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Egg, ham, and cheese Moroccan street food crepe, Marrakech, Morocco

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In case you’re wondering what you’re missing in first class

Flat-iron steak, United Airlines Flight 1621, EWR -> SFO

After a long, flight-heavy trip between Europe, Morocco, and New Jersey, I couldn’t pass up splurging my United MileagePlus points on a Business Class Saver Award on the return flight to San Francisco.

Here are the riches of that decision:

– Flat-iron steak entree with grilled broccolini, gigande beans and red chimichurri sauce

– Goat cheese, rye bread, and fig appetizer

– Fresh granny smith apple, fennel and beet salad (I lifted this description off of the United website, I have no guarantee it was fresh)

Nothing weird-worthy about it, except the overly-strong charbroiled smell of the flat-iron steak—imagine if you vaped overcooked beef. I think they overdid it with the Liquid Smoke.

So if you’re imagining rich in-flight culinary experiences in first class, rest assured you’re not missing out. Though the three complimentary gin and tonic re/fills and the glass of wine weren’t too shabby, nor was the subsequently-necessary full-lie-down loungeability of the seats.

In case you’re wondering what you’re missing in first class

#WTFISTHIS

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Elvis Burger, Apple Fritter, San Mateo, CA

There’s nothing like a quirky burger. The burger is the quintessential American food. It is also our culinary canvas for adventurous ingredients that the average eater might have never encountered elsewhere. How many of our countrymen first encountered blue cheese or foie gras on a burger? Where else but the burger could the baconization of American cuisine have begun—when was the bacon burger not a thing?

These sociological reflections were far from my mind when I sat down for an Elvis Burger at Apple Fritter. (Actually, I ate the burger and a side of cajun fries from a brown to-go bag while gunning it up the 101 back to San Francisco, where I was late meeting a friend.) I just wanted a burger, as one does, and found to my delight a wealth of weird choices, including an eggy Brunch Burger and the doughnut-bunned Luther.

The menu captures the spirit of the Elvis, in my crappy photo above, with the tag #WTFISTHIS. Indeed: devilled egg bread, bacon bits, shredded cheddar, peanut butter, strawberry jelly, chips, jalapenos. What, first of all, is devilled egg bread, even? And is this madness?

Flavor: 4.5 / 5. Maybe it’s the peanut butter and jelly-loving kid in me, or the texture addition of the chips, or the always amazing combination of sweet preserves with spicy chili (if you’ve don’t know what I mean do yourself a favor and find yourself some habanero strawberry jam next time you are in a more-artisan-than-thou type store). But this was an amazingly tasty and balanced burger combination, all the more so for its grandly American flavor palette and ingredient list. It lives up to its name.

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Fun: 4 / 5. It’s a burger. Burgers are fun by their very nature—round, fat, meat-filled things that you handle with your hands and often have to stretch your jaws open to consume properly. They are primally fun—that’s why we love them.

Multiple factors conspire to make this a particularly fun burger. The ingredients, of course: the cheerful crimson of strawberry jam, the peanut butter, the very existence of something called ‘devilled egg bread’. Bacon bits—say no more. Texturally, the crunch of the chips contrasts perfectly with the densely soft bread and the mush of the meat itself.

And then, this place is just fun. It’s a prolific eatery—their burger menu is one of at least four menus, including all-day breakfast, lunch, cafe drinks and milkshakes, and its own Weird Dish-worthy array of doughnuts. The burger menu is divided into ‘Traditional’, ‘Interesting’, and ‘Bizarre’. My kind of place.

Funkiness: 2.5 / 5. It’s a burger. Ultimately, you can’t get too weird with a burger. But for a burger the Elvis gets you your weird. A well-executed mashup of a PB&J and a jalapeno bacon burger with the chips-on-the-side thrown in—and, again, that mysterious devilled egg bread. I will learn your secret, devilled egg bread.

#WTFISTHIS
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Fried chicken buffet, Gold Club, San Francisco, CA.

Nothing particularly weird about a fried chicken lunch buffet, right? Well, leaving aside the fact that the buffet costs $5, it’s located at the Gold Club in the SoMA. I’ll let you learn about the Gold Club on your own. Hint: dark blue lighting. Hint: that’s a pole in the background.

Now, don’t look at me like a regular, dear readers, I’m just a reporter investigating what is said to be one of the best lunch deals in town. At $5, it is that, though the quality of the buffet is about what you’d expect.

