Tag Archives: the Alley

Wasabi

You’re a tuna. You’re arcing through the Pacific on a path older than time. You sense an enticing glimmer, feel a violent tug, and are now dying on the deck of a boat.

You catch fish for a living. You know you’re over-fishing the oceans, but the endlessly chomping mouths demand the fruits of the sea. Plates in Omaha, El Paso, Des Moines, and Montgomery, Alabama, require tuna and salmon and eel. You try to think of the happiness that the flesh of your catch will bring to some famished diner, honoring your labor. You try not to think of business guys shoving vast quantities of sashimi into their laughing gullets.

You’re opening a Japanese restaurant. Your market research tells you that the average consumer of Japanese food in this area is mostly interested in a birthday party surrounding a hibachi grill — the kind where the chef tosses a shrimp high into the air and puts on a funny show. You are taking a risk by opening a new place. You add more water to your miso soup, hoping to stretch it a little further.

photo 2

You like going to restaurants. You try the new Japanese place shortly after it opens. The food is limp and depressing. The service is a step or two below that. To be kind, you decide not to write a review because it’s hard to open a new place and get it firing on all cylinders. You decide to come back when it’s a little more established. Maybe they’ll have everything worked out and you can give it a fair consideration.

A co-worker proposes going to Wasabi for lunch. Another co-worker vetoes the idea because the online reviews are so scathing.

A work lunch eventually brings you to Wasabi. It wasn’t your idea, but this is where you are told to meet. You are excited to finally get to see the restaurant on a representative day. Scan the menu’s “Prattville rolls” (fried shrimp and cucumber topped with lobster salad) and ponder those who will identify themselves according to stated preferences for the “Roll Tide roll” (lobster salad and avocado topped with tuna and avocado) or the “War Eagle roll” (tuna and avocado topped with salmon and avocado and the “chef’s special spicy sauce”). Idly wonder if the lobster is langostino.

photo 1Your food is again very poor. You struggle to communicate with your server, who seems unfamiliar with the permanent lunch specials. You try adding the restaurant’s namesake spice to your food, in hopes of stimulating your tongue. Nothing. Fortunately, your companion picks up the tab.

You’re describing a cucumber roll to a friend. “The rice was so dry, it reminded me of a certain snapping, crackling and popping breakfast cereal,” you explain. “The slices of sashimi may have been brightly colored bits of a leather belt from Wal-Mart, chewy but flavorless — as if they had perfected an alchemical process in the kitchen that removed the unique taste of fresh tuna and left behind some kind of pink simulacrum.”

You ponder the future of The Alley. Although nearly empty at lunch, maybe traffic picks up at night. Maybe folks don’t mind, or even enjoy Wasabi and the reprehensible Jalapenos. Maybe restaurant owners will get rich and customers well-fed well, fed.

Jalapenos in The Alley

You don’t need to be Don Draper to know that “New” moves product. Most people who do not lobby the statehouse for a living (that is to say, most people with souls) are optimists at their core. Even if we’ve been hurt a hundred times before by something very similar, a few tweaks and the glimmer of possibility is often enough to get humans to buy or do something that they should know perfectly well will not turn out the way they hope. It was new. This is enough to explain, if not excuse, our decision to go to Jalapenos in the Alley for lunch.

The experience was equally unsavory for the fact that we were seated beneath a photo of an actual execution (a picture of a firing squad from what looked to be the Pancho Villa days) as it was for the fact that we were seated next to a table of cops bragging to each other about beating people up. Not the most appetizing of lunch settings to be looking at executions while hearing about police brutality.

But we were still determined to give the food a fair shake — and it was indeed terrible, perhaps even more terrible than the terrible atmosphere. People that think of Jalapenos as good Mexican food probably also think of Cinco de Mayo as an authentic Mexican holiday. To be fair, good fun can be had drinking beer on May 5. But nothing good can come out of eating the watery tomato swill that Jalapenos calls salsa.

The best thing that can be said about lunch at Jalapenos is that it doesn’t take very long. They whip the menus right at you and are ready to take your order before you have even glanced through items numbered 1 through 70, to say nothing of the 20-plus other items on the special lunch menu. They want to know what number you’re having. They don’t want you to try to pronounce it. They want the number. There are only about 100 numbers, and you need to pick a number right now. Are you ready yet?

