Great Restaurants: What Are They, And Why Haven’t There Been Any For The Last 20 Years?

This is a response to the mind-boggling diatribe here: https://www.3quarksdaily.com/3quarksdaily/2011/12/great-songwriters-who-are-they-and-why-havent-there-been-any-for-the-last-20-years.html


Every day, thousands of citizens all around the lovely township of Mudville head out at every reasonable hour trekking to their favorite eateries. Nothing speaks directly to the soul of a Mudvillian, and similarly to any man, as the carefully considered consumption of their most cherished comestibles. I’ve been thinking on the restaurants and eateries in our fair township and the more I pondered, the more I found myself coming to several conclusions.

Conclusion #1: There have only ever been two truly great restaurants in the recorded history of Mudville since its incorporation so many years ago. These two metaphorically blow every other restaurant out of the water. Blow them to pieces. Blow them away. The reasons, self-evident as they are to one such as myself, will be revealed shortly.

Conclusion Number Two: There hasn’t been a good restaurant to come to this township in the last 20 years. Everything these days comes riding into town with some flashy trend on its back, clearly jockeying for a youth demographic not yet learned enough in tongue to understand what they’re eating. The establishments that dotted the landscape during my post-collegiate return to Mudville were of a different class. The energy and flare in their presentations and preparations reached a level that I have not seen since.

Anyways, lets finally reveal those two restaurants:

1. Amerigo’s Italian Restaurant – Italian Cuisine

I moved to Mudville only a few months after Sue and Chris Dolman opened their love letter to Italian fare, and even in that short time it was already a local sensation. Now, years on, its a local institution. No graduation party or baby shower truly starts until the chafing dish of Amerigo’s penne arrives. Their command of the breadth and depth of Tuscan cuisine is unmatched by anything in the TriCounty area.

I can still remember the sights and smells of my first enchanted evening there. A much younger me with so much to learn struggling to pronounce a dish no one at my table had even heard of before, and I being the one brave enough to order it. That evening as I took that first fateful bite of sun-dried tomato risotto, I fell immediately in love. That risotto is still on the menu, as is just about every wonderful dish I’ve ever had there. Amerigo’s has held fast against the ceaseless tide of food trends that could have worn down a lesser establishment.

Must eats: Lobster Bisque, Pasta Primavera, Chicken Marsala

2. Taggerty’s Steakhouse – Traditional

Taggerty’s opened in 1985 and I can still remember that opening day. Actual spotlights were brought in to crisscross the night sky and mark the occasion, and I’d wager Mudville has not seen a glitzier night since. Taggerty’s boasts the finest cuts around. While a lesser steakhouse might railroad you into a preparation because it’s what the “Chef recommends”, Taggerty’s gives you the choice of any preparation, and one of a dozen signature sauces to top it with.

Taggerty’s has been, for the discerning folks in the know, for any celebration, any proposal. The place to take your important business clients if you need to be absolutely sure you’re going to impress. Its where I took my first wife on our first date and being ever the romantic it’s also where I proposed.

Must eats: French Onion Soup, Pink Peppercorn Crusted Filet, Swordfish Kebabs

So that’s them. The dynamic duo of dining. The dining-namic duo. The two great restaurants in Mudville bar none because their food stretches far and wide across the gamut of culinary options and cravings. Anything you could want is available through one of those two doors. Pizza. Pasta. Grinders. Calzones. Salads. Steaks. Chops. Fish. These two restaurants make up the lion’s share of good meals in Mudville.

There are only a few other good, not great, restaurants around. To be a good restaurant you need to have at least a handful of choice dishes. A low bar, perhaps. But none come close to the big two. Even if their handful of dishes are in the running with those offered by the dynamic duo, you’d be hard pressed to find a handful and a half of good dishes there.

For the sake of your perusal and future referencing, I have broken the remaining simply good restaurants and my reflections on them into categories based on their cuisines.

Traditional American

Americans have created some of the greatest examples and feats of comfort food the world has ever known. Patti’s, for instance, has some of the best glazed and jelly donuts you’ll ever sink your teeth into. And right down the road at Stucky Mustard you can find any variety of hotdog or kielbasa you can imagine with an unlimited supply of condiments and ‘krauts. I know some in town would say Dukes over on third deserves to be on this list for their meatloaf alone, but a restaurant needs more than just one worthy dish to be worth mentioning here.

Burgers

Is there anything that speaks more directly to the deep personal needs of the working man after a long day than a juicy burger? Larry’s Roadside is known as the king of roadside burgers and stands leaps and bounds above other food prepared by the street in the greater Mudville area. Just don’t touch the chili unless you’ve been around and built up a rather impressive tolerance to spicy food. Turnpike 37 Bar and Grille might not have a widely known reputation beyond a rather unfortunately public meth bust, but their nacho burger alone makes it worth the trip. Pancho’s is also said to have a mighty burger that stands among the greats, but I can’t in good conscience recommend a burger from an establishment that doesn’t focus primarily on burgers. And heck, throw McDonalds in there too. They’re reliable and a wonderful guilty pleasure on a night in need of a quick comfort.

Chinese

You wouldn’t think it driving through the greater Mudville area, but the residents have developed quite a taste for foreign food in the past few years. The #4 at China Buffet is known around town. The #9 at China Wok frequently runs out before dinnertime. The #6 at Best Wok is filling and priced to move, even considering it comes with an eggroll. And the #26c from Ichiban has some of the best chicken fingers I’ve had in all my travels. Any one is a great choice if you’re looking to brave something with an oriental flare.

So why aren’t there any good restaurants today? There’re a few reasons for this.

Number one, there’s just no need for good, creative, talented chefs anymore. The food scene has been invaded and dominated by what I’ve designated the Three S’s. Salads, sandwiches, and Sushi. And the sad reality of those foods is that they’re not a remarkable meal painstakingly whipped up by an artist. They’re not even cooked at all. They’re just assembled. No cooking skill required. Toasting a sandwich or slicing up some raw uncooked tuna and cucumber is not cooking and never will be. It’s an assembly line. No different from a McDonalds.

Number Two, all the prime restaurant real estate has been taken over by establishments serving food from countries like India, Thailand, and Vietnam. These are not culinary experiences anyone in Mudville was crying out for and their use of spices and sauces previously unknown to our town has only made them more unwelcoming. And the less said about the pungent aromas that violently waft into you the second you merely pass by their doors the better.

Number Three, these restaurants aiming at the youth demographic do not understand restaurant culture. Dining is a relaxing and contemplative experience. No one wants to be bowled over by a wall of sound coming from trendy kids ordering nothing but drink and loitering around the bar. Walking into an establishment only to find a completely different menu from your last visit is disorienting at best and insulting at worst. The backbone of any successful restaurant is consistency in every facet of the experience. This goes for the painfully trendy bars as much as it does to the “coffeeshops”. This is not customer service, its customer annoyance.

It’s a pity no one is opening another Amerigo’s or Taggerty’s these days. Let’s hope someone will. But don’t hold your breath. We’re just lucky those two are still around because all I see coming to town is a tidal wave of youthful haircuts and complicated shoes and I do not get it.