Thursday, November 22, 2012

WTF: No More Keg Chicken??!!

Yes, this is somewhat old news, but frankly, I am still a bit frazzled by it.  For years, we here in River City have been the beneficiaries of a great fried chicken arch rivalry.  If you needed any proof that competition is good for consumers, you needed look no further than Bob's and The Keg for fried chicken.  Both delicious and prepared well.  I preferred the Keg, personally.

The Keg was once an east-side institution.  I recall when it was located on the corner of East 10th Street and Bahnson Avenue.  The location is now a Mint Casino.  It may have been located somewhere else in that general area.  I will have to ask one of of my forkie friends who grew up in Hilltop.  At some point, the Keg moved to the strip mall near the southeast corner of 26th and Sycamore.  Probably not as truly Keggy as the original location, but a neat place to visit.  Every so often when I found myself jonesing for a fried chicken fix, I would wander over to the Keg, occupy a bar stool, order a cold beer, and place an order to go.  The Keg bar, was ALWAYS entertaining.  There were some regular patrons there who easily could have supplied The Jerry Springer Show with months of material.  Loved it.

But alas, it was not to last.  The first only step in what we might call the rise and fall of the Keg was the opening of a second, freshly-constructed location at the T-intersection of 57th and Marion.  Looked nice enough.  I never went in there.  Why would I when I can visit the highly entertaining and conveniently located east side location?  But then, the east side location closed and became the Overtime, yet another sports bar and grille.  This would be the start of the "fall" part of the Keg.  I have never figured out what happened here, but I have theories.  Personally, I think some rocket scientist thought that shiny new 57th and Marion location would be located conveniently enough for those east sider disciples of boasted poultry to hop on 57th and cruise on over.  Buzzzzzz.  Wrong!  And what do we have for our contestants, Johnny?  Not fried chicken!

No one asked me.  I could have told anyone this would happen.  57th and Marion is a virtual dead zone for eating joints.  Need proof?  Exhibit one: Big City Burrito.  Exhibit two: Phillies.  Exhibit three: Inca Express.  Next victim: Zaroty.  (More on that later.)  Only one thing flies in that particular location.  Booze- on-sale and off-sale.  Fogie's, Billy Frog, and the Lie-brary.  I know Sioux Falls isn't THAT big, but it's big enough that people ain't driving from 18th and Bahnson to 57th and Marion.

So, congratulations, Bob, for your Clucking Good victory in the fried chicken battle.  Only a matter of time before I suspect you overtake Sneaky's, apparently a Sioux City institution strategically located in a gas station on West 12th Street.  Besides such a swell location, did I mention Sneaky's is another Sioux City import?  Like Luciano's.  And we all know how I feel about that.

Thanksgiving Thoughts on Portion Size and Food Packaging

I heard some good advice the other day about loading up a Thanksgiving plate with all those traditional goodies: If you can't see the china pattern through the food, you took too much.  This is advice I actually follow.  Thanksgiving is a tough one, mainly because someone in my family insists on an early meal.  At no other time during any given year, do I consume so many calories during one meal and so early in the day.  And, after getting up early and preparing a turkey and some sides, I usually end up conked out for several hours following the meal.  Eating like this probably works for Hutterites or crab fisherman, who have actually been working for 7 or 8 hours before 1:00 PM, but for those of us who don't, it's a challenge.  So, I try to follow the advice of looking for the china pattern through the food and eat a little less, or a lot less as the case may be.

Speaking of portion size, unless you live under a very large, moss-covered rock located in the middle of say, Haakon County, then you have probably noticed some of the shenanigans going on with portion size. The portion-creep has been occurring for years in the grocery stores.  Here is what I am talking about.  If you are over say, the age of 35, a square, cardboard container of your favorite ice cream is generally referred to as a half-gallon.  That's what it was in 1967, 1972, and 1989.  Today, it looks the same, so it must be a half-gallon, two quarts, 64 ounces, right?  Wrong.  Don't believe me?  Go open the freezer.  3.75 quarts.  That is 0.25 quart, a/k/a 8 ounces, a/k/a one cup short of a half gallon.  BUT, the price is in line as if that was still a half-gallon container.