Vegetarian items are helpfully set aside on the menu, and the pickings are slim. No, they can’t make the chile rellenos without meat because they are all pre-made. They are ready to bring them out to you now. Have you ordered yet? Have you picked a number?

Don’t get distracted by the Barbie doll wearing a bull fighter costume that has been affixed to the wall. That’s called culture. Don’t let the echo of the 1920s Mariachi music distract you from the surprising emptiness of the place during the lunch hour. That’s how you know what country your lunch recipes came from. It fulfills all of the official red-white-and-green flag criteria for Authentic USA Mexican Restaurant Incorporated. What number are you having?

Perhaps you have been slowed by the stale chips that have been slung at you, the plastic basket staring up at you like an accusation. You chose this fate. You have plugged into Jalapenos for lunch. Just as Jalapenos was plugged into an empty space in the city’s favorite economic development site — The Alley.

This restaurant used to be The Cantina. That restaurant was also terrible, famous for sticking frozen fish sticks in a tortilla and calling it a fish taco. Is this location cursed? No. People might be willing to eat lunch here even though parking is scare. But for that, the food would have to be good.

Look, nighttime might be another story. Conventioneers from out of town might not know any better. Jalapenos may do a brisk trade in watered-down sugar-syrup margaritas and Dos Equis. Those people may just be looking for something to fill the “dinner” slot in their evening agendas, just as Jalapenos throws some shredded iceberg lettuce onto your lunch plate to fill that extra space. It doesn’t matter what’s there. It’s just a thing to eat.

For people that have never had any better, this may be just fine. If someone grew up in Hayneville and had never had Mexican food before, Jalapenos might be a delightful treat on a trip to “the big city.” If they’re in for a convention and staying at the Renaissance, they may feel like they walked over and found a gem of a place to hit on Betsy from Accounting.

But we left Jalapeno’s talking about the nature of violence. Our guts were churning in hostile protest about the offense we had just committed against them. The grease was making vile claims. And the city’s favor towards The Alley as the crown jewel of downtown economic development seemed ever more like a farce: “Here’s a tax break. Look at these people drinking cheap beer. Open a business here and hire someone but please, for your own sake, don’t put any of this food in your mouth.”

Jalapenos is not the only restaurant in The Alley that sucks. But it is the only one that feels like someone’s revenge against the city where HB 56 was passed.

The Deli at Alley Station

Dear friends, readers, and Internet search-bots,

We realize that posting here at LiM has dwindled to a meager trickle of late. We know. We get it. You are starved for content from our fertile minds. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on who you are), we have been busy with other antics, including our other blog about Montgomery — Midtown Montgomery Living. No, we have not left this blog to wither and die as the mainstream media would suggest. Rather, we have waited, biding our time, to return to LiM with a vengeance. We plan to be updating it much more frequently from here on out. Thanks for bearing with us (if, in fact, you have). We love you.

Here’s the setup: Historic American city trying to get back on its feet after years of neglecting its downtown takes bold new strides to re-zone and re-develop its urban core. A big fancy hotel is built with convention space! The (heterosexual) river is turned into something people might like to walk alongside and have lunch near! There’s a new bar with a surprisingly good happy hour, even though it’s stupidly closed for daytime football! And a new Italian restaurant that, despite being prone to bouts of extremely sketchy service, offers some damn fine food (including an outrageously tasty pizza with eggs on it)! And baseball! And oysters!

Even as the exclamation points pile up, redevelopment isn’t without its hitches. Lofts are built and occupied at a trickle. Others see construction slowed or completely abandoned when the economy collapses. Ultimately, everyone knows that if downtown is really going to thrive, people are going to have to live there. To get people to live downtown, there needs to be food available for purchase. Food that goes beyond ribs, pizza and vile “Chinese” food. Bigger cities than Montgomery have struggled with this very same issue. Los Angeles’ downtown residential prospects snagged for years on the “no grocery store” issue.

Functioning high density urban neighborhoods are full of delis, bodegas and other corner stores – residents need to run out and get food, diapers, cat litter and other city living essentials. Also they want to be able to eat delicious and reasonably priced food before and after attending the many urban cultural functions that make downtown living worthwhile.

