Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Me llamo

I’ll be the first to admit that Flint isn’t the most elegant city in the Midwest. And we’re certainly not the hot tourist destination of, say, Traverse City or Mackinaw Island. If we had an advertising campaign and a big shiny brochure to entice visitors, the sales pitch might go something like this:

Flint: It’s not THAT bad!

Tour the gaudy mansion of Flint’s former Thug Mayor. During the holidays, you can see his big-ass gated lawn cluttered up with low-rent snow globes and blow-up Santas as big as the Mayor himself. Set aside a little extra time and sit in on the proceedings of one of his many lawsuits against the City Council.

Flint: We have a sister city in Russia!

Wanna see the demolition of a million square feet of automobile factory? Book your reservation now. Watch part-time construction workers turn usable space into urban decay right before your eyes.

Flint: At least we’re not Saginaw!

Hometown superstar Michael Moore has also made big contributions to the world’s perception of Flint. I’m sure his 1989 documentary that depicted a local woman skinning and gutting bunny rabbits was not the free publicity city officials were hoping for. I watched that movie for the first time in the spring of 1994. I was still living in Reno, Nevada and had just interviewed for a full time teaching position at the University of Michigan-Flint. I didn’t’ get a very good sense of the city on my day and a half visit, and nobody gave me a tour of the city beyond the walls of the campus compound, so I thought I’d see for myself what Flint was all about. I had to go to four different video stores before I found the one and only copy of Roger and Me in the whole city.

Poor people being evicted from their houses on Christmas Day. An indoor, automobile-themed amusement park (that was only open for six months). Bob Eubanks at the Genesee County Fair (the guy who eons ago hosted The Newlywed Game. A city being brutally assaulted by the auto industry. What’s not to love? (If my first advertising campaign wasn’t ideal, maybe this one would come off as less pretentious, more real.)

I’m hopeful that Michaels’s next documentary, Capitalism, which opens this Friday, will do for Flint what Leaving Las Vegas did for, well, Las Vegas. Flint: We have nothing to live for; run us over with a City Bus. Wait, we lost our bus service in the last round of budget cuts.

And I’m not so sure the restaurant industry in Flint is doing itself any favors in the image department either. We have more Chinese Buffets than we do Baptist churches. If you didn’t know any better, or if you weren't a regular, you’d think Fire Mountain was also a Baptist Church.

Really, the nastiness of the Chinese Buffets has given Asian cuisine a bad name in this town. We do have a pretty good Thai restaurant, Bangkok Peppers and a solid Chinese place, Empress of China, but if you don’t serve free crab legs with a at least a hundred yards of salad and dessert, an acre and a half of entrees, and an ice cream machine with at least three flavors (and for the record, chocolate/vanilla swirl is a flavor), then you’re facing an uphill battle to survive. House of Hunan, a great high-end Chinese restaurant, opened up this year in the old Big Boy building on South Dort Highway, but since it offers none of the extravagances of the 30 or so buffets in town, I’m afraid it’s doomed to fail.

Since I’m exploring Hispanic culture and Mexican food in Flint, I cannot, in good conscience, let them off the hook either. Our Hispanic population is roughly 3% of the total population, but the number of Mexican restaurants makes up 10% of all the city’s restaurants. So I think I’m justified in posing the question: Are you just waiting for Michael Moore to do a mockumentary on how you came up with the names of your restaurants?

Sure, Los Panchos sounds benign. El Nopal has a certain mystique to it. El Charrito even sounds a little sexy. However, for those of us not terribly literate in Spanish but curious enough to know the translations of these names, we’re pretty sure Michael Moore's gonna be knocking at your door and shoving a microphone in your face in the not so distance future.

If the names of Mexican restaurants were revealed to the public in English, I think these places would suffer the same fate as the good Chinese restaurants. Who, for example, would want to eat at The Blanket-like Cloak With a Hole in the Center for the Head?

“Hey Billy. Wanna go out to The Pasture with me for a bite to eat? No? How ‘bout we meet up at The Cactus?”

If you’re really feeling adventurous, then you might want to visit The It’s Not Even a Spanish Word and has no Meaning in English. I hear the food’s gringolicious. This restaurant, El Charritos in Davison, has come highly recommended by several of my readers, so look for it in the not too distant future. I might not bring a microphone, but I”ll definitely be asking questions about how the place got its name.


  1. By the by, Bob...

    If you're down with heat it may interest you to know that there's a chili cook-off in Clio on the 16th between 10 A.M. and 5 P.M.

  2. Thanks for the tip. I just put it on my calendar. Went to a new place yesterday, Alejandro's. Not bad. Just have to find time to write it up.

  3. Maybe I'll see you at the cook-off. Here's an article about it:

    I've had Alejandro's a few times. Doesn't really do anything for me. Portions are kinda small and as a result I end up feeling a bit cheated. Plus it's a terrible location. However, they are definitely doing their own thing and are not a cookie cutter shop.

  4. We have only one real Mexican restaurant in Mt Pleasant, but it's a REAL Mexican restaurant--family-owned, all food made on the premises, terrific salsa, chili rellanos to die for, a ton of Mexican beers (beyond the usual), etc. Come on up, Bobbo, and we'll treat. (Even the fried icecream is good.) Loving your reviews, by the way. Thanks. I guess I have to sign this anonymous. Guard well.

  5. Oh, yeah. Duh. It's Los Palaminos. The family name.