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What to order when "forced" to eat at chain/non-Chow worthy restaurants? Advice and finds...

Once in a while, you may find yourself at a restaurant that just isn't foodie-friendly. Whether you're having a weak moment, or are going there because someone else got to choose the restaurant (don't you just hate when that happens?), you're going to have to eat something. When you do, what do you tend to order or stay away from?

For example, something I stay away from are pasta dishes because I prefer handmade pasta when eating out.

Last night we ended up at Milestones, mainly because we live in Markham and I didn't feel like Asian food and there are not a lot of great non-Asian options here. A find for me at Milestones is the American burger - some people won't love that they actually use real cheddar (instead of a processed cheese slice) on this classic sandwich - but actually, I prefer it. I ask for the bacon crispy.

Another find for me was the omelet at Milestones - it was one of the best I ever had, but I imagine it varies location to location. I was at the Whitby location.

A chain I seem to end up at about twice a year is the Keg. I love their garlic mashed potatoes and always order onion strings to go with my steak. Their Billy Minor pie is great too - and free if you go on your birthday.

Hoping to hear everyone's thoughts!


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  1. You and I have the same thing at The Keg. :). And the Billy Miner is excellent.

    I usually end up ordering a salad or a chicken dish at chain places. Those are mostly tough to mess up. For example, the guys I work with like Earls. Shocking, I know :). I usually have the pistachio crusted chicken salad. It's ok.

    4 Replies
      1. re: hungryabbey

        It's a mocha flavoured ice cream cake on a chocolate cookie crust, it's drizzled with a hot fudge sauce over top and then sprinkled with almonds.

          1. re: justxpete

            Lol thanks for the clarification - sounds tasty.

      2. Having worked in chain restaurants for many years before I finally "saw the light" (!), I know that most, if not all soups, sauces, dressings, etc. are not made in house, but are purchased and very likely full of preservatives and additives. So I'm with you on staying away from pasta dishes, and try to find the most "unprocessed" items on the menu - some salads, maybe grilled chicken, or like you, a burger.
        Luckily, most of the people I eat out with also avoid chain restaurants, so it's not often an issue.

        1 Reply
        1. re: hungryjoanne

          I would avoid all meat and poultry if you are concerned about antibiotics in the feed used in intensive livestock farming, or the farming practices in general.

            1. re: justxpete

              How about a Cabernet, followed promptly by that cab :)

            2. The chains I *had to* attend most frequently are:
              -Jack Astor's
              My strategy is to get a few people to share a bunch of appetizers. These places rarely mess up the deep-fried or the dips. They send them out in masses, so these are usually freshly (re)-fried. I have no problem with that. I would usually get a spring mix (sans the optional proteins) for main, and tell them to bring whatever that's on tap.

              1. I've found the appetizers and salads at Joey to be decent.I like their wings, calamari and fish tacos.

                I stay away from dumplings, sushi and curries at chain restaurants.

                For whatever reason, I like avocado spring rolls, which only seem to show up on menus in chain restos, and I usually order them when I see them on a menu.

                1. I have relatives who really love Earl's and Milestones and not much else, so I've had to eat there a few times over the years. I'm vegetarian, so I usually just stick to salads and dessert (the bread isn't worth it). I remember that the Keg used to have a decent veggie burger, but that was a long time ago so I'm not sure it's still true.

                  6 Replies
                  1. re: piccola

                    I like the salads at Earl's.

                    I think the food quality at Joey and Earl's is better than the food quality than the pub grub/bar food at a few non-chain pubs/bars around town, and better than the food at other chains in ON. I'd prefer Joey to O+B Grill at Bayview Village. While I'd rather support the little guy when possible, I like the food at Earl's better than the food on my most recent visit to Allen's or The Old Nick.

                    Another chain I like is Aroma Espresso. I really like their pastries.

                    I had some good meals at Milestones out west 10+ years ago, but most meals I've had Milestones in ON have been fair to poor. The food at the location near the airport was awful the one time I dined there. Seems to vary from location to location.

                    1. re: prima

                      Eh, I rarely eat at bars or pubs so I can't compare. But I agree about Aroma -- their breakfast is really good.

