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Who Killa Da Chef?

October 3, 2012

Mosca’s. Tony Angelo’s. Vincent’s.We know a thing or two about red sauce down here in New Orleans. The French Quarter was once a Sicilian ghetto. Lasagne at Tony’s on Bourbon on Wednesdays was once an institution. Sunday dinner out in an Italian Place means putting on a jacket, something only the most ostentatious of the city’s restaurants still require. “Who killa da chief” was the famous taunt used aganst Italian immigrants after the murder of the Chief of Police and the subsequent mob lynching of the Italian suspects at the turn of the last century. The most obvious piece of the 1984 World’s Fair is the Piazza d’Italia in the CBD. With the same thoughtful grace with which this city once boasted a Home for Incurables (get in the goddamn cab, grandma!) and built Crippled Children’s Hospital, the “wop salad” drowning in marinated “olive salad” was once a menu staple of the city.

We’re not Italian, but had a (now severed) tie by marriage to the Marcello tomato empire. My sister the foodie still make a mean “Sunday Sauce”, a slow reduction meat sauce which acquires upon completion a specific gravity that flattens the pasta and guarantees a good Sunday afternoon nap, especially if you wash it down with a couple of glasses of what is still affectionately known by some  as “dago red”. (Serve with a wop salad of iceberg, tomatoes, an anchovy or two and enough olive salad to require a garnish of an extra does of your blood pressure medication).

If you are going out to dinner somewhere  everything on the menu that is not pasta comes with a small plate of Spaghetti No. 1 in marinara sauce on the side, the drink of choice is a good “dago red”. Nothing French or Napa mind you, and nothing white. You might be allowed a beer if it’s lunch in the middle of the week and you’re afraid the wine is going to jump on top of all that pasta and put you down for the count, but at dinner? At a fancy place?

Maybe I should follow LaDonna’s Sixth Ward common-sense advice and let the guests pour their beer in the wine glass, but if the new Metairie steakhouse king takes you out to dinner at a highly regarded Italian restaurant in New York, you order a beer? Worse, you order a Schaefer? When I was living in the 1300 block of Esplanade you could buy Schaefer in New Orleans. I used to get mine after work when I was a broke-ass suburban newspaper reporter–three for a dollar–at Egle’s Pharmacy. That’s right, three for a dollar. High class stuff, perfect for sitting on your stoup for an after work drink with a spare can should a neighbor stop to chat. Schaefer took over the market niche of Jax, that product of the secret Fabacher Family Recipe which was deservedly buried deep in a cave in a remote and inaccessible mountain range under a horrible curse until it was discovered by Miller and made the basis for Miller64.

Schaefer, America’s oldest brewery (or so they claimed) succumbed to consolidation and was acquired by Strohs and later Pabst, a progression a lot like that starting with  a second drink at lunch, then one at breakfast, and ending up at the corner with a bottle of Mad Dog 20/20.  The only possible explanation is Product Placement, and I hope that the food consultants had a fit on the set so disruptive that David Simon had to peel off a couple of hundreds and send them off to go have lunch somewhere. An Italian place maybe. With a good bottle of Sicilian Red. Marco, make some recommendations.

17 Comments
  1. October 3, 2012 8:03 am

    You betcha! Schaefer used to have a brewery in Albany that fortunately closed in the 70’s. Thankfully, now there are several modestly priced Sicilian reds available to red wine lovers.

    Tasca d’Almerita Regaleali Nero d’Avola, Morgante, Colosi, Cusumano Benuara, Tasca d’Almerita Lamuri, Valle Dell’ Acate Cerasuolo di Vittoria, Santa Anastasia Contempo, Butera Nero d’Avola.

  2. Ralph permalink
    October 3, 2012 11:10 am

    The product placement in this show is incessant. Silently plugging an awful-tasting beer is subtle compared to the way they’ve been pushing certain musicians and chefs.

  3. October 3, 2012 11:28 am

    Product placement helps pays the bills for a show that is a loss leader for HBO. I don’t grudge them that. It’s in every thing you see on a screen. I would have to disagree with the placement of musicians. Scores of musicians have appeared over two plus seasons. Some are cameos, some recur. (John Boutte wrote the theme, hey). Boutte gets some extra licks, as does Kermit Ruffins and of course the epically New Orleans Dr. John but why would the show not use musicians with national standing to draw viewers? Why not feature Bennie Pete and Terrell Batiste in the episode about the death of Dinerall Shavers? Why not, in fact, feature his sister giving the actual eulogy on camera? Is it exploitative? No one dragged her in front of the camera. She clearly wanted that story told. How can you not find it hilarious to watch Delmond pitching Donald Harrison, Jr. his own project Indian Blues? Why replace iconic figures with actors when the show can spread some money around the community of musicians, not all of whom command Mac Rebennack’s prominence? I’ve heard this complaint before and frankly just don’t understand it.

  4. October 3, 2012 2:55 pm

    Schaefer beer stood out enough to capture the attention of the scene away from the actors…what the hell was Schaefer doing there? It was like seeing an old friend for me, since I quit that sauce twenty years ago, and I am sick of seeing the gaudy Miller signs in every club and bar set, and everyone ordering “Bud” when asked.
    However, even though Schaefer came to the bars I frequented in Ohio and Indiana towards the end of my drinkin’ daze, I always associate it with giant beer signs in all the New York City ballparks; you’d see them in movies and sports hi-lite films, just huge signs proclaiming the goodness of the stuff…and yet everyone who drank the brew knew it was low-quality, and even though I don’t know if just maybe the beer has improved over the years, it still did not belong in that scene, not when thousands of great micro-breweries flourish, some maybe profitable enough to sponsor a scene on Treme.

