Are You a Man or a Muppet? The Problem With Restaurants These Days

Have you ever wondered what an 18 Euro breakfast burrito looks like? Well, here you go…

Over the weekend, I found myself in the middle of a Twitter bickerfest with Jason Hartley, the culinary guru behind Lovefood, a restaurant located in Amsterdam that’s been racking up rave reviews over the past few months. My girlfriend and I were eager to check the place out after hearing all the buzz. We made a reservation for last Saturday but I balked at one item on the menu. You guessed it, an 18 Euro breakfast burrito.

In the states, breakfast burritos are the sort of thing you’d typically find only at fast food restaurants and in 7-11 freezers. Gourmet, they are not. I figured the idea of one being slapped with such a lofty, and irony-free, price tag was worthy of a mention on my Twitter account. I pinged Lovefood’s account on Friday and my tweet quickly caught the attention of Chad, an Amsterdam-based blogger who also found the costly burrito equal parts funny and pretentious. We passed a few quips back and forth. Then Hartley saw our comments and, well, he wasn’t too amused. After calling me a “Muppet,” he blocked both of our accounts and spent the rest of his Saturday decrying us to anyone on Twitter who would listen.

First of all, “Muppet” is a pretty inane insult*. I think we can all agree that last Muppet movie was pretty dang entertaining and, given the ire that presidential candidate Mitt Romney has been subjected to recently, they’re obviously a force to be reckoned with.

Anyway, I can respect and appreciate the talent, time and stress that goes into making a small business work. I know restaurateurs in my hometown of Portland and, yeah, it’s a tough racket. It’s not a job, it’s a lifestyle and only the strong survive. Diners are fickle, competition is fierce, the hours are positively insane and negative word-of-mouth on social media and websites like Yelp can rip your dreams to shreds.

Given all of this, it’s curious that Hartley resorted to name-calling and a public temper tantrum instead of responding to our comments in a cool, collected manner (or ignoring them outright), especially considering all the praise he’s received lately. If he can’t handle a couple of sarcastic comments on Twitter, imagine what a negative review in a proper publication would do to his blood pressure.

Among the frustrations Hartley expressed on Twitter after Chad and I were blocked is that neither of us had actually bothered to eat one of his overpriced burritos. OK, he had us there.  After mulling it over, my girlfriend and I decided to keep our reservation at Lovefood. I decided I would put my money where my mouth was and grabbed the nearest Muppet (a vampire bunny puppet, the closest equivalent I could track down on short notice) for a photo. After all, shouldn’t an 18 Euro breakfast burrito warrant a commemorative snapshot?

Lovefood is located a short walk from Amsterdam Centraal. As far as decor goes, well, let’s just say nobody goes there for that. The restaurant is all about its menu, which is focused on classic dishes made with the best ingredients Hartley and his crew can get their hands on. It’s one of the few places in Amsterdam that serves American pancakes and British-style Sunday roasts. Here’s the rundown on the breakfast burrito from Lovefood’s menu:

“A large flour tortilla filled with scrambled organic eggs fried with imported spicy uncooked chorizo to let the flavoured oils melt into the eggs, mature chedder cheese, wilted spinach, house made hot salsa with 4 types of chilli.. Baked and served with more salsa, house made guacamole, sour cream, house made refried beans and house made spicy cornbread”

Needless to say, I went with the breakfast burrito and, after snapping a few photos with my makeshift Muppet, I dug in. I was hoping that Hartley would be up for a snapshot when confronted with the bunny but I guess it was his day off.

So is Hartley’s breakfast burrito worth this kinda scratch? First off, I should note that what was brought to our table was burritos. Plural. This wasn’t one burrito, it was more like two and a half. The shell was too crispy for my liking but there was no denying that their insides were made with tender-loving care. All in all, this is definitely the best breakfast burrito(s) in Amsterdam but, given their rarity, I guess that isn’t saying much. Along with beans and a side of fresh guacamole, the dish also included a piece of tasty but totally superfluous cornbread (what sort of cook serves cornbread with burritos, anyway?).

Will I ever eat another one? Probably not, definitely not at this price. I suspect that Hartley would sell a lot more burritos if he tossed out the cornbread, cut the portions in half, dropped the price by 10 Euros and kicked all his lofty pretenses to the curb. But his aspirations, emphasis on “quality ingredients” and highfalutin menu aren’t unusual in the restaurant biz.

And that’s a big problem.

You see, restaurants like Lovefood aren’t just restaurants, they’re deeply-felt “statements.” Their cooks aren’t cooks, they’re auteurs, and the websites of these operations are filled with trendy buzzwords like “sustainable” and “locavore” along with exalted details outlining the “inspiration” fueling their pompous  proprietorship. Each menu item is bequeathed with a lengthy description longer than the dust jacket plot summaries of most novels.  The phenomenon was nicely parodied in this Portlandia sketch a while back. Oh, and the full name of Lovefood is Jason Hartley’s Lovefood.

Of course it is.

Unfortunately, this conceptual brand of restaurant marketing has become the norm in recent years. Most new operations are more than eager to engage in a never-ending pissing match to outdo their competition in terms of ostentatiousness while charging their patrons ridiculous prices. Lord have mercy on those of us who just want a bite out that won’t break the bank. Food snobs and chefs alike typically respond to these sorts of concerns with pithy, oblivious statements like “if you want crap, go eat crap.”

Nice try, folks. First off, where? Unpretentious cafes are becoming increasingly difficult to come by, especially in cities like Amsterdam.  Is it so much to ask for a meal in a restaurant that’s actually affordable? Or, in this case, a breakfast burrito that’s full of more eggs than arrogance?

* UPDATE: A few readers wrote in to brief me on the British slang term “muppet.” I’ve known about it for a while and I was trying to make a cheeky joke in this paragraph. I guess I failed. Regardless, who uses this term anymore? Hasn’t it been usurped by Kermit and his lovable band of felt misfits?

Meanwhile, Hartley’s limited tolerance for criticism on social media continues to vex him. A discussion on Lovefood’s Facebook page last week regarding his plans to begin adding a surcharge to tabs was roundly rejected by his clientele, which resulted in him throwing another temper-tantrum and deleting the entire thread.  Yesterday, he posted something about eggs that…well, feel free to head over there and read it for yourself.  

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2 Responses to Are You a Man or a Muppet? The Problem With Restaurants These Days

  1. Chad B. says:

    That dude is a bitch. If he gets all butthurt from simple criticism, he shouldn’t talk to the public. I have no patience for punks that get tough on the Internet.

  2. Brandon says:

    I don’t know if I’d go that far but he really needs to learn to keep a cool head if he’s going to engage his customers on Twitter, Facebook, etc. He can’t expect everyone to constantly treat him like a special snowflake and blow smoke up his bum. Food is serious business, dang nabbit.

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