Making a living as a professional DJ means I spend a lot of my days on the road. Airports and hotel rooms come with the territory, which is fine by me—it’s fun to be able to explore the local food scene wherever I go, just as I do when in New York. But when I fly home after a long weekend of work, I almost always yearn to go somewhere familiar, where the staff knows my name and it feels like a homecoming just to walk in. On those nights, I just want to be a regular somewhere.
Living in Williamsburg, where new restaurants come and go practically overnight, achieving “regular” status somewhere is not an easy feat, and it often has little to do with actually going to eat there all the time.
There’s a place in my ‘hood called the Meatball Shop that I’ve been to countless times and still always feel like a stranger when I walk in the door. But there are two spots nearby—a rustic Italian restaurant called Betto, and a place called Traif—that I actually have been to fewer times, yet never feel like just another customer. When I arrive, hugs and handshakes are exchanged with the managers or the owners. I am usually given the best seat in the house, and the waiter might regale me with a bunch of crazy stories from the weekend. It’s familiar and comforting, which feels good in a city that can easily feel anonymous if you let it.
It’s important to support the really special restaurants in your neighborhood as much as you possibly can, just as it’s important to form that bond with your favorite artist.
I’ve thought a lot about this relationship and about what it takes to become a regular. Ultimately, I think what’s most satisfying about it is that the process of becoming a regular is a two-way street.
At Betto and Traif, they don’t treat me like a friend or let me order experimental dishes that aren’t on the menu because I’m special in any way. It just sort of happened organically over time because I was genuinely curious to talk to the people that work there and ask them about what they do. When I went to those spots, it didn’t feel like I was just going to a filling station; the restaurants resonated with me, so I wanted to build rapport with the owners, the chef, the bartenders, the wait staff. I was genuinely curious to talk to the people that work there and ask them about what they do.
Strangely enough, the experience reminds me a lot of how I used to approach music back in the day. Whenever I bought a new album, I didn’t just listen to it. I would pore over the liner notes carefully. I wanted to see who produced the music, what the artists had to say in their “thank yous,” where it was recorded, and who was involved with the project. I always felt that this level of interaction and interest somehow brought me closer to understanding the artists, and in return helped me appreciate the music even more.
At the end of the day, I think it’s important to support the really special restaurants in your neighborhood as much as you possibly can, just as it’s important to form that bond with your favorite artist. Don’t be afraid to interact with the people that work there. If you develop a relationship with your favorite restaurant and learn more about how and why they do what they do, then you will get a lot more out of eating there than most people can, and it will be a more enriching experience all around.
Dieselboy is a veteran DJ and seasoned world traveler who has a healthy obsession with food, cocktails, and cooking. Track his globe-trotting food adventures here at First We Feast, and follow him on Twitter: @DJDieselboy.