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Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Chapel Hill food truckin’, What a long strange trip it’s been

Posted by on Tue, Oct 18, 2011 at 12:52 PM

Chapel Hill inched closer to allowing food trucks within town limits Monday night at a Town Council public hearing.

Council members received a proposed ordinance, already approved unanimously by the town Planning Board, which would:
-allow food trucks to be located downtown in private lots, at least 100 feet away from a restaurant entrance, as long as the trucks and the lot owner each have a permit;
-allow one food truck per 30 parking spaces in other commercial districts, with permits;
-require food truck vendors to comply with local, county and state tax regulations and to display health permits at all times;
-require food truck vendors to dispose of all trash and grease, and forbid them to offer seating;
-restrict food truck signs to those permanently attached to the vehicles and a portable menu sign smaller than 6 square feet.

“Based on these regulations, would we be able to have a food truck at the Town Hall parking lot for council meetings?” asked Councilman Matt Czajkowski asked, the only question in the 20-minute hearing.

“I believe you can do that now,” principal planner Kendal Brown answered. “It’s public property, (you could) with a special permit.”

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Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Raleigh decides food trucks aren't the boogeyman after all, passes new rules to allow vendors in city

Posted by on Tue, Sep 6, 2011 at 4:09 PM

Updated with additional reporting from Bob Geary

After a year of wrangling, the Raleigh City Council finally approved new food truck regulations today that will allow mobile vendors to operate on private property.

The vote was 6-2 with Councilmen John Odom and Thomas Crowder opposed.

The new ordinance, which will take effect Oct. 1, provides that food trucks must be at least 100 feet from the main entrance or outdoor dining area of any brick-and-mortar restaurant and at least 50 feet from any food vending cart such as a hot dog stand. The trucks can operate from 6 a.m. to 3 a.m., but they can only park within 150 feet of a single-family home or duplex between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m.

Crowder's not a fan of food trucks setting up shop in a business district that borders a residential neighborhood — a commonplace in his District D, especially around N.C. State University — and being allowed to operate until 3 a.m., which is what the ordinance permits unless a house is located within 150 feet of the truck. In that case, the trucks must stop at 10 p.m.

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Tuesday, August 23, 2011

A year on, Chapel Hill still doing prep work on food trucks decision

Posted by on Tue, Aug 23, 2011 at 3:47 PM

If Chapel Hill were a restaurant, it would be dawdling in the kitchen while diners impatiently waited for their meals.

After 11 months of deliberation, town officials still may not decide on legalization of food trucks until an Oct. 17 public hearing, at the earliest.

Parlez-Vous Crepe owner Jody Argote serves up some fare at Johnnys in Carrboro, where food trucks have been allowed for three years.
  • File photo by Jeremy Lange
  • Parlez-Vous Crepe owner Jody Argote serves up some fare at Johnny's in Carrboro, where food trucks have been allowed for three years.
Trucks flourish in neighboring Durham and Carrboro, but they are less welcome in Chapel Hill, where mobile vendors can operate only if they have special-event permits or if they park on private property with approval from the town planning board.

On Monday, 20 food truck vendors, citizens and politicians attended an informational session during which Chapel Hill Principal Planner Kendal Brown rolled out proposed regulations to govern the eateries on wheels.

Among the key stipulations:
-Trucks would be allowed only on paved, private, commercially zoned parking lots that have at least 10 designated spaces; vendors must have the landowner’s permission.
-Trucks could operate only when the business that regularly uses the lot is closed, and they must be parked 200 feet from the customer entrance of any restaurant.
-In addition, in some districts outside downtown, there could be only one vendor per 100 parking spaces or per acre, with a maximum of two vendors per lot.

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Thursday, April 8, 2010

Stop Wining! Pt. 6: Resume Wining

Posted by on Thu, Apr 8, 2010 at 2:00 PM

Is it really true what all those people say, that life is too short to drink bad wine? The more I think about it, the less I believe it. Most people don't drink wine at all—-so they're not drinking bad wine—-but to those who do, it isn't worth spending much time worrying about whether the wine they're drinking is good or bad, or what it is at all. Even professionals often advocate some sort of variation on that insouciance, including the Indy's own wine writer.

And why not? If you can be happy walking into any old wine shop—-be it a funky, idiosyncratic little place like Parker & Otis or a corporate strip-mall big-box like Total Wine—-buying a cheap bottle with with a salesperson's help or picking one out on your own by finding a cute label, then I'm all for it. Is discrimination when it comes to intoxicants all that important? Most smokers choose mass-produced cigarettes. The good tobacco waits patiently in specialty shops, where aficionados go for select hand-rolled leaf. But that doesn't mean we should talk trash about Marlboros. Marlboros are trash; they can be left alone, or occasionally, guiltily indulged in. But it isn't worth carping.

