After a couple of surprisingly good recent meals I'm feeling forced to reconsider my food rules. I know I'm not the only one who has them. They're the basis from which I determine what to order where and when. They do require a little basic food knowledge, like that strawberries ordered in November will not be fresh or at least not flavorful. Here's a few of my own food rules:
1. Seafood should not be consumed more than an easy day's drive inland.
2. Don't order dishes featuring out-of-season fruit.
3. BBQ is only done right from about as far north as Kentucky.
4. Do not order fried catfish in a northern state. Ever.
5. Only in the south do they know how to make sweet tea correctly.
Let's take these in order. With modern shipping services providing delivery so fast that the shrimp could just say "beam me up Scotty" and arrive from the boat to the restaurant kitchen instantaneously, I'm willing to let this rule slide a bit. However I do limit this to places I know can actually get their seafood fresh. The big tip-off? The prices usually reflect the added cost of that sci-fi speed delivery.
I'm really not sure I want to change my out-of-season fruit rule. Strawberries out of season or those big beauties they try to pawn off at the local grocery store as "fresh berries" look pretty. That's where the goodness ends. They have a complete lack of any discernible flavor. Visual is important with food, don't get me wrong, but flavor is pretty essential too.
With my recent experiences, I think I'm strongly reconsidering my BBQ rule. I've had some mediocre BBQ in the south and some good things coming from our northern friends. I have to conceed, this rule has finally become obsolete, thankfully so!
The catfish rule.... that's a tough one. I have stuck to this one thanks to a wonderful great uncle of mine who used to come visit at least once a year from Michigan and would always want to eat fried catfish at least once. He assured us that the folks from his current home state did not know how to cook catfish, and that breading with cornmeal was a lost concept there. I can't say I've traveled in Michigan or even in northern states enough as of late to really test this out, so I'm for now I'll trust what he said.
A friend recently returned from an Alaskan cruise and she remarked how one thing she really missed was sweet tea. I can undoubtedly relate. After travels across the states, my rule of "Sweet Tea only in the South" still holds true. What is labeled as sweet tea in the south is really a concoction resembling simple syrup with a twist of tea. It's not just sweetened, it's truly sweet. It's probably not the healthiest beverage but it is often the beverage of choice in the south and getting outside of that area of the US is done at the tea drinker's risk.
One final rule I didn't list earlier that I simply cannot and will not ever let slide is the restroom rule. If the restaurant cannot be bothered to keep the restrooms at least clean at some basic level, that's simply inexcusable. I'm not asking for marble counters and floors that are spotlessly shined hourly; I humbly ask that the toilets, floor and sinks are clean. I prefer adequate amounts of toilet paper, soap and some mechanism for drying my hands (paper towels are preferred but dryers are acceptable. Bash away at me for killing precious trees, but I don't like having the cootie-filled air of a public restroom forcefully blown onto my now cootie-free hands.) These basic things don't take much to maintain and as I recall reading once, if the restaurant can't be bothered to keep the basics done in their restrooms, what level of cleanliness can you expect from the kitchen, or any area of the restaurant for that matter?
I have a few more guidelines when dining out, but these touch on the areas dealing with the seasonality and location of the food, which I have been reconsidering as of late. The global economy introduces tastes of one region into another and restaurants are embracing this trend. My own tastes over the years have gone from frustratingly finicky to somewhere approaching a willingness to try anything that can't bite back. That attitude change has led me to eating rattlesnake a few years back and just last week topping a french fry with a dollop of pimento cheese (it's actually good.) Most important, I've come to even break the rules, as sometimes those lines do have to be tested. Otherwise I never know what culinary goodness I might be missing!