We get off work early, and the next thing I know C. and I are whizzing down the freeway, on our way to IKEA. We head straight for the door marked EXIT, and emerge two minutes later with soft-serve frozen yogurt cones (I will save the Swedish meatballs, which I have always wanted to try, for another trip), before walking through the main entrance. I must say, frozen yogurt makes the endless maze of furniture much more bearable, even though I still get lost and have to backtrack a couple of times, emerging at last with a woven wicker basket, two pump canisters for hand soap, a jar of lingonberry preserves, chocolate-filled butter cookies, and a box of 200 bendy straws in four different colors. And it is time for dinner.
We head back over to Southcenter. I seldom go to the mall, and find myself in the suburbs even more rarely. Which means I almost never eat at the sort of chain restaurants that appear at suburban malls, places like the Cheesecake Factory or Red Lobster or Outback Steakhouse. When I was in college and $20 (including tax and tip) felt like an awful lot of money to be spending on dinner, going out to TGI Fridays and Bahama Breeze was an extravagance, especially if you ordered a drink and shared an appetizer and had dessert afterwards. My senior year of college we all loved going to Bahama Breeze - it had just opened in Rochester, NY - for piña coladas and other fruity drinks and things like flank steak marinated in jerk spices and garnished with fried plantain slices. Out of nostalgia, we almost go there for dinner, but my insatiable curiosity about Claim Jumper won out, so there we were.
Claim Jumper is a cavernous, rustic-looking (in a Disney kind of way) restaurant that serves Flinstone-sized portions of chicken and ribs and meatloaf. I had been hearing about it from another co-worker for years, about their foot-high chocolate cake and entrées large enough to feed a family of four for three days. We walk into the air-conditioned darkness and are immediately faced with the glass-fronted dessert case, showcasing their famous cake, and equally immense slices of bread pudding, cheesecake, vast bowls of apple crisp and berry cobbler. It makes me nervous. I am too old to be eating a bowl of apple crisp the size of my face. And after eating mostly eggs and vegetables and brown rice for the past few days, the sight of chickens turning on electric spits and platters of barbecue ribs being served at the next table makes me a little queasy.
Fortunately, many items on the menu come in half-portions, which is somewhat reassuring. We order our dinner and lean back in the fake-leather-covered booths (which are made out of fake-looking rocks and illuminated by green-glass-shaded lamps, the kind you see in offices and libraries of bygone eras, or at least in movies that take place in offices and libraries of bygone eras). Our appetizer arrives, loaded potato skins, covered in melted cheese and sprinkled with bacon bits, the crispy skins surrounding a hollowed-out potato bowl filled with sour cream for dipping. The potato skins are probably deep-fried, and I feel my arteries clogging up with every bite, but they are addictive. I can't remember the last time I ate this sort of thing, and it will probably be a very long time before I can bring myself to do it again.
The rotisserie chicken is pretty good, served with perfectly fine grilled asparagus and red-skinned mashed (or I should say smashed) potatoes; the garlic toast is buttery and sprinkled with bits of orange cheese, which I find disquieting. I like garlic bread, and I like Texas toast, but it should not come sprinkled with orange cheese. Even parmesan from a cardboard tube would be less disturbing. But it was still a good dinner, if not a great dinner. I would come here again, after a trip to IKEA or the mall, laden with packages and more than ready to sink into a cozy booth for a dinner of roast chicken or meatloaf with mashed potatoes. And I would save room for the foot-high chocolate cake.