Welcome back to AVQ&A, where we throw out a question for discussion among the staff and readers. Consider this a prompt to compare notes on your interface with pop culture, to reveal your embarrassing tastes and experiences, and to ponder how our diverse lives all led us to convene here together. Got a question you’d like us and the readers to answer? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This week’s question comes from reader Shelly Fox:
What fictional restaurant would you most like to patronize? For me, there’s no question: I want to try fast food at its highest level of technical perfection. Thus, I’m heading straight for Los Pollos Hermanos.
A couple of months ago, I stopped in Louisville, Kentucky because I’d heard about a restaurant called Hammerheads that served lamb ribs. The ribs were as good as promised, and ever since, I’ve been obsessed with the idea of eating them again. Because I’m not driving through Kentucky any time soon, though, I think I’d settle for Bronto Burgers And Ribs, the drive-in featured in the closing to The Flintstones. While dinosaur ribs probably wouldn’t be quite as tender as the smoked lamb at Hammerheads, there’s something intriguing about potentially using my foot power to head on down to the Bronto and pick up a burger made from Triceratops or Apatosaurus. It would be a singular experience, if nothing else.
I would love to sit down for a meal at Luke’s Diner from Gilmore Girls. Its slightly shabby decor and no-nonsense service remind me of a few places where I washed dishes while growing up in small-town U.S.A., and I would bet it smells similar as well. (A great sign of a delicious meal is the semi-permanent smell of deep-fryer grease on your clothes.) The always curmudgeonly Luke and his “no cell phone” policy would make for a quaint experience, and I wouldn’t mind running into the well-read and brooding Jess Mariano for some witty banter before stuffing a scrumptiously greasy burger and fries down the hatch after a long day. This also seems like a place with malts, and nothing washes down a burger and fries better than a vanilla malt. Nothing.
If Bob’s Burgers existed in the neighborhood of The A.V. Club headquarters, I’d be a regular. I don’t know why Bob’s joint is always teetering on the edge of bankruptcy. Maybe that Ocean Avenue location doesn’t get the foot traffic that this lowbrow culinary landmark deserves. Granted, I’ve never tasted one of the burgers, but judging by Bob’s deep passion for the art of burger-making, I’m guessing his creations are delicious. I’d start out with the basic burger, and then I’d keep coming back for the Burger Of The Day specials, which combine two of my favorite things: meat and puns.
How about Chez Louisiane, perhaps better known to those who haven’t seen the TV series Frank’s Place as, well, Frank’s Place? I love the food and culture of New Orleans only from the outside looking in, as someone who’s never been but would really love to go and gorge himself for several weeks on the city’s many offerings. And the down-home, friendly atmosphere of Chez Louisiane is a big reason for that. It does for the food service industry what Cheers did for bars, and it’s here that I offer up my annual reminder that this show really needs to come to DVD.
The natural inclination here is to pick a restaurant that’s actually been depicted in a fictional work: Nuovo Vesuvio comes highly recommended by the members of the Soprano crime family, and though I’ve eaten at the restaurant that played Los Pollos Hermanos on Breaking Bad, I’m still curious about the “old ways” of preparation that Gus Fring brought with him to Albuquerque. But thinking about the favored haunts of human monsters put me in mind of the biggest question mark within Bret Easton Ellis’ American Psycho and its 2000 film adaptation: Could I get a reservation at Dorsia? And what kind of insane, satirically trendy cuisine would be on the menu if I could nail down the table that’s so hard to find, it’s worth killing for? (If Patrick Bateman kills at all, which is American Psycho’s third-biggest question mark, after the Dorsia puzzle and the mystery of how a nitwit like Van Patten got so tasteful.) This raises the question of whether Dorsia even exists within the coked-up, status-obsessed Manhattan of American Psycho—so you know what, fuck it. I ate at Dorsia last Friday. Great sea urchin ceviche. If you get chance, you must go. Slip the maître d’ a CD copy of Huey Lewis And The News’ Fore!. You’ll thank me.
I don’t know the name of the place, but I’d love to chow down at the diner Jack Nicholson visits in Five Easy Pieces. The film came out in 1970, two years before I was born, and my grandmother owned a tiny joint much like it around the same time. Everything about the Five Easy Pieces diner reminds me of my childhood in the ’70s, up to and including the cranky waitress who spars with Nicholson regarding the specifics of the menu (while highlighting the absurdity of restaurants’ “no substitutions” rules, not to mention the rigidity of Greatest Generation America vs. the liberating-yet-obnoxious new freedom of the post-hippie zeitgeist). Mostly, though, I just want to sit back in my booth, eat my chicken sandwich, and watch Nicholson in his prime sneer at a mean lady and clear a table like a punk, even if my own upbringing leads me to side with the cranky waitress.
