Sometimes a dish takes on a starring role in your day — like, say, the entrée you savor during a much-anticipated trip to a fine dining outfit. Sometimes it's a supporting role, like a turkey drumstick at the Renaissance Festival. (Can you really say you've been to the fair without having one?) And sometimes, as with a snack that tides you over while you're busy, your food choice is just a bit player.
Most of us are way too familiar with the latter category, especially when we spend the day slammed at work, or out with the kids at the mall. We get cranky, stomachs grumbling, and head to the nearest, quickest deli or food court. Take your pick: pizza, chicken strips, burger, salad ... often, it's all there. Plenty of diversity, but no specialty.
Best I can formulate, that's the problem with Bobbi's Restaurant off Union Boulevard. It feels like a snack bar in search of a bowling alley. My husband calls it "captive food," as in food for a captive audience.
No one leaves Six Flags to eat and then comes back. Feel me? None of Bobbi's American standards is remotely interesting or unique, which is what it may take to survive in this location.
Tucked into a strip-mall between a tavern and a Burger King, this storefront doesn't suffer from lack of traffic; Memorial Hospital, the Olympic Training Center and Memorial Park are all nearby. But the economy and plenty of nearby competition have been notoriously unkind to many a recent tenant, including El Tenampa and Cubanacan. In this climate, it's quite possible that anything short of greatness won't fly here.
Owner Barbara Carlton couldn't be more warm and friendly, which makes the restaurant's appearance even more confusing. Oppressive gray tones engulf you, from the floor to the tables, chairs and dark-green-trimmed walls and ceiling. Lumpy booths of red and pink line the walls, adding the only real color until plates arrive.
I must emphasize that nothing actually tasted bad — just painfully average, from the slightly soggy BBQ wings ($6.99) to the decently crispy sweet potato fries ($2.49).
The lunch special of a pastrami Reuben ($6.99) on toasted marbled rye with sauerkraut and Swiss with fries and a drink was just OK. Another shrug was given to the mixed greens Greek Salad with gyro meat, banana peppers and feta cheese ($8.95). I'd be more descriptive, but there's really not much to describe; you've experienced these flavors 100 times before.
The offering of both New York- and Chicago-style pizzas confounded. When ordering, I wasn't asked which style I wanted. And my 10-inch, thin-crust, medium supreme with ground beef, sausage and pepperoni topped with mostly uncooked veggies cost a hefty $12.95. When I asked which style I was eating, Carlton said, "Chicago," noting that the New York version had a thinner crust. It certainly didn't resemble the deep-dish Chicago-style pizza I'm familiar with, and with Papa John's down the street, Bobbi's will have a tough time competing.
Which begs the question: In a standalone restaurant, why cast bit players in leading roles? Where are the stars? Bars and entertainment outfits can get away with dishing this type of food because they have primary incomes — and captive patrons — with their other offerings. Bobbi's doesn't, and needs to excel past easily forgotten food. Here and now, extraordinarily ordinary ain't gonna cut it.