Clip: Mayor’s Mouth Playtext

Written by Seth on June 22nd, 2009

This is a snippet from “The Mayor’s Mouth”, the play I co-wrote with Chloe Johnston that chronicled the recent political history of Chicago by taking a close look at the favorite recipes of the city’s last six mayors.  In the middle, we paused to discuss the mayors of our youth.

mayors

Sprinkling snow on Jane Byrne's Snowbirds

I grew up in Washington, DC.   Chicago and DC have much in common: both were built on a swamp;  both have streets laid out on a grid; and both suffer from the modern urban blights of segregation, gang warfare, and drugs.

In Chicago we have Daley. In DC we had Marion Barry.  A man who rose to prominence as a local activist, an organizer with the ability to transform a marginalized population of a marginalized city by letting people grab hold of their rightful due.  He rose to national prominence (at least, as far as I knew in my benighted mid-eighties youth) as the man at the helm of the Murder Capital of the Country.  He showed up 2 hours late for my brother’s high school graduation: drove his Limo right up onto the Wilson SHS football field, got out, silenced the band, straightened his kente cloth confessional shawl, delivered his commencement speech, and got the hell out, a whirlwind of black power.

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Clip: Amana/Clarion Playtext

Written by Seth on June 22nd, 2009

Together with Chloe Johnston, I wrote this theatrical cooking show as a meditation on the role of recipes in religious Utopian communities, specifically the Clarion colony, a Jewish back-to-the-soil movement outpost in the desert of Utah where my grandmother was born.

Ben Brown’s idea was to take the Jewish people out of the clutches of the corrupt and decadent city, and restore them full citizenship by creating perfect cooperative farm colonies in the wild west.

Ben Brown must have been a gifted salesman – he convinced my great grandfather and 60 other families to invest $350.00 each in his dream. In Utah, Brown got what seemed like a great deal on 6000 acres of prime land and a promise from the governor to provide water by irrigation from a nearby river.

He rounded up 12 volunteers to start to break ground in Clarion for their houses and farms. My great grandfather went along. He left my great grandmother in Harlem with her father and her two sons and left to spend a long winter in the Utah desert.

I have this picture of him from the trip out – he’s in Buffalo NY, standing in front of a painted backdrop of Niagara falls. His chin is jutting out, his body is leaning back at an unnatural angle, like he’s rearing back and preparing to pounce.

The next spring they sent for reinforcements – my great grandmother arrived, with the boys. Other families trickled in. They tried to plant crops of alfalfa and wheat. The canal wasn’t operational yet so the settlers brought fresh-water in barrels from a nearby town and each barrel had to be hauled by horse-drawn wagon.

But there was barely enough to drink, let alone water the fields. The first year came and went without a crop. The settlers sued the state for its failure to run the water in the canal.

My grandmother was born. Her little brother dave was born. More colonists came. Some colonists left.. Salt water was rinsed from children’s hair, wells were dug and redug

Clip: Theoretical Isolation Monologue

Written by Seth on June 22nd, 2009

Here’s a piece of playtext that I wrote for the LDSM‘s Theoretical Isolation, inspired by stories of Richard Feynman’s scrapes with censors at Los Alamos.

A moment from Theoretical Isolation

A moment from Theoretical Isolation

I have sufficient belongings.  My wife made a checklist. She packed up all my things in four large steamer trunks.  In each steamer trunk she has left a note to me.  We like to write each other notes, in code. In the first trunk, surrounded by my clothes, towels and linens, there is a copy of the book “Breaking the Code” and a sheet of instructions.  I follow the instructions and cut holes in a sheet of paper.  I turn to the page indicated and overlay my template, and the words that appear form sentences.  In my second steamer trunk, between the cans of beans and the tins of sardines, there is a schematic diagram.  At first I think it is an electrical circuit.  Then I realize each node on the diagram instructs me on how many tins of what sort I should stack where at what time.

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Clip: Baconfest Manifesto

Written by Seth on June 22nd, 2009

I wrote this chunk of agitprop bacon prose for the Baconfest Chicago website.

We all remember our first taste of bacon. Maybe it wasn’t perfect: maybe the bacon was cold; maybe there was congealed bacon grease clinging to the rasher. But we remember it, because it opened the door to a lifetime of bacon memories. It was that first crispy step on the path to a bacony life. It set the bar for every slab and slice and hunk of sweet cured pork that was to follow.

