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The chain restaurant topic


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Maybe I'm just too old or spent too much road time in my youth, but I loath chains (except Popeye's) and eat there only as a last resort. Upscale or downscale -- Legal Seafood or McDonalds -- eating at a chain restaurant is like haveing sex with an inflatable love doll. Maggiano's, Tony Roma's, Quizmo's; McCormick and Schmick: not if I have anthing to say about it. Like reality TV and most popular music, their success is a sign not of their quality but of the decline of Western Civilization.

After a week in the Atlanta suburbs over Christmas, I damn near fell to my knees and kissed the scum-washed sidewalks of DC, so happy was I to be out of the land of laminated menus, frozen drink specials and servers eager to tell you their first names.

If you need me, I'll be at Bistro du Coin.

I'm on the pavement

Thinking about the government.

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I've just been introduced to Potbelly Sandwich Works. The Italian is one of the best sandwiches I've ever had, worth every salty & cholesterol laden bite. The giardinera (sp?) really makes it.

I love cooking with wine. Sometimes I even put it in the food.

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while i agree with all the philosophical objections to chain restaurants,

i love pf chang's .......

i've eaten in lots of wonderful mom and pop chinese restaurants

and lots of awful ones too.

and if you are lucky enough to have a woodland's anywhere near you

run don't walk (south indian dosai chain)

milagai

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I've just been introduced to Potbelly Sandwich Works. The Italian is one of the best sandwiches I've ever had, worth every salty & cholesterol laden bite. The giardinera (sp?) really makes it.

Not to take a shot at you, personally, BG, but I can see a Potbelly's from my office and work above a Quizmo's. Those places are both horrible. And Potbelly's compounds its mass-produced blandness with a faux hominess that makes it all the more execrable. The people responsible for these chains should be rounded up and sent to re-education camp.

With the PF Chang's folks.

[end rant]

I'm on the pavement

Thinking about the government.

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I have to say though, that I truly despise Red Lobster. I just can't find anything there that I like!

I haven't been a big fan of the chain either, but was pleasantly surprised by their "Roasted Tilapia in a Bag". It was a nice change to finally eat seafood there that wasn't deep fried.

 

“Peter: Oh my god, Brian, there's a message in my Alphabits. It says, 'Oooooo.'

Brian: Peter, those are Cheerios.”

– From Fox TV’s “Family Guy”

 

Tim Oliver

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I tend to think of meals at chains mostly in terms of opportunity cost: I have a finite number of meals left in my life, and every meal I eat at a national chain restaurant is a meal I won't be able to enjoy somewhere else. Right now I have a list of about 40 independent or small local-chain restaurants I want to try out for the first time, and I probably have about that many that I've tried before and like enough to go back to. And there are new restaurants popping up every week!

I do go to Cheesecake Factory or Chevy's when group gatherings demand it, and that's more than enough for me. Frankly, they always seem overpriced compared to what I can get elsewhere, even if I find the food ok.

If I want simple, good, and familiar, there's the banh mi shop down the street, or the taco truck that makes wondefully fresh carne asada tacos, or a barbecue place that makes delicious brisket sandwiches, or another vietnamese place for pho.

I'm living near absolutely great restaurant city (Seattle) and see no need that national chains can fill for me. Obviously they fill a need for other people and that's fine.

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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...

...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.

If you look carefully - you'll see that this thread was dormant for about a year until I revived it with my "review" of Maggiano's (I wrote about it - not Holly Moore). I'm impressed with your opinion about it - because - from what I can recall about my years living in Philadelphia - there were a lot of really good family Italian restaurants there (which isn't the case in Jacksonville FL - where I now live). Of course - that was a long time ago (30+ years). I have no idea what's going on in Philadelphia these days (except some people my husband and I worked with in the DA's office have gone on to bigger and better things). Robyn

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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.

I think Red Lobsters are very variable. I've only eaten at 3 (one in Daytona Beach when we're passing through on I-95) - and 2 near my father-in-law's nursing home here in Jacksonville. The one in Daytona is much better than the 2 in Jacksonville - and one in Jacksonville was a fair amount better than the other. Note that although we don't have lots of experience - I'm comparing apples with apples since I tend to eat the same 1 or 2 dishes all the time. Robyn

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For us, the kids are becoming less suspicious of new foods, so every time I take them to a chain I worry about becoming part of the GMO-meets-SYSCO machine; that being said, sometimes you just cannot bear the idea of thrashing the kitchen one more time that day, and Outback makes a decent hockey puck of beef with a decent-er caesar salad. You don't wanna have one of these meals and cruise through the slow food diary thread over there in Italy, is what I'm sayin'.

