Editor's note: For several years until about 2012, Alice Laussade, the Observer's James Beard Award-winning (and twice nominated) food writer, traversed Dallas in search of sub-$10 lunches that didn't suck. She eventually shut her foul mouth to focus on other writing and her hugely successful fundraiser, Meat Fight. Now, after a two-year hiatus, the Cheap Bastard is back. She'll appear in print and here every Thursday.
American Girl Dolls getting their hair done in the American Girl Doll Salon count: 3
Uncomfortable Dad count: 19.5
When your daughter reaches a certain age, you will find yourself in the café at the American Girl store. You won't know exactly how you got there. Were you drugged? Probably. All you know is your waitress just upsold you a "Pink lemonady-lemonade!" and every person in here thinks it's a sane move to eat lunch with a doll in a high chair attached to their table.
You're in the best episode of The Twilight Zone you've ever seen. Pretty sure this ends with dolls taking over the world and stomping on all of our favorite skylines in their sparkly Mary Janes, matching bloomers, gloriously braided hair and floppy-open-and-closed dead-eyes.
Meanwhile a little girl Veruca-Salts her mom about how she "really needs another American Girl Doll so that she'll have a full soccer team with subs."
The menu says it's a flat $15.50 per person for lunch, which includes an appetizer, entrée and dessert. That doesn't include the aforementioned $2.25 lemonady.
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But you're not going to pay that. This place is ridiculous enough, covered wall to wall in pink and offering an actual hair salon with real ear piercing services just for the dang $100 dolls. You won't be adding "Plus, I just paid $17.75 plus tax and tip for fucking chicken salad, fries and a cookie," to the list of dumb you will endure here.
A blonde doll waves you down and begs you to save her from her plastic prison. Do not save her. She will only cause your family more pain in the form of "MOMMY I CAN'T GET THESE FUCKING PANTS ON BERMANTHA!"
You will not abide by the prix fixe menu. Because doll store prix fixe is some bullshit. You will order a la doll carte. "Pardon me, garcon: may I order just a bowl of tomato soup?" Yes, you may. You can order any item a la carte. And if you do, you'll get out of here with change left in your pocket. (Unless, of course, that pocket is part of the matching outfits you bought for your entire family, plus the dolls, plus the dog you got for your doll because obviously there are doll dogs that come with their own gaddammed doll dog leashes and grooming supplies and outfits.)
If you must eat at the American Girl Café, order the soup and a drink and call it quits. Then milk them for all the free escalator rides you can get. This place is terrifying. Smile, or the dolls will smell your fear and eat you.