Not on my list, but I can see how this would appeal to children

I remember being young and the thought eating out at a restaurant was a big deal. That doesn’t seem to be the case now that I am older. Now that I have the freedom to eat where I want and when I want, I can pretty much have whatever I want, thus lessening the excitement of eating some place other than my home. But I was thinking back at some of the places I loved when I was wee lad and how I miss those days, kind of.

Pizza Hut

Lee S. Hart is now too good for the Hut

When I Was Young

I know, big fucking whoopty shit, it’s Pizza Hut. But when I was a kid, and into the Ninja Turtles, pizza was the best. And since I didn’t grow up in New York or Chicago or any place where real pizza places were all over, Pizza Hut had what I craved. This was also a time when the only chains were Pizza Hut, Dominos, and Little Caesar’s. For what ever reason my parents were never fans of Little Caesar’s, so I had that very rarely, usually when I was at a friends house. And we never had Dominos.

I think why I enjoyed Pizza Hut so much was the fact that it was across the street. I don’t mean that in the way it was so close it was like it was across the street. It was literally across the street. I could stand in my front yard and throw rocks at it, if I was that kind of kid, and if I wasn’t so retarded at throwing. It was always the quick alternative and I really got a kick out of the interior. It felt original and home like. It kind of reminded me of this pizzeria we used to go to when we visited my Grandma in Minnesota. I can’t remember what that place was called, or if the pizza was even good, but we went there every year and it had the kind of interior one would expect a little mom and pop pizzeria to have, like that place Charles’ mom owned on Charles in Charge. They also had that Rampage video game. That was awesome! Then Pizza Hut moved, renovated and lost its charm.

Last Time I Went

The last time I went to a Pizza Hut was about a month ago. It wasn’t one of the fancy come-in-and-have-a-seat ones, it was a get-your-food-and-get-the-hell-out one. These places are fine when you just need food and don’t want to cook, but they’re are an example of the direction America is heading, cold but efficient. The charm that I experienced in my youth was gone. The two other things that made me long for the Hut of my youth was a) the taste. Maybe Pizza Hut pizza always tasted like this but I was too young to notice a difference, and I do not enjoy it nearly as much. But as they say with pizza, even when it’s bad it’s still good. And b) the really, really ginormously fat lady who worked there. I have nothing against bigger ladies, but there comes a point, female or male, when you’re too fucking fat and it’s too fucking gross. As she waddled between the register and the warming oven, I suddenly wanted to change my order from pizza to a salad, with dressing on the side. Dominos should be sure to thank the Pizza Hut near my house, as Dominos will now be getting my pizza business.

Bennigan’s

Oh boy, we’re going to Bennigan’s

When I Was Young

I know I know another blasé restaurant. And I know this makes me sound like I’m Butters from South Park, but before I ever went to a Chili’s or an Applebee’s or TGIFridays, I went to Bennigan’s. And we never went that often so it always felt like a special occasion when we went there. God, now I really do sound like Butters.

Bennigan’s was decorated in early fuck. It had all the goofy shit on the walls but it wasn’t overkill. Being inside Bennigan’s I always felt like I was at my grandmother’s, if she had gone senile and redecorated the place and tried to get in touch with her Irish heritage a little. I kind of forgot where I was going with that. I think the point was when I was little this was all very charming and fun.

Last Time I Went

Since Bennigan’s closed down about a year ago, it has been awhile since I last went. I believe it was closer to two or three years ago the last time I went. I was living in Fort Collins. It seemed liked a better alternative to Chili’s, and I think it was. I had a pulled pork sandwich and a Black and Tan. Always tasty. There is the real possibility Dagger was there and had the Turkey O’Toole. Any time I’ve been around him and Bennigan’s came up he would not shut up about the Turkey O’Toole. I guess when you find what you like, stick with it. Since Bennigan’s has closed down, and it’s been about three years since I’d been there, I must not have enjoyed it like I once did. Unlike Pizza Hut, I can’t pin point exactly what it is that kept me away. It may be the fact that Bennigan’s didn’t have a niche and was just like so many other restaurants out there. Oh well, to love and loss yadda yadda whatever.

The Old Spaghetti Factory

Not the Denver one beacuse all the pictures for that suck worse than the Factory itself

When I Was Young

I don’t know what it is about an eatery with the word “factory” in its name, but dammit if that doesn’t appeal to me. CJS regular Tron is from Alaska and has mentioned a place out there called the Food Factory, I want to visit that place for a multitude of reason, but mainly because it is called The Food Factory.

The Old Spaghetti Factory was in a giant warehouse type building and there were several cable cars inside that were refurbished to hold tables and chairs. As a child it was always fun to eat in something like that. Dagger and I were recently talking about a McDonald’s that had saddles for some of their seats. We both agreed that we used to like to sit on those. Having no real interest in cowboys and such shit, it seems odd that we were drawn to them. Up until we were old enough to realize that it was ridiculous. The Old Spaghetti Factory cable cars are the same way.

