DEFCON Dining: Brown Bag Deli

I've gone on record (see the comments section on Katharine Shilcutt's recent post about dining with children) about my kids being pretty good when it comes to restaurants, both in terms of their behavior and their willingness to branch out and try what some might not consider "kid-friendly" foods. On a good day, my older daughter will eat pretty much anything you put in front of her, and will stay in her seat while doing it. On a bad day, it's about all we can do to maintain our sanity while providing our kids with something, anything, they'll actually eat. For such days, it's a good idea to have a back-pocket list of anytime restaurants.

Parents, you know what I'm talking about. Places that can be counted on to deliver food your kids won't scorn, childishly picky noses in the air. Places where slightly raised voices and seat-bouncing won't get you glared at like you farted in church. There are, of course, varying levels for such situations, DEFCON-like in their escalating threat, which necessitate different types of restaurants.

Last week, we had a DEFCON 3 dining event, and headed over to Brown Bag Deli. There are a few key elements to Brown Bag that make it a go-to. Right off the bat, the ordering system gives the kids something to do. Both of them love grabbing a brown bag and a pencil and selecting their options. One of them actually does it. The other is merely scribbling on the bag, but it doesn't seem to deter her.

For the literate one, it's not just the distraction of something on which to draw, but the empowering nature of the decision-making process. We leave her to her own devices, free to select PB&J with Horseradish Sauce, if she wants. She usually opts for the egg salad, which brings me to key element number two. Brown Bag serves food our kids like. Anytime.

While our kids will try, and often enjoy, pretty much any food you can imagine, it's hard to go wrong with anything stuffed between two pieces of bread. Kids love carbs. So do adults, which brings me to the third key element. I actually like the food at Brown Bag Deli. It's not the best sandwich I've ever eaten, but it's pretty darn good. The bread is always fresh, the vegetables nice and crisp, and the meat and cheese of generally high-quality.

I usually opt for beef salami and jalapeño jack cheese with deli mustard and all the salad stuff on jalapeño cheddar bread. It's got just a bit of a kick from the jalapeños, robust meatiness from the salami, a nice mustard bite, and plenty of fresh crispness from the vegetables. The bread, pillowy-soft and frequently still warm from baking, squishes down without sogging through, which is important given the substantial nature of a Brown Bag sandwich. These guys don't skimp. I often pair my sandwich with potato salad, which has a nice undercurrent of dill that I like. I usually prefer mustard potato salad, but Brown Bag's light mayonnaise version is elevated by that herbal kick.

Key element number four, nearly a constant in DEFCON dining, is speed. Never have I waited more than five minutes for an order at Brown Bag. That means we can get in, get food, get done and get out in short order, saving both our sanity and that of other patrons and employees. While I might occasionally value a restaurant for its relative willingness to put up with my kids and their raised voices, pinching, and aisle-dancing, I don't want to overstay our relative welcome.

Really, though, I don't even need the excuse of my kids' less-than-exemplary behavior to hit Brown Bag. I'd go just for a quick, tasty lunch. Given that it's on standby rotation, though, I tend to keep it in reserve. If we worked it in more regularly, it might not be such a viable DEFCON diffuser, for us or our kids.

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Nicholas L. Hall is a husband and father who earns his keep playing a video game that controls the U.S. power grid. He also writes for the Houston Press about food, booze and music, in an attempt to keep the demons at bay. When he's not busy keeping your lights on, he can usually be found making various messes in the kitchen, with apologies to his wife.
Contact: Nicholas L. Hall