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Selecting A Restaurant (And Some Insider's Tips)

-- Stephen M. Poole (, May 04, 2002



Here in the South, iced tea is king, so that's what I look at.

Things have changed in recent years. I remember when iced tea in the south was a glass of sugar wet with brown liquid. The last time I was in Southern Pines, they asked me if I wanted sugar at all. You be coming Yankeefied. ;<)))

Best Wishes,,,,,


-- Z1X4Y7 (, May 04, 2002.


If you were to shade a map based on sweetness of the tea, it would be unsweetened north of the Mason Dixon and progressively sweeter as you move southward. By the time you get to Bama, it's sugar syrup.

Since I drink unsweetened tea, though, it still makes a great indicator. :)

-- Stephen M. Poole (, May 04, 2002.


As you know I have had to travel a lot too. I, usually, avoid eating at these chains. You are correct; they are uniform. The places I go involve meeting someone local. They know the good resturants. I don't remember the names of these places, but I can find them. BBQ in Denton, TX, seafood on Chuckanut Drive in WA, Chinese in San Fran, etc.

Some of these places have really good food. Still, I like my own cooking. I probably got that from my mother. While she was a person I respected, she came from the German school of cooking [actually her family was Swiss and Austrian]. Anything to be eaten had to be boiled into submission. That is why I learned to cook. ;<)))

Today, I prepared roasted chicken with gravy; wild rice, salad [locally grown spinach; I buy a lot of fixins from local small farmers], baked sweet potato and baked turnip [yeah, it came from the same truck that brought me to town]. It was as good as anything I have had from a gourmet resturant. Very good.

Now pup and I have to go plant [and dig up; depending on whether or not you are pup] tomatoes.

Best wishes,,,,,


-- Z1X4Y7 (, May 04, 2002.

Everywhere I've been, I've had to explain to people how to make iced coffee. I can't understand it.

When my parents were visiting Austria some years back with a group of Americans, they visited during a heat wave. The Americans all ordered iced tea, and were amused when each of them received a cup of boiling- hot tea, and the waiter placed a small (about 1/2 inch on a side) ice cube in each cup! How weird these Americans are, they must have thought.

-- Flint (, May 04, 2002.

I forget where I read the following tip on selecting a Bar-B-Que joint while traveling. Since I am not a huge BBQ fanatic and don't travel a heck of a lot I haven't tested it, perhaps someone here might wish to try it.

It's a simple theory really, and the fellow who wrote about it swore it works like a charm. The trick is to look at the sign outside the restaurant, the more human the activity of the pig, the better the BBQ. If it only says BBQ it probably isn't very good. If it has a picture of a pig, or steer, it's a step up in from words only, and so on. The best food, at least according to this guy, is found at places where the pig on the sign is engaged in cannabalism, or at least doing the cooking of his brethren.

-- Uncle Deedah (, May 05, 2002.


There's no doubt that in most cities, there are fabulous restaurants, usually owned by locals, that are reasonably priced with great food. In Lumberton, NC, for example, you'd hit John's Restaurant just off of I-95; in Oneonta, AL, the Landmark is top-notch.

The problem is, to find these places, you're either going to have to experiment yourself (and waste a lot of time and money -- even following my "tips") or trust a local to point the place out to you.

The problem with the latter is that locals often have a different idea of what's "good!" When Sandy and I first moved here, we longed for a good Italian place. We were pointed to a couple of locally-owned joints that have been here forever; they were AWFUL.

The locals liked them because Alabamans want everything to be *SWEET*. They add sugar, honey and molasses to EVERYTHING here. Sweet tomato sauce isn't my idea of authentic Italian. :)

Same with seafood. We were pointed to local joints, and the seafood was breaded with a bland, sweet coating. Gag me.

So, we eat at the Olive Garden or Carrabbas or Red Lobster.

I think you're wrong to diss the large chains. The cost of the food is so low that restaurants come close to being the perfect business from a consumer's standpoint: they're literally selling customer happiness. There has been a revolution in the past few years here, with investors actually looking at customer satisfaction surveys when deciding whether to invest. They're catching on, and the industry is, too.

(This is one of those rare cases where pure capitalism coupled with intense competition has demonstrably and unarguably benefited the consumer.)

Back to the Olive Garden: we tried one years ago back in NC and were unimpressed. We tried the Olive Garden here, after our bad experience with the local "italian" places, and were pleasantly surprised. It was very good. I did a little research and discovered that Darden had completely overhauled the chain a few years ago; they retrained all the managers and redid all of the recipes, complete with blind taste-testing with hundreds of volunteers. It has paid off.

I'll put their Chicken Parmigiana up against anyone's, period.

Refusing to eat Chilis or Olive Garden or Lonestar just because it's a "chain" borders on snobbishness, and you're only cheating yourself out of a good meal.

Sure, some of the chain restaurants aren't as well-run as others; that's why you apply my tips (and common sense!). But when I'm on the road and feel like experimenting, I go with what I know.

-- Stephen M. Poole (, May 05, 2002.


I didn't say I refused to eat at chains, I said that I seldom do. I travel mostly by air. I usually end up in a place where I know a good resturant. Something with a local speciality. That is where I eat.

It is different when I travel by car. I have to drive to southern Arkansas on a regular basis [work related]. Lunch time finds me near Rogers. I understand that the county is dry and alcohol can only be served in private clubs. Therefore, all of the resturants are private clubs. You have to fill out a membership application even if you don't want to drink alcohol. I am a member at Applebees so I always eat there. I have a membership card and everything. ;<)))

Best Wishes,,,,,


-- Z1X4Y7 (, May 05, 2002.

Maybe I should open the "Capnfuns' Tiki Tavern & Seafood Stuffstation", franchises might be in order as well.

Here's my selection tip: If it's busy it's probably a good joint and if the parking lot is empty keep on drivin'.

-- capnfun (, May 05, 2002.


Go ahead. I'll try it. :)

Remember, if it's really successful, you could become quite wealthy. Develop a good concept, find some backers, and set up an IPO. People will invest in it, and you'll be famous and rich.

Just don't forget all your old friends when you're riding around in that Bentley. :)


Sounds to me like you travel a "circuit," sort of -- the same cities, over and over, so you've had a chance to get to know where the eats are.

-- Stephen (, May 05, 2002.

Oh, but Cap'n?

Forget the franchising. That's old hat. Investors aren't into that anymore. Visit that Darden website, or the Cracker Barrel website, to get an idea.

Company-owned and company-operated is the only way to go nowdays.

-- Stephen (, May 05, 2002.

When ah travels the biways of the midwest, ah allus eats at Bob Evans cuz ah knows what I be gettin and ah likes what I be gettin. Fried mush, mmmmm mmmmmm!

-- (, May 05, 2002.

But it's gettin harder to choose now that McDonald's has installed karaoke.

-- (lars@McDonald's on Keystone Av every Tuesday night singing."My Way"), May 05, 2002.

Olive Garden? Nummers! We've got the best here in Lancaster, PA. The only problem is, they don't take reservations. The food is so great, however, most people are willing to wait over an hour for a table if necessary. We usually go during off hours and don't seem to have a problem but if you choose a popular time, ya better have lots of time. Now ya did it, Stephen, it's 4:30 am and I could eat some of their chicken con broccoli. :-)

-- (, May 06, 2002.

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