Everything I Know About Hipsters I Learned from Watching the Walking Dead

I have recently jumped on the Walking Dead bandwagon.  For the past month or so I have religiously hooked up Netflix and plowed through episode after episode, taking periodic breaks to sulk whenever a major character gets killed off.  The show has taught me a few things.  First, it convinced me that in the midst of a zombie apocalypse humanity would not unify to preserve its existence.  Instead, the balance of power would become crucial and opposing human survivors with a functional capacity greater than that of a newborn would be more of a threat than a drooling pack of the undead. Second, the more I watched the show the more it made me understand hipsters.  I have struggled with the concept for a number of years but watching the show has brought a much needed clarity that allows me to comprehend and somewhat accept, if not empathize with, the hipster lifestyle.

  1. Both zombies and hipsters travel in packs

Zombies wander aimlessly through forests and streets with one purpose; to eat. Hipsters travel for the same reason.   They walk  urban streets  like amoeba through a digestive tract,  weaving around sidewalks and down alleyways in search of sustenance . In doing so, they remain rather unaware of their surroundings which in some cases includes moving motor vehicles, puppies and non-hipsters.  The latter can take advantage of this phemonemon by setting hipster traps. Whereas a zombie can easily be corralled  using a large pit or a wall of sharpened sticks, the hipster can either be distracted by noise (see below) or other strategies. For example, having a member of your party slow down in front the oblivious pack allows your friends to rush to the door of the destination and scoop the last table well before the hipsters can get there.  Such a strategy was employed by some of my family members outside of Beast  in Toronto during brunch and it worked like a charm.

  1. Both zombies and hipsters are attracted to noise

Anybody who watches the show knows that zombies are attracted to noise.  Packs of them have been known to veer completely in the other direction with anything from the clinking of pots, the rattling of a fence or jumping up and down repeatedly  and screaming “over here!”  The same rings true of the hipster.  Although the noise does not need to be of an auditory nature, it needs to satisfy the impulsive nature of the hipster and may include things like a semi-lit neon sign, a sandwich board advertising a happy hour or the promise of a 45  minute wait in order to eat a beef cheek taco.

An example of a hipster distraction tool
An example of a hipster distraction tool
  1. Skin blemishes are key characteristics of both zombies and hipsters

Skin blemishes are a key identifier of both groups.  The presence of decay and discolouration, usually the result of partial death and the lack  of SPF 30,  is a sure fire way to pick out a zombie.  For a hipster, look for colourful sleeve tattoos, quotations or foreign language mantras peppered somewhere on the surface area of the skin.  This is not to say that these blemishes can’t become a clandestine feature of either group.  A good makeup job, some body spray and a little human love was enough to disguise a zombie in the motion picture “Warm Bodies” while a donning long sleeved plaid shirt nicely hides the floral arrangements and depictions of exotic woman on the forearm of a hipster. Unfortunately, all the Drakkar Noir and Abercrombie and Fitch in the world can’t camouflage the obnoxious behavior exhibited by each  which means an astute observer can easily see through the façade.

  1. The whole is greater than the sum of the parts

Although each zombie in a pack is a unique individual, little regard is given to that individuality of the zombie by outside observers. They all have distant looks on their faces. People tend not to discern between the old and young, male and female or still human like versus quite decayed.  A zombie is a zombie.  Hipsters are much the same. They all have looks of angst on their face. Externals do not differentiate hipsters based on the size of their ear spacers, their sleeve tattoos, what side of their head their hair is parted on or the colour of plaid shirt they are wearing. A hipster is a hipster.  To be fair, there is a subtle difference between the two groups in this regard.  Zombies don’t KNOW they are zombies and hipsters don’t THINK they are hipsters.

A Pack of Zombies
A Pack of Zombies with distant looks
A Pack of Hipsters
A Pack of Hipsters with looks of angst
  1. Both zombies and hipsters relish the “nose to tail” concept

Although they do it for different reasons, both zombies and hipsters adopt a nose to tail philosophy when it comes to eating.  Zombies are not particularly fussy in regarding their diet and will consume anything  they can get their hands on.  The hipster is slightly more discerning but will often include foodstuffs such as  jowls,  liver pates, animal glands and heart tartare. I suppose the difference is that a zombie takes little pride in consuming an entire organism while the hipster will tweet, facebook, yelp, zomato snapchat, Instagram or tumble such milestones not to mention the likelihood of a “Keep Calm and Eat Sweetbreads” shirt surfacing somewhere in their wardrobe.

