I am partaking in a journey where I will appraise every non-franchise restaurant in town and review their food as well as their service. It is an attempt to expand my mind and appetite. Simultaneously, I will also be taking what I learn from these establishments and attempting to remake them with my extremely limited skill.
As I approached the outside of a rustic icon forgotten in a modern world obsessed with engineered food and fluorescent lights, I caught the attention of two weathered women dragging back Marlboros like Vampires on used tampons. The restaurant had only recently primed the fires under the coffee decanters and flipped the burgers broiling since the Super Bowl. Their etched faces read more than Hamlet of the customers encountered and the meals made; one could even gleam a recipe directly off their skin if diligent and with access to an electron microscope.
“Looking for lunch?” The waitress gasped in a voice so husky it could race the Iditarod…
I can’t do it. I know it’s been a few weeks since my CBC interview and I feel compelled to raise the bar to fulfill reader expectations of quality writing but I just don’t have it in me. I leave that for my lackluster—more correctly nonexistent—novel career. I realize I ain’t a Pulitzer-stealing writer. Yes, “aint”, rhymes with “taint”—the area you pick at for grammatically incorrect words. I do that. I admit it; I used “irregardless” in a conversation once and I felt bad afterwards. I may not know where morel mushrooms are grown from, but I do know words. But how often do I fail when phrasing those words into a collection of ideas to warrant recognition. I almost failed English one year in high school. In passing, it was more of a failing of our playdo fun factory of an education system, concentrating more on academic grade scores over the development of a brain more attuned to music, writing, and avenues of creativity hard to quantify in a system rating the Math on the same curve of P.E. Yes, it’s broken, and I’m going off topic.
Where was I?
Right, Rita’s Place. The waitress didn’t pant or wheeze and it’s doubtful her tone could pull a dogsled. As I recollect, only one of them was smoking. They were average people in an average looking diner wedged where it shouldn’t be around barristers and solicitors. From my parking spot, I made a beeline right for the establishment, cutting across the courthouse square, netbook lodged in an armpit. I never admitted to being a ninja, able to vanish into the landscape to avoid detection lest my identity be revealed as one that could sway the minds of a literally singles of people. If I was Waldo, I’d being standing alone in a middle of a field waving frantically. The owners never asked why I crossed the expanse with sole purpose like a cruise missile, avoiding the larger and prominent Simmy’s Bistro. Either such an act is commonplace or they were too polite to ask. Well, there was the third option that they knew and simply didn’t give a shit.
With a chalkboard menu, no cushions, and a sun lasering through the glass like I’m an ant under the tyrannical eye of a pre-schooler, you’d get the impression I wouldn’t care much for Rita’s Place. I had made prior observations that it resembled some holdover business while competition all sold their souls to franchises. And that’s pretty much the case, but I admired the lack of recognizable Ikea merchandise. The walls are adorned with local art or at least the impression of local art, with stapled claims of ownership affixed to the wall under the work.
Inside felt like I strolled into someone’s basement dining room. I specified basement, not like a suite but like those old houses that had two of everything including kitchens. You have your show kitchen and your basement kitchen where most everything was actually cooked. No? Maybe that was just my house. Reading over that last sentence, that does sound kind of weird. There is one counter bending around a corner flanked by a cream-colored electric range and matching refrigerator only seen in cheap apartments. Where most establishments pull from the local restaurant supply store (which I happen to know is only two blocks away), Rita’s Place apparently stuck with Sears. Despite there being a microwave, I never saw it being used, and I have a good vantage, as this restaurant is probably one underequipped bathroom-short of 300 square feet, making it probably the smallest diner in town.
Like tradition, I queried for specials and was recommended a Ruben sandwich and soup combination with a choice of the latter between Thai chicken and…well…when Thai chicken is offered, one doesn’t much consider the alternatives. I can’t remember the other. As for my love of Ruben’s, that’s another issue. On a side point, friends have observed my strange habit in how I drink pop from cans. I often do so from the side of my mouth, tilting the can to the right. My friends have commented that it’s weird. I have a reason; it’s so I can still look down upon magazines and computers while I drink. It became a habit even when not doing those actions. Knowledge is power. I mention this because I noticed myself doing it again as I drank my C-Plus, a can I’ve not downed since midnight lan-parties where friends would raid the local AM/PM of the contents of their fridge.
As the food was delivered, I had to ask to drop the blinds before looking like the victim of a Russian killer satellite. The Thai chicken soup appeared to have about forty ingredients, making me wonder if it store bought or made on site. The Ruben sandwich was good but sandwiches can be a fickle thing. Only certain varieties can be elevated to sainthood by gastronomic deities. Clubhouses for example can reach an echelon of quality matching a perfectly seared side of Kobe beef. But grilled cheese and Rubens can only hope to achieve a certain stratum of prestige no matter how good they get. It doesn’t matter if its provolone and prosciutto, certain sandwiches can just be better than others. So as Rubens go, it was good, but it didn’t fly me to the moon. I know someone somewhere can make a Rubens worthy of beautification; this just didn’t do it. But I did get a generous amount of soup packing just enough spice to cause a sweat but not enough to pause in my enjoyment of it. Every time I have soup, it’ll always be compared to Ladles, not because it’s necessarily superior, but if a place claims to have the best in town, I take that as a challenge to rate everyone else’s to it. Is this Thai chicken better than theirs? Hard to say. Rita’s had more texture and more things going on, but Ladles’ was slightly creamier. In the end, I would put it at a toss-up.
I almost felt like an outsider among family since all the customers were known by name. I can see a place like this (small) could survive strictly off of customer loyalty, everlastingly fucked the moment their elderly patrons die off, unless word of mouth somehow manages to reach younger ears. At the very least, it’s immune to critical review. It’s not like a bad review will change the clientele or praise will send droves packing until all twelve seats are filled. This was why I was initially apprehensive about reviewing cafes. There’s so little about them, so uncomplicated, I’d end up padding a review with dangling threads about how I drink pop and the intricacies of sandwich construction.
Reading the scores below, you’d discern that Rita’s place was a preferred option over Simmy’s Bistro or Ladles. When concerning the nearby Simmy’s, Rita’s feels more comfortable despite my ass hurting on these solid wood seats, but this is only illusionary, created by the rustic decor, and fades as the pain in your ass grows. However, when measured against Ladles, the latter edges out in flavor and value. So it depends on your tolerance for Ladles’ lacklustre service and annoying waiting times. Ladles is also a few blocks away and if within walking distance between Simmys and Rita, I think in the end Simmy’s may win out but by a margin equal to the first and second place Kenyans at the 100 meter dash. The only other place nearby is Sim’s Lunchbox; we’ll see if it stacks.