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Our Restaurant Friends

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Well, Mad Crow beefed it. That sucks. There’d been some mixed reviews about the food way back when they first opened, but we’d had great experiences there, and it seemed like they were gaining momentum, gonna pull through. You’d like to think, if they’d just been able to make it into season, then things would’ve […]

October 4, 2011


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Well, Mad Crow beefed it. That sucks.

There’d been some mixed reviews about the food way back when they first opened, but we’d had great experiences there, and it seemed like they were gaining momentum, gonna pull through. You’d like to think, if they’d just been able to make it into season, then things would’ve gotten better. But I don’t really know how these things work.

Hate to see restaurants close. It’s like when one of your friends moves out of town—it changes the dynamic, takes away some potential. I mean, there will always be new ones coming in, too, but you want to collect the good things, not just cycle through them.

Stairway to Belgium, Citrus CafĂ©, Fisherman Joe’s in downtown Bradenton, the space that I once remembered fondest as Mickey’s—eggplant fries, anyone?—which gave its life so that Nancy’s could flourish.

On the other hand, you can also gauge your seniority as a resident by the long-gone restaurants you remember. Had my first eggs Benedict at Chef Paul’s in the odd Spanish building up by Centennial Park on 41. Kyoto on Main Street was a family tradition, where we’d sit, shoes off, on the bamboo mats in the traditional Japanese dining section. Even more recently, remember Mattison’s on Longboat Key? Or when Growler’s was the Ethiopian restaurant? Or when Metro on Osprey was the place to be just a few years ago? What about the Dog House in Bradenton, or even good ol’ Hops?

creme-brulee.jpg
Mad Crow’s beer sampler and creme brulee trio at this year’s Savor Sarasota.

CCB and I are quite the restaurateur dilettantes. We watch too much Food Network, obviously, and we apply those lessons not only to our own cooking, but to other places. I mean, it’s great to recognize when something’s done really well, but it’s no fun to be Judgy McJudgerson to every place. Just like in dealing with people, when you start looking for flaws, well…you won’t have any friends.

But with all the good places that don’t make it, it is frustrating sometimes to see places take their customers for granted, or make decisions so obviously surrounded by a haze of denial. We’ve been having issues with a few places now, where we’re basically begging to drink their beer and eat their food, but they cut their hours, or their wait staff has other things to do than stay open for Sunday night football. They serve over-complicated, bad frozen food when they could make a killing on a decent burger. They make last call at 11 p.m. with a full dining room and turn away groups of a dozen who show up half an hour before the scheduled closing time. “It’s so easy,” we want to scream at them. “Don’t you watch Kitchen Nightmares?!”

Then you start seeing that slow slide—prices inching up, food quality tanking, the revolving door of wait staff. Panic mode: when every move you make to save your restaurant is one more thing to bug the customers.

Next thing we know, half the stuff on the menu is out of stock. “Uh-oh,” CCB and I say to each other. “There goes another one.”

I mean, I know it’s not easy, obviously—look at all the places we’ve loved, that seemed to do everything right (at least, for a time), and still couldn’t pull it off. Maybe some of that is bad management behind-the-scenes, and maybe a lot of it is just flat-out bad luck. And then there are the fantastic places that have stuck around for forever—bless ‘em, they know what they’re doing. But when  a good place—or even a great place—has to shut its doors, the places that stay open all half-assed and negligent are, like, committing mortal sins against the restaurant gods. It’s sacrilege.

Now, instead of Food Network, it’s like we’re watching Intervention on A&E—are we loving these restaurants to death, allowing them to limp along in their misguided ways? Instead of reasoning with them, should we just ditch them, go hang out with our fully functional restaurant friends, say, “Screw it, Owen’s knows how to treat me right”? You hate to give up on them, and it’s hard to think we could have too many restaurant friends. It just feels like such an injustice when the good ones go.