Houston's Food Nazis

Some are curmudgeonly but intriguing. Others are just a bad trip to S&M land.

So, why? Why do Houstonians go back to these places again and again, while eating meals they didn't order, risking scorn or, worse, humiliation?

"Well, the obvious answer is the food is probably pretty good," says Dr. Doug Osman, a clinical psychologist in Philadelphia, cracking a half smile. "But, I suppose I could get into some psychobabble."

Oh, good.

"It goes without saying that it depends on the person," Dr. Doug begins, taking a long breath. "But some people have poor self-esteem."

Whoa, that's some hefty stuff. Is that what we're talking about here?

"Those people will endure poor treatment because they think that's what they deserve," the doc continues, undaunted.

"Other people, though, may be following or reliving patterns in their lives. For instance, someone who had a verbally abusive or uncaring parent will continually find themselves in relationships where that dynamic is replayed over and over again," Dr. Doug says.

"But, barring all that, it's just that people like to be in on something together. Ultimately, a place like this can bring people together. It can be a bonding experience."

It's a point worth exploring, and one that may explain why Doozo, for example, has convinced so many people dining at the food court of Houston Center that their rubbery, lukewarm dumplings are worth waiting in line for while employees for the Great American Cookie Company next door twiddle their collective thumbs.

At Doozo you are part of the experience.

Lunch with friends at Bibas isn't just lunch, it's theater. John's tableside manner might fall flat with a group of middle-aged women on their first trip, but get past it, and it becomes something they look forward to. It's an inside joke they're all in on. John's crass behavior, the kind he puts on display for everyone, becomes the "things he says to me and my friends." In short, it makes them feel special.

"Think of most of the places to get cheese steaks in Philly," Dr. Doug implores. "All of these places are known to have people working there that do not have the patience or desire to have customers deliberate over what they want. I know I take visitors there. It's fun."

And that, ultimately, is the rub. No one wants to be treated poorly. Okay, no one with healthy self-esteem without uncaring or verbally abusive parents wants to be treated badly. You want to enjoy yourself. Soup Nazis, old grouchy know-it-all waiters, they help you to in a way that, while maybe slightly askew, is self-affirming.

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