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Finding the Perfect Dad Restaurant

Image via LA Weekly

My dad, by all accounts, is a great dad. He knows how to work on cars, loves war documentaries, and has perfectly corny dad jokes (I recently told him I saw a Bald Eagle in the wild and he told me, without missing a beat, to ask if its head was cold). But we rarely saw eye to eye when I was younger, and I compensated for a perceived lack of independence by being a little asshole.

It wasn’t great. However, in good times and in bad, there has always been something exceptionally meditative about going out to a meal with my dad. This isn’t a particularly unique experience; shared meals between a father and his kin are sometimes as much of a staple of their relationship as playing catch in the backyard, or him embarrassing you in front of your friends. And while these meals can technically happen anywhere, it does seem as if there is some sort of blueprint that we don’t know about that dads are using to pick their spots.

The last time I went to lunch with my dad I looked around the restaurant as we sat down and immediately realized that at least half of the people there seemed to be fathers out with their kids, with the children ranging in age from adolescent all the way to middle aged.

A few weeks after that lunch with my dad, some friends and I went to Lioni Italian Heroes in Brooklyn for the first time. We went at an odd hour, so we didn’t get a good read on who the clientele normally is, but all of us decided before we even got our food that this was a perfect spot to take our dads, before we got our food. I went as far to immediately text my dad to tell him to not let me forget to take him there next time he comes to New York.

The perfect “Dad” restaurant. Image via this site

The sandwiches were wonderful, but they were seemingly secondary to whatever it was about Lioni that made us all so certain that our dads would love it.

The decor and the menu and the guy behind the counter and everything else about Lioni screamed “dad” in the absolute most perfect way. This is where my obsession was forged. I needed to know, for both personal and scientific reasons, what makes the perfect dad restaurant. My friends and I talked about it that day, but the conversation petered out as we struggled to nail down the specifics. I needed to go straight to the source.

So I posed the idea to my dad and asked him what the qualities of a perfect dad restaurant are.

His response was incredibly dad. “Good food”, he said flatly without elaboration. After some probing though, he coughed up a little more information, referencing not only his relationship with me, but the meals he has shared with his own father over the years. I took the information he gave me and then cross-examined it with anyone else that would listen in order to make sure I wasn’t gathering information specific to only my dad. It came down to five factors.

Because I am forever and always an obnoxious high school English teacher, I turned that criteria into a scoring guide, which looks like this:

1.) History/legacy, 25 Points

“Character.” Image via this site

Dad’s love history of all sorts. A restaurant earns points here by being particularly old or of some importance to the community or neighborhood over an extended period of time. Family legacy also matters; If your dad grew up going to a particular greasy spoon with his dad, and now he takes you there, that’s a plus.

2) Environment, 25 Points

This is the dad cool factor. A restaurant gets points here for being no frills, having friendly service, and charming or authentic decor. This will look different depending on the type of restaurant you are assessing, but local little league photos adorning the walls and a staff that you are on a first name basis with are some of the things you’re looking for. This is the hardest category to explain, but the easiest to understand once you are there.

3) Food, 20 Points

Image via this site

Varies greatly from dad to dad, and so it can only be truly assessed once he has eaten there. While some dads fancy themselves connoisseurs (especially of typical dad food like sandwiches, burgers and BBQ), others are content with any meal as long as it’s a food they like. It really comes down to personal taste. The only common ground here is that almost all dads like a hearty meal. Something that fills you up and sticks to your ribs.

4) Convenience, 15 Points 

Self explanatory. A key element to a dad restaurant is your ability to return to said establishment on a regular basis. Dad’s love when things are easy and they love routine. Having to go out of your way isn’t a deal breaker, but it matters

5) Value, 15 Points 

What dad doesn’t love a good deal? Mind you this isn’t overall price. Dad’s are usually willing to pay a little more if it means they are getting what they paid for in quality and/or quantity of food.

Add all of the those individual scores to get a rating out of a possible 100. So let’s test this out with the aforementioned Lioni Italian Heroes.

History/Legacy 

While it has no particular significance to my dad and me, it’s been family owned and operated for over 20 years, and is a staple of the community. The owner lives a block away. I Googled all of this information, but I also could have guessed it because Lioni is the type of place that wears their history on their sleeve. 23 points

Environment 

This is how my friends and I knew right away that Lioni was the perfect dad spot. It has the “old school” vibe dads go nuts for: Celebrity photos on the wall, hand painted signs, and a gruff but charming man behind the counter to ask “whaddaya havin’?” only begin to unpeel all of the dad layers here. 25 points

Food 

My dad loves sandwiches and also cured meat and also eating so much that you fear he’ll lose the ability to breathe. Last year for Father’s Day I shipped him a pound of Katz’s pastrami. I called him the day after it arrived to see if he had tried it. He sheepishly admitted to me that he had really tried to make it last, but alas, he had already eaten it all. Two sandwiches was all it took, and he shared not an ounce with the rest of the family. It’s safe to say, Lioni’s massive heroes (of which two friends and I split two, and still had leftovers) would be his speed. 20 points

Convenience 

On the one hand, they opened a spot in the Dekalb market, if Bensonhurst isn’t convenient to you (it certainly isn’t to me). On the other, neither location is particularly close to my apartment, and my dad lives 2,000 miles away, so that’s not great. 4 points

Value 

Lioni’s sandwiches do run a little pricey depending on what you get. Anything my dad is getting there is probably going to run between 16 and 20 dollars. That being said, they are literally the size of two sandwiches. Not that my dad would save some for later, because he wouldn’t, but that still works out to about 8-10 dollars per hero, which isn’t horrible. 12 points

Total Score: 84/100

Considering my dad has never been to Lioni, and the fact that he would have to fly for seven hours and then ride a train for another hour in order to get there, 84 points is an incredibly respectable score. Next time your dad comes into town, put this guide to the test and thank me later.

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Jesse McGrath

Jesse McGrath

Jesse McGrath is a writer, comedian, educator and all-around sweetheart. Born and raised in the Bay Area and educated at San Francisco State, he recently migrated out east to Brooklyn. English teacher during the day, full-time delinquent every time else.