Just don’t come thirsty. At $6, that water was by far the most expensive part of this meal.

Indian sweets, Vik’s Chaat, Berkeley, California.

One of my favorite cultural experiences is to discover, all at once, the existence of a genre or subgenre of ethnic food that I had no previous awareness of. At their best, they leave a charged, atmospheric memory that informs impressions of that food from then onwards—the shared excitement of encountering Southern Indian dosas and uttapams for the first time in college, stumbling on ethnic Russian restaurant Gostiny Dvor in the alleys of Dongdaemun in Seoul to get my first taste of the sweet and doughy sourness of Russian dumplings, or pelmeni.

Despite my Proustian introduction to this post, Vik’s Chaat’s Indian sweets were unlikely to brand my memory with chamcham and mava jamun. I suppose I was already pretty familiar with the rudiments of Indian desserts anyway—no stranger to rosewater, pistachio, khoya (dried evaporated milk solids, like in gulab jamun), or cardamom. If you’ve experienced the mainstays of Indian dessert menus—gulab jamun, kheer, rasmalai—you’ll have a pretty good sense of what you’re starting with here.

Still, walking into the enormous cafeteria of a restaurant, in the warehouse-y region of North Berkeley, I expected myself to walk away bedazzled. Kid-in-the-candy-shop, like. The display cases of sweets are impressive—you wrap around them while waiting in line to order your meal (in our case a delicious cholle bhatura and a lamb baida roti, though pass on the dhokla, a fermented rice and chickpea cake that is made in advance and relatively flavorless.) The classic supermarket checkout tactic, the tempting ambush of candies and sweets.

Needless to say we went for it, ordering the following:

  • Pink chamcham – paneer, rose syrup, khoya, pistachio, sugar
  • Yellow chamcham – paneer, saffron, khoya, pistachio, sugar
  • Mava jamun – milk, khoya, rose syrup, sugar
  • Petha – ash gourd vegetable and sugar

Flavor – 2 / 5. I likely would have been significantly more awed by these desserts if they tasted better. They were too sweet, though, and had that quality that syrupy desserts have when they’ve been sitting in their own syrup for too long—stagnant, cloying.

Note that this shouldn’t dissuade a visit to Vik’s Chaat for their meals, which are exceptional and cheap. If you want to sate a sweet tooth, stick to their tasty rose lassi.

Fun – 4 / 5. There is a reason I got excited by these in the first place. It has the variety and visual stimulation of a candy shop. Of course, candy shops get old quickly when you can no longer stand pure, undiluted sugar.

Funkiness – 1.5 / 5. Most of these desserts aren’t very funky at all—again, consisting of ingredients you’ll find in any Indian restaurant dessert menu. The petha was the item that caught my attention—“Ash gourd vegetable? Intriguing.” I’m too often a sucker for quirky sounding food names—turns out this is nothing more than winter melon.

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Guess what? Pork butt.

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Pork butt tater tots, Tank House, Sacramento, California

It was a 4th of July weekend. With a minor-league River Cats baseball game behind us and a rodeo replete with calf roping, bull riding, and motocross stunts ahead, we needed a really American meal to whet our whistles.

Nothing says “America” like BBQ. On the recommendation of our Lyft driver we checked out Tank House, where we found this gem of a weird dish. More poetically, rough-cut cylindrical gems of fried potatoey goodness blanketed in velvety cheese and topped with lusciously silk-stringy pulled pork and smoke-rich barbecue. When the moonlight alit on the cheese at just the right angle…

Flavor: 3.5 / 5. Hard, really, to go wrong with tater tots covered in pork and cheese. Fat3. We’d really need a category here for “How you’d feel the next morning after eating a whole bunch of these” to fairly capture the full force of this meal. But, live for the day at least once. They are delicious, even as tater tots go. The tots stay crispy and fresh-flavored, the cheese accompanies and layers without gumming or competing, and the pork is wet, oh so wet.

Fun: 4.5 / 5. Pork butt! Tater tots!

Funkiness: 1 / 5. Pork butt, while exotic and fun sounding, is just pulled pork. We probably eat it all the time, though I’m no expert on pork cut provenance. There’s a reason, anyway, that we generally obscure anatomy when naming our meatstuffs. To my disappointment, Tank House recently changed their menu (at least online) to the more anodyne “pulled pork tater tots”. Squeamish people, ugh.

Guess what? Pork butt.