It was a cold, bleak morning in January. It fell to me to share some bad news with Alton Brown.
“Dusty Buns went bankrupt,” I told him.
I was talking with the Food Network star in advance of his March return to Fresno’s Saroyan Theatre with an all-new version of his show “Eat Your Science.” (He’s a busy guy, so his publicist scheduled the phone interview well in advance.) Brown told me he was looking forward to returning to three Fresno eateries that he sampled when he came to Fresno to do his show in 2015: the Chicken Pie Shop, Cafe Corazon (“I really like the coffee”) and, alas, Dusty Buns.
That’s when I dropped the culinary bomb. I don’t think he was too surprised, actually.
“It happens,” he said when told of the popular eatery’s closure. “Good restaurants don’t always make it.”
What I didn’t tell him, because I didn’t realize it at the time of our conversation, is that Cafe Corazon shut down, too. Poor Alton. Fresno is only 1 for 3 when it comes to your favorites.
One of Brown’s popular shticks while on tour with his show is asking people where he should eat in each city. He uses a hashtag on Twitter and Facebook to poll his fans, which is how he ended up at Dusty Buns and five other Fresno-area eateries. (The Fresno-specific hashtag is #ABRoadEatsFresno, and you can leave recommendations on his Facebook and Twitter feeds as well.)
In the interview, we talked mostly about his touring show, which he calls a “culinary variety show featuring large scale food demonstrations, live music, audience interaction, and multimedia shenanigans.”
It’s a different show this time around, but the appeal remains the same. Brown does things live that he can’t, quite frankly, get away with on TV. And if you’re one of his volunteers – there are absolutely no plants in the audience, he said – be prepared for an experience that includes “plenty of new therapy inducing opportunities.” (And, if you’re sitting in the first few rows, aka the “Poncho Zone,” be prepared to wear protective gear, because things could get messy.)
Since his last visit to Fresno, Brown has toured the country and even included an eight-performance run on Broadway in November on his itinerary. Was it a big deal for him?
“I told myself that it wouldn’t be,” he said. “I told myself that I’ve toured for three years. I’ve played hundreds of what we’d call broadway houses, how different could it be? Then you get off the subway at Times Square, you see your name and face on the theater, and you’re right around the corner from ‘Hamilton.’ “
Whether it’s New York or Fresno, Brown said one reason for the continued success of his show is that in an increasingly fractured world, food remains universal.
“It is literally the last strains of connectivity that we have with each other,” he said.
Brown has some great – and not-so-great – memories of his last visit to the city.
“The only time I had to go to a dentist on the road was in Fresno,” he said.
Everyone knew about it, too. He announced on social media: “Hey Fresno. I think I cracked a tooth on some bean salad yesterday. Can anyone recommend a dentist?” He used the hashtag #someonefedmearock.
Brown is a gentleman when it come to talking about tooth-altering experiences, however. When I asked where he was served the bean salad, he said, “I’m not going to say.”
But he did find something to praise in the situation.
“I can tell you that the dental care in Fresno is excellent,” he said.
And while the news about Dusty Buns and Cafe Corazon is a blow, it isn’t the worst thing that could have happened.
“If you told me that Chicken Pie Shop had closed, I would have gone ahead and canceled the show,” he said with a laugh.