In a discussion about fast food, the In-N-Out Burger chain in California came up. I hear Californians sing its praises all the time. But I also hear people say that Californians only like it because it’s the home team, so to speak. I’ve never eaten there, so I don’t know how good their food is. But the whole discussion reminded me of something I have sort of noticed as I’ve moved around from place to place. Local establishments sometimes get a real pass on quality. I really noticed this when we moved to Estacado. There are a few places in Santomas that everybody says we must eat there. When I do, I find that it’s… pretty typical. Clancy and I were constantly disappointed with the food selection in Cascadia when we lived there and no place disappointed us more than the ones that were billed as local institutions. None of them were really bad (okay, one was), but there was really nothing remarkable about them. Sometimes it’s just the same food with a $2 markup.
There are a number of possible reasons for this. The first is a matter of acquired taste, which requires no real explanation. Second, the positive associations with the place that are not culinary in nature become transferred to the food. You go somewhere that is convenient, you have a good time, you think of the place positively, and you forget that the food is no better there than at the local IHOP. The last possibility that comes to mind is simply hometown pride. You like the food because it’s local.
There’s nothing wrong with any of these. I’m sure if I look back at some of the places that I thought of as institutionally great, it has more to do with the associations and disassociations. I associate it with a good time. I disassociate it with the formulaic makings of chains. And of course it gets some advantage of being different but also some of the advantage of being familiar. I have really grown to appreciate this as I have moved around. I spent my last several weeks in Cascadia eating at various non-chains specifically because they were non-chains (we’re going to put regional chains under the same category as “non-chains” for the purposes of this post). Was there food any better than a national chain I could have been eating at instead? Sometimes yes, sometimes no. But they were definitely places that I knew I would not be able to eat at anymore once I got to Callie. Places that made me appreciate Cascadia.
I have trouble getting through to my father on this point. He and I have the tradition of Saturday Morning Breakfast. We uphold it whenever I am in town, though we don’t limit it to Saturdays. It used to be that we would go to McDonald’s one week and then Happy Burger - a regional chain - the next. Back and forth, back and forth. However, when I go back now, I don’t want to eat at McDonald’s. I have McDonald’s everywhere else I go. Nor do I want to eat at Denny’s, where Dad likes to go for variety and a good deal. I want to eat at Happy Burger. Now, Happy Burger actually is better than McDonald’s, regional pride aside, but it’s not nearly as much better as I tend to think it be. It’s something that makes me appreciate being in Delosa.