Wednesday, June 30, 2010

AiAA: Hardee's "Guys Don't Bake" Biscuit Commercial

Christmas 2008. That was the last time I commandeered the kitchen inside Stately Bootleg Manor for the purposes of baking. And, honestly, any recipe this easy should be cooked inside an age-appropriate appliance.

Earlier this week, my six-year-old son Jalen volunteered me to bake two Tollhouse pies for his school's annual summer sleepover next Friday. Jalen's generosity with my free time was mined for several minutes of comic fodder amongst the faculty when I dropped him off this morning. But, I know my way around a kitchen and Tollhouse pie doesn't exactly require the skilled hands one would need for preparing, say,

Flashback to Father's Day weekend. I'm watching the St. Louis feed of the A's v. Cardinals series, as this commercial aired several times during the Sunday afternoon game.

NASCAR trash talking? It seems like there'd be less material for mocking here than there is between rival fans from Ohio State/Michigan or New York/Boston, but whatever.

An African-American NASCAR fan? Uh, yeah…let's just move on, longtime readers. Let's just move on.

Why does everyone in the room seem so surprised when the biscuits are brought in? Are they suffering from four simultaneous sinus infections? Is that why these guys can't pick up the scent of biscuits baking, along with traditional Midwestern summer aromas like Anheuser-Busch, barbecues and Nelly videos?

And, the most unrealistic moment? There isn't a black man on earth who'd let antiquated gender roles get between him and a good-ass biscuit.

Guys DO bake, Hardee's. I'm genuinely offended at your stereotypical ad campaign.

Tell you what: All is forgiven if you start selling the Chicken Biscuit at your Carl's Jr. sister restaurants here on the west coast.


Monday, June 28, 2010

AiAA: Rescue Me -- Inexplicably Featuring Derek Jeter

In the interest of full disclosure, I should note that I've never seen an episode of the Denis Leary drama Rescue Me. I've got nothing against Leary.

I dug his early '90s Nike commercials (which have seemingly disappeared from every inch of the internet). His abbreviated appearance as Smalls' stepdad in 1993's The Sandlot is one of the most underrated examples of spectacular miscasting in recent cinematic history. And, his turn as "Edgar Friendly" in the uproariously awful Demolition Man is one of the film's few saving graces (along with the notion that EVERY restaurant is a Taco Bell in the year 2032).

I also have nothing against Derek Jeter. This is actually a classy move on my part, seeing as Jeter's a career .308 hitter against my Oakland A's and single-handedly (literally) obliterated the best A's team of the last decade with his iconic "flip" to Jorge Posada in the 2001 ALDS. I'm not linking to it. If you're one of the three people who've never seen it, find it your damn self.

With that out of the way, can I ask what the point is for this promo hyping the new season of Rescue Me?

More specifically, does this spot tell us anything we didn't already know?

Derek Jeter has been America's moral compass since birth and everyone else is a lecherous cad who gets off on golden showers and almost accosting cheerleaders.

Baseball players are the real heroes and...wait! That's a look of helplessness mixed with admiration on Jeter's mug, isn't it? Right there at the 0:54 mark! Turns out firefighters are the real heroes. Who knew?

Also, it appears that Jeter's REAL father is...current New Orleans Saints RB Reggie Bush (0:08)?

OK, now that I didn't know.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

TBG Drinks: Karl Strauss 21st Anniversary Ale

Brewed By: Karl Strauss Brewing Company
Brewed In: San Diego, California
Type: Belgian Strong Ale
ABV: 10.2%

What They Say: "Now that we are 21, our palate has matured like a fine wine. So we created something unique with old vine Zinfandel grape juice added during fermentation to give this brew a subtle vinous quality. Belgian yeast imparts hints of dried fruit in the nose, while a big dose of Vienna and Caramel malts yields a dry warming finish. Aged a month on American oak to take the edge off, this is one to share with friends."

Website: (Lifted from my February 2010 review of Karl Strauss' Fullsuit) At this risk of running afoul of any web-designing beer elitists out there, I freaking love the Karl Strauss site. Yes, the home page is a little blocky, but it's clean and easy to read. The "Brews" page not only shows the full assortment of beers by their names/types, but it also offers up a visual of what's inside the bottle. I know it's not the same as seeing a pour in front of you, but it's still a nice touch. The "Eats" tab takes you to maps and menus of their six Southern California restaurants (get the beer-brined pork chops and thank me later). And, the obligatory "Who We Are" and "Beer Gear" areas aren't at all intrusive.

Why I Picked It: This one's been out for a few months, but despite my unabashed brand loyalty towards Karl Strauss, I walked right past these 22 oz. bottles during my last few visits to BevMo. You'd think I would've learned from my wife and the "Jamba Juice Rule". Y'see, Mrs. Bootleg ONLY likes the "Strawberries Wild" smoothie from Jamba. But, this doesn't stop her from wanting to try something new every time she goes there. She'll order the "Caribbean Passion" or "Razzmatazz", takes two tiny sips and then proclaims "I should've stuck with my strawberry". Before we got married, I'd give her MY strawberry smoothie and choke down her vile concoction. Now? If she's with me, Mrs. Bootleg MUST "stick with her strawberry". I've struck down marital smoothie swaps. And, no more ignoring new brews from Karl Strauss.


Presentation (5): Karl Strauss redesigned the labels of their year-round selections (Amber Lager, Red Trolley Ale) several years ago, so it's a little surprising to see such an absence of creativity put into the design of an anniversary release. While the "21st Anniversary" text is in the largest font and, indeed, grabs the eye, there's nothing else on the bottle that conveys the importance of the occasion or the cleverness of the creation. 2

Originality (5): Last weekend, in a discussion about this beer, m'man Smitty mentioned another beer brewed with zinfandel grape juice that he'd previously sampled. I'll defer to his experience, because I'd never seen a beer/zinfandel blend until this one. Good ol' Google, though, sides with my sheltered life, as every relevant search for "beer" "zinfandel" and "grape" came up "Karl Strauss". 5

Body (10): Among the many, MANY things I don't do well, my embarrassing attempts to complete the "perfect pour" rank close to the top. But, this time, with Mrs. Bootleg and my six-year-old son as witnesses, I nailed it. A gorgeous reddish-gold color with a two-finger head, this is one of the most aesthetically-pleasing ales I've ever seen. The strong carbonation shoots to the top of the glass and hastens the release of sweet, creamy and oaken aromas. 9

Taste (10): This isn't "grape ale" -- or any
related typo -- as much as it's ale with a light zinfandel finish. I love the way the flavors keep changing here. It starts out with mild caramel and a little bit smoky. When the zin kicks in, there's a sweetness-n-spice taste that hits the tongue, but doesn't linger too long. Very flavorful and surprisingly complex, yet not at all overpowering. 9

Efficiency (10): Mrs. Bootleg sampled this beer and really liked it. She's immediately turned off at even the slightest hint of hoppiness, so the fact that she came back for more indicates a level of smoothness than even the littlest, most nagging black woman can handle. The sweet finish and level of carbonation belie the ABV and putting away more than one of these 22 oz. bombers in a single sitting is far from unreasonable. 9

Versatility (10): If you're looking for a "novelty beer" to serve to your Bud Light/Miller Lite/Coors Light crew, Karl Strauss 21st Anniversary would be a great place to start. It's not too dark, not too strong and not at all intimidating. Both a solid social beer and an unwind-on-your-own time brew. 8

Grade: 42 (out of 50) -- Great Beer

The above format has been lifted with permission from That Beer Snob Guy

Friday, June 25, 2010

TBG Eats: The 2010 San Diego Fair

I Can't Believe I Ate the Whole Thing IV

Current Weight: 168.6 lbs.

