I once pounded the drums and yelled in the halls about the wonders of Dambar Steakhouse in Kingman AZ. The service, the food, _and_ the prices were well-worth a multi-hour drive through Barstow, across the super-heated, summer-scorched Mohave, and an over-night stay in that single-street oasis.
I am sorry to say that this is no longer the case. Dambar sold its soul to market focus groups where tastes are dumbed-down and prices are raised in obscenity.
Clan Ranger arrived during the normal dinner rush, 6:40pm, and were greeted by the hostess in a warm and friendly manner, as was the custom of past visits. We were a larger than normal group, having rendezvoused with several of the Tucson clan and two friends from Sandy Eggo in Kingman for the night. We were to caravan to New Mexico with our escort the next morning.
Dambar was an atmosphere very much like "Cheers," where you were part of a large family; where everyone wanted you to feel welcome. The hostess greeted my daughter-units like she'd known them from birth and offered to seat us immediately.
I've eaten at this restaurant on several previous trips and enjoyed numerous dishes but always came back for the full-rack pork short-ribs. It was the first restaurant where the daughter-units went cave-girl on their orders of ribs, snarling when their father's errant hand tempted fate and reached for an extra rib. SWMBO also enjoyed the sirloin, not because the taste was a stratosphere above what we normally received in restaurants, but because the hotside always correctly cooked the meat to her preferred doneness.
My oldest, Daughter-unit Alpha, followed the hostess and the two chatted as we wound our way through a maze of sections and tables. "Here y'all go hon," she casually said as she patted her cheek. "Y'all enjoy."
"Uh, miss?" she asked in a timid manner.
"Can I get a children's menu, too?"
The hostess looked at her in shock. "Hon. Those are for little kids," and she gestured sweepingly at my other two and my cousin's twin boys.
"Alright. Come with me." The hostess turned without a further look back.
We all looked at each other. I prodded D-uA to head back to the hostess station and motioned everyone else to sit down. We were soon talking and jawing of family and experiences, laughing and catching up when I noticed that D-uA had returned, head down, without her kids' menu.
"Where's your menu?" I whispered quietly.
"She said I was too old." The sting was apparent.
I reached over and grabbed Spawn's menu. There was a momentary squeal of protest but my Dad Look quickly squelched it.
"12-and-under." I read aloud. D-uA wasn't 12. I handed Spawn back her menu and stood up. The conversation stopped. "I'll be back," I said quietly.
As I approached the hostess station, I was projecting I wasn't happy. I've never been very good at hiding that part of my personality and my exposure to the blistering heat from the surrounding countryside had considerably shortened my fuse.
"Can I help you?" a voice asked from my side, coming out of the bar area. I stopped and looked at him and saw the badge, "Manager."
"Yeah. My daughter requested a kids' menu but was told she's too old. I don't know what the hostess said to her but I know she's not enjoying her dining experience so far. I was going to talk to the hostess about that."
"How old is she?"
"Let me get you one." He turned and quickly retrieved one. "Can I get you anything else?"
I thought of numerous things -- one very bloody and involving the hostess' cranium on a pig stick -- but accepted the proffered menu. "Not at this time," I smiled and turned to leave. I stopped and looked at my watch. We'd been sitting at our table for a while and had not seen a server. I turned back with a puzzled look, "Yes. Now that I think of it, you can. Do we have a server or are we in another zip code?"
"I'll send her to your table immediately."
"Thank you again," and I turned to head on back to my group.
As I sat down, I handed D-uA her menu and was pelted by a dozen questions. "Have we ordered drinks yet?" I asked by way of answer.
"Nope. No one's even looked at us."
"Thought not. I mentioned it to the manager. He said we should..."
"I'm sorry. Everything's coming up in my section," a waitress huffed as she came up to our group. "Can I get anyone drinks?" she continued in a frantic sort of way; the breathless manner of someone unable to handle multiple tasks coming due simultaneously.
"Two," called my cousin's husband.
Drinks were soon ordered and our frenetic waitress quickly scurried away. We all went back to jawing and joking, Spawn's compulsion-like nonstop prattle being the main attraction. Drinks were brought out by another server with another promise that our waitress would be with us "shortly" [to take our order.]
We weren't in too big a hurry so I looked about. The restaurant was hopping. We'd arrived minutes before this latest rush so I mentally stopped deducting from the tip.
"Is everyone ready?" she alighted breathlessly at the head of the table. We all called out our orders, which coincidentally were all short ribs -- either half- or full-slab. Most members of Clan Ranger are carnivores so offering them some type of roughage is considered an affront to the natural order of digestion. I was the lone hold-out for tortilla soup, though, having enjoyed this side at every trip to this restaurant.
The waitress collected the menus from my end of the table and jumped back in her white-water stream swimming against some unseen current.
