I was speaking with someone earlier this week about how El Dorado is, in many ways, a different place from the city I grew up in.
I never thought I’d see the day Ice Cube put on a show here, but it’s happening next weekend. I never thought I would see things like what the people of the Murphy Arts District do happen here, but they are. I never thought El Dorado would have a brewery, but we have one. I never thought that we would have a place to go and ax throwing, or even that there would be places to go and ax throwing, but we do.
We’ve managed to be one of the places Starbucks isn’t, but we have PCs (and I like it better anyway). A place like Mule Kick in MAD isn’t something teenage Caleb ever thought to steal from this town, but here it is.
Teenager Caleb would be happy to be wrong though.
But he would have liked to have had a place like PJ’s where he could hang out. Or Art Beats, for those of you who remember. It was a cool place. But he missed it by a few years.
There is something else that must change in this city if we are to continue moving forward towards a better and better future, twirling towards progress.
We need more variety of restaurants, dear fellow citizens.
It’s a big aspiration, I know, but we need it.
A friend of mine who has the ear of the city told me that it wasn’t too long ago that you could have an Outback Steakhouse here.
Now, I don’t think Outback Steakhouse is anything to write home about, but that’s not my point. Make no mistake, it’s not terrible. But you can already get a blossoming onion that’s just as good at JJ’s barbecue.
I mention Outback because my friend told me that the people doing market analysis to figure out where the new Outback Steakhouses will open have concluded that El Doradoites (what do we call each other?) Would not spend the money. needed to eat in Outback. They decided not to open an Outback here because they think we’re cheap.
I’ve heard other locals say the same thing – that is, we are, on the whole, cheap when it comes to dining out.
So, first of all, some of you have to stop being cheap. There, I said it.
Let me start with what we already have that is good.
Fayray’s is solid. It is a dining experience as refined as anywhere, and I have dined in fancy restaurants. Commandant’s Palace in New Orleans? Yes. Tavern on the Green in New York? Yeah. Fancy Parisian cuisine? I got it. And like I said, Fayray’s is solid.
Some of you won’t agree with what I’m about to say, maybe even categorically, and that’s okay. You cannot be right about everything.
Oriental Gardens is by far the best Chinese food in town. Ms. Ling serves excellent food. I ate Chinese in Chinatown in San Francisco, and it’s as authentic as Chinese food is here in the land of the free. I would put Oriental Gardens for what I had there any day.
Sweet Mama T’s will make you pick yourself up and, well, slap you mum.
Best burger? Naughty. T-Model is right behind. Best barbecue? Pupp’s (a recent and welcome addition to El Dorado’s culinary landscape). The best cold cuts? Timberlane Meat Market. Better pizza? Well, that was La Bella until it closed. I’m still waiting for this place to be filled. I admit that I’m kind of a pizza snob. The Piazza is a good Italian, however. The best donuts ever created by human beings? The Spudnut Shop (Must we say it?). Best Mexican? La Ranchera, on the East Main. There is a restaurant besides the grocery store, and you miss out on not eating there. I’m just telling you. The other 412 Mexican places we have don’t compare.
When I first returned I said we needed a Japanese place and we have had two since. Yamato is good and Hachi Hachi is fantastic. Both steps in the right direction.
So here is what we need:
1. A Greek / Middle Eastern place. We had one once, El Dorado. I was just a kid, but I remember it. It was called the Bethlehem restaurant. The Baumgardner family have been there several times. This did not last long due to the culinary incuriosity of the people of El Dorado at that time. This is what Jesus ate and you all let it shut up. We need another one. We need redemption.
2. An Indian place. Indian cuisine is my favorite food. Samosas and naan and curry and kofta and korma and biryani and vindaloo and saag paneer and spicy teas and rice pudding and mango lassis and really all that. I need it here and so do you, even if you don’t know it yet.
3. A Vietnamese place. Pho places (pronounced “fuh”) are all the rage these days. If you don’t know what pho is, look for it. It is a delicious Vietnamese soup. But I loved Vietnamese food before the pho got hot. There is a Vietnamese restaurant in Camden now. They beat us to get one. But then they also beat us to get a brewery, so maybe Camden is going up in the world. We love you, Camden.
4. A Thai place. There is nothing like Thai cuisine. It’s spicy in a way that other foods aren’t, but a lot of its dishes also have a sweetness. And it’s so colorful, rich and complex. And Monticello has a Thai restaurant and we don’t.
We must do better.
Some of you might think El Dorado wouldn’t put up with places like this, but I don’t think that’s true. As I said earlier, El Dorado is a different city than it was when I was young. I think we may have gotten more culinary adventurous. We just need a few intrepid restaurateurs to step in.
Let’s try something new.
El Dorado will be better off.
Caleb Baumgardner is a local lawyer. He can be contacted at [email protected]