Or, a culinary cautionary tale...
If you ever find yourself in Gaithersburg, Maryland, tooling up and down Shady Grove Road and you discover you are hungry, here are four words to remember: Bugaboo Creek Steak House. As in – do not go there! Avoid at all costs!
It’s not that the food is bad. For a chain steakhouse, it’s perfectly fine. The problem is the disturbing décor.
You see, Bugaboo Creek is what I like to call the “NAFTA Friendship Steakhouse”. It’s the Canadian equivalent of Outback Steakhouse. The Bugaboo slogan is: “The Flavor of the Canadian Rockies”. What Outback has done to ingrain all sorts of silly Australian stereotypes in the minds of American diners, Bugaboo Creek hopes to do for silly Canadian stereotypes. Although, all things – including lingering thoughts of mad cow disease – taken into account, I think that Outback is winning here.
When you walk into Bugaboo Creek, the first thing that greets you is the lifesize Mountie statue that lets you know you’ll have a bit of a wait before you’re seated. The mountie stands next to a 8 or 9 foot tall pine tree. A talking pine tree. With a mouth set into the middle of its bushy branches.
It has lips. And teeth.
Hey, now that’s disturbing!
By now, as you wait in a line of loud suburban families, you realize you’re not in Kansas anymore. Frankly, I don’t think you’re in Canada, either. As far as I know, Canada is not home to talking evergreens. But I could be wrong.
In the bar area, a large owl hovers on the wall above you. Every once in a while, the owl moves. It flaps its wings and hoots. Loudly. The first time this happens, you are forgiven if you pee yourself. After all, restaurant décor is not supposed to move and hoot. But get over it. The owl, you see, is merely a harbinger of what is to come… in The Dining Room of Horror!
Designed to look like a north country lodge, the dining room has a hearty, manly look to it. Lots of dark woods, beer signs, lumberjack-ish print tablecloths… and animal heads everywhere. Buffalo. Deer. Moose. Huge honkin’ fish. It’s Sizzler, a la Norman Bates. Seated, looking over the hearty, manly menu (featuring their signature boozy drink, the “Legendary Moose Juice” - I kept calling it "moose piss"), we became aware of a flapping sound. Scanning the room, my friends and I became aware of the fact that the flapping was coming from the wall.
“Duuuude. That fish is moving.”
Sure enough, a huge bass on the wall flapped its head and tail wildly, its mouth gaping open, as if gasping for air.
Suddenly, fish did not seem like a good meal option.
We started looking at all the animals on the wall, fearing what was coming next. As if on cue, the enormous buffalo head cranked up a few feet away. You could hear the gears, in need of a good oiling, as the head bobbed and the eyes blinked at us. The hinged jaw began to flap open and shut and the buffalo, in a deep rumbling bass began to speak: “You may ask yourself how Bugaboo Creek got its name…” and the buffalo continued to share its tale of the mighty Canadian wilderness. (I started imagining the buffalo switching into a more appropriate Talking Heads mode: “And you may ask yourself – how did I get here???”)
But it didn’t stop there. Oh no, no, no. For, you see, the buffalo then led all the rest of the dearly departed creatures of the forest and the river in a rousing old timey mountain man-type song. God, was it Old Susannah? My Darlin’ Clementine? I think I’ve blocked it out. The Sasquatch might remember, if he didn’t undergo some sort of shock therapy to erase it all.
We ate quickly, in the hopes of missing the next show. We fled as the buffalo cranked into gear for another round. (The fish is apparently your 2-minute warning. Remember this!)
Like I said, the food wasn’t bad, really, as far as chains go. I might go back someday to horrify visiting friends or relatives. A menu point, though. I don’t know about you, but I’m not keen to eat something called “Crater Lake Seafood Dip”. I’ve been to Crater Lake. It’s awfully far inland. I don’t want to know what kind of “seafood” would come from said lake. Perhaps that’s the origin of “krab” with a “k”.
So, there is my cautionary dining tale. If you decide to visit Bugaboo – if only to take pictures or tape the talking buffalo, be sure to bring a foreign visitor. Really. Take a Norwegian. We did. We discovered that Northern European adults, not raised in a Chuck E. Cheese culture, don’t really like to eat in a room full of talking, singing, flapping dead animals. They find it unsettling and more than a little creepy. Buy your foreign visitor lots of “Moose Juice”. It may be the only way she’ll be able to eat dinner without screaming and bolting from the room.
If you’re hungry and you’re in Gaithersburg, just go to Ricky’s Rice Bowl. You can’t go wrong with rice, meat, veggies, and sauce. They have cheesy décor, too, but it doesn’t sing. Oh thank you god, it doesn’t sing.