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Posts from the ‘Chains of Love’ Category

Chains of Love: Cheesecake Factory Elmhurst

I just said I didn’t eat at chains alone. This was an exception. It was bugging me that the city’s first Cheesecake Factory opened practically walking distance (a 12-minute bus ride, if you time it right) to my apartment but I hadn’t been yet. Queens already isn’t an easy sell as it is–Brooklyn people are very, very provincial/lazy–and I maybe have two friends that could be convinced to go to a mall in Rego Park (the Cheesecake Factory’s address is listed as Elmhurst–it’s very cuspy). I couldn’t wait any longer.

I used my trip to Target to return this ridiculous pepper grinder that had no obvious way to insert peppercorns (I’m not great with spatial logistics, but seriously) for my $7.99 back just before the 60-day grace period was up as an excuse to mall-hop.

chain nexus

This Cheesecake Factory, across the road from Shake Shack and up the block from a Olive Garden, Longhorn Steakhouse, Joe’s Crab Shack trifecta, is the nexus of chain culture in Queens. This restaurant is palatial for the area, large-scale, properly Vegas-y, yet not as sprawling and labyrinthine as its suburban brethren. There also weren’t hour waits for tables, though there were expectant diners waiting in the lobby.

cheesecake factory bar

Just me, I went to the bar. I didn’t grow up with Cheesecake Factories, I’ve only come to know them in adulthood, and the first two times in two different New Jersey locations, you could still smoke at the bar, so that was pre-2006. It must be noted for The Middle Ages posterity that there was one solo woman at least a decade older than me wearing earbuds while she ate (realizing more and more this is very common) who ordered a virgin pina colada, something off the “Skinnylicious” menu, and then crab wontons to go when she saw mine and asked what they were. Another solo woman at least a decade younger was on her left and was gnawing on a pile of wings.

I couldn’t necessarily pin down the crowd. An ethnically ambiguous (the man seemed sort of Latino and the woman a little South Asian) 30something couple in workout clothes, or maybe just athleisure, sat on my other side. The man asked if they had any organic wine, which ok…no. Then he didn’t know what a flatbread was. Like I said, I can’t say exactly what kind of people these are.

cheesecake factory wontons

The portions are big and American so you get kind of screwed by yourself even if ordering appetizers like my crab wontons. It’s too much and you want another item. Tuna tartare was randomness because I wanted variety and lightness. 

cheesecake factory bread

I do like that you get a full bread basket.

cheesecake factory menu

There seems to be a misperception among those who have not had the good fortune to visit a Cheesecake Factory that all they sell is cheesecake. My god, no. There are multiple menus with more choices than a typical spaghetti-to-spanikopita Greek diner, and they are not averse to trends. They’ve got your kale, quinoa, and avocado toast, ok?

cheesecake factory cheesecake

I decided I would be remiss in not ordering cheesecake, at least to go. This is 1,200 calories of salted caramel madness.

Previously in Cheesecake Factory.

 

 

Cheesecake Factory * Queens Center, 90-15 Queens Blvd., Elmhurst, NY

 

The Post-Millennium Chain Restaurants of Middlesex County: Kona Grill

kona grll vibe

I’m not going to tell you how long ago I ate at Kona Grill because it’s kind of embarrassing in its negligence (not for the mere fact that I ate there). But the documentarian completist in me can’t let it go unmentioned. Plus, I took NJ Transit to get there on a weekend so it was kind of an effort (combined with a visit to friends nearby–I don’t generally do chains solo unless in other countries–where we also did Bonefish Grill brunch). I’ve never been attracted to Kona Grill, kind of because it has a conflicting brand identity. The name would imply meats with some tropical edge, though in reality sushi is prominent. It’s not a part of some major restaurant group (though it’s based in Scottsdale, AZ like P.F. Chang’s) and there are only roughly 30 locations in the US. And also it’s in the parking lot of the Renaissance Hotel, near no other restaurants, unlike the usual suburban clusters, but most importantly it’s across the highway from Bonefish Grill, my old favorite chain, so if I was going to go to Woodbridge (technically Iselin), NJ I would have a hard time giving up a plate of Bang Bang Shrimp for the unknown.

