The sad and awful news that Vern’s Kitchen in Deep Ellum closed made me ponder: What restaurants best exemplify our neighborhood? And by that, I don’t mean the overpriced, chi-chi ones that the food critics fall all over or the plastic chain places that reproduce at every intersection like mutant weeds.

I’m talking about the neighborhood places, the Mom and Pop joints, the long-time standbys. Every great city in the world has them – the hole in the wall pizza place in Chicago, the corner tavern in New York, the neighborhood bistro in Paris. What do we have, and why are they important?

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So here’s the contest: In the comment section of this blog post, tell us what you think is the quintessential neighborhood restaurant. In other words, an essay contest. Explain why you feel that way. Explain why it’s so important. Tell us why it embodies our neighborhood and why visitors from out of town should go there. Wamre and I will judge the entries, and pick the winner and two runners-up based on the sentiment behind your writing, your explanation and your passion.

A couple of tips: If you pick a chain place, you’d better be pretty poetic, because if the soul of city is in its restaurants, and ours is a chain, that doesn’t say much about us. And don’t just say it’s great – tell us why it’s great. What makes it so fantastic? The usual rules apply; also, Advocate employees aren’t eligible, but our volunteer bloggers are. The winners get something spiffy from the Advocate prize chest. Deadline is 9 a.m. Aug. 3.