published Sunday, April 24th, 2011

Five family-friendly restaurants

In addition to its regular menu, Southern Star offers a rotating mix of meats and side dishes daily. (Staff File Photo by Angela Lewis)
In addition to its regular menu, Southern Star offers a rotating mix of meats and side dishes daily. (Staff File Photo by Angela Lewis)

Editor’s note: This column was adapted from a previously published column on the same subject by Mark Kennedy.

The quickest way to start a war in our family is to ask this: “So where would you guys like to eat?” The minute this question is asked, slap fights break out inside our Subaru.

The first round of negotiations usually goes something like this:

“Its my turn to pick,” asserts my 4-year-old son.

“No, you picked last time,” argues my 9-year-old son.

“No I didn’t, YOU did,” injects my younger son.

“How about we let the adults pick,” I say. “Mommy, where would you like to eat?”

“I don’t care,” she says. “Where would YOU like to go?

D’oh.

The funny thing is that we nearly always end up defaulting to one of about five places. Here, more or less in order, are my crew’s favorite family restaurants.

5. Subway. For some reason this chain of sandwich stores dovetails well with my sons’ many idiosyncrasies. The sandwich artists don’t blink, for example, when my youngest son orders a plain cheese sandwich — hold the bread. This order results in the world’s most expensive cheese slice.

My 9-year-old likes to get a 6-inch Subway turkey sandwich and gnaw on it horizontally; ultimately yielding a length of uneaten crust that might best be described as a sandwich rind.

“Son, why do you eat your sandwich like corn-on-the-cob,” I asked him.

“What?” he said incredulously.

4. Pizza Hut. Weeknight trips to Pizza Hut are a tradition in my family. We discovered we could call ahead and have two pizzas slide out of the oven the moment we hit the door.

Restaurants get our seal of approval not so much for the quality of the food as for the quality of the video games. At Pizza Hut we can give the boys a dollar’s worth of quarters and actually get in five minutes of adult conversation.

The pizza isn’t bad either.

3. Red Lobster. When we actually want to have an adult meal and keep the boys happy, too, we head to Red Lobster. The cheese biscuits are the one common denominator in our family’s diet. We have convinced the boys that spending quality time with the lobby lobsters is like a little trip to the aquarium.

2. Steak ’n Shake. On the subject of diversionary tactics, Steak ’n Shake has the best handouts for kids of any family restaurant. My boys tinker endlessly with the little cardboard cars and stickers that are standard issue at Steak ’n Shake.

My older son has also bought into the whole steakburger thing, too.

“They’re not just burgers,” he says with a twinkle in his eye. “They’re steakburgers.”

It’s good, at a young age, to appreciate the finer things in life.

1. Southern Star. More than any other restaurant, my family loves Southern Star, the South Broad Street landmark.

A good kids restaurant starts with good fries, and Southern Star has the best in town. They’ve also got actual vegetables that the boys will eat — fried okra, anyone?

Most of all, Southern Star reminds me of the small-town, family-owned restaurants that are the culinary backbone of Mainstreet USA. In my book, it’s part of a child’s education to have at least one independent restaurant they’ll always associate with their hometown. For my lads, their path home from college will be guided by the Southern Star.

about Mark Kennedy...

Mark Kennedy is the editor of the Times Free Press opinion pages and writes the Sunday “Life Stories” column. He also writes a Saturday automotive column, “Test Drive,” for the Business section. For 13 years, Kennedy was features editor of the newspaper, and before that he was the newspaper’s first Sunday editor. The Times Free Press Life section won the state press award for Best Community Lifestyles four times during his tenure. Before Chattanooga’s newspapers ...

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