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The chain restaurant topic


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sure...I agree...but then again, who wants to take their young kids to a high end restaurant anyway? The subtleties of fine food are lost on young mouths, IMO. Shit, I hated mushrooms until I was about 17...

If I had children I would reserve the fine dining nights for ones where a babysitter and money for chinese takeout were left at home with the kids.

"Make me some mignardises, &*%$@!" -Mateo

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If I had children I would reserve the fine dining nights for ones where a babysitter and money for chinese takeout were left at home with the kids.

Heh, these days the sitter costs almost as much as the fine dining.

Once the kids get a little older we will take them to nicer places. After all, how do you learn to eat in nice places if your parents never take you? :smile:

Heather Johnson

In Good Thyme

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Regarding Pret...

Soon after it started popping up all over Manhattan, Claudia Fleming, former pastry chef extraordinaire at Gramercy Tavern, was announced as the food director of Pret in the US. I was very curious to see how her sensibilities would impact the Pret menu, but it seems that detour in her career was short-lived -- too bad for Pret, but great news for sweet teeth in NYC. She's back as a consulting pastry chef currently at Five Points in NoHo.

Christopher

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Someone mentioned the "Chain-ette" concept, and someone mentioned kid-friendly places; and I immediately thought "Two Boots," which I understand is starting to spread outside the immediate New York City area.

It's Italian-Cajun (hence the name), and is VERY kid-friendly. (My boss and her son are going to my neighborhood for a school trip today and asked for a recommendation; that was one of them.) Plus, it's inexpensive, I've always had good food there -- the pizza? EXCELLENT. The staff is also incredibly helpful; I once was responsible for chaperoning a bunch of visiting Irish friends around the city (my friend's brother and sister in law, and a couple of their friends) and as they'd never had Cajun food before, and we were in my neighborhood, we went in. They had their usual po'boy sandwiches, but not much else in the way of strictly Cajun food; they did, however, have something called "Jambalaya pasta", which basically was jambalaya cooked without the rice and served over penne. I took the waiter aside and explained, "These people are from Ireland and have never had jambalaya before; can we make some sort of exception?" They cooked up a batch of rice just so my friends could have a more authentic jambalaya.

Two Boots is great.

Have heard it's starting to move into New Jersey and CT, and there's definitely a Two Boots in Grand Central Station; somehow they've managed to start becoming a chain and maintaining the quality, though.

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Ok, I think chains are evil in general, but...

As has been stated before, sometimes, sadly, it's be best you can get. When I lived in College Station, TX, truly, the best seafood was Red Lobster.

But now it makes me insane in Greensboro, NC, that there are GREAT restarurants that I'm worried will go out of business b/c they are trying to compete with the Olive Garden, etc.

BTW, the Waffle House is very popular with my students. I'm sure they are often some of the "wierdest people there". But I love them :wink: . My favorite thing is that the local headquarters has a sign on the front that says "Freeway Foods, Inc.". This is funny (to me at least).

Anne

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  • 11 months later...
Maggianos and Buca di Beppo both blow Olive Garden out of the water as far as chain Italian is concerned.

So does Chef Boyardee.

A new mall opened here last month in Jacksonville and we got a bunch of the high end chains. Cheesecake Factory - PF Changs - Maggiano's etc. We were planning to have lunch at PF Chang's - but when we got there at noon - we were told the wait was 90 minutes. So we tried Maggiano's (which I frankly hadn't heard of before).

I had the whole roasted chicken. $10.95 for a whole roasted chicken! - with a rosemary lemon butter sauce - plus a side of pasta (took home more than half of the chicken for chicken salad). The chicken was - frankly - excellent. I wouldn't have been upset to have it at a bistro in New York. The pasta was nice - although the sauce was a bit dull.

The bread was fabulous - it comes from a good local commercial bakery (I asked). It's the same bread that's served at the higher end restaurants in Jacksonville where you'll easily spend over $100 for 2 for dinner. My husband had a sausage and pepper sandwich. Very good also - on excellent bread. Came with a huge bowl of minestrone soup - tasty and not oversalted. This for $8.95.

