Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Place: Taco Time/Samurai Sam's/Surf City Squeeze
Lunch: Crispy Meat Burrito, Chicken Yaki-Soba Bowl, water with lime

Me: "One Crispy Beef Burrito..."

Smiling Counter Girl: " you mean...crispy...ground...beef..."

Me: "Yes."

Relieved Counter Girl: "Okay."

Me: "Is there another kind of beef?"

Smiling Counter Girl: "Well there's the shredded beef."

Me; "You're making shredded beef crispy burritos now?"

Smirking Counter Girl...sheepishly...: "No."

Cafe NoNo

Place: Cafe Rio
Lunch: Chili Roasted Beef taco, tortilla soup, rice, beans, Dr Pepper

I should have known this was a bad idea the minute I stepped up to the door. Any business that actually posts a notice forbidding photography on the premises must be running one embarrassingly bad operation.

The place is insanely busy. They have a permanent snake line at the order counter, and it's pretty full. It moves quickly, though. The place is the typical Yuppie-Mex "assembled to order in front of you" mentality. Flour tortillas are made fresh at the beginning of the prep line.

CafĂ© Rio has $5 burritos, enchiladas, quesadillas, salads, and tacos in corn or tortilla style. Yet it becomes immediately clear what everybody orders here because Smiling Counter Guy is literally grabbing a tin and a burrito tortilla as he’s asking me “What can I get for you?” And when I say “A crispy taco”, he immediately frowns, puts the tortilla back, and gives me a look like I’m a big troublemaker. He puts the order to somebody behind him, who lays a flour tortilla on the grill. I guess if I wanted a corn tortilla taco, asking for a “crispy taco” isn’t enough explanation.

I also ordered tortilla soup. Same Guy grabs a Styrofoam cup and slaps a spoonful of chicken into it. He shoves it down to the next guy in line. I follow. Second Guy asks me “Do you want everything in the soup?” Without thinking, I say “Yes”. Much to my horror, he puts in a big scoop of guacamole. GUACAMOLE. Then he puts in some pico de gallo. The entire contents of the bowl are now: Chicken, guacamole, and pico de gallo. Then he tops it with a mystery broth and garnishes with cilantro. And he drops a slice of lime in it. And tops it with tortilla chips. He clearly grabbed more chips than anticipated, so he asks the precautionary "Is this to stay?"


So he dumps all the chips in. They fall in, over, and around the cup.

Frowning Counter Girl asks if I want a drink. Then asks “Do you have your ("customer appreciation") card with you?”

“No, I’ve never been here before.”

“I’ll start another one for you then.”

Seems silly since I’ve already decided I will never ever come in here again, but oh well.

The taco is a “chile roasted beef” taco. The only beef they have is shredded roast beef. No real ground beef taco meat. They also have pork, chicken, and steak. I fish around the bottom of the soup bowl for the chicken. I can’t find it. It HAS to be in here. I SAW the guy put it in. Oh there it is. I taste a piece of chicken that has been marinating in the guacamole pico mystery broth substance. It’s actually pretty tasty. A chicken burrito or taco might be worth investigating.

The soup itself actually isn’t bad initially, but the flavor is basically coming from the cilantro they garnished it with. And it eventually turns to a shade of green that, mixed with the varied color chunks of stuff put in it previously, makes it look like some serious barf. I guess we now know why they don’t want you taking pictures in here.

The taco plate includes rice and your choice of pinto or black beans. That’s exactly what they are…beans in bean water. No seasoning. Just beans. The rice at least has a hint of a lime and cilantro taste.

I ate about half of the $11.29 (!) meal and considered making a run for the Taco Time down the street.

Have you found Country Time's strawberry lemonade in cans and bottles in your local supermarket? It's not quite as good as fresh, but it's better than any attempt previously in cans or bottles. Very nice on a 105 degree day (like today).

Saturday, July 14, 2007

In-N-Out (of Business)

Place: Chadder's
Lunch: Stubby Double, Fries (with fry sauce), lemonade

Imagine opening your own burger joint. It's a single store operation. It's not a designed the menu, the store layout, the whole concept. And before you opened, people were already clamoring at the door. And when you opened, they never stopped coming. It was wall-to-wall customers every open hour of the day.

Did you come up with a great concept?

Not if you're Chadder's. If you're Chadder's, you stole In-N-Out's concept. You copied their building design right down to the color scheme and the angles of the order counter. You copied their menu, giving their burgers your own names. And you trained your employees on their "secret menu" so that if somebody asked for something from it, they could fulfill the order.

Frantic In-N-Out fans actually contacted In-N-Out to find out if it was them building this thing. That prompted a visit from In-N-Out, incognito, to see what was going on. That visit prompted a request for a court injunction to shut Chadder's down.

Chadder's responded by dressing up the building a bit with some blue trim, and giving the menu board a yellow background. They also claimed they weren't using any In-N-Out trademark menu items...their customers were.

And a judge bought it and didn't make them close. But the suit is pending.

It's a BLATANT copy. Seriously. As you approach it, it looks like an In-N-Out that was closed and sold to somebody else.

There's one small problem...Chadder's burgers suck. The beef patties are overcooked and dry. The sauce is a weak copy. They bear nothing of the flavor of a real In-N-Out burger.

Nobody seems to notice. They were doing an insane amount of business while I was there.

Much like the typical In-N-Out.

It's 100 degrees in the shade today. Time to hang out at the pool. An indoor air-conditioned pool.

Friday, July 13, 2007

The Gas Problem

Place: Skipper's Seafood & Chowder House
Lunch: Fish & Chicken basket (with fries and cole slaw), chowder, Pepsi

Poor Skipper's is drowning. The chain filed bankruptcy and is effectively dissolving. The parent company has closed over a third of the existing units, has sold some of them to people who get to keep running them as "Skipper's" independently, left four franchise units alone, sold the grocery product line rights to somebody who plans to continue it, and is trying to sell the franchise rights, which I suppose means somebody could go on. But I doubt they will.

I was kind of surprised to see this one operating. So I took advantage.

A couple of years ago, I headed on a circle tour through the lower Michigan peninsula, Ohio, and Kentucky. When I left, gas was at a ridiculously high $2.39 per gallon. And I was angry.

Five days and one hurricane named Katrina later, gas was $3.09 per gallon.

People were furious.

Yet we've gone this whole summer with prices at Katrina levels, and nobody cares.

Last night, at a Conoco station in Nebraska, I saw premium unleaded priced at $3.79.


In rural Nebraska.

Oil companies have a history of taking advantage of any little excuse they can to hurt people. The excuse on this one is "a shipping source in Coffeyville Kansas is under water. Boo hoo hoo."

Shut up. You're laughing all the way to the bank.

It is time to break up the oil companies. Reverse every merger made in the past ten years.

Break up Chevron Texaco.

Break up Conoco Phillips.

Break up Exxon Mobil.

Break up BP-Amoco.

Break up Valero and all the crappy little companies they absorbed.

It's time to open up Alaska and give the rights to a non-oil company. Somebody with a track record of delivering low prices. It's time to let Wal-Mart find their own oil and produce their own gas.


Saw Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix today. Is it just me, or does Ginny Weasley bear a striking resemblance to Harry's mother?