David Brooks’ $78 Airport Burger

A joke(?) gone a-rye.

Most of you have likely seen the reaction to a certain NYT columnists’ tweet earlier this week. Just in case, here’s what he posted:

He was roasted for this when Internet sleuths, noting the glass of whiskey in the background, surmised that the bar tab constituted a significant amount of the $78, which was later confirmed in a vital tweet (or whatever the hell they’re called now) that the burger and fries were around $14 ad the booze “almost 80%.”

The pile-on came from both left and right, with The Daily Beast and Hot Air producing near-identical roundups.

In his weekly PBS NewsHour appearance last night, an embarrassed Brooks contended that the whole thing was a poor attempt at a joke:

(Start at 8:22 in the video)

Given how prominently the whiskey is in the photograph, I’m inclined to believe him.

Regardless, he rightly notes that it was in poor taste:

“I was insensitive. I screwed up. I should not have written that tweet.”

“The problem with the tweet, which I wrote so stupidly, was that it made it seem like I was oblivious to something that was blindingly obvious,” he said. “That an upper middle class journalist having a bourbon at an airport is a lot different than a family living paycheck to paycheck. And when I’m getting sticker shock, it’s like an inconvenience. When they’re getting sticker shock, it’s a disaster.”

Aside from it being cute that he thinks he’s merely “upper middle class,” he’s not wrong. And, even more importantly, he notes that people “feel” inflation in the form of higher gas and food prices in ways that the broader economic measures used to gauge inflation and recession do not.

As to price gouging in airports, which has been a staple of late-night comics for decades, a WaPo report notes,

The high cost of airport food has been a consistent complaint for travelers for years. But airports have made an effort in recent years to reimagine the food options that people should have while traveling, including restaurants from classic hometown institutions and notable chefs from the cities they’re in.

In New York, officials announced in 2022 that they were cracking down on high prices for food and drinks at the region’s airports, saying that vendors can’t charge more than “street prices,” or what people would pay outside the airport, plus 10 percent. 

I don’t fly nearly as often as I used to but I have noticed that the food has generally gotten better and the prices have become more reasonable.

Meanwhile, Maurice Hallett, the owner of 1911 Smoke House Barbeque, the site of Brooks’ infamous tweet, is making hay of the situation.

Before this week, the restaurant had received regional attention from food bloggers when he introduced a “C-Rock Special” to his menu, in honor of comedian Chris Rock’s role in the 1988 movie “I’m Gonna Git You Sucka.” Rock’s character in the film asks for one rib and a sip of Coke, and Hallett has made that exact combo available on his menu for $2.15.


restaurant has capitalized on the attention of the viral post, boasting on Facebook: “We’re the topic of America right now!” Hallett has also made a new meal available to customers: the “D Brooks Special.” Instead of paying $78, customers can get a burger, fries and a double shot of whiskey for $17.78.

“It’s going to be a permanent part of my menu,” he told The Post, saying the special will go underneath the menu item dedicated to Rock.

He added that the item will be available at his Trenton location. Hallett sent the new item to SSP America to get it on the airport menu, but “I doubt they’ll do it.”

As the late Don King would say, Only in America.

FILED UNDER: Economics and Business, Humor, Media, , , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. al Ameda says:

    When I first saw this story my reaction was: ‘Over-priced airport food? No way!

    Good on Brooks for apologizing for this anyway.
    I’m kind of tired of everything being a complaint or an outrage

  2. Michael Reynolds says:

    I suspect it’s true that he was attempting a droll joke. The piss-taking is absolutely proper, the outrage is not.

    Allow me to expound on the terrible burden shouldered by well-off White men. Having gone from poor AF to definitely not poor over the course of about 6 years, I had to decide how to deal with family and colleagues and the general public. I could either go on pretending to be a simple man of the people as I swan around blowing the smoke of my $40 cigar out the window of my Mercedes, or I could be honest. Either I’m a phony or a rich asshole. I’d rather be an honest asshole.*

    The best way I’ve found is to acknowledge loudly and frequently that I have what I have largely because of sheer, dumb luck. And I try to be generous. But it doesn’t matter that I didn’t exploit the working man to get rich(ish), or that I know how absurdly lucky I’ve been, or that I am reasonably generous, because the fact is I got and a whole lot of people don’t got. It’s not fair or just. If you think it’s fucked up, well, I agree. But I’m still spending it.

    *I threw that softball, feel free.

  3. ptfe says:

    “Aside from it being cute that he thinks he’s merely ‘upper middle class’…”

    Burying that one in an aside. Part of the problem of Brooks claiming this is a “joke” is that he gives actual-$10-banana-meme vibes. He’s upper middle class like I’m upper middle class: he’s not, he’s definitely top-few-percent in salary and net worth. Currently, a “middle income household” caps out around $130k/yr, which I’ll bet he goes over by 50% or more. He also lives in a $2M house.

    Man is so bereft of self-reflection it’s painful that to think anyone pays him to scrawl words about society and human nature on a page.

  4. Michael Cain says:

    Tangentially, one of the reasons I never adopted tweeting or anything like it was because it made it too easy to blurt out ill-considered things. I got out of grad school and started working when e-mail was a very new thing, largely confined to people working in some sort of laboratory/engineering setting. It was hammered into me that I should review every message before hitting send and consider if I wanted the message to appear in a trial court. That carried over to pretty much everything else that was text-based. Never have shaken those early habits.

  5. Grumpy realist says:

    Well, this is the same guy who thought that Applebee’s has a salad bar…..

