March 18, 2008

LEO Eats: Incredible Dave’s - Flawed inspiration

Chuck E. Cheese on steroids: Photo by Nicole Pullen If you’re unfamiliar with Incredible Dave’s concept, imagine a Chuck E. Cheese on steroids, and with a bar. While the concept carries a touch of inspired brilliance, in practice there are flaws.Incredible Dave’s is a fantastic world of sound and color; the kind of place that makes children’s eyes nearly pop out of their heads when they walk in.“Oh ... my ... gosh,” one girl, who looked about 7, said recently upon entering with her younger brother and parents.My girlfriend Jen and I went to Incredible Dave’s, which opened last month on Westport Road in the site of a former Kroger store, on a recent Saturday around 4 p.m. We had hoped to beat the dinner rush, but the place was packed. Packed. For an establishment that had been open only a few weeks at that point, it was quite impressive to see.If you’re unfamiliar with the restaurant’s concept, imagine a Chuck E. Cheese on steroids, and with a bar. Incredible Dave’s is kind of a Dave & Buster’s that caters to families, giving the adults a chance to dine, enjoy an adult beverage or two and watch the ballgame on big screens while the kids blow their minds on arcade games, bowling, Xbox and Wii lounges, and plenty more.A built-in security measure requires families to obtain matching hand stamps that also must be checked on the way out, basically to make sure adults are leaving with the right children in tow; “Kid Sentry” electronic wrist bands tell parents where their children are at all times in the 55,000-square-foot facility.While the concept carries a touch of inspired brilliance, in practice there are flaws. Before I visited, I read some online posts that expressed skepticism over the mixing of alcohol and children’s attractions. When I visited, I quickly understood the point.One of the first things I noticed while walking around in the arcade area was at least two adults with alcoholic beverages in hand, watching their children at play. Based on common sense, it seems there should be much clearer boundaries governing where alcohol can and cannot be consumed.That said, I did return the following Thursday night, to look around and have a drink, and I found it fairly tame, with several families going about their business. I did, however, ask the bartender on duty whether I could carry my beer into the kids’ area. He seemed genuinely surprised that I would ask, and said, “Yeah, you can take it wherever you want.”Incredible Dave’s: Photo by Nicole Pullen Incredible Dave’s is located at 9236 Westport Road.Another flaw: Even though Incredible Dave’s has been open less than a month, the service is at best disorganized and at worst chaotic. Upon entering that Saturday afternoon, we approached the hostess station and requested seating in the bar area (where we spotted a number of empty tables). At exactly 4:07 p.m., we were told the wait would be 20 minutes or so. At 4:36, I checked back and — as if reliving a “Seinfeld” rerun — I was told the wait from that point would be “about 20 minutes.”Thinking perhaps they had forgotten my request for bar seating (and spotting even more empty tables than before), I returned to the hostess station at 4:41, and was told we could sit in the bar area but that we would have to order from the bartender. Having already invested more time than we wanted to in our wait, we decided to take the gamble.Our dining experience from there played out thusly:4:43 p.m.: Jen goes to the bar to request menus and is told, “The hostess station should have some.” Disgusted, she returns to the hostess station.4:48: I order two draft beers from the bartender and offer him my debit card to open a tab, informing him we intend to eat. He tells me to keep my card, because we “might have a server.”4:52: Three children come up to the bar with their parents; the children all appear to be under the age of 8. One ends up sitting at the bar, and the others stand while their parents finish their drinks.4:59: A guy in a bad sweater vest bellies up to the bar. He has an infant in a carrier that he places on the barstool next to him. (In fairness, the barstool does have a back.)5:03: I approach the bartender again, so he comes out to our table and admits, “Maybe there isn’t a server.” He is quite courteous and is clearly trying his best, and he takes our orders.5:06: I observe no fewer than six more children now standing or sitting at the bar, all apparently under the age of 7 or so.5:08: Two more children arrive at the bar.5:12: Two more. (At this point, I stopped counting. You get the picture.)5:22: We’re hungry, we’ve invested nearly 80 minutes, and there is no sign of our food.5:25: I realize how ironic it is to be sitting in a bar and wishing those damn kids would shut up already.5:27: Our bartender asks if he can close out with us. We still have no food, so he volunteers to check on it for us. For the first time ever in a sit-down restaurant, I actually pay for a meal without taking a bite or even seeing it.5:32: Our food arrives.I’ll spare the bite-by-bite description and instead offer an overview of our meal. In general, Incredible Dave’s is overpriced given the fare. This is one of the inherent flaws in the concept; a “family” establishment in which the cheapest entrée is 10 bucks — for something called “Incredible Dave’s Mini-Meatloaf” — probably needs to re-evaluate. (I understand there is a separate children’s menu, but I couldn’t locate one.)I ordered a Cajun-blackened burger with fries ($7.99 plus 50 cents extra for cheddar cheese) and a side of grilled asparagus ($2.29); Jen ordered a house salad along with sides of buttered corn and creamed spinach (for which she was charged just $2.29 each). So, we walked out without too hefty a bill; but a big steak is $26.99 at Dave’s, and most other entrees are at least 14 bucks each. (The attractions are not cheap, either.)My burger was at least a third-pound patty, cooked a perfect medium-rare, on a fresh kaiser roll, and served with thin-cut (and noticeably greasy) fries. While the sandwich was pretty good, if it was blackened in any way, I couldn’t tell. The asparagus was conspicuously anemic-looking, but the flavor didn’t disappoint — it seemed to be marinated in olive oil and was topped with parmesan cheese.Jen’s salad was better than expected — it featured mixed greens, eggs, tomatoes, cheese, thick slices of crisp cucumber and a chunky (although a bit bland) blue cheese dressing. Meanwhile, the buttered corn was flavorful if somewhat mushy and was helped immensely by adding ground pepper (ditto for the asparagus); the creamed spinach was also tasty, with the cream sauce sporting an understated cheese flavor.Was it a great meal? Well, no. It was standard blue-collar fare, the likes of which you’d expect to get at, say, Applebee’s or O’Charley’s. But it was not beneath my expectations, either, for what it’s worth. Incredible Dave’s clearly has a chance to succeed, if the obvious problems are addressed. For now, though, it is advisable to wait until we hear reports of improvement — in many areas.Incredible Dave’s9236 Westport Road426-4790www.incredibledaves.comRobin Garr’s rating: 74 pointsThe writer is a guest columnist for Louisville HotBytes. Send comments to Robin Garr at rgarr@louisvillehotbytes.com