One aspect of food establishments that is often overlooked is how a place that is ostensibly designed for retail transactions becomes a community center. This happens all of the time.
Here in the states, I’ve seen it in three types of establishments. The local bar is the most obvious example. Coffeeshops also fit the bill in many of a locations. And for some reason, I’ve seen diners that serve breakfast become the de facto hang out joint for folks before they head off to do the days chores. In the latter group, they are often discernible by waitresses who address customers as “Hon’” There’s restaurant not three blocks from my house that fits this bill. Of course, in typical Seattle style, they are also tattooed and have brightly unnaturally-colored dye jobs. I love these types of places.
Seattle, infused with taverns and bars, coffeeshops, and these ironic post-modern breakfast diners, seems to have more than our fair share of these types of places. Introducing a new food establishment is tricky, often because of the dearth of other similarly-minded locations. Things are getting so odd, that places like The Bohemian (pictured above) is both coffeeshop AND bar.
More than any other type of restaurant, I feel these types of locations are far more important to the food world than the highly-rated, Beard-winning, Michelin-Star having restaurants. These are the places that we go to on a regular basis, drawing us into, and eventually allowing us to feel as if we are part of our community.
With all of this talk about local foods, and maintaining regional identity, I have to conclude that an integral part of establishing “local food” credibility includes finding a place that allows you to feel a part of the community.
The truly great establishments on this planet do exactly that. One of the maxims that is heard while traveling is that, if one wishes to eat well, avoid the tourist traps and head to places where the taxi drivers/policemen/reporters hang out. “Hang out” is the operative phrase. If it is a place where one hangs out, it is sure to be a place that develops or defines a community.
So while we talk about local food, remember that this concept goes beyond simply eating from a farmers market. It means heading out into your neighborhood and getting to know those who live near you. Take a book, hang out, get known.