One of my favoroite writers is Dara Moskowitz Grumdahl, a food writer here in Minneapolis. She used to write for the free weekly City Pages. That's where I got to reading her for the first time. Now she's at Minnesota Monthly. Recently, I've been especially taken by things she's had to say. While she ostensibly focuses on restaurants and food, her mind seems just as tuned to the context around the things people eat. For instance, I've noticed that for a few months now she has been intent on relating restaurants and dining to the financial collapse, which she just calls the 'credit crunch.' What does it mean to run a restaurant, or dine in a restaurant, or write about a restaurant, during the time of this second depression? Questions like this seem to motivate her writing. Here's a sample of what I mean. Check her out.
If you like to spend about $12 or $14 for an entrée, rejoice! The credit crunch has brought value back to a city near you. In St. Paul, the new value restaurant is Pop!! (The two exclamation points are theirs, not mine. Pop!!’s sister restaurant in northeast Minneapolis has only one exclamation point; it is Pop! Before this parenthesis runs out, let me enter into the permanent record that exclamation points are one thing, but this critic will frown on any restaurants opening with emoticons in their names.)
Where was I? Oh yes. The new value restaurant in Minneapolis is Rinata; Rinata’s sister-restauarant is Al Vento, the noted budget-Italian spot near Lake Nokomis. Why do all the new notable restaurants have older sister restaurants? I think because that’s where their proprietors worked out the kinks.
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Rinata, for instance, could go in an encyclopedia to illustrate the concept of “perfect neighborhood Italian restaurant.” . . . . And you’ll get out the door for roughly the price of six Big Macs. A bargain.
Why do I bring up Big Macs? Economists use something called the Big Mac Index to value global currencies against one another. The idea being that all Big Macs should cost about the same, but if one costs $8 in Norway, $3.50 in the United States, and $2 in South Africa, the Norwegian currency is overvalued and the South African currency undervalued. I’d say a really indulgent dinner at Rinata runs about six Big Macs, but you could get out the door for two or three Big Macs, which makes it perfect restaurant for the current moment: Tasty, unpretentious, affordable.
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They say if life gives you lemons, make lemonade. Now I see that if life gives Minneapolis and St. Paul a credit crunch, Minneapolis and St. Paul give us stylish, cheap date restaurants that rank well on the Big Mac Index. Who says there’s no romance in a recession?