Lunchbox Laboratory and Star Trek: TNG Improve With Age, Different Perspective

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Sarah Anne Lloyd, 2011.
Make it so... I can't eat it without closing an artery.

The Night-In: Custom-Built Burger with Tater Tots and Buff Pops at Lunchbox Laboratory to be eaten in front of Star Trek: The Next Generation on Netflix Instant Queue.

The Cuisine: Lunchbox Laboratory built a loyal following out of its unique DIY-burger-building philosophy, ingredients and condiments ranging from classic to eclectic, and patties of meat so greasy they're a few rudimentary ingredients away from being classified as bona fide improvised explosive devices. This band of hungry burgerphiles would often swarm the Laboratory's cramped property until the owners would have to close shop for lack of ingredients. Although the cute joint's mounting cred was refreshing, annoyance was definitely a factor for burgerless latecomers.

The restaurant has already endured a long, hard year in leaving their plucky Aurora confines, moving several notches up into their more spacious digs in South Lake Union, but also enduring the tragic loss of founder Scott Simpson. While the dramatic space increase was probably the most welcome of changes for the harried restaurant, Lunchbox's renovation didn't stop there. The interior still features vintage lunch boxes prominently, but now also carries personalized condiment carriers and a chic design they can call their own.

The restaurant has added a full bar that refuses to be any less quirky than its older parts, with a centerpiece of three clear tubs of Tang and Kool-Aid. They offer bizarre concoctions like the Astronaut's Mimosa (Champagne and Tang) or the Tropical Kooler (Malibu Coconut Rum and Kool-Aid Fruit Punch with traces of pineapple and peach schnapps). They're certainly not gonna shame the Zig Zag, but it's a nice, distinctive touch in a place coming into its own.

Also new to Lunchbox is an appetizer menu that embodies the same unconventional spirit. Buff Pops are more or less Jalapeno Poppers gone nuclear, packed tight with sharp cream cheese that comes pouring out of every bite with a spicy sting that could swear you off the blandness of similar theme-restaurant fare forever. Lunchbox's famous tater tots thankfully came along for the move, acting as a favorite delivery method for their many different salts and dipping sauces.

Although Lunchbox offers many meaty prefabs under the "Burger Trial Conclusions" section of their menu, including the Wu-Tang inspired "Return to the 36 Chambers" or the Scott Simpson tribute "Burger of the Gods," the choice between a staggering array of different meat patties, cheeses, and sauces is the real draw here.

I loaded my experiment with a beef patty, strips of bacon, "Lunchbox"-style onions, and truffle mayonnaise into a personalized Burger Heaven (what, were you expecting, I'd sprinkle moon rocks on this thing? Go ruin your own burger for semantics!) The burgers were just as succulent as I remembered, although now the bun stood solid in my hand, as opposed to the completely obliterated, juicy mess that I'd grown accustomed to in the Lunchbox of old. Leaving no element untweaked, the burger also came with the standard lettuce, tomato, red onion, and pickle fixins wrapped tightly in their own packet, ideal for your take-out needs.

The Entertainment: Netflix has had a great year so far when it comes to bolstering their downright suspiciously inexpensive streaming media package, nabbing high-profile cable TV giants like Mad Men (available July 27) and access to stacked studio libraries like NBC Universal's and Miramax's, all while laying ground for their very first original series, the David Fincher-backed House of Cards. However, amid all the buzzworthy acquisitions, Netflix managed a slightly less-publicized coup in getting the rights for nearly every episode of nearly every series of Gene Roddenberry's epic spacefaring saga, Star Trek. While Trekkie completionists will have to wait until October to see Deep Space 9 in streaming rotation, The Next Generation's seven-season, 178-episode long run will definitely prime the pump.

That being said, I honestly believe that this shouldn't be good news only for fluent speakers of Klingon. Of all TV dramas produced in the twilight of the 20th century, few have aged quite as well as The Next Generation. Even taking into account the show's frequent use of computer-generated imagery and high-concept scenery, the show's themes and engagement with political issues fit right alongside their newer sci-fi counterparts--often even surpassing them in tact or at least cleverness.

While a floating shipful of predominantly Caucasian peace-loving scientists and demure soldiers searching the galaxy for new border disputes to resolve can't be everyone's bag, I posit that there are a few things that might've gotten in the way of peoples' enjoyment of TNG during its original run that have disappeared or at least been alleviated with the landmark show's second life on Netflix.

First of all, more than a few omnipotent presences would come around episodically to bend Star Trek's already liberal attitude toward time and space. The frequency of dense time-travel plots might have seemed daunting in the early '90s, but with the merciless chronological head games of shows like Lost and Heroes befuddling the collective consciousness, TNG's warp-drive-fueled adventures seem downright linear, even whimsical.

A second worry of TNG's original audience was that if the theoretical physics didn't get you, the political science certainly would. With a surplus of wildly different alien cultures being introduced continuously throughout the series, plus drawn-out talks of the complicated taxes and treaties between them, The Next Generation earned a reputation for being pretty damn tough to follow if you weren't already immersed. That said, TNG's then-mammoth cast of characters now seem downright pleasant to follow when compared to the expansive web of loyalties and rivalries set-up by sweeping dramas like The Sopranos or Game of Thrones--and those of us who still struggle have an excellent resource in Memory Alpha, one of the Internet's most meticulously compiled entertainment wikis.

However, a personal favorite change of mine is that Star Trek's media presence has been favored considerably with a recent film that managed to draw a lot of cash and mainstream affection, even if it might've disturbed Trekkie loyalists (who, as Star Trek: Nemesis proved, will watch basically anything).

While Captain Picard's silver-screen outings might not have all been obviously dreadful, they certainly seemed to sacrifice a lot of the show's slow-burning intellectualism for a mere fraction of the profitable action escapism that Abrams' recent Kirk-centric reboot offered. Star Trek fans weren't satisfied with the once-restrained, dignified swagger of the elder Captain Picard being reduced to a lot of screaming and firing phasers indiscriminately, while action-film fans were befuddled at why they were watching what was essentially a lanky old space diplomat leading high-speed dune-buggy chases and partaking in gratuitous amounts of hand-to-hand combat.

With the disappointing aftertaste of movies like Generations or First Contact out of the way and a drastic evolution underway in the way Americans watch television, it's a lot easier to return to the source material with a clean slate. It doesn't hurt that the show is now available OnDemand in its entirety, as opposed to being meted out by FOX, a network (at least) formerly notorious for switching time slots with wild abandon to the dismay of anyone trying to actually keep up with any of their programming.

The Pairing: Whether you've had a sour experience with either The Next Generation or Lunchbox's Ballard location, or if you just haven't had the opportunity or second thought to revisit either property, now would be a great time to reacquaint yourself.

Certainly, the fundamentals of either Lunchbox or TNG are still firmly in play to the dismay of those who never had any interest. But if you were initially curious about either, only to be tripped up by a bad first impression, these are two decadent labors of love that may deserve a second chance.

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