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While we’re just anti-corporate enough around here that we’d rather have a so-so meal at a mom and pop restaurant than a good meal at a chain, even we realize that the chains have their place.
Sometimes, for instance, that Olive Garden salad with the big ol’ croutons calls to us, as if from jagged cliffs, saying: “Come, come … help us enrich our stockholders. We desire a new walk-in freezer for our Orlando location …” Then there’s those rare times when Grandma comes to town, looking for some cheeks to pinch and a little Cracker Barrel grub. Where are we supposed to take her? Vino’s? (Then again, Grandma might well be a brewpub-and-mosh-pit type … who knows what the octogenarian set does with their weekends in the wilds of Faulkner County?)
So, it is with only a smidgen of shame that we say we like a lot of the grub on the menu at TGI Friday’s. In fact, there are times — slightly buzzed, late night, low-blood-sugar times — when we more than like it. And ladies and gentlemen, if loving fried cheese, tater skins and little cups of bleu cheese dressing to dip them in is a crime, then let us be GUILTY!
To show our guilt-ridden love, we recently paid one last visit to TGIF before that movie we’ve seen advertised about the behind-the-scenes world of a TGI Friday’s-like restaurant grosses us out forever. They’re trying as well. The Lakewood Village TGIF, for instance, has revamped, banishing their old design scheme — call it “Early Barbershop Quartet” — back to the era where it belongs. Meanwhile, a lot of tasty new items on the menu make sure it’s more than a cosmetic redo.
For appetizers we tried the enchilada dip (served up as part of a three-course meal deal, which allowed the diner to pick an appetizer, entree and dessert from a special menu — all for the really-a-deal price of $12.99) and the Buffalo chicken strips ($6.89). While the strips were nicely breaded and the order generous, they were really only splashed with the hot stuff (it’s a matter of taste, but when we eat “Buffalo-style” anything, we want to have to wipe that lava-flavored red goo off our elbows). The enchilada dip was better: a peppery mix of meat, peppers, tomatoes, and other goodies that served as a nice departure from the standard cheese dip.
From the big menu of entree items, I picked the Jack Daniel’s burger ($7.49). Our three-course diner, seeking something fishy, went with the lime tilapia ($11) –- this was actually the manager’s friendly (and healthier) substitution because they had run out of the double-deck quesadillas — while our third diner went down on the farm for the chipotle chicken breast ($9.99).
My Jack Daniel’s cheeseburger was good: a big patty, topped with smoked Provolone, grilled onions and bacon (the “Jack Daniel’s” came into the mix not as we would have liked it — in a fist-sized tumbler — but as a small cup of barbecue sauce, too thin and syrup-sweet to be poured on anything not of the waffle and/or flapjack family). Meanwhile, my two companions both bragged on their dishes. The tilapia, from the forkful we had, was great: a big, flaky helping cooked in herb olive oil and lime juice.
Meanwhile, the chipotle chicken was pronounced “excellent” and “delicious” — two thick, boneless breasts covered in smoked cheese, peppers, and pico de gallo, just hot enough to raise a good bead of sweat on the forehead but without the lingering burn. Served with veggies and a side of fine garlic mashed potatoes, it soon disappeared.
After all that, you’d think we didn’t have room for dessert, but that’s the beauty of TGI Friday’s $12.99 three-course meal deal: Even if you don’t want it, it’s coming anyway. In this case, we got a slice of New York-style cheesecake, a fluffy dream topped with slivered almonds and whipped cream. It was a chore to do away with it, but with the help of three folks and our mother’s sage advice about starving orphans in Africa, we managed. We do wish our area restaurants that offer cheesecake would, like in NYC, bring it to room temp before serving.
So, in the end, what can we say? How about: Maybe it’s old age creeping up on us, or maybe we’ve underestimated the chain gang, but the Lakewood Village TGI Friday’s surprised by serving up one of the tastiest, quickest, most hassle-free lunches we’ve had in awhile (though it was a bit pricey, at around $50 plus tip). While our hearts will always be with the little guy, sometimes you’ve just got to give yourself over to the machine. Sure, you might be helping destroy America, the small businessman and eventually the world. But it sure is nice in there.
3 1/2 stars
2820 Lakewood Village Drive
(Off McCain Boulevard)
North Little Rock
Though we tend to favor the mom ’n’ pop joints, TGI Friday’s has a big, broad menu, with a little something for anyone’s tastes, and an updated look. Be sure to try their Three-Course Meal deal — a relative steal at $12.99. Along with the updated menu is an assortment of 21st-century cocktails for the partying crowd.
11 a.m.-midnight Monday-Thursday and Saturday; 11 a.m. – 1 a.m. Friday; 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Sunday.
Moderate prices. Credit cards accepted. Beer, wine and mixed drinks available.