Dining: Whither Chi-Chi's?
Bill noticed that I mentioned off-handedly that Chi-Chi's had closed in my last post, and asked when. The answer is very recently, during October, I think.
The long version is that the restaurant chain has been in slow decline for a decade. After several attempts to revitalize their menu, and to switch to a more lunch-centric offering, with an express lunch bar, they sort of settled into a maintenance pattern of adequate food and a moderately lively bar.
Alas, reliance on cheaper and cheaper ingredients to maintain their bottom line was probably their undoing. They got a shipment of green onions from Mexico, and it was contaminated. The story made the national news, because 600 people got sick with Hepatitis A, and 3 died.
After that, the restaurant limped on for a year, losing about 1/4 of its restaurants nationwide, but I think the brand had become indelibly linked with low-quality food in people's minds. I went there twice during this period, and while the food was still about the same, there simply weren't any people there.
Finally, a few months ago, all 76 remaining restaurants were sold to Outback Steakhouse. A few weeks ago, they all ceased operations. Outback apparently bought only the buildings and properties, not the brand or any of the menu items, and plans to either sell them or convert them to restaurants under the Outback Umbrella. (Outback Steakhouse, Fleming's Prime Steakhouse and Wine Bars, Bonefish Grill, Carrabba's Italian Grill, Roy's Hawaiian Fusion Cuisine, and Cheeseburger in Paradise)
Here's the best news story on it I could find. I'm mostly going to miss the one on the west side because that's where I met my wife, culinarily, it has been supplanted by other restaurants for some time.
In Madison, Pedro's is the obvious choice for people looking for something with about the same feel, but I feel like I should put in good words for La Hacienda on Park Street and Laredo's near West Gate, which have a slightly less corporate style.