Tuesday, February 9, 2010
Going, going, gone: My free Gland Slam!
In some places, people waited as long as three hours in bone chilling weather today for a free Grand Slam breakfast at a Denny's. When I heard the restaurant chain's web site crashed due to a surge in traffic, I wondered if a generation weaned on the web thought they could somehow down load free food. As it happens, they were pestering the site's "restaurant locator." Clearly "free" is a big draw. So, with a Denny's about 200 feet from where we live. I figured I'd take a look-see.
As I approached shortly before 8am, I could see a cluster of maybe 15 people milling outside. It was a gloomy 50 degree day and they didn't look happy. The whole thing had a soup kitchen feel to it. Mind you, I'm not too proud to wait on a chow line, just too impatient. I moved to Plan B: A McDonald's Egg McMuffin that I could pick-up at the drive-thru window. Cost: Maybe a buck or two. I returned home to get my car. Surprisingly, by the time I drove past Denny's, the tide of freeloaders had ebbed. The only one left outside was a young man wearing a bow tie, so I pulled in and parked. "Good morning! Just one?" he asked with a smile. Once inside I was lead to a a chess board-sized table. The restaurant was a beehive of activity but the noise level was surprisingly low. The only empty seats where at tables occupied by solo diners like me. The staff seemed buzy as hell but not overwhelmed.
Before long, a young woman with bright red lipstick and a bleach blonde pageboy do appeared, pad in hand. "You ready?" she asked. For a brief moment I pondered the menu as if the non-free options where in play. "Um...a Grand Slam," I said. Within a nano-second she asked "How do you like your eggs?" For comic effect, I wanted to say "Free!" but she was all business. "Over easy" I said, trying to sound more like a customer ordering breakfast than someone panhandling.
Her follow-up was instantaneous: "Orange Juice? Coffee?" Nice try! I remembered that time in Vegas when "$1.99 Steak and eggs" lured me to a low rent casino. Coffee, I learned the hard way, was $4.99 a cup. "Just water," I said. My cheapskate strategy did not go unnoticed. "Nothing?" confirmed the waitress with a hint of exasperation. "Just water," I repeated, She walked away. Within seconds there was a small glass of ice water on my table. As I sat contemplating it, I felt a little sleazy. So I ordered coffee.
When my gratis Grand Slam arrived--about 10 minutes after I ordered it--it was not like the photo on the menu. There was no parsley garnish and no swirl of steam rising seductively from the plate. The meal in front of me looked like airplane food--and it was served with the same crisp efficiency. (I'm fine with that part by the way.) Technically, it was as advertised: A large oval plate loaded with eggs, pancakes, sausages and bacon. No toast. (That's extra.) The bacon was blackened on one end and almost raw on the other. (Just like mama used to make!--but let's not go there.) The link sausages looked like they had been left in the sun to cure. The pancakes where not warm and included a large dollop of a butter-like product. Eggs are almost impossible to screw up, but they too were luke warm at best.
As I began to eat my free grub, it became clear I had made a strategic blunder. The yoke from the eggs was colliding with the syrup and there was not a damn thing I could do about it. I'm not used to having pancakes AND eggs at one meal, and certainly not on one plate. I remember thinking, "Why the hell did I go with over easy?" I picked up the pace. When I was almost done, I stopped eating. leaving just enough food so no one would take my plate away. I sipped coffee got a refill and then another. I noodled the crossword puzzle in the L.A. Times. The waitress put the check down on the table without breaking stride or saying a word. When I left, the line outside had swelled to about 20 people. My check came to $2.18. I left a tip well in excess of 50 percent. A decent dining experience. I may go back again next year. But not before. (If you are still reading this please leave a comment even if it is really short. I just want to know if anyone, besides my wife, read the whole thing.)-- al in la