I seldom write restaurant reviews for the sound journalistic reason that I seldom go to restaurants. That’s because I took a vow of poverty when I went into journalism and can’t afford to eat out too often.
And whenever I do, it’s usually in a place where the most difficult dining decision is whether to have french fries or onion rings.
But I am making an exception now because I just discovered a fantastic new eatery called Cafe Rio.
In the interest of full disclosure, it is run by two of my granddaughters, who are 10 and almost 7 years old. The younger one chose the name Cafe Rio for no discernible reason — a river does not run through it — but it sounds nice.
The girls operate the restaurant out of my house and rely on their mother and grandmother — and, if simple grilling is involved, their grandfather — to do the cooking.
The diners also have to buy all the food because the owners are too young to have jobs. Or at least jobs that pay money and don’t violate child labor laws.
But their establishment is a culinary haven that I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend to the public, except that the public isn’t invited.
Here is the review:
CAFE RIO (3 stars)
If you enjoy burned hot dogs or greasy cheeseburgers served on fine china and eaten with glittery silverware, Cafe Rio is the place for you.
This fancy dining spot is unique for its ambiance, which includes soothing music (provided by Alexa, the virtual assistant who operates on artificial intelligence, not a customer, because she can’t eat) and a nautical theme (provided by Camilla the betta fish, who swims in a bowl on the liquor cabinet and is fed little food balls that are not, rest assured, on the human menu).
And what a menu it is! In addition to the aforementioned dogs and burgers, there are fries and broccoli, usually accompanied by a tossed salad served on the dinner plates instead of in separate bowls so the homemade dressing can mix with the meat juice, melted cheese and condiments.
The resultant taste explosion tickles the palate!
But before you sit down to eat, you must make reservations to avoid being turned away at the door. (Actually, there is no door, although there is an entrance from the family room, which is often strewn with dolls, toys and crayons and serves as the waiting area, to the dining room, where customers lucky enough to get in sit at a table with special place settings and talk, laugh, play word games and, yes, even dine.)
You know you have come to the right place because signs spelling out “Cafe Rio,” written on white printer paper and sometimes featuring stars, are taped to the wall. Accompanying arrows, artistically drawn, point you in the right direction.
The customers are greeted by the greeter (the older girl) and line up at a small table where the maitre darling (her little sister) asks if each diner has a reservation.
Their names (“Mommy,” “Daddy,” “Nini” and “Poppie”) are crossed off the list and they are allowed to enter the establishment.
The table not only features name cards but is set with the grandmother’s good china dishes and sparkling silver forks, knives and spoons. Dinner napkins, slightly askew in the folding, are on the left. Plastic water goblets are on the right. Clear bottles filled with tap water (in place of their original contents: wine) are in the middle of the table, under a chandelier with bright little bulbs that illuminate the repast. The effect is dazzling.
The food itself, which may also include chicken, ribs or pasta, is a bit spotty: excellent if prepared by the mother or the grandmother, not so great if grilled by the grandfather.
Dessert is a sweet treat, especially if it’s cake or cookies made in the kitchen. Ice cream with rainbow sprinkles is also on the menu.
The owners’ daddy, who is from France, has said that Michelin (the restaurant guide, not the tire company) would give Cafe Rio three stars, the highest rating.
This reviewer agrees. I just have to remember not to burn the hot dogs.
Jerry Zezima writes a humor column for Tribune News Service and is the author of six books. His latest is “One for the Ageless: How to Stay Young and Immature Even If You’re Really Old.” Reach him at [email protected] or via jerryzezima.blogspot.com.