The owner of Tornado Burger comments on "Iconic Burgers," by Robb Walsh, December 20.
Thanks for the accolades: My son Neil and I own Tornado Burger. It is people like you in the media who help deserving startups survive and grow. As you say, institutions are not created overnight. Little guys need a helping hand — actually, we need many helping hands! Most restaurateurs at our stage are essentially little trains going up the hill saying, "I think I can!" Very few make it to the promised land.
Just as In-N-Out invented the modern drive-through, we may very well have invented the Spicyburger. And we offer bacon, mushrooms, grilled onions and jalapeños. We take the trouble to blanch our fries so they're crispier; we like to think ours are better. And our buns are handmade by a great local baker, not factory-produced.
Yes, Californians do relate our burgers to In-N-Out, but we do not have their squeaky-clean image that's come about after 50 years of deep-pocketed evolution. We compensate for that through innovation. By the way, the patties are three-ounce, not two, an entire ounce more than In-N-Out's.
It became obvious to us quickly that a burgers-only joint, while possible, would require much deeper pockets, especially with road construction impeding traffic. Hence another slice of genuine Americana...the Philly cheesesteak. We're still menu minimalists, but not to the extent we thought we could be. By the way, thanks for the tips on the cheesing of the steak.
Should it come to pass that in 50 years we are a Texas institution, Robb, your review will have become a historical marker. To us, it's already worth its weight in gold. Six months in, we've broken even in the business, and our customer base is growing. The next 50 should be a piece of cake.
Comment by PJ
New Year's Play
An online reader comments on Houstoned Ballz columnist John Royal's "New Year's Resolutions," January 2.
More Charlie: Happy New Year to you, John, for being such an obstinate SOB who doesn't understand what fun it is to be a homer. Among your resolutions, I especially agree to listen more to Charlie Palillo. He's the best thing to happen to Houston sports radio since 610 started running Jim Rome, and Romie isn't always consistent. And yup, listening to Deshaies is the best part of Astros baseball, even better than the $7 beers and jacked-up prices for the Yanks-Red Sox games. Hey, did Drayton say whether he's dropping prices for the Marlins and Pirates games? And yup, Barry Bonds is proven to have a classier sort of "friend" than my neighbor Roger. But we'll read more about that in Canseco's new book. And please, Craig Biggio, stay retired. I can't take another Biggio Lovefest, though I'm sure Drayton will arrange to retire your jersey during a Marlins series. Finally, I may not be his biggest fan, but here's to a healthy '08 for Milo.
Online readers respond to "Anthony Bourdain on "Illegal Immigrant Labor in U.S. Kitchens," by Robb Walsh, December 19.
Citizens in the kitchen: I appreciate Bourdain's insight into the restaurant industry. But while I enjoy his biting wit and commentary, I disagree with his conclusion that the industry would shut down due to a crackdown on illegal immigrants.
I know of two U.S.-born citizens who applied for jobs as dishwashers, one at Cracker Barrel and the other at Applebee's. To say that these jobs will not be filled by American workers is disingenuous and presumptuous.
Yes, restaurants may be forced to pay a real wage to their dishwashers. I do not believe this would be a bad thing, however.
I agree with Chef Bourdain: I am a chef at a small boutique hotel in Virginia. Most of the people hired to do the "grunt" work in the kitchen are locals, and to be honest, they suck. I have to walk a fine line, not upsetting their delicate worldview when it comes to what they have to do compared to what they want to do. The actual workers that we do bring in during our season are driven, intelligent and want to work. This work ethic has rattled the locals to no end. If I had the chance to bring in "illegals," I would.
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No whites need apply: I was a U.S. citizen who applied for a dishwashing job. Or at least I tried — the chef took one look at my white face and lied, saying that the position had been filled.
Eventually, he hired a skinny kid from Asia. Perhaps he had prejudices about the work ethic of the locals, but I'd speculate that he found somebody he knew he could pay under the table for half of minimum wage.