Last November, we celebrated the closure of the Baker's Square restaurant in Garden Grove's International West district, the very worst example of a chain that struggles to achieve mediocrity. It was, in retrospect, pretty bad--limp produce, low-quality meat, and service that met every criterion for a tourist trap. We looked at five restaurants to which we could pass the crown for the Worst Restaurant in the Anaheim Resort.
The commentary was telling--of the seven comments that weren't me, three mentioned Captain Kidd's. Looking it up on Yelp revealed that at the time of publication, of the 56 reviews, 41 were one-star, 10 were two-star and 5 were three-star. If it's not the lowest-rated restaurant in Orange County, it's got to be in the bottom 10 percent. Clearly it was time to take one for the team and see whether the hype was true.
Captain Kidd's is located directly across the street from the pedestrian entrance to Disneyland on Harbor Blvd. Families who've stayed in one of the hotels on the strip exit the park and are immediately confronted with the sign, and more often than not a guy waving coupons to entice people in.
The first thing diners will notice is the paid parking; it shares its parking lot with the adjacent hotel, so diners have to take a ticket. The parking is not cheap--$12 for the first half hour, but you can spend two hours at Captain Kidd's with a validation from the front desk.
I ordered the buffet, as nearly all people do, and was asked if I wanted a beverage. There was a huge, colorful display of all the beverages available--soft drinks, beer, wine, and a special blue pirate drink. Conspicuously missing was the price--$2.89 for a glass of iced tea, as I found out, added to a bill of $8.99 for lunch plus tax and a "buffet tip".
I was led through a theoretically pirate-themed room and, upon arrival at the plastic booth my nearly $15 had rented for the duration of my stay, the server was quick to point out the tableside location of the ketchup, yellow French's mustard and off-brand hot sauce, presumably to head off the inevitable questions later and avoid having to stop at my table.
The buffet was at the front end of the restaurant, I assume to entice diners from outside on Harbor Blvd. to stop in. A cold salad bar was on the left, with only a few things actually resembling the makings of a salad (it seemed to be cold storage for things like ranch dressing and packets of butter); a mixed hot and cold bar with child-friendly options like woefully dried-out spaghetti, macaroni and cheese and penne with marinara next to ice cream toppings. Along the right was an extensive bar of hot foods.
As I do at any buffet, I took small bites of many foods in order to sample a broader range of the chef's talents.
The ribs were jiggly as I removed one from the tray. This must have been caused by the fusion of some kind of hard crust with bottled-tasting barbecue sauce followed by an hour's repose in the steamy environment of the buffet. Once I set aside the tripe-textured outer layer, I was unable to separate the meat from the bone, leaving me with a meaty sensation in my mouth but no satisfaction--an experience for which people in fancy molecular gastronomy restaurants pay a great deal of money.
Had someone switched the signs on the chicken enchiladas and the crab casserole, the only way to tell the difference would have been to peel back the rubbery crusts on top to see the coy, telltale peek of red surimi in the latter. Forty minutes after my arrival, neither the crab nor the enchiladas had been breached.
The hamburgers had been placed in a tray with no drainage, the end result of which was that all the juice exuded and steamed the broiled burgers. Still, even paired with the rolls served in the food-service plastic bag, the Kraft singles stacked in such a manner as to render impossible the extraction with tools, the limp onions, the brown lettuce and the liquefying tomatoes, this was one of the better options on the buffet. Drown the burger in enough ketchup and mustard (located exactly where the server had said they would be) and it's possible to envision the attendance-required corporate picnic in the park.
Worst of all, however, was the texture of the Chinese dumplings. A potsticker is a work of art when done correctly, a dumpling that, though fried crisp on the pan side, remains juicy on the inside. Captain Kidd's dumplings had been so badly mistreated that the chewy, gelatinous wrapper had separated completely from the dry filling inside. Forty mastications--yes, I counted them--were insufficient to break down the dumpling wrapper. I spit it discreetly into a napkin and ate the filling instead.
When I bit into a miniature cupcake, the force of the bite depressed the top edge of the cake downward, where the sticky-chewy consistency of the cake caused it to become lodged, like the industrial sponge cake sold with the red high-fructose corn gel "glaze" near the clamshells of wooden Driscoll strawberries in downmarket grocery stores.
The cupcakes were a treat, however, compared to the bread pudding. I have eaten bread puddings that are chunks of bread barely bound by custard, and I have eaten bread puddings more like sliceable French toast. I have eaten some poor bread puddings, but nothing in my extensive history with the dessert prepared me for Captain Kidd's bread pudding. It scooped out like the lightest soufflé on Earth, but upon impact on my dessert plate, it liquefied. This is not an exaggeration--whatever tenuous physical forces were acting on this food were suspended, and I was able to tilt the plate and spoon up the "pudding" as though it were melted ice cream. The taste was more like boxed vanilla pudding than bread pudding, which makes me wonder just what exactly went into its creation.
Not everything was such an unmitigated disaster. It is perfectly possible to have a reasonable meal at Captain Kidd's, as long as one sticks to the tried-and-true method of Texas-style Chinese buffets: fried foods are the way to go. There was a credible rendition of a corn dog, not too greasy and not too much corn dough. The little red wagon near the Plaza Inn this is certainly not, but it stacks up favorably next to, say, Hot Dog on a Stick.
The French fries were frankly better than the limp specimens peddled at In-N-Out, though a little dry and chewy from their time spent out of the oil; fill up on these. The vegetable portion of dinner was handled by corn which, though boiled into flavorless submission, was much improved with a shake of salt and a pat of butter from the salad bar. The hot fudge cake tasted like it was from a mix, but did not have any odd textures.
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An instant-read thermometer I smuggled in, inserted into the thickest part of the tray of "penny pasta" (penne with marinara), read 103ºF, more than thirty degrees below the minimum required on a hot buffet line by the restaurant inspectors. An unwanted tidbit of chocolate cake sat on the top plate on the dessert station for the entire duration of the visit, spilled drink (perhaps the much-vaunted blue pirate drink) lay unmopped at the entrance to the buffet area, and a tray of pizza had been left sticking partway outside the hood and heat lamp, undoubtedly diving deep into the "danger zone" for ready-to-serve food defined by the Orange County Health Care Agency.
The Yelp reviews complained consistently about uncaring, rude service. This was not my problem; my server was perfectly civil, and my iced tea was refilled once. Other than that, I never saw anyone in the restaurant, which is why I was able to take the temperature of the pasta.
While not everything was awful, and someone dragged through the power of peer pressure to the restaurant can eat a meal and not come away hungry, there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that our readers were correct: Captain Kidd's has won the dubious honor of being named Worst Restaurant in the Anaheim Resort. Even allowing for a very relaxed standard of review given its situation, it is frankly a revolting place to eat. Avoid it at all costs; while the IHOP next door and the Tony Roma's half a block down are not exemplars of fine gastronomy, they're certainly better options than Captain Kidd's. That the meal cost nearly $15 is a slap in the face to visitors, and as a proud Anaheimer, I am offended by this place's presence.
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