What a Joke

The name isn't the only thing funny at the Fakawwee Lodge

There are few experiences more giddy than realizing you've become a character trapped in a bad movie, and there's no way to roll the credits without finishing your dinner. The new Fakawwee Lodge, the latest cubic zirconia in the Shepherd Plaza crown, is the source of such experiences. It's a concept so irredeemably misguided that it's funny, and you should hurry on over and have a good laugh and a bad dinner before this punch line from a grade school joke adds itself to the list of eateries that have spent a brief moment at this mysteriously snakebitten corner of Richmond and Greenbriar.

What (aside from the restaurant) is the joke? As any gratuitously profane elementary school student can tell you, the Fakawwees are a tribe of American Indians that has been lost in the high grass of its ancestral hunting grounds for centuries, and to this day the members of the tribe are wandering around and shouting (drum roll, please), "Where the fakawwee?" Exactly why this pre-adolescent groaner inspired the name of a restaurant intended for adults is a mystery, but it could have been worse: The original plan was to call the restaurant the Karankawa Lodge, after Harris County's long-extinct tribe of cannibals.

When I first heard the restaurant mentioned, I had a hard time believing that Fakawwee was being used in the context I remembered from fourth grade. But sure enough, there on the Fakawwee Lodge's menu is a picture of a Native American and a bear standing in tall grass, hands to brows, looking to see ... well, where the fak they are.

But where the fakawwee isn't the question that came to my mind after a couple of visits. Rather, it was why the fakawwee here?

The ambiance is a hip designer's concept of what a hunting lodge should look like, with mounted game trophies hung at random and a chandelier fashioned from an assortment of (possibly real) moose and elk antlers. There's also a smattering of faux Native American kitsch in a nod to the eatery's faux-Indian name; I did, however, find the house cat at the bottom of the totem pole a rather jarring touch. While the lodge concept is one that can be comforting when done well, the haphazard approach used here clashes uncomfortably with both its own elements and the staff, who bring to mind a casting call for crowd-scene extras on Melrose Place -- which isn't to say that the staff isn't amusing, however inadvertently.

In our party one fine Friday night at the Fakawwee Lodge was one of the best cooks I know, and we ordered the cornmeal-breaded calamari appetizer. Exactly why our waiter felt the need to smugly assure us that these were good calamari, not the rubbery ones many places offer, was a bit of a mystery. Everyone present had noshed more than a few tentacles before, and we knew that the reason fried calamari sometimes takes on the consistency of inner tubes is because it's spent a few too many minutes under a heat lamp. Since there were only three occupied tables during the dinner hour on this evening, getting the order to us expeditiously didn't seem to be that big a deal. And the waiter wasn't all wrong: The calamari was fresh enough, but someone needed to tell the cook that a few spices -- a little black pepper, a little Mrs. Dash, a little anything -- in the cornmeal wouldn't ruin the recipe. The chipotle sauce was suspiciously similar to a hot dip I've made myself by mixing undiluted Campbell's Cream of Poblano with lemon juice and butter and nuking it in a microwave. I make it, but I don't brag about it, and I certainly don't charge people money for it.

I also make enough to go around. When the little bowl of cream sauce was exhausted, about half of our order of calamari remained, so the waiter -- we just grabbed one at random, there were quite a few standing around -- was asked for a bottle of hot sauce. An industrial flagon of Tabasco, which the waiter assured us he prefers to the house sauce, was whisked to our table. That's when the cameo-in-a-bad-movie sensation kicked in. I was trying to dispense Tabasco and carry on a conversation with our unabashedly chatty server at the same time and, distracted, failed to notice that the Tabasco bottle's shaker top was missing. Quickly, my appetizer saucer was filled to the rim with Avery Island's finest. The waiter, as far as I could tell, assumed that this calamity had been intended. No offer was made to clear the mess away or provide replacement calamari. He just kept babbling on. Still, there's no denying that the fragments of squid on my saucer did develop some flavor after being saturated in Tabasco.

The entrees that evening, as on an earlier visit, were also amusing. Having already sampled the iceberg-based house salad, dressed with a formulaic honey vinaigrette, I opted to skip it this time around. I soon regretted the decision. A salad would have at least added some bulk to a woefully undersized crab-cake entree. Being presented three patties that are as small as they are uninspired can lead to an unspoken desire for anything filling; being charged 11 bucks for those Oreo-size patties can lead to other sorts of desire. Let's just say it's lucky the Fakawwee doesn't include guns among its sporting lodge regalia. If it did, the patrons might soon find a better use for the weapons than decoration.

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