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Chains of Cool

September 27, 2007

Is it possible, I ask, to be a serious foodie and still appreciate the chain restaurant? 

By the Power of Greyskull, YES!

For your pleasure, my personal list of

Top Five Chain Restaurants Deserving of a Self-Proclaimed Gourmet’s Noteriety:

1.  Jersey Mike’s.  I like Two Guys Hoagies as much as the next guy, especially for its unparalled chicken salad sub, but let’s face it.  An assembly line of ferociously friendly blue-eyed cuties slicing fresh roast beef and provolone into razor-thin slices of joy goes a long way in my book.   Getting the sandwich “Mike’s Way” (lettuce, tomato, onions, olive oil, vinegar, spices) just tastes like less sodium content than any other chain restaurant I have ever experienced.  And for once, at a sub joint, the portions are perfect.  Let’s not talk about the Pepsi products.  You can’t have it all.  It’s still a chain.

2.  Atlanta Bread Company– Actually, I hate nearly everything about this restaurant.  Their soups are bland beyond belief, the decor feels like an airport, the salads are insanely overpriced, and their sandwiches are, for the most part, snorefests.   But their vegetarian sandwich hits some chord I cannot recreate in my home kitchen.  Why and how do they do it??  It’s nothing but sprouts, tomatoes, onions, avocado, and lettuce.  But the dill spread.  Good Goddess, what is in that dill spread!!?!  I must know, so I will never have to darken their beige doors again.  The bread is also fabulous, and holds it all together with predictable perfection.  I don’t know how, I don’t know why, but I love it.

3.  Carrabba’s.  The bread and oil pre-appetizer combo was among the first of its kind and kicks serious booty.  The salads used to be slimy, wilted excuses for greenery but have grown into crisp, fresh, colorful versions of the basic Italian.  The meatballs are killer.  But none of these are my reason for putting Carrabba’s on this list, and it would never even be on here if I didn’t live in Mayberry, I mean, Asheville.  Carrabba’s is open until 10:30pm on weeknights.  It’s the only single option this late on a Thursday, for example.  Sad, but true, and I love them for it.

4.  TCBY– I believe this store lives up to its name.  I spent three glorious teenage years behind the counter of this fine establishment, and I have no horror stories to speak of.  To the contrary, it was all-you-can-eat day every day of work, and I was allowed to invent concoctions and sell them at my own suggested price.  I was even allowed to display a tip jar with a picture of my face on the top and my mouth opened where you put the coins.  But TCBY did one thing earlier and better than all the rest:  Pumpkin frozen yogurt in the fall.  This is the sole reason I can deal with the summer’s end.  Order the pumpkin with cinnamon and syrupy walnuts, drown it in hot fudge, drizzle it with butterscotch, whatever.  You cannot go wrong.  Just call first because it’s not always available.  Sigh.  I think I’ll head over there after work, to the Weaverville location I recently discovered.

5.  . . . Oh, boy, here it goes: McDonald’s.  I’ve read Fast Food Nation two times.  I’ve seen the film, and I saw Supersize Me in the theater.  I’ve had friends who worked there, reporting “bright blue ribs” on the premises.  I love the rainforest, and give money to support its survival.  And yet, there is no Earthly power that can keep me from a Big Mac when I have a craving.  Thankfully, I experience this mind/body demonic possession only a very few times a year.  But on a terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad day when all has gone wrong, little else will draw me from my depressed stupor other than a Big Mac, large fry and ice cold Coca-Cola.  With BBQ sauce for the fries.  I’m now going to require a group hug for that little confession.

What are your secret chain restaurant cravings?  Which chains do you find superior to all others?  It’s okay, you have permission.  Go for it. 

