Phoenix Dumpling

I had the most vivid dream a bit ago.  I was back in Bloomington, in present-day, working some job that involved me commuting either to or from Indianapolis every day.  I went for breakfast at the Phoenix Dumpling, which had been (re-?)opened as this sort of foody sit-down service restaurant, but still had the same cooks and the same food and kitchen setup.  I ordered The General and wolfed it down while overhearing a conversation at another table, with some woman who was a geology PhD from Arkansas or something, although she looked Filipino, who bought and reopened the place, trying to make it as accurate as possible.

I think the Phoenix was the first place I’ve ever eaten Chinese food.  I mean, I know I never ate it as a kid, because the most ethnic food we ever ate was maybe Pizza Hut.  The Dump was sort of an institution amongst the compsci people and other hackers that used to hang out at Lindley Hall.  You didn’t have to know the difference between a struct and a pointer to a struct to eat there, but at least half of the people there at any given time probably could.  (Or maybe not – it was a pretty scheme-heavy institution, scheme being this lisp-like programming language, not a synonym for plan or strategy.)

The Dump sat in this building with two storefronts, and a bunch of apartments above it.  At one time, Frankov had one of the studios above it, which must have been torture, smelling the food below on a daily basis. The storefront next to it was temporarily the location of Jerry’s Liquors, when their other location burned down in 1991.  Phoenix Dumpling consisted of a small dining area with a few tables in the front, with a sort of assembly line of food prep in the back.  A row of giant cauldrons sat on gas burners, a line of ancient Chinese women hunched over each one, stirring gallons of food with giant boat oars.  You pointed at the kettle of food you wanted, and they would pile it into a styrofoam box, along with a bunch of premade rice, and you’d order a coke, and they’d fill up a styrofoam cup, no cans or coke-logoed paper cups.  You could get in and out of there for five bucks easy, and get a pound of the best worst Chinese food you could find in town.  I mean, there were plenty of places to get Chinese food, and there were several places with better food, but this was one of those pound-for-pound comparisons, where you got five bucks of food for five bucks.

I’ve been thinking about Bloomington a bit lately, digging through some old stories I want to clean up eventually.  I have not been back since 2002, and even that was for a quick afternoon.  I wish I could go back, but any time I’m in the midwest, it’s up north and during the winter, so I can’t invest the ten hours of driving on crap roads to walk around a cold and vacant campus.  I don’t know though – it might be incredibly depressing to see everything changed, and the place populated with kids who are literally young enough to be my kids.

Okay, gotta get to work.

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  • You remind me that I have to make a pilgrimage to the surviving Dumpling before I leave town — I've ingested far more of their fare than I ought to over the years. I wish I could remember which Dumpking (Phoenix or Shanghai) had the "No MSG" sign up on the wall. They seemed to think of it purely as a decoration, since you could watch the person standing right next to the sign toss another ladle full of MSG powder into one of the cauldrons at intervals.

    There haven't been major changes in the core of campus for a few years now. There's heavy construction out at 10th & the Bypass: the machine room isn't in Wrubel any more, they're building a new Wrubel-type building, and so forth. The CS neck of the woods is different in that Computer Science and Informatics are part of a separate school now. Many folks are still in Lindley Hall, and the rest are in the two (now former) frat houses at the northeast corner of 10th & Woodlawn — we went through a couple of rounds of kick out the frat chapter and repurpose the house.

    Kirkwood has changed its character quite a bit. No Von Lee, no Ladyman's, no Roadworthy, no CD and record shops, no 25th Century. If you come to visit, it's the area most likely to dismay.

    I'm still going to miss it all. (Come October, I'm moving out to Mountain View or wherever we can find an apartment close to there that allows four cats.)

  • Mark:

    Just to date me even further, Roadworthy was still a shoe repair place when I left town. And that old AoPi house that got turned into the Informatics school is I think one of the only sorority houses I ever set foot in. I'm sure there are giant chunks of the campus that look identical. That always weirded me out; I walked from Lindley to my old apartment on Mitchell Street about ten years after I lived there, and 90% of it looked absolutely identical.

    Welcome in advance to the valley. Google? Or is someone else out here hiring? And I think finding an apartment that takes four cats will be much easier than actually transporting four cats from IN to CA.

  • A.

    hey Mark: not to count chickens, but I might be able to connect you with a place where four cats would be totally welcome. Drop me a line.

  • I found this on a google search of Phoenix Dumpling, because I was googling Phoenix Dumpling. Years later. I remember there being something special about their food. Their dumplings, I think, had a special quality to them, but it was so long ago that I can't even remember if this was entirely imaginary, but their dumplings were these large puffy things like hush-puppies filled with meat. It was beautiful.