One of my favorite lunch spots when we go to Triangle Town Center or Streets of Southpoint mall is Champps. I order the same thing. Always. Have to tell you, though, that two - not so great - experiences at Champps [the one in Raleigh, not the one in Durham] has left a bad taste in my mouth. Yesterday we went to Triangle Town Center. We. Me, my Mom and a friend of my Mom's, Daisy. It is the last lunch I will eat out while I am here. I leave for the Sandbox in a few short hours and will not be home again until fall when Baby is born.
How it is that Mom's friend, Daisy, accompanies us is that my Mom - bless her heart - does a good deal of transporting many of her elderly neighbors back and forth to doctor's visits and grocery stores and other miscellaneous errand running. She is such a dear sweet woman, my Mother! There are a couple of neighbors that do not drive and Mom does what she can [over and above, if you ask me, but it is none of my business] to make their lives easier. If there are taxi cabs near where Mom lives, and there probably are, I've not seen them. Forget the fact that even if there were taxi cabs that it would cost some of these elderly neighbors on fixed incomes an arm and a leg to take a cab back and forth to doctor's offices and do errand running. The neighbors are blessed with the presence of such a wonderful woman, my Mom, who generously does this for them.
Before getting to lunch yesterday, let me back up a bit...
Last August when we were home we - me, Mom and Daisy - went to the Raleigh Champps for lunch after Mom took Daisy to a doctor appointment. Doctor's office first, then lunch, then some shopping... What a lovely girls' day out, right? Daisy does not get out much. She is an elderly woman whose husband died a year after Dad. [It is three years today, that my Dad passed away.] I do believe Daisy was quite sheltered when she was married - it is pretty obvious that she didn't get out much. That is a whole other story, though. Going out to lunch at a sit down restaurant instead of a drive-thru or a buffet was going to be a special treat for Daisy. We walked into Champps and Daisy was in awe. "Oh, this is so nice." That was before she even looked at the menu.
Daisy is a smoker. I was a smoker. We sat in the bar area, which, until January 1st of this year when a blanket no smoking in North Carolina anywhere policy went into effect, is where smokers were allowed to smoke. The three of us gals, out for a nice lunch before an afternoon of shopping. Why Champps? I like the food. I knew I could have a cigarette and a drink there - and I knew I'd be ordering a frozen Mudslide to be served with my meatless Patty Melt. While I am in the States, I don't go anywhere for lunch where I cannot order a drink. I can drink all the Diet Coke and water that I want when I'm home in the Sandbox.
We sit down. Daisy is looking at the menu. She doesn't have a clue what she should order. I know what I want and Mom knows what she wants. We order. I order a meatless patty melt [which is basically a grilled cheese sandwich with onions on dark Russian rye bread]. Mom orders a Reuben. Daisy decides she will have what Mom is having and she orders a Reuben. Service is fine. No complaints at all about the service. Mom orders her usual - hot tea. I order a vodka and club soda with no fruit - and ask for the frozen Mudslide WITH my sandwich. Daisy ordered coffee. Champps is a sports bar and here are two women ordering a cup of tea and a cup of coffee. No matter. They are prepared. Again, no problem with the service. It is when the food is served that the problem starts.
A patty melt without the meat. What was served to me was two lukewarm pieces of dark Russian rye bread with a slice of unmelted American cheese and a slice of unmelted Swiss cheese and some raw onion. What?!! Is that how you would serve a patty melt with the meat? I don't think so. The server - who also happened to be the bartender that day - comes to check our table. I have to send my sandwich back. I want a GRILLED CHEESE with sauteed onions - just like a patty melt - but with no burger. I have no idea why someone in the kitchen thought a cold cheese sandwich with raw versus sauteed onions was going to be acceptable. No problem though, I'll get a new sandwich - or at least a sandwich that is prepared like I anticipated it would be.
Mere seconds later, Mom opens her sandwich - the Reuben - and says, "They forgot the Thousand Island dressing and this is cold." She is right. The Swiss cheese on her sandwich isn't melted, the sauerkraut is cold, the meat is cold. I tell her I'll send it back. Mom does not like that kind of "fuss," she wants to eat it anyway. Daisy looks at her sandwich and says, "Yeah, me too." Nope. Not going to happen. I'm not going to let Mom and Daisy eat cold sandwiches that are only partially prepared - when you forget a MAIN ingredient, the Thousand Island dressing, the sandwich is only partially prepared. I call the server back over and explain the problem about the Reuben sandwiches. They are sent back to the kitchen to be redone. In the meantime, my sandwich is done and served to me. Now, I have to either eat in front of my Mom and Daisy or I have to wait for their food to be redone and served and let my sandwich go cold. No biggie. Mom and Daisy both say, "Go ahead. You eat that while it is still hot." A couple of minutes later Mom and Daisy get their plates.
