The menu as masterpiece

Some carnivores argue that fish don’t feel pain.

I don’t presume to know what fish feel — but I will protest the painfully overdone descriptions that distinguish the menu over at TGI-Friday’s. The popular eatery’s “Fish ‘n’ Chips” entree is described as a “prime-cut cod fillet.” (Cut by whom, I wonder? And can you request an end piece?)

It doesn’t stop there. Said fillets, we’re told, are “hand-battered” (eeww … ) and “fried golden” (as opposed to what: “burnt black”?).

The assault begins early, on the “Appetizers” page, which is coyly subtitled “To Share, or Not to Share?” Friday’s disdains to offer its customers plain-Jane American spinach dip, opting instead for Tuscan Spinach Dip.

Basta, amici! Where will it end?

One local copywriter linked today’s onslaught of culinary uebermarketing to the embarrassing rise of the celebrity chef, noting that “even the most unassuming restaurants [now] front a whole ‘We don’t have cooks: We have chefs!’ attitude.”

I recently stopped by Annabelle’s — a moodily decorated fern bar in the old part of Asheville Mall — because I’d heard the place harbors spirits, and I was hoping to spot a ghost or two. But the only frightening thing there was the menu, haunted by ever-hokier declarations: Diners here are urged to “mosey on over” to try Annabelle’s “Southwest Sizzlin’ Fajitas.” About the baby-back ribs it is sagely declared: “Yeow!”

But the aggressively descriptive menu isn’t strictly a chain-restaurant phenomenon — plenty of locally owned bistros are equally guilty.

Tupelo Honey on College Street shuns the common grilled-cheese sandwich in favor of a subtly classier “Cheesy Grill.” At this trendy downtown cafe, many items come draped with the foliage of some vaguely Southern family tree. Instead of plain old granola, for instance, you’ll get “Grandma’s Maple Granola.” The restaurant’s New Orleans-style french toast has been christened “Petunia’s Pain Perdu” — a clever melange of a name that dilutes the borderline-pretentious French title by tethering the toast to a decidedly down-home-sounding culinary benefactress. Likewise, six ounces of beef tenderloin grilled with Vidalia onions and horseradish sauce belongs to one Frieda, as in “Frieda’s Filet Sandwich” — perhaps a tribute to the owner’s long-departed aunt or grandma, affectionately memorialized on a slab of sourdough.

Curiously, Tupelo Honey’s signature item is merely dubbed “Grilled PB&B,” though the accompanying text tells you all you need to know: The sandwich is an “Elvis-born favorite on Texas toast with peanut butter, banana and Tupelo Honey.” (Presumably the diner already knows that The King was born in Tupelo, Miss., not Memphis.)

Then the stakes get raised: “Hard-core Southerners,” the description continues, “substitute Duke’s mayonnaise.”


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