Goblets full of gummi candy. Mariah Carey. A milkshake garnished with a mini-hamburger. Instagram. The Bravern. What could possibly go wrong?
“What IS this place?!” — a man walking into the brand-new link in the Sugar Factory chain at The Bravern in Bellevue
A visit to Sugar Factory should always be an informed, consensual one. At first, it’s so over-the-top, it’s funny. I witnessed a woman walk in, look around and burst out laughing, preventing her from communicating about her reservation to the patiently waiting host. Indeed, what IS this place? It is a celebrity-endorsed national chain, each outlet featuring a faux-elegant, teeming restaurant with an eye-popping candy/Mariah Carey Christmas ornament shop appended. The house specialties involve sugar; the food is a smorgasbord of all of America’s most banal foods, reminiscent of another Factory, the Cheesecake. The menu is 44 pages long. The soundtrack is pounding, the bachelorette parties are serious, and the birthdays are plural and then some. Wooooo! Taking someone here on a date unawares should be considered grounds for immediate uncoupling.
11111 N.E. 8th St., Suite #120, Bellevue; open Monday, Wednesday and Thursday 3-11 p.m.; Friday 3 p.m.-midnight; Saturday 10 a.m.-midnight; Sunday 10 a.m.-11 p.m.; 425-454-0313, sugarfactory.com
“Everyone’s — literally everyone’s — Instagram!” — a teen answering a server’s inquiry as to how she and her friends had heard about Sugar Factory
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There are 207,285 #sugarfactory posts on Instagram at this writing. From a cursory look, very, very few of them are of actual factories producing sugar. Many, many of them are of Goblets. More than the Sweet Pizzas (and definitely more than the regular pizzas), the Rainbow Sliders (no, not served on macarons — those are dyed buns), the Monster Burgers (including a “White Chocolate” one — the server very much discouraged us from getting it), the Insane Milkshakes (one has a miniburger for a garnish), the Frosty Hot Chocolates (like revenge, served cold), the World Famous Sugar Factory King Kong Sundae (24 scoops) or the Super Fun Premium Fondues (24-hour advance notice required, $250 through $1,000), Goblets are Sugar Factory’s No. 1 specialty.
Bedecked with candy and made with or without liquor, Goblets are poured tableside. They are spectacle as much as — arguably more than — beverage. Your failure to realize this merits a kind prompt from the server to get your phone out. The 36-ounce glassware, suitable for habitation by a goldfish or two, is outfitted with both regular and dry ice, so the addition of liquid produces fog, which produces videos for Instagram.
Much of the candy involved in Goblets is gummi candy. Here is a thing that is not good served wet and ice cold: gummi cherries. Ditto gummi watermelon slices, bears, chili peppers and all the animals, vegetables and minerals of the gummi kingdom. If an ice-cold gummi can be chewed, it takes a level of perseverance I lack. The liquor involved in Goblets is largely unspecified on the menu — vodka, mostly, a server said, recommending the Mai Tai Goblet “because it has rum.” We tried it and the Watermelon Patch Goblet, designed by Pitbull. Each tasted like its own special headache, with a chemical aftertaste and physical gaseousness courtesy of the dry ice. So much burping! The gummies and ice clumped, over time, in the center of the Goblet; many patrons could be seen chipping fruitlessly at their glass’ berg. The Goblets with liquor have a dearth of it, which becomes keenly apparent on, say, the sixth iteration of the birthday song.
I also tried, for journalistic purposes, a cocktail called Sexual Chocolate. It awakened in me a distant recollection of chocolate milk made with powder, but it seemed more watery, with a fake-fruit element to it — not a Proustian madeleine moment. It had a garnish of an underripe strawberry dripping with chocolate sauce, because, as the menu asked, “What’s sexier than a chocolate covered strawberry?” So many things, menu. So many things.
