a tale of two meals

It was the best of meals, it was the worst of meals…

The road trip last week offered me a great opportunity to test my ability to make good better food choices, especially when those choices are limited due to circumstance. Like when you’re taking advantage of highway rest stops to maximize travel time during a road trip. Most of these directly-off-the-exit-ramp establishments are not known for their abundance of fresh, quality fare.

But, the truth is, whether your road-tripping or not, unhealthy choices abound. And sometimes they look pretty dang good. [Chip truck, anyone??]

Luckily I didn’t have to sacrifice healthfulness or quality during dinner on Monday night in Denver. The Russian Princess had planned an evening out at True Food Kitchen, a restaurant built around the idea of taking popular trends in cuisine and pairing them with healthy living ingredients. The menu is based on Dr. Andrew Weil’s anti-inflammatory diet – but don’t let that scare you. Our appetizers and each of our main courses were decadent, flavourful and completely satisfying.

I ordered the Roasted Chicken, served with Organic Corn, Purslane, Farro, Preserved Lemon, Feta & Cannellini Bean Puree.

Photo credit: shescooking.com

Photo credit: shescooking.com

This meal was delicious, nutritious and filling.

Now let’s compare that wonderful meal to my dining experience a few days later. Early Thursday morning, we stopped for a quick breakfast at Denny’s somewhere near Iowa City, Iowa. Primarily because it seemed to be the healthiest option available [right off the highway], and certainly as compared to McDonalds, Wendy’s, etc. Or so I thought.

After a quick scan of the menu, I honed in on the “Fit Fare” options, and decided on the Banana Pecan Pancake Breakfast.

It was described as follows;

Banana Pecan Pancake Breakfast: Glazed pecans cooked into two hearty buckwheat pancakes and topped with fresh banana slices.  Served with two scrambled egg whites, two strips of turkey bacon and a side of warm syrup. Fit Fare® Lean: Under 15g of fat. Fit Fare® Fiber: Over 8g of fiber.

Buckwheat pancakes, egg whites, turkey bacon… sounded reasonable to me. The choice was made. This is what the meal was supposed to look like:

This photo is based on the description in the menu.

This photo is based on the description in the menu.

15 minutes later, the waitress arrived with our meals.

This is what she served me:

The "fit fare" menu item was doused in caramel sauce.

The “fit fare” menu item was doused in caramel sauce.

I was momentarily confused, asking Mr. Enthusiasm, “Why would they pour the syrup on my pancakes? They never do that, do they?”  He responded, “That’s way too thick to be syrup, Nanc. Oh, and that doesn’t look like buckwheat either. I’d say it’s buttermilk.”

The manager arrived at our table, offering up a fresh pot of coffee just as I was about to dip the tip of my pinkie into the mystery drizzle to investigate. She noticed I hadn’t touched my plate and asked if everything was okay.

[Decidedly not, I thought, but tried to contain my inner bitch, despite my growling and empty stomach.]

I asked her what that thick stuff on my pancakes was. She responded, “Oh, that’s our caramel sauce!”

Me: Why is it on my pancakes?

Her: We always put it on. Our customers love it!

Me: Umm, I ordered it from the Fit Fare menu…

Her: Oh. [Momentarily perplexed. Methinks she doesn’t often get customers complaining about the presence of caramel sauce. Unless it’s the fact that there isn’t enough of said sauce on their order.]

Me: [Silent, pondering my next step. Inner turmoil. I hate returning food to the kitchen. I am completely neurotic and assume they will spit (or perform other bodily functions) into my replacement meal.]

She must have noticed my discomfort.

Her: I can have them make you a new batch of pancakes.

Me: [Looking unimpressed as I awaited confirmation that the eggs and bacon will also be replaced.] Umm, okay.

Her: Oh, and I’ll just have them re-do all of it.

Me: That’s very kind. Thank you. I never would have ordered this meal if I thought it would be covered in 5,000 extra calories.

Her: [Nod. Smile.]

Me: [Was that an eye roll I noticed as she turned away from the table???]

Oh fuck. They are definitely going to spit on my food. Shit.

I sat and watched Mr. Enthusiasm finish his meal. The manager returned several times to tell me it was “taking forever to cook up the new pancakes”.



Pancakes take all of …what…like 45 seconds per side? What the fuck are they doing back there?

I considered telling her to just hold everything and figured I could grab oatmeal to go at McDonalds instead.

Eventually she came back with the egg whites, the turkey bacon and what appeared to be my pancakes. As she placed the plate in front of me, she apologized (again) and said, “I wanted to at least get you something so you could start eating, but we’re still working on the other one.”

The other what?, I wondered.

And then I realized, this very high stack of pancakes was actually one single pancake.

Holy shit. No wonder it took them 20 minutes to cook. This thing is as tall as a cake.

Needless to say, while I did finish my egg whites and turkey bacon, I decided to pass on the slow-cooked but sky-high pancakes. I don’t think buckwheat pancakes get a lot of play in that neck of the woods, so I’ll leave it to the next health-conscious out-of-towner to act as their guinea pig when they try to rustle the next batch up.

