You can lead a man to creative food, but you can't make him step out of his comfort zone.
When a newish friend suggested lunch, I countered with Vagabond, knowing it was two blocks from where he worked. "I haven't been there since the name change," he tells me and we set a time.
Arriving first, I spot a hungover-looking bartender eating lunch at the bar and catch up with him, barely returning to my seat when a newly-blond friend approaches, having spotted me from across the room. We finish up just as my friend arrives.
I could tell from looking at his face as he scanned the menu that it was not to his taste, a fact confirmed when I asked where he usually eats lunch. His answer told me everything I needed to know: Joe's Inn, the Hill Cafe, Tarrant's. His current weekly favorite is Bandito's.
Seems he used to be a huge fan of Home Team Grill but thinks the quality of the food has declined. Was it ever elevated, I wonder?
Eventually he decides on the chicken salad sandwich (I'd already guessed it would be that or the egg salad - not for him the likes of braised pork cheek tacos or even barley), despite its inclusion of cranberry, pecan and orange.
I could see he was hesitant about the accompanying green soup du jour, a killer potato asparagus from the taste I'd had, but he eventually lapped it up, sounding shocked about how tasty it was.
Only a Vagabond virgin would be surprised at how good the food was.
Meanwhile, over on my side of the table, I was totally digging two filled-to-bursting shrimp tacos laden with charred pico de gallo, hot sauce crema and, yes, popcorn, accompanied by a magnificent side salad that could have been a standalone it was so well executed.
Where we had lots to talk about was on the subject of his mid-century modern house and the fabulous updates to it, including plenty of before and after photos that proved what the house I'd toured on Riverside Drive had: that a '60s box of a dwelling has plenty of room for improvement with a bit of creativity and a little effort.
Kind of like that elevated chicken salad sandwich. If only it were as easy to improve a boring eater's habits.