Pages Menu
Categories Menu

Posted by on Feb 22, 2013 in Blog, Rants and Raves, Restaurant Reviews | 13 comments

How to Avoid a Shitty Restaurant



Nolan during happier times, at Cannes France in 2012


I just got fucked again.

Third time this week.

I made another bad restaurant choice.

You’ve got to understand.  Eating is the incomparable highlight of my day.  When I’m out on the road working, I get to carve out one peaceful hour of perfection when everything is right with my universe.  I temporarily forget all my troubles and devour whatever I want to eat and drink.  I anticipate dinner the same way a sex-starved sailor waits for shore leave.

Tonight started out with such promise.  I received an enthusiastic restaurant recommendation from a trusted source on a rotisserie chicken place — not that I’m into that kind of thing.  But the way the food and preparation was described sounded too good to pass up.  You get an entire marinated chicken, with two fresh sides, and a drink for $13.95.  I spent the last 20 hours dreaming about that chicken place like it was a hot piece of ass.

Then, I managed to get lost.

Of course, I forgot to write down either (1) the NAME of the place, or (2) the ADDRESS.  I don’t know why those two insignificant details would be important when visiting a strange city, and all.  Anyway, already buckled in the car and starving I decided to “wing it” and ended up screaming at crawling traffic while I must have done 35 U-turns looking for what turned out to be the lost restaurant of Atlantis.

Fuck this!

Unable to find the chicken shack, I contemplated three options.  Now, you have to understand what exactly I’ve eaten these last eight nights here in South Florida.  Four meals were at “Stresa,” a marvelous little Italian restaurant where (at age 51) I’m the youngest patron in the dining room by twenty years.  Then, there was Da Vinci’s down in Boca Raton (another outstanding favorite) — which means five dinners out of eight were authentic Italian.  One night I skipped dinner altogether.  The two others were Thai and Mexican.

So, Italian was out — at least for tonight.

While looping around lost and it now in the dark of night, I passed by another Thai restaurant that looked mighty tempting from the street.  The good thing about Thai places are — (1) the service is always excellent, (2) the restaurants are always clean, (3) the food is always at least decent, (4) it’s not expensive.

Why I didn’t listen to my inner voice and opt for the “sure thing” of Thai is something I now deeply regret.  Then again, I wouldn’t be sitting here some 90 minutes later fuming at what I just experienced, which would leave you now reading some tiresome political essay of mine.

My other option was a high-dollar steakhouse or another place called “Park Avenue Barbeque.”  I quickly crossed off the fancy steakhouse, figuring I didn’t want to blow $75 eating all by myself.

Barbeque it was.

Naturally, I didn’t listen to any of my gut instincts.  From the moment I wheeled into the parking lot, everything about this place screamed “RUN AWAY!”

Listen up.  I’m going to share a little secret with you that will serve you well for the rest of your life.  The topic:  Good Restaurants.  You want to know the first thing to look for when entering a strange restaurant?  No, it’s not the food.  You look at the people.

That’s right.  Take a quick glance around the dining room and make mental notes of what you see.  There are obvious danger signs on the horizon if you simply open your eyes and look for them.  I’ll provide a specific list of these things to look out for later (see my TEN LIST at the conclusion of this rant).

But back to my experience at Park Avenue Barbeque.

First incident is, I end up waiting five full minutes before anyone comes up to greet me.  A 22-year-old kid finally approaches with his arms full of glassware and informs me, “Oh just take a seat anywhere.  We’ll be right with you.”

So, I’ve just spent the last five minutes of my life standing there with my dick in my hand because I don’t know the house’s special seating code.

Alarm bells are starting to go off.  What do I do?  I completely fucking ignore them and crawl deeper into the spider’s web.

I take a seat in a wooden booth.  That’s right — a wooden booth.  Sort of like what you might see inside a 1950’s-era bus terminal.  There’s a metal bucket slung out on the table, which I presume are used to house bottles of iced-cold beer.  Now, those bells ringing in my head are starting to sound like a fire alarm.  But still, I sit waiting for the Black Widow of disappointment to devour me.

The menu comes.  I”m greeted by a young, twenty-something girl who introduces herself as “Sassy.”

By now those ringing alarm bells have matastasized into The Gong Show.

“Sassy” tells me the barbeque is great.  Okay.  I can dig that.  Then, she informs me about the house special which is “All You Can Eat Spare Ribs,” for $16.95.  Sounds like a bargain.

“But aren’t spare ribs tough,” I ask?

“Yeah, you have to chew on them a bit,” Sassy admits.

Well, I’m not here to gnaw on beef jerky all night like some fucking starving coyote, so the house special is out.

“What’s better — the full slab of baby-back ribs or the beef brisket?”

Sassy looks confused.

Sassy looks up and around.

Sassy doesn’t know what to say.

I mean, what the fuck — this isn’t some quantum physics quiz on the admission application to M.I.T.

“Let me ask you this — which meat do you think is more tender — the pork ribs or the beef brisket?”

The light bulb finally turns green in Sassy’s little head and she finally takes a flyer with the brisket.

“Okay, so bring me the beef brisket!”

