Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Chain Restaurants

Yesterdays "mission" posting brings up an interesting situation with me. I like (some) chain restaurants.

There. I said it.

I know that some people think that a true Chow Hound would eschew the chains, but in reality, they have their place. If the chain is one that I'm familiar with, then I usually know before I set foot in the door of any new incarnation more or less what my experience will be. There's something to be said about this predictability as opposed to walking into a "mom and pop" restaurant for the first time.

Yeah, your typical wait staff at the chains will be the high schooler or kid working through college who has been indoctrinated into the chain's overriding philosophy, but that isn't much different anywhere else. After all, everywhere has its own way of doing things; it's just that at the chains, this is more pronounced.

Near my house, the city of Methuen, MA seems to be a haven for the chains. In an area of about five square miles, you can find an Outback, Texas Roadhouse, Bugaboo Creek, Friday's, Macaroni Grill, Not Your Average Joes, and an Appleby's (not to mention the various fast food places as well). The last five on that list are all within a half mile of each other (in and around The Loop off Rt. 213).

My family tends to go to a chain restaurant about once or twice a month. I'll give a rundown of the places near where I live and a few thoughts on each. (Note that these are merely my own observations and opinions.) In the future, I'll do "full scale" reviews of these restaurants.

Chili's (Salem, NH)

I used to go here with my family more than I do nowadays. They changed their chili from their meaty "bowl of red" to a mixture that adds beans and vegetables, most likely as a way of keeping the cost down. The result: I won't eat it anymore, and it used to be my favorite thing to order! My wife likes the Lettuce Wraps, and the kids have their own favorites here as well. Down side is service; it seems to be a given that if you are sitting at a table, you will be sitting for a while with an empty drink or wondering where the wait person has gone to. (This has happened so often that my wife now associates that place with poor service. Too bad.)

Texas Roadhouse (Methuen, MA)

Good food, and good barbecue. My youngest daughter simply LOVES the Country Fried Sirloin, and the side dishes (most entrees offer two) are the best of any chain around. Service is usually pretty good. Down side is the fact that tables (as opposed to booths) are very rare and usually taken up by larger parties. Since my family prefers tables, we usually avoid the place unless we know we are coming in at an off-time when seats are available.

Friday's (Methuen, MA)

Probably the best all-around menu of the chains. Instead of specializing in a particular cuisine, it's mostly American fair at this place. The food ranges from fair to very good; most people should find something they like. Seating is plentiful, and service is usually quick and attentive. My favorites: Pot Stickers (they now have two varieties) and the recently-added Bruschetta Chicken Parmesan.

Macaroni Grill (Methuen, MA)

Italian Food and a nice atmosphere. This is a family favorite, and I only avoid going there TOO often is so I don't get to the point where I get sick of going too often...! They have a Create Your Own Pasta feature where you can choose your pasta, type of sauce, and up to three additional ingredients plus extras like meatballs, sausage, or shrimp (without a doubt, my favorite!).

The Chateau (Andover, MA)

With only five restaurants, this is just at my definition of "chain," but it's a local chain in Massachusetts. There's a large lounge, which is convenient for watching sporting events, and a pretty large dining area as well. The food here is mostly Italian, although they have American steak and seafood menu items as well. My favorite: Prime Rib (Fridays and Saturday evenings while it lasts). My wife and kids like the Toasted Ravioli, and my wife simple loves the Eggplant Milano (an appetizer, but she orders it as an entree). Their Buffalo Wings are different than most; the spice is in the batter, not a buttery coating, which makes them less messy to eat.

I'll add my thoughts on other chain restaurants in a future posting. Until then... take care and bon appetit!

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