Gogh on home

Marty's superb takeout food is lost in the confusion of its new eat-in concept

A lot of us thought Larry Shapiro's ears were endangered when we heard his plans for the new Marty's: Had he lost his mind? Could Marty's, the monolith of gourmet food in Dallas, really be so threatened by Brinker's (admittedly brawny) baby Eatzi's across the street that Shapiro needed to sink to the popular level and engage in actual warfare? Did he have to present us, so embarrassingly, with "Cafe Tugogh"? What's with the name, anyway? That particular pun has already been claimed by DMA, and Marty's already has a name, and a reputation to go with it. The mutation at Marty's seems larger to Shapiro than it does to the many consumers who are already used to thinking of this as a gourmet, not a liquor, store. The additional name is only confusing. But everything is confusing about Cafe Tugogh.

At first, Marty's decision to leave the liquor business made sense--we've all heard about the decline in hard liquor sales. Americans are drinking less. But they're also drinking better--so what about cigars, what about single malt scotch, what about single barrel bourbons, boutique tequilas, and infused vodkas? The shift has been upward, to sophistication, to quality, which was Marty's forte, anyway. So the whole impetus behind Cafe Tugogh, to move from a clear and established concept--high-end liquor, wine, and gourmet take-out--to something ill-defined and untried--seems as crazy as Vincent. And my visits to Cafe Tugogh (that name!) confirm what I've always said about Marty's as well as my suspicions about this new venture.

This is possibly the most confusing place in town to eat, although it's improved somewhat over the months the concept has been in place. I haven't reviewed it until now because I couldn't tell whether the concept was in place or not. You still can't tell, but that seems to be the way it's going to stay until it goes. Goghs. Whatever. The first time I went in after the Cafe Tugogh sign had taken its place next to the Marty's logo, I left, baffled, without buying anything.

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Marty's original redesign, done decades ago, was never a good idea--those "entrance only" and "exit only" doors flanking the cash/wrap smack of the supermarket and false efficiency. They don't correspond even slightly to the traffic flow, and Marty's regulars have always ignored them altogether. Inside, the design of the store makes as little sense. Once the space was clearly bisected by the cash/wrap into understandable gourmet and liquor sections. The same layout is completely unsuited to the many functions it's supposed to fill now.

Here's how it doesn't work. If you do happen to come in by the "enter only" door, you'll find yourself near a small alcove of refrigerator cases, somewhat sparsely stocked with prepared meals, desserts, soups, salads packed in plastic takeout containers--this is the "cold food" section. Walk in a little further, and you're in Marty's gourmet department, reassuringly familiar. There's the cheese case, the pates, the sweets, the bars of Hawaiian chocolate, the chipotle salsa, the pheasant mousse, and the caviar, where they have always been. There's the traiteur section, the long case of prepared entrees and side dishes for you to take home. Let me say right now that you should do that.

But, if you fulfill Mr. Shapiro's dream and want to eat in Cafe Tugogh, somehow ignoring the name, you place your order (from a separate, changing menu) at one end of the entree case. Don't be concerned if the server doesn't seem entirely familiar with the menu. Evidently, he's just a worried guy, and he got our order correct in spite of that ominously furrowed forehead and the beetlewing brows. Maybe, knowing the gauntlet ahead, he was just empathizing with us. He jots down your order--say, marinated salmon, rice, and the vegetable du jour, which might be asparagus, or tortellini with basil. But then you place the same order again at the central island behind you, so the computer will know about it, and if you want a piece of chocolate rock cake, or a hello Marty's bar, or a slice of New York cheesecake (the real stuff from Carnegie Deli), you order that, then, too, and it will be handed to you in a plastic box. If you want a salad that's not in the case, you go back to the cold food section and pick one up in a plastic box.

Then you find some drinks which are also in the cold food section, but you'll probably want wine at this point, so you'll pick up a split from the refrigerated case near the stairs, and finally you head for the cash register where you pay for everything. If you don't want to pay separately for coffee after your meal, better buy it now, then eat fast so it will still be hot. You have to pay for your wine ahead, too. Then you carry your bits and pieces of dinner through the wine bins to the other side of the building, where the tables and chairs are, and where you find that you could have ordered wine by the glass--except no one is there to serve it. If you're trying to eat dinner, which according to my observation is a meal only dining critics eat at Cafe Tugogh, chances are you'll have to sit in a designated area because often most of the seating is reserved for Marty's (excellent) wine classes. At $25-$30 a head, Marty's is making more on those than they would on two turnovers of takeout diners, and I suspect that that's what the pretty, brick-walled room (that used to house a lot of premium vodka and gin) is really designed for. (It also refers back to the name with a row of Van Gogh prints, though they ought to hang a portrait of Mr. Shapiro in there, too.)

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