by Jim Ridley
Are you now, or have you ever been, a subscriber to Gourmet? Did you fist-bump Michael Ruhlman during his last Nashville stopover? Can you say the word "charcuterie" without snickering? Then for the duration of this post, avert your eyes. Whistle with fingers in your ears. This is not for you, the foodie with a life, cosmopolitan tastes and disposable income. Really. See you next post.
Parents, are we alone now? Let's try an experiment. "Did you hear about Jean-Georges Vongerichten taking over the kitchen for a residency at...."
(sound of loudly chirping crickets)
Good. Man, was Kids Night nuts last week at the Brentwood Chick-Fil-A. It was my initiation, but if you have kids between the ages of six months and 12 years, you probably already tuck away your pocket change for Tuesday nights, when a kids' meal with four nuggets, fries and a drink goes for just $1.49. "Used to be 99 cents," the mom beside me sighed wearily, while a herd of shoeless 4-year-olds did their best imitation of Quantrill's Raiders in a scuffed plastic airplane fuselage. A clown stopped at every table making animal balloons; Jerry Vale playing the Copa couldn't have gotten a bigger reception. Total. Freakin'. Chaos.
But kinda lovable, too, in its antiseptic way. Chick-Fil-A has a Mister Rogers vibe you don't get at any other fast-food place. It could be the food court for The Truman Show. The fresh-scrubbed folks behind the counter aren't despondent. They don't have that please-kill-me look familiar to anyone who's done hard time at CiCi's Pizza.
As for the food, I've developed a taste for it. (It beats lashing myself like Ulysses to the steering wheel as I barrel past and the kids wail.) The chicken actually has the taste and texture of chicken, not bleached bits compressed into meat morsels. The waffle fries aren't steeped in grease. The genuinely good, tart lemonade has bits of pulp.
So fellow parent, I'm just saying that if you're at your wit's end, you have to feed a bunch of kids without cashing in your 401(k), and you just nuked the last smiley-face tater tot in the microwave, this makes an acceptable outing. Besides, where else is a manager going to walk table to table issuing an all-clear report about the indoor playground: "No problem, everyone—turns out it was just a brownie."