Four years ago, my favorite wrestler purchased a dilapidated Shoney’s in Acworth, Georgia (across from the Cabela’s). It was such a notable event in Shoney’s history that the restaurant chain posted a video of him and his brother demolishing the building with a bulldozer. That wrestler’s name is Scott Steiner, and if he reads this review of his Shoney’s, he is probably going to kick my ass.
I love restaurants like Shoney’s — at least theoretically — because for most of my life they were the places you’d go after church, or when you were on a trip to see your relatives down south. They were innocuous spots with a hot bar, a children’s menu, and crayons you were allowed to draw on the placemats with, but not take home when you were done with your meal. Scott Steiner’s Shoney’s is not like that. If I had to guess, few Shoney’s are.
Something happened to restaurants like this one since I was a kid. They all had to become Applebees or die, and that’s what the renovated Shoney’s in Acworth (across from the Cabela’s) became. It has a bar, a lot of televisions, and pictures of the food you’re about to order on the wall. Most of these helpfully have words like BURGER BASKET or CHICKEN STRIPS in big font, in case you’re unfamiliar with the concept of burgers, baskets, or chicken strips.
I went to this Shoney’s because it is owned by Scott Steiner, and I was hoping it would feel like the kind of place he’d hang out in. I took a friend with me and, in his disbelief that I wanted to drive two hours to eat at a chain restaurant across the street from a Cabela’s, he said “There will be nothing special about this Shoney’s other than that we’ll be the only queers there.” We walked in and I looked around for something that noted its ownership. Outside of the gym-like open floor plan, noise level, and televisions set to all three major news networks for the sake of balance, there was no sign of Big Poppa Pump’s touch. Deflated, I prepared to face the unknown. But then, out of the corner of my eye, I saw it: a shrine to the Big Bad Booty Daddy himself.
It was tucked away behind the bar, in a section of the restaurant you’d only sit in if you wanted bask in the sheen of the oil on his muscles, left in peace by the world to contemplate the possibilities of human flesh. Charley and I wanted to eat, so we sat elsewhere, pored over the menu, and made our choices.
First Course: All-American Onion Rings
Charley and I decided to stick with items designated as signature dishes, splitting appetizers and desert while picking our poison with the main. We went with the All-American Onion Rings — not because we love our country (how boring, how heterosexual), but because I thought they were altogether safer than something like spinach and artichoke dip.
I was wrong. The bland, vaguely peppery batter and rawness of the onion caught me off-guard, and I nearly choked on a piece of batter I cautiously swallowed. I’m talking “airways blocked, literal concern on my companion’s face” choked.
One of the televisions was tuned to a religious channel. Its pastor was going on about meeting Jesus and, reader, just then I could have. I was in the middle of explaining who Scott Steiner was, so, had I died, at least it would have been in the middle of a phrase like “unquestionably one of the most unique figures in professional wrestling.” Die in a shrine, ascend to the Muscle Palace.
If you’re wondering, the appetizer portion of onion rings is ten rings. They were fucking massive, the size of Scotty’s peaks, and I, devoted freak though I am, could not finish them. We were offered mustard, which we declined.
A Note on Service
Our server was a real sweetheart who didn’t even flinch when I asked if she got to hang out with Scott Steiner. He was wrestling for CHIKARA that weekend, and wasn’t there (she was surprised to find out he still wrestled, so I’m sorry to Scott for blowing his cover at his shoot job). But apparently Scott is there all the time and is really nice. Although he talks “in that voice.” Since acquiring this knowledge, I have been thinking about what a staff meeting led by Scott Steiner would sound like. What would it be like to hear Scott Steiner roar “Get more ham cubes for the hot bar”?
I want to shout our server out here because someone else almost did die while we were eating our onion rings. She (the server at Scott Steiner’s Shoney’s across from the Cabela’s) actually administered CPR while waiting for the ambulance to arrive. Our food came out so quickly we wouldn’t have noticed, but she was visibly shaken. There’s nothing funny about this, obviously, but hearing your waitress say “I hope that man lives, I tried so hard” isn’t something you can just ignore. She should have been allowed to go home, but was a true delight anyways. The floor manager kept checking in on us, too, but I think that had more to do with us looking like weird queers who might Ocean’s Eleven a title belt than her wanting to freshen our Diet Cokes.
Second Course: Baked Spaghetti / Country-Fried Steak Breakfast
In my memory, Shoney’s is a southern breakfast joint, so I got a southern breakfast. Charley is actually southern and doesn’t need to append the word “southern” to things for them to be so. As such, he ordered the baked spaghetti. Of it, he said “You know, it’s spaghetti, like Wednesday dinner.”
Wednesday dinner is a Methodist thing. I’m an ex-Catholic, and Catholics bristle with contempt for other Catholics to the extent that we can only get together for spaghetti twice a year. Charley’s right, though. It did taste like the kind of spaghetti that sits way too long in its own water in a chafing dish, ignored for the sake of the garlic bread. The thing is, the garlic bread served with the spaghetti was the worst thing about the meal.
My meal was the worst thing I’ve eaten in 2019, and a strong contender for the worst thing I’ve eaten this decade. That’s not a very high bar, mind you, but I did spend one summer eating nothing but chicken-flavored instant noodles and Miller High Life. Another year, I made homemade seitan at least five times. I’ve also had pork chops at an Ohio Waffle House, so far from the watchful eye of its southern forebears that it could get away without seasoning the meat.
“Without seasoning” is the kindest phrasing for what was wrong with my country-fried steak. Though I guess the gravy smothering it was, at least, an attempt. It was less a country-fried steak than a vague gesture towards the dish, hoping to convince you of its validity the way a wizened Jedi might convince you those aren’t the droids you’re looking for.
Third Course: Nothing
Charley referred to dessert as a “game-time decision,” but when game-time arrived, we tapped out like hapless losers in the clutches of the Steiner Recliner. Despite their omnipresence on the sides of highways and across the Cabela’s of this land, the food at Shoney’s and other restaurants like it is too rich for real human stomachs to handle. If you believe in the theory that we’re living in a simulation, roadside chain restaurants are a killer argument in your favor. The homeliness is manufactured, and the food bears a flavor profile like the output of a joke tweet about forcing a computer to watch 1,000 hours of Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives before making American cuisine for the first time.
None of this is Scott Steiner’s fault. It’s just something he bought into because every successful wrestler of a certain vintage needs a business they can hang out at between indie bookings and comic convention appearances. The Scott Steiner Shoney’s is so anonymous that, were it not for the shrine in the corner, you’d never know it was his. It’s not fit for a king, but Scott Steiner would be the first to tell you that America has no king: just Americans. And Americans need places to eat. His Shoney’s is certainly one of those places.