by Kat Robinson
I’ve never understood why people in general sometimes settle for sub-par food. I see it over and over again - a somewhat unsettling addition to a particular chain or even an individual restaurant, a place you go because “that’s where we always go.” I have people in my immediate circle of friends who feel this way about McDonald’s and Red Lobster. Meh.
And then… then there are the parents who go some place because it’s where the kids always want to go. I’m probably going to be doomed to this sort of behavior from Hunter at some point or another. I’ve been blessed that she’s been cooperative just about everywhere we’ve taken her, and (with the exception of one night at Buffalo Grill, completely our fault for taking her before she could take a nap) she’s always been at least manageable, even when she hasn’t been especially hungry.
Last night, we went to one of those places full of parents and their kids, a place I had not stepped foot inside in 15 years. We went to Shotgun Dan’s.
And I will say this first. The restaurant appeared clean. We decided to head back to a side section lined with booths, and there was a privacy panel between each one. For parents of a toddler, that was nice. And the menus are colorful. There I grew up hearing the adage “if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” Well, there’s something nice.
It was the hubster’s turn to go seek out a highchair when the waitress didn’t come our way. We tend to look out for ourselves though, so that’s not really her fault. She came and took our drink order and left us with the menus. I thought it was a little odd that such a large restaurant that apparently caters to kids didn’t have anything for Hunter to do.
And then I read through the menu, and I couldn’t help it. I was disappointed. For some place that was that full, all you could really find on the menu were drinks, pizza, a pizza bread called Gold Nuggets, a Chef’s salad and an all-you-can-eat salad, and five sandwiches. The menu seemed more a distraction, one of those 70s style storytelling menus that subtly uses its copy and illustrations to talk about how great it is (Shorty Small’s does the same thing, but better). There were just four options for a “specialty pizza” -- a Loaded Barrel (supreme), Garden Patch (veggie), Big Dan (all meat) and Outlaw (chicken with Alfredo sauce). Well, maybe it was all about the sauce or the dough or… or something. When our waitress returned we ordered up some Gold Nuggets and a half-and-half pie with Garden Fresh and beef, black olive and jalapeno.
I think this was about the point that I realized that there was no music playing, nothing except the ambient sound of other diners. We had ourselves for conversation, which was fine, we do good with that. But it was odd.
The Gold Nuggets ($5.95) came out, pretty much just a 10” cheese pizza with the sauce in a cup instead of on the side. There was a whole lot of cheese on it, that’s for sure. The cheese pooled up anywhere the pie had been cut through. It was very hot, I’ll give them that. But this is where I had my first real problem with the food.
A few minutes later the waitress came over and deposited our pizza on the table and departed. I tried to catch her as she ran off. I couldn’t identify what we’d received and was concerned we’d been given the wrong order. To me, it looked like a supreme with a double extra dose of black olives. I mean, yes, the hubster had asked for black olives. And yes, they came on the Garden Fresh pizza. But they were everywhere. The beef was plentiful enough, but other than that the smattering of green peppers and mushrooms and onions were just overwhelmed by these black olives. Now, I have nothing against black olives -- after all, we had ordered them. But seriously?
One bite, and the fear I had was confirmed. I turned up the edge of the piece. While not quite as light as the Gold Nuggets, the crust was barely tan. Worse still, it had the flavor of uncooked pasta. No garlic, no oregano, I couldn’t even taste a little salt and pepper. It was quite easily the blandest pizza I have ever encountered, including that I’d had in elementary school. I couldn’t finish a single piece. My husband tried to make the best of it and had a couple of slices, complaining all the way. We decided discretion was the better part of valor and asked for our ticket. Out of habit we loaded the offered box; its contents are already on the compost heap.
On departure, as we were making our slow walk out of the building, I noted that almost every single occupied table at the place had at least one child. The one exception to the rule was a couple that appeared to be in their early 30s, neither looking very happy. Now, I didn’t see any food on that table yet, but I am guessing that perhaps this was a dinner date idea that just didn’t pan out. But that’s just an assumption.
Thing is, Shotgun Dan’s has been around since 1977, and I can’t figure out why. I mean, yes there’s beer on the menu for $2.50 a glass or $9 a pitcher -- but could that really be the reason? The basic one topping pizza is $8.98 for a 10”, $11.48 for a 13” or $14.48 for a 16”. The “specialties” are $12.48. $14.98 and $17.98. Za Za’s, which could be considered high-end in comparison, doesn’t have a single pizza over $13 (I know Za Za’s doesn’t do 16” pizzas). Iriana’s famed “Sweep the Floor” in a 16” large is $17.99. Yeah, there’s the 14” Rock City pizza at Luigi’s for $18.99 -- and technically, I think the most expensive pizza you can get in Little Rock is Damgoode Pies’ Shrimp Pesto 14” pizza as a Stuffy for $24.75. There are some US Pizza Company offerings that can be up there, too. But… come on. For as much as you’re going to pay at Shotgun Dan’s you could go pick up a pizza from Vino’s and have a dining experience at home… and enjoy it.
So… please, if somehow or another I’ve missed what makes Shotgun Dan’s truly great, could you please enlighten me? Because apparently I’ve missed whatever it is that keeps the parking lot and dining room occupied and keeps this business in operation for all these years. I mean, maybe I missed the greatest ever waitress in the world, or my hearing’s shot too bad to hear the ultra supersonic heavenly music overhead. Or perhaps it really is the beer. I’d really like to know.