Enhancing Homemade Meals With A Little Help From Restaurants

Restaurants don’t just come in handy when you want to order a full meal. Often, you can purchase small items not listed on the menu to improve a dinner you are cooking yourself. A couple instances of utilizing a restaurant for an “assist” occurred this past week in Spokane, thus serving as my inspiration for this blog post. Let me give you five examples…

Ice from Sonic – It is no secret, Sonic is as famous for its ice as it is for its Sonic Blasts. A brand new Sonic just opened up a couple minutes from my parents’ house and my brother and Sid decided to stop by last week to pick up some lunch. Besides the grilled cheese sandwiches and mozzarella sticks they brought home, they also carried in a bag of Sonic ice. For just $0.99, they were given a bag filled with the famous “nugget” ice. We kept it out on our back porch and scooped our cups in it all week long when we went to fix a drink. My mom even commented that it made her soda taste better!

Taco Salad Shells from Taco Bell – When my mom would host her Bunco group, she would make homemade taco salad…well, almost homemade. Although she labored on the salad itself, she went to a famous fast food restaurant for the containers to serve it in. For $0.10 each, you can purchase taco shell bowls at Taco Bell. They are great for entertaining as you normally don’t see taco shell bowls outside of restaurants.

Fortune Cookies from any Asian Restaurants – Sure you can buy a box of fortune cookies at the grocery store but if you want the homemade or obscure variety, just walk inside any Asian restaurant and ask the hostess. Some places will charge a quarter per cookie while other places will happily give you a handful for free. Trust me, I have a lot of experience with this. Fortune cookies can provide the perfect surprise ending to any homemade Chinese feast.

You can walk inside any Asian restaurant and request fortune cookies.

Alfredo Sauce from Papa Murphy’s – Growing up, I always enjoyed it when my mom would let us kids make homemade pizza for dinner. She would set all the ingredients out on the table and let us have at it. While she provided the red pizza sauce herself, she called upon Papa Murphy’s to provide the white sauce. A couple hours before we prepared our pies, she would go inside the store and get several plastic condiment cups, usually $.50 each, of the delicious alfredo sauce served by my favorite pizza chain. Being able to choose an ingredient from an actual pizza place was always fun.

Salad Dressing from Tomato Street – There is a fabulous Italian restaurant in Spokane called Tomato Street. Besides its to-die-for pastas and savory garlic bread, it also has a reputation for an amazing creamy garlic salad dressing. For our Christmas dinner, my mom topped the salad with dressing she went and purchased at the busy restaurant the day before. No store bought dressing could ever compete with what Tomato Street serves and my mom took full advantage of it.


Do you use any side items from restaurants to enhance your homemade meals? If so, let me know. You can get pretty creative. Don’t Blink.

What More Restaurants Should Do

Yesterday, I ate lunch with Sidney’s family out on the patio at a popular Myrtle Beach restaurant. With temperatures reaching into the 70s, it was a great afternoon enjoying the atmosphere that River City Café provides. Part of the charm of the place is the ability to use provided crayons to color on the paper table cover. My niece and nephew certainly let their creative juices flow over the course of the lunch.

Enjoying our lunch at River City Cafe during the gorgeous Myrtle Beach afternoon (photo cred to Brenda).

This reminded me of my favorite restaurant in Spokane. Tomato Street is a well-known Italian restaurant in the north part of the city that offers amazing food and, just like River City Café, a one-of-a-kind atmosphere. In addition to the cans of tomato sauce that line the walls, the chalkboard stations that are installed around the restaurant, and the servers who take “flair” to a whole new level there is another “experience building” part of Tomato Street. Whenever a family sits down at a table, it is covered in a fresh white sheet of paper. A cleaned out can of tomato sauce filled with color crayons waits upon the blank slate. Customers go nuts letting their inner artist run wild.

Tomato Street in Spokane is my favorite restaurant.

When drawing on a Tomato Street table, you always want to do your best work. Why? Well, the restaurant will take the very best pieces of dinner art and display them in a glass showcase located in the very large waiting area. When we were younger, it was always a thrill for my family to go to Tomato Street and see if the drawings we did on our previous visit made the showcase. Before social media, it was one of the very best and creative examples of user generated content.

A drawing my dad did of me a couple years ago at Tomato Street. No, it did not make the showcase.

So, what is so special about coloring on the top of a table? Thousands of restaurants across the country do it, right? Yes and yes. However, these days I am surprised that more restaurants don’t do it, primarily because of the phrase I used to end the previous paragraph.

Besides being cost effective and besides serving as a way to entertain guests, Tomato Street utilizes paper table covers as a way for customers to help promote its restaurant (aka user generated content). When someone is drawing/coloring at a restaurant, the common tendency is to create something that is somewhat related to that restaurant. It was not a coincidence that the drawings that made the Tomato Street showcase had something to do with Tomato Street. Each piece of art hung was basically a testimonial for the restaurant.

Now we are in the age of social media. No longer do these pieces of user generated content need to be sheltered inside the walls of the restaurant for people who are already customers to see. Social media can now take these ultra-creative works of art and broadcast them out to an audience that could potentially reach millions. Forget marketing slogans, forget corporate designed logos, and forget staged photos…table cover art made by actual customers is where it is at!

Sure, any restaurant that converts from a traditional table cloth to one that allows customers to draw on it is not reinventing the wheel. The ploy has been around forever. But from what I have seen, businesses have yet to monopolize on this quirky method inside of the digital world. For the Instagram or Facebook account of any restaurant looking for fresh content to post, I think a gold mine awaits with customer produced table art. Don’t Blink.

Off to Iowa

Besides a very quick trip to the east coast earlier this month I have remained stationed in Missoula since late December. Now I love the town I live in but after a certain amount of time any reasonable person needs to “get out” for a little bit. Thankfully for me I will have a little weekend respite.

I busted out of work a little early today and made the 200+ mile drive to Spokane. As I sit in my parents’ recently remodeled kitchen I am passing the time until we go to our favorite Italian restaurant to celebrate my sister’s 30th birthday. For a milestone occasion such as this it definitely required that I make the trip back west to join in on the festivities. After tonight’s celebration I will be traveling back in the eastward direction tomorrow, although it will be well past Missoula.

My sister turns 30 today. Happy Birthday, Miranda!

My sister turns 30 today. Happy Birthday, Miranda!

Tomorrow early morning I will hop on a plane and go to Iowa City, Iowa. I am going to the Hawkeye State to visit my friend, Carissa. As she visited me in Missoula this past February I now have the opportunity to make the return trip to her territory. I am excited as I have never been to Iowa before. I look forward to seeing a new place and making memories.

Carissa when she came and visited me in Missoula....I swear I will never use a Snap Chat photo in my blog ever again.

Carissa when she came and visited me in Missoula….I swear I will never use a Snap Chat photo in my blog ever again.

Although I hear the internet works perfectly fine in Iowa City I will not be posting to Don’t Blink during my mini vacation. Please feel free to check my Twitter account for “important updates.” If you know my sister, make sure to wish her a happy birthday. Have a great weekend everyone. Don’t Blink.