We just had to check it out. We were on one of our “as rarely as possible” trips to East Montgomery (a.k.a. The Hellscape). We had been doing something or other at Target perhaps and, needing a lunchtime bite to eat, opted to check out a nearby chain restaurant called Red Robin.
We were under the false impression that this was a sort of In and Out Burger, when, in reality, it is more of a Ruby T.G.I. McApplebees sort of deal: a “fast casual” hyper-Americanized sit-down place that specializes in burgers.
Red Robin is a national chain with about 400 stores. There is a plethora of the familiar placeless bric-a-brac that fills the void. When you don’t have anything local, just go with some baseball, some neon, and some Elvis references. Sure, you might as well be in Cleveland or Wichita, but as long as your theme is militantly American and one step on the class ladder above license plates on the wall, people will be content with your “art” and continue to eat your food.
There are a lot of burgers on the menu with all of the usual options: blue cheese, mushrooms, swiss cheese, pineapple, etc. There are also fish and chicken burgers. And salads. And etc, etc, etc. All laid out colorfully in a genero-swirl of fakey diner type nostalgia.
We of course had to try the (somewhat expensive) tower of onion rings. As promised, it is indeed a tower: a stack of onion halos, a column of 65 grams of vertical love and 1250 calories worth of light brown flaky mind erasure. That is to say, the onion rings are really good – crispy, with the breading soft yet not slipping immediately off the warm onion center.
Afterward, we split off into our different dining directions. The carnivorous member of our party ordered the french onion soup and some kind of “Banzai” (meaning served with pineapple and teriyaki sauce) chicken burger. The soup was pronounced bad (while looking slightly worse than that), with its Exxon Valdez-style slick of cheese grease and sad little side croutons. The chicken sandwich was massive and described as good, even though no human has a mouth large enough to take a bite of it as served, and it must be somewhat dismantled prior to consumption.
Also at our table were a veggie burger and a salad. The former was actually quite delicious, with a good bun and decent, fresh-seeming toppings. It came with fries, because we totally needed more fried food after the Caligula-esque assault we mounted on the onion rings. The fries were fine. Like competitor Ruby Tuesday’s (which we like better in our nation’s “fast casual” race to the bottom), the fries are “bottomless,” meaning they will keep bringing them to you for as long as you can cram them in your gaping foodhole.
The Caesar salad with salmon was surprisingly good. The dressing, even though probably bottled, was still MUCH better than the Caesar dressing at Sinclair’s. Heresy, I know. Just saying.
And the fish, even though it was probably frozen and farmed by way of a process that is wreaking some ecological holocaust in some part of the world most people have never heard of, tasted pretty ok. It was better than the equivalent fish served on a salad at Ruby Tuesday’s, in that it managed to taste fresh. We would eat the salad and veggie burger again, in a pinch, if we were in some part of America where telling people you are a vegetarian is likely to get you killed (but you can order quietly off the menu in a place like this while warding off anti-Communist persecution with your Banana Republic shopping bags and a generous spritzing of the new Britney Spears anti-stink spray perfume).
You can say about this place (or any of the other “eateries” in the Eastchase circle of hell) that it is soulless, or evil, or empty. But that kind of ranting just rings a little hollow since they are all those things and more as a matter of principle. They are animated by the same spirits that bring you Rooms To Go and Spencer’s Gifts – an aesthetic that makes maudlin seem like something that Damien Hirst made. They leave you tired, not so much from the food and the decor and the relentless cheer of the flair-adorned servers, but from the slow and torturous death of The Interesting.