Archive for November 3rd, 2008


Vote With Your Gut

A few weeks ago I had the good fortune to spend some time with a young man who had as much hyper energy as I do. He is also about eight feet tall, 280 something pounds, drinks a half gallon of milk each day, has a sardonic sense of humor and actually enjoys life. He also has the good fortune to be working in Macon, Georgia for two of the finest folks you would ever have the opportunity to know, but I digress.

This bear of a man drinks in life by the Big Gulp. And he has definite opinions on food and eating out (loves both). But he is also adamant in his belief that casual dining is killing America. Casual dining as in places like TGI Fridays, Applebys, Cheddars, etc. His contention is that the food is overpriced crap. He practically screams at you when he tells you there are so many wonderful little places serving fantastic food made with love and fantastic ingredients that are utterly drowning for lack of business. How can you go to a Bennigans and order the same jalapeno poppers that are served straight from the freezer at every chain in the universe when there is a family made, authentic stuffed poblano with Cotija and Queso Blanco served the next block over for less? He’s right.

There’s not enough “flair” on their uniforms, not enough perky in their door whores, not enough combo in their pairings to make up for the fact that we go to those places, not for good food, but because we are lazy. Olive Garden? Please. Iceburg lettuce and Wishbone Italian dressing followed by over-bolied pasta drowned in sauce. You can do that at home. You aren’t saving any money by patronizing casual dining and you aren’t doing your stomach any favors. Dining out should be a special occasion. That means great food or great service. And great service is defined, by me, as a spectacular, orchestrated event where the entire staff works together to make you feel like you are the most important guest. “Hi, I’m Christopher and I’ll be your server this evening. Can I start you off with some fried balls of over-breaded chicken and one of our obnoxious signature cocktails?” Umm, no. Find a place that is infused with love and that gives a good golly about the food they serve. If somebody comes out from the kitchen (and in a good place, somebody will), make sure that they have some stains on their uniform (it means they actually work in the kitchen). When they ask how your meal was, tell him/her exactly what you enjoyed and why. You’ll be back.

A little story… A few years ago I was staying with friends in the Myrtle Beach area. We went to Fridays because we were lazy. But most of the time, we cooked. We had some of the best meals by creating it ourselves. It had nothing to do with expense, it had to do with care. We wanted burgers, so we got fresh ground sirloin and made patties that were stuffed with blue cheese, grilled until just done and topped with thick bacon slices and barbecue sauce. Forget about the fact that Fridays would not even think about serving you a burger that wasn’t incinerated to leather… they’ll have an apoplectic fit for ordering something that complex off the menu (but it will drown in Jack Daniels sauce).

So I am voting with my gut. I’m gonna try to not set foot in a casual dining establishment for the rest of the year and then push it as far as I can into the next.