Friday, June 27, 2014
6676 Telegraph Rd.
Bloomfield Hills, MI
I’m standing in the rain-soaked parking lot of Andiamo in Bloomfield, Michigan -- site of one of the greatest unsolved mysteries of the 20th Century.
This was the exact spot from which notorious Teamster boss Jimmy Hoffa disappeared on a steamy July afternoon 39 years ago.
What happened to the most infamous union boss in American history?
He’s buried under a parking garage in Cadillac…
…Or under a sanitation building in Hamtramck...
…Or under the 50 yard line at Giants Stadium…
…Or under some mafia dude’s mother-in-law’s drive way in Detroit…
…Or he was fed into a wood chipper…
…Or carried off to a landfill in a 55 gallon drum…
Or at least nobody who does know is saying.
Despite countless FBI investigations, false confessions, documentaries, movies starring Jack Nicholson and attention seekers spewing conspiracy theories galore, the mystery endures.
So did I come here to this godforsaken suburban hell of the most godforsaken metropolitan area of America to solve this mystery myself?
Or did I come here because it was lunch time and I was hungry?
Maybe a bit of both.
This infamous restaurant is now one those over-priced expense account chain steakhouses with valet parking flanked by a strip mall in the vast suburban morass north of Detroit.
Definitely not the kind of place Suit757 normally seeks out for lunch.
But I just had to check the joint out.
It was lunch time, I was hungry, I had a few hours to kill -- and I was stuck in Detroit.
What else was I going to do?
It’s not like the alternative entertainment options for guys wearing suits on a Thursday afternoon in Detroit are all that compelling.
In fact, Andiamo might just be the only tourist attraction in the entire Detroit metro area.
If so, Andiamo is not doing much to capitalize on it.
Thirty-nine years later, there is no more sign of Jimmy Hoffa at Andiamo than there was the afternoon he disappeared.
It’s almost like the new owners of the building are ashamed of its history.
Then again, that’s easy to understand.
Jimmy Hoffa came here on July 30, 1975 at 2pm to meet three mobbed up Teamster buddies for lunch at what was then the Red Fox Restaurant.
Of course, the Republicans, sensing an opportunity and always willing to suck up to their union boss enemies, jumped in bed with the Teamsters.
(Some things never change: Republican House Majority Leader Eric Cantor just headlined a fundraiser on Amelia Island for a union front group created solely to defeat pro-Right to Work Republicans. When GOP primary voters in his district found out about it, they tossed Cantor out of Congress a few weeks later in one of the greatest upsets in American political history.)
GOP President Richard Nixon commuted the rest of Hoffa’s prison sentence in exchange for an agreement that Hoffa would keep his hands off the Teamsters -- and that the Teamsters would endorse Republican candidates for the next decade or so.
Of course, the day Hoffa walked out of prison he immediately began scheming to get his old job back, correctly surmising that Nixon wouldn’t have the balls to challenge him.
But one group that was willing to stand up to Hoffa was the group that controlled the Teamsters -- the Mafia. And they had no interest whatsoever in Hoffa sticking his nose back into their business.
After all, the business of running a union is good…
…a government granted license to extract from the pockets of workers billions of dollars per year in union dues that can be spent on paid-for politicians, tropical resorts, limousine lifestyles and fancy steakhouse lunches at swanky joints like Andiamo.
Life as a union boss is good.
Under federal law, if workers object to how their dues are collected or spent, they have exactly two options:
1) Pay up
2) Get fired.
Billions of dollars. No accountability.
That’s the kind of business mobsters love.
Hoffa’s mob buddies stood him up for 45 minutes while Hoffa waited in the Red Fox parking lot fuming.
At some point Hoffa went inside to use the pay phone and may or may not have had a drink at the bar.
Finally, at 2:45pm, witnesses at the Red Fox saw Hoffa get into a car with several other men.
No one ever saw him again.
As you can imagine, for years the Red Fox enjoyed a certain morbid notoriety.
Eventually, the long-time owner sold the place in 1996 and the building was transformed into one of a chain of ten Detroit area Andiamos.
While the place has certainly modernized over the past four decades, I can definitely see Jimmy Hoffa and his mob buddies gulping martinis and sawing on 25 ounce porterhouse steaks here.
White tablecloths. Dark lighting. White men in tailored navy suits tossing valet boys the keys to the Caddy.
Andiamo is still THAT kind of place.
“No thanks. I’ll just sit at the bar.”
That’s what I told the perky hostess.
