Tuesday, May 28, 2013

I prefer fake restaurants

I was just talking to someone about my lack of enthusiasm for the host city of a conference I will probably have to attend later this year. It's in a big city in a big state that I've been to before and don't particularly care for. I summarized my lack of enthusiasm for this particular city by telling a long-winded story, which I will now share with you.

My previous place of employment had a summer intern program. The interns were generally pretty great - young, smart, enthusiastic, and quite a source of entertainment for us older folks (anyone born prior to 1985) with our outdated technology. ("Oh look, how cute! They don't know how to use a typewriter!" "They've never heard of carbon copies!") I particularly remember one young woman who was assigned to work on the program I helped manage. She was from this big city in a big state that I don't particularly care for. She was attending a summer program at Georgetown University, and staying there for the duration of the term.

I remember this young woman for one day in particular, in which during the regular team check-in/shoot-the-breeze session, she shared that she was really missing her hometown, in particular the food. And I thought, oh, you must miss your mom's home cooking, or perhaps a great local dive. When prompted about what she missed, she said it was the lack of "real" restaurants in Georgetown.

Ok, so, I don't know if you've ever been to Washington, DC and/or to the Georgetown area in particular, but as you can see in the map below, full of red dots representing restaurants - the area does not lack dining establishments. At all. As a matter of fact, some of the finest dining in the city can be found in that neighborhood, and you can find all types of price ranges and cuisine types.

View Larger Map

So of course, we had to ask what she meant by a "real" restaurant. And what she meant was the big chain establishments, the type that have a day of the week and/or an apostrophe in their name, and have very similar menu items across the board. Now, I don't think these chain restaurants are all bad, and there is comfort in knowing that a place is going to have the chicken quesadillas you like, but if I'm traveling, I rarely eat at one, unless they're the only choice I have.

When I travel, I like to survey my friends and/or search the internet for recommendations of good local eats. I figure, what's the point of going to a restaurant I can have at home? Let's try something new! Sometimes I luck into great eats, like that Chinese place in Puerto Rico, that Mexican place in Burbank or that pizza place in Philly, but usually I do a little research ahead of time. Saying I'm a foodie sounds pretentious, but considering how I turn my nose up whenever someone suggests eating at a day of the week chain, I guess the word applies.

So I guess what I'm saying is, I prefer "fake" restaurants, and cities that have plenty of them. Ones that have grandma making desserts in the back, or an actual Italian making pasta, where the food may take a little longer to get because it is made from scratch. So the idea of traveling to this big city in a big state full of "real" restaurants with interchangeable menus just doesn't sound appealing. Unless there are cheddar bay biscuits involved....

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