The next time you’re in Copenhagen, Denmark, you should stop by a little restaurant called Noma and try to get chef Rene Redzepi to cook you up some dinner. Try, I said. Chances are he won’t because you’ll never get a seat. Because according to the article I just read, Noma is the best restaurant in the world.
I wasn’t sure what sort of food—“cuisine,” I guess I should say—chef Redzepi whips up. The article said his dishes are “on the cutting edge” and that “the result is a very idiosyncratic style of food that speaks to concerns about the way a global food culture turns our eating experiences a uniform beige.”
After reading that, I still didn’t know what sort of food Noma served.
I’m not sure what sort of food the other restaurants listed in the article served, either. Places like Arzak in San Sebastian, Spain and Iggy’s in Singapore and L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon in Paris. But it did get me thinking.
I know some pretty good places to eat, too.
Take the pizza place here in town. Walk in there any day of the week (except Sundays of course, when they’re closed) and before the door swings shut you’ll be welcomed at least five times by everyone who works there. Order a pie, and Tony will get your life story while he tosses the dough in the air right in front of you. He’s a bartender without the alcohol. He’ll listen to your problems and let you cry on his shoulder, and when you’re done he’ll tell you in his still-thick Italian voice that most of what’s wrong with you can be easily cured if you just went to church.
There’s the place on Main Street, too. Originally bought and operated by the man who was once my Little League coach. The old schoolhouse had been wasting away for years before he got the idea to move in and set up shop. It’s generally considered The Place To Be on Sunday afternoons when all the churches let out. Baptists and Methodists and Lutherans flock there to prove that though certain theological points may separate us, food never will.
Take a seat there, and you’ll likely get Elaine as your waitress. She’ll call you Honey and Sweetie and tell you that you really should try the peanut butter pie. You’ll try it, too. Just to make her happy. I can sit there in the big dining hall that was once a gym and can almost imagine the ghostly footsteps and laughter of children who are now grown with grandchildren of their own. My parents among them. They both once played basketball there during gym class. I once ate lunch in their old classroom.
The place on Main Street is highly recommended. Just make sure you don’t stop by during the third week of July. They close down then so the fire department can host their carnival in the restaurant’s parking lot.
Let’s not forget the BP station, either. Home of the best fried chicken in town. If you stop by there and you’re extra nice to the lady behind the counter, she’ll give you extra potato wedges for free.
But by far my favorite eating place is an old picnic table on the Blue Ridge Parkway. There is a caveat, though—you have to bring your own food. And that’s okay, since technically you’ll still be eating out.
The picnic table is good for breakfast or lunch, but perfect for dinner. Make your reservations for seven-ish. Spread a tablecloth, get your sandwiches and your sweet tea, and watch as the sunset falls on the valley below. You can see my entire town from that spot—a few subdivisions, lots of trees, and miles of cornfields. You tend to feel small up there, and I think that’s the point. It’s nice to be reminded sometimes that you’re not the center of the universe.
I don’t know much about fancy eating. I generally don’t put anything in my mouth that I can’t pronounce. God made me a regular guy, and so He gave my palate a hunger for regular food. I’m good with that.
But you know, if Noma in Copenhagen, Denmark is the best restaurant in the world just because it enhances one’s eating experiences, then I say my restaurants are better. Because it’s not just the food I enjoy when I visit them, it’s also the company.
And the view.