Even if it is a work day and I’m drinking nothing stronger than Detroit tap water, I’d rather sit by myself at the bar.
From my bar perch, I scoped the place out.
I’m not sure what I was looking for.
The bar stool where Hoffa regularly drank?
The reception room where current Teamster boss Jimmy Hoffa, Jr. held his wedding reception?
The famous phone booth from which Hoffa placed his last call?
Obviously, any and all such artifacts are long gone -- probably decades ago.
Andiamo doesn’t sell t-shirts with Hoffa’s face on it, either.
But I couldn’t help looking and wondering.
That’s the nature of a great mystery.
All of us can play a bit of Sherlock Holmes since no one else has figured it out yet.
I couldn’t help but ask the bar tender, Karen, about the mystery.
She said she’s worked there for years. She has lots of old timer regulars who date back to Hoffa’s days -- some who drank with him at this very bar back in the Red Fox days.
And a few who even claim to have been here that fateful day 39 years ago.
“Some say he had a drink at the bar. Others say he sat at a table by the fireplace. A few swear he never came in except to use the pay phone,” she said.
Then she took a quick glance around, hunched a little closer and said in a semi-hushed Michigan accent, “A lot of them think Hoffa’s son-in-law did it.”
Another twist to add to the mystery.
Of course I wasn’t really here to solve some unsolvable mystery.
I was at Andiamo because I needed to eat the only meal I was going to get that day.
I wasn’t about to pay $25 for a lunch-sized steak, so I stuck to the Italian portion of the lunch menu.
First came a clam stew with loads of onions, celery, peppers and spice. Delicious, but a bit sparse on the clams.
The Italian bread with oil and garlic was top notch as you’d expect.
My lasagna was a tall pile of very thin pasta layered with melted cheese. The only meat was provided by the Bolognese sauce ladled on top.
Maybe I’m a little biased toward my mother’s homemade lasagna but I like thick noodles with lots of meat and cheese embedded in my lasagna.
I suppose that is unsophisticated to the suit-wearing Italians at Andiamo, but my mom will be happy to hear I still like her version best.
Of course I couldn’t pass up a side link of Andiamo’s homemade Italian sausage.
Thick with lots of fennel and seasoning, it was well worth the $3 surcharge.
Remember, one can never have too much meat.
My meal was pretty tasty. But I had to admit that wasn’t really the reason I came here today.
I don’t make a habit of hanging out in expensive suburban valet parking Italian chain restaurants.
I was here to immerse myself in an historical mystery -- and to wonder what Jimmy Hoffa would think of his old hang out if he were still here to see it.
While Hoffa would probably fit right in with the two martini lunch crowd, I’m pretty sure his big mobster head would explode if anyone told him his home state just became America’s latest Right to Work state a little over a year ago.
In a case of “when all else fails, do the right thing”, after decades of losing jobs to Right to Work states, Michigan politicians finally stripped the state’s union bosses of their government guaranteed power to force Michigan workers to pay union dues.
The half billion dollars per year union bosses like Jimmy Hoffa, Jr. had been collecting from Michigan workers by force is no longer guaranteed by state law.
Jimmy Sr.’s little boy -- and all of Michigan’s other union bosses -- now have to collect dues from workers voluntarily.
What a concept.
No wonder Jimmy Jr. declared “Civil War” the day the Governor signed the Right to Work bill.
But the days of acting like a mobbed up thug are over for the Hoffa family now that they finally have to be accountable to the workers they’ve always claimed to represent.
Jimmy Hoffa, Sr. may not be around to witness this shocking change in the home base of compulsory unionism.
But you can be sure of one thing.
Jimmy Hoffa is rolling his grave.
Where ever that is.
Rating: I Would Have Bought a Jimmy Hoffa Commemorative Shirt – But, Alas, Andiamo Doesn’t Sell Those
Friday, June 20, 2014
6363 N. Milwaukee Ave.
Some people don’t get my enthusiasm for hot dogs.
But if you don’t get excited about a trip to Chicago’s famous Superdawg…
…you just might want to consider the possibility that you are a Communist sympathizer.
How can you not love that legendary anatomical meat tube couple dressed in leopard skin and mini skirt perched high above Superdawg looking out over the corner of Milwaukee and Devon?
I get a flutter in my stomach reminiscent of my first childhood encounter with Mickey Mouse at Disney World when I round the corner in my rental car and catch a glimpse of Maurie and Flaurie mounted of the Superdawg roof.
