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1/2 A crunched front fender is what happens when you eat at Chili's in Deptford. I don't know what the deal is with Pennsylvania drivers, but there's something seriously amiss and I've been observing this some time. Years ago while in Reading, PA for the weekend (fun times) we were hit by a car backing up in am empty parking lot, and ever since then we've been hyper alert to PA drivers who tend to swerve out of lanes and back up without looking. I've heard rumors that they didn't use to require driving tests, just a written exam. All I know is that there are disproportionate amount of Pennsylvania plates in Brooklyn owned by really bad drivers, which points to either a licensing or insurance scam.

Deptfordcc So, while picking up a big shiny Panasonic plasma in Deptford, New Jersey near the Pennsylvania border (it was the nearest Circuit City location with the TV in stock) we stopped for lunch at Chili's. After eating our burgers, we were greeted by a nice big dent in the front of the car. Big surprise.

Though as a testament to the major difference between NYC driving and Deptford driving, we were about a block from the Chili's at a busy intersection when I felt motion in my peripheral vision. Someone seemed to be waving at us from a car to our right, which from experience is an action best left ignored. But the guy was flailing so hard we had to give in and acknowledge his presence. James reluctantly rolled down his window to hear what the mustachioed curly topped gent had to say. Something rude, I suspected, my guard was up. He replied, "I got in the wrong lane, is it ok if I get in front of you to make the turn?" I couldn't believe my ears and eyes. Someone would actually ask if they could go ahead of you in the left turn lane because they'd made a mistake? Brooklyn style would be to pull right next to you regardless, and when the light turned green to swerve right in front, causing you to slam on the breaks and come inches from hitting them, and then they'd give you a rotten look or flip you off like you were the asshole. By then the light would have turned yellow and you'd be stuck waiting for the next cycle like a chump. James and I both started laughing from the absurdity of asking permission to get in front of somebody and assuming they'd be good with it. Sure, fine, we waved him ahead when the light turned green and we both made it through the four-way, just like it works in the suburbs. Wow.

So, we ended up at Chili's after puttering around a section of town with abandoned movie theaters and half-empty malls with signage mimicking the old loopy '70s Gap logo. Time forgot Deptford. Thankfully, tanning centers and liquor stores had thrived.

Saturday, solidly late lunch time, Chili's was packed. We had to wait with lots of skinny crunchy-curled teenage girls and portly couples in matching stonewashed jeans and bomber jackets who gave me dirty looks for absolutely no good reason and make a point of forcing a cough when James lit a cigarette outside while we waited for a table. It's not like anyone there was exactly following a path to health–second hand smoke should be the least of their troubles.

I had a chipotle bleu cheese burger where medium is as low as they'll cook the meat and you're thankful because rare might cause gastrointestinal distress. The cheese was detectable, though the chiles, ironically, were not. What is Chili's shtick anyway? It's like Applebee's in that they're multipurpose, not like Olive Garden: we're Italian or Outback Steakhouse: we do steaks. It's not like everything is chile-laden. It's the baby back ribs, right?

My burger was large, juicy and greasy, as might be expected. It strangely satisfied its purpose. The fries were pretty so-so, not terribly crisp and a touch on the soggy side. I was way more taken by my surroundings than the food, as is often the case with me and suburban chain restaurants. Some nebulous emotional void was fulfilled that afternoon. Unfortunately, the car didn't come away quite as unscathed.

Chili's * 1760 Clements Bridge Rd., Deptford, NJ

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