Episode 17: A Weekend About Festing

This weekend, we’ll eat and drink our way through Las Vegas. Maybe I’ll even take home a souvenir or two.

THIS WEEKEND

What better way to start off a weekend of food than at the beginning? Farm-to-festival, sort of speak.

Yes, Las Vegas has an orchard. Well, North Las Vegas has an orchard. By the way, how shitty is that? When the name of your city is just someone else’s city name with a qualifier.

Where’s your city, exactly?
Oh, just north of a much more well-known city.
But yours is better, right?
Not really.

Just kidding North Las Vegas, I love you.

It’s just that I grew up in St. Louis, and let me tell you — when we put directional qualifiers on our city name, it wasn’t a good sign.

So yeah, the Vegas Valley has an orchard, and they grow all kinds of things all year ’round. We happen to check them out right between pears and apples, so we had squash, cucumbers, a few others.

Oh, and come back in October for pumpkins.

Also, isn’t it so weird that we don’t do this every day? Pick our own food from the ground?

1% of this country is farmers. The other 99% of us have no flipping idea where our food comes from. That’s amazing, probably in a bad way. It’s certainly an interesting reminder of how far we’ve come.

When the zombie apocalypse comes, I’ll be screwed.

I had no idea what some of these plants even looked like until this weekend. When the zombie apocalypse comes, I’ll be screwed. No one is going to trade me raw materials for my sick marketing skills.

Maybe I’ll try hunting next.

Chicago Style Taco Shop

While we were WAY up north, we thought we’d show North Las Vegas a little more love; we had lunch at Chicago Style Taco Shop.

Yeah, you heard me: Chicago Style Taco Shop. That’s the genre, and that’s the name. Of all the types of culinary fusion I’ve had so far, this one wins Least Expected Award.

What exactly is a Chicago style taco, anyway? Do they bake it in a deep dish for 3 hours? Is it topped with mustard, onions, and tomatoes and served on a poppy seed bun? Does it come with an increase in violent crime? I’ll let you visit them to find out for yourself.

It makes sense though — Chicago/Mexican fusion. Probably half the population of this town is from either one place or the other. I’m more surprised that this is the first time it’s been done!

This is fun. Let’s come up with some other food fusion that hasn’t been done yet.

  • Indian-style pizza?
  • Japanese-Italian?
  • Sushi Burrito?
  • Meatpie snowcones?
  • Insect hamburgers?

Joke’s on you — two of those are already a thing, right here in Las Vegas. I’ll let you figure out which two.

Anyway, try the Windy City Fries.

Golden Steer

I don’t know if you knew this, but Las Vegas’s #1 industry is tourism!

Las Vegas sees more tourists each year than the entire population of Canada. Canada. Canada comes to Las Vegas every year, basically. Pretty amazing, eh?

Or how about this one: More visitors drive in from Los Angeles each year than there are fucking people living in Los Angeles. (Does it suck that bad there, LA locals?)

Or how about… Each year, 47 million hotel rooms are consumed on and off the Las Vegas Strip. That’s a lot of hotel porn.

There are so many tourists, that if on any given day a war broke out, us versus them, it would be close. I mean, we would win, cuz we know where the good weapons and hiding spots are and shit. Plus, we’ve got them surrounded.

So yeah, we get a lot of tourism. And all those people need a place to eat. Being that we’ve got such a disproportionate amount of tourists to residents, Las Vegans get to enjoy an equally disproportionate number or restaurants.

Buffets suck. I thought the whole point of paying more than $10 for my meal is so someone brings it to me.

For example, Las Vegas is known for its buffets. So much so that Caesars actually sells something called the “buffet of buffets,” where you just go around from buffet to buffet all day. Seriously, America? By definition, a buffet is all you can eat. You can’t eat any more, people! How can you all-you-can-visit more buffets? Math ain’t right. It’s infinity times infinity.

I don’t approve. Buffets suck. I thought the whole point of paying more than $10 for my meal is so someone brings it to me. If I wanted to stand up and order, I’d just go to Chipotle.

There’s another genre that we should be known for, but maybe we aren’t, or maybe we are, I’m not sure: steakhouses. We have so many steakhouses in Las Vegas, that Thrillist has a list of the “Top 40 Steakhouses.” Top 40? Are there any that didn’t make the list? Every casino has to have one — it’s like a rule. I think Venetian | Palazzo alone has like 27. (Try Cut. It’s amazing.) Steakhouses and Italian restaurants. Las Vegas loves ’em.

One of our favorite things to do is to go dine at these old places. These dusty relics. These restaurants that have been around since the Stratosphere was only yea tall. These ones where the servers where bowties, and the booths are upholstered in fake, shiny leather. Ones where portraits of famous people that have dined there over the decades hang proudly on the walls. Ones that keep the lights really low and the music even lower. These living ghosts.

It’s like going to a museum. It’s like stepping back in time. We order a martini (or two) and a steak medium rare and hope they were grandfathered into being able to do flambé tableside.

The Golden Steer is just one of those places, and we recommend you try it.

Las Vegas Food & Wine Festival

The Golden Steer is just steps from SLS Las Vegas, which hosted the Food & Wine Festival this weekend.

It’s a good thing we came in their back door — where they apparently hired a drunk guy to hang these pink neon lights — because the event took place in the west porte-cochère.

Seriously guys, you blocked your porte-cochère for the event? Everyone had to go around and in through Sayers. WTF

LA event planner be like, “Oh, it’s okay, there’s a step and repeat, so we’re all good.”

