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Little things make restaurants stand out
Or So It Seems

"You must have eaten at every place in town," Janet Wells said.

As you know, Janet is the office manager at The Mirror . Her official duties include directing me to the best restaurants in Thomson. She also takes your church notices, classified ads and social items. She can renew your subscription. When you call to complain that an older fellow was in your restaurant asking foolish questions, Janet is the patient soul who confirms that he does, indeed, work at The Mirror .

In the rare times that Janet hesitates to inflict my presence upon yet another unsuspecting eatery, advertising representative Cheryl Williams shows no such mercy. "Have you tried Michael's?" she asked Thursday.

Of course I had been to Michael's, but not for breakfast. Problem solved.

Now I know that ordering breakfast can be an art form, and I've heard folks discuss the pros and cons of rye toast vs. English muffin or jam vs. jelly or links vs. patties. I've studied the breakfast-menu protocol, and have most capably pretended to deliberate the age-old question of grits vs. hash browns.

But clocks and calendars keep reminding me that I have better ways to waste my time. And just in case I forget my priorities, I'd still remember that the wait staff was plenty busy before I sauntered into their diner.

So I've learned to cut to the chase: "Bacon, eggs over easy, hash browns, please."

Now most restaurants will ask whether you want anything else with your meal. The rare restaurant will ask whether you want hot sauce. But very few will make further distinction.

"Tabasco or Texas Pete?" asked Ruth Smith, who probably still is wondering what she had done wrong to deserve my visit to her table.

I was stunned. Only Ruth and her peers at Huddle House usually make that distinction. Some restaurants just stock the tables with bottled pain, and some have the water-based brands that make ketchup seem exotic.

"What kind do most people prefer?" I asked.

"Tabasco," she said.

"Do you get many calls for Frank's?" I asked.

"Oh, yes, quite a few," she said.

Now we could debate those fine brands and others in detail, but it's a free country and you are entitled to be wrong. Besides, inspiring debate such as this is why we have talk radio.

The point is that Ruth asked, and it was appreciated.

Maybe I have not visited every restaurant in McDuffie County, but just give me a little more time.

In the weeks ahead I'll have the chance to see some restaurant kitchens more closely as we at The Mirror visit some of the local attractions. Cheryl is working to make that happen.

If I visit your favorite restaurant, please know that I am not a critic. I know fresh coffee from warmed-over mud. Moreover, I have a cousin Steve in Ocala who can pronounce escargot . I could even pretend to be one of those prolific writers who pretend to know more than you or the chef.

At least I know why people put their energy into their restaurants. I know why they highlight a diner's unique features. I know when someone cares enough to stock Tabasco. And I can share what I find memorable about a visit.

Like when I was leaving Michael's and thanking Ruth for her time. Out of the blue, from behind a partition, Brandon May said, "Have a nice day." You can tell when a person really means it.

Then there was the killjoy, Tina Bracknell. "Stay out of trouble," she said.

Well that wrecked my plans for the day, but at least I'd had a good breakfast.



Web posted on Thursday, January 20, 2011













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