I don't eat out terribly often, primarily because Huntsville (and Moberly, for that matter) do not boast a wide array of restaurants. More often than not, if I do eat somewhere other than home, it is usually at a fast food chain restaurant. Despite this, I must say that I prefer locally owned restaurants myself. It is often the case that local, "mom and pop" restaurants have better tasting food and more varied menus than chain restaurants. And often their prices are actually not that much higher than chain restaurants. Regardless of the quality of the food or the prices, it has been my experience that the one thing that local restaurants have that most chain restaurants lack is atmosphere.
If I had to pick a favourite restaurant in Randolph County, it would probably be the Sub Shop. I don't even know if it is still open, but I used to eat there all the time in the Eighties. Their sandwiches were fairly good and they served the best chili in town. The place also had great atmosphere. A ceiling fan was in the dining area and potted plants were scattered about. Old movie pictures and photos of stars from the Golden Age of Hollywood covered the walls. This gave the Sub Shop a rather old time feel, as if it belonged more in a black and white movie than the 1980's.
Of course, when I eat at a local restaurant it is usually because I have gone to Columbia for shopping or to visit friends. In downtown Colubmia there are two of my favourite places to eat. One is Ernie's Cafe and Steakhouse, a little place on Walnut Street. Ernie's has been open since 1934 and it is easy to see why. They fix some of the best hamburgers and steaks in Boone County. The place is decorated with a Dick Tracy theme, complete with original, autographed drawings by Chester Gould himself. I also seem to recall it has a few autographed drawings by Mort Walker--no surprise as the creator of Beetle Bailey attended the University of Missouri-Columbia.
The other downtown restaurant I love is the Heidelberg. The Heidelberg is right on the edge of the UMC campus. As a result it has been popular with students since it opened (I believe it has been arond in some form or another since the Twenties). Unfortunately, the Heidelberg burned last August. That is a shame as it was a beautiful, old restaurant and bar. Their food was fairly good, with everything from cheeseburgers to steak. And the place was beautiful. It reminded me of the the bars and restaurants one might see in old time movie, with ceiling fans and brick walls and dim lighting. I do believe that they plan to rebuild, but I have not heard if they have reopened yet.
Those are just a few of the restaurants that I have enjoyed. As far as I am concerned, a good restaurant should combine good food, low prices, and a good atmosphere. This is something that many "mom and pop" places accomplish. It is not something that the average chain restaurant does. While their food may be good and while their prices may be low, they often lack the unique atmosphere of local restaurants.