Editor's Note: The following is The Big Spoon, an opinion column on San Antonio's food and drink scene.
Z Mediterranean Cuisine was empty last Thursday as my partner and I met Alan and Beverly Williams for dinner. And the relative silence of the restaurant, along with the quality shirazi salad, spicy hummus and chicken schwarma, were the perfect backdrop for an honest conversation about what it’s like to command the attention of 10,000 restaurant fans in San Antonio.
Alan Williams first launched the humbly named San Antonio Restaurants
group on Facebook on March 15, 2014. As of press time, it had grown to 10,785 members.
“Welcome to San Antonio Restaurants, Facebook group. We love to talk about restaurant experiences in and around the San Antonio area, whether it’s a new restaurant or lamenting one that is no longer around.
“Advertisements are not allowed unless it’s for a special charity event. Other advertisements will be removed. Rudeness will not be tolerated. Other than that, we are glad you are here!”
Posts range from recommendations on where to find tasty seafood, to recommendations for a nice night out, to stories of unpleasant dining experiences.
Williams and wife Beverly moderate the group on a daily basis. This means ending any sort of bickering that may arise, or deleting spam that might make its way onto the forum. Both are life-long San Antonio residents, who reminisce about Christie’s, a longtime San Antonio seafood restaurant that closed in the 1990s, and both have full-time jobs away from their interest in food.
The Stone Oak-based couple has always had an interest in dining and trying new things. At dinner, we all ooh-ed and ahh-ed at the spread before us, which featured more than 20 cold and hot sides displayed elegantly in a cafeteria-style setting. Billed as a Mediterranean Luby’s, Z Mediterranean opened three months ago inside the former Darna Mediterranean Cuisine and features seriously delicious vegetable dishes, tender lamb and more at moderate prices. New owner Hisham Rashid and his son stopped by to check on our table (the lone table throughout the meal, which took an hour and a half), and Alan asked questions about the business. Are they doing OK? What does lunch look like? Why did they go with the cafeteria style? Dinner is hit or miss, lunch is usually busy, it was a way for busy doctors and nurses to zoom in, pick out items from the line and eat within minutes.
That thoughtfulness extends to how he and Beverly run the group. Reviews that feature purely negative restaurant experiences with little to no explanation don’t stay up long. What he shares is measured carefully, likely in the same way he methodically asked questions about my career, time in San Antonio, and how I do my job.
We shared thoughts on favorites. Chas, Clementine, Pinch for us. Fish City Grill, Max & Louie’s Diner, Smashin’ Crab for the Williamses. We all love Cullum’s Attagirl for the fun ambience and beer lineup. And we all know that chains are still very much so a part of the dining culture in San Antonio (let’s just say, we won’t turn down a slice of Whiskey Cake).
For this writer, the San Antonio Restaurants
group helps keep my ambitions in check. It’s a reminder to include restaurant options at all price points. It’s a reminder that sometimes you really need a chicken-fried steak. And it’s a reminder that there is still a lot of food knowledge to share about our fair city by sharing stories about its chefs, cooks, farmers, ranchers, servers and beyond.
In San Antonio Restaurants, the city’s population comes together for their love of dining — be it fast-casual or the latest gastronomy — and their leaders give me hope for where dining out in the Alamo City can go.
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