2007 SD Fair Food -- 2008 SD Fair Food -- 2009 SD Fair Food

That Bootleg Family achieved a personal best with our longest single-day visit to the San Diego Fair. We reached the main gate at 11:30 AM and didn't leave until after 8:00 PM. In the previous three years, we arrived when the gates opened (11:00 AM) and left around 4:30 – 5:00 PM. There are three reasons for yesterday's extended adventure.

(1) Mrs. Bootleg: We were already running late when my wife practically broke down the bathroom door to ask my opinion on the outfit she'd chosen to wear – to a county fair. I suppose the alternative would be a wife who doesn't give a damn how she looks, but why does Mrs. Bootleg pull out the "black Carrie Bradshaw" bit for ballgames and amusement parks? And, once we were on the road, she must've waved over 25 other drivers to cut in front of us as we inched towards the off ramp to the fair. To MY credit, I held my tongue until we were almost off the freeway.

(2) Spinning Rides: As I tweeted from the fair, "I've officially reached the point in my life when I absolutely HAVE to keep my eyes closed on the spinniest fair rides". Jalen and I rode some sort of "human kite" contraption that held us in separate harnesses – laying flat on our stomachs – and took us on a circular journey high above the fairgrounds. I felt crazy dizzy and nauseated during the one or two times I opened my eyes to look over and make sure my son hadn't fallen hundreds of feet towards earth. Consequently, it took some time for my stomach to settle down.

(3) Hula!: Much to my surprise, there's more to the fair than deep-fried crimes against humanity, disinterested carnies and kiddie rides. One of Mrs. Bootleg's girlfriends is part of a Polynesian dance troupe that's been performing at the fair since the malevolent reign of
this guy. We spent an hour watching them rock the house and Jalen's assortment of innocent comments ("I can see their belly buttons!"…"Do they shake their booties in every song?"…"I thought they were going to be naked.") was the perfect accompaniment.

The additional hours afforded me the opportunity to take down six of the items that I covered in my
pre-show piece earlier this month – starting with the most delicious and working our way down.

Deep Fried Pop-Tart - I'd wanted to begin with the hash brown fry dog, but the Chicken Charlie's stand closest to the main entrance wasn't selling it. Mildly disappointed, I went with the Pop-Tart. The ubiquitous breakfast treat – strawberry flavor – is batter-dipped and golden-fried, then topped with strawberry jam, powdered sugar and confetti sprinkles. The traditionally chalky Pop-Tart crust soaked up the grease, turning spongy while remaining sturdy. The heat from frying intensified the fruit flavor, raising the sweetness a bit, but not to an overwhelming level. Imagine one of those Toaster Strudel pastries as an especially decadent dessert. Grade: 500 (out of 5)

Hash Brown Fry Dog - Having been burned in back-to-back years with the 14-inch "colossal" corn dog and the inedible "Zucchini Weeni", I was a wee bit leery about jumping back into yet another corn dog derivative. Even by the over-the-top standards of county fair marketing, the gimmicks ("It's BIG!"…"It's a hot dog wedged into a vegetable!") had lapped the product. Here, though? It works. Crispy, salty shards of potato envelope a just-barely decent dog. There was a crunchy, chewy texture from the spuds that passed along some additional substance to the meat. Who says the ingredients in these Frankenstein fair foods can't work together? Grade: 4

Buffalo Chicken Indian Fry Bread - I stumbled upon the nondescript shack that served these up only after I was unable to retrace my steps back to the Italian sandwich stand that was selling meatball sliders. The fry bread seemed like it was just flour, water and some baking powder – like a slightly denser, unsweetened "elephant ear" pastry. It's topped with diced chicken and then flooded with Frank's Red Hot Sauce and two kinds of shredded cheese. There was a comical over-simplicity to the final product that reminded me of the "nachos" I made in the microwave with slices of American cheese during my college days. The hot sauce lends a little heat, but this one couldn't rise above its mostly pedestrian ingredients. Grade: 2.5

Deep Fried Klondike Bar - For the dessert-uninitiated, Klondike bars are dense squares of vanilla ice cream dipped in chocolate (and part of an especially egregious
lyrical groaner from Kanye West). Batter-dipped, deep fried and then covered in chocolate sauce and powered sugar, it's at least aesthetically appetizing. The problem is once you fork your way past the toppings and crust, all you're left with is a Klondike Bar. Like the Fried Twinkie and Fried Oreos, the grease and heat do nothing to differentiate the flavors from the traditional version. Grade: 2.5

Chocolate-Dipped Pickle - I've eaten the fair's fried frog legs, fried rattlesnake, chocolate-covered bacon and Krispy Kreme Chicken Sandwich…yet, I'd never had people walk up to me while I was eating and gawk like they did for the chocolate-dipped pickle. The small, skeptical audience seemed to be rooting for my revulsion, but this was actually…okay. The pickle would be considered "sour" by the delicatessen-free standards of California and the mild sweetness from the chocolate sauce neatly weaves with the pickle's saltiness. Unfortunately, the pickle is too damn big and there's not enough chocolate. A smaller, truly sour pickle completely coated in chocolate might – MIGHT – ascend to 2.5 or 3 territory. For this… Grade: 2

Deep Fried Butter - In the moments after I tweeted
this photo, I started receiving text messages from friends practically begging me not to indulge in the deep fried butter. Understandably, I can't imagine there are too many people who can wrap their head around a food concept that's essentially "fried grease". Well, here's what you might not know: the fair's deep fried butter comes in two "flavors" – cinnamon/sugar and garlic. Also, the breading-to-butter ratio is about 80/20.

I ordered the garlic, since I'd just gulped down a sickeningly sweet strawberry lemonade. I received two small churro-shaped sticks served on a basket of fried dough with a side of generic marinara sauce. The first bite nearly blew my mouth off my face. The little bit of butter tasted like six cups of Country Crock on my tongue. And, worse, the "garlic" flavor didn't come from real garlic. Instead, the sticks are smothered in so much garlic salt that the only three flavors here are: salty, buttery and artificial garlic stank. I can guarantee my readers THIS much – next year, I'm sticking with cinnamon/sugar. Grade: -500

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

TBG Beats: Ice Cube – "I Rep That West"

During a family vacation through the Pacific Northwest in 2006, I bumped into Ice Cube at a market in Vancouver. Cube looked lost as he pushed his shopping cart up the narrow aisle – which was made even more miniscule by the presence of two abominable bodyguards on either side of the rapper/actor. I scored about five seconds of conversation with the diminutive (no more than 5'7") MC before we went our separate ways.

In truth, Cube and I had been on divergent paths long before we kibitzed near the market's bakery.

He peaked as the music industry's embodiment of early 1990s African-American rage with the release of AmeriKKKa's Most Wanted in 1990 and Death Certificate a year later. Cube drifted away from focused fury while making a concerted shift to radio airplay and the pop charts.

I liked his commercial stuff (
Bop Gun, It Was a Good Day, You Know How We Do It) just fine. But, with a blossoming film career and a bit of retail resurgence with the release of his Westside Connection album in 1996, Cube overplayed his hand. His War & Peace, Vol. 1 CD – a pretentious, quasi-concept effort – is on the short list of worst releases by a previously competent artist. That there was actually a "Volume 2" released in 2000 is only surpassed in shock value by the fact that it managed to be worse than the first volume.

