Mall Munchies: Revisiting Ruby Tuesday’s Garden Bar

Ooooooooo-eeeee, am I glad to be back to SF! That statement isn’t meant to hint at the quality of my Midwest Weekend (which was totally badass), but rather to reinforce how much I like sleeping in my own bed, in my own apartment, surrounded by my own things. Sofa beds are not the beds of kings, I was able to verify this weekend. Just in case you were wondering.

I’m putting all the horses before all the carts, though: this weekend, I flew back to Minnesota to celebrate my mom’s 60th birthday. (Happy post-birthday, mom — I see you reading this!) Not only was my mom unaware that Sis and I had planned a party for her, she didn’t even know I’d be visiting MN. BAM! That’s how it’s done, people. You all know that Ali and I are the absolute worst at keeping secrets, and staying mum about this was A Daunting Task. Indeed, I almost slipped up Saturday morning when my mom called to ask about my plans for the day.

“Going to the airport — DOI!” my hungover ass almost responded. But I thought on my feet and mumbled a story about cleaning/a freelance project/going to Target with pals. (The freelance project, at least, was real.)

“Oh,” said my mom, audibly disappointed. “Well, it’s just…it would have been nice if you could have come home for my birthday, but I understand.”

At that moment, I wanted to say, “Wait! No no no! I’m not a jerk — I’m totally about to leave for the airport, as soon I as get my unshowered carcass out of bed and get my toiletries together.” The worst part of any surprise party, I think, is the slow-forming disappointment of the surprisee, followed by the anxiety of the surpriser.

In addition to my excitement about ringing in my mom’s 60th year,* I was stoked to revisit old haunts, childhood landmarks, and other Sites of Great Personal Importance. I’m unfailingly, unflinchingly pro-nostalgia: you should know this by now. Give me the chance to eat at the diner where I smoked my first cigarette, and I’ll flag a cab.** Suggest a trip to the all-night buffet I frequented in college, and I’ll be the first in line for fried catfish. Ali, knowing the true depths of my love for emotionally historic places, suggested that we stop at Ruby Tuesday on the way home from the airport — yes, we were going to the GARDEN BAR.

Ah, the Garden Bar. A relatively recent addition to my pantheon of emotionally charged eateries, Ruby Tuesday was a favored lunchtime destination when Ali and I lived in Western Mass. Weekends, we’d drive to the Holyoke Mall (blasting Greek pop or Cat Power, depending on who was driving), check out Gap, swing through Banana, play with the puppies at the mangy pet store near Macy’s. All this shopping, window and otherwise, wore us down, though, and we typically looked to Ruby Tuesday for revival.

The Garden Bar isn’t notable for the uniqueness of its ingredients (or, really, the preparation thereof). In actuality, it’s a better-than-average salad bar that gets waaaay more hype than it deserves. But in the context of semi-rural Massachusetts, it was a good find; in the context of the mall, it was a downright godsend. My typical salad was a bed of Romaine hearts topped with feta, chickpeas, olives, broccoli florets, and those ueber-greasy dark brown croutons that taste perfectly of synthetic butter. To round things out (“round things out”), I’d get a beer. Ali preferred the prepared salads, though she also liked the croutons. Speaking of which, I’m tempted to research the ingredients of those things — the color suggests pumpernickel rye, but there’s no way in hell those bad boys are made of anything but the most refined flour.

So anyway, my first activity upon arrival (after claiming my bag, natch) was to hit up the Garden Bar. Predictably, this GB wasn’t as glorious as the one in my memory (no feta, no grape tomatoes, shriveled edamame, yuck!), and the pint-sized*** G&T I ordered was also helllla watery. (Seriously: it rehydrated me better than the glass of tap water that I chugged.) I won’t disclose what Ali ate — to do so would cast aspersions on her veganism — but sis agreed that this experience didn’t live up to those of halcyon, Holyoke days.

We didn’t expect it to. And if it had, our pleasure in the meal would have been lessened — after all, the best part of nostalgia is wincing at the recognition that the now doesn’t stack up to the then: a recognition that allows entry into a meandering, rose-tinted conversation: just the sort of conversation to be had in a vacant suburban mall at 11PM on a Saturday.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Joseph (Josef?), our server extraordinaire. Wearing a black crewneck tee**** (and, OH GOD, puca shells), his greasy black hair pulled into a low ponytail, Joseph(f) clearly considered himself a stud. And maybe he is — in suburban Minnesota. None of us was impressed, least of all my mom. As he took our orders, he winked at each of us in turn. Every five minutes, he swung by our table, croonily asking if he could be of service. (“Bring more cheddar baked biscuits!” my sis requested, and then Sir Incompetent brought two instead of three.) The final straw was Joseph(f)’s parting question. “Can I assist you ladies at all with the payment process?” he asked, leaning over our table.

“Just bring the damn check,” my mother said.

***

*And I know my mom is hating on me right now for mentioning her age twice: SORRY MOM. For the record, I am 27 — fair’s fair, ja?

**For the record, I smoked my first cigarette in the parking lot of a Golden Valley(?) Starbucks. I needed help using the lighter. ALSO, there are no cabs in suburban Minnesota, but I was hyperbolizing: forgive me.

***In this context, “pint-sized” isn’t a euphemism: the drink was actually served in a 16-ounce glass.

****Maybe I’ve lived in the city too long, but I’m starting to prefer v-neck tees on dudes. (Acknowledgment: yes, I’ve lived here too long.) In my defense, I don’t mind seeing a little bit of skin. Ladies have been baring their chests for ages; what’s so bad about dude skin? More specifically, how can anyone hate on tatted up dude skin graced with an industrially themed necklace? I mean…

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