Friday, July 5, 2013

Nurse the Hate: Hate Toot's

I almost ate at a shithole called Toot’s outside of King’s Island.  This was a moment of last resort.  Nothing was open.  There were no other options at places that provided food on an actual plate.  Food had become an issue of survival.  There was the very real scenario unfolding of my withered corpse being discovered on the side of I-71.  Even in these most dire of circumstances, I couldn’t follow through with placing an order at Toot’s.  Broken men ate food out of red plastic baskets.  Families sat in silence staring at each other.  The room smelled like urine and mold.  Pasty dim witted waitresses walked back and forth ignoring all the customers and accomplishing nothing. All 27 TVs showed an ESPN talk show with the volume off.  It was too awful.  I couldn’t do it.  I felt like Marlin Brando in Apocalypse Now.  The horror, the horror…

One of my least favorite types of restaurants is the “American Casual Fun-Timery” restaurant like Fridays, Dick’s Last Resort, Joe’s Crab Shack, etc.  Let me begin this diatribe by noting that I will admit to being a food snob.  I have eaten at some of America’s great restaurants and enjoyed the crap out of the experience.  The French Laundry, Chez Francois, Le Cirque, Emeril’s Delmonico, Picasso, Aqua, Lola, Restaurant August, Babbo, Terra, and on.  I put a real effort into eating well.  Good food is not a treat, it should be a regular part of life.  Let me also clarify, good food does not have to mean expensive food.  One of the best meals I ever had was a simple pasta in a humble neighborhood restaurant in Rome.  Why eat scary preservative laden bullshit?  There are other options.  There is no reason to eat at Subway unless your only other option for staying alive is Hardee’s.  (I would rather go hungry than eat at Hardee’s.)

When one is forced to eat at a fast food joint, there is an expectation that the food will be kind of shitty in exchange for the convenience of service.  Though the product in the white paper bag doesn’t even vaguely resemble the picture above the counter, it is difficult to make too big of a fuss when the meal costs $3.99 out the door.  For example, the food at Taco Bell looks like a wonderful Mexican culinary experience on the TV ads while any burrito I’ve ever actually been served there looks like a used diaper.  This is the implied arrangement with a .99 cent food item.

The American Casual Fun-Timery restaurant is another matter entirely.  They present themselves as actual restaurants, complete with waitresses and actual plates.  In most cases, they don’t really cook anything at these “restaurants”, but just re-heat bulk products that have been shipped in already prepared nestled in plastic bags.  Who knows where and when this food was actually cooked.  Somewhere there is a factory with a giant tub of clam chowder being shot through tubes into plastic and then flash frozen.  The delicious taste of New England courtesy of a factory in Des Moines Iowa, shipped to you after a stop at a wholesale warehouse out by the airport.  Dig in.

My real beef with these places is the fake “fun”.  When did it become necessary to tack up faux retro signage with no real meaning to suggest things are about to get wild?  “Helen, I’m not going to eat at Tipsy McStagger’s unless I see an old metal gas station sign, fake wooden beach sign, and a local sports team memento.  How can I be sure that I will properly enjoy their boneless Jack Daniels branded ribs if I don’t see that kind of fun on the horizon?”  It’s unsettling.  Every one of these places looks exactly the same.  Was there an agreement made by a restaurant trade association that if you served chicken wings and/or fried appetizer platters, you must also pretend to be “wacky” while doing so?  Is there a place in the United States where one can eat shitty deep fried food and not be offered a drink like a “Funtini” while a Jimmy Buffet song drones on in the background?

The second you walk into one of these joints you can assume the following things:

1)       The bathrooms will be filthy.  This is due to the fact that they criminally underpay potential employees.  If it’s tough to get servers hired, can you imagine the potential labor pool for dudes to clean bathrooms and do dishes?  I would imagine you are relegated to strictly felons and drifters.  I always find it odd that the bathrooms look like bus stations when they don’t do any real bar volume.  With no shitfaced young male clientele, what is causing the problems with urine flow and aim around the toilets?  I expect a scary bathroom on Bourbon Street.  I don’t expect one at a place where 9 dudes are picking at onion rings drinking iced tea.

