I was trying to eat some dinner. I was not trying to explain how the food industry in Casco Viejo relates to its counterpart in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. But if you have a lot of time on your hands or access to a bottle of Seco, sometimes these things are inevitable.
I will never say the name of the restaurant I am about to describe. I never out people. Or maybe better said, I never out people who are wholeheartedly trying their best. People who are not trying their best, I will usually out immediately.
It was 5:30pm and I was going out to eat dinner because I was lazy and didn’t want to put together some homemade osso buco. I chose a place owned by a local resident: a place I sometimes have drinks at but never eat at because its reputation for food is dreadful. The owner and the entire staff are extremely, almost scarily nice. They all wear smiles and they remember you by name which, in Panama, is a tremendous refreshment. They are not unlike the special kids from school who are eerily happy even though they have learning disabilities.
I sat down at a table. The restaurant was empty and quiet, save the buzzing of the bartender’s cell phone radio, so everyone could hear when I ordered some fish. They seemed surprised by this, but not bowled over. There was some polite small talk until the fish arrived but when I began to eat it, I realized that not only was it raw on the inside but there was a worm, roughly the size and shape of a string of overcooked linguini, in my salad.
I am generally unsqueamish. But this almost made me barf. It was the grossest plate of food I have ever seen served at a restaurant. I left the restaurant without paying and immediately retreated home to make osso buco.
I told this story to my friend Andy and he reminded me about a restaurant we once ate at during an internship in South Carolina called Dick’s Last Resort. The premise of the restaurant is simple. The wait staff is trained to insult guests. It is one of those overly-kitchy places located next to an outlet mall with a fake bridge leading to the front door.
I’m not kidding. This is the concept for the restaurant. The employees are intentionally rude as hell. I remember asking a busboy where the bathroom was and he pointed towards the back calling me cocksucker. Because it’s expected, this is supposed to be funny. It’s supposed to be entertaining when the waiter tells you that you’re a “fucking asshole” or makes you a paper hat that says “I just pissed myself.”
On paper this may sound like a novel idea and to a lot of people, it’s just about the best restaurant in the world. But to me, Dick’s was plain old stupid. I understood the idea. I understood the shock value. I just thought it was terrible. Except the food, however, which was actually really amazing. At Dick’s I had the best BLT I have ever eaten. It was a majestic tribute to bacon.
So this is what Andy reminded me of: a restaurant with terrible service (on purpose) and amazing food (probably by accident) versus a restaurant with amazing service (on purpose) and terrible food (by accident). They are exact inverses and this means they should be equal. But they are not.
Entering the Casco Viejo inverse of Dick’s, you have zero expectations. It’s a cheesy place with some cliché signs and corny music. Guests are traditionally impressed by the service and that is enough for a lot of people. But entering Dick’s is like being told you’re about to get kicked in the gut right before it happens. This, for those other people, lessens the blow. Which restaurant would you be more inclined to hate?