EATING AT DENNY'S IN SOMA. WAIT?! WTF?! WHY AM I EATING AT DENNY'S?
Something unique, sad, disturbing and highly emotional happens when one turns 50--you get a notice in the mail that you are now eligible for an AARP card. That's when it hits you, wholly f**k I'm like my parents age or something. It can be a distressing and emotionally crippling moment when you see that envelope in your stack of mail. My first impulse was to light it on fire and send it hurtling over the balcony railing like a phoenix in the night. But I stopped myself (barely) as my neighbors might not approve and I'm not sure our apartment fire insurance is totally up to date. I then popped open a bottle of wine and decided to open it and see just what they are shilling for the I don't quite feel that old set.
They purport to offer a lot if you join all those smiley, aged, slightly grey haired folks who seemed to "be enjoying life after 50." Personally, I think they just got the good meds and live in a place without a high cost of living and can retire at an early age. But this is San Francisco and we are not all afforded that opportunity. Still, I pored over the literature and ran down their list of things you can get discounts on when you flash that little red card around. While I personally have no use for auto coverage or being trapped on a cruise ship with other old folks, I was interested in some of the food places you could get a discount. We don't have a Dunkin' Donuts here so a free donut a day with coffee purchase was out of the question, but seems you can get 15% of at Denny's--that bastion of roadside stops where truckers and the elderly can commiserate over aching backs and butts while swigging an endless cup of coffee and noshing on a grand slam breakfast any time of the day. While I won't say this was the one thing to put me over, it did convince me to sign up me and the SO for a membership (though beware, your junk email will increase two-fold with scams and trash when you sign up--it is a flaw in their system).
I waited patiently the few weeks for the card to arrive and when it did, I made it a point to try out my discount and hit up the local Denny's in SF. Yes, I know what you are thinking--we have a Denny's here? Well, we do, right down on Mission at 4th Street, across from the Metreon and that behemoth of a parking garage. It's been there forever and it is also 24 hours, in that neighborhood. While I didn't relish hitting the place up at 3am, no matter how interesting it would have been, I convinced the SO to eat there after we saw a movie recently. At first, this was more of a lark than anything, but then I saw where Pete Well's, the revered food critic of the NY Times reviewed Senor Frog's in Times Square and I thought, if he can do that without too much side eye, I can do Denny's with tongue firmly planted in cheek.
It's a mid-afternoon on a Sunday and the place isn't all that busy. The crowd is distinctly kind of touristy and, well, mostly mature--so we'll fit right in! Unlike most restaurants in this town, trying to figure out what to get here can be a challenge. The menu is like a book that spans options from breakfast to dinner and pretty much everything in between. Plus there are colorful pictures of everything. It's like a visual and information overload. Having choices can be a good thing, but sometimes it can just be overwhelming. Particularly for someone like me who has to be in a mood to find a dish I won't regret getting. To say it took some time for me to make up my mind would be an understatement. Was I in a breakfast mood? Burger mood? Monthly specials? Their idea of a steak dinner? I think I went through several glasses of iced tea (props for unlimited refills and not having to ask!) and long rolling eye stares from the SO before I was able to narrow my choices down. We started our journey with the penultimate in fried food unhealthiness and ordered up some mozzarella sticks.
You can never go wrong with deep fried cheese. Ok, not totally true, they could be under or over cooked, but there is such a small window to f' these kinds of things up, that most times they come out good enough. And seriously, do these really need a review? These things have been a staple appetizer on some of the finer bar and chain restaurant menus forever. (I should know, I've worked in several of those places and eaten my fair share of 'em) They've even reached a point now where McDonald's, that purveyor of all things fried, is even serving them. I would think that would be some kind of tipping point, but, like most deep fried things, they persist. You can even get them at the Metreon movie theater--something we've done too. Surprisingly enough, the one's at Denny's are $10.29 and the ones at Metreon are $6.59 (price points are odd at both). Who knew movie theater food would be cheaper. The ones at the movies are longer and thinner and Denny's are shorter and fatter. Sauce at both is a little too sweet. And really, it's deep fried cheese people! A guilty pleasure probably best enjoyed in a darkened movie theater or while drinking at a bar anyway.
