Aw, man, who remembers when TV dinners were the bomb!? When I was a kid, it was always a super treat to get a TV dinner: those little compartments filled with food that was junk-food-but-not; the square of brownie that was cooked just perfectly; the way you got to eat it in the living room in front of the TV because TV was even in the dish’s name, you can’t refute that. Now, as an adult, I realize the rare occasions I got this dinner wasn’t because I was being extra good that day and deserved a treat, but because my mom came home tired from work and didn’t want to actually cook dinner, lol. Considering I started my love affair with TV dinners before we ever had a microwave oven in our house–so you had to cook them in the conventional oven for up to 45 minutes!–it wasn’t as “convenient” an alternative dinner as you’d think!
Nowadays we have frozen and prepackaged dinners all over the place, thanks to advances in the microwave that took heating a TV dinner up for 40 minutes down to nuking it for 5. The original prepackaged dinners were invented as ready-meals for airplanes, but the Swanson company was the first to fit these dinners specifically for home use–and thus, the TV dinner was born. The first TV dinner comprised of sliced turkey, cornbread dressing, peas, and sweet potatoes, with each food in its own compartment on a tray. The convenience of the package meant you could eat it right on a TV tray in front of your television. The popularity of the TV dinner exploded, selling 10 million units in only its first year of production! Since then, a variety of dinner types have developed, we’ve added those great desserts like apple crumble and chocolate brownies, and the original metal trays have been replaced with microwave-safe containers. You can get all different types of food in a TV dinner, from any number of brands, and they now include specialized dinners for diet, kids, or “hungry men”. I don’t particularly like to eat TV dinners anymore–apart from the brownie!–but I always keep one or two in the freezer for those days when I come home from work exhausted and I don’t feel like putting in any more energy for dinner than pressing a button on my microwave. TV Dinners have revolutionized the way we look at a weekday dinner!
Now, you’d think that it’s anathema to find a restaurant in New York City where you can celebrate TV Dinner Day. By definition, TV dinners are prepackaged, convenience foods, not something you go out to Manhattan to spend money on. But I’ve come to learn that New York always has a lot of surprises! Down close to Union Square you’ll find the pinnacle of comfort food at the Chat N Chew. Although kitschy like an Applebee’s, they effuse a self-awareness of their hokeyness, banking on the fact that you’ll love the homey atmosphere and comfort food that tastes just like homemade. Sip on a a Stewart’s root beer on tap while you wait for your grilled cheese sandwich, meatloaf with skin-on smashed potatoes, or the Thanksgiving On a Roll. But the best thing that the Chat N Chew offers may be the ultimate in nostalgic comfort food, a reinvented TV Dinner. The dish–which, of course, is served to you on a plate with separate compartments–contains chicken fried steak, green been casserole, and mashed potatoes with gravy. It takes you right back to your Swanson days when getting such a dinner felt like a real treat, and now, you can enjoy it again, with quality food that’s cooked fresh to order. It’s even better than what you remembered!
Chat N Chew
10 E 16th St (between 5th Ave & W Union Sq)
“With fun, kitschy, Americana décor and a comfort-food-only menu, Chat n’ Chew is just the spot when you’ve got a craving for Mom’s mashed potatoes and she’s 1,000 miles away. Serving American classics such as meatloaf, chicken pot pie, and a “TV dinner” (served on one of those divided trays, just like the frozen ones), this Union Square standby feels authentically homey. Specialties like the Thanksgiving on a Roll (turkey, gravy, and stuffing) and Coca Cola Cake keep regulars coming back for more.”–Travel And Leisure
Some reviews from Yelp.com:
“My friend ordered the TV Dinner which consisted of a huge portion of chicken fried steak, green bean casserole, mashed potatoes, along with mac & cheese on the side. The green bean casserole caught my eye here as they did it in a unique style that I wasn’t use to, adding fried thin onion rings on top. None of the foods were overly greasy or friend and the chicken fried steak was tasty and not too salty either.”–Jason Y.
“Hell yeah! Throw back diner with grime on the walls. Ordered the tv dinner: huge piece of chicken fried steak (tasty), green bean casserole (superb), mac & cheese (old school), and mashed potatoes with gravy (nice and thick). Also tried the sweet potato on the side (perfectly baked with cinnamon on top).”–Chrystina Z.
Make sure you check out the updated NYC Food Holidays Map to find this most recent holiday!