A Long Way from Western Oklahoma

Posted on December 18, 2011

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I was in Oklahoma and took a road trip with my girlfriend out through the plains. On a clear blue sky fall day we went and stood atop mesas in the Gloss Mountains, a park in the western half of the state which is barely on the map. From there, we drove about a half hour south to Roman Nose State Park where we spent the night. Shortly after we checked in, we asked someone at the front desk for a suggestion on dinner.

Well, there’s Sonic.”

We were in Watonga, Oklahoma, a small town in Western Oklahoma. After inquiring further, we learned there was also a Mexican restaurant. I do love Sonic every once and I while, but we were looking for a place where we could sit down.  And Sonic might be a cool place to visit with a date, but not necessarily for a date.  We were stunned.  These options were lean.

We opted for the Mexican restaurant. There were a few locals there, but the place was otherwise fairly empty for a Saturday night. The music played from an FM radio, with classic melodramatic grunge buzzing in the background. The chairs sucked. Think of your local VFW or Elks lodge and the cheap metal framed chairs with minimal cushions on the seat and the back. Those were the seats, firm and uncomfortable. For my meal, I ordered a chicken burrito. It was simply all right. Our meal and experience was no rave review, but our options were limited.

That was the second meal I had in Watonga as it was my second trip there. The first meal was Thanksgiving at another college friend’s house. That dinner was much better. There are nice and normal people who live in Watonga, there just isn’t much there.

In Nashville, Tennessee, Music City, USA, the home of Country Music and the Grand Ole Opry, choosing a restaurant goes way beyond Sonic or the Mexican joint. This may surprise some or many of my friends up North who have never been to South. But locals who love to dine out as well as those in the restaurant business rave about the many great choices.

Having lived here a few years I know of some standard fallbacks. If someone visits from out of town, the first place I take them to is Jack’s BBQ on Lower Broadway. If someone is moving here, I take them to Mafiaoza’s in 12 South. There are some other standard choices for lunch and dinner. But it isn’t always easy.

Because there is so much within a five mile radius of downtown, you can be in the mood for more than one cuisine. Even then, it can be a matter of which place for Thai or which place for a nice evening out. The choices can become murky and the decision tedious. The group eating out, the occasion and day of the week are all important. So much so, that there are category rankings for Nashville Dining spots.

Rating Nashville’s superlatives is no longer a new game. Local media outlets have published Best Of Lists for several years now. There are a few out there, but I have looked mainly to the Nashville Scene’s Best of Nashville list. These annual lists have been fairly reliable. They list the top three choices based on a reader’s poll. Relying on the list is relying on the voters, who are locals. They, the voters, usually get it right or close to right. One quirk, is that the list doesn’t feature every restaurant in town. And with that, I will say sometimes part of the fun can be finding great things not on the list. That aside, by and large the list is solid.

What the list does well is break things down into categories. There are some basics, Best Pizza, Best Italian, Best Sushi, Best Place to Play Pool, etc. After that the categories become more nuanced and include Best spot for a Power Lunch, Best Spot for a Romantic Evening, Best Cheap Eats and as well as many other specifics, all of which can be found on the Nashville Scene’s lists and website.

I make mention of the list, mainly because it best characterizes dining choices in Nashville. I can’t believe I have spent so much time ruminating over where to eat. The choice is no longer a burger or pizza, Italian or Thai, or a romantic restaurant over a cozy pub. It has become more specific than that, as evidenced by the nuanced categories. When I lived back East, I simply picked a place to eat. I never looked at a list.

Largely, I appreciate this and am thankful. I may not always have these choices. I may not always be this close to downtown. I may not always live here in Nashville. I am blessed to have so many first class restaurants in my area.

I also thinks it speaks highly of Nashville. As someone who grew up outside of New York and spent time in Los Angeles, along with visiting many other places, I know many who would be pleasantly surprised by the cosmopolitan qualities of the city. When people hear Nashville, something pops into their head, though it might not necessarily be what Nashville actually is.

Mulling over the Best of list and the many choices, takes me back to that trip to Watonga. I am a long ways from the simplicity of two choices. Some times I wish I was there, not because of the choices but the simplicity.  I would be nice to spare the 5 or 10 minutes sometimes spent on choosing a place to eat. Aside from that I like where I am.  What I really need to do is take the good with the bad, and be grateful I even have a choice to mull over.

Things could be worse. I could be in Watonga or another small town deciding over choices I could can on one hand. And I really would rather have more options. Or I could have other problems. I’ll try to remember that the next time I can’t decide where I want to eat.

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Posted in: Travel Stories