I should have listened to my gut.
Last night, like every Friday night, Jay and I went out to eat. It’s a
tradition we started a few years ago. We pick a restaurant from the seemingly
hundreds in this city and make it a “date night”. We have our favorites, but
sometimes we’ll try a new place, usually when we have spent the previous Friday night at Pedro’s realizing that one more chicken
enchilada might send us over the edge.
Last night we tried a new spot. The local TGIFriday’s had relocated, and
a restaurant we’d never heard of had opened in its place. It’s called the Peppermill
Grill. And after driving past it for over a month, we decided to check it out.
But, first, we had to Google it.
Because, besides being the biggest encyclopedia, shopping mall, and red-light district on the planet, the Internet
is also a godsend to people who can spend an hour staring at a menu until their faces resemble a beef cow’s at the moment
between the bazillion-volt stun charge and the fall of the axe. People like me. I mean, some nights it would be easier
just to stick the menu on the wall and give me a dart. At least then we’d get
to eat sometime before midnight… that is, if I managed not to miss the thing completely and end up taking out the big rack
of glassware hanging over the bar.
So I Google. I figure any restaurant worth spending my hard-earned cash
at will have their menu online. And that way I can go through the majority of
my indecision in the comfort of my own home.
My gut’s first warning was when Google couldn’t find it. Oh, there were
parts, pieces, and permutations of it. But no obvious website. There was a review of it on a local magazine’s site, but the link was dead.
All the other likely prospects gave us nothing but variations on the “Website coming soon” theme. The only tangible hit was a news release. About the restaurant’s
launch. On the Country Kitchen website.
That was my gut’s second warning.
You see, ‘round these parts, there are restaurants and there are places where things are defrosted and put on plates. And Country Kitchen is one of the latter.
But we were intrigued by PMG’s concept. (Yeah. They were following the
trend of referring to themselves by their “initials”. Gut Warning number two-and-a-half.) We kept reading, even though their staff weren’t called waiters or servers but “flavor
ambassadors”, which we thought sounded like some restaurant consultant came up with it at 3:00 am after a night of smoking
pot and eating flaming hot cheetos. The menu was based around dishes that incorporated
peppercorns. The staff would come to our table and offer a selection of seasonings
to enhance our meal. What the heck,
we thought, how bad can it be?
Things were looking up when we went in the door. Gone were the dorky red
and white striped awnings and checked tablecloths. Gone were the suspendered,
perky servers with their thirty-seven pieces of “flair”. The walls were all the
colors of the crayons you never used when you were a kid: maize, olive, burnt sienna.
The artwork was pleasant geometrics and nature shapes. The music was soothing,
the conversation politely hushed. The lighting was perfect; subdued, gentle,
yet bright enough for the menu to be easily read. And what a menu! Everything sounded fantastic. All the fashionable ingredients
were in attendance, from arugula and artisan bread to pesto and zucchini. The
wine list looked like the table of contents for Oenophile’s Quarterly, and even though the prices were missing their dollar
signs (and, in many cases, the last zero) they were within our budget for what we initially perceived as a somewhat upscale
Our drinks arrived promptly, and our waitress was patient
as we waded through the tempting offerings. It took a bit to decide, but I settled
on a walleye dinner, and Jay ordered roast chicken. Both came with cabbage slaw;
Jay chose smashed potatoes (was there any clichéd item missing
from this menu?) and I selected fries. Jay also ordered the two items he considers
to be the best way to evaluate a new restaurant: French onion soup for an appetizer
and a Bloody Mary for dessert.
Thus concluded the highlight of the evening. The rest went downhill faster than Bode Miller after a night of raucous partying.
The “flavor ambassador” had considerately asked Jay if
he wanted his soup before his entrée or with it. He asked for it before, and
it did come before… if you consider two minutes “before”. He’d barely smelled
it before a girl stopped at our table and asked which of us had the cheeseburger. We
sent her off with a “wrong table”, and she nearly bumped into the young man who was bringing our meals. Then we received our rolls. Not exactly the order in which
we were accustomed to being served. It’s usually rolls, soup, and then entrées,
with appropriate time in between to enjoy each item.
But hey, we thought, it’s a new restaurant. Sometimes it takes a bit to iron out all the wrinkles.
By this time I think we were up to about Gut Warning Number
Seven. And we hadn’t even tried our food yet.
We should have quit while we were ahead. Although Jay’s benchmark French onion soup got a “very good”, the rest of the food didn’t even come close. I don’t know if they scrounged their food from the dumpster behind the Denny’s three
doors down, or what. We’ve eaten better meals
out of a 99¢ cardboard box from the local mega-super-market.
The chicken had crispy, seasoned skin, but underneath it
was just, well, chicken, at least what meat he could find amongst the exceedingly large number of bones this bird possessed. We took turns speculating about what incredibly dry object had smashed the potato
– an English Literature textbook and the cold vacuum of space were our two best guesses.
My fries were missing the advertised malt vinegar. Jay chased down a server,
who at first brought us oil and vinegar cruets. Then, when the proper condiment
arrived, the bottle had no little cap to allow one to dispense a few drops at a time, so my half-cold fries got a vinegar
bath. And the walleye… well, I’m guessing it was walleye. Or maybe it had once swum next to a walleye. What they looked
like were fish fingers. What they tasted like was nothing. Just like the slaw, which looked like it had dressing but tasted like naked cabbage that had been genetically
altered to remove any remnant of flavor. I’ve accidentally eaten Easter basket
grass with more enjoyment than that slaw.
And the coked-up menu writer got it wrong again with the
“Pepper Mary”, which was more celery salt than pepper. Jay was only half done
with it when a well-dressed woman (whom we guessed was the owner, the manager, or a restaurant concept developer) asked if
I wanted a little cup for my tartar sauce to put in my to-go container. Gee,
the menu had called it “peppercorn lemon cream sauce”, and here the whole time I was dipping my fish bits into plain old tartar
sauce. And now this lady wanted to whisk my plate away before I was even done. Maybe they didn’t buy enough dishes and needed to wash mine so some other poor sucker
wouldn’t have to wait for his meal.
To sum it up, I’ve had better meals from the drive-thru
at Mickey D’s. Meals that were made with ingredients,
not from something the “cook” took out of a plastic bag. We found more meat on
the partridges we ate at that fancy restaurant in England.
And I think most nursing homes serve spicier food than PMG.
Maybe that’s why the conversation was so hushed. It wasn’t politeness.
It was because everyone in the place was in shock at the
utter dreadfulness of their food.
Next time, I’m listening to my gut.