Saturday, May 20, 2006

McAlister's

I am happy to present a review from my third guest blogger Andria. It definitely fell into the "me feeling inadequate because of its genius" category, but I decided to post it anyway, because I love my readers.

McAlister’s Deli
3482 Plaza Avenue (Poplar Plaza/Poplar & Highland)
452-6009


It seems a little like cheating to review a restaurant with no wait staff, but since McAlister’s is one of our favorite quick-but-not-fast food joints in Memphis, I figured I should share the experience. We’ve been going to the McAlister’s in Poplar Plaza since our childbirth education days. We’d be starving after the 3-hour, mid-day class (okay, I was starving all the time) and it was a good place to stop before doing any other Saturday errands we needed to do, like getting dog food at Petco or buying another birth guide at Bookstar or misting up over the Old Navy clothes I couldn’t fit into. So once that belly-bulge was out in the world and grew some teeth of her own, McAlister’s seemed like a natural place to take her.

Our most recent trip was inspired by the sudden awareness that McAlister’s does a “kids eat free” deal on Tuesdays from 3-10pm. You don’t even have to ask for it; their registers are technologically barred from charging for kid’s meals during that period. I’m not sure if kids eating off the regular menu get the same deal or not. I would hope so, because the kids’ menu is pretty limited and I can’t see a 12-year-old really filling up on a pita pizza and potato chips.

I got my usual – broccoli-cheese soup in a bread bowl - and tried to steer the monkey toward something semi-healthy by getting the grilled turkey and cheese sandwich. I also ordered one of their big ol’ lemonades, which are at least sort of homemade and taste a lot better than soda-machine lemonade (yeah, I’m looking at you, Minute Maid). McAlister’s is better known for their sweet tea, but I’m not much for the caffeine and one look at that 2-liter cup makes me jittery. Jeff always gets a sandwich, and this time he chose something involving peppers and beef, I think (it’s always gone within five minutes so I don’t pay that much attention). “We” (read: Jeff) also got a nacho basket as an appetizer. The full menu is huge and pretty daunting, but the friendly counter staff is willing to answer any questions.

The drinks and chips were ready instantly, so we grabbed those and chose from one of the many available tables. This was fairly early – around 5ish – on a weekday, so be warned that regular dinner traffic can be busier. And I’d strongly advise against bringing a monkey during the weekday lunch rush. We once sat for over 45 minutes waiting for our food. They hadn’t forgotten it – they just got that backed up. Anyway, the monkey had barely finished testing all of the possible uses of our plastic order number (It’s a hat! It’s a bracelet! It’s a chair for the sugar packet people!) when our food arrived.

And now I’d like to take a moment to speak to every server in every restaurant offering a children’s menu: DON’T BRING THE FREAKIN’ DESSERT AT THE SAME TIME AS THE ENTRÉE! Okay, so calling some toast slapped over a couple turkey cuts an entrée is sort of stretching it, but still. I was hoping the monkey would get through at least half of the artistically sliced sandwich (“Ooh, it’s a pyramid, honey! Look! Eat some!”), but no, the siren song of the Teddy Grahams could not be resisted. In the spirit of appeasement (and hunger), I ripped open the bag of bears and focused on my own meal. Even though broccoli-cheese soup is almost al! ways on the menu, it can vary considerably. Sometimes it’s very broccoli-y, other days it’s nearly overflowing with shredded cheddar. The freshness of the bread is inconsistent, too. On this occasion, however, it was a pretty perfectly mixed soup contained within a fresh, enjoyably doughy bowl. I ate every bit of it. And quickly, since it only took about three minutes for the Teddy Grahams to start escaping and finding shelter under the table.

In all, the monkey ate about eight cookies, two tortilla chips and one very dainty bite of sandwich, plus several sneaky swigs of my lemonade. We weren’t that surprised, though. Unless a restaurant meal involves macaroni or french fries, she’s generally not interested. Knowing this, we normally don’t splurge on the pricier kid’s menu items, like McAlister's extravagant $2.99 pizza (all of the kid’s meals are between $0.99-2.99 and include chips and those cursed Teddy Grahams; drinks are $1 more, which I think is a nice way of catering to the sippy cup crowd). She at least stayed distracted long enough for Jeff and I to eat, and the atmosphere is relaxed enough that her occasional outbursts and dance breaks (they were playing a mean classic R-and-B mix, and my monkey loves her some Barry White) went unnoticed. Separating the seating into small sections divided by curtains helps in that respect as well, although the curtains are a major monkey temptation in their own right. (You just gotta hope that the person in the adjacent table isn’t trying to close a multi-million dollar deal or settle the final details of her grandmother’s estate, but really, who would be doing that at McAlister’s? I mean, there’s a Buffalo Wild Wings just around the corner.)

On our way out, the monkey decided she needed the restroom, so I sent her off with Jeff. I usually pawn this duty off on him, so it’s hard for me to remember the state of the McAlister’s bathrooms other than “teeny tiny.” I seem to recall that, at this location, the changing table is actually in the hallway outside the bathroom, which is nice as far as space constraints but sort of disrespectful of all patrons within nuclear diaper fallout range. Anyway, after making her mandatory review of the toilet situation, the monkey was ready to leave, and she didn’t even notice the ancient gum ball I snuck out of the machine while she was gone. (I figured a stealthy sugar cookie run would be pushing our luck, never mind! trying to get out of there with any of the fiendishly tempting denizens of the dessert case.) So all in all, it was a successful trip, just like it usually is. McAlister’s isn’t anything fancy, but for not much more than the price of a couple fast-food value meals, you get a meal that tastes like it came from a recipe rather than a test tube.

1 comment:

RJA said...

Why am I just now finding out that kids eat free at some places??

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