Chain, Chain, Chain…

July 14, 2009

CurbsidePhoto2One of the benefits of living in NYC is that we really have an embarrassment of riches when it comes to great restaurants, at all price points. Which makes it all the more frustrating to walk in midtown and hear tourists get excited when they see TGI Fridays. But even though most of us here are food snobs because we can be, maybe it’s the New Jersey in me but there are some times when I crave some food from certain chains, many of whom actually don’t have outposts in Manhattan. (I’ve noted if there is in fact one in Manhattan — these can be found all over the country, as well.)

Olive Garden: For lunch, you really can’t beat their soup, salad and breadsticks deal. Truth be told, I‘ve never dared to try any of the pastas and once some coworkers I was with ordered some appetizers and they were terrible. But the minestrone soup, the chilled lettuce salad and the soft breadsticks, all bottomless, really hit the spot. (There’s one in Times Square and it’s always packed – we’re often the only non-tourists there.)

California Pizza Kitchen: It’s not as good as it used to be, but the Chinese Chicken Salad and the BBQ chicken pizza on whole wheat dough are great for splitting for a very satisfying meal. Plus there’s a decent kids menu where you can add on some fruit for dessert. (There’s one up by Bloomingdale’s but the one on Park Avenue and 30th Street is a lot less crowded.)

Cheesecake Factory: Yes, the wait time is usually ridiculous (less so in this economy) and the portions are obscene, but that’s why God created doggie bags. I always order the same thing and I’m rarely disappointed: the Santa Fe Salad. At lunch they offer a smaller, cheaper portion and at dinner I just take some home to eat for lunch the next day. The chicken, beans, avocado, lettuce, corn, cilantro and tortilla strips all come together in a palate pleasing ratio. We rarely get the cheesecake but it is tasty. One grilled cheese sandwich is plenty for the kids to split, we substitute broccoli for the fries to make it somewhat healthy. (None in NYC – we frequent the one in Hackensack. Shops at Riverside – holla!)

Baja Fresh: This chain just started to move east and recently one opened on Lexington in the 40’s; one is supposed to open on Broadway this fall. I’ve eaten there a few times in LA. Very fresh and tasty Mexican food, all at a reasonable price.

Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf: Why this hasn’t come east I don’t know. I go every time I’m in Los Angeles or Phoenix. (I even went to one in Singapore, of all places.) The non-fat sugar-free blendeds sound like they would be non-tasty, but they are in fact delicious and refreshing. They offer an at-home kit, but it’s not the same.

Chipotle: This chain only arrived in NYC a few years ago but since then it has exploded. And for good reason: Bell and Evans chicken, fresh tomato salsa, just-made guacamole – it’s fast food done right. I get the chicken fajita burrito bowl, which basically puts everything from inside the burrito (including onions and peppers) into a bowl and skips the tortilla skin. Lines can be long, but you can fax in your order and cut the line to pick it up. And recently the caloric count was revealed to be less than waistline friendly…but it is tasty!

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Aren’t we all a little sick of Michael Jackson and Sarah Palin? Enough already…let them both rest in peace. And let’s find another politician who’s been cheatin’ on his wife!

I ran on the hill program this morning at the gym, and I was literally dripping with sweat afterward. So of course I ran into about half a dozen people I knew on the way home, with each of them calling out, “Good workout today, huh!” Oh brother.

Hope your Monday was easy!


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