It was just after that that the manager comes over to us to find out what the problems have been with our food. He is very nice and I politely explain what has gone wrong with everything we have ordered. I offer to go to the kitchen to show the cook how a Reuben is made. The manager kindly announces that lunch is on him. He takes our food items off of our bill. That is NOT what we asked for. After all, everything was taken care of even though it all had to be sent back. Daisy is still ooohing and awwing over the restaurant and says, "I'm going to have my daughter bring me here for my birthday dinner." The manager only hears part of her statement and believes we are there for her birthday and moments after our plates from our lunch have been cleared away there is this big huge strawberry shortcake kind of dessert served with ice cream and a candle and three spoons. Dessert is "on the house." How nice! Cannot complain about how we were all treated and how our situation was resolved with cold food being served. You know, had the restaurant been busy, I might have understood. But it was just after "lunch rush hour" and the restaurant was not busy. Cold food? Unacceptable.
So, yesterday. Again, the three of us - me, Mom and Daisy - went to Champps for lunch after one of Daisy's doctor appointments. We order almost the identical order we placed in August of last year. I order a vodka and club soda to start, with my frozen Mudslide to be served with my sandwich. Mom orders tea and Daisy orders coffee. A minute later our server, Nikki, comes back and says, I am sorry but we do not have any tea bags. No biggie. Mom carries her own tea bags in her purse for just such emergencies. Now Mom only needs some boiling water. Daisy who is fussy needs more cream for her coffee. I'm guessing at that point Nikki is thinking, "Why did this table of three women have to be my table?" Mom has to send her tea water back to be microwaved so it is hot - tepid is not the right temperature for tea. Daisy gets her additional cream... I'm already feeling sorry that Nikki has our table, and mention it to Mom under my breath [Nikki doesn't know that I make sure to treat servers well at the end of any meal].
My sandwich comes. It is perfect. Grilled cheese with sauteed onions on dark Russian rye bread. Mom's sandwich comes. It is cold. Cold sauerkraut. Cold meat. Barely even grilled - the bread - unmelted cheese. Ditto for Daisy. I tell Mom to send her sandwich back. She, being the one to not fuss, said, "No. I'll just eat it." Daisy does fuss. She sent hers back. Nikki apologizes profusely. It is not her fault. It is the fault of the staff in the kitchen. Who comes to the table only seconds after we sent Daisy's sandwich back and complained that Mom's was cold? The manager. Same manager from last year. I relay the sandwich dilemma to him and explain how a Reuben is supposed to be prepared. I tell him that I come to Champps once or twice a year and how last year we had the very same problem. He remembers us! John, his name is, said, "I remember you. You sat over there [and he points to the direction where we had, in fact, sat during our prior visit]. It was less than a year ago you were here." He is correct. It has been eight months. Great memory!
John apologizes for the sandwiches which were improperly prepared and offers to redo them or to let Mom and Daisy order something else. Daisy is fine with hers being microwaved so it is hot. Mom says, "No. It will be okay. I've already started eating it." Fine, Mom. Eat that cold Ruben sandwich. It is no big deal, really. I explain to John that with two visits in a row where the same problem was experienced that we might think twice before returning to Champps next time we go to Triangle Town Center [which won't be until this fall]. John is understanding and says, "You will not be charged for those sandwiches." I hope he does not think this is some ploy we use to get free food. Like I said, my sandwich was prepared perfectly and served on grilled bread with melted cheese and sauteed onions. I have no complaints. The Rubens are, obviously, the problem. Seconds from finishing our sandwiches, Nikki comes back to our table and says, "We have a new dessert. An apple caramel tart which we would like to give you, on the house." Neither Mom nor I are interested in dessert, and certainly we are not looking for "on the house." Daisy? She says, "That sounds really good. I'll have it." Amazingly enough, she ate the whole thing! It was huge.
We pay our checks. My bill is $27.00 for my sandwich, two vodkas and one Mudslide. I leave a 40% tip. Mom's check is $5.00. She leaves an equal amount for the tip. Daisy's bill is $7.00 and she leaves a 40% tip. Our server, Nikki, who probably figured when she started having issues - our issues - at our table that she was only going to end up with a bare minimum for her part in getting us our lunch, I hope, was pleasantly surprised. Again, it isn't about the money. Nor was it about the service. Service at Champps has never been an issue. It is about the sandwiches. You have a Reuben on the menu, it says it comes with Thousand Island dressing and it gets omitted? Wrong. You say it is a traditional Reuben on dark Russian rye bread but no where does it say it is served cold! And, by the way, a traditional Reuben is supposed to be a hot sandwich.
My complaint is not with Champps in general. Very good service. Excellent managerial assistance when something is not right. My complaint is that Champps does not know how to make a Reuben sandwich so either take it off the menu or have your cooks actually learn how to make one. Until they can do so, I would suggest ordering something else. Someone please tell me that we are NOT the only ones to have this happen with Reuben sandwiches at Champps...
The last lunch out before I get on a plane and fly home. Oh, and by the way, thanks alot you phukktard from Qatar who thought his diplomatic status allowed him to smoke on an airplane and then joke about trying to light his shoes on fire. It won't be long until we are all strip searched and NOT allowed to have any luggage at all. Interesting that one particular group has decided to make an already awful situation - getting on an airplane - all but intolerable. Is that group being held responsible? Of course not. Typical, though. Just typical.
See everyone in a day or so where I will be back to blogging from the sunny, warm Sandbox!