Finding the wrong restaurants while traveling: Bob Evans and turkey fries.

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Wild turkeys crossing dirt road
Quick hide! They serve Turkey Fries in these here parts!

One of the great things about being a nomad is that you’re always getting to try new restaurants. One of the downsides to being a nomad is that you get to try new restaurants and find out that they suck.

Now we don’t go around bragging that we’re a couple of culinary gurus, sitting down in fine eating establishments, taking photos of the crab with cream fraiche and saying things like “the flavors are distinct, layered and divergent, yet slightly bland and a little too sweet.” We’re simple folk. We use ratings like “flavorless,” “really good,” or “not sure if that’s even edible.”

As it turns out, edibility (yes, that’s an actual word) is an important factor when it comes to enjoying our dining experience. A factor we found lacking when we decided to try out a Bob Evans Restaurant in Nashville, Tennessee last year.

Bobbing for edibility.

I know what you’re going to say. You’re going to say (I hope), “Bob Evans! Why in God’s name would you eat there instead of, say, a dumpster?”

Well, we were REALLY hungry and we saw the sign and we asked each other “Have you ever eaten there?” and we both answered “No,” and so we parked and entered the Bob Evans Restaurant and sat down at a booth and ordered.

Julie ordered a cheeseburger and I, in full experimentation mode, ordered the chicken cobb salad. I can only describe my salad as mushy. Every component was soft and wilted as if it had soaked overnight in the Everglades. Even the fried chicken “tidbits” were soggy. I poked at it and reluctantly swallowed lumps of cobb salad.

Meanwhile, Julie was wrestling with her hamburger. She had ordered it cooked medium, but what arrived was a thin patty that looked like it had just re-entered the atmosphere at 17,000 mph. The lettuce and tomato had the same aqueous structure as my cobb salad. She dejectedly nibbled on her lunch, trying to get as much protein down before calling it quits. When the waitress asked if we wanted to-go boxes, we just stared at her.

According to Wikipedia, the restaurant chain was founded in 1948 by a guy named (get this) Bob Evans. He was an Ohio farmer who started in this business by selling his processed and packaged sausage. I have faith that his original restaurant fare was a lot more edible than what diners encounter today, where edibility has been overshadowed by corporate profits, economies of scale and other factors.

Where edibility is a suggestion and turkeys are nervous.

Not all culinary disasters are created by corporate greed. While staying at Prairie Haven Nudist Park in northeast Kansas, one of the members enthusiastically recommended we eat at the Four Corners Steakhouse and Lounge just up Route 75 a bit. As I recall, she said “it’s wonderful.”

The parking lot was busy when we decided to stop in. That’s usually a good sign; it certainly looked like a local’s favorite. We both ordered steak because it was a “steakhouse.” Plus, we had seen a lot of cattle in Kansas. So what could go wrong?

But first we decided to be culinary adventurers and try something exotic: Turkey fries. Turkey fries are exactly what you imagine: Turkey balls. OK, maybe you didn’t think that. I certainly didn’t, until the waitress explained them. I also didn’t realize that turkeys had testicles. They should be fairly small and a great primer if we ever decided to try bulls balls, aka Rocky Mountain Oysters, so we ordered a basket and each of us popped one in our mouths.

They were soft and squishy and exactly how I imagined a testicle to taste. Julie immediately quit eating them. I popped another and another and another into my mouth, mainly to avoid looking like a sissy around all these testicle-hardened locals. The fifth turkey fry I picked up was big, probably from a particularly courageous turkey. I chewed my way through it, feeling some stringy bits, and decided that the locals could call me sissy all they want. I was done.

I looked forward to the upcoming steak to help purge my memory of the turkey fries. But first we were invited to fill up a bowl at the salad bar, a stunning display consisting of: one big tub of chopped iceberg lettuce, a bowl of shredded cheese and a bowl of some sort of pudding-like substance.

I avoided the pudding-like substance, made a complex salad consisting of iceberg lettuce and cheese and then thoughtfully pondered the selection of dressings: Ranch or Italian.

Our steaks were waiting when got back to our table. Mine was about the shape and thickness of a shoe insole. And, I realized as I hacked into it, the same texture. Apparently the chef had taken lessons on how to cook a steak at the Bob Evans School of Well Done Meats. Somewhere between placing and plating our order, our steaks went from medium-rare to preserved-until-the-end-of-time.

OK, maybe we hit it on a bad day. And it is the closest restaurant to Prairie Haven. But we still didn’t understand how any part of that meal was “wonderful.” We asked for to-go boxes to bring home the leftovers to our dog. By the time we returned to the resort, we realized we didn’t want that food in our refrigerator and giving it to the dog could get us in trouble with PETA. We threw it in the dumpster.

As I said, edibility is an important factor.

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