Tag Archives: free samples

Reading Terminal Market, The Gallery, and Specialization

On 1/18/11 at 2:29 p.m. J writes:
It’s not like I really want to stick my finger in the eyes of the Philadelphia Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, but eating at the Reading Terminal Market is an exercise in disappointment.

I want to like it. I mean it is, after all, the READING TERMINAL MARKET!!! A holy place of eating in a city famous for being fat because, well, we know how to eat and, for the most part, how to cook.

But I’ve eaten at the Reading Terminal Market four times now, and each time I’ve said, “That’s it, I’m never going back!” and yet I keep going back like a dog to his own vomit or a battered spouse because, well, I keep thinking this will be the time. But it never is.

Today I had lunch at the Cajun place, the name of which I cannot recall. I love Cajun food. Of all the places I have visited in my business travels, the place I have loved the most is New Orleans. Even the Food Court at the mall by the Convention Center in New Orleans is an exercise in deliciousness. When Katrina hit, and I did my requisite feeling bad for the people trapped in flooded houses and hating President Bush for his non-response, my first real cognitive thought was, “I wonder what happened to Mulate’s. They had awesome Po Boys.” Call me insensitive, but I really didn’t know anyone from the Ninth Ward; I did know Mulate’s sandwiches.

Where was I? Oh yes, Philadelphia.

Reading Terminal Market can be overwhelming in its choices, but a couple of days ago I walked by the Cajun place and they offered me a free sample of their chicken and sausage gumbo. The cup was a typical sample size, but somehow the lovely young lady filling my sample cup managed to get both a piece of chicken and a piece of sausage in it, and it was delicious. I decided right then and there that I would head back someday and get lunch.

Too many options, IJS.

Today in Philadelphia it’s cold and miserable. I had packed a bologna sandwich with some fruit, chips and cookies, but the weather really called for hot soup, and my preference is hot spicy soup, and gumbo fits that bill. So I set out on a quest for the one true lunch. I took no companions because I didn’t want them cramping my style. I have no real evidence of this but I suspect that people who have first dates at Reading Terminal Market don’t make it to second dates.

“So where do you want to eat, dear?”

“Oh I don’t know, where do you want to eat?”

“How about here.”

“Do you want to eat there?”

“I don’t know, do you?”

“How about here?”

“Do you like that food?”

“Do you?”

And assuming the guy hasn’t gone all Kensington Strangler on his date by this point, the couple likely winds up eating at Chili’s which, whatever its demerits, is at least predictable.

Where was I? Oh yeah, the gumbo.

So I order the chicken and sausage gumbo, and here’s the part they don’t tell you when they sample—IT’S SERVED OVER RICE!!!!!! The sample was not served over rice; the sample came in a small free cup. Basically, the gumbo at the Cajun place is an exercise in selling rice for $7 because by the time the little twit filled my bowl with heaping spoonfuls of rice there wasn’t much room for the gumbo, and despite my best efforts the rice managed to absorb most of the gumbo sauce so I was left eating a flavorless bowl of rice with a couple of pieces of sausage.

And the whole exercise came to $9.40 because I wanted something to drink (next time I’m bringing my own bottled water) and Philadelphia sales tax is 8 percent.

From now on, I’m sticking to the free samples.
_______________________________________________________
I remind him what he ripped off from me and his love of the free sample guy in The Gallery:
“So I set out on a quest for the one true lunch. I took no companions because I didn’t want them cramping my style.”

You’re welcome.

“From now on, I’m sticking to the free samples.”

…and retarded people.
________________________________________________
J retorts:

Hey man, if we’re going to share a brain I’m going to use your material sometimes.

My little retarded friend was at Chic Fil A today, but he was back wiping the counter, which is a degrading waste of his time because he’s actually really good at passing out free chicken, not that it’s hard, but you know, when someone does something right you want to acknowledge it in a world where all we do is criticize people, so what I’m saying is, HERE’S TO YOU RETARDED YOUNG MAN AT CHIC FIL A! THANK YOU FOR YOUR EXCELLENCE!!

