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jhlurie

The chain restaurant topic

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As the suburban mother of 3, I can assure you,  Chain restaurants  is a subject I know a lot about!  3 kids, two sports each=  6 visits for "baseball" parties, etc. Plus Christmas exhaustion at the mall, another few visits a year.  Witing for " Bye Bye Birdie "Play practice to be over, the only place near is Chili's, so I spent many nights there when it was my turn to pick up.  And McDonald's after football games, Burger King every Thursday night becasue its near my son's hip hop dance class and I have 20 minutes between that and my book club meeting to feed him....get the picture?  Hands down, Chili's is the best..why? Dos Equis and Yuengling on tap. A pretty good Fajita Pita with a chili powder/mayo/sourcream concoction.  For Fast Food, I think Wendy's has the best burger.

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Chili's is the best..why? Dos Equis
I'll buy that.

Robert Buxbaum

WorldTable

Recent WorldTable posts include: comments about reporting on Michelin stars in The NY Times, the NJ proposal to ban foie gras, Michael Ruhlman's comments in blogs about the NJ proposal and Bill Buford's New Yorker article on the Food Network.

My mailbox is full. You may contact me via worldtable.com.

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It's interesting that in Europe you can get beer and sometimes wine at many fast food chains, whereas here in the USA it would be unheard of to have a bar at most. Only the restaurant-style ones (TGI Friday's, et al., as opposed to McDonald's) serve alcohol here.


Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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We've never completely recovered from Prohibition, or from the Puritans who founded New England. I've always thought all places that serve food should be required to served either beer or wine.


Robert Buxbaum

WorldTable

Recent WorldTable posts include: comments about reporting on Michelin stars in The NY Times, the NJ proposal to ban foie gras, Michael Ruhlman's comments in blogs about the NJ proposal and Bill Buford's New Yorker article on the Food Network.

My mailbox is full. You may contact me via worldtable.com.

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We've never completely recovered from Prohibition, or from the Puritans who founded New England. I've always thought all places that serve food should be required to served either beer or wine.

Bux... if you still believe this 9 months after posting it... can you explain this rationale behind this belief a bit?


Jon Lurie, aka "jhlurie"

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On the UK side...

My favourite chain is Carluccio's Caffe - by at least 700 miles. As far as I know they're just in London at the moment (and already up to 5 locations), but I think there's plans to start opening them across the country.

The latte Napoli (aromatic, punchy & robust) at the Canary Wharf branch is what get me going most mornings. Takeaway lunches are gorgeous sandwiches on excellent bread, and sit-downs are really decent Italian standbys. And on the nights that I'm leaving work late and have people coming over, I'm not the slightest bit embarrassed to make full use of their deli. (The caponata is really very good indeed, as are the parmesan biscuits.)

The menu (which doesn't change much) is at www.carluccios.com.

Miss J

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I lived overseas for about 20 years, and when I returned to New York (about six years ago) it took a while to catch up with certain things. Chain restaruants was one of them. I would see a restaurant that I never saw or heard of before (with good reason), and think to myself, aha, a new restaurant. How nice that there are some new, independent restaurants in New York these days. And then I'd be in another part of Manhattan and I'd see the same restaurant there, too. And it finally hit me (I am, admittedly, a little slow on the uptake). These are not new restaurants. They're new chains. I was very disappointed.

However, one of those chains does have one of my favorite snacks. Ollie's. First one I saw was on Broadway up by Columbia. I was taking classes there, and Ollie's was right across the street. For months I thought it was the only Ollie's in the world, how unique. Ha. Anyway, their vegetarian dumplings are the best. They roll the dough so thin! Sometimes on my way home from work if I'm tired and hungry and know that there's nothing hanging out in the fridge at home, I'll stop at Ollie's (now it's the one on Broadway and 44th St.) and get the vegetarian dumplings to go. Mmmm. Great sauce, too.

But I have to give a thumbs down to the idea of chain restaurants in general. I have this haunting memory of being in Ireland several years ago and just walking around. I hit this area where I was surrounded by MacDonald's and Burger King and several other chain restaurants. I could have been anywhere in the world, and I didn't like that feeling. I wasn't anywhere in the world. I was in Ireland. And I guess I wanted to know it without having to say to anyone, "Excuse me, but, what country is this?" Just one of my idiosyncracies!

