A Restaurant That Pleases Everyone

By Debbie Koenig

Our summer trips to mid-coast Maine always start the same way: When we cross the Piscataqua River Bridge from New Hampshire into Maine, we stop for lunch at a seafood shack in Kittery. My husband had his first-ever lobster roll here in 2004, and returning for another signals the official launch of our vacation. I don’t eat shellfish, so I always order a small basket of fried haddock (here’s how I handle that indulgence). Ever since he was old enough to decide what he wanted, our son has remained loyal to the shack’s hot dog.

Until this summer.

Inexplicably, kiddo decided that our two weeks in Maine would be a good time to start rejecting foods he’s eaten reliably for years. He stared at the hot dog, prodded it, doused it with mustard. After ten minutes he finally took a bite and announced that it tasted weird. He didn’t take a second bite. A similar scenario played out with the pizza he orders at another place, with nothing but mozzarella and black olives: This year the olives were too wrinkly. When you’re trying to feed a kid as super-picky as my son, losing items from the “safe” list feels catastrophic. Frankly, it’s hard to keep the panicky sensation from turning into anger. And too often, I defuse my anger by shoving food into my mouth willy-nilly. You won’t eat, kiddo? FINE, I’ll eat enough for both of us!

When I dine out, I want fresh, carefully prepared food, with lots of vegetables and can’t-get-this-at-home flavors. My husband does, too. Our son, on the other hand, seeks out unadorned, no-frills basics. If he spies a fleck of seasoning, it renders a grilled chicken breast inedible. Finding places that work for all of us became our biggest problem this vacation.

We did have three notable successes: At a renowned Maine diner, another of our regular spots, I enjoyed a simple dish of grilled haddock with sides of beets and corn. Meanwhile, kiddo devoured French toast, thank goodness. Gotta love a good diner, right? And in a bit of a Hail Mary play, we tried an outpost of a New England flatbread chain, a place we’d never been before. You cannot imagine how relieved I was when the server told my son that yes, they could do a personal-sized pizza with nothing but mozz and olives — and then when it arrived, he loved it. My husband and I, meanwhile, shared a ’za loaded with the restaurant’s house-made tomato sauce, caramelized onions, mushrooms, garlic, and herbs, light on the cheese. Everyone left happy that night.

The third success took us by surprise: During our drive back to New York, I scrolled through Kittery restaurant menus on my phone, in search of a suitable alternative to the seafood shack. Nothing. But then I realized we hadn’t read the shack’s menu in years, since we always order the same things. So I googled it and discovered that, in addition to the much-scorned hot dog, they also offered chicken tenders. Kiddo agreed it was worth a shot. Miracle of miracles, he actually ate some. That last lunch on the road sorta saved the whole trip for me.

If I had to divine a lesson from our two weeks away, it would boil down to a trick I learned at Weight Watchers: Whenever possible, check the menu before choosing a restaurant. At the diner, at the flatbread place, and again on our way back to New York, having a sense of what we’d order before we opened the restaurant door helped. A lot.

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