Making the Internet rounds these days is a Google map titled "The Most Unusual Restaurants in the World." With hundreds of little map pins scattered throughout, it raises hopes of being a unique strange-food and/or strange-experience extravaganza, but upon scrutiny, it's not all that it's cracked up to be.
The map gets an "A" for concept: Novelty dining can be a fun way to break up a road trip, and it's an interesting way to organize a map. But this gets a gentleman's "C-minus" for execution ... at least in Minnesota and Wisconsin, a part of the country where I generally know what I'm talking about.
Al Johnson's, Door County, Wisconsin: A Swedish restaurant with goats parked on its grass roof? OK, that qualifies. I've been going to Al Johnson's since I was preliterate, and the food quality has varied wildly over the years, but it certainly has always been unusual.
Chanhassen Dinner Theater, Twin Cities: Locally legendary. Whether it's an experience worth having is debatable, but, sure, it's a very large, ambitious dinner theater, and that's kind of weird.
The Sort of Stupid
Organ Piper Pizza, Milwaukee: A pizza place where music is played on an organ. Technically unusual, but that's your best shot for the whole city of Milwaukee? Really?
Scenic Rail Dining, northwestern Wisconsin somewhere: The only thing unusual about rail dining (eating on a train) is that this map lists about 1,500 different opportunities to partake of it, to the exclusion of nearly everything else other than giant milk bottle restaurants.
Seriously, it's as though the National Registry of Giant Milk Bottle Restaurants and the American Society of Rail Dining Experiences were both imported wholesale to build this map's database.
Some of What They Missed, Just Sorta Off the Top of My Head, No Real Research Because I Have a Lot of Things to Do Today
JJ Astor, Duluth: A revolving restaurant with gorgeous views of the harbor and the hills.
Al's Breakfast, Minneapolis: An alley with a tin roof over it. Seats 12 people if you're willing to pack cheek to jowl, and it may well serve the best pancakes in America.
Matt's Bar, Minneapolis: Quite possibly the birthplace of the Jucy Lucy, the cheese-stuffed hamburger that defines South Minneapolis bar food. Gritty atmosphere up the yin-yang.
Norske Nook, Osseo, Wisconsin: With dozens upon dozens of house-made pies, Norske Nook is less a restaurant than a pie shop that serves food. It's an I90/94 legend.
Kroll's East, Green Bay: Among the last of a mostly dead breed of old-school Wisconsin burger joints, featuring butter burgers, push-button-summoned service, and food wrapped in waxed paper.
Bunky's, Madison: Home to "spaghetti on the board," an anarchic communal spaghetti feeding frenzy.
Safe House, Milwaukee: The world's least secret "secret" restaurant/speakeasy, featuring a "secret" door and a "secret" password. If you like Midwestern novelty restaurants and you don't know about the Safe House, something has gone horribly wrong.
So, while not useless, "The Most Unusual Restaurants in the World" has a long way to go before it becomes a serious dining resource. If it updates regularly and takes suggestions seriously, it could become a hell of a neat project over the long haul. If not, at the very least it'll help you with all of your giant milk bottle restaurant needs, whatever those might be.
Update: The byline was corrected on this story on Thursday, August 25, 2011.