North Park denizens clutched their chests upon hearing the news that San Diego's first mac-n-cheese-only restaurant would be opening in the neighborhood; finally, a church for cheese worshiping carb-bingers - where after one bite, hipsters and kiddos in diapers alike would drop to their knees in lactose shock, speaking in tongues with the only discernible words being "ooey-gooey" and "seconds."
This was, at least, my divine vision.
I waited three months before checking out Bazinga Eatery: The Urban Mac n' Cheese Spot (3383 30th St.). With four of my starving friends in tow, we stopped in during happy hour (4-7 p.m. daily), which offers drink specials only.
We started with a mac n' cheese pizza and fried mac n' cheese balls, both listed under appetizers, each priced at five bucks. The pizza was serviceable, though its dough - described on the menu as fried - came thin, rather hard and perfectly round, likely manufactured elsewhere. The balls were perfectly fried in an Italian-style breadcrumb and were served with a dispensable side of aioli. A tangy marinara would have been sweeter for dipping.
Gulping our local craft beers, we took a look around. The communal table where we sat - right by the front window - lacked any overhead lighting. What should be the best seat in the house was literally in the dark. The walls were barren, save for a few small metal sculptures, which made the place look all the more empty. It lacked any sort of personality and didn't even smell like food. Weirdness.
My buds ordered the brie and steak ($13), the chorizo ($9), the garden ($8) and the Benedict ($10). I ordered the most expensive thing on the menu, a lobster version ($16). After just a few bites, there was something of a collective gasp at the table: Where's the... cheese?!
Though each dish promised multiple cheese combinations, not one variety was distinguishable. Bland white sauce replaced what should have been bubbling, rich and stringy cheese-packed béchamel. Needless to say that crusty, broiled cheese topping over which every mac n' cheese lover swoons remained but an unrealized fantasy.
Yet more crimes against food followed. My poor boyfriend's skillet of noodles resembled neither mac n' cheese nor eggs Benedict; its rubbery topper did nothing for the dish with its broken, shriveled up yolk. A friend's veggie version tasted like hospital food, with additions like kale and mushrooms that were neither sautéed nor properly seasoned before being added to the mix. It was shrouded in panko bread crumbs, whose only hope for flavor comes from a proper seasoning, which was far from the case.
But the most heinous of all was my lobster mac. The two New Englanders at the table confirmed that frozen claw meat was the culprit behind its pungent odor and flavor. I was only brave enough to eat a couple of overcooked bites.
The most redeeming flavor at the table was the steak topping on the brie mac, despite it being on the done side. We sat there at a loss, perplexed by the overall haphazard mix-ins and toppings, overcooked pasta and missing cheese. As one depressed voice uttered, "The best thing about this meal was reading about it on the menu."
In a return visit, I ordered the mac n' cheese sampler ($10), with the French onion section of the divvied-up skillet showing traces of Gruyere. But otherwise, our server's "favorite" version-the drunken, allegedly made with beer and topped with pretzel bits-lacked any palatable flavors of brew or cheese. The same went for the classic, said to have sharp cheddar, which mysteriously lacked the faintest trace of the robust cheese.
I ordered two salads, desperately searching for Bazinga's redeeming qualities. To no avail, the grilled vegetable ($8) was oddly served hot, with nostril-burning quantities of balsamic vinegar and an amateur dousing of olive oil. It desperately needed salt, while the lemon-infused goat cheese on the beet salad ($8) contained so much zest that I puckered with every sour bite.
The idea behind Bazinga is good, but the food is in desperate need of an intervention; a consulting chef would work wonders. With plenty of delish mac n' cheese along 30th street-Alexander's, Urban Solace, Soda & Swine-the restaurant's future is shaky. Nothing about the place made sense, down to its name: a line from a popular TV show that, ironically, is used to signify a prank or joke. Besides the cheese, the laugh track remains amiss at Bazinga.