Monday, July 13, 2009

Guilty Pleasure

I haven't eaten at a Cheesecake Factory in years and can only recollect eating there twice. I remember nothing about either experience except I didn't pay for either meal and I got a lot of food. I'm pretty sure I ate a piece of cheesecake there somewhere along the way but I don't remember that either. I only mention it because I don't really have an opinion on the Cheesecake Factory. I've only really thought it was a more expensive family, casual restaurant that does an enormous amount of business.

Everyone's favorite food author this side of Anthony Bourdain, Michael Ruhlman, had the same feeling.
A week or so ago I made fun of author and journalist Kelly Alexander after she wrote an article in praise of the Cheesecake Factory. She quickly issued a challenge by email: "OK, Ruhlman: A wager is in order, clearly. If you go to the Cheesecake Factory, taste that miso salmon, and after that can honestly tell me it doesn't rock, I will not only pay for your salmon but will personally buy 15 copies of Ratio. If you go and eat it and then concede that it tastes good, you have to blog KELLY ALEXANDER IS RIGHT ABOUT THE SALMON AT THE CHEESECAKE FACTORY. Deal or no deal?"

Sure enough Ruhlman lost the bet and wrote his mea culpa.

I'm a little easier on chain restaurants than most food bloggers. I figure if they didn't serve good food, they'd go out of business. Applebee's and Arby's, just to name two restaurants, don't really prove my point but, for the most part, the food is at least acceptable.

So, in the spirit of Ruhlman, I'm going to come out and announce my guilty pleasure, I like Houlihan's. I've never had a bad meal there number one, but number two, I've really enjoyed every meal I've had there. I don't think I've had the same thing twice because something on the menu catches my eye every time. Sure, Stella and I did get a free meal there one time, but we had to eat with Owen so the freebie cancels itself out. The steaks I've had there have been perfectly cooked and flavorful. The sandwiches have always been good, the french onion soup is very good and I even enjoy their salads.

My only complaints about Houlihan's is that it is a little more expensive than I would like it to be and their beer selection is horrible. We generally only go there when we get one of our birthday or special event coupons. But that's about it, I think Houlihan's has good food and a decent atmosphere. If you're going to eat a mid priced chain restaurant, Houlihan's should be your choice.


m.v. said...

I ate at the "factory" once. My food was crappy because it was burnt but the scraped the burnt stuff off leaving the taste. I am not big on returning food so I just ate what I could. The only other thing I remember also mentioned in the book is a gi-f-ing-gantic phone-book-sized menu that it took me a long time to read. I hate that. never went back.I don't mind chains though, if anything they might have better sanitation than some shady places where I eat cheap stuff.

Chimpotle said...

We used to go to Houlihan's all the time. Got sick after eating at the one we moved next to, and haven't really been back.

On a related note, I can't eat at the Factory. Aside from there normally being an absurd wait, I've gotten sick 2 of the 4 times after eating there. One of the other times I was hungover. I could eat there again if I had to, it just seems like they are in too many different pots. I'd rather spend that kind of cash going somewhere that I know does a certain style right.

Brian Rules the World said...

Can't say I care for CF too much, but I've got a weakness for the Whiskey River burger at Red Robin.

Personally I think outright refusal to eat at chains is the epitome of food snobbery. While many chains do suck, you can definitely get a good meal at some of them. Other places that come to mind: McCormick and Schmick, Ruth Chris and sometimes BWW.

Faith said...

My chain guilty pleasure is PF Chang's. And their little sidekick, Pei Wei. I might need to get dinner from there this week, dammit. Hmmm...

I love Ruhlman, but I kinda wanna smack his overuse of the word "insipid" outta him. I've never had anything "insipid" from Cheesecake. I've had plenty of items loaded with calories and fat, but nothing "insipid." I think he was just reaching, personally. He should have gotten those fish tacos...damn, they're good!

Ben said...

Red Robin is my guilty chain pleasure, every burger I have had has been very good, and the bottomless fries are great. The Blue Ribbon burger is excellent.

Houlihans is good as well, I got a free meal for my birthday and the filet mignon I had was perfect, just as good as what I would expect from a higher end steakhouse.

Nuke said...

I hate to say it, but I have yet to have a bad steak at Texas Roadhouse. In fact I had the 2nd best steak of my life there once.

Friends and family love these chain places, and I can honestly say eating here is no hardship. I'll take TR over Crappleby's any day.

logtar said...

The factory has yet to do me wrong, however Houlihan is just not a place that is in my list of places to visit. I feel it is way overpriced for the quality of the food they serve. I've had 4 dishes there for various work functions and have never been even satisfied after any of the meals. Mimi's cafe is impressive almost every time... all the other mid ones are not worth the money IMHO.

Anonymous said...

The few times I've had to go to CF I had this and it was great. And you can stop reading the huge menu after the apps. page.
Spiced Fresh Salmon Rolled in Spinach and Fried in a Crisp Wrapper.
Served with a Sweet Hot Chili Sauce

Anonymous said...

Hi, I'm some uppity dick that has never eaten at Cheesecake Factory but because me and my emo friends don't like anything corporate, we don't eat there. You're a stupid tool if you eat there. It's bad. Really bad. Like not having tight women's pants or a blue hoodie on a Friday night kind of bad.

So all you assholes that like chain places, you get what you deserve. Meanwhile, I'll be at Chubby's. It's hip and local, and when you burp up grease for 12 hours, you will remember just how hip it was to eat locally made cheeseburgers while smoking Indian cigarettes at 3 am talking about how hip we are for not having given into the siren song of corporate hell.