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Food to answer leap year's questions
By BRIAN DUFF  |  February 27, 2008

Leap year should remind us that the arbitrary and chaotic lurk even in the monotonous tick of the clock and turn of the calendar page. Our efforts to make sense of time as orderly and predictable are inadequate, just as all human constructs (the monetary system, religious belief, familial love, et cetera) fail to accomplish their designated tasks.

So leap year provides an opportunity to appreciate those restaurants that ignore the temporal altogether. Portland’s Rosie’s for example, provides an experience out of time. It is neither self-consciously old-timey nor interested in the contemporary. It might have been there for eight years or for eighty and they are not making a big deal about it either way.

On a recent visit Rosie’s regulars got free popcorn out of the sort of glass-cased suspended-bucket machine common until researchers discovered that cocoa butter was poison. No one minds. The sound system plays the same era-blending Top 40 station most often heard at the gym. The menu is eclectic American but not Americana. It features many Italian specialties, but only in the sense of Italian as good, simple, straightforward American food. They deep fry appetizers in the way that Americans always have and always will. There are not scores of microbrews on tap, as the latest trends dictate, but there are a few if you ask for them. There is only one red wine, a merlot, and it comes regular or large.

Rosie’s | 330 Fore St, Portland | 11 am-1 am | Visa, MC, AmEx, Disc | 207.772.5656

Silly's | 40 Washington Ave, Portland | 11:30 am-9 pm Tues-Sun | Visa, MC | 207.772.0360
A burger with peppers, onions, and mushrooms offered timeless virtues. It was big and juicy with a nice bit of char on the surface. Still-crisp strips of pepper pulled at the gooey cheese with each bite. A very good spicy blackened tuna steak on grilled focaccia sounds more modern, but it wasn’t. The bread, thin enough not to obscure the flavor of the fish, was a bit like an old-fashioned sour roll.

With each new, arbitrary 24 hours we face the sour, monotonous, and doomed task of sustenance. No matter how we dress it up with ambience, silverware, rarified preparations and politesse, eating reminds us that beneath our skin we are just pink, wet, deteriorating machines for turning food into poop. The sound of our own chewing is the murmur of thanatos.

But could food be fun enough to distract us from the death drive? Leap year itself, in offering such a seeming frivolous solution to the fundamental imbalance of time (“let's just occasionally add a day to February!”) suggests it's possible. To find out I went to Silly’s, which is more hippie meets hipster-eclectic than aggressively goofball. The cluttered but pleasant room was packed with happy seeming customers. A cartoonish lemon cake with pink frosting perched on the bar.

I sensed a critical test of food’s ability to overcome the tragic sense of life when I noticed a dish called the "slop bucket." In combining rice, coleslaw, beans, cheese, and pulled pork, this dish called to mind the multi-ingredient KFC bowls that comedian Patton Oswalt takes as a sign that our civilization has given up on self-respect. He calls it the “failure pile in a sadness bowl.”

Mine came in a shallow bowl ringed with translucent pickle slices so it looked like a radioactive sunflower exploding with meat. Though metaphysically ill-conceived, it was not bad. Carolinians have been mixing pulled pork with slaw and pickles for a century and if you ignored the clinging grains of rice you could imagine you were down South. The pork was cooked slow enough that the big chunks were fall-apart tender. The sweet smoky barbecue sauce was used with restraint.

Silly’s has made a mascot of the man who first uncovered time’s curving mutability. Their sign features the famous image of Einstein, tongue extended, purportedly acting goofy. But it is just as possible the camera caught the elderly professor preparing to be spoon fed a mushy morsel to gum and swallow along with another bit of dignity. Time’s randomness and indeterminacy is Einstein’s legacy and leap year’s lesson. Rosie’s ignores it and Silly’s seeks to affirm it. Portlanders can choose accordingly.

Brian Duff can be reached at

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