Monday, June 16, 2008

Good Chains

The chains of restaurants which cover the US and the globe have made classics generic as they mass produce themselves. It is good to have more people experience and taste the flavors of faraway places close to home, but too often the quality and experience are so watered down and modified that the food no longer resembles the original. There are people overseas who think all hamburgers taste like the ones at McDonald's because that is the only one they have ever tasted; only those of us who live in the US know the mouthwatering pleasure of a freshly ground hand made patty grilled to order on a toasted bun with all the fixings. There is a reason that burger lovers don't pick a fast food chain as their favorite burger place-they have a CHOICE, and with options, people always choose the opportunity to have better quality.

There are a few chains which give me hope that there is such a thing as a good chain. My definition of a good chain is one which captures and retains the flavors and quality that made it worthy of expansion in the first place. If it's pizza, it should have more than bland frozen dough smeared with canned sauce, and topped with canned toppings. I was born in NYC, so yes I am a pizza snob. There was only one pizza I've ever had in Los Angeles that I considered great pizza; unfortunately that one place has changed both its' management and recipes, so it now serves the generic bland fare found everywhere else. My hunt for the perfect pizza continues, and I constantly ask other pizza snobs for their favorites to cut down on wasting my time trying out all the hundreds of eateries claiming they are "the best".

One of my friends from NY told me about Papa John's pizza about 8 years ago, but because it is a chain, I did not try it until a few months ago (I am very hesitant to believe that any big chains have good food); I was happily surprised when I finally tasted Papa John's; it's not like NY pizza, but it's good and it's the only pizza from a chain that I will eat. Their fresh ingredients and fresh crust give their pizzas a quality that stands head and shoulders above the other chains; their sauce actually has flavor and they offer anchovies as a topping (beware places that don't because it shows that they cater to a bland clientele). My Californian health conscious friends like the assortment of fresh vegetable toppings and the availability of a whole wheat crust. I'm still on my quest for my perfect pizza in Los Angeles, but it's great to find a chain that makes it to the semi-finals.

One of the chains which originated in Los Angeles is California Pizza Kitchen, and they now have an offshoot with a global bent called L.A. Foodshow. Imagine all the culinary cultures of Los Angeles on one menu. You will find everything from grilled vegetable salads to miso salmon, and steak tacos. You can choose drinks that range from margaritas to mojitos to go with their poke martini appetizer (poke is a Hawaiian raw marinated fish dish like ceviche). For tourists to Los Angeles, this is one stop eating, for locals it's the place to go when you can't decide what you want to eat (or everyone wants something different). If this offshoot becomes as popular as California Pizza Kitchen, everyone will know what it's like to eat in Los Angeles.

I'm happy to find that a good chain is not an oxymoron; does that mean there is such a thing as a bad diamond?

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