After more unnecessary confusion, I tell Sassy my two sides.  Of course, she fails to inform me the items that I’ve selected are not fresh — but rather frozen.  And the toast I receive is inedible.

Yes indeed, this ends up being a meal from hell.

The platter arrives.  I should have shot a picture, but I was so emotionally devastated by that point I wasn’t thinking straight.

The beef is completely slathered in a brown sauce.  The meat is totally engulfed, almost like a stew.  Worse, the nasty sauce tastes sweet.  Sweat sauce!  I mean — what the fuck!

What’s outrageous is there are three different sauces sitting out on table — which are the house specialties.  So with these additional options (mild, medium, and hot) why would they demolish my platter by dunking it all in what looks like brown ketchup?  WHY IN THE FUCK IS MY BARBEQUE SWIMMING IN SAUCE WHEN THERE ARE THREE MORE BOTTLES ON THE TABLE?  Any more sauce options and it’s going to be coming out of my ass.

There’s only one person to ask about this, so I flag down Sassy.

“I want to try these sauces but they put too much sauce already on the meat.”

Light blub flickering.

“Would you like me to send it back,” she asks?


I know what goes on behind closed doors in restaurant kitchens with pissed-off Mexicans all working in a sweatbox for $7 an hour.  I’m not risking my gastrointestinal future on the mood of someone in an apron named “Jesus.”

“We put out the bottles because some people like extra sauce,” Sassy informs.

Extra sauce?  Seriously?  I mean — SERIOUSLY?  If I dabbled any more sauce on my plate, I’d need to slurp it up with a straw.  This isn’t barbeque.  I’m eating a meat Slurpee.

This is the point of the meal where I deserve no mercy.  I’m completely to blame.  Instead of simply getting up, throwing a $20 bill on the table and chalking it up as a loss, I decide to actually attempt to eat the monstousity.  I know, I could have cut my losses and went across the street to the Thai joint.  But why stop digging your own grave when you’ve got the sharpest shovel?

So, the beef brisket is close to inedible.  But I do manage to choke down a few chunks and wash it down with iced tea.  The bountiful buttery corn on the cob that looked so delicious when I was gawking at it a few minutes earlier from across the room on another diner’s plate I come to discover is — hand slaps forehead —  frozen corn.


I fucking hate frozen corn!  It’s always mushy!  My idea of corn on the cob isn’t biting into something with the texture of a paint roller.  All restaurants should be forced by law to announce when they serve frozen corn.  Don’t fucking tell me you offer “corn” as one of your sides and then bring me kernels that as so soft it seems they’ve been flattened by a rolling pin.  You know that part of the corn where it’s so smashed, you can’t even dig your teeth into the ear and bite a chunk?  That’s the way this thing looked.

Sassy had told me the barbeque beans were good.  I’m about to find out for myself about that.  But by this time her credibility is shot to shit with me, that’s for sure.

I take a spoonful of the beans, lift, and taste.  Compared to the disappointing brisket and mushy corn I’ve just sampled, now all the sudden now I feel like I’m eating fucking chateaubriand.

I devour the beans like Papillon in a prison cell.

Sassy comes back about ten minutes later and she sees that the brisket and corn haven’t been touched.  But then the bean bowl is so spotless, it looks likes it’s been licked clean by a rottweiler.

“Yeah, those beans were sure good,” I announce.

Sassy is pleased.  She offers to wrap up the rest of the spoils, but I decline the offer unless it comes with a complimentary air freshener.

“Want some dessert?”

Of course, I refuse the last possible lifeboat out of the place and announce — “what ‘ya got?”

Sassy tells me her favorite thing is the key lime pie.


South Florida.  Key Lime Pie.  The math adds up on this one.

Five minutes later, Sassy’s favorite dessert is served.  Immediately, I see this will end up as the fitting exclamation point on night-long narrative of outrage.

For one, there is spray whipped topping on the pie.  Spray!

How in the holy shit do you blast a “spray” on a pie?  And of course, one bite and I know instantly that the motherfucker is served right out of a box.  It’s six-month-old “fresh” from the local restaurant supply company.

Of course, I inhale the entire thing.

So, I end up spending $30 for a bowl of beans and a slice of industrial pie.

As I depart, I peer across the street once again and see the Thai place with a neon sign that says OPEN.  There’s a big Buddah statue placed out in front.  The fucker is smiling.  I swear I heard him say, “I told you so.”

Which now brings up the check list I promised.  I present to you a guide on “How to Avoid Shitty Restaurants.”


If the host or hostess looks like a teenager, leave.  You will do no wrong by following this simple commandment.  Sure, there might be a few decent restaurants that hire 19-year-old kids.  But most places with teens handling the seating with grease pencils are big corporate chains and slop houses paying everybody slave wages where the sole objective is to cut every imaginable cost and turn over the tables as quickly as possible.


If you see a lot of fat people eating, chances are — that’s a decent restaurant.  What do fat people like to do?  They like to fucking eat.  So, why not go where they dine?  Use them right, they’re like bloodhounds on the trail of good food.