That’s why we were so enthusiastic about the Deli at Alley Station. It seemed like a first step toward sustainable downtown living in Montgomery. Sure, there may never be a Winn-Dixie downtown, but that doesn’t mean there couldn’t be a nice market (milk, eggs, toilet paper, wine) that also sells tasty sandwiches. Alas, despite the various efforts of ex-mayor (and one-term Congressman) Bobby Bright and various other economic development types neither possibility has yet come to pass.

The Deli at Alley Station is an exercise in disappointment. First, you’ll be disappointed in the food. Maybe their Reuben is good – we’ll never know for sure. But the things we ate on a recent visit were truly terrible. One of us had the “Deli Salad Sampler” with pimento cheese, tuna salad and egg salad. Each salad came ice cream scooped onto a longboat-style lettuce leaf destined to ferry them into infamy. For those of us who have suffered the many indignities of repulsive office meals catered by Chappy’s Deli, this meal was the S.S. Minnow to Chappy’s Kon-Tiki. A total of four crackers accompanied this festival of objectionable goo.

It was probably for the best that we were unable to obtain more crackers. The egg salad may be the worst we’ve ever had (and the genre isn’t replete with luminaries). If you had told us in advance that it was actually a scoop of a flavorless mush called root marm, we probably would have believed you. Immediately after tasting, we were filled by regret. As it turns out, the consumption of emptiness is less glamorous than French philosophers have led us to believe. It is more like the feeling after watching Rhianna’s NBA All-Star halftime show, which is to say that you will need at least a shower and possibly a box of Girl Scout Thin Mints to rid yourself of its aftertaste.

Speaking of aftertaste, there was the tuna salad. Let us speak no more of it except to say that it is not good when your customers are unfavorably comparing it to the tuna salad at Subway (also served with a depressing ice cream scoop, and also the color and consistency of our coming nanotechnology Armageddon).

Finally, and with fleeting shreds of hope for a decent lunch, we dutifully sampled the pimento cheese. Which was served in a scoop-sized portion probably large enough to employ a small army of cardiologists. Now, we know from pimento cheese, and we can honestly say that this stuff was, um, edible. It wasn’t good (that honor is reserved for the edgier kinds of cheese spread that come with small amounts of diced jalapenos), but it was edible. But not in the bucket size. And not with four crackers. And really, not as a stand-alone entree for a lunch (which, where we come from, is a meal). We must emphasize that it was not good. But it did at least taste like the thing it was supposed to taste like.

On the other side of the table we had a cup of soup and the Alley Station Special Grilled Cheese Panini. This is a tarted-up grilled cheese, but it was heavily sold on the online menu, as well as the giant wall-sized menu in the store. This was no obstacle to our cashier’s total ignorance of the item’s presence on the menu. Which seemed odd since it was one of three items flagged with a fork to signify a “signature” item.

We assume, in this culture at least, that a “signature” appellation means that the item is one of the best on the menu – that it stands above the crowd of mundane club sandwiches and turkey wraps as something the chef stakes his or her name to, that it is therefore worthy of flourishes and the word “special” and the little hearts over the “i”s, or what have you. Not for nothing is John Hancock still associated with the politics of personal endorsement. If this is the case, then the Deli at Alley Station is in big trouble. This sad disaster of a sandwich was chewy and cheesy in all the wrong ways. Yes, Virginia, grilled cheese sandwiches can be gross. It was even gross dipped generously in the cup of mushroom bisque. Which soup was edible in the same way as the pimento cheese. Its cook, alas, had made the decision to replace flavor with extra cream. In the age of Rhianna, we all settle for simulacra.

The day we were there we felt it was almost certainly drawing lunch diners off of Sa Za. Which is too bad, if only because this meant more people were eating mediocre sandwiches when they could have been eating delicious egg pizza. It was the allure of the new, we are almost certain – the same reason you couldn’t get a table at Wintzell’s when it opened, but now can walk in and sit basically anywhere.

After you finish being disappointed in the food, you can start being disappointed in the place. The Deli at Alley Station misunderstands the problem with downtown living. The problem wasn’t that people couldn’t get lunch. Sure, maybe they couldn’t get much breakfast outside of the Renaissance’s restaurant (and certainly not “all day” breakfast – let’s see how long that lasts). But is a turkey club (or even a good Reuben) really a revolutionary addition to the downtown foodscape?

