THE DISH: Authentically Inauthentic
Grizzly Bar //96 Nevsky Prospekt //Tel. 677 4050 //Open 24 hours a day //Lunch for two without alcohol: 1,581 rubles ($50.11)
Published: April 10, 2013 (Issue # 1754)
If America is quickly becoming a land where style trumps substance, as many would have it, Grizzly Bar on the corner of Nevsky Prospekt and Ulitsa Mayakovskaya is the perfect simulacrum of a certain type of American restaurant.
Forget august New York steak houses, picturesquely run-down Maryland crab shacks or cozy out-of-the-way diners; as a fantasy space par excellence, this is a dining experience that draws on the T.G.I. Friday’s and Bennigan’s school to provide the comforts of uniformity.
Staffed by a squad of waitresses in cheerleader costumes, the space is clean and bright, if a bit plastic-feeling, and is a good gloss on the millions of unremarkable American restaurants found across that country.
To engage the eye, every square inch of wall space is covered from floor to ceiling in memorabilia – from record album covers to baseball caps to display cases full of action figures — and the design takes as its main cue an obsession with collecting that stops just short of hoarding.
On this particular day, the ubiquitous flat screen televisions littered among the detritus of pop culture surreally played a loop of Christmas-themed movie clips. Once ensconced in one of the comfortable booths, the serious task of deciding what to order got underway.
The menu comes laminated with lots of big pictures of the food on offer in hopes of tempting the diner to indulge in a bit of carb-loading. Deciding that the classics were where this particular restaurant would sink or swim, we decided to go all out with some of the most iconic lunchtime standards.
While Coca-Cola ads played on the televisions, Pepsi was the only cola available and so we ordered ourselves a couple of pops (99 rubles, $3.15). Since it was lunchtime, sandwiches seemed to be in order, accompanied by a few platefuls of deep-fried indulgences.
The first things out of the kitchen were a plate of onion rings (175 rubles, $5.50) and a pile of deep-fried mozzarella sticks (260 rubles, $8.25). Sadly the onion rings and the mozzarella sticks — two diner classics that, when done right, can reach sublime heights of decadence — were both pale imitations of their usual selves.
The pair of dishes weren’t necessarily terrible but, like the decor, they were overprocessed and bland. The worst was that the onion rings were filled with an oniony puree instead of a single slippery pale ring of the vegetable, with the attendant lack of flavor making for a real disappointment.
The mozzarella sticks, for their part, were at least filled with a waxy white cheese but the chances that it was a true mozzarella are slim. Gone was the meltingly gooey center, to be replaced by a stodgy white substance that looked and tasted more like taffy. Both of the dishes were accompanied by a trio of small ramekins that contained an odd corn salsa, ranch dressing and flavorless coleslaw.
A club sandwich (229 rubles, $7.25) arrived next and was presented as two single sandwiches with barely enough filling to keep the slices of toasted bread from touching one another and about ten lonely-looking french fries.
Part of the fun of a club sandwich is that it is so hard to hold together, hence the need for the wooden skewers topped with curlicues of colored cellophane that pierce the center to keep the filling in place. Here the toothpicks were simply a sign for a sandwich that wasn’t there and had difficulty standing straight for lack of purchase.
The cheddar and bacon burger (329 rubles, $10.50) arrived next looking decent enough but with a few things slightly off, modelled after McDonald’s and not the massive homemade burgers found at numerous roadside eateries.
For some odd reason, all of the garnishes — lettuce, tomato and pickle — were sitting underneath the burger and made holding the thing together a bit of a chore. And while the burger wasn’t overcooked, it also wasn’t rare, as ordered. A slather of unasked-for mayonnaise made sure we remembered we were in Europe.
For dessert, coffee (120 rubles, $3.80) and a brownie sundae (180 rubles, $5.80) seemed like a good idea. The coffee arrived in a metal thermos and was dark and strong without the least trace of bitterness. It was probably the best thing about the whole meal. The brownie sundae arrived looking picture-perfect, but one bite revealed a curiously dry, airy and bland chocolate cake that got most of its flavor from the chocolate sauce it was drenched in, and most of its moistness from the ice cream melting over it.
Despite the disappointing lack of flavor and the slightly creepy “Stepford Wives” vibe the whole place gave off, there are worse options along this stretch of Nevsky Prospekt. And the sheer novelty value makes it worth a look in, if only to marvel at the collection of objects on display.