In Defense of Being a Regular

I wrote this piece a few months before the COVID-19 pandemic but am publishing it now. Now more than ever we are being reminded how important our favorite places and food service providers are to us. Support your favorite businesses and workers during and after this pandemic in any way you can.

Oftentimes as a foodie, I feel the pressure to constantly try new foods, new places, new cuisines.  I live between two small cities with some great restaurants, and I am embarrassed to admit we hardly ever venture out to either of them. (The New York Times even did a feature on the Lancaster food scene last year.)

The pressure to try new places even infiltrated my New Year resolutions: we have committed to trying at least six new restaurants in our area this year.

Yet every special occasion, or every time we want to take friends out for a great meal, hubs and I always have the same conversation: Should we try someplace new, or just go up the hill?

You probably have an “up the hill,” too.  Or an “around the corner,” or a “down the street.”  For us, it’s BG, or Black Gryphon Dining and Spirits, and it’s the place that makes us wonder why we ever go anywhere else. It’s also the place that makes our friends ask “why don’t you ever go anywhere else?” or “Are you guys stuck in a rut?”

Trying new things is great, but here’s why it’s ok to have your usual spot, too.

It’s Close

Our spot is quite literally “up the hill” from our house.  No traffic, and no long drive there or back, which means more post-date night couch snuggling. It’s the first available spot when we are starving after an hour of debating what we want for dinner. It’s also walkable, which we have done on nights when we have had too many cocktails.  (Ok, that may have been more stumbling and rolling than walking.)

It’s Reliable

I always have some trepidation about trying a new place. What if it’s terrible? Dirty? Boring? Crowded?

But you know you will not have a bad meal at your favorite restaurant.  It’s going to be delicious, and there will be something you like.  You trust the chefs, the specials will be fabulous, and you probably have several favorites to choose from on the menu.

I don’t just have the menu memorized at BG, chances are I am craving something on it (usually chocolate hot wings.) And luckily, they change the menu frequently, so I can still try something new and know it will be great.

It’s Something and Someone You Want to Support

When you go to your usual place, you aren’t just dining out, but investing money in a business that you love and want to see thrive in your town or neighborhood.  You’re also putting money into pockets of people who may have become your friends.  You’re helping someone you know and love build and grow their dream.

At BG, specifically, I also know I am getting locally grown and harvested meat, produce, and products, so I am also supporting local farmers, butchers, brewers, and other food purveyors, not to mention rotating local artists who use the restaurant as a gallery.  BG also participates in numerous fundraisers for other local organizations.

In short, when you support the establishments you know well, you are putting your consumer dollars back into your communities and the things you care about.

Live art during a local artisans event

It’s Home

I grew up with a big family, and big family dinners, and moving just three hours away from them was a hard adjustment.  But finding a second home at our usual place has made it a little easier.  I know when I walk in, at least a few staff and patrons will be happy to see me.  Along with a great meal, I’ll get at least one hug before I head out for the night.

A blurry picture with the owner (sorry, but like I said, they make good drinks)

And the love is reciprocal.  When the restaurant had a fire a couple years ago, we helped with a fundraiser to keep some money in the employees’ pockets while they rebuilt.  I don’t doubt for a second they would do the same for us.

Having certain meals at your favorite place becomes tradition.  New Year’s Eve would just be wrong if I didn’t hear the owner’s dad sing Auld Lang Syne, have the veal pot roast special, and close down the bar with the kitchen staff.

I hope everyone is lucky enough to have a usual spot that’s as great as ours.  But even if your spot hasn’t become a replacement for family dinners, there is no shame in being a regular at your favorite restaurant where you know the food and service will be great and you won’t be sorry you came.

Caramelized Onion and Cream Cheese Toast with Runny Eggs

Toast seems to be having a moment, and I am here for it.  It’s about time it got some appreciation, really.  A typical food day for me is metaphorically sandwiched between two pieces of toast – a buttered slice with runny eggs for breakfast and a piece (or two) with homemade jam and butter for dessert or that “I just want a little something else” after dinner.

