Strong Ideas and Exclusionary Thinking: Obama, Palin and Greek Food in Minneapolis

Christos Greek Restaurant is one of three well-known Greek restaurants in Minneapolis. The other two are It’s Greek to Me and Gardens of Salonica. Which one you like may be a matter of cultural survival.

It turns out that Greek restaurants in Minneapolis are to the citizens of this area what operating systems and political candidates are to computer users and activists. You’ve got one you love, and the rest suck. Although I’ve lived here long enough to be mistaken at times for a native, this particular form of Greek love/hate is not one I’ve assimilated. I’ve been to all three of these restaurants a number of times, and in my view, they each have their strengths and weaknesses. Mostly strengths, actually. Even my friend Lizzie, who normally has a solidly rational view of the world, has a somewhat all or nothing view of the Greek Cuisine in the city. (The fact that she served at one of these restaurants for about a year may be a factor in this case. I’m not sure.)

I used to live around the corner from Christos, and as an Eat Street restaurant, it gains extra Neighborhood Brownie Points for many people, including me. Eat Street is a section of Nicollet Avenue in Minneapolis in which a large number of mostly “ethnic” restaurants and grocery stores have sprung up with encouragement and help from the local neighborhood associations and the broader business community, as an effort in socially progressive mixed use development. The very existence of a restaurant on this street is a political statement, a statement of solidarity among thoughtful people trying to make a positive difference in a world of selfish greed.

I’ve had interesting and generally very good experiences at the other two Greek restaurants as well. Memorable experiences. At Salonica, I had dinner with a friend who chose that moment to tell me all about his new inflatable penile insert, and about the joke he played on the nurse in the hospital after the surgery. (Which involved some special sound effects and a balloon, but I’m not going there right now.) One of my first dinners out with Amanda was at It’s Greek to Me, so I have special fond memories of that place as well, although not as funny. (Actually, we were trapped there for a couple of hours during a blizzard.)

Almost every meal I’ve had at Christos was with a large group, because it is the kind of place that handles large groups very well, and the most recent dinner was with a set of visiting relatives from my side of the family. Oddly and unexpectedly, we arrived at Christos to find another large group already seated, consisting of about a dozen of Amanda’s relatives, chowing down on moussaka, spanakopita, and tabouli. I know where these people live, and most of them had to drive past both of the other Greek restaurants to eat here. To Christos, which is the one that they like.

And this is where I encountered my first bona fide Sarah Palin convert.

This was a cousin who has always been active in liberal politics, especially related to GLBT issues, women’s rights and feminism. She supported Clinton during the last primaries. I remember seeing her early in the primary season, when she said, “Minnesota will be irrelevant.” (Oh, I should mention that she lives in a Rocky Mountain state.) “By the time the primaries get to Minnesota, it will be pretty much settled. Hillary will be the candidate.” And so on.

I myself supported Clinton over Obama in the first part of the primaries, but I was reasonably happy to shift into an Obama mode once the turnover happened. But you will recall that this turnover was not simple, easy or gentle in any way. There was a fairly long period of time, of several weeks, during which Obama supporters were inappropriately asserting that the race was over for Clinton, and there were Clinton supporters who were inappropriately asserting that the Obama camp was anti-women because they wanted to claim victory. Neither side was willing to refer to history or basic political realities as a guide to what was happening or as a guide to how one might react to what was happening. Indeed, it turns out that Obama was a sufficiently powerful candidate to overcome this period of infighting and Clinton a sufficiently strong person and powerful politician to join the power structure in the White House as number two or three most powerful official (depending) on the planet. But during those weeks including and following Super Tuesday, things were a bit tense.

So we ordered lunch, and as we were eating various Greekey food items and making plans for a museum visit later in the day, Cousin C. came over and we were for some reason talking politics. This was during the interim between the election and the inauguration, and as far as I knew, most of the deeply disappointed Clinton supporters had made peace with the reality of Obama winning the primary, and in many cases joined Obama’s campaign efforts and were now pretty happy that he had won the general. Cousin C., however, a liberal, Democratic, lesbian, activist, feminist living in a progressive liberal enclave in a Rocky Mountain state, was telling me that the Democrats had treated Sarah Palin badly and unfairly because she was a woman, that Bill Ayers and Barack Obama were in bed with each other, and this makes Obama a terrorist, and that Ayers should be in jail now and forever for what he did to this country, and Sarah Palin was the cat’s pajamas, and so on and so forth.

