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Published: Friday, 12/13/2002

T.G.I. Friday's: Lively place offers good, plentiful meals

Is T.G.I. Friday's (Friday's, for short) a bar with a kitchen, or a restaurant with a lively bar?

I posed that question to Greg, a server, who answered thoughtfully, but without hesitation: “A restaurant, even though it's noisy now. Later on” - he had dropped down beside the table to hear and be heard - “it gets a lot noisier.”

So if noise matters, you may want to rethink dinner at Friday's. Yet if you do, you risk missing a good meal, as large as if Friday's were an ethnic eatery (which it's not), good service, and a price that's easy to afford.

Friday's is a national chain, with both the positive and the negative of that category. Local restaurateurs complain that the chains, because of the power size gives them, enjoy advantages of price small competitors simply cannot match. Profits, moreover, the critics say, do not stay to be reinvested in Toledo. (I must confess that I do not find this necessarily bad; on the whole, to turn around automaker Bunkie Knudsen's notorious quote, what's good for the country is good for Toledo.)

Added to these indictments is a menu that looks pretty much the same in New England, the Great Plains, and Arizona (the Scottsdale, Ariz., Friday's has valet parking!); no creativity, no happy surprises in a Friday's kitchen.

There's a positive face. Many Friday's servers are students, bright, quick, confident, skillfully interweaving class schedules with jobs that pay tuition. Well capitalized, successful restaurant chains also bring together high talent to develop menus, marketing, and service; if the individual kitchen employee's creativity is limited, what he puts on your plate is a “cook by number” meal that's pretty good eating.

Quesadillas are a cosmopolitan touch, though these tasty little foldovers, little sandwiches, really, are rapidly becoming a popular appetizer. It all depends on the seasoning of what goes with the fine-ground meat inside; Friday's does this well.

I can't endorse another cosmopolitan touch from the far side of the world - pot stickers - without a qualification. With these again, all, or very close to all, of the pleasure depends on the seasoning of naturally succulent shredded pork roast. For my perhaps eccentric taste, the cup of soy/ginger dipping sauce was very mild; no snap at all. On top of that, the pastry, though soaked and lightly fried, was not delightfully almost-soggy, the way it is served at a Chinese table. Maybe the next time I'll go back to familiar, predictable potato skins.

Spend some time going over the menu, which is bright and complicated, for taken slowly it will stir taste responses you haven't exercised for some time. I find the illustrations almost misleading, pulling my attention from the information that most matters.

Steaks, ribs, and more, it says, followed by a New York strip, and beef fajitas.

From the next section I picked a monster lemon chicken, three large slices of a meaty chicken breast grilled together, then served with a lean brown, slightly lemony sauce that did go well with the chicken gravy, mushrooms, and such under a slice of drab American or maybe “processed” cheese. Served up with a mountain of julienne-sliced fries, it was more than I was able to eat.

Of course, my lack of appetite might have been due to a cup of a very good, meaty chowder, with bites of seafood, vegetables, and such.

There's a traffic light at the intersection of Airport Highway and Bernath Parkway, so turning into the parking area from either direction is easy.

Friday's may look like a young professionals' after-hours hang-out, and relatively young men and women do indeed add life and sound. Look closer, however, and you will see a goodly number of grey-to-white-haired customers who make up part of the crowd.



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