Eating my way around Denver, Colo. in the early 2000s, I delighted in discovering delicious restaurants, which included a regular rotation of brewpubs, Mexican dives, Middle Eastern cuisine, and an Argentine pizza place. Oh, the empanadas...
One thing saddened me, though. I knew I would never be able to sample all Denver had to offer. I often tried to do the math, wondering how long it might take, but it was clearly impossible.
Then I moved to a much more manageable food city: Columbia, Missouri. Eight years later, I found myself wondering: How many restaurants could there be in this town of 100,000 residents? And could I eat at all of them? In a year?
This time, I did some research. There were far fewer than Denver, of course, but more than I expected. After eliminating bars and coffee shops and adding in new spots that opened during the course of the year, I ended up with more than 200 unique restaurants on my Google spreadsheet. The good news—and an even bigger surprise—was that I had already visited 144 of them. That left 69, and that seemed like a project I could handle. In 2014, I decided, I would take the plunge.
Reader, I ate a lot of food. From strip malls to sit-downs, I covered places I’d never visited, places I’d never wanted to visit, and places I’d always meant to visit. A veteran patron of the upscale Chris McD’s ordered the perfect multi-course dinner for me there—definitely the best seafood in town. On the other end of the seafood spectrum, at Long John Silver’s, I hacked away with my flimsy plastic utensils at the greasy breading before my daughter would believe that, yes, there was a piece of fish inside.
With a combination of feminism and irony, I went to Hooters. I wanted to be offended by sexism, but in the end I took more offense at the loud music, sticky tables, mediocre food, and cocktails made from Mountain Dew than anything the servers were wearing. Good-naturedly, we ordered wings and a pitcher of Pabst Blue Ribbon, because when you go to Hooters, you might as well go all in.
I became a fan of “the fancy lunch.” Slipping into the semi-private environs of The Wine Cellar and Bistro to catch up with a friend felt downright decadent in the middle of the work week. Dungeness Crab Crêpes as a starter? Yes, please. Ditto to being treated to a birthday lunch at the standout Sycamore. This, I could get used to.
Budgeting my time--and my money--to finish the list means I didn’t frequent my usual places as often. Previously of the “oh-wherever-you-want-to-go-is-fine” attitude, during this year-long experiment I surprised myself with the realization that I do, indeed, have favorites, and I missed them. I missed the nachos at Coley’s, and the nachos (Bianco) at Addison’s. I missed the Shrimp and Chipotle Gouda Grits at Bleu. I missed the prosciutto-wrapped asparagus and portobello fries at Room 38. I missed sushi.
It wasn’t only the food that I missed. Sitting under the harsh fluorescent lights of my umpteenth Chinese counter service, eating off a Styrofoam plate, I missed the chic and comfortable atmosphere of 44 Stone or Bangkok Gardens. (Okay, I missed their food, too.) Yes, I missed the pierogi at Cafe Poland, but I also missed the warm, familiar greeting and the record player. I missed the bustling community vibe of Uprise Bakery.
With my year of eating comprehensively behind me, I’m back to a regular rotation of favorites now. When it came to many places on my spreadsheet, I now realize, there was a reason I’d never previously visited: most restaurants are not worth going out of your way for.
But while I won’t miss the ones that didn’t make the grade, I have to admit to experiencing a gluttonous joy when someone inquires of me, “Have you ever eaten at…?”
Why, yes, I have.
Audra Jenkins lives with her husband, son, and daughter in Columbia, Missouri where she blogs for The Columbia Daily Tribune. She enjoys reading, writing, traveling, and wearing gray sweaters. When she’s not meeting people for dinner or drinks, she’s usually on social media arranging meetings for dinner or drinks. Connect with Audra on Twitter @audrajenkins.
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