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Eating out can't always be an adventure

My wife and I have very different ideas when it comes to eating out. She thinks going to a restaurant should be an adventure. For me, an adventure is backpacking in New Zealand. Eating out should be a familiar experience, like watching the stock market tank every time President Barack Obama opens his mouth about the economy.

That's why I prefer the chain restaurants to the mom and pop places. Any time you eat at Chili's or Applebee's or On the Border, you know exactly what you're getting: a placemat you can color.

Just kidding. You get a pleasant, if somewhat generic, atmosphere, college students for servers and predictable food quality. The Flo's Filet I ate at LongHorn Steakhouse in Denver last March tasted just like the one I had at the Lawrenceville LongHorn last Friday. In fact, it might have been the same one.

My wife has other ideas. She wants to try new places, new dishes, new credit cards. As you can imagine, this occasionally creates a certain amount of friction in our relationship. It might be really bad if we could actually afford to eat out.

A few years ago, my wife and I took a trip to New York. I stepped out of our hotel that first night and saw a TGI Friday's right across the street. "Look, honey," I exclaimed, barely able to control my glee. "There's a TGI Friday's!"

She turned on me, fists on hips, eyes flashing in the neon lights. "This is New York City," she informed me coldly. "We are NOT eating at TGI Friday's."

So we didn't. We ate instead at a small steakhouse a few blocks away that I'm pretty sure she found by calling some of the numbers written on the wall in the ladies room at LaGuardia. It only had about four tables, three of which were occupied by what looked like mobsters or politicians. Excuse the redundancy.

But the food was good - maybe a little better, I have to admit grudgingly, than the chain steak-houses - and we didn't actually see anyone shot to ribbons. I don't remember the name of the place, but if you ever want to try it, take Broadway three blocks south from Times Square, then turn left. It's just past the second wino on the right.

Unfortunately, not all our eating adventures have had such happy endings. Just recently we decided to try out a new country-style place that we'd driven by several times. Suffice it to say that in the future, we'll continue driving right on by. The prices were no better than Cracker Barrel, the food wasn't as good, and they didn't even have those little triangular golf tee games.

Given all that, why would I choose to eat there? I'll just save my money for a back-packing trip to New Zealand.

Rob Jenkins is associate professor of English at Georgia Perimeter College. E-mail him at rjenkinsgdp@yahoo.com.