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How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Chain Restaurants
October 1, 2013 6:47 PM   Subscribe


 
"So my immediate reaction was Well! Never going there again. But now that I’ve thought about it, I’m less sure of my reaction."

Punchability: Achieved.
posted by mhoye at 7:03 PM on October 1, 2013 [25 favorites]


When I lived in the US, there were two coffee shops within easy walk of my house: an Au Bon Pain, and an independent coffee shop that loudly proclaimed its support for fair trade coffee. Obviously, the indie cafe was more popular with the socially minded people in my very liberal graduate department.

That said, I found myself going to ABP more often. At first I went because it was marginally cheaper (I was more sensitive about price than most at my uni) and they usually had more space. But I noticed over time that, despite the local population being majority black and Hispanic (especially in the nearby neighbourhood, which was 90% black), the indie cafe only had white workers and the ABP had a diverse staff. I have no idea what was going on with the indie cafe, but I never saw anyone working there who wasn't young, hip-looking and white.

So I continued to shop at ABP, because I figured they contributed more up the local community through employment at least.

It didn't hurt that they had better coffee, offered a better discount for carrying your own cup (good environmental policy), and had cookies to die for.
posted by jb at 7:09 PM on October 1, 2013 [57 favorites]


Punchability: Achieved.

Why am I picturing what's next for Michael Hobbes is something akin to the ridiculously long "put these glasses on" fight scene in They Live?
posted by chambers at 7:16 PM on October 1, 2013 [6 favorites]


I reject them not because the food is bad or they’re worse for the planet than other corporations, but because I personally don’t want to be associated with them.

He says that as if there's something wrong with it.
posted by escabeche at 7:17 PM on October 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


ABP's got better tea than Starbucks.
posted by maryr at 7:21 PM on October 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


brownies dense as Jupiter

As noted in one of the comments, Jupiter is not particularly dense. Earth is the densest planet, about four times as dense as Jupiter.

Care to take a bet whether or not he considers himself on the side that "respects science"?
posted by Tanizaki at 7:21 PM on October 1, 2013 [27 favorites]


There is this false search for authenticity that sometimes gets in the way of simply asking yourself - does this taste good? I know Chowhounders who go ballistic when they discover some hole in the wall, in the back of the grocery store, where every second Tuesday, the grocery store owners' uncle will come in make genuine Cambodian noodle curry. Yeah - sounds interesting - but is it any good?

Granted - I'd much rather be a customer of a independent restaurant (and vast majority of the time I do), but my taste buds rule me more than anything else. And by "anything else" - I mean I would shoot one you Mefites right now if I was offered a tasty Shake Shack burger.
posted by helmutdog at 7:22 PM on October 1, 2013 [14 favorites]


Among my people (urban, lefty, low BMI)

No, no, he's still got more room to go on the punchability scale!
posted by Ghidorah at 7:27 PM on October 1, 2013 [98 favorites]


Why are we listening to someone with low BMI about food?
posted by Faux Real at 7:28 PM on October 1, 2013 [126 favorites]


He says that as if there's something wrong with it.

There are plenty of corporate acts that are repugnant, sure, but process control and economies of scale aren't among them. If that's what your brand snobbery is telling you to avoid, you're going to have to avoid 100% of modernity and yeah, good luck with that.
posted by mhoye at 7:28 PM on October 1, 2013 [18 favorites]


It took me a long time to realize that most restaurants in the US just pull up the Sysco truck to the back door and unload [frozen food] whether they're owned by a corporate entity or a mom-and-pop. Unless you're in a big city or major interstate intersection, you're probably losing money, and thus desperate to cut costs.

I don't hate chains either, but I wouldn't trust a chain to cook me a piece of fresh local fish. A piece of frozen fish, maybe.

As I understand this trend is continuing in Europe, which many Americans perceive as an uncorruptible bastion of slow food. Obviously they have the same pressures we do though. Is this perceived as the same problem?
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 7:28 PM on October 1, 2013 [6 favorites]


Why are we listening to someone with low BMI about food?

Because fat people only eat McDonald's lol.
posted by maryr at 7:30 PM on October 1, 2013 [4 favorites]


Or that little artisanal bistro that sneaks Sysco shit in unmarked trucks.
posted by planetesimal at 7:30 PM on October 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


Among my people (urban, lefty, low BMI), places like Starbucks, McDonald’s and Applebee’s have take the role of a kind of punchline, the culinary equivalent of Coldplay.
That's because these particular chains happen to sell awful food.

There is nothing inherently "wrong" with global chains, and being "urban, lefty, low BMI" has nothing to do with wanting to put things that taste good in your mouth. And quality does not trend toward such an enormous scale of production. The Starbucks and McDonalds of the world get their business through brand recognition and ubiquity. I meet up with people all the time at Starbucks, for no other reason than because everyone can find it. The coffee at Starbucks is much worse than my favorite indie coffee shop, and the cost is comparable, but my favorite indie coffee shop is not located on every street corner in America.

Local chains seem to fair better. Frontera Grill in Chicago is a good example. It's in the airport, too, and I eat there every time I fly. Because it is good food, for a fair price, and I am a rational person who is hungry.
posted by deathpanels at 7:35 PM on October 1, 2013 [5 favorites]


Brownies dense as Jupiter

As noted in one of the comments, Jupiter is not particularly dense. Earth is the densest planet, about four times as dense as Jupiter.


Care to take a bet whether or not he considers himself on the side that "respects science"?

In 2010, Arthur C. Clarke says that the center of Jupiter is a diamond the size of Earth.

Does Arthur C. Clarke respect science?
posted by flarbuse at 7:37 PM on October 1, 2013 [7 favorites]


ABP's got better tea than Starbucks.
posted by maryr


I never tried the ABP tea, but if it's better than Starbucks, I'm impressed, because Starbucks has pretty good tea. In Toronto, it's the best tea I've had that wasn't from a tea specialist place (like David's Tea).

Some independent places do make their own food; so do some chains. I go where I can get good value for money, where the staff are helpful, the atmosphere is nice and where they have enough outlets. Sometimes that means the little place on the backstreet run out of someone's house with the to-die-for breakfast scones; sometimes it's the big Starbucks on the corner (terrible food but good coffee & free refills save money).
posted by jb at 7:37 PM on October 1, 2013


This is almost New York Times Trend Piece bad.
posted by TrialByMedia at 7:39 PM on October 1, 2013 [41 favorites]


I do admit to buying burritos from the Latin American grocery store, but only because they are cheap and the best burritos I have ever tasted.
posted by jb at 7:39 PM on October 1, 2013


This is why it is better to be for something than to be against it. You can't be against everything and still participate in the modern world. But you can be for fairer working conditions, better food, more diverse spaces and seek those out and make them better.
posted by salishsea at 7:41 PM on October 1, 2013 [64 favorites]


Starbucks has medicore tea. it's not terrible, it's not great. It is certainly no Peet's.
posted by GuyZero at 7:42 PM on October 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


Maybe "better" isn't the best word - I don't like the Tazo teas all that much. Their "Awake" is too bitter for my tastes (and I'm usually an Assam girl) and their chai has far too much star anise. ABP carries Harney & Sons teas which I believe are generally well thought of and I particularly like their Hot Cinnamon Spice.

Peet's is certainly far and away the best chain tea.

(But then I'm happy with DD's over milked, over sugared tea when I can't make my own, so...)
posted by maryr at 7:43 PM on October 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


If that's what your brand snobbery is telling you to avoid, you're going to have to avoid 100% of modernity and yeah, good luck with that.

But it's not. He makes it quite clear that his brand snobbery tells him to avoid Applebee's but not Levi's or Apple.
posted by escabeche at 7:43 PM on October 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


Still better than Tazo Awake.
posted by maryr at 7:43 PM on October 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


This article describes my experience with Le Pain Quotidien. My friend happened to live near one in Geneva and we went one morning. I went back the next three mornings - it was the only place I could find reliably in the neighborhood that did something akin to breakfast: Both bread/pastries and tea and a place to sit. The food was good too! I was pretty disappointed to return to the States and learn there was one in Manhattan. I have a couple of independent coffee shops I treasure and it makes me sad to see Starbucks show up on their turf.

That said... I'd still consider going to the Pain Quotidien in Manhattan. (Provided they've cleared up their mouse problems.) Or Madrid or or Mumbai or Tokyo or wherever the locations are. The rhubarb crumble was fantastic and I like the aesthetic of the restaurant. It was comfortable. It made me feel less like a tourist, ironically. It wasn't because it was a familiar chain - obviously it wasn't! But somehow, most likely due to the international backing of the restaurant and the well-studied customer approach, I didn't feel like I was wading through ordering customs or local specialties. I got to worry about just finding what I wanted first thing in the morning (and then ordering it in French, which was more than enough work before caffeine). Sometimes those are good things - I love the local ice cream place that yells at you to order more quickly because you're holding up the line. But chains certainly have their place.
posted by maryr at 7:44 PM on October 1, 2013 [5 favorites]


As noted in one of the comments, Jupiter is not particularly dense. Earth is the densest planet, about four times as dense as Jupiter.

but is it denser than a brownie

I bet it is way denser than a brownie

that was the point of the sentence you see
posted by mightygodking at 7:45 PM on October 1, 2013 [22 favorites]


This is almost New York Times Trend Piece bad.

I don't know, I got a top note of acid self-involvement and punchability, followed by the tar-like odor of cheap contrarianism, deadening to a sticky, long-lasting aftertaste of "why did I even click that": tastes like #slatepitches.
posted by RogerB at 7:47 PM on October 1, 2013 [53 favorites]


but is it denser than a brownie

I bet it is way denser than a brownie


Jupiter is a "gas giant." There's a clue in the name.
posted by Sys Rq at 7:48 PM on October 1, 2013 [12 favorites]


I suspect he meant that the brownie actually was comprised primarily of methane, ammonia and water vapour.
posted by GuyZero at 7:48 PM on October 1, 2013 [59 favorites]


At any rate I thought it was an adequate article. It's quite true that people who hate "big brands" just hate the brands they hate while loving the brands they love. I don't think I've ever met anyone who truly hated the very notion of branding - they were just asserting their group identity like everyone does. It's not a bad observation.
posted by GuyZero at 7:53 PM on October 1, 2013 [7 favorites]


I like the Tazo Awake, at least the full-leaf stuff they serve in the store. It certainly wakes me up. It's crazy expensive for a tin ($9 for 15 bags here), but that's why you make friends with SB baristas and then they get you free packages of tea & coffee.

I would note that I was raised on Maritimer tea, which is rosy even after you put the generous amount of milk in. I've rarely encountered a tea that was too strong or bitter - only David's Tea is too strong, because the bags are huge.
posted by jb at 7:56 PM on October 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


There is this false search for authenticity that sometimes gets in the way of simply asking yourself - does this taste good? I know Chowhounders who go ballistic when they discover some hole in the wall, in the back of the grocery store, where every second Tuesday, the grocery store owners' uncle will come in make genuine Cambodian noodle curry. Yeah - sounds interesting - but is it any good?

Is this a thing with some people, where authenticity trumps taste? I kind of always assumed that if a person is going to go to such lengths to find and write about a restaurant or food, that it would taste good. I'm not aware of people who go to great lengths to find a cuisine that is "authentically bad". Like for example, go out of their way to find a pub that serves the warmest beer, the slimiest baked beans, and the most yeasty marmite, just like the pubs down in Slough.
posted by FJT at 8:01 PM on October 1, 2013 [4 favorites]


Maritimer tea

King Cole?

posted by Sys Rq at 8:03 PM on October 1, 2013


I did not think this was a very strong piece. Surely the idea that franchises can make acceptable food is not so outre?

I will say this: as a non-American, America seems especially enamoured of the franchise, in comparison to my own country and many others I've travelled in. I wonder if there is a difference in the way Americans think about franchises or eating out or something, or simply an abundance of the same feeling/s that aren't so prevalent elsewhere?

Or perhaps that is unfair - in many developing countries I've been to (international) franchises are also very popular, but generally as a status symbol and out of reach for the vast majority of the populace.
posted by smoke at 8:03 PM on October 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


Nothing wrong with chain restaurants, you're guaranteed the same price and generally the same quality across the board. Fasta Pasta, Hanaichi, Sitar Indian, Fish Depot, it's all good shit and if you're in a new and scary area and don't know where to go to eat, and there's one of those, you go in and generally you'll come out more-or-less happy.

Except for Pizza Hut, which was established in like 1807 and still doesn't have a fucking clue how to make the pizzas that they display on their own menus. They engineered the fucking pizzas and they still got no idea! It's not like I'm going in and asking for some off-the-wall custom-made thing, it's just the thing that you have told me you have available for purchase, and I selected it from the list! Holy shit!
posted by turbid dahlia at 8:06 PM on October 1, 2013 [15 favorites]


Brownies dense as Jupiter

As noted in one of the comments, Jupiter is not particularly dense. Earth is the densest planet, about four times as dense as Jupiter.


Perhaps he meant the Roman god Jupiter, sometimes known as Jupiter Pistor or "Jupiter the Baker." Presumably both he and his brownies were very dense.
posted by chrisulonic at 8:06 PM on October 1, 2013 [8 favorites]


According to Google, the density of Jupiter is 1.33 g/cm3. Apparently that's about as dense as corn syrup.
posted by eruonna at 8:08 PM on October 1, 2013 [15 favorites]


I'd still consider going to the Pain Quotidien in Manhattan

FWIW there's 30 of them in Manhattan.
posted by plastic_animals at 8:10 PM on October 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


Wait, why can't someone hate franchises and still buy branded things? Food is one of the few things you can still buy from a reasonably independent (even if not Sysco-free) business, unlike phones or something.
posted by mittens at 8:11 PM on October 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


I will say this: as a non-American, America seems especially enamoured of the franchise, in comparison to my own country and many others I've travelled in. I wonder if there is a difference in the way Americans think about franchises or eating out or something, or simply an abundance of the same feeling/s that aren't so prevalent elsewhere?

I think it simply has to do with America being really, really big. A lot of smaller American towns simply lack good places to eat in a lot of categories. Everyone has this image of the idyllic small-town diner, but having driven across the US this past summer, most of those places are actually really bad. Here's a tip: don't drive cross-country on I-90 with a vegetarian.

Because the US has 350M relatively wealthy people and a more-or-less uniform set of laws and regulations, once you come up with a good idea it's pretty easy to find a few hundred places that would be a good place to open a franchise. And the entire business of establishing a franchise has itself become a franchise operation. The only missing element is capital... which is again actually not that hard to find in the US. it's probably easy access to capital to establish franchise outlets that distinguishes the US from other countries more than anything. The US is a land of small business owners and as much as people hate on franchise operations for being monoliths, most are actually mom and pop shops with crappy supplier contracts.
posted by GuyZero at 8:15 PM on October 1, 2013 [22 favorites]


My sib is a partner in a trendy vegan bar and restaurant in RVA. Good food, good brews, good times. Sysco.
posted by infinitewindow at 8:15 PM on October 1, 2013 [7 favorites]


In 2010, Arthur C. Clarke says that the center of Jupiter is a diamond the size of Earth.

Diamonds are not particularly dense, either. The density of diamond is only 3.5g/cm^3. Diamonds are generally known for their hardness, not their density.

Does Arthur C. Clarke respect science?

Do you? You might learn some of it if you spent some time in the non-fiction section.
posted by Tanizaki at 8:16 PM on October 1, 2013 [5 favorites]


Is it economically advantageous when the people who profit from a business live in the same municipality where that business is located? Does the intuition that local owners have more skin in the game with regards to the effects of their businesses on the community bear out in practice? What, if any, is the relationship between property values and locally-owned shops? These are all pretty obvious questions that a piece less mercilessly thoughtless and lazy than this one was might have taken a shot at answering, but oh well.
posted by invitapriore at 8:17 PM on October 1, 2013 [8 favorites]


Perhaps by lauding "brownies as dense as Jupiter" he is actually saying they are delightfully light and fluffy, but with that satisfying 3.5g/cm^3 "snap" in the centre that we have all grown to love?
posted by turbid dahlia at 8:20 PM on October 1, 2013 [43 favorites]


This article describes my experience with Le Pain Quotidien.

Ditto. Goddamn their french toast is amazing.
posted by empath at 8:20 PM on October 1, 2013


I think it simply has to do with America being really, really big.

It also has to do with americans moving around a lot. Pre-Yelp, if you moved to a new town, there was no way to know which restaurants were good or not if you weren't familiar with them, other than word of mouth or branding.
posted by empath at 8:23 PM on October 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


Did I miss it, or did he really not mention the name of the chain he's talking about?

(Oh god, please let it be Greggs!)
posted by Sys Rq at 8:23 PM on October 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


This is almost New York Times Trend Piece bad.

Only almost because the places it talks about actually exist.
posted by srboisvert at 8:25 PM on October 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


I thought Starbucks just had bagged Tazos. Do they use loose tea now? Or maybe the one near my work had a smaller selection because it was a tiny one.

My local coffee chain does loose tea and they'll make you a London fog with whatever kind you want. Spicy Darjeeling London fog with a bit of honey is really good, sort of chai-ish, even though you're butchering the subtleties of the Darjeeling. (Sometimes you don't need subtleties.)
posted by NoraReed at 8:27 PM on October 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


...in many developing countries I've been to (international) franchises are also very popular, but generally as a status symbol and out of reach for the vast majority of the populace.

I think the opposite has happened in America because of the ubiquity of chains: The mom & pop, hole in the wall place is the status symbol of urban privilege. In developing nations, an American brand signifies "I have sufficient monetary resources to purchase this status symbol" whereas in the US, the local place says "I have sufficient time to seek out a rare food experience."

I get caught up in this too. After a few years of eating mostly healthy, mostly local(ish) food, I dislike fast food. But while I rag on Applebee's, their food is fine. Nothing exciting, but such is the palate of middle America. A lot of this is a product of WWII. Because a bunch of different ethnic groups (Anglo, Italian, Irish, etc.) fought for the US in the war, food was needed that packed in calories and was palatable to a wide range of people. Thus, a lot of canned meat and white bread. Following the war, this "American" cuisine was a commonality, and these recent immigrants were eager to be accepted by America, so they shed many native foodways and got on board with hot dogs and hamburgers. Again, status. (I read this in The Taste of War, which is superb and worth a read.)

Anyways, Applebee's is fine, though it is frozen Sysco food, which, to me, is not worth $12 a plate. I'd rather spend on something I can't get somewhere else, or that I would not make myself. But if I'm trapped on the outskirts of a city for some work function, Quizno's or Panera will do. It's not ideal, but salt and cheese are hard to beat.
posted by Turkey Glue at 8:33 PM on October 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


But, is a local chain a bad thing? I would think it's a good thing, boosting the local economy all the more and whatnot. It sounds like most of the writer's positive personal experiences are with local chains, and then the multinational conglomerates are used as scapegoats for CHAINZ BAD. Local/regional chains are great in my opinion, when they can maintain consistency of quality.

When we moved halfway across the country we made a point of trying to eat at very local places on our voyage, particularly seeking out special local delicacies (which is how come we ended up eating stewed beef tongue in Elko, NV). But it was definitely a good thing to be able to zero in on a coffee stop around 4PM every afternoon that was going to produce the same result each day, so thank you Starbucks for that daily dirty chai.
posted by padraigin at 8:35 PM on October 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


whereas in the US, the local place says "I have sufficient time to seek out a rare food experience."

And also, "I have money to gamble on food that might be terrible." Chains, you know what you're getting.
posted by Sys Rq at 8:37 PM on October 1, 2013 [18 favorites]


My local coffee chain does loose tea and they'll make you a London fog with whatever kind you want.

London Fog, for any other Brits wondering what-the-what-now.
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 8:43 PM on October 1, 2013 [15 favorites]


Well, I associate global chains with the idea of "monocultures of the mind". It is not simply good deals and good food--it is the idea that every place on the planet doesn't have the same starbucks, mcdonalds and Target outlet that every other place on the planet has.

Local chains are not the same thing. And further, this does not mean a crappy local business that treats its staff poorly or serves terrible food is a good thing.

It does mean that local businesses (or local specialty foods or favourite local musicians) are part of a local culture, and that this local culture has value when it is an awesome thing about your place.

Restaurants can use Sysco delivery and still lose money, it isn't a magic bullet to buy in bulk from Sysco, you also need to keep control of portions and not waste food, and schedule the right number of people--not so few that people have to wait for service, not so many you are paying someone to just stand there--etc etc.

