My husband, Warren, is a really good cook. He's also an archaeologist who often goes on digs for weeks at a time, leaving the monkeys -- Satchel, age 4, and Jiro, age 2 -- and me to fend for ourselves. Prior to my husband's most recent departure, I got my hands on a list of places where kids eat free (or almost free) from MemphisLovesKids.com. I organized it by day and came up with a plan to get the monkeys a free meal every day for a week.
When I told Warren about my plan, he said, "You are probably going to get sick."
Monday: CiCi's Pizza
We arrived at the CiCi's in Poplar Plaza shopping center at 5:45 p.m. The monkeys and I paid our $9.24 and hit the buffet line.
According to a large sign, CiCi's uses "100% real mozarella, freshly prepared sauce, freshly made dough, and garden-fresh vegetable toppings." Equally admirable was the salad bar that had lettuce other than iceberg and several enticing pizza toppings. There was also fusilli pasta that came with a choice of red or Alfredo sauce, garlic bread, and cheese bread.
The pizza bar had 16 varieties of piping-hot pies ranging from pepperoni to Hawaiian. Desserts included brownies sprinkled with confectioner's sugar, apple cinnamon pizza, and strudel. The monkeys were psyched.
Satchel had four pieces of cheese bread, one slice of pepperoni pizza, some plain pasta with Parmesan cheese, and 1.5 brownies. Jiro had two slices of pepperoni pizza, two Hawaiian Punches, and one brownie. I had a small salad and three slices of pepperoni pizza.
Satchel asked, "Mama, does pizza make you strong?"
"Yes," I said proudly. "Pizza has something from all five of the food groups."
CiCi's Pizza, 3474 Plaza Avenue, Suite 1 (452-6225)Buffet hours: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. dailyChildren 3 and under: 99 cents; child buffet: $3.18
Tuesday: McAlister's Deli
The McAlister's kids' menu offers seven choices: toasted cheese sandwich, PB&J, Mac's Dog (a hot dog), kids' nachos, ham-and-cheese sandwich, turkey-and-cheese sandwich, and cheese pita pizza. The sandwiches come with chips, and everything comes with Teddy Grahams (which I hid from the monkeys). Drinks are extra. While the kids' meal prices were pretty fair ($1.19-$2.75), I have to admit, having to pay for drinks took a little bit of the fun out of the "free-ness."
Satchel chose nachos, and Jiro chose pizza. (He was rallying for day two at CiCi's the whole drive over.) I ordered the chicken Caesar wrap.
When I looked at Satchel's plate, I felt very embarrassed by the cold, hard reality of the nachos. Jiro took one look at his pizza that was "covered in blood" (as Satchel noted) and went right for the chips and dip. Satchel insisted on a piece of pizza in return. As he was about to take his first bite of Jiro's pizza, Satchel said, "Ooh fly!" I shooed it away but not quickly enough. He said, "I can't eat it now that the fly puked on it."
Then he turned his attention back to his own plate and asked, "Do nachos make you strong?"
I carefully considered my answer in light of the fact that he had nothing else to eat. "Um, sort of," I said.
McAlister's, 3482 Plaza Avenue in Poplar Plaza (452-6009)Kids eat free Tuesdays after 5 p.m. (two kids per adult)
I had informed Satchel that we were having breakfast for dinner at IHOP. He excitedly asked, "Does that mean we get dinner for breakfast?"
When we pulled into the almost empty parking lot at 5:45 p.m., I was a little shocked. The only other times I'd been to IHOP (Sunday morning or the wee hours of the weekend), it was packed. Several large window signs pictured chocolate-chip happy-face pancakes and declared, "Kids Eat Free All Day Wednesday."
The kids' menu was a paper placemat with pictures of each item, things to color, and activities to do. I asked the monkeys to point to what they wanted. Jiro immediately pointed to the chicken strips, and Satchel predictably pointed to the chocolate-chip happy-face pancake.
I didn't want to eat since I was planning to attend a party later in the evening, but I had to in order to get a free kids' meal. I brought my mom along so that both monkeys could eat free. I figured I should stick with breakfast and ordered the Migas (eggs, tomatoes, cheese, jalepenos, and tortilla strips). My mom ordered the chicken-breast dinner.