You know what else I learned about free samples today in the Gallery?

First, the samples at Charley’s Cheese steaks are way better than the actual sandwiches you pay for. Even controlling for the fact that the samples are free, they never get the sandwiches right. But if you hit the free sample lady at just the right time it’s the perfect taste.

Second, if you’re getting sick of Bourbon Chicken, walk by one of the stands and wait for them to ask if you want a free sample. You can ask for whatever you want. Today I asked to sample their General Tso’s chicken knowing full well what it tastes like. I suppose when you have an interaction with the person behind the counter, as opposed to a sad, silent type standing in the crossway with a piece of chicken on a toothpick, you might feel more of a sense to buy lunch there. I didn’t. I took my sample and walked away, but a person with social graces might.
_____________________________________________________
I remind him:

I’m pretty sure you already did several posts about free samples in the Gallery…specifically Charley’s Cheese and how their samples are more delicious than their actual product.

Some might call it a repeat…more genius staff assistants would say you’ve gone into syndication.

And, as a generalist, I too applaud the retarded young man at Chic Fil-he has become a master of a specific craft and he needs to be recognized. He has succeeded in specificity in a way I have not…bravo!
_________________________________________________________
J:
Or perhaps that I’m resting on my laurels. The Gallery is a gift that keeps on giving when it comes to material. Today I noticed four uniformed and well armed security agents leaning on a post talking to each other, interested in nothing so much as their own engaging conversation. You could have held someone up at gun point and they might not have noticed. Made me feel a lot safer.

When you find yourself being a bit jealous of a man who’s main job function is passing out chicken on a toothpick you perhaps need to reevaluate your choices. I’m just saying.
________________________________________________________________
Me:
Remember that article Nancy sent us about that strangling that happened at 11 a.m. last week in the Gallery? Yeah-made me feel great about unknowingly spending my lunch break there at Five Below on the same day.

Reevaluate my choices I am. Maybe instead of working in an office, I could work in an ice cream shop. I’d really love scooping ice cream all day and handing out cones to people. I mean, you get to give people ICE CREAM all day.

Hey-maybe I’ll see if Ben & Jerry’s is hiring…
__________________________________________________________
J, for the last time:
Yeah I remember. I walk through the Gallery regularly. I know exactly where it happened and exactly where he was found. I see people screaming at each other there all the time.

I was at the library this afternoon over my lunch break. I saw that some janitorial services was hiring. Third shift, cleaning office buildings. For a moment, I considered it. I loved being a janitor. I actually considered applying to my campus department after graduating. I found the work satisfying, I liked the people (and not just the other students, the full time folks who have made custodial services at a small Christian liberal arts college their career) but then my friend Jeannine’s mom said I was nuts and she was right, so I took the path I’m currently on. But there are moments when I’m being figuratively shit on that I think to myself, it would be better to just literally clean up people’s shit because at least then I wouldn’t be fooling anyone about what my job is or my station in life.

Ben & Jerry’s is awesome. They have a policy that the top executives cannot make more than seven times what the people on the lowest rung make. In practice, this means they have a hard time finding executive talent, but it probably also means you can make quite a lot selling ice cream and no one yells at the ice cream man.

Advertisements

On the road…again.

On 11/10/10 at 11:05 a.m. J writes:

So I’ve been on the road again a good bit this week, but not really on the road, which means that I get my food stipend and can eat in places that I normally wouldn’t, because, well, I’m cheap. So food trucks serve a special niche for me because of their low cost goodness.

And before everyone starts to get all upity on me, you should know that some very highly placed journalists and industry PR people have enjoyed food trucks as well, so smoke on your pipe and put that in, or whatever.

