Sunday, March 5, 2017

big bottom

All this and candles, too.
After seeing countless commercials for the casual dining chain restaurant Red Robin (yummmmm!), Mrs. Pincus and I got the opportunity to dine at one of their 538 locations on our most recent trip to Virginia Beach. Earlier in the day, Mrs. P's cousin Juniper chauffeured us around nearby Williamsburg with our actual destinations being several local wineries. The penultimate stop on our whirlwind tour of the historic city (of which we saw no sites of any historic significance) was a Yankee Candle® store of theme-park proportions. (Oh, you read that right! It's an enormous building that resembles a hotel, jam-packed with display after fragrant display of the stout, glass-potted, wax-'n-wick beauties. The multi-room complex is supplemented with cookware, handbags, candy and other unrelated, non-candle items — just to fill the place out.)

We'll meet 'neath that giant Red Robin sign
that brings this fair city light.
As the sun set and our thoughts turned to dinner options, we surveyed the landscape. I am convinced that the geographic area known as the Eastern Shore of Virginia has more fast food and chain restaurants per square foot than any other place on earth. Along both sides of Interstate 64, some of America's favorite restaurants can be spotted. National heavyweight advertisers like Outback Steakhouse, Carraba's Italian Grill, Olive Garden, TGI Friday's and hundreds of Starbucks, along with regional entries like Smokey Griddle Pancake House and Southern Pancake & Waffle House (the South sure loves them some pancakes!) were among the wide array of evening meal choices. Juniper suggested Red Robin (yummmmm!) and said there was one just ahead. I checked the GPS on my phone and — sure enough — 100 or so feet ahead, in a shopping center that looked just like a dozen shopping centers we already passed, was a Red Robin (yummmmm!), its channel-lettered logo glowing bright red, reflecting off the adjacent Dick's Sporting Goods. We found a parking spot, then entered the restaurant. We joined a fairly large group of hungry patrons, all gripping now-silent pagers, poised for a vibrating explosion of LED lights informing the holder that seating and menus were mere moments away. 

Objects may appear larger
in our commercials.
Soon, our pager's lights began blinking and a young lady in a popped collar, logoed polo shirt led us through a maze of booths and bistro tables to a semi-circular booth in the far corner of a room that boasted three gigantic screen televisions as its main decor. We all slid awkwardly into our booth and perused the menu. Now, I'll be the first one to admit that my silly, self-imposed dietary restrictions severely limits my choices in most restaurants, but, rest assured, I can always find something to eat on nearly every menu. And Red Robin (yummmmm!) would be no exception. I settled on the vegetarian-friendly version of their signature Banzai burger, piled high with grilled pineapple, cheddar cheese and a thick teriyaki sauce, in addition to lettuce and mayo. This, as are all entrees, was accompanied by the highly-touted "bottomless" fries. Oh yeah! The centerpiece of Red Robin's (yummmmm!) advertising is their promise of an endless supply of generously-cut steak fries, always available and always plentiful, even long after you've gobbled up the last of your burger. The implication was that fries could continue to be delivered through dessert and coffee, as long as the customer desired.

Really? REALLY??
We ordered. When our meals arrived, I scrutinized the tiny chrome-plated cup that stood in the shadow of my burger in the corner of my plate. Eight, maybe nine, broad steak fries stood upended in the confines of the scant metal container. I thought about the images I had seen in Red Robin's (yummmmm!) effective advertising campaign. Visions of fresh-cut potatoes, mounds of golden-brown fries fanned out and overflowing from the blond-wood cutting board — far, far too many for one person to consume, but readily available for the taking. The puny cupful of fries next to my burger? Damn! I could down them in one, fairly effortless gulp. Between bites of my burger (which, I will admit, was pretty good) I finished my fries. I looked around the bustling eatery for our server, but he was nowhere to be found. (In all fairness, the servers — with their gelled-up hair and shirt collars standing at attention — all resembled one another.) I finally picked out our guy (Chip or Dave or Bruce or something) and requested another round of fries. Chip (or whoever) winked and shot me a "thumbs up" sign, then disappeared into the crowd. A few minutes went by. Then a few more. Then a few more. I slurped at my water glass and poked around at the crumbs and sauce remnants on my mostly-empty plate. Juniper and Mrs. P, both normal-paced eaters (I am a particularly fast eater), were still enjoying their dinner. Each still had plenty of fries left in their initial order. I was craning my neck and diligently scanning the place for a sign of our server and my second round of supposedly "bottomless" fries. More and more time passed before Chip finally arrived to place a plate of fries before me. There were approximately twice the amount of my first order, this time arranged on a plate instead of in a little cup. I tried my very best to leisurely devour the fries, but I could not. My lightning-fast eating habits, coupled with my lack of patience, had me wolfing down this supplemental portion in record time. Of course, I wanted more. After all, they — not me — made the "bottomless" offer first. But, now I was wise to their game. They were a bunch of "fry-teasers," weren't they?!? Those potato-tempting bastards! They were worse than drug dealers! They get you hooked, then they take their sweet time bringing out more, forcing you to be too embarrassed to order a third round, daring you to risk eating them while the custodial staff is mopping the floor and stacking the chairs on the tables.

I reminded my wife of the time we went to an all-you-can eat Dim Sim night at a Philadelphia Chinese restaurant. We ordered the special and our waiter brought out a considerable selection of vegetarian dim sum (traditional Chinese food served in bite-size portions). We ate the first round and ordered more. Round number two was equally as tasty, but half the amount was offered. The third round was brought to us on two small saucers, a size usually reserved for a tea cup or after-dinner mints. The fourth round was the check. It was determined for us that we had had all we could eat. It seems that Red Robin (yummmmm!) had taken a page from that Chinese restaurant's playbook.

I don't think I will go out of my way to find a Red Robin (yummmmm!) closer to home. The bottomless fries may not have a bottom, but they sure have a catch.