Since then, Cube's dropped albums on his own independent label. He even found some iTunes success with singles such as
Go to Church and Why We Thugs.

Cube's latest single – off his forthcoming I Am the West album – is "I Rep That West". Produced by Jiggolo (who's also on the hook) this has quickly become one of my guiltiest sonic pleasures. Like every "west coast" cut released since the demise of Death Row Records, it's self-conscious and desperate in its attempts to keep California relevant in an increasingly meaningless sub-genre.

But, Ice Cube has juuust enough bravado left in the tank to make it work – even with paint-by-numbers references to gangbanging and South Central LA, which Cube hasn't thought about since his last royalty check from John Singleton's Boyz In The Hood flick.

Besides, I'm pretty much on board any track that includes the following lyrics:

I'm too 'west coast' for the west coast…
Too Fresno, Too Cerritos…
Too soul food and burritos…

(OK, the video is horrible, though. Hasn't the rap industry learned that
Old West-themed videos never work?)

Monday, June 21, 2010

TBG Diary: Jalen's Kindergarten Graduation Speech (VIDEO~!)

This year's Father's Day weekend offered quite the dichotomy.

Good News: I bought the last bottles of
Lagunitas Wilco Tango Foxtrot Ale and Karl Strauss 21st Anniversary Ale (reviews coming soon!) from my local bodega in advance of a Saturday afternoon tailgate with friends prior to the Padres vs. Orioles interleague game later in the evening at PETCO Park.

Bad News: Jalen and I left Stately Bootleg Manor much later than originally anticipated and couldn't make the tailgate. In my mind, I could hear Mrs. Bootleg rehearsing her "I told you to leave earlier!" taunt for the rest of the night.

Good News: My search for the world's greatest churro has come to an end. PETCO Park sells a $3.00 stick of warm, chewy cinnamon-sugary goodness that's as long as your arm. It's buttery, homemade flavor was like a cross between a phallic symbol and cinnamon toast.
Jalen approved, too.

Bad News: Jalen's first ballpark dessert choice is the ice cream cookie sandwich. For whatever reason, they aren't sold at any of the concession stands in the nose bleed seats. I spent several innings listening to my son's desperate pleas for one – even after he destroyed God's churro.

Good News: After the game, I saw Orioles' broadcasters and Hall of Fame players Jim Palmer and Eddie Murray leaving the ballpark. After Murray and I made eye contact, he sized up Jalen and gruffly handed me one of the Padres' fan-giveaway bobblehead dolls that the team gives out to all the media, as well. He and Palmer never broke stride and even rudely blew off a few respectful autograph requests!

Bad News: Jalen broke the bobblehead less than two minutes after it was removed from the box.

Good News: Father's Day dinner at BJ's Restaurant & Brewhouse…!

Bad News: After the avocado egg roll appetizer, a barbecue chicken pizza, two porters and two enormous cupcakes, I feel positively pregnant. Still. It's almost Monday as I type this.

Good News: Thanks to Mrs. Bootleg (and the assortment of pirated software she found online over the weekend) Jalen's kindergarten graduation speech can now receive the "running diary" treatment it so richly deserves.

0:06 -- Kinda-sorta special effects for the intro! Personally, I've never been able to watch amateur video editing of any kind without thinking of Homer's obsession with
star wipes in that episode of The Simpsons in which Maude Flanders is killed off.

0:40 -- I will never get tired of Jalen's exceptionally stiff graduation march on to the stage. Kills me every time I watch it. I freely concede that 99% of my readers won't get this reference, but he's like a little black Undertaker
coming to the ring with Randy Savage's music.

1:00 -- And, I lose my son as he walks out of the frame on his own video. Unfortunately, the first row of parents' chairs were filled by the time we arrived, so it was either shoot around the backs of heads or keep the shot clean. In the meantime, keep an eye out for the latest inductee into the pantheon of clip-on ties.

1:10 -- There it is!

1:25 -- Going for one last shot of Jalen before the speeches begin. Sucks that it's mostly of the guy's head in front of me. On the plus side, we can all celebrate the white guy "hair gel n' sideburns" ironic-follicle combo plate. It's supposed to look like he just woke up! Right?

1:27 -- Dammit, Jalen, stand up. (Also, the faces get clearer in a few seconds. Right now, all the kids look like those federal witness who are anonymously interviewed on 60 Minutes.)

1:47 -- The British accent and addition of a superfluous third syllable always makes our last name sound wonderfully regal (CA-mer-on). Without the accent, the surname can only be pronounced with two syllables (CAM-run) or else it'll sound as pedestrian as "margarine". Sound it out, with and without the accent, and tell me I'm wrong.

2:00 -- Jalen's at the mic and…hyperventilating? He'd mentioned being nervous in the days leading up to his speech, but this is the same six-year-old who insufferably played to the crowd all season in Little League. He LOVES the spotlight. One microphone and a few cameras aren't going to turn him into a
pathetic shell of himself. I hope. Oh, dear.

2:10 -- Kool and the Gang! Almost!

2:15 -- "Grad-u-time"?

2:25 -- It took a full 15 seconds for the audience to pick up on the clapping cue. Way to leave Jalen hanging, other parents. Looking back, I don't regret booing your kids during their speeches one bit.

2:45 -- Jalen's humming replaces his graduation march on the stage as my favorite thing about the ceremony. The awful, offbeat clapping can't even stop him. It's like the reincarnation of
Bobby McFerrin.

3:10 -- This hook is officially longer than most of Nate Dogg's catalog.

3:30 -- For those wondering, this was where I pretty much lost it. Seven South American countries and some fairly raucous applause? Applied knowledge that doesn't involve baseball? Jalen's hilariously freaked-out "Wait, they're not supposed to applaud until the end" glance-to-the-side temporarily stopped my unstoppable stream of tears and sobs.

4:01 -- That might've been my "WOO" after Jalen said "Orioles". Not sure. I'll need another "WOO" to confirm.

4:11 -- We can confirm that both "WOO"s were mine.

4:30 -- OK, big finish…you'll miss 'em, you'll remember 'em, thank everyone, bow, flash the
Esther Rolle smile and exit stage right.

That's m'boy.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

TBG Beats: Eminem -- "Not Afraid"

I can tell you how long it's been since the last time I gave a damn about an Eminem album.

"Mrs. Bootleg" was still just "Fiancée Bootleg" and my Oakland Raiders were beginning what would become a Super Bowl season.

I vividly remember finding 2002's The Eminem Show on the shelves at Best Buy nearly a week before its official release date. Interscope Records -- in response to rampant leaks and bootlegging(!) -- "unofficially" authorized several retail outlets to start selling the CD as soon as possible.

Eminem was at the apex of his commercial popularity and industry power. Since then, the quality of his work has suffered a precipitous descent inversely proportional to his own sense of self-worth.

Em seemed obsessed with vacuous scatological gags (even more than usual) on 2004's Encore and only made a half-assed attempt to address the "n-word" controversy that dogged him at the time. His clunky, transparent production work birthed beats bad enough to taint everything he touched for the rest of the decade, up to and including last year's Relapse. And, let's be honest: the careers of
Obie Trice and D12 -- two acts off his own Shady Records imprint -- were sabotaged out of the gate with Eminem's need to create another Eminem.

Now, with that out of the way, I gotta say...I like this track.