10 Comments leave one →
  1. queen kirstifa permalink
    September 27, 2007 8:42 pm

    we all know how i feel about fast food. yet i have this Pavlovian reaction to Chic Filet. Which is one of the many reasons I avoid malls, cause the very aroma creates some pre-vegetarian, primal intoxication. True confession: about 5 years ago, 8 years into my status as vegetarian (now on year 12, if you don’t count a little sustainable seafood as cheating), HP & I were leaving Asheville on a roadtrip and only had time to stop at one place for food. Normally we prepare food for the ride so we don’t have to eat crap, but that day was like getting out of Alcatraz. There we were, on the East side of town, trying to figure out our options. HP looked wistfully at the Chic, and I decided it was my duty to eat a chicken filet for the greater good. With waffle fries. And a lemonade. HP looked on in amazement as I devoured my sandwich, and swore to secrecy so that my priviledges wouldn’t be revoked by the vegetarian militia.

    Also, I liked Schlotzky’s. I remember something with pesto. Are they still around?

  2. September 27, 2007 9:02 pm

    I unceremoniously ended 12 years of vegetarianism with a Chic Filet chicken sandwich. Not so much a fan anymore but I do love their diet lemonade because its sweetened with Splenda.

    As another former TCBY employee I echo your love! I must note that down here in the south we call them “wet nuts” without an ounce of sarcasm:0

  3. rascalgrrl permalink
    September 27, 2007 10:49 pm

    Ok, true confessions. I “heart” Wendy’s double cheeseburger. It makes my mouth happy and gives the greasey joy that can only come from such a delectable bit of sodium-ridden beef. I don’t do it but once every 6 months or so, but damn I like them!

  4. September 28, 2007 12:43 am

    I with you on Jersey Mike’s. Hate McDonald’s though. Yuck!

    When I have to do fast food (road trips), I typically go for a plain Chick Filet sandwich. Love the tart pickle/fried chicken combination.

    Secondary, and this is embarrassing, is Arby’s. Just a plain roast beef sandwich with tons of Arby’s sauce. I have a friend who is a lifelong vegetarian, but when she was preggers, she’d crave Arby’s. Gotta get your protein somewhere.

  5. September 28, 2007 2:59 am


    I’ve been trying to comment to tell you about this blog you will love. Her latest post is right on topic with your parenting article last week!

  6. El Cabrito permalink
    September 28, 2007 12:22 pm

    Bonefish…Krispy Kreme – only when the Hot Now neon is on.

  7. September 28, 2007 1:02 pm

    I agree with Krispy Kreme only when the HOT sign is lit.

    Even with all the great asian dining in the area, if I am shopping at the mall I can’t help getting a little Orange Flavored Chicken and Lo Mein at Panda Express. Reminds me of my old “Office Space” styled job where all of our tech “team” would go in our Dockers and polo shirts to eat and ogle all the MILFS shopping with their babies. Ahhhh … strangely good times.

    When I am in the fast food drive-thru mode I like to get either (a) 5 piece Chicken Select Meal from Mickey D’s, or (b) a Tex-Mex Chalupa at Taco Bell. This happens maybe once every three months for me. (Then I feel the urge to sneak in an extra run on the weekend out of guilt … aaah!)

    When on the road, there is nothing like getting a startlingly authentic home made breakfast at Cracker Barrel. Their hashbrown casserole is my crack addiction.

    The other chain breakfast choice would be Waffle House – that a friend of mine has dubbed “Awful House” – but no matter. A nice vanilla scented waffle and some hashbrowns – scattered smothered and covered of course.

    One last breakfast item. I love to get Hardee’s biscuits – warm with strawberry jam. Mmmmmm.

  8. September 28, 2007 1:40 pm

    Jersey Mike’s turkey subs are the reason god made banana peppers.

  9. October 1, 2007 2:36 am

    Yay for Jersey Mikes! Their just plain-ole Steak-n-cheese (with a dash of chipotle) is one of the steps towards heaven.

    And it’s too bad that stinky ole Atlanta Bread Company had to make it as a Top Five Chain Restaurants just to get their veggie on. I totally “squat” that place.

  10. queen kirstifa permalink
    October 1, 2007 6:58 am

    oh, and also, there’s something about Bo-tato Rounds, especially on a hungover Saturday. I heard these weren’t actually vegetarian either. Sigh.

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