On the Table: Take a bloody break

Bloody Mary
I call it the “eat-whatever-you-want-whenever-you-want-so-long-as-doing-so-reduces-your-stress diet.” –photo by James Davies

Here’s the conundrum: I’ve found myself at an unpleasant crossroads. I’m in my 30s, have high blood pressure and need to lose weight; but I am, by nature, an epicure.

Until a little while ago, this joie de vivre served me relatively well—but I had a health scare recently and have been forced to question my heretofore carefree lifestyle, wondering if perhaps a life of minor indulgences is not all it’s cracked up to be.

Old habits being what they are, I’ve struggled to know how to best proceed. Should I count calories? Or perhaps I could exercise more and eat less?

These are fine approaches, especially if you’re the type who likes “guaranteed results”—but having never been a big fan of guarantees, I have opted, instead, to seek out loopholes and easy fixes—and I am happy to report that I have found the perfect marriage of both.

So to my fellow aging-fatso-epicures, do yourself a favor and google, “stress, weight gain, blood pressure.” Go on, check it out … Do you see what I see? It’s a clinical fact that stress causes weight gain and high blood pressure. Facts: You can’t argue with those.

So with this fact in mind, I would like to introduce you to my revolutionary diet plan, one that is bound to change the lives of thousands, if not millions of lazy asses across the globe: I call it the “eat-whatever-you-want-whenever-you-want-so-long-as-doing-so-reduces-your-stress diet.”

(Ultimate) Bloody Mary

Full of Grace at The Deadwood TAVERN (5. S. DUBUQUE ST.)

In my campaign to reduce my stress and “indulge my way to health,” I decided to visit places that I associated with stress-free times.

Walking into the Deadwood, I was instantly reminded that the smoking ban in Iowa City passed. Though it’s been over five years, my mental image of the Deadwood remains something that crawled out of a wharf in London.

With the smoke now cleared, though, I was struck by the fact that the Deadwood actually has a beautiful—if somewhat deranged—lumberjack-hipster-aesthetic. The Leinenkugel’s canoe with the braided woman, the clapboards with the scythes attached, the immense dolphin and many-mounted walleyes—the whole experience was weirdly relaxing.

Not being much of a daytime drinker (a saving grace), but being pressed for an order, I fell back on my early-drinking exception: the Bloody Mary.

This drink, if you would like to justify with me, is really more of a liquid brunch. And, as you may be aware, the Deadwood brags of having the best Bloodies in town.

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Ordering “The Ultimate” will cost you an extra dollar but it comes with a necessary 2-by-4 inch hunk of beef-jerky, which, if you’re able to restrain yourself from tearing into right away, will end up being the perfect soggy-toughness texture by the time your drink is finished. It’s a worthwhile payoff, one that is made all the easier by the perfect blend of pepper infused in every sip, with a hint of charcoal that rests right at the back of your throat.

I don’t mean to sound sentimental, but there are so few opportunities in life to sip Tabasco and gnaw on soggy jerky—god bless the Deadwood for providing a space for this experience to happen.

Wooh. I can feel myself getting healthier by the second.

Shakespeare’s Reuben

Full of Grease at Shakespeare’s (819 S. 1st AVE.)

To eat, or not to eat: That is the question …

Lofty rhetoric for Shakespeare’s, the most blatantly literary-named, yet least literary bar in Iowa City.

Though dubbed after the Bard, this NASCAR-themed, dimly lit bar with bellied up, good-natured, folksy clientele proved to be quite a shift from the hipster cynicism of the Deadwood. It also took me back in time to my rural roots, and as soon as I was greeted by the ‘Iowa-nice’ waiter, I instantly felt my health improving. As I sat down and began to scan the plastic menu, my eyes instantly locked in on the sandwich section and a line that read, “The best Reuben in town.”

Before I continue, I should explain something: I have a deep love for the Reuben. Have you ever noticed that no one ever asks you how you want your Reuben prepared? You want to know why? Because the Reuben is a perfect sandwich and it doesn’t need your advice. The ingredients, the composition of flavors—the way it sits on the plate, splayed out, meaty, swirling rye with dripping sauerkraut and the frilly toothpick jutting from the middle … I feel slightly embarrassed admitting this, but when I look at a Reuben I can’t help but imagine the feeling of a married man alone with an attractive woman.

This gustatory fetish acknowledged, I have to say I’m quite impressed with Shakespeare’s Reuben. The Thousand Island recipe (so critical) and the texture of the tangy sauerkraut are delicious but don’t overpower the beef, which becomes the central flavor, before leading to a tangy finish.

At the end of my meal, the waiter stopped by and asked again how everything was, to which I was able to honestly say, “Fantastic.”

Granted, I feel like I’m in an intense legal negotiation with my body, convincing it not to stroke out, but on a soul level I feel 10 years younger. Good-natured, honest people are the best kind of medicine.

Mozzarella Frittas

Taste Refined at Basta (121 Iowa Ave.)

If the Deadwood and Shakespeare’s provided me a sense of tapping back into old familiar experiences, the exact opposite would have to be said for Basta, one of the more surprising developments in the Iowa City restaurant scene.

When I came here as a freshman, this dank hole was known as Malones and was the site for countless uncouth, unmentionable experiences. 808 came next, which seemed like a new girlfriend who stuck around longer than she should have.

As my party indulged in Quattro Formaggi pizza (with extra arugula, please) and Mozzarella Fritta (homemade mozzarella, breaded and fried, with a Calabrian chile tomato sauce), we agreed that the current incarnation of 121 Iowa Ave. is a wonderful addition—a good reminder that sometimes change can be a good thing.

Putting the Die in Diet

Alas, we live in an imperfect world. I stepped on a scale and have gained an improbable amount of weight (my stomach looks like a paused still from the dinner scene in Alien). Still, I don’t regret my indulgences. Sure, some of the food may not technically have been good for my heart, but the experiences surrounding them could not have been better. Have I cracked the health code? No, I suppose I haven’t. But say what you will about epicures—at least we know how to have a good time. And isn’t it more the way the hours were spent than the number of hours lived?

Either way, I gotta start running.

Lucas Benson is trying to lighten up.