Today we went to another longtime favorite restaurant of ours, and for the second day in a row, we were deeply disappointed. Yesterday it was horribly bland She Crab soup (and overdressed salad) at the Blue Marlin in Columbia, South Carolina. Today it was “a-plenty” at Beacon Drive-In in Spartanburg, SC.
We’ve been going to the Beacon for about 15 years. We look forward to it, even though it is a pile of greasy food, it is generally a pile of delicious greasy food. Today, two things were missing. The first was JC Stroble, the blind man who takes your order at the head of the line and calls it back. I don’t know if he’s retired, or just taking a day off or something but it was kind of flat without him.
The other thing missing was the “Low Country Plate” which was my favorite. Sigh.
So my son ordered a cheeseburger a-plenty and I ordered a small perch plate. His burger was fine. The perch were fine. But the rest: fries, onion rings, coleslaw, tartar sauce– were inedible. Bland, soggy-not-crisp, undercooked at too low a temperature and not at all seasoned. This is not the way it used to be. A cursory glance at Yelp, and Trip Advisor show that others have noticed the decline. (Of course, some people are just pricks and should stick to Applebee’s, but that’s another column altogether.) Even the tea, which I’d always loved before tastes like it was made from iced tea mix.
I thought more about this as I drove up through the Smoky Mountains home to Ohio: I don’t remember the last time I had a stellar meal in a restaurant. In fact, I don’t even remember the last first-rate meal I had in a restaurant. If people want to charge me for dinner, it ought to be something better than I could make at home. But it isn’t. If anything, restaurants in these days of economic peril seem ever more inclined to dish up the mediocre.
Do they think that our palates are so uneducated that we don’t know the difference? Do they think that we will be so dazzled by their decorating choices or their poetic menus that we won’t care? Do people head for gawdawful chains because they can expect some consistency? It may come in a pouch from corporate to be boiled or microwaved and dumped on your plate, but you can bet it will taste the same in Pawtucket, Poughkeepsie, Peoria and Palm Springs.
But why are independent restaurants, who struggle hard for every dollar they get, why are they satisfied to serve up slop for their customers? We may pay them once for it, but we won’t be back again. And I guess that explains why on a Tuesday afternoon at 1 p.m. there were only about 20 cars in the Beacon Drive-In parking lot. You used to have to stand in line to reach J.C.
I did just remember the last great meal I had in a restaurant– at the New Asian in Trotwood. Bok Choy and chicken in Ginger Sauce (made just for me, when I asked Mr. Jung to make me whatever he felt like cooking) along with hot and sour soup. For six dollars. At least some people still take pride in what they put on a plate for their customers.
Target today 54. Steps 3302. Consumed for breakfast: peach, a few mozzarella pearls, slice of prosciutto. Lunch: 4 pieces fried perch. One French fry. One onion ring. One quarter hush puppy. Half-spoonful of coleslaw. Later: iced coffee. Dinner: green salad with grilled chicken breast.