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turning someone into a chowhound (MSP)

I have this problem where I recently started dating a guy who doesn't care much for food at all. Normally this would be a deal-breaker for me, as I'm almostly completely obssessed about food- but he's a nice guy, so I'm seeing where this goes. The problem is that the only restaurants he likes going to or even knows of are chain restaurants, like Olive Garden, Applebees, Macaroni Grill, etc.

So what would some good restaurants be that are not too 'exotic' and would start expanding his food horizons? I'm thinking maybe Punch, or Kafe 421? any ideas would be greatly appreciated...

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  1. Star,

    Hang in there - my Hubby was a bbq chix sandwich/cheeseburger & a lite beer guy when I first met him. At least he prefered Chammps over TGIF or Applebees.

    Now he is a huge food snob and wine snob as well - beyond chowish if you ask me. He got older, wiser and its really nice.

    I think Punch is a great place to start.

    What worked for me is finding places where they had a nice variety of food so he could try something new - even if it was still chicken, or he could revert back to a cheeseburger (or something similar) as well. And I would also have plently of chow worthy items on the menu as well. However, some spots with a mile long menu are too much for the simple guys to handle.

    Just check out the menu beforehand and make sure there are at least 2 items that he would eat - that he can understand etc as well.

    How about....Downtowner woodfire grill? Zelo & its sisters (pizza!) the local? even going to Damico and sons might be another good place to intro him to a "nice" turkey sandwich vs Subway....

    Good luck. It could be a dealbreaker but give the guy a chance!

    1. A place like Campiello could be a nice step up from the olive garden. Definitely not exotic for a real chowhound, but a good way to ease someone in to more interesting food. Better Italian would seem to be a good gateway to me...

      1. What I did long ago was decide to not eat at chain restaurants. I saw what chains were doing to a lot of local businesses, and didn't particularly like it. I figured that if some people could decide not to eat critters, and survive just fine - I could give up chains. It's a similar decision, but a heck of a lot easier (and tastier... mmm.... meat...).

        Ultimately, that's what forced me into my chowhound ways. If I wasn't going to eat at chains, I was going to have to dig deeper for my food. Once I started doing that, I found that the portions were much more normally sized, the quality was better, there was actual atmosphere, and about a zillion other things that are great about eating at local establishments.

        You could make the same sort of decision. It isn't a "You must be a chowhound" edict, or even an intervention. He could keep eating nothing but cheeseburgers for the rest of his life - he could even do that at Applebee's. But, not if he wants you to be there. It isn't much different than if he started dating a vegetarian, or someone who keeps kosher, or has some other dietary needs. You need to adapt a little bit.

        If he's willing to do that, he'll eventually come to appreciate the better food. (And if he won't adapt to your needs, what good is he anyway?) That said, he probably won't really notice the improvement until he goes back to a chain restaurant.

        We recently won a bunch of Applebee's Gift Certificates. Figuring, "It's free... how bad could it be?" we went and tried it. The contrast between Applebee's and the types of places we were used to eating was amazing. The atmosphere was so forced it was disturbing - but not as disturbing as the chicken....

        I'm not even sure how to describe the texture and taste of the chicken that had been "marinated." It was like eating synthetic meat - with all the chemical aftertaste you'd expect. Given the number of people eating chicken, I'm guessing they can get away with this because the customers don't know what chicken SHOULD taste like.

        2 Replies
        1. re: Danny

          take the guy to 112 so at least he can get the cheeseburger and you can have one of their other lovely dishes.

          If it's sportsbar type atmosphere that he is looking for, go to Gabes. Its not the best food, but its pretty good for a sports bar. I like the create your own pizza's. I have heard that the Buffalo chicken sandwich is pretty good.

          Re: the free Appelbee's visit that Danny and I had, it was also disconcerting to notice the amount of weight watchers and "celebrity" inspired dishes. who wants to think about their diet when eating out? I felt so ripped off even though it was free. Never Again!

