Red Robin: Yum or Yuck?

I blame Kristi Gustafson Barlette for our annual trip to Red Robin. She got me hooked on their free birthday burger deal, so whenever that e-mail rolls around every August, we make a trip there to cash it in. Say what I may about chain restaurants like this (and I usually don’t say much, I simply don’t often go), free is free, and my funds are in no position to act haughty right now. The last time we were here the place was dead, but it was after a play on a rainy night at about 11:30, so I am surprised by how many people are actually here.

I expect the kids and families, but not the adults, and certainly not all the grown men eating together, many in pairs (and not, if my gaydar is correct, in any way playing for my team).

I start off with the Sweet and skinny spiked tea, consisting of Firefly skinny tea vodka and lemonade. At 68 calories it’s designed to be healthy – minus the sugar and liquor. It’s not something I would normally order, but when in Rome… Exploring the sticky menus (apologies to the iPhone I’m typing this on) I choose the Bacon Cheeseburger Gourmet Burger (is the second burger redundant, or is it me?) As memory serves, there’s nothing much gourmet about it – one can get the same thing at Five Guys, and with a lot more fries, but that’s not the point. What is the point? I ask myself as the server explains the bartender is backed up and my drink will be out in a moment. With the squeals of children it isn’t any wonder why there is a back-up at the bar.

A gentleman stands up from his booth, turns around, picks his wedgie, then sits back down. Well happy birthday burger to me!

A few questions cross my mind as I wait for the hopeful buzz of all this flavored vodka:
Are earrings back for guys?
Are short shorts appropriate with varicose veins?
Are Chinese evergreens still being used without 60’s irony?
Are all these parents really deaf?
Why would you bring a toddler out at all, when you know there’s a 90% chance of a crying meltdown? Do you honestly believe this will fall into the 10% of the day when they behave?
Why is everything so fucking sticky???
As expected I can neither taste nor feel the effects of any supposed skinny ass vodka, but no surprise there, though I do feel bad for the aunts and uncles and extended family members just along for this ride and who need a buzz far more than me.
There’s some sort of birthday sundae song and dance going on at the next table and so help me God if that nonsense comes here. I have walked out of fancier joints over far less.
After a rather lengthy wait (are we going to pretend this is more than glorified fast food?) our burgers arrive. And like most fast food it tastes as good as it always does – we’ll see how the stomach reacts later. As I grow older, this sort of fried onslaught and grease attack comes with its own damages, but I have to admit the burger is decent. In fact, the edge goes to Red Robin over Five Guys, for its more substantial patty and slightly lower grease factor. The fries are not as good , or as greasy, so the end result is a draw. I will say, though, that I can see what all these crying babies, birthday teeny-boppers, and walker-bound ladies come here for – dependable tastes-good-if-unremarkable burgers in a family-friendly environment. It will never be my scene, but once a year it’s worth it. Even if my arms are now sticky. Sometimes a free burger comes at a high cost.
PS- Carousel horses belong on a carousel, and I think I now have lice and pink-eye.
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