Everything served in pleasant - albeit outdoor mall terrace type - surroundings. I don't know whether this meal is typical of the chain. But - if it is - I think independent restaurants should be afraid - very afraid. I haven't had a good simple meal like this in a mid-priced independent restaurant here in a long time. By the way - I was impressed that the restaurant served a big half lemon with the chicken. Lemons are very expensive these days. In fact - at many middle of the road independents - they're giving you wedges of lime instead of lemon with your iced tea (until you complain) because they're too cheap to spend the money for lemons. Robyn

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Maggianos and Buca di Beppo both blow Olive Garden out of the water as far as chain Italian is concerned.

So does Chef Boyardee.

A new mall opened here last month in Jacksonville and we got a bunch of the high end chains. Cheesecake Factory - PF Changs - Maggiano's etc. We were planning to have lunch at PF Chang's - but when we got there at noon - we were told the wait was 90 minutes. So we tried Maggiano's (which I frankly hadn't heard of before).

I had the whole roasted chicken. $10.95 for a whole roasted chicken! - with a rosemary lemon butter sauce - plus a side of pasta (took home more than half of the chicken for chicken salad). The chicken was - frankly - excellent. I wouldn't have been upset to have it at a bistro in New York. The pasta was nice - although the sauce was a bit dull.

The bread was fabulous - it comes from a good local commercial bakery (I asked). It's the same bread that's served at the higher end restaurants in Jacksonville where you'll easily spend over $100 for 2 for dinner. My husband had a sausage and pepper sandwich. Very good also - on excellent bread. Came with a huge bowl of minestrone soup - tasty and not oversalted. This for $8.95.

Everything served in pleasant - albeit outdoor mall terrace type - surroundings. I don't know whether this meal is typical of the chain. But - if it is - I think independent restaurants should be afraid - very afraid. I haven't had a good simple meal like this in a mid-priced independent restaurant here in a long time. By the way - I was impressed that the restaurant served a big half lemon with the chicken. Lemons are very expensive these days. In fact - at many middle of the road independents - they're giving you wedges of lime instead of lemon with your iced tea (until you complain) because they're too cheap to spend the money for lemons. Robyn

That combination of three restaurants is also in the Tyson's Galleria here in Northern VA (along with several other "upscale" chains - Legal Seafood, Daily Grill). My college's local alumni chapter has our annual dinner there every year and I don't dread going (although when the alumni director asked me if I had other suggestions for restaurants I don't think she knew what she was getting into).

The food isn't terrible - better than a lot of local pasta joints, but not as good as others - pretty middle of the road.

The portions of pasta when you order off the menu are enormous and served family style.

Bill Russell

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I just read through this thread, as it's come up to the top of the list several times, just to make sure I hadn't responded earlier.

I like the references to Taco Cabana, since I must admit that I really enjoy eating there once in a blue moon. There is one here in Atlanta on Piedmont, and I was unaware that it was a chain because it's so, well, pink for one thing. Pink, cheap, slightly grungy, very gay-friendly and chock-full of fresh salsa and tortillas. If I'm hung over and I decided to snag a margarita there, then double good on me. I have no idea why I like it so much, other than that it's insanely cheap. I get some sort of guilty pleasure from it, like I'm getting away with something I shouldn't be allowed to do.

And Waffle House is fine on many a bleary-eyed morning. Their coffee should be made illegal, however, if it's not already.

edited to remove some bizarre rambling.

Edited by TheFoodTutor (log)
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Thinking about this reminded me of the internal debate I've always had about chain restaurants.  On one hand they cater to the lowest common denominator and even if they luck into an up and coming or accidental talent to run their kitchen the menu is always unchallenging.  On the other hand, they provide a safe harbor of consistency for the traveler (in that light even a "fast food" chain like McDonald's qualifies--perhaps even more so...).

I've traveled quite a bit in the States and in some regions a chain joint is a welcomed site. Although I was pleasantly surprised by great, made from scratch Mexican food at a mall of all places in North Carolina of all places.

I've also been in areas where the locals will eagerly recommend Applebees and Marie Callendars (speliing? :laugh: ) with enthusiasm. Lot's of pride that the corporate giants have deemed the town worthy of a franchise. You know, "We even have a K-Mart/Walmart!"

