On race, restaurants and wine choices

Friday, May 1, 2009

The main reason that I started theblackwiner.com was to get African Americans more exposed to wine, as it is no something that most of us are introduced to, if not acquainted with before adulthood.  And even in the many of the cases that we are, it is usually in one of the most neglectful manners.  Restating this, we are exposed to it on a level that is more proletarian which in turn deprives many of us of any significant groundwork of understanding the basics of the world of wine in general.

Now, several weeks ago, a past associate blurted out to me [while we were in a restaurant] that it seems that I only go to “white” restaurants, which was quite interesting based on the actual ignorance of the statement.  There are really no “white” restaurants, as restaurants are defined by cuisine and not the customer base, but she was merely trying to say that she had only been out with me at restaurants that weren’t Black-owned.  I agree that there should be a progressive move by African Americans to support Black-owned businesses, but never at the expense of not getting what you want.

Looking at it on a more analytical level, I live in Philadelphia, PA. In this city, we currently have no Black-owned restaurants within the accepted boundaries of center city.  We do have a couple of restaurants that fall outside of those boundaries by a neighborhood or so, but I seriously find their wine and beer lists lacking immensely.  All of the other establishments are located within various neighborhoods in the city, and those neighborhoods might range from upscale to somewhat less than desirable.  Of the restaurants, service can be dodgy at times, and you may or may not be comfortable with some of the clientele, but this can be said of many restaurants, regardless of who owns them.  The cuisine might be Southern, Contemporary American, African, Caribbean, Creole, or a mélange of several.  Some might have stellar food, while some might have average.   

But I’m rarely in a restaurant for just the food alone, as I am not going to consume it just with soda, water or fruit juices.  I like my wine, and I like me beer, and I have simply gone beyond the meager offerings that they give to anyone that hasn’t actually expanded their palate.  Oh no, you don’t have to start pulling in bottles that cost significantly more than what you normally serve at a family cookout or barbecue, but you find some good items for around the same price, if not just a little more than what you’re already purchasing.  And if you are trying to expand the palates of what your customers are getting, then wouldn’t it be wise to also extend/expand the range of what you are serving them?  But the funny thing is that most restaurants aren’t serving more than what the average home with a well-skilled cook can’t do.  My mother makes a mean southern style shrimp fried rice, and my aunt and uncle make a slamming Tarragon Chicken.  Add this to anything that members of my family have prepared and they could take on most of these restaurants with ease (my mother can make a steak flavored better than anything that I have had at Capital Grille or Ruth Chris).  Even my buddy Chris who owns Misconduct made sure to stock Aventinus Wheat Dopplebock beer when he opened; not everyone drinks it, but his years of bartending at CopaToo identified that there were people that came in religiously and only drank that and a couple other choices.

Of all the Italian restaurants that I frequent, they either have some very nice and affordable selections of wine, or let me bring my own selections.  I even had the bartender at one turn me onto another drink based on the fact that I liked something similar, but that wasn’t at smooth.   

Of the last four experiences that I have had in Black-owned restaurants in Philadelphia, I have suffered disappointment.  One place didn’t have any of the good beers that were printed on the menu, the wine selection was very poor (not just the available varietals, but the quality of the wine as well), and the food wasn’t good; how can you mess up a chicken sandwich!  At one spot, while the food was slightly above average, the bartender didn’t know to remove the foil from the top of the bottle of wine after taking out the cork.  At another spot, all the wine choices were more suited to some corner bar found in any hood.  At the last spot, not only were me and my dining companion unhappy with the choices, but I was served a Semillon/Chardonnay blend that they told me was Chardonnay.  That was a crucial mistake on so many levels.  

I stay out of most restaurants that have a crappy list of wine and beer choices, and there are a ton of them.  Should my dining choices simply be limited to establishments that don’t have what I am interested in, just so that I can be around other people that look like me, or patronize them simply because they are Black like me?  When is the last time you went somewhere and was happy with bad selections and possibly crappy service?  Should I feel happy in a club that plays music that I can’t stand, or plays the music that I like but is filled with people that I am just not going to have a good time around?  

Going out should be based on what you get out of something, and what is interesting to me is that you have a number of people that believe if you do something, you’re not being “Black” enough (that’s a very interesting statement saying it to me of all people).  

To you readers, drinkers and diners, it’s time that you make a stand for what you want, that is if you haven’t already.  If the place you like to eat doesn’t serve anything quality, or on par with your palate, recommend some selections for them, or ask them if you can bring your own wine.  I am sure that they’re more interested with making what they could from serving you better wine, than losing out on the sale, both present and future.  And if going to a restaurant that is not Black-owned is somewhat offensive to you, then that’s your loss.  You’re going to miss out on a lot of experiences, culinary and otherwise; how’s life inside that self-imposed box player?

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Our Mission: The Black Winer strives to expose African Americans [and others] to wines, without the flair, stuffiness, and airs of elitism and snobbery that you get from sommeliers and high level wine enthusiasts. We believe in finding something that you like the taste of, outside of the basic brands that you have been force-fed over the years through a combination of ethnically targeted advertising, and what people in your family have historically been drinking.

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