Recession Hits Kid's Menu at Ruby Tuesday (or, You Call This a Grilled Cheese?)

My wife and I were overcome with cabin fever and generalized parental malaise last night, and decided it would be a good idea to take the kids out for dinner. We like to walk to restaurants whenever possible—one perk of city living—but the number of places that are "kid friendly" is limited, so we decided to eschew all sense of propriety and culinary common sense and eat at the Charles Village Ruby Tuesday. The way I look at it, any restaurant that hands out packets of crayons is basically asking for screaming 1- and 3-year-olds, and if anyone finds high-decibel baby screeching and toddler nose-picking to be offensive, well, all I can ask is what the fuck are you doing eating at a Ruby Tuesday? We ordered our staple grilled cheese/french fries combo for the 3-year-old and grilled cheese and broccoli for the baby. I can't remember what I ordered, but it was some form of a blackened fish sandwich with a "fiesta" sauce. Susan ordered something more respectable.

The baby stuck a crayon in her mouth and bit off a hunk of green. "Don't worry, they're non-toxic," Susan said. Our toddler grew tired of staring at the dreary, mismatched couple in the adjoining booth and decided that her nasal secretions would make a lovely appetizer.

"You really should stop doing that," I said. "It's gross. People will make fun of you."

She glared at me and ate another booger.

The food arrived. The children's plates were hot. I grabbed one of them from the waiter and nearly dropped it. "Ouch," I said.

"They get like that when they come out of the dishwasher," the waiter said.

Susan and I stared at each other.

"What is that?" I asked.

To help you understand our stunned incomprehension, here is the image of the Ruby Tuesday "grilled cheese" from the kid's menu: A Ruby Tuesday "Grilled Cheese"

And here is the abomination that was placed before my children: "Grilled Cheese"?

It took a bit of analysis to figure out what exactly was sitting on the plates. Clearly, no sliced bread was involved in this aberrant food product, as promised on the kid's menu illustration. Rather, this thing was assembled from 2 "slider" buns (or, in Ruby Tuesday parlance, "Minis.") Now, I don't eat mammals (he said snidely), but even if I were the most rapacious carnivore on the planet I'd draw the line at tiny hamburgers that look like something from a Fisher-Price kitchen. If the world was ruled by evil midgets or cruel babies, perhaps I could understand the allure of a "slider." (And what is the etymology? Do they simply slide down the gullet without needing to be chewed? Or does the sliding occur after the food has been digested and is being pushed out by muscle contractions?)

(And if "sliders" and "minis" weren't just plainly infantile enough, I recently learned that Burger King's version of baby-sized burgers are called "shots." As in, "Hey, bartender, I'll have a couple shots of hamburger, with cheese.")

This is what happened when I removed the top upside-down "mini" bun top:

Alleged "Grilled Cheese"

Voila! There's the cheese, a 2.5-inch square barely melted in between the inverted buns and serving as the glue holding the ghastly perversion together.

After the children stopped screaming and wailing and clawing at their little eyes in horror, I flagged our waiter—the typical bored and dull-witted student shlepping sub-par grub for beer and weed money—and asked him if this was indeed a Ruby Tuesday®-approved grilled cheese.

"I know, it is pretty weird," he said. "It doesn't look like a normal grilled cheese." I asked him if he'd be kind enough to ask the chef why he wanted to traumatize my children. "Sure," he said.

Upon returning, he shrugged. "He says that's how corporate tells him to make it. They used to make it with bread, but not anymore." Desperately seeking a bright spot in our absurd dialogue, and hoping to hold onto his 20% tip, he said, "Some kids like it—they think it's cool."

I smiled and thanked him.

The baby, meanwhile, had stopped eating crayons and had conquered her fear of the melted-slice-of-cheese-gluing-together-inverted-slider-buns and was picking at the damned thing. "Noo-noo," she said.

"She thinks it's a noodle," the three-year-old chimed in.

"What do you think of it?" I asked, pointing at hers.

"It's cool," she said.

My wife and I tried to understand how a grilled cheese had transmogrified into a slider bun abortion that was "cool" with the toddler set. Maybe Ruby Tuesday decided that sliced bread was so, I don't know. . . old-fashioned. "Bun" does sound like "fun." And even the adult menu is created for the palate of a 3-year-old, or an adult with the palate of a three-year-old—you know, the serial-chain-restaurant patron who orders plates of microscopic hamburgers and eighteen-inch-tall stacks of onion rings as an appetizer. So I suppose it shouldn't be a surprise that the classic grilled American cheese sandwich was reworked by a penny-pinching corporate marketing hack into the unholy bun assemblage sitting in front of me.

But it ain't right. Seriously. It just . . . ain't . . . right.