Barbarella
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Condiments are like old friends — highly thought of, but often taken for granted. — Marilyn Kaytor

I waited until the bartender was distracted and then went to work as quickly as possible.

“Whoa, there — what are you doing?” David asked. I glared at him and continued my task. “Oh, I get it,” David said as he watched me transfer ketchup from the bowl on the counter onto his plate. “You’re the one who asked for extra,” he goaded.

“Just —” I set down my utensils the moment the bartender turned back around. I smiled at her and then spoke in a low voice to David. “I know I did, but they usually bring one more little container — this is a whole bowl; only my dad could get through all of that.”

“So you put it on my plate?”

“I didn’t want it to look like I was wasting it,” I said.

“It’s like Japan all over again,” David said. This time, instead of glaring at him, I smiled at the memory of our stay in Hakone, where I’d repeatedly snuck fishy items onto David’s plate so as not to out myself as a barbarian among all of those dainty, kimono-clad women.

“Except in this case, I like the stuff I’m putting on your plate,” I said. “And fortunately, despite its hipsterrificness, Starlite still serves ketchup.”

I don’t get into heated arguments over politics or religion. Those topics are way too vast, the issues too nuanced. But when it comes to condiments, I see red.

“I mean, who do those people think they are? This is America, for Christ’s sake. How pompous do you have to be to think it’s gauche to put ketchup on a burger? It’s not like I’m asking for syrup to pour over my asparagus — I just want a bit of that vinegary sweetness to accent the savory and the salt. I understand they’re trying to make high quality food with elevated flavors, but ketchup can be part of that. I can still taste the Brandt Beef, caramelized onion, and gruyère on this burger, and I’ve got some ketchup on it. And how dare they serve french fries, the basest of sides, and withhold the freakin’ ketchup. I mean, seriously.”

A certain faction of hipsters have declared war on ketchup. Yet, this ketchup-condemning clique proudly keeps one of the crappiest beers available — Pabst Blue Ribbon — on tap; a beer my craft-brewer friend Jacob told me is “indistinguishable from every other domestic sub-premium brand in its category, such as Bush Light and Natty Ice.” He also said, “PBR has succeeded purely based on irony. It was a brand neglected by its owner, owned by the charitable trust of a dead man, with zero effort put into marketing, and only by virtue of its throwback irony did it become popular among a certain set of people” — the same set who wrinkle their noses when a plebe like me has the audacity to request the great American condiment to accompany my Freedom Fries.

I went to one such ketchup-hating hipster hub downtown, which touts itself for “simple, straightforward food,” such as burgers, fries, and even hotdogs. By asking for ketchup, I earned a sneer from my server. “We don’t do ketchup,” she said. All of the sauces were mayonnaise-based — the one condiment that makes me gag. Sure, they tarted them up with flavor, as with the “smoked chipotle aioli,” but when you break it down, that’s fancy mayonnaise. What about smoked chipotle ketchup? Even the mustard was aioli — all the cool flavors were riding on eggs and oil, the whipped combo of which is gross regardless of the ingredients that are blended in.

When a friend tried to explain to us the concept — that the place was “too good for ketchup,” David told him, “You can make housemade ketchups that are worthy of any five-star restaurant in the world.” He pointed out that Quality Social, another one of our haunts, not only makes their own ketchup but also their own hot sauce, barbecue sauce, worcestershire, and mustard.

I reminded David of that terrible experience, when we had been made to feel like a couple of foodie fledglings. As he dipped a fry in the new puddle of ketchup on his plate, David said, “It seems so arbitrary, like the owner of that place was once done wrong by ketchup.” He chewed on his fry. “There’s a reason ketchup is a classic condiment — it complements meat and fried foods.”

“One of their Yelp reviewers said if you want to drown your food in ketchup, you should go to McDonald’s,” I said.

“What about all the other sauces they offer in which you can drown your food?” David was finally catching up to my level of irritation. “Why not let people eat the food the way they want to eat it? That seems petty and arrogant.”

“Arrogant’s a good word for it,” I said. “Small Bar serves old-school ketchup and mustard — and they offer Tactical Nuclear Penguin, one of the most esoteric and expensive craft beers in the world.”

“The customer’s pleasure should be any restaurant owner’s primary objective,” David said. “I bet the same people who turned up their noses when we asked for ketchup would have no problem asking for wasabi to go with their sushi.”

“Wait — what’s sushi have to do with ketchup?”