One real barriers to local suppliers to local restaurants is their ability to deliver what you want consistently in a volatile business, in the amount you just decided you need, at the exact time you need. For my local fair trade coffee supplier this means being able to supply and service the type of coffee maker you need while supplying and servicing a different kind for the place next door that is higher volume. For my local craft brewers it means their beer reps need to be able to work with us to plan when they are doing a small specialty run of a seasonal beer--if we can't get the Pumpkin Ale in October, they have another suggestion at the ready. They get to know our clientele, and always suggest good matches for us.
posted by chapps at 8:46 PM on October 1, 2013 [4 favorites]


It also has to do with americans moving around a lot.

Is this true? Do Americans move around a lot more, per capita, than people in other places, though?
posted by smoke at 8:49 PM on October 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


Can someone explain the whole Sysco thing to me like I'm a five? Do they make all of the food for a bunch of restaurants which then just heat it up? Do they just provide the raw ingredients in frozen form? Both, depending on context? If a restaurant uses Sysco, does this mean they have no talent in the kitchen or that the ingredients are bottom-of-the-barrel quality?
posted by treepour at 8:49 PM on October 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


There is this false search for authenticity that sometimes gets in the way of simply asking yourself - does this taste good?

It's relatively easy to make things taste good with millions of dollars, automated production and endless food science. I like it when things taste....I don't know, variable? I cook at home. I make lots of stuff over and over. It won't often taste the same, but it will always be close and in the ballpark and it will always taste good (or so I've been told). I like that little change. I like it to look funky, I'm never going to take a ruler to it and freak when it's not the usual however big I expected. I'll sit there and think "ah, a little more x today." No big deal.

The other end of the spectrum, I guess, is the Entenmann's "All Butter French Crumb" cake, or their awesome donuts which, while "tasting good," are always the same.

I don't know. I'm no hipster, I don't have a fixie, I don't much care about Sumatran Civet-Shit supremo, but...I'll pay an extra dollar or two for something that feels like it had a human hand in it, even if some days it's not as good. I'm never going to lose it if today's coffee is worse/better/hotter/wtfever than yesterday's. I'll walk past a good coffee place to go to a deli if there's no line.

I just want to go somewhere I can't go anywhere else. And if I'm not getting that massive chain experience, even if it's relatively the same, well...I don't know. "You can never step in the same river twice" is overstating it in tone, but whatever weird old aphorism is in that spirit...I'm in.

That being said, when I had no money, I was in for whatever. But it was what was cheapest. I wasn't getting on my high horse about whatever when I couldn't afford it. When I can, I spend a buck because the little guy, even if not by-some-metric-only-you-can-determine isn't better than the chain, he's got a little adventure every day. And variety is, well....
posted by nevercalm at 8:50 PM on October 1, 2013 [7 favorites]


Turkey Glue: In developing nations, an American brand signifies "I have sufficient monetary resources to purchase this status symbol" whereas in the US, the local place says "I have sufficient time to seek out a rare food experience."

Bingo. The first point is why KFC is so big in China, and is seen as a trendy place to take your date.

Sys Rq: And also, "I have money to gamble on food that might be terrible." Chains, you know what you're getting.

Well, Americans try to have it both ways. They avoid chains, because they want to be seen as being able to have a rare food experience. But then they turn around and use sites like Yelp and Zagat to profile restaurants, so they aren't gambling and can still be seen as having the ability and means to go to such restaurants.
posted by FJT at 8:54 PM on October 1, 2013


I'll pay an extra dollar or two for something that feels like it had a human hand in it

You have weird taste.
posted by Sys Rq at 8:55 PM on October 1, 2013 [74 favorites]


Oh, and yes, if a "local-local chain" is a thing, it's not in the same class. There used to be a burrito place that had a bunch of locations here in NYC that I would spend good braintime creating new meals for which to fill with it's excellent offerings. Chipotle? It's good. I'll happily walk past four Chipotles (which is no longer difficult) to get to a good local place that is sometimes better, sometimes worse, but always good.
posted by nevercalm at 8:55 PM on October 1, 2013


The guy hits more than misses.

I get the feeling that things such as food have a tendency to be used as a marker for signaling to the world everything from one's culturing to morality.
posted by 2N2222 at 8:57 PM on October 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


And goddamn, I don't want to comment this many times here, but:

I'll pay an extra dollar or two for something that feels like it had a human hand in it

You have weird taste.
posted by Sys Rq at 11:55 PM


yes. Thank you. I was typing, not writing. Sigha.
posted by nevercalm at 8:58 PM on October 1, 2013


Did I miss it, or did he really not mention the name of the chain he's talking about?

I could be wrong but I assumed he was talking about Paul, which has crept over the Atlantic into DC, where they do a pretty good baguette, nice sandwiches, and macarons that I always, always think will be better than they are.


Seriously, I like the Billfold, but this is a submitted and probably unpaid blog entry. Although an indie effort, locally crafted with care, I admit that I enjoy the regular, structured offerings of the Where Have I Lived and People with Trust Funds more: they're reliable, frequent, and still maybe made in America.
posted by jetlagaddict at 9:00 PM on October 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


Well I think part of the issue with one-note chains like Chipotle is that they're, well, one-note chains. I think Chipotle makes a fine burrito, but there simply isn't enough variety in what they offer. Part of the appeal of the mythical amazing-hole-in-the-wall is that it's both always different and always excellent. The unfortunate reality is that any place that changes a lot will have hits and misses and any place that's consistently good is basically always offering the same thing.
posted by GuyZero at 9:00 PM on October 1, 2013


Is this true? Do Americans move around a lot more, per capita, than people in other places, though?

Broadly speaking, yes, (see esp. figure 5), though Denmark and Finland have higher rates of internal migration.
posted by crazy with stars at 9:01 PM on October 1, 2013 [1 favorite]




Can someone explain the whole Sysco thing to me like I'm a five? Do they make all of the food for a bunch of restaurants which then just heat it up? Do they just provide the raw ingredients in frozen form? Both, depending on context? If a restaurant uses Sysco, does this mean they have no talent in the kitchen or that the ingredients are bottom-of-the-barrel quality?

Its all of the above and none of the above. If you run a thriving business and you need to buy huge quantities of raw materials (salt, pepper, mayo, mustard, ranch dressing etc.) Sysco will happily sell you that. They will also sell you frozen things that are closer to what ends up on your plate e.g. frozen, pre-breaded chicken tenders.

Like any big business, they have different "lines" of food products so Sysco will sell you thin cheap Ranch dressing and more expensive Ranch dressing that probably closely approximates all but the very best homemade version.
posted by mmascolino at 9:04 PM on October 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


And that being said, as someone who avoids chains like the plague whenever possible, I lived on Subway veggie subs for two weeks in once, bc they were often the only vegetarian offering in town (as in hearing at a sitdown restaurant "Sorry, try Subway?") while I was wandering.
posted by nevercalm at 9:05 PM on October 1, 2013


then again I routinely drink Wawa coffee with two shots of "pumpkin spice flavor" which is powder mixed with meth, I guess, which I get on weekends while bypassing the fancy place on the corner where I have to make lots of decisions like "which language their sizes are based on" and "which impoverished nation made these beans" and "talking to humans" so who am I to judge, really
posted by jetlagaddict at 9:06 PM on October 1, 2013 [21 favorites]


Is this true? Do Americans move around a lot more, per capita, than people in other places, though?

Eh, I think ,yes, for a modernized, industralized country, but I'm not sure if compared to the world. To quote this ILO article on China:
According to national statistics, by the end of 2009, China had a total of 229.8 million rural migrant workers. Among them, 145.3 million rural migrant workers worked outside of their hometowns for a period over six months and almost 84.5 million worked within their hometowns for a period over six months. Around 70 per cent of migrant workers are employed in China’s eastern areas with two thirds of them working in large or medium cities and half of them moving between different provinces.
posted by FJT at 9:09 PM on October 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


I don't care about this man or his boring opinions in his poorly written article, I feel sorry for his editor who was probably expecting something a little more interesting than some hack 'musings' on the nature of chain restaurants.
posted by fingerbang at 9:09 PM on October 1, 2013 [6 favorites]


Seriously, this is written like a frat boy who took his first trip south and "discovered" a Waffle House and was upset when he realized it was a chain.
posted by Bighappyfunhouse at 9:09 PM on October 1, 2013 [11 favorites]


Bighappyfunhouse: "Seriously, this is written like a frat boy who took his first trip south and "discovered" a Waffle House and was upset when he realized it was a chain."

Waffle House is a wonderful place. In addition to the variable ways to have hash browns, I'm a huge fan of all of the songs on the Waffle House jukebox that are about Waffle House.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 9:11 PM on October 1, 2013 [26 favorites]


but I'm not sure if compared to the world.

The US is both wealthy and has high mobility. Wealthy European countries tend to have lower mobility. China, while growing at a crazy pace, is not that wealthy. That said, although I know nothing about China, I expect franchise operations are pretty popular there as well.
posted by GuyZero at 9:18 PM on October 1, 2013


Do Americans move around a lot more, per capita, than people in other places, though?

That may have changed in the last decade or so, but in the time period when franchise restaurants exploded (the 50s and 60s) absolutely.
posted by empath at 9:20 PM on October 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


I've been to some fairly nice non-chain restaurants in Toronto that I'm pretty sure cook from scratch rather than using Sysco or whatever our equivalent is up here. I expect the food to taste fresh and it does.

But I've been surprised at least once. I was on vacation through the Maritimes and Newfoundland several years ago, and ate at a lot of chain restaurants, which offered the same neutral, yet salty food that I got at the same chains in Toronto. Sadly, even the small town restaurants we sometimes stopped at had food that tasted quite processed.

So that was why it was such a complete shock to stop in a little restaurant near L'Anse aux Meadows and to be served a simple chicken and vegetable stew over mashed potatoes. I swear to God, it could have been my Mum in that kitchen, cooking up a typical weekday dinner in our house. Maybe the kitchen operator just had a deft hand with processed ingredients, because surely they couldn't cook for the steady crowds that visited the area during the summer without resorting to something. I prefer to believe that it was a Viking miracle.
posted by maudlin at 9:21 PM on October 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


"Seriously, this is written like a frat boy who took his first trip south and "discovered" a Waffle House and was upset when he realized it was a chain."

I thought the only time frat bro's would be concerned with food is how well it pairs with football and 64 oz of Bud Light delivered through a plastic tube.
posted by FJT at 9:21 PM on October 1, 2013


Broadly speaking, yes, (see esp. figure 5), though Denmark and Finland have higher rates of internal migration.

Thanks for that. It's actually closer than I thought it would be. I wonder where Australia fits in?
posted by smoke at 9:21 PM on October 1, 2013


Or perhaps that is unfair - in many developing countries I've been to (international) franchises are also very popular, but generally as a status symbol and out of reach for the vast majority of the populace.

I could get a big plate of food in guatemala (meat, tortillas, rice and beans and a salad) for $2-3 or a burger and fries from mcdonalds for $6.
posted by empath at 9:22 PM on October 1, 2013


Not even once
posted by flabdablet at 9:23 PM on October 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


London Fog and American chai are what I would refer to as a cappu-tea-no. Steamed milk, tea, sugar.
posted by maryr at 9:28 PM on October 1, 2013


"So my immediate reaction was Well! Never going there again. But now that I’ve thought about it, I’m less sure of my reaction."

Punchability: Achieved.


Probably a bit late to ask this, but: What is it about what the author says here that makes him come across as punchable?
posted by paleyellowwithorange at 9:28 PM on October 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


I ate at a waffle house for the first time a couple years ago, somewhere in rural north carolina. the cook chatted with us while we ate, marveling at our waffle house virgin status. we stuffed ourselves to painful, roll-out-the-door levels. right as we were about to ask for the check, the cook proudly handed us a massive, piping hot slice of pecan pie a la mode "on the house!" we ate it with forced cheerfulness as he watched us, beaming. it was good. we wanted to die. coincidentally, it was also our first time throwing up on purpose behind a waffle house in rural north carolina.
posted by changeling at 9:32 PM on October 1, 2013 [58 favorites]


coincidentally, it was also our first time throwing up on purpose behind a waffle house in rural north carolina.

If you're doing it right, it won't be your last time.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 9:34 PM on October 1, 2013 [37 favorites]


I say eat wherever makes you happy.

I just wish people were less uppity about their particular preferences. I've been put down before because I have the audacity to enjoy food at a certain chain.
posted by autobahn at 9:40 PM on October 1, 2013 [7 favorites]


If you're doing it right, it won't be your last time.

If you're REALLY doing it right, it will be every time.
posted by nevercalm at 9:42 PM on October 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


I am surprised how little he covered the actual differences between chain and non-chain restaurants.

First there is the human aspect. A non-chain restaurant is usually run by a real person, and they are actually present. If there is indeed a chef, he can choose local ingredients, change up the menu and the chef actually cares.

The basis of a chain is an industrial process run by unskilled workers.

Then there is the ownership aspect. Chains are not locally owned, a far greater share of the cash in the chain is going to leave the area.

Of course there are plenty of locally owned, non-chain restaurants that just throw Sysco food into a deep fryer.
posted by psycho-alchemy at 9:43 PM on October 1, 2013 [6 favorites]


From the London Fog page:

Notes, tips and variations
San Francisco Fog - In a punch bowl place 2 quarts cold black coffee and 1 bottle (750ml) brandy. Float one quart of vanilla ice cream (cube shaped ice-cream looks best). Facilitate ice cream to melt by spooning liquid over it and watching it turn into a delicious "fog." (Created by E. Ralph DeGeer)
Manchester Fog - steamed soy milk with a sugar free vanilla syrup in Earl Grey tea.
Seattle Fog - soy misto (½ water, ½ soy, steamed) with 2 pumps of vanilla syrup and one pump of hazelnut syrup, in 2 bags of Earl Grey Tea. Also known as the "No Wang's Special".


Fascinating. I live in Vancouver and didn't know it originated here, or that a Vancouver-anything was sold as such in Scotland. I'll seek one out next time I'm Edinburgh. It seems appropriate that a Vancouver invented drink won't play itself by name.

Now, of course, I will think of chamomile + soymilk + stevia (ricin optional) as an Albuquerque Fog.
posted by Jon Mitchell at 9:49 PM on October 1, 2013 [6 favorites]


Oh, sweet Jesus. As soon as you bring Earl Grey (Ptui!! Not a tea! Not a tea!) or soy milk near a tea or tisane, ricin starts to look good, you know?
posted by maudlin at 9:56 PM on October 1, 2013 [7 favorites]


One of my favorite coffee shops (1369, for you Boston locals) at one point had a map of all the combinations they'd make. A Bengal Breeze, for example. I guess, from the internet, that they call them Fogs of the World, but I can't remember any others offhand nor find a list online.

FWIW, they make my absolute favorite chai. Almost no sugar. Fantastic.
posted by maryr at 10:00 PM on October 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


I quite like a local vegetarian chain here in the Boston area (Clover, no relation to the coffee system). They started as a food truck, got their first brick and morter, then openeda second, then needed a sort of hub/distribution center (which also runs as a restaurant in the front). I think they're up to 8 or so locations now. In addition, they organized CSA deliveries this summer that, combined, were the largest CSA program in the country. It was particularly great for people like me who don't have a car and work hours that make it impossible to get to a specific local elementery school parking lot for the Farmers' Market between 3 and 5 pm, but can make it to one of their three restaurants near subway stops sometime between noon and midnight on a Saturday. So they've definitely provided business for local farmers.

They also had a salmonella scare/contamination this summer and handled it impressively well, closing down voluntarily as soon as they learned about it, paying their employees while they were closed, and blogging about the experience.
posted by maryr at 10:06 PM on October 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


brownies dense as Jupiter

brownies dark as Uranus

Really good brownies.
posted by zippy at 10:06 PM on October 1, 2013 [7 favorites]


Actually, my worries about chain restaurants have less to do with perceived authenticity, and more to do with "flavor enhancer" additives and such. Most large-scale chains have done a lot of food-science-y research into how to make their food hyperpalatable, and in many cases that seems to involve sneaking a shocking amount of butter or oil into dishes that otherwise seem "light" or "healthy." And then there's all the artificial additives that are under-regulated in many places and thus don't always need to be declared on the menu. And so, unless the menu shows calorie-counts and discloses all of its additives, I'm always worried about just what I'm eating when I go to chain restaurants.

(Note: this is not to say that indie restos aren't capable of this sort of trickery, but rather that they usually don't have the financial resources to research and develop this into a systematic practice.)
posted by LMGM at 10:15 PM on October 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


I think what is irritating about the article is that it seems that the author didn't really have a clear reason that he thought he should be patronizing an independent business to begin with. It seems like he wanted the coffee shop to be a cute. local. independently owned business because that is the place that someone like him is supposed to spend his money, and he never gave it any thought beyond that.

So his "learning to love chain restaurants" isn't really that huge of a step. If he were supporting a local business because it kept money and jobs in the local economy, or had particularly conscientious food-sourcing practices, or because they treated their workers well, that would be different. In fact, if he purposefully chose the chain because they, say, were known for treating their employees well or working with small farms for their supplies, then his defiance would be well placed.

As is, it doesn't seem any deeper than "I know it is trendy to do this thing, but I am bucking your trend by doing this other thing! IN YOUR FACE!"
posted by louche mustachio at 10:26 PM on October 1, 2013 [17 favorites]



(Note: this is not to say that indie restos aren't capable of this sort of trickery, but rather that they usually don't have the financial resources to research and develop this into a systematic practice.)


Pretty much every restaurant, unless they explicitly state otherwise, adds, at the very least, lots of butter to their dishes, or some other flavor enhancement (chefs have their chef tricks.) Indie restaurants don't have their own R&D department, but they have access to food science research and additives, and some will use whatever resources they have to make the food taste better.

I pretty much always assume that a restaurant meal is going to have more fat and more miscellaneous tasty tasty evil than any meal I would make myself.
posted by louche mustachio at 10:39 PM on October 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


America also doesn't have the locally-tied food cultures with hundreds of years of tradition behind them. There is a lot of great American cuisine, and a lot of local American cuisine, but because it's a young and immigrant nation, the food culture isn't as settled, it isn't as tied to what can be produced locally, and it isn't as well-known by people who aren't local. Even if you don't know exactly what it is, you probably know that there's a Provencal style of cooking and if you go to Provence, eating that would be a good touristy thing to do. But you probably don't know that Peoria (for example) has a large and long-standing Lebanese immigrant community and you can get fresh, handmade hummus LITERALLY EVERYWHERE and that the town is chock-full of Lebanese and fake-Lebanese restaurants; and that half of everyone home-makes their own sausage because the German immigrant traditions in the area remain reasonably strong because so many locals had at least one grandparent who grew up on a (polyculture) farm. So there are local food traditions here, but they're not a unified whole -- they're pieces of imported food cultures that people enjoy side-by-side, but aren't really melded into one cuisine yet, and certainly aren't particularly known outside the area. Without that kind of local food culture guidance, chains are more attractive because you know what you're going to get -- as you would in a region with a strong local food culture, even at a local place. (I mean, you can't guarantee quality, but you'd at least know what SORT of thing you'd be eating.)

Also there's a lot of virtue in standardization at breakfast. My stomach is not adventurous or touristy before noon. I am aggressively provincial in my breakfasting.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 10:47 PM on October 1, 2013 [9 favorites]


How do you find new cuisine if you're eating in chains even part of the time? By the time it hits Taco Bell it's not another country's food, it's 'Murrican grub. I don't even buy this line about having to eat at chains as you drive across the country. And I'm a vegetarian.

Food is a land of contrasts. You'll never find them at a chain. If boring standardization works for you outside of plane and vehicle manufacturing, you're welcome to stay at your chains. Good day, sir.
posted by Purposeful Grimace at 10:50 PM on October 1, 2013 [4 favorites]


I don't even buy this line about having to eat at chains as you drive across the country. And I'm a vegetarian.

Wait, you don't buy that people driving across an intercontinental country (mind you a geographically large and varied country which is reflected by its unequal fresh food access), who might be exhausted, hungry, and a little stir crazy sitting in a bus or car for 8 hours a day might just want something quick, consistent, and a little familiar on occasion?
posted by FJT at 10:57 PM on October 1, 2013 [8 favorites]


There is/was? a Food Network show called "Secrets of a Restaurant Chef" and cramming as much salt and butter as you can into a dish without crossing a threshold of "too fucking much" is pretty standard "Food Science." Home cooks tend to underestimate how much the human palate can handle, which isn't a bad thing, but can perversely lead to the situation where people won't cook at home because they don't like "perfect" "healthy" bland food because they assume that is what they are supposed to cook 100% of the time, and they lack basic techniques like layering seasonings, searing meat properly, etc. This is all "Food Science" -- I LOVE THE MAILLARD REACTION. But yes chain restaurants are more likely to be using elaborate combinations of eighty sources of MSG and what have you to take it up another notch.

I had some homemade-hyped-up-special-recipe "Chex Mix" (American breakfast cereal with pretzels, peanuts, melba toast) made by a co-worker today and was expecting it to have some fancy seasoning or subtle complexity but it was totally bland and mindlessly delicious. I realized it was just heavily infused with salt and butter and that was it.

