A comfortable big box deli franchise
There is something about McAlister's Deli in Butler Plaza that makes this sandwich deli that softens my usual disdain for franchise-land, big box lunch stops. Like most Archer Rd. franchises, McAlister's Deli tries very hard to serve you a menu of all possible lunch items you could ever want, including baked potatoes with a lot of toppings, but the staples are sandwiches. salads, soups, and desserts, and the quality of the food is acceptable for a quick typical lunch fare.
My daughter, Jana, and my grandaughter, Penelope, were in town and joined me and the GLOB Content Editor, Lynn Dirk, for lunch. Jana ordered the Cobb Club Sandwich. Jana said the sandwich was tasty, and there was enought for her to share bits of Butterball™ smoked turkey, applewood smoked bacon, Gorgonzola cheese, guacamole, lettuce, and tomatoes, with Penelope.
I must admit the menu of McAlister's "Spuds" (baked potatoes), is eye catching (image at top). They have come up with some interesting toppings for your backed potato lunch palette such as pot roast and gravy with carrots and "Spud Ole' (chili with or without meat) as well as typical toppings such as lots of bacon and cheese together or separately.
Being deep in the middle of Michael Pollan's In Defense of Food, Lynn was hoping for a good Meatless Monday option too, but she said the veggie options were pitiful. For example, the "Garden Salad" was the only salad without meat added and it also had cheese. The remaining ingredients were: greens, tomatoes, cucumbers, and croutons. She was so discouraged she just ordered a turkey sandwich. I know. That doesn't make sense to me either. To misquote dead rocker Jim Morrison, "People are stranger when you're not strange."
This deli, however, made me feel comfortable, and I think one of the reasons was that it seemed smaller than most big-box delis and also it was not so noisy - maybe because we were seated in a cozy corner both way in the back. Also, the service at this McAlister's was very friendly and customer pleasing - a staff person came to check on us regularly to see if we were happy, and she was happy to retrieve addition condiments and a takeout box for us. The one part of the deli that was just like all the others was the McAlister lunch line process. It was fast and efficient but there was no escaping the approximately 125 plus choices on the wall in front of me. Waiting in the lunch line and trying to decide what I am going to eat before it is my turn to order creates true lunch time angst.
If I were in a hurry and there was a McAlister's close by, I could stop there for a quick satisfying lunch again. The sandwiches are good. The salads looked appetizing and also way too big for one person. I'm not understanding this foodie trend to put more food on the s plate than makes sense. Keep in mind GLOBers this is coming from a guy who grew up with his momma reminding him at every meal to "Clean your plate son, there's a lot of hungry children out there who would love to eat your dinner."
This was my first trip to McAlister's since they relocated to Butler Plaza's from their old Butler Plaza corner spot which is just a few doors south of this Meatless Monday Lunch Stop. Trying to think outside the sliced, toasted, open-face sandwich box, I ordered my first loaded baked potato for lunch. Sounding like an old lawyer friend, let me say this, "First of all, I am looking at the biggest darn baked potato I have ever seen. Secondly I wear a size 11 shoe which I consider to be on the large side of footwear. This BP was a size 12 potato. This spud must've weighed two pounds. Three lunch outers could have enjoyed this tuber extravaganza with some leftovers remaining. Most importantly my McAlister's Veggie Spud was hearty, filing, and packed with flavors, textures, and yummi-ness on a king size bed of starchy, white, perfectly cooked potato. This lunch potato has it all -- red onions, bell peppers, diced tomatoes, black olives, and cheddar-jack cheese. I enjoyed my lunch. They could have left the potato in the microwave a little longer because I would have liked my BP a little warmer and gooier from the melted cheese. This big box deli has several veggie/meatless lunch items for the no meat for lunch crowd.
Do you eat the skin of a baked potato GLOBers? I do. And this spud skin had an interesting 'chew' to it. It wasn't like chewing on my tennis shoe, but I did notice serious masticating taking place on my second and third molars.
Our weather has turned distinctively hotter in Hogtown, and being out in the Butler Plaza area, I was thinking I needed a bowl of chili. I knew from the Urban GLOB Map there are more restaurant choices in the SW Archer Rd-34th St area than you can shake a soup spoon at, but it took me awhile to come up with a potential chili source -- McAlister's Deli in Butler Plaza. Come on fellow GLOBers. They have bowls and bowls of soup, plates and plates of sandwiches, 5-lb baked potatoes (see below), plus too many other lunch choices to remember them all. When I got there, there was a small lunch line -- possibly a cold weather effect. At the counter, I pleaded, "Please tell me you have a chili!"
The respone? "We serve chili every day. And in fact we have a Choose Two Special, with a cup of soup and half portion of any starter, salad, spud or sandwich," the friendly attendant said pointing above her to a sign that said exactly that. It was as if the lunch gods knew exactly what I was looking for, because the picture in the sign featured a Four Cheese Griller they called a "grown-up grilled cheese" that includes provolone, Swiss, American, and parmesan cheese with fresh tomato slices on a ciabatta roll. I added onion to my sandwich, selected a brownie for dessert, and headed to my table with my extra large customer indentifying number in my hand.
These places never make you wait too long, and my lunch was delivered promptly with a friendly smile. The chili was chunky with bits of ground beef floating in a pool of chili flavored red tomato gravy. The McAlister's chili gets a good grade. It was almost thick enough. The chili is spicy enough to please the average chili lover. My mistake was not asking for toppings of cheese, and chopped onions for the bowl of red . . . I will remember McAlister's as an any-day, any-time-you-want good bowl of red place.
The Four Cheese Griller was disappointing. The bread was barely warm and if the ciabatta roll was grilled, it must've been toasted the day before. Plus the inside of the bread was chewy and had a stale texture. The cheeses were flavorful. I love a good grilled cheese.
Leaving McAlister's, I looked one more time at all the pictures of all the sandwiches on the wall-to-wall menu boards and wondered how in the world I selected a D-Minus sandwich in a field of so many choices . . .
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