Friday, April 25, 2008

The Pizza Mile

Place: Happy Joe's
Lunch: Pizza buffet (a whole lot of pizza, macaroni and cheese, cottage cheese, potato salad, Pepsi)

WOW it's cold today. What happened? I actually turned on my A/C last night to clear out the humidity.

On Tuesday, I realized I'd eaten at two different pizza buffets already this week, so I decided to go for it and eat at pizza buffets the rest of the week so I could compare them.

Most pizza chains with dine-in seating offer lunch buffets. The only chain around here that doesn't have them is Godfather's, which is odd because some outlying communities have Godfather's that DO have lunch buffets. Most pizza buffets are a pretty good'll rarely spend over $10 even if tipping is expected...and it's pizza for pete's sake! Go nuts.

I'm sort of a grazer. I might pile up a plate the first time around, but otherwise I'll take a couple of slices and kind of watch out to see what gets rotated in. Unless they have all my favorites up at once, which is rare.

MONDAY: Old Chicago

The "Rush Street" pizza bar, which I'm pretty sure I covered in a recent blog post, comes with a salad or soup and a cookie at the end, all brought to you by your server. In between, you have about a half dozen pizzas and/or strombolis to graze from, as well as breadsticks and pasta with your choice of alfredo or marinara sauce. Easily the best quality food of any of this week's buffets. This is the same stuff they serve at dinner.


Old Chicago actually has a complete lunch menu aside from the pizza bar too in case you'd rather have a lunch-sized serving of lasanga or something.

TUESDAY: Pizza Ranch

I arrive and there's three cars in the lot with people sitting in them, even though the store should have opened several minutes ago. Sure enough, the door is locked. I walk down to where I can see employees standing at the counter looking lonely, wondering why nobody's coming in for lunch. One sees me, takes the hint, and comes up to try the door. He unlocks it immediately, and the entire management team gets a look of "Oh, that's why." Everybody gets out of their cars and the stampede is on (pun intended, if you've ever been here.)

Same Guy who unlocked the door rings me up but somehow locks the cash register. A manager assists him while the others waiting in cars get checked out by Some Girl who knows what she's doing on another register. Eventually, I have a plate and drink cup and am on my way. The buffet is already fully stocked and waiting.

This store opened one week and one day ago, and I was here for opening day. The manager who helped the cashier said to me "Well, we must have done something right the FIRST time, because you came back!"

The Pizza Ranch is as known for their excellent chicken as they are for their pizza, and the representation of both at the "Mile-Long Buffet" (no, not even close) gives them the biggest non-pizza hot food variety of any of this week's buffets, with chicken (crispy or barbecue), mashed potatoes (yes, there's gravy) fried potato wedges, fried in-house potato chips, a salad bar, corn, soup (chicken noodle's always chicken something here), and dessert pizzas available. Plus there's about eight pizzas. if you want a pizza that's not out, ask and they'll make it. This place was an instant hit on opening day, even though the road it's on is closed.

The Pizza Ranch is decked out in an extreme Western cowboy motif, almost to the point of ridiculous. Most food items are named to fit the theme. There's "ranch chips", "ranch wedges", and pizza combos named "Prairie", "Trailblazer", "Bronco", etc...) The staff is easily the friendliest of this week's pizza buffets. The staff is much more genuine in their concern that you enjoy the experience.

You know what's weird? The soda fountain has two taps for Pibb. One is labeled "Pibb Xtra", the tangier stuff that replaced the original Mr. Pibb, and one is labeled "Mr. Pibb". Could they actually have BOTH? So I have a glass of each. I'll be darned...they really DO have both. They're two distinctly different tastes. I didn't think Mr. Pibb existed anymore.


It's been so long since I've been a dine-in customer at a Pizza Hut that I'd completely forgotten they have a table service format.

Server seats me, gets my Pepsi, and I head to the buffet. They have two lines of food...the hot line, and the salad bar. The hot bar has a couple of pastas, six pizzas including one dessert pizza, and breadsticks. The salad bar has all the usual salad fixings, plus potato salad, macaroni salad, pears, cottage cheese, a couple of's easily the most decked out salad bar of the week.

The pizzas include a couple of original crust, a thin, and a couple of pan pizzas, including a taco pizza. Some Old Guy who works here brings out a thin crust Pepperoni Lovers and heads for a table of random old folks. "This goes pretty quick when they put it out, so I figured I'd better get you some now." He gives them each a slice or two. They are elated. Then he takes the rest back with him TO THE KITCHEN. I am denied Pepperoni Lovers until my second trip up, when the rest of that pizza is FINALLY added to the buffet.

The macaroni and cheese, which was one of the available pastas, was industrial and awesome all at the same time. The salad bar was great. The pizza variety rotated frequently as pies ran out throughout lunch. The pizza itself? As boring as ever.

I can't believe Pizza Hut has lasted this long. I really can't.

