Ah, the chain restaurant. For decades a modern food movement has been pushing back against corporate processed food purveyors by embracing cuisine that requires fresh ingredients and care. Slow food is good for the environment, good for farmers and good for us, too, but all of this farm-to-table cookery neglects one very hard to deny fact: When you’re driving down the interstate in the middle of nowhere, the cluster of restaurants around every other exit are often the only option. That, and Dairy Queen Blizzards are awesome.
Other experiences demand farm-to-factory food. Anastacia Quinones (Kitchen LTO) indulges in Jack in the Box when she’s got a particularly terrible hangover. “It’s really disgusting,” she says of her ritual breakfast croissant with sausage order. What makes Quinones’ habit more egregious is that her parents find it so upsetting and she does it anyway. Growing up in a household filled with home-cooked Mexican food, a trip to the drive-thru was a serious infraction. Quinones says she didn’t start hitting the hard processed stuff until she turned 17.
Graham Dodds (formerly Hibiscus, soon Wayward Sons on Greenville Avenue) spends his days breaking down pedigreed goats from Windy Meadows farms. He collaborates with the finest area produce providers and deals with the very best ingredients. And when the cravings call you can find him at In-N-Out ordering a double double. “No cheese,” he says — he’s not down with processed dairy — but he likes that In-N-Out embraces local processing, eschews the freezer and uses quality ingredients.
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Sometimes indulging in fast food is a nostalgia play. Misti Norris of Small Brewpub says she can’t resist Bojangles (those biscuits!) when she visits family in North Carolina. An order isn’t complete without a fried sweet potato pie.
Other times, it seems like the only option. Allison Yoder and husband Stephen Rogers (Gemma) offer one of the best refined dining experiences to be had in Dallas. With Gemma's great wine list, a progressive menu and a killer pastry chef in the house, you'd think they never go out to eat. That is, until you learn about their 4-year-old twin boys who don’t give a damn where that arugula was grown. Yoder first fessed up that Chipotle was her go-to salve for a busy day, but that sounded too easy. When pressed, she offered Cane’s chicken fingers.
Indulging in fast food makes sense — restaurant jobs require long hours, chefs are busy and sometimes you only have a few minutes to refuel the tank — but to get a chef to admit to actually sitting down and spending time in a chain restaurant, we had to speak with Remedy chef Danyele McPhereson.
What does it take to get her to break down and indulge in a meal at Chuy’s? “Uh, is it a day of the week?” she answers. McPhereson only eats out a few times a month and at least two of those outings involve tacos al carbon with beef, hold the side of rice and double the beans. “I love beans.” During happy hour queso flows freely, but whatever the time, an order of molten Velveeta always hits the table along with a side of jalapeno ranch. “It’s trashy,” the chef responsible for Dallas’ best nostalgia menu admits. She’s unapologetic.