What's worth doing, if you like good wine, is drinking good wine. The pursuit and embrace of goodness is the perfect antidote to settling for badness and cheapness. Whether life is too short to drink bad wine, or listen to bad punk rock, or fail to save wildlife, or parent poorly or write like a hack—-whatever that thing is, that can save you.

So when Lent ended, it was time to renew a commitment. And we started with a devotional bottle.

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Thursday, March 25, 2010

Stop Wining! Pt. 5: In Which It Gets Boring

Posted by on Thu, Mar 25, 2010 at 10:07 AM

Well, maybe this series already has gotten boring. But what I mean is that, having discovered that not drinking for an extended period really isn't that big of a deal, I have now reached the stage where I'm merely twiddling my thumbs, waiting for the experiment to lope to its appointed end; which is to say, in turn, that it is perhaps a bigger deal than I am able to recognize, since, if it wasn't, I wouldn't have much awareness at all of anticipating my next opportunity to drink. It'd be, "Oh, I haven't had a drink in a month? Really?" I do want to drink, of course, and I continue to supplant actual drinking with the purchase and reading of wine. The restaurant just got hit up with a pair of close-out lists from two of our biggest distributors, and let's just say that I helped us make quite a dent. Really, at these prices, you'd be stupid not to buy.

But I can successfully not drink, and with minimal complaint. The question that remains has to do with how long it would be likely to take for me to truly get beyond drinking. Some of it is probably about change at the molecular level, but much more of it requires sheer mental conditioning. I have friends who don't drink at all and would no more consider doing so than they would think of guzzling yak's milk (that's something that other people do, in some other world). Over time, they've not only lost the habit of drinking but have developed an aversion to it, or at least they've built the impervious habit of not drinking. I suspect it would take something like a year to really get beyond the desire altogether, and probably would require generating an entirely different context of living: another job, another place, another culture. (I am surrounded by and serve alcohol four or five nights a week, and I help buy it for my business.) But then, every culture has its forms of ritual intoxication, and in Bhutan or Botswana or Brainerd I would find other means of anesthetic and pleasure.

If that's the case, then is it also true that the logical extension of abstention is something like a life of asceticism or monkishness, devoted to pure worship or contemplation? That has appeal, to be sure, and I've even had passing flirtations with such a life; but how many of us really, permanently embrace it---especially in the acquisitive and highly social West?

I had a peer acquaintance in college who, as a freshman, was a superb actor, an advanced thinker (he was already studying biomedical ethics at age 18) and a really nice guy who was fun to hang out with. After college he gave up everything and joined a monastery, where he changed his name and his life. All of his intelligence, warmth, vitality, generosity---all of his gifts---were pledged to the narrow world inside the walls. (I have to note here the irony that monks have historically made some of our finest alcoholic drinks.) I kind of miss him. And I suppose that, while I'm not drinking at all, I kind of miss myself, too, in a way.

What can you give up and still be you? What enjoyments, habits, relationships and objects are attached to you so deeply that you are unrecognizable---to yourself or others---without them? Strip away the padding and are you just a quivering mess, scrabbling for anchorage on something, someone? Unchained, do you become vulnerable in unimaginable ways? What would absolutely kill you not to have? Or, to turn it around, think of how much you possess, how much you do, how much you believe, that you could actually do away with.

Here is one of the most famous passages in English literature:

... [W]e do not expect people to be deeply moved by what is not unusual. That element of tragedy which lies in the very fact of frequency, has not yet wrought itself into the coarse emotion of mankind; and perhaps our frames could hardly bear much of it. If we had a keen vision and feeling of all ordinary human life, it would be like hearing the grass grow and the squirrel's heart beat, and we should die of that roar which lies on the other side of silence. As it is, the quickest of us walk about well wadded with stupidity.

That's from George Eliot's Middlemarch, and it's been on my mind lately. I've always found it compelling yet slightly impenetrable, like some of Eliot's other marquee lines---I even named one of my plays after one of them. But the one above seems to make much more sense to me these days.

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Sunday, March 21, 2010

Stop Wining! Pt. 4: Not Drinking for Lent Continues

Posted by on Sun, Mar 21, 2010 at 11:45 PM

I was writing last time about how it's been rather pleasant to think, fantasize, etc. about wine during this time of Lenten abstinence, as a surrogate for drinking it. (Practical note: two weeks to go!) I took this daydreaminess to a new level on Saturday by attending a wine auction.

