Wednesday, June 13, 2012

the last supper.

Of the many life lessons I’ve learned, perhaps the most important is to never eat at a sit-down chain restaurant that bears someone’s namesake. Roy Rogers, Bob Evans, P.F. Chang’ you see where I’m going with this? At 21 years old, I thought I knew it all. Oh, I firmly believed that a family visit to a casual eatery in Georgia, known as Carey Hilliard’s, could only result in fun times, fine food and great memories. Then again, I also thought that full bangs were a good look. I had just graduated from college, and my parents decided to take me down to Hilton Head, South Carolina and Savannah, Georgia for a celebratory vacation. What better way to celebrate than with some down-home southern cookin’? As it turned out, there were, many, many better ways. One of which was probably swimming with gators in the crick.

Upon entering the dimly-lit Denny’s/Golden Corral hybrid, I knew I had made a grave mistake. Yet, my pride just wouldn’t let me turn back. The gum-snapping, bleary-eyed hostess, who looked like she just finished up a shoot as an extra in Zombieland, showed us to our booth without a word. The ‘rents and I slid carefully onto the weathered—and mysteriously sticky— upholstery. We all took a terrified look around, noting that a landscape of white hair blanketed the entire restaurant, along with the distinct scent of mothballs. It was early, but not THAT early, for the snowbirds to be here in such high concentrations. Was the food here so terrible that it was only palatable by those whose taste buds were long gone? We found out, in short order, that the answer to that question was a resounding “yes”. Surveying the menu, which featured unintentionally vintage-looking glamour shots of clam strip baskets and such vague offerings as a “pound of barbecue”, only further confirmed what we all already knew: we were screwed. But it was too late now. “Hi there, folks,” a waitress that resembled a significantly less vibrant Rue McClanahan approached. “Can I get y’all started with a drink?”

"What do you have for wine?” my mother asked, though she instinctively knew the answer.

"Well, we, uh, have a house white...and rosé,” Rue replied as visions of Franzia and flashbacks of freshman year danced in my head.

Too frightened to ask any more questions, we all placed our orders, heads down, mentally preparing for the taste of the south in our mouths. I made inadvertent eye contact with an elderly gentleman in a nearby booth. He smiled at me, though I wasn’t sure if the smile said, This place is great! What a delicious chicken finger basket! or I have absolutely no idea what the hell is going on! I smiled back. We were all in this together.

The food arrived, looking just as it had in the menu! In most cases, this is a good thing. In this case, it meant that it had probably been baking under heat lamps since yesterday’s early bird special. My father attempted a spoonful of his chowder. An unmistakable crunching sound, that could likely be heard all the way to Tybee Island, followed. “Jesus, John! What was that?” my mother crowed, jerking her head up from the cole slaw she’d been sniffing with a curious expression. “Nothing (crunch), it’s fine (crunch),” my dad responded, blatantly ignoring the destruction of his molars that was taking place in real time. “Are there...bones in there? If there are bones in there, send it back.” I picked up my glass of cloudy sweet tea to start my own drinking game. “You’re not going to pay for bones, are you?” she continued, sipping the generic white wine in between disgusted bites of her pulled pork sandwich.

Oh yes, the pulled pork! Amidst all of the crunchy chaos, I had forgotten all about my sandwich. I lifted up one of the miniature, soggy slices of Wonder Bread that sat in the center of my plate and peeked underneath, unsure if there was actually any meat in hiding. I was faced with two thin strips of barbecued pig, which were ominously arranged in the shape of a cross. I considered asking Jesus to take the wheel. Then, after some contemplation, I decided that I just wanted him to take the pork away. Far, far away.

“Can I take this away?”

My prayers were answered by the not-quite-Golden Girl, who didn’t bat an eyelash at my untouched dinner plate, nor my family’s pained expressions. And then, as we sat waiting for the check, something strange happened: we all began to laugh. A few chuckles grew into that silent, uncontrollable kind of laughter, where all you can hear are the quick, hiccup-y intakes of breath. We’re still not sure if it was the wine, or the bony chowder, or if someone spiked the sweet tea, or if it was just the realization that we just had the worst dining experience of all of our lives. Whatever it was, our waitress didn’t seem to share in our punchy delight—giving us the side-eye as she returned my father’s card. Blanche Devereaux would never!

We headed for the sweet glow of freedom and the setting Georgia sun—as well as the door—still giggling.“Y’all come back now,” the hostess droned with a detectable tinge of sarcasm, as I snagged a takeout menu for posterity. One of Savannah’s best-kept, tasty secrets, it boasted.

I’ll never tell.


  1. Mmmmm, I'm reading this right before lunch time! That really sucks you had a bad meal in the South, but you definitely learned that chain restaurants are usually the pits. Always try to eat where the locals do.

    Also? Crunchy Chowder should be the name of a band.

    xoxo, @lilnerdette

    Bon appetit!

  2. Sorry to make you hungry! :) But yes, I learned many, many lessons that day. I also had a lot of good southern meals that made up for this atrocity. So it's all good.