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I've just been introduced to Potbelly Sandwich Works. The Italian is one of the best sandwiches I've ever had, worth every salty & cholesterol laden bite. The giardinera (sp?) really makes it.

Not to take a shot at you, personally, BG, but I can see a Potbelly's from my office and work above a Quizmo's. Those places are both horrible. And Potbelly's compounds its mass-produced blandness with a faux hominess that makes it all the more execrable. The people responsible for these chains should be rounded up and sent to re-education camp.

With the PF Chang's folks.

[end rant]

De gustibus non disputandum est, I guess.

If we all really believed that, there would be no eGullet at all.

On the whole, though, I agree with the poster who said that we should neither totally exalt nor thoroughly despise chains. As I wrote in the Inquirer, they serve a useful purpose. Besides, this Manichean tendency to class all chains as evil does a disservice to good local chains (for instance, Planet Hoagie, a small [three locations] chain of very good hoagie shops in Philadelphia).

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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If you look carefully - you'll see that this thread was dormant for about a year until I revived it with my "review" of Maggiano's (I wrote about it - not Holly Moore).  I'm impressed with your opinion about it - because - from what I can recall about my years living in Philadelphia - there were a lot of really good family Italian restaurants there (which isn't the case in Jacksonville FL - where I now live).  Of course - that was a long time ago (30+ years).  I have no idea what's going on in Philadelphia these days (except some people my husband and I worked with in the DA's office have gone on to bigger and better things).  Robyn

The City of Brotherly Love is still blessed with a slew of very good independent and family-run Italian restaurants. But the old standbys like Ralph's (the traditional red-gravy house that's celebrating its 105th anniversary this year) and Marra's have been joined by a slew of much classier places serving excellent, creative Italian dishes, including Il Portico, Portofino, Felicia's, Kristian's, Panorama (better known for its huge selection of wines, all available by the glass) and the Saloon (this last a favorite with the expense-account crowd). Varalli's (Upstares and Sotto) also qualifies.

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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"Independent" and "family owned" doesn't always mean good, especially in small towns far from metro areas. Come up to my town, I'll take you on a tour of the small, locally-owned places that would scare the socks off anyone with taste buds. With the notable exception of a small handful of local places - including one run by an e-Gulleteer - most chain restaurants are better run, serve more interesting food, and are an overall better dining experience than the bulk of the locally owned places in my town. I hate to admit it, but it's true. The worst that a chain has offered up to me is dull food at high prices. The worst that a locally owned place has offered up is the stuff of horror stories.

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" most chain restaurants are better run, serve more interesting food, and are an overall better dining experience than the bulk of the locally owned places in my town.

This is so contrary to my experience in just about every corner of the globe that I have to ask the question: just where, exactly, do you live?

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Happy to report that all the New England Red Lobsters have closed down.  :raz:

Wicked pissa!

Then again, Red Lobster is a sacrilege in any state. Life is too short for frozen seafood.

Where I grew up, there was no such thing as seafood. Fish, yes. Seafood, no.

Except at two places: the Savoy Grill (old traditional restaurant, rather pricey, clubby decor, not really a place to take an 11-year-old for a simple meal out) and -- yup -- Red Lobster.

I did manage to leave Kansas City for Boston to attend college, though. There I learned what seafood was supposed to taste like, at the No Name.

To turn the tables, however: I imagine that in New England, Famous Dave's would be considered fantastic barbecue. And in that region, it probably would be. (I see they plan to open in Saugus. Wonder if it will be anywhere near the Hilltop Steak House, if that place is still around?)

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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If you look carefully - you'll see that this thread was dormant for about a year until I revived it with my "review" of Maggiano's (I wrote about it - not Holly Moore).  I'm impressed with your opinion about it - because - from what I can recall about my years living in Philadelphia - there were a lot of really good family Italian restaurants there (which isn't the case in Jacksonville FL - where I now live).  Of course - that was a long time ago (30+ years).  I have no idea what's going on in Philadelphia these days (except some people my husband and I worked with in the DA's office have gone on to bigger and better things).  Robyn

Thank you Robyn for reviving us all.

I'm being somewhat tongue in cheek.