I'd never been to one, and I'm not sure there really are or have been (m)any others around here. But Leland Little, a local auction house, decided recently to add wine to its portfolio; their new wine director, Mark Solomon, a really nice guy whom I last spotted at our restaurant drinking a '99 DRC, came by and invited me. I was on a pretty tight budget, but I looked at the catalog of bottles on offer anyway. (Like I wouldn't?) Most of them were hopelessly superannuated---it is not true that wine gets better with age. Or perhaps it's truer to say that some wine gets better, for a while, and then gets worse. There was a lot of Bordeaux from the not-very-good 1972 vintage, all way past its prime, and with scary looking ullage in some cases. There was a fair amount of California stuff that I wasn't interested in; there was a lot of status wine you can't really drink at this point---you'd be best off to stick it on your mantle and show it off, and thereby appear to be a wine snob of terminal rank. This stuff is meant to be consumed, people! It ain't trophies!

But there were a few lots that had promise and appeal, so there I was---brochure in hand, handwritten notes, dollar amounts---on Saturday. Not long before they got to the wine portion of the auction (this was an all-day affair, hundreds of things for sale from 9:00 AM - 4:00 PM), a guy in front of me spent about $20,000 on old vases in about 10 minutes. In other words, this was not a room for amateurs. Great bargains were generally not be had.

Good thing I had my notes. Each lot of wine was hustled through the process in about, oh, 45 seconds. The auctioneer did his rat-a-tat thing, the internet-bid guy kept going "hup!" and the phone proxies kept going "yep!" and a few of us in the actual room occasionally raised our hands and that is how a wine could start under $200 and sell for over $500 practically before you could even say the entire name of it. Good thing I had previously crunched my numbers. I bid on a few things but didn't quite win the Sociando-Mallet 1983 or the Abbona Barolo 1989; just barely refrained from upping my bid on the Smith Haut-Lafitte (also 1983); got blown away on the A. Grivault Meursault 1990 "Clos des Perrieres." It was Heather who noticed that the vast majority of the wine, thousands of dollars' worth---including all of those dead 1972's---was bought by the same phone bidder, the mysterious "No. 51." Hey, pal, leave some for the rest of us next time.

But it was a lot of fun, and in the rather giddy experience of looking and bidding, I actually felt I had had a little wine by the end of the day. I even managed to lay off buying a beautiful little Santenay that's been sitting patiently on the Hillsborough Weaver Street's shelf, getting better with age, for over a year now.

There was another reason I felt I had had a little wine, too.

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Friday, March 19, 2010

Stop Wining! Pt. 3

Posted by on Fri, Mar 19, 2010 at 10:51 AM

The abstinence marches on...

A Brief History

What is Lent, anyway, and why abstain? A time of penance, sacrifice, discipline; like Ramadan in Islam. (Many, many cultures have such a rite.) "Lent" comes from a Teutonic word that just means "spring," and it's appropriate symbolically if not quite linguistically: The period actually leads up to spring rather than falling during that season. The idea seems to be a dark-before-dawn one, in which you volunteer some late-winter forbearance and renunciation in anticipation of the glorious blooms of April. (But to leave it tied only to natural cycles rather than heavenly obedience is rather pagan.) It's a kind of preemptive spiritual spring cleaning.

The 40 days of Lent coincide numerically with Jesus's time in the tomb and with Noah's flood, although the origins of Lent are not Biblical; the practice seems to have emerged in the first few hundred years A.D. (It's always a surprise to discover how many so-called "Biblical" things aren't actually in the Bible. Eve's apple? Not necessarily an apple. Just a "fruit.")

So you start on Ash Wednesday, which is easy to spot because it's the day after Mardi Gras (and you see people with the telltale sign on their foreheads), and you go for 40 days until Easter Sunday. But that looks like fuzzy math---40 days don't go as far as they used to, it seems---until you recall that you're supposed to skip Sundays, which are a celebration day; that makes it compute properly. Originally, Lent seems to have required total fasting, so you needed to eat on Sundays in order to survive. But the age of asceticism is long gone, so most people just swear off meat, or pick some other thing. (For the purposes of my experiment, I am including Sundays in my not-drinking. As a nonreligious person, it isn't important to me to break my abstinence once a week.)

