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Kissing Frogs

January 5, 2010

You are a stranger in a strange land.  And you are hungry.  What do you do?  Do you play it safe and go to a chain, because you know what you are going to get?  Or do you make the leap and go native, unsure if you will get a warm welcome or a steely gaze that comes from suspicion of strangers?

I have always been in the camp of the latter.  Mrs. Fussy regretfully is more comfortable with the former.

Every now and again, if I do a bit of homework, I can convince her to try someplace that might be a little dangerous.  The places aren’t always great, but they are always colorful.  Some of them aren’t much better than their national chain equivalents.  But I can’t think of one that has been worse.

And of course, there are rules.

1) As a stranger, one must try to respect the local customs.
You are an interloper.  Behave as if you are a guest in someone’s home. Sure, it may be a restaurant, but you have just crashed the party. Relax, and try not to take anything too personally.

2) Try not to call undue attention to your strangeness.
This includes breaking out the iPhone at the table and taking pictures of the food.  Unless they happen to sit your strangeness in the back, and you get a chance to surreptitiously take a few snaps.

3) Use your wits to figure out what is good.
Every region has its specialties.  There may be some notation on a menu or some sign up on the wall.  Perhaps everyone seems to be ordering the same thing. Or maybe the waitress offers a helpful suggestion.

Here is a recent example of how all of this played out.

Mrs. Fussy and I were in Altoona, Pennsylvania – a town that on its surface is packed with chain restaurants and very little regional character.

Based on one Yelp review, we decided to try a local diner.  I love diners.  But many of them really try to overreach and offer everything anyone might want.  Tom & Joe’s in Altoona, Pennsylvania proved to be a breakfast joint, with some lunch offerings as well.  So far, so good.

Looking over the menu, I was tempted to order the two-egg Greek omelet.  It’s a diner staple, and two eggs is really the right number of eggs for an omelet.  But when I told Mrs. Fussy, who grew up in the region, she rolled her eyes all the way to the back of her head, as if to say, “This is NOT a Greek diner, you moron.”

And she was right.

So I told her I would get the scrapple, with potatoes, and two poached eggs.  Mrs. Fussy doubted they would be able to poach eggs.  But I was incredulous.  Any diner can poach eggs.

But she was right again.

The waitress told me that they couldn’t poach my eggs.  Thinking back to Rule #1 I tried my best to take the news in stride.  Then I was informed they could baste the eggs for me.  So going back to rules #1 and #3, I got those eggs basted.

Basted eggs?

How many of you out there ever had basted eggs? How many of you had even heard about them? It’s not a style of egg cookery that I was familiar with, and seemingly for very good reason.

They were fantastic. It was the perfect intersection of eggs over-easy and sunny-side up.  And it’s something that I never would have ordered on my own.  Regretfully because of rule #2, I have no picture to share.

And the eggs went very well with my scrapple.  Which is one of those things I only eat in Pennsylvania.  But we’ll save that for another day.

8 Comments leave one →
  1. January 5, 2010 11:09 am

    I always pretend I am checking me messages when I snap iPhone plate photos at restaurants, I am kind of shameless that way. But guess what, no more iPhone. I have moved to the dark side and purchased a Motorola Droid which has a fairly serious camera. World watch out, I am also video enabled now. Mu. Ha. Ha.

  2. Mr. Sunshine permalink
    January 5, 2010 11:16 am

    But one of the things I like about poached eggs is their lack of added fat: basted eggs have as much fat and cholesterol as a fried egg.

  3. Rhea permalink
    January 5, 2010 12:53 pm

    Ah, the sneaky food snapshot aka a pending Yelp review! I have so many pictures of my husband eating in foreign countries or new restaurants that I’ve joked about making a coffee table book out of them.

    Very sound advice in the post. I lost five pounds in a week after a series of poor culinary choices in England. Eventually I discovered that when in a pub, order pub food, no exception. The same rule applies to any establishment now, eat what they recommend or the regional specialty.

    As for local customs, I felt completely out of place with my first Miss Albany Diner visit. There were all of these signs and rules telling me where to sit and how to order and when to pay. It was terribly confusing, but the food was worth the learning curve and “yer not from around here” glares.

  4. January 5, 2010 1:49 pm

    Were they basted in fat? That sounds really good ;)

  5. Sarah M. permalink
    January 5, 2010 2:38 pm

    Do you really feel like other patrons (or the ownership) sees you as an interloper? If yes, do you think it has to do with the photo-snapping or something else?

    Since I travel a lot for work, I’m frequently dining alone in more locals-only establishments, but I can’t recall ever feeling out of place. Maybe people regard me nicely because I’m typically a member of the Clean Plate Club.

  6. brownie permalink
    January 5, 2010 3:00 pm

    I have yet to try scrapple, but it’s guaranteed I’m not travelling to Altoona for a greasy spoon.

    It’s extremely rare for a diner to be great. They’re usually either consistent, which means you can swap them for a trip to Pizza Hut and get equivalent calories and taste, or terrible, meaning dirty, underserved, and with food that makes you think twice about eating ever again.

    Consistent diners are usually greek. Terrible diners are usually the old Pullman-style that have long since reached their expiry date. Great diners are the old Pullman-style that have thrived due to a complete lack of competition.

  7. January 6, 2010 1:33 pm

    I always say that if you show your appreciation for their food, they will love you. And it’s usually true. If I want to take a picture, I’ll tell them ‘this food is great – I want to show all my friends” – this usually relieves any stress of the situation. Of course, I usually don’t break out my SLR and external lighting equipment in these instances. You really don’t have to feel like an undercover agent when you are taking pictures in a restaurant, even if you think it’s something alien to them.

    basted eggs sounds good

  8. January 7, 2010 4:59 pm

    Basted eggs… sounds delicious!

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