Chains have a large place in my life but I do find Applebee's and Chili's to be below acceptable unless I have a gift card for some reason. Applebee's is slightly better. And I'm the kind of guy that will eat Taco Bell once a week happily, but on the sliding scales of price and cheap-ass-food-taste, Chili's really doesn't make the cut.

I got terrible Salmonella at Bennigan's years ago...an isolated incident, but if I'm going to never drink Southern Comfort again due to puking a few times one night in college, I'm certainly never going to eat at Bennigan's again due to puking for 36 hours straight a year later.

Jack in the Box had this commercial on the radio the other day...$6 for 2 tacos, a burger, fries, and a drink. WTF, I don't even like Jack in the Box and had to talk myself out of burning the memory into my brain for a future 3AM run. Oh shit it's here
posted by lordaych at 10:59 PM on October 1, 2013 [5 favorites]


Can someone explain the whole Sysco thing to me like I'm a five? Do they make all of the food for a bunch of restaurants which then just heat it up? Do they just provide the raw ingredients in frozen form? Both, depending on context? If a restaurant uses Sysco, does this mean they have no talent in the kitchen or that the ingredients are bottom-of-the-barrel quality?

If you eat at chain restaurants, you're probably eating Sysco. They're a giant firm, like the Halliburton of food products. And yes, they'll tell you that they're responsive to their customer's needs, and sure they make organic available, but it's still a factory farm. Free range means no cages but they can still be on concrete floors. But hey, they get to wander around in a dusty warehouse until they are summarily butchered, instead of being trapped inside of a smaller cage. I'm sure it's an improvement, but not very much.

Sysco (and their clients) aim for consistency, and the best way to be consistent is to go from the freezer to the fryer, or from the precut pile of meat to the grill. Instead of getting frozen food from the grocery store and throwing it in a microwave, an employee of the restaurant, who is underpaid and miserably forced to manufacture absurdly consistent food that he had no part in creating, will dump that in the fryer for you. Or he'll empty out the bag of salad, and the bag of toppings for the salad (craisins and walnuts!) and then you think you're getting a good meal. In reality, you're just getting a fancy microwave dinner.

So, anyway, why is this a problem? Well, it's a problem because the only thing that matters to chains is the bottom line. Hey, do you save 2 cents per burger using the slightly crappier onions? Can we drop down the lettuce on Menu Item 112 in order to save 4 bucks a day times 1200 locations? Sweet, Bob, you just earned yourself a new set of golf clubs!

Needless to say, every single decision in a chain restaurant is made through thousands of managers, all looking for their pecking order in the Great Hierarchy of Being that dominates our commercial landscape. Even if you're that quirky fun 80s movie guy/girl who wants to throw marshmellows on top of the brownies for kicks -- if they're even made in your store, and not manufactured in the same place that poops out twinkies the other 12 hours of the day -- where did you get the marshmellows? Who gave you approval to make that purchase? You understand that it's company policy not to allow modifications to the food items... our customers expect consistency, even if it means that nothing ever changes but the 5% of items we poll through so we can say we're "seasonal". It's food that has no soul, because vision didn't create it. A bureaucracy did, and they will never put in something extra unless it can be monetarily justified. How could you create anything worthwhile with that mindset?

Now, here's the worst part: as a small business, you're often forced to choose the same products because the margins are so thin because of the chains. They can make a call and get ten thousand pounds of fish, and if there's a little bit left over, Sysco will sell it cheap. (I believe some products are specially made, but remember, that just means they were manufactured slightly differently in one of Sysco's factory kitchens.) Even at the mom and pop restaurant, you're eating exactly the same fries as you did at the one across town. They came out of the same truck on the same morning, and they're probably fried in the same grease and covered in the same salt.

I mean to be persuasive but not preachy, because I really dislike manufactured experiences, even though I still shamefully stop at chains when I have nearby local options. I'm just saying when you're thinking about throwing down some cash, one bad meal at a local place every once in a while is far superior to a nation of hopeless sameness where every last little corner of creativity has been stomped out by pinching pennies. It's a lot easier to shop at small businesses than it is to fire all of the useless middle management who have to ruin everything so they can save enough money to bonus themselves at the end of the quarter. But unless you verify that the products are fresh and local and different, you're not eating at a new restaurant. You're eating at another Sysco restaurant with different marketing demographics.

tl:dr; Spend money where humans can be humans and create and contribute to the products that they sell. Spend it where animals can be animals, like chickens and cows in a pasture. Spend it where vegetables can be vegetables, as in out of a garden instead of blended in with frozen tubs of soup. You know, if you can, no big deal. But I think it's a really good idea.
posted by deanklear at 11:15 PM on October 1, 2013 [24 favorites]


So there's a lot that I find interesting about this conversation. I'm fascinated by the idea of authenticity, which I find is inherently inauthentic. I'm interested in food culture, and Sysco, and microchain restaurants.

But I'm really interested in the discussion of the density of brownies vis-a-vis that of Jupiter. Remember now that a brownie is essentially a cake; a sweet bread typically leavened by baking powder. As such, much of its volume is air. Its density should be much less than that of water.

A brownie with a density equal to the mean density of Jupiter would be disgusting. Denser than pudding, or mousse, or fudge. Denser than any food we eat, really. Like chewing gum, most likely. Though we need to be thinking of viscoelastic properties as well, now.

But keep in mind that the mean density of Jupiter is only that: a mean. The outer atmosphere is a diffuse mix of gasses; the core is metallic liquid hydrogen (not a diamond, what the fuck A.C.C.?!). Somewhere in the atmosphere, as the density increases from zero to whatever the density of metallic liquid hydrogen is at hundreds of gigapascals, we will find a density equal to the density of a perfect brownie.

This is in contrast to the earth, with its hard discontinuity of densities at the crust. Our atmosphere is less dense than a good brownie; our crust mantle and core more dense. Not so for Jupiter.

So I guess the analogy works?
posted by mr_roboto at 11:21 PM on October 1, 2013 [13 favorites]


o_O

You just never know which way a MetaFilter discussion is gonna turn.
posted by paleyellowwithorange at 11:23 PM on October 1, 2013 [9 favorites]


I could be wrong but I assumed he was talking about Paul

I think you'd be hard pressed to mistake Paul for anything but a chain. My money is on Patisserie Valerie.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 11:38 PM on October 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


Ok, wait a minute, one of the main reasons I try to frequent local places over chains is because I care where my MONEY ends up. Why have only two people in the entire thread mentioned this?

Starbucks makes a buck in profit off of me and 50% of it (or more, I really have no idea) winds up in the corporate coffers far away from the city I love. My local coffee shop makes a dollar off of me and it's much more likely to make its way back into the local economy (at least I assume).

This is easily my biggest reason for trending local. Are other people not thinking about this?
posted by Defenestrator at 11:40 PM on October 1, 2013 [9 favorites]


Meh. When I cook for myself, I'm always playing around, trying to make new stuff out of the same ingredients. I like novelty. Chains are always at best OK, and I don't think it's a bad thing to want more even if sometimes you settle.
posted by klangklangston at 11:43 PM on October 1, 2013


Are other people not thinking about this?

Of course I do. It's just I live in a place partially responsible for the current federal shutdown (among other bad things), so I'm going to hate-spend my money at Starbucks.

I mean to be persuasive but not preachy, because I really dislike manufactured experiences, even though I still shamefully stop at chains when I have nearby local options.

Eh, I don't get the shame. Jim Gaffigan has a bit about how everyone has their own "McDonald's", not necessarily in the sense of only food, but just in a small and slightly guilty pleasure that serves no real benefit in one's life. And y'know he's kinda right, just moderation in everything.
posted by FJT at 11:55 PM on October 1, 2013 [5 favorites]


Starbucks makes a buck in profit off of me and 50% of it (or more, I really have no idea) winds up in the corporate coffers far away from the city I love. My local coffee shop makes a dollar off of me and it's much more likely to make its way back into the local economy (at least I assume).

If your local coffee shop uses Sysco, a lot of the money goes to Sysco, just as your purchase at Starbucks do. So, in that case, unless the local coffee shop offers the same benefits and pay as the Starbucks, the chain may be a better choice once you factor in how they pay and treat employees.

But that just goes to show you how bland our food is -- it all comes from the same place, which is acres full of cold logistical calculations that just happen to produce food. And they're not always well run:
Sysco Corporation, one of the country's largest food distributors, is facing major penalties after NBC Bay Area surveillance cameras caught Sysco employees storing raw meat, milk and vegetables food for hours before taking the food to restaurants all over Northern California.

“I’m shocked,” Pat Kennelly, Food Safety Chief of the California Department of Public Health, said after seeing NBC Bay Area’s exclusive video.

He said 14 state health inspectors fanned out across northern California from Monterey to Fort Bragg Tuesday morning. They were stunned to learn Sysco employees were using outdoor storage units as makeshift warehouses to keep raw meat, milk and other perishable foods for hours before delivering them to restaurants.

Inspectors found evidence of food storage at the sheds, which were un-permitted and not suitable for food. They said Sysco acknowledged it kept these sheds hidden from the state for years. Inspectors found rat droppings, insects and other unsanitary conditions inside the sheds.It was very disappointing to see they were cutting corners and jeopardizing the safety of the [food] product and the people who eat it to be more efficient or to make another sale. That's not an acceptable way to handle food under any circumstance,” Kennelly said.
...
NBC Bay Area surveillance cameras caught drivers making overnight drop offs of chicken, pork, beef, bacon, milk, and vegetables to metal sheds in San Jose, San Francisco, and Concord.

Sysco admitted to inspectors this has been common practice at 14 different sheds throughout Northern California. The company told the state it would immediately break the leases with the storage facilities and stop storing food in these conditions.
Another consequence of living by the bottom line... lower standards, dangerous working conditions, and dangerously negligent business practices.
posted by deanklear at 12:15 AM on October 2, 2013 [9 favorites]


I did not know before I started reading this thread that I would look forward to buying a glossy coffee-table book on authentic regional dining entitled Les plaisirs de la gastronomie Peorienne by Eyebrows McGee.
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 12:16 AM on October 2, 2013 [15 favorites]


The basis of a chain is an industrial process run by unskilled workers.

Then there is the ownership aspect. Chains are not locally owned, a far greater share of the cash in the chain is going to leave the area.



This isn't necessarily the case. There certainly exist chains which are designed to have a similar aesthetic between restaurants but allow individual variation. These tend to be slightly more up market places.

I actually think the money argument is an important one. Its nice to support local enterprise because your money is going more directly to individuals that require it. That said, I'm not going to pay more for lower quality, which can happen some times.
posted by Cannon Fodder at 12:40 AM on October 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


I think some people is pissed off by the combination of:

1. high expected quality and price of artisanal production, and
2. actual mechanized, semi automatized, "mexicanized/chinesized" mass production.

In short, people do not want to pay $10 what they know must cost $1. Imagine how pissed they would be if the knew the actual cost, expecially for chinesized mass production, is closer to $0.01.
posted by elpapacito at 12:44 AM on October 2, 2013 [3 favorites]


deanklear: "If your local coffee shop uses Sysco, a lot of the money goes to Sysco, just as your purchase at Starbucks do. So, in that case, unless the local coffee shop offers the same benefits and pay as the Starbucks, the chain may be a better choice once you factor in how they pay and treat employees."

Good point on the pay and benefits, but I'm also thinking about things like the owner(s) living in the area and contributing to local charities, re-investing in the business, or simply just spending their profits nearby.

Not sure that outweighs something like the health benefits for part time workers that Starbucks provides, and I know that corporate places often support local charities, but these are the things I think about in my mental calculus on local vs chain.
posted by Defenestrator at 12:49 AM on October 2, 2013


Eyebrows McGee, I know exactly what you mean. I absolutely adore Chinese food, but for the year I lived in China, breakfast was always a challenge. The local standard breakfast was cold noodles with a spicy peanut sauce. When I was awake enough, it was absolutely delicious, but not something I could do first thing in the morning. My adventurousness takes some time to wake up. In the meantime, I'd love a piece of toast, or some eggs, if you don't mind.
posted by Ghidorah at 12:58 AM on October 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


Waffle House is a wonderful place. In addition to the variable ways to have hash browns, I'm a huge fan of all of the songs on the Waffle House jukebox that are about Waffle House.

The Waffle House in my town closed recently and it's left me in the lurch- now the only middle of the night options (important to me, since I work nights) are Denny's and Steak and Shake, and neither's a great option.

(Also I knew literally all of the waitstaff at the Waffle House, which makes going to other restaurants at 4am really odd for some reason.)
posted by Pope Guilty at 1:00 AM on October 2, 2013


It's not even a question. Steak and Shake.
posted by Ghidorah at 1:02 AM on October 2, 2013 [9 favorites]


Remember now that a brownie is essentially a cake; a sweet bread typically leavened by baking powder. As such, much of its volume is air.

No, good brownies are denser than cake. They can be chewy or fudgey.

Airy brownies? Not worth your time.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 1:05 AM on October 2, 2013 [8 favorites]


Brownies are meant to be the union of cakey-bready type stuff and fudge, with an emphasis on the fudge side of the equation. Anyone who tries to tell you otherwise is selling you a lie. This is why brownies are superior to cake.
posted by NoraReed at 1:25 AM on October 2, 2013 [5 favorites]


I pass by a small mom and pop coffee shop on my way to Starbucks every morning, which doesn't help with my urban/lefty low self esteem.
posted by nowhere man at 2:24 AM on October 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


Manchester Fog - steamed soy milk with a sugar free vanilla syrup in Earl Grey tea.

This must be a reference to some other Manchester as it surely can't be the one in the North West of England? I'd hazard a guess that neither soy milk nor sugar free syrup have ever passed Mancunian lips.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 2:45 AM on October 2, 2013 [7 favorites]


This is a good thread. But I'm disappointed that nobody to this point has actually produced a density for chocolate brownie.

Also the chain in question is probably Patisserie Valerie, and I'm extraordinary dubious about anywhere in the British Isles having ever being complicit in the manufacture of a London Fog.
posted by cromagnon at 2:50 AM on October 2, 2013


> "Airy brownies? Not worth your time."

Absolutely. A good, rich brownie should be right about at the neutron degeneracy limit, maybe with a density of 4×10^17 kg/m3. So, perhaps about the same as a millisecond pulsar like PSR B1937+21.

If your brownie collapses into a black hole, you have used too much flour.
posted by kyrademon at 2:53 AM on October 2, 2013 [29 favorites]


I'm not a fan of planets. I know, I'm a hypocrite for living on one, but still. They're so big that they hoover up everything near their orbit, leaving nothing but themselves and a few dependent moons, a depressing monoculture. Their gravity is so intense that they smooth themselves out into nearly featureless oblate spheroids. The minor planets are where it's at. Irregular, quirky, hard to find if you don't know where to look. You can keep Jupiter, I want Eros.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 3:05 AM on October 2, 2013 [10 favorites]


justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow: "I'm not a fan of planets. I know, I'm a hypocrite for living on one, but still. They're so big that they hoover up everything near their orbit, leaving nothing but themselves and a few dependent moons, a depressing monoculture. Their gravity is so intense that they smooth themselves out into nearly featureless oblate spheroids. The minor planets are where it's at. Irregular, quirky, hard to find if you don't know where to look. You can keep Jupiter, I want Eros."

Fine, but I have dibs on Pluto. Plenty of lawn for ya'all to get off of.
posted by Samizdata at 3:09 AM on October 2, 2013


Fuck it, I'm having Burger King for dinner.
posted by Hello, I'm David McGahan at 3:12 AM on October 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


Any brownie that has risen like a cake is not a proper brownie! The ideal brownie should have sufficient weight of eggs and melted chocolate, and so little flour, that the raising agent is only barely able to create just enough lift to avoid the awkward situation of a chocolate black hole forming in the oven.

A proper brownie is basically chocolate sauce but easier to eat with your fingers.
posted by emilyw at 3:17 AM on October 2, 2013 [7 favorites]


Obligatory:

Olive Garden Is Here!
posted by fraxil at 4:01 AM on October 2, 2013 [3 favorites]


I had a lovely experience at a Starbucks that I wish to share. I am not sure where Starbucks falls in the hierarchy of evil chains, but anyway. I was behind a barista who had come out from behind the counter and was fretting about people not putting their recycling away. Now, I had always thought that if you have a bag with half a muffin in a tea bag in it, it should go in the garbage, and maybe that's true, but after listening to this barista wish that people with similar items would put it in the recycling, I put it in there. This kid -- hip, urban, probably lefty, but there's plenty of not-well-off hipsters in Philly, was genuinely, like: 'Thank you! That is great you recycled that!' Now at first I was freaked out by somebody being really nice, and then I calmed down and decided it was a nice little one on one interaction, Starbucks be damned.

Also, is there some Red Lobster cultural thing I'm not getting? My class the other day (low income students, if it matters, I don't know Red Lobster) were all, YOU NEVER WENT TO RED LOBSTER WHY? and then proceeded to tell me about their famous biscuits.

I mean, sometimes my students make me wanna bang my head on a desk, but I suspect their reaction to this article would be, "......" for ten seconds and then they would talk about something that was actually relevant to their lives in some way.
posted by angrycat at 4:09 AM on October 2, 2013


This guy isn't a very deep thinker, is he?
posted by Decani at 4:35 AM on October 2, 2013 [3 favorites]


Is this true? Do Americans move around a lot more, per capita, than people in other places, though?

Broadly speaking, yes, (see esp. figure 5), though Denmark and Finland have higher rates of internal migration.


Looking at the same data, it would be fairer to say that Americans are among the more mobile, but they are not exceptional. People in the UK, France, Ireland, and Latvia were only marginally less likely than people in the US to have changed residence over the same period.
posted by pracowity at 4:36 AM on October 2, 2013


If your brownie collapses into a black hole, you have used too much flour.

Otherwise known as the Julia Childs limit.
posted by empath at 4:47 AM on October 2, 2013 [7 favorites]


Red Lobster biscuits are really good.
posted by Jess the Mess at 4:50 AM on October 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


it's always kinda weird watching someone rationalize themselves out of the self-imposed guilt they've built around largely harmless indulgences.
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 4:53 AM on October 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


I think you'd be hard pressed to mistake Paul for anything but a chain. My money is on Patisserie Valerie.

Just came in to wager the same. I saw my first Patisserie Valerie when it appeared on Edinburgh's North Bridge (last year?) and had an "oh, it's a chain" moment when I saw a second one shortly after. Then I thought, hey, I liked Paul in Paris and was sorry when the Edinburgh Airport one disappeared, so what the hell. More patisserie = good patisserie.
posted by rory at 4:55 AM on October 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


So far, all I've found is the density of brownie mix - Bulk Density: 475 kg/m³ (fill density) to 660 kg/m³ - which is at its most dense around half that of Jupiter, per pre-shutdown NASA. how that changes on cooking, I do not know - nor on how Jupiter would change if baked.

However, astrophysics is frequently comfortable with such levels of uncertainty and potential variations in magnitude, and we can hardly hold a food critic to higher standards. I don't think this myth is busted. Yet.

Now, let's build a brownie the size of Jupiter and find out.
posted by Devonian at 5:01 AM on October 2, 2013 [3 favorites]


I will go to Starbucks sometimes if I need a caramel apple spice cider, but living in Manhattan, it's almost embarrassing to go to a chain restaurant. The food is NEVER better there. I make exceptions for Chipotle, though.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 5:01 AM on October 2, 2013


Olive Garden Is Here!

I try to avoid big-box restaurants. I don't dig the giant-warehouse atmosphere, and I don't dig the endless crowds of pop-eyed rubes and teenagers on dates, but for the most part, the food is at least tolerable. So if I'm stuck ... it's not a hard-line rule.

Olive Garden is the exception. It's fucking awful. Like, the pizza place down the block makes pretty terrible pasta, but at least I can eat it out of the foil container on the couch and not have to pretend it's some fancy shit with a tablecloth and some kid with a pepper grinder the size of a Louisville Slugger.

My wife's uncle somehow got it into his head that we like to eat at Olive Garden. We now have $50 worth of gift cards that we don't know how to use. I'm figuring on getting $50 worth of takeout and foisting it upon some unsuspecting Christmas party this year.
posted by uncleozzy at 5:07 AM on October 2, 2013 [3 favorites]


OK. The density of Jupiter is 1.33 g/cm^3. A brownie of 6.99x6.99x2.22cm weighs 56g and has a volume of 108cm^3, giving a density of 0.52g/cm^3. A brownie with the density of Jupiter would have a density two and a half times greater than most brownies. The analogy is fine, it's not his fault some readers don't have an intuitive grasp of planetary density.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 5:14 AM on October 2, 2013 [15 favorites]


One of the more popular 'family' restaurants in Japan is Saizeriya. It's vaguely Italian influenced stuff. It's not that bad, and sometimes it's what's there (the suburbs in Japan are just as devoid of decent non-chain anything, just as suburbs anywhere are). It's cheap, too, and pretty popular.

