A Tropical Paradise Comes To Roost Within The Franklin Mills Mall

Posted: January 08, 1999

Looking for a ``wild place to shop and eat?'' The folks at the Rainforest Cafe, in the Franklin Mills mall, say they're just such a spot.

``Wild,'' to these theme-driven minds, means a restaurant complete with thunder and lightning, rain storms, rushing waterfalls, huge and colorful tropical-fish aquariums, animated wildlife - monkeys, gorillas, elephants, and giant butterflies - and even a live parrot or two.

In an enchanted children's world, this tropical wonderland does indeed look and sound like a rainforest. Even the servers, dressed in safari-guide khaki and looking like models from a Banana Republic outlet with Boy Scout merit badges, become part of the whimsical wizardry.

The cafe at Franklin Mills is one of more than 20 Rainforest ventures. In 1994, a group of investors financed the first Rainforest Cafe at the Mall of America, near Minneapolis.

Sometimes, the wildest happenings at the Rainforest Cafe can be the kiddies - little ones fearlessly tossing dinosaur-shaped chicken nuggets to the floor - and their parents - often temporarily stymied in their attempts to maneuver strollers around the tables and tropical foliage.

As expected, the staff appears well-trained in handling even the youngest diners, and the restaurant is equipped with the necessary furniture to accommodate them. A suitable menu is available for children 12 and under: Simply ask your safari guide (Rainforest language for your server).

The regular menu features a variety of modestly priced items - all with appropriate names, such as Paradise Pot Roast and Primal Steak - from pastas to salads, entrees, soups and sandwiches.

Paradise Pot Roast ($11.99) had fine components - juicy and tender slices of meat, rich garlic mashed potatoes, a medley of sauteed vegetables, and crisp-fried onions - but the excessive gravy turned the deep dish entree into a kind of soup.

On the other hand, the 14-ounce strip steak ($16.99) was perfectly grilled, tender and flavorful. This came with a marble-sized ball of basil butter, crisp waffle fries, and the sauteed veggie medley.

For appetizers, the chimi cha-cha ($7.99) wonton skins cupped a blend of black beans, citrus zest, corn kernels, roasted peppers and cheese. These were served with a fresh salsa. Huge strips of chicken breast called Caribe Coconut Chicken ($6.99) were dusted with coconut and fried golden brown; and Bimini Wings ($7.99) were greaseless, crisp, large and juicy.

Pizzas are prepared on thin flatbread. The version named It's Greek to Me! had a blend of cheeses, including feta, combined with chopped tomato, spinach, onion and Kalamata olives ($9.99). The ingredients were extremely well balanced, and the fragile shell remained intact in handling.

For dessert, Key lime pie ($4.99) and banana cheesecake ($4.99) made a perfect journey's end. There also are a full-service bar, coffee concoctions, and a shop with assorted memorabilia, from cups to shirts.

RAINFOREST CAFE

Franklin Mills mall,

1133 Franklin Mills Circle, off Interstate 95.

215-281-9400.

Open: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays, to 11 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, to 9 p.m. Sundays.

Price range: Burgers $8.29 to $8.99, pastas $8.99 to $14.99, entrees $10.99 to $16.99.

Credit cards: Yes.

Nonsmoking section: No smoking permitted.

Atmosphere: Your typical rainforest.

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