Holla' if you hear me ... I'm about to puke scrambled eggs all over Big Poppa Pump's parking lot.
By: Jimbo X
It's not everyday that you learn that a former WCW world heavyweight pro-wrestling champion opened up a buffet restaurant in your neck of the woods. But sometimes, fortune, she doth smile upon you.
Living in the northern environs right above Atlanta, I noticed a few months ago that there appeared to be a brand new, totally remodeled Shoney's restaurant around exit 277 off Interstate 75. Now, this is interesting, because there was a long-abandoned Shoney's just sitting there for months and months. That someone - anyone - would invest the financial resources in literally bulldozing the eatery to build a whole new eatery on top of it seems just about the weirdest thing anyone could do with the property that the Acworth, Ga. zoning commission would've authorized.
Well, much to my surprise, I recently learned that someone was none other than WCW stalwart Scott Steiner, who spent 80 percent of his career playing some guy with a mullet before discovering ster...I mean, developing a new muscle-building-intensive training regiment...and becoming this beefed up dude with blond hair that wore a chain mail headdress for no discernible reason whatsoever and once tried to kayfabe rape Vince McMahon's daughter on live television. Oh, and when I say he "bulldozed the property," I goddamn mean exactly what I say ... he was indeed the person responsible for using diesel-fueled, mechanical death to pound the old buffet restaurant into rubble.
So, a couple of months back, the all new Big Poppa Pump Shoney's opened its doors, complete with a grand opening spectacle in which the man himself - as well as a host of other pro 'rasslin has-beens like Jeff Jarrett and Kevin Nash - showed up to the rechristen the franchise. After driving by the thing for the better part of a year, my curiosity finally got the better of me, and I decided to try out this newfangled buffet place, to see if it really was worthy of, ahem, a title shot.
All right, so I am going to assume that about half of the people reading this already know what Shoney's is, and really have no need for any background info. Alas, I also expect those of you from locales without a big Shoney's presence to have a lot of questions, so to catch those out of the loop up to speed, basically, the restaurant is a sit-down buffet "assemble-your-own-heart-attack" chain, not unlike something like Golden Corral. Granted, the buffet itself - while the main attraction - is a bit downplayed for more festive menu fare. So yeah, you can go in there and savage the buffet line like a neanderthal if you want, but if you want a big meaty steak or a huge honking hamburger, you can also sit there and politely wait for someone to carry out your made-to-order meal like a normal human being. But hey, where's the fun in such a banal dining experience?
Before you get into the exterior of what will forever be known as "The Scott Steiner Shoney's," I reckon you first have to describe its surroundings. It's in a really bad place, traffic-wise, since there is no real outlet accessible for motorists coming southbound or northbound from the interstate. Indeed, once you take the I-75 off-ramp, you have to drive quite a bit down Highway 92 before you can find a decent U-turn spot so you can actually enter the parking lot. It's wedged in between a Waffle House and a Hardee's, with a huge hunting store right across the road. There's some economic development stuff going on behind it (hotels? warehouses? office complexes?) but for the time being, it's mostly just dust and debris in the background. As for the patrons, it was your usual mix of weather-beaten Vietnam vets, late-evening church people and scruffy day laborers. Literally everyone in the building - my tongue-ring-sporting waitress included - dipped out at least once while I was there to get their Marlboro fix in between gnashing down plates of scrambled egg and grits.
As soon as you walk in, you are bombarded by all of the expected "'Merica" iconography, right down to the giant-assed American flag with the corporate restaurant logo emblazoned upon it next to the cooks' 10 foot-by-6-foot cubby hole in front of the buffet line. There are a ton of plasma screen TVs all over the place, and a full bar, complete with a giant jug of what appears to be bagels floating in a translucent blue fluid. I honestly have no idea what that's supposed to be, so if anyone out there can fill me in, please, do send an email. The general layout of the place was a little weird. You had a "U" shaped row of booths flanking the perimeter of the dining area, but there was this long row of standalone tables stacked side-by-side creating this buffer between the diners and the buffet trays, with these (comparatively) narrow choke points on the sides that pretty much put your ass in the face of somebody downing a key lime pie every time you get up for a new plate. And, as anyone who has ever been to a buffet in the Deep South can tell you, considering the awe-inspiring girth of many restaurant regulars, at some point you just KNOW some lard-ass has gotten stuck in between tables here.
As soon as I was seated, the very first thing Miss Tongue Ring said to me was "do you wanna' try any pancakes tonight?" Keep in mind, this is before she asked me what I wanted to order as a main entree, and even before she asked me what I wanted to drink. Meanwhile, the old dude behind me - whose wife, presumably, didn't give a shit - kept calling her "honey," because yeah, in old Dixie, there's a fine line (and sometimes, none at all) between old fashioned camaraderie and blatant sexism.