Also, it occured to me that even the most despised chain sometimes, by happy accident, has one or two outstanding items--things that may be guilty pleasures just as much as the "junk food" we've discussed elsewhere.

I don't know about outstanding, but tried and true comes to mind. But pssst... I like ketchup on certain fried things. And tater tots bring back pleasant childhood memories.

I'm curious if the opinion here is overwhelmingly that chain restaurants are a scourge, or if anyone thinks there are redeeming qualities.  I'll qualify this by saying that my own consumption of chain restaurant food is pretty limited (3 or 4 times a year at most), excluding fast food--which I'm guilty of eating on road trips, commutes, late nights, etc. as much as once every few weeks.

They're not always a scourge, at times are a haven depending on the area. The food in Guam and Saipan is really bad, like God awful. But the chains are predictably awful, whereas as the mom and pop places are surprisingly awful. Maybe a case of picking one's posion.

Also, if you are a confessed fan of some type of chain restaurant, what are the outstanding items that draw you there?  This can include fast food if you'd like.

I like La Salsa and Baja Fresh. Poquito Mas is local LA chain that's good but a bit overpriced. Made to order food and salsa bar.

.

And yes, I've seen the many articles on how unhealthy most chain restaurant food is.  Worse than most outright fast food in many cases

What's harmful about grilled meat in a flour tortilla dressed with fresh salsa? Other than that I agree that chain food is mostly crap in terms of health.

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That combination of three restaurants is also in the Tyson's Galleria here in Northern VA (along with several other "upscale" chains - Legal Seafood, Daily Grill).  My college's local alumni chapter has our annual dinner there every year and I don't dread going (although when the alumni director asked me if I had other suggestions for restaurants I don't think she knew what she was getting into). 

The food isn't terrible - better than a lot of local pasta joints, but not as good as others - pretty middle of the road. 

The portions of pasta when you order off the menu are enormous and served family style.

I wish we had a Legal Seafoods here. I eat at the one in Boca Raton at least a couple of times a year (when we're in the area) - and I love it. Because I am a great fan of fresh grilled fish in simple preparations. It is incredibly difficult to find a middle of the road independent restaurant in Florida that serves good fresh grilled fish. Robyn

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Chain restaurants serve their purpose, but they are not what I would choose when I got out for a nice dinner with my husband.

If we are traveling and need to stop somewhere reasonably quick, it's kind of nice to have a chain restaurant where at least you know what you're getting.

It's also nice to have a place to take the kids out where you don't have to spend a ton of money, but you do get a break from cooking and get waited on - that's part of the allure of eating out - no muss, no fuss, time to relax and just talk.

It also depends largely on where you live. Yes, chain restaurants were a welcome addition to our rural midwestern town because there were very few choices, chain or locally run. It gave us a place to for a night out with the kids or a night out with the girls/guys - a place to meet, chat and eat decent food. We do have a couple of restaurants that do food quite well, but they are also pretty expensive, so not something we do all that often.

However, if I lived in a place like Chicago, I doubt I'd EVER eat in a Ruby Tuesdays or Applebees for the rest of my life - there are so many other fantastic choices - expensive, inexpensive and inbetween. We don't have that luxury here.

I also don't go to a chain restaurant expecting a nice meal - more like good pub fare. If I go to a chain restaurant, I order stuff they do well - like buffalo chicken strips or something like that - not for things they will never do well like a good seafood or steak dish with interesting sides. Not going to happen and I don't expect that kind of thing in a chain restaurant.

There is one chain restaurant that I like quite well. Biaggi's. The look is not like most chains - crammed with all kinds of memorabilia <big yawn> - it's more upscale and nicely done. The menu is creative and well-priced. There are not that many of them, so they are "barely" a chain. :wink: One of my favorite dishes : Fresh fillet of moist and flaky Chilean

sea bass brushed with herb-garlic oil and seared on iron. Served with a roasted red pepper cream sauce, sautéed spinach and garlic mashed potatoes. So, not your typical chain fare. Yummy.

So, I'm in the middle. I don't hate them, but I don't love 'em either.

Edited by Alysha (log)
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What's harmful about grilled meat in a flour tortilla dressed with fresh salsa? Other than that I agree that chain food is mostly crap in terms of health.

