Deconstructing Zeke’s Unchained Animal

Screenshot from zekesunchainedanimal.com

Screenshot from zekesunchainedanimal.com

Editor’s Note: Zeke’s Unchained Animal is now closed.

First things first: This piece of unsolicited advice comes from a place of love. As a Longfellow resident and a champion of local, independent restaurants, nobody is rooting harder than I am for the success of the soon-to-be-opened East Lake Street eatery called “Zeke’s Unchained Animal.”

That said, here is one central thought on “Zeke’s Unchained Animal”:

It is not a good name.

Like an iron ball attached to an escaped prisoner fleeing across a frozen lake, this name may single-handedly sink an otherwise promising local eatery, and that’s a fate worth fighting while there is still time.

Let’s break it down, one word at a time.

1. Zeke’s

Zeke — for better or worse, and fairly or not — is a rustic-sounding name.

It evokes the Ozarks, the Appalachians, outstate Illinois. It conjures forth gun racks and Walmarts, fireworks and swimmin’ holes, fall-off-the-bone ribs and improvised dental care.

Zeke’s Rib Shack sounds like a plausible restaurant, as does Zeke’s Roadhouse, Zeke’s Burger Stop, and Zeke’s Chicken Hut.

Things that don’t work: Trattoria Zeke’s, Pasture-to-Plate a la Zeke, and Zeke’s Fromagerie. Zeke’s Bistro is borderline, but could work. It has a New Orleans thing going for it.

If you’re committed to using Zeke as your dynamic frontman, you’re down-market and owning it. Plenty of restaurants succeed on those terms. But…

2. Animal

Is the “animal” of “Zeke’s Unchained Animal” edible or not? If edible, it’s kind of a depressing thing to consider as you order dinner. Just… an undetermined animal, dead or about die, ready to be eaten?

It lacks the poetry of something like “Butcher & The Boar,” which suggests some kind of modern pork-inspired fable and evokes specific and relevant delicious animal-related flavors (such as bacon, pork belly, ribs, etc. etc.).

Zeke’s Animal suggests a rural fellow — and an animal that’s about to get eaten.

Could the animal be a squirrel or other such miscellaneous critter? It could be. Could be a possum.

And if it’s not edible — if it’s a house cat, or Labradoodle, or a horse — do you want really want it hanging around the restaurant? Aren’t there sanitation questions to consider?

One final possibility: It’s a metaphorical “animal,” i.e. creativity, passion, a sexy male body part, and so forth. This is so tangential to food and dining that I’m going to set it aside.

3. Unchained

Now we’re modifying the mysterious “animal” still further. It would make sense at this point to clear up the edible / non-edible thing (“Zeke’s Food Animal,” or “Zeke’s Companion Animal”), but no such luck.

Here’s what we know now:

We’ve got an animal that should be (or, because of its owner’s not-entirely-modern concept of animal ownership, just happened to be) chained up. What could that be? A grumpy pit bull? A mountain lion? A rabid badger?

And now it’s not chained up — it’s loose. Unintentionally? Intentionally? Either way, what does this have to do with dinner?

The overall effect of the restaurant’s name is as follows:

“Hey, Becca, how about we go to dinner at The Hillbilly’s Dangerous, Potentially Edible, Probably Stressed-Out Animal of Some Sort?”

[pause for negative response]

“No? Well, where would you like to go?”

[pause for response of “anywhere else”]

“‘That’s a bit vague. Also, we haven’t narrowed down what kind of an animal it is. It could be an unchained heritage hog that has been lovingly slaughtered and transformed into delicious charcuterie.”

[pause for skeptical response and counter-proposal of restaurant known to offer heritage pork]

“Yeah, I guess Heartland does sound pretty good.”

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James Norton

James Norton is editor and co-founder of the Heavy Table. He is also the co-author of Lake Superior Flavors, the co-author of a book about Wisconsin’s master cheesemakers, and a regular on-air contributor to Minnesota Public Radio.

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4 Comments

  1. Letta Page 01/07/2013

    Just lost it on:

    “Hey, Becca, how about we go to dinner at The Hillbilly’s Dangerous, Potentially Edible, Probably Stressed-Out Animal of Some Sort?”

    Thank you.