Welcome back to The Best Thing We’ve Ever Done, the show where Brandon and I eat some food and have some opinions about it!
Last time, as you’ll recall, we recounted how our restaurant bracket came to be. Now it’s time to find out how fared our first eight om-nom-nominees.
Week 1: Squealer’s Barbecue vs. Chili’s
For the first week, we decided not to try anything too unusual or potentially life-threatening. Our first contenders were Squealer’s Barbecue (Brandon had been there before, I had not) and Chili’s (both of us had been there on Indy Burger Week).
Squealer’s was up first. As we entered the door, we were met with an appetizing whiff of barbecue, preparing our palates for meaty goodness. This, and the appealing wooden decor on the walls contributed favorably for environment, one of our five factors.
On our way to the restaurant, we had agreed on a rule for the first round of restaurants. To judge each restaurant accurately, on the first visit, we would order something that was representative of the restaurant’s intent. If a specific food is mentioned in the restaurant’s name, we have to get that food (within reason). You can’t go to Blaze Pizza and order a salad (if such a decision is even humanly possible).
Barbecue was open-ended enough for us to experiment a bit, though. Brandon ordered barbecue pulled pork, while I opted for barbecue beef brisket, and we got beer cheese and pretzels as an appetizer. Brandon thought the pretzels were a bit too salty, while I thought the beer cheese was a bit too cheesy, but we both enjoyed our respective barbecues greatly.
On the whole, Squealer’s had made a very good showing. But a slight wrinkle manifested as we headed back to work: on exiting the parking lot, we found ourselves face-to-face with a damnable median! A couple U-turns later, we eventually made our way back to work a few minutes late. We both agreed we needed to deduct some points for feasibility.
Next was Chili’s. Having decided to make a rule specifying we would eat foods in the names of restaurants, we promptly ignored it here. While ‘chili’ was in the name of the restaurant, we did not consider chili to be the signature menu item of the restaurant. We got burgers. Or rather, I got burger, and Brandon got burgers–a pair of smaller sliders.
Chili’s was louder and populated with TVs, some loud and distracting. One in particular caught our attention.
“Is that TV permanently green?”
“It’s the Hulk channel. This is Lifestyles of the Rich and Angry (And You Wouldn’t Like Them When They’re Angry).”
“Does that doctor look like Zoe Saldana?”
After some debate, we decided that The Adventures of Dr. Gamora only added positively to the environment.
Both (er, all three) burgers were very flavorful, and Chili’s feasibility rating was higher, but ultimately, Squealer’s scored higher both on the paper and in our tummies, and we chose it to advance to round 2.
VICTOR: SQUEALER’S BARBECUE
Week 2: Jordan’s Fish, Chicken, and Gyros vs……….”Vitality Bowls”
With some trepidation, we chose a showdown between two complete unknowns. We started with Jordan’s, because we at least knew what fish and chicken were, as opposed to ‘vitality bowls’.
Jordan’s was a divey kind of fast-food restaurant with a very barebones aesthetic. We had debated whether to get fish, chicken, or gyros, but found they offered combos including both chicken wings and fish fillets. I got wings and whiting, Brandon got wings and perch. While we waited, I visited the bathroom, which was terrifying. The door was propped open with a high chair, warning labels were half-torn off of the machines, and the toilet looked vaguely broken. I decided to hold it. I returned to the table, where we waited for our food while Maury Povich blared at full volume from a TV on the other side of the restaurant.
Jordan’s got big points for value. For $7, we got three wings, two sizable fish fillets each, french fries, and a slice of untoasted Texas toast shoved in as an afterthought, in case the combo didn’t contain enough carbs. The whiting was a larger, narrower fillet, compared to the thicker, shorter perch. Brandon preferred the milder flavor of the perch, while I still enjoyed the fishier taste of the whiting. I did come across a couple thin fish bones, which slowed my eating somewhat. Also, everything in the combo was spiced up with an addictive salty-sweet seasoning that was hard to pull away from.
And then…there was no more postponing it. We would have to brave…Vitality Bowls.