Doesn't sound so bad to me. But what's so much better about independent restaurant food? Lots of fried stuff - grease - cream sauces - fatty meats - oversalting. The people who eschew chain food will go into ecstasy over food of similar or worse nutritional content that isn't chain food.

Now I don't mind an occasional treat when it comes to a restaurant meal (in terms of taste totally trumping nutrition). But I eat probably 7 restaurant meals a week - and I can't eat like that all the time. And if I can find decent reasonably healthy food at a decent price for everyday restaurant meals - I don't care whether the place is an independent - or part of a chain. Robyn

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I like La Salsa and Baja Fresh. Poquito Mas is local LA chain that's good but a bit overpriced. Made to order food and salsa bar.

.

And yes, I've seen the many articles on how unhealthy most chain restaurant food is.  Worse than most outright fast food in many cases

What's harmful about grilled meat in a flour tortilla dressed with fresh salsa? Other than that I agree that chain food is mostly crap in terms of health.

La Salsa saved my life during one nightmare week at the Riviera in Las Vegas. The grilled mahi mahi tacos were quite good. At times it's really a challenge to find that that not only doesn't taste nasty but also isn't horribly unhealthy, if you're having to eat like that for several days in a row. La Salsa is really a pretty decent option, I think. I wish we had them in the Midwest. Baha Fresh doesn't seem quite as good to me, and anyway they are closing down a bunch of them out here. (I wonder why that is? The one near us always seemed to be packed with customers.)

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There is one chain restaurant that I like quite well.  Biaggi's.  The look is not like most chains - crammed with all kinds of memorabilia <big yawn> - it's more upscale and nicely done.  The menu is creative and well-priced.  There are not that many of them, so they are "barely" a chain.  :wink:  One of my favorite dishes : Fresh fillet of moist and flaky Chilean

sea bass brushed with herb-garlic oil and seared on iron. Served with a roasted red pepper cream sauce, sautéed spinach and garlic mashed potatoes.  So, not your typical chain fare.  Yummy.

So, I'm in the middle.  I don't hate them, but I don't love 'em either.

We just got a Biaggi's at our new upscale "outdoor mall". I'll have to check it out. I'm not a huge fan of chain restaurants, but with a toddler, I have gained a new appreciation of how kid friendly most of them are. Some independents could learn a bit about kid-friendliness from the chains.

We have a Carraba's here that is insanely popular. It's not bad. We tried to go one night with friends (a Saturday night) and were shocked to learn that there was a 3.5 hour wait!! And people were still putting their name on the list! We instead ended up at a small local Italian bistro, waited 15 minutes, and had an excellent meal - just down the road.

Danielle Altshuler Wiley

a.k.a. Foodmomiac

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We just got a Biaggi's at our new upscale "outdoor mall".

That's exactly where ours is located - a nice outdoor mall. It is mostly upscale, but they let a few questionable stores in like Payless. Who needs another Payless??? :rolleyes:

I agree with Robyn. Independent and/or upscale restaurants are not necessarily more healthful - they throw in LOTS of butter, etc. I just think the fat is more subtle - instead of dripping obviously off the fried sandwhich thingy, it actually enhances the flavor of the dish. But it's still there....

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We have a Biaggi's near our place in Colorado and I think it's one of the best restaurants in town at that price period (Although there's not a heck of a lot of diversity non chain wise). It is my favorite Italian chain, and they have 'em all there. Biaggi has a nice ambience too. I hope they don't grow too large and lose their level of quality. We were most impressed with the value for the price.

We have a toddler too so we are limited in dining options somewhat. They brought a little snack right away for my daughter- things like crackers and carrot sticks. It was thoughtful and pretty healthy too.

Also, we had an hour's wait one day because they had a big party. They had said 30 minutes originally. It's right next to a PF Chang's and some other "lifestyle mall" places and they're all busy.... They saw our toddler and told us the meals were on the house and to order dessert if we'd like! I've never had that happen at a chain before, after much longer waits and erratic service. Needless to say we gave them a great tip! They said they wanted to make sure we were completely satisfied.

