If you’ve already reviewed the list of the Top 5 Best Restaurants according to Charlie, you know that my dad is not a picky eater. Indulging himself with greasy Ivar’s fish and chips, McDonald’s Big Macs, and gravy drenched Denny’s cuisine is not exactly the makings of a culinary expert nor a healthy diet for that matter. However, for all his fat-injected, cholesterol-elevating, artery-clogging cravings, Dad also has his standards.
Don’t get me wrong; he’ll still clean his plate, but if anything – from the staff, silverware, or food – doesn’t live up to Charlie’s strict guidelines of taste and acceptability, he’ll find a way to bitch about it from appetizer to dessert.
What follows is Charlie’s Top 5 Worst Restaurants. They are, without a doubt, a selection of the last places you would ever want to take him for dinner or even suggest for a special occasion. His reaction could be potentially anywhere from a frown and a head shake to an open display of 3-year-old tantrum-like hostility.
You have been warned.
#5 – Outback Steakhouse
Despite its #5 position as one of Charlie top 5 best, sadly this Aussie land eatery qualifies as one of his worst as well. The last time I requested dining at Outback for a little pasta and Wallaby Darns to celebrate my college graduation, Dad’s protest was both loud and aggressive. In fact, if I remember correctly, I believe the words “HELL” and “NO!” were combined in his furious objection. Even the promise of big steak knives and boomerangs didn’t soften his mood. Eventually, he was guilted into making the trip anyway, dragged kicking and screaming to a nice meal, but once he walked in the door, and he made his first Crocodile Dundee reference, it was no worries, mate!
#4 – Starbucks
While Dad has never outwardly expressed a dislike for Seattle’s most famous coffee-house, I’d be willing to bet my next Soy Low-Fat Chai Tea Latte Grande that you would never catch him consuming food or beverage at any of their billion or so locations in the Seattle area. Charlie is not a fancy coffee man. For him coffee is black , thick like tar and served by a friendly waitress with a handful of milk colored liquid packets that have been sitting out all day. The only exception to this rule would be the at home version made in a coffee maker that is NEVER cleaned – because it ruins the “flavor” I’m told – and the “milk” comes in powder form out of a can.
#3 – Any Mexican Restaurant
My dad does not get Mexican food. According to his logic, if it doesn’t include some combination of meat, vegetable, and potato, it does not meet the proper description of dinner. And no, a beef taco with lettuce and a side of tater tots doesn’t count. He still hasn’t even quite grasped the concept of a stir-fry, so ultimately this development should really come as no surprise.
No tacos, no burritos, no chips with salsa (seriously, can you imagine Charlie degrading a Dorito by dipping it into guacamole and sour cream?). No quesadillas, no tamales, he’d probably send back a tortilla thinking his plate got soggy.
That said, however, there is one exception to his dislike and confusion for food from south of the border. Dad is a BIG fan of Hamburger Helper Mexican Crunchy Taco. The first time I made it, he RAVED about the taste and especially appreciated the inclusion of chips as a topper on this one-dish meal. “They sure hit the spot!” he said with a clean plate. I have no explanation.
#2 – The Sugar Shack
Charlie used to frequent this little café down the road all the time. Whether it was for breakfast, lunch, or dinner he’d order his usual combo and flirt shamelessly with the waitress; I know this because he’d do it even when I was sitting across from him rolling my eyes in mild, awkward disgust. Good on ya, Dad for being a randy widower, but do you have to do it right in front of me? What’s wrong with the Senior Center?
Anyway, this café used to be one his favorite places, until one day out of the blue (based the vague rationalization he gave me) he was holding a grudge against the owners for bringing in temporary staff.
“What? You don’t like it when they give someone… a job?”
“You can’t just let someone come in there and…”
“That’s no way to run a business.”
This puzzling violation in Dad’s eyes has now apparently lead to a full-on, one-sided feud where, at the mere mention of the name, I fear Dad might fly into a rage-filled rant about poor customer service and improper hiring procedures.
I’ve learned not to ask too much about these sorts of things.
#1 – Buca di Beppo
And #1 on Charlie’s worst list is the Italian family style experience, Buca di Beppo. As luck would have it, Buca is my favorite restaurant and Dad’s least favorite. In the past, I’ve managed to lug his surly ass down for a spaghetti meal, but not without a backlash both during and after dinner.
“What the hell is this music they’re playing? Can’t they find anything better?” (Frank Sinatra is pretty wild.)
“Why can’t I just order my own food?” (We tend to go for the family sizes when we eat there, but thankfully Buca now offers Dad-sized portions!)
“Is there something wrong with our waiter?” (A friendly waitress is fine. A friendly waiter is a weirdo.)
To his credit, Dad does give in to our food preferences now the then. He’ll forgo dinner at Denny’s for Applebees or get hauled into a gourmet burger joint where there’s just a little more meat and a little less grease-soaked food on his plate. But God forbid if any of his daughters offer a night out at Buca for any occasion; Dad’s face would turn so sour you’d think he just stuff his mouth full of lemons. The last time I invited him to join us for a Buca feast, Charlie quickly turned on his heel and left the room in a huff; probably not so much Buca-related hatred, but more aimed at me for making such a ludicrous suggestion.
The very existence of this restaurant annoys him which is why, for Dad, Buca is the #1 Worst Restaurant. He hates the music, he hates the crazy atmosphere, and he’s not a big fan of the bill either. (Come to think of it, neither am I.) So whether it’s simply to dine or a big special event, for Charlie, there’s never a good enough reason to Buca.