Friday, February 19, 2010

Restaurant Review: Kerplunk's

If you've read any of my reviews, you know that I don't indulge in so-called "confessional-school restaurant criticism." That's just not my style. But in the case of Kerplunk's, I find that I must "go autobiographical" on you and begin with a personal anecdote. I hope you will forgive this foray into the lignin-free scrapbook of my mind. Kerplunk's is not a restaurant I can be in the least bit objective about, because it was at Kerplunk's that I once had a very upsetting experience that completely tints if not taints how I see this perhaps fine eatery. For as a young person dining at Kerplunk's, I was one evening cast into a state of mind-splintering terror by this seemingly innocent dining establishment. I had recently been awarded the "Food Critic Prodigy" award by the local diner theater (yes, not dinner but diner theater), the Gasp and Swallow. The award ceremony was being held at Kerplunk's. If you have never been to Kerplunk's, realize that the restaurant, with its marble floors and ceilings, potted palms, wind machine, and ultra-violet novelty sculptures, has an atmosphere that can't be matched for nerve thrills. And it was here that I was brought to be honored as a brilliant young food critic in the making. So far, so good. Seated at the head of the table, and cajoled into wearing a deeply embarrassing mortarboard cap with tassel, I endured the forced "Hip, Hip, Hooray!" chant (did anyone ever really DO that?) and the rounds of "For He's a Jolly Good Fellow," a song which is sung on television and movies to avoid royalty payments to the estate of the composer of "Happy Birthday to You" and for no aesthetic reason whatsoever(for more on royalty-avoiding music, please see my review of The Bitterest Gumpdrop). The waitron arrived, and I was told by Dr. Gopp, the director of the diner theater, to order anything I liked, within reason. By this point, the eerie ambiance of the eatery was working on me, and I began to notice a distinct lack of ventilation in the dining room. This paucity of ventilation, combined with an oppressive mildew-sweetness, caused a sudden light-headedness to strike me. Glancing at the cringe-worthy "kiddie menu" I'd been handed, complete with a line drawing of a an elf eating a cheeseburger (as if!), I felt the sweet smothering smell overwhelm me and--my vision went black! I jumped back from the table to keep from sinking into that ink-dark whirlpool of unconsciousness. Dr. Gopp looked at me as though I were mad, as did the diner theater's publicity manager, Miss Honing-Stone. "I've just had the sensation of fainting or swooning," I urgently communicated to the pair. Dr. Gopp accused me of feigning the passing out as a means of gaining attention (as the guest of honor, would that have been at all necessary?). The awards dinner, in short, was a fiasco. So now, returning to Kerplunk's as a professional restaurant critic, I find that my detachment is strained by a bitter memory that still rankles. But as happens so often upon returning to a place of adolescent memory, the emotional charge is gone. I am free to enjoy (or not enjoy) Kerplunk's for what it is (or is not--or perhaps merely what it aspires to be). First, I must say that the ventilation problem has been completely taken care of. Perhaps the recent addition of ventilation shafts and open windows has played a part in this improvement. The decor is still the same--walking into Kerplunk's is like walking onto a creepy 1930's movie-musical set in time for the filming of a production number set in some movie-director's vision of heaven. The food is adequate. I've always liked French toast made with rye bread, but I've never precisely loved it. And that's the kind of place Kerplunk's will always be. Sure, a plate full of radishes is good food, but it isn't great food, and therein lies the problem with Kerplunk's. Aside from any unpleasant youthful memories that the place may evoke, it's the less-than-impressive fare that keeps me from going back. While the waitrons, who entertain with hilarious jokes and riddles, are often delightful, Kerplunk's is in the end, nothing special. And so, through the lens of painful memory, I award--that word again!--this eatery called Kerplunk's a paltry three gasps, three swallows.

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