                    2. re: piccola

                      I notice that the Earl's menu claims that: "All of our soups and breads are made from scratch in our kitchens every morning." Any comments on this? Could it actually be true?


                      1. re: TeacherFoodie

                        It could be true. I've heard good things about Earl's clam chowder, but haven't had a chance to try it. Earl's food tastes less processed than most chain food.

                        1. re: prima

                          Good to know in case I end up there!

                          1. re: prima

                            I've had their clam chowder. It's very good. More salt than the Dead Sea, but I find most restaurant food oversalted.

                      2. Barring a few exceptions, my default MO is to order one of their salads with the dressing on the side.

                        I figure I may have to waste money on the food, but I can at least waste fewer calories.

                        1. Usually chicken wings. Chains usually get good sized ones. One of my guilty pleasures is Boston Pizza's wings. When visiting my wife's family in Simcoe, Ontario, it's "the place". They do something i really like. Fry the wing to partially cook it and finish in the oven. You have to request it that way, and probably not all locations would accomodate.

                          I never order anything "ethnic". Some chains will have jerk chicken sandwiches or butter chicken or something like that. Usually the flavours are really too tame to bother.

                          1. I usually stick to a bunch of appetizers as the safe choice.
                            The mains tend to be letdowns for 'chains'

                            1. A true foodie carries a cyanide capsule for just such occasions when the dining locale is beneath his or her expectorations. Merely order a glass of water. Neither taste nor hard-earned cash is wasted. Once the body is dragged out, everyone else can go ahead and have a really good time.

                              1. Great post! I have this nightmare on a regular basis... Unfortunately the one where I was forced to go to the Old Spaghetti Factory is still burned in my head. I can still smell the old stale mop smell. Can't remember what I had (had to get counseling for that), but I'm tormented because you seem to have a half full glass approach to this subject, whereas all I'm experiencing are nightmarish images of burnt cheese on gratin dishes and kids with crayons or something of the like.... I'll have to think about this and try to find a silver lining. The only guilty pleasure I can think of is the odd McDonald's hamburger (yes, the ones that kids get) and the apple pie. Not sure if that cuts it but I'll keep thinking... if I have to.

                                1. Had a similar dilemma this past weekend...
                                  Was really looking forward to trying Kingyo (recommended by a fellow hound) Dad was not feeling that "adventurous".

                                  Wound up at the Keg Mansion. Oh well.
                                  New York-med rare, Baked Potato, etc.
                                  It was fine, though not in the "fine dining" sense.
                                  More like "ok".

                                  3 Replies
                                  1. re: kwfoodiewannabe

                                    I like the iceburg wedge with top sirloin when I'm at the Keg. http://www.kegsteakhouse.com/en/menus...

                                    1. re: kwfoodiewannabe

                                      I don't mind the Keg Mansion. I haven't gone very often, and sure it's not fine dining and it's not adventurous, but it's ok.

                                      1. re: SusanB

                                        Like I said, it was ok. Certainly would have preferred to try that Japanese beef cooked on a hot rock at Kingyo though...

                                    2. Another chain we sometimes end up at is the Pickle Barrel. I've tried the fish tacos three times. The first time they were very good, the second time they were "meh" and the third time they were good. It must depend on the chef since all three times it was the same location. I've enjoyed their breakfast items in the past.

                                      1. I have enjoyed the roast beef hash at milestones! Similar to the group, I normally stick with apps for a main...

                                        1. Going to an Earl's tonight. Any other recs besides those made here?

                                          There is a pic of some kind of stew or something on their website. Is that the curry?

                                          1 Reply
                                          1. re: ylsf

                                            I'd stick to appetizers, salads, burgers, sandwiches and steaks.
                                            Earl's is not the type of place where I'd order stew or curry. If you're seeking some heat, try their Southwestern menu items. Most of the Southwestern and Tex Mex stuff I've tried has been pretty good.

                                          2. Neat thread! I like to order crab cakes because they're a weakness and most restos in the city are doing cured fish apps instead of crab cakes these days. Also, beet salad is de rigeur if I can find it.