Holy Shit, I Love You: Ruby Tuesday's Garden Bar
I used to be a snob about suburban chain restaurants.
Food is pretty important to me and there's a Bourdianian evangelicalism that I ascribe to when it comes to eating.
Sharing a meal means sharing sustenance and breaking bread forms bonds. You connect with people over food. You comfort people with food. You offer them hope and solace. You celebrate with food.
It's one of the few things that connects humanity. We don't look the same, we don't believe in the same things and we don't share the same values but we all eat.
I love a good meal and that being said, I didn't see any merit in eating at places like Friday's, Chilis or Olive Garden. These places rely heavily on the microwave, the food is kinda bland and if you're a vegetarian, forget it. You're basically condemned to eating stodgy pasta or fries.
Like pretty much all Americans raised in the suburbs, I spent a large portion of my formative years in places like this, drinking endless Diet Cokes, worrying about finals and lamenting teenage love, so I speak from experience.
Marilyn Hagerty's review of Olive Garden in the Grand Forks Herald helped shift my perspective.
I'm lucky enough to have lived in cities with a great food scene and luckier still to have been raised in a great culinary tradition - an army of small Indian women armed with spices, pitch-perfect palettes and a complete lack of indoor voices.
Reading Hagerty's sincere review made me realize that not everyone has had the privileges that I have and that it would probably behoove me to tone down the judgmental shitbirdery about what people eat and remember that while suburban chains have their flaws, there's also gold in them hills.
I loathe the fettucine alfredo at Olive Garden. It tastes like elevator music painted greige and covered in salt but, there is a solid possibility I would kneecap a man for the last OG breadstick.
I can, have and will eat a small mountain of chips and salsa while sipping on a margarita at Chilis and when doing so, basically turn into Pam Beesly:
Hell, Beyonce uses Red Lobster Cheddar Biscuits as a reward for good sex.
She's not wrong because A) she's Beyonce and B) have you ever had a Red Lobster Cheddar Biscuit?
It is a righteous god that allows a man to sleep with Beyonce and then, procure Cheddar Biscuits as a reward for laying the pipe right.
So, Hagerty's review started the shift and the garden bar at Ruby Tuesday's completed it.
I had never been to Ruby Tuesdays before but Black Panther was starting in an hour, there was nothing else around and I'll be damned if I was going to have a garbage bag of popcorn for dinner.
Sidebar: I abhor movie theater popcorn. I've been making my own stovetop popcorn with turmeric, chili powder, caramelized brown sugar and salt for years so that styrofoamy mess topped with fake butter and flavacol makes me feel as though I've been personally victimized.
So, we headed in and on our way to our seats, I noticed the salad bar - an installation that looked closer to the Whole Foods salad bar than the usual offerings in a chain restaurant.
This salad bar had brunoised cucumber, hummus, spicy-roasted broccoli and crunchy lavash crackers.
Fueled by equal parts hunger and intrigue, I figured I'd try it out. If it was terrible, I could console myself with a soft pretzel and a shitload of Raisinettes for dinner (the best movie theater candy - don't @ me).
So glad I did because holy shit, this salad bar is great.
The produce is fresh and varied, the salad dressings seem like they've actually been introduced to a herb instead of being a sad emulsification of sugar, motor oil and abandoned New Year's Resolutions and their famed pumpernickel croutons? Yeah. I could stress-eat about six pounds of those things, no problem.
And since I'm making it myself - I get to decide what I want and the amount I want. For example - cherry tomatoes are only acceptable when eaten Caprese-style and edamame is welcome addition to every salad ever.
Odds are, I'm still going to pick the local joints over the chains. I'm a supporter of local businesses and I want to see people like my parents succeed in my community.
But if I'm ever in the mood for Salad-and-a-Movie, Ruby Tuesday is gonna be my first pick.