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Your City Is A Chain Restaurant
I asked you all to compare North Carolina's finest places to the most appropriate fast-casual dining. Here are your replies.
Earlier this week, I asked the readers of this newsletter, as well as my followers on Twitter, to complete this sentence: (City) is the (chain restaurant) of cities. You did not disappoint. Here are your best responses with some added context:
We’ve already established a pretty strong precedent that Charlotte is the Chili’s of cities, but that didn’t stop you all from trying to one-up it. Suggestions included Outback, Chick-Fil-A, and T.G.I. Friday’s, but if there’s anything that approaches the original burn, it’s probably this:
I have been to Ruth’s Chris near SouthPark Mall for dinner one single time, and the thing I remember is that they charged me a lot of money for a shallow dish of creamed spinach. Thirteen dollars FOR A SIDE DISH. I don’t even like creamed spinach! I was told I would like this creamed spinach. Reader, I did not.
Shoney’s seems more down to earth! They hired Jeff Foxworthy to do commercials once! Folksy! In reality, though, they seem to be a highly corporate concern wrapped in some sort of generic southern charm, coasting on bygone family nostalgia:
The loyalty survived years of customer complaints. “We used to get lots of them,” sighs Head. “Cold food, no service, people couldn't get waited on. 'Please fix my Shoney's,' they'd beg.”
The guy in that article from 2004, COO Roger Head, goes on to describe “a fiscal and psychological morass” that could only be saved BY A PRIVATE EQUITY FIRM. Shoney’s! We’re “choking on debt”!
Anyway, I think Vincent’s on to something there.
There was, however, this greater observation made by Robert Wells:
Not quite on point. this conjured a quote I always remember from the great columnist Jerry Bledsoe who, after spending a few years in Charlotte, penned words to the effect that, "People in Charlotte fancy themselves as Little Atlanta... but they're really just Big Spartanburg."
Big Spartanburg Energy is the vibe that we should all bring to any New South city. Just use it when you’re ordering something fancy from a new restaurant that you think might close within the next six months.
I, for one, had thought of Raleigh as a Panera Bread. Panera has Hazelnut coffee, which is sort of exotic, but not that exotic. Other suggestions here included Hardee’s and “Char Motherf—-in Grill.” However! Brian Powell decided to bring the melancholy:
It’s okay, though. The Raleigh Ruby Tuesday of your youth has probably been replaced by an abandoned Mattress Firm next to an abandoned Mattress Firm.
I had never heard of an accusation where someone accused someone else of buying votes with $5 Huddle House coupons, but YOLO I guess.
This one opened up a can of worms for me, because I always sort of figured that Huddle House was sort of a knock-off of Waffle House, like McDowell’s from Coming to America. However, it’s sort of its own thing! For one thing, its name comes from the fact that you could go there after a Friday night football game (huddle, get it). For another, all Waffle Houses are corporately owned, while Huddle Houses are franchises. Also, Huddle House proudly points out that it has a deep fryer while Waffle House does not. And, during a moment where even the greasiest of greasy spoon restaurants decided to start using healthier ingredients and list calorie counts on their menus, Huddle House was like, nah:
Huddle House will never chase the latest healthy food trends or be adding any lighter fare to its menu, CEO Michael Abt tells The Salt.
The chain wants to cultivate "heavy users" who come back time and time again. But, Abt says, "we're not promoting that customers eat indulgent foods like this all the time."
Not all of the time! But a lot of the time! The CEO himself said he tries to eat healthy food, which you cannot get at Huddle House.
The old joke is that Cary stands for “Containment Area for Relocated Yankees,” and damn if you all didn’t come up with some stuff here that midwesterners really enjoy:
Cary is the Sheetz of cities. Clean restrooms, good lighting, but bigger than it needs to be and ultimately, just a convenient stop.
Gastonia is the truck stop with a Taco Bell of cities.
Look, I know the go-to move is to dump on Gastonia, but do you know how great it is to have a truck stop/fast food combo? That’s innovation in the human AND transportation energy sectors, folks. Plus, that chalupa is gonna taste so much better with a little bit of diesel mixed in. (NOTE: Do not do this.)
Anyway, to honor the time-honored tradition of Gastonians dumping on other Gaston County cities, may I offer this up: Bessemer City is the Hunt Brothers Pizza of cities.
