Am I mooning too much over a mass-market muffin? Maybe. But it's probably good to remember, at a time when we're exalting all things artisanal, that "mass-market" isn't always and necessarily awful. At least not from a gustatory (as opposed to ethical) perspective. Like Hellman's mayo and Heinz ketchup, Thomas' muffins are mighty impressive for what they are. And like Hellman's and Heinz, they engender fierce, fierce loyalty. That was one of my thoughts as I read the Times piece, and it was another prompt for this post.
The tight lid that the makers of Thomas' muffins keep over the recipe and production process reflects the tight allegiances that we as eaters form with our preferred foods. When I was a kid, if one of my brothers or my sister or my father opened the bread drawer in the morning to discover that my mother had for some reason purchased an English muffin other than Thomas', a groan went up. Maybe even a wail. A hope had been dashed; an anticipation of a particular and dependable pleasure had gone unrewarded. And in the Bruni family, no letdown was as painful as a food letdown.
Speaking of letdowns, I had a lobster roll over the weekend. I was by the sea, and there were seafood shacks lining the road, and it seemed criminal not to stop at one at some point and have both a lobster roll and some fried clams.
The fried clams were fine, mainly because they weren't strips, but rather whole clams, bellies included. Belly inclusion is crucial. (Can I get that stitched onto a throw pillow?)
The lobster roll, though, was a bust. Instead of chunks of lobster meat, there were thin, stringy strands of it: it had been shredded, more or less, before being mixed with similarly shredded cabbage and celery and the like. The result was a braid-cum-mash that made it impossible, visually, to see exactly how much lobster was there. (That was the goal and point, I think.)
As I registered the lobster roll's general blandness, I realized that two out of three times, I regret getting a lobster roll, and that the lobster roll, like the street-vendor pretzel, is one of those foods that's usually more pleasurable in theory than in practice. The idea of the lobster roll most often trumps the reality of the lobster roll.
Those of us who love great lobster and have tried at least a few dozen lobster rolls in our lives have eaten some sublime ones, with tender HUNKS of flavorful lobster meat that weren't diluted with too much dressing, too many sidekicks. We got lobster, glorious lobster, without work, in big mouthfuls. And the memory of that keeps us going back for more.
But the serendipitous lobster roll, ordered and chosen at a random place, without prior research or reliable recommendations from discerning friends, typically disappoints. And it disappoints at a high price point: insult upon injury. It's as if many purveyors of lobster rolls figure that a smattering of lobster, a buttery roll/bun, and an iconic phrase are enough. No real effort or merit necessary.
The fried clam, in contrast, never bums me out as much. It's cheaper. And whatever else it does or doesn't have going for it, it's fried.
This article also appears on bornround.com.