Seriously, I think we’re done with the step and repeat, everyone. Is it popular because we see it and think, “Oh, look, I’m on a red carpet. I’m so important!” or is it more like, “OMG someone REALLY important is going to be here tonight! I’m gonna get to be in the vicinity of a celebrity!”

Can I just stop for a minute and explain how dumb that is? Our culture has grown increasingly in love with the handful of beautiful faces that grace our TVs and movie screens. So much so that they don’t even need talent anymore for us to adore them (ahem, Kardashians). Wait, did I say beautiful? Yeah, they don’t even have to be beautiful.

They’re not amazing. They’re doing a job, just like the rest of us. Theirs just happens to put their work on display in front of everyone.

Their distance creates flawlessness. Their flawlessness creates worship. Their worship causes us to focus on the wrong things. To devote our precious time, energy, and emotion to this remote village in LA, when it should be dedicated to all these nice people and things right here around us. In our real life.

Hollywood’s rebuttal has been to turn celebrities into brands that can be exploited. And with each passing iteration, their images have become increasingly idealized. Worshipping celebrities creates false expectations of reality for the rest of us. Worshipping celebrities is a disease.

Anyway, we had fun. The liquor selection was a little wonky. It kinda just felt like whoever they could get to sponsor. A handful of obscure wines. Beer was represented by like Gordon Biersch and Stella. Awkwardly like 3 tequila options, but no other liquor really. But we still had a good time.

For some reason, we have a hard time telling ourselves it’s okay to behave badly every once in a while.

You know what I did wrong? I ate and drank before I ate and drank.

Or maybe I’ve just been to one too many of these things.

It seems like every time I turn around in this city, there’s a beer fest or a wine fest or a San Gennaro Fest or a Fest Fest

It’s just another way to convene. Another thing to do. Another way to raise money for charity. Maybe another way to get you in the hotel. Another way to promote BMW.

(Yes, there were dudes there in polos and khakis selling BMWs. Not kidding. Like, “Oh, look, a car. I wasn’t PLANNING on buying a car tonight, but what the hey?!”)

It’s also another way to give us just a little bit of permission to behave badly. To go a little bit further. To indulge a little bit more. Cuz you know, it’s for a good cause!

Not the level of permission you get from, say, a wedding; like Fourth of July-level permission.

And we need that in life. For some reason, we have a hard time telling ourselves it’s okay to behave badly every once in a while. Like we’re supposed to be perfect all the time. We need permission.

Let me be the one to tell you that life is about having fun. “Bad” is all relative. Stop waiting for an excuse, and make it your life goal to just have a good time.

National Souvenir Gift Show

I’m not sure what the difference is between a festival and a convention. A festival has booze. Yes, I think that’s it.

Six million people attend a convention in Las Vegas each year. Or at least six million tell their boss that they attended a convention in Las Vegas, when really, they “convened” with Candi and Diamond, who are just doing this to pay their way through school.

Indeed, we have countless millions of square feet of convention space in this town (and more being built every day), all within a 2-mile radius, all near world-class restaurants and hotels and entertainment. This town was built for conventions.

And among them all — of all the conventions I should attend that are held here each year — the Consumer Electronic Show, MAGIC, G2E, NAB, that one convention that’s about concrete — seriously, concrete, there’s one for irrigation, yep irrigation, the Bowling Proprietors Association of America meets here, there’s even an Expo Expo (I’m not kidding, that’s a thing, look it up.)… You get the idea.

Of all the conventions we have here in Las Vegas, what’s a more appropriate convention to attend than the National Souvenir Gift Show?

You know why? We’re the tourism capital of America. We’re home to the largest souvenir shop in the world (so they claim).

This is what we do. Souvenir is our middle name.

And holy shit, this show was ENORMOUS. There must have been 600 or 700 vendors.

I couldn’t help but think, isn’t it funny…

Remember that trip you took with your family to Hilton Head or San Antonio or Ocean City or Panama City or San Diego or San Wherever? Remember that cute row of restaurants and shops right along the beach? Paradise, right?

Remember that souvenir you got? That sign that said, “I’d rather be beach bumming”? Or maybe it was a t-shirt with fake muscles on it? Or maybe some authentic hand-crafted whatever made by a local craftsman? Maybe you’re the simple type, and you went for the seashell that you tell people you found yourself on the beach?

All those things. At the center of it all, Las Vegas.

All of them were probably made in some factory in China. Bought and sold in bulk by wholesalers. Bundled. Shipped around the world. Finally, a buyer or a proprietor finds it on display here, at the National Souvenir Gift Show, and adds it to her store’s collection of goodies.

To eventually land in your cute little souvenir shop on Main Street, Wherever.

The souvenir that reminds you of that time? That souvenir that comes from that place, that you can only get there? That totally authentic souvenir that you picked up because, hey, you’re a world traveler and you picked up something — a trinket you can’t get back home in Michigan or New Jersey or Kansas City.

That souvenir? It traveled further than you did to get there. Hope I didn’t ruin the magic for you.

Actually, I was surprised at how beautiful it all was. Walking through the South Hall at the Las Vegas Convention Center, I felt like I was on every trip I could ever go on. I was experiencing the world, one aisle at a time. I was an extra in the movie called someone else’s travel dream. I was everyone in flip flops or a backpack. I was everyone with a camera and a map in their hand. I was everywhere.

Okay, I’ll shut up for a second and do picture time.

It’s funny how our memories work. That these little trinkets can jog them. That we can look at some little crap object, and a chain reaction happens in our brain that leads to a memory explosion of sound and taste and emotion. Souvenirs are time machines like that.

For every episode of Make The Weekend, visit maketheweekend.com.

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Originally published at www.maketheweekend.com on September 21, 2016.

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