Yes, it's a not-so-deft bit of manipulative marketing ("Hey, it's a NEW Eminem!") and the anthemic hook is practically retro-pandering after the universally-acclaimed "Lose Yourself", but there's a sincerity here that Em's lacked on an entire CD since 2000's The Marshall Mathers Album.

The conflicting resignation with his life and career in the first verse bleeds into an open apology for some past sins -- including his last album -- in the second verse and then it gets all...uplifting by the end.

Eminem's Recovery comes out next Tuesday. I know this is just ONE song, but I'd say we're off to a good start.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

My 2010 San Diego Fair Food Pre-Game Show

Circle your calendars, kids. My annual "junk food Super Bowl" goes down -- and, God willing, stays down -- on Thursday, June 24. This will be the fourth straight summer I've visited the San Diego Fair and my previous three trips ran the spectrum of historical context.

2007: The fried rattlesnake and Krispy Kreme Chicken sandwich was just the digestive challenge I needed before my first-ever trip to New York later that summer. As a result, my intestines were practically expecting the 4:00 AM rat-meat gyro I ordered off a cart in Manhattan the following month.

2008: While sitting on the ground, just on the periphery of an insanely crowded food court, I began to question my own "TBG Eats" gimmick. As I cradled a steaming basket of second-rate frog legs in my lap at the end of a gluttonous afternoon, I realized the need to balance my expanding waistline with a negligible reduction in my irresponsible eating. I've lost about 20 pounds since that summer. (Note: As Mrs. Bootleg often reminds me, I've never had my triglycerides measured. For all I know, I could be at death's door.)

2009: Speaking of Mrs. Bootleg, she was actually jealous of my immediate reaction to the Oatmeal Cookie Chicken Sandwich. Oh, and Michael Jackson died on the day we went. See? Historical context and HIStorical context.

Here is the
tentative list of new foods coming to this year's San Diego Fair:

Deep-Fried Klondike Bar: Fried ice cream isn't all that original, but I'll probably be onboard with this. It'll have to be the VERY last thing I eat on the afternoon. Aaron v. Dairy is not unlike the Yankees v. Red Sox rivalry -- the pain lasts for hours and most of you are already tired of hearing about it.

Deep-Fried Pop Tart: I've been out of college since the late 1990s, but I still enjoy dorm room staples such as handfuls of cereal straight from the box and, yes, Pop-Tarts. These days, though, I'm only down with the apple, strawberry and brown sugar flavors. This has the potential to fall anywhere between "awesome" and "awful".

Beef Kabob: If there's a less satisfying meal involving red meat, I haven't seen it. And, I sure as hell won't be paying for it.

Funnel Cake on a Stick: Were the masses REALLY clamoring for a gimmicky change to one of the few perfect fair foods? Funnel cake should be served on a white paper plate with a white plastic fork, leaving only a greasy full moon on said paper plate after it's eaten. Popsicles, corn dogs and baseball are the only three things in the history of mankind that have been improved upon with the addition of a stick.

Deep-Fried Butter: apparently a
real thing. Honestly, I think avoiding deep-fried butter is all that keeps me from crossing over into caricature. A sideshow freak who'll eat anything impatiently waiting for the CW Network to inevitably revive That's Incredible! or Ripley's Believe it or Not. Meh...I've been called worse. Put this down for a "maybe".

Buffalo Chicken Fry Bread: I'm not all that familiar with fry bread, but according to a few finds on Google, it's played a significant role in the cases of obesity and diabetes within the Native American community. And, you say the fair is topping it with what's sure to be a mediocre knockoff of authentic Buffalo chicken? Sold!

Sweet Potato Fry Dog: I discovered sweet potato fries at a Cajun restaurant about 10 years ago and loved 'em. More recently, I've been devouring large bags of sweet potato chips from Trader Joe's like a man who hasn't eaten in weeks. And, Mrs. Bootleg's sweet potato pie finished second in that "Reason for the Season" holiday ad campaign that was eventually awarded to Jesus. But, a hot dog rolled in mashed sweet potatoes and then deep fried? If given a choice…

Hash Brown Fry Dog: …I'll go with the hot dog covered in hash browns and then deep fried, every time! I've selected this for my coveted 11:01 AM "first meal after the fair opens". A legacy that includes 2008's deep fried White Castle slider and chicken sandwiches made with ingredients like donuts, cookies, cream cheese and strawberry jam. Reward my faith, Hash Brown Fry Dog. Reward my faith.

Veggie Kabobs: "All normal people love meat. If I went to a barbecue and there was no meat, I would say 'Yo, Goober! Where's the meat!?' I'm trying to impress people here, Lisa. You don't win friends with salad." –
Homer Simpson, October 15, 1995.

Dreamsicle Float: I need to write an addendum to my
What Aaron Won't Eat post from last year. Dreamsicles – and their equally inedible relatives, Creamsicles – have long been enemies of my mouth. Also on the list of foods that won't pass my lips: floats of any kind. I maintain a strong segregationist position on ice cream and soft drinks, kids.

Ice Cream S'mores: I'm not a s'mores guy, either. This is because I've never been camping or – more likely – due to the fact I'm opposed to marshmallows in all forms save for their uniquely delicious ability to unify six cups of Rice Krispies® and three tablespoons of butter or margarine.

Chocolate-Dipped Pickles: Honestly, y'all? I'm intrigued. I'm still anti-pickles by themselves, alongside my sandwich or on my burger. But, in the last year I've discovered fried pickle slices (delicious) and whiskey with a back-shot of pickle juice (whiskey-licious). I won't go out of my way to find this, but in the event the chocolate-dipped pickle stand finds me

Pickle Corn Dog: Last year's "Zucchini Weenie" (a giant, partially hollowed-out zucchini with a hot dog in the middle that's then batter-dipped and fried) is on the short list of worst fair foods I've ever eaten. Replacing the zucchini with a pickle won't suddenly make this edible.

Four-Pound Belly Buster Burger: "11 inches wide, 10 slices of cheese, eight slices of tomatoes, half a head of lettuce, 30-plus slices of dill pickles and five ounces of burger sauce".

Wait…no bacon?!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Oakland A's Acquire Hitter Who Used to be Decent

The Oakland A's acquire OF/1B Conor Jackson from the Arizona Diamondbacks in exchange for minor league reliever Sam Demel.

Mrs. Bootleg -- of all people -- was the first to text me about this latest A's trade. Initially, my reaction was close to a 6 or 7 on the 10-point "acquisition reaction scale" (for the sake of reference:
getting Matt Holliday from the Rockies was a 2... getting Rickey Henderson from the Yankees was a 200).

It didn't take long for me to realize I'd confused Jackson with slugging Arizona 3B Mark Reynolds. Accordingly, I've lowered my reaction score to 4.

In Jackson's first three seasons as a full-time player (2006-08) he posted a .292/.371/.451 slash line and averaged 14 home runs per season. He missed most of 2009 after contracting a bizarre disease called Valley Fever (severe fatigue; pain in the muscles and joints) and this year -- over 172 plate appearances -- Jackson's hitting .238/.326/.331.

Within minutes of the deal's completion, the A's publicly declared Jackson to be their everyday LF going forward. And, that's where things get a little screwy.

DH Jack Cust is immediately impacted. With the A's in the middle of a nine-game road trip through the National League, Cust has been forced into the outfield. He becomes a spectator/pinch-hitter until the A's return home next Monday -- despite hitting .309/.387/.407 since his return from the minors in mid-May.