THURSDAY: Cici's Pizza

Cici's is the motherlode of pizza buffet value. It's the cheapest option, yet has the most pizza variety...a dozen pies at any given time...on a well maintained buffet line. Cici's makes a number of specialty pizzas that make them stand out from the crowd, including Buffalo Chicken, Zesty Pepperoni (a zesty white garlic sauce), Macaroni and Cheese, and more. They'll make any pizza you don't already see if you just ask (somebody today actually ordered a "green olive with garlic sauce". I didn't know they HAD green olives). The salad bar is simple but adequate, and the dessert choices (brownies, AWESOME cinnamon rolls, and an apple pizza) are very popular.

Cici's staff is trained to be friendly and fun. "Hi! Welcome to Cici's!" is heard from the cashier when you walk in the door. It's SUPPOSED to be repeated by the rest of the staff, but the staff at this store is pretty jaded, and you're lucky if one or two bother to mumble anything at all. They have other chants in their arsenal too, but all of them have disappeared here. They do announce when a new pizza is added to the buffet ("Pepperoni on the buffet!" "Garlic Chicken on the buffet!" "Lance, you idiot, get off the buffet!") The staff will often ask you if everything is okay, then give your their name and advise you to ask if you need anything. It's very scripted, which is what makes Cici's (slightly) less friendly than the Pizza Ranch.

Cici's staffs somebody (usually a supervisor) full-time in front of the pizza line. Stacy is the Master of Pizza Ceremonies most of the time when I come in for lunch. Stacy is a tall skinny long-legged blonde who keeps her hair in a pony tail. Once when I was here, she came in on her day off in hippie street clothes, glasses, and with her hair down. On that day, Stacy's status in my mind went from "Master of Pizza Ceremonies" to "One of the most beautiful women I have ever seen in my entire life".

I once in awhile make a special request for a pepperoni-mushroom. I didn't today, but one of the other regular supervisors saw me and had one made anyway, then brought me some.

THERE'S service for ya!

FRIDAY: Happy Joe's

Cici's pretty much ran all of the local Happy Joe's out of business this year. But two of them reopened under new management. This one seemed to be doing a decent business today.

I walk up to the door and the store hours indicate they open at 8am. WHAT??! Since when? Inside, I see a poster promoting the new Happy Joe's breakfast! Freaky Old Cashier: "It's pretty good." The menu includes some specialty breakfast pizzas and bowls. You can have a breakfast pizza made with whatever pizza ingredient you want on it. So if you want an egg, cheese, and pepperoni breakfast pizza, they'll apparently do it.

Happy Joe's has the smallest of the buffets, but they make use of the space. Six or seven pizzas are crammed into one half of the bar, with a couple of pastas, potato salad, cottage cheese, and a minimalist salad offering (I don't even recall seeing salad dressing) making up the rest. But the pizzas are rotated in at a pretty good rate, and if you plan to hang out for a half hour or so, you can try a wide variety of Happy Joe's combo pizzas.

Happy Joe's original "thin" crust will be familiar to those familiar with Shakey's or Round Table. It's not as doughy as Round Table's though. Their most popular pizza is the Taco Joe, probably the most popular taco pizza in existence. That's what everybody talks about when discussing Happy Joe's. But they have some other tasty unique creations. The B. L. T. pizza, a bacon, lettuce, tomato, mayonnaise pizza, is my personal favorite. And I got to eat both today, so I'm a happy smurf.

The one problem with this buffet is that you have to go to the cashier for drink refills, which means waiting in line behind people ordering lunch. That can be annoying. I plan to suggest a self-service soda bar on the comment card.

Well, there you have it. You'd think I'd be sick of pizza about now, wouldn't you?

No. I could totally do it all over again next week.

But I won't.

At least not every day.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Memory Foam

Place: Old Chicago
Lunch: "Rush Street" Pizza bar, Caesar salad, Pepsi

This pizza bar thing is pretty cool. They have about a half dozen pizzas out, you get a salad made and served just like the ones with a regular dinner, and then they brought me a warm cookie at the end. All for under $10.


I bought a new mattress pad for my bed this weekend...a memory foam pad that Costco sells. It's actually side microfiber and one side memory foam...but you get the idea.

So I get it home and pull it out of the box. Turns out there's some assembly required. The microfiber and the memory foam part are packed separately. You unroll the memory foam, lay it out on the microfiber, wrap with the attached cover, then zip the whole thing up.

But here's the fun part...The memory foam part is vacuum-packed in one of those airtight sealed bags. You know those storage bag kits they sell where you put the stuff in, suck the air out with a vacuum, and have a bag a fraction of the size to store?

They vacuum-sealed memory foam.

Memory foam.

It was nearly impossible to roll out, and when I did, it looked like a fraction of the size of the bed. It's supposed to be like four inches thick, but it looked more like one.

Two days later, it's still not completely normal.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Now Serving...

Place: Burger King
Lunch: Loaded Steakhouse burger, onion rings, Coke

I was filling up my shiny new Rogue when I spotted the burger promo sign in the BK window.

