Tuesday, December 04, 2007

COLUMN: Noodles

I know how much my editors love it when I do this, but this week's column is partially little more than an unsolicited endorsement. I usually try to stay away from outright promoting a business, but this time, I don't care. My story has a point, though, so bear with.

It all started several years ago when I found myself in Boulder, Colorado for a week-long training seminar. The newspaper sent me out there by myself, and it was one of the most liberating times of my life. Finally, I felt like the Mature Responsible Adult Working Dude. You know, staying in hotels, renting a car, making appointments, finding out I was there during the Colorado state-wide breakdancing finals (yesssss!), taking awkward photos in front of the "Mork & Mindy" house -- you know, mature people stuff. Well, at least as mature as I ever get.

Anyways, one of the integral aspects of being a Mature Responsible Dude is the act of procuring food for oneself. In Rock Island, this is easy -- there are brightly lit places called "Taco Bell" and "Wendy's" that dispense food to those in need. In Boulder, it's a little more challenging.

Because of the crazy scenery out that way, Boulder city regulations prohibit big gaudy neon signs. Handy when you want to take in the mountain views, NOT handy when you're looking for the golden arches of Big Mac goodness. On top of things, everyone in Boulder is skinny, attractive, and physically fit -- I'll never forget driving to the Rocky Mountain National Park in my rental car, trying to precariously balance an order of french fries on my lap, while dudes in mountain bikes are whizzing past me doing 40 mph up a sheer vertical incline.

The point is, greasy fast food options -- the staple of my diet -- are few and far between in health-conscious Colorado. Instead, there are tofu emporiums and oxygen bars and weird ethnic cuisine featuring massive amounts of curry and pepper presumably to mask the taste of pure, unadulterated Evil. I had a really difficult time finding food to match my palate.

Until I discovered one of my favorite restaurants ever. And I ended up eating there for nearly every meal that week. And I came back and wouldn't shut up about the place to friends and family. Heck, I even wrote their corporate offices once to suggest building a Quad City franchise. A decade later, I still get warm fuzzies thinking about that place.

That place was Noodles & Company, and this week, they just opened their first Quad City location. In fact, I'm writing this column on their opening day. It turns out that I must not have been the only one excited about the place, as it's now become one of the fastest-growing restaurant chains in America. Even cooler is the fact that the corporate owners of Noodles & Company met right here in Rock Island when they both attended Augustana College.

Now, I'm not going to turn this whole column into a free ad for the place, I swear. Suffice to say, if you're the kind of person who gets excited by noodles, it's worth a stop. Honestly, I'm kind of scared to go there now -- after a decade-old fuzzy happy memory, the reality might not be as perfect as my brain recalls it to be, but that's a risk I'm going to take. I'm going to go check out the Davenport location as soon as I finish this column. But it's not really the food that scares me the most -- it's all you other Quad Citizens.

What is it about this area that compels every man, woman, and child to rush out and try every new restaurant that comes along? The opening of a new restaurant in the Quad Cities is so often treated with the hype and crowd rush of a Hollywood premiere, and I just don't get why it's always an Officially Big Deal.

Case in point, we recently got our first couple of Sonics in town. When I heard on the news that they were opening, I thought, "Hey, a burger sounds alright tonight. I think I'll swing by there." So I drove all the way out to northwest Davenport to claim my burger... only to find a line of cars SIXTY-TWO DEEP in the drive-thru (yes, I counted.) Come on, people. I'll be the first person to tell you that Sonic cooks up a mean burger and some tots, but is ANY eatery worth that kind of a wait?

Who knows, maybe it was 62 other people who also thought, "Hey, a burger sounds alright tonight." But I have a sneaking suspicion that for some of those people, it was an Event. People who had been sitting at home, ticking off dates on a calendar and getting REALLY excited at the prospect of stuffing their faces somewhere new and different.

Maybe it's a Midwest thing; my hometown of Galesburg was even worse. There's a reason why many chain restaurants use Galesburg as a testing site for new products. We're willing, chubby guinea pigs for it. "Grab the kids, honey! You won't believe it, but McRIBS ARE BACK!" If our entertainment options are such that the opening of a new fast-food joint requires police presence to monitor traffic flow, perhaps we should sit back and take stock of our lives.

Of course, every time I sit back, all I can think about is a bowl full of noodles. So I bid you all adieu and bid myself bon appetit, and I cross my fingers that less than 62 of you have the same idea.

1 comment:

Socialist Christian Hippie said...

The day a Papa Del's shows up, I will camp out to see the foundation poured.

Otherwise, its all silliness. It'll all be blight in a few years anyway.