After all these years, I finally dined at the Auction House Café Wednesday evening. The place has been a fixture in Wayland since 1936, and yet I didn’t eat there during my high school years, my Wayland Globe years and even after my return in 1986.
There is no rational reason. I like small-time eateries that serve real cooked food, that have a daily special and soup made from scratch rather than just microwaved. I also have grown to appreciate the old school restaurants that are disappearing from the landscape because of the onslaught of fast food, sports bars and franchise joints.
My dining experience at the Auction House was quaint and tasty. I ate real mashed potatoes and my daughter raved about the soup. We were greeted by the co-owner, Mike Estep, who recently bought the place with his fiancé, Tammy Miller Thomas. He said preparing and cooking real food is his passion, but he understands too many people want their food quickly, never mind the quality.
I hope he and Tammy succeed simply because this town needs the alternative of an old school restaurant that has an emphasis on taste, not speed.
I don’t eat out very often for economic reasons, but sometimes also stop in at the Vibrant Grains Restaurant and Bakery downtown. I’m partial to local yokel restaurants that serve breakfast any time, as does the Auction House. I’m partial to restaurants owned and operated by people who actually live here.
I really enjoy homemade soup or goulash, or some strange dish that serves as the special of the day because chances are good that the cook or chef really gave a tinker’s cuss about the quality of the concoction.
When my wife and I traveled around the country, following the collegiate exploits of our running son, we made it a point to eat only at local restaurants. I understand some folks would rather eat something safe, with which they are familiar. But why travel to another town to eat what you can get so easily anywhere?
It was in Edwardsville, Ill., that we flagged down a cop on a Saturday morning to ask him where the best place to eat was. Without hesitation, he replied, “The Sunrise Grill,” where I dined shortly afterward on its fabulous breakfast skillet. When we were returning from Joplin, Mo., we stopped at a small community that had a downtown restaurant that was not only local, but touted all of its food as being grown or raised within 50 miles.
Yes, franchise and fast-food restaurants are safe, predictable and humdrum. You pretty much know what you’re getting from an Applebee’s in Grand Rapids and one in Pasadena, Calif. And they crow in their commercials about “Eatin’ good in the neighborhood,” when they really don’t care a whit about where we live, except to take our money.
The problem is many local eateries have gone belly up in the last couple of decades because too many people instead patronize those safe and familiar fast-food joints owned by corporations far, far away.
I remember well, perhaps almost 50 years ago, when this area featured the likes of Spencer’s Restaurant, Dot’s Grill, the Northway Grill, the Farm House and a place whose name I didn’t know except that it had a big “Eat” sign above it on West Superior Street. But these days, Vibrant Grains and the ancient and durable Auction House Café, along with a couple of bar-based eateries, are the only local food places left.
Wayland, like so many other communities, has been overrun by corporate entities based in big cities a long ways from here. And we let it happen by the choices we make.