When bad things happen to good restaurants

Earlier I was pondering a post about familiarity and the sense of community we feel in our town. M and I do what we can to patronize small businesses and generally do pretty well. Our favorite restaurants here in town are all sole proprietorships, with the owner or a close relative of the owner being the chief cook in the kitchen. Sadly, that changed tonight.

One of the first places we visited when we purchased our home was a local bbq restaurant my son recommended. His apartment was just a block away, and he would stop there for a sandwich a few times each month. It quickly became an absolute favorite for M and I as well, just a casual little place where you order at the counter and then someone brings the food to your table. As the weeks and months have passed during the last few years we had gotten to know the employees there – everyone from the cashiers behind the registers to the guys in the back roasting and cutting the meats. It was a fun experience for us, like visiting old friends for dinner.

Around Halloween they closed their doors for a remodel, promising to reopen with a full bar shortly after the first of the year. As these things happen it was actually a full month later before they finally reopened, and we went tonight to see the new changes and experience the new menu.

It was a complete and utter disappointment.

We recognized no one in the place. Not the waitress, not the cooks behind the counter, not the bartender or the owner/manager glad-handing at the door. All the former staff are gone, the 3+ months hiatus leading them to other jobs or simply not being invited back. M and I certainly understand, but instead of the nice, friendly, laid-back folks we were accustomed to we had this loud, brash, hyper-helpful woman who insisted upon pushing the offerings of their full bar, to the point where I interrupted her with a curt “we do not drink alcohol” to shut her up. Things went downhill from there.

Prices have increased, portions are smaller. Again, these are not unexpected events, but the quality of the sandwich and the roasted/bbq meat was lacking. It was if they had flash-cooked the brisket, and believe me, M is a bbq connoisseur and can taste the difference. To my infinite regret, I decided to try their wood burning oven pizza. It was a terrible mistake. I always order any and all pizza with very light sauce, and again, the waitress interrupted me as I was ordering with her own interjections of what “light sauce” means. I just kept repeating it – I want it with very light sauce, please – until she seemed to grasp what I was saying. Very light sauce, olives, mushrooms. Should not be that hard, right?

What I received was 10″ pizza that had literally a quarter inch of tomato paste (unseasoned, right from the can) underneath a layer of low-sodium cheese with maybe 2 mushrooms and 3 olives sliced and scattered over the top. To add even more insult this slow motion bad dining experience, it was cold. M got his sandwich about 8 minutes before my pizza appeared, during which time she tried to give me the salad for the next table, refilled another table’s coke and water glasses, and then finally brought my cold and tragic meal.

If either of us is going to have a bad restaurant meal, it is ALWAYS me. Part of it could be that I am the picky eater, but even M has admitted that I have far worse luck with basic meals and food in restaurants than he has ever seen. I did eat enough of the terrible pizza (by scraping off sauce and adding salt) to at least feel like I ate something. M also sampled it (even he had to scrape off the tomato paste) and pronounced it dreadful.

All in all, a horrible dining experience, one that is so bad I even left a minimal 12% tip (versus our standard 20% minimum), the server was so obnoxious. I have the feeling she is the owner’s wife or sister or something, because I cannot imagine anyone hiring her and allowing the obnoxious manner she treats the patrons. We are crushed in our disappointment and scratching it off our list of haunts to share with visiting friends.

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