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Archive | January, 2012

Buffalo Wild Wings: A Restaurant, Of Sorts

31 Jan

January 31, 2012

I accomplished something yesterday that I had originally set out to do over two years ago: I ate at Buffalo Wild Wings.

Let me explain.

Back in 2009, on December 12th 2009 to be exact, I was due to meet some friends at Buffalo Wild Wings for a reunion lunch. For reasons that will remain entirely personal I did not go. This was despite the fact that I picked the date and it was me who came up with the idea for the lunch in the first place. It was all my idea. To make a long story short, not a single person at the reunion lunch ever spoke to me again. In fact, two of them blocked me on Facebook.

I know what you are thinking: “He just yadda yadda yadda’d over a story I want to hear.” Yes I did. Sorry. But I digress.

Back to the present. 

Yesterday after work I had plans to go out to dinner with my friend Saarah. It was up in the air for a while where we would go. Mediterranean food was discussed, as was Mexican and Middle Eastern food. I was good to go for any of them because while none of them would have been my first choice, I felt bad about us always going where I could find something to eat and wanted her to pick. She had Mexican food for lunch, the other places were tossed aside for various reasons, and she settled on Buffalo Wild Wings.

As I mentioned above, I had never been there and was curious to go in a morbid sort of way. I had nothing against the place, just a weird association with it. Since I backed out of that 2009 lunch (at the very last-minute, no less), I’ve always imagined my so-called friends sitting around a table and bad-mouthing me. This was my chance to fill in the sketchy details in my mental picture of what I call The Night of the Long Knives.

I need to be clear, because she will read this and I do not want her to hit me, that my going to dinner with my Saarah had nothing to do with my putting my demons to rest by going to the scene of the crime. I simply enjoy Saarah’s company would happily eat dinner anywhere with her. Or lunch, or breakfast, or a midnight snack.

So we went to Buffalo Wild Wings and if you have never been there, it is like a sports-themed Applebee’s. If you have ever been to the ESPN Zone restaurant, the comparison ends there. Buffalo Wild Wings is less like ESPN and more like some static-filled UHF channel you could only get in the pre-cable days.

The first thing that we noticed is that it was dark. Saarah wanted me to ask them to turn on more lights but a quick peek at the ceiling told me that there were no more lights. They were few and far between with one or two tables located in pools of light and the rest of them in semi-darkness. I think that it is a money-saving device to cut down on electricity bills. I also think they used nothing stronger than 40 watt bulbs. Before you argue that maybe it was their way of making things more romantic, I remind you that Buffalo Wild Wings is pretty much just a family friendly sports bar. I also urge you to hold your opinion until the end, as so much of what is to come is intended to save them money.

The darkness did serve one positive purpose: it partially hid the shabbiness of the football jerseys that all the servers wore. Most of them were clean but well-worn and faded. The servers had their names on their backs but the jersey worn by our server, named Marcus, simply read M  rc u , and the M was very faded. Had he not told us his name it could have been Merkin for all I knew.

Being after five o’clock in a busy business area, the restaurant was fairly well-filled and the hostess (in a faded and shabby gold jersey) brought us to our table in a narrow dark alcove. While we had enough room, the tables were close together and poor Marcus had to slide between our table and the one next to us to get to the table behind us. My more immediate concern was my chair. The place’s chairs were simple wooden chairs like you’d find for sale at a cheap liquidator and bought by someone looking to furnish a leaky basement: Nothing fancy and not made to handle a lot of usage. Mine creaked and shifted noticeably when I sat. I looked around to switch chairs from another table but every chair I saw seemed to be looser than mine. I sat and determined not to move around a lot, not so much because if the chair broke I might fall and get hurt, but because if I fell and got hurt Saarah would not stop laughing at me.

We picked up the menus and Saarah had to look closely at hers because the lack of light made it hard to read. It also didn’t help that the menu was unclear and had a weird sauce/spice chart in the middle. Now we are a pair of educated people yet we needed Marcus to explain it to us. I was getting a chicken sandwich, she was getting a fish taco, and we wanted an appetizer of some sort of soft potato chips. Easy? No.

PROBLEM ONE: How do we want the chips? We could have them as they are on the menu, unflavored. Or we could add cheese. And we “should” put one of their sauces/spices on it. But which? That wasn’t that big a problem, except that Marcus had to totally confuse us with

PROBLEM TWO: Saarah’s taco came with some sort of (as Marcus explained) small square tortilla chips. If she substituted the soft potato chips it would only cost 60 cents more. On the other hand it would be a much smaller order. My sandwich came with French fries so why would I want the soft chips? I had no answer. I was still trying to figure out the spice chart in the dim lighting and I was also trying to keep from shifting in my dangerous chair. Also, in the back of my mind I kept wondering why Marcus was down-selling us from an eight dollar appetizer to a sixty cent substitution. We ended up with the sub.

What did we want to drink? No problem for me, Coke Zero. “Sorry,” Marcus informed me, we don’t sell that.” Really? It was right there on the menu, a picture of the Coke Zero logo under the words “proudly selling Coke Zero.” I didn’t argue. Diet Coke for me.

Saarah wanted a Shirley Temple with extra cherries, no ice. (You can tell what big drinkers we are.) Uh oh, sorry, no extra cherries. According to Marcus, the bartender would only put in two cherries. No extra cherries. EVER. For some reason the bartender rationed the cherries like bread in WWII. So Saarah settled for two cherries and I slyly asked for some cherries in my Diet Coke. I took Marcus into my confidence and told him I’d give Saarah my cherries. Marcus gave me a conspiratorial grin and off he went. I felt like a smuggler.