The problem was the lack of “grab and go,” of actual deli food (meats, cheeses, breads, the stuff a market offers) and the lack of market offerings. The DAS has decided, in the latter area, to opt for the Rhianna solution and substitute simulacrum for reality. They have a refrigerator case full of candy and dubious health waters up front. On the side there are moon pies and Cracker Jacks well out of reach of any adult (let alone child) who might like to purchase them. There’s a weird display of cans of dog and cat food next to Chef Boyardee ravioli on the other side of the freezer cases. It looks like it’s for show, but is “reachable” by sliding ladder (along with several six packs of beer that are seriously more than eight feet off the ground). Is this really going to be the thing (or a thing) that convinces folks that downtown is now livable?

The DAS could possibly appeal to people who think it’s a treat to go to Panera Bread. This might also eventually serve as an acceptable eatery for people that work downtown. Unfortunately, since the state is broke and probably due to fire all of the state workers soon, there will be fewer of those in the times to come.

There are too few tables for it to be a “hangout,” and we have outlined its total failure as any sort of grocery store, despite the hilarious prop cereal boxes that seem to suggest that someone once listened to an audiobook about urban redevelopment in their SUV as they sped off to their Eastside Hellscape McMansion.

Just because the Deli at Alley Station fails as a deli doesn’t mean it’s bad. We like Dr. Dre despite the fact that he’s not an actual physician. The problem is really with its failure as a restaurant. It will be interesting to see whether Montgomery consumers reward the DAS’ abject mediocrity, and whether downtown ever gets the necessities for the real urban living it claims to want.

Free Magazine Review: RSVP (Sept/Oct 2010)

It has indeed been a while. So many free magazines piled up around the house. Time to get to reviewing them again! It’s Lost in Montgomery’s only semi-regular feature, Free Magazine Review! Click here for past editions. Today, we just couldn’t pass up reviewing another issue of the local mag that is our go-to source for rich white people comedy.

What’s it called? Montgomery RSVP. As you may recall, RSVP is actually an acronym, standing for “Rental Space Vogue Parties.” They have a website.

Giant furries promote loyalty to higher education

What is it? Well, they claim in their subtitle to be “The River Region Guide for All Things Social,” but that obviously depends on your social scene. If you’re younger than 30, make less than $50,000 a year, or you don’t resemble Bob Costas or Martha Stewart, you may well decide that there are some “things social” that aren’t covered by the sweeping umbrella of RSVP’s claim.

Where’d we find it? Likely at one of the businesses featured in the many advertisements within the pages of the magazine. Our best guess after digging this issue out of one of our stacks of unread detritus is that this issue was grabbed at a local salon.

What’s the deal? We’ve reviewed RSVP twice before. First we looked at their March/April 2009 issue. Then we examined their July/August issue of the same year. Both were hilarious editions, but we took some time off to see if RSVP could get it together. But like awful adult contemporary singer Richard Marx sang, we just “keep coming back.”

RSVP is, after all, clearly the leading publication in the field of Montgomery’s vast and competitive free magazine landscape. You might say that it stands astride the world of free magazines like a Colossus towering over a giant pile of wasted paper.

RSVP appears to be plugging themselves into the municipal scene in a way that the somewhat-harder-to-find Montgomery Living is failing to do. Maybe it’s RSVP’s snazzy party planning business, or maybe they’ve simply got better connections. Maybe it’s because RSVP’s magazine is free, while Montgomery Living has a cover price (though we’ve never paid for one). RSVP is hooked into the young urban professional network in a way that has caused it to cross our paths several times over the past year.

What sections do they have? RSVP seems to have settled into a fairly regular set of features. They’ve got two stories under “Singled OUT,” which, we guess is about dating or something. There’s a feature story; the “socially SEEN” section; “Look, Listen, Lounge;” and the usual bunch. There’s no real reason why the sections are distinguishable. Music info could be under “Look, Listen, Lounge,” or maybe under “Now Hear This,” or as a “reason to gather” or “friends, trends, odds & ends,” or perhaps the catch-all category, “when? what? where?” Either way, the whole thing is advertising, so it’s not like there are firm editorial categories here.

Obviously, the most important section here is “the list,” which features several pages of photos and biographical information about “young leaders.” And trust us, if you have a job and are under 50, RSVP’s list considers you a “young leader.” One featured leader has been in the Air Force for 22 years.

