My dear wife Karen and I spent the 30 minutes the hostess stated would be our expected term of patient -- or not -- waiting for the electronic pager to go gonzo with red lights and vibration to signal our turn for a table in the restaurant bar, watching Syracuse tangle with Miami from the Carrier Dome. At 4:10 p.m., when a matinee performance of "Mortdecai" had spilled out of Regal two floors up, I'd been hoping to walk right in, sit right down, as the old song by the Rooftop Singers had it go.
Alas, this is a popular joint, still, 11 months after it opened for business on the ground floor of the new wing of Syracuse's mega shopping, dining and entertainment complex.
I've had an interesting relationship with this franchise of the national chain made even more popular by the presence of Penny of CBS comedy "The Big Theory" before and since the doors swung open, as I chronicled on my blog markbialczak.com.
A week before, as they were training staff, I wrote:
"A cheer erupted at the mega shopping, dining and entertainment complex Destiny USA in Syracuse, N.Y. This I know because my face was pressed up against the window, like the proverbial kid and the candy store. (Grown me, though, made sure not to leave any tell-tale nose prints.) We’ve been waiting for this restaurant to open for months now."
"We pulled into the crowded lot a few minutes after 5. Not many spots, indeed. Another text arrived. 'We gave them our name. It's a three-hour wait. We can go back at 6:30 to get our pager to know when it's ready.' "
"Instead, we capped our dinner at Cafe Laredo off with four to-go slices of Cheesecake Factory namesake desserts, eaten all four perched on a couch outside the still-jammed joint: "Verdict from all four eaters: Delicious."
Which takes us to April, and a birthday celebration for Elisabeth. We'd concocted a scheme in which Karen and I would arrive two hours before Elisabeth and George to get that pager, and then shop off the time. And it worked. We were all seated by 8:30, hungry and hopeful. And the meal was dreadful, all of it, prompting me to write: "What a letdown. ... It was awful." The list of details is too long to repeat, believe me. But I did here.
And yet back Karen and I were Saturday night, watching Syracuse vainly battle Miami on the beautiful flat screens, me sipping a Cabernet Sauvignon and Karen a Blue Light, two $25 gift cards from son Daryl, the patron saint of second chances.
Cheesecake Factory wins. The trip wasn't perfect, mind you, but because of the volume involved -- the crowds that want to pack the joint and the page-upon-page-upon-page of the menu -- I'm pretty sure this was as good as it gets.
Instead of taking a kind woman up on her offer of passing their first-come, first-served barroom high top over to us for dinner service, we moved into a pair of vacated chairs at the bar instead and relaxed and chatted about the game and life. The pager did its attention-getting thing after the promised half-hour.
We were seated in a low booth-chair combo not too far from the bar, and Karen suggested I take the booth seat facing the flat screens behind the bar. Thank you, dear, I will. The hostess gave us those novella-length menus, and we recounted what the four of us had ordered and not liked the last visit. So, no shrimp scampi for me or Bang Bang shrimp and chicken for Karen.
The burger was juicy and filling, Karen declared, and the sweet potato fries fine. I snagged one of those and thought she was correct.
My chicken parm sandwich was thick and quite filling. It came with the marinara sauce in a wide bowl on the side for easy dipping. Which I did, and liberally, with no fear that they'd been sauce-stingy.
In the middle of our dinner, the waitress who'd saved the day by taking our order came over with another waitress and performed the goodbye/introduction of a handoff. Interesting.
Karen said she saw the first waitress getting talked to by the manager on the other side of the booths behind me. My wife thought she was being asked to explain why any of it was happening at a table that was not in her station in the first place. We were on her side for the initial save.
I was only able to get down half my sandwich, thinking the bread was quite large. I had the second triangle half wrapped by the new waitress to take home.
We both ordered take out cheesecake to complete the fare hours later in the living room. Karen went with the Kahlua-flavored, which also came with a brownie. I picked the low-carb, which was flavored with Splenda instead of sugar, and added the strawberry and sugar-free whipped topping, too. (Following hours of letting the dinner settle at home, Karen declared her Kahlua cake just OK compared to the much more fabulous pineapple version of her past, but swooned from the brownie. I lingered with joy over my airy sugar-free delight, but blamed too much Splenda for a digestive rumble later.)
Our bar tab had been $14.50. The meal came to $43. Pricey, but they'd won me back over.