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Playing With Your Food 

Boys will be boys

Your mother probably nagged you to not play with your food. Of course, you probably played with it anyway, because playing with your food is a form of attention mongering with a primal underpinning embedded in early childhood experiences. As a baby, perhaps you accidentally plunged a fist into a pile of mashed mush, causing not only a magnificent mess but also a significant uproar from the surrounding adults. Baby-You found itself empowered for the first time. And thus the tiny fist hits the mush again. And again. And again. With added verve and velocity each time. From this innocent beginning the bonding of food and fun is made.

Playing with food can take many forms.

It may rise from latent aggression towards siblings, manifested in aerial pea assaults. It may be a need for self-expression resulting in the careful folding of lunch meat and painstaking nibbling resulting in the delicate art of the bologna snowflake. Or it may be latent Martha Stewartism: the presentation of a hot dog enhanced with the scribbling of the words "Eat Me" in mustard ("Essen Ich" should be used when serving German Brats).

Playing with your food can be done in the comfort of your own home or while dining out. There are in fact many establishments that encourage you to, if not directly play with your food, at least play when you are finished eating. Here are a few such places. If you visit any of them, try to avoid the temptation to hang a spoon off your nose.

Chuck E. Cheese: The primary food at Chuck E. Cheese is pizza. It doesn't suck if you are hungry enough. You can also get hot dogs, subs, or a salad. There is a main "Show Room" which contains a stage of animatronic Teddy Ruxpin wannabes on Ritalin who play instruments and sing songs. Chuck E. Cheese, an oversized rat, is the star. I can think of no other food service establishment that promotes having an oversized rat as its main attraction. The arcade is filled with a variety of video games, human habitrails, and skill games like basketball and Skee-ball.

Pros: Most locations serve beer. The games can be fun if you can drown out the mass chaos surrounding you.

Cons: Do you really want to know what is at the bottom of the ball crawl?

Price: Your sanity.

Fun Facts to Know and Tell: Chuck E. Cheese was founded in 1977 by Nolan Bushnell, the same guy who invented Pong and Atari, in San Jose, CA. Ritalin Pizza is not available, though it should be.

Jillian's: Jillian's entertainment complex features restaurants, myriad electronic games, billiards, bowling, dancing, live music and sports viewing. I ate in the Video Cafe (at Concord Mills) which is the sports bar/ restaurant. It features four groups of four big screen TVs, three of which show sports and one of which rolls though coming and current events. The food was very tasty and the portions were more than generous.

Pros: If you can't find something fun to do here, there is something seriously wrong with you.

Cons: You purchase game cards which are loaded with points (3000 points for $5, 7000 for $10, etc). The games cost weird point amounts (435 for example). This means you always have a few straggler points left on your card, making you want to refill the card. I don't think this is an accident.

Price: Expect to pay at least $15 per person for food, beverage, and tip if you are eating for real. Game prices vary.

Fun Facts to Know and Tell: The Hibachi Grill is a Japanese Steakhouse with Rock n' Roll Music and "interactive dining." Hi Life Lanes is bowling married to technology.

The Men's Club: As much as I want to like this place, I have never felt comfortable any time I've been here; I think it's mostly me. I personally want a strip joint to be just that -- a place where I can drink beer, maybe smoke a cigar, and look at naked women who will pretend they think I am one happening middle-aged, overweight, and slightly balding dude. The class and sophistication aspects are lost on me. Since the focus of this column is playing with food, let's use the primary game available at the Men's Club as an example. Most girls (non-animatronic) do two dances up on the main stage. The first is done wearing something alluring and provocative. The second is the "money" dance (translation -- you get to meet the Pointer Sisters in all their glory). More times than not, the girls at the Men's Club will walk backstage between numbers, take whatever is was they were wearing off, then come back out as if to say "this is not a strip club."

Pros: The decor is comfortable and opulent. The food is always very good. The service is upscale and attentive. Boobs.

Cons: I feel like Ernest Goes To Moulin Rouge.

Price: There is generally a $3 annual membership charge and a $7 cover. A tableside dance will cost you $20. Most food entrees are in the $15-$20 range with sandwiches somewhat cheaper. Everything on the menu is fine restaurant quality.

Fun Facts to Know and Tell: Wear a Hawaiian shirt on Fridays through the end of summer and you get in free. Margaritas are $3 on Hawaiian Fridays.

You can e-mail Gene Lazo at

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