Good Enough Food at Wendy’s

In the law and psychology class I took last year, our professor–Martha Duncan–told us that, contrary to popular belief, psychologists do not blame everything on the parents. “The standard,” she told us, “is a generous one. Parents merely need to be ‘good enough.'”

Thus, when adjudicating a deprivation proceeding against potentially “unfit” parents, the judge need only ask: “Are they good enough?” Is there food on the table? Do the kids go to school? Is the house clean?

This standard, it seems, is the one most Americans apply to where they eat. We don’t ask ourselves “Is this going to be the greatest meal I’ll ever have in my entire life?” when craving a quick Monday night dinner. We ask ourselves: “Is this going to be good enough?”

The “good enough” standard seems to go against the conceit of this website. I’ve been espousing the merits of daring, adventurous eating in the face of bland conformity. On these terms, the “good enough” standard is not–well–good enough.

But now and then you crave a greasy square hamburger. And fries. And a syrupy fountain coke in a towering paper cup with dew on the outside. Maybe you even crave a Frosty.

What you’re craving is Wendy’s. And despite its factory-processed food, Wendy’s is certainly good enough. You have your protein on a bun, loaded with condiments. You have your over-salted french fries, replete with the tiny burnt bits at the bottom (the best part, methinks). And, of course, the giant Coke. It’s a square, modern-day American meal. It’s the lowest threshold of satisfaction.

* * * * *

This is one of those posts with stars. In fiction, stars (* * * *) indicate the passage of time. On Adam’s blog, it indicates an inability to segue naturally to the next thought.

Two weeks ago, when Lauren and I were going to the Floataway Cafe for our Friday night on the town, my grandma called to check in on me. We talked (or “kibbitzed,” to use Yiddish parlance) and then I asked her what she was doing that night.

“Oh,” she said casually, “Grandpa and I are going to Wendy’s. Nothing fancy.”

I felt a lump in my throat. Here I was, about to fine dine it at Floataway and my grandma was slumming it at Wendy’s.

“Grandma!” I said, “Why don’t you and grandpa go somewhere nice? It’s Friday night!”

“Nah,” she said, “Wendy’s is good for me. They have a grilled chicken sandwich I eat without the bun. We like it.”

What I’ve failed to mention is that Wendy’s is inextricably linked to memories of my grandmother in my childhood. Hence more stars…

* * * * * *

In my childhood, grandma and grandpa (#2, if you’ll recall) took me to Wendy’s when they took me out to dinner. Grandpa Joe loved the chili and I loved the Frostys. This was in Oceanside, Long Island, where I did my years 0 through 11. I remember that Wendy’s vividly, probably beacuse we went there so much. I remember the fussy ordering that took place: “A hamburger, no mayo, no pickles, no mustard…” I remember the ketchup pump that looked like cartoon TNT. Mostly, I remember the old Wendy’s stained-glass light fixtures that hung over every table. Do you remember them? They’re emblematic of my childhood.

And so Wendy’s is a constant in my grandmother’s life (at least in the years I’ve known her). Wendy’s is “good enough” and that’s a standard grandma’s comfortable with. She doesn’t need fancy trimmings. When grandma sits down at Wendy’s she has only one question on her mind: “Where’s the beef?”

[Wow! That’d be great for an ad campaign…]

* * * * * * *

So tonight, depending on your perspective, I slummed it at Wendy’s. I must admit that I was hesitant to take pictures because I thought that it might lower the cache of my site. But The Amateur Gourmet is all about honesty and every now and then we eat at Wendy’s. So be it.

Interesting, though, that these pictures seem so drab. Look at the sign, for example:

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The sign seems to be saying: “Look, you’re hungry, why pretend that you’re going to cook something? Life sucks. We have food. Come eat.”

This is the “good enough” mentality. Just get something in your belly and shut up about it.

I ordered the Value Meal #1 (burger, fries, and drink) and had a Proustian moment at the ketchup pump:

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Let’s not point out that the same paper cups you use for your ketchup are the ones you fill with urine at the doctor’s office.