This week though I was taking some out-of-town friends and colleagues out for a Philadelphia cheesesteak. They said they wanted the authentic experience, which, of course, as we all know, means Pat’s, Geno’s or Jim’s. We eliminated Pat’s and Geno’s because it was 30 degrees and while I do have fond memories of eating a cheesesteak from Pat’s at 3:00 a.m. when it was 12 degrees out, with my friends and I all saying various versions of, “YOU GOTTA WANT IT!!!” I think I might have been drunk at the time. So my memory might be cloudy.

Anyway, we went to Jim’s. Jim’s is the cheesesteak place on 4th and South. It has pictures of famous people and it sells T-shirts and hats. I’m not ready to call this an iron-clad rule yet, but if you are selling hats and reminding people that famous people once ate there, presumably before veganism and vegetarianism became morally superior, you really aren’t thinking about your food anymore.

We got to Jim’s at around 6:00 p.m. on a Sunday night and the line was out the door. There were people from Germany, Montreal and what I assume were other foreign countries because the line moved in an orderly non-disruptive fashion, so it’s unlikely they were all from Philadelphia.

My companions and I kept in good humor as we waited in line at the cheesesteak stand. By the time we got to the grill, I had in mind what I wanted to order. Whiz with extra whiz. My female companion behind me said she wanted the same thing, and the other dude ordered the same thing without onions.

We managed to find tables upstairs surprisingly easily given the crowd in the lobby, but while I enjoyed the company, the food was a total disappointment. I had paid $.70 for extra whiz, and I was left wondering what a normal whiz steak would have looked like. Part of the charm of a Philadelphia cheesesteak is when the whiz drips out onto the wrapper and you can sop it up with what’s left of your roll like a biscuit. But on this cheesesteak I couldn’t even taste the whiz.

In fact, all I could really taste were the onions, which were piled on top, rather than grilled into the meat like they are supposed to be and not quite cooked right. The bread was cold.

I paid $10.50 for the experience; money wasted.

On Tuesday night I wound up working late again and walked through the Gallery Mall. There’s a steak place there called Charley’s Fried Steaks, which gives out excellent samples on days when you are lucky. But here’s the thing- the actual cheesesteaks you pay for are not nearly as good as the sample.

I ordered the chicken club, which was supposed to come with cheese, bacon, tomatoes and lettuce. They grilled it, and didn’t put any bacon on it, which was my first disappointment.

Then they sent it down the assembly line to a surly little man who stood in front of the fixings bar. He stared at me. Not, with a “what would you like, sir?” smile but with a “what do you want?” look that didn’t have a question with it. I was going to say just put on what it’s supposed to have on it, but since they had already screwed up the bacon, I didn’t have much hope that they’d get the rest of the sandwich right so I proceeded to make my own creation.

And it didn’t work out. The combination of swiss cheese (yes, swiss cheese), ranch (I choked) and hot peppers (again, another mistake) made the whole sandwich a disappointment.

Equally disappointing were the cheese fries, which I had paid a premium for and which, well, wound up being far too soggy.

I paid $11.67 for the experience. Money wasted.

From now on, I’m just sticking with the food trucks.

Now who wants pie?

Airport Musings

J was traveling (now we’re both on the road), but at the time, I was still at the office. He writes:
First, “your participation is wonderful news,” is a nice touch. To me, it looks like you were getting bored with saying the same thing over and over again, but to the outside world it appears as if you are almost enthusiastic. 
 
Second, did you know the airport had a Chic Fil A? I was sitting at Gate A7 waiting for my flight when I heard over the radio the commercial for food including, “the Original Chicken Sandwich from Chic Fil A.” So I started on my quest.
 
It wasn’t down my hall. It wasn’t down the International Hall that was the other side of Terminal A and yes, is about a mile long.
 
The nice woman who runs the pretzel stand informed me that yes there truly was a Chic Fil A in the airport but it was in terminal B.
 
A lesser man with less time on his hands might might have said, “screw it just give me one of your pretzels.” Not me. I took the express walk way to terminal B.
 
