What this city needs, of course, is fewer "good" restaurants and more greasy spoons featuring greasy-spoon prices.
A fine restaurant is, to begin with, a sort of divine thing, flung down by celestial powers, and rather beyond the soul of the average cook.
But nothing is easier than to "imitate" a great restaurant, and certainly nothing is easier, or more widely prevalent, than copying the prices from a great restaurant's menu.
But you will say we could never enjoy a greasy-spoon place. Wrong. All greasy-spoon places have one or two dishes just dandy, and often you can find out what they are after a period of rumbling.
In any case, at the "lousy" restaurant, even if it's not very good, you haven't spent a lot of money. Consider the number of "fine" restaurants you have eaten at, where the food was in essence K rations with curdled be'arnaise.
This whole business of pretending to run a great restaurant (though the cook would be hard put to make an edible Brown Sauce or produce a melon that could hold its head up in Alabama) shows merely that the point of a restaurant has strayed too far from the target of dispensing delectables. Possibly the Lord will send a flood.
There are occasional restaurants that keep prices fairly low and nevertheless serve good food, but they are rarer than a good gumbo.
If you ever find such a restaurant (and they are there) and if you have any sense, you never let anybody else know about it, and if the name of the restaurant comes up, you can let a passing expression cross your face, as if in memory of past ptomaine. There is no point encouraging crowds.
It often happens people say they want better coffee and Danish at an office. So there is a great commotion about how the coffee is going to be much better now that a new fellow is taking over the concession. Sure enough, the price goes up and the coffee is better. But it is like dieting. A year later the coffee is just what it used to be, except that the new higher price has remained. This is probably all they learn at business school and all they need to learn.
At first, both quality and price go up. After a bit it is discovered that if the price stays the same, a greater profit can be made by cutting down on the shrimp and going heavy on the cornstarch. It is also discovered that cornmeal (the weevils sifted out) and pork trimmings allow a dish that can be sold "reasonably," (less than $14.50) while permitting a fair profit (2,500 percent). Since Americans are grossly polite and terrified of restaurant people, nobody screams. Amazing and wonderful. After a year or two it occurs that you need a few classy dishes and you discover there are places that prepackage frozen Sole Marguery and so forth and you can make a nice profit on that and other "convenience foods."
These grim reflections have turned me to other instances of the normal but deplorable human yearning to (a) appear better than one is and (b) save or make a buck while one is about it.
I know of a woman of reduced means who did not want her neighbors to know she could not afford meat for the family dinner. She spread a damp towel on the kitchen table (I don't know that it had to be damp, but hers was) and took a plate and banged the edge of it on the hard surface, having trained the youngest boy to meow like a cat. It was assumed by the neighbors she was pounding round steak.
Then there was a man who did not believe in flinging money around who nevertheless had to invite some people for dinner. Aghast at the price of fresh shrimp, he settled for the cheapest frozen ones he could find, refreshing them in a pan of water to which he added a few drops of iodine from the medicine cabinet. And sure enough, the iodine brought him some compliments on the freshness of his shrimp.
I know other examples but would not cite them to gentle ears. Surely we agree the little boy meowing like a cat so the neighbors won't sneer at the family poverty is rather attractive, in a pathetic way. The fellow with the iodine bottle is not so admirable, and the examples I blush and refuse to report are positively awful.
Of course, if you start growing fond of humans as they are (a vice one falls into in old age), you will have to get over a good bit that is not admirable.
When I was quite young and therefore held other people to high standards, I was shocked at people (most of the hostesses of Washington) who went in for such petty deceits as chopping up black olives, pretending they were truffles.
I now see this was a perfectly sensible thing to do, since truffles nowadays have no taste whatever.
It is also arguable, nowadays, that restaurants pretending to grandeur may as well charge extremely high prices, since their customers usually are there for reasons having nothing to do with food, such as showing they have money to burn, or impressing somebody that they always go "first class," or because they know a certain public figure goes there and they hope eventually to stumble over him and thus gain an introduction. For these purposes, slop with endive is as good as can be expected. Even worse are the good restaurants that cook superbly and charge like hell. Nothing wrong with the food, except you could have gone to Bermuda for the price.
I remember an awful food service at an office, but they had glorious scrambled eggs and sausage. Less than a buck. Of course my guests got a bit tired of invitations for 9 a.m.
What it all comes to is whether you'd rather have greasy pork chops for $2.65 or slightly better (20 percent better) pork chops for $19.75. In such a case, surely there is something to be said for a little grease.