In my previous post I didn't mean to sounds all devious or secretive, but was really just wondering if other people are at all curious about these meal assembly places like I was when I was calling people names and teasing them for being spokeswhores.
And then I went to two different places and I'm itchy to open my big fat mouth about what was good and sucky from the two.
I love to make lists. I love to trashtalk. I love to eat/cook. This is just a very saucy trifecta, really.
So, let's dish.
Meal Assembly Place #1: Super Suppers
My brainchild friend (who I love very much) booked us for a group night so that we wouldn't have to hang out with strangers while we put food in bags. This is why I love this friend - she knows how we roll, and it is not with weirdos who might spend the whole time trying to talk to you about their boring personal issues or push you out of the way so they can make their enchiladas first.
When we showed up to the surprisingly cute and not trashy shop in the strip mall, we were immediately romanced by their uber-organized facade. Specifically, we got our own clipboards with our names and ordered meals right on them. It was kind of like seeing my name on the biggest gift under the tree. Wee! It's all for me!
My life is very small, what can I say.
We were then given the tour/introduction and directed toward drinks (non-alc) and a few appetizers. Strike 1 & 2. We needed wine and other/more food. Period. Plus, some more comfortable shoes, but it's not their fault that I chose to wear 4 inch wedges to a meal assembly party told to take 2+ hours. Der.
We got our aprons (fun) and hand washing on before heading haphazardly for our stations to start making up the meals.
Bonus #1: Which I didn't realize was a bonus until my next assembly adventure, was the plastic gloves thing. While minorly wasteful, we had an ample supply of plastic gloves to guard us from the yuckiness of raw meat touching and other goo cast-off. I wouldn't keep plastic gloves at home, due to the wastefulness aspect but I did appreciate that in an environment where I could be potentially touching a lot of sticky things for two hours that I wouldn't have to actually *touch* anything. Some chef I am with my big "Ew it's icky" fears, but whatever.
So with our gloves and aprons strapped on we go off to the stations to assemble our fabulous meals. I imagined this part to be all social and fun with some drinking, some putting of food into bags, some snacking on appetizers, but I was misguided.
The "Let's see which meals we're both making and do them together" party mentality was quickly replaced with the "There's not enough room for us to make meals at the same time so we should instead throw body blocks to get to our stations first lest we be left with six meals left when everyone else is done" mentality.
To say it was an awkwardly competitive and ugly moment among normally very close friends would be an understatement.
So, sucky thing #1: The thing is, that these stations are set up for ONE person to make ONE meal, so the whole "bring your friends and have a social hour" pitch they put on goes right out the window when people realize that there is no "I" in team and also no "party" in Meal Assembly.
And, frankly, the pitch for hosting a baby or bridal shower at one of these places is downright retarded. There's no way I'd get in a confined space with either pregnant women or stressed brides where they have access to giant scoops and vats of tomato sauce. Just, no. Plus, there's no food for them to eat, which we know makes brides and moms-to-be very uncomfortable.
As we retreated to our private stations to prepare our meals while carefully eyeing our newfound competition (ie: formerly close friends), big Bonus #2 became rapidly apparent. This is the bonus that, for me, put Super Suppers above the other place. Specifically - their menu and assembly instructions are not only clear and easy to understand, but they also correlate so precisely with the ingredients laid out before you that there is NO way you can fuck it up. Seriously, my sock could have made the meals - it was that easy.
Let me paint you a picture - you are at your workstation, you look to the left and see the menu instructions in a neat little plastic frame, the menu instructs you to add 1/2 cup of X, 1/4 tsp of Y, a dash of Z. You look at the items laid out before you, they are all lined up in the order outlined on the menu AND the exact measurement tool is right there in the container for you to use. There are clearly labeled signs for all ingredients. All tools are clearly laid out, easily accessible and clean. There is actually a measurement spoon labeled, "Dash", in the kosher salt. The world is perfect. There is ZERO confusion.
Hot friggen damn.
I won't lie, I fell in love a little bit.
But then I made the drastic mistake of assuming that, "Hey, it's my first meal assembly experience, they must all be like this."
Not the case. But you can be sure, at Super Suppers, this is the case. In fact, in was so much the case that I was willing to, initially, look beyond somewhat bland and, at times, inedible meals because, well, the setup was so damn convenient and organized.
I know, faulty thinking, but that's what an anal retentive nerd I am. Sometimes an efficient process beats a palatable outcome. Not forever, but at first, yes.
I'll get to the real test in a minute (the food, people, the food), but first let me comment briefly on Not As much of a Bonus as I thought #3: The cute cooking instructions are right there when you're finished putting food in bags. Ready for you to stick right on the packaging once you're done putting food in oven-safe containers with snug fitting foil lids or plastic bags or whatever. Everything was readily available, organized as all get out (seriously, love) and well-stocked.
Drastic mistake #2: Me thinking, "Wow, this is really efficient and organized. How cool. Big timesaver."
Compared to the other place though, this actually looked lame. But, I'll get to that.
After going through the whole process of sore feet, two hours of shotgun meal assemblage, a pinching migraine, no food, minor dehydration and zero quality time with the girls, I can say that while Super Suppers is HIGHLY organized (I briefly entertained the idea of running away with the franchise mastermind out of pure animal attraction), the food, on the whole, was not good.
Sorry, but it has to be said. There are no special measurement tools or efficient methods for arranging spices that can outweigh the fact that I after taking one bite of "Olive Chicken" I had to immediately spit it out into my napkin. And I *never* spit out food.
Nastiness of the highest order, folks. Really.
Now, all the meals weren't bad. For the record, we had the Coconut Chicken which Bubba is still romanticizing about to this very day, but out of the six full meals I prepared (conveniently halved into 12 doubles) there were only two which I found to be "good" (Coconut Chicken, BBQ Ribs, ), two which I found to be "mostly just bland and in need of massive spicing up" (Meaty Lasagna, BBQ Meatloaf) and two which were "totally inedible" (Beef Fajitas, Olive Chicken).
I won't get into the grody details (unless you want me to, in which case, comment accordingly so that we can strike up a special bond over food peculiarities, k?) but it has come to my attention that the acceptable meat textures and preparation methods of others run alarmingly contrary to my own.
To wit one ball of chicken or beef. These places do not believe in tenderizing their meats. The quality of the meat itself was, I'm sure, just fine since I didn't get ill or anything, but it was all BIG. Like, Ball o' Chicken breast big. Yucky. Chicken is not supposed to come ball-shaped and neither are strips of fajita beef. And since you pre-assemble everything (as the concept would suggest) you can't be slamming your tenderizer away on the chicken breasts after the fact. That would be messy and make matters worse.
Anyway, to sum up my Super Suppers experience in an organized fashion (which is what I've been wanting to do all along, really), I'll break it down to a few important (as deemed by me, of course) measures:
Out of 5 stars
Organization: 10 (Yes, I realize there are only 5 stars. Good thing this is my game then.)
Quality of Ingredients: 3 (I know what canned tomatoes look like, guys.)
Superness of Suppers: 2
Environmental Sensitivity: 2 (Reminder: This is important.)
Since this post is already wicked long, I'll put the dish on Deeelish in another post.
Teaser: Booze and latex