Growing up we didn't eat out much, so when we did it was kind of a big deal. When my kids were little we ate at home during the week, but frequently had Friday dinners out someplace—usually Mexican food (what do you expect, we live in Phoenix!). This was sort of a treat as well and going someplace fancy was a real bonus.
Now, it seems that whole balance has been reversed. I'm embarrassed to confess that as empty-nesters we eat out as many (or more) nights as we stay in. I'm an OK cook but just never got the bug that many women (and men) get to follow Rachel Ray's recipes or be an Emeril-type chef at home. I grill a lot, make the old standards like meatloaf and pasta dishes and once in a while try something adventurous. It's fine, but the effort-to-enjoyment ratio (no matter how wonderful the outcome) just never seems to balance out. Maybe you get total satisfaction and it's worth every minute; not me.
Also, my husband loves to go out for dinner. Maybe my cooking is even worse than I know, but I think it's more that he doesn't like me to have to put such effort into something that is done and gone in just a few minutes. Then there's always the cleanup and that delays one, or both of us from sitting down and enjoying our evening together.
The problem now lies in finding new options. We like to stay close to home, especially midweek, and don't want to drop loads of cash, so seeking out places that fill these requirements is a challenge.
My husband really likes Applebee's for a midweek meal. He likes their steaks and riblets and I don't mind some of their salads. But chain restaurants are not my first choice, although we do love our buddies at Carrabba's. I'm not even remotely a food snob, I just enjoy the uniqueness of little neighborhood places. Getting to know (and be known by) the proprietors and servers makes it feel homey and comfortable, like grandma's kitchen or Cheers. The freedom they have to top off your glass of wine or refill your soup without "ringing it up" makes it feel more like a family affair than a transaction.
My local favorites include Skip and Jan's Sports Bar, Ruffino's Italian Cuisine, Sign of the Whale, Arrivederci Ristorante and CK's Tavern and Grill. The newest addition to my list is Casey Moore's. The food is tasty, comes out fast and the company is good at these spots. The owners and servers always treat frequent diners like friends instead of clients. And, as Bob Barker would say, "The price is right."Wherever you are, surely you have a few favorites of your own. Tell us where and why you like them. I'll be in Boston this week...any great hole-in-the-wall joints to suggest? Comment below.