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It's a comfort issue. When you travel, at the end of a long day you may not be in the mood to experiment, but you know that every room in a Holiday Inn looks like every other room in a Holiday Inn, every slice of Pizza Hut pepperoni tastes like every other slice. Sometimes you just don't want to fight it or be creative or experimental, you want something that reminds you of home (the culinary equivalent of a teddy-bear). So you go for the easy way out. Your food will not be outstanding, but that's not finally the point; it's not supposed to be, it's supposed to remind you of the Pizza Hut (Applebee's, T.G.I. Friday's, Bennigan's) near your home. Next day, when you're refreshed, you might be in the mood to experiment again.

It IS ironic, though, that when a restaurant is prosperous enough to spawn a chain, that suddenly the same qualities that made it good enough for chain status are the very ones that end up being put down. I mean, there must be SOMETHING to these places, or they wouldn't have ended up as chains in the first place. Middle-of-the-road is the watchword: nothing too challenging, nothing daring, nothing experimental. Nothing that can't be explained on a wall chart for a seventeen-year-old trainee.

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Regarding Prohibition and restaurants that choose not to serve beer or wine...  not everyone wants to or can justify the expense of getting a liquor license - in some places it's not as simple as just filling out forms. I live in a quaint and very small town in North jersey that has no bars and does not allow alcohol to be served in restaurants. It's actually a very good thign for most folks - you can just bring your own and the more upscale places may charge a corking fee or in two cases actually have a small wine shop on premises where they sell you the wine and you open it yourself - much cheaper than paying restaurant markup.

Chains are an abomination until I need one...  Starbucks may have some issues (i.e. their regular coffee is acrid and bitter) but you know exactly what you'll get. I typically get a latte and despite having order them in Starbucks throughout the US in every imaginable location the quality is consistent. not the best I've ever had but better than I often get from other places. I'm always open to trying new sources and make an effort to support businesses run by individual owners without the corporate stamp but sometimes (especially in airports) Starbucks is the only good option.

I did recently eat at  Houston's location. They are a chain but admittedly much more upscale than Applebee's and the like. I wouldn't seek them out when more interesting options were available but they were the only open late in suburban Atlanta when we arrived. I had an outstanding, perfectly cooked tuna steak, a very acceptable (but plain and unimaginative) salad and the service was good.  As for favorite items in the lower end of chains...  I always opt for the broiled chicken at any of the usual suspects. Believe it or not... the broiled chicken sandwich at Dairy Queen is REALLY good! I was on a drive down to Key West and we didn't want to stop for a sit-down lunch. My girlfriend convinced me to do the Dairy Queen drive-through and try the chicken - a pleasant surprise.

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"safe" chain restaurant . . .for the traveler (in that light even a "fast food" chain like McDonald's qualifies . . .

The dirty secret behind Ray Kroc's global, monolithic success is based not on the beef fat content of the fry grease, but this very premise: familiarity breeds contempt only until you're 1,000 miles from your own backyard and scared of the local water.  Then a #1 combo consumed from a purgatorial plastic yellow seat spells supersized traveler's comfort. And by happy accident there are good fries.  It's the mother (with a glowing, capital M) of all safe chains.

Is it also urban legend that McDs in France use horsefat for the fryer?  Read an ancient Vogue article that claimed this was the only way to make a good pomme fritte.....urp :sad:

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Some proprietors get pretty creative, much as a determined homeowner can give his home some uniqueness even in the most generic of new subdivision developments. For example, have you been to the McDonald's near Wall Street with the tuxedoed doorman, marble tables, digital stock ticker, live piano music, table service, etc.? Worth stopping in for some fries if nothing else.

This reminds me of the McDonalds in Rome, near the Piazza di Spagna; I was told that it's the world's largest Mcdonalds, a beautiful, tiled 2 floor place with a gorgeous giant cappuccino maker framing the front window. Inside, you would never know that you were in a McDonalds. (I had a Latte).

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It's interesting that in Europe you can get beer and sometimes wine at many fast food chains, whereas here in the USA it would be unheard of to have a bar at most. Only the restaurant-style ones (TGI Friday's, et al., as opposed to McDonald's) serve alcohol here.

I don't know if any of you have been to Taco Cabana or not, but it's a fast food Tex Mex place in South Texas. It's actually very good - fresh made pico and salsa (hot sauce) every day, fresh made tortillas (you can watch them being made behind the registers), lots of extra limes and cilantro in the condiment bar.

They also sell beer :smile: . Shiner Bock, Corona, Bud, and so on.

