Touring musicians have a great gig. Rock and roll! It’s doubly great when they’re interested in exploring the international culinary world. We do realize some bands subsist solely on Taco Bell and Coke Zero. Shame on them! There’s Hatch chile to sample in New Mexico. Pappy Van Winkle in Kentucky. Doppelbock outside Hamburg. Tortas on the California-Mexico border. In Good Food, Rocks, we track down a band member serious about their grub—and who has held a job in the food industry too.
Obits’ guitarist Sohrab Habibion lives in Park Slope, Brooklyn. He’s a vegetarian and a member of the hood’s famous food co-op. “It pushes peoples’ buttons,” says the Virginia native about the green grocer staffed by a volunteer crew of misfits, oddballs, and Adrian Grenier. We caught up with Habibion, before he and the Obits headed off on a North American tour that finishes up April 20 in hometown Brooklyn, then continues in Europe. You should check out the dates and the bands’ music, but not til after reading what he has to say about haute-vegetarianism, Macedonian wine, and his pizza delivery past.
You used to deliver pizzas…
I used to deliver for Domino’s in a baby blue Chevette. The one great thing about it was that I got to listen to music all the time, but because of the crummy car it literally had one speaker—so half the speaker separation was gone. I was listening to the first Doors record without any keyboard! I grew up outside of DC, so I would listen to all the DC punk rock bands like Rites of Spring. I probably listened to that Dag Nasty album a thousand times.
Can you even look at Domino’s today?
You know, at the time I thought it was disgusting pizza.
And you soon graduated to washing dishes…
The restaurant was called the California Border, which served cut-rate Mexican food in a strip mall next to a 7-Eleven. That was pretty funny because the owner of the place was this oversized guy who prided himself in having been a drummer in various rock and roll bands. He would regale me with these “I remember this one time” stories. I was 16 and did not care. Working that job was the first time I really experienced a thankless job. I got to see the final grisly results of a very mediocre dining experience.
How could you do that job not stoned?
I’m not a pot smoking weed guy, but I can imagine being that guy.
You’re the band’s lone vegetarian. Do you have a difficult time finding places to eat while on tour?
The bummer about vegetarian restaurants is that the food gets so sidelined. They kind of take the soul out of the food—they make it more about the politics. Food should be pleasure.
The bulgur wheat burger with the artificial grill lines makes me uncomfortable…
If I want a dessert, I want a dessert! Not a soy dessert! Some of the best vegetarian dishes I’ve had are from the better restaurants fixing a so-called vegetarian plate. That to me is a telltale sign that they are excellent at their craft. The Red Cat and The Harrison in New York did such a great job with the seasonal ingredients. I remember a really sophisticated collard greens dish there. Also, Prime Meats fixed me a really good veggie plate last summer.
Is there a city or region that you particularly like to hit on tour for the food?
The West Coast is usually pretty good to us. The produce there is so delicious. On our last tour we went to this place called Poole’s Diner in Raleigh, North Carolina. The chef was so talented. We also really like going to Europe. It sounds pretty obvious, but the food in France is pretty delicious. All of the clubs there provide a spread for you that is just incredible—an array of cheese and wine and beer. The last tour we went to Eastern Europe, so we went down to Armenia and Macedonia. The Macedonian wine is remarkable.
Your wife is an editor at Zagat and a culinary school graduate. What perks you must receive!
We eat incredibly well! I’m like the sous-chef of the household—I call her at around 5 p.m. and see what I can cut up. Even something as simple as a 10-minute stir fry is so good. It’s humbling.
The best spot for tacos in the country is…
Our singer and other guitar player Rick is from California, so I think it’s fair to say that thanks to him I have had the best tacos in San Diego, at this place called Las Cuatro Milpas. It’s in some dusty neighborhood near the freeway and the tacos are outrageously good. It’s like the Soup Nazi of tacos. You either get meat or don’t get meat. Those are the options and topped with just beans, rice, cheese, cilantro, and chopped onion.
If you had one meal to splurge on, where would it be?
I would go to el Bulli again. It was like taking acid or something. This incredibly surreal food experience in a totally incredible way. Everything that came out was like a shocking experiment that also tasted really good.
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