Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Auntie Marie

There are some chain restaurants that I steer clear of (Tony Roma's springs to mind) and others I don't mind the occasional meal. Sure the food might not be "gourmand" or earth-shattering, but what they lack in chefs who graduated from elite culinary schools, or cuisines with depth and exotic flavor, they make up for in consistency and endless drink refills. Plus where else can you get your Awesome Blossom fix then Outback Steakhouse?

One of these such places that I find myself returning to now and again is Marie Callender's. Perhaps better known for her pies then her food, Marie's has always been a place I can return to when I'm looking for comfort food that won't cost a lot. In the mood for a warm food hug I stopped by Auntie Marie's with a coupon for $5 off and a free slice of pie. Yes, free Marie Callender's pie.

Marie Callender's, like most chain restaurants, are all designed in the same way. There's a pie display near the front door, many large booths, and all the rooms are finished in dark woods and warm lighting. They do have an "upscale" version of the restaurant I've never been to called the Callender's Grill, but why pay mark-up for food of the same caliber when the only difference is a white table cloth between your potpie plate and the table? I'll stick to my plain-Jane Marie's thank you very much.

Once inside I was seated and handed the usual menu with the specials of the month. I wasn't sure what I was in the mood for so I took my time perusing. After much internal thought with a bit of verbal I finally decided on something I'd never ordered before, the Turkey Club. Perhaps it was the closeness to Thanksgiving that put me in a gobbler mood. Jenn's always been more menu decisive and settled quickly on the Meatloaf Sandwich. We both opted for the fruit side instead of the fries.

Service can be hit-or-miss at every chain restaurant and today was a miss. The waitress took her time returning to our table to take our order, was stingy on the drink refills, and I actually had to ask for the cornbread. The free cornbread is one of the reasons I enjoy coming here. If I hadn't known there was also free pie at the end of this visit I probably would have been more disgruntled. However at the moment I just took it in stride and munched down on warm cornbread with whipped honey butter. They make a mean cornbread that's hard not to polish off before your actual food arrives.

Corn Bread

Cornbread crumbs licked off the plate the sandwiches arrived. My "turkey club" was hand-carved roasted turkey, thick applewood smoked bacon, sliced tomatoes, avocado, lettuce and mayonnaise served on a flaky butter croissant.

Turkey Club Sandwich

Turkey Club Sandwich

Perhaps it was outdone by my memories of Amanadine, but the croissant here was disappointingly generic tasting coming from a place known for their baked goods. The croissant needed to be warmed and the  butter flavor was too subtle. The best part of the turkey club were the ingredients held precariously within. The turkey was fresh and thick, the avocado plentiful, the bacon cooked crisp, and they didn't overdo the lettuce. I would order this again in the future switching out the croissant for their grilled parmesan sourdough that goes great with their "frisco burger."

Jenn's "meatloaf sandwich" comes with the aforementioned sourdough toast, a thick slice of their original recipe meatloaf, lettuce, tomato, and mayo.

Meatloaf Sandwich

If you're someone who enjoys meatloaf with a tomato based glaze then this wouldn't be for you. If you don't care either way expect a dense well-spiced blend of beef that'll hit the meatloaf spot. As I already mentioned I'm a fan of the sourdough bread it comes between. Jenn and I both agreed this could be ordered again in the future, if not as a sandwich, as an entree with a side of mashed potatoes. I should also mention that the fruit that came with both dishes was juicy and plentiful. You have no idea how many times I've been scorned at other restaurants with a bad mix of mushy fruit. I'm happy to report that Marie Callender's consistently delivers good quality produce without cramming in a bunch of filler grapes.

Finally plates cleared I was ready for my free pie. More precisely a slice of Banana Cream Pie.

You should know my barometer for great "banana cream pie" comes from The Apple Pan. Their version smacked me upside the head knocking me off my stool in banana glee. Not only is theirs insanely tasty, but it always arrives looking practically artisanal. Clearly Marie had a lot to live up to. Still I held out with optimism reminding myself that Marie's take is frequently touted as a go-to place as well for "banana cream pie." I'll be the judge of that.

Banana Cream Pie

Off the bat this is no Apple Pan. The slice is small, carelessly cut, and glopped down on a plate. The complete opposite of the Apple Pan's ginormous thick serving. Maybe they new this was free.

Looks aside it doesn't even come close to the Pann's level of creamy banana intensity. The Apple Pan's is densely chilled with well positioned slices of visible banana. Marie's is all over the place, lost and directionless. It had some sliced bananas intermingling amongst a mash of banana ,and a peculiar array of sliced and shaved almonds. Oh Auntie Marie what were you thinking?

If you ask me the people who speak highly of this slice of pie have never tried the version that knocked me out cold. My advice is to steer your pie ordering direction into other territory like my tried and true favorite lemon meringue. Save the banana cream experience for "The Apple Pan."

Marie Callender's does have the normal chain restaurant rough edges like occasional slow service and food with highs and lows. But they excel at keeping me comforted with kitchen classics I'm too lazy to cook like lemon meringue and chicken pot pie. I've always left with a belly full of warm food and a smile, waving goodbye for now to my Auntie Marie as I drive down the road.

Marie Callender's
9310 Business Center Dr.
Northridge, CA 91324
(Various Locations)


PulledPorker said...

Wow, I don't remember the last time I ate at Marie Callender's. It's probably been a decade. For some reason I can't explain, when the craving for that type of food hits me, I usually go to Coco's. (If I had that coupon, though, I would return to Marie.)

H. C. said...

haha, now I want to try Apple Pan's banana cream (to be honest I've never tried Marie's BC Pie either but my childhood standard was from Baker's Square, which pretty much abandoned the L.A. market about a decade ago save for a smattering of stores.)

I am rather fond of Marie's chicken and dumplings and pot pies though...

Anonymous said...

I love the cornbread and honey butter here. Addictive!!!

Jonah said...

I used to like it when people brought Marie Callender's pies to events. I honestly don't know if I have ever had non-pie food from them.

I will admit that Mimi's has some pretty good food to offer, surprisingly for brunch. I like their breakfast tacos.

Mike said...

@PulledPorker: My go to pie at Coco's has always been the lemon meringue. I don't think I could ever order anything else.

@HC: You should drop what you're doing right now and go. I'm not kidding. GO NOW!

@That Girl: I wonder which came first. Cornbread or honey butter? Either way I'm glad they found each other.

@Jonah: I like Mimi's. Really I do. They do a decent patty melt and I love all their muffins. Their much touted Pain Perdu however...meh... not my cup of tea.