I’m going to write a eulogy for a long-lost and personally beloved menu item from TGI Friday’s in the late ’90s. Take your Surge comeback, have all the Crystal Pepsi you want. I’m still waiting for the rapturous day when the Pizzadilla returns.
It was a simpler time in 1998, before menu items like Baconators and Double Downs were part of standard menu lexicon. A quesadilla/pizza hybrid would barely register on the cultural seismic meter today, but in the nineties, the Pizzadilla was a novelty and innovaton — at least, to me, it was.
I grew up in a town without many restaurants. The ones we did have were Mom-and-Pop diners or dive bars that happened to serve food as an afterthought. We didn’t have a single big box chain restaurant in town, and the larger neighboring town only a sole ill-fated Chi Chi’s.
This is all strange in itself, because it’s not like I grew up in a rural area, living just 4 miles from Baltimore City limits. And yet like much like the city of Baltimore itself suffers an identity crisis block to block, Maryland can shift from vibrant urban cores to cow-tipping and Jesus billboards in the span of just one road.
In my formative years, most of my dinner-out experiences were at places named after some dude: Romano’s, Gary’s, Johnny’s. Each of them were interchangeable in decor, covered in the faux-Oriental rugs you see for sale outside of Home Depots, interchangeable in waitresses named Crystal or Holly, or Barb and Linda (depending on the generation), and interchangable in food, serving up the warmed-over brown and white colors of meat and potatoes.
The chain restaurants were all a thirty minute drive to the state’s capitol, a drive that was reserved only for special occassions like birthdays. To me, chain restaurants were exciting, exotic, and colorful. I’d drink in the green Italiano hues of the Macaroni Grill, the red seashore feistiness of Red Lobster, and late-night punk attitude of TGI Fridays. Yes, I’m exaggerating a little — and yet, I’m not: even when I graduated from college, after I’d been exposed to the larger world, I still chose Applebee’s as the place for my celebration dinner.
Anyhow, that’s all the context you need for how I ended up in love with TGI Friday’s. I’d even go as far to call this place my first Restaurant Relationship. Sure, being in relationships with restaurants is totally a thing — right? Me and the wife are currently lusting the local Indian takeout, though lately since we’ve been dieting it’s cooled off. We were once married to this Mexican dive joint, but they’ve closed and now we’re Mexican restaurant-widowed. Believe me, there’s a grieving process like any other.
I was seventeen or eighteen years-old, with license and car, and suddenly that thirty minute drive to the state capitol was no longer reserved for special occassions. I would drive to TGI Friday’s, mostly for its proximity next to a Tower Records and a movie theater. This is how I came to love the Pizzadilla.
There isn’t much in the way of nostalgia online for the Pizzadilla. Of the very few mentions of it online, one is on its trademark page which defines it as a “specialty food dish, namely two flour tortillas filled with pizza toppings.” Yet, it was more somehow more than that: it was almost Taco Bell-esque, with that unique crunchy, greasy, addictive taste about it. Inside it would have pizza sauce, mexican shredded cheese, and any other toppings of choice. My favorite were the jalapenos.
My closest friend and I ate there weekly, shopping the record store and seeing movies at the theater. His name was John and he too, always ordered the Pizzadilla. It was the big thing on the menu, with the special front-page ad in the menu, and the waitressess probably had a special flair button for it, too.
But then the inevitable began to happen — the Pizzadilla was moved off the front of the menu, off the cardboard table ads, buried somewhere near the back. And then one day it unceremoniously gone. Just gone. I remember it was around the same time they started hyping the shit out of the Jack Daniels Sauce menu. And that was it.
You would have thought it was the movies and CD shopping that kept us going to that TGI Friday’s, but it was in fact the Pizzadilla that united us there. We stopped going after that. I broke up with my first restaurant. I have not been able to go in a TGI Friday’s since. It’s not the same.
And we never actually talked about it until years later, when out of nowhere John mentioned that he missed the Pizzadilla. It was the way he said it, I just knew. I don’t even know what I knew then, but I knew it, and I still know it now, whatever that nostalgia is for the lost food items of your past.
Now John lives in New York City, and is a reviewer in magazines for fancy art films, and I live in a golden suburban Mecca-land of chain restaurants, wiping a todder’s nose, writing a blog post about my love for a tortilla with pizza sauce on it. We’re still friends on Facebook, and I’m half-tempted to write him and ask him if he still misses the Pizzadilla, but I’m afraid he’d say no. But I do. I really do, John. I still miss the Pizzadilla. I guess I’m weird.