Ye Olde Shakedown

Michael Nagrant / 05.03.10

Normally I might pass on the opportunity to chow on banquet-level catering while dudes in tights fight with swords. However, there comes a time (or twenty) in every father’s life when he must suspend his disbelief and honor the whims of his child.

And so I spent my Saturday night eating baby dragon. Or at least that’s what my serving wench called it. Or was that my bar wench? One can’t be too sure, for the consumption of too many glasses of mead (read: pina coladas) makes one hazy. But, a wench it was. Welcome to Medieval Times!

‘Twould be easy to storm this suburban castle, lay it ablaze, and retreat to my urban citadel. Easier yet to let the grandparents do the heavy lifting while I stayed behind and checked in on the latest taco stand. But I am not a food snob. My food-writing career started with a non-ironic tribute to the Olive Garden salad (oh, frigid iceberg lettuce, tasteless black olives, fat garlicky salty croutons, spiceless pepperoncinis and sweet Italian vinaigrette, how I love thee). And though that career may end with this treatise on Schaumburg-area dinner theater, maybe there was something to learn?

It is hard, however, to find truth in a place decked out with more fantastic frockery than a Lady Gaga fan-club gathering. Add in the Poison-worthy (get well soon Bret Michaels!) smoke-machine levels and laser light show, the weaponry kiosk (real maces, swords and daggers, oh my!) in the lobby (there should definitely be a seven-day waiting period for this kind of purchase), and well, it’s enough to send one straight to the tavern.

Fortunately, Medieval Times, like Frontera Grill, knows that anytime you have a thousand or more people waiting in line to eat, you also have a lot of thirsty folks, and so you should build a really big bar to make some extra money. However, as good a businessman as Rick Bayless is, he does not offer dry-ice-filled smoking margarita collector’s mugs priced at $16 with the promise of $8 refills.

Some might say that’s because such a move is a cheap money grab or cheesy. Who can say? I can. Save your money and stick to the free plastic cup that looks like a chess rook. If you are an aficionado of Bourbon Street or Girls Gone Wild videos, you will love the rotating Slurpee-like machines filled with pina coladas, strawberry and mango daiquiris. The pina colada smells and tastes just a bit too much like sweet suntan lotion to earn a full-thumbs-up, but I’ve had worse. If you’d like to accompany your drink with a cigarette, be advised that Medieval Times eschews period-appropriate customs and is a non-smoking castle.

But, this is a small price to pay for the pageantry of a Princess Leonore, who looks a lot like Natalie Portman as Queen Amidala in “Star Wars,” pleading for the return of her prince. Actually what’s most worthwhile is contemplating how much conditioner is used by the jousting “knights,” most of whom forswear extensions in favor of real-life Farrah Fawcett-like tresses. It’s remarkable how many of these actors look like, and display the righteous indignation of Dante Hicks from “Clerks.” They would be interchangeable in a Kevin Smith-directed seventies period piece if they traded in their noble steeds for bitchin’ Camaros.

It’s cool when the sparks fly in the sword fights. Old WWF aficionados will also dig the Hulk Hoganesque like recovery of seemingly vanquished combatants. There are maybe one too many hits to the groin in the staged combat, but it also confirms that genital-related humor may have been popular throughout history and not just a “Jackass”-related phenomenon.

So, what of the baby dragon? It’s one of the better roast chickens I’ve had in a while, on par in many ways in terms of moistness and seasoning with the spicy charcoal-roasted number at D’Candela, minus the smoky char. Though, I wished the skin crispy and not saggy like a pile of used pantyhose as it was.

The dragon’s tail soup, which tasted remarkably like tomato bisque, could have used more salt and a little more brightening acid. The accompanying garlic bread can be replicated by procuring a box bearing the moniker Texas Toast from your local freezer case. The herb-basted potato may have been basted only with heat for it was mostly dessicated. The ribs were not bad if you subscribe to the baked-meat jello, i.e. Windsor, Ontario, Canada school of preparation.

As it was hard for me to shake my cynicism, I spent a great deal of time looking at this experience, as much as possible through my 3-year-old son’s eyes. Though he clapped during a few combat scenes and gummed the chicken with fervor, days later, he’s not quite as enthusiastic—his LED-lighted plastic sword now cast aside—for Medieval Times as he was for Yo Gabba Gabba Live.

While I can’t decide if Medieval Times is a step up or a step down from the ubiquitous traveling summer Renaissance Festival (steroidal turkey legs! The king’s nuts!), I know it wasn’t a total waste. I actually learned something: Medieval Times originated on the Spanish island of Majorca in 1973. There’s something really comforting in knowing that America is not entirely responsible for the promulgation of such kitsch.

Medieval Times, 2001 North Roselle, Schaumburg, (866)543-9637

This article first appeared in Newcity in a different form.