|Arts & EntertainmentFood For ThoughtHomeward BoundJust BusinessRoad TripThis & That|
|Out to Lunch
by Brian J. Lowney
The phone rang the other morning at 6:30 a.m., waking me out of a deep slumber. "Good morning, Oswaldo," I groggily croaked, as I stumbled to move the telephone off of its nightstand and closer to my pillow.
"Boy, that new caller ID of yours is certainly working," my friend replied, breaking into laughter. "I am just calling to tell you that I am going to my sister Juanita’s home in Albuquerque for the holidays. I can’t wait to taste some real good Southwestern food."
His banter - a lively combination of broken English and Spanish – recalled the many trips to New Mexico and Arizona that my Bolivian friend has made to visit friends and relatives, and the countless meals that he’s enjoyed, most notably small family-style restaurants and eateries located far off the beaten path.
All this talk about food made me hungry. "It’s too early to eat Southwestern food right now, but what about lunch?" I asked my good friend. "We haven’t been to Chili’s in several months. Are you up for a visit?" "You bet," my friend shot back. "I’ll pick you up at noon, and after lunch, we can shop for a new computer table for my home office."
Oswaldo and I have always enjoyed Chili’s – whether it’s here in Rhode Island or out of state. When we’re traveling, and don’t know the reputation of local eateries – we have found that we can always rely on this wonderful chain of Southwestern-themed restaurants. "You never can go wrong at Chilis," Oswaldo emphasized. "We’ve never had a bad meal at any one of their restaurants."
Before our wait server could take our drink order (we each had a diet coke with a slice of lime), my dining companion took the liberty to order Boneless Buffalo Wings ($6.49). The fiery wings almost jumped off the plate but were held back and nicely complemented by the addition of cool, creamy bleu cheese dressing that was served with the breaded chicken breast pieces. "Isn’t it nice not to have to fuss over bones? Oswaldo inquired, as he doused the smoldering blaze in his mouth with the creamy dressing and a liberal sip of cola.
"I’m on fire! Ole!" he cried as he placed his order, choosing the Quesadilla Explosion ($7.49). A few minutes later, my amigo was enjoying a large salad filled with fajita-marinated chicken, spicy corn relish, mixed cheeses (which provided a bit of relief from the inferno), cilantro, diced tomato and tortilla strips (which added a nice crunch), all sitting on a verdant bed of bright mixed greens. The salad was drizzled with a zesty chipotle-ranch dressing and was served with cheese-quesadilla wedges.
"Every bite has a different flavor," Oswaldo proclaimed. "One minute it’s spicy, the next is mild. This corn relish reminds me of one that my aunts used to make once the corn was harvested. It’s a nice complement to the salad. This is healthy eating at its finest."
I was in a "burger mood," and chose the Ground Peppercorn Burger ($6.69). Cooked medium rare just as I had requested, the delicious chopped sirloin patty was nicely crusted blend of black pepper and spices, and topped with shredded lettuce, pickles, sliced tomato, some strands of Chili’s famous "Awesome Blossom" onion and a generous dollop of sinfully-delicious blue cheese dressing. "There you go again with that blue cheese stuff," Oswaldo shouted." I bet you go to sleep dreaming about it."
While there were many things I enjoyed about my burger, the one thing that stood out most was the freshness of the ingredients. The vegetables tasted as if they were just picked from a backyard garden and the onion strings, gently sautéed, proved to add just the right amount of "kick" to the well-seasoned burger.
One luncheon entrée that caught our eye was Grilled Shrimp Alfredo ($9.99), a dish created by placing a generous serving of spicy garlic and lime marinated shrimp (WOW!) on penne pasta tossed with a creamy Alfredo sauce. This culinary masterpiece is then topped with chopped seasoned tomatoes and Parmesan cheese, and served with buttered garlic toast. "I see a hint of the Caribbean Mexico here, too," my globetrotting friend said. "They don’t harvest shrimp in Arizona, do they?"
After he stopped chuckling, Oswaldo mentioned that he’d like to try the Steak and Portobello Mushroom Fajitas ($12.49), a combination of juicy steak tips basted with a chimichurri sauce (get out your dancing shoes!), a flavorful marinade made from fresh lime juice, cilantro and garlic, and topped with a grilled Portabella and pico de gallo, a zesty tomato and jalapeno-based condiment.
"Would you gentlemen care for dessert?" our polite wait server asked. "Have you tried our molten chocolate cake ($4.99)?" "No thanks," Oswaldo replied. "I think we’ve had enough fire for one day!"
Chili’s Restaurant is located at 50 Highland Avenue in East Providence; and other locations. For more information call (401) 431-4062 or visit theirwebsite. Lunch is served daily from 11am.
Brian Lowney is a journalist for the Providence Visitor and for the New Bedford Standard Times. He enjoys the wonderful Rhode Island restaurant scene and writing about the cornucopia of outstanding dining and retail food establishments we have been blessed with throughout the region.