27 February 2010

27 Really Terrible Boston Restaurant Names

Choosing a restaurant name has to be one of the most difficult and significant decisions a new restaurateur has to make. A lot is riding on it: the name represents the only opportunity many potential customers ever get to decide if the restaurant appeals to them in terms of its concept, atmosphere, price, and the other intangible qualities it may connote. So I'm always amazed when a restaurant chooses a really terrible name.

I'm not just talking about the widespread misapplication of bistro and trattoria, though that annoys the deuce out of me. Properly used, those terms denote rather specific forms of relatively humble restaurants in France and Italy, but in the USA, they're abused to mean practically anything. In Boston, they mostly get slapped on places that are too fancy and expensive to fit the traditional usage, and the offenders on that score are too numerous to mention. Rather, I'm here to cite the garden-variety-stupid, the what-the-hell-were-you-thinking, the where-were-your-friends-when-you-picked-that kind of restaurant naming awfulness.

So, herewith are a few notably bad Boston restaurant names from my personal Hall of Shame:
  • Mooo... -- A romantic luxury steakhouse making a cutesy, lame joke at cows' expense? And WTF kind of omission does that ellipsis represent? Maybe, "Mooo..., despite the tee-hee name, is located in XV Beacon, a $500-a-night Beacon Hill boutique hotel, and is every bit as costly and pretentious as you therefore might expect.”
  • Prose -- Actually a pretty good chef-owned small restaurant in Arlington, but the name leads you to expect the prosaic, not the lyrical, on the plate. This bit of self-sabotage is matched only by the chef's famously grumpy attitude toward customers.
  • KO Prime -- Winner for Most Ironic Name, as this expensive Downtown hotel steakhouse does not serve prime-grade beef, but the same choice-grade meat you can buy plastic-wrapped in Styrofoam trays at Johnnie's Foodmaster.
  • BOKX 109 -- "I know, honey, let's go to that cheesy 'Vegas-style steakhouse' in Newton named after a slaughterhouse term for a carcass container." “Oooh, yum-o!”
  • No Name -- The retirees on cut-rate package tours dining by the busload at this Waterfront tourist trap of a shore-food joint probably don't appreciate the dull irony of this moniker.
  • Basta Pasta – You'd think a pasta specialist would want to signal its abundant portions. "Nope! We're just Enough Pasta!”
  • Big Papi's Grille –Red Sox slugger David Ortiz is one of the most lovable sports personalities in Boston history, in no small part thanks to his epic contributions to ending the local nine's 86-year championship drought. But I think it was a mistake to telegraph his involvement in this place, as anyone with a lick of dining-out experience knows that restaurants owned by athletes usually underwhelm. Predictably, the reviews have been mediocre.
  • Strip-T's – It's hard to bust on a modest indie restaurant in Watertown, the kind of place that serves good American food with nothing over $15, but that name makes me gnash my teeth. Nobody equates hoochie dancing with fine dining.
  • Chung King Rick's Cafe -- A pitiable Billerica brown-sauce American-Chinese restaurant/townie bar, filled with customers who seem equally desperate for and hopeless of escape. "Of all the greasy-eggroll joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine."
  • Boloco – This small local burrito chain didn't bother me until a fellow Chowhound pointed out that the name can be read as “bollock-o”. I'll wager that, despite the current rage in Boston for offal, the owners weren't trying to evoke the image of bull testicles. (The true etymology isn't much more appealing, an abbreviation of “Boston Local Company.” Bleh.)
  • uBurger – Actually a not-bad pun in the making (the German “über”, indicating superiority, crossed with “burger”), but nobody pronounces it as anything but “you-burger”.
  • Violators of my “dubious possessives in restaurant names” bugbear -- I documented this nagging peeve of mine on my blog entry, "But There Is No Mr. L'Espalier!". To quote that essay: “Is there really a Mr. Soya at Soya’s? Does a Ms. Zebra sit on the board of Zebra’s Bistro? I’d love to believe there’s a Pepper Sky running Pepper Sky’s Thai Sensation – she sounds like the star of a 1960s TV show about a secret agent who favors Mod fashions – but I suspect the truth is duller.” Add Harvard Square Spanish/South American/Central American whatsis Conga's to this shamefully growing list.