    So yeah, David—you deserve the piss that people are taking out of you. You’ve already demonstrated that indeed, yes, you are that stupid.

  6. gVOR10 says:

    Brooks apology and the horse he rode in on. He’s supposed to be a professional, he’s expected to know Poe’s Law. As soon as he saw reaction to the tweet he could have said, “Oh my gawd. I meant that as a joke.” but he waited until last night? Whether he meant it as a joke or not, I hope Brooks, and his employers at NYT reflect on the fact that people who read Brooks, as I do occasionally, were inclined to assume he meant it.

  7. Andy says:

    @Michael Cain:

    Tangentially, one of the reasons I never adopted tweeting or anything like it was because it made it too easy to blurt out ill-considered things.

    Same. I quickly realized Twitter (and similar platforms) are bad for most people, including me.

    A relatedly bad aspect of this story is that this was a story at all – The media is still obsessed with Twitter, and Twitter-only “stories” or “controversies” like this are just the latest example of the Twitter circle jerk.

  8. JKB says:

    The Bobos aren’t in paradise anymore. The bar bill is killing them.

  9. James Joyner says:

    @ptfe: Hell, *I* make more than $130k a year. I can’t imagine he doesn’t pull in $500k.

    @Grumpy realist: Applebee’s *doesn’t* have a salad bar? I haven’t eaten in one in more than a decade but restaurants of that tier always tended to have one.

  10. Matt says:

    @gVOR10: Exactly if it was a joke he would of responded quickly in the manner described. No he was jumping on the OMG INFLATION bandwagon…

  11. drj says:

    Considering that Brooks has a well-documented history of blatantly lying about food prices, his “joke” (if it even was one) was never going to work.

    Brooks’ reaction at the time:

    “What I try to do is describe the character of places, and hopefully things will ring true to people,” Brooks explained. “In most cases, I think the way I describe it does ring true, and in some places it doesn’t ring true. If you were describing a person, you would try to grasp the essential character and in some way capture them in a few words. And if you do it as a joke, there’s a pang of recognition.”

    So even if it was a “joke,” he still may have been trying to make an actual point about today’s economy.

    For context: Brooks is also a guy who lectured on ethics while leaving his wife for his much younger personal assistant.

    So my guess is that he is just that oblivious and went into damage-control mode when found out.

  12. Raoul says:

    His explanation sounds as if the original posting was not a joke. Meaning he was trying to say something about inflation. It has the feel of “let them eat cake”. I’m sure Marie Antoinette was explaining to the miseducated peasants on her way to the guillotine that the whole thing was a misunderstanding and that she was trying to be funny.

  13. gVOR10 says:

    @James Joyner: The Applebees salad bar thing goes back to 2008, but was widely enough known to still resonate. (I picked a TAC link thinking I could riff on “even the conservative TAC”, but I see it’s Daniel Larison, back before TAC went into the ozone.)

    Earlier he had said that Franklin County PA was so different from NY that he couldn’t find anything on the Red Lobster menu over $20. Red Lobster isn’t high end and it was years ago, but at the time others were able to find more expensive menu items. (That link is overly long, it doesn’t mention Red Lobster until the fifth paragraph, but I always enjoy a good takedown of Brooks, in this case a book review by Michael Kinsley. In Brooks’ own NYT.)

    Brooks has some history of saying stupid stuff while pretending to have a connection with the middle class.

  14. Jen says:

    The thing I found irritating about this is the same issue I had with Rep. Stafani Lord’s b*tching about her Costco bill–they are trying to score political points in a very sloppy way that invites people to clap back.

    It is so, so easy to find the restaurant’s menu online and discover that only $17 of the $78 was the meal. ($17 for a burger in an airport isn’t that bad.) Rep. Lord’s screwup was her refusal to post her receipt, so yeah, basically everyone knows that Costco’s stuff is volume discount…you pay less per item but you have to shell out $$ for the industrial-sized packages.

    Maybe stop trying to score political points on stuff that is easily debunked?

    Also, maybe Brooks should stop trying to make political points with food costs. Isn’t he the one who wrote about his working-class friend who got terrified by Italian cold cuts?

  15. Gustopher says:


    Isn’t he the one who wrote about his working-class friend who got terrified by Italian cold cuts?

    I don’t think he has working class friends.

    I suspect he coerced/dragged an assistant to “a great new lunch place” and they were trying to get out of there without paying $78 for a sandwich or telling their boss that he is a clueless shithead dragging someone to somewhere they couldn’t afford.

    Like a proper Brooks story, my version may be inaccurate but “the way I describe it does ring true.”

  16. Gustopher says:


    The Bobos

    I believe the correct term is Journo Intello Bobos. Brooks book used a less formal shorthand.

  17. Grumpy realist says:

    @Jen: heh. I just paid over $100 for two bags of groceries which I guess I could make a fuss about except I bought (among other things) 2 pounds of gourmet bacon, ground lamb, a huge pack of chicken breasts, a large bottle of port, and a meal from the hot bar.

    What I was most pissed about was that the bag of onions cost me $2.

  18. JohnSF says:

    Well, burger me.

  19. Gavin says:

    I’m sure the majority of the bill was just liver-flavored sparkling water Brooks bought for Moral Hazard, the Irish setter he owns for photo op purposes.

  20. DMA says:

    I did pay $50 for a chicken parm at EWR not too long ago. No alcohol, just a soda, the chicken parm, tax, and tip. One of those order-from-the-ipad places.