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We have a toddler too so we are limited in dining options somewhat. They brought a little snack right away for my daughter- things like crackers and carrot sticks.  It was thoughtful and pretty healthy too. 

That's the other thing I like about Biaggi's. It's nice enough to go and have a meal with your spouse and enjoy a nice glass of wine, but they are also kid-friendly.

Of course there was the time I ordered their grilled chicken panini with the goat cheese, bacon, roasted red pepper and tomato-basil salsa. I think they forgot the goat cheese and the bacon and maybe a few other things. How hard can it be? All of the ingredients are listed on the menu! :shock:

I also like places like Panera and Au Bon Pain pretty well too. We travel the Ohio Turnpike quite a bit and they have begun to replace their tired, worn and permanently filthy rest stops with much nicer rest stops - it was VERY refreshing to have Panera as a reasonably healthful alternative to the usual OH turnpike fare like Hardees. :blink:

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I also like places like Panera and Au Bon Pain pretty well too.  We travel the Ohio Turnpike quite a bit and they have begun to replace their tired, worn and permanently filthy rest stops with much nicer rest stops - it was VERY refreshing to have Panera as a reasonably healthful alternative to the usual OH turnpike fare like Hardees.  :blink:

We, too, travel the Ohio Turnpike quite frequently. I'm thrilled that Panera has arrived. It's a much better option than McDonald's!

Danielle Altshuler Wiley

a.k.a. Foodmomiac

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Asian Chao---it must be a chain---there's one in a mall foodcourt here, as well as at the airport. It's a counter-only, plastic-everything quickwok place with a heavenly Bourbon chicken. Tender chunks of sweet/soy grilled chicken, with sides ranging from the obligatory fried rice, lo mein, a VERY good stir-fried julienne of three veggies, or: Absolutely perfect , crispy-fresh whole green beans, quickly stir-fried with garlic and salt.

This was our dinner last week at the airport, as we watched the board slowly postpone our visitors' flight from eight to midnight. Not PFC's, but quite good, considering the hour and the location.

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Biaggi's.  The menu is creative and well-priced.  There are not that many of them, so they are "barely" a chain.  :wink:

One of my favorite dishes : Fresh fillet of moist and flaky Chilean

sea bass brushed with herb-garlic oil and seared on iron. Served with a roasted red pepper cream sauce, sautéed spinach and garlic mashed potatoes.  So, not your typical chain fare.  Yummy.

Chilean Sea Bass has been put on many international watch lists as an endangered species - although of course there is much debate about what this actually means.

Here in the Northwest, where most people are card-carrying tree huggers, you would be hard pressed to find a restaurant audacious enough to serve Chilean Sea Bass today. Indeed I was at a dinner party not long ago where a couple left when they learned that the hostess was serving CSB.

So, depending on your view of our declining maritime resources, the fact that they serve CSB may be one reason not to go to Biaggis's.

There is currently an interesting thread on this in the Vancouver forum - though I don't know how to link this up here.

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I've been on eGullet 10 months now, and it's only now that I stumble across this topic...

...which is funny, because it was an essay on the spread of chain restaurants in Center City Philadelphia that I had written for The Philadelphia Inquirer's Metro Commentary page last June that got me introduced to eGullet in the first place.

You can probably divine my attitude on chain eateries from the essay. But I should add an update that may cost me points on the Pennsylvania board.

The Quiznos Sub sandwich-shop chain has targeted Philly as a market for expansion, and outlets have sprouted like weeds over the past six months. One might think that sandwich fans in the home of the hoagie would not cotton to the new chain.

This sandwich fan, however, is impressed by what Quiznos offers. Their signature gimmick--oven toasting all their sandwiches--actually does do something for the sandwich, their ingredients are very high quality, and they offer some interesting (and tasty) combinations.

Apparently, many people must agree with my assessment, for I note that more-established rival chain Subway--which has operated in Philly for years--now offers oven toasted subs, including one that duplicates almost exactly a Quiznos offering.

Besides Quiznos, the only other fast-food chain I patronize with any frequency is Popeye's Chicken. Again, this chain offers something that no one else does as well--spicy fried chicken with a crunchy crust.

I have been known to pop into a Wendy's on occasion, and I used to stop by a Dunkin' Donuts on the way to my train every morning, but have since ceased this after I noticed my waistline expanding.