  5. October 3, 2012 4:40 pm

    Hell, why not a He’Brew? It mean, it’s The Chosen Beer. Says so right there on the label and made in New York. I’m especially fond of the Coney Island clown. I have bottles scattered all over my house. A Coney Island Larger would be classy and scream I’m In New York.

  6. October 3, 2012 4:42 pm

    As decorations, scattered all over my house as decorations. Because the giant tin clown at The Avenue Pub is screwed down entirely too well and in plain site of the bartender and trying to get down from the upstairs bar and out the door with a brightly colored, 10 square foot clown sign would require a diversion of epic proportions.

  7. October 3, 2012 6:31 pm

    I thought it was awesome. I think this restaurant is known for serving Schaefer so for me it made sense for them to be drinking it. I could be wrong but I think it’s one of the few beers on the menu,

  8. October 3, 2012 7:33 pm

    An odd trademark, but I’ll buy that. Given the review of their lunch menu I read (basic, stick to your ribs Italian with no fancy imported ingredients, etc.), maybe they’re going for a working man’s lunch counter cachet even when they put on the prix fixe at night. It does look a bit like a tarted up (i.e., dusted), Metairie version of the wall shelves of Central Grocery in there. I hope they can manage a tasty glass of the blood of Jove should I ever be so lucky.

  9. Ralph permalink
    October 4, 2012 9:35 am

    Good point on the Anheuser-Busch and Schaefer-type product placement. I don’t mind that. There’s no dialogue built around that kind of plug. The problem with the musicians and chefs is that most of them suck at acting. More importantly, I just get tired of hearing about what a great chef David Chang is, how great Annie’s new song is, etc. And the show is littered with lines like “I’m gonna take you to a nice restaurant uptown called Clancy’s” and “These po’ boys are from Captain Sal’s.” There’s no doubt that giving local musicians some national exposure is admirable. Hell, I love the product they’re pushing. Simon just needs to decide whether he wants to produce a great show or an infomercial.

  10. October 4, 2012 10:00 am

    An interesting reply, which leads me to wonder what differentiates those of us who hear and see touchstones of verite and who sees product placement. Did Captain Sal really plunk down to get mentioned on Treme? I doubt that, although other placements by larger brands is certainly possible, almost a certainty.

    I think only the producers could decode for us what role product placement plays (and it’s everywhere in Hollywood) versus what is there for authenticity. As the previous commenter noted, the restaurant actually serves Schaefer. Placement or fidelity? Impossible for us on the outside to tell, but I think someone on the production staff responsible for such things is hopefully reading this and laughing their asses off at us.

    As for the musicians, I think Lucia Micarelli does a fine job. She’s not going to win any awards but strikes me as a competent actress who more than holds up her role in the show. For the others, why have somebody spend a week trying to get their Kermit impression down just right when you can get Kermit himself? For the cameo musicians, I wholly agree with Simon’s announced intention to spread the money around in the musician’s community, and using members of the Hot 8 in the Helen Hill/Dinerral Shavers episode to me lends depth and sincerity to the show. I know sincerity is not a particularly valued part of modern culture. Whatever else you might say about David Simon, he gives every public and private indication of being sincere about his work, how it plays and who it pays, semper fidelis serious sincere.

  11. October 4, 2012 11:52 am

    I always wondered whether the New Orleans Italian/Sicilian population had a sense of humor regarding casual slurs like “wop salad” and “dago red.” I know many a menu in town featured a wop salad, so, were they tolerant of it? Were the words not regarded as slurs back then? Or did they just not have enough clout to complain about it?

  12. Ralph permalink
    October 4, 2012 1:24 pm

    “For the others, why have somebody spend a week trying to get their Kermit impression down just right when you can get Kermit himself?”

    Neither. Hire a real actor to play a fictional trumpeter. Hire a real actor to play a Janette’s fictional boss. David Chang and John Boutte’s stilted acting does not make for good TV. If David Simon is more concerned with giving these guys some national visibility than suspension of disbelief, that’s fine. All a matter of priorities, I guess.

    “Did Captain Sal really plunk down to get mentioned on Treme?”

    No. Davis, his rapper protege, and maybe a couple others were meeting at Davis’s house and somebody brought lunch. I don’t remember all the details but I remember the following exchange and that it added nothing to the scene:

    Rapper: Where this came from?

    Annie: Captain Sal’s!

    That kind of name-dropping is tiresome.

  13. Ralph permalink
    October 4, 2012 1:30 pm

    Pete, I’m Italian and have never objected to being called a dago or a wop. I’m pretty sure I’ve only been called that by friends.

  14. Blake permalink
    October 4, 2012 2:02 pm

    Hey Now Back of Town, Blake the music supervisor here… not really laughing, more like scratching my head in puzzlement. I’ve been working on Simon’s shows for over ten years, and I can tell you there has never once been a single paid product placement on The Wire or Treme. Not Schaefer, not Bud, not Captain Sal’s, not Phat Farm. None, ever.

  15. October 5, 2012 9:20 am

    Blake,

    Fair enough about (the lack of) product placement, but you do have some favorites (human and not) on the show, though. I’d love to see some Papa Grows Funk and Paulin Brothers, for instance, in Season 3.5 as added variety.

  16. October 5, 2012 9:42 am

    Actually, I’m beginning to get a little tired of Mr. Chang myself, although as someone has observed this is probably the only time you will actually see him in one of his restaurants.

    I get the chef’s dinner as establishing the choice for Janette, but I hope this is doing to dwindle away. I have to admit I don’t know if Chef Malevolent is a chef or an actor, but it hardly matters. He makes my skin crawl like Bella Lugosi as no doubt intended.

  17. doctorj2u permalink
    October 5, 2012 6:49 pm

    In memory of Ashley Morris. His favorite Saint! http://www.facebook.com/home.php#!/neworleanssaints

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