I love to cook. I’m not exactly sure where my love of cooking came from seeing as my mom hasn’t got the knack for it (although, we joke that she is an expert “arranger” of already prepared food), and as far as I can remember, my maternal grandmother’s most common culinary advice after 40 years of feeding her family–most often delivered while she stood at the stove for hours stirring a pot of her famous chicken soup–was to get myself a maid when I grew up.
But nevertheless, pre-mommyhood my idea of a fabulous Saturday night dinner was to spend the morning pouring over my beloved cookbooks, my afternoon browsing at the grocery store for ingredients, and my evening leisurely preparing a multi-course meal. No joke. I love it! (Is my family lucky or what?!) However, now that I spend my days waiting on the world’s pickiest patron, come the weekend there is nothing I want more than to have someone serve me for a change. Not to mention that when you have small children you really can’t do anything at a leisurely pace anymore, am I right?
So that gave me the idea to start this OAAM series dedicated to dining out with your little one(s). And to kick it off, I’ve got a restaurant that you might never have expected to be a good pick for the toddler set: Plan B Burger Bar in Glastonbury.
I didn’t expect it to be a hit either. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE Plan B. It’s one of my favorite restaurants. I just didn’t think an establishment that prominently features the words “beer” and “bourbon” in its marketing materials was going to be the best place to take my 16-month-old. But it was the evening before Christmas Eve, holiday vacation was in full swing, and we were ready to do a little celebrating. Why not? I figured worst case scenario we could just get everything wrapped up to go and zip home. It’s only about a mile away from our house.
The first rule of going out to dinner with your small child is this: go early. We like to try for 4:30, which generally means we’ll make it there by 5:00. Most restaurants are pretty empty at that time since lunch is long over and the dinner rush is at least an hour away. This means no wasting precious pre-meltdown time waiting for a table. It also means you can generally have your pick of the tables in the restaurant. We always try for booths because we find the extra square footage at the table helps us keep all the dinner plates and utensils out of Boo’s reach, not to mention space to stash the diaper bag, hats, coats, mittens, etc. Smaller tables with chairs may seem like a fine choice, but once the food starts coming you quickly realize that there’s only a sliver of space safe from a toddler’s surprisingly extended reach. Trust me. Even if it’s just the two of you, take the nice big booth. No one will bother you about that at 4:30.
This particular evening, we arrived at Plan B around 5:00. The restaurant is located in a shopping plaza called Eric Town Square, and the parking areas are accessible from Hebron Avenue on one side and Rankin Road on the other side.
The surface parking lot was full, so we had to seek a space in the underground parking garage (all free parking).
Probably due to the proximity of the holidays, there was already a small wait when we got there. Fortunately, the waiting area is of decent size, and there are quite a few benches and chairs around.
As we stood in the vestibule with our pager, I was starting to get that “this is a bad idea” feeling. As I looked around, I noticed that the place was packed with basically two types of people: young, single people streaming in and out of the bar area, and families with older kids munching happily on burgers in the main dining room. No babies. The hostess hadn’t seemed fazed when I told her we’d need a high chair, but I was beginning to wonder if she’d heard me correctly. I didn’t see them anywhere.
After only a few minutes our pager buzzed, and I steeled myself for what I was sure was the start of the most horrendous dining experience of my mommy life so far. So you can imagine my shock when we were led to a nice, big, out-of-the-way booth with, gasp, a high chair already on the end of it. Things were looking up.
Next we were given the kids’ menu, complete with crayons. Hey, it looked pretty good. Nice variety. (Sorry, I didn’t get a pic until Boo had already created his masterpiece).
Right now, my picky Boo is pretty much on what my pediatrician likes to call “the beige diet.” Cereal, pasta, bread, potatoes–anything that’s relatively bland and doesn’t have any kind of interesting texture to it. So we ordered him noodles with butter and a side of fries. His dinner came with a drink too, so we got him milk. It came in a plastic cup with a lid and a straw.
That is a pretty large portion for a kid’s plate. I was thrilled that Boo even agreed to try the pasta, and completely happy that he mostly munched on the fries. That, for us, is real progress with new and unusual foods.
Which brings me to the second rule of going out to dinner with your small child: bring back-up provisions. Even the best kids’ menu can fail when your toddler is a picky eater. So we always pack a few snack foods that are convenient to whip out in a restaurant.
Whatever his mood, Boo can usually be coaxed to eat an assortment of freeze-dried fruit and yogurt snacks. He also loooooves cereal bars. Sometimes he eats them three times a day. So we’ve always got one of those in the pack too.
Boo is pretty fond of Cheerios too, and they fit nicely enough in a small plastic zipper bag. But my favorite, most ingenious invention for feeding on the go is what most moms I’ve met simply call “the pouch” (although, we call them “squeezies” in my family).