I didn't want to go all breakfast and then I didn't want to totally disregard something that Denny's is kind of known for which lead me to this special harvest skillet thing they were offering up. A gouda chicken apple sausage with red skinned potatoes, sauteed mushrooms, grape tomatoes, roasted red and green peppers, onions and two eggs topped with cheese and served on a sizzling hot skillet! How could I pass up a sizzling hot skillet emanating trails of smoke and popping grease as it is carried across the restaurant making eyes turn and stomachs say yes, I want that too! It's why places like this do them, to entice other diners into getting them. I am eating at Denny's for gosh sakes, why not make it interesting while hoping it's not all flash and sizzle. For the most part, this pretty much like a scramble on a hot plate. The sausage was actually okay and you could taste some smoky Gouda in there, though apple always gets lost. I asked for sunny side up eggs but they could have cooked a bit more. A little too much of the clear white for me. Sadly, the plate didn't stay hot long enough to cook the rest of the egg for me. The veggie mix underneath it all wasn't overcooked or too salty, a bit of a surprise, though it needed a little black pepper for some kick. A sprinkle more of cheese would have been good too. In all, it's a decent enough breakfast kind of dish. While it isn't all that exciting flavor wise, at least you get some smoke and sizzle. I just wish I'd gotten a little more for the $15.99 cost, which is on the higher end of breakfast food things in this town. Particularly when it doesn't even come with toast. I'm from the South, we need bread with our food, especially breakfast. I'm also cheap and wasn't about to pay $3 for a side either. They wouldn't have had enough butter to make up for the cost.
When I think of salads and eating healthy, the first place that comes to mind is Denny's! NOT! The SO was trying to be good and got the chicken avocado caesar salad, dressing on the side. Awww, that's cute! NOT! This is Denny's, one of the places you eschew the diet for stuff you'd never admit to eating elsewhere. This really doesn't need a review and I'm not gonna give it one. It's romaine lettuce, strips of grilled chicken, a bunch of Parmesan cheese, avocado and bits of bacon. Well, there is the bacon on it so that's a bit of a nod to where we are at least. At $14.99, I'll say this is about $2 more than it probably should have been. And I'm pretty sure some of the grab and go salad joints that serve the Financial District crowd have this kind of thing for even less. This is a salad at Denny's, what more can I say about it.
When I ask for the bill I tell my server I have an AARP card and she said okay. I asked if she needed to see and she said no. Hmmm...I think I'm a little offended, does she really think I look over 50? Does she even know what it means to have one of these? Does she just say okay when anyone tells her they have a card? Does she really even care? It's probably the last one so I try not to dwell too much on my perceived affront as it could affect her tip if I think too long about it.
After all is said and eaten that comes to one appetizer, two mains and a beverage for $44.96. Bringing my 15% discount to roughly $6.74 before tax. In my mind it seemed like it would be a much bigger discount value. That still makes it a $40+ meal with tip--at Denny's--ugh, even supposed value places to eat can be a challenge in SF. AND I GOT FREAKIN' A DISCOUNT! Maybe we should have gone with grand slam or eggs over my hammy or somewhere else to eat instead. Let's face it, when you (or if you ever) go to a Denny's, you have to leave expectations at the door. They are what they are and the food it was it is. It all sounds good when the next roadside stop is 100 miles away or it is 4am and pancakes sound like a good way to soak up all that alcohol and they are open. But considering the prices at this particular location, not sure it is something you'd find yourself gravitating toward, even with an AARP discount.
I think I'll just chalk this one up to a wouldn't this be fun and we don't have to pay full price idea that ultimately wasn't either. Plus, it all just reminds me I'm old enough to even be offered an AARP card in the first place. While that may lead some folks to over eat their feelings, for me it's more an appetite suppressant, much like the sight of undercooked eggs. For now, I'll just bide my time and count down the days until Dunkin' Donuts opens the first of their shops in San Francisco and then I can get a free donut a day with a beverage purchase. And isn't that the dream of every future retiree?