Dining out with kids

Published: Thursday, January 20, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 20, 2005 at 12:52 a.m.
Back in the pre-child era, the moms of the world carried cute little purses - nothing like the industrial-sized bags we lug around now. Once you've carried a diaper bag, with its cavernous main chamber and its easy-to-organize pockets, it's impossible to go back to a smart little clutch with just enough room for a lipstick and keys. Even when the kids are out of diapers, you find yourself gravitating to the kind of purse that, in your previous life, could have held your entire collection of purses.
There's no telling what you'll find at the bottom of Mom's purse - your youngest child could very well be hiding down there. We moms are willing to admit that we tote around a little too much stuff, but we're addicted to being prepared. The day they make a Swiss Army knife with a bottle-cleaning attachment, we'll be waiting in line for it.
Moms are willing to take some ribbing for the load they tote around, but all that junk eventually comes in handy, especially at a restaurant, where we're doling out crayons, Matchbox cars and anything else we can find to squeeze a few minutes of good behavior out of the kids. Dining out used to be a relaxing occasion in which someone else did all the work.
Nowadays, we're under the table picking up half-chewed French fries so the poor waitress, who has just mopped up three consecutive milk spills, doesn't have to do it herself. With a baby in tow, eating out can be downright hair-raising - you feel like Jason Bourne, scanning the room for the quickest exit if things turn ugly. This is why many parents opt for fast food, where the level of decorum required of diners is minimal at best.
When you're craving something that's not deep-fried or consumed in a car seat, however, there are plenty of kid-friendly options in the Gainesville area. Older kids love teppanyaki, the Japanese cooking style where your food is prepared right in front of you at a hibachi table. The sky-high flames might scare younger kids, but the chefs' tricks and hammy jokes crack up kids and adults alike. Gainesville has several teppanyaki restaurants; a few favorites are Yamato (526 NW 60th St.) and Mori (908 NW 69th Terr.).
The wait for a hand-crafted pizza at Satchel's (1800 NE 23rd Ave.) flies by while kids enjoy the in-house play area, which parents can oversee from almost anywhere in the restaurant. It's heavenly to enjoy a drink or split one of Satchel's gigantic salads while the kids make new friends at the play kitchen.
If typical American fare is your thing, Ruby Tuesday in the Oaks Mall is a low-stress place for kids. The din of the place ensures that kids won't be a disturbance, and the recently revamped children's menu, featuring healthier options with whole grains and less fat, has been deemed edible by actual kids.
And, yes, chicken tenders are still available.
E-mail Alisson Clarke at Kidfriendly@gvillesun.com.

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