As I settled back into the car, I wondered — how many people would have just eaten that first serving, covered in caramel sauce, and most likely not buckwheat at all?

Would they eat it because they were lulled into the false sense of comfort, having ordered it from the Fit Fare menu, and that they were therefore eating something healthy?

Or would they know, in their hearts that the stuff in front of them wasn’t *exactly* as described on the menu but eat it anyway because it would be too much trouble to send it back and get it sorted out. [Which, in fairness, it did prove to be.]

Would I have sent it back a year ago? I’d like to think I would have. Because no matter how you slice it, caramel sauce at 8:30 am is nasty. But let’s say it was covered in something I actually like… pure maple syrup – not that Aunt Jemima fake shit. Would I have turned it back to the kitchen? Last week, yes, I believe I would have. But a year ago, if I’m being honest, probably not.

So I guess rather than being angry about my shitty meal experience at Denny’s in Iowa, I should look at it as both a learning opportunity and a test that I seem to have passed with flying colours.

So thank you Denny’s. Sort of.

Get moving!

xoxo nancy

24 thoughts on “a tale of two meals

  1. Well done for sending it back 🙂 and well done for at least attempting to make good choices even if you were thwarted! And yes I think you should count that as a test passed 😀

    The only time I have ever been to the United Sates, I was in San Francisco and we went to Denny’s for breakfast…I was overwhelmed by the choices and the amount of foods on offer. The first day I ordered omelet… i was then faced with so many choices I didn’t know what to do…type of toast…what? in the UK toast is well…toast, you get what you are given! when it arrived it was so big I didn’t need to eat for the rest of the day!

    • You hit the nail on the head, Sam. The serving sizes in the US are unbelievable (almost grotesquely) large. One useful tip I learned at the Biggest Loser Resort was to split entrees with your dinner partner. The truth is, you will likely be more than full with the half-serving. If you’re not eating with someone, have them box half to take home – before even bringing it to your table, thus taking the guess work out of knowing when to stop eating.

      And ha, yes!, on the number of choices you need to make. For that, I’m actually grateful though. I like being able to specify whole wheat or rye over white bread for my toast. Little things that add up to good results. xoxo nancy

  2. I’ve SO been there. Denny’s was a very difficult place for me when trying to knock off twenty pounds and now is as I face that half marathon training. The options do not lend themselves to losing weight. Good thing I don’t go there very often. 🙂

    I also hate to send things back. But unfortunately, I’m a little bit lactose intolerant and I have to when they put lots of cheddar cheese all over my food. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve received that quizzical-judgemental look when I say I don’t want cheese. “Say what?”

    It’s crazy the hangups we and other have about food preferences and how we respond to each other in those situations. So much learning and growth in every situation…

    Okay, I’m done with my mini monologue. Go you for sending it back! Stick to your guns so your guns can glow (cheesy, I know but I’m quite proud of that one…)! You rock my life.


    • Oh – don’t even get me started on the cheese! I always had to remember to tell them not to smother my omelettes in cheese or else I’d find myself picking it off. Luckily, when it’s laid on that thick, it tends to come off in one goopy mess. 🙂

      Funny thing is that I had done that buckwheat pancake + egg white + turkey bacon meal before (near Toronto) and it was presented as promised on the menu. Sans caramel. I thought it was a safe (and healthy) choice. I guess I was more flabbergasted that they would even consider adding that stuff to something I ordered from the “Fit Fare” menu. Crazy!

  3. We have better luck stopping at the grocery store when traveling. We assemble our food. We know what’s in it. Kind of a pain, but we get some exercise walking around the store, too. It is impossible to know what is in our food unless we make it ourselves. (this is especially true in places where the choices are paltry.)

    • Good advice. I’m thinking the 1,300-1,400 kms days would have made this a challenge (especially when Mr. Enthusiasm was griping at driving 5 miles out of the way for a restroom for me…).

      Thankfully we just had this one near-disastrous meal across the 6 total long drive days.

      • Oh, trust me, watery disasters happen routinely. Hence me asking about where your mom got that device… 😉
        So, the deal is, he pulled off the highway exit (Rest stop indicated), and then the sign said 5.6 miles, at which point he said, “NO WAY. That’s over 10 miles round trip. He moved the car to below the overpass, and instructed me to get out and squat. Not my finest moment, but when you gotta go, you gotta go.

  4. I have had a bad experience at Denny’s before too! I wanted pancakes without butter on them and they arrived with melting butter all over them. I complained and they took them back into the kitchen and came back 1 minute later. They literally just flipped my pancake over on the plate so that I couldn’t see the butter!!!

  5. Restaurants certainly should provide food the way it is described on the menu! I am ALWAYS afraid to return food, for fear that they will “get me back”. lol
    When I was changing my eating habits/lifestyle (and losing weight) back in 2006/2007, I went to Ruby Tuesday and “smartly” ordered their (admittedly giant) veggie burger. When I got home that night, I looked it up on Sparkpeople and it turns out it was about 1100 calories!! O_O Healthy, my butt! I definitely learned my lesson.

Talk to me

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s