“Sushi is a constructed dish,” David said. “It comes with rice, as opposed to sashimi, which is just the fish. Traditionally, you’re not supposed to have wasabi with sushi because the chef, who may have apprenticed for 12 years, has already added the perfect amount to complement the specific type of fish,” David explained. “To then add extra wasabi is an insult to the chef. In essence, you’re saying, ‘You don’t have the skill to prepare this properly.’ But virtually all Japanese restaurants serving sushi in the U.S. have come to realize that many Americans like extra wasabi; therefore, you’ll always find a blob of wasabi on your plate along with the sushi — because they’re catering to the customer, not to their egos.”

“Yeah, well, I can do without wasabi,” I said. “But until this PBR-loving, ketchup-hating crowd finds something else ironic enough to love and mainstream enough to hate, I’m keeping a bottle of Heinz in my purse.”

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Comments

nan shartel March 9, 2011 @ 2:10 p.m.

good idea about the ketchup in the purse Barbarella ;=s

but that awful oil and eggs mix is great on cold asparagus!!!

i was raised with ketchup will all kind of breakfast fare....gotta have it...

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Barbarella Fokos March 9, 2011 @ 2:26 p.m.

In the right hands, I can do a light aioli (especially on asparagus), but if it has the slightest bit of unctuousness, I just can't cope. ;)

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Evelyn March 9, 2011 @ 2:41 p.m.

You may have made hating on ketchup too mainstream with this article. So maybe now hipsters will hate on hating ketchup and love it? maybe?

Also, love(!) 'hipsterrificness' as a word.

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David Dodd March 10, 2011 @ 9:40 a.m.

Ketchup (or catsup?) gets a bad rap. There's only so much that one can do to a fried potato, and I'm keeping my fries as far away as possible from Ranch dressing, thank you. Ketchup works just fine.

And I take issue with the possibility of a beer being described as esoteric. It makes the beer sound snotty and elitist, which sort of makes the beer an irony considering that the perception of beer is that it's quite folksy as compared to, say, wine.

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Barbarella Fokos March 10, 2011 @ 11:26 a.m.

Ah, here I must disagree with you, refried. A craft brew beer can be just as unique and complex as a fine wine. And Tactical Nuclear Penguin (which costs $100 for a small, limited edition bottle of the brew), is most certainly esoteric. For "snotty and elitist" brewers, one must look no farther than the makers of Arrogant Bastard ale. ;)

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David Dodd March 10, 2011 @ 1:24 p.m.

$100 for a bottle of beer is beyond esoteric, and even beyond ridiculous ;)

As for Arrogant Bastard, I like it, but I wouldn't make it my every day beer. Hops overload. But I think that much of what Stone has done with that brand is to market it as something too good for your average Budweiser drinker. It's sort of like when members of the band Primus yell out to the crowd at their concerts, "Primus sucks!" Primus has some of the best musicians I've ever listened to, regardless of the popularity (or unpopularity, depending on your taste in music) of the music they write. Arrogant Bastard is marketed similarly, I think, in that part of the marketing message would seem to preclude consumers that could contribute to the brand becoming popular. Yet, it's popular (the Charlie Sheen of Ales, perhaps?).

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JohnnyJ March 13, 2011 @ 2:45 p.m.

I WAS MAD THAT NEIGHBORHOOD DOWNTOWN, DIDN'T HAVE KETCHUP FOR THEIR BURGERS. THEIR OTHER SAUCES ARE GOOD THOUGH.

THIS COLUMN NEE3DED A MUSTARD MENTION!!!!!!!

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Ponzi March 15, 2011 @ 7:34 a.m.

It appears that burgers have replaced the steak in both demand and price. Ten dollars for a burger just rubs me the wrong way. Plus with 1,000 steer in a burger, I’d rather just opt for the occasional steak where there is only one cow.

The emergence of “gourmet burger” places is the ultimate irony. To be selling something inherently bad and then say you can’t add something inherently decent to it is the height of hypocrisy. Anyway, that is my rant. I won’t ever know anything about Burger Lounge or any of the other spiffy burgerdromes because I won’t eat there.

Salsa now outsells ketchup (in the U.S.). I’d rather have salsa on my food. I add it with eggs for breakfast and pour it into vegetable soup to spice it up. I’m amused by the trend to use Ranch Dressing on so many things. I used Blue Cheese instead.
We are in agreement on mayo. I don’t like it and prefer mustard. I do not like Tuna Salad with mayo. As far as asparagus, what about a pat of butter or a little Hollandaise? Oh, and I don’t trust Yelp reviews.

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