Rich people can be pricks.  But at least they usually know where to eat.  Check out the parking lot.  If you see cars more than a decade old, keep on fucking driving.  But if you see a fair amount of fancy European sports cars and high-end vehicles that means one of two things (and probably both) — this place is good and this place is expensive.  Rich people can eat anywhere they want.  If they’re eating here, that’s a good sign.


Older people have more dining experience.  They don’t usually try out new things or gamble with their diets.  They usually know where to go.  Trust them.  However, if the people are too old — or if they’re in wheelchairs or with walkers — RUN OUT THE DOOR!  These human relics no longer have any taste buds so their preferences aren’t reliable.  Moreover, very old people are tightwads and they’ll end up going where food doesn’t cost much, with no consideration given to quality.


If there’s any single metric to determine “good” restaurant versus “bad” restaurant it’s most certainly the proportion of high chairs to diners.  I would make the cutoff 1:100.  That means, for every 100 diners you should see no more than one high chair.  If you see more than a dozen high chairs, make a mad dash to the nearest exit.  I’m there to enjoy a nice quiet meal, not listen to baby talk.


Families dining out together can be a nice experience — provided they stay where they belong at places like Applebee’s and the Olive Garden.  Trouble is, families are usually cheap.  Now burdened with kids in the nest, they no longer have enough time to stay in proper training as reliable restaurant guides.  They’re lucky to eat out once a week and when they chose a restaurant, it’s usually based on if the kids menu serves cheeseburgers and if they bring you a box of crayons when you’re seated.


College kids are experts at two things — how to get beer when they’re underage and how to eat like elephants on $10 a day.  If you’ve got $6 in your pocket, ask a college kid where to eat.  If you want a decent meal, see where the kids are all going and then run the other way.


This law applies to domestic beers, and not micro-breweries.  Any diner who guzzles a Budweiser with his dinner is a fucking lout.  He’s not there for the food.  He’s there to blast his belly full of beer.  When I look around, I want to see patrons drinking cocktails, wine, and bottled mineral water.  If they’re busy slamming a six pack, all it means is the mook is going to be disturbing everyone in his party by carting off to the restroom every half hour making the urinal look like it was hit by Hurricane Katina.  Beer drinking has its place, such as in a tavern.  But not in a decent restaurant.


If you want to troll for ass, there’s plenty of places for that.  But I assume you’re going to a restaurant for a good meal and if you happen to see short skirts, tits, and legs hanging out, you can bet this place isn’t known for the food.  Some waif squeezed into a loincloth doesn’t end up with a 26-inch waist by scarfing down Beef Wellington every night.  They eat like fucking birds.  Probably the worse indicator of a decent restaurant, other than high chairs, is the number of pretty young girls.


Any restaurant that has to announce it has the “best” this or the “best” that is probably lying.  A good restaurant doesn’t need to trumpet how good it is.  Word will get out and around.  People will flock to a decent restaurant with fair prices like seagulls to a loaf of bread.  Any place so desperate that is must place “World’s Best Hamburgers” on sign out front probably doesn’t have the world’s best hamburgers.

Next, I’ll provide the world with my guidelines for what I expect if you happen to invite me to dinner.



  1. Great article. I laughed out loud several times reading it. We’ve all been there. Keep on doing what you do!

  2. Funny!! and how true!

  3. Add to the list the number of baseball hats. Every time I see a baseball hat, or something like sandals, at what is supposed to be a “restaurant” –which I consider a place with an executive chef — I know it’s probably shit

  4. I’ve had similar experiences. I’ll use your list to winnow my choices next time — or just eat at a Thai place.

  5. Hillarious Nolan. The Ten list at the bottom was spot on.

  6. Brilliant. Good tips many of which I already apply.

    Hope your distrous meal didn’t play out badly once you “digested” it. Nothing worse than shitty food that is terrible on entry and lethal on exit.

  7. Love it! Great list at the end. Hope you track down the chicken place.

  8. OMG I love that you’re telling real life adventures! I ate at a place like this in Oneida, NY last June. I ignored all the warning signs and couldn’t eat the inedible greasy omelet with american cheese and an english muffin with margrine. Margarine really WTF?

  9. Another good sign you are in a shitty restaurant is when a large dining room is almost deserted and they bring you a fucking six-page menu. If you haven’t already run and must eat there, get a hamburger. If you order that exotic sounding specialty off the middle of Page #5, the “chef” will spend 30 minutes looking for it at the bottom of the freezer. If he doesn’t find it, they’ll find some other never-ordered frozen turd and smother it with a disgusting sauce to trick you.

  10. That was absolutely hilarious. Really enjoy your stuff.

  11. i was going to unsubscribe until I read this

    guess i am hooked

  12. Nolan: I live in South Florida. I’ve been there. Once. Wish I could have pointed you in a better direction in Boca — some really good restaurants in town here.

  13. Love this article! Reminded me of something I just saw. I don’t know if you saw this but a friend passed it along. Hits close to home. Saw the whole film too–it was super funny!!

    Keep up the good work!


  1. How to Avoid a Shitty Restaurant (Redux) | Nolan Dalla - [...] Writer’s Note:  This is a follow up to the February 22nd column, HOW TO AVOID A SHITTY RESTAURANT. [...]

Post a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *