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A Third-Rate "Chef" on a Second-Tier City


DonRocks

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Here are some gems from this tender little reminiscence.

Here, I opened one restaurant, Good Stuff, that developed my entire career. It is nice to be in a second-tier city where you can be a big fish in a small pond.

And:

After a few years here, I am finally finding balance in my life. When I got here, all I did was work. Now, I can take some time and enjoy the city and walk around and see the place. Doing that helps me love this city a little more every day.

Why don't you "take some time" and make your two grease pits into something more than the shit holes that they are?

That's right, I'm coming right out and saying it, you media-driven, propped-up, culinary version of Britney Spears ... both of your establishments suck in no uncertain terms. They SUCK.

You might be "famous," but you're a nobody to me. You're probably the nicest guy in the world (*), but you're treading on sacred culinary ground with your asinine, arrogant comments - and arrogance, without the substance to back it up, makes you look like a mercenary fool, and I don't mean a King Lear fool.

Doing my part to help you "love this [second-tier] city" a little less,

Rocks

(*) Thus, I address "Spike Mendelsohn," the "celebrity chef" that is constantly thrown in our faces by the PR-swallowing, star-fucking media, and also his lousy hamburger and pizza joints; and not Spike Mendelsohn, the human being.

And no, I don't blame you (hell, I'd probably do the same thing). But checks and balances are needed, and they are virtually non-existent when it comes to you, Warren Brown, Carla Hall (sorry), and (yes, I'll say it), relative to his ridiculous (i.e., "worthy of ridicule") amount of fame, José Andrés, among several others in this second-tier city.

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I really wonder what goes through someone's head when he lives and/or works in a city and wants to make a living on customer money from that city, yet refers to that city as "second tier." Hel-lo?! Yo, Spike, people in DC can actually read and hear what you say in interviews and don't appreciate being called "second tier."

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Why don't you "take some time" and make your two grease pits into something more than the shit holes that they are?

I have eaten at Good Stuff twice and, though it ain't my kind of burger, he does Five Guys better than Five Guys. And, to play devil's advocate (you TOLD us to stir up controversy), DC is a "second tier city" if NY and maybe San Francisco are your first tier.

His restaurants are justifiably popular, in the exactly the way that Applebees is unjustifiably popular. He gives people what they want, which isn't much, and makes them like a little more. I actually think he elevates things around here, celebrity or not, even if only marginally. I can name dozens of burgers I'd rather have, but I'm a thick burger, not a thin burger guy. If I wanted a relatively fast burger on the Hill, I'd probably go to Good Stuff.

Though, to be honest, he has bribed me personally. He has a sauce laced with Sriracha, to which I am hopelessly addicted. If he served dirt laced with glass, I'd eat it with Sriracha.

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Cheers, Don! The guy's rhetoric is a bit much and his burgers are Five Guys caliber, which is to say not first or second rate. If you want a good burger in the Capitol HIll neighborhood, try Smith Commons or Queen Vic on H Street or the mini burgers at Matchbox all of which can be ordered to medium rare and exceed the offerings at "Good Stuff" in my experience.

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I have eaten at Good Stuff twice and, though it ain't my kind of burger, he does Five Guys better than Five Guys.

So, just to try and figure out what you're trying to say here: you're impressed that one, single, family-owned hamburger restaurant (despite you implying you don't like it) can outperform a national chain with over 750 locations in 40 states and 4 Canadian provinces?

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A few years ago he gave a latke making demonstration at 6th and I synagogue. Halfway through his presentation he moved onto applesauce. His fancy version was cherry apple sauce: apples sauce and cherry jello straight out of the Jello box. Anywhere else not a big deal but Jello has gelatin in it, which is not kosher. You don't bring non kosher ingredients into a synagogue, Top Chef or not. The entire audience gasped when he brought it out.

MelGold and I left and went to Hell Burger to redeem our souls.

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So, just to try and figure out what you're trying to say here: you're impressed that one, single, family-owned hamburger restaurant (despite you implying you don't like it) can outperform a national chain with over 750 locations in 40 states and 4 Canadian provinces?

"Impressed" would be a strong word. I'm saying that I understand why Good Stuff is popular, because Five Guys is popular. Popular does not equate to good (hence the Applebees comment), but Good Stuff is among the better places in DC within the Five Guys genre. Would his 750th restaurant be as good? Probably not. But I've never eaten at that restaurant, because it doesn't exist. If I met someone who loved Five Guys, and they were ever near Good Stuff, I'd suggest they try it.

That said, again, I'm not a thin burger guy. Those kind of burgers are not why I eat burgers. I like a thick patty that is seared, rather than cooked. Central does this the best in the city. And, personally, I'd go to Hard Times (at least the Clarendon one) before Good Stuff.

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Here are some gems from this tender little reminiscence.

And:

Why don't you "take some time" and make your two grease pits into something more than the shit holes that they are?

That's right, I'm coming right out and saying it, you media-driven, propped-up, culinary version of Britney Spears ... both of your establishments suck in no uncertain terms. They SUCK.

You might be "famous," but you're a nobody to me. You're probably the nicest guy in the world (*), but you're treading on sacred culinary ground with your asinine, arrogant comments - and arrogance, without the substance to back it up, makes you look like a mercenary fool, and I don't mean a King Lear fool.

Doing my part to help you "love this [second-tier] city" a little less,

Rocks

(*) Thus, I address "Spike Mendelsohn," the "celebrity chef" that is constantly thrown in our faces by the PR-swallowing, star-fucking media (**), and also his lousy hamburger and pizza joints; and not Spike Mendelsohn, the human being.

And no, I don't blame you (hell, I'd probably do the same thing). But checks and balances are needed, and they are virtually non-existent when it comes to you, Warren Brown, Carla Hall (sorry), and (yes, I'll say it), relative to his ridiculous (i.e., "worthy of ridicule") amount of fame, José Andrés, among several others in this second-tier city.

(**) I'm truly not singling any publication out with this link; in fact, I found it after I wrote this post. While this may be the most egregious example, it's the bloggers, some of whom have become food writers for local publications - and the PR agents that support them - that are the major ethical violators, and in their cases, the problem is much more widespread and insidious than the rather straightforward mediafication of "Spike Mendelsohn."

Hear hear! If there was a "like" button, I would use it. Spike is so overrated and obnoxious. That stupid hat does not help.

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Except that he's serving Five Guys burgers at Hell Burger prices.

I'm not sure that anyone whose price points are, essentially, a middle finger to the restaurant industry is a fair comparison. But I'd much rather have a hell burger. Though, I submit that a thick burger is a different kind of food entirely.

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That said, again, I'm not a thin burger guy. Those kind of burgers are not why I eat burgers.

Thick or thin patty preferences aside, the real crime at Good Stuff is the fries. Soggy, half-inch nubs that are insanely priced given the quality.

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Since I've never been a fan of that mediawhore, I wholeheartedly agree with Don's post. A few clarifications though. The fact that he calls DC a 2nd tier city doesn't bother me. It bothers me that he thinks he's big fish in a small pond. He's got a burger joint and the pizza place, which would not get much attention but for his mediawhore status. It's arrogance; however, that arrogance is fed by people willingly patronizing his restaurants. Also, I think it's funny that he turned the table on his parents. Instead of him washing dishes, he's making his parents do the dirty work while he's out pretending to be a mover and a shaker.

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... which would not get much attention but for his mediawhore status ...

He is a mediawhore, much like Paris Hilton except: (1) he has, thus far, been successful at something; and (2) Don has not, as of yet, expressed a desire to sleep with him.

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I work a block away from his pathetic little store fronts far-reaching top-tier empire and often walk down that stretch of Penn to wherever. Today, for the first time in a very long time, I happened to look to the right and think to myself, "Oh , there are those burger-and-pizza joints 3-star emporia worthy of Manhattan run by the 15-minute-fame-jerk guy with the composer's name. Soggy fries, lukewarm pizza, medicocre burgers, fucking loud music. That's what stuck in my craw ass rectum memory.