I kept my mouth shut. I like Cousin C. quite a bit, and I figured she’d need to vent, apparently, for a few more months and I would just let it pass. My sister did not keep her mouth shut, and a low-level shouting match ensued. Gentle, less-political cousins were embarrassed and started apologizing for each other, and of course, Cousin C.’s children were mortified, but those of us more political waved them off. This argument was not a bad thing but, rather, an airing of feelings that probably had to happen. An outsider might have been shocked—people at all of the tables in the restaurant had stopped eating and had turned to watch. But this was East Street in the Whittier Neighborhood of Minneapolis. This was what happens here. People come from all over the country to have Greek Food and shout at each other about politics.

My contribution to the discussion was small. I merely noted during a lull that I went to Bill Ayers’ school when I was a kid, and we never learned any terroristic methodology or anything. My snark was duly ignored by the primary combatants. Something was said about Prop. 8 in California (whence my sister), and I think that was a bit poignant. The gay community and the African American community need to work out some important details here.

The politics are real. These distinctions, between candidates and positions, are important. Progressive communities need to get better organized. And it really is true that Linux Rocks and Windows Sucks.

But the big three among the Greek food establishments in Minneapolis are all good, even if different. At the very least, you should try them all before you decide. This is one case where you should not listen to the locals.

Christos Greek Restaurant is located on Eat Street, in the Whittier Neighborhood. More information here.

Gardens of Salonica is located in Northeast Minneapolis. Here is their web site.

It’s Greek to Me
is located at LynLake, in South Minneapolis, and the web site is here.

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18 Responses to “Strong Ideas and Exclusionary Thinking: Obama, Palin and Greek Food in Minneapolis”

  1. February 14th, 2009 at 4:20 pm

    Joanna says:

    What about Santorini in St. Louis Park? Or are we just talking Minneapolis?

  2. February 14th, 2009 at 5:11 pm

    Stephanie Zvan says:

    Joanna, you know Santorini is gone, don’t you? I’ve heard rumors of it reopening elsewhere, but right now, even the website is kaput.

  3. February 14th, 2009 at 5:27 pm

    Greg Laden says:

    I don’t personally think of Santorini as a Greek resturant. I’ve eaten there a half dozen times and pretty much eat Italian. In any event, it is an entirely different kind of place. Fusion. Mediterranean fusion. (In fact, they call themselves “Mediterranean”)

    And yes, it’s gone from St. Louis Park. It is now located in Eden Prairie.

  4. February 14th, 2009 at 6:25 pm

    Lilian Nattel says:

    Nice piece of writing, Greg.

  5. February 14th, 2009 at 8:36 pm

    B Nuckols says:

    I like Cousin C. She’s obviously aware that those who cheat in small things (like primary ballots) will cheat in large things (like writing the forward for a man who praises Islamic terrorism and stomps on the flag). Do you suppose there will ever be reconciliation between the gay and lesbian community and the traditional Black voter? Or shouldn’t they both join to oppose the conditions that cause 1/3 to 1/2 of Black children to die by intentional abortion before birth?

  6. February 15th, 2009 at 1:54 am

    Melanie Fillios says:

    Makes me nostaglic….. : )

  7. February 15th, 2009 at 11:42 am

    Greg Laden says:

    Nuckols: Careful. In my opinion your post is well into the territory of the kind of racist and anti-gay drek that I would be likely to delete.

    Malanie: I’m so glad you commented on this post, because it gives me the chance to say that all the Greek Restaurants in Minneapolis don’t amount to a hill of beans compared to YOUR cooking!!!!!

  8. February 15th, 2009 at 12:50 pm

    Betty Joe Belowski says:

    I always found it amusing when people called Sarah Palin a feminist, pretty much because she’s a female. Mmm hmm, a feminist who is not in favor of womens’ rights.

    Anyhow, I have had a most interesting experience at perhaps one of the area’s lesser known, though quite famous in its own right, Greek restaurants. This place is called Phil’s Tara Hideaway (that’s how it’s really spelled, and pronounced, which is the first issue I take with it).

