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“Um…Toledo?”

“Um…Toledo?”

It’s the answer my children increasingly give when asked a question that for so many of us is a no-brainer: Where are you from?

My two oldest were born in New York City and my youngest in Singapore, where we’ve lived for the past seven years. But Toledo – where I grew up — is our summer home, our base from mid June to early August each year.

You can understand why Toledo is an appealing answer for them. It’s got everything they could possibly want: No school, a lax approach to bedtime, unfettered access to grandparents and cousins, Mr. Freeze, Wildwood, the prodigious cereal aisle in Kroger, Mudhens games, bike rides to Jan’s for root beer floats…the list goes on and on.

I love Toledo too, and although my list of reasons why differs slightly from my kids’ (see above: cereal aisle), what we can agree on is that a place feels like home when it has your people and your food. Which brings me to Toledo’s sweet spot: its restaurants!

I’m not going to argue that the food is the best in the word… De gustibus non est disputandum and all that. (Although, the Beruit? Come on!) What I will say is that the service you get when you dine out in Toledo is. In Toledo, you can spend twenty bucks and have what would be considered fine dining service in many countries. Deep knowledge of the menu and ingredients? Check. Odd requests and substitutions? No problem. Suggestions based on your personal tastes? With a smile. Drinks that arrive before the meal? What is this, heaven? (The longer I’m away from Toledo, the lower my bar.)

And then there’s the extra dimension that can’t be faked or trained into someone. That spark of human connection that makes you feel all warm and fuzzy (the diligent drink refills help). It’s knowing that the person bringing your food and the people making it really do care. It’s feeling like a VIP even though you’re out for half price margaritas and free chips and salsa. You don’t get that everywhere, Toledo. It’s pretty special.

Here’s a story a friend in Singapore told me. I can’t remember where it takes place, but in my mind it’s Toledo. A woman, let’s call her Kim, who had been living abroad for several years visited home and enjoyed a night out at a restaurant with her family. Their server was so friendly and attentive that Kim assumed they must know one another. Kim spent a good portion of her evening not enjoying the delicious food and fabulous service but rather racking her brain, trying to figure out how she and this server were connected…Was it high school? A former neighbor?… Or could it be a case of mistaken identity…perhaps Kim bears a striking resemblance to the mayor, or the restaurant’s owner?… She couldn’t figure it out. Finally, Kim said to her server, “I’m sorry. I don’t think we know each other.”

The server didn’t know what to say.

Kim was embarrassed for them both now. She continued: “You might have me confused with someone else…”

After a few awkward moments, the server found a gracious way to say, I’m just doing my job, lady. 

Poor humiliated Kim had been away for so long that she had forgotten what Midwestern hospitality feels like. It feels like friendship. How great is that? (Let’s hope she hadn’t been away long enough to forget about tipping.)

In Toledo, you are spoiled with a dizzying array of fantastic, unpretentious restaurants that offer world-class service. If you aren’t like Kim, it can be easy to take it for granted — because a good server is just how most people are around there: caring, hard-working, sincere. But next time you go out to eat, remember that this level of service, this way of being, that comes so naturally to Toledoeans – it’s what sets you apart and it’s worth celebrating.

Lisa Beazley is a veteran of the food service industry; her first waitressing job was at the old Don Pablos on Airport Highway. Today she is a writer living in Singapore with her husband and three children. Her first novel, KEEP ME POSTED, is out in paperback.  Check out her website at: www.lisabeazley.com We caught up with Lisa at her childhood home in the Old Orchard neighborhood. 

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