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Chips and salsa are free at most Mexican restaurants ... for now.
Chips and salsa are free at most Mexican restaurants ... for now.

The end of free chips and salsa at Mexican restaurants

Like many Milwaukeeans, I love taking advantage of the fantastic local Mexican dining scene. I enjoy ‘em all, from the gritty paper plate experience at Conejito’s, 539 W. Virginia St., to slightly more upscale Latin eateries like Riviera Maya, 2258 S. Kinnickinnic Ave.

This weekend, I met friends at a popular near South Side Mexican restaurant and while there, engaged in an interesting conversation with the owner. I mentioned that I was a big fan of the house chips and salsa, and he thanked me graciously but went on to lament the recent spike in the price of tomatoes. He said the pressure to keep prices affordable and the rising cost of all ingredients -- particularly tomatoes -- was forcing him to consider charging his customers for chips and salsa.

He asked me if I thought free chips and salsa were integral to the Mexican dining experience and if he would lose customers if he charged a small fee. That’s a tough one, and I told him so.

On the one hand, Conejito’s does not offer free chips and salsa, and yet on most nights, the place is packed. However, most diners are conditioned to feasting on bottomless baskets of chips and salsa at the majority of other Mexican restaurants in Milwaukee.

My dinner mates and I discussed this topic at great length (which is a tribute to the potency of the margaritas), and basically, we decided that free chips and salsa add a lot of value to the Mexican dining experience.

On our way out, we recommended in lieu of charging for chips and salsa to increase menu prices just a little bit. This way, diners will feel like we’re still getting something for free in this bare-bones economy.

I’m no Ray Kroc, but this seemed like a reasonable business solution. However, I am still thinking about this today and wondering if free chips and salsa are really that important?

What say you, Gary?
What say you, Gary?

Quotable quotes for the kiddos

Over the years, I have enjoyed teaching my kids to say pop culture quips from my childhood / young adulthood that are completely irrelevant in their world.

Although many parents protect their kids from pop culture, I love pop culture -- especially references from my childhood -- because it bonds people together. Nothing like the memory of brushing My Pretty Pony's tail to bring together two 20-something or 30-something ladies.

I do, however, teach my kids to be an outsider of pop culture. I don't recommend jumping on the bandwagon, but instead to watch it, reflect on it and appreciate the folly and absurdity of it.

Regarding the pop culture quotes they know, it's humorous to hear them say some of these expressions and, I admit, back in the day when I was stranded at home with two droolers for hours on end, I got a little bored at times. Consequently, teaching them little expressions like this would jazz up my afternoon more than any Muppet was capable of doing.

Here are a few pop culture sayings I taught my kids  -- or expressions that they just picked from hearing me say them:

1. "What you talking about, Willis?" (Gary Coleman's character, Arnold, was famous for saying this in the TV show "Diff'rent Strokes.")
2. "De plane, de plane!" (Herve Villechaize's character Tattoo often said this in "Fantasy Island.")
3. "Wonder twin powers, activate!" (From the "Super Friends" cartoon. Some believe the Wonder Twins invented the fist bump.)
4. "It tastes like burning!" (Ralph Wiggum from "The Simpsons." This one works any time food is too hot.)
5. "Screws fall out all the time, the world is an imperfect place." (From "The Breakfast Club." My kids don't say this one yet, but they will, because I use this line quite frequently.)

For fans of the "Twilight" series, "New Moon" will not disappoint.
For fans of the "Twilight" series, "New Moon" will not disappoint.

"New Moon" musings

Last night, along with my 16-year-old niece, I saw "New Moon," the latest film in Stephanie Meyer’s "Twilight" series based on the book of the same name. This blog is not a movie review, so I’ll just say that it was extremely entertaining and, like the first book, the screenplay stayed true to the print version in the second installment of this mortal-loves-vampire story.

A lot of readers over the age of 17 hide their true feelings for these books or downplay their addiction to them, but I flew out of the "Twilight" closet a long time ago. My guilty pleasures don’t include celebrity gossip magazines or reality television, but I will trade sleep for "Twilight." And as a self-described snooze whore, that’s saying a lot.

Sometimes jokingly referred to as "crack," these books are a breeze to consume even though they have more than 500 pages. However, because of the simple writing style, the fat font and the easy-to-follow story line, they are about as challenging to read as the back of a box of Count Chocula.

In fact, last night at the theater, I devoured my box of Sour Patch Kids with the same ravenous ardor that's present when I read these books. Like candy, the "Twilight" books don’t offer much in the way of brain food, but the instant gratification is delicious. Best of all, to my knowledge, they aren’t rotting my teeth.

Arguably, the most fascinating aspect of the series is that they are insanely popular and yet only include minimal amounts of blood and no sex. Lots of both are usually prerequisites for me to dig a vampire flick or novel, but in the "Twilight" series, graphic scenes are replaced with old fashion romance, the memory of first love and tension. So much tension.

We know from televisions series old and new -- as well as our own lives -- that tension keeps a relationship interesting. Meyer is the master of this in her books, and the director was able to make the tension translate to the big screen. The tension between Bel…

How many grams of fat are on that tray?
How many grams of fat are on that tray?

Today's oxymoron: calorie counting at Culver's

We let the kid pick where he wanted to eat tonight in celebration of an accomplishment, and he picked Culver’s, 1325 E. Capitol Dr.

I like the fast food eatery’s Wisconsin roots, but other than that, I’m not a big fan, mostly because there isn’t a single item on the menu that works for me. Sure, a double cheeseburger sounds great, but most of my metabolism stayed in the '90s and I haven’t had a double anything since.

So, I ordered a large garden salad, low-fat dressing and a water. But here’s the kicker: I find myself stealing a fry here or a bite of burger there and although I don’t order my own ice cream, I offer to "clean up" my kid’s cone.

I can’t decide if this is sick or smart. I am, after all, consuming fewer calories than I would if I ordered my own burger and fries and custard, but then again, maybe if I ordered something a little more satisfying than a salad I wouldn’t feel the need to snitch from other people’s meals.

Something tells me my plate picking is rather annoying to my dinner pals, and yet, I cannot stop because, at this point, the stupid food games are working for me. Well, sort of.