Our drinks arrived and I had one cherry, Saarah had two, and her glass was full of ice. Technically there was a splash of Shirley Temple in there but there was enough ice to build an igloo, leaving only room for a few drink molecules. We grabbed Marcus and told him she asked for no ice and Marcus brought a new one with six cherries in that he somehow smuggled out of the bar. I do not want to know how.

I decided not to mention that my soda was very weak. I was afraid poor Marcus would get fired if he had to replace my drink.

Our food came and Marcus brought silverware. I got a fork wrapped in a napkin and Saarah got a spoon.

That’s it. A fork for me and a spoon for her. Please remember that Saarah ordered a fish taco and those soft chips. What was the spoon for? And no knives? As you will see when we get to desert, knives are an issue there.

I reached for the ketchup and at first the bottle looked like Heinz in nearly the familiar shape but the label simply said “ketchup” and had the Buffalo Wild Wings logo. I checked the label to see if maybe it was made by Heinz and specially packaged for them but no, they used off-brand ketchup.

They had similar food from the Dharma Initiative on Lost.

We finished the meal. Saarah liked her taco and my chicken sandwich was ok, if a little cold, and we were ready for dessert. We looked for the dessert menu. Didn’t find it. Looked on the regular menu, didn’t find it. We were going to ask Marcus for a dessert menu but he had spending less and less time by our section. While it may have to do with all the explaining he had to do for us, it looked more like the table behind us was giving him a hard time judging by the exasperated look on his face. But it all worked out because we found the dessert menu, which was stuck to the bottom of the regular menu and featured just two desserts: scoop of ice cream or slice of cake.

We ordered the cake and asked for it to be cut in half and to please bring an extra plate.

And here we go again.

The kitchen would not cut the cake in half. It seems they just don’t do things like that. Marcus said that they would provide us with the things (he never said “knife”) to cut the cake but the kitchen would not cut it.

Similarly, he could not give us an extra plate because they did not have any. Seriously. The food was served on those thick dishes that are half-plate/half-basket but you could only get one if they put food on top of it. However, Marcus said, he would give us “something.” I thanked him; my theory being he had a thankless job and could use a pat on the back right about then, and told him whatever he brought us would be fine.

What he brought us were two tiny paper baskets. And we cut the cake with a spoon because he never did bring anything to cut it with.

This is my actual paper basket.

The cake was too soft, my sandwich was too cold, the restaurant was too dark, and there was a serious lack of basic amenities. But Saarah and I laughed like there was no tomorrow and I had a great time.

But I will never go back.

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A New York Minute (13)

30 Jan

January 30, 2012

Here’s your New York Minute. Go tell the neighbors.

New York has a lot of famous residents, from Donald Trump’s hair to the giant inflatable rat that unions put up outside of non-union construction sites, but the most famous one of all arrived in 1933 and still holds as place in our hearts. Of course I’m talking about the original Big Ape, King Kong.

We all know the story. Carl Denham, played by Robert Armstrong, traveled to Skull Island to make a movie but ended up bringing Kong back to New   York, where the giant ape tore up some train tracks and wrecked some buildings, before finally climbing the Empire State Building where he fell to his death. And in true New York fashion, in the sequel Son of Kong Denham had to dodge about at thousand lawsuits.

The film was a hit and is considered a cinematic classic.

The 1976 version? Not so much.

In 1976 Dino DeLaurentis made  a big-budget remake, which the movie poster somehow called “the most exciting original motion picture event of all time.” It kept the same basic plot but changed some key elements. Kong was found not by a movie producer but an oil company, but the biggest change was that Kong climbed the South Tower of the World Trade Center, which had beat the Empire State Building as the tallest building in Manhattan since the original movie came out.

The film got mixed reviews. Personally, I think it isn’t horrible on the one hand but not too good on the other. But it has one huge drawback. In most scenes, King Kong was played by a man in an ape suit. And it didn’t go over very well when Dino DeLaurentis put out an ad looking for, and I quote, “a well-built black man” to play the ape.

Even Rick Baker, a special effects man known for Hollywood makeup and said that the suit wasn’t at all convincing. And he should know, he wore it. However, they did make, and highly publicized, a 40 foot tall mechanical Kong. It cost 1.7 million dollars but didn’t convince anyone and it ended up appearing in just 15 seconds of footage. Yes, I said seconds. 1.7 million for 15 seconds. However, there were some other giant props, like Kong heads, hands, and arms, and that’s where I come in.

In 1976 my father had an office on the 15th floor of the South Tower of the World Trade Center, and his office overlooked the plaza where King Kong was being filmed. This was the World Trade Center’s first brush with heightened security. People who worked in the building had to have special passes. Certain parts were blocked off for filming. Notices warned everyone that they might be filmed as they went in or out of the building. Extra security and police had to be brought in to keep back the crowds who wanted to get a glimpse of the filming.

Although I was very young I have vague and fuzzy memories of looking down from Dad’s office and seeing some of the filming and especially some of the props. Most of the filming at the Trade Center was done at night but there were always things going happening on the set. And even though it was 35 years ago I’m pretty sure I’ll never forget looking down and seeing a giant ape being laid out in the plaza below the World Trade Center. Some things are unique, and in the age of CGI probably never to be repeated.

Kong has been remade and reimagined over the years, from Peter Jackson’s overly long period piece to the Japanese-made battles with Godzilla and robo-Kong, but I’ll always think of King Kong as the giant gorilla who crushed Charles Grodin under his hairy foot.

This has been your New York Big Ape Minute.

And that giant inflatable rat I mentioned? Here it is:

An audio version of this legend recently appeared in the amazing FlashPulp website. Check them out for awesomeness and goodies!

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