Growing up, one of my favorite restaurants was the Ninety-Nine. I loved the jingle: “The 99 restaurant has 99 reasons you’ll always come back for more!” I loved the chicken broccoli ziti, which is probably all I ate for about four years. I loved the restaurant itself; it was warm and comfortable, and had some of those 99 reasons written on the walls. But here’s the kicker: the Ninety-Nine is a chain, with 62 locations across Massachusetts and more throughout New England. When most people think about chain restaurants, they think of inexpensive food that isn’t particularly memorable. But these days, I have a new appreciation for the chain restaurant, and I’ll tell you why.
While my go-to was the Ninety-Nine, Jeff’s favorite chain is Chili’s. And when we moved to Hoboken, we discovered that there weren’t any Ninety-Nine’s or Chili’s, or TGI-Fridays or Applebee’s or Outback for that matter. At first, this was a good thing. There were some fantastic restaurants in Hoboken, and a large part of what made them great was that they weren’t chains. Instead, they were serving delicious, unique homemade food. And most weekends, we found ourselves craving Mexican, or Italian or Chinese from one of those places. But occasionally, there were nights when we didn’t want something special; we wanted something simple, hearty, cheap and American. We wanted the kind of food we could get at a chain.
Flash forward to the present, in Bethesda. One of the first things we noticed driving around the area when we were looking for apartments was the prevalence of chain restaurants and businesses. And while at first this may make a neighborhood appear to be less hip or cool than one overrun by family businesses and trendy cafes, it brings a certain degree of comfort and feeling at home. So it’s no surprise that we found a restaurant we are quickly growing to adore, and it happens to be a chain. Rock Bottom is within walking distance of our apartment and boasts spacious bar and dining areas and roomy, comfortable booths (booths are something else that were virtually nonexistent in Hoboken, as restaurants tended to sacrifice size for a coveted space on Washington Street). It also happens to be a brewery, which means delicious but inexpensive beers.
And the food—the food is just good. It just makes you smile. The first time we went was when we came to look at apartments. We were exhausted after a very long day that had included a 3.5-hour drive down from New Jersey and about six apartment tours. I sat down and saw Veggie Mac and Cheese on the menu, and it was exactly what I needed in that moment. The second (and third) times we’ve gone, I’ve gotten this burger:
Yes, that is a fried egg and bacon on top of the burger and a crispy hashbrown beneath it. Now I am the first to admit, this isn’t a burger to be eating everyday (the Veggie Mac falls in this category too). It’s not even a burger to be eating every week. But on a day when I want something, warm, satisfying and free of any fuss or frills, it’s perfect. Most of the time, the best place to find food that fits that description is a chain restaurant, and I am incredibly happy to have them here.