Tuesday, July 5, 2011

From Red Lantern to Red Apple: try the difference

The Red Lantern was an ancient business.  (Well, maybe not that old.)  But everyone in Columbia, Illinois is aware how long The Lantern has been a part of their lives.  This family owned business seems to have been part of the Main Street businesses for as long as most can remember. The Lantern was known for selling home-made comfort food, for a cheap price and for having food and an atmosphere that was very comfortable.  My family would frequently make jokes about how when we enter the building, the average age of customers would drop to 60 years old instead of 70.

The food was good, as it had maybe 20 items or so on the menu and when it was a special day, like once a week, they would have a special dish.  The salads had as much lettuce as half a head and as much cheese as half a bag and they would sell it for $7.  That was always more salad than you could eat.  The sandwiches, like a BLT, came with two full sandwiches and a large handful of fries.  Everything was good, nothing elaborate or new or exciting, but the kind of stuff your grandmother would make for you. 

After serving the community, the owners decided to retire and sold the place.  The new owners turned it into a Red Apple, which is a home style food restaurant.  What they also did, was remodel the inside, leaving almost blank walls:

Before, these walls were covered with all sorts of nick-naks and things from the area, which is somewhat still attached to their farming roots.  As plain and as boring as the decor looks now, so is the food.  As I said, the menu has about 100 items on it.  The food, seems to be all frozen foods that are just deep fried to warm up and then serve.  I went with a table of 5 so there were six of us, 4 adults and two kids.  We ordered a special dish of the corned beef and cabbage, a kid's meal of grilled cheese and french fries, a kid's meal of chicken fingers and french fries, two salads, a burger and a soap (chicken and dumplings).

Now, these items were all on the original Lantern's menu, but here is the difference:

The corned beef and cabbage's vegetables, the cabbage, potatoes and the celery and carrot mix were just steamed and flavorless.  No butter, no salt and no pepper. The salads were warm and didn't have enough cheese, mostly warm lettuce.  The grilled cheese didn't have the cheese melted, it was just warmed.  The French fries tasted like the store bought frozen fries when you under cook them in the oven, they were hard and crispy on the outside and soft and cold on the inside.  The chicken strips were frozen strips fried to be cooked, they were cold in some areas.  The burger was a regular burger, nothing special.  The soup, the chicken and dumpling was yellow, as in so yellow it was made with fake chicken stock and was salty.

All of this reminded me of a Sponge bob episode.  In this episode, the main eating place, the Krusty Krab, which sells the most delicious thing ever in the World, the Krabby Patty, which I think is like a White Castle slider, is sold to a franchise.  The franchise turns it into a TGIFridays spin off called Kabby O'Mondays.  The place also takes the hand made patties off the menu and makes them using an assembly line with robots and machines where there is no care or passion in the food anymore.  But, it doesn't matter because the customers still come for the atmosphere and the food, no matter that the food is not as good as it used to be.

This is the same case.  The Lantern did these few things well enough that it had a regular set of customers.  This new restaurant, the Red Apple, can't seem to do anything well and likely will only have regulars because they have no place else to go.

No comments:

Post a Comment