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I will give him this--that block of PA avenue has been a culinary wasteland for the 20 years I've worked on the Hill. But without the cult of Top Chef fans working on the Hill and their hyper devotion to eating overpriced lousy food, no one would still be talking about Good Stuff let alone eating there. The few times I've tried either of his places (and I think the pizza is less bad than the burgers) the crowd is 90 percent staffers under the age of 30, 5 percent staffers over the age of 30 and 5 percent befuddled tourists wondering why are DC food prices so high.

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I will give him this--that block of PA avenue has been a culinary wasteland for the 20 years I've worked on the Hill. But without the cult of Top Chef fans working on the Hill and their hyper devotion to eating overpriced lousy food, no one would still be talking about Good Stuff let alone eating there. The few times I've tried either of his places (and I think the pizza is less bad than the burgers) the crowd is 90 percent staffers under the age of 30, 5 percent staffers over the age of 30 and 5 percent befuddled tourists wondering why are DC food prices so high.

When I have gone by on weekends it certainly looks like most of the folks there are either the under 30 crowd or tourists that are Top Chef fans. He gets a good deal of media exposure and I am sure folks seek out his places when they visit.

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I'll always remember my first, only, and last visit to We, the Pizza.

I was very much impressed with the marketing and whimsical nature of the establishment. The silly quotes, the large black and white pictures, the "no-frills" unpretentious nature of the joint.

But the most dominant memory from that lone experience was "God damn, I could be eating soooo much better right now, and drinking soooooo much better right now, at Two Amy's, or Pizzaria Orso, or Pizza Paradiso."

Meh.

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I read the comments here and was getting ready to draft some kind of response about how he was at least raising the (admittedly low) bar on the hill, and that without Good Stuff and We The Pizza there might not be places like Ba Bay opening, and then I read this:

To me, H Street and U Street look more like Brooklyn every day.

Fuck. You. No they don't. They look like H Street and U Street. They don't want to look like Brooklyn, We don't want them to look like Brooklyn. And they're not going to look like Brooklyn. Nothing annoys me more than an expat New Yorker who can't look at anything without comparing it to something in the bouroughs, which must be superior because... hey, look where it is on the map!

Spike, if I want to see things that look like cheap knock-offs of NYC, I'll look at both your menus, which are directly cribbed from superior establishements such as Shake Shack, Artichoke, and Stand. In the meantime, you'd do well to tuck your stupid hat a little lower and keep your mouth shut for a while.

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Spike, if I want to see things that look like cheap knock-offs of NYC, I'll look at both your menus, which are directly cribbed from superior establishments such as Shake Shack, Artichoke, and Stand. In the meantime, you'd do well to tuck your stupid hat a little lower and keep your mouth shut for a while.

Calls for the creation of a new Spike-centric slam along the line of the Texas "All hat, no cattle."

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I had no problem with most of his comments. DC, a second-tier city? Sure. Let's just say Paris, Rome, Florence, Milan, Tokyo, Singapore, Hong Kong, San Francisco, Chicago, Sidney etc are first tier. We are second-tier. And if you want to say just US, maybe the first-tier is NY, LA, SF, Chicago. Second-tier does not mean second rate. It does not mean DC sucks.It's where Spike seats himself on our "second-tier" food pyramid that had me scratching my head. "Big fish.....little pond"? Seriously?

He's confusing making money with respect, and his top-line revenue as validation of his craft. Sequoia makes a lot of money too, you know.

Spike Mendelsson's abilities might put him in the top 20 chefs working in this city. But then again, so "might" mine. Spike's actual cooking has been below average at best, but his self-promotion has been nothing short of Trump-ian.

No serious list of the great, influential chefs - the numerous, talented, and awe-inspiring chefs - of this city would include Spike Mendelsson. Doesn't even crack the top 50.

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Nothing annoys me more than an expat New Yorker who can't look at anything without comparing it to something in the bouroughs, which much be superior because... hey, look where it is on the map!

Then you are not going to like him taking ownership of Washington in his follow-up.

People are misconstruing Danny's interview and he would agree that my comments were not in the least bit disparaging to my DC.
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I had no problem with most of his comments. DC, a second-tier city? Sure. Let's just say Paris, Rome, Florence, Milan, Tokyo, Singapore, Hong Kong, San Francisco, Chicago, Sidney etc are first tier. We are second-tier. And if you want to say just US, maybe the first-tier is NY, LA, SF, Chicago. Second-tier does not mean second rate. It does not mean DC sucks.It's where Spike seats himself on our "second-tier" food pyramid that had me scratching my head. "Big fish.....little pond"? Seriously?

