Chow Bella

Fun and Games and... Yuck: Dirty Dining Guide to Valley Kids' Entertainment Joints

Even the CDC probably couldn't identify all the germs at kids' entertainment centers.

But, dammit, we expect places that cater to our children to keep their kitchens clean and their food safe. Not all are doing so, a review of health inspections shows.

Our ire on the matter was provoked yesterday after checking out the weekly inspection report from the Maricopa County Environmental Services department. Amazing Jake's, the huge, indoor amusement joint at Baseline and Gilbert roads in Mesa, received a "no award" designation for its food service in an inspection earlier this month.

Nothing really jumped out as far as the specific violations -- except for the sheer number of them. Not only did Amazing Jake's fail to receive a gold or silver award, but it racked up a whopping 22 violations for the one inspection on March 1. Repeated violations, such as failing to keep perishable items cold enough, has landed Amazing Jake's on probation with the county as it works to fix the problems and train employees.

The bad inspection wouldn't have surprised county inspectors, because Amazing Jake's has no gold awards on record -- just a bunch of silvers dating back three years. As readers of Chow Bella and observers of the county restaurant ratings know, second place is the first loser when it comes to food inspections. If it ain't gold, it's gross.

One disgusting example: Marinara sauce at Amazing Jake's was found by inspectors to be out-dated and not being stored cold enough in three separate inspections dating back to last September, including the most recent inspection this month. 

Amazing lack of training.

Jake's poor record made us wonder about the cleanliness of similar entertainment centers. As usual, we're sorry we asked the question.


Of the Valley's seven Chuck E. Cheese restaurants, only two have received gold ratings in their most recent inspections. (The one in Goodyear and the Mesa location at 7012 E. Hampton.)

Two most recently received "no awards:" The one in Glendale, and the west Phoenix location on 35th Avenue.)

Inspections at the other three only turned up silver awards.

A better ratio can be found in the ratings of Peter Piper Pizza, where the most recent inspections struck gold at 20 out of 33 Valley locations, while eight merited "silver."

Yet five Peter Piper's had "no awards" recently, and a check of those locations' previous inspections shows the latest problems weren't flukes. Corporate managers, do your duty.

Those five locations were:

* The U.S. Airways Center -- though the specific violations were not too bad here, in our opinion.

*  3403 North 7th Avenue, Phoenix

* 1805 East Baseline Road, Tempe

* 2611 West Carefree Highway, Phoenix

* 6040 South Central Avenue. Inspections for this location turned up one of pet peeves: Potential mold in ice machines and drink-dispenser nozzles. In this case, "red, sticky organic matter and black organic matter" was seen lurking in the corners of the ice machine. Worse, an inspector caught an employee sitting on the pizza preparation area -- with a foot up on the table, no less. The prep table was cleaned and sanitized, and the worker probably received a talk on how to better spot county inspectors.

Makutu's Island at Ray Road and Priest Drive in Chandler, like Amazing Jake's, has also failed in its struggle to obtain "gold" from inspectors in the last few years. Unlike Amazing Jake's, though, Makutu's is at least going in the right direction. It hasn't received a "no award" since April of 2009, but can't do better than silver. We saw nothing too foul from the last two years, though -- just a bunch of small stuff, like a dirty spatula.

A difference in food service can be seen in the ratings for the Valley's two major zoos: Wildlife World Zoo on the west side has merited only silver ratings recently (one inspection noted mouse droppings in a pantry) but the Phoenix Zoo was almost solid gold.

The latter business is the only one in which we eat regularly, but we've sampled the pizza and other fare at Amazing Jake's, Makutu's and various Chuck E.'s and Peter Pipers. Maybe next time, we'll bring pack lunches and more hand sanitizer.

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Ray Stern has worked as a newspaper reporter in Arizona for more than two decades. He's won numerous awards for his reporting, including the Arizona Press Club's Don Bolles Award for Investigative Journalism.