    My husband and I went there for his birthday, the only time really that he’s allowed to pick the restaurant. It’s in Stillwater, kind of, in this log cabin looking place (issue two). You go in and the place is always packed (I know this from the looks of the parking lot, and the number of people who travel to this restaurant for miles and miles). They have a horrible, horrible wine list, of which I chose a bottle of Burgundy from a very well known value producer. At the very least the wine would be average, but decent. The server completely fucked up the wine service, I mean horribly. I was cringing. Didn’t even present the bottle to me so I could check the label and reject the wine if necessary. The wine had a big ugly streak of wine running down the front, which told me that it was probably a leaker, therefore damaged. When the server, Pat or Pam or something finally gave my husband the bottle, and he passed it to me I mentioned this to her. She had the gall to tell me that in fact it wasn’t from this bottle but a bottle of merlot that was next to it and spilled on it. At this point I am nearly furious, but keeping my cool since Andy is 100% anti-conflict (ironic). The wine was terrible, but I suffered for him, for his birthday.

    Course one rolls out, it’s good, even with my glass of water. We got a little gyro platter, and it was tasty.

    Course two rolls out. This is a whacked up chunk of iceburg lettuce, mostly the internal white parts of the core that nobody wants to eat, and its complete with the little purple cabbage ribbons. C’mon, nobody eats that shit. And then Andy and I get into an ugly argument about what the hell’s in ranch dressing anyhow. (issue three, I refuse to eat at any restaurant that serves ranch). Andy likes ranch. Probably more than he likes me at this point. So I am now eating this shit salad and drinking water. Peachy.

    Course three comes out, this is duck, which I love, but served on a bed of “risotto”, with some sort of balsamic vinegar reduction, which they frickin smothered the thing in. I must say that the duck itself was lovely, but get the idea behind an accompaniment is that it plays its role in a balanced manner.

    Then the funny thing happens. Andy and I have this long standing joke about Japanese tourists (I’m partly Japanese, so I can make fun), and how they always pose for photos. You know, make a peace sign, get down on one knee, hand under the chin, etc. My grandma used to make me do it all the time. And we have another musing about how many people’s pictures you accidentally are in, as you’re walking by or something. So there’s a couple taking a picture at this wonderful restaurant, Phil’s Tara Hideaway, as they’re visiting from Missouri. The hostess is helping them out, and we’re sitting right by the hostess station. We are going to be in the background, and thus on their refrigerator. Exciting. So Andy gives a big smile and I shoot them a peace sign. We are laughing. Then, we see them looking at the window on their camera and then they look over at us. We forgot that everybody has digital cameras now. So we’re laughing harder. They relocate to another part of the restaurant for their photo shoot, because they hate us and want a nice picture of their experience here. The hostess comes back, looks over at us and smiles.

  9. February 15th, 2009 at 12:53 pm

    April Torzewski says:

    Oh, and B Nuckols: Those women would have the abortions anyhow, most likely. Except it wouldn’t be under a physician’s care so they might die too.

  10. February 15th, 2009 at 3:33 pm

    Joanna says:

    Is it true that “those who cheat in small things…will cheat in large things”?
    I cheat on my diet. Does that mean I will also cheat on my taxes?
    Wow! I need to keep an eye on myself…maybe turn myself in now, before it’s too late.

  11. February 15th, 2009 at 10:35 pm

    Greg Laden says:

    The size of the man can be estimated by the size of the thing that gets him mad. So Nuckols gets to live for another comment or two.

    Not that size matters or anything.

    April, my grandmother had a similar story but instead of Japanese tourists it was Cary Grant being directed by Alfred Hitchcock and instead of a server’s station it was the front door of some fancy hotel.

  12. February 16th, 2009 at 4:53 pm

    Mike Haubrich says:

    Greg and I were discussing that we should have a comment policy here, but since we don’t, we don’t have justification to delete Nuckols’ post. I’ll put this warning in, though, that if Nuckols does this again such a post will be dust in the ether. Not that we don’t tolerate dissent, but asshattery is out.

  13. February 16th, 2009 at 9:39 pm

    Greg Laden says:

    Not that we need a justification, mind you!!! But yes, we need to eventually develop a policy, and it might end up being inconsistent and arbitrary. Or at least, one would hope (that we would recognize any policy as such, necessarily, and not kid ourselves). My personal preference is to not have a restrictive policy at all, but to defend commenters from other commenters if necessary. And if anybody messes with my loved ones (Mike, Stephanie, Ana, etc.) YOU’RE SCREWED!!!111!!11!!!!!!

    But seriously, yes, we will be working on this.

  14. November 28th, 2009 at 1:13 am

    Neil C Reinhardt says:

    So if in a few years Osama bin Laden is teaching a class in whatever you would attend his class as well?