Growing up my knowledge of pasta was spaghetti and lasagna. And since the place was called The Old Spaghetti Factory you can probably guess what I got every time we went there (spaghetti, for those who couldn’t guess). Though I would occasionally get meatballs, which was something I couldn’t get at home. But the best part of going to the Old Spaghetti Factory was we always got ice cream with our meal. An added treat. My mom got pistachio, I didn’t know what that was, but if it was good enough for my mom, it was good enough for me dammit.

Last Time I Went

I haven’t been back to The Old Spaghetti Factory since my childhood. For the longest time I thought it was shut down. Then I started working downtown only a few blocks from it, apparently. I never knew exactly where it was when I was a kid. It was out of my general knowledge area, so all I knew was we were going far for dinner. While running an errand for work I walked past it and thought, “Holy shit, that place is still around!?!” Then I considered going there but I have since thought better of that. My taste for pasta and Italian food has grown and matured and I doubt some kitschy place like The Old Spaghetti Factory would satisfy. I would be going there for nostalgia value, and that is probably one of the worst reasons to visit a restaurant. So I have left The Old Spaghetti Factory to rest in peace in my mind the way it was. And I think we are all happier for this.

Chuck E. Cheese’s

Don’t eat my pizza, Rat

When I Was Young

When I was at the acceptable age for Chuck E Cheese’s it was called Showbiz. It was essentially the same except instead of a giant rat, which is really the image you want to associate with pizza by the way; the mascot was a gorilla who played some kind of instrument. The gorilla, along with his band of animatronic animals played on the main stage, and there were two side stages that had other “acts.” The animatronic animals used to scare the crap out of my younger sister which I’m sure I enjoyed at the time, but now I kind of feel bad that I was such a jerk. Oh well.

Showbiz was awesome because you got pizza and there was a ton of shit to play with. There was skee-ball, a ball pit, a game that required you to throw balls into a trash cat that popped open and was inhabited by some ratty alley cat. And these games, except the ball pit, all gave out tickets that could be exchanged for crappy little prizes, but when you’re little you don’t see the crap, only the fact that there are toys. Pizza, games, toys this place was the best as a child.

One thing that sticks out was the walls had posters of movie parodies featuring the Showbiz animatronic characters. I remember looking at them and recognizing some but not fully understanding what was going on. I couldn’t crack the code; I thought they just fucked up on the Indiana Jones poster.

Last Time I Went

This was about 7 years ago. I went for my friend’s 19th birthday. Since kidnappers and pedophiles have fucked a lot of things up, I was surprised they let us in. I’m sure the teenage girls working there hated us. Especially when I went up to order the pizza and proceeded to ask them if I was in line for the ball pit (I wasn’t). The animatronic animals were less appealing and more annoying this time around. I suddenly had pity for my parents who I would make drag me here for birthday after birthday. Oh and if you think the games are easier once you’re older, you’re pretty much right, except for the one I got caught up playing. This light went around and you had to hit the button when the light got to the top. It varied its speed and direction, and after getting the door checking lady fully invested in what I was doing, I finally got that S.O.B. The pizza sucked, but again when you’re young all pizza is awesome. And we closed the place down. Overall a successful re-visit to a childhood eatery.

Casa Bonita

If you’ve been then, you know

When I Was Young

I grew up in the Denver metro area, and if you did that then you visited Casa Bonita on many occasions as a child. This became a popular birthday destination for me for several years. Casa Bonita was like Showbiz in that it was food and a place to play around. There was a cave to wander through, an arcade, a puppet show, a water fall and the place was huge and you could just wander around. There were divers and actors who put on a show complete with a gorilla and gun fights and people going into the water. Also there was a Mariachi band that sounded a little like Depeche Mode.

At the time I didn’t know this but the food sucked. Whatever, there were tacos and that was all just a precursor to the fun stuff I listed above anyway. They did introduce me to the one food they did well: sopapillas. Delicious fried dough that you poked a hole in and poured honey into. On the table there was a little flag that you would lift up and they would bring you fresh and hot sopapillas at an almost endless supply.

Last Time I Went

The friend who spent her 19th birthday at Chuck E Cheese’s spent her 20th at Casa Bonita. As I stated above the food is awful, and here’s the catch, you have to buy some in order to get in. Ain’t that bout a bitch? To my surprise I could still go through Black Bart’s Cave with my eyes closed. Though after hitting my head I realized I needed to adjust for the height factor and maybe I’d leave my eyes open. The sopapillas were still as amazing as I remembered. The rest of it though was less enchanting. This is definitely a place designed to capture the imagination of children. A place where ignorance truly is bliss.

I am happy I visited these places at a time in my life when I would have gotten the most enjoyment out of them. I am content with never going to them again, with maybe the exception of Casa Bonita; I really have to take my out of town friends. I am now content with foil wrapped burrito joints, pub fare and beers at a loud dank bar, and the occasional upscale tacos and tequila place. So let’s go grab a bite, and not off the kid’s menu.

I don’t know

See ya in the ball pit…

lee.s.hart@crujonessociety.com

cjs_final_mark.jpg