Friday, August 18, 2006

Boston Market - One Free Meal

With the exception of a few infrequent indulgences, I rarely ever eat fast food. As a child, my mother forbid my brother and I from eating it, our only respite being when our father would stop at McDonald’s before a Flyer’s game. As a result I never developed a taste for the stuff and when eating it I usually find it revolting, repugnant and repulsive. The argument from many proponents of this garbage is that although it may not taste great, it is fast and cheap. This argument does not and should never be raised when dining in New York. One of the greatest advantages of living in NYC is the wide variety of cheap and delicious food. So why, you might ask yourself, did I lower my standards to almost gutter level, to dine on food that I knew would revolt the nose, repel the mouth and repulse the eyes? Simple: it was free.

About two weeks ago I ran into my friends Patrick and Claire and they told me that their friend, Keith, had also started his own food blog called 100 Meals. He had entered a contest for Boston Market to make a video that depicted what he would do with the hour he saved from buying dinner at Boston Market versus cooking his own. He had won third place and a free dinner for four, once a week for six months, which equals roughly $755 or about $30 a meal , just under $8 a person. I decided to write Keith and see if he would like to take me out to dinner. About an hour after I sent the e-mail I received a very excited response, saying that he would love to show me the wonderful world of the Market. It turns out that I was the first person to request a dinner, who wasn’t a friend, family member or business associate. So we picked a date, set a time and gave our stomachs fair warning about the malicious journey they were about to embark on.

We decided to meet for dinner after work at the glamorous, yet refined, West 23rd Street location. I arrived earlier than Keith and posted up outside for a classic case study of people watching. What surprised me the most with the abundant amount of young, hip and skinny people choosing Boston Market as their dining establishment. Hadn’t their mothers taught them the negative effects of rapid cuisine, hadn’t they learned that there are more flavors to life than salty and sweet? It dawned on me that many people probably didn’t see Boston Market as fast food, but as a quality meal with slow roasted chickens, fresh vegetables and decadent desserts. What most people don’t know is that McDonalds acquired Boston Market in December 1999 and one can only surmise that their chickens are coming from the same source. Finally Keith showed up and we headed in to feast on what I expected would be greasy faux-gourmet.

Keith told me that I could order whatever I wanted and he would pay for it, as long as he could photograph me and my food. I decided on the three-piece dark meat meal with three sides, cornbread, a slice of apple pie and lemonade. It was more food than I could really handle, but I felt it was an appropriate order for the type of fare we were eating. I quickly discovered there really are only two flavors at Boston Market, salty and sweet, with each flavor only enhanced by the dish with which it is associated. For example, the sweet potatoes with marshmallows were a mind-blowing experience of saccharine and sugar. Of course, in hindsight, I can understand why this dish would be so sugary, but it turned out to be sweeter than the chocolate cake Keith had for dessert. The spinach was a brackish mouthful of salt and cream, with a hint of spinach flavoring and an overwhelming taste of chopped onions. The chicken was moist and tender, but light on the meat, heavy on the skin and dripping in fat. In fact the only saving grace of the meal was the mac-and-cheese, which was firm in texture, velvety in taste and was only a bit too salty for my liking. I did order the apple pie for dessert, but after one bite of the slightly-defrosted, flavorless crust and canned fruit, I laid my fork down for good.

I made a bigger dent than I thought I would, but there was still a lot of food on my plate. The sweet potatoes and creamed spinach remained almost untouched and the chicken still had large chunks of meat left, but the mac-and-cheese was ravaged. I will admit that before this outing, Boston Market had been on my “Ok-There’s-Nothing-Else-Open-Or-Around-So-Let’s-Just-Eat-There-It-Won’t-Be-That-Bad” list, but this meal sealed its fate. I will never, ever eat at Boston Market again, no matter how hungry or desperate or destitute I am. That is, unless, the meal is of course free.

Boston Market is located all over America. I do not recommend going there.

100 Meals is a fantastic website. I do recommend going there.


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