The thin is, they don't have knives in their kitchens. The don't have any form of preparation that would require them. Things go in the oven, they get boiled, or fried. Everything comes out of the freezer. It's very much not a kitchen, it's an assembly line, and it's not a restaurant so much as a filling station. When I do eat there, I acutely aware that I'm essentially eating for fuel, not for pleasure.

I realize places like Saizeriya exist because the market supports them. I just wish the market wanted a bit more.

the Milano-fu doria is hands down the best thing on the menu
posted by Ghidorah at 5:16 AM on October 2, 2013 [3 favorites]


I love Paul.
posted by 3.2.3 at 5:24 AM on October 2, 2013


I care where my MONEY ends up... This is easily my biggest reason for trending local. Are other people not thinking about this?

Sure, but if the local offerings aren't the same as the stuff a chain is offering, the chain fills a void. I like patisserie, but Edinburgh isn't exactly famous for its cake culture, so Patisserie Valerie offers a chance to have a decent mille-feuille without having to schlep all the way to France. Non-chain pizza here is pretty ordinary stuff, so I don't mind eating at Pizza Express, which is fortunate because my son wants to go there every time we eat out. Coffee chains are welcome, too, when you live in a tea-centric country (and we have a few different ones, so you can easily avoid the dodgy-employer-du-jour). But I wouldn't eat at a chain curry place, if such a thing even exists in Britain, because we're spoiled for local choices there; nor a chain fish-and-chip shop, for the same reason.

I don't want foreign food all the time, so even apart from curry places I do eat at local places as well as at Pizza Express and Costa, but there's a limit to how many neeps and tatties, battered products and pieces of shortbread a man can bear.
posted by rory at 5:34 AM on October 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


Ten or fifteen years ago, one of hallmarks of the intellectually snobby was to claim not to own a TV. They'd dismiss it as a wasteland.

Then, the Golden Age of Television came, and not watching TV could mean missing significant chunks of quality culture.

I believe the phrase they now use is "I don't eat at chains."
posted by MrGuilt at 5:40 AM on October 2, 2013 [5 favorites]


It's really odd that the article mixed up local chains and multinational chains. I understand his point that "Apple good, Starbucks bad" is an odd position to make (though there are no local options to replace things like Apple the way there often are for things like Starbucks), but to compare Starbucks to your local bakery that now has 4 or 10 locations in and around the same city is covering a lot of ground.

I like local chains, actually. A local chain is going to use a local law firm, and a local accounting firm, and local designers, and in general be attached to the community in a way a large chain won't be, and a one-off restaurant might not need to be as much. (I don't specifically avoid larger chains, though there are specific ones I dislike.)
posted by jeather at 5:51 AM on October 2, 2013 [4 favorites]


metafilter: doesn't help with my urban/lefty low self esteem.
posted by DarkForest at 6:02 AM on October 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


I ate at a waffle house for the first time a couple years ago, somewhere in rural north carolina. ...it was good. we wanted to die.

Exactly this. Waffle House is delicious. Food is one area absolutely where Americans feel no compunctions about class signaling. McDonald's food is awful? Ray had it right - it is a delicious product. But, we think the wrong sort people eat there so the food must be awful, right?

Waffle House is delicious. McDonald's is delicious. And guess what? It's...(wait for it)...affordable.

People have 20/20 vision looking down the class ladder but are blind looking up it.
posted by Tanizaki at 6:24 AM on October 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


A brownie of 6.99x6.99x2.22cm weighs 56g and has a volume of 108cm^3, giving a density of 0.52g/cm^3.

I would be interested to see this brownie that would float on water.
posted by Tanizaki at 6:24 AM on October 2, 2013


So if I don’t object to chains in principle, and I don’t object to the goods and services of some chains in particular, then all I’m left with is opposition to chains as a class signifier.
Finally the obvious dawns on him.
posted by edheil at 6:27 AM on October 2, 2013 [4 favorites]


I've only been to Starbucks in Singapore, and their espresso was pretty fucking terrible, but no worse than any other espresso I've had in Singapore, and believe me I went looking. I've not tried any of their other types of 'coffee'. Yes I'm a coffee snob, and here's why:

Apparently there is a grand total of 6 Starbucks in Melbourne, a city of some 3-4 million people or so. There was another one in Carlton, a suburb just north of the CBD known for its Italian restaurants and cafes as a result of post war Italian migrants settling there in large numbers, lasted less than a year or two. There are a couple of reasonably common local chains, but even without those if you're more than a 10-15 minute walk from at least a decent coffee from an independent shop in this town you're living in the outer outer suburbs.

Kevin, the Vietnamese-Australian owner of the cafe at work makes a mean espresso though, and he churns those suckers out.
posted by Hello, I'm David McGahan at 6:27 AM on October 2, 2013


> But, we think the wrong sort people eat there so the food must be awful, right?

That's a big fried strawman. Most people I know don't like McDonald's (or any other burger chain) because they feel like shit after a meal there, not because the "wrong" people eat there. Maybe try to signal less.
posted by planetesimal at 6:30 AM on October 2, 2013 [7 favorites]


I would be interested to see this brownie that would float on water.

Brownies (I guess it depends a bit on whether you like cake brownies or fudge brownies) are fairly porous, so I wouldn't be surprised to see a brownie that was lighter than water.
posted by Comrade_robot at 6:32 AM on October 2, 2013


Most people I know don't like McDonald's (or any other burger chain) because they feel like shit after a meal there, not because the "wrong" people eat there.

Well, I cannot respond to the people you know whom I have never met. But, there is no magical dust in the food at McDonald's that makes it more sickness inducing than anywhere else. The quarter-pounder and fries at McDonald's is going to be the same hamburger and fries you make in your kitchen. The only substantial difference is that the kitchen in a McDonald's has to be in compliance with the local health code. (proud of your clean kitchen? invite the local health inspector over and see if you pass)
posted by Tanizaki at 6:34 AM on October 2, 2013 [4 favorites]


jb: If the ABP you're talking about is the one in New Haven, it's gone. Yale owned the building and kicked them out in favor of someplace much more trendy.
posted by Lazlo Hollyfeld at 6:35 AM on October 2, 2013


Is this something you need a digestive system to understand? I don't even own a duodenum.
posted by dr_dank at 6:38 AM on October 2, 2013 [7 favorites]


The quarter-pounder and fries at McDonald's is going to be the same hamburger and fries you make in your kitchen.

There's a "not" missing in that sentence, right?
posted by mittens at 6:38 AM on October 2, 2013 [5 favorites]


OMG it's the second time in a week I agree with Tanizaki about something! I do happen to think that the burgers at McDonalds are pretty bad, though the fries are excellent. But I'm self-aware enough to understand that part of what you're doing when you eat dinner is affiliating with whatever cultural associations that dinner has for you, and that that affects how McDonald's food tastes to me.

I mean, look, how many times have we seen In N Out praised on MetaFilter! I don't believe it's the case that an In N Out burger tastes better, in any "objective" way, than a Whopper. And yet there aren't any threads about Burger King. Because In N Out has a totally different set of cultural associations. Which makes people enjoy the food more, if those are the cultural associations they want to affiliate with.

I guess where I part ways with Tanizaki is that he seems to think there's something wrong with this, whereas I think it's fine.
posted by escabeche at 6:40 AM on October 2, 2013 [5 favorites]


The quarter-pounder and fries at McDonald's is going to be the same hamburger and fries you make in your kitchen. The only substantial difference is that the kitchen in a McDonald's has to be in compliance with the local health code. (proud of your clean kitchen? invite the local health inspector over and see if you pass)

Well, that, and the fact that I can vouch for the quality of my beef because I was the one who selected it, based on quality at the particular grocery store which I also selected for its quality. Same too with the quality of the buns, the potatoes for the fries, the condiments, etc. (Proud of the quality of the McDonald's beef? Just try to figure out what farm all the ingredients came from and see if you can trust its quality after that.)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:41 AM on October 2, 2013 [5 favorites]


I don't believe it's the case that an In N Out burger tastes better, in any "objective" way, than a Whopper

I do. Well, not a Whopper (which is the finest fast-food sandwich available, naturally), but certainly a Big Mac. I don't do fast food very often, but In-N-Out isn't even the same species as McDonald's or BK. The lettuce and tomato alone are worth the price of admission.
posted by uncleozzy at 6:43 AM on October 2, 2013


In N Out isn't even in the same discussion as a Whopper or a Big Mac. That's ridiculous. The quality of meat is completely different.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 6:48 AM on October 2, 2013


The quarter-pounder and fries at McDonald's is going to be the same hamburger and fries you make in your kitchen

Do you just like trying to score troll points?
posted by planetesimal at 6:52 AM on October 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


More patisserie = good patisserie.

I suspect my scepticism about Paul comes from the fact that the one I'm most familiar with is the one at Euston Station.

I do like Patisserie Valerie -- their stuff is great. However, I struggle to come to terms with the fact that they've been expanding like crazy, whereas the local artisan bakery at the end of my street -- Satterthwaites of Crosby -- have just gone bust. (Now reopened under new ownership.)

Probably because they sold their cakes for a third of the price of Patisserie Valerie, despite the quality being at least as good.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 6:53 AM on October 2, 2013


though the fries are excellent

WTF? Have those things even seen a potato?
posted by PeterMcDermott at 6:56 AM on October 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


Well, that, and the fact that I can vouch for the quality of my beef because I was the one who selected it, based on quality at the particular grocery store which I also selected for its quality. Same too with the quality of the buns, the potatoes for the fries, the condiments, etc.

This strikes me as fantastical thinking. What do you know about the slaughterhouse that supplies your grocery store. Can you even name it? Even if so, how is its beef somehow "better for you"? I wonder what sort of qualification is needed to judge the inherent quality of potatoes.

I would be curious to know about the virtues of some Williamsburg artisanal ketchup over Heinz.
posted by Tanizaki at 6:56 AM on October 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


WTF? Have those things even seen a potato?

I don't know, but they sure as hell have seen the inside of my mouth.
posted by escabeche at 6:57 AM on October 2, 2013 [6 favorites]


I tend to be culinarily adventurous; I try to avoid the national/international chains when I travel. But, as someone pointed out above, it comes with a price: I've had a lot of good meals, but I've also had a number of...I can't quite say bad, because I'm near-omnivorous and there's very few foods I don't like, but meals that were decidedly less good than what I could've gotten at chains for a much lower price.

Similarly with movies: I go to a few film festivals a year, and I've seen a lot of good movies I wouldn't have otherwise seen, but I've seen some klunkers too. I've gone to films that literally put me to sleep. I've gone to films that I wished would put me to sleep.

But I can't fault those who take a more conservative approach and want the tried-and-acceptable, even if it's not outstanding, who aren't willing to risk eating a bad meal or seeing a bad movie in the hope of getting a good one. Because I'm just that conservative when it comes to hotels: all other things being equal, or even moderately unequal, I'll take the chain over the independent mom-and-pop motel (or even the large independent hotel) when I can. I'll go with the I-know-what-I'm-going-to-get approach there. Maybe it's because I'm less willing to gamble when a night's sleep is at stake, or maybe because my success ratio is a lot lower with independent hotels than it is with restaurants or movies. But it's possible for a person to be adventurous when it comes to some type of businesses and conservative with others, so I don't feel I can judge those who are conservative for restaurants just because the adventurous approach works for me personally.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 6:58 AM on October 2, 2013 [5 favorites]


[A few comments removed. Do not bait your fellow Mefites with assumptions about religion and/or geographical location, please. They're a varied bunch.]
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 6:58 AM on October 2, 2013


WTF? Have those things even seen a potato?
posted by PeterMcDermott


Far more info about McDonalds fries, and how to recreate them at home (because yes they are delicious), than you could possibly desire.
posted by chalkbored at 7:03 AM on October 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


uncleozzy: If you're not a teetotaler and the smell of the restaurant doesn't bother you, most Olive Gardens have a bar. I don't expect there to be life-changing variety, but still.

There's also always regifting.

(The only item I don't regret eating later at Olive Garden is their breadsticks, so...)


Also, Metafilter: The discussion will turn.
posted by seyirci at 7:04 AM on October 2, 2013


WTF? Have those things even seen a potato?

Say what you will about the rest of McD's offerings, their fries are, indeed, cut from actual potatoes and are damned good.
posted by Thorzdad at 7:05 AM on October 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


Jupiter Cake
posted by Segundus at 7:08 AM on October 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


This strikes me as fantastical thinking. What do you know about the slaughterhouse that supplies your grocery store. Can you even name it? Even if so, how is its beef somehow "better for you"?

I am the least foodie person I know, but you don't need to know about the slaughterhouse. If I'm buying beef, I want to know that it's been hung properly. You rarely get that information in a supermarket -- you certainly won't if it isn't a supermarket without a butcher's counter.

If I'm making burgers, I also want to know what cuts are being used. Again, my butcher gives me that information. Well, I choose the cuts and he minces the beef for me. Some people might be happy with burgers made from sheeps testicles and hogs bung -- just as some people are happy to eat McNuggets made from pink slime. Personally, I think they test awful.

It's not a snob thing though. I'm happy to live on cheap sugary cereals most of the time. But if I'm eating meat, I'm not going to spend money on stuff that tastes like crap.

I wonder what sort of qualification is needed to judge the inherent quality of potatoes.

You really can't tell the difference between a King Edward and a Maris Piper -- despite the fact that one is floury and the other is waxy? (Insert regional varieties to taste.)
posted by PeterMcDermott at 7:10 AM on October 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


most Olive Gardens have a bar. I don't expect there to be life-changing variety, but still.

Oh, man ... mrs ozzy is with child, so I'm thinking maybe she can have unlimited salad and breadsticks, and I can have 5 or 6 mediocre beers. This sounds like a plan.
posted by uncleozzy at 7:13 AM on October 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


The quarter-pounder and fries at McDonald's is going to be the same hamburger and fries you make in your kitchen

This is somewhat valid for a lot of people I'm sure. Lots of people buy the least expensive ground beef and other ingredients from the least expensive store. Especially if they're going to be eating hamburgers a lot. Those boxed Bubba Burger frozen patties that I've had at cookouts where someone wanted to grill for 50 people are about McDonald's quality, I'm guessing.

A couple of years ago a bunch of us from church chipped in on A Cow from a local-organic-grass-fed-beef farmer, butchered by a local butcher. The meat was fantastic, and not much more expensive than most grocery-store meat. But getting everyone (maybe 15 -20 people) together to pick up and divvy up their beef was organizationally difficult. Some people just wanted steaks of a certain cut, some only wanted ground chuck, etc. so there was wheeling and dealing to get everyone the meat they wanted. It took most of an afternoon. My family got five pounds of great, delicious, organic-single-cow ground-beef. We had to freeze most of it, and it was way less convenient than going to a grocery store and getting five pounds of Bubba Burgers.

So yeah, more of the home-cooked burgers I've had in my life have probably been closer to McDonalds than to Single-Cow, Grass-Fed, Organic burgers.
posted by Cookiebastard at 7:19 AM on October 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


Far more info about McDonalds fries, and how to recreate them at home (because yes they are delicious), than you could possibly desire.

That was really interesting. I obviously haven't eaten enough of them. When I have had them, they've always seemed like a poor imitation of the things they sell on the streets in Belgium and The Netherlands (which truly are delicious.)

Here in the UK, they often seem limp and soggy, and the potato has turned to mush. I'd always assumed they used some kind of reconstituted potato.

But I don't eat at the Golden Arches often. (Or ever, if I can help it.) And when I have in the past, it probably wasn't at peak hour, thus avoiding optimum French Fry condition.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 7:20 AM on October 2, 2013


This strikes me as fantastical thinking. What do you know about the slaughterhouse that supplies your grocery store. Can you even name it? Even if so, how is its beef somehow "better for you"?

We try and stay out of Whole Foods as much as we can purely because we're not independently wealthy, but we do buy (and happily pay extra for) our beef there, as our local branch shares information on the farms their beef is raised on, the facilities it's processed in, and gives me some reassurance the meat is as pesticide and antibiotic free as possible.

I realize this isn't possible everywhere, but it can't be that difficult to discover what you seem to find "fantastical" -
posted by jalexei at 7:21 AM on October 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


I went to graduate school in the village, and there were two coffee shops on my block. One very expensive, fairly high quality hipster coffee shop that only hired young white hip-looking folks, played the latest indie music, and was always full, and the other which sold really good coffee, for crazy cheap, with a staff of people of color who always remembered how you liked your coffee in the morning, even if their ability to carry on a conversation in English was limited. The trendy one put the other one out of business within a year or so, and yes I'm still bitter about it. So I guess my point is that sometimes "independent" is actually quite a different thing than mom-and-pop, and unfortunately I think mom-and-pop actually carries less authenticity than the former in certain places.
posted by likeatoaster at 7:21 AM on October 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


McDonald's food is awful? Ray had it right yt - it is a delicious product. But, we think the wrong sort people eat there so the food must be awful, right?

You've never actually read Fast Food Nation, have you?
posted by asterix at 7:24 AM on October 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


This strikes me as fantastical thinking. What do you know about the slaughterhouse that supplies your grocery store. Can you even name it? Even if so, how is its beef somehow "better for you"?

At the very least, its beef does not include pink slime.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:29 AM on October 2, 2013 [3 favorites]


Steak and Shake [is not] a great option.

I WILL FUCKING CUT YOU.

(and Roger Ebert's ghost will haunt you)
posted by Etrigan at 7:29 AM on October 2, 2013 [4 favorites]


thus avoiding optimum French Fry condition.

They do go downhill fast.
posted by mikelieman at 7:30 AM on October 2, 2013


I'm in Atlanta, so I typically have a choice: Chain dining, or artisanal, uppity, food.

I've got a system, which is going to taste better to me right now? Pork Fried Rice and that special chicken they only have on the lunch menu at Oriental Pearl, or PF Changs? Sometimes, PF Changs wins. I can get brown rice.

Vintage Pizza will always win out over Dominos, even though we have to go get it, and they don't have gluten free (I'll get a burger.)

Farm Burger is good, and I wish I could afford to spend $50 every time I want a burger. Wendy's has a perfectly nice tasting burger though, and they'll make it without bun for me.

At some point you have to put the politics and snobbery and plain old posing aside and just decide, in the moment, what makes sense to eat?

For fuck's sake, it's only food.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:33 AM on October 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


Say what you will about the rest of McD's offerings, their fries are, indeed, cut from actual potatoes and are damned good.

I actually saw a bit on this in the PBS film they made from Pollan's "Botany of Desire" (he picks about 5-6 different plants and analyzes how they've adapted/humans have adapted them to suit different human needs/whims). They discussed that yes, the fast food places all indeed use real potatoes in their fries. The disadvantage, though, is that they all use only one kind of potato - one that naturally produces pretty consistently long and straight tubers, so they can whack one through a mandoline and consistently get a decent number of the right length of fries out of it.

Which indeed in and of itself is good. It's a real potato, grown in a real field. The only danger there is that if a blight comes along that affects that one kind of potato, the fast food places are screwed.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:36 AM on October 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


The quarter-pounder and fries at McDonald's is going to be the same hamburger and fries you make in your kitchen.

This is seriously one of the most insane opinions I have ever read on metafilter.
posted by the bricabrac man at 7:39 AM on October 2, 2013 [13 favorites]


Patisserie Valerie has really nice cakes; I didn't go there a lot, but they offered valuable table space and extended hours over the other nice local cafes, especially during exam season. They're also a small chain compared to the multinationals and not really in the same price bracket as McDonald's, so that may not be the best point of comparison...
posted by jetlagaddict at 7:40 AM on October 2, 2013


I have three primary choices for quick snacks in my town: Starbucks, Dunkin, and a local cafe.

Like a not-insignificant number of people, I'm a low carb eater. Care to guess which of these establishments reliably offers snacks that I will eat, once I give someone else the components I won't?