"Second tier" doesn't have to mean second rate, but it sounds insulting all the same. For someone hooked up to a PR machine like it's oxygen, it doesn't make sense to use a phrase like that. Saying "a smaller market," "an up and coming food town," or something accurate that doesn't sound like a slam wouldn't have gotten the same attention, though. The combination of that with the "big fish" comment just makes him sound like a mercenary. Of course, the original comments he made when he was first opening Good Stuff are not all that far off in tone from this, so at least he's consistent.

Now he says he was "taken out of context" on this:

http://dcist.com/2011/05/mendelsohn_responds_to_second-tier.php

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Saying "a smaller market," "an up and coming food town," or something accurate that doesn't sound like a slam wouldn't have gotten the same attention, though.

Thank you and thank you.

And holy crap, the big fish small pond comment made me want to slap the self-important dope. Being the purveyor of pricey fast food in a city whose top talent can hang with the best of any city - first-tier or not - does not make you a big fish, dude.

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"Second tier" doesn't have to mean second rate, but it sounds insulting all the same. For someone hooked up to a PR machine like it's oxygen, it doesn't make sense to use a phrase like that. Saying "a smaller market," "an up and coming food town," or something accurate that doesn't sound like a slam wouldn't have gotten the same attention, though. The combination of that with the "big fish" comment just makes him sound like a mercenary. Of course, the original comments he made when he was first opening Good Stuff are not all that far off in tone from this, so at least he's consistent.

Now he says he was "taken out of context" on this:

http://dcist.com/2011/05/mendelsohn_responds_to_second-tier.php

To be fair, he's tried pairing backhanded compliments with the 'up and coming' moniker before as well.

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Spike, if I want to see things that look like cheap knock-offs of NYC, I'll look at both your menus, which are directly cribbed from superior establishements such as Shake Shack, Artichoke, and Stand. In the meantime, you'd do well to tuck your stupid hat a little lower and keep your mouth shut for a while.

The one thing I like at Good Stuff is the mushroom burger - which I didn't realize at first is a direct rip-off from Shake Shack's. I can't believe the gall he has directly copying something from a very similar competitor with out any citation or acknowledgment.

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The one thing I like at Good Stuff is the mushroom burger - which I didn't realize at first is a direct rip-off from Shake Shack's. I can't believe the gall he has directly copying something from a very similar competitor with out any citation or acknowledgment.

I've noticed that his "5 napkin burger" is no longer on the menu. I wonder if these folks complained. It's now the "Spike's Sunnyside," priced at 6.89 + "Lotsa napkins"

Edited for accuracy to note that it was called "Spike's 5 Napkin Burger."

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When I have gone by on weekends it certainly looks like most of the folks there are either the under 30 crowd or tourists that are Top Chef fans. He gets a good deal of media exposure and I am sure folks seek out his places when they visit.

And probably not many Iron Chef America fans, since he got his behatted ass kicked by Michael Symon in Battle Prosciutto.

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And probably not many Iron Chef America fans, since he got his behatted ass kicked by Michael Symon in Battle Prosciutto.

I believe Spike is a contestant on the Next Iron Chef. I don't doubt he's submitted applications to Survivor, Amazing Race, the Apprentice, and the Real Drag Housewives of New York.

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How cute we are at DonRockewell.com, when we get our hackles up! And who better to wield those hackles against than some foreigner who has the temerity to let drop what we all fear to be true -- that Washington is no New York, Chicago or San Francisco when it comes to dining?

He's perfect:

He's never sucked up to anyone on the board, bought dinner for someone who posted mean things about his food or bought a round because he overheard that a customer was a member.

Completely unlike Jose Andres, Todd Gray and a couple of posters on this board, he's a shameless and effective self-promoter! Why would a restaurateur try to turn a lucky break into a successful business model? Its so...proletarian.

His food is cheap, and we don't go there anyway. We'll never actually have to confront the guy, and we pay no psychic penalty for our attacks.