  1. Both zombies and hipsters are primarily nocturnal

The walking dead zombies are a bit atypical from those depicted in other television shows and movies in that they are not overly adverse to light.  That, said, one can argue that they prefer the evening hours for feeding.  This is true of the hipster.  Feeding hours usually begin after dusk and will proceed until the wee hours of the morning.  This is not to suggest that hipsters, like zombies, are adverse to eating during the day.  There is a ritual in which hipsters do hunt and feast outside of the dusk to dawn hours…it’s called brunch.

  1. You don’t mind watching them from a distance but you sure as hell don’t want to be there.

While watching a walking dead marathon, it quickly comes apparent that there is no rest for the human characters.  Just when you think Rick and the gang are safe, a hole in the fence or an evil human henchman foils the plan for long term safety, forcing the protagonists to flee and the cycle continues.  I sit there watching, grateful that I don’t have to spend my life, like an antelope,  looking over  my shoulder wondering if I’m about to get eaten. It is extremely uncomfortable but I can’t get enough.  I have the same feeling when I see a pack of hipsters.  There are fun to watch from a distance, but the thought of actually being involved in the dynamic is as frightening as an encounter with a walker.  Sure the smell of hair gel and musky cologne  may be slightly better than that of decaying flesh, but the same lack of personal space and relentless monotony of behavior  would simply be unbearable for any extended period of time, let alone 5 seasons.

  1. You can get rid of them by messing with their brains

Any object inserted in the right part of a zombie’s head  is enough to curtail any immediate threat .  Swords, shovels, sticks and arrows are all effective tools in this regard.  For a hipster, the use of such weapons would be illegal and unnecessarily cruel.  Instead, aiming your assault at their mental acuity is much acceptable. Engaging in general trivia including references to key historical events or geography  outside the hipster universe (such as areas in Ontario outside Parkdale) works nicely.  Also, referring  to the evening hours in military time (ie. Hey, it’s 2100 hours..don’t you think you should go home now?) or  listing menu items that include cents (ie $17.00 vs 17) may be enough to clear a room of hipsters with relative ease.

I think we are in the midst of a hipster apocalypse.  Although I wish Max Brooks would release a hipster version  as a sequel to his best selling “ The Zombie Survival Guide” , I think the walking dead has taught me enough about hipsters so that, if was cornered in a room with the last crawfish beignet on earth, I could survive the onslaught and live to see another industrial night.

How to survive a zombie apocolypse...a good disguise!
How to survive a zombie apocolypse…a good disguise!

DDD:Vancouver:Jethro’s Fine Grub

Dispatch: Hello, may I help you?

Me: Yes, I’d like to report a UFO sighting.

Dispatch: A UFO sir? Where are you?

Me: I’m at Jethro’s.

Dispatch: Jethro’s?  Are you in a trailer park somewhere, sir?

Me: No, I’m on Dunbar Street in Vancouver.

Dispatch: OK.  Why don’t you tell me what you saw?

Me: Well, I dropped into this DDD for breakfast and ordered some biscuits and gravy to start.  The gravy was out of this world. Hahaha…get it? Anyway, the gravy was rich and tasty and had a nice spicy kick which took a minute to materialize in my mouth. The biscuits weren’t quite cloud-like.  Well, maybe a heavy cloud.  Anyway, suddenly these two UFOs landed right at my table.

Biscuits and Gravy
Biscuits and Gravy $5

Dispatch: Sir, have you been drinking?

Me: No, they don’t serve alcohol. I had a coffee though.

Dispatch: Ok.  Please describe the UFOs.

Me: They were about 12 inches in diameter and a couple of centimeters thick.  Light brown in colour and filled with strawberries and frosted flakes.  They were also covered in some sort of white  material. I’ll send you a pic.

Grrrreat Cakes $12
Grrrreat Cakes $12

Dispatch: White material?  Could it be whipped cream sir? What did you do next sir?

Me: Hmmmmm…ya whipped cream sounds right. Well, they looked good so I ate them. Or at least I tried.  I only managed to get through three quarters of one of them.

Disptach: Were they grrrrrreaaat!? (slight snicker).

Me: Well yes, that’s what they are called. Grrrreat cakes.

Dispatch: Oh.  Do you think it’s an isolated incident?

Me: No.  The staff were way too friendly.  And most of them have a lot of ink so I think they are actually maps that may in fact identify where the mothership is. I forgot my iPad at the table and they ran out after me to make sure I got it back.  Maybe they bugged it…

Dispatch: Ok sir.  So let me summarize.  You went to Jethro’s in Vancouver, ordered really good biscuits and gravy and what sounds like large pancakes stuffed with strawberries and frosted flakes.  They were both grrrreat. The staff is friendly and most are heavily tattooed and they chased you out the door to return the iPad you foolishly left at the table.

Me: Yes, that sounds right.