Only this one.
posted by gnomeloaf at 7:43 AM on October 2, 2013


My perfect fast food meal would be an In 'n' Out Double Double and a large fry from McDonald's. I often find myself getting a McDouble with an extra patty from McD's if I need a quick and cheap lunch. For about $1.60, you get 31 grams of protein, 33 grams of carbs, and 26 grams of fat for a total of 480 calories. It's the french fries that'll make you fat. Those delicious, crunchy, salty french fries...
posted by entropicamericana at 7:53 AM on October 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


WRT tea (and a bit about tea snobbery), here's Joe Hill on tea. He says that it's easier to get a decent cup in San Francisco than London, and WRT Tazo Awake:
Look, I know you get zero Hipster points for drinking something so dreadfully common but spare me your snobbery and pour yourself a mug. You’ll feel better after you’re done.
Also, WRT chamomile:
I had a mistrust of the weirdly urine-like color of most chamomiles. If I wanted to drink my own urine I’d go drift aimlessly in a lifeboat somewhere. But Chamomile Twist - yeah. This is different. I usually have a cup of this before bed and look forward to it all day. It’s got zing, you bastards, and in this hard old world, you aren’t anything if you don’t have that.
posted by Halloween Jack at 7:55 AM on October 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


The last time I was in London, I got a sandwich at Boots. Bleh. Never again. So bland.

I used to work at McDonald's as a teen in the late 80s, right at the time they changed the fry oil from 100% beef tallow to 50% vegetable oil/50% tallow. And the nuggets were new! Every so often, I'll get a hankering for them and I'll get a McNugget meal, but the fries? Meh. The fries haven't tasted right to me since the oil switch. I like the burgers I make better than McDonald's, and when I want a good burger I didn't make? Shake Shack all the way.

KFC's chicken doesn't taste the same either; I had it a few months ago after not having had it since I was a teen.

And where I live, the Latin (mainly Puerto Rican /Dominican) mom and pop restaurants most certainly order their staples from Sysco. Ain't no shame in their game, I see the trucks every day. I don't eat at those places, not after having to eat so much rice and beans as a kid (not served together, though), and like Cheerios and corn flakes, they were what my guardian could afford, so she bought a lot of that sort of thing. Starches fill you up for cheap. It's as a consequence of being that damn poor that I can't stand white bread, rice, beans, Cheerios, or any of that sort of stuff now.

It's almost sad how even now, being able to go to an actual restaurant is still a bit of a thing for me since we couldn't go as kids even to a fast food place without someone else paying for all of us. I didn't go to my first sit-down place until I was 17, and it was a Red Lobster. Living in NYC has been great, food-wise. Except for the German food. I still don't think NYC has any German restaurants nearly as good as what I was able to get in Wisconsin once I was able to afford my own food.
posted by droplet at 7:58 AM on October 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


At least in theory, a large chain will be forced to insure its full-time employees under the Affordable Care Act. They also have HR departments. I'm sure many small businesses are lovely places to work, but in my experience if you work at one with a stupid or malevolent owner, you're fucked. There are certainly incompetent managers in chains, but there's at least have some downward pressure from corporate not to be a complete fuckup, and there's some recourse for disgruntled customers. If Joe at Joe's Pizza is an asshole, there's no one else to complain to.
posted by desjardins at 7:58 AM on October 2, 2013 [3 favorites]


Oh, come to think of it, the Waffle House I frequented wasn't the one I think people are thinking of, with the yellow signs. You know in the Waffle House Wikipedia entry where it mentions the Indiana chain? That's the one. Specifically, it's the Bloomington one which was apparently the oldest. Fucking shame.
posted by Pope Guilty at 7:58 AM on October 2, 2013


Well I think part of the issue with one-note chains like Chipotle is that they're, well, one-note chains.

Chipotle used to be a hole-in-the-wall. The original opened up in my neighborhood. (Yes, it's true! I am a Chipotle hipster.)

It was always a burrito place. I don't remember too clearly, and never got anything but burritos there, but I think the menu might have been even more limited then than it is now.

I still go to Chipotle sometimes, but I have a new hole in the wall burrito place now. It's a teeny tiny little takeout place, only open very limited hours because it's a one woman show. Her menu is surprisingly expansive, but it's just a bunch of different configurations of the same basic ingredients.

I tend not to go to large restaurant chains very often, but that's because I don't eat out all that often. If I'm actually going out to sit down and eat, I want something interesting. I don't judge people who eat out a lot and want consistency, but I cook a lot and I'm good at it, so I'm not interested in going someplace where I feel someone's heating up a TV dinner for me.

And I support small local businesses because I like the idea of keeping money in my community. The fact that I have a few really good little local restaurants nearby helps, but if the quality of the food were identical to a chain, I'd still choose the locally owned business because they are my homeys.
posted by ernielundquist at 7:59 AM on October 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


But Chamomile Twist - yeah. This is different. I usually have a cup of this before bed and look forward to it all day. It’s got zing, you bastards, and in this hard old world, you aren’t anything if you don’t have that.

CHAMOMILE IS SUPPOSED TO BE A MELLOW THING IT'S NOT SUPPOSED TO "ZING" WHAT THE FUCK IS THIS MADNESS
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:03 AM on October 2, 2013 [5 favorites]


Joe Hill is right: Tazo Awake is very good strong black tea. (I use milk but no sugar in mine.) It used to be weak and barely adequate, but a couple of years ago they started using much better tea in muslin bags. It's too pricey for me as a regular drink -- Yorkshire Gold or even President's Choice will do for home use -- but if I'm downtown and have a choice between Starbucks and some other chain (Second Cup, I am disappoint), or a typical indie coffee shop, I'll go for the mermaid.
posted by maudlin at 8:09 AM on October 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


Everyone has this image of the idyllic small-town diner, but having driven across the US this past summer, most of those places are actually really bad.

I've travelled quite a bit around the U.S., Canada and Mexico on my motorcycle, and I've eaten extremely well while avoiding chains. The key is to stay away from major highways... they're just chock full of crap. The secondary roads are so much more pleasant and you can travel almost as fast (in America in particular).

I've had great luck with small local bakeries. If they can make fresh bread, they can probably make good coffee and sandwiches.
posted by letitrain at 8:10 AM on October 2, 2013


Everyone has this image of the idyllic small-town diner, but having driven across the US this past summer, most of those places are actually really bad.

The thing to remember is that if there's a big line of people at a small-town diner, then take the time to wait. The local diners that aren't stuffed full of locals are unpopular for a reason.
posted by Etrigan at 8:13 AM on October 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


Waffle House is a wonderful place.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency uses Waffle House as a yardstick to measure natural disasters against.

(While I'd like to say it's in the form of "That tornado hit the town as severely as a greasy plate of smothered and covered hits your colon", but alas, it's because the chain has best-in-class disaster preparedness procedures in place. If FEMA rolls in on a disaster area, and the local Waffle House is actually closed up, and not at least open serving a partial menu, they know that it has really hit the fan there. Apparently, like the cockroach, it's hard to kill a Waffle House. And they're about as prolific.)
posted by radwolf76 at 8:14 AM on October 2, 2013 [9 favorites]


But I wouldn't eat at a chain curry place, if such a thing even exists in Britain, because we're spoiled for local choices there

Well, I wrote this before I realised that the photo at the top of the main article was a chain curry place (a small London-only chain)... and I take it back. I'd try one of those. I doubt I'd eat at them all the time, though, because that would get boring. (How I wish I could eat at any curry place all the time. No eating out for you, parent of young children, unless it's pizza-based...)
posted by rory at 8:17 AM on October 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


I dearly wish we could describe foods made at the point of sale without invoking that execrable word "artisanal." You know who bakes wonderful breads, made by hand with sincerity? A baker. The maker of a lovely grass fed goat milk camembert? A cheesemaker. They're makers, not "artisans."

We have this bizarre instinct to honor the seemingly humble by turning it into art, when we really could just honor the joy of simple things without the counter-urge to puff simplicity up into the divine and/or magical. We hate the humble, though, even when we actually love it, so we invent this artisanal priesthood of magical food makers that pass our tests. Too bad.

Some time back, I decided I was sick of eating stuff made of ingredients, by which I mean food made of processed foods made of other processed foods made of other foods and weird business-dictated adulterants, and I've done awfully well, for the most part, in my shopping habits. Is this item made of ingredients, or is it an ingredient? If it's made of ingredients, are they themselves ingredients, or stacks of other things?

Explaining this mode to people gets me a lot of rolled eyes, I admit, but I can also claim it as a whole foods diet and go with that, though too few people remember the whole foods movement and too many remember the world's second most sanctimonious grocery chain for rich people, alas.

Eating out, the question is "is this food good and worthy and not just an assemblage of kit parts?"

Sometimes, because America is not a land of lovers of homemade things, you're just stuck. Out on the road with my riding buddy, we'll stop for gas, hang our helmets on our mirrors, and ponder the midday meal.

"I'm hungry. Food or Sysco Cafe?"

Sysco Cafe is part of our lexicon that means any place that serves a menu of Sysco frozen ingredientfood, and we will, occasionally stop at a Sysco Cafe, largely because there's a consistency to such things that's useful on the road, by which I mean it will generally give you some caloric energy and not cause you to crap your pants. Food, on the other hand, means the little dives and ma and pop joints and hippie-run places, and there are wonderful roadside stops where you roll the die and maybe put a pin in your mental map of good places to go.

I was on my way to band camp a month ago, with a box of tiny synthesizers strapped across my panniers, and the jagged route I took between here and Huguenot, NY is a mix of Sysco Cafes, McClones, and little roadside question marks, and because I'd already broken my budget by going to band camp while unemployed, I stopped for lunch in a small riverside park, parked my bike right along the water's edge, and pulled out my lunchbox.

Used the Leatherman to hack off two nice thick chunks of no-knead bread (ingredients: whole wheat flour, honey, yeast, salt), opened up a jar of peanut butter (ingredients: peanuts), and smeared on PB and a bit of F.R.O.G. jam from an Amish market (ingredients: figs, raspberries, orange juice, ginger, pectin, and lemon juice), and listened to the river flowing and the birds singing and the conversation of people in canoes, off in the distance.

I sat and the day was clear and beautiful and my pinched nerve was sending less imaginary cartoon lightning bolts into my arm, and I packed my jars and my bread back in the pannier, suited up again, and headed north.

For an early dinner, I had a McChicken and a McDouble and some of my remaining Maryland water from my canteen, and while both of those foods are horrifying on a number of scales of quantifying horror, I had a pleasant enough meal for two bucks and change and was able to use the free wifi to blather on Facebook about my trip. Thing is—when you stop eating gross factory food for most of your meals, and return to some level of involvement in the process of feeding yourself, the occasional forays into gross factory food just become a shrug, or a treat on the order of a post-sex cigarette. We're wrecking the world on diets of all or nearly all factory food, not on the occasional foray into pink slime set up into a gray burger that you dip into a pool of gelatinous hot mustard sauce from an encrusted stainless steel pump.

When I'm feeling nostalgic and glum and like I'm going to die alone and unpublished and having alienated all my friends with my fixations, I can also climb on the bicycle, ride to McDonalds, and sit in the same exact booth in the same exact McDonalds where I had my first and nearly last date ever with a girl, thirty years ago, on which I ate my first ever McNuggets and found them delicious in the same way frozen fish sticks were delicious. It is a concession to sentiment, and I have no idea what a McNugget tastes like, except that it tastes like having just watched Purple Rain at the theater where your little fuzz mustache let you pass for seventeen for the R and having a long conversation afterward about Prince, life, school, and the world that was still expanding and undulating around us like the future of choices all billowing outward from that point.

Whether it's artisanal and the product of some mythical food artist working for the divine love of food or puzzle pieces stamped out of leathery paste-chicken, it's all some concoction of dead bird meat from a bird that did not get to live long or well.

If you want to eat like an artisan, be one. Cook at home and don't find yourself in the constant need of instant gratification that comes from living on the conveyor belt. Make food and carry it with you. Make food and have your friends over, or take it to your friends' homes. Bring enough to share at work. It's all still cheaper than eating all those little indulgence meals out each day, every day, because life has trained you to need need need a little reward every few hours because you hate your job/life/relationships/routines. Sign up for Mint or something similar, and track how much you spend on instant gratification eating over a year, and at the end of it, think of what you could have done with the thousands of dollars that you, a thoughtful person who doesn't spend that much on convenience foods, spent on convenience foods.

For me, that was the end of my indulgences—finding that, in 2011, I'd spent roughly $2600 on lunches, coffee, and snacks during work. Maybe if I was wealthier, that wouldn't matter, but for me, $2600 could have been a trip to Iceland or a set of fancy aluminum luggage for my motorcycle and a two-week camping trip in Canada. It could have been a decent modular synthesizer or getting my eyes and teeth fixed. Instead, it was munching a fucking cobblestone at Panera every other day with soup and coffee, or riding the free bus over to Fells Point for proper espresso at the ma and pa Italian place with a sandwich. Worst part is that I spent less than the national average, even.

Is the sense we have of being out of time and overwhelmed something we're trained to believe in order to feed this market, or is it true? Is the sense I got of feeling like my stress was receding when I took my usual routine of making a gourmet cooked breakfast each and every morning and expanded it to lunch and snacks and dinners a fluke borne out of the smugness of imagining myself to be doing something better than I had been? If you slot out the storefront routines and replace them with routines of your own devising, will your life be better, worse, or just different? It'll definitely be a lot less expensive.

In the end, replacing the routines with home-sourced routines saved me enough money that, after being laid off, I can leverage my unemployment and my savings into a long enough stretch of not having to work for some awful middle management tyrant that I can finish my damn book, prepare a new version of my one-man-show and book some venues, and still just get on the motorcycle and ride to West Virginia because I want to sit at the side of the train tracks where the mountain bends around them, relaxed in the dark of the cityless night, and watch the brilliant stars overhead while the coal trains rumble by like thunder.

Life is short. Live slowly.
posted by sonascope at 8:18 AM on October 2, 2013 [33 favorites]


uncleozzy: "My wife's uncle somehow got it into his head that we like to eat at Olive Garden. We now have $50 worth of gift cards that we don't know how to use. I'm figuring on getting $50 worth of takeout and foisting it upon some unsuspecting Christmas party this year."

Olive Garden is owned by the same company that owns Red Lobster and their gift cards are interchangeable. So $50 should get you a fair supply of garlicky, buttery, salty biscuits.
posted by ArgentCorvid at 8:29 AM on October 2, 2013 [3 favorites]


tl;dr: Life is short.
posted by applemeat at 8:30 AM on October 2, 2013 [4 favorites]


Defenestrator: "Starbucks makes a buck in profit off of me and 50% of it (or more, I really have no idea) winds up in the corporate coffers far away from the city I love. My local coffee shop makes a dollar off of me and it's much more likely to make its way back into the local economy (at least I assume)."

At least you admit you're unsure of this. SBUX has a profit margin of 10 percent. Which is pretty high, but not 50 percent high. So I mean, if you can save 10 percent and donate the savings to a local charity, you're doing at least as well on the 'keep money local' warfront. In franchise chains, the fees typically range from 4-6 percent.

But I also personally challenge the assumption that local is better. What makes my neighbors more worthy of my money than someone across the state, or across the nation? As a transplant, I don't find the notion of my purchase putting money in the pockets of Texan cattle ranchers or Kansan wheat farmers an inherent moral wrong. In fact, I feel that keeping money local, if such a thing is possible, mostly means increased rents. As a renter myself, I don't find this a particularly beneficial goal, or benefit anyone I particularly feel needs the help.
posted by pwnguin at 8:32 AM on October 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


You've never actually read Fast Food Nation, have you?

Dude, you should really read some Michael Pollan. That will really blow your hair back.
posted by Tanizaki at 8:41 AM on October 2, 2013


At the very least, its beef does not include pink slime.

Neither dies the beef at McDonald's, as noted in the Wikipedia article you linked.
posted by Tanizaki at 8:42 AM on October 2, 2013


What makes my neighbors more worthy of my money than someone across the state, or across the nation?

Nothing, but what makes the Starbucks CEO more worthy of your money then Cathy from Cathy's Coffee?
posted by desjardins at 8:45 AM on October 2, 2013


desjardins: "What makes my neighbors more worthy of my money than someone across the state, or across the nation?

Nothing, but what makes the Starbucks CEO more worthy of your money then Cathy from Cathy's Coffee?
"

Shit if I know, I don't like drinking coffee, so they can both rot?

To answer your hypothetical, the only answer I can give you is that managing Cathy's Coffee is not the same skillset as growing a coffeehouse empire.
posted by pwnguin at 8:54 AM on October 2, 2013


> A brownie of 6.99x6.99x2.22cm weighs 56g and has a volume of 108cm^3, giving a density of 0.52g/cm^3.

So you're saying a brownie has half the density of water and thus would float, and float high? Sorry, don't believe it for one second.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 8:57 AM on October 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


Neither dies the beef at McDonald's, as noted in the Wikipedia article you linked.

The Wikipedia article I linked - which I did read before linking, thanks - says that McDonald's says they don't use it any more.

The fact that they used it at all makes me not 100% inclined to trust them on that score, or to trust that there isn't some other additive we just don't know about yet.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:00 AM on October 2, 2013


Is the sense we have of being out of time and overwhelmed something we're trained to believe in order to feed this market, or is it true?

There's something to be said for being conscious of what conveniences you are willing to compromise for.

My example of this was what happened when our last coffee-maker died. We wanted something that wasn't a big plastic boily contraption, so went for a Chemex. The Chemex made much better coffee, but was temperamental, and you had to attend to it, carefully pouring the water in, not too fast so the grounds didn't slosh, not so slowly that the grounds on the edges dried out. Suddenly coffee was taking twice as long in the morning, but it was a kind of waking-up ritual, folding the filter just so, heating the water to boiling then letting it cool down a bit.

But then, pre-ground beans didn't fit the whole Chemex experience, and so we started grinding our own beans. At first this would involve grinding several day's worth at once, but then our electric grinder started spitting metal shavings into the grounds, which added an unpleasantly bloody aftertaste after a full mouthfuls, so we went for a hand grinder, and moved to just grinding enough coffee for the morning. Suddenly what had been a ten minute ritual turned into half an hour.

Soon after that, when I found myself researching how to roast one's own beans while developing carpal tunnel from the hand grinder, I realized there was no end to how complicated I could make the process. And I had to admit that while all this was interesting, I'm not even a connoisseur. I don't move in any circles that care about the quality of coffee, so I couldn't even earn points for all the extra work. It was just another way to fill the minutes until death.

So now I'm just boiling the water in the microwave and sloshing it over Big Corporation Grounds, which is just enough complication for one morning. Instead, I have to get my big DIY satisfaction from other projects--preferably entire meals for the whole house, rather than two cups a day that no one will taste but me.
posted by mittens at 9:03 AM on October 2, 2013 [7 favorites]


I realized there was no end to how complicated I could make the process

And THANK G-D for that opportunity! Me? I stopped after realizing I could get what I wanted by just making sure I used the same coffee, the same amount of grounds ( by weight ) and the same amount of water ( by volume ). THEN turning the hot plate off as soon as it's brewed, and emptying the basket to prevent overextraction.

But really, that's ALL I do....

preferably entire meals for the whole house

My chicken pot pie is killer, and I'd rather put the hour into that, too...
posted by mikelieman at 9:07 AM on October 2, 2013


Let me also second the opinion expressed above - I never, ever go to chains if I have any choice because they generally treat their workers like shit. I've had many friends who've worked for chains, and with the exception of Starbucks, they've all been treated badly - so my assumption is that these underpaid, badly-treated workers are not going to give a shit about my food.

I've had several friends who worked (and perhaps still work) for Starbucks, and spoke highly of them as employers. My trouble with Starbucks is that their coffee isn't really very good, though perhaps I was particularly badly affected by trying to get a drinkable cup of coffee in Glasgow (I love the Scottish, but for some reason Glasgow seems to have almost uniformly dreadful coffee...)

There's also the issue of "local ownership". We have a local coffeeshop that's been there for a very long time. The same people work there for many years... It's the sort of place where I'm wondering where my cappuccino is, and then the barista comes out and says, "Sorry, your cappuccino didn't come out right so I'm making it again." It's in a hipster neighborhood but hasn't changed its decor since before the area was hip.

I also frequent this restaurant a few doors down. The owner/manager has lived in the building since he was a kid. He jokes about underpaying his workers, in front of them! - but they're the same workers he's had for many years, they seem to be really cheerful, he even manages to keep them laughing during the rush shift, and they seem to have decent civilian clothes, so my theory is that this isn't true.

Another favorite is this one - I've been coming there for well over 20 years, and it's been the same management ever since I was first there.

I never even thought about it before, but the fact is that I go to these places (particularly the Red Bowl and Teddy's) because I have a long-running relationship with the staff and management, and because my money is staying in the neighborhood.

If you're using this post for food recommendations in NYC, consider also Angelica Kitchen, which is a truly Great veggie place which I believe also has continuity of local management...)
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 9:17 AM on October 2, 2013


If you're using this post for food recommendations in NYC, consider also Angelica Kitchen, which is a truly Great veggie place which I believe also has continuity of local management...)

And if you're not in NYC, they have a cookbook!
posted by mittens at 9:25 AM on October 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


> so we went for a hand grinder, and moved to just grinding enough coffee for the morning. Suddenly what had been a ten minute ritual turned into half an hour.

