I am not impressed by big, fancy restaurants where the preparation of food often appears to play second-fiddle to advertising, decorating, and fancy menus, also, reprinting menus to keep ahead of constantly rising prices.
Fast food places are usually good and serve the purpose for which they were intended. But they usually lack variety and character.
My favorite stops are the independently owned small-town "beaneries" and "greasy spoons." They often furnish something that home cooking doesn't - the element of surprise. A bowl of chicken soup may be a large, full bowl with lots of meat, vegetables and noodles - a meal in itself. A week later, the same order might bring you half of a bowl of thin soup consisting mostly of canned chicken broth.
Coffee is almost always unpredictable and can rarely be described as good.
Usually it is either excellent or downright horrible. Scalloped potatoes might contain quite a bit of ham, or almost none. Tuna and noodles may contain lots of tuna, or be almost entirely noodles. Cooked rice might have an excellent taste and texture - or might just sit there in one big, solid glob. Beef tips over rice or noodles might be tough, gristly bits of meat, obliterated by strong, brown canned gravy, or might be a very tasty choice. Chili can often be a story in itself.
Some restaurants take on and reflect the character of their owners. If the owner likes
antiques, the walls will be decorated with old hand tools, crockery and other artifacts of
earlier days. If the owner has a sense of humor and likes bawdy stories, there will be an ample supply of printed placards and jokes. A truck stop I once frequented in Viroqua, Wis. was operated by a man who owned horses. His place was decorated with trophies, pictures and statues of draft horses. Usually the main topic around the tables was horse-pulling contests.
An owner in Ontario, Wis. liked to share beautiful and positive thoughts with her customers. She kept her bulletin board and counter top covered with clippings, greeting
card poems and hand-lettered ideas and rhymes she had copied from books and magazines. One busy restaurant usually had as many people shaking dice as they had eating breakfast each morning. It was a tad bit illegal, but the city police chief was one of the regulars in the game.
And then there are the rest rooms – equally as unpredictable as is the food. Some are well-marked, others almost impossible to find. Some neat, others long neglected. Looking for a bawdy joke or naughty drawing? You'll find them on the walls. Prefer humorous rhymes? They're there, too. Seeking religion? You'll often find where a disgruntled Christian has boldly inscribed: "Jesus Saves," along with chapter and verse for recommended reading for the scribbling sinners.
I've developed a great deal of admiration for many of the people who operate and/or work in restaurants. The hours are long and the work is not all fun and games. Yet these folks, young and old, get the job done. And they do it with a smile.
THE HUNGRY HERD CAFE
God, bless that dear old cook down at
The Hungry Herd Cafe.
She's just discovered a new way
To spoil fried eggs today.
She really loves to over-cook,
She's honed it to an art;
Her boiled rice and potatoes, mashed,
Are hard to tell apart.
For brewing coffee, she uses
No recipe or text -
One day it's thin as dishwater,
Removes varnish, the next.
Her bacon's tough as razor strops,
With ham like leather boots,
You cut your gravy with a fork –
Or knife, as texture suits.
German potato salad does
Not impress many Dutch.
Today's special, the corned beef hash,
Just doesn't taste like such.
Hot chili's a good winter choice,
Real tasty, like as not,
But till it's in your bowl, there is
No guarantee it's hot.
The silverware is bent and worn,
Check first for dirt or rust.
"Fresh, home-made pie" cringes and shrinks
Away from greasy crust.
It is not rare, at times, to see,
On bread crusts, flecks of mold.
On toast, we pretend it's just bits
Of tarnish on the gold.
The dishwashing machine leaves soap
To flavor coffee mugs.
Exterminator's sign tells when
They last fogged out the bugs.
The waitress shows the weight of age,
Her steps, painful and slow.
For waitresses, they say the feet
And tips, are first to go.
'Neath the cash register, a glass
Showcase holds wares to sell,
Like candy bars and chewing gum;
Antacids move real well!
Tomorrow morn, I'll crave caffeine
To start my brand-new day.
I’ll ride my favorite stool down at
The Hungry Herd Cafe.