You know how far $25 goes at Chic Fil A? Yes, I’ll take the Chicken Nugget meal, please. No not the eight piece, the twelve piece, thanks. And yes, I would like it large. Lemonade costs extra? Damn the costs! Fill her up and while you are at it throw in an extra chicken sandwich. I may eat it, I may not, but put it in the bag anyway.
 
Oh, and yeah, I’ll need a chocolate brownie for dessert.
 
I ate it all, including the brownie, which, incidentally she initially didn’t remember to put in the bag–it’s nice to know that incompetence (or did she intentionally leave it out thinking I wouldn’t come back asking for it? We’ll never know) is the same at every fast food restaurant.
 
But here’s the crazy thing. THEY HAVE FREE SAMPLES AT THE AIRPORT FOOD COURT!!!!!! And not just any free samples, free samples of the garlic balls from Sbarro with the garlic dipping sauce that I thought only existed in the pizzas from Papa Johns where you had to order an entire pizza just so you could dip your crust in the sauce that was not quite butter but oh so very good.
 
I took two of these garlic balls before I got a glare from the flunky who was passing them out. Hey pal, if you don’t want people taking your samples, don’t give them out, know what I mean?
 
That’s all for now.
Cheers,
J
______________________________________________________________________________________________
I enthuse:
THIS MADE MY DAY IN A WAY YOU CAN’T EVEN IMAGINE.
 
I LOVE that just when I was sadly thinking to myself, “Self-you’re just going to have to get over the fact that you won’t be getting any hilarious emails from J until Monday at the earliest” you go and send me a gem such as this.
 
Bravo.
 
And yes. I was getting bored with saying the same thing over and over. I also figured I’d give answering actual questions a shot, because hey, gotta start sometime, nah’ mean?
 
I’m surprised you didn’t get a milkshake a Chick Fil A. I’ve never heard one but I heard they’re absolutely delish.
 
Just sayin.
____________________________________________________________________________________________________
J responds:
Ha!
 
Here’s the thing…they didn’t have milkshakes. The Chic Fil A at the airport has, how do I say this, a limited selection. No milkshakes and interestingly no spicy chicken sandwich.
 
Want to know what’s not cool? Carried on this time because I only needed one change of clothes and they confiscated my toothpaste and my shaving cream. Not cool. I thought it was just fluid.
 
Oh well.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Me:
That is so NOT cool.

I do not dig that airports have an extremely limited food selection. Especially the pizza places. How hard is it to recombine the dough, cheese, and sauce into something other than pizza and ziti? I mean, really. It can’t be that hard. That’s why it’s next to impossible to screw up Italian food. You can have different degrees of deliciousness when it comes to Italian, and differing levels of goodness as well, but no one in their right mind takes a bit of something that contains dough, cheese, and tomato sauce and spits it out with, “That is complete crap.”
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
J:
I don’t know man. There was a perfectly good Italian place in my terminal that I passed by. They did have a chicken sandwich, but….
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Me:
…you’d rather have Chick-Fil-A.
 
No, it’s cool. I get it.
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________
J prophesizes:
Because I got the distinct feeling that this place WOULD screw up Italian food.
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
True dat. Such is airport food.

Hey…there’s a Chick-Fil-A back there!

Post-Lunch, Pre-Labor Day Observations

I begged J to write a blog post, thankfully, he acquiesced today at 1:18 pm:

So today was a rather productive lunch hour.

First, I went to Borders. Rather disappointing. I had gone because the store had enticed me with a 40 percent off coupon that had to be used before Labor Day and I’m going to be busy all weekend. Thing is, the Borders at 13th and Chestnut doesn’t really have a non-fiction section, so I wasn’t sure where the book I wanted, “MORNING MIRACLE: INSIDE THE DECLINE OF THE WASHINGTON POST,” was going to be.