kona grill food

So, Kona Grill is glitzier than it projects from a speeding car zooming down Route 1. There is a main dining room, with a sushi bar as its focus, all glowing blue like a Vegas (or NJ) lounge. We sat in a windowed side room near a fire pit, illuminated by TV screens, and shared a bunch of small plates (crab cakes, dumplings, avocado egg-rolls with honey-cilantro sauce, and portobello & goat cheese flatbread). Entrees remind you of the Grill part of the restaurant’s name and read busy a la miso-saké sea bass shrimp & pork fried rice, pan-asian ratatouille, yet there are also cajun dishes, cuban sandwiches, greek salads, and clam chowder. The menu could stand to be shaved by one-third.

kona grill drinksYou can have sake flights in addition to the Strawberry Basil Lemonades made with Bacardi Dragon Berry Rum. Yes, I’m the freak who always orders a martini with a cheese-stuffed novelty. I think the chain does a substantial happy hour business (I recall reading that in some earnings call transcript), which I will probably never witness first-hand.

Kona Grill * 511 US Hwy 1 south, Iselin, NJ

Chains of Love: Denny’s Jackson Heights

Though it seemed like it appeared overnight, anyone following Queens chain news knew that this Denny’s has been promised for years. The first rumblings were in spring of 2013, a year and a half before I moved down the street. I assumed upon unpacking I would have Super Birds at my disposal 24 hours a day.

denny's facade

The most surprising thing about the new Jackson Heights’ Denny’s, nestled into the fresh, picture-window building also housing a Chipotle and Dunkin’ Donuts wasn’t that they don’t serve craft cocktails like NYC’s first Denny’s (they don’t serve alcohol at all) or that the host automatically sent my arriving party to the table where I was already seated (guess there’s a dearth of childless, middle-age white ladies in the neighborhood) or that it was nothing like the Denny’s in Japan. No, I was extremely tickled that the check was automatically divvied into three. I’m pretty sure I’ve never encountered that at a restaurant in NYC–or any other Denny’s.

denny's receipt

I did not take any photos of the interior. The restaurant is quite bright and large (the waiting area is the size of most cafes in the area) with lots of burgundy booths, diner seating, and totally nondescript décor. I kept getting distracted by blown-up photos on the wall depicting what looked like a Waffle House, but with Denny’s name on the signs.

The menu is heavy on Grand Slams, skillets, and burgers, as it always was. It’s also pretty trend-averse. There are no flatbreads or kale salads. Jalapeño bacon and salted caramel are about as daring as it gets.

denny's pot roast

Bacon cheddar tots were a new addition, and regular old fries could be upgraded to the little blobs, more fritter than tot, for $1.29, so that had to be done. They would probably be better if they cheese had melted rather than stayed shredded. I had no complaints about the level of American cheese oozing on my pot roast melt, though. With the addition of sautéed mushrooms and caramelized onions, held together by toasted 7-grain bread, this was not a bad sandwich. There was an unplanned double pot roast order at my table.

denny's duo

I love leftovers (I always freak when dining with people who leave 25% of their food destined for the trash) so I brought them to work the next day. I reflexively hid my plastic bag from view on the subway, but remembered this was the 7 train, not the F where my Olive Garden remnants elicited scowls.

Denny’s * 8710 Northern Blvd., Jackson Heights, NY

Un-American Activities: Breakfast at Denny’s Japan

dennys-18-of-21

I ate breakfast at Denny’s in Tokyo and wrote about it for Extra Crispy. Spoiler: there are no Grand Slams.