(This also marks the third time in a little over six months that Cust has been ostensibly "replaced". In December, the A's acquired Jake Fox from the Cubs prior to non-tendering Cust a few weeks later. While Cust was re-signed in January, he lost the everyday DH job to Eric Chavez two days before Opening Day. For those scoring at home: Fox (.214/.264/.327) was designated for assignment this past Sunday, while Chavez (.234/.276/.333) has been almost identically awful.)

The impending return of OF Coco Crisp probably spells the short-term end for Rajai Davis' run as an everyday player. I'm not complaining, since Davis' "Willie Mays Hayes" plate approach (swinging for the fences when he should be hitting the ball on the ground to utilize his speed) has already worn thin.

So, should A's fans be excited about Conor Jackson? Well, he HAS spent his entire career in one of the best hitters' parks in either league (career home OPS: .811, career road OPS: .750 -- and the difference is almost entirely slugging percentage). The right-handed Jackson also shows a heavy platoon split (career OPS vs. LHP: .864, career OPS vs. RHP: .747).

Jackson's unusual medical history married up with Oakland's sketchy medical staff doesn't fill me with confidence and last year's overexposure of the equally platoony OF
Scott Hairston in an Oakland uniform leads me to believe my A's are already behind the 8-ball when it comes to "fixing" whatever's been wrong with Jackson since last season.

I think I've talked myself down from a "4" to a "3".

Monday, June 14, 2010

TBG Eats: The NEW Grilled Breakfast Sandwich from Jack in the Box

Current Weight: 169.8 lbs.

Y'all remember Fabolous, right? Even if you abhor rap music, you probably heard
this song blowing up the radio (y'all remember radio, right…?) in 2001. With CDs all but extinct, the Brooklyn-born MC is still moving units (his most recent commercial release – 2009's Loso's Way - debuted at #1 on the Billboard Charts).

I've done my part to keep his act alive by repeatedly quoting a piece of his verse from the "Trade it All" cut off his Ghetto Fabulous release:

I started out a playa…
Now, I'm 'bout to have my jersey retired…

OK, OK…I need a new catchphrase. But, you get the point. Wait…you don't? Fine. Here's m'man Nick'a to explain how us "semi-retirees" relate to today's bar scene:

I'm like Michael Jordan with the Wizards. I can still put up 40 a night, but I might need to ice my knees for a little bit longer, afterwards.

You kids STILL can't relate? Here…let me speak in a language any age can understand. In ascending order, this is my list of the top five fast food items that best aid recovery during/after a night of drinking. (For the sake of simplicity, I'm only focusing on well-known commercial chains.)

(5) – In-N-Out's Double-Double with Extra Sauce: I'm on record referring to In-N-Out as overrated. However, for the purposes of absorbing beer from the blood stream, this greasy-on-the-outside, thousand-island-dressing-on-the-inside gut buster is a much appreciated terrorist attack on the small intestine.

(4) – Dunkin' Donuts Frosted Maple Bars: I became a believer during
my trip to Cooperstown last summer, which included an ungodly night of drinking in Albany. I wolfed down four of these (TBG reader "NY Jon", who was with me that evening, swears I ordered and ate a full half-dozen) in the sixty seconds it took for us to flag down a cab at almost 4:00 AM. I should've been clinically dead the next morning. These kept me alive.

(3) – Taco Bell's Cheesy Potato Burrito: This remains the most underpublicized and underrated item on TB's menu. The starchiness from the potatoes and tortilla is like a BAC sponge while the sour cream and nacho cheese sauce coats the stomach, settling things down like those
old commercials showed us back in the day.

(2) – Jack in the Box's Ultimate Bacon Cheeseburger: When I first started at San Diego State University, JitB's Jumbo Jack was selling for 99 cents. I had next to no money, but I could always scrape up $2.08 for two Jumbo Jacks after a State party. 100 years later, I needed to up the recovery ante. Two quarter-pound patties, topped with three slices of cheese and four strips of bacon? That'll work.

(1) – McDonald's McGriddle: McDonald's needs to start selling these at "last call" hours instead of just "breakfast" hours. It's everything the problem drinker needs: starch from the pancake-y bun, grease from the sausage, no-mess portability and a pleasant syrupy scent left on the palate that masks the previous evening's misdeeds better than mouthwash.

Jack in the Box's new Grilled Breakfast Sandwich follows the successful formula of their other "grilled" line of sandwiches. From JitB's website:

Two fried eggs, two slices of ham, two strips of bacon and two slices of melting American cheese, all on top of grilled artisan bread.

FRIED eggs? For more than three decades, I've been conditioned to expect fast food eggs to be either frozen faux poached (ex. Egg McMuffins) or frozen ersatz scrambled (ex. Every other fast food menu item that includes eggs). We were off to an outstanding start, though, as the cheap paper used to wrap the sandwich had become a shiny, grease-sopped mess.

Obviously, no one believes JitB is cracking eggs and fry-cook flipping them in a skillet, but the final product – however it's derived – is a reasonable facsimile of a fried egg. The quadruple hit of cured meats helps prop up the egg's flavor while the melted cheese and crispy artisan bread accomplish the "comfort food" affect that Carl's Jr. so
famously failed at earlier this year.

So, where does Jack in the Box's Grilled Breakfast Sandwich rank on the drunk food scale? Well, I don't know, since I haven't been out drinking in a non-happy hour environment* in a hot minute. But, the next night I go out, I'll let y'all know. (Pending Mrs. Bootleg's permission.)

* -- Yes, there's a difference.

Grade: 4.5 (out of 5) Calories: 599(!) Fat: 28g

Saturday, June 12, 2010

TBG Eats: The NEW Bacon Ranch and Salsa Roja Tortadas from Taco Bell

Current Weight: 169.8 lbs.

TBG reader Robert writes:

Hey, man: I'm a big fan of anything you write relating to Taco Bell. So when are we going to get your review of the two Tortadas they introduced a few months ago?

Soooo…you're demonstrably less passionate about everything else I write? Is that it? 140+ posts this year and you're impatiently waiting around for my Tortada thoughts? Well, for your information, I have a perfectly good explanation for the delay.

Taco Bell's new Tortadas debuted a little over two months ago. They were promoted as alternatives to the traditional sandwich – as shown in this truncated clip:

This was quite the mind-f**k for me, since traditional Mexican culture had already improved upon the ubiquitous American sandwich in the form of tortas. From the right taco truck or hole-in-the-wall spot, they're
all kinds of incredible. I'd always thought tortadas were desserts – loosely akin to tarts.

Admittedly, it took longer than I would've liked for me to get my head around this. In the interim, Taco Bell introduced a new ad campaign based around their "$2 Meal Deals". TB even air-lifted in Charles Barkley – the silver medalist in this year's "Negro who's not Nearly as Funny as Everyone Thinks" competition*:

* -- Gold Medalist for an unprecedented fifth straight year: Wanda Sykes. By winning the 2010 title, she broke a three-way tie for consecutive victories with Jimmie (J.J.) Walker (1975-78) and Martin Lawrence (1997-2000).

Now, from time to time, I'll catch some light-hearted hell for giving Taco Bell so much love on this lightly-read blog. Invariably, it comes from readers who don't realize that I'm IN on the joke. I know Taco Bell isn't "real" Mexican food. It's the guiltiest of guilty pleasures and my over-the-top effusiveness is all part of the act.

