Parts Unknown: Flint Will air Tuesday, June 25: Happy 62, Tony.
8am Coffee-Flint Crepe Co.
8:45 Breakfast-Krystal Joes
10:00am Flint Coney-Starlite
11:00am Steak n’ Onion-Big John
12:00pm Local Beer-Red Baron
1:00pm Taco-La Familia Morales
Maybe fit in a car nap?
3:30pm Slice of pepperoni pizza- Sicily’s (cash only)
4:00 Ice cream-Banana Boat
4:30 pm Ribs-Charlie’s at the Flint Farmer’s Market
(Homeboys is closed on Tuesdays-they’re cash only)
5:30pm Pho- MaMang at the Flint Farmer’s Market
6:30pm Burger-Torch (Halo Burger if it’s too busy)
7:30pm Fried pickles-Soggy Bottoms
8:30pm Whiskey Cocktail-Churchills
9:30pm Stromboli-White Horse
10:30pm Wine-The Cork Times are apx give or take a half hour.
For years I have fantasized that Anthony Bourdain would come to Flint for CNN and do an episode of Parts Unknown, or maybe have a layover in Detroit and do an episode of The Layover in Flint since he’s experienced Detroit previously. Or maybe kick it all the way back to No Reservations and just show up at local establishments with a camera man and me, his beautiful, introverted but fun loving adventurous guide. We would hit Flint Crepe Company for coffee first. I’d go with a Peanut Butter Mocha. He would think that is ridiculous and get a black coffee with a shot of espresso. He’d also order an Egg n Cheese Crepe even though breakfast would be at our next stop. He’d start by asking me questions about where I ate growing up here and I’d tell him we were poor so I got frozen fish sticks and mac ‘n’ cheese. On a special occasion we would go to Ponderosa, the local buffet where I’d fill my plate with fried chicken wings, cottage cheese, and turn my cup into a sundae container and fill it with vanilla soft serve, chocolate sauce, and M&M’s. If my Grandma Shay was feeling well enough, she might take us up to Mickey D’s for a burger and fries. But this really was the extent of eating out as a kid. I’d never eaten at a formal restaurant until I started playing travel softball in Grand Rapids and then later, traveling to Europe, D.C., and Hawaii with my school. Then Tony would rave about the crepe and say, “Can’t I get another?” and I would have to tell him “No,” practicing for the busy day ahead of us.
At Krystal Jo’s I would tell him about my friend Wendy and her thieving coffee cups and also the bike give-away. He’d want to meet Tony and shake his hand. We would order the Ginormous Breakfast and he would not want to share but I’d say: “Look Tony. we’ve got a whole day of eating ahead of us. This is gonna be packed.” He would relent and we would divide the stack of pancakes and the eggs and bacon. Then it would be smash time. On to stop three…
Starlite has the freshest coney sauce so it beats Angelo’s. Take me to my grave on that one, but it may seem like Angelo’s gets the victory here since they’re “original” but Starlite just does it better, and Tony deserves the best Flint offers. Tony would ask about the difference between the Detroit coney and Flint coney and I’d inform him that in Flint you must use a Koegel’s brand hot dog. That is then served on a steamed bun with Coney sauce, onions, and mustard. Flint style uses the dry, loose meat Coney sauce and not chilli or red sauce. No beans, no ketchup,no sauerkraut-no extras. He’d dive in to his (since we each got one) and be transported to heaven for a moment. “Life is good,” he’d say laughing. He would chug his Coke down and want to order another but I once again would have to say a firm, “No.” On the way to our next stop I would have to run into Rite Aid for Tagamet or Tums because I would have forgotten mine. He would oblige me by coming inside and wonder why the drug store sells sundresses and beach hats and we are in Flint. I’d tell him about the gentrification and local lakes but then the conversation turns to water and I tell him about Bluebell Beach where you usually can’t even swim because of E-coli. None of the water is safe. “Irony man,” he’d say walking out to the car.
