Monday, January 26, 2009

Regional Chain Review: Cookout

On a sunny January day of 65 degrees I was being a southerner in Eden, NC.  I had my large domestic sedan, my unshaven unkempt appearance, and was on my way to have a deluxe mid-afternoon snack.  All I had to do was make some sense out of the fast food encyclopedia they have the audacity to call a menu.  
I immediately ask for a minute to look it over, seconds fly by and the best I can do is blankly stare at all that food.  And all of that food being suspiciously cheap.  At risk of blowing my cover as a pseudo-Southerner I went ahead and ordered a Double Burger Tray with fries, a corn dog and a large sweet tea for $3.99 + tax.  During the trek from speaker to window I reviewed my order in my head... do I trust a meal of 4 items, two of which deep fried and consisting of 2+ varieties of processed meat? Not for under $5.  
Too late for cold feet, the folks at Cookout have combated chickening out by installing high curbs on either side of the lane.  Behind me was a beauty school dropout in a well used Chevy Beretta, in front is a retired couple in a Buick, and approaching from the left is the window from which a miracle in value will be served.  
The food kinda blew, no surprise there.  Forgettable burger, extremely well cooked corn dog, gross fries and a delicious tea.  With money being too tight for Cookout to build a dining room I parked near the window for walk up orders.  As I dined in thrift a customer complained to the window about finding bone chunks in the BBQ.  "Now that doesn't surprise me at all" replies the cashier, two points for honesty...  I may give the milk shakes a try later.  With a lay off in my future and a recession in full effect I'm unable to look past value like this.  A visit to this Cookout makes me homesick for my own grilling.  

Remembering the past by watching it slowly return to the Earth

I can tell the typical Southerner is a person who holds a fondness for the past.  Not clinging to the past or living in the past, but someone who enjoys the history and stories that make up their American experience.  Instead of cleaning up or tearing down things are allowed to stay put as a reminder of what was, for better or worse.  
They are also dreamers, people with a plan but just not enough hours in the day.  How else can you explain the cars on blocks, tarps over roofs, the front lawns littered with aging farm machinery.  This is a land of works in progress that will require more than a four day weekend and a case of Old Style.  
This mix of dreaming and remembering creates a bit of a down home McGyver persona.  A concoction of dreams and random parts makes for the perfect creative environment.  These artists work in the medium of scrap metal and vinyl cling on graphics.
Even with the increased risk of falling through a porch or contracting tetanus I wouldn't have the South any other way.  Every run down abandoned place has a story, like when was the last time someone lived there? When did this town go under? Is this meth lab going to explode?
It's refreshing that in 21st century America there are still differences between places.  In spite of all the homogenized TV shows and music there are still places where I get reminded by a paranoid and intimidating red neck that I'd better watch out because I'm a long way from "Elinoiiise". 

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Regional Chain Review: K&W Cafeteria

K&W Cafeteria was created by accountants and institutional chefs.  A bland part of the southeastern landscape, these cafeterias are about a inviting as a hospital dining room.  With all the bland foods and orderly lines the place is borderline communist.  
In K&W Cafeteria... Food Serves You
With the taste of a TV dinner and the atmosphere of a college dining center during summer break K&W Cafeteria is the answer to a question that nobody asked.  My salmon was awful scaly, the broccoli cheese tasted of chemicals.  The people at K&W should market their dinners as "alot of shit for under $12" I'd still give it a chance marketed as such, and at least I'd know what I was getting myself into.  
In spite of the shortcomings I'd give it a chance again.  I broke my rule against cafeteria seafood and won't overlook that rule again.  You just can't argue with that much shit for under 12 dollars... 

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Regional Chain Review: Skyline Chili

In the heart of the Rust Belt there are far worse choices for a cheap warm meal than Cincinnati's own Skyline Chili.  Straddling the line between fast food and casual dining it reminds me of what another Great Depression could turn Steak and Shake into.  The official chili of the Cincinnati Reds is very much a product of its environment.  You just don't find a place like this originating in San Diego.  
The Rust Belt was once the Manufacturing Belt, where men went to work in dirty places to do dirty jobs and after their shift they sought out some deliciously dirty food.  This blend of beef, broth, sauce, beans and sour cream is unlike anything I've seen.  The secret to the recipe is heavily guarded by the owners.  Some say it's a mix of chocolate and cinnamon, all we know is that it's a rich meal that can be had for cheap.  
I ordered two Coneys and a bowl of 3-way chili.  It had a cinnamon taste mixed with cheese, beef and sour cream.  The hot dogs seemed to be the lowest quality legally available for purchase.  It didn't taste bad but it did remind me of food from another era, which went nicely with the North Dayton neighborhood I dined in.  

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Regional Chain Review: Bojangles

A mix between KFC, Popeye's and a middle school hot lunch.  The American South is a treasure trove of different "casual quick service" chains.  Bojangles remained elusive for several months.  I had seen them, but only when my standards were prohibitively high.  To actually dine in one I'd have to be actually high.  
Sunday I was passing through Greensboro North Carolina when the smell of country biscuits got the better of me.  This intoxicating aroma of old timey cooking was too much to resist.  I entered the dated looking chicken franchise and was greeted rather enthusiastically by a profoundly gay employee who looked like he was fresh out from jail.  

I ordered a egg and cheese biscuit as well as a steak biscuit, then I waited with the growing crowd of Southerners who all preferred to spend the Lords day running a few weeks worth of trans fat through their system.  
What arrived on my tray was the most vile creation ever to grace a dollar menu.  Seasoned fries that looked like they had been created from MSG extract and potato leavings.  The salt/butter to biscuit ratio was intense, the steak came country fried and extremely processed.  I only made it a few bites into either item before giving up entirely.  Bojangles only saving grace is their iced tea, advertised as "steeped in old time goodness" it was plum necessary after ingesting several bites of biscuit hell.