Manila’s “flavor of the moment” and I’m surprised to find myself here so soon.
Eaters observe trends and follow avid foodies to the hot spots of the moment. It’s shameful, yes, to admit that one hasn’t tried Lusso’s foie gras burger for example? or been blissfully drowned in The Fireplace Grill’s chocolate soup? I haven’t – so shame on me?
The city’s “flavor of the moment” so to speak is month-old Johnny Rockets, the latest American establishment glorifying the halcyon days of the 1950s. Burgers and shakes so thick you have to slurp not sip, jukeboxes, and Diana Ross, you can’t ask for more. It’s rocking on a Saturday night and the waiting time is long but made bearable with baskets of cheese chips. There’s apparent unanimity when it comes to how Manila folk regard Johnny Rockets, the first in Asia. Comments are enthusiastically prefaced with: “We like the burgers and the shakes!” Followed by “… but it’s too expensive to go back more than once.” Comparisons with Chili’s are rife – who hasn’t fallen hard for their Peppercorn Burger after all?
The second our bums make contact with the seats at Johnny Rockets, a manager swoops down on us, hands Boo a pink balloon and kiddie activity sheet. “Hellooo!” He preens. Is this your first time here? The sodas are refillable and you can have all the french fries you want.” The words tumble out of his mouth. With a flourish, he turns around and struts away. The man is wired, no doubt.
I do my best not to judge restaurants and people, solely on first impressions; so unreliable are they (the impressions, not the people). To wit: the first arrival is the plate of cheese fries (P150) draped with four lazy, melting cheese slices. I’d laugh at the absurdity of it all but my mouth drops open involuntarily and stays open for a good five seconds. What, no fluorescent orange, processed cheese sauce? Or even Cheez Whiz? Pity the fries below bereft of their cheese coat!
But the burgers live up to reputation. The thickest patties I’ve seen yet in Manila, about an inch, they make the prospect of the double patty-burgers terrifying indeed. The restaurant acquiesces to Boo’s request to serve her Original burger (P285) sans the requisite garnishes. My Bin’s Bacon Cheddar Single (P395) oozes juice as does my Smokehouse Single (P395) with added cheddar (+P45); the latter has the expected and quite piquant barbeque flavor. Satisfying especially when chased with greedy fingerfuls of fries; I do love the fries here – starchy and crisp with a mushy inside, so obviously factory-made but so good too.
Because we’re going for the full-on Johnny Rockets experience, we all order a specialty drink. The rootbeer float (P165), tall and foamy, has that sarsaparilla tang from a quality rootbeer. My daughter and I share a fondness for milkshakes, so strawberry (P215) for her while I get the chocolate peanut butter (P265) with malt powder (P+40). Served with the excess shake in stainless tumblers of yore, it’s a cute touch, though some feel it’s pretentious: “The excess can fit in the glass!” goes the complaint. Image is everything, perhaps. As good as I expect a milkshake to be, the shake demands to be slurped not sipped. Almost painfully thick and requiring tremendous intakes of breath, the shake doesn’t melt or soften even after several minutes. Regular straws battle valiantly with the glop-like liquid, and while wider pearl drink straws may be more efficient, it’s incongruous with the diner feel. Well, after this shake, I don’t feel a need for dessert, that’s for sure.
Johnny Rockets is a great addition to the landscape of the large American food chains, if places like that are your sort of thing. Obviously, one goes there for the “show”, i.e. plentiful food, the effort to squirt the ketchup into smiley faces (?!), servers so cheery it’s unnatural, and the opportunity to be immersed in a bubblegum reality for just a little while. My only worry is whether this establishment will be able to sustain its viability. Will it still be around once the avid foodies trumpet the crowds to the next “it” place? Will the burgers still be as thick a year from now? Will the servers still be grooving to Diana Ross’ “Last Dance”? And at these prices, wouldn’t it be fair to say that one deserves more than cheese singles on their cheese fries?
Ground Floor Veranda, Eastwood Mall
Eastwood City, Libis