Come on. You can get perfectly good electric grinders that don't cost that much money and will last for years. For somewhat more, but still less than $100, you can get a solid metal electric grinder that will last you for decades. I just turn a dial on my grinder and it grinds out enough coffee for a pot.

We make hopelessly twee coffee - fair trade beans (Indonesian French Roast), raw sugar, organic half-and-half and a French press. It rocks. Honestly, it takes very little time, and most of that is cleaning the French press (and that's still 2 minutes...) We're lazy, we simply wouldn't do it if it took time. The one step we added recently was that we pour the coffee into a thermos immediately, so that last cup is still delicious. Total expenses: $20 for the French press, $20 for the thermos, and $90 for the grinder (I splurged there, but that's still about $20 a year, and that number decreases every day). Total time: 10 minutes. Total cost: somewhat over $1 a cup.

Now I want that other cup sitting in the thermos. Bye!

(Oh, and the burr grinder really did improve the taste of the coffee immensely. I was surprised as I usually wake up with a stuffy nose, but there's a dramatic change in the taste if you're able to pick the grind you want...)
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 9:28 AM on October 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


Tanizaki: I would be interested to see this brownie that would float on water.

lupus_yonderboy: So you're saying a brownie has half the density of water and thus would float, and float high? Sorry, don't believe it for one second.

Brownies are porous, so if you put one directly into water, it would absorb the water and possibly sink. If you wrapped it in watertight plastic, it would float. Most foods are less dense than water. Unless everyone on Metafilter eats brownies laced with lead or something?
posted by TheophileEscargot at 9:33 AM on October 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


I take your point about how quality and DIY for things is pretty awesome, but not everyone has the money in the budget to make themselves a posh cup of coffee every morning. Implying it's their fault they don't want to make the time to do so, it is where it gets a bit weird.
posted by Kitteh at 9:33 AM on October 2, 2013 [3 favorites]


One of my main objections to big chain food is this sort of creeping midwesternism. You know, the type of food that's bland, inoffensive, and gets all its appeal from fat, salt, and sugar. (I have even heard that Pace makes a special blue lid salsa only sold in the midwest that literally has NO chiles in it at all. So it's just chunky tomatoes and salt.)

I'm in the southwest, and when I go on road trips, I have always liked stopping at little family owned diners for their regional foods, particularly green chilis. But the last time I went on a road trip, the highway was lined with Cracker Barrels. I don't want southern food. I don't want biscuits and gravy. I don't want midwestern food. I want something that's not bland and inoffensive. I like spicy food and other things that aren't appealing to fussy children.

That totally makes good business sense, if you're trying to create a product for a huge market. You want to come up with something palatable and inoffensive that would be right at home on a kids' menu, and that rules out a lot of the things I enjoy most about food.

Disclaimer: I have never actually eaten at a Cracker Barrel, so I'm going by what I have heard about it.
posted by ernielundquist at 9:41 AM on October 2, 2013


Unless everyone on Metafilter eats brownies laced with lead or something?

I vote for "or something."
posted by Etrigan at 9:43 AM on October 2, 2013 [7 favorites]


Disclaimer: I have never actually eaten at a Cracker Barrel

Imagine a chicken squeezed between two loaves of sourdough before being lowered into a deep fryer, then the fryer is submerged into a vat of gravy, and then some plows and rakes and reproductions of old-timey signs are thrown into the vat as well. Now you are at Cracker Barrel.
posted by mittens at 9:46 AM on October 2, 2013 [8 favorites]


Let's not overlook the real tragedy here, which is that the author is listening to his music on Beats.
posted by Lutoslawski at 9:46 AM on October 2, 2013 [8 favorites]


> but not everyone has the money in the budget to make themselves a posh cup of coffee every morning.

My claim is that you can always make a good cup of coffee cheaply - if you're willing to experiment.

The biggest expense is the beans... I was dead broke for many years, so I'd use Café Bustello or similar ultra-cheap hispanic coffees, and a $7 stove-top espresso maker (and that's $7 in NYC, you can probably find it for $5 elsewhere). Key idea for success - heat the milk (the result is very strong and if you put enough milk in to make it reasonable, then it becomes cold otherwise...)

I spent a long time trying to drink Bustello as a drip coffee, which was foul, before I started getting recommendations and experimenting.

Even our artisanal fancy coffee costs about half of what we'd spend going out, so if you are purchasing coffee from a store, it always makes sense to do it at home.

Part of it is definitely my age. I've had a lot of coffee and each time you step up in quality, it's a wrench coming back down...
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 9:47 AM on October 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


I take your point about how quality and DIY for things is pretty awesome, but not everyone has the money in the budget to make themselves a posh cup of coffee every morning. Implying it's their fault they don't want to make the time to do so, it is where it gets a bit weird.

If I inadvertently contributed to this, my apologies - my comments have only been in response to the claim that "a burger at McDonald's and a burger you make at home are the same thing". I do actually eat McDonald's food on occasion - just did yesterday, in fact - but I do so with eyes open, is all; there's a chance that the quality of the meat is inferior to what I'd get by making it at home, and the taste is different; but once in a blue moon quantities of additive # eighty-glop isn't going to kill me, and there are days when I'm not looking for a culinary experience but am rather looking to simply not be hungry.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:48 AM on October 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


I don't want biscuits and gravy.

Oh man, I do. But if they are doing buscuits and gravy bland and inoffensive, they are doing it wrong. Because when it's done right there should be a frightening amount of black pepper, and an offensive amount of sausage.
posted by Cookiebastard at 9:51 AM on October 2, 2013 [9 favorites]


> Most foods are less dense than water.

Nearly all the items in that list (with the exception of the oils) would sink if you dropped them into water. The reason that their density is less than 1 is that they're raw materials with plenty of air between them - consider that between going from granulated sugar to sucrose (a fine powder), you very nearly double the density.

And note that almost nothing on that list has a density as low as 0.54g/cm^3, even in its raw form.

I stand by my claim that 0.54 is substantially too low a density for a brownie. A simple experiment you can try is dropping a bar of chocolate into water - because chocolate has limited porosity. It will sink quite fast - I know, because I've done it by mistake before.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 9:54 AM on October 2, 2013


lupus_yonderboy: "> A brownie of 6.99x6.99x2.22cm weighs 56g and has a volume of 108cm^3, giving a density of 0.52g/cm^3.

So you're saying a brownie has half the density of water and thus would float, and float high? Sorry, don't believe it for one second.
"

Well, is it an African or European brownie?
posted by Mister_A at 9:55 AM on October 2, 2013 [7 favorites]


A simple experiment you can try is dropping a bar of chocolate into water

I remember that from Caddyshack!
posted by Cookiebastard at 9:56 AM on October 2, 2013 [3 favorites]


I don't want biscuits and gravy.

Neither do I, but Husbunny, a native of Kentucky LOVES them. I can't reconsile what passes for biscuits and gravy any place I've seen it offered. It looks like white sauce with flecks in it over a biscuit.

So I make my own gravy. I use a pound of ground sausage, sweat out the fat, make a roux with flour, add hot milk and lots of pepper.

I am told it is good. I wouldn't touch it with a barge pole.

But, people like their comfort foods, who am I to look down my nose at them.

Cracker Barrel has it's place. On the road, just off the freeway, left on the frontage road, and in front of the Best Western.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 9:57 AM on October 2, 2013 [4 favorites]


Dude, you should really read some Michael Pollan. That will really blow your hair back.

Dude, the very first thing Schlosser says in Fast Food Nation is that McDonald's (and other fast food) is delicious.
posted by asterix at 9:59 AM on October 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


One thing that strikes me is that the McDonalds-style franchise system is better for communities than Starbucks-style central ownership. A McDonalds is owned by a franchisee who is a small businesssman. He pays a fixed fee and a percentage to the central corporation, but if the business prospers, he owns the capital and gets a large share of the profit. With central ownership, all the profits flow to the corporation.

So those people who sneer at McDonalds, but feel OK about going into a "Harris & Hoole" or other centrally-owned chain that tries to look independent, really have things the wrong way round. Even though it looks "more corporate", McDonalds is actually a less exploitative form of capitalism.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 10:03 AM on October 2, 2013 [6 favorites]


One thing about chain restaurants that is consistently bad: beer selection. If you are extremely lucky you might score a Sierra Nevada Pale Ale but your average chain (Applebees, Chili's, etc.) will offer you a variety of ice cold, putrid, mass market lagers with the notion that having Blue Moon or Leinenkugel's Summer Shandy is their bow to micros. Yeah, there are some exceptions (Ruby Tuesday at least stocks Sierra Nevada) but if you think the food is universally blah, try the beer.
posted by Ber at 10:07 AM on October 2, 2013


FOR CRYING OUT LOUD.

My lunch today came with a brownie roughly 2.5 cm x 6 cm x 8 cm. It massed roughly 87.1 g. This means that this brownie (which has both frosting AND chocolate chips) comes out to about .726 g /cm^3.

Yes this means my brownie would float.

No I will not be testing it because I am eating it RIGHT NOW.

(If you don't believe me, I have a photo of the brownie sitting on a like $10,000 Mettler Toledo cantilevered balance).
posted by Comrade_robot at 10:09 AM on October 2, 2013 [8 favorites]


0.726 is much closer to what I'd expect for a brownie's density. None of the ingredients of a brownie has a density as low as 0.54...
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 10:18 AM on October 2, 2013


it's all good shit and if you're in a new and scary area and don't know where to go to eat, and there's one of those, you go in and generally you'll come out more-or-less happy.

This is the key, really - are people looking for comfort & convenience, or adventure & variety? Ultimately, the balance has tipped toward comfort and convenience.

It's also true that novelty is harder to provide... The point of traveling used to be to experience something new and different, but in a global culture there's more and more overlap even with the local places - foreign food has already become familiar, and when you travel they serve food from all cultures too (not identical to the US version, but still, there's a difference between getting to try authentic sushi and never having heard of it before). Style and news have become international. There are little differences and occasional quirks (I never saw mustard soup outside of Holland) but by and large you already have a sense of what you're expecting.

I was thinking about this with hotels recently - with airbnb, I've stayed at a bunch of "mom n pop" hotel options that have been really interesting and fun, even though some of the time they have not been as convenient as a chain. But some people see no benefit to this - last year we had family (young, no kids) insist on a Marriott instead of the duck farm we'd thought would be fun, because the Marriott was reliable and the duck farm was "weird" - whereas we had been interested because it was more unusual.

But, I did travel across the US in the early 90s, and I did discover just how bad food (and coffee) can be outside of cities and college towns. After a while "trying something new" can get old, if it always tastes like shit. We ended up doing a lot of campground cooking.
posted by mdn at 10:20 AM on October 2, 2013


I don't have any particular beef with biscuits and gravy, BTW, although I don't especially like them. It's just that this is the southwest, and I want green chile stew and sopapillas at one of the many local diners along the highways in small towns. But those are gone now, or pushed far enough back into the towns that it's sort of a crapshoot.

Granted, it's been a while since I'd done the road trip thing, but I was horrified at the Cracker Barrel encroachment. It just feels sometimes like our local cultures are being taken over.

(Initially, the reason I hadn't eaten at a Cracker Barrel was that I walked in one once and the potpourri smell was just overpowering, so I had to turn right around. The fact that I am now also mad at them is a bonus.)
posted by ernielundquist at 10:21 AM on October 2, 2013


0.726 is much closer to what I'd expect for a brownie's density. None of the ingredients of a brownie has a density as low as 0.54...

I'm not a brownie expert so I don't want to get too invested in this, but the point is that brownies are very porous. This means that a lot of a brownie is air space, and air is most certainly less dense than water. If my brownie were hollow, for example, it might have a density of 0.54.

Also I'd be very sad.
posted by Comrade_robot at 10:22 AM on October 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


Whoa, MetaFilter. I mean. It's none of my business if you want to consume homogeneous lumps of trans fat fried into fun shapes that will make you wheeze when climbing stairs, but let's just keep in mind the bigger picture here. There are multiple reasons we "duhhrrrr super gay hipster idiots" enjoy eating local/organic/smelly hippie fare. Putting vapid identity politics and the "authenticity" quagmire aside for a moment, I think we can all agree that a comforting mouthful of cow eyes + umami powder #8 isn't worth destroying the planet.
posted by Mooseli at 10:22 AM on October 2, 2013 [3 favorites]


Etrigan: "Steak and Shake [is not] a great option.

I WILL FUCKING CUT YOU.
"

Yeah, whatever. The ones outside the midwest are garbage. If you're in Illinois/ Iowa, sure, why not. If you're in Colorado, they're not so hot. Freddie's is better.
posted by boo_radley at 10:30 AM on October 2, 2013


Just idly, on the burger front - we had homemade hamburgers probably three times a month when I was growing up because they were pretty cheap and I can't get over this idea that the Frowner family burger is identical to that at McDonald's. They sure don't taste the same - a thicker burger cooked as the eater requested it and a totally different, more robust texture along with a much more individual and deeper sear. Plus regular cheddar - just cheap grocery store stuff, but not American cheese. And as much as one liked of sliced red onion and tomato, and Chicago-area-made pickles that were a much less radioactive green and had a lot of snap and internal texture. The buns - again, just regular storebought - were much less sweet and had much more internal structure and a stronger crumb.

Even when I was a kid, when I just adored McDonalds and would absolutely have eaten there daily instead of every few months as a children's treat, I preferred homemade burgers.

I bet that the nutritional breakdown would be somewhat different too, based on the percentages of beef to bread, quantity of salt and ingredients in the cheese. Plus probably less sugar in the hamburger bun. It is possible that we were getting higher quality beef, as the McDonald's beef was so finely ground that it probably concealed a multitude of sins.

I'm just not sure how a homemade burger could be the same as McDonald's, absent a serious effort to copy it.

Personally, I don't find "hyperpalatable" and "delicious" to convey quite the same thing. Taco Bell is hyperpalatable, and I would probably eat several Taco Bell products right this very minute if someone brought some by. Fatty, salty, starchy home-cooked upma with just a little dahl is delicious. Neither one is particularly good for you, and you could even make the case for Taco Bell on protein content, but the compulsion and lingering wish for more with the Taco Bell is really different from the relative satiety from eating the upma.
posted by Frowner at 10:36 AM on October 2, 2013 [3 favorites]


Putting vapid identity politics and the "authenticity" quagmire aside for a moment, I think we can all agree that a comforting mouthful of cow eyes + umami powder #8 isn't worth destroying the planet.

Ehh, maybe. I mean, to go back to the coffee example a moment, is Starbucks destroying the planet at the same per-cup rate that Indie Coffee Place is? Neither has locally sourced beans, because there aren't any. So there's going to be some planet-wrecking shipping going on in either case.

My local smelly hippie place makes some great food, but they're also located in an old house with inefficient insulation, and they do not describe their supply chain in detail, so I'm unable to make an informed planet-destroying decision there, either, aside from relying on their good intentions.

If I stay home and cook, am I having less of an environmental impact? Is that a question that can even be answered reliably enough that planetary destruction can become a real factor in what and where I choose to eat?
posted by mittens at 10:37 AM on October 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


I can indulge in a (scientifically designed to be irresistible) Starbucks drink while still acknowledging their end game is basically to own every coffee plant on earth. Individual choices are a red herring anyway; eat what you want and agitate collectively against the enclosure of our food supply.
posted by gorbweaver at 10:45 AM on October 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


Fatty, salty, starchy home-cooked upma with just a little dahl is delicious. Neither one is particularly good for you,

SOLD! (How have I gone this long without ever hearing of this? Off to market!)
posted by mittens at 10:50 AM on October 2, 2013


The Wikipedia article I linked - which I did read before linking, thanks - says that McDonald's says they don't use it any more.

Just as you know about the pedigree of your beef, potatoes, and artisan ketchup because the person selling it to you told you. I guess they just have an honest face?

Far be it from me to doubt Occupy Corporatism, but as someone who has eaten horse meat on purpose, I am not particularly scandalized. That's a label accuracy issue, not a food quality or food safety issue.

The gasping at food ingredients that as deemed "gross" is beyond me. People will think Food X is delicious until they find out that it contains "gross" Ingredient Y, at which point Food X has now become disgusting. The best part is many of these same folks delight in attempting gross-outs when recounting their last vacation. "Oh, we had the traditional dish of fermented scorpions garnished with fish farts - not tourist food for us!" The mind boggles.
posted by Tanizaki at 10:55 AM on October 2, 2013


The gasping at food ingredients that as deemed "gross" is beyond me.

Yeah, but it's not beyond other folks. It's okay to say that a particular restaurant or chain does not meet your personal standards for transparency and quality ingredients, and it's certainly not out of line to share those personal standards with others who might enjoy giving a little more thought to where they eat. We all have those standards, and so the bit about scorpions is just a tasty, tasty strawman. Mmm, straw.
posted by mittens at 11:03 AM on October 2, 2013


Yeah, but it's not beyond other folks.

I am not denying that it is. I am questioning the logic of it. Why do people outrage over a horse burger but pay top dollar for an ostrich burger?
posted by Tanizaki at 11:06 AM on October 2, 2013


I was going to make the same general argument as Tanizaki. People are grossed out by pink slime because it's weird, it's not recognizable as meat and the process by which it's extracted is overly industrial. But it's no worse for you than regular beef, and wastes less of the animal carcass, which to me is a good thing. Certainly not telling people what's in their food is wrong, but the hate for it seems to be mostly an aesthetic issue.
posted by Ham Snadwich at 11:10 AM on October 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


Well, but there's some deception there too, whether it be the horse or the slime, because neither is featured prominently in the ingredient list the way the ostrich would be. And if there's one place you really don't want deception, where people have a primal fear of it, it's regarding their food.
posted by mittens at 11:12 AM on October 2, 2013


There's another wrinkle with the horsemeat thing. Animals that aren't meant for human consumption can be given drugs that can't be given to animals that are. Whether those drugs persist in meaningful quantities after the animal is slaughtered and cooked, I don't know, but it's cause for concern.
posted by Ham Snadwich at 11:16 AM on October 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


I'd choose horsemeat over pink slime any day of the week. Horse looks pretty tasty to me.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 11:22 AM on October 2, 2013


Henceforth, I will only drink coffee made from beans gathered by aboriginal people from the excreta of endangered animals.
posted by Renoroc at 11:40 AM on October 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


the chain in question is probably Patisserie Valerie

I visited London for the first time last month, and Patisserie Valerie totally tricked me. I had lunch in one, and was pretty impressed by the menu and atmosphere. The next day, I saw three more. I never went there again, but that's because we were only in the UK for a week and you've got to be pretty lame to go to the same place all the time when you're traveling. Although I did go to Caffe Nero twice, mostly because there were no Dunkin' Donuts (yet). There were, however, Krispy Kremes.

In conclusion, the UK is a land of coffee shops.
posted by Metroid Baby at 11:48 AM on October 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


It really is. You can't walk around central London without coming across multiple Caffe Neros and Costas.
posted by Kitteh at 11:51 AM on October 2, 2013


About "keeping the money in the community" -- I think that holds for small towns, suburbs, the outskirts of cities, and other places where costs are low enough that starting a restaurant/keeping your family's restaurant in the family is a possibility for normal people. But in a really expensive area, that breaks down a little. Even if his cafe in Soho had been the only one of its kind, chances are good that it would have been founded and operated by a firm/someone extremely rich, because that's who can afford to open a business in Soho. Not to mention that in cities, plenty of restaurants that aren't chains, in that there's only one restaurant with that name, are still operated by a large, wealthy restaurant group of some kind. It's still probably marginally better for a New Yorker to give money to rich people in New York than to rich people at a corporate complex in Des Moines, but it's not a clear-cut mom'n'pop situation.
posted by ostro at 12:04 PM on October 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


In N Out isn't even in the same discussion as a Whopper or a Big Mac. That's ridiculous. The quality of meat is completely different.

I love In N Out, but their beef isn't some magical thing. They still get their meat from industrial slaughterhouses, one of which was caught on video illegally using downer cattle a couple of years ago.
posted by hwyengr at 12:13 PM on October 2, 2013


In general, I haven't patronized any but very local chains since reading Fast Food Nation. There's a huge impact on our culture, almost all adverse, from the food distribution model chains perpetuate. I'd rather spend my money on local places.

In particular, my experience has been that great places get a lot less great when they turn into chains. I still mourn for the old Cinnabon, which when it was a small local chain, used to sell the world's best cinnamon roll ever, along with some darn good coffee.
posted by bearwife at 12:35 PM on October 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


It may be that expensive beef tastes better than cheap beef: it may be, however, that the well-understood psychological effect that if you pay more for something then it will taste better has come into play. I would be inclined to doubt my own tastes unless I had done a double-blind taste test.

