None of these theories is particularly important to the staff or the customers at the 10-month-old T-Rex Café, a noisy interactive restaurant and gift shop at the Legends at Village West. In fact, despite the building's intriguing exterior — weathered concrete "stones" are embedded with archaeologists' tools, including rusty shovels, ropes and brushes — this place has more in common with the imaginary Bedrock than it does with the Jurassic Morrison Formation.
Just ignore the photo mural that depicts kids and adults digging for ancient dino bones. Archaeology is an afterthought at T-Rex, where, thanks to the magic of animatronics, dinosaurs are still alive. Unconcerned with the gravitational pull of Wyandotte County, a two-story growling tyrannosaurus rex greets guests (and scares the hell out of toddlers) right inside the entrance to this Cretaceous-era café.
I'm not sure what a T-rex actually looked like back in the good ol' days; in the movies, the giant carnivores are typically greenish-brown. This restaurant's toothy greeter is an interesting combination of pumpkin and metallic navy — the same shade of blue as my mother's 1955 Buick.
The first time I peeked into this restaurant, I was startled by how far the jerky animated machine's head dropped down to show off its pointy teeth. When I returned to actually eat here — with two kids in tow — I was eager to see how the youngsters would react to the growling giant. But on that day, as luck would have it, the T-rex wasn't moving.
"It runs on pneumatics, and we're working on them today," explained the congenial bartender. He was standing behind a blue-lit glass bar that resembled chunks of glacier ice. Knowing how busy this joint gets on weekends, I had tried to encourage my friends Bob and Ann (and her young sons, Vincent and Oliver) to arrive at T-Rex as close to the 11 a.m. opening time as possible. But we all dawdled and got there closer to 2 p.m. There was already a 45-minute wait for a "passport" to a table.
So we climbed onto bar stools at the ice slab and ordered a couple of appetizers to fortify ourselves until the pager buzzed. The kids were almost hypnotized by the sensory overload. In the bar, piped-in light jazz was almost drowned out by the roars, growls, caws and rumbles coming from the dining room.
"Look up!" Oliver screamed. "An octopus!"
Behind the bar, balancing over the curvy shark aquarium, was a massive fake orange-and-purple octopus with rubbery tentacles yanked around by nearly invisible cables hanging from the ceiling. The oversized octopus was about as languid as the real sharks in the tank (also filled with lots of gorgeously hued tropical fish), which were small and clearly depressed.
We ordered some appetizers with cutesy names, probably culled from the Fred Flintstone dictionary. Fried chicken tenders are Lava Me Tenders, and buffalo chicken wings are Pterodactyl Wings. The boys nixed those choices in favor of Dexter's Dual Dip (a runny spinach-and-pepper-Jack queso and a decent crab-artichoke concoction served with a mountain of corn chips) and fried cheese sticks. It was, you know, ordinary bar fare.