Sunday, April 22, 2007

Discomfort Food

All right, all this "comfort food" blather has reminded me of another instance of the world's insanity. I don't know whether the place still exists, but when I lived in Kansas City there was a horrid little restaurant called "In A Tub." I think it was a chain, and if so, it probably ranks alongside "Papa-San Rice Bowl" as the worst fast-food chain ever.

I first became aware of In-A-Tub while visiting a member of my church in the hospital. She had been on a strict diet for a while, and she remarked to a relative who was also in the room that she would murder for an In-A-Tub taco. I asked what on earth that was, and she explained that it was a greasy little restaurant in Such-and-Such Mall, and to know it was to love it. It was her idea of "comfort food."

The next time I was at Such-and-Such Mall, I went in search of In-A-Tub. I simply had to know what all the fuss was about. I finally found it, almost completely hidden behind an escalator at the "bad neighborhood" end of the mall, where most of the stores were closed. The Mall as a whole wasn't in very good shape, to tell the truth. I found out that "In-A-Tub" took its name from the long, narrow, disposable dishes in which it served its fare. These "tubs" were made out of the same kind of paper as those old-time, cardboardy egg cartons, before styrofoam packaging came in. It was plain, unmarked, heavy paper in a nondescript shape. So, clearly, In-A-Tub could afford to devote more of its budget to producing high quality food - right?

Well, actually...

I ordered a taco and a hamburger. Both were made using the same meat, ladled out of a dish on the steamtable, which turned out to be more like a greasy sloppy-Joe than what one usually finds on a taco or hamburger. In the case of the burger, they glopped this stuff on bun, added a slice of rancid-tasting pickle, and maybe squirted mustard or ketchup on it. As for the taco, once the meat was added to a folded tortilla shell, the whole kit was clamped shut and dipped in hot oil; then they added shredded lettuce, chopped tomato, a squirt of red enchilada sauce, and - here's the clincher - some powdered cheese, like the stuff that comes in a paper envelope inside each box of storebought macaroni & cheese.

I am not exaggerating when I say that I got heartburn just watching this stuff being served to me. As bad-habit food goes, In-A-Tub was rock-bottom. When you reach the point where you drive miles out of your way to eat food like this, you have to admit: you have a problem.

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