Hangover and Out
Never underestimate the public's love of trash. We've all seen the styles -- '70s disco wear, jeans that aren't acid-washed but simply unwashed, stumble-out-of-bed hairstyles and anything related to WWF or reality television. Whatever the reason, it's suddenly cool to have no class.
Now folks in major markets are happy to eat trash, with a burgeoning collection of diners proudly flaunting a lack of taste. At Ike restaurant in New York and Butter in San Francisco, for example, wanna-be Bubba crowds are paying to eat honest-to-God Swanson TV dinners. For $6, visitors to these self-titled "white-trash bistros" can get best-selling Salisbury steak or baby-sitter-inspired vittles like SpaghettiOs and Tater Tots. Want milk and cookies? Restaurants are sending out Oreos and Chips Ahoy, with cow juice served in school-lunch cartons, complete with straws.
Frankly, the appeal eludes me. When eating out, my chef of choice isn't Boyardee. What's next, Dumpster-diving diners? But the trend does help explain the enormous popularity of Scottsdale's new grunge kitchen, Mickey's Hangover. Partly bar, partly downscale restaurant, Mickey's proudly refers to its setting as trailer park, and its cuisine as white soul food. It's currently one of the hottest spots in town for twentysomethings looking to hook up over a Mogen David 20/20 and a grilled-cheese sandwich.
Again, the appeal eludes me. While the atmosphere is definitely a blast, Mickey's food is a bust overall. Dishes are entirely inconsistent, ranging from pretty good to pretty frightening. And while Mickey's promotes its food as trashy, this is Scottsdale, after all. That grilled-cheese sandwich is fashioned of Cheddar, Muenster, provolone and Parmesan on Texas toast. It's just not good Cheddar, Muenster, provolone and Parmesan on Texas toast. Do toothless trailer folks sup on roasted garlic vegetables and Muenster burritos? And do they chow on Ensenada fish tacos with roasted alote cabbage and lime sauce? Don't know, but they do at Mickey's. As odd as it sounds, this menu isn't trailer park enough to make the theme interesting.
This is an unusual quandary: Mickey's either needs to step down its food to simple Velveeta on Wonder bread, or step it up and cut back on the cute, low-class dining concept.
Mickey's is offered by Randy Smith, a local nightclub entrepreneur known for his sense of style and humor. He's also owner of Six, a sleek new nightclub nearby that offers an upscale grazing lounge that pushes the envelope with a unisex rest room. Glass walls remain transparent until a patron locks the door, then the walls cloud over with amber light, rumor goes.
There's a fable behind Mickey's, we're told, about a crazy uncle who stumbles home one day after two-fifths of whiskey, and writes a will giving his nephews his $4,000 estate. The money is to be spent on building a bar that looks like his "doublewide" and serves food with his favorite recipes from Ohio. The hangout celebrates Mickey's illustrious past, including his Monster truck, his career as a prison guard and his love for Lotto tickets, bingo and table dancers.
Smith has achieved the look. With Mickey's beat-up living room ambiance, we might as well be hanging out in the basement of Wayne's World. The decor, if you can call it that, features a casual '70s flair highlighted by olive-and-orange drapes, banged-up and mismatched furniture, faded rumpus room carpet and a pool table. Partyers lounge on old couches and armchairs that look more like they belong in a slummy front yard than next to Scottsdale's Fifth Avenue shopping district.
How cool is it? Don't look for a sign. There's just a small name tag at the front of the brick building, which is next door to the Arthur Murray dance studio.
It's all great fun, with hip-hugger, tank-top-clad waifs cuddling up to young men dressed for the unemployment line. The music is terrific, blending '70s favorites with indie, electronic, post-rock, post-punk and soundtracks from Fast Times at Ridgemont High. After too many yuppified Scottsdale-area bars, this is the first place that's made me want to revive my clubbing days.
With such a comfortable atmosphere and the universal appeal of cheap drinks, it would be an easy cop-out to say people don't really come to Mickey's for the food. But they do. Visits during happy hour, at 9 p.m. and at 2 a.m., find tables full of nachos, pizzas and sandwiches. The place has become popular for late-night nibbling, serving its full menu until a half-hour before closing time. And a few items do show the potential of the kitchen.
