I'm as pretentious, and as ill served by the menu options at most chain restaurants, as any other Boston-area vegetarian. However, I also don't want to give the impression that I spend my entire life eating only at small, local Indian and Chinese restaurants, and so in the next couple of posts I will review two different local chains: one a much loved local institution, the other a pleasantly crunchy-granola burrito store.
First the much loved chain:
If nostalgia value was my only criteria for reviewing a restaurant, Friendly's would win by a landslide. (My grandmother used to get mom to take us there about every week or so.) They're a New England standby, a fairly unpretentious family restaurant specializing in delicious ice cream and the type of salty, greasy, American food my brother and I used to look forward to eating once or twice a week when we were kids: burgers, French fries, and chicken fingers. Which is not to say it didn't offer alternative fare for my vegetarian teen years: my first cup of broccoli soup was eaten at Friendly's, and it was delicious.
When Eric and I went to the Charlestown Friendly's on Saturday, we were able to find the two meatless items on the menu: the vegetable quesadilla and the grilled cheese sandwich. They were both very good, appropriately toasty and cheesy and comfort foody. However, I found out that the vegetarian friendly soups and salads were a thing of the past. The Atkins obsession has done horrible things to what was once the only menu item I could depend on being able to get in every single restaurant: it has put chicken on all of the salads.
Non vegetarians don't understand why this is frustrating. Just order it without the chicken, they say. Most of my experiences trying to order meatless versions of dishes with meat on them end in said item being taken to the table and plonked in front of me completely loaded with meat. Sending it back does no good, I usually get a long wait spent watching others finish their food for my trouble. I have spent five bizarre years in customer service, and do not wish to be taken for the Customer From Hell, I would just like to be able to go into any American-food restaurant with my non-vegetarian friends and be able to see something on the menu I can actually eat without having to conduct complex negotiations first.*
The main reason to go to Friendly's is that they have wonderful frappes and shakes. Note to Non New Englanders, and maybe also New Englanders: a frappe is not a milkshake. Milkshakes are milk with a couple scoops of ice cream thrown in, frappes are mostly ice cream with a little milk thrown in for drinkability. If you have just been served your frappe and and are having a hard time drinking it because it hasn't quite melted enough to be drinkable yet or the straw's stuck in a lump of ice cream? That's a frappe. Vanilla and chocolate are their best, but they do a good strawberry and also a decent coffee. (Although Bedford Farms does a better coffee frappe, but "comparative frappes" is a topic for a different article.)
*The Cheesecake Factory and Not Your Average Joes being rare exceptions to the general meat filled wasteland usually presented by restaurant chains of the Friendly's type. They offer several different vegetarian menu options, and they're all decently priced and well prepared.