It's an existential dilemma: What is House of Pies without a sense of irony? What if you woke up one afternoon and discovered a late-night guilty pleasure of negligible culinary quality but spectacular crowd-watching was... respectable? Since the smoking ban, the place no longer has an aura of stale cigarettes (though that's no guarantee your waitress won't), but the fabulously tacky wallpaper remains.
We grab a primo booth by the windows in the main room, rejecting the waitress's attempt to seat us in the narrow hall of mirrors on the east side of the restaurant. And it's soon apparent that if people-watching is the goal, tonight is an abject failure. Maybe it's because last call hasn't hit yet, but this crowd is a snooze. No one is laughing too loud, I can't overhear any ridiculous or wildly inappropriate conversations, and aside from a hot hipster chick rocking a '40s-style high-waisted pencil skirt and a tank top that doesn't quite conceal a colorful back tattoo, no one is even wearing anything interesting. I highly doubt any of these tables merit the $2.50 per hour minimum charge. Yawn. We might as well be at Applebee's.
Then the food comes, and I kind of wish we were. No one is expecting a meal for the ages, but the hamburger is dry and the pecan pie -- pie, as in the stuff on the sign -- is such a gooey mess, it's almost inedible. Have things always been so meh? Maybe we never noticed because we were having such a good time. Or do we come here because we love its pure average-ness, staging a subconscious rebellion against American striving for the biggest and the best? In the end, I don't think I want House of Pies to get better. I want it to feel deliciously bad again. Can we start by bringing back the cloud of smoke?