OPINION: When is a bakery a patisserie?
When I was growing up, a hamburger was a hamburger.
Sure, people knew that the hamburger you bought at the local diner was better than the one you found at White Castle, the hamburger you ordered at the steakhouse was even better, and a hamburger, say, at the Plaza was better still.
But no one made a big deal of it. There was no need to.
Recently, though, I happened to notice the menu for a special hamburger featured at a trendy restaurant in Brooklyn. Intrigued, I went online and found others. They read something like this:
“Aged beef on a brioche with chevre, roasted peppers, carmelized onions, homemade pickles, and a side of potato salad made with Yukon gold baby potatoes and locally-grown dill.”
Examples of this phenomenon, which some people call the “Brooklyn foodie” phenomenon, are found all over the place in the borough’s newly fashionable neighborhoods. You can get spaghetti, but you can also get hand-crafted spaghetti made with artisinal cheese and truffle oil.
And whoever said “a rose is a rose” wasn’t familiar with the foodie phenomenon. I recently passed by an expensive food market that advertised that it contained a “charcuterie.” When I was taking French in high school, “charcuterie” merely meant a butcher store. So why “charcuterie” — unless the goal is to say, “We are superior to you”?
Even dessert isn’t immune to this phenomenon — how about “a pear tart drizzled with dark chocolate and a dollop of crème fraiche?”
Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not a “meat and potatoes guy.” I enjoy exploring new, unusual foods. But there is a limit.
The clientele of these trendy restaurants, I would hazard to say, consists mainly of upscale professionals or hipsters who come from upper-middle-class families and who probably went to fancy schools like Brown, Oberlin or Dartmouth — the people who can afford the outrageous rents or condo prices in the “New Brooklyn.” Many of them would never even think of going to “regular” restaurants like diners, old-fashioned Chinese restaurants or old-fashioned Southern Italian restaurants.
The fact is that the wealthy and near-wealthy have always tried to differentiate themselves from the middle class. When the middle class began to be able to afford to go to London and Paris, they started to go to the south of France or the south of Spain. When most of western Europe became affordable, they started to brag about their vacations in Croatia. When the middle class went to Mexico City, they bragged about their vacations in Belize or Honduras.
And it’s not a coincidence that in much of the city, the traditional middle-class restaurants — diners, the aforementioned Chinese and Southern Italian restaurants, Jewish delis, pancake houses, Irish bar-restaruants — are disappearing. At the same time, the restaurants patronized by the poor, especially fast-food restaurants, and the well-to-do are increasing.
America is becoming more class-stratified, New York is becoming less and less a haven for middle class, and this is definitely reflected in the world of food.
Raanan Geberer is managing editor of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle.
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