But, really, Taco Bell. Doritos? You don't have to advertise your inherent lack of ethnic authenticity so openly. Your regular nacho chips are terrific! Why not include a small order of those and leave the cheese-dusted triangles from Frito-Lay to the 7-11s and vending machines of the world? I'm still wound up about this, but I think I can pound out two Tortadas reviews.

First, the Bacon Ranch Tortada (according to the description from Taco Bell's website):

A warm flour tortilla loaded [with] fire-grilled marinated all-white meat chicken, crisp shredded lettuce, diced ripe tomatoes, crispy flavorful bacon, and avocado ranch sauce, all grilled together hot and toasty.

I've had the Bacon Ranch Tortada on two separate occasions and can say, with certainty, that the avocado ranch sauce makes the meal here. It's got a mildly spicy/tangy thing going on that blends well with the bacon, while the chunks of chicken lend an effective amount of substance. The second time I ordered this, there was hardly any sauce inside. Consequently, the ingredients just sat on top of each other like boring porn.

There's also a Salsa Roja Tortada (again, according to TB's website):

A warm flour tortilla loaded with fire-grilled marinated all-white meat chicken, crisp shredded lettuce, fiesta salsa, flavorful salsa roja, and a blend of three cheeses – cheddar, pepper jack, and mozzarella, all grilled together hot and toasty.

Only had this once, but it's a solid little not-a-sandwich. It's got a little more kick than the Bacon Ranch as the cross-salsa pollination between the "fiesta" and "roja" gives it more flavor than you'd expect from a Taco Bell offering. If it were me, I'd double the amount of cheese, but the hook here is the salsa and nothing inside overwhelms any of the other ingredients.

Of course, this review is so late that they'll only be available at Taco Bell for a few more minutes, so you might want to hurry, yo.

Grade (Bacon Ranch Tortada): 4 (out of 5) Calories: 570 Fat: 24g

Grade (Salsa Roja Tortada): 3.5 (out of 5) Calories: 480 Fat: 14g

Friday, June 11, 2010

Physical Therapy – Episode II

When last we left the mangled remains of my least favorite finger, I was just beginning a series of at-home flexion/extension exercises designed to stretch the tendons and correct their structural displacement.

My first few days of self-imposed physical therapy were the equivalent of medicinal mutilation.

In a nutshell, my finger involuntarily bends down where it's supposed to bend up and bends up where it's supposed to bend down. My physical therapist recommended the application of pressure to keep one joint rigid, while (simultaneously) forcibly bending the other affected joint in the "right" direction.

Humor me for a moment and hold up your right hand with the palm facing away from you. Now, take the tip of your index finger and bend it backwards – towards you, opposite of its "natural" direction. This is the oversimplified equivalent of what I have to do, except I'm bending my finger in its natural direction. The thing is, it feels like I'm bending it backwards, as there's next to no give when I bend it the "right" way.

The alternating bouts of swelling and discoloration subsided by the third day and I eventually found a grip that made my whimpers almost inaudible. I was told that I'd be able to feel the tendons stretch (yup) and that the accompanying "pops" within my finger would be a little scary, but wouldn't hurt much (an epic underestimation on both counts, I must say).

Still, after two weeks on the program, it felt like I was regaining some movement in my loathsome left pinky. I attended my second official physical therapy session with an emotional cocktail of anxious knots and cautious optimism sitting heavy on my belly.

Once again, we began with the paraffin wax treatment. If you read my PT post from two weeks ago, you'll understand why I couldn't contain my giddiness in front of the female therapist who was assisting my regular guy:

PT: "Let's get you started with some paraffin wax."

Me: "This was actually my favorite part of my last visit."

PT: "Really? I've never heard that from any of our male patients before."

Embarrassing or not…I just made medical history! I also inadvertently touched the bottom of the paraffin cauldron during one of my hand dips. Here is a 10-second clip that reasonably approximates
my reaction.

My waxy hand was again wrapped in hot towels and, while I waited the requisite ten minutes, my physical therapist offered me a small stack of
Rachael Ray Magazines to read. Not sure if this was in response to my unabashed appreciation of paraffin wax, but whatever. I actually like Rachael Ray – and pretty much any cooking/recipe magazine – so the joke's on him. Uh, isn't it?

After the wax peel, we began a soft tissue massage. My finger was slathered with lotion and then hit with a handheld instrument – about the size of a
bottle of cologne – with a tiny, rubber vibrating ball at the end. Glorious. In the hours after my visit, I gently scoured the entire internet looking for one of these. This was followed by an ultrasound which, for men, is required by law to be accompanied by a pregnancy joke from the PT.

Things were going fine until an enormous slab of a florescent yellow substance – with the consistency of Silly Putty – was placed in front of me. I was instructed to alternately put my fist in it, open my hand and then fan out my fingers. After 60-seconds of the goo's "natural resistance" to my injured digit, I was tapping out with my one functional hand.

So, were the last two weeks worth it? Well, I was told that I made "tremendous" improvement in and around the middle of my finger. I could only straighten it about 75%, but now – admittedly, with some effort – I can get it close to 100%. The top segment of my finger remains rigid and curved upward, but it showed a little bit of improvement, too. My PT was even more encouraging:

"With another month of treatment and exercises, you might be able to avoid surgery, altogether. Honestly, when I first saw you, I didn't think there was any chance you'd improve this much in such a short time."

Wait…how much of that was really encouraging?

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

AiAA: Kia Soul Hamsters

It was "date night" for me and Mrs. Bootleg last Saturday. My mother was in town for Jalen's kindergarten graduation ceremony, so the two of them spent the evening together while the wife and I saw Get Him to the Greek. Here are the night's highlights in chronological order:

5:30 PM - After a long, long day, Jalen "got sick" in our living room. For the past two or three years -- once or twice a year -- Jalen has dropped an uncontrollable, out-of-nowhere hurl after looking and sounding perfectly fine immediately leading up to it. A year ago, we were at Petco Park watching our A's play the Padres
when it happened. He's an intermittent vomit time bomb. Mrs. Bootleg and I were upstairs when it happened, so my mother called upon her assortment of hasty cleaning skills in an unsuccessful attempt to cover up Jalen's assault on our upholstery. As my mom explained, "I didn't want you to worry and decide not to go out." As my wife replied, "Oh, we still going out." (That's not a typo, y'all.)

6:00 PM - The last time my mother babysat Jalen; I had to go back into the house for something after I'd already walked to the garage and started the car. Mrs. Bootleg and I hadn't been gone for 30 seconds when I returned to find my mom standing on one of Jalen's old kiddie stepstools reaching towards the open cupboard above the pantry for my Patròn. As we pulled out of the garage this time, I'm just going to assume...

6:30 PM - At some point, my mom made dinner for Jalen. When I asked my son -- the following morning -- what his grandma had cooked, he excitedly replied, "Cookies!" You had cookies for dinner, J? "Yep!" As my mother later explained, "When I asked him what he wanted for dinner, he said, 'cookies'." OK, then.

9:00 PM - I think I liked Get Him to the Greek a little bit more than Mrs. Bootleg. It was a bit uneven and several scenes seemed to run 30 seconds too long, but there were a few uproarious moments and Sean "Diddy" Combs seemed to be having a blast skewering himself as a sleazeball music promoter. I never saw Forgetting Sarah Marshall, so I missed whatever continuity there was with Russell Brand's "Aldous Snow" character. And, embarrassingly, a LOT of the current pop culture gags went right over my receding hairline. Sigh.

