Cafe Reviews

A PLATE IN THE SUN

I'm no stranger to Sun City. The two people responsible for bringing me into this world have lived there for most of the last decade. So when it came time to gather information for this story, I simply called Mom. As always, she had plenty of suggestions.

In fact, to augment her own opinions, Mom conducted an informal survey at Monday/Wednesday/Friday Bell Rec Center aerobics. "Lo Perchio's," Mom reported. "Everyone loves Lo Perchio's." Well, hey, if it's good enough for everyone, it's certainly good enough for Goat and me. One Sunday I make the call from Phoenix. Hello, Lo Perchio's! Do you take reservations? Yes, a young woman tells me, it's always good to call ahead. Okay, I say. I give her my restaurant-spy alias and our estimated time of arrival. End of conversation.

It's a 35-mile drive out to Sun City. Lo Perchio's is nestled in a shopping plaza called Village at Surprise on Bell Road between Sun City and Sun City West. Village at Surprise looks a little like Town & Country Shopping Center without all the nice fountains, lights and hubbub. I am looking forward to a nice Italian meal. Lo Perchio's. Sounds Italian, doesn't it? A nice Italian meal in Sun City.

Silly me! Once we get there, I discover Lo Perchio's isn't Italian. Lo Perchio's is a Big-4 restaurant. One specifically created, I might add, to cash in on this older segment of the dining-out market. Everyone is dressed up like it's Easter or Mother's Day, but there's nothing impressive about the dining room. With its booths, hanging plants and brass railings, it looks like a heavily trafficked JB's. There's a glass case full of baked goods and a buffet line.

A buffet line!
Our young waitress looks at us expectantly. "Don't you want the brunch buffet?" Not really. Can we order from the menu? "Well, uh, most people have the buffet," she says. "It's $9.95 with champagne."

I am not happy. Why wasn't I told about brunch on the phone? I walk up to the line and take a look. I don't have to fill my plate to tell that this is one mediocre buffet. Oh, there's pudding: chocolate, vanilla and tapioca. There's gelatin salad, potato salad, cottage cheese and greens. There's precut turkey and fatty roast beef, blintzes, bacon, quiche and eggs Benedict. There's even a steam tray marked "gravy." Thanks, but no thanks.

I ask our waitress for a dinner menu. She is quite confused at this point, but obedient. The menu is moderately priced and lists just enough dishes to make it seem like there's a choice. The offerings range from simple pasta, seafood and salads to prime rib and fillet. Nothing trendy here.

I decide that Goat and I should move on. I do not wish to waste a drive to Sun City on Lo Perchio's buffet. I tell our waitress we'll be back some other time, and leave with every intention of returning. A sense of relief floods me once we escape. We walk over to Lalo's Place, an upscale Mexican restaurant also located in the Village at Surprise. Lalo's was another place ranked high on Mom's aerobics class's list. Sure enough, there's a champagne brunch buffet happening here, too, and we begin to get the picture.

Quantity equals quality in Sun City: big cars, big houses, big RVs, big food. Sun Citians adore buffets in general, and Sunday champagne brunch buffets in particular. They like to help themselves. Happily, the hostess says we can order from the menu. Great!

The same plants hang from the ceiling at Lalo's, but the decor is more high tech than at Lo Perchio's. Likewise, the crowd here seems more casually dressed and a bit younger. Pink and white dominate the restaurant's color scheme.

We take a booth and order up a storm. While we wait for the onslaught of food, we munch on chips and salsa, which are odd. The chips taste like they've been fried in some kind of "lite" oil: They are tasteless, thin, greasy and nonsalty. They're probably healthy as all heck, but I don't like them. The salsa is watery and mild--not a good sign of things to come.

Some athletic, sixty-ish men in shorts at the table next to us have just returned from the buffet. Their plates are piled high with what appears to be Mexican steak. The waitress comes and fills their champagne glasses. They seem quite satisfied.

Our appetizers arrive. What was billed as a quesadilla guacamole is actually a cheese crisp. It's large, presliced and covered with a bland mix of melted longhorn and jack cheeses. A dab of oniony guacamole sits on each crunchy slice. It's nonthreatening. Perfect for ulcer patients.

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Penelope Corcoran