel like they really want to take time from their day to vote for Olive Garden, as if people don’t know about it. I can understand having the motivation to vote in these reader’s choice polls because you want to increase exposure for a locally owned joint, but who thinks Olive Garden needs more name recognition?

  5. What’s even stranger than all this is that even the locally owned places have little imagination. “Southern cooking” is almost exactly the same wherever you go. Same menu staples–fried chicken, okra, crowder peas, banana pudding.

    Once I made a beautiful rye bread to serve at a picnic. The folks edged away from it as if it were a live rattlesnake, and headed straight for the white Wonder bread.

    Oy veh.

  6. Excellent writing! I could not agree more. I wept a great deal when I moved here from Lafayette, Louisiana. What would I eat in this culinary wasteland??? How could I make it without middle eastern food, south Louisiana cuisine, brisket? Slowly, slowly I have found a way: Sal’s, Tomatina’s, Mrs. B’s, SaZa on a good day, Thai Gratiem, Green Papaya, ok that’s about the extent of it .

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