At Vitality Bowls, we succumbed to mass hipsteria. The bowls in question were a base of pureed acai and other fruits, topped with granola, fruits, bee pollen, and other healthy organic ingredients. I went for the titular Vitality Bowl (topped with honey, granola, and strawberries), while Brandon opted for the Nutty Bowl (blended with peanut butter, topped with granola, bananas, and almonds).
“How’s yours?” I asked.
He mused on a spoonful of his bowl. “It tastes like peanut butter and jelly soup.”
“I’m not saying that’s a bad thing.”
The restaurant was colorful, and smooth jazz played over the speakers instead of an endless barrage of Rihanna and Taylor Swift. And the bathroom was much less murdery than at Jordan’s. The two restaurants more or less tied for taste. Jordan’s won in the value department (the bowls were about $10 apiece), but VB won for environment and feasibility. And with nothing else like it on the list, we both felt that Vitality Bowls was the restaurant we found ourselves most wanting to return to.
Also, the day after visiting Jordan’s, Brandon added a second comment to his notes section for the restaurant:
From a history of continued mockery and derision, Vitality Bowls came from obscurity to steal an unexpected win.
VICTOR: VITALITY BOWLS
Week 3: Monical’s Pizza vs. Los Portales
In the wild, pizza and Mexican food have always been natural enemies, vying for dominance of nominance. We decided to live out one of nature’s great rivalries for round 3 of our tournament.
I’d been to a Monical’s Pizza, but not this particular one. The taste was about how I’d remembered, but the environment and service were both a little lax. We ordered breadsticks, which led to our first injury of the tournament: a badly-burned thumb on a Brandon.
I got a meat-lover’s sort of pizza, and Brandon got chicken bacon ranch. Both pizzas were good, and our personal pan pizzas were under $10 apiece.
Next on the docket was Alonso Taqueria. Slight problem, though: Alonso Taqueria was closed! After some discussion, we decided, for round 1, a permanently closed restaurant could be replaced with a different restaurant that was not on the list. Just down the road from the defunct Alonso, we discovered another Mexican restaurant: Los Portales.
My friends Tom and Candace joined us for lunch, as they also work in the same area, and had learned through the grapevine of our dining tournament. Tom got a veggie burrito and Candace got a steak taco and a cheese quesadilla. Brandon and I, however, were all about the tacos.
“What’d you get?” I asked.
“Steak taco, chicken taco, aaaaand pork taco. Can you believe some of the flavors on here? Who orders a beef tongue taco?”
“Oh god, you didn’t, did you?”
“And the goat stew taco.”
But you know what? The goat stew taco was delicious. It was the juiciest taco, and had a strong goaty flavor, while the beef tongue was rich and extremely tender. Brandon’s favorite was the steak, but he enjoyed all of them.
This was the hardest round to judge so far. Neither emerged as a clear winner. Los Portales had a slight advantage in flavor, Monical’s had a slight advantage in feasibility. When we finished our review, the numbers were ever so slightly in favor of Monical’s.
But we are not slaves to numbers!
The scores are there to remind us, to guide us, to advise us, but the ultimate decision is ours. And we both agreed, despite our calculations, Los Portales was the place we wanted to come back to.
VICTOR: VITALITY BOWLS
Week 4: Panda Express Vs. Philly Steak and Fries
No suspense this week.
VICTOR: PHILLY STEAK AND FRIES
Okay, we’ll still give the breakdown.
Panda Express was pretty much what we expected. The rice was sort of dry, the egg roll tasted–inexplicably–like spinach dip, the Beijing beef was…fantastic, actually. The cashier stared past me as if gazing into the abyss, the radio blared too loud overhead…the visit wasn’t terrible, but it was the typical fast food experience, though a little more expensive than most.
Philly Steak and Fries fared better in every category. The environment was improved by better music choices and the see-through shield that let you see the food being made. The service was only marginally better, but they gained points for serving quickly in the middle of a lunch rush. And the philly steak sandwiches are always delicious. Brandon is ambivalent on their fries, though.
Also, this was the first restaurant where we thought to document our meal photographically.
The left is Brandon’s Philly Steak classic, and the right is my Philly Steak Supreme (comes with grilled onions and mushrooms, and I added tomatoes.)
VICTOR: PHILLY STEAK AND FRIES, LIKE I SAID
That’s four weeks down…59 to go. Until next time!