Saturday, August 29, 2009

Local "joints" and community

It seems I've got a million of 'em!

You know, eating establishments that are off both the beaten path and the more predictable list of popular franchise restaurants.

I suppose there may be some benefit to selecting a place like Chili's on a routine basis when you are on the road and not sure of your options.

Even then, I'm the guy who wants to try the local beanery.

During a trip to Chicago this summer, we found a "dawg house" that specialized in "encased meats" of various kinds. I ordered a craw fish and pork dog--never eaten one better!

Anyway, given the option, I always go with what I respectfully refer to as "the joint."

You can almost always tell when you've got a winner by checking out the parking lot.

Lot full=A place worth trying.

Lot always full=a "must stop" joint!

This is not to say that my favorite places to eat don't present their own challenges. Across the years I've noticed some common aspects of these places.

If you go for good food, comfortable atmosphere and a good time, it stands to reason that lots of other people will be there for the same reasons. It can get crowded in a "joint." You have to engage your reservoirs of courtesy, patience and spontaneous cooperation.

Usually, in a joint, things aren't laid out perfectly. People-flow issues compound the already troublesome space limits. Again, you have to take care for others as you care for yourself.

You can arrive a perfect stranger, as most of the time everybody does. But, you might just leave with new friends, or at least with an experience that makes you feel like a friend among friends.

Conversation is easy in these places. Almost expected, but never forced upon you.

The places can be messy. I don't necessarily mean "dirty" messy, though that can be the case as well. What I have in mind is the process. Often indiscernible to the customer, things just get done and the semi-confusion adds to the quality of the experience.

Sometimes a "joint" will be known for something unique about its atmosphere, its menu or its service style. You know, a sort of local twist--once experienced, you've become a member of the fan club!

There may be regulars in these places. Of course, all good "joints" have return customers. But they also have people who appear to be fixtures that put one in mind of the old television show Cheers!

In many cases these places will be located in neighborhoods, and almost never in shopping malls or larger strip centers. Occasionally, the "joint" will move to one of these places or possibly get into franchising for expansion. Such moves usually spell doom for the business, though at times the original location continues to thrive, while the "knock offs" just never really measures up.

I think one reason I like these places is because they represent an aspect of community life that is so important. Local creativity, risk, togetherness, ambiance and quality.

My list is long: All Good Cafe, Taco Joint, Hook, Line & Sinker, Jimmy's, The Elbow Room, The Porch, Harry's, Angry Dog, South Dallas Cafe, Matt's, Angelo's, John's, The Twisted Root. . . .

Any "joints" on your list of favorite places to eat and soak up a community's life?



Arlene Kasselman said...

Can Harolds in Abilene count? We work in a meal there no matter what the reason for visiting Abilene.

lee said...

Add Mac' BBQ on Main near Washington, north side of the street.

Karen said...

Mexicali Restaurant, Jupiter and Northwest Hwy., next to Lowe's in a strip mall.

Good Tex-Mex, very inexpensive, and they use canola oil rather than lard!

Janet said...

Try Hunky's in the Bishop Arts district:

You can't forget La Victoria's right up the street on Ross/Haskell.

El Atoron on Henderson, close to Ross, has awesome tortas.

And if you like corner stores (this one would be considered a "messy" joint, I suppose) the little store on Carroll, kinda right behind/beside the 7-11, has a little counter where you can watch them make your pupusas to order...topped with a little cabbage...yum!!

Oh...and how could I forget the tacos in the back of Super Mercado on the corner of Columbia and Beacon!

Janet said...
This comment has been removed by the author.