Elkin, N.C. is The French Laundry of cities, by the way, the heart of Yadkin Valley Wine Country with a goddamn bus serving visitors to 25 wineries and vineyards, we don't care if you're from Ohio or Ontario. dubya-dubya-dubya dot explore elkin dot com this message presented by the Yadkin Valley Rotary Club
I’ll be honest, I was not prepared for this little town to be compared to a fairly notorious Napa Valley restaurant. Elkin does have a very nice theater with a lobby that gets converted into a cafe during the daytime, so I would have thought it’d be the concession stand that sells $8 Amstel Light of cities.
From Becca Joan Eversole:
Wilmington is the Red Lobster of cities. Lots of seafood available. Once in a while it's actually good. Usually overpriced.
And yes, part of the joke here is that Wilmington doesn't have a Red Lobster, much to the consternation of newcomers.
I had to fact check this one and it’s true: There are no Red Lobsters in Wilmington. Although if you had gone to a Red Lobster and ordered the lobster bisque, you may be eating a version of lobster that’s more akin to a hermit crab. Passing off cheaper fish as more expensive stuff is sort of a thing that restaurants do. That’d be like trying to pass off Myrtle Beach as Wrightsville.
Goldsboro is the Five Guys of cities, an inappropriate destination if you have even the slightest of peanut allergies.
I get it! Wayne County produces a lot of peanuts! Last year, farmers pulled something like 22 million pounds of them out of the ground there last year, which is impressive. However, Bertie County is the undisputed champion of legume production in this state. That county alone was responsible for twice as many pounds of peanuts as Goldsboro, meaning Windsor is more akin to Five Guys and Goldsboro is probably more of a Jet’s Pizza town on account of the air force base nearby.
From Christopher Corcoran:
Greenville is the Subway of cities.
There was no reasoning offered up for this one, although maybe the explanation is that people tend to leave Subway with this look on their faces:
The energy of all of the Greensboro suggestions was akin to “it’s really not so bad”:
From An Anonymous Coward:
Greensboro is the Golden Corral of cities. Friendly people, plenty of choice, but not very good for you and a bit unsatisfying.
Greensboro is the Biscuitville of cities, Actually pretty good, underrated, and only known to people in central NC. Plus super car dependent.
There was one vote for Wendy’s, but I do like this one, from a guy with an extremely Greensboro family lineage:
Greensboro: Best experienced when it’s 2 a.m. and the munchies hit you hard.
This happened in April, and somehow I have no knowledge of this. According to Wingstop, the “Blazed & Glazed” wings were flavored with hemp seeds, strawberry, cayenne pepper, and terpenes, and did not actually get anybody high. I’m guessing that people who actually sought these out may have already partaken in other 4/20-related activities, and were probably so baked that they forgot to post about it. Anyway, sure, Boone is high. Like, 3,333 feet high. Why, what did you think I meant?
Winston-Salem is the Little Richard's BBQ of NC cities. Do I even need to explain? So very satisfying with a legacy based on smoking.
That lines up. For what it’s worth, though, I do imagine that had tobacco companies won all of the lawsuits they lost back in the ‘80s and ‘90s, Winston-Salem could have ended up like the alternate Hill Valley from Back to the Future Part 2, in which there’s a “Smoking Required” sign posted outside of Biff Tannen’s Casino.
Morehead City is the Buc-ees of cities. Determined to bring in all the tourists to eat, drink, pump gas and buy trinkets. We leave you smiling until the credit card bill comes in.
Really respect the hustle of someone dropping a Texas gas station reference on a North Carolina town. It’s like saying that Denver, North Carolina is the King Sooper’s of cities.
Hillsborough is the au bon pain of cities.
(Looks up from book I wrote myself) Ah yes, quite right.
Man, Fayetteville gets no respect. Sort of like how Church’s gets no respect in a world that also contains Popeye’s and Bojangles.
Fuquay-Varina is the Ruth's Chris Steak House of cities in that the name is too complicated for anyone to say it correctly on their first try.
(sings operatically in the style of Ave Maria)
That’s Peter Luger. But I think this one from Bridget is better:
Asheville is the Mellow Mushroom of cities; generically unique as the franchise grinds the edges off.
I have a friend who used to judge the seriousness of his romantic relationships by taking his girlfriends to Asheville after a few dates to see how they reacted. Which is to say that Asheville is indeed is very Mellow Mushroomy: It’s more interesting that most places, but not so out there that your potential life partner will think you’re a weirdo for bringing her there. That’s what Carrboro is for.
From Leslie Lotina:
If Chapel Hill is the Chipotle of cities, then Carrboro is Sweet Greens without an option for drive through
Someone suggested that Chapel Hill is the Starbucks of cities, and you know for a fact that if Carrboro somehow ever allowed one, they’d for sure only allow drive-thrus for electric bicycles.
10/10, no notes: