James Lileks on chain restaurants

The Bleat:

Oh, I don’t think the chains suck. There’s a garlic / olive oil / fresh diced tomatoes / angel hair pasta dish at Olive Garden I like; between that and the salads, I know that if I ever end up there, I’ll have something good to eat. Nearly everything on Perkin’s menu is a little drier and saltier than I’d like, but their breakfasts are American classics. TGIF has really thick napkins. Pizza Hut is deplorable on so many levels it hurts my pizza bone, hurts it to the marrow. But Applebee’s food was lousy. The bun was dry. The fries were damp and limp. The brisket was old and the BBQ sauce was mostly sugar with sugared hickory sugar added. Gnat’s hamburger looked like a steamroller had backed over it six times. The coffee was tepid. If this place can’t get burgers, fries and coffee right, I’ve no hope for anything else on the menu.

I’ll give them high marks for the decor, though. It was the standard explosion-in-an-antiques-store design, with old enameled signs galore covering the rough woodwork. I love that stuff. The overall effect is disjointed and annoying, but the individual items are often quite fascinating. The Block E Applebee’s had a large amount of Hubert Humphrey memorabilia – the Happy Warrior squinting alongside the jugeared mug of LBJ on a crude red-white-and-blue poster dominated the back wall. You won’t get that at a hoity and/or toity cafe, and if they did have such a display, it would be intended ironically.