Integrity, In Four Acts of Food & Wine (errr…make that Wine, Cocktails, Beers & Shots)

Twisted Spoke’s Chila-Killas

A night at a local bar entitled Malort Night 2: The Cheap Beer Festival. There is room in this man’s heart for a night like that. Honest & forthright.

A tasty dinner where the bartender goes above & beyond in fixing a mistake that we, the patrons, made. That’s service and integrity.

A large, gorgeously decorated, upper-end restaurant, with failed service, food that was overpriced and flavor combos that were meh. How does this happen?

A ridiculously tasty Bloody Mary. Beer & customers that are understood by its bartender. Food that is reasonably priced & executed with precision. Period.

What do these four experiences have in common? They all occurred over the last week at dining establishments and seemed to underscore what integrity is or is not.

Let’s start by defining integrity. Merriam-Webster defines integrity as “firm adherence to a code of especially moral or artistic values: incorruptibility.” Oxford defines it as “the quality of being honest and having strong moral principals.”

To me, it’s being honest, standing up for high values and doing what you say you’re going to do. If you say you’re going to be there at 3pm and you’re there at 3:30 (constantly), I see that as a lack of integrity. If you tell me you have high quality food, and it’s not, I see that as a lack of integrity.

Cheap Beer!

Act One. My wife, best friend and I had an awesome dinner out and decided it was too early to go home, so we thought we’d hit up Paddy Long’s Malort Night 2: The Cheap Beer Festival. What was promised to us via Facebook & Twitter: a night of awesomely cheap beers like Hamms, Milwaukee’s Best and Schlitz all for $2, plus shots of Malort for $3.

You know what we got? Exactly what they promised.

I see the greatness of watered down, cheap-ass beer and what I consider to be a true shot, Malort. Apparently, others saw that same greatness because everyone there was having a great time, as were we.

If you’re honest about what you’re doing, if people hear you and believe in your message, then it is your responsibility to deliver on that message. Paddy Long’s and Malort didn’t try to scam us by hooking us with the cheap beer & try to upsell us on their awesome tap list (which it is). They had at least a dozen $2 cheap watered down beers. They were stocked with bottle after bottle of Malort – enough to satisfy everyone’s demand. They, in my mind, acted with integrity.

Act Two. The wifey and I decided to try the new restaurant Wood in Boystown. We hadn’t really heard much about it, but it seemed to have decent reviews and isn’t too far of a walk for us. Instead of waiting for a table, we decided to eat and have some drinks at their bar.

We thought the ambiance was great – beautifully decorated & lit, people all around us were having fun. We were helped by two different bartenders, both of whom were friendly and weren’t put off by our dozens of questions.

The first barrage of questions was about their cocktail list. They all seemed tasty, but I wasn’t familiar with a few of the ingredients. I ended up getting an awesome gin-based cocktail and the wife ordered a rye-based drink. I thought this was odd since I knew she doesn’t really like whiskey or bourbon.

Turns out she heard all of the ingredients that sounded amazing to her, but missed the “RYE” part. It was 100% our mistake, not a huge deal and that’s why we didn’t try returning the drink.

She had a few sips and after maybe 15-20 minutes ordered a glass of wine. She slid the almost full rye cocktail to me because she knows I’ve never met a rye cocktail that I didn’t like.

I caught one of the bartenders noticing this and mention it to the other bartender. I felt kind of awkward because I thought maybe they were making fun of us. Turns out, they were just being awesome bartenders/servers.

After a great meal, as the bartender was handing us our check he said casually, “I took the rye cocktail off of your check.” We tried to tell him how it was our fault, how she doesn’t like rye and how I loved the cocktail. It was already settled and clearly he wanted us to enjoy our experience there. That is service. That is why we will go back to the restaurant.

You don’t have to be a five star restaurant to give great service. You just have to have integrity.

As a complete side note, have you ever been to the Taco Bell at Clybourn and Wrightwood? Whoever runs that place and hires the workers there needs a gold star or a medal because they 100% have always been the most cheerful, helpful fast food workers I’ve ever encountered, anywhere. Especially in a city where most fast food workers,… Hell, even a lot of the restaurant servers,… could care less about YOU the customer, or the job they’re being paid to do.

