You want fries with that?

I have a bit of a reputation for hating chain restaurants. It’s not so much chain restaurants as overprice mediocrity that bothers me. There are chain restaurants I love–Cracker Barrel, Sonic, Baja Fresh… and those that I hate–O’Charley’s, Applebees, J. Alexander’s, Chili’s… Okay, the list is too long for me to write here, but what most of the restaurants I don’t like have in common is that there’s this level of falseness that’s presented as genuine. Oh, nevermind–that’s too technical and can apply to Cracker Barrel. My problem is that the food is often overpriced and under-good. Why go to O’Charley’s for potato soup when it’s nothing like what potato soup should be? And do people really pay multiple dollars for 1/4 of a head of lettuce with dressing? Also, they all seem to be essentially the same restaurant. And then there’s this place that’s popped up around this area called Cheddar’s. Cheddar’s? It’s like the Mike Judge really wanted to bring Chotchkie’s to life but didn’t want to be that cheeky about it.

And then there’s Red Robin. I’d read on Nashville Scene’s Bites blog that it was beloved by several. Something about milkshakes, maybe. Why go to Red Robin when just down the street there is a locally-owned, long-standing treasure called Bobbie’s Dairy Dip? Excellent food and excellent frozen treats.

And then the other day, a coworker mentioned he’d gone to Red Robin for lunch. “Eh,” I muttered and sort of shuffled away. As I was doing so, I heard the words “bottomless basket of fries.” I turned on my heels. “What did you say? Bottomless basket of fries?”

“Yes, steak fries, too! All you can eat! And they have veggie burgers, you know.”
“No, I did NOT know. EITHER of those things.” Y’see, I’ve been on a bit of a fry kick lately, even going so far as to pay a co-worker to go to Arby’s for me. Bottomless basket of steak fries is good, but a bottomless basket of curly fries would be deadly to me, I’m certain (coming close is the standard side order of fries at Beyond the Edge–oh, how I love them).

So I spent the afternoon thinking about unlimited fries and when I got home, I asked the husband what he was going to cook me for dinner (ha!). He said, “What do you want?” and I said, “Well, I was thinking about Red Robin.”

Naturally, he thought it was a joke. When I told him it was not, he practically gave himself whiplash getting out of the recliner to get his shoes on. He did not want to give me the opportunity to change my mind.

So we went. Observations:
1. The vast majority of the patrons at Red Robin had small children with them. I guess because it’s a kid-friendly place that actually serves alcohol. We were one of only three parties in the whole place without a minor. I don’t usually go to such places. Actually, I can’t think of such a place.
2. The service is amazing. No trouble getting that second basket of fries.
3. Second basket of fries was the priority, so I did not have a milkshake and ate only three or four bites of my Gardenburger. I took it home and ate it later. Though fries don’t re-heat well, so the last remaining fry that I simply could not fit in my stomach stayed in the basket.
4. Dang, steak fries, unlike their skinny counterparts are like those expanding sponges inside your stomach. I was miserable after what seemed like just two reasonable sized portions of fries.
5. The husband, seizing the opportunity to eat red meat whenever possible, got something called a Banzi burger. All I could see was cheese. Though could I really say anything as I was scarfing down hand over fist of empty calories? No. My Gardenburger on wheat with shredded lettuce and tomato was very nice (and healthy), however. Bocas are an option, too (but I prefer Gardenburgers–I just like the taste more).

So yeah, I did it. I was lured in by the call of the fat and I participated in what I can only deem a spud bacchanalia. But I probably won’t go back soon. There is a Sonic nearby, after all.

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10 Responses to You want fries with that?

  1. theogeo says:

    I've been to the Red Robin in Cordova twice and have been super impressed with the food both times. Plus there's lots of colorful, sparkly shit on the walls, and I am basically like a child, so I enjoy that.

  2. cook eat FRET says:

    so i went to ted's montana grill against my will last week. so not great. not even approaching it. onion rings sucked, fries were ok at best and the bison burger was ok but when you butter up a bun and grill it, well – it can't taste bad.

    i also went to cheesecske factory 2x this month – never ever to be repeated. at least i had the fish tacos (i can't eat meat that i am unsure of its origin). but the place is awful. 18 page menu with ads. neverending soft jazz muzak with a quasi vegas vibe. and yes, overpriced with ridiculous sized portions.

    renewed my belief in the downfall of america… or at the very least the lack of taste that the masses share.

    i once ate at carraba's and thought it was truly vile food…

  3. Lesley says:

    I absolutely loathe Carraba's. It is the trifecta of what I find wrong with most chain resturants:
    1. Mediocre food prepared poorly
    2. Overpriced
    3. Obnoxious

    Chain Italian food just should not exist. And don't even get me started on the one vegetarian option…okay, I will. The canneloni. It comes out at a tempature that would scorch the desert. Each of the handful of times I've eaten there, I've not been able to begin to eat until everyone else is nearly finished.

    The saving grace about Cheesecake Factory is that there are some lighter options (though hard to find in that novel they call a menu) and they actually know how to cook broccoli properly. I only go to either of these places when it's someone else's choice.

    All that said, Red Robin is a pretty good, inexpensive choice for families, I think. And there were two birthday parties there. Hrm.

  4. Stephanie says:

    That's funny, because I'd take Chili's over Red Robin any day! I thought Red Robin was very overpriced, especially their ridiculous $4 bottomless drinks (I think it $4…been a while!). And the hamburger I had was just not very good. And personally, steak fries don't do it for me…now, if they were bottomless shoestring fries, I might give it another try! :-)

  5. jag says:

    I've been impressed with the Red Robin by your house – I almost never went again after my first experience (at the Hendersonville location where we had the worst service I'd had in a decade).

    On a day when you have time to drink a gallon of water try the garlic parmesan fries. Dave got them with some pesto chicken sandwich and OHMYGOD they were good.

  6. Angela says:

    I have dreams about the J. Alexander's Veggie Burger. I agree on the chain thing, but that burger is worth it. Totally worth it.

  7. Tabitha says:

    The times we've been to Red Robin have been out of lack of choice more so than it being a voluntary thing. That said, we don't have much to complain about. The food's decent and the service isn't terrible.

    Plus, a lot of their patrons make me want to practice portion/self control.

    I get this one burger that comes with guac. It's quite delicious.

  8. Nicole says:

    I, too, hear the siren song of the garlic parm fries. The rest of the food is alright, but the red and yellow scheme reminds me of McDonald's.

  9. Anonymous says:

    craving some fries???

  10. Carrieā„¢ says:

    I hear ya on the chain restaurant. I am so sick and tired of having to shell out my hard earned dollar for some frozen, microwaved meal. I could do better at home with a Lean Cuisine. But I'm always willing to try a new place in hopes that it will be different. Unfortunately, there are no Red Robins in Ontario. I'll keep my eyes opened though, because bottomless fries is a dream come true.