The first time I visited a Rainforest Café was in 3rd grade during a field trip to the local science center. I’m sure the restaurant staff was happy to see a group of 60 highly energetic eight-year-olds walk in to eat. With the extensive rainforest décor, moving animals, and simulated “thunderstorm” where the lights would dim in and out and the animals would “freak out,” it was probably the coolest restaurant that I had eaten at up to that point as an eight-year-old kid. There was, however, a very significant food discovery that I made that day: the magic of waffle fries.
At the ripe old age of eight years old, I only knew French fries in the shoestring variety you’d get from fast food restaurants. But the discovery of waffle fries changed the game. I could ask my parents, but I probably went home that night after the field trip raving about the waffle fries and started asking for them at any other restaurant we ate at for a while. Extra potato, extra crunch, and when salted just right, what’s not to like?
I must have convinced my parents pretty well about checking out the restaurant, because after that we went to that same Rainforest Café in NJ, two in the Orlando, FL area, and one in Niagara Falls. And you can bet that at every single one I kept asking for waffle fries with my meal. But since my family ate at the Niagara Falls location (which I found out also happens to be the only location in all of Canada) back in 2003, I haven’t been back… until two weekends ago.
I took a roadtrip up to Niagara Falls with my two high school friends Bryan and Katie, and after a day of hanging out in the area, we were trying to figure out a spot within walking distance to get some food to eat. I jokingly mentioned that Rainforest Café was right down the road, and when Katie said she had never been to a Rainforest Café before, our dinner decision made itself for us.
It was certainly nostalgic walking in and seeing the same rainforest décor and moving animals that I remembered from all those years ago. I’m not sure if it’s because I’m more perceptive now that I’m older, but there were a lot more moving animals in the walls and ceiling than I remember. Next to our table, a gorilla was poking its head out of the leaves and stared at us during the meal (creeper status). We also discovered a leopard chilling out in a tree, and as we were examining it, its head swiveled to look right at us. Surprise! There was also an abundance of the waitstaff yelling “VOLCANO” practically every five minutes as they came out of the kitchen with the Sparkling Volcano Cake, Rainforest Café’s signature dessert of chocolate cake with vanilla ice cream and caramel loaded on top, and chocolate “lava” gushing out from the opening in the cake mound. It looked so good, but even with three people, we probably wouldn’t have even been able to make a dent in it (I’ve read it feeds up to six people).
It was fun to re-visit the restaurant chain after so many years away and see that things haven’t really changed from what I remember growing up. Rainforest Café, I have you to thank for being the place to cultivate my obsession with waffle fries that’s lasted so many years.