          1. re: Danny

            I really like Danny's idea. I did something similar, but without as much forethought. Finding local places that serve foods he likes should help make the transition easier. Be aware, he may never come to appreciate what makes non-chain food great. (My family loves the restaurants I pick out for them when they visit, but always default to chains at home. The difference isn't noticeable or important to them.)

            That said - I'd recommend Tavern on Grand. Homey atmosphere and well prepared bar food.

          2. I hesitate to say it but what about bringing him to Salut? We've had hit or miss experiences there but their goal is to cater to people that want to believe they ate at a french restaurant but are sort of scared of the reality of it. I do really love the cornmeal crusted halibut there.

            1. Bring him wherever you want... if you are buying! :o)

              1. ChefD has a point within a point. He may not share your interest in restaurants because he genuinely does not care about food ... or he may not be enthusiastic because there are other aspects of dining out that do not appeal.

                I know more than one person who resists exploring the dining scene because they don't like the expense, the formality (or the pretension), sub-par service, "wierd" ingredients and pronunciations and so on. French fries on the menu aren't enough if the diner feels they're paying too much in a place they wouldn't want to visit in the first place. Cheeseburgers & chains promise casual informality and a non-threatening price point.

                Does that ring at all true for what you know of this fellow? If so, a number of places serve dishes he'll recognize and you'll enjoy but the winners will match his comfort with cost, formality and new experiences. (Sure, those factors & their relative importance to you both can affect a relationship without ever mentioning restaurants, but that's a totally different website.)

                Back on topic, this might be one of those times where the Longfellow Grill, Edina Grill, Highland Grill, Groveland Tap group might serve you both well. Casual, friendly, familiar, economical. Proceed with baby steps: still pizza but now the versions from Punch or Nea, still burgers but grab them at the Nook, still pasta but have it in the casual settings of Zelo/D'Amico Bros/Figlio, still ribs but get them from (insert your favorite here.)

                1 Reply
                1. re: KTFoley

                  KT - good points... and great recommendations - Also maybe Cafe 128, and Signature Cafe after those mentioned above.

                  Speaking from personal exp...my Hubby had never really been exposed to anything other than plain food. Luckily, his taste buds (and his wallet!) opened up after a few years.

                  Yup years....

                2. Punch or Kafe 421 would be great I would think. Kafe 421 has pretty good food, the space is fairly nice, and it is near the U so the atmosphere is fairly casual without being overly so.

                  I might also recommend Loring Pasta Bar. Some people seem to be not overly impressed with the food, which may be a valid point, but the ambience is spectacular... and again it is near the U so prices are not overly high, and it is fairly casual without being overly so.

                  1. Thanks so much for all the advice, I really appreciate it. I will suggest one of these places when we go out to eat next week, and hope for the best!

                    5 Replies
                    1. re: starburst

                      Even someplace like Al's (for breakfast) or The Nook (for a Jucy Lucy or Lodge burger) are more chowhoundish and not that intimidating.

                      ~TDQ

                      1. re: The Dairy Queen

                        "...are more chowhoundish and not that intimidating."

                        To me that is the key. Start with places that aren't to intimidating but still offer more distinctive, tasty fare. If it's burgers he's into, try the Nook or 5-8 Club. Does he fancy a roast beef sandwich, take him to Mayslack's. You get the picture.

                        And then, just so you don't freak him out, go to Applebee's once in a while and get a salad. Iceberg lettuce to be sure but they can't screw it up too much.

                        1. re: Sven

                          Oh, Sven inspired another idea out of me...Roast beef sandwiches at Mavericks in Roseville (off of Lexington & Larpenteur there...). Or, in the same strip-mall shopping center, bagels at the St. Paul Bagelry.

                          Hot Dago sandwiches at DeGidio's on W. 7th in St. Paul.

