Saturday, March 04, 2006

Friday Night at Joe's

My husband and I are supremely lazy. He is the "chef" in our home, but with so many good restaurants nearby, he often gets a reprieve from cooking because we opt to eat out.

If we're ambitious and don't mind driving a bit, there are dozens of restaurants spread between Disney World, I-Drive, and Doctor Phillips. If we're more sedentary, there are plenty of options in Celebration, such as Town Tavern, Max's, D'Antonio's, Columbia, and and the Plantation Room at the Celebration Hotel. On the outskirts of town, at the Water Tower Place shopping center, there is Joe's Crab Shack and a plethora of fast food options (Moe's, which serves mexican food, World of Wings, and Chik-Fil-A, as well as Cold Stone Creamery for decadent desserts).

Last Friday, we both had the same idea. A little before dinnertime, hubby asked, "What do you want to eat tonight?" Before he could start listing options, I blurted, "I have a taste for snow crab. Let's go to Joe's!" He snickered and admitted, "That's exactly what I was thinking, too. I was going to list all the stuff in the pantry and then say 'Or maybe we should just go out for seafood.'" I guess we've been married long enough for our cranial patterns to synchronize...or maybe we were both just brainwashed by the the continual Joe's commercial plugging their shrimp special.

Since it was the weekend, and prime dinnertime to boot, we thanked our lucky stars that we have a Rainforest Cafe card. I like to refer to it as the "Out of My Way, Mere Mortals" card for its ability to move the bearer to the front of the line at Rainforest and its related restaurant chains, including Joe's. No matter what day of the week it might be, no matter whether it's a peak diningtime, and even if it's the middle of prime theme park season, it's nice to know there are a couple of restaurants where we can get immediate seating.

We piled into Crush (our NEV) and set off for Water Tower Place. I really enjoy having a Neighborhood Electric Vehicle; we never drive Canyonero anymore when we're staying within the Celebration Bubble. I just wish that we had a grocery store within NEV reach, but that seems to be the Impossible Dream ever since Goodings bailed out of WTP. For now, we have to fire up our fossil fuel-burning behemoth of an SUV in order to navigate 192 to Publix.

But Joe's is well within NEV reach, and soon we were pulling into the parking lot. I didn't even bother to try for a nearby parking spot. I left Crush on the other side of the "park" (I use that term's a scraggly-looking rectangle of grass, columns, and an algae-laden fountain) and we hiked over to the restaurant. Knowing that a big seafood meal was comin up, I figured that we could use the extra exercise.

Joe's was just as crowded as I had imagined that it would be. People were clustered in little knots outside the building, and a crowd was milling inside, too. Apparently the wait was well over an hour. We stepped up to the podium, wielding the Brown Card of Power. The person working check-in glanced at it briefly and told me, "You give that to your server for your discount." Her pen was poised over a list of names thicker than "War and Peace" as she prepared to add our name to the end.

"Uh, don't we get to cut the line with this?" I blurted. She looked at me as though I was speaking Chinese, and I had the sinking feeling that me might be denied our meal. I certainly didn't want to wait 90 minutes, and I knew that the wait at the other restaurants on 192 would likely be just as bad. I could picture us back at Duloc Manor, eating spaghetti or some other hastily whipped-up option.

Thankfully, another worker was passing by and overheard the exchange. She explained the power of The Card to the newbie, and a moment later we were being led to our booth. I felt a bit of sympathy for the hoi polli, but it was tempered with the knowledge that they, too, could purchase a card and gain the same privilege.

This was the first time we had eaten at Joe's since they added biscuits and salad. Their meals were plenty hearty in the past, but I guess they're trying to compete with Red Lobster so now they have reach a new level of decadence. I knew that I didn't need an appetizer, but I ended up getting one anyway. Two things spurred me: a) it was free with the God Card (you have a choice of either an appetizer or a 10% discount on your total bill); and b) the lobster bisque is just so darned delicious. I knew that my husband would help me consume it, especially since Joe's is very generous with the portion of lobster meat.

I discovered an intriguing new addition to the drink menu: a mini-margarita. Of course I had to give it a try. For dinner, I selected my usual, which is a snow crab and coconut shrimp combo, while my husband opted for a shrimp special from the promotional menu.

The new salad is served family-style like it is at Olive Garden (vs. Red Lobster's individual portions). This means that you have no choice other than house dressing, but thankfully it was quite tasty. Rolls and cornbread also come with the meal now. My husband took custody of the roll, which was fine with me. I am a corn bread buff, so I was more than happy to claim it.

My crab legs were yummy as always, and the coconut shrimp was a real treat. It's become such a popular item at so many restaurants...everywhere from Red Lobster to Bubba Gump's (and that's a good thing).

The service had been prompt, and our food had come up quickly, so we were in and out within an hour. As we headed back to Crush, my husband pointed out that some of the same people we had passed on our way in were still waiting. I felt a slight pang of guilt, but once again I reminded myself that the cards are available to all comers who care to buy one. It's actually a great bargain because they refund the fee back to you in restaurant gift certificates.

I suppose that it would have been healthier to eat at home, but sometimes you just need to treat yourself. I'll just blame it on the television commercials.

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