Sidetracked by the hoopla at Marcy’s Diner, this overdue list of where a 7-year-old From Away might like to dine is reader-driven. The suggestions also allow me to respond to a question (see below) that’s stuck in my craw.
1 — “Smitty’s Cinema in Windham,” said Loraine T. of Casco. “We get a lot of family visiting our camp, and when it rains, it gets hairy. Smitty’s has a decent menu for kids and adults, and they also have a bar. We eat, drink and watch a movie. You go for the whole thing, not just the food, even though I think the burgers are as good as anyplace. Plus, you can buy tickets in advance, so if it’s raining, you’re sure to get in.” Note: Smitty’s has several locations within driving distance of Portland.
2 — “The hibachi table at Fuji on Exchange Street,” offered Marleen N. of Portland. “Fuji used to be the only place to do Japanese table-side cooking. Now, Kon on Brighton Avenue does it, too, but we still like to bring our grandkids to Fuji. We walk around the Old Port and build up an appetite, and then go down there in a group so we take up a whole table. Even the older kids still love the flaming onion-volcano, the spinning egg trick, and when the chef flips shrimp tails into his tall hat. It isn’t cheap, and you smell like the place for hours after, but it’s an annual summer tradition for us.”
3 — “Children love music, so Old Port Lobster Co. is our favorite,” said Ted M. from Portland. “We try to go there for lunch on weekends and get settled about 10 minutes before the music starts. It isn’t fun if you don’t get a table outside, so try to beat the crowd. Plus, it isn’t the healthiest because we eat mostly onion rings and fried fish, but we don’t care because it isn’t something we have daily. Our toddler will dance right up front and then nap for hours.”
4 — “I’m sure I’ll be challenged on my suggestion,” said Mark R. of Cape Elizabeth, “but we bring our grandchildren to HomeTown Buffet at the Maine Mall. Their mother is strict about what they can eat, so when they’re with us, we want them to have fun. In my book, having fun includes eating what you want, and as much of it, too. Then my wife takes them shopping and spoils them.”
5 — “There are many cool places kids would like,” said Susan B., a mom and career server from South Portland. “Portland is a great town to introduce kids to new foods and flavors, but 7-year-olds aren’t so game to try new things. If I had to pick one place, I’d say Duckfat on Middle Street. Belgian waffle fries and dip choices might be a little overwhelming, but kids are French fry experts and this place does them best.”
Other reader suggestions included Silly’s, Salvage BBQ, Binga’s and “that cool Mexican restaurant in a parking lot,” which I’m guessing is El Rayo on York Street.
My own personal favorite for kids (and chronological adults) is the patio at Yosaku, also on York Street. Request a table by the mesmerizing waterfall (ducklings were just born), ask for a rigged pair of beginner chopsticks, and order your child an eater-friendly kid’s bento box. Start off with finger food like salty, steamed edamame, and it becomes an attention-holding experience to be enjoyed by all. And Yosaku, like many sushi restaurants, also has a wide and varied menu, including fully cooked, recognizable items.
Q — “How old is too old to work in a restaurant? I know you’ve said you like doing it and I know sometimes there isn’t a choice. But really, isn’t there a point when someone is too old?” — Lindsey H., Gorham.
A — I asked myself this very question over 30 years ago, and the no-brainer, party-line answer is still the same: Job satisfaction and personal happiness aside, a person is too old to do any job when it can no longer be performed safely, correctly and efficiently.
However, I suspect your question hints at the chronic hospitality ageism and discrimination running rampant in our urban-chic, borderline-pretentious dining utopia. Either that, or it’s aimed directly at me.
Regardless, ageism in restaurant hiring and retention is yet another topic that has made Elmer’s glue factory millions, and I’ll boost the stock by revisiting it again next week.
Natalie Ladd lives in Portland. When not pecking away, she can be found serving the masses at a busy eatery, or tirelessly conducting happy-hour field research. Hospitality questions or comments should be sent to email@example.com, and may be featured in a future column. Follow Natalie on Twitter: @natalieladd.