My checklist for selecting a great restaurant is growing

Photo: My wife checks out the decor at our favorite barbecue joint, Hungry Hillbilly’s, just outside of Jesup, Ga.

I’ve written more than a few times about restaurants — the kind of food I like, the atmosphere I prefer and, especially, how to decide whether a restaurant at which you’ve never eaten will be worth trying.

Quite frankly, after penning more than 2,000 newspaper columns over the years, I can’t be sure exactly which rules I’ve already covered, so I’ll go over my old rules fairly quickly:

  • If you’re in some small town with which you’re unfamiliar and it’s lunchtime, look for the restaurant with the most pickup trucks in the parking lot. This likely means it has good, hearty meals for hard-working folks. It’s not an exact science as there are some pickup drivers like I whose idea of a hard day’s work is trying to get out of a hammock without hurting myself.

  • Look for old folks. This usually means it’s in my price range — somewhere between cheap and cheaper. Again, no rule is absolute. If the old folks in the restaurant are Warren Buffett, Sheldon Adelson and George Soros, you should probably just move along. You’re not likely to be dressed for it anyway. At least, I wouldn’t be. (Note: If you see old folks who also drive pickup trucks, stop at once and eat immediately! It’ll be worth it!)

  • Ties are not required and perhaps not even allowed. Ties are scientifically proven to interfere with digestion, breathing and common sense. Heck, if a restaurant even requires sleeves, it might be a little too uppity for my tastes.

  • You get to pick the sides. If you go to a restaurant with a menu that tells you which sides an entree is served with, leave and find one that let’s you pick the sides. You’re the customer. “No substitutions” means “no thank you.”

  • And, lastly in this old rules recap, if the servers call you “sir” or “madam,” run. Either the food will be tiny, hoity-doity items covered with weeds that appear to have been thrown up by a rainbow-colored cat or you’re under arrest. Waitresses who call me “honey” or “sweetie” and waiters who call me “hoss” or “champ” usually bring better food. Waiters who call me “sweetie,” however, will get a lesser tip.

Those old rules still apply, but I found some new ones during a quick getaway to the beach last week. At least a couple deserve to be in my top 10:

  • The amount of dead animals on the walls likely correlates to a higher quality of food. Coming home from the beach, we stopped at the world’s best barbecue joint, Hungry Hillbilly’s, just outside of Jesup, Georgia. I’m pretty sure it had walls, but it was hard to tell from the number of deer, alligators, turkeys, squirrels, opossums, raccoons, ducks and what I’m pretty sure was the head of the Qanon Shaman covering them. I’d ordered delicious smoked chicken before I saw they had something called a “Roadkill Special.” I don’t know what it was or if they were just being facetious, but I’d be willing to eat an armadillo just to get back at them for what they’ve done to my yard over the years. So, new rule, look for dead animals on the walls, then order some.

  • Then there was a place called Iguana’s on Saint Simons Island where I ordered a Cowboy Chicken Sandwich. Recently, I wrote about how this whole chicken sandwich war was ridiculous. Now I have confirmation of that because Iguana’s has clearly won it. The chicken patty extended over an inch from all sides of a rather large bun. It’s the first time in my life I’ve ordered a sandwich and thought, “I don’t know if I can eat all of this.” (Don’t worry, I did.) So, next new rule, if you can’t see your meat for your bun or if your sandwich does not somewhat resemble someone from “My 600-Pound Life” wearing an extra small micro bikini, don’t waste your time.

    (There is an exception to this latest new rule — Troy’s Snack Shack, which has the best slider burgers on the planet. The meat generally does not stick out of the bun there unless the cook is going too fast and doesn’t have time to perfectly center the meat. This is, after all, a place where you get your order filled in a matter of seconds, not minutes. They get a pass on the meat-outside-the-bun rule, though, because the grease that permeates all the wrappers and bags makes up for it.)

Online only (a photo tour of some of my favorite restaurants):

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