An appetizer of Santa Fe rolls is excellent, pairing four fat taquitos stuffed with chicken and chiles with a thin, potent jalapeño sauce. The shells are crispy, the white-meat bird generous and the chiles blissful. Another starter of zucchini fritters is unusual but successful, dicing the vegetable with kernel corn and cheese, then frying it up in crab cake fashion to be slathered with a mayonnaise-like Creole dipping sauce.
But the backbone of any bar nosh, chicken wings, is boring. Who needs another everyday drummette, well-fleshed but flaccid under lifeless honey barbecue, sweet and hardly spicy "mo-rocken" or the bland Buffalo-flavored sauce? My wing-loving companion isn't happy that our order includes only one wing. The rest are drumsticks. A small crock of spinach and artichoke dip is simply awful, the cheese gummy and rancid, the artichokes chewy, accompanied by greasy tortilla chips. And the kitchen manages to kill the calamari by dumping the bits in a horrendous pasty flour that turns into Elmer's glue when dipped in a sugary, chunky tropical dipping sauce. Mickey's sofa groupings encourage sharing with strangers, but we can't give the critters away.
The sandwiches are a little more successful, at least better than Denny's for chasing too much beer. There's a lot to like about a gyro packed with grilled chicken breast strips, slabs of crisp cucumber, chopped lettuce and creamy garlic-cucumber sauce in fresh pita bread. It comes with lots of nice, skin-on shoestring fries.
"Jesus on the Mountain" is worthwhile munching, too, mounding hefty shavings of ham with crisp bacon, melted Cheddar, two fried eggs and potato chunks. The combination works because the ham is carved and grilled and comes on French toast that's fluffy, eggy and just this side of sweet. The roasted turkey is fine, too, with moist meat under melted Muenster with tomato and shredded cabbage in a light slick of "secret" Thousand Island-like sauce. What, no Miracle Whip?
Other basics have been messed with, and the results aren't worthwhile. Perfectly fine meat is pressed into a silly packet in the cheese steak, instead of the classic chopped style. Served on soft Texas toast, the textures of bread and beef are annoying, as is the coleslaw and Thousand Island dressing mixed with provolone, sautéed onions and jalapeños.
Our waitress warns that the hamburger comes on Texas toast. The bread isn't a problem; the burger is. The square lump we get also has been pressed into a creepy consistency that tastes like chewing on sofa cushions. Plus, it's been stuffed with French fries, making it too offbeat. The shredded cabbage and secret sauce don't belong on the shredded barbecue pork, either.
The pizza is the most puzzling dish. Pizza has got to be one of the world's most forgiving items to prepare -- even Chuck E. Cheese's gets repeat customers. But here, the 10-inch pies are different every time, without ever improving. A basic cheese and sauce is a sad, skinny pie barely dressed with overripe, almost burned Cheddar and watery sauce. Less offensive is the pesto Alfredo version, with fresh tomato slices and gooey mozzarella spilling over the edges. Mickey's Monster is better, if only for its bargain price tag, just $12 for an enormous pie piled with every topping offered. And the breakfast pizza gets points for creativity, delivering a crust layered with sausage, bacon, cheese and three sunny-side-up eggs.
Mickey's has a great idea in another one of its best sellers, the miniature hot dogs. But these hounds don't hunt. The three little-bitty buns are adorable, and the tiny bottle of Tabasco served alongside a great touch. But the ultra-pale pink dogs remind me of Vienna sausages given growth hormones. The salty, shredded Cheddar has gone dry, and can't be revived under the thimbles of damp, defeated chili.
It doesn't seem like it would take much to fix Mickey's. The kick-back club is entertaining enough that it's almost -- almost -- possible to forgive the food flops. Prices would make Al Bundy grin (half off at happy hour, even). And any place that serves eats until 2:30 a.m. deserves a second look.
But until product quality and consistency improve, this Hangover leaves me with a headache.
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