Bubba Gump Shrimp Co.
Despite our less-than-ideal dining experience at Guy's American Kitchen, the four of us had fun and decided to continue to eat our way through Times Square chain restaurants (because why not?). Next on the list was Bubba Gump Shrimp Company, one of forty locations around the world. As the name suggests, Bubba Gump is a restaurant based entirely on a few scenes from the 1994 Tom Hanks movie, Forrest Gump. Is this a tenuous connection for an international restaurant chain? Definitely. Is it just strange enough that I was actually excited for my first Bubba Gump experience? You bet.
I'm happy to report that overall, our experience was leaps and bounds above Guy's, which in retrospect, was a very low bar. We did have to briefly wait on line on a Tuesday night despite several visibly empty tables, but Bubba Gump doesn't take reservations (Guy's does, but it's unnecessary). Our waiter seemed confused and took us on a mini tour of the restaurant before settling us in a booth, but it was smooth sailing after that.
Two of the four of us don't eat seafood (myself included), but there were a few non-shrimp options on the menu. But first, we ordered drinks (all in souvenir cups) and were pleased that they all tasted 1. like something at all and 2. like they had alcohol in them. We ordered the popcorn shrimp appetizer, and while it was bit smaller than we expected it was actually hot and crispy and I will bend my no seafood rules for anything deep fried and slathered in enough dipping sauce.
I ordered a cheeseburger and fries, and while it wasn't life-changing it tasted exactly as a burger should (and didn't arrive with a cryptically-burned top bun). For dessert, we went with the chocolate chip cookie sundae, reasoning that every chain restaurant we try should have some version of this and of course we're doing this all for Science and understand completely how control groups work. The cookie was hot and gooey and crunchy and the ice cream didn't taste like freezer burn but of actual vanilla. The only scary part of the meal is the calorie count that businesses with 15 or more franchises are required to post here in New York, but I'm getting good at willfully ignoring those (anything for Science!).
The Times Square location of Bubba Gump is huge, but by the time we left there was line out the door. At one point our waitress asked us where were visiting from, and we said "oh, we live here." She mentioned that most of the Bubba Gump patrons are from other countries, and that was definitely true of the night we were there. In the gift shop (of course there's a gift shop) they have a squished penny machine and I mesmerized a group of people speaking a language I didn't recognize by squishing a penny with their signature fancy shrimp design.
The fact that Bubba Gump still exists (or was ever conceived of in the first place) is fascinating to me, and it's such an odd thing on which to base an entire restaurant franchise but it somehow works. Forrest Gump was a huge movie, of course, but it's not an iconic world like Star Wars or Harry Potter—maybe I'm the only one who has ever thought so long and deeply about the Bubba Gump brand?
The food was exactly what we expected, it was cheaper and had twice the flavor of anything we choked down in "Flavor Town," and the atmosphere was unabashedly joyful. It doesn't make sense that a restaurant based on a few minutes of a movie that premiered 23 years ago is serving better food than the flagship restaurant of a famous chef, but maybe you shouldn't try to make much sense out of a restaurant whose logo is a shrimp in a top hat.