Why did I have such trouble with 1A: Eats before dinner? (APPETIZER)? I immediately thought "hors d'oeuvres" which was three letters too long. I then thought of the actual answer, but wanted it to be plural because of the first word of the clue. If we're taking that to be a noun, then shouldn't the answer be plural? Or does the term "appetizer" encompass multiple foods? I remain unconvinced.
Meanwhile, 12D: "Elektra" composer (STRAUSS) provided my first real foothold. If you don't know this opera, you're missing out. Unless you just really don't like opera, then ICONCEDE you might not enjoy this particular example either. From there I worked my way down and across.
The middle offset stack of five answers are pretty good. On the positive side is THETIMEWARP and the very amusing clue at 36A: Way to get around writer's block? (PRESSPASS). CHARLIEROSE on the other hand is a sorry reminder of the state of white (mostly straight) male poor behavior nowadays. It makes me unhappy to belong to that group. Maybe some AAMEETINGS for them folks might cause some change for the better.
On the down side, IOLA. I looked it up. I hope we have no readers here from that fair metropolis, because I'm going to go on record right here and say that 5,000 people does not a city make. And I really have a hard time believing that it's crossword worthy. Would we, with our northeast bias, expect solvers from the midwest to know that Barre, Massachusetts exists? It has about the same population. I looked that up too.
Anyway, other than that unfortunate BLAT, I enjoyed the puzzle. It was a good challenge. The two 15-letter answers are excellent. I also will say I am amused that the PEEDEE and the MEKONG are nearly symmetrically placed. The latter is ten times (!) longer than the former.
And there's your geography lesson for the day.