Those Were the Days, My Friend

While trying to clean out my “office” for the upcoming transition into guest bedroom, I’ve been going through my writing files.

Wow! There sure was plenty of excess junk. Well, technically not junk and this is why I say that. Time was that when a writer sent out queries for a possible assignment, you had to send original clips. The internet changed all that; now, all you need is to send a link. Much easier, I guess, but so why was keeping multiple copies of my published work?

There was another purpose but more about that on another post.

My method was to keep one hard copy of each work along with the last copy that I printed. I’d do it while I was watching TV at night and on those rainy days last week.

I wrote for the Tucson Weekly0 for ten years so you can imagine the amount of work there was. Add other works, personal papers and miscellaneous travel records and info for future possible work.

I was astounded at the number of restaurants that have closed over that time and then again, I wasn’t. So many places had no hope of success due to bad food, poor service, unskilled management and the fact that the whole concept was a bad, bad idea.

That some folks tried really hard was apparent. One restaurant, Santillo’s, was a fabulous little place on Oracle Road just north of Ina Road. We liked it a lot because the place was a true slice of Buffalo, New York complete with real buffalo wings and beef on ‘Weck sandwiches.

Wings can be found just about everywhere these days but the beef on ‘weck, which I think is a truer icon of local eating, is only found in the Buffalo/Niagara Falls area, which is where my husband was raised. We’ve certainly had our fair share of these hot beef sandwiches. They’re served with au jus for dipping ala French dip only better. 0What makes them unique is the bun. The buns are often described as a Kaiser roll with coarse salt and caraway seeds on top. And they are, but there is something about a real ‘weck roll that can only be found in upstate New York.

The reason Santillo’s folded was, I believe, a landlord issue and I say this because that same building was home to four or five different concepts in four or five years. I think it’s a fitness place now. But each of those places, from a quick serve Chinese to a rather well-known Italian place, all closed within a year of opening.

And then there are those restaurants that were seriously bad ideas from the get go.

When I was first writing for the Weekly, I reviewed a place called Charlie’s which was at now the site of The Blue Saguaro Supper Club on Dodge Road. The owners had redone the layout some. Where at one time the bar had been separated from the main dining area allowing for patrons who just wanted to drink to do just that. For some reason that I could not fathom, the owners replaced it with a plexiglass wall so, I guess, everyone was a part of the action. Useless and inane.

The food was bad with no focus at all and it was obvious that the kitchen suffered from lack of professional experience. The food seemed to come out all at once. For example, we’d barely started our appetizers when the salads arrived, followed quickly by the entrees. Plus, there was copious amounts of garlic on everything. I love garlic, but this stuff was practically raw so all you tasted was garlic.

I had no choice but to give we the place a negative review.

Now I’m not writing this with the article in front of me. The experience we had there was that memorably bad.

Well, that set off a firestorm of letters to my boss about how I’d had been malicious; that I had some sort of score to settle (I didn’t know who any of them were so that argument was pretty weak); that ‘didn’t I know that if you over-cooked garlic that it could ruin a dish?’. One suggested that I had no business writing restaurant reviews and I should get a job shoveling horse shit.

In all, I think there were eight letters; seven from the seven owners (seven owners are about four too many) and one that agreed wholeheartedly with my assessment.

They also told the editor I should be fired and that someone more knowledgeable should re-review it. He nixed both ideas.

I reread these letters – yes, I kept them – and had to laugh. Charlie’s lasted a year at most.

I read other letters, too. Most of which were positive with several being from owners who were surprised and thankful for the great review.

Like the Santillo’s spot, there were quite a few buildings that had housed more than one or two or three or four other restaurants. One cool little spot is on Main Gate Square. The space was small, dark and cozy. I think the space was there before the modernization of the area, but sadly, none of the places I reviewed were worthy of a return, non-working visit. Even if I had wanted to, all of them faded into oblivion quickly.

I was pleased to see that many restaurants are still around. Those will be covered in a later post, maybe.