Brace yourselves: I am going to criticize this restaurant. The other day, after I told Stuart about Little Bird and “the best meal ever” he said, laughing: “You say every restaurant is the best one ever.” True. Very, very true. I generally love on everywhere I eat. Partly because if it’s not wonderful, I don’t have much to say. Mostly because I plot and anticipate and plan everywhere I eat. And Skillet has definitely been anticipated, its menu read over, its Urban Spoon carefully interpreted. I even like them on Facebook. But in real life? Not such a fan. After a Sunday “hike” (aka Discovery Park walkabout) Logan, Talia, and I headed down to Skillet, the diner born out of the super successful food cart of the same name, for brunch. We waited outside for half an hour, gazing drool-ily, dreamily through the window at the lucky people already mowing down waffles and chicken and dinner plate-sized cinnamon rolls doused with frosting. Skillet is doing this dressed-up diner thing, riding the “comfort food” trend in a big, big way. Fried chicken plays a very prominent role, pork belly makes an appearance, milkshakes are brought out in mason jars alongside the butter-drenched pancakes. All the waitstaff wears plaid. (Really.)
As someone who reads food news more than the average human being, I can tell you, without a doubt, that gussied-up comfort food shtick is no longer new or creative. It’s lazy. My friend Jackie (you long-time readers remember her: Bali then Ottawa) said that cooking with butter and cream is cheating, because it’ll taste good no matter what. I’ll never give up on creamy pasta, but she’s totally right. Bacon jam, deep fried chicken thighs, and maple syrup–it’s going to taste good. Salt, fat, sugar; all in high quantities. Amp up those things and the creativity and skill can fade away. As evidenced by our brunch. Logan got a burger and fries. Both of which were tasty. Because they were a burger and fries. Given, a better burger, probably made with nicer beef, topped with arugula instead of iceberg, wedged between brioche rather than dry white buns, but still, a burger, and probably not worth $12 more than a burger from Dick’s down the road.
Talia got a fried chicken sandwich and a salad. Was the fried chicken good? Take a guess. But the salad? Dry braising greens. It’s way harder to make raw kale taste awesome than it is to take come protein, batter it, fry it, and get a smile. Me: I got the special, chilaquiles (chips soaked in salsa verde till pleasantly smushy) served with 2 eggs, tomatoes, avocado, and bacon. This was lacking those magic ingredients. No deep frying (unless you count the chips, but that was kind of negated by the salsa), no sugar. They tried to get in on the salty fat aspect with the bacon, which merely laid limp on the sidelines, a weird addition to the plate. The rest of the dish? Well it was good(ish), but I could’ve made it in my 15 minutes allotted for breakfast before work. Chips, poached eggs, a couple slices of tomato, a couple wedges of avocado. Okay, but kind of plain, pretty ugly, and certainly not worth a thirty minute wait and fourteen bucks.
When we left Skillet, I wasn’t that unhappy. But the more I thought about the meal, the more irritated I got. Skillet is popular, and they know it. Its obvious–there’s literally a line out the door. So it seems like they’re riding on that, slinging fancified ultra-sugary super-salty diner food that we all want but are too ashamed to just go to a freakin Denny’s and order. And the mason jars and mismatched silverware make us feel like we’ve found some cool joint, let us imagine that we are indeed in some funky diner that we’ve cleverly stumbled upon, some low-key home of the world’s best chicken and waffles that our inner radness has somehow drawn us to. And hey, the line says we’re all willing to buy a $15 burger if it comes with that experience.
(I forgot to mention that we shared a chocolate milkshake. Best part of the meal.)