Bobby McGee's Conglomeration in Oxnard is the Rabelaisian Disneyland of theme restaurants--Fantasyland and Frontierland combined, and you don't even have to stand in line in the sun. But you should make a reservation.
From the outside, the restaurant reminded me of a Newport millionaire's beach cottage, embellished with lush flowers and set at the edge of a six-lane road instead of the seashore.
Yet it's the interior that boggles the mind. As if the decorator had gone berserk in a kind of fun way, every inch of space has been covered with prints and artifacts. The restaurant is huge. It has been cleverly divided into smaller rooms and alcoves that fan out from a central salad bar ensconced in a painted bathtub big enough to hold Paul Bunyan. The decor just doesn't quit, and every room has a different theme, from antique sports to flora to nautical motifs.
Although this particular Bobby McGee's is unique to Ventura County, the restaurant is actually one of a successful chain of 21.
The restaurants--each with similar accouterments and menus--are spread over five states, and even reach Australia.
My favorite part of the "experience" at Bobby McGee's was the young waiters and waitresses who provide service that is not only good, but wacky.
Recognizing that these people are actors and hams at heart, management has put them into costumes and told them to play it to the hilt. We had Dorothy, Zorro, a female pirate and the Mad Hatter racing around our table all night with silly good humor. They even regaled the special-occasion tables with silly songs.
The food varied, with some disappointments and some excellent dishes.
Be sure to order the fried zucchini--they do them just wonderfully. Another appetizer, potato skins filled with melted cheese and smoked chicken or chili, could be a meal itself. Fried mozzarella, like much of the rest of the fried food, was best passed up--unless you like your fried crust very thick and crunchy.
The salad bar featured plates so cold they could hardly be held. The lettuce was as crisp as it gets and the fixings, though fairly standard, were quite fresh.
The Caesar salad came with crumbled bacon instead of anchovies and had a garlic dressing as potent as any I've ever tasted.
Babyback pork ribs ($12.95) were lean, chewy and succulent, not at all greasy. The roast chicken had been smoked, not to everyone's taste at my table. The fresh crab (one pound for $11.95) was, distressingly, too salty the night we had it.
I heartily recommend the vegetables, perked up by a seasoned garlic butter.
The restaurant claims that fresh grilled vegetables with pasta is its healthiest dish; it was also one of the tastiest. While the poached salmon was somewhat bland, you can't go wrong with the prime rib, beautifully cooked here. Another great entree was a pepper steak, a fine filet mignon embedded with fresh cracked black and white pepper, with savory mushrooms on top.
You can forget dessert (you've already had enough to eat by this time anyway) or only order one. The mudslide was as elaborate as anything in the restaurant, almost as big as a full-size cake, with ice cream, plenty of chocolate sauce and mounds of whipped cream. Unfortunately, the cake tasted stale--as did the cheesecakes.
The best desserts were a sweet carrot cake and a simple dish of vanilla ice cream with fresh fruit from the salad bar.
They say that every night is Friday night at Bobby McGee's, and to promote this concept, they have a different theme every night in the bar.
Sunday was country-and-Western night, and men and women--from grandparents to kids--were doing the two-step in their cowboy boots and having a high old time on the sunken dance floor.
The restaurant's attempt to make everything fun extended to offering specialty drinks in cute take-home containers.
It was the first time I've ever been offered a drink in a ceramic commode. It was also the first time I've ever been asked to judge a men's bare chest contest--blindfolded and done by feel, no less. I'm not quite ready, but I'm sure thinking about it.
* WHERE AND WHEN
Bobby McGee's, 2350 N. Vineyard Ave., Oxnard, (805) 983-6995. Lunch and dinner, Monday-Friday, 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Dinner, Saturday-Sunday, 5-11 p.m. Full bar, parking lot, American Express, Mastercard, Visa, Dinner for two, food only, $13-$30.