MAY IT PLEASE THE PALATE: What's in a name?


I am an open-minded individual, who does not judge a book by its cover. However, I do judge a restaurant by its name. For example, there is a place in Ann Arbor called the Slurping Turtle. For a long time, I refused to go in there, derisively calling it the Slobbering Salamander, or the Salivating Rodent. Finally I relented when I was invited by a partner. The food was delicious, the service excellent – and there was nary a pool of drool to be found.

I had the same resistance when there was a club, years ago, called the Screaming Dog. Whatever image they were trying to convey, I wanted no part of it. I pictured rabid pit bulls on meth, with pounding
music and pulsing lights. I think it closed in less than a year.

A small Michigan chain restaurant is called “No Thai!” Does it mean they have Thai food, or not? “Oh honey, look, let’s go there! They don’t have Thai food!” “Why yes, sweetums – I too am irresistibly attracted to the absence of Thai cuisine!” Confusing, but some people swear by it for lunch.

A couple of national chains suffer from unfortunate monikers as well. Saying “Ruth’s Chris Steak House” gives people fits, akin to the classic tongue-twister, “The Sixth Sheik’s Sixth Sheep is Sick.” Yet the chain flourishes, and its founding is a feel-good story about a single mother named Ruth Fertel who worked for the Chris Steak House in New Orleans, taught herself to butcher, and bought the restaurant.

After a fire, she opened a new one nearby, but her sales agreement forbade her from using the name “Chris Steak House” at any other location. She added “Ruth’s” to differentiate it, yet maintain continuity. She confessed years later she always hated the name. She admitted a mistake? Must never have run for public office.

Here’re some other names to hate. Zagat, of restaurant rating fame, used to have an annual compendium. Recent honorees include “Rat’s Restaurant” in New Jersey, and several wince-worthy places in
California, including the “Dead Fish,” the “Pink Taco,” and “My Dung.” How about this one in Nairobi, Kenya? “The Stomach Clinic Railways Restaurant.” One stop for all your gastronomical needs, both culinary and medical.

Astonishingly, another web site has uncovered at least four restaurants throughout the world called “Sophie’s Choice.” I suspect their owners did not read the book, or see the movie. If they did, they’re awfully insensitive.

Insensitivity did not stop those who named “Frying Nemo Fish and Chips,” “Poopsie’s,” “McWank’s,” or “Cabbages and Condoms,” a restaurant in, um, Bangkok.
I’d better stop now. Be careful where you eat.


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