Big John’s is next where we go inside to order and get an Original. He’d also want a bottle of the red Sauce for dipping. We watch the steak sizzle and Tony takes a few pics with locals who think they know him but why the hell not get a selfie if there’s a film crew? Flint, man. It’s the little things. I call the owner at Red Baron and he said we could bring our food in, since it’s Tony, so we head down the street to the bar. He wants a Guinness but I talk him into something similar but Michigan brewed. I have him try: Dark Horse Brewing Company Bourbon Barrel Plead the 5th, Founders Oatmeal Stout, and New Holland Brewing Company Dragon’s Milk. Surprisingly he goes with Plead the Fifth but I think it’s because he really liked the name. I get a Dragon’s Milk and make a really bad mother of dragons GOT joke and he laughs politely. I watch him open the sandwich and the aroma from the steak and onions fills the bar. A patron whines, “Why does Tony get to have all the fun?” He smiles and takes a huge bite of his half. I remember our stop at Rite Aid and grab a pill from my pocket to down with my beer. My stomach is not happy with me but we have a full day ahead of us. I’d want another beer but this time he’d say, “No. Tacos are calling.” We would get in the car and head downtown.
La Familia Morales is the place to get tacos in the city. We order three: one soft, one medium, and one hard shell. He piles on the hot sauce. I take it easy. I love the medium shell so I give him a bite then let him devour the other two. We eat indoors and he says he feels like he’s in Mexico and I say nothing because I have been transported to heaven with this taco. After a moment I come out of my trance and he asks for another. “No,” I say then he follows with a, “Where to?” At this point the beer and food have made me sleepy so I tell him it’s nap time. We drive over toward Pesto’s and I pull in but don’t get out. “Power nap,” I say kicking on the air conditioner and putting jazz on the radio. He pulls his hat down over his eyes and we rest.
Pestos isn’t super busy when we wake since it’s the middle of the afternoon so we are seated quickly. “Now this place is it. You know it’s homemade when you enter places like this.” One of my former students greet us and I can’t recall his name, but I act like it and Tony says, “That happen often?” I giggle. “All the time. It’s shameful but I’ve taught for fifteen years.” He shakes his head and says, “Does this place serve alcohol? You need like 15 shots.” I laugh again and we order dessert to split; the infamous eclair. It is to die for. Tony asks me about food and well, I have a lot to say. I’ve always been a picky eater but then things got a little obsessive. Like turkey sandwiches for an entire year. Like no meat for nine years. Like a little weird when it comes to habits. “I love food. I love trying things now, but man, it took a long time for me to appreciate everything that goes into cooking.” He nods. He understands. He gets up ready to hit our next stop and his head almost breaks the chandelier he hits it so hard. He is just that tall. He looks at the camera breaking the fourth wall: “Happens a lot,” he says then turns back to me. “Tylenol then pizza, in that order.”
After another quick drug store stop for Tylenol we head through the entrance of Sicily’s which is through the kitchen. Tony eats this up. He talks to the cooks while I just watch them talk and work, their hands kneading and tossing, and oiling the pans. This place has family history. Sicily’s was my Grandma Shay’s favorite pizza joint. She would order it on special occasions. Usually her birthday. My mom and dad went here on their first date. And nothing has changed since the 70s. You must bring cash, you must expect no frills, you must wipe down your own table if you like it real clean like me, and you must have cash. Tony catches up to me in the front of the restaurant and we order two slices of the original, little pools of grease made by tiny pepperonis are my favorite part, but the thin crust is exceptional because it still is chewy and light. We take our pizzas to the booth and I tell him my parents love story. He is impressed. He reveals that he’s a bit of a hopeless romantic but things haven’t worked the way he ever planned with the loves of his life. “I just want to do well by them all,” he says, “especially Ariana.” Things get a little emotional so I ask him if he wants to head out back to the Caboose for a cheap beer. $1 Domestics on Tuesday. He’s on board.
