Chain restaurants are all well and good, but sometimes you decide to give that little local place a try, to see if it's any good. You know the place: it's the one you've driven by any number of times while you've lived in your town, the one you occasionally see and think, "I should try that place some day." One day you finally decide to go in there and give it a shot. You walk in and size the place up a bit. What things should you be looking for, before you ever taste the food?
The older the building the place is in, the better.
It should have no dedicated parking of its own. You should have to park on the street or in a town lot and then walk to the place.
The dining room should have exactly enough tables to be served by a single server. Twice that number, making two servers, if it's warm weather time and thus they have the patio open.
The pictures on the walls should be tastefully chosen, with one or two not quite hung level. Bonus points for local artists' works being on the wall.
There should be a tiny counter with three or four stools where you could sit, if you wanted.
There should be a display case near the register that contains locally-made baked goods (if not baked goods made directly on the spot).
When you walk in, there should be several tables where people are still sitting who have already been done with their food for some time when you arrive.
The people at said tables should continue to linger while you're there.
The server should be on a first-name basis with at least one of the parties already in the dining room, if she's not already on a first-name basis with you.
The hours of operation should be early morning to early afternoon: breakfast and lunch only.
Breakfast should be served at all times.
The lunch menu should consist of seven or eight sandwiches, four or five salads, and a two or three burgers. And that's it.
Sandwiches should be served with chips and a pickle spear.
When you see the server bringing food to another table, you should note the impressive portion sizes relative to the prices on the menu.
If they're playing music, it should be commercial-free satellite radio. Or NPR with the volume turned high enough that you can recognize Carl Kasell's voice without being able to make out what he's saying.
And then the food arrives, and it is good.