    Are you really so totally “F”ING Cluless you do not know Ayers IS RESPONSIBE for our banks being robbed, for BLOWING UP Private Firms, US Government/Military Buildings, Police Stations, Police Cars adnd KILLING Americans?

    The only damn difference betwee Doren / Ayers and osas bin Laden is the numbr of FDEAD Americans!

    Anyone who voted for ODUMA has NO MORE Integrity than he does and he HAS NONE!

    And IF I lived where Ayres does, he would damn well
    not only know I was there, he sure as hell would not enjoy it!

    And FYI CHILD, IT is JUST as Racist to Vote for someone ONLY due to their race as it is to vote against. Thus, MANY who voted for ODUMA are RACISTS!

    Neil C. Reinhardt

  15. November 28th, 2009 at 8:53 am

    Mike Haubrich says:

    Whether or not Osama bin Laden would ever be invited to be a guest lecturer at the University of Minnesota is an interesting question, and one that I am not likely to take too seriously. The idea, however, that if one were to attend such a series or take such a class, one would be indoctrinated into his terrorist mindset is also interesting.

    Yes, I would love to be able learn what has developed a terrorist. It’s puzzling to me how people can find a way to justify murder for political ends and in a manner that doesn’t discriminate between their intended targets and their collateral damage, followed by a justification that allows them to defend their position that even if the victims are all what we would consider “collateral damage” it serves a larger and more glorious purpose. I think that what Osama bin Laden organized in relations to the Twin Towers bombing in 2001 is a shaded scale of terrorism. Henry Kissinger and Richard Nixon, for example, who bombed Cambodia (now Kampuchea) in the interest of killing NVA and Cong who were using Cambodia as a sidestreet to Vietnam, were dropping bombs on a countryside and a people against whom we hadn’t even declared war.

    And non-NVA and Cong were killed by it, innocents in a non-combatant country. Later, Kissinger was teaching at Harvard and his classes were well-attended. I would have taken a class from him.

    William Ayers, who was present at one fund-raiser for a local community organizer in Chicago, has been dealt with legally and paid for his crimes. Your attitude of vigilantism disturbs me because you are justifying a sort of terrorism of your own. Where the legal means to handle the criminal actions of Ayers are not enough for you, you would do physical violence yourself. And you feel justified because your analysis is keener than any district attorney, court or judge. You are smarter and better than the government, so you want to take the law in your own hands, right? I think you are on the terrorist scale yourself.

    Thanks for your comment, thanks for leaving your name. Not many who write as you do have the guts to do so.

    I haven’t seen the polls that indicate that everyone who voted for Obama voted for him because of his mixed-race heritage. I voted for his whiteness as much as his blackness, but more importantly I preferred him for President because his policies more reflected my own preferences than did John McCain’s.

  16. December 1st, 2009 at 12:54 am

    Greg Laden says:

    Neil, thanks for your comment. You are a credit to your kind.

  17. July 8th, 2010 at 12:46 am

    Ed Darrell says:

    Are you really so totally “F”ING Cluless you do not know Ayers IS RESPONSIBE for our banks being robbed, for BLOWING UP Private Firms, US Government/Military Buildings, Police Stations, Police Cars adnd KILLING Americans?

    Well, no, actually I’m schooled enough in law and rhetoric, and especially in the use of evidence and reason, to know that Ayers isn’t responsible for most of that, maybe for any of that, beyond what he was convicted of and paid the price for.

    The year before I got there, the University of Utah’s ROTC building was torched in some demonstration. Horrible act of violence — fortunately there was time to get everything important out of the building, and no one was injured. Some say the cops didn’t chase the perpetrators hard enough, but there was this: The building had been scheduled to have a bulldozer rip it down a few days later. The fire saved some significant demolition costs.

    Sure it was a criminal act. But how would the sentencing go if it came out that the criminal act saved the taxpayers a lot of money?

    Bill Ayers tangentially worked with Obama on an education project financed by an arm of the Annenberg Foundation. You know, Nixon’s pal, Ambassador Annenberg. Annenberg, the guy who gave us TV Guide. Any sane person would worry about the link between Annenberg/Nixon and Obama. You focused on Ayers instead.

    One more case of blaming the teachers instead of the criminals, it seems to me.

  18. July 10th, 2010 at 11:50 am

    Mike Haubrich says:

    Ed, you have a teacher’s knack for confusing people who don’t like facts.

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