Ranking the epic wait times at three popular casual eateries

March 29, 2012

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WORTH IT (EXCEPT I DIDN’T REALLY WAIT): KUMA'S CORNER

Monday night I went to Kuma’s Corner for the first time, where I’ve heard the heavy metal is incredibly loud, the wait time unbelievably long (friends and well-wishers promised me anything from two to four hours for dinner) and the burgers incredibly delicious. I had also heard that their service is a little rude, but maybe I was just confusing Kuma’s with Debevic’s. I met my friend Samantha at 5:30 and we actually beat the system, getting seated in about ten or fifteen minutes. Perhaps due to the alacrity with which we were seated, I’m not entirely able to judge whether the food was worth the wait, but I think it might help to establish that I already ate a bacon cheeseburger the day before, so my stomach was in a challenging mood, like, “OK Kuma’s. Let’s see if you can make me crave another burger.”

First we started with the pulled pork french fries, which are covered in tangy-sweet barbecue pulled pork, melted cheese and scallions. I am typically a purist when it comes to fries: I don’t like cheese fries and I don’t even like ketchup that much. These fries, though, were a whole new world. “These shouldn’t make sense, but they do,” I told Sam, once we had dug in.  Make no mistake: the fries were ridiculous, definitely a meal in and of themselves. I feel like they took three years off my life.

I had a hard time picking a burger but I went with the YOB, since it has a roasted red pepper on top which I felt made it ‘healthy.’ I bit into the burger and interrupted Samantha’s titillating story so that I could pay homage to it, and her for taking me to Kuma’s. The garlic aioli was my favorite part, but wow, that was a good burger: huge and juicy and way too much for one person but I still ate the whole thing anyway. I ordered the burger with the homemade chips, which I would count amongst my favorite chips of all time. I like super-crispy chips, preferably ones that have folded over on themselves, and these delivered on both counts.

Our server was friendly but the music was incredibly loud and got louder as we sat there. Poor Sam was nursing a cold and basically lost her voice by the end of the night. But still, I came ready to be irritated by Kuma’s, but I wasn’t. Knowing that it’s possible to get a burger and not wait for forever, I’d go back, but I’d resist going at a non-early-bird time.

 


WORTH IT BUT DISQUALIFIED FOR PREFERENTIAL TREATMENT: HOT DOUG'S

I’d heard about the hourlong waits for Hot Doug’s hot dogs before but couldn’t imagine that a simple hot dog, which takes like three bites to eat, could possibly be worth that wait time, but our friends insisted we try it sometime. We saw Doug himself on Mark Bazer’s Interview Show and thought he seemed like a nice guy (niceness can convince me to try almost anything), so for our anniversary a few years ago, my husband and I took the day off of work for a day of fun, which included lunch at Doug’s.

Our mistake was getting in line right about noon on a weekday. I did the opposite of what I recommend regarding Kuma’s: hitting the rush. However, it was a nice day, we both had reading material and nowhere else to be. After waiting about an hour, we finally got up to the man himself (Doug). I asked whether one order of fries would be enough for the both of us, and Doug said it would be more than enough. “What the hell--it’s our anniversary!” I said, and then Doug comped our meal. We left a $14 tip.

One of the nice thing about Doug’s is that once you’re at the counter, you don’t have to wait for a seat. Doug makes friendly small talk until a table opens up, so once you’re in, you’re in. Of course, our views on Hot Doug’s were colored thanks to the free meal, but Steve and I agreed that the hot dogs were worth the wait. I had ordered a dog made of bacon, covered in red pepper and creamy garlic sauce. It was a big hot dog in a nice, substantial but not too-bready bun, so it didn’t feel like some cheap three-bite stand wiener. It was delicious. The fries were good too but I wouldn’t wait in line for those alone. Next time I think I’d order three hot dogs to share and get a small fry. I’m glad we went. Everyone was right.


 

INFURIATING: GREAT LAKE PIZZA

Steve and I live near Great Lake pizza, which got megahyped a few years ago when GQ magazine deemed its pizza the best in the solar galaxy. We’d heard that the wait time there was insane and that there are no shortcuts--you can’t call in an order for takeout or anything like that.

We figured that since it was within walking distance of us, it’d be silly not to try it, and so we deemed a way to work with the system: We’d go, put in our names and go have a drink or two at the restaurant next door.

This part of the system worked pretty well, but our cocktail hour did last about an hour and a half. Eventually we got into Great Lake with our BYOB bottle of wine, already semi-lubricated. At our communal table, we ordered a salad and some sort of pepperoni-esque pizza. The salad arrived and was absolutely gorgeous, so we were pleased with the experience so far. But an hour after we sat down, our waiter brought out a mushroom pizza.

“We ordered the salami pizza,” I said.

“Oh. Well. Sorry. This is all I have for right now,” he said. “So, uh. What do you want to do?”

“This is fine!” Steve said, because he’s way too nice in situations like this. He hates making trouble. “I’ll eat it.”

“You hate mushrooms,” I pointed out. “Like, more than anything.” I told the waiter we’d wait another 45 minutes for the pizza we ordered. He sighed and went back to the kitchen.

By the time our proper pizza finally arrived, we were hungry, annoyed and not entirely sober. The crust of the pizza itself was beautifully made, soft and bubbly and fresh, but the pizza itself was incredibly salty. And I’m a salt person. I’ll salt food to death.

“Do you think this was...worth the wait?” I asked the other couple sitting at the table with us. They concurred that their pizza or experience weren’t exactly The Universe’s Best. I advised them to try Apart instead, where we typically order, which is cheaper, faster, friendlier and ultimately much more delicious for what you pay for. (Our bill at Great Lake for one salad and one pizza was over $40.)

I think the moral of the story in these situations is that the wait has to be worth it at least in terms of service or quality but ideally both, but the onus is on the customer to be aware of the pitfalls of all eateries that potentially make you wait a long time for your relatively quick bite. Even if I was ready for the wait, if I wasn’t in the right mood, the noise of Kuma’s would have been a turnoff. I wouldn’t probably wait for Hot Doug’s on a snowy day. With Great Lake, we played the waiting game but still got dinged both in terms of service and quality, so I wouldn’t go back unless I felt like I needed a bit of an ego check.