Location: Sioux Falls, South Dakota
When traveling, a completely different set of rules apply regarding what constitutes acceptable cuisine, in ways that can occasionally be more tolerant or more critical. For example, my expectations would be greatly heightened if I choose to spend $600 for an evening at Peter Luger's. Anything short of a memorable night and outstanding food and service would feel disappointing. On the flip side, if I'm shuffling along the interstate, hoping I can make it to Pine Springs by nightfall and I'm just wanting to make good time, I'll be very satisfied if my Po' Boy Melt is served quickly at the drive-thru and the grease doesn't leak through the tinfoil wrapper.
Compared in a context-free light, the Porterhouse at Luger's is probably superior by any measurable metric, but the expectation, expenditure and expediency could make a fast-food pitstop the clear winner. And so it is with family-dining pizza parlors
Upon passing through the Dakotas for a meet-up with friends, the adults agreed that there was no better way to cap an evening than to take our families out for a night of pizza. This particular restaurant had a train set running around the store's perimeter that delivered drinks and silverware right to your table, so it had enough novelty to entertain the youngsters, but was this Luger's, or was this the drive-thru? Even though I was famished after a long day of travel and visiting, I will choose to think of Happy Joes, well...happily.
From an analytic standpoint, it was the thick-bread, hand-tossed pizza, the kind where it feels like you're almost done with a slice, the crust you're left holding is like a half-chewed breadstick. Not necessarily my favorite, but it rose to the level of good, solid family fun. It struck all the right chords, the drinks were cold, and I'd go back again with our good friends any time. (6 of 10 stars)
Footnote: In my middle school days, we hung out once at a Happy Joe's in the next town over, and I really enjoyed the unusual crumbled sausage topping, and the hot fudge sundae chaser for dessert. High metabolism is a beautiful thing. But even more memorable: some girls from the rival middle school came and sat with us, although I now suspect they were more interested sharing (stealing) our ice cream. Still, I have never been as big of a legend in my own mind as I was on that day. (9 of 10 stars)