The monkeys busied themselves with the crayons and the menu activities. Jiro quickly grew bored and attempted to swing from the low-hanging light fixture above our table. When informed that this was not appropriate, he let out several shrill protests that made me happy that there were very few people around.
When the monkeys' food came out, Jiro took one look at Satchel's chocolate-chip happy-face pancake and lunged across the table. Satchel blocked him, and more shrieking ensued. Eventually, we were able to convince Satchel to share, and he cut off an entire eye and half the forehead for his brother.
"Mama, do pancakes make you strong?" Satchel asked.
I opted for the truth: "No, but you had a really good lunch, so it's okay."
Once everyone was done and we were paid up, I enthusiastically said, "Now that we had breakfast for dinner, let's have broccoli and apples for dessert!"
IHOP, 2060 Union (725-4448)Kids eat free all day Wednesday (one kid per adult)
My friend, Andria, caught wind of my "kids eat free" spree and decided that she and her 3-year-old, Miss M., would meet us at the Piccadilly cafeteria at 6 p.m. At the boys' school, I'd run into our mutual friend Shiloh and invited her and her 2-year-old daughter, Lydia, along too.
We arrived to find the place bustling with lots of kids, lots of seniors ... lots of everybody. The line for food was long but not too long. Satchel immediately ran up to the glass to see what treasures were lurking behind it. He pointed at the black-eyed peas and said, "Ooh, I want some of those beans!"
When we got to the front of the line, Andria, Shiloh, and I looked at each other and simultaneously groaned. The food selection started with dessert. Blue Jell-O was the first thing, followed by cupcakes with pink and blue icing and sprinkles.
I had no intention of blowing our almost-free meals on extras. I asked the server if dessert was included with the kids' meals, and, to my amazement, she said yes. Jiro wanted both a cupcake and Jell-O but eventually went with just the cupcake. Satchel happily chose chocolate pudding. As we made our way toward the entrees, Satchel immediately zoned in on the fried chicken. "What about fish?" I asked hopefully.
"No. Chicken!" he said.
Then Jiro piped in and said, "I want chicken!"
As my friends and I were ordering, Jiro looked at me and said, "I need to go pee-pee."
"Can you hold it?" I asked. He nodded yes, but two seconds later said no. I looked around at the scene and wondered how I was going to manage leaving mid-order. Thankfully, Shiloh agreed to order the sides for me.
I rushed Jiro to bathroom as fast as I could and got us back in line in time to get rolls and drinks. When we got to the end of the line, a nice woman was waiting to help me carry our trays to a table.
Then, as if things couldn't get any better, both monkeys sat down and started eating. Jiro really wasn't interested in anything besides his chicken. Once it was gone, he set his sights on the cupcake.
He had a couple licks of icing and decided it wasn't all that. Then he started looking at me with pleading eyes and mouthing a word I could not understand. After a few minutes of me going, "Huh? Wha?" he grabbed my hand and led me back to the food line to where the blue Jell-O was.
"Jelly!" he said.
Once back at the table, a waiter came over and gave everyone a balloon. Satchel was clearly making up for the week's lack of nutritional dinners. He ate his chicken, all of his mashed potatoes (and gravy), and broccoli. Then he ate half of my green beans and almost all of the black-eyed peas I'd ordered at the last minute, remembering his initial request. Then he looked at Shiloh and said, "Can I have some of your salad?" It was amazing. Finally he ate his pudding. When he was done, he calmly said, "I need to poop now."
Piccadilly, 3425 Poplar Avenue (324-6442)Kids' meal: 99 cents to $1.99 on Thursdays and 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturdays
Warren came home for the weekend, and I just couldn't motivate myself for another restaurant visit. Our choices for Friday were already slim (and far away): Gus's Fried Chicken in Bartlett or the American Café in the Wolfchase Galleria. We opted to stay home and eat spaghetti, salad, broccoli, and bananas.
At 1:30 p.m., Hooter's had a pretty decent crowd. There were 20 to 30 men of various ages parked in front of a wall of TVs. Most of them were drinking beer and just hangin'. I was the only woman present (not on staff, that is), and we seemed to be the only people taking advantage of the "Kids eat free on Saturdays" offer.