Baconfest Chicago is in the business of creating new bacon memories. To that end, we find it convenient to list our beliefs about bacon so that you may discern whether the bacon memories we offer are the ones you’ll want lodged in your head.

We are catholic
That’s small “c” catholic, not big “C” Catholic. We treasure bacon in all of its forms, in every preparation. Sure, we have our preferences – some like it baked and some like it fried, some like it smoked and some like it cured; some like it sweet and some like it salty. But we reject nothing at first blush. We believe that the power of bacon is its universality, its capacity to enhance almost any flavor it comes into contact with.

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Clip: Vasari Corridor Press Release

Written by Seth on June 22nd, 2009

Here’s a press release I wrote describing the Vasari Corridor tour, one of Select Italy‘s most interesting tour products.

Chicago Travel Agency Grants Behind-the-Scenes Access to Florence’s Vasari Corridor

Select Italy Offers Unique Tour of Art Treasures Behind Locked Doors

CHICAGO, IL June 29, 2006. It seems like every specialty travel agent in America promises behind-the-scenes, VIP-access to unforgettable experiences in the world’s most popular travel destinations. However, few can deliver on that promise. Exclusive meetings with the high-powered aristocrats of Europe may turn out to be watered down coffee and biscuits with an over-powdered middle-aged lady on her Roman balcony.

Then again, there are some VIP experiences that live up to the fanfare and are very difficult to arrange without the help of a specialist. Select Italy, a Chicago travel agency that specializes exclusively in Italy, offers such a service: guided visits to Florence’s Percorso dei Principi, better known as the Vasari Corridor. This site is officially closed to the general public; operators at the Uffizi box office do not grant reservation requests from individual travelers. Select Italy is the only US travel agent offering this small group tour.

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Clip: “Trip of a Lifetime” Press Release

Written by Seth on June 22nd, 2009

Here’s a press release I wrote for Select Italy announcing the airing of a program I planned and helped produce.

Select Italy to be Featured on Travel Channel’s “Trip of a Lifetime”
Episode Airs January 18 at 9:00 PM CST (10:00 PM EST&PST)

Chicago, IL  January 11, 2007 — Select Italy, a Chicago-based tour operator specializing exclusively in travel to Italy, will be featured on the Travel Channel’s new series, “Trip of a Lifetime” on January 18 at 9:00 PM CST (10:00 PM EST&PST). For each episode of “Trip of a Lifetime”, Travel+Leisure editors paired deserving travelers with expert tour operators specializing in the episode’s destination. As a Travel+Leisure “A-List Super Agent” for Italy, Select Italy was the natural choice to provide innovative and custom-tailored travel services for the Pellegrino family on this new program, a combination travelogue and reality show.

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Clip: Wildfire in the Reader

Written by Seth on June 22nd, 2009

Wildfire
159 W. Erie St., Chicago, (312) 787-9000.
Steaks/Lobster, Barbecue/Ribs. Dinner: seven days.
Open late: Friday & Saturday till 11.

Wildfire, like almost every Lettuce Entertain You restaurant, traffics in nostalgia. It’s a replica of a 40s-era wood-paneled supper club, complete with Sinatra on the sound system, stiff drinks at the bar, and massive black-and-white photos of GIs on furlough doing the Lindy Hop with pretty girls. The menu is a throwback too. Meat predominates–steaks, chops, and barbecue. The baby back ribs are OK for ribs served in a place with white tablecloths, juicy and meaty though without the smoky resilience of a rib tended by a watchful pit master. I’d stick to steak on future visits, however. The bone-in rib eye I jealously watched the German tourist at the next table devour was massive, and the trio of filets mignons crusted in your choice of rubs looked great. Other parts of the menu give the nod to more recent decades: not too many Sinatra hangouts served macadamia-crusted halibut or touted their strategic partnerships with internationally distributed megabrands like Geyser Peak or BelGioioso.

–Seth Zurer

Clip: 87th St BBQ in the Reader

Written by Seth on June 22nd, 2009

87th Street BBQ
100 W. 87th St., Chicago, (773) 846-8829.
American, Barbecue/Ribs. Lunch, dinner: seven days.
Open late: Friday & Saturday till midnight; Tuesday-Thursday till 11.