The creepy red glow in Maurie’s eyes means my stomach is in for a treat unlike any other on Earth.
Chicago’s love affair with hot dogs and sausages can be traced back to the immigrants from Central and Eastern Europe who settled in the Windy City.
Superdawg is the quintessential hot dog joint in the quintessential hot dog city.
And an idyllic retreat on the way to that hell otherwise known as O’Hare International Airport.
Packaged in delightful red and blue boxes featuring whimsical bits of wisdom from Maurie such as “Your Superdawg lounges inside” and “From the bottom of my pure beef heart...thanks for giving me this chance to serve you…”
…the anticipation is almost unbearable as the old fashioned car hop delivers the tray of food to my rental car window.
While the convenience of rental car side service is appreciated, trying to keep the pile of condiments off of my suit proves more than a bit challenging.
In Chicago, folks like their dogs “dragged through the garden” meaning topped with an unwieldy combination of mustard, peppers, onions, tomatoes and pickles.
Fortunately the tray of food included a generous supply of napkins which I used to construct a paper barrier between my mountain of meat and produce and my Brook Brothers tie.
The hot dog was an extra thick juicy tube of beef enhanced by the tang and spice of the onions and sport peppers and balanced with the sweet neon green relish.
This is the quintessential Chicago dog.
Tightly packed into the box with the hot dog comes a mound of crinkle cut fries -- a convenient vehicle to soak up all the scattered condiments spilling all over my Chevy Impala.
Not being a huge fan of French fries, I opted also for an order of “Superonionchips”, a towering red box of fried onion petals.
Too much bread. Not enough onion. Probably won’t order those again.
But I saved the best for last.
Thanks to the large number of folks of Polish descent who settled in the Windy City, Chicago is something of a hub for good Polish Sausage.
The Whoopskidawg just might be the most delicious version I’ve ever tasted.
Smothered in diced onion and tangy sweet BBQ sauce and nestled in a top notch onion roll, the Whoopskidawg is even more exciting than the Superdawg…
…as difficult as that is to conceive.
Smokey and sweet simultaneously, my Whoopskidawg just might be the best thing I’ve ever tasted in a city known for world class junk food.
And I don’t think it is a coincidence that one of the most exquisite sausages on earth is named after a country that suffered more than its share from Socialist dictators.
First Poland bore the brunt of the Nazis -- and then the Soviets.
But neither Hitler nor Stalin could snuff out the popularity of a top notch tube of processed meat.
Of course none of this history has stopped Chicago native Michelle Obama from attempting to eradicate hot dogs from America’s school cafeterias.
I’m on the side of the long-suffering, freedom-loving people of Poland.
Whose side are you on?
Rating: Bought the Shirt!
Wednesday, June 11, 2014
528 N. Church Lane
I’m a marketer’s dream.
Tell me something is “scarce”, “in limited supply” or “available for a short time ONLY”, I’m a sucker every time.
That probably explains why I spend so much time in the “Seasonal Beer” aisle of my local Total Wine.
I’ve just got to stock up now for summer on that “limited edition” Harpoon Summer Ale. (Note to local beer distributor: you better replenish your supply, because I just cleaned you out.)
While brewers will always entice me with their seasonal offerings that go down perfectly with a hot backyard barbeque in summer or a cozy fire at Christmas, I’m a sucker for seasonal foods too.
That must explain my obsession with soft shell crabs.
Soft shells are fleeting creatures, available for only a few hours during a few months of the year.
Now that’s what I call limited edition!
Traditional holds that you can only get fresh soft shell crabs for a few weeks after the first full moon of May. That is certainly when they are most prevalent on the menu boards of Chesapeake Bay restaurants.
In reality, you can still get them throughout the summer. (Just don’t tell the soft shells’ V.P. of Marketing.)
All crabs go through a few moltings during their lifespan, where they plump up and slip out of their hard shell and immediately begin growing a new shell.
And that’s all a soft shell crab is -- just a regular ol’ blue crab found so prevalent in southern coastal waters -- going through change of life.
Waterman around the Chesapeake Bay quickly figured out that if you time it just right, before the new hard shell forms, you can fry up and eat a soft crab whole.
Yep. Belly, back, legs and all. Just bite right into him.
That’s a hell of a lot less work than all that cracking, hammering, pounding, poking and picking required to extract the meat from a hard crab.
A soft shell crab sandwich is a lazy man’s crab feast.
Maybe that’s the real reason I love them so much.