Dispatch: Well sir, I don’t believe they are UFOs.  They just sound like big, tasty pancakes. Pancakes don’t fly sir.

Me: Oh, the F stands for flying.  I thought it stood for fluffy.

Dispatch: You sure they don’t serve alcohol?

Me: Positive.

Dispatch: OK, I’m going to close this file sir.  I think we have all the information we need.  I suggest next time maybe you order an omelette, one of the benedicts or maybe the massive breakfast burrito. The variety is insane and the portions are huge.

Me: Ya, I think I saw the burrito.  It looked like a bus. The lunch sounds good too.  Thanks.

Dispatch: No problem sir.

Verdict:  5 Guyz

Jethro's Fine Grub on Urbanspoon

Chicago:Day 2: A little goat, a billy goat, two Michelin stars and manlove

The early morning humidity didn’t stop me from taking a 30  minute walk to West Randolph, an interesting stretch known for an array of restaurants of all shapes and sizes.  After the first wave of high end places (including a few touting Michelin stars),  you hit a block of empty, spray-painted  buildings, cut in half by a highway running underneath.  Shorty after, the street becomes vibrant again, filled with microbreweries and eateries slapped with celebrity names like Graham Elliot.

The apex of this West Randolph landscape  is a cute spinning  goat overlooking the street.  This was destination number one.

Stop #1- The Little Goat Diner

This Stephanie Izard spin-off offers a bit more versatility than the flagship Girl and the Goat.  You can grab a quick breakfast, feast on a hearty dinner and everything in between.  You can buy of loaf of bread or drink on the roof. This particular visit was of the breakfast variety.   It was about half full and we were seated quickly at a booth.  The place had a definite diner vibe.  I felt like John Travolta in Pulp fiction.  The waiters and waitresses were current and hip and bad-ass  despite donning trendy yet old school diner uniforms. There’s something about raven tattoos and dainty dresses that works for me. Coffee flowed, served with smiles and poured from  old school pots into mugs stamped with that cute, smiling goat.

A Good Ol' Fashioned Coffee
A Good Ol’ Fashioned Coffee

The menu is equally dichotomous. One can simply grab bacon and eggs or venture into the creative realm of a number of more exotic options.  I didn’t come to Chicago to eat standard fare, so I did what any warm-blooded Irish dude would do; I ordered spaghetti.  Presented like a cross between a seafood pasta and an omelette, it was boldly flavoured and sat in a delicious broth.  I asked for some hot sauce and was offered a housemade smoky chipotle and an apricot flavoured option which had a little more bite.  Both were delicious although I feel the former more suited for the dish. It’s not for everybody, but I’d shelve the home fries any day to dig into this seafood medley.

Breakfast spaghetti 'n clams 'n crab
Breakfast spaghetti ‘n clams ‘n crab $15

My colleague went for the bull’ s eye  french toast, a crafty demonstration of Korea meets chicken and waffles meets toad in the hole.  The sweet dueled with the savory in every bite to create a stimulating battlefield on the tongue. Underneath the chicken, two slightly overcooked eggs stared up from the comfort of the thick brioche.  In the end, the savory prevailed, so don’t order it if you need to satisfy your sweet tooth. Otherwise, It’s delicious.

Bull's eye french toast
Bull’s eye french toast $16

My Take: With so many choices, I’ll have to come back whether it be breakfast, lunch, dinner or sucking back drinks on the rooftop.  It’s full of innovation and choices that only makes sense when you read them on a menu.  Plus, I enjoy feeling like a Chicago gangster as I sip coffee in an old school diner surrounded by tattooed staff and riffraff such as myself. Don’t expect diner prices, however. It’s not a cheap, unless you come for the experience and settle for one of the daily breakfast specials.

Little Goat Diner on Urbanspoon

Stop #2– Naha

A lunch appointment kept me downtown for a trip to Naha, a Michelin star restaurant with a bit of a middle eastern flare.  It’s  spacious and modest, reminiscent of a Moroccan villa. The waitstaff were courteous, although many were wearing these oddly large uniforms that just didn’t seem to fit. A full lunch menu is offered in what seemed to be Chicago fashion: a prix fixe menu for $22.      After consuming the Little Goat breakfast earlier that day, I was sort of hoping for Blackbird type portions sizes to save the embarrassment of the ramifications of overindulgence. When asked if I wanted a beverage, I  found that the beer selection was quite lame…..a bit of a cardinal sin in the heart of the craft brew craze which consumes the Midwest.

I started with the cannelloni which was stuffed with housemade ricotta and garnished with snap peas, jerusalem artichokes and a bit of fregola (small pasta balls).  Nothing like some pasta on pasta action.  It was a very delicate, had great texture contrast and fresh flavour….an ideal lunchtime starter.

