One of my favorite ever all time restaurants was a little dive on the beach on the Jersey Shore. It was there in the ‘80s, and part of the ‘90s. Today it’s a Dunkin’. ( Isn’t Everything? )
It was run by a mom and her 50 year old son. He was always looked a little disheveled, unshaven, and talked with a slight lisp. Combined with his lazy eye it was quite a site. While located in a tourist town it wasn’t exactly inviting to the tourists – a real “local’s” place.
What I liked about it was I could get in, get out, and the food was consistently inconsistent. What I mean by that is it depended on the mood of the cook. Not a chef, but a cook – and why that makes a difference is that he never tried to explain why you should like his food – he just made it, you ate it, and it was awesome.
Let me define “awesome”… It was the kind of place you go for a burger, or meatload, or two eggs over easy with toast and home fries. The kind of place you’d take ten bucks and half of that would be the tip. The kind of place that had a Bunn coffee maker and decades old white coffee cups that could justifiably be called “seasoned” - the term usually reserved for cast iron skillets.
The inconsistencies I’m talking about weren’t the quality, or the service… but the actual food itself. You’d never know if you’d get a pile of potatoes, or a spoonful. The hand shaped burgers were rarely round – I often thought they looked more like the state of Texas, with cracks along the edges running to the center emulating the great Mississippi River. The kind of burger you’d have to break a piece off the edge that was hanging over the bun creating a Picasso like asymmetry that I call “home”.
But all that is lost on today’s restaurants – the ones the local reviewers call “great”, or “novell”, “inspired”, or “new”. What I think really tilts my goat is paying $13 for a burger, but the fries are $6. What spills my spires are pieces of raw, sinewy salmon being passed off as high quality sushi to people who order things like the Dragon, or California Roll because they don’t know any better.
To read these reviews, or talk to the people who like these places, you’d think man had never eaten before. Pasta is Pasta – call it spaghetti, rigatoni, lasagna, macaroni – it’s figgin’ pasta and it cost a lot less to make than that Texas shaped burger… and they drool over it with a bit of organic cheese from cows that live in Park Avenue penthouses and charge $25 a plate.. Seriously, people.. get a grip.
Do not get me wrong – I can seriously devour a $100 Porterhouse – with a giant baked potato and a Jim Beam, or Bushmill’s neat and I’m happy. The atmosphere at those kinds of places is fairly consistent, typically dark, and meant to be enjoyed with having to participate in the environment. Which moves me to…
Environments. Some are nice – some are really nice in these new places. The floors don’t stink of 50 years of spilled beer, the bathrooms are large enough to use, and, for the most part, they are clean – unless it’s one of those places the absentee owner, or investment group, has left the teenagers in charge of… that’s another blog for another time. One thing I did learn from the French – there’s a reason why French waiters in France think of it as a career – because they are good and don’t screw up.
It terms of screw ups… let’s see. What I’ve come to expect in these places can be described through my experience. When I walk in, I expect to be greated ( unless it’s a bar then I seat myself ). I have went to place that come of as “high end” - without naming them I will say they are on the ocean, and the average ticket is $30 or more. I knew, not personally, the owner of one who literally took my leftovers, put them in the bus tub, then took them back out when she remembered I wanted them to go.. I have not been back. The other we waited for 20 minutes to get the attention of a waitress despite having had our drink order taken upon being seated. It’s kinda typical. I’m a bit used to the quality of service I’d get at a higher end hotel or resort. “Yes sir” and prompt attention goes a long way to a $50 tip, not changing the channel on the TV when I’ve been sitting there watching the racing and running up a bill for 30 minutes – in a place with 100 TVs !!! :)
Disgusting events of the season included a $100 piece of some animal served as bone marrow at a restaurant in an old bank where you can dine in the vault. I haven’t been back and have read a lot of questionable articles in the press about them. Public Service Announcement: Bone marrow is disgusting – and you’re reading an article written from a guy who likes raw sashimi, clams, and fish jaw, a dish I learned about in Orlando from an authentic mom and pop sushi restaurant – you knew it was because 80% of the clientele was Japanese and the decorations were sparse. BTW: if you get a chance try the Kaiser Don if you find it on a menu.
That’s it for now. I’ll rant forward in the future. I can’t promise too many positive restaurant reviews – my tastes don’t go for craft beer, or fried anything… but if I find something truly nauseating you’ll see it in print – that’s a promise!
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