Water park shut down because of burgers, fries, mozzarella

Is it a pool or an aquatic buffet?

Vandals made a mess of the Waterworks Waterpark in Prince William County, Virginia, and law enforcement is ready to slap the cuffs on someone. Hamburger patties, fries and pretzels were tossed into the pool, but the nastiest bit was smearing mozzarella cheese on the water slide. Of course, you wouldn’t want to put any of this near your lips.

The culinary disaster required that the park be shut down until the pool can be drained, sanitized and refilled – sans grub. The deed was done sometime between 10 PM Friday and 8 AM Saturday. Hoping to catch the culprits soon, a reward has been offered for information leading to an arrest.

[photo by Tine72 via Flickr]

Let freedom (and its fries) ring!

I recently took a trip up to Cape Cod for a friend’s wedding. It was my first time in the area and, as I’m wont to do, I intended to eat my way through the seaside towns, stopping at roadside shacks for lobster rolls and fried seafood goodness. So I pulled into the first restaurant I saw: Marc Anthony’s in Onset. It was midday and the checkered table cloth-clad joint was awash in Red Sox cap-wearing locals. I ordered a lobster roll, which the cashier yelled out for the grill-slaving cooks behind him and then a side of French fries.

“And an order of Freedom fries,” he yelled out. Just then a needle scratched across a record from somewhere in the heavens above. Huh? Freedom Fries?

Remember those? If not, here’s a brief refresher: the anti anti-war politicians (and those who loved them) spent the lead-up to Iraq war by trumpeting this name change in 2003 because of the French government’s refusal to go along with the Bush Administration’s plan to invade Iraq. Two of those legislators, congressmen Bob Ney (R-OH) and Walter Jones (R-NC), had the House cafeteria officially change the name of French fries to freedom fries seven years ago last week. They weren’t the first to do this, but the press coverage of the event inspired many restaurateurs to jump on this jingoistic bandwagon. In my old Brooklyn neighborhood, a diner suddenly began serving “Freedom onion soup.” On a trip to California, I saw “Freedom toast” on a breakfast menu.

Two years later, Walter Jones admitted he was wrong for backing the justifications for the war and put the French back in fry in his workplace cafeteria. And so, much like the reasons given for the war, this ridiculous burst of anti-Gallic liberty-spewing re-monikering quietly went away. At least I thought it did.

Apparently not everyone got the notice. In fact, once I started searching for freedom fries, they weren’t hard to find. I even found Congressman Bob Ney who now has a talk radio show. I requested an interview with the congressman and he responded with another question: could we do it on the air? I agreed. And so later that day, I asked Mr. Ney on his radio show if he had any regrets.

“Would I do it again? Yes, I would,” he told me and then said something that kind of surprised me coming from the man who helped give us freedom fries. “Would I change my vote if I knew what I know now about weapons of mass destruction? I would not have given full authority to President Bush to do what he did.” Ney went on to say he really became the face of freedom fries for the troops, not really for the war.

So with this edible anachronism still around, it’s possible to go on a freedom food tour of the country. If you want to party like it’s 2003, your first stop should be Cubbies in Greenville, NC, the supposed first restaurant in the country to serve up these calorically terrific fried potatoes with a side of good ol’ American liberty. Geno’s, the famously “English only”-loving Philadelphia cheesesteak spot proudly serves them too. I called to find out if they were still on the menu, and when I asked why they haven’t gone back to the original name, gruff-voiced Geno (or some guy who sounded like his name would be Geno) hung up on me. The outcome was very similar when I called Marc Anthony’s in Onset. Other places where you can still get a dose of your freedom and your, uh, pommes frites in one basket are the mini-chain of Toby Keith-owned restaurants (now there’s a big surprise), I love This Bar & Grill (locations in Tulsa, Oklahoma City, and Thackersville, OK.

And when Congressman Ney goes out to a restaurant how does he order his fries these days?

“I’ll order French fries,” he said.

Let’s just hope the Italians don’t offend us next. A slice of pepperoni freedom pie or spaghetti with Uncle Sam’s meatballs just doesn’t have a very edible ring to it.

Be sure to check out Episode 5 of Travel Talk TV, which features a Santa Cruz beach adventure; explains why Scottish money is no good; shows how to cook brats the German way; and offers international dating tips!

