Lee Pitts: It’s the Pitts 1-16-12
If you find yourself looking for a place to eat in towns not yet discovered by fast food franchises I have developed a method for finding a fine dining experience.
That old adage about eating where there are cars or big rigs parked out front is a hoax. They could be cars belonging to government workers who are just looking for the slowest service to kill some time. And truckers are not as picky as they once were, their cafe selection now is mostly determined by parking availability.
Avoid places with cutesy names and consider where you are. Don’t eat at a Surf and Turf in the middle of Nebraska, a Mexican food restaurant in Maine or a theme restaurant in towns called Dog Town, Goat Rope, Horse’s Head or Buzzard Gulch. Never eat at a place called Mom’s … the food will taste like your dad cooked it.
Try not to eat in a restaurant located in a cave, a tree, one that floats on water, is atop a very tall building or one that revolves. Don’t patronize eateries that combine two businesses just to stay afloat, such as a combination Sushi restaurant and bait store. I would not be a regular at Al’s Barbecue and Septic Service unless I had good health insurance.
Once you enter a cafe there are immediate signs of potential distress. These include flocked wallpaper, plastic toothpicks, pictures of food on the menu, plastic desserts on display, strolling violinists, a large selection of Tums and Rolaids for sale at the counter, art for sale on the walls and someone performing the Heimlich maneuver on a customer. Dead flies on the window sill are a bad omen; you never know what they’ve been eating. Mexican and Chinese food should not be served in the same establishment and there should be no dogs waiting by the back door.
The spindle by the cash register should be full of receipts, there should be pieces missing from pies, an old fashioned milk shake blender should be whirring, the donuts under the round plastic dome should be gone by dinner time and the place should be well lit. Remember … the lower the lights the higher the price. The aroma should be of chili rather than disinfectant. If there are cowboys or airplane pilots sitting at the counter forget it. These are people accustomed to eating hard biscuits and airplane food. If the waitress is nicknamed Salmonella Sally or Ptomaine Tabatha and knows the customers by name, they are just there for coffee and comfort.
Here’s a little tip … count the tip left on the table by the previous customers and divide by the number of empty plates. Except where cheapskate cops eat, this is usually an indication as to the quality of the help. When your waitperson finally arrives they should be fully clothed, NOT make formal introductions and they should bring your water. It’s okay if the water appears cloudy because it may be the glass is just dirty. If you ask where the restroom is and you are directed to a porta-potty, or a tree, that doesn’t necessarily mean the food is bad. If you ask your waitperson if the food is any good and he or she replies, “How would I know? I don’t eat here,” quietly sneak out when no one’s looking.
The napkins should NOT be folded like a peacock’s tail and there should be condiments on the table. The larger the pepper mill the lousier the food. The cleanliness of the utensils is not that important but the number of them is. One spoon is enough as long as it’s big! What is ON the menu is important, like a little gravy and syrup. If they claim to be a barbecue joint and they don’t have cole slaw, white bread or iced tea, report them to the proper authorities immediately. There should be no alfalfa in the salad bar, the burgers should NOT be vegetarian and if they have a quiche of the day, mystery-fish taco, or pesto instead of pasta, just order the green Jello, or be prepared to have your stomach pumped. If over half the items on the menu are earmarked as being “Heart Healthy,”, RUN FOR YOUR LIFE. The exercise will do you more good than the food.