Edited by touaregsand (log)
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" most chain restaurants are better run, serve more interesting food, and are an overall better dining experience than the bulk of the locally owned places in my town.

This is so contrary to my experience in just about every corner of the globe that I have to ask the question: just where, exactly, do you live?

I want to add, "Where have you been?"

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"Independent" and "family owned" doesn't always mean good, especially in small towns far from metro areas. Come up to my town, I'll take you on a tour of the small, locally-owned places that would scare the socks off anyone with taste buds. With the notable exception of a small handful of local places - including one run by an e-Gulleteer - most chain restaurants are better run, serve more interesting food, and are an overall better dining experience than the bulk of the locally owned places in my town. I hate to admit it, but it's true. The worst that a chain has offered up to me is dull food at high prices. The worst that a locally owned place has offered up is the stuff of horror stories.

Okay. I see what you mean. I think I supported some of your statements with my earlier posts.

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That said, we have a couple of locally owned chain-esque restaurant groups here in the DC area that I am happy to eat at -- the Great American Restaurants group and the Clyde's group.  What are the opinions on places like that?

Great American Restaurants restaurants are indeed great. Artie's is my favorite, followed by Sweetwater Tavern.

Well, if Great American Restaurants is a "chain," then so is the Starr Restaurant Organization, the company that put the theater into fine dining in Philadelphia. (Warning: Like every one of Starr's 14 restaurants, the corporate Web site is Flash-y.)

But yes, the restaurants the Virginia company runs do look more like "new American" casual-dining chain places than the ones run by the Philadelphia outfit.

Edited by MarketStEl (log)

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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Now, I have to say that I have had very few bad meals at these places... but as somone said earlier in this thread, perhaps I have just never had a wonderful one either to compare it to.  Perhaps my range of experiences lacks entries in the sublime and thus my scale is warped such that well executed mediocrity excites me. 

I'll refer you to a comment I made earlier this evening on the Pennsylvania board:

"I'd rather see lots of people enjoying themselves dining out on mediocre food than a few of us enjoying superlative fare and everyone else watching TV at home."

(It's in a thread I started about the iminent arrival of Ruby Tuesday's at Liberty Place in Center City.)

I have in my life dined at two establishments I would consider 'fine dining' although perhaps they don't at all compare to where some of you have been.  One was a Sullivan's Steak House (I had no idea this was a chain until reading this thread), and the other was the Green Room at the Hotel DuPont (probably the finest hotel and French restaurant in Delaware... not that that is necessarily saying much).  I have to say I was incredibly impressed with Sullivans, and I easily saw how it was much better than Outback (which has never impressed me in general), but the Hotel DuPont left me wanting.... Perhaps I didn't order the right entree, perhaps I was just not prepared for high end French cuisine, or perhaps the place simply is not as wonderful as it is hyped up to be. 

I had an encounter with the sublime in downtown Wilmington on Friday, at a hot-dog-and-burger place called Mutts at 9th and Orange. (I posted about this on the DC/Delmarva board. Despite the fact that Wilmington is now something of a satellite of Philadelphia, or vice versa, :wink: it's still part of Delmarva, so I'll post about food in Wilmington there.)

I guess it all depends on what you consider sublime.

I kinda doubt I'll be having lunch at the Hotel DuPont any time soon.

What really surprises me is that I have always found Olive Garden to serve up fairly good pasta (even if it is apparently not authentic Italian).  Living in the northern Delaware shadow of Philadelphia little Italian Sub/Steak/Pizza/Pasta shops are a dime a dozen, and I have sampled the offerings of many, and from most it was not as good as what you get from Olive Garden or the Macaroni Grill.  Perhaps I actually need to drive into the city to find the real deal, or maybe I just don't know what good pasta should taste like.  I would assume that what tastes the best is the best... but maybe that is also a flawed assumption.

If you're ever so inclined, let me know and we can probably rustle up a bunch of people to join you at Ralph's on 9th Street, in the Italian Market. This place is what the Olive Garden wants to be when it grows up.

All in all I have become very interested in both learning how to cook as well as learning what fine dining actually is, and hopefully expanding my horizons some.  Having browsed over the 'dinner' thread and seeing the wonderful creations that Jinmyo comes up with is certainly encouraging me to seek out more exciting foodstuffs, I have never encountered anything remotely similar to the quality of what she appears to create on a menu anywhere.  So while I do see more chain visits in the near future as I will be dragged when the choice is up to friends and family, I am hoping that I can also add in some better alternatives, and maybe start to catch up on what I have apparently been missing.