We grab a Bud and sit at the bar. An old man next to me begins telling Anthony about what Flint used to be like, even before my time. “All these bars,” he says, “were for the shop rats. We worked hard then did over time then drank until we were too tired to head home to the missus, but we did anyway then woke up to do it all over again the next day. When those truck and bus plants closed, so did our opportunity to provide for our families.” Tony nods but I see he’s getting antsy so I say, “Next stop, Banana Boat.” The barkeep tells us to order the black cherry chocolate in a waffle cone. We both thank him, say goodbye to the drunk, and hit the road.
Banana Boat’s line wraps around the building. It’s hot, sunny, and Flint loves its ice cream. Tony takes pics with babies and kids and teens and a few workers as well. We eat our cones on the way to the Flint Farmer’s Market. Even though we both got small cones of hand dipped goodness, Banana Boat serves you double your order. We decided to park where we will end the night, The Cork on Saginaw, and walk a little of the ice cream off strolling down the bricks. Flint’s claim to fame. Well, one of them. The Market has two spots for us to hit today: Charlie’s Smokin BarBQ and MaMang. Since we can grab and go at both spots, we order our food then head up the stairs to Market Tap and sit outside with beers and food. At Charlie’s we ordered a half slab of ribs with brisket and greens. At MaMang we get the pho, banh mi, and duck buns. The Market provides local brews and domestic. We opt for a lighter fare this time with Bell’s Hopslam and hazy Old Nation M43. I dive into the pho first and it is spicy but beautiful. The ribs come next and fall off the bone. Tony is diggin’ the greens and duck bun. He states: “Worst food memory,” like we’re about to play a game of “I never” or something. I divulge. I was a junior in high school in DC. We went to a famous Soul Food place, sat down at a table with a bunch of teens. I didn’t know what to order so I asked for a Turkey Sandwich. The server was so nice, he didn’t blink an eye, just repeated my order and left. After our meal, our guide for the week came by and asked everyone what they ate and if they liked it. When he came to me at the table, I told him. He was incredulous. I said “It’s my favorite.” He was like, “Carrie, you missed the point of eating here. Come here.” He took me back to his table where the adults all were and gave me a piece of cornbread and a bite of greens. “See?” he said, “that’s why we are here.” Tony kept eating, now onto the brisket and just shook his head. He took a swig of beer and said, “Damn humiliating. Good lesson.” We looked out over Flint and I pointed at different buildings and gave info on different stories I had heard throughout the years. We walked over to Buckingham Alley and peeked in on an art museum and yoga class. Then hit up the most famous food in all of Flint: The Torch Burger.
It comes with everything. It’s a half pound. It is better than any bar burger in the area-probably even in the state. It is the grill-they say-that makes it so special. With our burger-I only need a bite at this point, we each get a shot on the house. “A Special for Tony,” they say. We say cheers and drink up then I look at him and say: “Worst food memory.” Time for him to spill. He shakes his head and says, “Can we get another shot?” We wait, we drink, we talk. “Ok, that’s easy,” he replies. “Hakarl.” I remember the episode in Iceland. He says, “It was the single most disgusting thing I have ever tasted. Shark fins secrete ammonia so that is the smell that hits you first. And it’s fermented, so add that aroma in and you can only imagine the taste.” I cringed. “Apparently it’s a delicatessen but only old people and tourists eat it there now. They got me with that one.” After he devoured the burger, we walked over to Soggy Bottom’s but I had to introduce him to my friend Oaklin first. He bought a GoodBoy hoodie and we moved on down the alley.
Tuesday is jazz night at Soggy’s so Tony is feeling it. He mentioned his love for punk rock but there’s also a place in his heart for Jazz. John Douglas and Ramona Collins are on the mic tonight. We decide to get an order of fries and fried pickles with two painkillers: a summery mix of Rum, Pineapple, Coconut, Orange, and Nutmeg. I remembered that Malcolm X snorted nutmeg in prison. “I thought it was cinnamon,” Tony says. “Whatever it was, it must’ve been desperate,” I reply. He nods. “Desperate people do stupidly desperate things.” I didn’t probe further. We listened to the music and then the food arrived. A plate of perfection with golden pickle spears and a huge bowl of homemade shoestring fries. The music was a gift and this moment would be one I would cherish.