Spinach Cannelloni
Spinach Cannelloni

For the main, I opted for the sea loup de mer (sea bass) which wasn’t much bigger than the starter. It appeared to be a twist on a bagna cauda(  a dip with strong Mediterranean flavours) which served as a salad dressing on romaine lettuce instead of being served in the typical vessel.    The fish was a bit dry and the flavours reminded me of  a well-disguised ceasar salad.  It was a little bit of a yawn.

Loup de Mer
Loup de Mer

My colleague opted for a mezze (ie sampler) of Mediterranean goodies which included hummus, babaganoush, string cheese, spiced beef etc.  It offered a true experience minus the salt water smell one might experience if eating the same thing in the homeland itself (I don’t think the smell off of Lake Michigan could mimic…even if the windows were open).

Naha Mezze
Naha Mezze

The dessert menu  incorporated concepts from this side of the ocean, ignoring the expected tiramisu and baklava and replacing with American classics such as ice cream, malt and caramel corn.   I went with the sundae, served with with porter ice cream topped with a crackling chocolate topping and a bit of European infusion with the use of  toasted hazelnuts and a couple of triangles of  nutella panini.    The other choice at the table was a chocolate pave with the aforementioned sprinkles of Americana and a gold leaf as a tribute to capitalism.  Both were a fitting end to a meal. There were no surprises…just well constructed and executed desserts which would be deemed delicious by anybody on the either side of the ocean.

Sundae
Sundae
Chocolate Pave
Chocolate Pave

My Take: Naha offers a well-executed lunch by fusing strong Mediterranean flavours and techniques with beloved elements of Americana.  For the most part, the execution was  on the mark and the portion sizes were acceptable, at least for lunch.  The North American inspired desserts were the star, an irony for a place whose concepts are rooted in elements of the Middle East.  The meal was well paced, the service was decent and the decor was spacious and fresh.

NAHA on Urbanspoon

Stop #3– Billy Goat Tavern

Between the Billy Goat curse and the famed SNL appearance, it’s a foregone conclusion that one has to  drop  by this tavern during a trip to Chicago (especially on the heels of a visit to Wrigley). I won’t go into the details of the curse (you can look it up on the website, wikipedia etc.) but it involves a goat and a bunch of  men….enough said.

Basically, it’s a place with the burgers, coke, beer and a spattering of other snack foods. The walls are plastered with faded newspaper articles and signed pictures and accolades from generations past. The grey-haired bartender looks like he’s won a trivia contest or two in his time and courteous staff pan the floors looking for empty steins to refill.

I ordered a burger for three bucks and change and a beer for about the same.  The thin, pre-made  patty  is served on an oversized bun.  The condiment station has the standard toppings,  although I found the onions two ways rather intriguing. You could choose finally diced  or thick (and I mean thick) rings.  I loaded up with a pile of pickles as well. It was exactly was I expected and exactly what I wanted; a burger which brought me back to the days when it didn’t cost twenty bucks and wasn’t served with pineapple, mango, fried egg, short rib, pulled pork,  bone marrow, avocado or housemade BBQ sauce. It’s just a  freaking $3 burger.

Billy Goat Tavern burger and Beer
Billy Goat Tavern burger and Beer

Neither the burger nor the beer will win any culinary awards, but I consider the $6 cost  the price of admission for a small bite of Chicago history.

Billy Goat Tavern on Urbanspoon

Stop #4- Topolobampo

I’ve been eying Rick Bayless’ Michelin star Topolobampo even since I ate tortilla soup at his place in the airport a couple of years ago.  Plus, I’ve been mesmerized by his soothing voice while  watching “Mexico: One plate at a time” and even attempted one of his moles as well as a short rib recipe, both with good success and a lot of sweat.  I routed for him on Top Chef Masters and follow him on twitter.  Ya..maybe it’s manlove but I was longing to experience Mexican in an environment other than the numerous taquerias which have appeared throughout Toronto.

Showing up was like entering a busy Mexican market…buzzing people all over place and busy servers navigating nachos and guacamole through the streaming crowds. I was very loud and I wondering how I would hear myself think I was went to the desk to check in. I was greeted by two gentlemen who barely looked twenty; dressed in bright colours, trendy ties and the look of either a beachfront Tommy model or a member of One Direction.  They confirmed the reservation I had 4 months before and we were notified of the token short wait as they got the table ready.  With the announcement, I was prepared to deal with the abundant noise that was in store for the evening.  Instead, a magic door open and we were whisked into a room with half the decibels of the waiting area.  We were seated, the door was shut and it felt as if we were transformed in to a secret VIP space. Water was immediately served in large, heavy blue glasses and the night began, but that’s another story…..