Friday, August 18, 2006

Mayor McCheese

Or should that read, "Mayor McVeggieburger"?

Here's the latest feel-good, do-nothing strategie du jour from City Hall.

If one thing can be said about the signature breakfast at Poppa B's, a hopping soul food joint on Blue Hill Avenue, it's that it won't leave you hungry, with a smothered pork chop, three scrambled eggs and cheese, grits, fried apples, and homemade biscuits.

But some new options will be appearing on the menu, like whole-grain breads and breakfasts with just one egg. Additions are planned for fish that's broiled, not just deep fried.

Not far away, bustling Chef Lee's is a home-cooking heaven that, in the words of one reviewer, is ``traditional Southern, yes, healthy not so much." But suddenly grilled chicken could show up on the menu next to the fried variety.

It's all part of a new city effort to reduce waistlines in a town that has celebrated the cream in chowder, the batter on cod, and the frank in Fenway. Mayor Thomas M. Menino is prodding each of the city's restaurants to offer at least one healthy menu option, vetted by nutritionists, and is planning a citywide campaign advertising the virtues of a healthy diet.

Memo to Mumbles - if the public demand was there for healthier menu options at these restaurants, the menus would reflect that reality already. You can offer all the healthy items you want, but if people choose not to order them, all you've done is hurt your bottom line.

Oops, sorry about that. I used the words "reality" and "Mumbles" in the same sentence. My bad.

So far, about a dozen restaurants have signed up for the program, many of them locally run, neighborhood haunts that traffic in greasy French fries, bacon cheeseburgers, and cheesy omelets. Owners say they are wary of losing their base, and they emphasize they'll continue to offer the popular less healthy options. But they insist that now they'll provide more options for the health-conscious.

"We're known for big portions, our incredible meatloaf and our super breakfast -- that's our thing; that's what's made us popular," said Jay Hajj, who owns Victoria's Diner, which is participating in the program, and Mike's City Diner, which is not.

"It goes back to giving people the choice," he said. "You can have the big burger with French fries and onion rings, or you can have the 5-ounce salmon with a salad and side of broccoli."

I'll bet the mayor has already scheduled a future press conference heralding this program as a "major success" (just like his gun buyback program), based solely on the fact that a handful of restaurants will have reprinted their menus to include these healthier offerings, and put a pretty sticker in their windows.

Of course, it won't matter a drop of piss to Menino whether any of the restaurant's customers actually order these new items or not.

Nor, will it matter if the restaurants take a loss from stocking up on, and wasting, food that no one wants to order.

Because, damn it, it will sure feeeeeel so good!

Still, it's uncertain how restaurant patrons will react. "The consumer has to be part of this also," Hajj said.

His diners could have chosen broccoli and a baked potato, but more often went for French fries and onion rings, Hajj pointed out.

Let me see if I understand this correctly. There are restaurants in the city that already offer their customers a healthier alternative to some of the standard fare, but it's proven to not be a popular choice.

Well, clearly, the next logical step is to do more of the same, with the obligatory "prodding" from the government, and hope for better results the next time around. Sound familiar?

And, how much taxpayer money are we pouring into this scheme? No money for more cops, but you wanna get broccoli and baked salmon on the menu at all the greasy spoons in town? Here's your check.