Monday, June 30, 2014

International House of Lowered Expectations

I think that I join the rest of the population in the notion that breakfast foods are the best foods. Especially if consumed sometime after 10:30 am. My husband and I have always enjoyed a good brunch, I have a particular fondness for poached eggs, while he enjoys food on a plate. This small joy is something that we felt that we should share with our offspring, so about a year ago we planned a family day at the zoo and decided to stop at the brunch place that everyone else in Albuquerque flocks to right before noon on the weekends. This turned out to be a huge mistake as my toddler did not appreciate his 14 dollar "French style" pancakes and spent the entire time demanding a cookie while his sister screamed and clawed at my chest because it had literally been THREE AND A HALF MINUTES since she'd last nursed.  Within 20 minutes food was everywhere, hipsters were staring, and all I could do was sit silently as the tears fell onto my perfectly executed croque madame. I chugged down my organic iced tea and accepted the $60 loss that was the meal and we got out of there before we were offered a gig as a live-action traveling advertisement for birth control. As we were walking the 3 blocks to the car, my husband and I looked at each other seriously and concluded, "NEVER AGAIN." We would never take the kids to brunch again.  Now, this is a dilemma, there are certain situations: company in town, lack of groceries, common laziness, which require me to take my children out in public to consume breakfast foods. This is how I started my deep love and appreciation of the the most worldly of  breakfast joints, The International House of Pancakes, or IHOP as the young people seem to be calling it these days.

Everything is already sticky

Children, in their quest to pick up as many germs as humanly possible are perpetually sticky. I think that they actually secrete a special kind of glue that allows them to collect large amounts of dirt on their bodies and take it home so that I can sweep it up later. There are never enough wipeys. Most people in public settings do not appreciate our constant tackiness, but at IHOP they embrace the sticky.  You actually have your choice of up to 4 flavors of sticky, right there on the table for you. Would you like some butter pecan with that glob of dirt stuck to your face? Here you go. Is that dog hair, maybe some human hair on your hands? Either way, it will be complemented nicely by this shockingly red strawberry treacle. I cannot be the only one to notice that the syrups are offered in the primary colors, red, blue, yellow, and then there's brown, or "traditional" (NOT maple)  which I'm pretty sure is just the previous 3 mixed together.  By the end of the meal your table will look like a large sheet of fly paper, but not to worry, it's not going to faze the next sticky family that sits there. 

Nobody judges you for bringing kids into a restaurant

One thing I have learned about being on the other side of the childless/childfull line is there is a large portion of our population that gets seriously pissed if you dare feed your children in the same room as they are eating.  These people will spend their entire meal staring, glaring, sighing heavily and giving you the occasional tight smile if you happen to make eye contact with them.  Everyone is welcome at IHOP, but there are three distinct groups of people who come into IHOP: stoners, the elderly, and families with sticky children. The hostesses are adept at keeping these three groups separated. The families clump together in a sort of romper room, the elderly are lead to the back dining room where they can enjoy their senior discount in peace and the stoners are seated near the door so they can go outside to smoke during the 3 hours it takes them to drink that one cup of coffee. When my son inevitably starts screaming because his hands are sticky the stoners will ignore him and the elderly will tell us how cute his sister is, I might let an old lady pinch her cheek and tell me how her granddaughter didn't have hair either, and at least everyone is not completely miserable.

Everybody loves cookies for breakfast

I'm not going to delude myself. I know darn well that the funny face pancake is just a giant chocolate chip cookie, and I'm not even going to try to justify the maraschino cherry eyes as fruit because I've seen the Food Network special on them and there is no way those things are fit for human consumption.  That said, I am not above allowing my child to eat this thing as his morning meal, slathered in at least two colors of high-fructose corn syrup. It is a guaranteed 5 minutes of absolute silence.  I order the thing with the expectation that he's only going to eat about 1/8th of it, and you know what? I've learned to be OK with a 7/8ths loss of food, if means that I can slurp down one scalding cup of coffee before it's time to break up the full-on fist fight that has started between the two littles over the orange crayon.

It's cheap

There was a time, before children, when both my husband and I were working full time jobs, that we had money. Not like bathtubs of diamonds money, but enough to enjoy brunch every weekend without feeling like we weren't going to be able to buy groceries for the week. Then I left my job because I am a masochist and I thought it would be fun to be tortured by children all day. Then the economy was like "hey, your husband doesn't need a job either." And I get, it, I really do. This is why America is fat, because fatty sugary foods are cheap and filling. I do get it. And oh god, GLUTEN. If I had the kind of money that I could feed us all organic grass-fed kale for every meal, I'd probably try a little harder. Maybe. Our economic situation dictates that it's good news if we can get out of a restaurant at for less than the price of a couple of Starbucks lattes, which is more than achievable at IHOP.  Plus, free refills on coffee.  Just remember, the food is cheap and your kids have come in with the strength of a gale force hurricane, so TIP GENEROUSLY. Somebody's gotta clean that mess up and if you think you're having a hard economic time, think how much harder it is for the server at IHOP.  And if you really can't afford the tip then this is definitely an occasion where you need to stay home for with some Cheerios. 

I do look forward to eventually having a luxurious child-free brunch, maybe a mimosa or two and a quinoa omelette or whatever, one day, in the future. Maybe far in the future. I've learned that this is the kind of thing that you enjoy either in memory or anticipation, but you cannot really appreciate it unless it is no longer commonplace. And come on, my kids are actually kind of fun, well sometimes, and I actually enjoy spending time with them so funny face pancakes for all!