Day 406: Theme From A Supper Place

originally published February 9, 2013

It’s the weekend, and once again my thoughts turn to food. It’s hard to find time to eat well during the week; after rehearsals, classes, skeet-shooting workshops, extreme hobo-fights, hacky-sack circles, taebo, Lamaze (we aren’t pregnant, just keeping our technique fresh), scuba-suit fittings, volunteering in a shelter for wayward lizards and work, we don’t get home until 8:00 most nights. That means cooking something quickly or picking up fast food. But on the weekends, I like to try new things.

A few weeks ago, I wrote an ode to the restaurant that regularly coats my innards with bubbling Cajun bliss, Da-De-O. I thought I’d switch it up and have a look at some of the theme restaurants that dot the landscape. Our culture has developed a fascination with eating (a statement I feel confident can be backed up by our obesity statistics), and a handful of brains have come up with creative ways to do it.

I’ll be honest, I don’t go to a lot of dinner theatre. I like dinner, and I like theatre, but I find both are able to maximize their potential when kept separate. Last year I sat through a 1950’s-era musical, and I was left wholly underwhelmed by the performance and deeply curious as to why the chef’s concept of ‘medium-rare’ differed so vehemently from my own.

In Anaheim, California, folks who didn’t want to dine in front of animatronic presidents or desperate actors in giant mouse costumes could enjoy an Off-Disney evening at Battle of the Dance. Inspired by the popularity of Dancing With The Stars and So You Think You Can Dance, and created by Andrés Gelabert, the guy who came up with the Medieval Times idea, you’d essentially be enjoying your meal whilst watching a dance-off. The story was centered on a shipwreck that brought Spanish dancers to the coast of Ireland. The two cultures would then have a crunk-off to see whose swerve would cut the best rug, the flamencoists or the Irish folkies.

The dancers were, apparently, quite exceptional. But the food was downright ghastly, and Battle of the Dance shut its doors in June of last year.

Sometimes a theme is too highbrow and arty. The ideal theme for your hometown might just be “Grotesque American Obesity & Excess”. I don’t mean to pick on America – we Canadians are testing the limit of our own scales with our lust for poutine – but come on, it doesn’t get much more Larry-the-Cable-Guy-waving-an-American-flag-while-an-eagle-on-his-shoulder-screeches-some-Skynyrd than dining at Hillbilly Hot Dogs.

Not so much a ‘restaurant’ as a ‘road-side flab-vendor’, Hillbilly is located near Huntington, West Virginia. Its signature dish – meaning, the one that warrants it a mention here – is the Homewrecker Hot Dog, pictured above. One deep-fried pound-heavy wiener gets topped with three and a half pounds of deep fried sausage, two kinds of cheese, plus all the fixin’s you need for that express VIP ticket to an early grave. Eat the whole 15-inch affair in twelve minutes and you get a shirt. They probably don’t carry those shirts in ‘Small’.

For a thorough taste of the weird, you’ll want to take a trip to Japan and spend a meal at one of their cosplay restaurants. The maid café phenomenon originated in Akihabara, Tokyo in 1999, and allows you to dine whilst being served by Japanese waitresses in French maid costumes. They offer more than just food though. That’s right – if you want to get slapped by your waitress here in North America, you’ll need to come up with a creatively lewd comment. In a maid café, it’s on the menu.

If getting slapped isn’t your thing, you can also order a hand or foot massage, a photo, an ear-cleaning, or apparently even a ‘date’ with a maid. Not sure how that one isn’t simply prostitution.

Ladies who find this deplorable and sexist may enjoy dining at a butler café, which features men (or sometimes ladies) dressed as tuxedoed butlers. The maid phenomenon has spread – there are massage parlors with this theme, as well as eyeglass stores and bars. Before the entrepreneurs among you get excited, this has been tried on four separate occasions on this continent and hasn’t worked yet.

There isn’t a lot left in the wide wikipedian world that can surprise me. This one did the job.

Over in Navi Mumbai, a satellite city of Mumbai, India, some guy named Punit Sablok opened up a Hitler-themed dining establishment called Hitler’s Cross. No, seriously.

A giant portrait of the Fuhrer greeted guests as they entered, whilst swastikas and various symbols of the Third Reich adorned the walls and menus, and the interior was bursting with the Nazi color scheme of red, white and black. This was 2006. The owner claimed he had no idea this would be a controversial idea. When Jewish groups in and out of India unleashed a formidable outcry, Sablok refused to change the name or the theme. The manager boasted to the Times of India that they wanted their restaurant to be different “in the way he (Hitler) was different.” So… murderous and evil?

It took less than a week for the restaurant to change its name to the Cross Café, and for the owners to remove all traces of Nazi-ism from the establishment. I suppose this means my plans to open up a Saddam’s Sa-Dim-Sum probably won’t fly either.

Okay, one more from the slightly less-murderous regime of American gluttony. The Heart Attack Grill.

The theme here is hospitals. The foreshadowing behind this theme is blatant. Nurses take your order on a prescription pad, then strap the order to your wrist. A doctor comes by to examine you, though if you are grossly unhealthy and shouldn’t be eating there, he or she won’t tell you that. In fact, they’ll encourage you: customers over 350 pounds apparently eat for free.

Blair River, the restaurant’s spokesman, had this to say… actually he didn’t say much. The 575-pound River died at the ripe old age of 29. But founder Jon Basso is committed to providing you with, if not the healthiest meal you’ll eat all week, probably the largest.

Sure, a couple people have had actual heart attacks at the restaurant, which is now located at the old Las Vegas Café location on Fremont Street in Las Vegas. And sure, there’s a cute kitsch in being wheeled out to your car in a wheelchair by a nurse/waitress if you happen to finish the Quadruple Bypass Burger. But let’s look at what you just ate:

Four half-pound patties of beef, eight slices of processed cheese, a whole tomato, half an onion, and a bun coated with lard.

Good luck. I’ll take my chances with the Zionist Potato Conspira-skins over at the Cross Café.

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