Sitting down, I unwrapped my burger to find a cheeseburger:

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No matter. I’ll eat it anyway.

And in doing so, I’m ingesting an attitude—a passive worldview regarding food. This isn’t important. What’s important is that I eat.

* * * * * * *

Tonight, Stanley Tucci was on The Daily Show and he told Jon Stewart that he only feeds his kids “fresh food” that he makes himself. Jon Stewart gave him a look.

I think that’s a little extreme. I think there’s a time for that, sure, but there’s a time for Wendy’s too.

Grandma is a practicalist and Wendy’s is practical. Wendy’s is “good enough.” Sometimes that’s ok.

But let’s hope that we don’t hover at this end of the spectrum. Raise our standards and raise our spirits. I’m pretty sure grandma would hate The Floataway Cafe but grandma does have her indulgences. She’ll nosh gladly on a prime rib (“Prime ribs,” as she’ll say) or a nice piece of fish. Let’s hope, then, that in the future her Friday nights are filled with choice cuts of meat and fresh fish and completely devoid of square hamburgers.

12 comments

  1. What?? A longish write-up on Wendys and not even a mention of the glory that is known as the Spicy Chicken Sandwich?!

    But the mention of the burned bits almost makes up for it.

    (Thats almost. I’m still mad.)

    [Actually I’m not mad, but I do want a Spicy Chicken Sandwich. Airmail anyone?]

  2. Burned bits, burned bits, Adam the A.G. likes the burned bits!! Do you want to biggie size that for 39 cents? Maybe you could ask for a biggie size burned bits on your next visit? So, what we really want to know is how can the amateur gourmet afford to eat at Floataway anyway? Hmmm, that number 1 combo at Wendy’s was about $4.02, so let’s see you could eat at Wendy’s about 10-12 times, savoring the burned bits with wild abandon, in exchange for one meal at Floataway that might or might not include an adult beverage! I’m tellin’ you, those fried burned bits are good stuff but they will ruin your girlish figure and that’s what we like most. More on this later…but thanks for bringing the A.G. back down to an earthly orbit.

  3. I don’t know what doctor you go to, but the cups they give me to pee in are at least four times the size of those tiny little ketchup cups. Or maybe they give men smaller cups. It’s a little harder to “aim” as a female.

  4. I’m with Katharine on that and as women we should know. We can go to the doctor with the sniffles and we’ll be asked to piddle in a cup. Can’t sleep? Piddle in a cup. Itchy rash? Piddle in a cup.

  5. I have to say that every once in a while, there’s nothing quite as satisfying as a jr. bacon cheeseburger and a side salad. . .

    not only that, Wendy’s side salad is a steal at $0.99. They cram so much salad into that little container.

    In a pinch, you can buy the value menu chicken nuggets, get a side salad, take it home and apply your favorite dressing. Voila! Crispy chicken salad.

  6. You should have a yiddish section. we could all do with a daily language lesson. that would be sweet.

  7. about the cup thing. I agree with Katharine… the cups are much bigger. also, they are plastic containers, not paper cups…I mean, paper soaks up pee. at least, thats every doctor’s office i’ve been to. maybe your doctor likes soggy cups to experiment with?

  8. Ha, ok, point taken. For some reason I had an image in my head of tiny paper cups that I peed in at the doctor’s office. Maybe Dave Thomas was my doctor? That might explain it.

  9. I never eat anything at Wendy’s but the Spicy Chicken Sandwich… but it is absolutely awesome–and I’m not the kind of person who likes McDonald’s.

    I miss Wendy’s… I hear the closest ones are in Indonesia. A little far (not to mention my university will expel me if I go there and they find out) from Singapore.

  10. I never eat anything at Wendy’s but the Spicy Chicken Sandwich… but it is absolutely awesome–and I’m not the kind of person who likes McDonald’s.

    I miss Wendy’s… I hear the closest ones are in Indonesia. A little far (not to mention my university will expel me if I go there and they find out) from Singapore to go to a fast food place.