“Stop torturing me!” — a little girl during the ninth iteration of the birthday song within an hour at Sugar Factory one Saturday night
If it’s your birthday and you get something smaller, like an Insane Milkshake, the staff screams, “WE HAVE A BIRTHDAY!” and then bears your treat out to you in a procession while shouting, then sings the Sugar Factory birthday song (like the regular one, but with “WOOOOO!” heavily involved). If it’s your birthday and you get something bigger, like the World Famous Sugar Factory King Kong Sundae, the lights dim, the music goes up a billion decibels, the staff screams, “WE HAVE A BIRTHDAY!” and then bears your treat out to you in a procession while shouting and waving strobe-light batons, then sings the birthday song (“WOOOOO!”). Seeing the genuine, unadulterated delight on the faces of a little girl’s birthday party when this happened to them was by far — by far — the highlight of my time spent at Sugar Factory. If you are an adult, you do not have to tell them it’s your birthday.
“I LOVE THIS SONG!” and “OH MY GOD OH MY GOD OH MY GOD!” — two different Sugar Factory servers during birthday-procession shoutings
Self-explanatory, I think?
“I want to fight for my right to express myself!” — a server explaining that the Sugar Factory staff is forbidden from dyeing their hair bright colors
This is absurd. You may think you’re classy, Sugar Factory, with your beveled mirrors, your sconces, your huge black-and-white photo of a bride and groom wearing top hats while carrying a bucket of candy in front of the Eiffel Tower. Some of your chairs, the ones with the woven seats, may, yes, remind a person of Paris (horribly, painfully so). But your servers should be allowed to have their hair any damn way they want. Candy-colored hair would make sense here, more sense than anything.
And your servers, Sugar Factory, in my experience on two visits, are incredible: warm and patient and just lovely all around. One called me “hon.” Another warned us, so humanely, off your White Chocolate Burger. Your hosts are magical, too; when it took 28 full minutes to get seated for our reservation, they were nice enough about it that we didn’t mind, really, much, even though you didn’t buy us an Insane Milkshake or anything. Given what your staff puts up with — all those birthday songs — doing their jobs with kindness, without screaming and running out of the room and as far from Sugar Factory as possible, is a superhuman feat.
“It could be worse …?” — me, on the topic of Sugar Factory’s fried calamari
Sorry for the ruse of overhearing myself, but no one talks about the food at Sugar Factory. Analyzing its goodness or lack thereof is a lonely, pointless enterprise. It is not good. Fried macaroni-and-cheese pops (when in Rome! $13) needed salt, pepper, anything; their exterior breading, while creditably crunchy, tasted of old fryer oil. A grilled four-cheese sandwich ($17) was scarcely grilled at all, its presliced cheeses (supposedly provolone, cheddar, Gruyère and Parmesan, each rubbery and vague-tasting) not melted anywhere close to entirely. A filet mignon (when in Rome? $36) was the saltiest piece of meat I’ve ever personally experienced, its red-wine sauce thinly wan, its out-of-season asparagus cooked until pea-green and flaccid. (“That’s the kind of asparagus that made me think I didn’t like asparagus,” my friend said.)
The Big Cheesy Monster Burger ($19), topped with macaroni and cheese, was gummy and close to tasteless, despite its bacon and (possibly missing? Hard to tell) barbecue sauce. Rigatoni Alfredo with sautéed shrimp ($26) — after a man with an earpiece crouched at our table and shouted at us that they were out of fettuccine — was chewy (chewy noodles, chewy shrimp, chewy not-very-toasted garlic bread) and close to tasteless. The fried calamari ($15), redolent of, I’m guessing, “Italian spice,” was pretty good by comparison to it all.
Sugar Factory is quite a bit worse, culinarily, than the Cheesecake one, according to one of my guests.
But you’re not going here for the food. You’re not going here for the food, are you?! Don’t go here for the food. Really, don’t.
“Oh, shit!” — a woman upon receiving her bill at Sugar Factory
Goblets do not have any prices listed on the Sugar Factory menu. (Neither do other cocktails.) You’re here for a Goblet. There’s the matter of your Instagram to consider. You’re not going to ask how much a Goblet costs — that would be anti-celebratory, churlish. How much can a Goblet be?
Take a moment and guess.
Hmmm … $25?
No, friend. Higher. No — higher.
A Sugar Factory Goblet costs $40. Just so you know.