I is for Irritation.... and IHOP
I had another I-word in mind for today's A-Z Blogging Challenge post, but sometimes the events of the day produce other inspirations - or irritations as the case may be.
Most of you can probably identify the food item pictured above as a "patty melt", basically a hamburger with grilled onions and American or Swiss cheese, served on grill-toasted rye bread. It's not fancy fare, and certainly doesn't fall into the category of health food - or anywhere near it, but as some of my long-time readers know, ordering a patty melt at IHOP (or International House of Pancakes as it was previously known) is a long-standing tradition of mine... and it tastes good! (Well, usually, but I'll get back to that shortly.)
Several years ago, my ex-husband, who played the drums in a rock-n-roll band, usually had band practice on Monday nights. Sometimes it was held at a bandmate's home, but most often at ours, which meant the floors and walls shook with the loud reverberation from multiple amplifiers. Either way, it meant it was a great night for me to take a book and treat myself to a blissfully quiet supper in town. The local IHOP became my place of choice, as they would happily seat me off in a corner where I could leisurely eat with one hand, sip iced tea, and flip the pages of my book with the other, long before the days of Kindle. I am a creature of habit and routine; when I like a menu item at a restaurant, I tend to order it repetitively. Boring, I know... maybe I like the lack of surprise, or the comfort of familiarity, or maybe I'm just not all that adventurous. :-)
So anyway, it became my routine to spend Monday evenings at IHOP dining on a patty melt that looks much like the above. I always specify Swiss cheese instead of American cheese, and no seasoning on the fries, as I don't care for their blended seasoning, preferring to lightly salt my fries when they are served. I order it this way every time I go. I would sit there eating and reading, and often dreaming and longing for another life, and a partner who would want to share evenings with me, one who would not have a rock band as a mistress that consumed all of his time and interest.
As our relationship turned dark, I spent my IHOP nights longing for escape, for freedom from the misery our marriage had become, and for a place of my own. A couple years down the road that finally became a reality when, with the help and support of my daughter and then son-in-law, I left him and moved into town and an apartment of my own. From that time on, IHOP night became a time of thankfulness, of remembering what I'd come from. I didn't have to dread going home after dinner anymore.
Fast forward to my meeting John and our subsequent marriage. Not too many months later I found myself living in a city in west Texas with a husband who prefers to spend his time with me, and we nearly always eat supper together. John is a Freemason, and a Past-Master of his Masonic Lodge. This means he attends various lodge meetings, typically about three times a month. On those nights, I have continued my tradition of visiting the IHOP here to enjoy a patty melt and iced tea while reading or playing on my iPhone, and reflecting on how much my life has changed for the better. John will call me at work to remind me of his meeting and I"ll laugh and respond "patty melt"! Then he laughs, and tells me I'm a member of the "IHOP Lodge". True! :-)
Our local IHOP leaves a bit to be desired in decor, service, food quality, and overall management. It doesn't begin to compare to the one where I lived previously, but it's more about the pleasure of carrying on the tradition... and I enjoy patty melts! So a couple times a month you will find me seated there, patiently enduring service from a staff of frequently changing faces. Recently they underwent a change of management, and a major remodel. At first things looked promising and the atmosphere was certainly more cheerful.
The last time I went, I noticed that the size of the hamburger in my patty melt was a bit smaller, but downsizing while increasing prices is the name of the game in the restaurant world, and I didn't make a fuss. This isn't high-class cuisine and I'm not a demanding person.
Tonight was another story. I was seated promptly, and placed my usual order with a polite young waitress. The restaurant was barely occupied so I anticipated reasonably quick service. It took awhile longer than usual for my food to arrive, but at first glance it appeared ok. Lifting the sandwich for the first bite, I noted that the burger inside was now covering less than half the surface of the bread. Geesh (think sliders)! I ate a couple bites and realized it tasted bland. The reason was soon obvious, it completely lacked grilled onions... they were non-existent.
I nicely requested that the waitress ask the manager to come to my table. He looked to be in his early 30's, if that. I lifted the toasted bread to show him the lack of onions and also noted that I thought the hamburger should be reasonably larger. He agreed and took it back to the kitchen for a re-order. This generally scares me, since in complaining you are inviting retaliation by a minimum-wage frycook, but I hoped for the best.
Nearly 25 minutes later, by which time my stomach was growling and I was becoming annoyed, the waitress finally returned with my replacement meal. The "grilled" rye bread was barely toasted and pale, and upon inspection there was once again NO ONIONS! Now I'm pissed!! I also noted that it had first been covered with American cheese, which had been apparently scraped off and replaced with a piece of unmelted Swiss cheese. The burger was not one bit larger than the first one. We're talking a bread sandwich with a few bites of burger at best. Grrrrr!
I again requested the manager while still being polite, as I didn't see any of this as the waitress's fault and I detest people who take their frustrations out on innocent waitstaff. He comes to my booth and I point out that the new sandwich which has just now finally arrived at my table looks exactly like the last one, including the lack of grilled onions. I inform him that I have been there over 45 minutes waiting for my dinner, and I have run out of patience. I got up from the booth and told him I was leaving. He said he was very sorry, and that was it... no show of displeasure with his staff, and no offer to give me a comp meal card for a future visit to make ammends. You can bet I had no intention of paying for the current one!
I walked out hungry, angry, and disappointed that my little self-pampering ritual had been nicely ruined for the evening. By that time, nothing else even sounded good so I came on home. It will be a long time before I'll return to this IHOP for another go at it, if ever. And yes, I will be sending a letter of complaint to the local franchise owner. In my opinion, it was the manager's responsibility to make darned sure that the second patty melt arrived promptly and done to perfection. He failed miserably on the follow-thru and showed little real concern for the poor performance of his kitchen staff.
Maybe this is the universe's way of telling me I really don't need to be eating patty melt's anyway, or maybe it was just the topper to a relatively crappy day, but now that I've vented my frustration here I'm over it. My husband just called from town, his lodge meeting is over. They didn't have a meal tonite as he had expected so he is hungry too, and will pick us up something tasty on the way home. Life is looking up! :-)