It gives us a chance to prove we're not lickspittles for celebrity chefs by singling out the one celebrity chef in town that -- through some statistical anomaly -- no one here likes. We're tuff, dudes!

Just pick out a couple of phrases from an interview loaded with damning statements like:"Here, I am involved with Michelle Obama’s food initiatives and can help local kids and schools learn about food. I never would have had the time or opportunity to do that in New York." (Fuckin' poseur! Just like Michelle!)

And

“After a few years here, I am finally finding balance in my life. When I got here, all I did was work. Now, I can take some time and enjoy the city and walk around and see the place. Doing that helps me love this city a little more every day.”

Afterwords, we can scour the interview for other sins, like comparing H Street to Brooklyn. Jesus, how could he?

Sadly, only 35 responses -- a mere 35 times the commentary on the excellent work the Post did yesterday on The Future of Food. Come guys, there's plenty of room to pile on!

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Let’s try to examine those remarks with some dispassion. First of all, the former “Top Chef”competitor is one of the most recognizable chefs in Washington. You may not like that. You may think his culinary talent hovers somewhere just north of the midnight-shift griddle cook at IHOP, but you cannot deny that Mendelsohn is a star. He’s appeared on “Top Chef” twice. He has published a cookbook. He’s a regular on the morning news shows. If you asked 1,000 random citizens of the United States to identify a D.C. chef, I suspect many would name Spike Mendelsohn before Michel Richard or Frank Ruta or Johnny Monis. In terms of sheer national popularity, and access to White House power, Mendelsohn is a big fish. We all must live with that.

Apparently Tim Carman thinks like Waitman, but I don't buy mediawhore = big fish. Yes Spike is recognizable but so what? The country is full of D-list celebrities who want to hang on to their 15 minutes of fame, Spike is just one among many. Spike panders to the media, the media gives him coverage, and voila, he's a big fish. That makes the media the determining factor of who's a big fish? So actual talent means nothing? Let that be a lesson to our children....mediawhoring makes you a big fish.

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Apparently Tim Carman thinks like Waitman, but I don't buy mediawhore = big fish. Yes Spike is recognizable but so what? The country is full of D-list celebrities who want to hang on to their 15 minutes of fame, Spike is just one among many. Spike panders to the media, the media gives him coverage, and voila, he's a big fish. That makes the media the determining factor of who's a big fish? So actual talent means nothing? Let that be a lesson to our children....mediawhoring makes you a big fish.

The problem I have with the whole Spike kerfuffle is not what he said or what he thinks of DC, but how obsessed a large portion of society has become with celebrityhood. Not that this is new, there was a reason why even during the depths of the Depression that the biggest stars drove bespoke Dusenbergs and Cords; however, it has risen to an obscene level in our current society as evident by the amount of time dedicated to hanging on every word of someone that owns hamburger shop.

This Spike person seems to be riding the wave of his appearance on one of the modern bloodless gladiatorial shows that pit competitors against one another in unrealistic contests to be judged with the modern Pollice Verso by those seated above them. Unlike the former days of actual blood sports even the losers attain a fawning cult following.

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How cute we are at DonRockewell.com, when we get our hackles up! And who better to wield those hackles against than some foreigner who has the temerity to let drop what we all fear to be true -- that Washington is no New York, Chicago or San Francisco when it comes to dining?

I am not offended that he is some foreigner who said what we may fear to be true....We aren't NYC, San Fran or LA or Chicago when it comes to the depth of restaurants, I do believe, however, that our great restaurants are good enough to contend with any restaurant from any American city. What offends me is the way he portrays himself as one of many chefs who came from other big cities to help elevate the food scene here in DC. I have lived here since 1999. I have seen the way the food scene has grown first hand, while working, nay slaving, in the kitchens of Jeffery Buben and Todd Gray. I've seen the hard work that was being done before, on the front lines by Roberto Donna, Kaz and Robert Weidermier. My contention has always been that too much credit is being given to people who have come from NYC, San Fran, LA to open their restaurants for helping establish DC as an "it" town. I contend that they are just reaping what others had sown before them.

