Category Archives: food

the Robin’s sweet tunes

Anyone who has ever worked in a restaurant knows it is an experience that will never leave you. It’s been ten years since I last worked in a restaurant, but I still regularly wake up in a panic after having the nightmare in which I get slammed with tables when I’m the only one on the floor, and I’m running around with a tray full of drinks, inexplicably unable to serve them to anyone.

The majority of my restaurant career was spent at Red Robin. I worked there for nearly seven years, first as a hostess and then, once I turned 19, a server. Even now, after the many jobs I’ve held, I still believe that many of my most important life lessons were learned at the Robin. Some are oddly practical, like investigate every bottle of ketchup for the tell-tale signs of over-marrying — a gray tree-like rings creating layers in the ketchup and the presence of bubbles. I’ll bet not too many people know that when ketchup gets old it can literally explode right out the top of the bottle. It’s true. It’s happened in my hands before. Other lessons are more profound, like kill everyone with kindness. And there’s no use crying over spilled milkshakes…especially when they tip over on the tray you are holding and you end up with whipped cream in your mouth and ice cream in all the pockets of your apron.

So much of the years spent at Red Robin are etched in my brain. I still remember many of the thousands of numbers in the ridiculous computer ordering system. Case in point: Monster Burger =14, No Mayo = 9 modify, 27 modify. Seriously, what is that information still doing in my brain?

But nothing takes me back to the Robin faster than hearing certain songs. I usually encounter them while shopping at Walgreens or Walmart or riding in an elevator, thanks to the glorious selection of Muzak channels management had to choose from.

The list is vast and varied, but here are just some of the songs that make me stop in my tracks and want to ask someone if they want a fry refill to go with their California Chicken Burger.

The Year of the Cat and Time Passages, Al Stewart
I honestly don’t know if Al Stewart exists outside the brass-handled doors of Red Robin. But there’s one thing I do know: this guy, with his smooth as Belvedere voice, was seriously preoccupied with time.


Stumblin’ In, Suzi Quatro
No one is cooler than Leather Tuscadero. This  is exactly what makes this goofy song by Leather’s alter ego, Suzi Quatro, even more of a mystery.

Signed, Sealed, Delivered, Stevie Wonder
Before it was the official song of the United States Postal Service, this peppy tune kept all the Red Robin  employees tweeting as they delivered breaded and fried taste treats to the masses.

Jessie, Joshua Kadison
Who the hell is Joshua Kadison? Apparently he’s a one-hit wonder who enjoyed some success in 1994 with this sappy as all get-out song of unrequited love. But I can still see those pictures Jessie painted…

Pets, Porno for Pyros
Every now and again, management would indulge our need to hear music that was actually produced in our lifetimes. That’s when we got to listen to the cool alternative station. This was the mid-’90s, so the selection was mostly grunge and super-charged pop. This minor hit from Jane’s Addiction frontman Perry Ferrell’s side project was always one of my favorites…and one of the oddest choices for a family restaurant.

The Sign, Ace of Bass
I can’t even explain how bad this song used to drive me bonkers while standing at the Red Robin hostess stand. After listening to it just now, I’ve confirmed it still does.

1979, Smashing Pumpkins
This song brings back a lot of memories of college, both at the Robin and beyond. It’s also one of the few Smashing Pumpkins songs I can still stand to listen to. I’m not sure why exactly, but the Pumpkins just have not stood the test of time for me.

And now, for the ultimate Red Robin song…

Morning Train (Nine to Five), Sheena Easton
My love for this song, as well as the accompanying memories of ranch dressing and chick-a-dees and freckled lemonades and mud pies and oyster crackers in my apron pockets, knows no bounds. It is the ultimate in cheese, and Sheena Easton is the cheese ambassador. But to this day this song will turn my frown upside down, no matter how bad a day I’m having. It got me through many bad tips and mean customers and broken glasses and pitchers of iced tea spilled down the front of my uniform. Now that I think about it, I should really add it to my iPod. It’s magic.


To all my Red Robin co-workers, or to anyone who ever worked in a restaurant for that matter, what songs take you back to your food service days?

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a tour of Phoenix coffee shops (or how I survived 44 days without home internet access)

Hello, old friend, it’s been a while.

I have 101 excuses for my two-month+ absence. Some are valid (I started a new job, bought a new house, started a new website), others are not (I’m tired). I’ve missed the creative process of coming up with fun, pop-cultury topics and writing about them, but if I’m being honest, the whole thing has recently felt more like a burden than anything else. But I’m committed to this blog — and the five people who read it — so I’m determined to turn things around.

We moved into our new house in August just after my birthday. Our new house is everything I had hoped for — it’s located in a historic district tucked away just east of busy Central Avenue. Our neighbors are friendly and inviting and we can walk to many different places to eat and shop; it’s the closest we can get to living in San Francisco while still living in Phoenix. But our move came with one huge and unexpected twist: our house was not wired for the internet, and Cox would need to get a permit from the city before they could install a drop in our yard.