  • Island Hopper – A pretty passable Back Bay restaurant with a fun pan-Asian menu, but I wonder whether its Indonesian owner is aware of the usage of "hopper" in some quarters as slang for “toilet”.
  • Mamagoo's – Why call out a humble Fresh Pond sub shop? Because it used to be called “Mr. Magoo's”, presumably until it got a cease-and-desist letter from the lawyers at Columbia Pictures, which owns the old cartoon character. Change one letter, drop a period, and voila! You're no longer violating copyright law -- now you're “Mamagoo”. Um, ew.
  • Smoken' Joe's – I haven't tried this Brighton barbecue joint yet, but I cringe at that misbegotten spelling. I have to assume that “Smokin'” was taken, but that alternative looks dumber than Snooki.
  • Stork Club – I imagine this South End spot would like to attract the same multi-racial clientele that flocked to its predecessor, Bob's Southern Bistro. Guess it overlooked the fact that the original Stork Club, one of New York's most famous cafe-society nightclubs, was notoriously inhospitable to African-American celebrities. Oops. (Tip of the hat to esteemed fellow Boston Phoenix restaurant critic Robert Nadeau for spotting this unfortunate irony.)
  • Thaitation – A fine little Thai storefront in the Fenway with a nearly nonsensical tongue-twister of a name. What does the “-tation” stand for? Citation? (Might make sense, given the nearby parking situation.) Mutation? (Not so appetizing.) A play on “titration”? (Ugh: not a chem lab term!) Puzzling.
  • Pu Pu Hot Pot – A serviceable, very reasonably priced American-Chinese place in Central Square, but honestly, do we need to give twelve-year-olds another reason to snigger?
In the Stupid and Bygone category:
  • T.J. Scallywaggle's -- Winner, Cognitive Dissonance Division. Sounded like the kind of hideous chain restaurant that serves Steak Quesadilla Towers and Shrimp Poppers, was actually a vegan pizzeria. Its also-a-vegan-pizzeria successor Peace o' Pie may have a groaner of a pun for a name, but at least it's consistent with the presumed leftie-activist sensibilities of its owners and customers.
  • Apocrypha – As the name suggests, this extremely precious Needham restaurant has since been expunged from the canon of still-operating establishments.
  • INQ -- An awful Newbury Street restaurant with an equally-awful name, though not as gobsmackingly imbecilic as its successor, Luigi and Roscoe's @ INQ (also mercifully closed.) The legacy of naming inanity in this location continues to this day with Cafeteria, which reflects the owners' mistaken impression that putting air quotes around the name of a would-be chic hangout serving $12 Pineapple Cosmos is ever-so-fascinatingly droll.
In the Not As Dumb As It Sounds category:
  • Moby Dick – I'd originally guessed that this Persian kabob joint near Symphony Hall was a seafood place in its prior incarnation, and the owners simply were too cheap to get a new sign. Wrong: it turns out there's a famous restaurant in Tehran by this name, which also inspired the popular DC-area Moby Dick House of Kabobs chain.
  • Bull McCabe's -- The name of this sweet little Irish pub in Union Square (Somerville) sounded to me like the kind of casual-dining hellhole that Anthony Bourdain would call "TGI McFunster's". This just proves I'm not so well-read: in fact, it refers to the protagonist of beloved Irish author John B. Keane's play The Field.
  • Lord Hobo -- Several friends urged me to flay the name of this Cambridge beer-geek bar for verging on mocking the homeless, but I consider it a different animal. To me, it evokes a quaint, possibly rural British pub, echoing an ancient English tradition of consciously quirky public-house names. Further, I admire its marketing effectiveness: the name alone has engendered a lot of discussion, which I'll speculate was partly the owner's intent. In other words, deliberately vs. unintentionally unseemly is a non-trivial distinction.
At least Bostonians can take solace in the fact that, despite the howlers I've cited here, we have nothing as patently, crudely nudge-nudge-haw-haw as Crabby Dick's (a Delaware seafood shack), Phat Phuc Noodle Bar (a London Vietnamese restaurant which I'm certain was not named to honor its literal translation, “Happy Buddha”), or The Money Shot (a Chicago comfort food joint). As for my not making any more cheap jokes here, you're welcome.