End of the Line

Roy Blount Jr. Keeps it Simple

A passionate plea for a simpler plate of food

Illustration: BARRY BLITT

Reading about contemporary food lately, I keep running into something called Banana Everything Cookie. Why banana everything? That’s like calling the earth Banana Everything Planet. If these cookies have everything, why not call them The Cookies?

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Too many elements. It’s a trend. Did you know that Krystal recently offered a burger embellished with “BBQ bacon cheese” (whatever that is) or pimento cheese? So there is such a thing now as a classic slider. Elegant, exemplary, timeless. But that’s just one category.

I appreciate a basic Krystal, or six. Say you’ve had a little too much to drink. Or more than a little and spilled some of it. In either case, a traditional Krystal will absorb some of that. If it’s got “BBQ bacon cheese” on it, though…

Too many elements can throw anything off. A musician’s sound in New Orleans is described as “hillbilly-post-punk-goth-rock,” and “Hank Williams meets the Smiths meets Siouxsie and the Banshees.” I have tried to eat burgers like that lately. Ostrich meat gamely fighting its way out of a pretzel-dough bun roughly enfolding chili and fries (slopping around inside the bun, do I make myself clear?) and onions and bell peppers and so many other layers, there’s no way you can pick it up by hand or get a comprehensive cross-section bite of it with any imaginable combination of utensils.

I’m not calling for throwback austerity, like Michael Pollan when he says, “Don’t eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food.” In my case, that would exclude yogurt, garlic, and boudin, not to mention sushi.

You didn’t think I was recommending a combination…? Good.

In Esquire I read of an eatery called Nudibranch, which provides “a mash-up of occasionally Korean foundations with everything from bottarga to aji panca peppers to Shaoxing wine to huitlacoche [what, no raw goat meat?],…and alpaca tartare [ah, there it is!]…[the food] made me laugh along with the sheer chutzpah of it all.” Turns out a nudibranch is a kind of sea slug. And huitlacoche is corn smut. As my great-grandmother might say, like Hattie McDaniel in Gone with the Wind, “Hm!

But Nudibranch is in New York City, the East Village. The Bob Evans “farmhouse kitchen” chain is a Middle America concept. So why does Bob serve not only “Cinna-biscuits” (with warm cream-cheese icing) but also, to quote the menu fully, “CHICKEN-N-NOODLES DEEP-DISH: Signature house-made Deep-Dish Chicken-N-Noodles and our famous mashed potatoes atop a freshly-baked buttermilk biscuit.” That biscuit is buried under eight hyphens, a stack of two other starches (one of them famous: “Hey, aren’t you a celebrity? You resemble somebody’s famous mashed potatoes!”), and some chicken.

A reaction is bound to come. Simplify, simplify. But we have been conditioned to expect multifarious bites.

In a supermarket the other day, I encountered a whole separate display for these:

“Muddy Bites, the best part of a sundae cone.” The pointed tip of like a Nutty Buddy or a Drumstick, with all the layers. “Now available as a bite-sized snack. The best bite, over and over again. It’s…Happiness Multiplied!” I don’t know how they could get a drop of melted ice cream in each one, though.

Here’s what you can get at one pizza chain:

Papa Johns Papa Bowls. No crust, just myriad toppings, together in a bowl. Eat it with a spoon? I guess—not, surely, with your hands. What this does is, it eliminates the original foundation of pizza. The foundation has been overtopped. I would miss the crust. Emotionally.

What’s next? Iterations of that perfect forkful of casserole you dropped on the floor? Full cups of the next-to-last milkshake slurp?

Much, no doubt, will depend on marketing. I would never have considered eating scraps of whale meat fried by the sun, until I read Melville’s description in Moby-Dick. Whale fritters smell like “old Amsterdam housewives’ dough-nuts,” he writes, and “they have such an eatable look that the most self-denying stranger can hardly keep his hands off.”

“My partner and I,” says Ishmael,

“Don’t need a several-dish meal.

Since it’s just Queek and me

(When he’s not at sea),

We’re fine with a blubber-and-fish meal.”