It’s catch up time, which means I check out your response to some columns or bits of news.
Last week’s column (“Where am I?”) on street names in Fort Worth stirred up plenty of interest, no doubt as we all sit in traffic wondering why we’re basically parking on Bryant Irvin Road.
I received a call from our photographer extraordinaire, David Irvin. He asked what the book said about Bryant Irvin Road. He had heard from family lore that he is related to a family that had a farm on the road and that the road was named after two farmers in the area, one named Bryant and the other Irvin. Sure enough, Werner Magnus’ book, Who Was Hulen?, basically confirms what David heard, though in a rare typo I found in the book, Magnus spells it “Bryant Irving.” Unfortunately, that’s it and I could offer David Irvin no more information on the road and his family connections. If anyone has more 411, send it my way.
My column on London (“Big Tex in Big Ben country”) evoked plenty of response too, enough that I may be able to convince Uncle Sam or at least the Queen that it was a business trip. I mentioned the Whole Foods Market in London in the piece, but I didn’t go there. I mean, we have one down the street. Turns out I should have made the trip. Doug Renfro, president of Mrs. Renfro’s, said that the Fort Worth family-owned company sells just under 20,000 jars of Mrs. Renfro’s Salsas to its UK distributor annually and that there’s plenty in said Whole Foods. I guess I’ll just have to go back and check out the salsa. It would have made a good photo. And, man, would I like to see some British blokes trying their hand at Ghost Pepper salsa. That would be a YouTube viral sensation.
That column ran long so I didn’t get to crack wise about British food. But really there was no need to, it’s really improved over the years. When I was first there in the late 1970s, the typical English breakfast hadn’t changed much from when my father ate it during World War II with “bangers” (sausage), beans and toast. I heard how terrible it was from friends who had been there and it was, but I’ve got to admit I eventually began to enjoy it in a perverse way. Maybe it was just because it was different or that I felt like the whole country was eating the same thing. Now I don’t know if you could find something as awful – but still alluring – as those bangers I had then. Bangers are still there, but they’re not that cereal- and fat-filled concoction I grew weirdly fond of in 1979. They actually seem to have meat in them. They were called “bangers,” by the way because they were so filled with fat and cereal that they often exploded when you cooked them, hence “bangers.”
When I was there in 1999 and taking writing classes at City University, I and other students would head to Soho to find cheap Indian food. It was all great, but prices varied all over the place. You could spend a fortune – student-wise that is – and get terrific food or spend a pittance and, well, still get terrific food. I never remembered the restaurants’ names – they weren’t big on marketing either – but I knew where they were. Turn left at the fish ‘n’ chips shop, then go down the alley by the record store and follow the sound of the surf guitar playing in the pub next door. Good thing, as I sometimes stumbled there after a few pints with fellow students.
So, when I visited recently, I stumbled around, but these weren’t the dark, poorly-lit areas of 20 years ago and I was pintless. I was stumbling over people. Soho and Carnaby Street were alive, bright with lights and scores of people, young and old and as ethnically diverse as a junior college course catalog cover. Whoever did their economic development did it right.
We found a place called Dishoom that seemed to be in the same place as one of my favorites from two decades back. Unlike then, Dishoom knows how to market. The bartenders entertain you as you wait – inevitably – for a table. If you tire of the bartenders, you can pursue their cookbook or you can check out the CDs they sell of Indian bands from the ’60s playing rock ‘n’ roll. Check out Jumpin’ Jack Flash by Ananda Shankar. It’s as cool as a cold beer on an iceberg. Yeah, they know how to market. The food is not only excellent, it’s popular. I happened to walk by several of their other locations and there were lines out the door as soon as the workday was done. They’re the Heim Barbecue of London. Good on them. They are so popular, there’s sort of a backlash. A very British backlash as everyone loves them. The critics make the point that there are other Indian restaurants in London. That’s how the British throw shade.
I’ll have to try some of those other restaurants when I go back to check out the Whole Foods and write off another trip.
Robert Francis is editor of the Fort Worth Business Press.