They come in all sorts of scrumptious flavors (pumpkin cranberry apple, anyone?) and have a nifty straw-like neck beneath the screw-off/screw-back-on-again-if-there’s-leftovers cap that eliminates the need for plates, bowls, spoons and, once your child masters self-administration, even napkins. (Just beware that there might be a bit of a learning curve to get your child to be able to hold the pouch himself without squirting the contents everywhere but in his mouth. So in the beginning, DO have those napkins handy.)
Even just a few months ago I had to travel across “the river” to search out the best variety at my nearest Target, or order them online through Amazon (great price but you do have to buy in bulk–free shipping on most though). But apparently there’s been a recent pouch proliferation, and the other day I was pleased to find a whole slew of them at my local Shoprite grocery store. They’ve gone mainstream. Even Gerber makes their own version now. (I’m always looking for good deals on these so do share if you’ve got tips!)
I should also mention these handy stick-on disposable placements.
I tried all kinds of suction cup plates that promised me that my toddler would not be able to detach them from the table. Boo’s plate-popping record is 4 seconds. Don’t even bother. Stick on a mat, let him make a mess, toss it away. There are reusable placemats out there in baby product land too, but I’ve never seen one that actually sticks to the table (anything with adhesive strips can’t really be reusable; it’s like a giant sticker). And since that stick factor is key, I haven’t even bothered to try them. Although, it would be nice to find a product that works AND generates less waste. If anyone’s got ideas, I’d love to hear them.
We also bring these inexpensive Take & Toss products with us wherever we go. I do wash and reuse them most of the time (they are pretty durable and dishwasher safe), but it’s nice to feel like I can throw them away (or better yet, recycle them; they are a #5 plastic) if I don’t want to stash a sticky spoon or a cup of leftover milk in the diaper bag. Plus, if you leave one behind by mistake, you won’t feel obligated to go back and get it 🙂
One word of caution though: despite what the package says, the cups are not really spill proof–there’s no valve mechanism in them, just tiny holes. So upside down cup=wet kid.
While we’re on the subject of wet kids, I’ll mention that we used to bring these disposable bibs with us too. They worked great.
Back to our dinner. I usually go for the blue cheese burger, but today I couldn’t resist the call of the bacon and avocado topping on the turkey burger. It did not disappoint. I especially love their “green fries,” which are actually salty, crunchy string beans.
Here’s a bonus: Plan B actually has tater tots as a side item on their regular menu. That’s got to be one of the top five kid foods of all time.
As you can see in the above photo, during the meal I had to pull out the reinforcements to keep Boo occupied. That is, the Mega Bloks. We never travel without Mega Bloks.
More than twice a big ol’ bunch of them landed on the floor and each time the nearest server was right there to help us scoop them up. I was impressed.
But not as impressed as I was to find this: an honest-to-goodness changing table in a separate family bathroom. You can’t even find that at many kiddie restaurants!
What a fun evening. I had certainly misjudged this establishment’s kid-friendliness. It’s now one of our favorite places to take Boo. There’s lots of big booths (all Plan B booths seat 6 adults) with plenty of space in the aisle to put a high chair on the end.
Plus, a terrific kids’ menu, a friendly waitstaff, and a great changing area. One last nice surprise: I had been concerned that the restaurant’s cacaphony of loud music and loud conversation would be a tad much for Boo. Not only did he not seem to mind it one bit, but the place was so noisy that when Boo did throw a tiny tantrum or two, no one else could hear it. Score! But the best part of all was that hubby and I could really enjoy a meal that was worth going out for.
Plan B Burger Bar
120 Hebron Avenue, Glastonbury (Eric Town Square)
Get directions here:
Other CT locations in West Hartford, Simsbury, and Milford.
Sunday-Thursday 11:30 AM to 10:00 PM
Friday & Saturday 11:30 AM to 11:00 PM
*Hours are for the kitchen; bar stays open until 1:00 AM Sun-Thurs & until 2:00 AM Fri-Sat.
Hints & Tips
1. Unfortunately, reservations are NOT accepted; no call-ahead seating either.
2. You won’t be seated until your whole party is present, so don’t try to send someone ahead to stake out a table.
3. Get there early (by 5:00) to avoid a wait; this place can get VERY busy on both weekdays and weekends.
4. There isn’t a lot of space to stash a stroller, so try to avoid bringing one into the restaurant unless it’s a small, foldable umbrella stroller (you might even be able to stick that one underneath your table).
5. Plan B also has an enticing late-night menu if you’re in need of quick date night ideas. You can leave your sleeping baby under the watchful eye of a sitter, and get yourselves a table for two 🙂
Next Tuesday we’ve got another fun, FREE place to learn and play (and it’s heated). Plus, if kids ruled the world, it might look a lot like this place. Find out where in our Thursday post.