Here’s how it all started, with a column I wrote in 2004:
Children’s menus have turned me into a conspiracy theorist.
Never one to fall for such nonsense, I’m deeply uncomfortable about this. And yet, what else should a parent think?
The Weathervane sent me over this edge to JFK land. I went to the restaurant with an older friend, thinking this would be a slightly grown-up meal but not so fancy that my children would be horridly out of place. And indeed, I felt reassured when the children were seated with gold cord-wrapped crayons and their own menus.
Until I read those menus, that is. Then it hit me: Restaurants are playing this weird game of pretending they want my kids to eat there, while in reality, they’re trying to kill them.
French fries. Grilled cheese or fried chicken nuggets. No fruit within a mile, and no vegetables save oiled potatoes til the next county. For variety, how about pasta with butter and cheese? And please, let us include a Coke in that $2.95 deal — and some ice cream to finish them off?
We’re not talking here about some short-order cook who knows little more than grilled cheese. These are restaurants with chefs, for crying out loud. And this is the best a chef can do?
When this column came out (see the full column here), the manager of The Weathervane, a restaurant attached to the venerable store A Southern Season in Chapel Hill, N.C., complained to my editor that they’d recently added a yogurt parfait to the kids’ menu. Indeed they had — along with a cheese quesadilla and fries. We weren’t exactly bowled over by their bold move.
When we finally gave Weathervane another try several years later, we discovered an almost entirely new “Little Foodies” menu. Here’s what it has, with prices ranging from $4 to $7:
Steak frites with fries and buttered corn
Flatbread pizza with homemade tomato-basil sauce and fresh mozzarella
Local roasted tomato and cheese panini with choice of side
Shrimp scampi with pasta
Peanut butter banana and local honey sandwich on whole-grain bread with choice of side
Potato dumplings with diced ham and parmesan cheese
Grilled salmon with haricots verts and mashed potatoes
Caesar salad with grilled chicken or sauteed shrimp
Grilled chicken sandwich with bacon and honey-mustard with choice of side
Grilled chicken quesadilla with choice of side
Fried Chicken Tenders with choice of side
Chloe burger — 4-oz patty on challah roll with fries
Sweet potato fries
Mixed greens salad
What a change. It’s not all fabulous food, but what choice!
Thus, with pleasure, we announce
as the first inductee to the
Dessert First Kids’ Menu Hall of Fame.
And, inductee number two …
Sweet Potatoes Restaurant
Now, we need a note here: Sweet Potatoes doesn’t exactly belong here, because it wasn’t a kids menu that won me over. It was better: A menu that works for everyone. Why can’t more restaurants follow their lead and offer half-portions? That’s what the Dessert First children had, and better yet, they had a choice of sides that included fresh fruit, fried okra, sauteed spinach and slaw. (If you can’t live without fries, their sweet potato fries were terrific, too, as was the okra). The DF children shared an appetizer serving of a three-cheese macaroni and country ham souffle; with half-portions of their sandwiches, they got to eat interesting, “adult” food in more reasonable portions.
Unfortunately, the Hall of Fame is looking a bit peaked: Finding other restaurants to honor has proved even harder than expected. Do you know of a restaurant that deserves consideration? If so, contact us with the restaurant’s name and city.
Two new nominees! Have you visited these? Tell us what you think!
Mela Indian Restaurant, Asheville, N.C.
Mustard Seed Market and Cafe, Akron, OH