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Cheap Eats: A fond farewell

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Ashton Goggans (right) with one of his many Eating Companions.

It’s dawn, mid-week, and Eating Companion I are bleary-eyed, exhausted, two days into what will end up being a four-day trip. The sun is rising behind us, as we drive west towards Albuquerque, trying to make the Grand Canyon by sundown. The desert is all lit up in brilliant blues and oranges and purples. That’s right, friends: We’ve cashed in our chips, packed our bags and boards and forks and knives. We’re headed for The City by the Bay, sunny San Francisco. And it is not without a great deal of sadness that we inform you that this will be EC’s and my last Cheap Eats.

Since taking on this column almost two years ago, Eating Companion and I have had the incredible gustatory pleasure of driving all over Sarasota and Manatee Counties, sampling food from gas stations and BBQ shacks, dozens of hole-in-the-wall diners, a couple Chinese restaurants, bait shacks and NYC-style delis.

We’ve had food delivered by beautiful women who if they themselves don’t take your breath away, their chimichurri pork loin sammie will (I’m looking at you Brown Bag Provisions).

We’ve eaten gizzards and livers and a ton of cheeseburgers.

We had a calamari sandwich that comes back to us in dreams, and we wake up starving (keep it up Mozarella Fella, we love you).

And I think we’ve eaten at every breakfast spot in town.

For many readers my column was a guide, a reference. They made a point of checking out each week’s spot, and often got back to me with their own appraisals. You have thanked me, corrected me, scolded me, and a few of you have basically called me nothing short of a lying, no-good hack after visiting some out-of-the-way spot that I might have really dug, and which you hated. If I have upset you, or led you astray, I’m sorry. I never meant  to hurt you. I never meant to make you cry.

What I did do was try to make judgements according to a sliding scale. The truth is that most restaurants serving food at affordable prices pretty much do whatever they need to to get by.

They do just enough; they put food on their own tables by putting food in your stomach. And I have accepted that most places aren’t mind-blowing, super-secret gems. Some places are just good enough to stay open. And that’s fine.

But every once and a while I have found a place that deserves the attention. KT’s Deli and its banh mi sammies in Venice comes to mind. So does Curry Creek Cafe (Dave, your meatloaf!) in Nokomis, or the aforementioned Mozzarella Fella and Brown Bag Provisions (who are currently on hiatus, though you should expect great things from them soon).

And my enjoyment has come two-fold: 1) having readers send me notes telling me how much they loved the place, and 2) finding out that for some of those places it was the difference between keeping their doors open or closing up shop, that a single-page write-up in the local paper can basically make their businesses’s year. That has given my job a
purpose.

And so my time as the man behind Cheap Eats has come to an end. And I know what you are all wanting to know, because I get asked it everyday: who is EC?

That’s hard to answer. EC started out as a fictionalized version of my brother, Jack and my best friend, Peter. But they didn’t want their names in print, and I just had to describe how insane and silly and ridiculous taking them on assignments was. So EC was born. But as time went on, they would often disappear on me – to California or Colorado or Peru or Costa Rica or Jah-knows-where. And so in their absence I recruited substitutes: my editor, Brian Ries, or other writers, chefs, bartenders – basically anyone whose palate I felt I could trust, and whose company I enjoyed. Everyone has an EC in their life, mine just happened to be hilarious from time to time.

So there it is. My final column. I can’t tell you how much I’ve enjoyed these last two years, and how thankful I am to the Herald-Tribune, and especially to my editor, Brian Ries, a man of endless patience and understanding, and one of the most honest and thoughtful food writers I’ve ever read. I am also incredibly pleased to announce my replacement: Mr. Cooper Levey-Baker.

I’ve admired my man Coop’s writing since I moved back to Sarasota a few years ago, and his Eat Near column has been a treat to watch develop. I can’t wait to see what crazy places he ends up.

Goodbye for now, Sarasota. Shoot me an email at ashtongoggans@gmail.com if you’re in San Francisco and want to grab a burrito. I know just where to go.

Last modified: May 24, 2013
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