From a distance, the picture made it look like it had bacon, mushrooms, cheddar, and ranch sauce. Up close, the picture made it look like it had bacon, onion petals, barbecue sauce, and a ranch sauce.

Neither impressions proved to be completely accurate. It had: Bacon, American cheese, onion petals, barbecue sauce, and the innards of a twice-baked potato mixed with sour cream and chives.

I have to admit, that's a new idea for a burger. At least I've never seen that before.

And it worked. Pretty good.

Our local drivers license bureau is been in the basement of a dead shopping mall in the central part of the metro for years. I'd long since figured out I could go there during lunch and get in and out in a few minutes. It was never that busy at that time of day.

Last year, they moved to a sprawling new complex in a northern suburb, making it an inconvenient drive for ninety percent of the county. Everybody complained, nobody cared. I guess they did put a new substation in an old strip mall attached to a long abandoned Target. not far from the old place.

Yeah. Like I'm going THERE.

So I go to the new place. The "visitor" parking...a sliver of the vast parking a one-way situation where you drive to the end, enter, find parking, and drive out the other end. Naturally, somebody is driving the wrong way when I pull in. What better place to break traffic laws than at the DOT headquarters, right?

The new office looks crappy in comparison to the old. It has an open ceiling that really shouldn't be. It looks very industrial. It uses a color scheme of drab, drab, drab, and off-drab.

And there's a line.

So I wait.

And wait.

And wait.

Then I get to the entrance. Entry Screener takes my license, asks why I'm there, gives me a form and a number, and sends me to the waiting area where I am to watch for my number to be called at windows "A through K".

Each window has an electronic sign that lights the numbers. I rule out A-D immediately because they're hanging over NOTHING.

Everybody here looks depressed.

But the process actually went pretty smoothly. My number was called in about five minutes, I got my stuff done with the DOT employee, I sat back down, Picture Taker Guy got my picture taken, I got my new license, I left.

The new licenses are pink and teal and stupid looking. I would swear they were fake if somebody showed one to me before I'd actually been issued one.

Oh...Yes, I got the Rogue. I test drove it a couple of weeks ago as well as the (still forthcoming) VW Tiguan. I think it was even the same Tiguan that was at the auto show. My dealer had it available for test drives for a short period.

The Rogue was the better choice for me.

The Rogue is good.

The Rogue is awesome.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008


Place: Carlos O' Kelly's
Lunch: #1 combo (beef taco, beef enchilada, cheese enchilada, rice, beans), tortilla soup, chips, salsa and queso, Pepsi

Carlos O' Kelly's has long been known for their mediocre food and slow service. I haven't been to one for a few years, and I'm not sure what possessed me today, but the service was easily the best I've ever had here, and the food was better than it used to be.

Go figure.

Monday morning at 2:15, I was awakened by a loud extended nothing I'd ever been awakened by before.

The noise came from the kitchen and shot me straight up. Maggie the cat, who was curled up next to me, also shot straight up. We gave each other a startled look and then appeared to think the same thing together..."What did Chester do now?"

Chester is my orange tabby tomcat. He's a very nice fellow with a mellow demeanor, but he has a curious side about him. If there's a space he can access, he will. Leave no cupboard door open, or he's going in. I once caught him balancing himself on top of my large but thin LCD television. And once he sets his mind to doing something, there's no stopping him. You may stop him temporarily, but he WILL continue to try until he's succeeded. When he gets fixated on something, it's going to happen. Period.

I head for the kitchen to find a mess of epic proportions. My horrible pathetic kitchen has a big cabinet to the right, and a long single shelf that runs from the left of the cabinet to the left wall. A lot of stuff is stored up there...cereal, containers, pitchers, and small appliances.

In my fifteen years in this house, I had no idea that the only thing holding the shelf up there was the gravity of its own weight on two wedges underneath it, each about a third of the way into its length.

No glue, no screws, nothing.

Neither did Chester, until he jumped up there and disrupted the delicate balance of all that stuff on there and sent it all flying.

The shelf itself had ended up bridged between the kitchen sink and the stove, which was hit so hard it knocked out the pilot lights.

In the sink were two shattered glass containers with the pasta and sugar that were in them, my blender, a couple of crushed cereal boxes, and several other miscellaneous items.

On the floor scattered about was everything else, including a plastic pitcher that managed to break.

Maggie was most impressed with the calamity. I'm sure she was disappointed she wasn't here to see it...she seems to find great amusement out of watching Chester do dumb things.

Chester was nowhere to be found until I was about halfway done cleaning up the mess, when he came crawling into the kitchen, shaking. He seemed none the worse for wear otherwise, but he was really shook up.

A half hour later, the garbage was taken out, the shelf cleaned (WOW was it dirty...I can't believe I kept food on it), the salvageable salvaged, and the shelf was returned to its rightful place...this time with a good dose of carpenter's glue applied.

At least he didn't break the TV.