Delicious, luscious fresh blue crab -- without all the work.
Passing through the small eastern Virginia town of Tappahanock in late May, I knew Lowery’s would be the perfect place to find soft shells.
Lowery’s has been serving up the bounty of the Virginia coast since 1938 just a stone’s throw from the mighty Rappahannock River which empties into the Chesapeake Bay 30 miles southeast of here.
Dark, cozy and old school with nautical knickknacks and paintings of watermen on the wall, the average age of the customer base rivals the age of the restaurant itself.
If you want hip and young, well, Lowery’s isn’t going to be your kind of place.
However, rumor has it that there is a tiki bar around back that can get somewhat lively (or as lively as anything gets in Tappahanock) during happy hour.
As usual, it was a work day for Suit757, so I’ll probably never know for sure.
I knew I came to the right place as soon as I walked through the front door when I read the hand written sheet of paper tacked up next to the hostess stand reading “fresh local soft shells available.”
I was so excited.
Lowery’s version didn’t disappoint.
One of the largest soft shells I’ve ever seen, perfectly fried in a nice tasty batter, placed on a toasted bun with lettuce, tomato and a slather of tartar sauce.
Eating a soft shell crab sandwich is just fun -- like eating a big delicious bug.
Crispy fried legs dangling out of the bun on all sides, I felt a sense of jubilation just picking the crustacean up and holding the sucker in front my face.
Of course the best part of all is biting into that bad boy. No shells or bones to worry about -- just pure fresh crab meat.
Just before the still alive soft crab goes into the fryer, the cook slices off the crab’s face and scrapes out the lungs and hind quarters so you don’t have to worry about consuming anything you shouldn’t.
Just bite into it.
Which is exactly what I did.
The legs were crispy. The body soft and moist.
Of course there was that slight tug from the soft skin that serves as a molting crab’s only protection against the dangers of being a soft, delicious maritime creature alone in the wilds of the Chesapeake Bay.
It is that yin and yang of textures of a soft shell crab that can be somewhat off putting to land lubbers, Yankees, Obama voters and other such joy killers.
But I try not to hang out with people like that.
Lowery’s other food items were just as delicious, if not quite as seasonally exclusive.
The crab dip was almost pure crab meat, with the cheeses and seasonings serving strictly as background music.
The rolls were warm, fresh out of the oven.
Sweet candied yams and crunchy, creamy cole slaw rounded out a fantastic meal.
Lowery’s isn’t cheap.
The Soft shell sandwich was $12. The crab dip was $15. The crab cake sandwich was $14.
But all of it was good.
I don’t get as irritated by the big bill at the end when I enjoy a meal this much.
After all, dining at Lowery’s is once-n-a-lifetime opportunity available to an exclusive but discerning subset of diners who just happened to be passing by during the extremely limited soft shell crab season.
Yep. I fall for it every time.
And this time, I’m glad I did.
Rating: Seriously Thought about Buying Shirt.
Tuesday, June 3, 2014
Owl Tap Room
75 Commerce St.
Just a few short years ago finding good craft beer in a small Southern town was about as difficult as finding a virgin along Florida State’s sorority row.
Yuengling was about as exotic as it got.
My how things have changed.
For the better.
The Owl Tap Room in the oyster capital of the world, Apalachicola, Florida, is a perfect example.
The beer list spelled out on a big chalk board declares, “Welcome to beer heaven!”
Recently opened as the younger, hipper sister to the frumpy white tablecloth Owl Café next door, the Owl Tap Room sports 15 rotating taps of top notch regional and national craft beers.
And I do mean top notch.
Somebody who knows their beer does the ordering for this place.
Obscure high quality beers from America’s greatest breweries like Ommegang, Bell’s and Southern Tier pour from the taps.
The best beers from Florida and the Southeast are also well represented such as Cigar City in Tampa, Intuition in Jacksonville and Highland in Asheville.
The selection is continually changing as evidenced by the multitude of colorful tap handles hanging from the rafters.
Florida was one of the last states in America to develop a taste for good beer, so finding creative breweries in the Sunshine State can be a challenge.
One of the best is Cigar City. So I was excited to try their High Seas IPA, a flavor I’d never tried before.
Cigar City is famous for its delicious Jai Alai IPA, but this was something different.
Brewed in Ponce, Puerto Rico and then dry hopped with Simcoe hops on its journey back to Tampa in a refrigerated vessel, High Seas IPA has a spicy, fruity snap you’d expect from a top notch IPA.