What? Not wired for the internet? It’s 2011!

I took the news in stride, choosing to believe Cox would get the job done on the early end of the two-four week time frame they quoted me. In the meantime, I thought, I’ll get to know the local coffee shops with free wifi. That will be a fun, hip thing to do, I thought. I couldn’t have anticipated that my internet would not be connected for more than six weeks and that I would come to think of these coffee shops as my second home. I varied the destination based on the time, day, my levels of hunger and thirst and my wardrobe (more on that later). Here are my thoughts on the four shops at which I spent the most time:

Lux

Photo by Jennifer C. on Yelp

I spent by far the most time at this über-chic bastion of hipsterdom. The shop recently upgraded to much larger digs adjacent to the tiny spot it once inhabited next to Pane Bianco on Central Avenue just south of Campbell. I never went to the old Lux, but it must have been packed to the gills based on how many people set up camp in its vast new building. The decor is worn-out thrift store furniture juxtaposed against modern plexiglass tables and chairs. So, retro modern.

Most days I chose Lux for three reasons: the ample seating, the staff’s indifference toward patrons spending five hours in the same spot after buying little more than a cup of joe and the joe itself, which is served in proper cups with saucers. I hate the distinctly American tradition of pouring every coffee in a to-go cup, so it’s a nice change of pace to get actual china (or ceramics, or whatever the cups are made of). A cup of good house coffee with soy milk costs under $2 — can’t argue with that.

Lux is definitely a scene. You won’t get kicked out if you show up with your Dell laptop, but you might be silently scorned by the legions of Macbook users. I am about 10 years older than most of the patrons, but it doesn’t really matter, as most are glued to their laptop screens. A DJ spins an eclectic mix of ephemeral house and indie music and ’80s new wave standards at a perfect volume. Lux offers a nice but small array of sweets and a selection of food items (quiches and the like at breakfast and a few dinner specials at night). I never had a meal, but I indulged in my fair share of cookies. Delicious. Although the place is always crowded, and the lines can get a little long, I never had trouble finding a comfy chair in a relatively quiet corner. And the 10p.m. close every day makes it the perfect choice for evening marathon work sessions.

Sometimes, though, you just don’t want to go to a coffee “club.” For that reason I ventured to a few other local spots.

Lola Coffee

Photo by Si R on Yelp

If Lux is the coffee shop for hipsters, Lola is the coffee shop for the hipsters’ older siblings. Lola is on the small side, with just one bright room filled with couches, arm chairs and some perimeter bar seating. The music is good and the coffee is tasty, although it runs a touch pricier than at Lux. Lola also serves up a number of pastry options; I indulged in a flaky butter croissant one Sunday morning that did not disappoint.

Spending time at Lola does not take as much effort as at Lux (I saw plenty of PCs there looking perfectly at home). The staff is friendly and I find it hard to believe they would kick someone out for over-staying her welcome, but its limited seating makes it hard to blend in and get too comfortable. I wouldn’t feel right staying there for more than an hour or so on one cup of coffee. That, and the fact that Lola is only open until 7p.m. on weekdays and 2p.m. on Sunday, kept me from spending too much time there. But it’s a great choice for grabbing a quiet cup of coffee on a Sunday morning.

Copper Star Coffee

Copper Star Coffee

Photo by Dave B.

I found out about Copper Star a little late in the game and some Yelp reviewers claimed the wifi was a little spotty, so I only spent one evening here. But if my internet troubles had lasted longer, I likely would have spent a lot more time here. It’s also small, even smaller than Lola, and the seating is all tables and chairs. But it has a casual atmosphere befitting a coffee shop located in an old gas station. I spent a few hours there one evening alongside only a few other patrons, all of whom were studying or working or something. The music was good, but not too loud, and the staff was friendly. The coffee was tasty — the priciest so far (but not by much) — and I also enjoyed a yummy piece of pumpkin (or was it banana?) bread. I had no trouble with the wifi. As I said, when the need or the mood strikes for me to take my work outside of my home, I’ll head back to Copper Star. There was just something about the relaxed vibe that made me feel I could spend a decent amount of time there being ignored (in a good way).

Starbucks

Starbucks 7th Street

Photo by Had R. on Yelp

I know, I know. With all the cool, local coffee shops to choose from, why would I go to Starbucks? Two reasons: #1: It is the closest coffee shop to my house, and there were times that proximity was the most important feature; #2 I can go to Starbucks in my “I-hope-I-don’t-see-anybody-I-know” clothes. Laugh if you will, but it’s an important feature at times. So as much as I believe in supporting the local guy over the big bad chains, I do concede that Starbucks omnipresence and convenience serve a purpose. Like now, when I’m writing this while drinking a Starbucks soy latte because the closest local coffee shop to my current location, Fair Trade Cafe, was closed.