Before the movie began, a 60-second spot for the Kia Soul aired:

Most of you probably aren't old enough to share my kinda-sorta outrage. (Hell, Mrs. Bootleg IS old enough and she LIKED the ad.) Black Sheep was like a lot of early 1990s rap acts that toed the line between "commercial" and "alternative". They weren't media-labeled militants like Public Enemy and they weren't 3rd Bass-labeled minstrels like Vanilla Ice. But, Black Sheep made solidly progressive (for the time) music that deserved better than an Alvin and the Chipmunks homage.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

An Open Letter to my Best Friend in the Whole Wide World

Dear Jalen,

Congratulations on your graduation from kindergarten! Your speech absolutely brought the house down. I'd like to selfishly believe that my own stream-of-consciousness writing style inspired you (I mean, your graduation speech included references to South America, the Oakland A's and an actual Kool and the Gang sample...), but -- as you told every admiring parent who asked about it, afterwards -- you came up with it all by yourself.

When you watch the video of the ceremony, you'll notice that the picture is a bit jittery and you'll hear an occasional noise that sounds like someone squeezing an incredibly wet sponge. The shakiness with the camcorder is my fault. I clenched my jaw and froze my posture in an attempt to keep my emotions from pouring down my face. Ten seconds into the ceremony, I was quivering like a creaky dam about to burst. And, the wet sponge sound? That was me, again. What can I say, Jalen? The dam burst.

If I was a distraction, you managed to fight through it while at the microphone. This shouldn't be surprising to anyone, as you've been fighting since the day you were born. Yeah, you've heard the story a million times, but I'll never get tired of telling it: you were born nine weeks premature and the first thing the doctors did was measure your lung capacity. This is one of the biggest challenges preemies face in their first few days and weeks. Your lung capacity at birth? 97%

Those next five weeks weren't much fun. While the doctors took good care of you in the neo-natal intensive care unit, it's indescribably heartbreaking to see your newborn baby with tubes running through his nose and wires protruding from the surface of his chest. I actually couldn't hold you until you were three days old. (OK, I could've held you sooner, but you only weighed three pounds. I could see the outline of your ribs, sternum and hips against your skin. I was afraid of inadvertently putting you in a baby body cast.)

Even after we brought you home, the doctors insisted you remain hooked up to a portable heart monitor. I completely understood the necessity, but I wouldn't wish that bit of technological hell on any parent. Do you remember how it worked? If your heart rate got too low or too high, the machine would emit a piercing electronic shriek. Your mother and I were quite the centers of attention when it went off in that pizza place in La Jolla. By then, though, we were pros and knew how to get your heartbeat back to where it needed to be.

(When you're older, I'll tell you about the time the monitor went off and we found you in your crib, seized up with your eyes bulging out of your skull. On the plus side, it led to your mom and me recording the first-ever simultaneous husband-and-wife heart attacks. We hope to be fully recovered someday.)

Like I said, though, you've always been a fighter.

You started preschool at three years old and held on to my leg with the grip of Godzilla each morning during my attempts to drop you off. Three years later, you tell me every day how much you're going to miss all your friends and teachers when you change schools in the fall. Well, you're probably tired of hearing this Jalen, but you're going to be just fine. Who wouldn't want to be your friend?

Everyone should have the privilege of watching a baseball game with you. Remember a few weeks ago down at Petco Park, when the Padres' fire-balling closer Heath Bell entered the game and you kept yelling (from our seats high in the third deck) for him to throw his curveball? And,
when he did -- over and over again -- you were convinced it was because he heard you? The crowd around us got a big kick out of that.

How about your all-star caliber heckling whenever an A's hitter fails to come through in the clutch ("You're KILLING me, Cust!") or when one of our relievers gets touched up for four runs in one-third of an inning ("Go back to Sacramento!") Really, how many six-year-olds even know the Triple-A minor league affiliate of their favorite teams?

If the kids at your new school aren't into baseball, maybe they'll be impressed with your impressions of Jay-Z and Eminem from the
DJ Hero commercial. Why not try and win them over with all the disgusting things you eat? First graders enjoy a good gross-out and I'd put your love for unheated instant oatmeal drowning in cold milk up there with anything. (Don't play the "Sbarro's Pizza" card until second grade, when the nauseating stakes are raised accordingly.)

I'd say you're too young to make a play for the ladies, but one of your kindergarten classmates approached your mom with this gem a few weeks ago:

"Me and Jalen have a problem. We want to get married, but we don't know if we can because I'm white and he's black."

OK, let's not get ahead of ourselves here. I'm hoping you'll be hanging around the house for at least a few more years.

I love it when the first words out of your mouth in the morning (from April through September) are "Did the A's win?"

I love it when you snatch a bedtime story out of your mother's hands and pass it to me, explaining, "Daddy does the voices better."

And, I love every minute in between.

Friday, June 4, 2010

TBG Eats: Burger King's NEW Fire-Grilled Ribs

Current Weight: 169.8 lbs.

The average high temperature here in San Diego is 72 degrees and our city endures only 11-12 inches of rain per year. Deciduous purists are quick to mock California's absence of seasons, but I've done bonfires at Huntington Beach over Thanksgiving weekend and bacon-wrapped filet mignon out on the grill for Christmas dinner. I'm fine with missing out on real winters.

I'm also not opposed to no-showing the assorted summer cookouts that are right around the corner.

Mrs. Bootleg, Jalen and I are America's undisputed favorite freeloading family. Our annual June-thru-September tour of everyone else's backyards knows no bounds (and knows no shame). In my wife's mind, a giant bowl of her famous macaroni salad is our potluck pass into the homes of friends and co-workers. We enjoy the conversation. We enjoy the camaraderie. And, Mrs. Bootleg enjoys overpopulating the surface area of paper plates.

When it comes to the food, I'd estimate that my enthusiasm is 50% of Mrs. Bootleg's. On the one hand, you simply cannot go wrong with carne asada or pollo asado. Hamburgers and hot dogs are almost impossible to screw up. And, if you want the eternal gratitude of your African-American friends, pick up a pack of
hot links and watch the gastronomic magic happen.

On the other hand, there are the traditional barbecue side dishes. I'll never understand the allure of baked beans. The whole "sweet n' salty" gimmick was perfected by kettle corn and
Nestle Flips. Baked beans are an ancient, unnecessary stand-by that might be the messiest food one can eat with a spork.

I'm less hostile towards potato salad, but it's impossible to find my favorites – a warm German potato salad or one blended with blue cheese – on the average American picnic table. Yep, I'm a side dish snob, y'all. And, don't tell Mrs. Bootleg, but y'know her "famous" macaroni salad? The one that her girlfriends love more than me? It's a little overrated. She makes it with Miracle Whip, which is an abomination to mayonnaise fans like me.

Consequently, I'm usually limited to coleslaw –
with or without pineapple – and grilled corn on the cob. And, if I'm in the mood for ribs, it would seem that America can now turn her eyes to…Burger King? You've all probably seen the AiAA-worthy commercial that pairs the unappealing image of a winged pig with a new food product.

Undeterred, I ordered a three-piece last Saturday from my neighborhood BK drive-thru. The disembodied voice from the speaker said, "Those take a little while to prepare. Do you still want 'em?" I'm pretty sure those last five words weren't in the "new menu item marketing" script she was reading from.

Before I could respond, she came back over the speaker and told me the wait would be 4-5 minutes. Was the extra 90 seconds beyond the regular drive-thru wait time really worth mentioning? Is this supposed to convince me that the ribs are "slow cooked"?

