Are You Game? A Review of Latitude 39

Yes, there is a menu amid the distractions here. The challenge is sitting still long enough to enjoy it.

Latitude 39, a rambling family-entertainment center laid out in the gutted multiplex at Clearwater Crossing, contains not only a large dining room built around an open kitchen and a ceramic-tiled pizza hearth, but also a dine-in cinema, a dinner theater, and a sports theater with full food-and-beverage service. Not that you would notice any of these. The fact that you can eat here gets lost somewhere between the row of Skee-ball ramps and the 20-lane luxury bowling alley with disco balls and white leather sofas.

The distractions don’t stop there. An elaborate four-player air-hockey table, Deadstorm Pirate’s “theatre cabinet” shooting game, and a mechanical punching bag—all set up with magnetic-card swipe pads—blink and buzz in the arcade. A cadre of black-clad servers wearing Secret Service ear sets keeps watch over celebrant soccer teams and birthday partiers grazing at mini pizza buffets (while their nerve-shot chaperones unfrazzle over a cocktail list of Mango Pomegranate martinis and Tropical Sunrise margaritas). It’s 75,000 square feet of glow-in-the-dark necklaces, high-def TVs, and ADD. In other words: Vegas for kids.

As with the environment, the food at Latitude 39 (which has sibling locations in Chicago, Jacksonville, and Pittsburgh) seems to have been created by someone with a very short attention span. Onion rings arrive (whoa!) stacked into a tower, and a decadent pile of plump, batter-dipped Boom-Boom Shrimp wears a light but fiery chili sauce. One of the six Angus burgers is even topped with pulled pork for a meat-on-meat effect. No surprise, then, that the carrot cake is mile-high and the chocolate cake has a molten center. Everything on the menu is designed to be effortlessly delicious—cheesy, saucy carbs as immediately gratifying as a good game of Whac-A-Mole or rolling a strike without using the bumpers. But nobody is going to mistake this for fine dining.

So when ordering, you want to keep things simple. Try the chewy, hand-stretched pizzas, expertly shot through with air pockets and charred bits from the oven’s heat. Fans of fire-cooked pies will appreciate the authentic approach, even if the Four Cheese White’s smoky combination of Gouda, Asiago, mozzarella, and provolone has but a brief window of pleasure before the toppings cool and the Alfredo sauce thickens to a glop.

Decadently rich Buffalo Chicken Queso Dip tastes exactly like the one somebody brought to the Super Bowl party last month, cream cheese tamping the Tabasco’s heat, and fries sprinkled with seasoned salt give empty calories a good name. Paired with a slushy Strawgarita, a sugar-rimmed glass of strawberry puree and tequila, the smaller plates make for serviceable noshing while watching a game on the jumbo screens in the sunken sports theater or catching a comedy show from the balcony over the Latitude Live stage.

Everything on the menu is designed to be effortlessly delicious—cheesy, saucy carbs as immediately gratifying as a good game of Whac-A-Mole.

The kitchen struggles, however, with its big-ticket entrees. And the fancier the dish, the more embarrassing the fumble. Flatiron steak, served in five small slices, has the juicy, velvety texture of a decent carved filet. But the teriyaki-like “signature steak sauce” so cloyingly covers up the meat’s natural flavors that the cut might as well be Salisbury steak. A shallow bowl of gummy lobster
mac ’n’ cheese, which boasts none of the decadence its name suggests, disappoints, even if you don’t factor in that it costs $16.99.

As difficult as it is to look bored at a place in so much perpetual motion, members of the Latitude 39 staff can spot people in repose from across the room. I must have looked like I needed some stimulation the evening I sat at the bar, waiting on a friend as I sipped a sweetly numbing margarita. “Would you like a tour?” one concerned bartender asked.

And off we went on a five-minute narrated walkabout, during which I learned that the farthest lanes of the bowling alley can be curtained off for privacy and that there is an upper-level VIP room. Most tellingly, though, my guide pointed out one of his favorite places in the entire complex—down a long hallway, at the back of the building: two cavernous bathrooms with double-rowed stalls. “It’s nice and private,” he told me, “for when you just want to get away from it all.”

Latitude 39
4016 E. 82nd St., 813-6565,
HOURS  Sun.–Wed. 11 a.m.–midnight, Thurs.–Fri.
11 a.m.–2 a.m., Sat. 11 a.m.–2 a.m.



Photos by Tony Valainis

This article appeared in the March 2013 issue.