 

Un-American Activities: KFC and Domino’s Japan

kfc-christmas

I was blessed to be in Japan in December because I got to witness first-hand the phenomenon that is KFC at Christmas. However, I wasn’t able to partake in it because all those displays and set menus plastered on the wall (Sparkling cider with the Colonel’s face on it! Chicken cordon bleu! A $50 whole turkey with its own tote!) are for pre-ordering only. I had no idea.

kfc-trio

So, I settled for a four-piece meal with biscuits, no finger sheaths provided. I love how even at fast food restaurants (well, at least KFC and MOS Burger) if you order iced coffee you receive a little plastic container of simple syrup and the creamer comes in an even tinier plastic container (even though I take it black).

 

Twitter knows me far too well, as evidenced by Pizza Hut’s enticement of online ordering (no human interaction!) in English (bonus!). But after a solid 20 minutes on their site and being surprised that pizzas cost $30+, I kept getting a garbled message after inputting what I thought was my postal code, which I took to mean I was out of their delivery zone even though I was in a centrally located neighborhood. I was not going to give up ordering pizza to my Airbnb even though it had a wonky address that confused multiple cab drivers.

Plan B. Domino’s, similar oddball flavor combinations (roasted pork with demi-glace and mustard sauce,  crab gratin and something called Mayo Jaga with potato, corn, sausage, and mayonnaise obvs) also offering online orders in English, and no less expensive. I, no joke, spent a half hour trying to type my address into a form so the system would recognize it.

dominos-screenshots

I thought with near 80% certainty that I would be charged, and then like an hour later would receive an angry call in Japanese and I would have no way to direct the driver. I clearly have been living in in NYC too long because in Tokyo you could track your pizza every step of the way. I registered for the service (and received a 1000 yen coupon for another order) about ten minutes into waiting and was shocked to see the pizza was 9 minutes away, marked with a cartoon reindeer (despite Domino’s shelving reindeer delivery in Hokkaido) and moving fast. I could also read about the driver’s favorite pizza, music, and sports team, except that I couldn’t read them.

dominos-duoI made my boyfriend put on pants and run down to the street from our second floor (first floor in everyone else in the world’s parlance) to intercept a potentially lost driver, still not convinced we were actually going to receive our pizza. No worries, two friendly guys on mopeds showed up and the box was handed off (I love no tipping culture even if it results in a $33 pizza).

I was the proud owner of Cheese ‘n’ Roll Quattro Delight. That meant a surprise cheese-stuffed crust, and one quarter each of Margherita, deluxe, special seafood, and garlic master. I kind of was the Garlic Master. Japan can thwart visitors in so many ways–procedural, cultural–so I felt a strange sense of accomplishment for having conjured a pizza to my door without speaking the language. Also, I wonder how long my coupon is good for?

 

Eaten, Barely Blogged: Fresh Seafood and Forgotten Chains of the Oregon Coast

local ocean trio

Because I enjoy generalizing and like seeing the world through my own experiences, I have no problem stating that Oregonians don’t really eat seafood. Not natives anyway. And Dungeness crab aside, local bounties don’t get their due either. You’ve probably had Washington oysters, maybe northern Californian (even in Seattle, some Humboldt Bay bivalves float their way onto menus) but do you even hear about Oregon oysters? I don’t. I don’t even know why.

mo's clam chowder

Regional chain Mo’s and its famous thick, buttery clam chowder is probably the only coastal restaurant with name recognition. And this treatment from the Sterns in Saveur a few years ago is the only food-focused article on the area that I can recall seeing in recent history. It’s strange how so much coastal food is overpriced and geriatric and ‘90s continental crusted in hazelnuts. I just wanted to eat fresh fish, which is how I ended up coercing my mom and stepdude 75 miles from where I was staying in Nehalem, and my sister and her husband (even after a decade, brother-in-law sounds weird) 120 miles from their base in Eugene to Local Ocean Seafoods in Lincoln City for a belated Christmas dinner. (Yep, it’s now April–I’m determined to rein 2016 back in.)

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I Do(nut): Red Hot Red Lobster

cheddar bay mixThere’s likely a lame bae pun in this, but I’m just going to give the facts: Green Bay Packer James Jones proposed to his now-wife using Cheddar Bay Biscuits as a romantic foil, as one should.