Unbeknownst to me, the evening I showed up was apparently breakfast night, which is totally cool with me because I'm never really out and about eating stuff until at least 6 p.m., anyway. The buffet line itself was a good 15 feet, with your standard salad bar on the far left end, some chilled desserts (mostly, a bunch of pudding and iced cantaloupe slices) and two mystery soups I didn't have the time/available stomach space to sample. The main breakfast itinerary took up three full sections, which are broken down, Noah's ark style, in the paragraphs below.
First up, we have our heavy proteins. You've got your standard scrambled eggs (enhanced by a heaping helping of nacho cheese), sausage links, grits, chopped up home fries, sauteed mushrooms, chicken-fried steak (a Southern cuisine staple, for those of you not in the know) and the prerequisite made-from-scratch biscuit, which could be slathered in either your basic creamy milk gravy or a more savory one containing chunks of crumbled up sausage. So, yeah, not a bad little offering at all right here.
Round two was a little more diverse. You've got your breaded and deep fried chicken tenders and maple-soaked bacon to meet your protein needs, but everything else is decisively starchier. For one thing, the section included a large bucket of Spanish rice, which I've never really considered a "breakfast-type" of food, but whatever. Annex to that an entirely different kind of grits (it was way mushier than the kind I tried earlier) and a confectioner's sugar-drenched fried French toast thingy and you definitely had all the makings for a carb-induced headache.
But the dessert section is where things get really out of hand. Here, there's not even an attempt to justify the inherent unhealthiness of what's on the docket; you've got sugar-encrusted fruit jam-crepes, super-duper-sugary apple cobbler, a sponge-cake drenched in molasses and a gigantic, sugar-coated fried triangle that I'm pretty sure is type 2 diabetes distilled into its purest organic form. Of course, Shoney's tried to make you feel a little better by including some sliced up pineapple in the tray, but it's a ... pun, somewhat intended ... fruitless effort. If you're even sniffing around stuff like this, it's pretty much a given that you don't give a fuck no more about having all of your appendages, and no puny little slice of Adventure Island power-up is going to convince you to change your obese ways, neither.
Ultimately, I was able to put down five plates before my endocrine system started shutting down. In hindsight, it doesn't seem like that much food, but that's probably because there was a (relatively) smaller amount of individual foods being offered. When you go to an Asian buffet where they've got out 30 different types of macaroni and 94 exquisitely made sushi rolls, yeah, you tend to rationalize eating an insane amount of food, but when there are just a dozen or so things you kept devouring, it's easy to see how your brain might try and fool you into thinking you aren't as big of a glutton as you actually are. Still, I was utterly fucked up for two days afterwards, completely sick to my stomach and having to drink water like a half-starved camel for 48 hours afterwards. Regardless, the all-breakfast induced food high was probably worth it - for just $8.99, I'm pretty damn sure I ate at least $40 worth of sausage alone, and really, there's no way to go to bed feeling bad about that, for sure.
The one thing that really struck me about the visit was the complete and utter lack of any kind of Scott Steiner iconography anywhere. I mean, I didn't expect Scott himself to waltz on out and give somebody a Steiner Screwdriver for leaving behind a shitty tip or Frankensteiner the barmaid for being too slow or cut a promo about how he wants to kill Hulk Hogan again next to the ranch dressing dipper, but one would expect to see at least a photo of the franchise operator somewhere. Indeed, unless you really had your ear on the ground when it comes to ex-professional 'rassler entrepreneurial endeavors, there's no way you would have suspected a former WCW champ owned the place.
As a pure dining experience, I think it is safe to say I have experienced way better at other buffets. It would've been nice to have tried their proper dinner buffet (and, pending I am in the area for some abstruse reason, I may indeed do just that), but the breakfast slate, overall, was rather unremarkable. Now, don't get too mad at me, Mr. Big Bad Booty Daddy, "unremarkable" doesn't mean "terrible," it just means "good in all the expected ways." It was yummy, it was filling and I feel that I certainly got my nine dollars and some odd change out of the meal. Still, in a glutted buffet market, you really have to up the ante and trot out an experience that separates you from the herd. All of the stuff Shoney's was hocking, I could get at any Howard Johnson breakfast buffet line in America. I mean, you couldn't have ran with the pro wrestling theme and given us Rick Steiner waffles, or Sid Vicious's extra crispy whole pork patties? Hell, not only would I patronize an old school WCW-themed buffet on a weekly basis, I'd probably buy a house within ten miles of it just to be on the safe side.
Still, I've got no real complaints about my Scott Steiner Shoney's encounter. Granted, the stuff I remember most wasn't the food - never really a good sign if you are a fledgling franchise - but the really small things, like how my water came out with the lime juice already sprinkled in it, or the dude in the bright green shirt who kept asking me 900 times if I liked the home fries, and the fact that the forks that came with my napkin were easily the biggest fucking eating utensils a restaurant has ever supplied me. That, and it was pretty hard not to be distracted by that weird, mechanical "beeping" that kept emanating from the chef's cubby hole.
But then again, for all we know, that could've just been the cooks trying to pump themselves up by blasting their owner's old theme music at full volume...