I was in a restaurant the other day when it hit me. Except for the artisan hamburger -- served with locally grown sweet potato fries on a homemade pretzel bun dressed with the chef's own brand of mustard -- there was very little on the menu I would have recognized as food when I was our server's age.
Most of the words on the menu -- potstickers, edamame, California rolls, ciabatta, wraps, bloomin' onions, pad Thai, chipotle, tilapia, Mongolian beef, latte, mocha, gluten-free, bruschetta, sushi and sashimi -- would have been a mystery to me.
"Pasta? What is that?" I would have asked, never having heard the word before. My mother made spaghetti. Everything else was noodles. Pasta? We'd eaten a ton of it without ever realizing it. Of course, back in the Dark Ages of Dining, we never would have heard, "My name's Nevada and I'll be your server tonight," either. And she wouldn't have had a tattoo of barbed wire around her neck, and a ring in her eyebrow.
Thirty years ago, if you saw chicken wings on the menu, you would have gotten up and started looking for another restaurant. What kind of person would order a chicken wing on purpose? Now they're so common, you wonder if there are enough chickens in the world to supply all those wings. Some mad scientist is probably trying to develop a chicken with eight wings. Another is working on making them boneless. You have to wonder what they did with all the chicken wings before they became so popular. Or maybe you shouldn't.
I don't remember anything coming with dipping sauce years ago unless it was French onion dip for potato chips. The really strange thing is that I'm pretty sure the French have never heard of French onion dip. Now everything comes with a dipping sauce. "What kind of dipping sauce would you like with your dipping sauce?" is a question I'm sure to be asked in the near future.
When did balsamic vinegar become so popular? Where did fried mozzarella sticks come from? One day, a salad was lettuce and tomato that came with whatever you ordered for dinner. Now it is dinner.
But what would really surprise my younger self would be the names of the beers at the local brewpub. Oh, yeah, I forgot: There weren't any local brewpubs when I was young.
The trouble with craft beer is I can never remember which ones I liked and which ones I didn't. Did I have the Magic Hat the last time I was here, or was it the Lagunitas? Or was it Torpedo, Delirium Tremens, Oatmeal Stout, Three Philosophers, Green Flash, Loose Cannon, Golden Monkey or one of about 4,000 others? I just can't remember. The server suggests I try the Tasting Menu.
"What is a Tasting Menu?" my younger self would have asked.
Contact Jim Mullen at JimMullenBooks.com.