Tuesday, October 14, 2014

"Crossover Restaurants" a sign of Arabian Originality

My training in Arabian dining started early.

On a Wednesday this past June, my family moved into the home our church graciously provides. I was eager with anticipation, though I had a corresponding level of energy depletion.  I had to miss the first night of summer Wednesdays at the church because the movers were running late. Really late.

My feet hurt, and I was hungry. I would have eaten one of those microwave “burritos in a bag” I see at the gas station. Yet here came two delightful young women from the church, with a fresh fast-food bag in hand. The only thing better than the adventure of new places is the sight of friendly faces. But my weary craving for sustenance intensified their welcome, as if the skies had opened and angels had appeared.

The bag had the name of a local burger joint on it. “Oh, I love burgers!” I said. Here came my first lesson. “Oh, they do have burgers, but we got you some chicken. One of the first things you’ll learn about Arab is that this place is famous for their chicken.”

How strange, I thought. But it was good indeed. Over  subsequent weeks, I realized that this was the moment my intensive training on Arabian fare had begun. I know, it’s a matter of deep suffering for me to learn about local restaurants and give them a try. You can tell by my well rounded nature (I have gained so much while I’ve been here).

But everyone was more than willing to help me learn the ropes. I was surprised at how often food came up in those first conversations.

Let’s see if I’ve got it straight. The burger place is famous for their chicken. The ice cream place is famous for their jumbo cheeseburger. The pizza place is famous for its chicken salad. The Mexican place is famous for its pork chops and ribs. The wings place is famous for its vegetable buffet.

It’s so confusing! But it’s definitely not boring. That’s why I find it so endearing.

Second to my surprise realization that L-Rancho was NOT a Mexican Restaurant, this was the most curious twist of interesting crossovers in dining experience I’d ever heard of.

I simply love the food in Arab. It’s not only good, it’s whimsical. Why setlle for dining that is anything less than entertaining?

After four months, I’m still learning some of the deeper nuances of Arabian feasting. I’m discovering what is open when, and who has lunch specials for five dollars or less. I’ve noticed that several restaurants serve the best burger in town, because it depends who you ask. And I’m learning where to go to get the good stuff, Brindlee Mountain chicken sauce.

Some say food is the way to a man’s heart. I don’t know if that’s true, but I do know Arab has grabbed hold of mine. Like the food, this town is imaginive and creative. It’s artsy, whimsical, and playful. And it’s definitely original.

Where else would there be two restaurants side by side, owned by the same people, but one is only open for breakfast and the other only at lunch and dinner? Where else would the Italian place be in front of the Old Methodist graveyard? In what other small town do you have to specify which kind of Oriental you are talking about? Where else can you easily identify where the donuts came from, just by looking at them? In what other town can you find a waiter who is the local drum major, and ask him to sing and dance for your amusement? Where else do people go to the hospital just to eat at the cafeteria? Only the town that hosts the one and only Poke Salat Festival.

I have always taught my people to keep their “spiritual antennaes” up and look for God in the strangest of places. I think I’ve found one. This fanciful food is one serendipitous way a deep sense of goodness pervades this place.

When I get to heaven, I wonder what the table of grace will be famous for.

Steve West is a husband, father, minister, musician, and writer who serves as pastor of Arab First UMC. His blog "Musings of a Musical Preacher" may be found at stevewestsmusings.blogspot.com.