Saturday, March 19, 2011

A New Dining Experience: The Pizza Ranch

It is rare for me to write about chain restaurants, but a few weeks back, I had a memorable experience that seems too good to go unwritten...

My friend had been talking about this pizza buffet that I'd never heard of for quite some time, and eventually I decided I just had to try it. So, on one fine Saturday afternoon, she and I ventured over to the St. Cloud location where I soon discovered that I just might be the last person on earth to experience the wonder that is The Pizza Ranch (indeed, a Google search shows that there are more than 100 locations across nine Midwest states).
When we arrived at The Ranch, there was a line spilling out the door and onto the sidewalk (again I wondered what kind of rock I must live under to not know of this place's mysterious powers). While there is a menu you can order from, there was no question we'd be taking in the full buffet experience.
One neat offering when you pay is that you can request a pizza type be brought to your table for the first slice straight out of the oven before it's placed on the buffet for all to share. That way, you know you'll get your favorite kind if it isn't already featured on the buffet.
You quickly learn that The Pizza Ranch has much more to offer than just pizza. In fact, my first plate had no pizza on it. I tried to start off healthy (sort of) with the salad bar. I then added some chicken fries, waffle fries and potato wedges (not so healthy).
My second (and third) plate hit the pizza jackpot. I tried multiple kinds: Bacon Cheeseburger (beef, onions, pickles, two cheeses, bacon pieces), Chicken Broccoli Alfredo (chicken, broccoli, two cheeses, zesty alfredo sauce), Texan (beef, lettuce, tomato, two cheeses, taco sauce, onions, taco chips) and more.

Each time, I loaded up on more chicken fries. I was crazy about them. And, based on real-time suggestions from friends on Facebook, I went with the Cactus Bread dessert, which was also fantastic.

It's impossible to call The Pizza Ranch one of the best restaurants I've ever been simply isn't that caliber of dining. I will say though, that I thoroughly enjoyed nearly everything I had and I left STUFFED. That's a good sign, right?

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

2 of 26: Friday Night Knitting Club

Slowly but surely seems to be the name of this game...

My second of 26 books for 2011 is The Friday Night Knitting Club by Kate Jacobs. While I'm pleased to have completed my second book while on a flight home from NYC last week, I'm a bit ashamed to admit that I did so while tears streamed down my face. Yup, it's a book that tugs at the heartstrings alright. With that:

The Details
Friday Night Knitting Club is about a single mom named Georgia, and her pre-teen daughter Dakota, making their way through life and all it has to offer in the big city. Georgia is the owner of a relatively successful knitting shop in New York City, and the story follows her and the surprising friendships she forms with a group of women who come to her shop every Friday night as part of a knitting club. The story also brings in some antagonistic characters, including Georgia's ex-boyfriend and father of her child, James, and an estranged high school best friend named Cat.

My Take
As I called out above, this book did a great job of getting the old waterworks going (though not too difficult in my case, since I tend to overly relate to or empathize with characters...both real and imaginary). That's one thing I both like and dislike at the same time. On the one hand, I love being able to relate to characters and feel what they're going through, but on the other hand, I sometimes feel that it's unnecessary to cause your readers that much emotional turmoil while reading your books (hello, Jodi Picoult and My Sister's Keeper...arguably the saddest book I've ever read).

Despite some of its emotional moments, The Friday Night Knitting Club is touching and heart-warming. It drew me in from the start, and I found myself wanting to read more every night. The true hallmarks of a good book.

What I Liked
My favorite part about the book was the time Jacobs' dedicated to character development. I love when authors shift perspectives to offer thoughts from other key characters and really delve into them as people. Throughout the story, I became invested in all of the characters individually, not just Georgia and Dakota.

What I Thought Could Have Been Better
Without giving away too much, I'll just note that as it got closer to the end, I wanted things to slow down a bit.

My Takeaways
1. Maybe I should take up a hobby like knitting.
2. Never underestimate the power of friendship.

Switching gears entirely, the third book will be The Jihad Next Door: The Lackawanna Six and Rough Justice in an Age of Terror.