Monday, October 27, 2008

Bigger may be better, but queensland is still a shithole.

In these heady days of economic turmoil, I have to say that my thoughts have been returning to those delightfully… basic days of the late eighties and early nineties. It was a simpler time. One where everyone wanted value added products and more bang for their buck. Indeed, it truly was the golden age of Bigger is Better.

But slowly, things changed. While Pauline Hanson was busy running around the countryside denouncing immigrants and aboriginals alike for arriving in our country and stealing our jobs, our welfare, and presumably our women, those of us in more populous and less redneck infested areas were getting with a new program – rediscovering the awesomeness that is disposable income! Yes, yet again, the farmers and the hicks were living in the past, and we were all moving on up, right there with M People.*

And that’s about the time we all got fat. With our newfound wealth, we purchased lots and lots of small things, and enjoyed every last morsel at remarkable speed, just in case anyone turned up and confiscated our ill gained and clearly undeserved riches. Instead of paying $1.20 for over half a litre of ‘buddy’ coke, we payed $3 for a 125ml ‘classic’ bottle. We enjoyed the decadence of eating new and foreign cheeses, like ooo! - Edam, and mmm!Jarlsberg, shunning our previous years of Kraft singles and those terrible, terrible foil wrapped blocks of Kraft Cheddar.
Look! It even comes in a tin!

But while Kraft Cheddar and Singles ranges still exist (albeit somewhat expanded on) – probably due to people my age who must’ve left high school, bred, and never got to understand, let alone appreciate a diet beyond boxed macaroni cheese and oven fries – the scars of failed eighties and nineties bulk budget consumerism are all around for us to see, and indeed mourn. In fact, one of the last bastions of bigger is better has to be the cinemas, where even a small box of popcorn is enough to feed a starving African nation for a week, or, if you prefer, to be able to fit your head in.

The ones that have fallen however, are everywhere. The Big Pineapple has been battling closure for the last decade, and is now finally on its last legs with over half the plantation closed, the dining room empty, a skipping CD in the ‘nut mobiles’ that they can’t afford to replace, and free entry to try and massage the masses into rocking up and hanging out with the worlds’ most ridiculous chunk of fibreglass. The Big Banana doesn’t seem to be far behind – with slightly more impressive ‘attractions’ than the Pineapple, the Banana boasts a toboggan park, and a “whole bunch of fun” on the website. Get it? Bunch? Fun? Witty!

But down here in the sensible state, we’ve had our own little mishaps almost slipped by unnoticed. Remember Pizza Hut all you can eat? I certainly do. I remember the terrible, terrible things we would do to their ‘dining rooms’, and now in my older and wiser years, I would completely understand if a stranger walked up to me in the street, and punched me right in the face for all the pain and suffering I/we caused them years ago when they worked at Pizza Hut. It was still fun though.

But now where are they? They seem to be all gone, I’m afraid. Yes – it’s probably for the best – all that nasty mass produced shitty pizza and pasta and bolognaise, those awful ice cream machines that never really seemed to work properly, and of course, the salad and dessert bars where people would openly pick up food items, take a bite, or perhaps a lick, and then place them right back where they found them. Yum yum! But they did have their charm, even if that charm was just the ability to sneak out without paying, or perhaps taxing someone else’s ‘real’ pizza, or indeed, on one occasion, walking out with their complete stocks of rainbow paddlepops stuffed into our jackets. Not sure why really – they tasted bloody awful.

The city store closed down once and for all mere months ago, and I’m yet to see evidence that any more actual ‘restaurant’ stores still exist. So a few weeks ago, I wrote a letter to Yum!, the owners of the Pizza Hut franchise (and KFC as well, I believe):

Subject: Pizza Hut restaurant enquiry

Hello there Yum!

While wandering along Bourke Street mall in Melbourne last week (I'm going to assume this is an Australian administered email address... please do not hesitate to correct me if I'm wrong in this assumption), I noticed that the old Pizza Hut restaurant up on the second - or perhaps third - floor of the building on the corner of Bourke & Elizabeth has finally closed. Personally, I found this quite sad, but it's got me wondering - are there any pizza hut sit down restaurants left in Victoria? Or Australia for that matter? Specifically, ones that offer the old all-you-can-eat smorgasbord we became so familiar with in the 1990's?

It would be wonderful if you could get back to me on the current status of Pizza Hut family style restaurants and indeed the dining options available at any that may be remaining.

Kindest of regards,


Unfortunately, they didn’t respond. So if you’ve seen any Pizza Hut restaurants lurking about your neighbourhood, please let me know.

But this does bring us to another favourite chain restaurant, one that we do know the current status of. That’s right – Smorgys Family Restaurants.
The Smorgy’s chain is actually an Australian grown chain, which emerged out of the ashes of the seafaring themed ‘Trader Joes’ restaurants. When they bought out the Trader Joes locations, they seemed to take the approach of keeping all the bizarre sea themed fishermans nets, boats, and other oddities, and then mixed in a bit of Essence of Polynesian around it all.

