It’s a shame when good restaurants go bad.
Honestly, having a truly wretched experience at a restaurant you used to count on as a good place for a tasty meal is almost worse than having a beloved restaurant close. At least when it closes you are left with your sweet memories of dinners past. (R.I.P. Avenue 9 and Ristorante Castelluci).
This train of thought was spawned by what is likely to be my last meal at Max’s. The formerly ubiquitous San Francisco-based restaurant chain has been slowly closing down its Max’s Eatz/Sweet Max’s sandwich shops in the financial district for years (most locations seem to have been taken over by the cheap and serviceable Lee’s chain.) This year saw the closure of their Moscone Center-adjacent Max’s Diner property, which, with its emphasis on comfort food including milk shakes, was my favorite.
Intent on something warm and filling for lunch with a decadent shake of some sort for dessert, we set off to Max’s Opera Plaza. After a short wait at the bar, where we obtained ice teas strangely served ready to drink and not in the standard Max’s style of pot of tea that you steep to your liking then pour over a glass of ice, we were seated.
The first thing we noticed as amiss was the lack of a dessert menu. I retrieved one from the hostess and then learned the awful truth: this Max’s lacked milkshakes. Given that milkshakes were our primary reason for heading here, we should have gotten up and left. But, instead, we stayed.
Our orders were taken uneventfully by our soon to be inattentive waiter. He never offered or brought us water, which is becoming a pet peeve of mine. Why should diners be forced to plead with wait staff to obtain water?
My sandwich arrived with its special request (no tomatoes) fulfilled. My dining partner’s grilled cheese with bacon arrived with so much cheese that it oozed out all over the French fries. And the bacon…well... it was limp and chewy, soggy where you’d expect and want some crunch. Disappointed, my dining partner reached for the ketchup to salvage the meal by indulging full in the French fries. Upon first squirt, a rectangular piece of plastic went flying off the squeeze bottle, landing in the midst of the French fries. Strangely ketchup-less French fries. Upon inspection, the squeeze bottle had never been opened, hence the lack of ketchup.
I got up and walked the ketchup over to the wait stand, and asked for another one. With my waiter looking on from behind a partition, never acknowledging me or the issue at hand, I was berated by a waitress for having the nerve to come up there and make a request for a new bottle rather than fixing the problem myself.
“All you have to do,” she said condescendingly, “is squeeze it really hard and it usually pops open.”
“I’d like an opened bottle of ketchup, please,” I repeated.
A few minutes after the ketchup issue, our waiter made his reappearance, with an obligatory “Is everything OK?” dashed off as he was already walking towards another table.
“Yeah. It’s fine now.”
Yes, I have had far worse dining experiences in the City, with surly wait staff even. But this is starting to be a trend at Max’s which bums me out. The last time I was there with this same dining partner, I was actually insulted by the waiter; a waiter who also brought us the wrong drinks, then forgot to bring part of the order.
So yes, it was hardly my worst dining experience ever, but it casts a pall on the idea of eating there again. It might be OK, but there’s a good chance it also might be terrible. And with so many places to eat in this City, why would I take that chance?