For what it's worth, not every Lenten tradition goes 40 days. The Roman Catholics jump off the wagon on Maundy Thursday; the Eastern Orthodox tradition begins Lent on "Clean Monday" (the day before Mardi Gras). The Ethiopian Orthodox Lent lasts 56 days (it starts earlier). For the hoping-against-hope types, there is no apparent sign of traditions that end Lent on Palm Sunday, a week before Easter. Nor does Good Friday serve as a drop-off point. In any case, Easter itself seems to make the most sense. That holiday, like its seasonal cousin, the Jewish Passover, celebrates rebirth, life, feasting, redemption; and there, again, is that promise of spring. New shoots; mating season; Kabinett-level Riesling, with its sprightly verve and freshness. (The wine writer Oz Clarke once wrote that you should welcome the first signs of spring by popping and pouring a Kabinett-level Mosel Riesling. It's good for breaking Lenten teetotalling for another reason, too: only about 8% alcohol.)

A Cheaper Date

My SLF, Heather, is a real team player and is also not drinking in solidarity. She doesn't drink as much as I do and so this has been no big deal at all for her. When we go out to eat, the biggest deal is a good one: the bill is so much lower! I had forgotten, even though I sell people alcohol with their food on a regular basis and rely on it to make an adequate living, how expensive it is to drink in a restaurant. You can easily double your bill with a cocktail and a decent wine. (Sin tax in its full glory: the markups can be, in disreputable places, unconscionably excessive.) Our dinner the other night was only $44 plus tip in a restaurant where it's pretty easy to spend $100 if you find a wine you can't resist diving into.

But I haven't wanted to eat in restaurants much since Lent began, and not just because it's less fun to dine out when you aren't drinking. I've found that I crave less and less restaurant-type food. Meats, fats, salt---the hallmarks of most out-of-the-house food---lose appeal for me when there isn't alcohol to go with it. I've been craving vegetables, grains, and fish (all of which I generally prefer anyway) even more than usual. I am tempted to speculate that this has to do with the metabolic function of alcohol. Does it help break down the tougher fibers in animal proteins, or "cut" fat in some chemical way? Is my body losing interest in heavy-gauge food out of physical self-preservation?

Hard to know. In the mean time, I have found myself satisfying what deeper wine cravings I have by reading more about wine, thinking more about wine, even buying wine. Not long ago, I fell in love with Heidi Schrock's scrumptious, dare I say springlike Furmint from Rust, Austria, and ordered a case for the restaurant where I work. (Well, actually, half a case, as I'll be buying the other half.) I went into one of my favorite local liquid shops not long ago---for tea, I swear---and walked out not only with my indispensable long qing but also a bottle of Cinsault (all by itself? unblended? cool!) from Domaine Faillenc Ste. Marie, a wonderfully funky family winery in Corbieres down in the South of France. I'm excited to drink these. And I plan to check out an auction of old wines this Saturday. I really shouldn't go, but there's this 1989 Barolo...

I'm sorry there isn't more drama here: no night-sweats, no binges on rum raisin ice cream, no renting the movie Barfly and watching it 100 times in a row. But I think I have made a rather significant discovery. More on that next time.

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Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Stop Wining! Pt. 2

Posted by on Wed, Mar 17, 2010 at 7:16 PM

I wrote at the end of my first post that, for the first Lenten week of not drinking, I was very, very hungry. No real surprise there: I was using alcohol less as an intoxicant than as fuel. It's got lots of calories in it, so a drink can substitute, to some degree, for food. It wasn't lost on me that I tended to get the hungriest after work, during which time I'd burned a lot of energy. I've been accustomed to sitting down to a drink after work because it marks the end of the labor period---I think a lot of people look forward to that end-of-the-workday tipple, as an indicator to the brain and body that one part of the day has ended and another is beginning---but what I didn't realize was that I was also replenishing my sugars. It was Gatorade for Grownups.

All that reminded me of something I once read about Jimmy Page, the Led Zeppelin guitarist. At one point, the story went, he was trying to drop down from 135 pounds to 125 (!), and consumed only vitamin-infused banana daiquiris for perhaps as long as two years. Well, banana daiquiris and heroin. But the point is that it wasn't just the bananas that Page was subsisting on; the rum had sugar in it, too. The human body will try to make nutrients out of whatever you put into it. A glass of wine has somewhere around 100 calories in it.

But back to that other reason for drinking after work: habit. When you pop the cork, order the beer or shake the martini at the end of the day---no matter whether your day ends at 5:00 or midnight---you're sending your body and mind a signal as strong as an alarm clock: that thing you were doing, working, is over; time to do the next thing. For many of us, that signal is sent as part of a larger social broadcast that may involve going out with colleagues, going home and cooking dinner with family members, or any number of other activities that contain, as part of their cluster of signs to the cortex, alcohol. That's why the thing we know as alcohol abuse may be much less a genetic or physiological problem than we think: substance use and abuse is deeply connected to the context in which we engage in it, and in healthy settings even excessive consumption isn't anything like abuse. Just before Lent began, Malcolm Gladwell published an article in the New Yorker about this phenomenon. A book I reviewed for the Indy a few years ago, The Cult of Pharmacology, makes a similar argument. Routine and ritual are the anchors of healthy drinking.

