Mediocre Food, Good Memories
Do you have a place like this?
I was reading about an ownership change at a local place called China House. It had overblown decor, "Canadian-Chinese" food, and the food was decently cooked, but nothing special. It still exists, but it got me to thinking...
This is not a great Michelin restaurant. It is not one I would recommend to friends. And yet I would go there any time because of good family memories in the place.
Do you have any restaurants like this?
There was a place called Neo's in Nederland, Colorado, that was a hippie-Italian spot. The food was not memorable, but it was in a town that elected a golden retriever as it's mayor and every year holds Frozen Dead Guy Days to try to raise money to send some dead Finn in a chest freezer back to his homeland to be buried. How can you not look forward to a meal there?
Once we arrived and they had expanded. Service was slow when the place was small so we were worried, but we sat down. We ordered and our food came so fast! We were impressed. All the food there is pretty generic--something on an oval platter with pasta covered with sauce and cheese. But my sister-in-law was poking at hers and she said, "I don't think this is vegetarian." And my brother took a bite out of his meatball and said, "I didn't order a meatball."
So we called the waitress over and indeed it was not our order. She was so apologetic. "Oh," she said, "I am SO sorry!' She pushed and patted at the cheese and sauce on the 3 plates to make them look like they hadn't been eaten and rolled the meatball bite side down. She apologized the whole time she was rearranging the food. She made one last heartfelt apology, assured us that our food would be out soon, picked up the 3 plates and delivered them to their rightful owners, 3 tables away. We laughed and laughed and seriously could not get control of ourselves. I have never laughed so hard as an adult.
Finally we calmed down and our food arrived but then across the room we heard a faint "Hey! This meatball looks gnawed on!" and we lost it again. My sister-in-law laughed so hard that she cried a lens out of her glasses. I have never had so much fun in a restaurant. I would go back there if they served sawdust.
Sure, I think everyone does. There's The Mill in Morningside Heights, where I ate breakfast when I was in college, and the counter guy called me "Blondie" (I am not blonde, but that's what he called all non-Hispanic girls). There's Bona Fides, in the East Village, where we celebrated birthdays because it was dirt cheap and no one cared if we caused a scene, which we always did. And 20 or 30 more, probably.
We had a place in Wildwood NJ where we went every summer for our beach vacation. Every year we went to the same restaurant for a sit down dinner after a week of boardwalk food.
To put it mildly... this place sucked.
But year after year we went because we always had a good time (part of which was ripping on the food). It simply became a family tradition to eat an awful meal at this place and laugh about it.
There's a Chinese place around the corner from my office, and the food, well, it's not exactly great. The decor is a lot over the top. The service is fantastic, though! Mostly, I love the place because of the memories, not the terrible fried rice, the gloopy sesame chicken, nor the subpar tea. Gatherings have happened here where the price of one of the bottles of wine costs more than the entire dinner.
Sometimes, it's about the food. But there are times when you just want decent food that won't upstage the company because, in the end, it's about the company, too, even when the food is the star.