Sunday, October 7, 2007

the pain of eating out

Oh God, I think I'm dying.

My parents wanted a Friday's gift card for their anniversary, and I thought I would get myself some dinner while I was there. I haven't been to Friday's in several months, and never in Tennessee, but I figured it's the same everywhere and I could just get chicken fingers and be fine. And I would have been, if I just had the chicken fingers.

They have this deal right now where you can get an appetizer, an entree, and a dessert for $12 something, and that seemed wonderfully simple. I opted for the fried macaroni and cheese (“Top Chef” has informed me that reinvented versions of old classics are hip and fun; I guess they forgot to inform Micah), the chicken fingers (when faced with a menu where I don’t immediately want something I tend to go for the chicken fingers as an easy default), and the mini mousse desserts, which allow you to pick two different shotglasses of mousse. I chose peanut butter and orange cream, comforting flavors of childhood that seemed to go with chicken fingers and mac and cheese.

The fried mac and cheese was good, coming in hot little nuggets of crispy batter with creamy macaroni and cheese inside. Alone, they would have been wonderful, but the sauce that’s drizzled under them on the serving plate is disgusting. I thought it might be some sort of mustard since it was yellow, but the flavor was so offensive I ended up scooping up a forkful by itself, just to evaluate it. It tasted like onions and fish, without a hint of mustard. It actually tasted like they took the grease that they fry everything in, mixed it with a little cream, and drooled it over the plate. It was vile, and I ate the rest of the nuggets as carefully as possible, to avoid getting them anywhere near the sauce.

The menu at the restaurant or online makes no mention of this bilious concoction, by the way, so this may be your only warning.

Next came the chicken fingers. You get a choice of barbeque or honey mustard sauce, so I picked honey mustard. I wasn’t totally committed to either sauce, but then it came out with a little cup of barbecue. I didn’t want to stress the waitress, though, since she was probably stressed already, and wouldn’t have said anything if she hadn’t said, “Oh, you wanted honey mustard. Don’t eat those yet!” Instead of taking the barbecue away, she brought a little cup of honey mustard, too, and then sailed away. Now that she’d gone to the trouble, I felt obligated to only use the honey mustard, and attempted to do so. It ran out before I ran out of chicken fingers, though, just as she walked by.

“Do you need another honey mustard?”

“Oh, no, I’ll just use the barbecue.”

Her smile said love, but her eyes screamed betrayal.

The meal finished with the pair of mousses that almost finished me. While waiting for them, I heard a waiter describing them to a couple near me with the kind of brutal honesty that I’m sure the TGI Friday’s corporation, a division of Kraft Foods, would prefer that their waitstaff not employ.

“Well, they’re shotglasses, so they’re not really filling. And they’re really sugary. Like too much sugar. The chocolate raspberry might be ok, but the rest are kind of, I don’t know, so sweet you almost feel sick. And it’s mousse, so it’s like, kind of like ice cream, but not really cold, and sort of thick but not really thick. I don’t really know what it’s made out of, but I think there might be dairy in there somewhere.”

I actually peered over the top of the table divider to see if he knew how loud he was being, but the sight of me, eyebrows raised, did nothing to slow him down. I imagine he won’t be at Friday’s for much longer with those kinds of sales skills.

When my pair of mousses arrived, I tried and tried to take a picture, but the waitress wouldn’t leave me alone.

“You need a refill? How do those look? Did you taste them yet? I love that orange one? I’ll be right back with that gift card.”

More than anything I wanted a picture of the orange cream one, because it just looked bizarre. The mousse was about the sherbet color that you would expect orange cream to be, but it was decorated with these weird orange and white lumps, too big to be sprinkles and too small to be chips, that looked exactly like aquarium gravel. They turned out to be lumps of pure sugar with a little bit of citrus flavor, and actually paired well with the mousse. I ate the entire thing and then used the tiny spoon to scrape the sides and make sure I didn’t miss any.

The peanut butter cup, on the other hand, is the reason that I’m sitting on my lounger holding my belly and erupting with explosive burps that feel like projectile launches. It looked like peanut butter mousse with tiny little chocolate chips in it, and I love peanut butter to the point that I will eat it out of the jar with a spoon, so I eagerly dug in.

I made it through two bites.

It was not mousse. It was a shotglass full of peanut butter, but not just peanut butter. Something thick and sweet was added to it, possibly sugar syrup. Whatever it was caused the peanut butter to coat my mouth and throat like that melted candle that Homer Simpson drank at the chili festival. I’d barely finished coping with the giant first bite I’d taken when I decided to give it another chance and not make any snap judgments. The second bite confirmed that, no, I was not mistaken and it was wretched.

It was so bad I tried to cough it up out in the parking lot, to the alarm of a family nearby. I continued trying to dislodge it all the way home, and now I can feel it twisting and bubbling inside me like a culture in a Petri dish.

Next time I’m just getting cake.

1 comment:

Nan said...

joel, you are a great writer! i laughed out loud so many times with this post. i read your blog every so often and always enjoy it. cheers.