In the Melbourne venues, each restaurant took on a marginally different theme – Ringwood being Easter Island – the theme only seeming to differ from other restaurants themes by way of the centrepiece. At Ringwood, it was a giant head with glowing eyes.
Sadly, there are only two Smorgy’s left in the country – one in Geelong (which has a nautical theme), and one in Bundoora East. Or perhaps West. I can’t remember.

Recently, we decided to relive our childhood horrors of this place, particularly for Giovanni, myself and Mr Fandango Jones, and took a lengthy tram journey up Plenty Road to the ‘Volcano’ themed Smorgys, complete with – you guessed it – a large volcano as the centrepiece. The less said about this evening, the better perhaps. We spent the entire evening absolutely gobsmacked at the locals who clearly enjoyed the ambience, and indeed the food on offer. But as bad and trashy as the food may have been, it had nothing on the wine selection.

Hello there barkeep!
I said maybe a little two cheerfully, and received a slightly gruff Whadyawant complete with confused expression from the gentleman behind the bar. After much negotiating about the state of the wine list, we discovered that far from the eight varieties on offer on the list (all under $20! Value!), there was indeed only a single bottle of red wine left in the restaurant. I enquired as to what this bottle of red might be, and I was informed it was the pee not newer. I was a little confused, and asked the gentleman to repeat himself, and again got the answer pee not newer. I nodded in appreciation of all the trouble he had gone to, and secured the establishment’s finest bottle of Pinot Noir, and two carafes of the house red (as displayed on bar in 20lts cartons).

I’m not sure it’s really worth going into the pros and cons of the wine I had selected for myself and Fandango, in fact, the pictures should say it all, but I do feel I need to note that the cask wine was miles ahead of the bottle in all scored categories, ie, value, quantity and ability to drink without retching.

I don’t think we’ll ever go back. That item really needs to be checked off whatever insane list it’s on once, and once only.

But as economy fears grow, as we all start to tighten our belts a little in anticipation, do you think we’ll see a resurgence of Bigger is Better? Bottles of coke so large they can double as a personal weapon? Super-upsized McValue meals? Some free gimmick attached to any purchase over $20 anywhere? Time will tell, but never, ever, let us regress again to the age of boxed processed cheese and pie in a can.

The Rantolotl

*I dare say it’s a bloody good thing she didn’t get the ear of the nation just a couple of years earlier, or things really could’ve been a lot worse. Indeed, she could’ve been the leader of some kind of BNP clone, instead of the nations’ very own Dancing with the stars darling. Let us never forget the hatred she fuelled and the big fat thumbs up these attitudes gave to full blown fascist groups right across the country – some of which still exist today, and have no hope of rehabilitation through reality tv. Fascist wants a wife? I don’t think so.

Smorgy's had at least one happy customer


Fandango "never again" Jones said...

Pee Not Newer...
Just say NO!

I don't look disgusted enough in that second photo to do that crimson bile justice. Foul beyond words, but unfortunately ever so necessary on that night.

The Rantolotl said...

Hadn't we actually necked that bottle by then? I believe we were onto the significantly better carafes, and had to recreate the moment...

Though given the speed with which we disposed of the first, my memory of events may not be entirely accurate...

Fandango '>_<' Jones said...

Indeed, in this case it is entirely inaccurate - that was from the first (and only, I suppose) bottle. I had to cancel the second shot half-way through so I could try to pull a more accurately disgusted pose, so that was almost a recreation I guess.

CJ said...

Trader Joe's was originally an american theme restaurant with a hawaiian theme - back when hawaiian was cool. In fact one of the last surviving ones in the States was also mone of the first and was, if i remember correctly, in one of the classy hotels...
Ah, how far the great have fallen...

twinfins said... It was hilarious tragic, and kinda actually makes me think that maybe the 90's smorgasbordy things really did go the right way - down the loo. Sort of like that donut of yours refused to, at another debaucherous pizza hut night? But yeah, i can't remember who freaked who out more - the smorgies staff with a bunch of jibbering 20 yo's who didn't seem like part of a footy team, or us with PEOPLE WHO ENJOY THE WINE AT SMORGIES. But a hilarious ordeal none the less.

MDB said...

I believe Pizza Hut restaurants are well and truly gone. Here in Brisbane (yes, yes, Queensland blah blah blah) they've been gone for a good long time - although you can still find the unusually-rooved buildings either reaquired (there's a third rate mexican restaurant in one near me) or graffiti'd up the arse (as one near my mother's place).

I only went to one once, which resulted in me dry-retching all the way home due to one of my housemates eating so much that he threw up in the car park and got some on his shoe, stinking up the car.

Good times.