As for never having to address Chef Mendelsohn face to face, I see him at events, after parties etc and even in those situations he seems to feel he is better than those around him; oozing arrogance and condesention doen't do much to endear you to your fellow chefs. If he ever confronts me about my opinions offered here or on any other venue, I will respond the same, Fuck off you no talent hack......And all of the chefs I know feel the same way.

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I am not offended that he is some foreigner who said what we may fear to be true....We aren't NYC, San Fran or LA or Chicago when it comes to the depth of restaurants, I do believe, however, that our great restaurants are good enough to contend with any restaurant from any American city. What offends me is the way he portrays himself as one of many chefs who came from other big cities to help elevate the food scene here in DC. I have lived here since 1999. I have seen the way the food scene has grown first hand, while working, nay slaving, in the kitchens of Jeffery Buben and Todd Gray. I've seen the hard work that was being done before, on the front lines by Roberto Donna, Kaz and Robert Weidermier. My contention has always been that too much credit is being given to people who have come from NYC, San Fran, LA to open their restaurants for helping establish DC as an "it" town. I contend that they are just reaping what others had sown before them.

As for never having to address Chef Mendelsohn face to face, I see him at events, after parties etc and even in those situations he seems to feel he is better than those around him; oozing arrogance and condesention doen't do much to endear you to your fellow chefs. If he ever confronts me about my opinions offered here or on any other venue, I will respond the same, Fuck off you no talent hack......And all of the chefs I know feel the same way.

Maybe you can take a deep breath and decompress now.

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This is one of the reasons why you should always consult and communicate with your publicist before any interviews no matter how big or small the gigs might be

Chefs often need help and direction in order to properly formulate a message before it's sent out there for everyone to read.

In Washington DC It takes very little to be misunderstood or to ignite great debates with various views and opinions and it takes a life time in efforts to correct a problem.

Given the benefit of the doubt I would imagine that a formal and public explaination is in the works, but if not I would sincerely hope for those who have recently made Washington their hometown to embrace, respect and love our city for the wonderful and great place that it really is.

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I would sincerely hope for those who have recently made Washington their hometown to embrace, respect and love our city for the wonderful and great place that it really is.

I felt exactly this way after landing at Dulles on Nov. 1, 1973, after a red-eye flight from California. B)

I'm going to have to be carried out of here feet first.

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This is one of the reasons why you should always consult and communicate with your publicist before any interviews no matter how big or small the gigs might be

Chefs often need help and direction in order to properly formulate a message before it's sent out there for everyone to read.

In Washington DC It takes very little to be misunderstood or to ignite great debates with various views and opinions and it takes a life time in efforts to correct a problem.

Given the benefit of the doubt I would imagine that a formal and public explaination is in the works, but if not I would sincerely hope for those who have recently made Washington their hometown to embrace, respect and love our city for the wonderful and great place that it really is.

One of the benefits of the doubt I've given Spike when he's come across like an asshat in the past is not that he isn't consulting his publicist, but that the publicist him/herself is part of the problem, tone-deaf to and thus reinforcing his worst traits and instincts.

FWIW, the slices I've taken out from We the Pizza have been decent enough, but I'd never want to eat inside the place, which is one of the most unpleasant environments I've ever been in for all the reasons cited previously and more.

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One of the benefits of the doubt I've given Spike when he's come across like an asshat in the past is not that he isn't consulting his publicist, but that the publicist him/herself is part of the problem, tone-deaf to and thus reinforcing his worst traits and instincts.

This may have changed, but I seem to recall that when the burger place was first opening, the publicist was his sister.

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At last--we may be able to "enjoy authentic French food on Capitol Hill," due once again to our culinary savior, Spike Mendelsohn--because, after all, Montmartre and Bistro Cacao don't exist in the world according to Spike and his publicist! (Trying and failing to think of a line that connects "asshat" with "beret.")

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Stretching months of “externships” into “earning nearly 25 years of knowledge in the fine art of cooking ”,

Game-show credentials grease the tracks.

He never claimed "earning nearly 25 years of knowledge in the fine art of cooking," did he?

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He never claimed "earning nearly 25 years of knowledge in the fine art of cooking," did he?

I guess it depends on what the source was for that statement in his bio here The text sounds as though it came from a PR flack, but maybe not.

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