Who advertises? The usual suspects. We’ve been through this in our previous two reviews of the mag. The first ad after the inside cover is for the Alley Bar, touting the fact that you can watch football there. Well, it says, “Game on!” and has a picture of an offensive line about to snap the ball. Wouldn’t that lead you to think you could watch Saturday morning college football games at the Alley Bar? Yet, do they show games there?

We went on a Saturday during October and they were closed. Do you think they’re open for the NFL on Sundays? Nope.

Game on!

In fact, if you’ll entertain a brief sidebar about the Alley Bar, we called their phone number on a Sunday morning and not only were they closed, they didn’t even have an outgoing voicemail explaining their hours. You get get a recorded message: “Memory full. Enter access code.”

Huh. OK. Maybe there’s info on their blog. Nope. Instead of info from the bar itself, you get posts from customers complaining about being overcharged on their credit cards.

Ah, downtown revitalization.

What’s interesting in this issue? Football! Like, totally, uh muh Gah!

Look, we love college football. More importantly, most people around here love college football. Thus, it’s a good cover choice and a defensible theme for a fall issue. There’s good fodder for a featured cover story and it’s likely to be a popular issue.

That said, it helps to have some idea of what you’re talking about before you pick something to be your cover story. Take the six ladies on the title page, for example. Usually, this is where you get a note from the editor. This month, we get six notes from various white ladies, each talking about autumn and football. Kim, the publisher, likes to “get [her] booty back in the gym.” Amanda watches Grey’s Anatomy and loves Auburn football. Amanda says, “since retiring my pom-poms years ago,” she is mostly “an avid fan of shopping.” Chandler enjoys picking out the perfect game day dress, while Mallory applies football terms to her dating life, talking about “steering clear of yellow flags” and not “jumping offsides” by texting or calling too much. Shopping and fashion and dating! Football!

Pages 12-15 are light on text, heavy on fashion, mostly trying to tell you brand name college-themed crap to buy to wear to football games. No faded lucky t-shirts for these ladies. We’re talking semi off-the-shoulder tops for “flirty fun looks.” And for the dudes? Shut up and drink your embroidered flask.

Also, while it’s nice that they threw Alabama State and Troy State (yes, we still call it that) into the mix with Bama and Auburn, there’s no mention in the fashion spread of other in-state teams like Samford, UAB, or LOCAL team Huntingdon.

The Hawks do make it into the “spirit of the game” section, which consists of “facts about these colleges that we downloaded off the Internet.” In the section about Alabama State (p. 28), the editors/writers manage to misspell both “Pittsburgh” and “Steelers.” Yay, football!

But what can we really expect from a publication that on the front end says several times that “every Southern girl” waits year-round for football season and then towards the back of the magazine alongside the printing of SEC football schedules includes this fine image:

Ladies like football ... unless it is boring torture that they endure because men force them.

Free Magazine Review: Montgomery Living (August 2009)

It’s time for yet another installment of everyone’s favorite feature here at Lost in Montgomery, the Free Magazine Review! Previous looks at the area’s free magazines considered an issue of Vetrepreneur, an issue of Dixie Living Magazine, and an issue of Montgomery RSVP. Now it’s time to take a look at one of the rivals of the latter publication:

What’s it called? Montgomery Living

What is it? The subtitle is “The River Region Magazine,” but don’t let that confuse you with yet another favorite free periodical often available here in Montgomery, River Region’s Journey, which is a very Christian magazine to be reviewed in another edition of Free Magazine Review. No, Montgomery Living is actually just a super-glossy and pretentious “high end” publication, complete with a whopping $3 cover price and a ton of color photos. Although we have never, ever, seen it for sale anywhere. According to its website, “the magazine is designed, edited and produced to appeal to upscale, well-educated, involved individuals.” Oh. Right. Also on the website? Super Hot, Blue Blood, All White debutante action.

Where’d we find it? Our memory on this is a bit hazy, but we think it either came from our vet’s office or a doctor’s office. Or maybe it was in a salon of some sort. Needless to say, these are a bit harder to find than Montgomery RSVP (due to their high price), but still are pretty much anywhere that rich people congregate and shop.