After listening for a little longer we walked to Churchills for whiskey flights. He loved the quotes on the wall. My friend Jaime served us and we really enjoyed the atmosphere. It was a mix of young and old, black and white, male and female. The whisky almost did me in, but I was able to get him to talk about one thing that I really wanted to hear about, his tattoos. He said he gets them for locations and people and more so, for experiences. The one in the jungle, hand tapped, on his sternum hurt the most. He revealed that he felt remorse since he didn’t keep his promise and return each year to Borneo like he promised and the chief passed away. It took him nine years to return to the Iban people for festival. “I wanted to see if I had worked my issues out,” he said. “Well, did you?” Smiling he took a drink of whisky: “I think so.”
After that was a long ass walk to The White Horse, another older Flint establishment mostly visited by lawyers and nurses and teachers on Friday Happy Hour afternoons or early morning shift changes. Tonight was different-tonight was karaoke night. We sat at the bar, ordered a pitcher of Oberon and a stromboli to share. There was a lot of country and a lot of Kid Rock happening until some Kettering kids brought it home with The White Stripes, ACDC, and The Shins. Tony liked the place. The beer was fitting after that whisky flight. We weren’t too tipsy yet, but we felt good and the singing wasn’t bad so that tells you something. The food was delicious: chewy bread, solid mix of meat and cheese, and the Ranch dressing was homemade. Tony shook his head at the Ranch thing but he’s not midwestern so whatever. Nachos, since they are baked, are another good pick there but we couldn’t even finish the stromboli. The last stop of the night was just another walk away and I didn’t want it to end. Tony was exactly like he was on television-everyone who knew him said that, but seeing my icon, spending time with him, this was beyond priceless and I was guilty of wanting more time. Wanting more Tony. Wanting more of his writing, his quips, his laughter, his stories, his ability to put people at ease, his open minded sensibility, and his stubborn sense of adventure. I wanted more.
When we enter our last stop, The Cork on Saginaw, word was out that Tony was in town and chef Marge was livid with me for bringing him to her place, last. Shannon, a dear server, said, “She prepared food, Carrie. Be ready.” I took him back to the circle booth and we used my wine card to get drinks from the wine dispensary. Marge was not having that either. She came out of the back with a platter of cheese and a bottle of 2006 Sichel Bordeaux. Now I don’t know wines well, but I know enough to know that, that one is expensive. She tossed our dispensary wine in a server’s tub and grabbed fresh glasses from under the wine dispensary. “Let’s do this right,” she says. Before I know it Shannon is bringing out scallops and crab cakes and calamari. We begin to feast. I listen in on the chef’s bantering about how to correctly cook all the things and I realize how fortunate I am to be in this place. I am in awe of the knowledge about food and culture that surrounds me. And all this coming from freezer pot pies and tater tots. Our friend, also a server there, Michael, showed up and he told stories of teaching his students and the water crisis and then Shannon brought out duck and filet and Tony said, “I thought this was our wine stop.” I laughed, sneaking a quick glance at Marge. She smiled and nodded, understanding that we only had a day to spend in Flint and maybe she was slightly buzzed from the delicious vino. “Tony, I’d eat here every day if I could afford it,” I said. Marge scoffed-dammit, mad at me again. He laughed and said, “But you’d miss out on all the other places left to explore.You’ve got to move. As far as you can, as much as you can. Across the ocean, or simply across the (Flint) river. The extent to which you can walk in someone else’s shoes or at least eat their food, it’s a plus for everybody.” And with that, he excused himself to the restroom. Shannon, Micheal, Marge and I were smitten. “Holy shit you guys,” I said, “That’s the first time he’s pissed all day.” We laughed and laughed as I recounted our day’s adventures but he never returned. He just left. We didn’t even get to say goodbye. I guess that’s how he wanted it.
RIP Anthony Bourdain June 25, 1956 to June 8, 2018
This is a work of fiction. All thoughts and ideas are my own. Some quotes are published Anthony Bourdain quotes. Some people mentioned do exist and are highly respected but were not interviewed for this piece. I hope, however, that they enjoyed reading it.