Can The ‘Burbs Support Good Restaurants?

I live in a suburb of New York City that is known for its restaurants. Unfortunately its claim to fame is the number of places to eat, not the quality of the food available. Oh, there are interesting places to eat, but when I want a meal that includes good food, good service, an interesting setting and a martini or two I have to drive into New York City. Why can’t the suburbs support the kind of restaurant that satisfies these conditions? I had a short e-mail exchange with Tommy:eats, a blogger who has obviously spent some time thinking about, and lamenting this situation. I suggested that it may be the pressure to make 100% of the income on food, since liquor licenses are ridiculously expensive, if they can even get one. So each plate has to pay off; no teaser plates and break-even dishes just to get people to drink. He made the very good point that most of these restaurants also push high-end foods. “What kills me, for example, is that a restaurant could make more profit on pork belly and chicken thigh than they do loin and breast, but they choose to not.”

When I say “good,” I don’t mean Per Se or Le Bernardin or Peter Luger or Bouley. What I want is a restaurant that can produce an excellent meal, matched with a reasonable wine list, professional service and an attractive and comfortable physical setting. What this requires is a professional chef, a competent manager, and most of all an owner who is dedicated to his restaurant. I don’t particularly care why; if all he wants is a big pay check and has figured out that the best way to get one is to impress the hell out of his customers so they come back with their friends? Fine with me.

There is enough disposable income in my town and the surrounding area to support restaurants that satisfy these admittedly strict requirements. Why don’t these restaurants exist? Is it the tyranny of low expectations? Do we expect mediocrity? Or is our collective taste so crappy that we wouldn’t recognize good food if it fell in our laps?

3 Replies to “Can The ‘Burbs Support Good Restaurants?”

  1. yes, people have no expectations. they’ll eat anything. regardless of what we think, north jersey isn’t as adventurous, young, or forward-thinking as their east-of-the-hudson counterparts, and they don’t spend as much eating out as the average brooklynite or manhattanite. and they don’t care. the vast majority of people in north jersey, and i’m guessing most non-metropolitan areas, simply don’t care about food. they have other interests like jobs, children, and whatever else takes up our time. north jersey also doesn’t have millions of people commuting into every day, many of which might be looking to take out clients, or be taken out, or go out with friends. when you get back to your house in hackensack or mahwah or glen rock, after your day of work in the city or even NJ, you’re not looking for a great spot to eat. you’re looking to squeeze 6 hours of your day into the 2 or 3 that you have left before you have to go to bed.however, why restaurants can’t make good food is beyond me. most restaurants are simply horrible.

  2. Ouch!As much as I would like to disagree, and hope that there is some vast untapped demand for the kind of restaurant that I love, I can’t. The reality is that when soccer moms and their friends go out to eat what they are looking for is a day off from slinging hash in their own kitchens. As long as the food is edible they will be happy. The problem is that there is tremendous demand for restaurants, so those boring, crappy places in most suburban downtowns are going to get enough business to survive, and perhaps even flourish. When the difference is between a 3 minute drive and a 40 minute drive it is understandable that most people will choose their local eateries, no matter the quality. I have done it, regretted it, and done it again. And I used to drive 2 hours for fresh oysters!

  3. mediocre restaurants thrive. And when someone dares do something different, something that people don’t understand? They’re considered weird. Look at Bourbon BBQ and A Mano. Its off-putting to so many, what with pizza you eat with a fork and BBQ that’s not slathered in sickly-sweet sauce. Meanwhile, kids that i talk to love both of those places. Why? Possibly because they’re more open minded than their parents. And they probably have better taste ta boot.

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