BK's Fire-Grilled Ribs are similar in size to the "Riblets" at Applebee's (the bones, however, aren't razor-sharpened mini-shanks like the one's Applebee's offers up). They're served in a mildly-insulated bag that released a pleasing, if misplaced, scent when opened. It's not that I didn't appreciate the bacon-y aroma, but aren't these supposed to be ribs?

The ribs are served seasoned, but without sauce. And, before you BBQ snobs start in with your "real barbecue doesn't need sauce" nonsense, know that the sauce here is served on the side.

These were actually pretty decent by fast food standards. Sure, this is more "appetizer" than "entrée", but the pork had a smoky flavor that was reasonably tender and spiced nicely. The miniscule amount of meat was helped out by the kinda-sweet, kinda-spicy barbecue sauce that added a mild kick to the meal. There was even a very small touch of fattiness off the bone that helped with the texture.

My expectations weren't especially high, but BK's Fire Grilled Ribs pulled off a "TBG Eats" upset, to some extent. If only the King knew his way around a German potato salad.

Grade: 3 (out of 5) Calories (3-piece): 225, Fat: 18 g

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

10 Thoughts: Oakland A's - May 2010

May Record: 16-12
Overall Record: 28-24 (1st place, +1 over Texas)

(1) The End of an Eric: On May 22, DH Eric Chavez was placed on the disabled list with two bulging discs in his neck. Chavez told local beat writers that his condition was a direct result from a collision with a teammate during drills back in Spring Training and that he's been in pain all season. Of course, since Chavez is a HUGE favorite with the Oakland media (great quote, always available) he's earned a lifetime pass from criticism in the press. He says he's been hurt all year? Then, why did he proclaim himself healthy in this
April 10 interview? Why didn't he mention his neck in this May 15 piece detailing his season-long offensive struggles? Something stinks here, but nothing offends my sense of smell more than Chavez's numbers (.234/.276/.333). This smacks of a face-saving way to quietly move a respected veteran of the Major League roster. And, it should've been done a month earlier.

(2) Curt Hennig Wants His Nickname Back: SP Dallas Braden is 0-3 with a 4.13 ERA since his perfect game on May 9. I was in the stands for his May 14 start vs. the Angels. Save for one bad inning, he looked terrific. The A's
heavily hyped Braden's next start as his first in-game appearance at the Coliseum since his perfecto. But, in the days leading up that game, Braden was battling a stomach bug. He made the start against the Tigers (giving up just two runs in six innings), but this had the low-rent stench of Braden (at less than optimal health) being sent to the mound to keep the promise of a cheesy promotion.

(3) Plenty of Tickets Available...Still: Braden's perfect game gave the Athletics' organization quite a bit of
mainstream buzz. The A's parlayed this into an instant -- and incessant -- marketing campaign across all their broadcast platforms. Braden's Mother's Day performance preceded a seven-day road trip for Oakland and when they returned home to face the Tigers on Monday, May 17, the game drew just 10,051 despite the lure of heavily discounted tickets. The next night, the A's drew 10,512 and on May 19 -- featuring Mr. Perfect on the mound -- only 19,284 could be bothered to attend.

(4) Get Lost, Gaudin: Here's
what I wrote about Gaudin in my "30 A's in 30 Days" season preview: I'm not sure how much Gaudin's got in the tank after spending the past season-and-a-half in an extended stretch of mediocrity with the Cubs, Padres and Yankees. He's always walked too many and been prone to the long ball. And, now he's nearly three seasons removed from the best run of his career. Gaudin allowed 27 hits (including five home runs) in 17.1 innings for the A's before he was designated for assignment almost immediately after a stink-bomb mop-up job on May 15 vs. the Angels that brought his ERA to 8.83. (I was at that game. The below pic is from BEFORE my A's were annihilated.) That our boy-genius GM didn't see this coming is only my second favorite part of Gaudin's Oakland encore. My favorite was Gaudin's quote after being DFA'd: "I thought they'd have more faith in me."

(5) Avert Your Eyes from Our Offense: Fun fact -- this is the first time the A's have been in first place through May 31 since 1990. In seven of the eight previous times it's happened, Oakland made the playoffs. That 1990 team averaged 4.6 runs scored/game in the month of May. The 2010 A's averaged 3.5. Jose Canseco hit 13 home runs in May 1990 (118 plate appearances). In 2010, Kurt Suzuki, Eric Patterson and Adam Rosales are tied for the team lead in home runs with four each -- FOR THE ENTIRE SEASON (378 plate appearances, combined). And, since most of you have no idea who these guys are: Suzuki, our starting catcher, missed three weeks to injury while Patterson and Rosales are utility players. As a team, the A's are currently 11th in the AL in runs scored, 12th in SLG and 13th in home runs.

(6) The Good & The Bad with Daric Barton: The A's much-maligned first baseman is finally -- FINALLY -- fulfilling the hype and promise that's followed him around for the past five seasons since Oakland acquired Barton for Mark Mulder after the 2004 season. His slash line stands at .280/.396/.429 (and if you prefer your stats more esoteric, his
wOBA is .368 -- much like free Frogurt, that's good!) And, if A's manager Bob Geren is reading this: Stop asking Barton to lay down sacrifice bunts! He leads the AL in this category. Seriously! Bunting is almost always a bad decision in the American League and asking your best hitter to intentionally get himself out is eight shades of insane.

(7) Death of the Duke: SP Justin Duchscherer will miss the rest of the season after suffering cartilage damage in his left hip (an injury that occurred in his right hip in 2008). His A's tenure is almost certainly over; so I hope you'll understand that I prefer not to remember the no-velocity slop-tossing tendencies he exhibited in his five starts this year. Instead, I'll remember his anonymous, but awesome work as a middle reliever for most of the last decade. He was also a two-time All-Star when, for a brief moment, the whole world
knew his name.

(8) Tha Sheets-nit: After a comically apocalyptic start in Toronto on May 2 (10 hits, 9 runs in 3.1 innings) Sheets' ERA on the season was 7.12. For the rest of the month -- over five starts, including high-octane opponents such as Texas, Tampa Bay and Detroit -- Sheets posted a 2.81 ERA and 35 strikeouts in 32 innings. He's crediting a new cut fastball for the dramatic shift in performance. I'm not going to say
I was wrong about the acquisition, so I'll continue to bide my time until an "I TOLD YOU SO" seems convenient.

(9) Wuertz Case Scenario: My A's have had a recent history of overworking certain relievers. In 2002, closer Billy Koch appeared in more than half the team's games (84) and was out of the Majors for good just two seasons later at the age of 29. Kiko Calero set career-highs for appearances and innings pitched during his first two seasons in Oakland (2005-06). Injuries and ineffectiveness plagued the remainder of his A's tenure. In 2007, journeyman Alan Embree set a career-high for innings pitched at the age of 37. Last season, RP Michael Wuertz practically molested hitters with his filthy slider (102 Ks in just 78.2 innings!) This year, he missed all of April with an injury, while his May numbers (4 ER in 8 IP) indicate an absence of stuff and/or an absence of trust from the coaching staff.

(10) Coco No Go: OF Coco Crisp returned from a fractured finger on May 21 and made his season debut against the Giants. He went 2 for 3 with a pair of RBI and added an electric dynamic to the offence. Naturally, he played in one more game before landing on the DL again. This time it's an intercostal strain. Next time, it'll be something else. For the record:
I told you so.