Fort St. George

Three words to lure you to this ID joint: garlic mayonnaise spaghetti.

Hamburger steak might be the ultimate culinary paradox. It's either hamburger or steak; can't be both. And yet, hamburger steak has become a staple of the working-class lunch menu—next of kin to the dreaded "mystery meat." The challenge for any chef tasked with serving hamburger steak to his clientele is simply to have the ground slab avoid inducing vomit. (The fact that hamburger steaks bear an uncanny resemblance to hockey pucks made of fecal matter certainly doesn't help matters.) Fort St. George's solution to this dilemma is to drown its hamburger steak in as much soy sauce as humanly possible. Somehow, thankfully, the ploy works. Perched on the second floor of a strange little mall in the heart of the International District, Fort St. George offers the brave hamburger steak consumer a smart accompanying option as well: cream soda. Not the A&W variety that you buy in a bottle or can, but a luxurious soda-fountain take: multiple carbonated flavors (melon, strawberry, etc.), served in a tall glass with straw, spoon, and both whipped and ice cream. Should that hamburger steak have you teetering on the brink of nausea, a quick swig of the deluxe soda will wash the last bite from memory in an instant. Fort St. George has made something of a name for itself on the ID nightlife circuit for having cheaper food, stiffer drinks, and later hours than its rivals. Its interior is a tad tacky, with the bar's televisions tuned to music videos or soaps and the stereo perpetually blaring smooth jazz during the lunch rush. But out the windows, diners are afforded a wonderful view of the International District's always bustling street life: the city within a city, completely self-sustaining, oblivious to what's happening one neighborhood over, yet completely plugged into what's going on half a world away. The menu at Fort St. George is what one might call "ghetto fusion." The epitome of this is the garlic mayonnaise spaghetti. It is to Fort St. George what a side of spaghetti is to old-school Italian restaurants, where instead of getting a baked potato with your fillet, you get spaghetti. Same rules apply at Fort St. George, technically a Japanese restaurant, where virtually every dish comes with a side of garlic mayonnaise spaghetti. When an acquaintance first mentioned this dish to me, my stomach buckled as my imagination wandered. I imagined lumps of spaghetti with a sundae-topping dollop of Miracle Whip and a few stray cloves. What I got was a thin pile of spaghetti noodles, garnished ever so subtly with garlic. The mayo: nowhere to be found—which made it easy to keep things down.

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