There are many great paradoxes of our time: What happens when Pinocchio says “my nose will grow?” Why can Mario smash his head off concrete blocks, but dies when he touches a turtle? If I try and lose a game and succeed, did I win? And why is the Stubborn Goat still in business?
On my first visit to the Stubborn Goat, a lunch in March, the waitress informed my party of four that the restaurant followed the doctrine of social dining. Meaning they bring food out whenever it’s ready. We chuckled assuming the cooks still knew how to time meals ordered at the same time.
One in our party ordered a salad and it came up right away.
Our table descended into awkward silence. We didn’t know how to deal with this unfamiliar etiquette predicament. How long would our meals take? One of us ordered a steak and, like a meat ruining heathen, didn’t order it rare. That should probably take at least five minutes to cook, right?
Should we make our party member wait, lettuce wilting under the dressing, for our meat to cook?
Probably not, we told him to eat.
By the time he was finished a couple more of our plates rolled out. Two and three, then a minute later plate number four.
Tthe person who ate first was easily the quietest member of our party. So as the rest of us stuffed our faces, he sat quietly.
Social dining indeed.
Social dining means you eat with the purpose of being social with fellow human beings. Because you’re friends who decided to meet up for a meal and reconnect. Or you used the fork app to eat at a stranger’s house with a bunch of strangers. Or meeting strangers that you share a common interest with over some food.
Regardless, social dining is supposed to promote the social aspect of dining. The Stubborn Goat’s social dining policy actively hinders the social part of the dining experience.
My second visit was for a going away dinner party for a good friend. She hadn’t been to the Stubborn Goat but heard great things. Despite my misgivings about the location I went.
We had to wait at the bar for quite some time, which is completely understandable, us being a large table walking in on a busy Friday night.
We were able to get a bit tipsy while waiting because the drink service at the bar was quite good and we obviously hadn’t eaten yet. (Bonus.)
We spent a lot of time there that night and I took a lot of notes. I’ve assembled an excerpt from my notes that best captures the experience that night:
“What our waitress makes up for in enthusiasm she lacks in everything else.”
“Five-cheese mac and cheese is more mac than five cheese.”
“What they call a social kitchen I call disorganized.”
“I ordered a beer, they didn’t have that beer, so she just brought me a different one… after 20 minutes.”
“Still no ketchup. I think she’s not bringing it because we’ve finished eating.”
“Zero lagers on tap except for an IPL. India Pale Lager. I am pretty sure that’s a made up thing.”
“Server missed a lot of beers on the tab which saved our table almost $100 so that’s nice.”
My third visit to the Stubborn Goat was a couple of years after those first two experiences. My friend and I had forgotten about their social dining policy from our previous two visits. Our server neglected to mention it and I missed it in their menu.
I ordered an appetizer – I mean a “small plate.” Appetizer implies it will show up before your main course. I also ordered a main – I mean “big plate.” Main implies you’ll get it after the “small plate.”
I forgot that clocks and meal timings don’t exist in the kitchen of the Stubborn Goat.
Both of the things I ordered were served at the same time.
I was faced with a dilemma: which would be more appetizing to eat cold a poutine or a blue cheese burger?
I chose to eat the poutine first. Had I remembered that they might come at the same time I may have chosen to order poutine as a side for the burger. Instead of a caesar salad I paid five dollars to upgrade to.
The Stubborn Goat has the following on its menu, “At the Stubborn Goat, eating is truly a social experience. There are no set courses. Everything on our menu is designed to be shared.”
Which, much like the cake in the game Portal, is a lie. Tenderloins, steak, fish and chips, burgers, pasta plates, and mac and cheese are all traditionally single serving meals of well-defined courses.
The food at the Stubborn Goat is generally pretty good. I’ve only had one thing that didn’t live up to its expectations (the suspiciously named “five cheese mac and cheese.”)
But the food stands in its own way of being enjoyed.
My poutine and my burger both could have been amazing. Instead, my poutine was amazing, and my burger was just okay because it was eaten at room temperature. The salad tasted good, but it was soggy because all my food showed up at once.
Instead of letting me enjoy my meal I needed to worry about timing my own food. If I get my own food timings wrong, or if anyone at the table has, then the social dining experience is ruined.
Perhaps the menu should read: “At the Stubborn Goat, eating is truly an awkward experience. There are no set courses. Everything on our menu is designed to be a good idea, lacking in execution.”