I would’ve preferred the ring to be inserted into one of the baked goods rather than just placed in the basket. And now you know my preferences, if anyone was getting an idea or anything.

In Other Words: Red Lobster Is for Lovers

“When he fuck me good I take his ass to Red Lobster, ’cause I slay.”

Aw…this Beyoncé shout-out is the second-happiest I’ve been in 2016. (Can’t talk about the #1 reason without being a boring sap.) Chains of love, indeed.

The Week in Un-American Activities: All-Asian Edition

This re-grammed spread from Dominique Ansel Tokyo reminded me that I haven’t posted about some good old fashioned international intrigue for a while, mostly because it’s not the best use of my time, but look at those milk tea cronuts.

What else happened this week?

Tokyo will have a second Shake Shack soon.

Well, there’s now a Burger Joint in Singapore. Just the usual, though, no sambal spreads, mantou buns, or whatever else one might imagine could be done with burgers in Southeast Asia.

Slightly stranger is the PDT reproduction in Hong Kong with site specific cocktails. Lucky Peach uses its Meehan connection to bring us recipes. I am feeling the Rice Milk & Honey

Starbucks in China isn’t exactly big news (there are already 2,000 in the country) but 2,500 more are planned over the next five years, which is crazy I suppose. Separately, Starbucks will be subsidizing housing in China.

Newborn: Arby’s Manhattan

arby's quad

Manhattan chains aren’t like their outer borough brethren. For one, they don’t get flashy microsites and bus tours of Katz’s and Ottomanelli & Sons promoting the same roast beef the rest of the country consumes to little fanfare.

They also fit into their natural surroundings pretty well even if they don’t last. Who even recalls the Manhattan Mall Arby’s? The new iteration that opened last week is next to Port Authority, sharing the same corridor as Manhattan’s only White Castle and the McDonald’s long-formed so wonderfully earlier this year.

In Brooklyn, they take over Gage & Tollner before disappearing. In Middle Village, they flatten Niederstein’s and quietly persevere. (Unrelated to Arby’s, the latest old-school Queens German restaurant to die and transition is Chalet Alpina into Peruvian La Coya. I was curious about the Pisco bar when I walked by last week to see if anything was going on in the former Sizzler–nope, and I nearly shed a tear–but there wasn’t a soul inside.)

arby's lunch

So how is the food? Do you need me to tell you? It’s Arby’s; you get it or you don’t. I went rogue, which for me meant non-Beef ‘n Cheddar. At the last minute, I went premium and chose what I thought was the A.1. Special Reserve Steak Sandwich instead. I had my reasons. (Ok, I’ll tell you one. It was to impress a guy on social media who I’m already friends with. He never acknowledged it, but I’m pretty sure he noticed that I was eating the sandwich he posted on my timeline two months ago. Yep.)

But now that I’m looking at the menu what I ate was definitely not that limited edition sandwich because A.1 branding is nowhere to be seen, and also someone clearly fucked up because by deduction, the only sandwich involving bacon and crispy onions is the Smokehouse Brisket and that’s also supposed to include smoked Gouda and this contained no cheese whatsoever, when really it needed more creamy salt and fat, and now I’m angry at Arby’s, day 2 in operation (on my visit) or not.

Ok, I just calmed down. One unique feature of the Manhattan Arby’s is breakfast. (It’s no Taco Bell, however.) In fact, there are four whole categories devoted to the not-that-important-meal-of-the-day: sliders, flatbreads, biscuits, and premium biscuits, served with coffee from Brooklyn Roasting Company, which honestly I can’t tell if it’s a pseudo or legit beanery or what. I never eat fast food breakfast, but I may just pick up a bacon, egg and cheese biscuit tomorrow if I can make it by 10:30am since it’s the eve of Christmas Eve and I don’t really have to go to the office.

Arby’s * 611 Eighth Ave., New York, NY