"Does she seem a little overwhelmed?" My cousin asked quietly.
I smiled and leaned over, "Just a little."
Daughter-unit Alpha was huddled over her twin and my cousin's twins debating in whispers. I casually leaned over to listen.
"I'm only older by 20 minutes!"
"So?! I'm not that much older! She said..."
"I know... You told me -- twice already."
"Lookit," both Weazley twins warned and pointed at me.
I sat back and looked over at D-uA. "You haven't told me," I smiled. D-uA looked very much like a sparrow staring into a rattler's face.
"[D-uA]? Have you seen the sunset over those mountains before?" my cousin asked quietly. D-uA nodded a negative and the two stood up to walk away for a more private talk. I rounded on Daughter-unit Beta.
"What, exactly, did she tell you 'twice?'"
D-uB met my stare without the faintest worry, "You're on a need-to-know basis and you don't need to know." She nonchalantly looked down at her kids' menu and went back to coloring a giraffe. I took a breath and looked over to where D-uA and my cousin were walking and talking.
"Hi," two more servers said, a waitress and waiter, carrying trays stacked with plates. "Ribs for everyone? Who are the two with half-racks?" Spawn and SWMBO raised their hands and platters were quickly set about.
"Can I get anyone anything else?"
"My soup?" I called. "I never received it."
The waiter rolled his eyes at the ceiling and sighed. "I'll get it. I'll be right back with it, sir."
"Anyone else not receive their salads or soups?"
"No one but that one," my cousin's husband pointed down at me, "ordered that... Stuff." He winced at the thought of a green salad being set in front of him.
"Okay. Can I get anyone a refill on drinks?" Another round was ordered and she disappeared.
"Your tortilla soup, sir. I'm sorry about that. She seems a little off tonight."
"'Sawright. Been there. Done that." I looked down at the soup cup. Two cheeses, monterey and cheddar, were mounded high, red-blue-and-green tortilla strips were flailing about as I moved the cup closer. "Is it supposed to be so red?"
"I'm sorry. What?"
"The soup? I don't remember it being a tomato-based soup," I asked frowning.
"It has been since I've been here," he shrugged.
I let it go. Fond memories and time always played tricks. I dug my spoon in and immediately knew neither was being mischievous. I pushed it back unfinished. How could something with so much tomato and cheese have absolutely no flavor or texture? Even the tortilla strips were denuded of any taste, although straw had similar texture.
I looked down at my full-rack. Two eight-inch slabs were stacked atop a pile of brown and soggy twigs. Cattleman's sauce was obviously ladled across the top rack in a rush to send it out. Quickly scanning the table, others were having similar experiences. Even Spawn, normally first to dive in, was scraping the sauce from her ribs with a napkin.
"That's accurate," my friend's husband laughed. He did the same with his napkin. "I can get ketchup from a bottle if I want it on my ribs like gravy." He turned his rack over. The solid white of fat on the back made me look closer at my two. My two showed a similar layer of uncooked fat. I clicked my teeth together and reached for my knife to saw the fat away.
D-uA and my cousin quietly sat down and looked at their plates. D-uA scrubbed her eyes and my cousin was scowling. "I think I'll go have a talk with the manager, too. I'm not hungry." She quickly stood back up. SWMBO also stood up and followed her, a similar cloud now forking continuous lightening strikes over her head.
Her husband stopped gnawing and looked up at the two of them. He closed his eyes and returned to eating. "It's just not his evening," he mumbled at the table.
The pile of fat stacked up on my plate like a rush hour traffic accident. I was glad they didn't promise a pre-cooked weight since it appeared most of it was fat, membrane and bone. D-uB was daintily cutting the meat from each section and summarily jabbing some fries. Her plate of ribs and fries, apparently, were the exception to our meal tonight. Our waitress did a routine fly-by but wasn't really interested in knowing how our meal was progressing. I started the slot machine tip deduction going again.
The manager arrived in tow with SWMBO and my cousin. "Folks, I'm sorry that this evening is not going so well."
No one said anything.
"I can offer you..."
"Why not remove the meals from our bill that haven't been touched?" SWMBO volleyed. "We'll pay for what we've eaten and find another place."
The manager took the life-line and exited.
"I'm hungry!" Spawn voiced.
"That's okay. We'll find another restaurant."
Everyone cleaned up and the manager arrived with the receipt. "I also deducted the tip for large groups." SWMBO said nothing and handed him her credit card. "I'll be right back."
"Take the kids outside. I'll be there shortly."
Summarily dismissed, I herded my daughter-units and the boys back to the front and out the door. The men rode herd, with me being point. Spawn laughed and jabbered endlessly causing multiple laughs and painful blushes from her father with some of the observations she made or questions she asked as we exited.
"Never again," I promised my friend. "Never again.