Life is like a 'Bucket o' Boat Trash' Menu: A look at other cities' Bubba Gumps suggests that, unlike location, food probably will not be fought over.

July 22, 1998|By Jay Friess | Jay Friess,SUN STAFF

Baltimore soon will be getting a taste of Bubba Gump Shrimp.

It's easy to forget that, behind all the controversy surrounding Inner Harbor development issues, there is actually a restaurant. It is a unique restaurant at that: based on a popular movie and sporting some of the most strangely named food this side of the Atlantic.

The Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. chain was born out of a joint venture between Paramount Pictures and the California-based Rusty Pelican Restaurants.

The first of these theme restaurants, based on Paramount's 1994 Oscar-winning film, "Forrest Gump," opened two years ago on Cannery Row in Monterey, Calif.

Since then, restaurants have opened in San Francisco, Maui and Chicago, all in waterfront buildings. Five more are scheduled to open this year, including the one planned to be built on a barge in the Inner Harbor sometime in the next nine months. It is this location that the National Aquarium and others feel will set a bad precedent for waterfront use. Twelve more Bubba Gumps are planned for the next four years.

The bulk of the Bubba Gump menu is, predictably, seafood. There are at least 12 shrimp dishes, although they may not be recognizable as such at first glance. Cryptic titles such as "Bucket o' Boat Trash" (fried shrimp and lobster tails) and "Championship Pingpong Salad" (Asian-style salad) adorn the Ping-Pong paddle menus.

Average prices range from $5 to $15.

Maria Cianci, food critic for the San Francisco Chronicle, was not impressed by Bubba Gump's menu selection. In her May 25, 1997, review of the chain's outlet on Pier 39 in San Francisco, she called the Alabama Shrimp Spaghetti "truely gruesome," labeled a more expensive dish, the salmon, as "OK," and decided that Bubba Gump "isn't a place to go for food" before slapping it with a 1 1/2 -star rating.

The Chicago Tribune's restaurant critic, Phil Vettel, said in a phone interview he hadn't "bothered to go" to the chain's Navy Pier location. When asked if he had any intention of going, he said, "No."

But, as with all chain restaurants, the food may be secondary. Bubba Gump restaurants are heavy on atmosphere: Scenes from the movie play out on television monitors around the dining rooms; reproductions of movie props, such as Forrest's football jersey and Jenny's wedding dress, hang on the walls; and an actor dressed as Forrest greets customers at the door with the now classic phrase, "My name's Forrest, Forrest Gump."

Developers of the Inner Harbor restaurant are looking to increase this movie-heavy atmosphere by making the building look like a Louisiana shrimping boat. Future customers shouldn't fear, though. They should still be able to use bathrooms marked "Bubba's" and "Jenny's."

Pub Date: 7/22/98

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