Act Three. Ahhh, Randolph Street. Haymarket, Girl and the Goat – I love you and many of your neighbors. Some of you have such amazing food & drink, attention to detail, creativity, etc. I could go on about my affection for you.

Restaurant “X”, I share none of that love with you. We don’t bash restaurants publicly here at BeerSnackBlog. So, I won’t say what place we went to for my wife’s birthday dinner.

Let’s just say, it has amazing décor, a beautiful open room, great cocktails and an interesting sounding menu. Those are the positives I can speak to.

The night started off right. Good cocktails, the menu seemed interesting, and the waiter was energetic and spoke highly of many of the dishes. This place, like Wood, served small plates, which we love.

Then it seemed to all go down hill quickly. What happened? Let’s see. Our waiter seemed to disappear for the remainder of the night. Two of the dishes had crazy, crazy amounts of salt on them. Others had almost no flavor at all. Some of the ingredient combos, while sounding interesting on paper, were complete failures on the plate. Empty dishes piled up on our tiny table. We ordered a couple glasses of wine (once we flagged the waiter down) that didn’t arrive until we were almost done eating. Oh, and my pet peeve – I could barely get a damn refill on my water – multiple times.

If you’re asking me to pay $12-$15 for a small plate (or cocktail, or glass of wine) and we’re expected to eat 2-4 plates each, please execute on your food and give me good service.

It made me wonder if some restaurants are too big and aren’t staffed correctly, or trained properly and end up failing in the execution, despite the “creativity” and “ambition” of the head chef.

Regardless of the reason, this is a lack of integrity. To me the social contract of being fed good food, with good service in exchange for me paying you a day’s wage was broken. You will never see my face in there again, and if I can help, none of my friends’ faces either.

Demolished the garnish before I thought to even take a picture

Act Four. I love Bloody Marys. I’m critical of Bloody Marys, but am aware of how high my standards are for these amazing drinks.

After a long morning of work, my buddy and I decided to hit up Twisted Spoke for some brunch. Despite my love for Bloody Marys, I shamefully had never had one at the original Twisted Spoke (a place that is known for Bloody Marys).

I am kicking myself now because the hype was fully deserved. I ended up going with the Smokin’ Salma Bloody. It was just damn good and of course, served with a Beer Back. Chipotle-infused vodka with a great amount of heat and flavor and a garnish that was simple but thoughtful boasting chorizo, pickled garlic, cherry pepper and a pearl onion.

I had a god-awful order of chilaquiles a couple weeks back at a different restaurant and have been craving good ones ever since. Twisted Spoke’s food restored my faith.

Their version of chilaquiles, called Chila-Killas, were amazing on their own, for only $7, or can have chorizo or chicken added for only $2. If I have it my way, I’m going back next weekend to repeat the experience.

After finishing my well deserved Bloody, I moved over to beer. My long bearded bartender knew the beers he was serving and didn’t hesitate to point me in a direction when I was wavering between two.

This same bartender was also careful enough to ask another patron, who had ordered their Bloody Mary with “no meat”, whether they wanted the parmesan cheese added or not (yeah parm in a bloody – f’ing genius). Gotta love someone who knows their job well enough the customer well enough to ask in a nice manner if they are Vegan. Hat tip to you sir.

Twisted Spoke’s Chila-Killas

This restaurant is not a fancy place. They are known for good food, good drinks and damn good Bloody Marys. They act with integrity and continue to execute on these terms, ensuring their hype is justified. Apparently, they care about their customers – crazy concept, right?

A Four Act blabber-thon, weaved together by a single theme of integrity. That was my life over the last week. Amazing how food and drink can get you to think about deep philosophical concepts like integrity. Who has it, who doesn’t? What is it and what does it mean to you? Can I act with integrity more often than not?

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One comment

  1. Pingback: Oh Little Goat, Can You Live up to the Hype? « The Blog of Chris Ferguson

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