The Best Chain Restaurant in America: Houston’s

We are going to do tonight’s posting in one big mega-post. Since I only have two things to talk about–geese and Houston’s–we’ll be ok. Oh, plus there’s popcorn. But first geese.

Driving to Houston’s today, some old people were holding up traffic on La Vista Road. I leaned my head out the window like an angry cab driver and yelled: “Hey! Waz going on!”

And then it became apparent: geese crossing. A family of geese. Here they are making their way to the Kosher Supermarket:

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If you’re familiar with Amateur Gourmet running gags, you’ll know what I’m going to say next. Ready? They were delicious. Tangy at first but with a hint of robust beefiness. Quite lovely.

And now, before Houston’s, let’s mention popcorn. Tonight I had the opportunity to sample Pop Secret’s Honey Butter Popcorn. This was delicious. I know it’s fake, it’s phony, it’s bad for you. It’s polyhydroginated and hydropolyniated but I didn’t care. It was yummy. I highly recommend it, especially if you–like me–can’t make caramel corn to save your life. This is a great sweet/salty substitute.

Now on to Houston’s.

Houston’s.

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Houston’s in Boca Raton is where my parents eat at least twice a week. It’s the equivalent of a homecooked meal. Instead of making dinner, my mother strategizes getting into Houston’s. “If we don’t get there by 5:30, we’ll never get in,” she’ll say. And when we get there she squeezes her way up to the front. “Hi Carol,” she’ll say to a woman who may or may not be named Carol, “How are you? Can we get a booth? By the window?”

Here is a place, though, where I am in agreement with my parents. We don’t agree on politics. We don’t agree on movies. We don’t agree on the proper duration of a graduate career. However, we do agree that Houston’s is delicious. I love their food.

Today, for example, I had their Club Salad:

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It was delicious. Bacon, lettuce, egg, fried chicken, and avocado in a terrific dressing: Buttermilk Garlic. Lauren was unhappy with her traditional salad with bleu cheese but we will ignore that because Houston’s is delicious.

I also ordered a side of fries because I love Houston’s fries:

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These are my ideal fries. I love my fries thin. And salty. These fries are thin and salty.

And now let me tell you about the service. The service was, hands down, impeccable. We walked in and a jolly woman showed us to our table. We made light banter. It was delightful. And delicious. And then an assistant waitress came right over and took our drink order. Whish. And she’s back, putting the drinks on the table. Our real waitress appears and tells us the specials. Are we ready to order? We are. We do. Our drinks are refilled. Lauren goes to the bathroom. Her napkin is folded. She returns. The food arrives. “Everything ok here?” “Actually,” I say, “I kind of wanted the dressing tossed with the salad, not on the side?” “No problem!” The salad is whisked away and in a matter of seconds brought back, tossed and delicious. Dining continues. Drinks are refilled. Done eating. Plates are cleared. Check is brought.

It was wonderful.

However, here’s what’s sad. Houston’s must have a tipping problem. People must not tip appropriately. Look:

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Can you see what I’m showing you? Guess not. But at the bottom of the receipt, above my signature, you will see what is labelled: Quick Guide. It calculates the tips for you: 15%, 18%, and 20%. Not only that, in the check envelope which they bring to the table is a note that says: “IT IS CUSTOMARY AND EXPECTED TO TIP YOUR WAITER BETWEEN 15% and 20% FOR YOUR MEAL.”

I am not offended that they feel the need to tell me this. I’m more offended that they have a need to tell me this. They must have a big tipping problem. Things must be really bad if you have to bully your customers into tipping. And having worked in the service industry (ok, it was only a month, but still) and having had friends who worked (and still work) in the service industry, I know that people can be pricky tippers. The worst tippers are usually the best dressed people and the best are the casual, laid back middle class people who know what it means to be a working hard for The Man. Although, there’s no real formula. My old roommate James worked at TGIFridays in DC and he said that the tipping there was horrendous. In that case, the poorest people were the worst tippers. If I had more time I would say more about tipping….

Alas, however, tonight’s posting time has expired. And I must conclude that tipping matters aside, Houston’s is the best chain restaurant in America. Thank you.

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