The best part of a foolish dinner decision

I often like to daydream about regularly indulging in a foodie-esque dinner on Saturday nights at one of the many exciting, locally-owned, food-forward restaurants around town.  You know, places with a wine list I don’t really understand and food so delicious your taste buds tingle with joy as you simultaneously cope with a bit of a guilt response about the starving kids…um…wherever they are nowadays that don’t know about duck fat fries and Wagyu beef.

But, then, I can’t really afford to feed Wagyu beef to four kids.

So, instead, we occasionally aim a little lower and go out to places a bit less exciting but somewhat more accessible for the Family Circus.

Places where we have coupons.

On Saturday night, we decided that our local Texas Roadhouse might make for an enjoyable meal, especially since the kids each had earned a "Free Kids Meal” certificate from school.  And hey, ribs and steaks are always welcome in my book, especially pre-Father’s Day.

But when we arrived at said establishment, we found that apparently a full 60% of the Cincinnati area thought the same thing (and probably had coupons too).  I sent the Puddinette inside to find out how long the wait was and did a lap around the parking lot in the family truckster.  She returned holding up two fingers with an incredulous look.  Yes, that’s right, a two-hour wait.  With one more hour and a boat, we might have been lost at sea with the Skipper and Mr. and Mrs. Thurston Howell, III.

Obviously that knocked them out of contention for the night.  I don’t know if you’ve ever lived through an extended table wait with one hungry kid, let alone four, but I’ll simply state that given the choice between that and performing Lasik-style corrective surgery on myself with nothing but a turkey baster, a pen-light, and a bottle of Maker’s Mark, I’ll take the eye surgery.  And we’ve talked about my eye thing, right?

Another dinner selection, then, had to be made.  The Puddinpop and Mini-Me immediately began clamoring for a trip to the Golden Corral in an adjacent parking lot.  I cringed.  Years ago, I had officially drawn a line through the Corral on my list of acceptable dining options.  I mean, overpriced, all-you-can-eat, sub-mediocre gluttony just wasn’t the sort of way I wanted to live my life.

Don’t get me wrong, though, I’m all for gluttony sometimes.  In fact, I loves me some Chinese buffet.  But the American “Steakhouse” all-you-can-eat arrangement seems to signify just about everything that’s wrong with the world nowadays.  I mean, for a place that advertises having steak, I’d expect to find something somewhere in the building that could potentially pass for a recognizable cut of edible beef.  Instead of decent steak, though, such places pour time and energy into a nearly endless array of food options that appear catered by a gang of failing home economics students.

Still, for a kid, having an empty plate and four buffet tables from which to choose is an awesome thing.  Kids rarely have much say in anything that matters to them, so an unlimited supply of fried chicken, mashed potatoes, and macaroni and cheese is an exciting thing, indeed.

And because I’m a dad that deep down wants to see his kids smile, I swallowed reservations the size and weight of a fully-loaded Winnebago and conceded to dinner at Golden Corral.  Lucky for me, Saturday night is All-You-Can-Eat Steak night too!

My sarcasm gland nearly ruptured from overstimulation.

In the end, my hypothesis was proven, and the Corral is doubly marked off my list.  As far as “steak night” went, I found several blackened hunks of unrecognizable…something…overcooked to within an inch of being charcoal.  In fact, it turns out that the only marginally edible beef products available were the pot-roast and the chili.  Of course, further proving that the path to Hell is paved with good intentions, the chili attacked me as I was ladling it out, which is to say, that yes, I was the guy walking around the engorgement factory with an abomination of reddish stains on his shirt and pants.  As if just being there wasn’t punishment enough, I apparently needed to portray the King of the Slobs while I was at it.

I have never been so proud in my entire life.

The kids, though, enjoyed every minute of it and had a great dinner.  Did I pay too much for food that I wouldn’t even call average?  Yes.  Did I at least get my money’s worth and leave pleasantly full?  Nope.  It’s hard to fill up when you can’t gnaw the meat off of what’s supposed to be a baby-back rib.

Did I enjoy our dinner?

Yes, yes I did.  Because while the meal itself was, for me, the stuff of naked, middle-school, finals-day nightmares, I was surrounded by my family on the eve of Father’s Day, and all my kids were smiling.

There’s simply no price too high to pay for that.