America has brought many great things to the world. Imagine life without the light bulb, the cotton gin, the automobile, or (gasp) Facebook. Even worse, imagine life without themed family restaurant chains!

Okay, I can imagine the world without restaurant chains and I think it would be a pretty nice world. But anyway, America invented them and they’ve shaped modern life as it exists today.

America is overrun with chains: T.G.I. Friday’s, Ruby Tuesday (we like to name our chains after days of the week), IHOP, Red Lobster, Outback Steakhouse, Olive Garden, Chili’s…the list is never-ending. Such chains are successful in the U.S. because, in my opinion, Americans fear the culinary unknown. We like to know that no matter where we are in the country, we can always enjoy a Ruby Tuesday shrimp quesadilla for $8.99.

The American passion for chain restaurants went global long ago, and South Africa was not spared.

Spur logoSpur Steak Ranches, founded in 1967, is one of the largest and most recognizable South African chains. According to their website there are nearly 300 Spurs worldwide.

Every time I pass a Spur I chuckle at the logo, which shows an Indian chief in a feather headdress. I don’t associate Native Americans with steak. And I don’t think Native Americans even wear spurs, anyway. But whatever.

Joe and I hate chains and try to avoid them, but I’ve been wanting to eat at Spur for a while, mainly so I could blog about it. I got my chance last week, when we came home from a weekend away and had no food in the house.

Each Spur location has a unique descriptor to set it apart from the other Spurs. There is the Oklahoma Spur, the Cancun Spur (huh?), and my personal fave, the Texakhana (sic) Spur. Joe and I ate at the Golden Spear Spur, located in Cresta Mall.

Outside Cresta SpurThe guy on the right was our waiter. I can’t remember his name but he was great — we got special treatment because I told him I was an American having my first meal at Spur.

Don’t mind the eerie red glow in the pictures — it was part of the ambiance.

Inside SpurGolden Spear Spur. I love the neon-lit, cactus-shaped totem poll in the center of the room.

Spur menusThe Spur menus brought me back to life in the D.C. suburbs, where chain restaurant dining is impossible to avoid. There are so many menus — they hardly fit on the table and you don’t know where to look first. When our drinks arrived we had to awkwardly pile the menus on our laps to make room. 

Spur isn’t cheap by South African standards. Main dishes range mostly between R70 and R100 ($10-$13); our mains at the fabulous Goblin’s Cove Restaurant in Magaliesburg were cheaper. And yet Golden Spear Spur was fairly full, even though it was a rainy Sunday evening and everything else in the mall was closed. Curious.

Once the menus were cleared, I was able to read the “Legend of Spur” printed on my placemat. The Legend reads:

Many moons ago a young brave came to the land of the flat mountain.

He saw that people hungered for juicy, tender steaks, perfectly grilled, delicious burgers and garden-fresh vegetables. Working day and night, he created a meeting place where the people of the village could gather to enjoy the feast. At last everything was ready.

“Light the fires,” he cried, and the friendly glow of the fires caused a warm welcome as the smell of delicious meat drew the people to his gathering place! Young and old came to the feast — so many people that they formed a line snaking across the plain.

And the young brave smiled, because he saw that this could be a new beginning, and the tribes rejoiced and were content.

A sign hanging from the ceiling said South Africans voted Spur burgers best in the country in 2009. I love a good burger and they were the cheapest thing on the menu anyway at around R55 each. I ordered the Goodie Burger, a cheeseburger topped with a pineapple ring (not uncommon in Africa) and creamy mushroom sauce. Joe chose the Peppamelt (sic) Burger, covered in melted cheese and “pepper sauce.”

Spur burgers with sauceI opted for house veggies — creamed spinach and mashed butternut — rather than fries. Both were very bland. Joe’s burger came with fried onions and french fries. The gelatinous substance in the ramekin is my mushroom sauce. Ew. Thank god I asked for it on the side. I’m not sure what the sauce on the pineapple is. It was sweet and tolerable.

And now, the moment you’ve been waiting for.

Heather eating spur burgerI must admit, it wasn’t that bad.

The burger was small by American standards. But it had the pleasant, charcoal-y flavor of a burger right off the grill. The meat itself seemed to be of decent quality — neither Joe nor I got sick afterward. I have an iron stomach and rarely get sick from food, but Joe is a delicate flower. I can say with confidence that since his stomach survived unscathed, Spur burgers are safe for the general public.

My assessment: Spur is a suitable dining establishment if you’re stuck in a small South African town, or trapped in a Joburg mall, and have limited options. The service is friendly, the decor is amusing, and the burgers aren’t horrible. Skip the tasteless sauces and side dishes.

I’d rather eat at the Lucky Bean though.

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