I've also eaten more than once at Chili's, which isn't bad for casual dining, but there's a local place near me that beats them hands down on many dishes--and has the best Buffalo wings in town.

I'll second Holly Moore's assessment of Maggiano's Little Italy, and even go so far to say that this chain would hold its own with many good independent Italian restaurants, though not with the best ones.

Sandy Smith, Exile on Oxford Circle, Philadelphia

"95% of success in life is showing up." --Woody Allen

My foodblogs: 1 | 2 | 3

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There seems to be a lot chain haters here. Since this is a site that the participants are interested in food, wine, eating, and culture it comes as no surprise that chain restaurants wouldn't be high up on the list. Personally, I think those on both ends of the spectrum, those that go to no chains, and those that go to nothing but are both abusurd.

I think most of us have at least several, and up to a fair amount of chain restaurants we have or would consider going to for a meal. Chain restaruants can also run the gamut from top shelf spots down to last resort.

Ruth's Chris is certainly a high end chain (though not my personal favorite.) When I lived in Houston there were the Pappas Restaurants, Pappadeaux and the Bar-B-Q were very good and their Steakhouse is top notch. Pretty soon Emeril will have enough to be considered chain and I've found his restaurants to be exccellent.

Mid-level one may find Bennihana's to be a bit gimicky but I think it is fun every so often. I enjoy Tony Roma's both for their ribs and the onion rings. Then again, I remember when I use to go to the original when living in Miami. Out here Claim Jumper is another chain that has caught on and has decent food. On occasion, my s.o. even wants to go to the IHOP of seafood, Red Lobster and tha is okay.

Certainly the two most common type of chain restaurant most of us use (my guess) is for pizza. I even plead guilty to the occasional stops at In and Oout Burgers, Jack in the Box, and Taco Bell in a pinch.

Beyond the ones I've mentioned there are many more that I'm sure I have or might eat at some point in time. At home, I do all the cooking and while I enjoy it, sometimes due to work or other projects there just isn't the time or inclination. Most of those times going out to dinner is not planned. When it isn't planned, it often comes down to finding something that is good and consistent.

I think most of us, when going out to a nice restaruant, whether it is an interesting little place we've discovered or a five star restaruant, want to be mentally fresh, not rushed, and ready to make the most out of the experience and not exhasted, harried, or otherwise out of sorts. When I am in this latter frame of mind, that's the time I'm most likely going to pick a chain restaruant. Simple, straight forward, nothing too fancy, just a no brainer. Whether a small local chain, or a big national chain, there are plenty of good ones out there, and while (esepecially on this site) our druthers would be an interesting, more indiviualistic restaurant, I think those that look condescendingly down at chain restaurants are hoisted a bit high on their own pitard and have their head buried in the sand or some equally dark place.

Charles a food and wine addict - "Just as magic can be black or white, so can addictions be good, bad or neither. As long as a habit enslaves it makes the grade, it need not be sinful as well." - Victor Mollo

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On occasion, my s.o. even wants to go to the IHOP of seafood, Red Lobster and tha is okay.

Whether a small local chain, or a big national chain, there are plenty of good ones out there, and while (esepecially on this site) our druthers would be an interesting, more indiviualistic restaurant, I think those that look condescendingly down at chain restaurants are hoisted a bit high on their own pitard and have their head buried in the sand or some equally dark place.

Interesting post...

I must admit that I do look down my nose at most, though not all chains (especially those of the Applebee's type), but b/c I'm the mom of a toddler, we do end up at them occasionally. It also might be due to the fact that we live in Toledo. :rolleyes:

I have to say though, that I truly despise Red Lobster. I just can't find anything there that I like! I was dragged there by a client a few months ago, and overheard the funniest interaction. Well, it was funny to me, though some probably think I'm an ass for finding it funny.

My client bumped into someone he knew, and said, "Hey, how are you doing?" The acquaintance replied, "Well, I'm alive and I'm at Red Lobster. What more could you want?"

I raced to my car to call my husband and relay the interaction. It just cracked me up.

Danielle Altshuler Wiley

a.k.a. Foodmomiac

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