I thought it was a little weird when I got here, but it's become normal.

I don't think they'll give you beer through the drive through, but it wouldn't shock me at all - I saw a drive through liquor store near Austin the other day.

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hee-hee! Welcome to sin city, brother!

don't go near our eastern border, if you're easily dismayed by your fellow man. There once was a drive-thru in Shreveport famous for their daiquiris, somehow legal because the genial woman handing them out made quite a show of taping the lid with gift tape.

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I'll second Taco Cabana...really pretty darn good for fast food Tex-Mex. And just about every little town in Louisiana has drive-through daquiri stands. It's the only thing that saves me when I vist my strict Baptist mother-in-law in Sulpher (the daquiris come in styrofoam cups so she thinks I am drinking a soda). :raz:


Edited by IrishCream (log)

Lobster.

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What I expect from a chain restaurent is consistancy. You know what you will be getting to eat. It is not outstanding but it is reliable. Some chains do not provide this. I have been in good MacDonalds and bad. The same as KFC. The chains I find most reliable is Swiss Chalet and Tim Horton's for their lunch specials.

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funny, on our two week tour of the south/midwest i was asking my husband why, when he is on a business trip, he doesn't eat local but tends to go to chains. and his travel isn't to some no dining area - we're talking aberdeen, md, minneapolis, lansing, mi.

he said :

1. ususally he is eating with other engineers and most of them think of olive garden, red loster, or tgi fridays as dining out

2. many of the hotels they stay in have one of these establishments attatched to them

3. if not attatched to the hotel they are close enough you don't have to worry about a dwi after pounding a few back at the bar

4. after work they're too tired to try to seek out local dining.

course when he traveled with one of the other engineers from europe they ate at places like the Sofitel, Goodfellows, Maureens in Minneapolis - :hmmm::hmmm:


Nothing is better than frying in lard.

Nothing.  Do not quote me on this.

 

Linda Ellerbee

Take Big Bites

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How about the "Red Bull Inn". My parents used to take me as a child to dine at this restaurant, which apparently was part of a chain in Pennsylvania. Anyone else know anything? I was decorated as a sort of pseudo-English, turn of the century pub, and the waitresses, with ample cleavage, were dressed as a sort of fin-de-siecle bar wench. I loved it!


Anti-alcoholics are unfortunates in the grip of water, that terrible poison, so corrosive that out of all substances it has been chosen for washing and scouring, and a drop of water added to a clear liquid like Absinthe, muddles it." ALFRED JARRY

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I'll second Taco Cabana...really pretty darn good for fast food Tex-Mex.

Taco Cabana is the greatest fast food chain as far as I'm concerned, followed closely by Rubio's in San Diego.

Which makes me wonder if there's a line to be drawn between national chains and "local" chains such as Taco Cabana, which to my knowledge doesn't exist outside of Texas, and Rubio's, which I haven't really seen outside of San Diego (not that I've really spent all that much time in Southern California)--the latter two sure suck a lot less than the TGI Friday's we went to in Cedar Point, OH.

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They oughtta be. They spent mucho dinero suing the pantalones offa anyone who came close to borrowing their theme--anybody remember Two Pesos (or Pu Tesos, depending on how late your car full of degenerates were careening towards their drive-thru sombrero)?

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Which makes me wonder if there's a line to be drawn between national chains and "local" chains such as Taco Cabana, which to my knowledge doesn't exist outside of Texas

There was a Taco Cabana about four blocks from my apartment in Minneapolis. Fresh pico de gallo, the whole megillah. That ruled.

A friend of mine who taught in San Antonio told me her kids all preferred Taco Bell to Taco Cabana. I have absolutely no idea why.

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Taco Cabana came and went here in Boulder, CO. It lasted less than a year! Rubio's has several thriving branches in metro Denver, as well as having had some locations that failed and closed.

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Bennigans has delicious chicken strips.

I love them.


Noise is music. All else is food.

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I can see why he won a Pulitzer. Great writing. I also happen to agree with his assessment.


Linda LaRose aka "fifi"

"Having spent most of my life searching for truth in the excitement of science, I am now in search of the perfectly seared foie gras without any sweet glop." Linda LaRose

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That Taco Cabana in Mpls started out as a Two Pesos and was switched after a lawsuit. I know that the place is long gone, but is the Taco Bell directly across Lake Street still there? I'm not in Mpls anymore, but I suspect it is.

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