Chain Reaction

Steve is miffed. A 12-year Valley resident and self-proclaimed weekly reader of New Times, he says he has "never been so enraged by an article to [prompt him to] respond to the paper," except for my recent review of Seasons in Scottsdale.

Really? With all the juicy stuff that appears in New Times, it took a restaurant review to get his attention? And it was a positive review at that.

Steve tells me in a phone message that he takes issue with my statement that the dining public is insane, because they're packing chains like Macaroni Grill and Gardunos instead of stopping in at classier places like Seasons.

"I'll tell you what's insane," Steve says. "People who have special incomes and perks, who live and eat like royalty, then tell the rest of us how it is. There are a lot of working-class people who read your paper."

I'm assuming that Steve is defending the generally lower prices found at chain restaurants as to why these places are standing-room only. Entrees at Macaroni Grill and Gardunos entrees average about $12. Entrees at Seasons average $25.

While it's true that not everyone can afford to eat at Seasons on a regular basis, there are many wonderful, affordable non-chain choices in the Valley. Macaroni Grill isn't bad, it's just mediocre, and I'd rather spend my $12 on penne piccante con pollo at the charming little Arrivederci down the street.

Economics aside, the real point is that as more and more chain restaurants invade the Valley, they threaten the livelihood of our independent restaurants -- those family-owned eateries that lend distinct character to our neighborhoods. Because while Seasons is technically a corporate-owned restaurant, its menu is crafted by one the Valley's star chefs, James McDevitt of Restaurant Hapa.

"I know the new [chain] places like Bloom and Thaifoon are doing well now," says a chef who's a partner in several independent Valley restaurants. "But that's because they are new, and in a hungry area. People naturally want to check out a new place, but that means one less time they will come to my place in a month. It's kind of scary."

The dining public is insane -- not because they can't afford the good stuff, but because they'd rather spend their $12 on corporate cuisine served out of a bucket, instead of homemade food lovingly made by a real, live chef. Need proof? Just take a look at the parking lots of chains all across town.


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