“Like a wax museum with a pulse,” is how Vincent Vega describes Jack Rabbit Slim’s, and I can’t think of a better place to share a comfortable silence with someone. Never mind the ambiance—slot cars, a nightly dance contest, and deep enough pop culture awareness that the celebrity look-alike waitstaff has a Mamie Van Doren alongside Marilyn Monroe and Buddy Holly. What other place has the courage of its convictions and forbids patrons from ordering a steak medium? Commit to “burned to a crisp” or “bloody as hell,” or go to Sizzler. (Burnt, for the record.) Plus they have a milkshake that, while it may not be worth $5, is still pretty fuckin’ good.
The advantage of eating at Milliways, the Restaurant At The End Of The Universe (from Douglas Adams’ novel of the same name) is that it isn’t terribly far away physically; it just happens to be 576,000,000,000 years in the future. (Further advantage: You can pay the huge bill with the compound interest on a tiny amount of money deposited in an account in your own time period.) Really, it’s advantages all the way down: The restaurant has the best during-meal entertainment imaginable, as diners get to watch the universe implode at the end of its lifespan. It has the best social scene imaginable: Everyone who was anyone from any period in time is there, getting drunk on Pan Galactic Gargle Blasters and partying in a giant cross-universe cocktail hour. They even have food that’s bred to be obliging, that recommends choice cuts of meat from its body, and that commits suicide so diners can devour it without guilt. Granted, the whole scene is chaotic and crazy, as Adams’ settings tend to be, but I’d put up with it to watch the Gnab Gib. (That’s “Big Bang” backward, for those who haven’t read the book.)
Tasha took my immediate answer—but that’s okay, because on those days where I don’t want to watch the universe end, I’d rather like to go to that out-of-the-way dive in Mexico that had the insanely good puerco pibil, from Once Upon A Time In Mexico. The Robert Rodriguez film is both unexpectedly violent and unexpectedly funny, and Johnny Depp is essentially perfect in the role of Sands, the CIA operative who comes to tangle with El Mariachi. The puerco pibil here is so good—so insanely good—that Sands determines he must kill the cook, in order to restore the balance to Mexico. And then he does. Maybe I’d try to get a reservation on a day when there isn’t an imminent murder, though.
It has to be The Pie Hole from Pushing Daisies, right? It’s a restaurant that only serves pies, and it’s shaped like a pie! It even has cup-pies, for when you’re feeling especially delicate and twee! How do you get anything better than that? Bryan Fuller’s visual culinary masterpiece is definitely Hannibal, but he cut his teeth here creating the most gorgeous, delicious-looking desserts ever put to film—and at least these pies aren’t made from people. I would gladly become a regular and try every pie on the menu twice over. Pie! (Plus, c’mon, Lee Pace is there.)
I’ve been known to daydream about staring out a window and watching the sun come up while trying to find the energy to extricate myself from a booth at the Fell’s Point Diner, favored spot for late-night cheeseburgers and chin music in Diner, Barry Levinson’s 1982 movie about guys who like to go to a diner. Set in 1959, the movie itself is a period piece set in a time before I was born, and the location of the fictional diner itself is now a row of condos. Needless to say, this lost-in-time quality only adds to the luster of the place as an imaginary hangout, cast adrift in a time when everyone at the table had to hold up their end of a conversation, since they did not have the option of pretending to have urgent business to attend to on the phone. Everyone who loves this movie tends to focus on the loose, funny talk and to fantasize about how great it would be to throw jokes, insults, observations, and challenges back and forth like that, and I’m no different. But aside from that, I have to admit that, every single time I see this movie, at some point, I get really hungry for French fries.
If I could, I’d be a regular at Quark’s bar from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Actually, I’ve been to the fake Quark’s at Star Trek: The Experience in Las Vegas. They tried to pass off gummy worms as a Klingon delicacy. As for the actual Quark’s, I could probably get better food at other restaurants in the Star Trek universe—Sisko’s Creole Kitchen comes to mind—but I can get great Creole cooking now. What I can’t get now is alien cuisine, alien conversation, and an up-close, panoramic view of space with periodic light shows from the Bajoran wormhole. Plus, I’d get to learn how to play Bajoran roulette. I’d probably be scared off at the first sign of the inevitable violence, but think of all the diplomats and merchants and friendly parties I’d get to see first.
I could’ve easily offered up several of the other answers to this question as my own—particularly Tasha’s—but there’s one that no one else has said that probably would’ve been my first pick anyway: the Double R Diner, located in Twin Peaks. First of all, you’ve got Shelly Johnson and Norma Jennings as your waitresses, both of whom are pretty easy on the eyes (and that’s to say nothing of clientele like Audrey Horne). But when it comes down to it, the biggest reason is that the reputation of the Double R’s pie is second to none… and based on most reports, the coffee is pretty damned fine, too.