Iceberg patriotism

With the crispy chicken tender salad in the foreground, Red Robin manager, Mimi Landers, prepares balloons.

With the crispy chicken tender salad in the foreground, Red Robin manager, Mimi Landers, prepares balloons.

When Lisa and I moved to Reno six years ago, we lived off McCarran and Kietzke, just west of Red Robin. A lot has changed since then, but not that bright red restaurant, that shining beacon on the corner to families with kids.

Lisa and her husband have been sailing around the South Pacific with their year-old son, Mason, since March. They’re back for a month, then it’s more sailing around New Zealand through the end of the year.

We met down in our old neighborhood for lunch.

Red Robin is a chain, one of 200 in North America. Two hostesses held the door open as we approached. “Welcome to Red Robin,” they said, smiling.

Their first course of business was Mason. They handed Lisa and her husband a small box of crayons from a tower of crayon cartons. They untied a bright balloon from some railing and tied it to Mason’s wrist. He stared at them in awe.

Lisa said Mason was used to such attention. In Tonga, women and men would lift Mason out of Lisa’s or her husband’s arms and walk off with him, thrilled to play with the cherubic, sailor baby.

The girls at Red Robin didn’t whisk Mason away, but they set him up nicely before we were seated.

At the table, we were given a kids’ menu, which doubled as a coloring book, and the adult menus: laminated, two-sided jobs at least two feet tall loaded with eye-popping descriptions of all-American classics, as well as some pretty inventive twists on the standards.

There’s your standard hamburger with a choice of cheese. Then there are 20-plus other hamburgers. They’ll happily substitute turkey for beef, and they offer a meatless burger option, too. Some notable gourmet creations include the Country Fair Sautéed Sweet Onion Burger, the Whiskey River BBQ Burger and the Banzai Burger ($7.79) that Lisa’s husband ordered.

The hamburger was marinated in teriyaki and topped with grilled pineapple, cheddar cheese, lettuce, tomato and mayo. The item came with this warning: “Will attack taste buds with reckless abandon!”

The whole menu is full of goofy remarks like this to amuse kids who are less likely to be entertained by balloons and crayons. If you’re having a birthday, the entire Red Robin staff comes out clapping and singing the clappy-happy-happy-birthday song.

Lisa had the crispy chicken tender salad ($8.99), which is served in a wide bowl-like plate with big fried chicken pieces atop the lettuce.

“Good old American iceberg lettuce,” Lisa said. “You just don’t get a salad like this in the South Pacific. Mostly the salads were just chopped cabbage.”

I had a California chicken burger ($7.99), so named for the dollop of guacamole atop the grilled chicken breast.

Mason had a crock of mac ‘n’ cheese ($3.99) from his kids’ coloring menu, which he scribbled on when he wasn’t trying to eat the crayons or untie his balloon and watch it fly into a spinning fan.

I’m pretty sure my friends will savor the memory of this truly American dining experience when they’re back at sea.