                          ~TDQ

                            1. re: The Dairy Queen

                              yes, Mavericks. Best darn roast beef sandwich around

                      2. Punch is definitely a good place. Another reasonably priced Italian place (but so much better than the Olive Garden!) is Broders Pasta Bar on 50th and Penn in Minneapolis. If they're packed, you can try the takeout place across the street. It's casual and friendly. If he's a burger guy, Joe's garage is an interesting place to expand your burger horizons.

                        1. FYI, Joe's Garage has gotten a recent "downhill report" in this space.

                          1. You know, the more I think about this, the more I fear that Punch Pizza might be too exotic. I love Punch pizza, but the first time I took my not-truly-a-chowhound companion to Punch, I ordered a salad and a some kind of veggie pizza.

                            When they brought the pizza to the table he said something along the lines of, "If they were going to put salad on the pizza, why did we bother with salad?" He was not that enamored, even though he loves pizza. He is also turned off by the wait and the noise and the too-close tables. See, for a non-chowhound, the food isn't everything, and frankly, it's been hard to drag him back there.

                            So, if you're going to take a non-chowhound to Punch, I recommend ordering one of the most traditional pizzas on their menu so that it can be recognized as a pizza. Also, go during one of the off-peak times so that the overall experience is good.

                            Another baby step to Chowhoundism, if your pal is truly accustomed to the national chains, is to take him to a mom and pop pizza joint like Savoy's or Carbone's. Not as Chowhoundish as Punch, but better than Pizza Hut.

                            Another place that might be good is Manny's Torta's. Not the one in Midtown Global Market, not the one in the Mercado Central, but the standalone Manny's on Lake Street across from the Town Talk Diner. Really, who doesn't like a good sandwich?

                            In fact, sandwiches are pretty unintimidating as a food. Maybe a tour of sandwiches for all of your lunch dates? Here's a great sandwich thread:

                            http://www.chowhound.com/topics/12458...

                            ~TDQ

                            12 Replies
                            1. re: The Dairy Queen

                              "also turned off by the wait and the noise and the too-close tables"

                              I had thought about this aspect too when Al's breakfast was mentioned earlier...

                              1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                "...take him to a mom and pop pizza joint like Savoy's...not as Chowhoundish as Punch..."

                                Oh, I beg to differ. Savoy rocks! Sausage, mushroom and onion...doesn't get much better than that.

                                1. re: Sven

                                  Oh, we're fans of Savoy's at TDQ's house. It's been awhile, though; maybe we'll have to queue up another visit. Don't they serve the pizza on cafeteria trays and, of course, sliced in squares the Minneosta way?

                                  ~TDQ

                                  1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                    Please, please, PLEASE can someone explain to me the appeal of Savoy's pizza? It is some of the nastiest, greasiest pizza I've ever had - YUCK! But everyone raves about it. Through my informal polling, the only reason I can find that people like it is "the atmosphere" or "the pizza is classic old school" which, again, just says to me greasy, nasty Shakey's pizza from my childhood. Can anyone help me out here?

                                      1. re: Josh Resnik

                                        Thanks, Josh. At least one person finally agrees with me!

                                      2. re: jennywinker

                                        Because the greasy, cheesy mess is old school excellence. I love a pizza loaded with greasy cheese, very little sauce, and hunks of meat, especially pepperoni that's so crispy it's almost burnt. Savoy's, Carbone's and Mansetti's do that kind of old-style pizza joint pizza better than anyone in town (imo).

                                        1. re: Nathan_1118

                                          Okay, okay, I think I've figured out what what the disconnect is for me. I hate greasy food, deep fried anything and fatty sausage. I forget that those foods are tempting "treats" for most people. So, is Savoy's a guilty pleasure?

                                          1. re: jennywinker

                                            Well, not entirely because it's a guilty pleasure, but because it's an actual style of pizza and, just as in all other kinds of foods, there are ways to prepare it so that it transcends the "chain" restaurant experience. Maybe this style of pizza just isn't for you--just like fried egg sandwiches aren't for me, for instance-- but that doesn't mean it can't be chowish to those who appreciate it.