(See also: Pepsi tastes better than Coke, unless you know it is Pepsi. Wine tasters can't tell wines apart, they just go on price. And so on.)
posted by alasdair at 12:38 PM on October 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


I don't think that it is reasonable at all to compare what a person can make in their home with what can be bought at McDonald's. McDonald's spends a ton of money on specific and consistent sourcing of ingredients. Nothing in one of their hamburgers is something you can just run to the store and buy. Their business model depends on it.

There is a lot of information on what they do in trade publications. They even have a best practices website. This of course is a selection of their programs that they want you to see, but the company does case studies like these on every aspect of their business.

Personally I don't like the food at McDonald's, but I am a bit in awe of how they do things.
posted by Quonab at 12:39 PM on October 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'msorry,butIhavetodothis.

Metafilter: Just another way to fill the minutes until death.
posted by droplet at 12:43 PM on October 2, 2013 [4 favorites]


I think what people are generally ignoring here is the individual market calculus that goes on in many situations. Not only that, there are some socioeconomic factors that "locavore" privilege kind of glosses over, particularly in some more upscale areas.

To wit: a considerable number of the "indie", trendy, locally-sourced "artisanal" places in certain areas of Denver are, in fact, egregiously pandering to the homogenized, holier-and-more-vegan-than-thou wealthy white privilege set. I have never seen a single brown person employed or eating in most of these places, outside of wealthy foreign business travelers on someone else's dime. Not only that but by virtue of existing in their gentrified locales, they have displaced a not insignificant population of low-income minorities to such far-flung suburban ghettosprawl hellholes as Aurora and Lakewood. And they sure as shit won't hire brown people to wait tables. IF they're lucky they can work as janitors for minimum wage. Part time, with no paid healthcare (which is hopefully changing, but yeah.)

But that's all good because those organic tofu empanadas are lovingly handcrafted from non-GMO soy, so whatever man.

Similarly there are quite a few independent coffeehouses in Boulder, but only 3 coffeeshops in my direct line of commute to work in the morning.

Coffeeshop 1 opened about 5 years ago in a vacant strip mall space in the notorious food desert of East Boulder, way out on Arapahoe. They procure and roast their own free-trade beans in a co-op arrangement with some other indie businesses. They also employ anyone and everyone who can be taught to pull a shot to their (admittedly insanely high) standards, provide benefits at a reasonable rate to all their staff, and schedule enough hours per employee to provide a decent income. Most of the employees have been there for at least 3 years, if not from the get-go. I buy all my coffee beans there during off hours, but I mostly make my own french press at home because the line is usually out the door every morning. This is a good thing and I approve of it, just not when I'm running late or in a hurry. Coffeeshop 1 has done so well by itself that it has spawned 2 other locations in town operating on the same business model, and is currently considering opening a location in Denver. While I'm hoping their business model will scale, I am also ambivalent about this owing to potential for both quality and brand dilution, not to mention the privilege traps noted above.

Coffeeshop 2 is a little bagel-and-coffee place that does espressos and is a sole proprietorship. It is run by an older couple who are by all appearances highly right-wing conservative and also run a Hallmark card and gift shop within their space that would do Cracker Barrel proud. Besides not understanding how to pull a decent shot if their life depended on it, their coffee is the sort of cheap, thin, undrinkable Depression-era shitbrew you'd expect from this particular demographic. I went there a couple of times because they are the most convenient to my house, but I haven't been there in years, not just because the atmosphere in the place is so offputting to me (i.e. Midwestern Baptist kitsch right down to the blue-eyed Jesus prints) but because their coffee is atrocious, so I have no clue what their employee tenure or demographic really looks like. I assume they stay in business on the merits of the small but significant conservative faction in town (farmers/ranchers mostly) or whatever.

Coffeeshop 3 is a Starbucks. I readily admit to going there for a shot in the dark on those rare days when I have to be to work by 7AM and just don't have time to mess with the french press or to stand in line for 15-20 minutes at #1. If nothing else, they treat their employees humanely and their coffee isn't great, but it beats aggressively bad (#2) or nothing.
posted by lonefrontranger at 12:44 PM on October 2, 2013 [3 favorites]


1. Horse steak is great though I'm not sure I could distinguish it from a steak of any other large mammal.

2. The food here in the midwest is actually very good, and not at all underseasoned.

3. I cannot tell the difference between Starbucks coffee and the coffee served anywhere else, and in fact at home I exclusively drink instant. Yet here I am commenting in a food thread.

4. When you move to a new place, it is really not hard to find out which restaurants are good without using Yelp.
posted by escabeche at 12:50 PM on October 2, 2013 [4 favorites]


Basically, food is complicated. People like different things. Some people like to express their values through food, others don't care as long as it tastes good, a very small number would like to replace it all with a nutritive slurry. As long as you're not starving or malnourished, you're probably doing ok.
posted by Ham Snadwich at 1:06 PM on October 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


I think we can all agree that a comforting mouthful of cow eyes + umami powder #8 isn't worth destroying the planet.

Isn't it environmentally better to eat existing cow eyes as opposed to slaughtering another cow for prime rib?

Speaking of which, I wish more places served organ meat.
posted by FJT at 1:23 PM on October 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


I've always been partial to caribou eyes myself.
posted by invitapriore at 1:32 PM on October 2, 2013


How do you find new cuisine if you're eating in chains even part of the time? By the time it hits Taco Bell it's not another country's food, it's 'Murrican grub. I don't even buy this line about having to eat at chains as you drive across the country. And I'm a vegetarian.

What does being a vegetarian have to do with it? I'm a vegetarian too and on a 12-hour schlep through unfamiliar towns that don't necessarily have a food truck selling hot veggie empanadas or a nice Indian or Thai place to sit down in (assuming you wanted to stop for a 45-minute meal) -- and if they did, you've never been there so you don't have the benefit of word of mouth to know whether it's a gem or a hole in the wall -- I'm going to seek out a BK so I can get a veggie burger. I know what I'm getting, I know their cleanliness standards are top-notch, I ask them to clean the grill first and I can see them do it.

The problem is not that people occasionally eat fast-food or chain food when they're traveling. The problem is that's all they eat when they are at home.

When I'm at home it's always a nice indie place over a chain, and when I reach my destination I'm going to seek out the nice indie places in that town, but I have no qualms at all about pulling off the highway & getting an egg&cheese biscuit at McDonalds when I've still got another state to go.
posted by headnsouth at 1:36 PM on October 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


Far be it from me to doubt Occupy Corporatism, but as someone who has eaten horse meat on purpose, I am not particularly scandalized. That's a label accuracy issue, not a food quality or food safety issue.

Precisely.
If they have no problem claiming that they have 100% beef in their burgers but they're secretly adding horse meat, what else are they gonna lie about?

But we're getting away from the point being argued - which is "a burger from McDonald's is just as good as a burger made at home from scratch, true or false." Perhaps we ought to establish what variable you're using to define "good" - quality of meat, or taste?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:37 PM on October 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


That's a label accuracy issue, not a food quality or food safety issue.

If you ask anyone with severe food allergies, they'll you tell that label accuracy is a food safety issue for them. There are similar concerns with horse meat; that's separate from the question of whether it's logical to think that horse meat is gross.

There's a restaurant near me whose chef delights in finding interesting ways to cook things that aren't 'normal' for American diners -- last week's special was friend pig cheeks. That may be totally common in some area of the world, but it's the only time I've ever seen it on a menu. The key thing, though? It's on the menu. It's not disguised as "fried pork," which would be technically accurate but misleading. You can choose to order it. You can choose not to order it. If labels aren't accurate, you're not choosing what you're eating: someone else is. And odds are they aren't making that choice based on quality, since they're not the ones eating it.
posted by cjelli at 1:42 PM on October 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


Look, if I could make a burger at home that tastes half as good as a Big Mac I absolutely would. But I can't.

And I'm a "foodie," I don't eat fast food, I choose quality locally sourced ingredients whenever possible, and humanely raised and slaughtered meat products. Fuck, I'm Italian, my food culture is all about slow food and mushrooms picked that morning in the same spot your grandmother showed your mother before you.

But come the fuck on. As unhealthy and terrible as it is, a Big Mac is fucking delicious.
posted by lydhre at 2:15 PM on October 2, 2013 [4 favorites]


My Arbitrary Chain Ranking

Chains I Like:

Outback Steakhouse: Basically, the logical end result of American gluttony. If you're going to be unhealthy, this is how to do it.
Potbelly Sandwiches: Better take-out sandwiches than your average random deli, and pretty cheap.
Panera Bread: I kinda want their grilled cheese right now. Also, they're usually pretty comfortable places to hang out and read, and the coffee's not bad.
Auntie Anne's: Those are some damn good pretzels.

Chains I Find Cromulent:

Au Pon Bain: Kinda like Panera, but without the nice seats.
Cosi: Pretty much like Panera or ABP, but the prices aren't so great and the interiors are always very cold for some reason.
Subway: I don't really like Subway, but every few months I inexplicably get a craving for it. Then I eat it and the craving passes for another few months. Good cookies.
Quiznos: Like Subway, but without the occasional cravings.
Le Pain Quotidien: The food is pretty good, but the prices are insanely high for what it is.

Chains I'll Eat At if There Are No Better Options:

TGI Friday's: TGI Friday's is kind of the standard for American culinary mediocrity. I don't think I recall any meal I have ever eaten at one, good or bad. I don't eat at them very much, but still.
IHOP: Kind of like TGI Friday's, but for breakfast.

Chains I Do Not Like:

Applebee's: Applebee's cooks what Friday's throws away.
McDonald's/Burger King/Wendy's: This is not what a burger is supposed to taste like.
Starbucks: Bad coffee, worse food. I suppose some of their whatever-a-chino drinks are all right, but I never drink those things.
Red Lobster: I liked Red Lobster when I was a kid. I went back once as an adult. Big mistake.
Denny's: Like IHOP, but worse.

Split personality:

Dunkin' Donuts: The coffee is OK in a pinch, but the food, aside from the muffins, is uniformly awful.
posted by breakin' the law at 2:35 PM on October 2, 2013


Chains I Like:

Culver's: but I recognize that this is some part declaration of Midwestern pride.

Au Bon Pain: largely because when I was a kid in the 80s the Cambridge, MA store was the only place I'd ever seen a croissant, and I associate it with big-city sophistication and wonder.

Dairy Queen: for ice cream, not food.

California Pizza Kitchen: suck it, pizza purists, America has rejected your false religion and barbecue chicken pizza is here to stay.

Famous Dave's: Great barbecue is hard to make but good enough barbecue is pretty easy. Why aren't there more barbecue chains?

Starbucks: Because they have it in highway rest stops and gas station coffee is disgusting, and I say this as a guy who drinks instant coffee.




Chains I'm Fine With:

McDonalds: primarily for shakes and fries. I'll eat a Big Mac but I reject any claim that they taste particularly good. They taste like Russian dressing somebody spilled a little meat into.
Chipotle: These are bad burritos but it cannot be denied they're filling, if being full is what you need.
Panera: boring but acceptable food. Founded by the ABP guy after he sold ABP because he wanted to see if he could get people to pay even more for a sandwich.
Olive Garden: filling, not at all disgusting. I've eaten at worse Italian restaurants than this in New York, that's for sure.
Five Guys: on pure food grounds, the best in this category, but I always feel aggressively marketed to here, and the fries are great for 30 seconds and terrible once even slightly cool.
Wendy's: Hardly exists where I live but my memory is that the hamburgers here are actually quite a bit better than McD + BK.

Chains I avoid:
Quizno's: I always order something hot because that sounds more satisfying and it always tastes like panini-pressed death.
Taco Bell: Even when we were in high school we thought this was disgusting.
Burger King: I went here with my dad when I was 8, and he taught me the word "vile." I thought it was a beautiful word then and I still think so.

Chains I loved as a kid but now find depressing:
Popeye's, Roy Rogers, IHOP.
posted by escabeche at 2:59 PM on October 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


Look, if I could make a burger at home that tastes half as good as a Big Mac I absolutely would. But I can't.

Aren't there like a thousand websites that teach people how to make Big Macs at home? Not saying you have to, but it does appear to be possible.
posted by mittens at 3:00 PM on October 2, 2013


The horse meat thing is actually a pretty significant problem. Food-grade horse meat is pretty damn expensive. If there's horse meat mixed in with beef as an extender, as a way of filling out the beef with something cheaper it's not likely to be food grade horse. There's a very good chance it's coming from non-food grade horses, likely horses that were used for commercial use (say, racing). Those horses? God only knows what kind of drugs were pumped into those.

That's the problem with mislabeling. Given how absolute horrific conditions are in the food supply we know about, do you really want to take chances on unmonitored, unregulated meat mixed into your food, without your knowledge? That's the problem. One of the bigger problems, something that needs a lot more attention, is mislabeling scams.
posted by Ghidorah at 3:30 PM on October 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


Culver's: but I recognize that this is some part declaration of Midwestern pride.

No way, man. Culver's is a chain restaurant all of America can be proud of. They are, I dare say, better than In-n-Out burger.
posted by Jess the Mess at 3:36 PM on October 2, 2013


Oh, I think it's totally better than In-n-Out. I'm just saying I recognize that cultural factors play a part in my judgment here, just as they do in people's love for In-n-Out.
posted by escabeche at 3:42 PM on October 2, 2013


It's too pricey for me as a regular drink -- Yorkshire Gold or even President's Choice will do for home use -

Not Tetley's? Lovely tea - it's the round bags that makes the difference. Also, because it's brewed by Yorkshire elves or something.

One of my main objections to big chain food is this sort of creeping midwesternism. You know, the type of food that's bland, inoffensive, and gets all its appeal from fat, salt, and sugar.

This is totally not a problem in Toronto: chillies are offered when you get a pizza slice, and every hot dog stand has hot sauce (usually sriracha) and hot peppers. Multiculturalism is the best thing that happened to food ever.
posted by jb at 3:49 PM on October 2, 2013


But come the fuck on. As unhealthy and terrible as it is, a Big Mac is fucking delicious.

A fair point, and an even fairer springboard for a possible tangent - there are days when you want a legitimately proper burger, but there are also days when the fast food is what you want on some level. Mac-and-cheese is a better illustration for me - I went my whole childhood only being exposed to Kraft macaroni and cheese, and it wasn't until I got to New York that I had proper homemade macaroni and cheese, made from scratch with the bechamel sauce and what not.

Now - I would not dream of saying that Kraft is just as good as the homemade version. However, it is still delicious and there are still days when Kraft's version is exactly the version I want. I joke that it's because there are some days when fake cheese is indeed what I'm looking for.

So yeah, Big Macs are delicious. They are not delicious in the same way as a homemade burger, to the point that the two are interchangeable; however, they are still delicious, and if that especial combination of vaguely-fake meat and weird orange sauce is what you want then go for it. And I don't use the words "vaguely-fake meat" or "weird orange sauce" with dispersion, either - I consider that part of its charm, and the very reason why you want a Big Mac when that's what you want.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:16 PM on October 2, 2013 [3 favorites]


escabeche: "Culver's: but I recognize that this is some part declaration of Midwestern pride."

When I was pregnant and had really bad morning sickness and was having trouble gaining enough weight, my ob/gyn actually "prescribed" a daily milkshake from Culver's. DOCTOR OF THE YEAR!
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 4:22 PM on October 2, 2013 [8 favorites]


that especial combination of vaguely-fake meat and weird orange sauce

Which reminds me of my Krystals-and-duck-sauce binge. God, what was I thinking?
posted by mittens at 4:25 PM on October 2, 2013


Thatcher, gentrification, celebrity chefs, they ran mom and pop outta there decades ago. The only businesses that can afford Soho rents do so through high volume, high margins and manufactured cosiness.

If it's a franchise, chances are good that it is a mom and pop operation. Also, restaurants that do not serve alcohol are not generally high margin. Also, take off points for the author for not naming names. What is this chain he loves to hate or hates to love or is okay with loving up to a point?
posted by IndigoJones at 4:57 PM on October 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


I used to be abashed about going to Culver's because they've got the "Butterburger" on the menu. Now that I'm on a low-carb, high-fat keto diet, though...
posted by Halloween Jack at 6:43 PM on October 2, 2013


The one step we added recently was that we pour the coffee into a thermos immediately

I use a tea cozy over my french press (which holds roughly three mugs of coffee, or half an hour of waking up) and savour the irony with my morning cuppa joe.
posted by MartinWisse at 5:34 AM on October 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


but as someone who has eaten horse meat on purpose, I am not particularly scandalized. That's a label accuracy issue, not a food quality or food safety issue.

Not quite. It's not just that beef lasagna turned out to contain horse meat, it's also that there was no process control on how these horses were procured, slaughtered and processed. And it turned out quite a few knackered, American race horses stiff with various kinds of hormone treatments would end up in Irish ready meals...
posted by MartinWisse at 5:41 AM on October 3, 2013


Not Tetley's? Lovely tea - it's the round bags that makes the difference. Also, because it's brewed by Yorkshire elves or something.

PG TIPS OR DEATH!1!!
posted by MartinWisse at 5:51 AM on October 3, 2013 [3 favorites]


But we're getting away from the point being argued - which is "a burger from McDonald's is just as good as a burger made at home from scratch, true or false." Perhaps we ought to establish what variable you're using to define "good" - quality of meat, or taste?

What I am responding to with that comment is the claim that "oh, my friends get sick every time they eat McDonald's". There is no ingredient in the food at McDonald's that "makes people sick" and the food is prepared in regulated kitchens that are far more sanitary than the home kitchens of anyone here. (anyone who has a three section sink in their kitchen, please let me know)

A McDonald's or Wendy's burger is delicious, but I do not think it is the best tasting burger on the planet. I do think they are pretty good, though. The McDonald's Angus series, particularly the Angus Mushroom & Swiss, was quite good.
posted by Tanizaki at 7:00 AM on October 3, 2013


friend pig cheeks. That may be totally common in some area of the world, but it's the only time I've ever seen it on a menu. The key thing, though? It's on the menu. It's not disguised as "fried pork,"

In your view, what is scandalizing about cheeks? Advertising the meal as cheeks allowed him to charge a higher price because cheeks are perhaps the tenderest part of the animal. I am sure his foodie customers delighted to see that menu.
posted by Tanizaki at 7:04 AM on October 3, 2013


There is no ingredient in the food at McDonald's that "makes people sick"

Probably depends on what the folks were eating prior to that. Get a Big Mac and fries, and you have just laden yourself with sodium, which can be a little upsetting to the belly, as could the fat content.

I haven't eaten at a McDonald's in maybe 15 years, but the few times I have eaten meat during those years, I have promptly gotten sick. I have no idea if it is related to bacteria (although the food was properly handled and cooked), additives like salt, or what, but it does happen.
posted by mittens at 7:20 AM on October 3, 2013


What I am responding to with that comment is the claim that "oh, my friends get sick every time they eat McDonald's". There is no ingredient in the food at McDonald's that "makes people sick

I said "feel like shit" not "they get sick". It's pretty common for people to feel like shit after a fast food combo meal. Try to reply honestly.
posted by planetesimal at 7:24 AM on October 3, 2013


What I am responding to with that comment is the claim that "oh, my friends get sick every time they eat McDonald's". There is no ingredient in the food at McDonald's that "makes people sick" and the food is prepared in regulated kitchens that are far more sanitary than the home kitchens of anyone here.

Ohhhhhh, okay - that wasn't clear that that's what you were specifying when you said the burgers were "the same".

It's possible the people who said their friends "got sick" could be referring to that oogy, draggy, bloated feeling you get when you eat something that's way higher in either fat or sodium than what you're used to, though, as opposed to actual food-borne-contagion kind of sickness; I'll let others speak to that.

I thought when you said they were "the same" or "just like what you can do at home" that you were talking about taste.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:29 AM on October 3, 2013


PG TIPS OR DEATH!1!!

While I have had awesome PG Tips in Colorado, of all places (seriously, I gulped a gallon over a single weekend), the version we get in Canada is a lot closer to death. It tastes mostly like tea, but without the glorious roundness and freshness of true PG Tips. Seriously, they couldn't spring for a foil pouch or two inside the box?
posted by maudlin at 7:34 AM on October 3, 2013


I feel like shit whenever I eat most fast food combo meals. I need something to balance the scales, I guess-- fizzy soda and fries aren't bad on my system if I have some non-fried stuff with them or a salad or some soup or yogurt but the combination of salty/ fatty stuff without anything to balance it makes me feel like a mushy lump of icky has replaced my abdominal organs. This doesn't happen when I eat a burger the size of my head from a good restaurant, but that might be because I do that in evening and not during the day.
posted by NoraReed at 7:40 AM on October 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


And to clarify something from my last post:

I thought when you said they were "the same" or "just like what you can do at home" that you were talking about taste.