I never quite got on the avocado toast train.  It’s ok, but it’s what I ate for a week after I got my wisdom teeth out.  It’s a little boring, really. But what avocado did do for toast is remind us that there are all kinds of savory things we can smear on it. 

This concoction, like all the best concoctions, was made from necessity and desperation to find something good for breakfast.  I don’t remember for sure, but it probably went something like this:

Me, laying in bed on a Saturday morning:  “Ooh, there’s a bagel downstairs! That’s worth getting out of bed for!”

Me, searching the entire kitchen for said bagel: “I know it’s here somewhere!”

Me, looking defeated and realizing the hubs probably already ate it:  “Damnit, David!”

However it went down, I know I was about to settle for my usual runny eggs and toast, but then had an idea – take the best parts of runny eggs and toast, and an onion bagel with cream cheese and *poof* – Caramelized Onion and Cream Cheese Toast with Runny Eggs.

I like this with literally any kind of toast and cream cheese.  Pictured is some good Tuscan bread that I buttered and toasted in the pan as the onions finished, but I have done this with a slice of Pepperidge Farm Oatmeal or 12-Grain in the toaster, as well.  Here I just used plain Philly cream cheese, but veggie or salmon would be good, too. 

The time consuming part is caramelizing the onion, and honestly, if I don’t feel like hanging out in the kitchen in the morning, I just fry them up a bit and they are fine.  But when I want to put the time in, I get the onion in the pan right away and then take some time making a pour-over before starting my toast and eggs.

And here you have it.  It’s barely a recipe.  It’s toast, for crying out loud.  But it’s delicious.

Caramelized Onion and Cream Cheese Toast with Runny Eggs

1 small onion, thinly sliced

2 tbs butter

2 slices of bread, toasted in a toaster or in the pan

Salt and pepper

Cream cheese (about an ounce, but who am I to tell you how much cream cheese to put on your toast?)

2 eggs

Optional:  something green (chives, parsley, thyme, dill) and/or something spicy (chili crunch, red pepper flakes, hot sauce, gochujang, sriracha)

Melt the butter in a small skillet over medium heat. (Or, if you want to make your toast at the same time, use a larger skillet).  Add the onions.  Once the onions start to become transparent, add salt and pepper.  Continue to cook low and slow, adding a pat of butter, a drizzle of olive oil, or a tablespoon of water if the onions become dried out.  A good caramelization can take 15-20 minutes, so be patient. (Or don’t and just fry them up in the butter – I promise it will still be good).  As the onions are close to finishing, push them to one side.  You can use the rest of the pan to toast your bread and cook your eggs over easy (or to your liking).

When the onions are finished, spread cream cheese to your liking on the toast and top with the caramelized onions.  You can stop here if you want – this alone makes a delicious snack or breakfast.  Or add your over easy egg to each slice.  Sprinkle on any optional add-ons and enjoy.

Why Gooseberries and Beans?

My food journey is a little bit nostalgia and a little bit adventure. It’s a little bit of the things I took for granted and a little bit of finally being courageous to try something new.

Gooseberries and beans are both of these things for me.

On my grandparents’ farm as a kid, summers were waiting for the first gooseberries to ripen on the bush behind their house, and indulging in the sweet-tart pop of the berry in my mouth while I helped Grandma hang sheets on the clothesline. Summers were sitting on the porch, or at the picnic table in the shade, snapping green beans for canning. Green beans are still my favorite fresh garden vegetable.

Because of this, when I bought a house with my husband, I insisted we plant a gooseberry bush in the front yard and a small summer garden in the back. That gooseberry bush has produced a bounty of gooseberries for the past several years, but gooseberry recipes are in short supply in the US. This became a turning point for me, when I realized I had the confidence in my cooking and baking abilities to experiment and create my own recipes.

And beans seem to show up in all the best food experiences. My husband’s chili. Making my own hummus for the first time. Eating my first chana masala. The jelly beans my now-husband brought me on our first date. And of course the best beans – fresh ground coffee beans.

Maybe something here will spark some nostalgia for you, too. Maybe it will make you brave to try something new. Maybe it will help you find confidence in the kitchen or teach you something new. I hope this blog feeds all of those hungers and more.