“Bad restaurant names are a gift to the too-often self-serious world of dining,” declared Eater Boston’s big sister, Eater, on Monday. “They remind us of the whimsy and folly of it all. But what makes a bad restaurant name? Like pornography, you know when you see it.”
Each day this week, the Eater team whittled down a field of 32 “truly awful” restaurant names from around the country in order to find the worst of the worst. Judges made decisions based on their whims, their revulsed reactions to the restaurant names, and an arbitrary set of rules — but most importantly, they only considered the names themselves. No knowledge of the names’ contexts, no judgment on the restaurants’ food, no consideration for anything other than the actual names. It is possible for a very good restaurant to have a very bad name.
And Boston-area restaurants “dominated” the competition.
Boston has a long history of questionable restaurant names. Local food writer MC Slim JB, who writes restaurant reviews for The Improper Bostonian these days, penned a popular list on his blog back in 2010 detailing 27 “really terrible” Boston restaurant names, and it’s no surprise that two of the ones that are still around got ripped apart by Eater as well — one even won the whole thing. More on that later, but first, a moment of silence for the dearly departed Pu Pu Hot Pot.
Here’s a recap of Eater’s “Name of Groans” competition and how all the local competitors fared.
Lovely Cambridge sushi-and-more restaurant Thelonious Monkfish took the brunt of judge Matt Buchanan’s abuse on day one, ultimately beating out names that are arguably much worse: Ciao Thyme, Pork & Mindy’s, and Baguetteaboudit! (The exclamation point is theirs, not ours.) Since the rules of the competition eliminate context, it was irrelevant that Thelonious Monkfish is actually an excellent name for a restaurant that serves sushi and features lots of live jazz. Buchanan’s thoughts on the name: “rank entitlement of stealing a dead man’s name and bolting it onto a moniker for a truly ugly fish” and “wanton disregard of both intellectual property and the English language.” In the final round of day one, Thelonious Monkfish vs. Bagetteaboudit!, Buchanan pondered: “Is it worse to wrong a man, or two entire nations? Is it more savage to mangle the baked goods that serve as a foundation for a national culinary identity, or all the teeming life that dwells beneath the sea? Is it more unforgivable to pun, or to portmanteau?” In the end, Thelonious Monkfish moved on to the final four.
A brief reprieve for Boston: no local names in the day two bracket. In the end, judge Helen Rosner sent Pink Taco to the final four, beating out The Slow Bone, Tacorgasmico, Kamasouptra, Meat in a Box, Velvet Taco, The Hairy Lobster, and Munchboxx.
Boston’s MAST’ and Mooo.... and Melrose’s T’ahpas 529 were all targets on day three. MAST’ quickly fell to a(MUSE.) in round one thanks to the latter’s “flagrantly ungrammatical period-inside-parentheses decision.” But somehow the apostrophe and spelling of T’ahpas 529 were enough to convince judge Sonia Chopra that it should win its first round against the egregiously named COUNTER 3.five.VII (“Is it also some kind of obscure direct-object-having French verb conjugation?” she wrote. “Je t’aime — wait, no, actually, I meant je t’ahpas.”) Mooo.... also moved past round one; I Luv Cheese just couldn’t stand up to the Boston steakhouse’s “uncertain bovinity.”
Moving into day three’s second round, T’ahpas 529 rightfully lost to a(MUSE.), but Mooo.... prevailed over Think? (The question mark is theirs, not ours.) Chopra couldn’t ignore Mooo....’s “flagrant disregard for both spelling and orthographic convention.”
In day three’s final round, Mooo.... conquered a(MUSE.) to move to the final four “for its lack of respect for one of the world’s most common onomatopoeias, and its misuse of the powerful ultra-ellipsis.”
Day four also featured too many local contenders: Blunch, InBoston (a Korean fried chicken restaurant which no longer exists downtown, merged into another restaurant in Waltham, and sort of still exists near Symphony Hall but under the name Farandole, which appears on some websites as Farandole (InBoston)), and Pasta Beach.
InBoston took round one over Honeybrains because it’s “a restaurant that answers the question: ‘Where’s Mark Wahlberg right now?’” wrote judge Greg Morabito. He also pushed Blunch on to round two over Screaming Tuna, holding nothing back from his judgment against the tiny South End sandwich shop’s name. “Seriously, fuck Blunch,” he wrote. And Pasta Beach, thanks to its “evocative imagery,” also moved on to the next round over Sweedeedee.
Round two paired Boston against Boston — or rather In Boston against Blunch. “If this bracket has proven anything, it’s that Boston is inexplicably home to the worst restaurant names in our galaxy, and these are but two examples of this phenomenon,” wrote Morabito, ultimately sending Blunch to the next round “because it is both dopey and gross. (It kind of sounds like vomiting?)” Also in round two, Pasta Beach conquered the “pretentiously minimalist” Table because Pasta Beach “achieves a level of absurdity that just can’t be beat. (Plus it’s probably what Marlon Brando called his private island in the South Pacific.)”
Day four finally came down to Blunch against Pasta Beach. Blunch — “the apex predator of straight-up bad restaurant names. It will always eat the competition.” — moved on to the final four.
Good job, Boston. Of the four competitors in the final four, three were from Boston: Mooo...., Blunch, and Thelonious Monkfish. Thanks to some last-minute plot twists, a couple previously eliminated names came back in a side bracket, so ultimately Mooo.... went up against Baguettaboudit! — and knocked it out in the first round of day five. Mooo.... “is a bad-bad restaurant name,” wrote judge Lockhart Steele, Eater’s founder. “It’s adrift in a no-man’s land between childish, goofy, weird, mispunctuated, and embarrassing.”
The semifinals pitted Mooo.... against Thelonious Monkfish. Steele just couldn’t wrap his head around Mooo.... and sent it to the next round. “Does it not somehow feel even more insulting that a restaurant sort of named for a jazz legend now must go head-to-head with… the sound a cow makes? And… lose?”
Blunch easily took out Pink Taco thanks to Blunch’s “startling abruptness, combined with the feeling while speaking it aloud that something has gone very wrong,” wrote Steele. Also, it is “unquestionably the sound people make when they throw up.” (MC Slim JB felt much the same way in 2010, describing it as “sound[ing] uncomfortably close to onomatopoeia for vomiting.”)
So in the end, Mooo.... stood against Blunch, and Steele could only muster a bewildered paragraph alternating the two names over and over and over again. (“I have decided that we are making t-shirts of this mashup,” he concluded. “Let me know if you want one.”)
The winner: Blunch.
Which, by the way, serves excellent cookies and sandwiches and is truly an adorable lunch spot. But none of that matters in the Name of Groans.
Congratulations, Boston. Now who wants a t-shirt?