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This post is part of my 2022 Word Project. You can read what that’s about here.

Friday, June 23, 2023

Lunchtime typically goes a little something like this:

Ralph: What are we doing for lunch?

Me: I’ll just make a sandwich.

Ralph: Do you want to go out and get something?

Me: Sure. What do you want?

Ralph: I don’t know. What do YOU want?

Ensue an hour of looking at the map of our town as if we had never seen it before, as if some heretofore unnoticed gem of a restaurant will suddenly appear around the corner.

Then I think about how I really just want to make a sandwich because at least I can have it in five minutes but Ralph asked me to go out and get something so that means he wants to go out and get something and I don’t want him to have to gaze sadly at supermarket ham and besides sometimes it’s not about the meal per se but about the getting of the meal which is both a break in the day and also not supermarket ham.

So I have to stare very hard at the map and try to manifest something completely new and interesting which almost never happens. Or never happens.

Then I have to recommend someplace we haven’t been to in a while because I don’t want to be dull, so I’ll say how about a burger from that place? But we both know the burger from that place is not all that great so we stare at the map some more and eventually one of us will say let’s just get Burger King and the whole affair will be less than satisfactory because all we really wanted to do was grab something tasty and get on with our day but we ended up with another Whopper instead.

Italian sub. I want an Italian sub.

I want to tear into a piece of crusty bread with a pile of meat and cheese, lettuce and tomato, peppers and onions, olive oil and vinegar.

But. Tennessee.

If we lived near a Wawa, every time Ralph asked if I want to get lunch I’d say Sure! Let’s go to Wawa! It’s not quite an Italian sub but I lived near a Wawa for three years and never once didn’t want a Wawa sandwich. Or a giant pretzel. Or a box of cheese and crackers. Or a cup full of fruit. Or a hot dog or burrito or baconeggandcheese.

There is always something interesting at Wawa.

Plus when you order a sandwich you get the touch screen with all the options so you can stand there and ponder for a while whether you really want lettuce on top or maybe spinach instead.

There is something inherently satisfying about selecting each component of your sandwich as if you were constructing a great city from the subway to the skyscraper. Maybe you’re in a whole wheat sort of mood. Or perhaps you want spicy sriracha sauce. You can never tell until you’re looking at pictures of little cups of condiments on the screen.

It’s completely different than sitting in the car at a takeout window and picking a Number One with a Coke from a billboard stuck into the sidewalk. Wawa is tactile. It’s immersive. It’s what you mean when you ask someone if they want to go and get something for lunch.

If I never ate Burger King again I don’t think I’d cry, but it’s fine. It’s a known entity. It’s just not something I go oooh I want that. 

The problem is not restaurants, exactly, the problem is lunch. Because you want it to be kind of quick-ish and kind of simple-ish but there is a finite number of reasonably edible things that fall into that category.

Subway is a standby, but it’s also not satisfying. It’s where you go when the map-staring exercise yields nothing and you desperately want something but not Burger King. Nothing there looks particularly appetizing, and marketing to the contrary, doesn’t taste particularly fresh either. It’s just generic food on tasteless bread and if I wanted that I could have stayed home and made supermarket ham sandwiches.

Chipotle is another fine option, but it’s still just a stopgap. It’s what you get when you thought you wanted Burger King but decided you didn’t really want it after all, yet a new and magical lunch place has not manifested on the map in spite of how hard you looked at it and even though you peered very closely between the letters in the street names to see if maybe you missed something.

If you go out to any place a little nicer then you have to get dressed accordingly, which means that if you didn’t shower because you didn’t get out of bed until 9 then you have to do that, too. Then you have to find parking which is fun at lunchtime in town. Inevitably you are going to order a cocktail and goodbye three hours. It’s delicious and enjoyable but doesn’t play nicely with a Thursday in the middle of work.

That’s how we ended up at Zaxby’s.

It wasn’t new on the map, but we had never paid it much mind. It’s just another fast food chicken chain. But I was feeling sassy so I suggested we try it, especially as it is only about a mile down the road and does not require going anywhere near town.

Ralph got a classic chicken sandwich and I got a spicy chicken. Things were looking hopeful. They brought the food out in cardboard cartons, which gives you the sense that you’re one rung above paper wrappers. The sandwiches were accompanied by crinkle fries which is a whole other level of fry. I was excited.

If you think fast food chicken is any less soggy in a cardboard carton than in a paper wrapper, you’d be incorrect. Ditto crinkle fries. There wasn’t so much as a pepper flake on my chicken to call spice but there was some gob of a reddish kind of sauce that tasted vaguely of something that wanted to be a sauce.

Zaxby’s is the evil step twin of Chick fil-A.

I came to a Very Important Conclusion after this debacle yesterday.

Lunch is a stupid meal.

Do you know what meal is great? Breakfast. I’m all for going out for breakfast. Even if it’s just bacon and eggs, it’s hard to go wrong. There are omelets and potatoes and frittatas and pancakes and cinnamon buns and chicken and waffles. Eggs alone come in enough configurations to keep you busy deciding what would please you most on any given Thursday. Poached or scrambled or hard boiled or over easy or in a skillet or in a wrap.

Except for some reason restaurants STOP serving breakfast. This one place in town stops serving breakfast at 10am. TEN AM! I mean. Some people are barely out of bed. And who wants a crummy chicken sandwich at 10:02?

Another place we really like stops serving breakfast at 11. Not 11:02. Not 11:01. But 11:00 by the atomic clock. Arriving before 11 doesn’t grandfather you in. You could get there at 10:45 but if you don’t place your order by 11 you’re cut off. Trust me, I know.

Another place where you can get food plus bonus pastries and pies stops at 11, too. So if you really want that bacon burrito, you’d better be there early enough to stand on line and hope you get to the counter before 11. Or it’s soggy chicken sandwich for you.

Do you know what other meal is great? Dinner. I’m all about going out to dinner. You got your steak and potatoes, your gnocchi and scallops, your burgers and Caesar salads and shrimp and grits.

Before settling on Zaxby’s, I considered another place we’ve never been to called Brown Bag. It sounded promising based on the name, except do you know what their lunch menu is? A chicken platter. That’s it. One thing.

If Zaxby’s is the evil step twin of Chick fil-A then lunch is the redheaded stepchild of meals.

I’m boycotting lunch.

At least until Monday when Ralph says do you want to get lunch? And I say sure, because it’s the middle of the day and you have to do something with your face. And then we’ll stare at the map for a while and probably end up with a ham sandwich.

Photo: 100% not what we ate at Zaxby’s. What, you didn’t think I was going to actually take time out to photograph that junk, did you?