Monday, June 16, 2014

Around the Mall in 80 Minutes: Adventures in Shopryland Dining

Posted By on Mon, Jun 16, 2014 at 9:32 AM

Not too long ago, my husband had a weekday off, so after picking our daughter up from school, we decided to go to the Opry Mills mall and walk around and check it out for a while. Y’know, have a real touristy experience.

We stayed long enough that we decided to investigate dinner options. It had been years since I’d dined in the mall (the last place I ate might’ve been The Apple Barn, R.I.P.), so we walked around and perused our options for eat-in (read: not food court) dining. It was eye-opening, to say the least. Here’s a wrap-up with some impressions of what we encountered:

Aquarium — It's a cool-looking place. The kind of place that can keep the kids occupied while parents enjoy dinner. Unfortunately, as it is a seafood restaurant, my vegetarian option was limited to a Greek salad … that was nearly $15. Looking at the other menu items, I was struck by how expensive they were. The price of dinner there would easily be on par with that of many of the Nashville restaurants that getting national recognition. Pass.

Chili’s — It’s not impossible to have a vegetarian meal at Chili’s, but it’s not necessarily advisable; the kind of thing you do only if you have to.

Chuy’s — We'd never been to a Chuy’s, though I’d heard many good things about the Tex-Mex chain's all-you-can-eat nachos bar. I also liked that their menu made it easy to find the “meatless” plates. Also, the prices were reasonable; they're not price-gouging because of the location.

Claim Jumper — I’d never heard of Claim Jumper before, but it looked like a pretty nice place. And while there were a number of vegetarian options, they were fairly uninteresting and, as at Aquarium, expensive for what you get. Appetizers for $9; salads for $13.

Dave & Buster’s — Frankly, I did not even entertain the idea of taking a 4-year-old into this establishment. We’d never be able to leave and we'd be on the hook for no telling how many dollars for games and other entertainment. And the menu is bar food, so again, my primary option was a salad. I can make a salad at home.

Johnny Rocket’s — Unsurprisingly, I was once again faced with the prospect of a rather common and uninspired salad for dinner. Though a grilled cheese is also available. Problem is, this place is nearly always jam-packed with diners.

Moe’s Southwest Grill — I like Moe’s. I’ve been criticized for saying so previously, largely due to the unpopularity of their salsa (which I didn’t find remarkable enough to love or hate). But they serve organic tofu as a “protein” option, and I appreciate that. It’s also reasonably priced and a quick option without being “fast food.” But we’ve been to Moe’s and we were looking for something different.

Rainforest Cafe — When we walked in to look at the menu, the kiddo was immediately enthralled. No doubt this is why there is often a wait for a table even at 3 o’clock in the afternoon. There were several vegetarian options, including an interesting salad and a house-made (though not necessarily in-house-made) veggie burger. But the “free” entertainment of the animatronics and fish tanks came at a steep price; though it gets credit for being inventive, the menu was also fairly expensive for just a regular ol' night at the mall. Again, a meal would have cost about the same as if we’d gone to Rolf and Daughters, Tin Angel or Sunset Grill.

Romano’s Macaroni Grill — I’ll be honest; I didn’t even bother to look. I know what Macaroni Grill, serves and though I don’t think the food is bad, I don’t think it’s particularly great, either. There’s little on the menu that I couldn’t find a better version of for less money at a non-chain Italian restaurant (or make at home).

TGI Fridays — see: Chili’s (above).

After making the entire lap around the mall, we finally decided on Chuy’s. We sat down around 5:15 p.m., which was a good idea since not long after we arrived, there was already a wait to be seated. As mentioned, Chuy’s does not price-gouge for location; prices were reasonable and the three of us ate for less than $30, even with a cocktail. But, as I discovered too late, it seems there is an ongoing problem with orders, a disconnect between the service and kitchen. Our server was great, but did not bring our food, and the runner did not check to see if everything was correct. My daughter ate a tiny bite of her child’s bean burrito and wanted no more of it. It never occurred to me to check it, but the next day (I brought it home), I discovered that it had shredded chicken in it. She didn’t know to tell me; she just said she didn’t like it.

But that was the only snafu. Our server brought some plain tortillas (made on-site) for her to nibble on, and we both enjoyed our meals. As I mentioned, the there was already a wait to be seated by 6 p.m. on a Monday night and it wasn’t difficult for me to understand why. Visitors to the mall don’t have a whole lot of options for a good sit-down meal that won’t break the bank, particularly after a long day of shopping.

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