                                            As far as I'm concerned, fried egg sandwiches are the most disgusting food on the planet. But, even though I don't appreciate them myself, if someone told me they were looking for the ultimate fried-egg sandwich experience, with a certain kind of bread and home-made mayo, and eggs fried in a certain kind of way so the yolks were exactly "so" runny, I would accept that as a chowish pursuit. But, no thank you, not my chowish pursuit.

                                            So, maybe you just don't like this "style of pizza." But, for me, on occasion, I like "old style" pizza--the kind with the thin, handmade, chewy crust, zesty home-made sauce and home-made (I think) sausage, and generously laden with cheese and meats. Like they make at Savoy pizza. I'm not sure the veggies on all of their vegetable pizzas are "fresh" (canned mushrooms perhaps?), but I don't go there for the veggies.

                                            ~TDQ

                                        2. re: jennywinker

                                          I could but I'm not sure it would do any good.

                                          Nonetheless, I will say that the appeal is more than just "the atmosphere" or some nostalgic throwback to days gone by. And to say that Savoy pizza is similar to Shakey's is to completely misrepresent Shakey's pizza. The two are/were nothing alike save for the alliteration.

                                          1. re: jennywinker

                                            It's greasy, cheesy, salty, and goes great with beer. Bar food at it's finest.

                                            1. re: Orange Julius

                                              Thanks, TDQ and Orange Julius. I think I can finally put my Savoy's conundrum behind me and just get on with my life!

                                    1. Suggest a pursuit, be it breaded pork tenderloin sandwiches (my pursuit), walleye sandwiches, Jucy Lucy burgers, pizza, pasta alfredo, BBQ sandwiches, ribeye steak, etc. Start with his favorite food. The idea is to venture out try new places and see if you can find a better one each time or pause and compare with the previous. You can include the chains but could quickly run out of them and then have to venture forth. Chowhounding does not have to be trying only the finest chef led restaurants in town. Chowhownding is the adventure of food even if it is to compare the White Castle hamburger to the Krystal burger.

                                      Since I started pursuing pork tenderloin sandwiches I have gone off the beaten path on county roads in Iowa to find the "World's Largest" to the inner city near north of Houston, TX to a BBQ cafeteria to sample them. I have also ventured all over the Twin Cities into neighborhoods I've never been. Through my pursuit I discovered the Nook.

                                      1. If you like the guy, don't worry about the tastebuds! I turned a picky eater into a wildly adventurous chowhound in only 15 years ... :-) Actually, he was very food-oriented to begin with. That "doesn't care much for food at all" is more challenging than having chain-restaurant taste.

                                        Just go slow, be encouraging but not pushy, and take it as given that he'll participate in your interests (good food), the way you participate in his (those non-food things).

                                        Kafe 421 sounds great. But Punch might actually be a challenge for those raised on traditional American pizza. How about the Modern Cafe? Or one of the great bakery/coffeeshops around town, like Cupcake or Birchwood or French Meadow?

                                        For more "plain food" ideas, see my recent post on another thread:

                                        http://www.chowhound.com/topics/349715

                                        Anne

                                        1. Jeezus-I have the same problem with my wife! She's coming around slowly-she loved Fiamma so much in Vegas last year she wants to go back. This guy is darn lucky to have a woman like you:)

                                          You want to expand his food horizons? M-E-A-T. All men like meat. His achilles heel is STEAK. He won't like a foo-foo place or a cafe or someplace with an artsy sounding name, believe me, I have a female coworker who is in the same spot as you. No guy will turn down STEAK, even if he never goes to other places in that category. Take him to Manny's for starters. When he chows down on steak that is of a higher quality than anything he's ever had before, he just might appreciate that quality. And that is your foot in the door, if anything will broaden his horizons, Manny's is it. Trust me!! http://www.mannyssteakhouse.com/

                                          4 Replies
                                          1. re: elrushbo

                                            that makes me think that maybe Erte in NE Mpls would be a good choice.