My Highland Gaelic Ale was a poor choice to follow such a kick-ass brew. There is no way the much more subtle flavors of this ale could match up against a hoppy IPA. But it grew on me as I approached the bottom of the glass.
Next up I had to try Hop House Pale Ale from Ommegang.
Ommegang is a tiny brewery in Cooperstown, New York (home of the Baseball Hall of Fame) that has earned a world renowned reputation. Literally.
Legendary Belgian brewery Duvel was so smitten by the Belgian-style beers being produced by this little Yankee brewery that they bought the damn place.
That’s like Formula One inviting me to race my Toyota Solara in the Monaco Grand Prix.
The Hop House Pale Ale is a hoppy version of a fruity Belgian ale. The Belgian yeast reminds you of the style while the spicy hop finish puts a smile on your face.
Next up I wanted to try the Thomas Creek Porter out of South Carolina but the guy sitting next to me got the last one before the keg blew.
Luckily for me, they replaced it with something even better, Southern Tier 2X IPA, one of my favorite double IPAs from one of my favorite breweries in America. Southern Tier never disappoints.
While my brain could still comprehend what I was drinking, I finished up with pint of Bell’s Smitten Rye, a hoppy pale ale brewed with rye grains, which adds a nice spicy kick.
While clearly beer is the most important item on the menu in the Tap Room, you can also order food.
Good thing too considering all the hops and alcohol flowing through my blood stream.
Of course the reason everyone comes to the tiny town of 3,500 people on the “Forgotten Coast” of Florida is to slurp down fresh Apalachicola oysters.
At the Owl, they proudly serve “13 Mile Brand” oysters.
Most oyster eaters on the Gulf and Atlantic coasts aren’t pretentious enough to fret over oyster brands.
To most southerners, an oyster is an oyster is an oyster.
At most, you might hear them comment about the oyster being “salty” or “fresh”, which varies based on the wind direction and the resulting salinity of the water from which it was plucked.
On the West Coast or at the Grand Central Station Oyster Bar in New York City, you pay four bucks a piece for oysters from specific estuaries and then must commence to pretentiously waxing poetic about the subtle differences.
Here in Apalachicola, if your oyster carries a brand, it will probably be “13 Mile”, which is the only brand sold by The Owl.
13 Mile is the name given to an oyster dock owned for four generations by the Ward family located along Apalachicola Bay which is…you guessed it…
…13 miles from town.
Most days you can catch one of their 13 Mile Brand shrimp boats tied up to the dock downtown.
Maybe I need to become a more pretentious oyster eater because my half dozen raw 13 Mile oysters were some of the biggest, plumpest, most delicious oysters I had in Apalachicola.
Clean, salty and sweet, each slurp was a succulent taste of Apalachicola Bay.
My 13 Mile Brand oysters were like a mini vacation on the half shell.
And at less than a buck a piece, an absolute bargain. After all, if you only have to transport them 13 miles in the back of a refrigerated truck, it dramatically cuts down the transportation costs.
And dramatically ups the freshness.
The fried 13 Mile oysters were excellent too, perfectly prepared to a nice golden crisp. The horseradish dipping sauce was good but unnecessary.
While the menu in the tap room is a bit more modest than in the more formal Owl Café next door, there was a nice selection of options to soak up all that good beer.
I went with the alligator sausage sandwich.
There’s just something fun about eating an animal more dangerous than me.
In the swamp in my backyard I might be at a disadvantage, but here at the Owl Tap Room it was Suit757 at the top of the food chain as I admired the black grill marks on my perfectly charred tube of mashed up gator parts.
The sautéed onions and sauerkraut gave the gator a nice sweet and tangy accent.
Full of beer, oysters and gator, I stumbled out onto Commerce Street a happy man.
I mean I’m always happy after a good meal.
But what put me in an especially good mood was knowing that the craft beer revolution has spread even to this tiny nook of the American South -- one of my favorite destinations of the wide Suit757 map.
A trip to Apalach no longer means a weekend of washing down my oysters with a steady stream of Miller Lite and Yuengling.
How cool is that?
Life in the Confederacy just keeps getting better.
Rating: Bought the Shirt!
Labels: 13 Mile Oysters, Apalachicola, Beer, Bell's Brewery, Bought the Shirt, Cigar City Brewing, Florida, Fried Oysters, Gator Sausage, Highland Gaelic Ale, Ommegang, Owl Tap Room, Oysters, Southern Tier, Suit757