We're here for you. But I wouldn't pass up the opportunity to join you for lunch at Chili's, either.

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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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.

For us, a chain is useful as a restaurant training ground for the kids (ages 5 & 3) when we get tired of Thai or Indian food - you know, this is how you order from menu, this is the kind of behavior we expect, etc. It's usually Legal Seafood because their kid's meals choices include healthy options.

Heather Johnson

In Good Thyme

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I'll refer you to a comment I made earlier this evening on the Pennsylvania board:

"I'd rather see lots of people enjoying themselves dining out on mediocre food than a few of us enjoying superlative fare and everyone else watching TV at home."

(It's in a thread I started about the iminent arrival of Ruby Tuesday's at Liberty Place in Center City.)...

Great point. There's food - and then there's Food. And different people have different opportunities to sample various kinds in various places - at various points in their lives - and from time to time in their everyday lives. My husband and I could never afford big deal places in Philadelphia when we lived there (we were DA's - too poor). But - later - we made more money - and could experience a lot of fabulous restaurants in a lot of different cities/countries.

But do we eat like that every day? No. And do we say - if it's not 3 star Michelin - or the best undiscovered BBQ in the southeast - we'll stay home and never go out? Of course not.

Dining has a lot to do with socializing - with friends - and family - even just a spouse or SO. Sitting for a few hours - letting someone else do the work - so you can talk and relax. I think there's a lot of room for all kinds of restaurants in one's life. Although I would like the food to be more than mediocre - I'm not embarrassed about eating a meal at Per Se in New York - and then a meal at Maggiano's at home. Two totally different kinds of places. But each has its place. Just like evening clothes and jeans. Robyn

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To turn the tables, however:  I imagine that in New England, Famous Dave's would be considered fantastic barbecue.  And in that region, it probably would be.  (I see they plan to open in Saugus.  Wonder if it will be anywhere near the Hilltop Steak House, if that place is still around?)

Hilltop is still around. They even have a second place in Braintree.

Actually there is good barbecue to be had in New England. Uncle Pete's in East Boston, Jake's Boss in Jamaica Plain, Fireflys in Marlboro, Jake's and Bison County, both in Waltham. Then, there is the New England Barbecue Society NEBS for those seriously interested in barbecue.

I still haven't been able to find a good cheese steak, though.

Jim

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  • 3 weeks later...

We went to a lecture tonight at the local university - so we thought we'd try another place at the new mall next door for dinner. Forget PF Chang's and Cheesecake Factory - looked like a casting call outside both. We'd already tried Maggione's. So we went to Ted's Montana Grill. Only a 20 minute wait - but I didn't wait to wait 20 minutes (this was about 9) - so we ate at the end of the bar - which happened to overlook the kitchen. In other words - the chef's table :wink: .

This is the first Ted's Montana Grill in Florida. For those of you who don't know - this is the way Ted Turner seeks to dispose of the bison he raises on the millions of acres he owns. And he's up front about pushing the place. He's been in Jacksonville twice in the last 6 months to promote the restaurant.

Sitting at the "chef's table" - even at Ted's - has its advantages. Darryl - one of the line chefs - said "try the pot roast". And gave us a taste. Yummy. So that's what we had. Along with a starter of soup and salad. Soup was a bowl of tortilla soup big enough for 3. Not great - but very tasty. Salad was a wedge of iceberg - with tomatoes and bacon - and a ranch dressing with tomatoes and bacon. Again - big enough for 3. The bison pot roast was absolutely delicious. You know how pot roast tends to have a lot of fat in it. This had virtually none. And the long braising cooked the low fat meat into submission. Decent gravy. Also garlic mashed potatoes and string beans. Enough left over for 2 sandwiches for lunch tomorrow. Total food cost approximately $20. My husband begged an end from the bison meat loaf sitting on the counter in front of him - and pronounced it better than the pot roast.

This is not inspired food. But it's decent and tasty. And obviously very fresh. I think in the hour + we were there we must have seen the chefs make 200 bison burgers (which seem to be the most popular thing on the menu) from scratch. And 50 pounds of fries (fresh from a big bushel of potatoes).

This isn't high end dining - but I left with no complaints (sometimes places like this rip you off on the drinks - but even a Beefeater martini - good pour - was only $6). Robyn

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