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Sweet Tomatoes might be more aptly named The Squat and Gobble

Those interested in sheer quantity, redundant variety and shocking blandness in their culinary experiences might want to swing by the local squat and gobble salad smorgasbord known as Sweet Tomatoes. While this is not the place to go if you are looking for a pleasant dining experience or want to spend quality time with loved ones, it is perfect if you find yourself with a large group of people you don't really care for, who don't have much in common (like if it's your turn in carpool and you have a wagon load of runny nosed kids), or if you are forced into supping with a multi-generational church group in a religion not your own. 

Because the options at the S and G are so overwhelming and picking through all the offerings is ultimately such an ordeal, with the inevitable result being an overflowing plate of unfortunately mixed dressings and hopeless gobs of incompatible, if unoriginal, creations, most feuding family members won't have time to stab at each other with the provided implements. Even the most recalcitrant of mothers in law will likely be so flummoxed by the mayhem that they will lose the energy to snipe. Anyone with the inherent urge to complain about whatever fare they are offered will be stilled once they are reminded that they are solely responsible for selecting the mess in front of them and have no one to blame but themselves. It's the perfect place to go to take the wind out of the sails of diners who are used to making some kind of scene. At the S and G, the scene is made for them.

A little something for everyone seemed like the theme on East Broadway at one of the Tucson branches of the crowded slopping trough that we stopped by, and although none of it tasted particularly good, the mere quantity and array of different smells and colors that assault the senses upon arrival set the tone. Those with whiney, finicky eaters in their party should be able to find something to slop on every plate and the chance to help oneself to everything in sight serves to take aback the uninitiated and render the gluttonous blissful. From the rotating spiceless soups, to the long meatless salad bar, the oily pastas, dry but supposedly fresh breads, runny desserts, and browning fruit, this place has it all. In the spirit of fairness we should mention that they do have spices available near the soup bar so that one might add their own flavor and a "chef" is on hand to make pasta to order. The potato bar is standard and the ice cream and soda machines pour freely. However, kids careen underfoot, oldsters dodder about picking at eventually unselected items and the threat of being bumped and jostled is always present.

The S and G is disguised as a healthy dining option in that, unlike most places in town, a person could actually eat a healthy meal there without much trouble if they chose to. From the looks of things however, the place mostly appeals to those just trying to pork home as much fat as they can for the buck. No doubt designed to attract secretaries and insurance agents who can tell themselves they are sticking to their diets by going to a salad place only to end up ingesting the caloric equivalent of five Big Macs, this is not a place for those lacking dietary will power. 

For the truly health conscious however, raw vegetables abound along the salad bar with plenty of varieties of roughage and legumes available. The dressings are terrible but if strength in numbers is what you are looking for in your vegetation, filling your plate with multicolored roots, leafs, seeds, and fruits and paying ten bucks for the privilege to return again and again is your reward. Those hoping for a nice self constructed chef or Cobb salad will be disappointed since there is no turkey or ham available. Also know that the cheaper items are all placed towards the front of the house and the management hopes you will pile on the iceberg lettuce and black olives before noticing that pastas and pizza are part of the deal. Those veggies you don't eat now, will no doubt end up in the soup later. 

Those who expect that frequenting a salad bar will provide the chance to gaze upon the fit and healthy as they dine, thereby adding to their own well being by association will be sadly discouraged. A glance around at our fellow diners on a recent visit made it clear that the health conscious and attractive mostly avoid the place. And although it is almost completely a serve yourself operation, pimpled servers seem to lurk everywhere, ostensibly clearing debris away but mostly gossiping crudely, snapping each other's asses, and trying to look like they are actually available to meet your personal needs so you'll feel obligated to leave a tip which they can then stuff in their pockets unreported for a pack of smokes after work. On the night we visited, five or six of these psuedo waitron units sat at nearby tables idling about and conversing in amazingly piercing voices about how drunk they had been the night before. The most obese of them eventually stepped forward to describe in the most graphic terms how wasted she was last night and how she couldn't wait to repeat the experience as soon as she could remove herself from this "shithole." This did not improve the atmosphere which, with all the trays, bright lights, and clatter, is most reminiscent of an army mess hall as it is. Getting to know our servers so intimately finally served to drive us from our table and out into the street leaving behind several pounds of food.

In short, visit the Squat and Gobble if you are just too tired to think of a better place to go, feel the need to pack down some roughage, or lack the social skills or discipline it takes to order a meal off a menu. Grab a tray, pile the food on it like Bluto in Animal House, wedge yourself into a booth, leave enough behind to feed several less fortunate families and crash through the doors feeling bad about the whole experience as you waddle towards the parking lot through a crowd of screaming babies and the sullen porkers that you've just broken a tasteless bread with. Of course that was just one goliard's experience. We've met all sorts of other people who swear by the place.


Copyright 2002. All Rights Reserved.