?If you're a Gen-X'er like this reviewer (or the parent of a Gen-X'er), chances are you have memories — and possibly lingering nightmares — about Showbiz Pizza Place. Go to that place in your brain you normally only go when accompanied by Jack Daniels, and you'll remember: The pizza that tasted like the cooks forgot to take the cardboard disc from under the crust when they unboxed it. The hot, claustrophobic room full of arcade games, studded everywhere you looked in seizure-inducing strobe lights. The ball pit, which always smelled like the inside of a bowling shoe. Last but not least, the “entertainment” — a stage full of jerky mechanical animals that belted out covers of the Monkees' great-est hits and looked like homeless street performers outside The Bus Station of Dr. Moreau. For parents, pretty much the only thing Showbiz Pizza had going for it was that they served beer.
We say all this to let you know what Playtime Pizza isn't. No weird animals. No feet-smelling ball pit. No beer (two out of three ain't bad). What Playtime does have — both for kids and adults — is something fun around most every turn. While their buffet isn't gonna knock your socks off, you're not really there for the grub, are you?
Since this is technically supposed to be a food review, let's talk about the food. The buffet ($8.95 adults, $6.95 for kids 3-11 years old, un-der 3 free) is very clearly an afterthought, pushed back into one corner of Playtime's cavernous space. The food on the buffet is kind of an after-thought, too: pizza that's on par with what you'd find at someplace like CiCi's; spaghetti that tastes like Chef Boyardee; too-salty taco meat and fixin's; the obligatory salad bar, and a line of soft-serve ice cream dispensers. We don't want to say that the food is terrible; it's just that it's nothing at all to write home about. That said — as Parental Unit No. 2 and I discussed while we were eating, and maybe we're showing our ignorance of pizza making here — how much more effort and cost would it really take to churn out some really great pizzas and turn the buffet from an afterthought into a draw? Not too much, we'd bet.
But, on to the main event. We took Junior along to Playtime, and by anyone's estimation, he had a blast on $25 (the way that works is that you have money put on a swipe card at the register when you come in, and everything in the building has a reader card reader bolted to the front). There is a lot to see and do in Playtime's 65,000-square-foot, two-level building, including an indoor go-kart track, a full-size airplane hanging from the ceiling, indoor mini-golf, mini-bowling lanes, video games and rides for pre-schoolers and arcade style games — from deer hunting shoot-'em-ups to World War II airplane simulators — for kids and adults upstairs.
The most fun we had all night, however, was playing Laser Tag. The game has come a long way since we last tried it in the early 1990s. Though the reviewer was reluctant to play (mostly due to the $7 each admission price) Junior finally talked me into it, and I must admit that we had a great time. The Laser Tag field at Playtime Pizza is just as impressive as the rest of the joint — maybe 2,000 square feet of walls, windows and mesh fencing, meant to evoke a bombed-out city and bathed in blacklight. Each player is fitted with a vest that includes both hit sensors and a motion detector that forces you to constantly keep moving. The guns are all linked to a central computer, and each includes a LCD screen readout that logs hits on other players and the number of times you've been hit yourself. It's pretty much a live action video game, and lots of fun for both kids and adults.
The bottom line on Playtime Pizza is that, while the food isn't going to win any awards, you and your young'uns are going to be wowed when you walk in and smiling when you walk out. It can get expensive, depending on how much cash you put on that handy little card, but if you can't buy your kid's love, whose love can you buy?
While not necessarily a “bite,” Playtime's 3-D indoor mini-golf range – with each player assigned glasses that let them see not only their ball but a giant 3-D pirate ship – is pretty damn cool.
10:30 a.m.-10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, 10:30 a.m.-midnight Friday through Saturday.
All credit cards accepted, no beer or wine, moderate prices.
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