For the record, I would be perfectly happy with IHOP, but Awkward Dad gets it into his head that he wants an Adventure. Yes, Adventure with a capital A. We are visiting Chicago and Awkward Dad's Mom (henceforth referred to as Babcia) for Mother's Day. It is about 10:30 in the morning. So, naturally, instead of heading to IHOP like I suggested over 25 minutes ago, we are driving around the northwest suburbs of Chicago, looking for somewhere "unique" to eat breakfast.
Something you should all know up front; Awkward Dad doesn't like breakfast. I know. It hurt a little to type that; it seems almost unAmerican or something, but there it is. The man doesn't like eggs. Doesn't like them in any of their forms, or even in magical things like pancakes and waffles. Oh, he'll nibble at some sausage or bacon, but woe to the waitress (or wife) who tries to put that breakfast meat on the same plate (i.e. tainting it beyond repair) with eggs. Heaven forbid eggs touch his lips or anything that might eventually touch his lips. Even my lips; kissing is a total no-go after egg consumption. And the thing is, I have known this the whole time. He hasn't altered his stance on eggs in our nearly 10 year marriage.
That is why it is so embarrassing that it takes me until 10:40 to realize that he is just driving around to kill time until 11am and the opening of most lunch places. I should have figured that one out way before we pull into Woodfield Mall. At first, he spies the Cheesecake factory, which I nix right away. If the Golden Girls wanted me to join them for a snack, I would be all about it, but I am not going in there with 3 kids. Then, he points out this frog peeking over a sign and before I have time to react to that, Super Preschooler catches sight of it and all is lost.
Super Preschooler: Look at that frog! I want to eat there!
Super Toddler: Me too; let's eat frogs!
Me: Ummmm....wait! What's going on?
Babcia: Oh sweetie, we don't eat frogs; we are polish, not french.
Super Baby: Frog!!
Awkward Dad: I bet it will be fun, let's go there!
Me: Wait! Where? What frog? What's going on?!
Babcia: Over there. There's a frog restaurant. I hope it isn't french. Much too rich.
Awkward Dad: It's something called the Rainforest Cafe. Looking intriguing.
Me: And by intriguing, you mean, not breakfasty, don't you?
Awkward Dad: Same thing really. When were eggs ever intriguing?
Me: Isn't Rainforest Cafe that kitschy restaurant from the 90s where it rains inside?
Awkward Dad, Super Preschooler, and Super Toddler: IT RAINS INSIDE?!?!
Awkward Dad: OK, we're going there for sure. Let me park.
We park fairly far away and dawdle on the way in, but we are still about 15 minutes early and therefore have tons of time to "enjoy" the gift shop. By the time I join the line with the rest of the northwest suburbs, I have said no 17 times to 4 different keychains, 6 stuffed animals, a shot-glass with a crocodile on it, a talking tree, 3 types of candy, an extra large tie-dyed t-shirt, and a safari hat. And yes, there is a line at 11 in the morning. And yes, you had best believe that Babcia and Awkward Dad have us squarely in the front of it. The line is in-between and under connected fish tanks and the Supers amuse themselves by finding Nemo, while I peruse the menu (and more importantly, the prices) taped to the right. I must blanch an especially deathly shade of pale because Babcia grabs me like I am about to faint and whispers, "Don't worry, it's on me." I don't really feel comfortable with her taking out a second mortgage but it's her money, who am I to tell her what to do with it?
I have no idea how to describe this place. It is like Chuck-E-Cheese and a fancy steak house had a baby and decorated the nursery in leopard-print. Here; this is best I can do:
If you click on the picture and squint sideways, you can make out the "rain."
We are not seated near the rain, but rather by a family of tigers that roar every 6 minutes or so. Another fish tank is behind us, and a leopard perches above us, waving his tail periodically; he doesn't complain when Super Baby pulls it so he makes a fairly benign lunch companion. Flora and fauna are everywhere and over the tiger-roars we can just make out the babbles and splashes of the "dolphin show." No one knows where to look first, it is overwhelming in the extreme.
The waiter takes one look at our faces and encourages us to take our time and feel free to wander around. However, since this is breakfast and lunch (and probably dinner) to everyone at our table, we only take him up on that after ordering things like "Planet Earth Pasta" and "Rumble in the Jungle Turkey Wrap." That business tended to, we start wandering around. We are heading for the dolphin show when the lights go out and a huge clap of thunder sends Super Preschooler barreling under a passing table. Turns out that there is a simulated thunderstorm once a half-hour. It takes some coaxing (and the return of the lights) for Super Preschooler to abandon his hideaway and let these nice people resume their meal.
We tail a tour group lead by Ranger Roy (i.e. a birthday party) and learn the ins and outs of the Rainforest Cafe and a smattering of ecology, biology, and numerous ways to save the planet, most of which seem to involve buying eco-friendly items in the gift shop. We throw coins at a crocodile:
Or is it an alligator? I might not have been listening too closely to Ranger Roy...
By the time we return to the table, our food (along with the next thunderstorm) arrive. We fall on it like a pack of wild animals. In fact, Super Baby has lost her shoes somewhere by the monkeys and appears to be going "back to nature" in her own way, growling every time the tigers do so. Sated though we are, Awkward Dad announces his desire for something "special." Because I am guessing that eating a meal that amounts to our weekly food budget inside of a jungle is just "ordinary." He declares that we will have dessert! We never have dessert when we are out. Probably because we overorder things like Chimi-Cha-Cha. But today, we will have dessert! And he announces it loudly and proudly, just like you would expect. He asks the waiter for something called the "Volcano."
Oh Readers. My first clue that this thing is going to be outrageous is when it is heralded by shouts of "Volcano!" from the kitchen. It enters the dining area, held aloft on the waiter's tray; 3 brownies stacked against each other and about a pound of ice cream, with lava of chocolate sauce and clouds of whipped cream, topped with a flaming sparkler. All the other waiters start chanting "volcano! volcano!" and I start to worry that this is perhaps the prelude to a Joe-versus kinda thing. But no worries, it arrives safely to be placed in the middle of the table. The table may be bending a bit under the weight but that could just be a trick of the indoor rain; this place is starting to do things to me. I would like to say that it stays safe but I would be lying. There is also no picture of it, as everyone was too full and sticky to do much picture-taking at that point.
But after we clean up and roll ourselves back to the gift shop, well, that is a different story. There are about 75 pictures of that. Here is just a sample:
I never said they were good pictures, I just said that there were a lot of them....
Wanna know the absolute beauty of writing the family blog?
Picking only the nice photos of oneself to put in it.....
Maybe, next year, Awkward Mom will actually get to go to IHOP for Mother's Day. Until then, she can only dream of breakfast-out as she makes eggs in the kitchen and listens to Awkward Dad's over-exaggerated gagging sounds while she drinks tea out of her Rainforest Cafe mug. There's always next year!