Local & Seasonal Food Not Enough To Overcome These Weaknesses
I had lunch at one of those “earth” restaurants the other day that are springing up all over America, and in particular here in California.
You know the type, those with plants inside the place, tiny tables with uncomfortable chars, a tall and slender waiter sporting a beard (and often a man bun) and a pale waitress with tattoos up and down her arms wearing funky 50’s style glasses and hair that contains a few pink and purple strands.
The menu is either on the wall in chalk or on something unusual like a paper sack and contains words like “free range” and “grass fed.” It also serves “tropical” tea.
Many promote themselves as being “farm-to-table” (er, every restaurant is farm to table in one way or another) and have names like the Hook & Plow. In another era, they would be called hippie joints.
I don’t particularly care for these restaurants and here’s why:
• I can never get comfortable in them. I squirm around those hard and uncomfortable chairs and the tables are so small I never get situated quite right at them.
• The servers all talk very softly, almost at a whispering level, and always seem to act as if they are better than the customers. If you inquire about a menu item they look at you like you are a fool for not knowing about it already. I am so often tempted to grab them by the arm, pull them toward me and remind them that I am the one sitting down.
• Plus, they believe in the “less is more” level of service. They are always off in a corner, their back to their customers, and in order to try and get a refill of your beverage, you’ve got to keep a keen eye on them and every time they move you hold up your hand and say “excuse me.” Except they never see you, of course. Funny, tho, how they suddenly appear out of nowhere when you’ve got three bites left on your plate and whisk it away while saying “through with that sir?”
• The restaurants are too “cute.” The one I went to is called The New Deal in beautiful downtown Burbank, CA, but you wouldn’t know it by showing up there, for its name is not on the door. Instead, it has drawings on the glass walls with things like “I hear the food is simply divine!”
I walked in wondering if I was in the right place to meet my friend and the thin, bearded waiter (no man bun) practically shoved a menu in my chest and tried to steer me to a table. When I asked if this is The New Deal he said “well YEAH,” (softly, tho, of course) and gave a look that said “this dumb shit doesn’t even know where he is,” which instantly put a bad taste in my mouth.
When I told him I was waiting for a friend he said “well take any table for two,” with the clear indication being “don’t you DARE sit down at one of those tables set for four people.”
• The food is often good but hardly worth the price. I paid $14 for a burger and fries. It was good, no doubt, but I’ve had way better burgers – at half the price – in dive bars. Dive bars, in my experiences, always seem to have the best burgers. Why do farm-to-table restaurants even have burgers in the first place? Isn’t the point of them to be serving healthy meals?
• The farm-to-table food is not always fresh, or at least no more so than a standard restaurant. My friend ordered a side salad, which was nothing more than some cut-up green-leaf lettuce with a few tiny pieces of tomato, and the lettuce was days old. Isn’t the point of these farm-to-table places to have absolutely the freshest products?
• I’ve never left one of the places completely full and satisfied. I don’t know how I cannot get filled up on a burger (or a sandwich) and fries in these places but I can’t; maybe it’s half mental because I think I’m in a healthy, garden-salad-type-of-restaurant and that I should leave half starving.
My biggest problem is that I just can’t bond with these places and the wait staff does little to make me comfortable because I’m not one of “them.”
The next time someone suggests going to one of these “earth” restaurants, I will ask if there’s a dive bar in the area. I’m more comfortable there and will get a much better – and less expensive – burger.