Felony Franks and other restaurants help ex-cons help you

If nobody hires ex-cons, then we shouldn’t be shocked when they return to lives of crime. So, for the good of Chicago, go pick up a couple of hotdogs at Felony Franks. James Andrews, who owns the West Side dog joint, makes it a point to hire people who have done time, seeing it as a service to a community that’s been struggling with crime for quite a while. There has been some pushback from the community, but Andrews stands by his mission.

The menu is pretty straightforward: hotdogs, sausages, steak sandwiches and French fries – the real deal, from raw potatoes. Orders are take from behind bulletproof glass (common in the neighborhood, unfortunately), but in the spirit of fun, customers are asked, “Are you ready to plead your case?” Also, an adaptation f the Miranda warning hangs on the wall, proclaiming your “right to remain hungry” – as if you’d want to!

If you’re jonesing for a “Misdemeanor Wiener” but don’t live in Chicago, there are restaurants around the country that help the recently released start fresh.

West Coast
Delancey Street: this San Francisco eatery is run by a foundation that helps ex-cons, drug addicts and the homeless get back on their feet.

East Coast
Mates Inn: the Trenton, New Jersey joint is on the state corrections department’s campus.

Andrews must be doing something right. Since opening, sales have reached $30,000 a month, and more than a thousand former inmates have applied for jobs.


Pyongyang gets a “taste” of capitalism

North Korea, the reclusive Communist state, is always reluctant to try something new. The government controls information tightly, as anyone who has read updates from the Korea Central News Agency can see. But, occasionally, a fissure forms in the barriers that separate the most remote country on Earth from the rest of the world. And now, the people who are slowly developing a taste for pizza and beer are taking a look at burgers and fries.

Pyongyang is now home to North Korea’s first fast food restaurant, where the locals can scarf down the same grub that’s made so many Americans overweight … though rampant poverty is unlikely to allow the nation supersize overnight. Named Samtaesong, the place pairs kimchi with burgers, fries and waffles. Beer, a local fave, is available on tap. There are plans to add croissants and hot dogs to the menu – a natural combo – and to open up other locations in the country’s capital.

The food isn’t cheap, according to the North Korean media outlet Choson Sinbo (which is based in Tokyo. A hamburger will set you back $1.70, which is more than half what the average North Korean earns in a day. Fortunately, Pyongyang is home to the country’s wealthiest citizens (so much for the Communist objective of financial equality), so they can afford to eat fast food.

There are other signs of capitalism encroaching on Kim Jong Il’s turf. He was reported to have visited a convenience store recently, though accounts stop just short of whether Apu invited him to “come again!” The Dear Leader did pick up five bottles of a Korean liquor known as “makgeolli” and other drinks.

Fast food, convenience stores … this is starting to prove something I’ve believed for quite a while. Future wars will not be won with armored divisions and air strikes. Instead, ambition, taste and style – the nuts and bolts of capitalism – will yield victory and create foundations for freedom around the world. While I hate to give Puff Daddy P. Diddy Diddy Sean John Combs his due, it really is “all about the Bejamins.”

A successful free enterprise, of course, requires that customers be willing to come back to more. Well, Samtaesong is already on the right track, having had its first satisfied customer, George Bottomley. But, that’s not such a big deal – his only reference point is the food back in Britain.

Where to get your freedom fries in Denver

Next week, an estimated 70,000 out-of-towners are expected to descend on Denver, Colorado for the 2008 Democratic National Convention.

Thousands of political activists will arrive hungry for change and hungry for dinner. And what better appetizer than the official food of American politics: freedom fries. (But they’re still called French Fries everywhere outside of the Capitol building.)

Denver Westword has just announced its 2008 Best Of Denver awards, including the category for Best French Fries in the city. The winner is Encore Restaurant located at 2550 E. Colfax Avenue. Encore’s eclectic menu features mid- to high-end American fare, including the townspeople’s favorite fries: “perfectly cooked, heavily salted shoestrings that are unbelievably addictive – particularly hit with a drizzle of spicy mustard that’s just one step (heat-wise) below that stuff you get in Chinese restaurants and about ten times more delicious than a squirt of French’s could ever be,” according to Westword.

For more dining favorites in Denver, view the entire list of Best Of winners here, or check out the DNC’s dining guide here.