Wearing a Tie

March 3, 2013

A couple of years back I posted a series of blogs about places. Thinking about the place you eat is on the lighter side of food ethics, so we should start out by thanking our lucky stars, or whoever and whatever it is that gives us the luxury to consider where and how we eat, rather than just scarfing down a meal wherever it becomes available. The fact that many people who could be a little more deliberate also scarf down chow wherever it becomes available shows why there’s any ethics point to be made at all. Another one of those “quiet desperation” things.

But I fear that we are getting entirely too serious on a weekend when the Federal government has provided ripe comic opportunities. If any self-respecting blogger is going to ignore the openings for satire and sarcasm that sequestration affords (and I plan to), then they had sho’ ‘nuff better find something else to talk about that’s at least nominally amusing. So I thought I would talk about my breakfast on Friday.

It seems that I found myself in Schilo’s Delicatessen down on Commerce St. in San Antonio ordering up a plate of their wonderful potato pancakes served with applesauce and sour cream. Now this sentence alone should be worth a few thrills on any March weekend. First of all, it gives me the opportunity to point out that Schilo is not pronounced like the name of the Civil War battlefield, but like the nickname Jennifer Lopez’s lesser know sister Sheila. (Hint for anyone over sixty: Jennifer’s nickname is J-Lo). But the deliciousness doesn’t stop thee.

There are, of course the potato pancakes themselves, a delicacy that seldom appears on contemporary gluten-free menus, and that is even more infrequently prepared with the simple skill and grace of the chefs (they probably call themselves “cooks”) at Schilo’s. We wouldn’t be bringing this episode up at all if there wasn’t something decidedly worth eating on the table. And then there is Schilo’s Deli itself, unpretentiously situated at street level just a couple of storefronts from the Commerce St. Bridge over the San Antonio Riverwalk. I mean there’s also just the fact that it’s on Commerce St. I find any city that has a “Commerce St.” to be strangely comforting in its willingness to orient both visitors and long time residents alike, but that’s probably a story for another time and place.

So it’s place that is so rich at Schilo’s Deli. The sign outside says “Since 1907” and it’s pretty easy to imagine that Teddy Roosevelt wandered the two or three blocks from the Menger Hotel for his potato pancakes, just like I did, though he probably did not pass a McDonald’s on the way.  In fact the menu says that Schilo’s has been operating out of this building only since the early forties, so that particular imaginary is a little off base. Still and all, things look old and profoundly right at Schilo’s and the place is supremely fit for knockwurst, corned beef or, if you happen to be there before eleven, potato pancakes.

Just as I was starting to enjoy my order a couple walked in and sat down at the table next to me. They could have come out of Texas central casting. The woman was wearing a stylish and probably expensive pants suit with heels. It set off the big hair and the loads of jewelry she managed to support on her frame. The man was rotund, balding and his ruddy complexion suggested that he had spent many years working outdoors. He was wearing a plaid shirt, blue jeans, boots and suspenders. Let me just say that you would not see this pair in Michigan. I looked around the joint and noticed that I was the only person wearing a tie.

Nobody seemed to care.

Paul B. Thompson holds the W.K. Kellogg Chair in Agricultural, Food and Community Ethics at Michigan State University