So last night my husband and I did something we have never done before:
We went to Outback Steakhouse.
I mean as a couple. Let me point out that I have been to the Outback many times. For one thing, my brother is a fan of the onion blossom, so I have been to the Outback with him and his wife and even my niece.
For another thing, when you are on a book tour, and are driving past strip mall after strip mall on your way to and from a bookstore, the dining options tend to be limited to room service, fast food, Applebee's, and Chili's. So you end up going to Outback every time you see one, just for some variation.
So on that one episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, when Spike was talking about the onion blossom, I actually knew what he was referring to.
But my husband, who is what is technically referred to as a “foodie,” did not.
The foodies I know and love (and, if you are a foodie, most of your friends tend to be foodies, too) are not exactly food snobs. They are just people who are very, very into food. It's not that my husband will only eat in fancy restaurants—the opposite, is in fact true: he prefers roadside diners, particularly if they are in the middle of nowhere and have train tracks running beside them (which is—how can I put this?—so NOT the kind of place I ever want to go to eat).
It's that he wants to try ALL the food, EVERYWHERE, and cost, location, type of food, etc, makes no difference to him.
I will admit: it makes a difference to me.
But I do like one of his favorite breakfast spots here in Key West, which is the Dennis Pharmacy, a drug store with a lunch counter where Jimmy Buffet is said to have penned “Cheeseburger in Paradise,” and where you can have your prescriptions filled while eating your morning bacon and eggs.
Anyway, he simply prefers to eat at small, independently owned restaurants, as opposed to chains, because, having been to culinary school, he is interested in what other cooks are doing. And in chains, cooks don't get to use their imagination and experiment: they have to make whatever the chain says they have to.
Plus it is important to support local businesses who may have trouble competing with the chains. I know that many tourists who come here to Key West will ONLY eat at Denny's (not Dennis's—Denny's, the breakfast chain) and Chili's, because they know exactly what they are getting: they only eat at these restaurants at home.
This is horrible, since there are so many great, affordable, non-chain restaurants out there that they would TOTALLY enjoy if they'd just take a chance….
But I digress.
Then there is also the small fact that on Monday, September 10, 2001, I had a migraine, and the only thing I felt I could keep down was McDonald's cheeseburgers and fries. So I had McDonald's delivered to our East Village apartment (oh, yes. In Manhattan, McDonald's delivers), and that is what we had for dinner that night.
Then on Tuesday, September 11, 2001, my husband went to work in his office building across from the World Trade Center.
The first thing he said to me, when he arrived home (hours later, with me having thought he was dead, since I couldn't reach him on his cell, and having seen all the windows of his office building blown out on TV)–with a bunch of his coworkers who couldn't get to their homes in New Jersey since all the trains were shut down, and some friends of ours from Indiana who'd had to run with their children from the giant dust that had enveloped their Tribeca loft, and who all ended up staying overnight with us—was:
“I nearly died, and all I could think was that the last thing I ate was McDonalds.”
So, as you can imagine, he has been reluctant to eat in chain restaurants ever since.
But last night we were tired and cranky—me from writing, and him from working on the new house all day (which we still haven't moved into, by the way. We still haven't sold our old house either. And no, I don't have nightmares every single night about this, either) and we were also out of Tab and cat food, and so we went to Publix, and Outback is in the same strip mall, and Ben said, “Want to go to Outback? I've never been there.”
So we went.
Here, for your reading pleasure, is our experience in the Outback:
First of all, it was INSANELY crowded. Now I know where everyone who has kids dines in Key West.
But despite the hordes, we got a table right away, and our waitress was super cheerful and quick. My Fair Dinkum Daiquiri (hey—I told you, it had been a long day. And I was VERY cranky) came with lightning speed, and put me in a good mood right away.
When it came time to order, the waitress was super nice when Ben asked questions about the Walkabout Soup o' the Day. I mentioned that he had never been to Outback before, and was unfamiliar with the ways of the Aussie-Tizers. The waitress smiled and explained about the “oven roasted slowly” Prime Minister's Prime Rib, which Ben then ordered.
Then she went away, and the people at the table next to us, who seemed to have approximately 97 children, allowed the smallest one to crawl around on the floor, right in front of the doors to the kitchen, through which servers were constantly streaming in and out, saying things like, “Coming up behind you,” and “Corner,” to one another.
It was only a matter of time, I knew, until one of them collided with the baby. And then it happened.
The server was mortified. The baby cried (though she wasn't hurt, just surprised). And the parents apologized profusely, saying, “It's our fault. We shouldn't have let her play there.”
This was excellent parental behavior! Many of the parents I have observed, in my impartial role as childless adult, would never have admitted THEY were at fault for not watching their kid. They would, in fact, have called the manager over and demanded that poor server be fired.
So I was very impressed by this.
Then, as if this were not enough to make my evening, the hostess came up to our table, and said, “I understand this is your first time at Outback, sir.”
And my husband said, “Yes, yes, it is.” He looked vaguely alarmed, and I know it was because we'd heard singing earlier, and he was worried the staff was going to gather around and sing something to him, like some “Welcome to Outback, Little Dingo,” song.
But they didn't. Instead, the hostess said our onion blossom was on the house!
I GOT A FREE ONION BLOSSOM!!!!
Yes, all in all, it was an excellent dining experience at the Outback. I am not saying that, given the choice between a chain restaurant and locally-owned restaurant, I would now choose a chain restaurant, because I still think we should all try to support local businesses as much as possible, and also try new things as often as possible (in my latest copy of Psychology Today, there is a study that says people who are willing to try new things, such as foods and activities, are less likely to develop Alzheimer's later in life).
But I definitely think going to a chain restaurant once in a while is good, too. After all, the staff there needs our money, too.
And they make excellent daiquiris. I left Outback feeling no crankiness whatsoever.
Only to discover that the Publix was, once again, out of Tab.
But oh well. I still got a free onion blossom.
Come to an online chat here about Princess Diaries 6, Princess in Training tomorrow night at 7PM if you get a chance. I MIGHT give away a major spoiler about what happens in Princess Diaries 7!