I read the kids' menu upside down from Jiro's placemat as he began coloring: "Chicken wings, chicken strips, burger, grilled cheese, hot dog, PB&J, fish & chips. What do y'all want?"
"Fish & chips!" Satchel said.
"Hot dog!" Jiro said.
"Nobody wants chicken? They are famous for chicken!" I said.
"Okay, I'll take chicken strips," Satchel said.
"Why not try the chicken wings?" I prodded.
"Okay," he said most agreeably.
Next I set about figuring out what I was going to eat. Thanks to the buxom ladies decorating my menu, everything looked good. (I also noticed that Warren was taking an unusually long time to order.)
Finally, I decided on the Hooters cobb salad. I thought for sure that Warren would get the wings, but he went for the chicken-breast sandwich ("Hold the chicken and the sandwich," as The Office's Steve Carrell would say.)
Our food came out pretty swiftly, and the monkeys wasted no time descending on the curly fries.
Jiro asked, "French fries make strong?" as Satchel listened in.
"Yep," I said as I avoided Warren's stare.
Warren's chicken breast was voluptuous and literally falling off the bun. My cobb salad, with buffalo chicken, was actually rather delicious. I tried to get Satchel to eat his wings, but after one bite he said they were too hot. Jiro took his hot dog out of the bun and squawked when he saw bun remnants sticking to it. Once Warren removed them, Jiro ate a few bites before chucking the rest of it across the table.
While we settled the check, I asked the manager why they offered a "Kids eat free" day when none of the other Hooters do.
"Uh, I don't know. I can call corporate," he said. He started walking away and then turned back. "This store was opened by a guy with four kids. I think he started it." He caught his breath and continued, "The manager now has one kid and one on the way." I smiled at him and nodded. "It's good for business and good for the community," he added. "Not everyone around here is that well off, so it helps people afford to eat out."
I thanked him, gave our very attentive waitress a nice tip, and headed toward the car.
I joined Warren and the monkeys who were already strapped in their car seats.
"Did you like that restaurant?" I asked.
"Yes!" they hollered.
"What did you like best?"
"The curly fries!"
Hooters, 2653 Mt. Moriah (795-7123)
Kids eat free all day Saturday
I noticed the "$.69 Cheeseburgers, Shakes, Hot Dogs, Wed & Sun" sign on Monday night on our way home from CiCi's. I've never been to Checkers before, but I figured that had to be a pretty good deal. Since I was on the last day of my "Kids eat free" week, I hadn't eaten all day, and I just happened to have a car full of kids, I decided to try it out.
"Who wants a milk shake?" I asked the monkeys and their two cousins.
"Me! Me! I do! Me!" they responded.
"Anybody want a cheeseburger?"
"Yes! I do! Yes! Yes!" they responded.
I pulled up to the window and said, "I'll take five chocolate shakes and five cheeseburgers."
"I want vanilla," my 10-year-old nephew said.
"Me too!" said my 5-year-old niece.
"And me!" said Satchel.
Before Jiro could chime in, I amended the order. "Make that four vanilla milk shakes and one chocolate. And five cheeseburgers." I thought for a second. "Make four of those plain. No, just ketchup."
"I like ketchup and mustard," my nephew said.
"Okay. Four with ketchup and mustard and one with everything," I said.
The voice in the box was annoyed and confused.
"Can I have French fries?" my nephew asked.
"There will be no French fries," I said.
"They aren't 69 cents."
I pulled up to the second window and handed over $6.98. (I think they forgot to charge me for one shake.)
The worker handed me the shakes, and I immediately began putting the straws in. "They're kind of small," my nephew said.
"Well, it's 12 ounces more shake than you had a minute ago."
He couldn't argue with that logic.
Although the "Kids eat free" week was fun for the monkeys and kept me from cooking, it caused me much distress in the breakfast and lunch department. I was working double time to sneak in fruits, vegetables, and milk. I'm not sure what most of the restaurants we visited have against fruit or vegetables with a kids' meal or why they have candy machines everywhere, but clearly, when kids eat free, you get what you pay for.
Stacey Greenberg is a Flyer contributor and writer of diningwithmonkeys.blogspot.com.