If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, my unabashed love of Anthony Bourdain should be obvious. However, just because I think he’s super-cool and I envy the hell out of his job, it doesn’t mean I agree with everything he says. One of the things we don’t see eye to eye on is chain restaurants. “But wait”, you might be saying (or might not, doesn’t really matter), “you both hate chain restaurants!” And you may even use my reviews of Red Robin, Nick-N-Willy’s, Jimmy John’s, Olive Garden, Ling and Louie’s, and most fast food franchises as an example. And you would have a point, but every once in a while you find a chain that still prides itself as much or more on food than they do on theme. Despite their sometimes oppressive atmospheres, I really do consider the food at places like The Cheesecake Factory, Five Guys, and The Melting Pot to be downright excellent, and I could name a few other chains (Tucano’s, The Ram, P.F Chang’s) where the food is damn good. Hell, I’ll even grab take-out now and then from some places that I can’t stand to spend any length of time inside of!
One of the places Bourdain lambasts most often is T.G.I Friday’s (which he lumps into a kind of imaginary hybrid worst-case scenario chain that he calls T.G.I. McFunster’s). I’ve been listening to him work that schtick for years now, and it occurred to me finally that I can’t even say if Friday’s food is any good. I’d only eaten there once, in Buffalo, something like nine years ago, and what I had isn’t even on the menu any longer! I’d been toying with the idea of giving them another shot for a while due to a buy one lunch item/get one free lunch coupon in this year’s Entertainment Book (I’ll throw them a link even though they have repeatedly refused to advertise on this blog). Today I figured hey, what better day than the most notorious of Fridays!
I’d decided to call in my order (burger for me, salad for Sis) for take-out after carefully inspecting the coupon to make sure it didn’t say “dine in only” or “not valid on carry-out” or something else to that effect. Fifteen minutes later I was standing at the bar in the assembly-line building at the corner of Milwaukee and Emerald Streets, not really digging the faux 1890’s vibe. The bartender, who looked like a slightly older incarnation of a Anthony Michael Hall character from an 80’s John Hughes movie, told me that they’re not supposed to take the BOGO coupons on take-out orders. For some reason, I wasn’t surprised that I was being fed that line by a person who had already called me “brother” three times after I corrected him for shortening my first name in the same sort of familiar way a car salesman will when trying to make himself seem like a buddy (this is a MAJOR pet peeve for me…there’s a very common way of shortening my name that immediately brings out the worst in me). Before I even had a chance to point out that the coupon listed no such restriction, he gave me the typical “don’t tell my boss” jive and said he would put it through for me. Seriously, Doogie (sorry, couldn’t think of a Hall character name so I’m going to a different cheesy blonde guy) couldn’t have been more fake-conspiratorial if he had turned his head sideways and winked in a slow, exaggerated fashion. It’s funny how spending less than five minutes in a place like that can remind me of almost everything that I DO hate about chain restaurants. I can’t help but think that the proliferation of carry-out service, especially the “curbside” variety, was created to serve people like me who don’t even want to walk into places like that. Anyway, Doogie rang up the check, brought me my order (which I didn’t even check in my haste to get out of there), and called me brother a few more times. After tipping him a couple of bucks for the floor show, I was on my way.
An inspection of the bag when I returned to the office yielded no napkins or plastic utensils, which are difficult to eat a burger, fries and salad without. Kind of a surprising oversight in what would have been a $20 lunch order without that coupon.
|Chipotle Yucatan Chicken Salad|
The Chipotle Yucatan Chicken Salad is described on the menu thus: Roasted pulled chicken breast seasoned with garlic, oregano & blackening spices served on a bed of mixed greens & chopped romaine lettuce tossed with avocado, mixed cheese, diced tomato, red onion, cilantro, and crisp tostadas – all drizzled with Avocado Vinaigrette and chipotle crema. Sounds good, doesn’t it? I almost ordered the same for myself, but for the fact that it sounded a little on the spicy side and I’m still a bit of a wimp in that regard (working on it, I promise!). I didn’t get to try the salad, but I did try a piece of the chicken and yes, it was a little spicy for my taste. I wish I had tried the avocado dressing, but Sis assured me that the overall effect had some bite but was still pretty good, despite the fact that they had forgotten the crisp tostadas.
|Jack Daniels Burger with seasoned fries|
Since I’m a burger fiend and that’s a safe way to go with bar food most of the time…and yes, I consider it bar food. Do you know anything about the history of the place? It started out as an attempt by a cologne salesman to get laid, evolved into one of the first singles bars, and somehow has now transformed into a somewhat family-oriented but alcohol-heavy chain of identical eateries. Anyway, I figured I’d try the Jack Daniel’s Burger, since the Jack Daniel’s sauce is one of Friday’s more enduring and famous menu items. My lunch’s menu description was much simpler: Our signature Jack Daniel’s sauce, crispy bacon and melted Provolone cheese. Served with extra Jack Daniel’s sauce on the side. My burger had no sauce. It all worked out fine though, as the “extra” sauce was in a little plastic container inside my take-out box. I added a splash of it, maybe half of the container, to the burger, and kind of regretted it with my first bite. I don’t have a lot of experience with JD or bourbon in general, but all I tasted in this sauce was cloying sweetness. Still, the sauce has its fans, so it’s obviously a matter of personal preference. The other thing that jumped out at me immediately was how overwhelmingly strong the red onions were. I removed all but one piece as I still needed something to balance out that sauce. Other than that, it was actually a pretty good burger. I still wish I had ordered the regular cheeseburger cooked medium (which according the the menu is an option, but I was never asked how I wanted mine cooked) and asked to have bacon added to it, but there were things to like here. The brioche bun for one, the generous use of pickles and dark green lettuce, the still-juicy Angus beef and perfectly melted cheese…even the fries were good!
To sum up, yes, I might consider going there again, but only for take-out and not without a coupon, because it bothers me a little bit when I’m paying ten bucks for a burger that should cost six or seven were it not for the extra money needed to decorate and furnish the restaurant in ways that make not want to eat on the premises to begin with. There are places I would rather try or have tried and would like to return to, but most of them aren’t as close to my office. If I’m paying full price, The Cheesecake Factory is right around the corner, nowhere near as annoying and just simply has much better food.
Final Grade: C-