So what did I learn from all of this? Not have access to the internet really, really sucks. I realize, now more than ever, that I am 100% addicted to the internet. But it’s comforting to know that I have a number of cool, local coffee shops to choose from when I need to get on the World Wide Web (and get a tasty caffeine kick while I’m at it).

my go-to iphone apps

This isn’t exactly breaking news, as my Verizon friends have had plenty of time to become acquainted with their new iPhones. When I started this post nearly a month ago, I thought it be helpful to put together a list of my favorite apps to help guide them through the learning curve. They are probably all more iPhone savvy than I am at this point, but figured I should finish what I started.

It’s not surprise that many of my most-used apps also happen to be everyone else’s most-used apps. But that just means they are so good they are worth mentioning again. So here is my list of my favorite apps, both the well-known and the less popular gems. All apps are free (I’m an app cheap skate) unless otherwise noted.

The Necessities
Facebook:
Obviously.
Google and Google Maps: Again, obviously.
AroundMe: Looking for the closest dry cleaner around you? Need to find a bank? A sushi joint? Find it on AroundMe.
Yelp: The go-to for restaurant suggestions wherever you happen to be. The GPS map is particularly helpful when you want suggestions outside your neighborhood.
Skype: This free or low-cost (depending on who you are calling) internet phone app is a life-saver when the husband is traveling, especially when he is out of the country.
The Weather Channel: There’s nothing I hate worse than being inappropriately dressed for the weather.
Wikipedia: I hate not knowing something.
IMDb: I hate not knowing something about movies and the people who star in them.
Sirius XM: I can’t live without my Sirius Satellite Radio in my car, in my house, on my phone.
Alarm Clock Pro ($0.99):
Keeps me punctual by gently waking me up to my favorite iPod playlists.
Nike+ GPS:
Record every mile you run, get time and pace updates, even hear words of encouragement from your favorite running idols (like Tracy Morgan!). If I take a run without it, I feel cheated — like it didn’t even happen.
New York Times and NPR: Of all my news apps, these are the two I check the most.

Continue reading

a perfectly tailored (and free) vegas getaway

Vegas and I go way back. I’ve been making the quick turnaround trip from Phoenix for about 15 years and have experienced just about everything that glittery den of iniquity has to offer. I’ve seen my share of seedy downtown casinos and dined in fancy restaurants run by celebrity chefs. And I love it all.

Our recent trip to Vegas was a spur-of-the-moment thing precipitated by a free two-night stay offer from the new Cosmopolitan Las Vegas. I had never even heard of the place but the web site was pretty impressive. We figured there had to be a catch, but it was worth a call. Turns out, there was no catch. I don’t know who these people thought we were, but they apparently mistook us for high rollers deserving of a free room. No matter, we’ll take it! Continue reading

photos of food fun

I just read about the year-old site Foodspotting yesterday and thought it sounded like a pretty cool idea. It’s sort of like a more visual Yelp, but instead of reviewing food establishments in their entirety, the entries focus on positive reviews of specific menu items. “Foodspotters” upload photos of meals they’ve enjoyed to help give the rest of us some new ideas when we get stuck in that “where do you want to go to dinner tonight?” “I don’t care, let’s just go to ______ again” rut.

Foodspotting reminds me a lot NextStop, a now-defunct travel recommendation site acquired by Facebook last year that was co-founded by my friend Carl Sjogreen. Like with NextStop, foodspotters can set up guides to detail their favorite dishes under certain themes, and they can earn badges and other rewards by regularly “spotting” foods.

The site has gained a little traction in Phoenix — there’s about five pages of food reviews and three Phoenix guides — but it’s got a much bigger presence in larger foodie cities like San Francisco (where the company is based) and New York.  I just downloaded the Foodspotting mobile app for my iPhone and intend to use it on my next meal out. I hope more Phoenix foodies will soon follow suit. Continue reading

on the perks of my new Phoenix ‘hood

We’ve been living in a rental in Phoenix since we sold our house in Scottsdale in May. Although renting comes with its own set of challenges, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoy my new neighborhood. We’re right on the edge of Paradise Valley so we get the benefit of some high-end amenities — the state’s fanciest Fry’s Marketplace, complete with covered and valet parking, across the street from a Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s, for instance — but the multimillion-dollar homes along Tatum are only part of the story. It’s a much more eclectic neighborhood and I feel really at home amid all it has to offer. I love that I’m just as likely to see a Prius with a Grateful Dead sticker on it as I am a Bentley. It just feels more like home to me.

Some new favorite haunts
Bombay Spice: This charming little restaurant at the corner of Tatum and Shea touts Fresh, Healthy Indian food. I am sold on the fresh, and I don’t really care how healthy it is, because it is delicious. I was already a fan of the chickpea, but Bombay Spice’s chickpea ceviche has taken my appreciation of the bean to a whole new level. I could eat it every day. A decent happy hour from 3-6 p.m. and 20 bottles of wine priced at $20 also make it a good value. Continue reading