Mealtime was always an important time in our family. It was when we ate our food. And food is necessary for survival. No one understood this better than my mother, and on this Mother's Day I thought it would be nice to recall some of my favorite mealtime memories.
Taco Bell: When I was a kid, Taco Bell was always our favorite place to eat. My menu items of choice were always a Tostada and a Bowl of Beans, which was exactly what it sounds like -- a paper bowl with beans in it. I'm not sure if either of those items are still on the Taco Bell menu. Today, when I go to this establishment, I usually get a couple of bean burritos and a couple of Doritos shell tacos. And, of course, memories of great childhood meals at Taca-Taca-Taco Bell.
McDonald's: Obviously, McDonald's is the great grandmother of childhood meal memories. It's probably no surprise to learn that I always enjoyed getting a Happy Meal. But you might be surprised to learn that I always got a hamburger, because I didn't like cheeseburgers when I was a little kid. I know that sounds insane now, because I love cheeseburgers, but, what did I know? I was a kid. And, I loved those toys, which in the early days were usually (as I recall) an eraser shaped like Grimace. Or a wallet. Or something like that. The important thing was, a Happy Meal was a meal aimed specifically at me, a kid, and my mother understood the importance of providing a meal that was just for me.
Burger Chef: Burger Chef isn't around anymore, but I do remember it being one of Mother's favorite restaurants. I believe they had a salad bar, or something. Anyway, the best memory I have of the place is when our car broke down about 30 miles from our house, and we found a Burger Chef and I got a Star Wars themed kid's meal, which came with a box that you could dismantle and turn into a cardboard C-3P0 figure. Good times -- Star Wars and mom, and a burger and fries.
Kentucky Fried Chicken: It wasn't "KFC", or "KGC" back when I was a kid. That chicken was fried, dammit, and they weren't ashamed of it (and you could also pick up Super SUGAR Crisp in the cereal aisle). Only the hipster customers called it "KFC," and thought they were so clever initializing it. Back then, we really only had two choices: Original, or extra crispy, and I was always an originalist. (Another example of how my tastes have changed: today I vastly prefer extra crispy.) This place was always a little more upscale, slightly higher quality and higher price, so it was always a treat to go here. With mom, of course.
Arby's: America's Roast Beef, Yes Sir! This has been a fascinating trip down memory lane through some great family memories, but I think that my estimation of Arby's has to be the most fascinating change of opinion in my life. Arby's was another of those only-once-in-a-while treats, an event that always filled me with anticipation. I loved the regular roast beef sandwich and the potato cakes. Today, however, I suffer from a form of Arby's blindness, and approximately 33 out of every 36 months I forget the place even exists. Then I go in and order something, and remember why I forgot about it. But I never forget those great memories of family meal time.
Wendy's: Also fascinating to me is how Wendy's and Arby's have switched places in my mind. When I was a kid, I had Wendy's blindness. Today, like many Americans, I have a great appreciation for this restaurant -- especially the spicy chicken sandwich. Yum. But when I was a kid, it was just the place where you could get square burgers and a Frosty. Still, when I ate there with mom, there were great memories to be had.
Was it around the time of "Where's the Beef?" that Wendy's started to really turn things around?
White Castle: Burgers that tasted like they were made from pressed cardboard, and grilled with onions. The one saving grace was that they were small. But, mom loved them, so we were forced to go. Ah, memories.
Today, my mother lives on the other side of the country, so we only see each other once every year or so. On top of that, she's become a rather humorless and militant vegan, so it's impossible to go back to, say, Taco Bell, and relive some of those great childhood mealtime memories. She won't even eat White Castles anymore, and I'm pretty sure that White Castle burgers don't have any meat in them. But I'll always have great memories of the whole family getting together while someone else did all the work of cooking.