Chubby's Family Restaurant
7474 S. Cockrell Hill Road
Dude Factor: 8, or "Jack Palance in City Slickers" on a scale of 1 ("Harrison Ford in Indiana Jones And The Crystal Disappointment") to 10 ("Clint Eastwood in Unforgiven")
Of all the billboards on the way to and from work, Chubby's Family Restaurant has my second-favorite, thanks to the friendly-looking cartoon chef's mustache and the restaurant's perfect anti-health-food name. My favorite is the very questionable pairing of the PSA "Alcohol. The #1 Date Rape Drug." with Nestle Quik's "One Delicious Sip" slogan and mischievously smiling cartoon bunny. That hilarious inadvertent juxtaposition brightens every car ride.
After heeding a recommendation from my Food-Bro Noah, I found out that the place is even better than the mascot.
Things didn't look promising at first, however. A peek through the window revealed that the place was empty with the exception of a few oldsters who appeared to be on a nursing-home field trip. But when a gentlemanly old host greeted us warmly and ushered us past shelves of sauces and preserves and the glass display case of museum-worthy desserts, my hopes rose again.
The menu is overwhelming. Skimming through all the pasta, seafood, pork, chicken, beef, Greek dishes, soups, salads, sandwiches and breakfast dishes requires several minutes, if you choose to read that much. There's an entire appetizer section in which the only thing the ingredients touch is breading...and a deep fat fryer. I just went with one of the daily specials: a catfish filet with two sides for $6.99.
Hey, low price and the fact that the place doesn't specialize in seafood qualifies it as the kind of culinary adventure that'll put hair on your chest if it doesn't kill you first ...although I suffered a spell of second guessing after I passed a table where someone was digging into a pot-roast. Mmm...glistening brown food.
But my worries were unfounded. The breaded catfish was crispy on the outside, flaky on the inside and, as far as I could tell, fresh. But most of all, it was fried. Plus, the green beans were nicely greasy and showed none of the uniformity of floppiness I associate with frozen or canned veggies.
My table also ordered some breakfast dishes. Get this: the menu boasts about a dozen possible combinations of pancakes, biscuits, eggs, toast, sausage and bacon. Pretty much everything you need.
But it gets better. As we ate, I overheard someone at another table ask for ranch sauce.
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"It'll be a few minutes," the waitress responded. "We have to make some more."
I was flabbergasted. Make ranch sauce? Even if "making" it simply means mixing a seasoning packet into some mayonnaise and buttermilk (two steps more than I take at home) I didn't realize such an inexpensive restaurant could afford the time to prepare its salad dressing on site. What kind of place is this? Very impressive.
We were all stuffed by the end of the meal, which is as it should be. But that display case of chocolate cakes and cream pies made a louder argument for dessert than our shy waitress' half-hearted suggestion. The chocolate cake and chocolate cream pie turned out to be ridiculously large. The latter was the size of a chicken pot pie and the slice of cake was the size of a tire block. They were listed under "Home Made Desserts," but I believe a more accurate menu heading would have been "Home Made Diabetes."
As we left, I realized that the place was what Denny's might have once been, right down to the senior specials and 116-page menu. Unlike Denny's, though, the food tasted like actual food rather than reheated despair. And it certainly lived up to its name. I sure felt chubby as I waddled out the door.