Sandwiched between one of the Harold’s Chicken Shack outposts and a Subway, this impeccably clean Chatham takeout prompts thought of one of the enduring mysteries of the restaurant world: how does a charmless place serving indisputably bad food stay in business? A sign on the tile wall advertises an opening for a cook and a meat chopper. I hope they find someone qualified soon, because in the meantime the barbecue here is a travesty. Pork ribs are greasy and gummy, like day-old steamed roast pork. Beef ribs lack structural integrity and, inexplicably, taste exactly like the barbecued turkey leg. Hot links are the worst of the lot: though all beef, they taste like blood sausage crossed with overcooked liver and oatmeal. No wisp of smoke, the true mark of barbecue, contaminates any of the meat, and the sauce is cloyingly sweet. (According to the counterman, they used to make their own but no longer.) Service is affable, but if you find yourself in the vicinity I’d recommend Harold’s: four wings with salt, pepper, and hot sauce will save you some heartache if not heartburn.

–Seth Zurer

Clip: Merle’s in the Reader

Written by Seth on June 22nd, 2009

Merle’s #1 Barbecue
1727 Benson Ave., Evanston, (847) 475-7766.
Barbecue/Ribs. Lunch: Sun, Sat. Dinner: seven days.
Open late: Friday & Saturday till 11.

At Merle’s, the kind of barbecue place that offers composed salads for vegetarians, it falls to the savvy consumer to minimize the damage the kitchen can do to a slab of ribs. A couple of general precepts: (1) choose dry over wet (a rib presauced is a rib with something to hide); (2) avoid preportioned and reheated cuts of meat (brisket should be cut to order); (3) don’t believe the hype–the claim of Merle’s slogan to the contrary, no restaurant’s barbecue is good enough to make you want to slap your pappy, I promise. With these caveats in mind, Merle’s does an OK job. Baby back ribs, prepared dry, come in a meaty half slab, with a decent crust of highly seasoned dry rub, an almost smoky flavor, and a texture pleasantly positioned in the middle of the continuum between fall off the bone and leathern. When prepared wet (i.e., preslathered with “Tennessee” barbecue sauce), on the other hand, the meat slides into a slimy parboiled state, without a trace of smoke flavor. Brisket, which is available sliced or “pulled” (a treatment no brisket deserves), was preportioned and poor: one slice had managed to escape overzealous fat trimming and was fine, but the leaner pieces were smokeless and tough. Smoked chicken, at least on one recent visit, was overcooked and dry. “Smoking wings” were gummy winglets and drumettes first smoked then fried and coated in your choice of sauce, from mild to medium to “smoking hot.” Smoking isn’t what I’d call it, though–the waiter got it right when he termed them “macho but manageable.”

–Seth Zurer

Clip: Borinquen in the Reader

Written by Seth on June 22nd, 2009

Borinquen
1720 N. California, Chicago, (773) 227-6038.
Latin American. Breakfast, lunch, dinner: seven days.
Open late: Friday & Saturday till 11.

Borinquen, the “Home of the Jibaro,” stakes its reputation on a dish its owner claims to have invented: the jibarito (“little hillbilly”), a garlicky sandwich with your choice of meat layered between two deep-fried slices of flattened green plantain. It’s a greasy, unwieldy mess of a sandwich, but man, does it work. I like mine with lechon, juicy Puerto Rican-style roast pork laced with pockets of rich fat and satisfying crunches of golden crackling skin. The jibarito also comes in beef, veggie, ham, or chicken incarnations. I can’t wholeheartedly endorse the pollo–the stewed chicken can be tough and gristly; the pechuga, or chicken breast is better. On the side I take an order of arroz con gandules (yellow rice with pigeon peas) or habichuelas (red beans with ham)and a splash of vinagre (a red-pepper and garlic-infused vinegar, made in-house). Borinquen has a full menu of Puerto Rican plates, but none lives up to the high standard set by the jibarito. The mofongo is interesting, fried plantain mashed in a wooden mortar and pestle with salt pork and garlic and then molded around either lechon or seafood. The appetizers are sometimes good, depending on how long they’ve been under the heat lamp in the window; I like the bacalaito, a codfish fritter. Borinquen now has two additional locations, at 3020 N. Central (773- 622-8570) and at 3811 N. Western (773-442-8001); the ambience at the latter hovers between sports bar and neighborhood tavern.

–Seth Zurer