Denny's Baconalia: Seven new ways to clog your arteries!
I visited the Denny's at 900 West Alameda Avenue last evening, and was promptly greeted, not by a hostess or server (c'mon, that would be expecting way too much), but by a gigantic sign perched by the ubiquitous claw machine full of poorly-sewn neon stuffed animals that read, "The Sizzle of Bacon is Your Favorite Song. We're Open to That." I had forgotten how much I missed the smell of Tabasco sauce and Stetson cologne that permeates the air in this Denny's dining room, and the combined glare of the caffeinated goth tweeners at the big table in the corner.
Servers at Denny's have a hard life, so any lousy service I've ever had at one gets rewarded by a decent tip. My server on this night earned it, because her obviously affected enthusiasm for both the restaurant and its troughs of bacon was well-executed.
The new menu, appropriately adorned with laminated bacon strips, was festive and revealed seven bacon-gobbed dishes, everything from the Ultimate Bacon Breakfast with six strips of greasy pork to the BBBLT sandwich flush with eight strips. I decided to get the full effect and ordered the bacon flapjacks, pepper bacon and eggs breakfast, the triple bacon sampler and the bacon meatloaf.
J. Wohletz At least they spelled everything correctly on the sign.
I had good intentions. I intended to cram my abdominals with so much bacon that I would spend weeks digesting, and possibly days expelling all of it. And just for good measure, I ordered a side of the "pancake puppies" as an appetizer. This is why people in other countries hate us.
The small balls of fried pancake batter looked so pristine and adorable on the glossy menu, delicately sprinkled with cinnamon sugar. Mine looked exactly like the ones on the menu, only substitute the cinna-sugar with deep-fried onions. It was weird; I don't recall seeing onion-flavored puppies on the menu, yet here was my order nestled atop a bed of crusty, black, fryer-needs-a-cleaning onion bits, and even an onion slice that was surely a garnish.
Bacon flapjacks are always a joy to make and eat at home, with those crisp, fatty nibbets flecked throughout a plump, lacy pancake with a tiny wisp of steam curling from the butter spot. Denny's version lacked the plump, the lacy and the steam, opting instead for gummy, deathly pale and chilly as the toilet seat in the ladies' room.
Pancake balls and fried onions might be their next special.
It's difficult to jack up a simple dish of over-easy eggs, toast and two strips of pepper bacon. Mine was passable (but then, if Denny's can't get eggs right you'd better run), but the bacon itself, the raison d'etre of this particular plate, was two strips of scotch tap -thin, too-chewy and under-peppered pork fat. There is something to be said for cheap, factory-produced bacon, but none of the things said would be appropriate for a family publication.
The triple bacon sampler offered two strips each of hickory-smoked, pepper and turkey bacon. Turkey bacon, though healthier, is theoretically and practically pointless because any health-conscious diners are not really going to delude themselves into believing that ordering a triple-bacon anything is going to be a fantastic diet strategy.
Not your Mom's pancakes...unless she hates you.
But the bacon meatloaf was the lead actor in this macabre theater. If I live to be 113 years old (at this rate, with the bacon, I'll be lucky to live past my next trip to Denny's) I would not find a more grotesque interpretation of a meatloaf dinner, saved only by a few cold, greasy bites of bacon strewn over the plate like evidence in a crime scene.
Chain restaurants are usually slack when it comes to seasoning vegetable sides, floating them in a swimming slop of butter, salt and pepper, but I had to admire Denny's DGAF bravado in declining to put anything at all on the green beans. Straight from the freezer, a perfunctory two-minute pit stop in the microwave, and onto the plate with no semblance of thought. This is downright courageous in these times of high customer expectations. The mashed potatoes had a fine tooth-enamel shattering crust, and this place must have amazing heat-lamp capabilities, turning the gravy from a liquid to a solid with laser-like precision.
J. Wohletz The bacon isn't helping.
But the best part was the meatloaf itself. These two pre-formed slabs tasted less of cow than they did of soy, and the healthy dabs of A-1 sauce they were smattered with gave the entire affair a taste that I can only liken to warm fish bait.
After a meal this good, I could only order dessert to make my dining experience even more memorable. And I found the holy grail of desserts: the maple bacon sundae. Like an '80s prom date, it arrived adorned in frills and smelling like vanilla perfume. I dug my spoon into this confection like an eager supplicant worshipping at an altar of decadence.
J. Wohletz Like communism this is a good idea in theory.
Taking a bite of hard-serve, freezer-burnt vanilla ice cream, room-temperature pancake syrup, canned whipped cream and bits of chewy bacon really makes you appreciate the good things in life -- like rainbows, puppies and Pepcid OTC.
The allure of salty, smoky bacon can be a powerful force, and should only be wielded by those who seek to use its power for the proliferation of good. Bacon can do many things: turn breakfast into the best meal of the day, give people an even better reason to respect the cheeseburger, and even get you laid if you string the strips into an appealing garment and take pictures of it with your phone, but what it cannot and should not ever do is be used as a marketing weapon to invade peoples' minds and give them false hope that Denny's will ever be a restaurant worth eating at, on purpose, if you are sober.