What’s the deal? This seems to be the kingpin of the local free mags. Hell, maybe they aren’t even really free. But they ought to be. Montgomery Living is full of predictable Chamber of Commerce schlock. It’s the typical fare about food and cultural events, with a focus on non-offensive looks at “social scenes” and half-assed travel writing. As with RSVP, the whole thing is run by women. The editor, all three people in marketing, the art director, the sole staff writer, the social gadfly columnist, the business manager, and 10 of 12 contributing writers — all ladies.

What sections do they have? Editor’s Letter, Favorite Things (“Cool, current products”), 10 Things (evidently random), On the Table (food reviews), Artbeat, Destinations and Diversions, Profiles and Perspectives, In the Garden, Living Well, Good Deeds, Interiors/Exteriors, Socially Speaking, Cityscapes, and Out and About.

Who advertises? All the heavy-hitters. We’re talking tons of full color, full-page ads from the big hospitals, Blue Cross/Blue Shield, real estate, hotels, restaurants, and furniture stores. It’s a who’s who of the White People Scene in Montgomery, with half-page ads from the two most exclusive private schools, personal trainers and yoga studios, heavy oil portrait painting, plastic surgeons, etc.

What’s interesting in this issue? The full page ad taken out by the Montgomery Area Visitors Center is pretty funny. It features a pile of crap you can buy at the visitors center, such as a t-shirt that says “Hey Ya’ll” and the cookbook written by the wife of the governor. Hurry down! Supplies may be limited!

As far as writing goes, there’s not much to recommend. The editor seems to struggle to put together an intro to the magazine in her perky and upbeat “From the Editor” column. But she does look like a victim of the Joker’s Smilex gas, so that’s pretty entertaining to look at for a few seconds. She writes about how it’s nice to write letters to people.

The “Ten Things You Might Not Know About the River Region” is a laughable attempt to fill one and a half pages. They were all things that we both already knew, and we have lived here slightly longer than a year. Did you know that Hank Williams used to play music here? That F. Scott Fitzgerald and Zelda used to live here? Yes. Yes, we did know that.

There’s a decent piece on how Montgomery is now sister cities with a city in Italy, “the vibrant Tuscan city of Pietrasanta.” It’s really more of a town (population: less than 25,000), but the article doesn’t mention that and has a nice photo of our mayor Todd Strange accepting a book of some sort from the mayor of Pietrasanta who is hilariously wearing a red, white, and green sash. So, um, yay for cultural exchanges.

There’s an article about a local private school titled “Still Pursuing Excellence,” which is funny both because that school has purchased an ad in this issue of the magazine, giving lie to any pretense of editorial objectivity, but also because the title makes it sound like the school has been chasing the elusive goal without success for quite some time. Happy 50th anniversary to a hallmark of the flight from the integrated City of Montgomery school system!

The cover story is about a new entertainment district inventively called “The Alley.” It boasts a bar, a Dreamland, and an Italian place. Oh, and “an event space.” Because those are cool. The article doesn’t mention that this is all the product of the former mayor, who was sent off to Congress, or that there were major legal fights about an ugly water tower that was plopped down at the entrance to the alley, or that the whole thing reeks of Trying Too Hard. Nope. Just an article saying that there are places to go and Please God Shop Locally because “We Have Nice Things Tooooo.” Mike Watson, a local architect, is the owner of the bar and he designed the Alley Project for the city. We think the Alley Bar is OK and plan to go there after some Biscuits games. But the Montgomery Living write up? Needs to be dragged out into the alley and beaten.

The Fashion “FIX-ations” section is truly cringeworthy. We really felt sorry for the poor women forced to model the paisley mini-bag (hilariously described as “of the moment”) and the tiered concoctions supposed to represent “Dos.” By the end of the article our female half had resolved never ever to set foot inside Painted Pink, where the owners evidently recommend that ladies wear something called a “funky boyfriend/lumberjack shirt.”

Yes, this magazine has two pages of gardening advice and a two page barn burner of an article about why it’s important to get a good night’s sleep. Bottom line? For a superficial look at events that have likely already happened, or are too expensive to attend, or simply threaten to bore you to sleep, this magazine would be the perfect companion for any trip to the dentist’s office or hospital waiting room. And if shoddy travel writing along with poorly-conceived articles about food are what you crave, grab yourself a copy of Montgomery Living.