This sort of thing is going on all through the aisles of groceries.  Things look the same, and they are priced the same, but they are not the same.  Check out sugar packaging like my favorite economist blogger, who also happens to love food and cooking, Meghan McArdle, has to say about this.  Here.  Call it what you will, it's a price increase that producers and distributors are trying to obfuscate.  Personally, I am waiting to see if these packaging pirates can figure out how to sell you 10 eggs for the price of a dozen in a package that makes you think you are still getting 12 eggs.  Stay tuned for that one.

Well, the very same thing is occurring under our very noses in restaurants here in River City.

Example One.  The first example, I am guessing, has been noticed by many folks.  I call it "The Great Jumbo Wing-Ding" at Buffalo Wild Wings.  As you may recall, I loves me some B-Dubs wings.  If you've been to B-Dubs like twice in your life and ordered wings, ( and I mean traditional wings, not the McNuggets) then you probably have it in your mind that they are priced per 6 wings.  Or, were, as it turns out.  B-Dubs decided to start delivering different product, a so-called JUMBO wing.  And, true that, the wings were bigger.  However, the geniuses in accounting on the 38th floor of B-Dub Tower decided that those wings were so JUMBO and over the top huge and generously sized, that it was necessary to reduce the allotted portion from the relatively standard SIX wings to FIVE, because hell, you are getting as much or more fried, sauced, gooey protein and chicken skin per order at the same price.  Maybe.

But there's a twist to this story.  First, as the SSS and I can both attest, the bigger JUMBO wings sucked.  Some fried chicken wing magic seems to get lost in that marginal up-sizing.  They never seemed cooked as well or sauced to specs.  Second, and it's extremely difficult to tell whether this was the plan all along concocted in the B-Dub Board room on the 65th floor of B-Dub Tower, or whether it was a reaction to bitching, but the wing size has been dialed back to the more standard sized wing.  What didn't dial back up?  The portion size.  Still FIVE wings.  Seems like it would have been a hell of a lot easier to just scootch up the price and leave the damned wings as they were.  Do the math next time you are in there.  About a buck a wing.

Example Two.  I don't eat chicken wings all the time.  Those things will kill you for crying out loud.  So, the other day, a couple of us decide to hit Chevy's for lunch.  I run hot and cold on Chevy's, but one thing I can always count on there is the Santa Fe Chopped salad with the apple chipotle vinaigrette.  Pretty good salad and always made pretty well.  Cold, crisp romaine lettuce, avocado, some blue cheese, roasted corn, red bell pepper, a little bacon and some grilled chicken.  Seriously, a pretty nice salad.

So, when we were at Chevy's, it appears a new menu is out.  It seems Chevy's has been screwing with their lunch menu for an extended period of time.  Sure enough, the Santa Fe Chopped Salad remains on the menu.  And, it is available in a regular entree size for just shy of 12 bucks, or a luncheon-sized portion for, I believe, $6.99.  Well, it's lunch, so let's have the luncheon size.  I suspected we would be sorry we did this, and, as usual, I should have listened to my gut instinct.

Turns out the luncheon size, which you'd expect to be about half the size of the regular portion, (the math certainly suggests that) was really along the lines of a side salad.  Small salad/pasta bowl holding a damned small salad.  Less than a handful of romaine with about a tablespoon each, maybe, of the other goodies.  I suspect if the two of us would have combined our two luncheon sized salads, we would have had about half to two-thirds of the regular salad.  Total rip off.  Next time, we'll order the regular size and two forks.

One of my golden standards for a good restaurant is consistency.  It's important to know exactly what you are going to get in terms of quality AND quantity for a given price.  That means when it comes to portion size, the best thing to do is to adopt Ron Popeil's slogan for the Ronco Showtime Rotisserie: Set it and Forget it!