A NOTE FROM THE LBC: Lee Steele continues our expansion on the Lunch Break Chronicles with this post out of Bridgeport.
What the elite eat at the Holiday Inn
When our tickets to the Bridgeport Symphony arrived recently, they came with a small flier that let us know that as ticket-holders, we qualified to partake in a $20 pre-show prix fixe menu at the Holiday Inn, about a mile from the concert hall. The offer was exclusively for symphony-bound diners with seatings between 5:30 and 6. Imagining the rarefied air of a private room with the area’s most distinguished longhairs, we phoned the hotel for our rightful spots in the dining room.
I’ve eaten at banquets and parties held at Bridgeport’s only downtown hotel, and they were carried off very well. So it seemed reasonable to think that dinner service for a much smaller crowd would reap great culinary rewards.
As often as I have been to the Holiday Inn, I have never eaten in its dining room. I’ve never been particularly drawn to the nondescript area off the lobby. Even after extensive hotel renovations, which greatly upgraded the cocktail bar and lobby, the brightly lit dining room is amazingly undistinguished. Completely open to the lobby and the corridor that leads to banquet rooms, the area appears geared mainly for the breakfast buffet for hotel guests. But never mind — $20 for three courses of the Holiday Inn’s best food, in the company of the city’s most discriminating patrons, is a deal.
We arrived at 5:30, and some people were already seated.We’re not exactly kids — let’s just say I’m on the cusp of the baby boom and generation x — but we were easily the youngest people there. But it was nice to be in the company of well-dressed and well-mannered patrons. I had the feeling of suddenly, if only temporarily, belonging to a private club. We were the symphony crowd. My joy, however, was short lived.
We knew we were in trouble when we saw the pedestrian choices on the menu — beef stroganoff, chicken Kiev and salmon with dill sauce were the main entrees. Starters were houses salad or mushroom soup and the only dessert selection was coffee cake, take it or leave it, with coffee. Liquor was not included in the price, but the need to take the hard edges off the experience drew me to the very short wine list. The list of red wines was very, very short. Only one wine was available.
The first course didn't look like much, but wasn't bad.
When the food came, the mushroom soup was actually a barley soup that contained some mushroom bits, but was actually pretty good. We each had the beef stroganoff, bland and forgettable — I asked for more sour cream, which improved its thin broth. Our nearby diners had the chicken kiev, perfectly formed beige torpedoes; and the salmon dish, which looked fine from a distance but did nothing to restore my faith in the kitchen. Of course, nothing looks good under the relentless bright lights of this dining room.
Looking around, however, our fellow patrons, all of whom were closer to my parents’ age, seemed pleased. One customer scolded the waiter for taking too long to fetch his check, but we never overheard one word about the food or the ambiance.Thinking back to those times I’ve dined with my parents, the things I complained about are the things they would have appreciated. Ambient lighting and creative cuisine lose their charm once you have to use a flashlight to read the menu and worry if the chef’s concoction will agree with you once you’re seated at the symphony.
This Holiday Inn prix fixe will always have a following, as long as the symphony-going, bargain-seeking, early-bird-dinner generation is around. Before long, I may be joining that very generation.