2)      There will be the really stupid “wild” signs posted up to indicate that this is a place of fun and irreverence.  “You don’t have to be crazy to work here, but it helps”, “Free beer tomorrow”, and “Tipping is not a city in China” are amongst my personal favorites.  Oh the hilarity.  I like to think about the district manager that made the decisions on which of these mass produced signs would help make this location a retail giant.  Somewhere, right now, in an industrial park off a highway in Indiana, there is a man hunched over a computer ordering signs like “Beer: It’s What Is For Breakfast” while also wondering if he has leaned into the beer wholesalers hard enough for branded table tents and umbrellas. If that isn’t the organic birthplace of fun, I don’t know what is!

3)      The servers will all have the vacant look of prisoners.  They have lost all hope and in an effort to make ends meet were forced to take this job schlepping plates of deep fried quesadilla rings, bacon loaf, and quadruple cheese nacho fiesta salads to the Great Unwashed.  One will never see the same server twice in these places as they are all actively looking for something (anything) with more upside.  These people don’t know anything about food or drink.  They will be unable to answer any question you have, no matter how elementary.  Whoa be to you if you ask “What kind of craft beer do you have?”.   The answer will undoubtedly be “Welllllll…. We have Yuengling and Killians?” with the lift at the end to indicate they don’t really know what craft beer is and if the beers they just mentioned are even available.

4)      The food will be slightly below mediocre.  That’s where they get you.  It’s never truly awful, as they didn’t really cook any of it.  Since they are just reheating, someone along the corporate line did make sure what they served appeared to be suitable for human consumption.  There is really little difference in having a microwave dinner.  The key difference is that when you have finished this meal, you will feel slightly nauseous, bloated, and ashamed as if you just drank nine beers and had intercourse with a carnival ride operator in a portajohn.  

5)      The music will be absolutely terrible, a predictable playlist of “fun” songs.  I challenge you to sit at a bar at one of these hellholes and not hear “Sunglasses At Night” or “Born To Be Wild” while you sip a tall Miller Lite out of a thick plastic cup.  This music was also probably cleared by that Indiana district manager before he drove home in his Ford Focus while listening to the local Adult Contemporary radio station.  These are places designed with people that have no taste, which is of course the only thing worse than bad taste.

The only way to stop the spread of these bleak eateries is to eat local.  Go to individually owned restaurants that serve food they actually cook on premise.  Real food isn’t a privilege, it’s a right.  No matter where you live there are people working hard right now trying to make interesting food that they are proud of.  They are slogging along in their own version of indie rock, with small groups of “fans” fighting a battle of indifference.  I’m on board.  Then again, I have just returned from “Toots” by King’s Island, where you can look The Beast right in his unblinking eye.     


At July 5, 2013 at 7:09:00 PM EDT , Blogger Walter Zoomie said...

Stay home and cook something interesting yourself then, you lazy bastard!


You ever hit up that shithole just off I-275 north of Cincy that looks like a fun-timey neon-lit old gas station with a parking lot full of Harley asshole poseurs?

I bet you'd hate that too.
I know I would.

At July 6, 2013 at 9:40:00 AM EDT , Blogger Greg Miller said...

I was outside Cincinnati! What the hell am I going to do? Man's gotta eat... I just cooked a herb crusted pork tenderloin over polenta with braised chard. Please note, it must have been three times better than anything at Toot's!

I don't know that Harley place, but I know it, understand? There is a Miller Lite draft special, chicken wings served in paper buckets, Indian motorcycle signs that were printed up in China last year, and a bunch of suburban guys pretending to be motorcycle outlaws if I'm not mistaken?

At July 8, 2013 at 11:09:00 AM EDT , Blogger Walter Zoomie said...


This is the place:

Lol. The lot was full of hotrods yesterday.

Gordon Food service trucks deliver there everyday. Then the Gordon truck goes to Applebee's, Logan's Teaxs Road House, Cheezbooger In Paradise, and all the other hellholes in the strip mall...

At July 8, 2013 at 12:34:00 PM EDT , Blogger Greg Miller said...

Quaker Steak barely qualifies as a "restaurant". I have never had anything there that I haven't immediately regretted eating. It is one step above a Speedway in food quality.

I don't know why Gordon's just doesn't open their own restaurant and sink hooters, Quaker steak, joes, toot's, bw-3, max and ermas, Applebee's, Fridays, red robin, outback, lone star, etc... All they need is 10 tvs turned to espn and some tacky signs.


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