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Tokens-N-Tickets Pizza Shack
Out of a possible five

Family night out: Pizza and game spot

It is not the kind of place I would normally consider reviewing.

But as the father of three young ones, I couldn’t resist when I heard the folks at Tokens-N-Tickets were opening up a pizza buffet to go head-to-head with the cartoon mouse joint.

Anyone who has been forced to eat the stuff the cartoon mouse considers pizza has wondered why there wasn’t a better alternative. We still go because our kids love the games and all, but if someone would just make a decent pizza to go with the games, they would really be on to something.

Tokens-N-Tickets Pizza Shack on Coldwater Road was onto something when it came to the pizza, but I don’t think it will even come close to beating the mouse.

In a former fine-dining spot that was once home to Chappell’s Seafood and Steaks, this pizza buffet still has some of the nautical decorations left behind by the previous owners. The game room is on the left just as you walk in, and the eating area and buffet are separated on the right.

That is the first problem.

Unlike the chain spot, the separations mean you can’t sit and relax while your kids run amok. You cannot even see the game room from the dining area, and there are no security measures to ensure your kid doesn’t run out the front door or, even worse, someone doesn’t take off with your kid.

The variety of pizza toppings easily beat the cartoon mouse, but I would have liked a variety of crusts, too. There were no thin- or thick-crust pizzas, just standard.

There was a tasty taco pizza with seasoned ground beef, cheddar cheese, lettuce, crushed tortilla chips and whole grape tomatoes that were sweet and juicy.

The chicken and bacon ranch pie benefited from not having the sickening sweet red sauce that most of the pies were made with. The barbecue chicken pizza also won favor with its different sauce, and it had tender pieces of chicken breast just like the ranch pie.

There was also a Hawaiian pizza with ham and pineapple, and a chicken fajita pizza with green peppers and onions, but they, too, suffered from the sweet sauce. The night I tried the fajita, it had a soggy, nearly raw crust, but the staff at least removed it quickly after they discovered the miscue.

The pizzas were rotated well by that staff, so there was always something fresh on the bar. It was also easy to tell when a new pie was coming out because the kitchen door slammed loudly in a startling fashion about every two minutes. I asked an employee about the noise and was told it had been broken for a while. One night of that noise should have been enough to get it fixed.

The rest of the buffet did not get the same attention.

The salad bar and hot bars were less than average and poorly designed. There were the usual suspects on the hot bar: flavorless macaroni and cheese, chicken strips and tortilla chips with nacho cheese, which my kids loved because they dipped their pizza in it.

The food bars divided the kitchen, serving as a window to the buffet area. The bars also sat too low. It was impossible to reach under the sneeze guard to the items in the back without performing some kind of yoga maneuver. An employee said the low sneeze bar was necessary to pass health code, which seemed odd as I can never remember having to do such acrobatics at any other establishments.

Apparently the folks at Tokens-N-Tickets Pizza Shack weren’t too worried about health code on the other areas of the buffet. The pasta area was filthy with two steam table bins sitting uncovered with dirty stagnant water inside.

And the ice cream toppings bar was simply gross. There were small drawers holding chocolate chips, sprinkles, crushed nuts and gummy bears, and each had a spoon lying in the drawer with those toppings. So, customers would reach into the toppings to get the spoon, scoop out toppings and then throw it back into the drawer where it touched the remaining items.

There were other more minor oversights, but at least these were not as filthy. There were no shakers of salt, pepper, Parmesan cheese or red pepper on tables, and I had to hunt them down in the buffet area. Apparently the place can only afford to have one shaker of each for the entire restaurant. Also, this place that caters to children did not have napkin dispensers on tables, and they, too, had to be fetched from the buffet area.

Tokens-N-Tickets Pizza Shack did not have a self-serve drink fountain and, unbelievably, did not have small cups for children. That said, the staff was on the ball when it came to refilling drinks and removing used plates from tables. And my party was asked more than once whether there was anything we needed or whether we had any special pizza requests for the buffet.

So, even though the mouse doesn’t offer the variety of toppings Tokens-N-Tickets Pizza Shack offers, at least the mouse’s place is secure and clean.

Restaurant: Tokens-N-Tickets Pizza Shack

Address: 5820 Coldwater Road

Phone: 484-4386

Hours: Buffet open 5 to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday; noon to 8 p.m. Saturday, 12:30 to 8 p.m. Sunday

Cuisine: Pizza

Handicapped accessible: Yes

Alcohol: None

Credit cards: Yes

Kid-friendly: Yes

Menu: Buffet ($7.99; $3.99 beverages not included; each adult purchase comes with one free kid’s buffet Mondays through Thursday)

Rating breakdown: Food: 1/2 (3-star maximum); atmosphere: 0 (1 maximum), service: 1/2 (1 maximum)

Note: Restaurants are categorized by price range: $ (less than $20 for three-course meal), $$ ($20-$29); $$$ ($30-$39), $$$$ ($40-$49), $$$$$ ($50 and up).

Ryan DuVall is a restaurant critic for The Journal Gazette. This review is based on two unannounced visits. The Journal Gazette pays for all meals. Email him at rduvall@jg.net; call at 461-8130. DuVall’s past reviews can be found at www.journalgazette.net. You can follow him on Twitter @DiningOutDuVall.