And the reason why I started going off on the quality of the beef when I was really talking about taste is - good quality beef is going to taste better than crap beef.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:01 AM on October 3, 2013


[Tanizaki, knock it off.]
posted by jessamyn at 8:28 AM on October 3, 2013


In your view, what is scandalizing about cheeks? Advertising the meal as cheeks allowed him to charge a higher price because cheeks are perhaps the tenderest part of the animal. I am sure his foodie customers delighted to see that menu.

That was exactly my point, yes, so I'm not sure what the question is -- there's nothing scandalizing about advertising what you're serving people (and the cheeks were, I hear, delicious).
posted by cjelli at 10:21 AM on October 3, 2013


I'm a little confused. It's clear what a national chain is and what a local mom and pop is, but in between there's a lot of gray area. And this isn't helped by my geographical location, which is considered strip mall and franchise heaven. And also, because I live in a big-ass state.

For example, El Pollo Loco, Del Taco, The Habit Burger, and The Flame Broiler are all primarily California based chains headquartered right here, in Orange County. They have locations in the hundreds. Are they "local chains"? If not, should I make an exception since they're all headquartered around me?

Lee's Sandwiches is headquarted in San Jose, CA, around the Bay Area. Yes, we're in the same state, but CA is so large that it might as well be eight states apart. Are THEY a local chain? Similar situation with Roundtable Pizza, which is the only fast food chain pizza that is headquartered in California (Concord, in this case).

And finally what about Jack in the Box? They're headquartered in San Diego, CA, but they have locations in about half of the US.
posted by FJT at 1:51 PM on October 3, 2013


I'll pay an extra dollar or two for something that feels like it had a human hand in it

You have weird taste.
posted by Sys Rq



Not at all. I've burnt my hand. It tastes like bacon.
Mmmmmmm....
posted by Elysum at 3:03 PM on October 3, 2013


Are they "local chains"?

Del Taco has locations across the country, so no, they are forbidden. If anyone you know eats there, you must shun them.
posted by mittens at 4:08 PM on October 3, 2013


I think of a local chain as a chain with only locations nearish you. Satellite coffee only has locations in ABQ and maybe Santa Fe, so that counts. Its parent restaurant, Flying Star, has one or two out of state locations but is mostly here, so that's on the line. Blake's Lottaburger is NM-only (I believe, it may have expanded beyond that by now), but NM's a big state, so that's on the local/regional line.

A lot of people keep "local chain" level loyalty for chains that've expanded past that if they went to them when they were smaller chains, I think: my parents are like this with Trader Joe's.
posted by NoraReed at 4:57 PM on October 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


If anyone you know eats there, you must shun them.'

At my old company, the son of one of our former major execs loved to eat at "Tacos Del Carbon". We didn't know what he meant and I thought it was some small hole in the wall place, until he pulled up Del Taco on his phone. Yeah, I didn't say anything.

I think of a local chain as a chain with only locations nearish you.

Ah, okay. I think there's only a handful that fit that criteria, and they tend to be more fast casual than fast food (read: more pricey).
posted by FJT at 5:54 PM on October 3, 2013


If you know where every location of a chain is, it's a local chain. And headquarters location doesn't matter. Hell, knowing that a chain has a headquarters is a pretty big indication that it might not be "local" anymore.
posted by Etrigan at 6:46 PM on October 3, 2013


When I have had them, they've always seemed like a poor imitation of the things they sell on the streets in Belgium and The Netherlands (which truly are delicious.)

I think this goes back to what someone upthread said about local availability and how chains can provide culinary experiences that are hard to replicate otherwise.

I've never been to Belgium or The Netherlands. I hope to go someday, but it's not on the agenda anytime soon. It seems a shame that I'm apparently not allowed to enjoy any fries until the day that I finally take a vacation to the Benelux countries, and only while on said vacation.

Granted, McDonald's fries aren't the only game in town, and most big American cities even have local places that do a Belgian frite style french fry.

But they are perfectly good, extremely affordable, and ubiquitous. They're always fresh and hot when you go to buy them. They're not the best fried potatoes in the world (and I certainly wouldn't order them in Belgium), but if I'm driving around my neighborhood and get a craving for fries, they're good enough.
posted by Sara C. at 10:13 PM on October 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


We make hopelessly twee coffee - fair trade beans (Indonesian French Roast)

Oh, god, why?

At least go to a medium roast. Please. Your tastebuds will thank you.

It makes no sense at all to spend $15/lb on nasty burnt coffee. You should find a roaster that has some respect for their beans.
posted by Sara C. at 10:24 PM on October 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


More like French toast, amirite?



No, wait...
posted by Sys Rq at 11:26 PM on October 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


Soho is one of the most expensive neighborhoods in the world. Thatcher, gentrification, celebrity chefs, they ran mom and pop outta there decades ago. The only businesses that can afford Soho rents do so through high volume, high margins and manufactured cosiness.

Late to thread and all that, but Soho actually doesn't have that many chains. the Pizza Express there is, of course, but it's also a reknowned jazz cafe. Patisserie Valerie - which I am assuming the chain the author went to is - is just round the corner from Maison Bertaux, which is a long-established family patisserie (and where I was once dumped, the waitress discreetly hovering before she handed me my hot chocolate). Our favourite cafe, Taro, is down there - it's a small chain, I suppose, as there's one in Chinatown as well - and there's a bar that specialises in garlic bread and shots.

Also, Soho is probably best known for being the gay centre of London, and probably still the sex trade capital of, um, the capital. (And if you're in the advertising industry, the post-production capital of London.) That description above more accurately describes Covent Garden or Notting Hill.
posted by mippy at 3:14 AM on October 4, 2013


Although, I think by 2020 90% of London will be made up of branches of Pret, and the other 10% 'luxury apartments'.
posted by mippy at 3:25 AM on October 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


But I wouldn't eat at a chain curry place, if such a thing even exists in Britain, because we're spoiled for local choices there; nor a chain fish-and-chip shop, for the same reason.

I can't go out for curry as much as I'd like as my boyfriend has a legume allergy, so I arranged to go to Masala Zone with a friend, which is a chain. It wasn't 1/10 as good as the old-skool Rusholme curry houses I used to go to as a student.

The new thing in London at least seems to be 'posh' curry places - we've already had posh burgers, posh hot-dogs (there is a hot dog and champagne bar) and posh fried chicken - and I can[t get on board with that. Maybe they're aimed at former gap year kids who want to discuss authenticity? We had a Pakistani family living next door when I was growing up and we'd often get extra curry, or sometimes an invitation to a wedding where there would be as much lamb bhuna and jalebi as you could eat, and I'd much much rather eat that than some lime leaves on an oval plate topped with a prawn.
posted by mippy at 3:46 AM on October 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


A lot of people keep "local chain" level loyalty for chains that've expanded past that if they went to them when they were smaller chains

See Panera Bread still being called St. Louis Bread Company in the St. Louis metro area.
posted by Elementary Penguin at 4:46 AM on October 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


You know, the upthread description of "An industrial process designed to have unskilled labor deliver the cheapest product possible with the lowest probability of food born illness" w.r.t. chain restaurants really is accurate, and has reset my expectations. Pretty much, the 'brownie/marshmallow test' described in it is 100% accurate. If adding a marshmallow to a brownie desert is a showstopper, then there you are.

It made the trip with the kids to "Dave and Busters" ( an arcade with a bar -- and food ) a lot less stressful. Yeah, the fucked up, but as I thought as the manager was doing his thing to recover customer goodwill "You could not understand how low my expectations are"
posted by mikelieman at 8:38 AM on October 4, 2013


What do you know about the slaughterhouse that supplies your grocery store.

His name is Sam! And, well, it's not the grocery store but it's the farm stand, but it's one of those places where you can actually get food for all your meals, not just a small list of precious local items. I'm not going to go on a big Vermont Soliloquy. It's nice here but you have to make sacrifices to make it work, it's not for everyone. I have finally rtfa and I, too, am interested in how this sort of thing is seen as inevitable and in some way unavoidable. Not disagreeing with the general sense--most people living in the US and other developed nations can't just stop buying stuff completely--but I feel like the giving-upness then just gives people carte blanche to do whatever. Like, recycling is imperfect and doesn't really work as well as it should, but it's still (usually) keeping stuff out of landfills. Spending money at local businesses is still (usually) better for your local economy than spending it at chains. Eating lower on the food chain is still (usually) healthier for you.

I find the super judgeyness of people about other people's (and their own) food choices problematic for a number of reasons. I like Waffle House because they make a big deal about being an equal opportunity employer and how everyone is welcome there (and I like grits) and I feel the same way about local diners. If the only metric I was using was "Is the food the best?" I would probably eat at diners and Waffle House less than I do. There's got to be some sort of word for this moral class panic thing that we see all the time in articles like this where people give themselves "permission" to do a thing that otherwise is problematic for them given their status. Despite this article's title, I bet this guy is still worrying.
posted by jessamyn at 9:26 AM on October 4, 2013 [4 favorites]


I like Waffle House because they make a big deal about being an equal opportunity employer and how everyone is welcome there

Did they start making a big deal about it before or after all the discrimination lawsuits?
posted by Sys Rq at 9:41 AM on October 4, 2013


I'm quite certain it was after. Folks can internet-person themselves out of appreciating basically anything. That's where I eat when I am on the road and that's why.
posted by jessamyn at 9:55 AM on October 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


Their track record is barely better than Cracker Barrel's, is all.
posted by Sys Rq at 10:21 AM on October 4, 2013


It seems a shame that I'm apparently not allowed to enjoy any fries until the day that I finally take a vacation to the Benelux countries, and only while on said vacation.

But seriously, making proper chips yourself is not that difficult. As long as you have a deep fat fryer, it's just a question of getting good potatoes, the kind that doesn't crumble, slices them in largish strips (nowhere near as small as fast food fries), then fry them until they float, take them out, let them dry, fry them again till golden brown. The outside should be crips, the inside tender and fluffy. If done properly at a high enough temperature (180 degrees celcius) they absorb little to no fat or oil.


Course, it's best to do this outside or in a kitchen with good ventilation, as the smell otherwise gets everywhere.

Personally, the kind of small, thin fries a mickeyd's or Burger King serve are not a good substitute for proper Dutch or Flemish style fries, but perfectly good in their own right when made well.
posted by MartinWisse at 12:39 PM on October 4, 2013


But seriously, making proper chips yourself is not that difficult.

Yeah, actually it is.

I live in a studio apartment, so any cooking smell or mess (for example spattering oil) I make is going to spread through the whole place.

I have like 3 square feet of counter space.

I have a tiny stove with only one burner that is convenient for cooking things in big pots at high heat, which means if I'm deep frying something, that's probably the only dish I can make for that meal. (Unless the other thing is maybe some instant oatmeal or something?)

I don't have the equipment to deep fry potatoes.

I don't have a mandoline or whatever equipment one uses to julienne the potatoes.

And then you get to the part where you can actually evaluate a given recipe for whether it is "difficult" or not, like do I feel like spending hours peeling and julienning potatoes, do I feel like cleaning up after a big deep-fry mess, etc.

So, no, sorry, I'm going to continue to go to fry-selling establishments in the US, until such time as I get that EU passport I've always wanted. Or a really big fully stocked kitchen that isn't the only room in my house.

I will happily pay someone else $1.29 so that I can have delicious hot salty french fries rather than make my own fries at home. There are a lot of places I prefer to McDonald's for various reasons, but McDonald's is everywhere and their fries are probably the best big chain fast food fries out there.
posted by Sara C. at 3:12 PM on October 4, 2013 [4 favorites]


also seriously, who is like "oh, gee, I would like a few ounces of fries, I will set up the deep fryer, use a bunch of oil, cut up half a potato, and then eat that, because it's super easy to make fries at home for one person"

no, you go to mcdonalds

if you are craving better than mcdonalds, you go to the Good Fry Place, which varies based on what kind of fries you prefer and generally is the place with OK burgers and beers (I assume most reasonably sized cities have these, and some of them are chains-- Red Robin has pretty good steak fries, IIRC)
posted by NoraReed at 12:05 AM on October 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


making proper chips yourself is not that difficult. As long as you have a deep fat fryer,

I think you punctuated that wrong. I agree that making proper chips is not difficult as long as you have a deep fat fryer, but a lot of us don't. It's one of those "luxury" appliances that isn't considered de riguer in every kitchen, like a toaster is; it's one of those "if you make this kind of food a lot" appliances, like the ice cream maker I have or the juicer my first roommates had or the Soda Stream my friends have.

Yeah we could all do proper chips ourselves if we had a deep fat fryer, but most of us don't eat chips often enough to justify owning a deep fat fryer so we don't.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:31 AM on October 5, 2013


Yeah we could all do proper chips ourselves if we had a deep fat fryer, but most of us don't eat chips often enough to justify owning a deep fat fryer so we don't.

Alternatively, some of us do eat chips enough to justify owning a deep fat fryer, but we don't want to have a coronary. Cf the increase in my family's soda consumption once we got a SodaStream.
posted by Elementary Penguin at 6:04 AM on October 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


Hm, all this talk of the convenience-or-not of deep fat frying made me look up the venerable Fry Daddy self-contained deep fryer. It's still being made! It's on Amazon!

Pardon me while I go gain seven million pounds.
posted by mittens at 7:08 AM on October 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


the venerable Fry Daddy self-contained deep fryer

I expect that item will be produced through the end of civilization.
posted by mikelieman at 10:07 AM on October 5, 2013


I'm way too late to this thread, but I wanted to reply to Ghidorah that we kind of love Saizeriya! We were used to dirt-cheap food prices in China and we love Chinese food, but sometimes you just want a salad, you know? Raw veggies are not terribly popular here. We got salads from there about once a month when we lived in Shanghai.

We just went to visit some friends in Shanghai and asked if we could get Saizeriya for dinner...but they ordered in some actually good pizza instead. We were able to fend off disappointment with delicious, delicious cheese.

When we take longer trips, we often end up at a Starbucks and/or McDonald's because it's like you zipped back to America for a minute. Also, sometimes you just want a coffee that hasn't been milked and sugared to death.

Anyhow, you just never know what niche some mediocre chain place might have in someone's heart.
posted by MsDaniB at 7:07 AM on October 7, 2013


I don't have a mandoline or whatever equipment one uses to julienne the potatoes.

All other entirely valid points aside, cross this one off. The special equipment required to cut potatoes is called a knife. (Also, to julienne something means to cut it to 1/8"x1/8", which is way too thin.)
posted by Sys Rq at 8:24 AM on October 7, 2013


Sure, one can cut french fries with a knife.

But do I want to?

No.

I'm happy to pay $1.50 and just purchase some fries.
posted by Sara C. at 8:25 AM on October 7, 2013


Me too, but seriously it takes like 20 seconds to cut a potato into fries, and it's not difficult at all.
posted by Sys Rq at 8:33 AM on October 7, 2013


Twenty seconds? Admittedly I am old and arthritic, and my knives have not been sharpened since the Hoover administration, but that seems a bit speedy for a fry-worthy potato.
posted by mittens at 8:48 AM on October 7, 2013


Sys Rq, are you talking those wedge-shaped steak fries? Because 20 seconds seems awfully fast.

(And, I hate to mention it, but you're kind of sounding smug yourself.)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:50 AM on October 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


Look, Dummies®.

(Who said I wasn't smug?)
posted by Sys Rq at 9:03 AM on October 7, 2013


Time he started cutting: 0:20
Time he stopped cutting: 1:38
your argument is invalid
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:11 AM on October 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yes. Because he was slowly demonstrating how to do it.

Objection overruled.
posted by Sys Rq at 9:14 AM on October 7, 2013


Proper knife techniques rendered further invalid by the lack of deep-fat fryer anyway so nyah.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:18 AM on October 7, 2013


"All other entirely valid points aside..."
posted by Sys Rq at 9:19 AM on October 7, 2013


I swear to god, you guys.
posted by cortex at 9:30 AM on October 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


Seriously, deep fried foods are the one thing I'm perfectly happy to never make at home and always just buy. It's just not worth the trouble. Even if chopping a potato is "easy". That's not really the point.

I enjoy cooking and do plenty of it. But if I want fries I'm going out for fries. Because deep frying in a studio apartment kitchen is not in any way convenient, no.
posted by Sara C. at 9:49 AM on October 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yes, but have you considered that by simply removing some walls, you could really open up the kitchen to allow for better, more convenient frying?
posted by mittens at 10:21 AM on October 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


A thing that I wish we could stop having in metafilter threads: the part where people who due to highly unusual circumstances, skills or preferences can do something that is difficult/complex/messy/time-consuming try to convince people not in unusual circumstances that they could do it if only they tried harder, and what is more, they should do it. It is certainly one of the most seductive types of comments to write because writing about your own positive and complex experience in detail is fun....and yet!!

As an anarchist and a Delany-style moral relativist, I none the less think that "People are different from one another [and this is not necessarily a moral problem, or one solvable in moral terms]" is one of the hardest lessons to learn.

On that note, I would much rather buy small fried items hot from people who are good at frying them and who make a lot so always have fresh stock. Frying is an art more than a craft. Also, the tradition of Buying-Small-Fried-Items-From-Street-Vendors is a long and honorable one, and connects me in my common humanity to long-ago Chinese urban life, to Regency England and to other places and times too many to list.

Although a Fry-Daddy is not nearly as messy and difficult as one might think. I once participated in a donut fundraiser which involved a lot of Fry-Daddy work and while I'd rather buy my donuts from an expert, I would not hesitate to cook with one even in a fairly small space.
posted by Frowner at 10:28 AM on October 7, 2013 [6 favorites]


I think I have really started to learn the "People are different from one another" lesson as I've grown older. I just find that my own habits and circumstances have changed so much, and in sort of all over the place ways that I never could have predicted.

There've been times that I was really into doing kitchen stuff and had access to good equipment (and more importantly, space and time), and times that I've been more about convenience foods or at least just keeping it simple.

Right now I'm having leftover Domino's pizza for breakfast, despite living in New York for many years and turning up my nose at Domino's on many occasions. Because I don't live in New York anymore, and Domino's is the only pizza that delivers to my house, and pizza is a good Sunday night takeout option because it's cheap and there are always good leftovers. And it's better to deliver if I do Sunday night takeout because then I don't have to move my car out of the good parking spot or worry about leaving the dog in the car while I go into a restaurant to pay for the food.

These are all things that I would have been APPALLED by just a couple of years ago. But it's my life now. I'm kind of amazed how much less judgy I'm becoming in my 30s.
posted by Sara C. at 10:53 AM on October 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


Carsonb's fry parties are well-worth it, though, and we make better fries than you can buy pretty much anywhere. (Along with samosas, kalmi vada, wontons, doughnuts, pizza rolls…)
posted by klangklangston at 10:55 AM on October 7, 2013


Yes, I was at the last one. It was AMAZING!

I'm much more interested in deep frying stuff in that sort of context (get together a bunch of people for a fun activity).

I don't remember whether we did fries at the last one, because the samosas and wontons were so good.
posted by Sara C. at 10:58 AM on October 7, 2013


By the way, have you seen the latest whiny Billfold article, about the guys who wanted to rent a car to get to a wedding in New England and they didn't do their research and were thoroughly disorganized and all had expired licenses and left their credit cards at home and then ended up paying like $800 for a three day car rental?

I've had to rent cars a few times recently and was all excited to settle in to read about how they gauge you on gas if you don't fill it up before you return it, and it was just... whining. Lots of whining. And some stuff I think is made up, like the out of state license thing, which I have never experienced and which makes no sense since like 99% of car rentals are to travelers.
posted by Sara C. at 11:20 AM on October 7, 2013


A thing that I wish we could stop having in metafilter threads: the part where people who due to highly unusual circumstances, skills or preferences can do something that is difficult/complex/messy/time-consuming try to convince people not in unusual circumstances that they could do it if only they tried harder, and what is more, they should do it. It is certainly one of the most seductive types of comments to write because writing about your own positive and complex experience in detail is fun....and yet!!

I would also like this to apply to beer and spirits threads too, please. (Not as in the making of--though I am sure some of us do--but in the drinking of, wherein people trip over themselves to make sure their booze taste is better than yours.)
posted by Kitteh at 11:26 AM on October 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


"I don't remember whether we did fries at the last one, because the samosas and wontons were so good."

We might have done them before you got there. We, alas, didn't do waffle cut, but the shoe-string ones were fantastic.
posted by klangklangston at 11:30 AM on October 7, 2013


.....Lemme get this straight. Some of y'all have parties that consist of nothing but sitting around and frying food?

I fear I may be in the wrong city.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:51 PM on October 7, 2013 [7 favorites]


I've purposely never learned how to deep fry, because nothing good is going to come from me having the ability to quickly and easily produce fried food.
posted by Ham Snadwich at 5:48 AM on October 8, 2013 [5 favorites]


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