Welcome back to Stranger Than Flicktion, our Flickr-inspired fiction column. We provide writers with five random food-related Flickr images and ask them to construct a fictional short story in under five days. This week, we explore how U2 forever changed Cleveland seafood.
When 52-year-old seafood enthusiast Gord Hewson toured the United States alongside his brother Bono's band—a little Irish foursome called U2—in 1981, he and the budding rock superstar made a bet that would forever change greater Cleveland's seafood scene.
"Bono and I made a friendly Christmas wager," Hewson recalled via email. "If the band fizzles, I'll eat my hat. But if I'm right, and U2 hits the big time, you'll help me get started with that seafood restaurant we've always dreamed about."
The rest is history. Since 1986, a few pennies from the sale of every U2 concert ticket have funded Gord Hewson's modestly innovative seafood program at Starboard Tack in Hudson, Ohio.
Suffice it to say: that's quite a few pennies. And the pennies have led to quite a few experiments, which we'll get to in a moment.
But why, pray tell, would a guy from Dublin want to start a seafood restaurant in a landlocked town 30 miles southeast of Cleveland, where access to fresh ingredients is so limited?
"Because Hudson is where Bono and I shook hands on our deal. I believe in the magic of places, and Hudson is my magic place. Every year at Christmas time, we stick a 50-foot mouse to the side of the clocktower in our town square. It's an homage to the old nursery rhyme, Hickory Dickory Dock. Let me tell you something. If you ever want to shock yourself awake and get a bit of perspective on your role in the universe, stand underneath the clocktower mouse and look straight up. You'll pray to God it doesn't fall down and crush you. Every time Bono comes to town around Christmas, he makes a point to stand underneath the big mouse."
In honor of his restaurant's 30th anniversary, Gord Hewson and his lighthearted sous chef Lawrence Glenn—known as Wild Blue to the staff and regular customers—talk us through some of Starboard Tack's notable experiments.
HAMACHI RAISIN OATMEAL (1986) "Since the beginning, we've flown in fresh hamachi from Japan on a daily basis. We mix the fish, cooked or raw, into a bowl of sweet oatmeal, and serve it with a side of truffle rosemary walnuts. We'll never make a profit on this or most of our other dishes. But thanks to U2's generosity and faith, we're able to offer it every day at a reasonable price. The Edge loves Hamachi Raisin Oatmeal."
DOUBLE RAW HAMACHI OATS (2015) "Last year, we decided to blow up our longstanding assumptions about oatmeal and fish. The result is a completely raw mashup of hamachi and chopped rolled oats. Very chewy, great texture. Almost like a silken jerky. The carbs are complex, and you'll feel full for a long time. We have a jogger who comes in and orders this just about every week."
SAMMY SKINNY'S™ SALMON SKIN BREAKFAST CEREAL (2009) "We developed a shelf-stable cold breakfast cereal of salmon skin and mini corn fritters several years ago, and sent a case to David Chang in 2010. We drew up a little mascot for it—Sammy Skinny™, a teenage salmon in Bono-style wraparound shades and leather coat. Chang's people got in touch and said they might want to work with us to develop a whole line of savory, fish-and-meat breakfast cereals based around Sammy Skinny™ and his school friends, but they've fallen out of touch. Meanwhile, Brian Eno and I have just adapted a few cereal recipes for the home chef, and I've sent them to Lucky Peach for publication consideration. We'll see what happens."
SEAFOOD CANDY BARS (1991) "These are Wild Blue's baby, through and through. Seafood Candy Bars are similar to a Snickers, but we've got some preserved tako, wasabi, and bonito flakes in there. It's versatile. A quick lunch you can eat on the go, or a decadent dessert we'll slice up and serve as a proper tempura kebab."
ALL-YOU-CAN-EAT SUGAR-MOLE HABANERO-CINNAMON LOBSTER (1995) "Everyone in the Hewson family loves doughnuts and lobster, and the flavors of Oaxaca. Part of the fun of our lobster is that we inject the claws and tails full of capsaicin-infused doughnut dough, so it's extraordinarily spicy. We developed it at the height of the 1990s chili-pepper craze. Not for wimps. It's all-you-can-eat, sure, but nobody ever tries to eat more than one. We almost always make our money back on this deal."
OPEN TOUCHPOOL (2016) "Every August, Wild Blue and I close the restaurant to the public for a few weeks and dive back into ourselves. The goal is to dream it all up again. We're currently installing a 100-foot sardine racetrack and shellfish touchpool that runs around the bar like the Indy 500. For $5.95, customers will be able to plunge their hands into the pool and see if they can grab a sardine as it swims by. If you catch it, we'll cook it for you. If you don't catch it, you can try again for another $5.95. The truth is, Bono has been endlessly generous to us, and he's a genius. But he's challenged us to identify a few revenue streams that might help us be a little more self-supporting. And the hope is that Open Touchpool—a $2.1 million investment, with another $500k going toward marketing—will bring us the revenue we're looking for. We have a hunch that there are a lot of people in the Cleveland area who would love to try to grab a sardine out of the water while they enjoy a drink with friends."
Editor's Note: If it wasn't already clear, this story is entirely fictional. As much as we wish Bono had something to do with Cleveland's seafood scene, he doesn't.