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Factory Reject

A return visit for lunch netted us only one keeper: the huge (of course) turkey club ($8.50). Then again, it's hard to ruin a club. Roast turkey (mostly breast), thick-cut bacon, lettuce and tomato had been layered five inches deep on thick-cut bread moistened with mayo. If only someone had wetted down the Texas-toast-thick wheat bread that came with the tomato, basil and asparagus omelette ($8.50). Although I appreciate the heart-healthy gesture of putting the butter on the table so the diner can dictate his own cholesterol count, the toast needs to arrive before it turns into something you could build a house with. The omelette itself was a styrofoam frisbee--a half-inch thick and almost as dry as the toast--that had been cooked like a pancake and then filled, taco-style, with tiny diced tomato pieces that far outnumbered the scant asparagus and basil; the cheese beneath the filling had coagulated into what looked like wads of chewing gum. And then someone had doused the whole affair with balsamic, which was all we could taste. Compared with this, Denny's omelettes look like California nouvelle cuisine.

Somewhere between the club and the omelette was the bistro rock shrimp pasta ($13.95), an okay overload of spaghettini with buttery shrimp, mushrooms, tomatoes and arugula in what was supposed to be a garlic, lemon and basil sauce with a dash of cream but was really a lemon sauce. Since we received a dinner-sized bowl, half of it was still there when the waitress came to clear away our lunch. At this point, I'd taken only three or four bites out of the omelette, and there was a quarter of the monster club left, too. And the three of us had eaten only half of two cheesecake choices (both $5.50), the hard-topped chocolate Jack Daniels and the unimpressive Key lime. (Compared with these, that Cookie Monster cake looks like California nouvelle cuisine.) At first I thought it was odd that the waitress didn't ask if anything had been wrong with our still-loaded dishes, but then I realized that she's probably used to seeing a lot of food left on diners' plates.

Later I asked a waiter if people usually take their leftovers home or if the staff winds up tossing them. "Oh, we throw a ton of food away," he said. "A lot of people hate to carry boxes and bags back to their offices, or they're going out after dinner and they don't want to be bothered. The funny thing is, men hardly ever take the food, but women always grab up everything they can."

So the final question is this: If there's a wait to get in, and then the food is only fair to middlin', and the portions are so big that no one can finish them but only half the diners want to be seen carrying leftovers out, and there are places in the area serving better food for comparable prices, then why are people going to the Cheesecake Factory?

Cheesecake Factory, 1201 16th Street, 595-0333. Hours: 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Monday-Thursday; 11 a.m.-12:30 a.m. Friday-Saturday; 10 a.m.-10 p.m. Sunday.

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