3/4 Like people, some restaurants engender warm feelings while others leave you empty and alone. It’s that nebulous just-right essence I seek out in chain restaurants and only occasionally become properly enveloped in. My two experiences with Red Robin have not provided this soothing joy.
Maybe it’s just the South Plainfield location where my last experience with the chain three years ao also occurred, but stepping foot inside is like entering a baby house of the past (or maybe a baby house of the present, but I haven’t spent any significant time around young children in decades), dried spit-up, rusty shag-carpeted ranch houses with unexplained wet patches and greasy surfaces with high e coli potential where graham crackers are called cookies and squares of unfrosted sheet cake are served underbaked with damp, floury bottoms, suspect places where as a grade-schooler I might be dropped off in the name of day care.
The food is fine (despite my two nemeses, melon and bottomless steak fries, being the sides of choice) for the genre.
My only intent was to try the limited edition Oktoberfest burger, which turned out to be kind of pleasing as a pretzel sandwich. The sweetish, burnished bun was the main attraction; flavors of caramelized onions and stone ground mustard predominated. The ham and swiss barely registered while the barely pink (medium is as low as raw as they’ll cook meat, and while irksome, is a step up from Five Guys) fast food-sized hamburger patty didn’t function as a featured ingredient either but more as a beefy condiment. These are big burgers visually.
But the weirdest part of the meal was the margarita. I was once served a margarita with a green olive at an Applebee’s, so I shouldn’t have been surprised that this $5.99 version came with bejeweled ice. This photo wasn’t intended to capture it, though you can see one blue speck on the upper left. The ice had fine, sparse, glitter suspended in the clear cubes. How such a thing occurred, I have no idea (and no explanation or comp was given, though a fresh drink was produced) but it makes one wonder how much messing around goes on behind the scenes.
All of the staff is very, very young, and very, very polite and cheerful. The suburbs are usually good for that, at least.
Red Robin * 6200 Hadley Rd., South Plainfield, NJ