These days after work, I'm still hitting the bottle, but it's a liter bottle of water, which I don't even bother pouring into a glass. (One of my colleagues claims that this indicates a third thing I'm satisfying at the end of the workday: an oral fixation. But I don't much care for Freud.) While Brad swigs 7&7s and Graham a single-malt scotch and Petrie a glass (or four) of Vouvray, I'm staying inside the circle of the rite by glugging artesian water. It's one of the reasons why, so far, abstaining for Lent hasn't been a killer. I've got more than two weeks to go, or less than two weeks, or exactly two weeks---it depends on whose calendar you keep. Turns out that this particular ritual, like almost every other, has variations. More on that next time.

It's St. Patrick's Day. Enjoy your pint or your fingers of whisky. (By the way: Bushmills beats Jameson by a mile!) Needless to say, I won't be able to join you. Raise a glass for me. I'm green with envy.

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Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Stop Wining!

Posted by on Tue, Mar 16, 2010 at 10:31 AM

I love wine. I love to drink wine, think about wine, read about wine, talk about wine. I have a modest but thoughtfully curated cellar in my house. One of my jobs involves selling wine, so I not only enjoy knowing about it, I have to know about it, and I do. Although wine is nowhere near the most important thing in my life, the subject (and substance) occupies an important place in the hierarchy. It's a kind of refuge for me, a consolatory and contented place I can go whenever I want, which will provide comfort, pleasure and ideation. Nothing bad ever happens when wine is the matter at hand. (As long as it isn't corked.)

Every year, some colleagues of mine at work give up something for Lent. They are not Catholic, but they use the period as an opportunity to practice some self-control, some sobriety, some healthfulness. In the last couple of years, they've abstained from cigarettes and/or alcohol, and this year they've gone vegan.

This year I decided to join them. I'm not Catholic either---and if there are readers who take offense at our bandwagon opportunism, I apologize---but I appreciate the presence in many cultures of a time of abstinence, which is tied into atonement, discipline and the heightening of awareness. As a basically nonreligious person, I could have just as happily chosen some other religion's ritual of abstinence. But here came Lent, here came a good wintertime stretch for me to engage in a little lifestyle alteration, here were colleagues at work with whom I could find solidarity. Time to give something up.

I chose wine not only because I love it so much and the point of abstinence seems to be, partially, the renunciation of pleasure. I chose it for a couple of other reasons, too. One is that I used to fast for 24 hours once a month, and I am generally a very healthy eater and in pretty good physical shape; so swearing off meat, or junk food, or whatever, seemed a little too easy for me. (I also have doubts about the nutritional and ethical merits of the vegan diet, but that's an ancillary issue.)

Another reason, and perhaps the only really significant one, is this: I drink a lot.

The more I thought about it, I realized that I drink more than almost anyone else I know; and if you remove my work colleagues from the picture, I'm pretty sure that I do drink more than anyone else I know.

And so, as Lent approached, I was visited by the musing worry that I might be---what? An alcoholic? I seldom drink to the point of drunkenness, but I couldn't remember the last day that had gone by without my having had a drink. Or two. Or perhaps even three. I thought that I must at least have some sort of dependency. I wondered what it would be like to break that dependency for six weeks. Would I suffer from insomnia? Fatigue? Depression? Would regaling customers with enticing descriptions of how the J. L Chave St. Joseph "Offerus" will actually work just fine with sturgeon (because of the black olive sauce), or breaking down the finer points of Piemonte nebbiolo, drive me to salivating, or tears---or drink?

Well, so, the first week off the sauce, I was really, really hungry.

More to come very soon.

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Thursday, January 21, 2010

NCSSM vies for Guinness record with massive food drive

Posted by on Thu, Jan 21, 2010 at 4:20 PM

Students at the N.C. School of Science & Mathematics are hoping to break a world record on March 20 by gathering the most donations during a charitable food drive that lasts just 24 hours.

To break the record, donations must top 509,147 pounds of food. (Yes, that's more than half a million pounds.) The food from the collection will be donated to the Food Bank of Central & Eastern North Carolina.

To put that figure in perspective, that amount of food would last the food bank about a week, said Allen Reep, vice president of development for the food bank. But it's going to take a lot of participants. Every year, the N.C. State Fair gathers canned food at its gates in lieu of a ticket fee, and that collection usually brings in about 250,000 pounds of food—less than half what NCSSM hopes to gather, Reep said.

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