So I went to the computer and typed it in. Within about three seconds some pimple faced kid was on me like I was going to discover his porn collection with the ubiquitous, “can I help you sir?” I told him I had done a search for the book I wanted and it was showing, “not in store.” He said that was right, but if I wanted they could order it for me and it would be in within three to eight business days.

That seemed an inordinately long amount of time for a business that had a separate online operation that can deliver things in 24 hours, so I thanked him for nothing and went on my way.

And here’s the thing that really annoyed me about Borders. I used their bathroom. It was painted bright yellow. I don’t want to quibble, but should we really be painting a place where you pee bright yellow?

I’m just saying.

Is that little boy holding a GUN?

On my way back I walked through the Gallery. Sampling was a mixed bag today. They had the Charley’s Cheese Steak samples out, but she had gone back for a new sandwich when I passed through the first time. Out of three places that serve Bourbon chicken, only one was giving it away. And my little retarded friend that gives away chicken nuggets was nowhere to be found.

Auntie Anne’s was giving away free pieces of their pretzel covered hot dogs. I took two samples and got a glare. Is it coming out of your pocket pal?

Speaking of Chic-fil-a, I finally bought their Spicy Chicken Sandwich. It was a little disappointing. I mean it’s basically just a spicy version of their regular chicken sandwich, which I suppose I should have expected, but it still left me with a certain emptiness.

And for reasons I have never understood, Chic-fil-a puts just pickles on their chicken sandwich. Not free lettuce, not free tomatoes. Free pickles.

Pickles have a very distinct taste and they don’t really add anything to the sandwich.

Again, I’m just saying.

On Free Samples at The Gallery

Via e-mail yesterday at 1:56 p.m. (I took a sick day Tuesday)
____________________________________________________________________________
J writes:

So in my never-ending quest to act like a homeless person even though I make enough money to support a middle class lifestyle, I managed to scrounge an almost complete lunch today from free samples.

The Gallery Mall is a smorgasbord of this.

The cheese-steak stand (not a truck, so the sandwiches are about three times the price and frankly not as good—I think it’s called Charley’s Fried Subs or something) is always giving away samples of its California Chicken Cheese steak (a chicken cheese steak with ranch sauce and cheese) and its pretty good. Word to the wise though, the samples are better than the actual sandwich. I believe it was at the point where I suspected I had consumed a sandwich worth of samples that I broke down and bought the sandwich. The sample girl smiled; she had done her job that day she figured. Thing was, the sandwich itself was not as good as the sample. Not sure why, just know what was.

There’s also a collection of sort of Chinese places that give out samples of a chicken that I think is either bourbon chicken or teriyaki chicken, depends on the place. Either way it’s pretty good. Another word to the wise though, these Asian women are pretty sharp. If you walk the length of the Gallery mall and try to make another pass through for a free sample, she’ll pull the tray away and say, “no you’ve already taken a sample,” in broken English. It’s pretty gutsy and probably a power trip for a just-off-the-boat immigrant making a living passing out chicken on a toothpick, but then again I’m trying to scam an extra free sample on my way back to work, so it’s hard to know what’s more wrong with this picture.

I’ve sort of made a game about collecting free samples and I consider it a red letter day when my retarded friend is passing out samples at the Chic-Fila. I have no way of knowing if he’s actually retarded or not, but I do know he takes an inordinate amount of pleasure from passing out free samples, so I figure he’s not quite all there. This man is king of the sample universe as far as I’m concerned. Some days he gives out chicken nuggets, other days those milk shakes the store was promoting. One day, he actually gave out pieces of a chicken sandwich. I was in flavor country. He even let me take two unlike that Asian bitch from the sort of Chinese stand. You’d think his generosity would make me buy more items from Chic Fila, but alas when they charge $3.09 for their new Spicy Chicken sandwich it just makes me hope that he’ll put more samples out.
____________________________________________________________________________________________
I respond (at 11:52 a.m. today):

Edgy and awesome.

Also, you spelled Chik-Fil-A wrong. Or whatever.