                                            1. re: AliceS

                                              My coworker friend has the same problem with her husband as this lady here...he's never been to Vegas, she has, he thinks all you need are buffets. She's planning on taking him to N9NE which I imagine will make him somewhat of a convert, meaning he'll at least put up with a place that has steak.

                                            2. re: elrushbo

                                              I'm a M-A-N and I don't really like S-T-E-A-K, just an F-Y-I :o)

                                              1. re: ChefD

                                                My husband does not like steak either, and he is totally a man! Enough of the generalizations!!! ;-)

                                            3. Maybe exotic is the way to go?

                                              When my husband (who grew up in an environment where pork chops and rice with orange juice was "exotic") and I were in our early days of dating, it was my turn to choose the restaurant. I opted for Japanese (not that that's too exotic), being a sushi fan. I knew he could get a meat-starch-veg meal as well, so I wasn't too worried.

                                              He really liked the bento he had, with beef, sesame broccoli, rice, etc. But he was utterly entranced by the sushi that was on my plate. He enjoyed the aesthetic of the sushi, but he will admit that my pleasure in eating the sushi was a watershed moment. He was hooked by watching someone's experience of food, and was interested in learning more.

                                              This is a man who would not touch any fish prior to this. (Yeah - sushi is the RICE; I still have to explain this to him, but: oh well.) Now, he will opt, if not lobby, for sushi - my son is off on holiday break from college, and Hub has said we should make a sushi spread for my son and his friends. (Yes, I now have to make it regularly and often - be careful what you wish for!)

                                              Long story shortened, my Hub says he never would have tried sushi if he didn't see how much I enjoyed it and wondered what the "fuss" was all about. Maybe it's a lead-by-example situation that you (the OP) need to embrace?

                                              If nothing else, you'll get the more exotic food every-other-time you date. And you never know what food passions you can awake in your SO in going for the more non-Applebees stuff. At least you'll find out your compatibility.

                                              1 Reply
                                              1. re: cayjohan

                                                I agree on the ethnic/exotic. Start there, introduce him to new flavors and more interesting cuisine and pretty soon he'll recognize the poor quality of the applebees and olive gardens of the world.

                                                I was in your shoes nearly four years ago when I met my now husband. I really pushed him to try new things, and 'nicer' restaurants. He now loves Indian, knows the diff between crappy asian and good asian, likes sushi, and is willing to take risks when we go abroad.

                                                International travel really opened his palate. We just went to London and ate nothing but ethnic options.

                                                If ethnic isn't your choice, just try smaller local places that serve food he would recognize, try POP in NE Mpls, good quality, 'normal' food, or Loring Pasta Bar in Dinkytown.

                                                Good Luck, and patience :)

                                                -MaryMN

                                              2. As someone who isn't an adventerous eater (but usually a good sport), I'd like to chime in. If you are suggesting a restaurant that is going to sound "odd" to him (for me, the warning signs would be "honey, we are going to have Tibetan food", or "it's a place that serves only raw food")--don't do this on a Tuesday night. Do it Saturday or Sunday for lunch, or at 5 pm on a Friday or Saturday.

                                                My big fear in trying something new is that I'm not going to find anything I like. Usually, I'm pleasantly surprised, and then this new cuisine can be in the rotation. But nothing confirms my food-shyness like an evening where I go hungry, and my ability to find something else to eat is limited. If a lunch or early dinner goes badly, I can still find someplace to grab a bite. Weeknights are too busy for second chances, and during prime time on weekends, second chances aren't very good.

                                                I'll be a lot more adventurous if I'm sure there is a fallback option. That's really why chains are popular--people know what they are going to get, and don't have to worry about it.