What’s on the Menu? By Chase Griffin, 162 pgs.

Jan 21, 2022

Having spent a good chunk of my life in Florida, I can attest to the fact it’s indeed a very strange place. Having been to Tampa more than a handful of times, I can attest to the fact that the city is even weirder than the rest of the state. This regional abnormality is part of what Chase Griffin’s book What’s on the Menu? is all about. This psychedelic joy ride of a book is more fun than I’ve ever had in Tampa and has about as much quirky distinction as you might find on a drive from Defuniak Springs down to Copeland Tower and back.

Will lives in an abandoned candy factory and struggles with mental illness and substance abuse issues that would send the average drunk to the can, mentally and/or physically. He dabbles in stand-up comedy, and he has a strange habit of “sleep-cooking” fantastic meals for large groups of people while he’s blacked out drunk (and asleep). The notoriety spawned by this behavior is enough to inspire Will to open a restaurant in his “apartment” at the candy factory.

Things rapidly begin coming undone when appliances start communicating with Will and developing and expressing complex emotions. Insanity intensifies as the water supply becomes tainted with heavy psychedelics. Everything stops making sense, and a mysterious Bernie-Sanders-like figure (“Santa”) emerges from the Gulf of Mexico in St. Petersburg and seems to know something everyone else doesn’t. Meanwhile, Will and the unnamed narrator struggle to keep the restaurant going and the customers happy.

It’s an odd ride, for sure, but Griffin’s writing keeps What’s on the Menu? from falling into mindless madness. Throughout the book, with all its hilarious high-level weirdness, I’m struck by an unexpected sense of normalcy. Griffin, while playing the wild card at every turn, still conveys some surprisingly relatable material here. As much as this book is about sun-broiled chaos and hallucinations, it’s also about friends, waning aspirations, mental health, love, social geography, and getting totally loaded. This almost-hidden human quality is what makes What’s on the Menu? a real stand out.

In many ways, Griffin’s book reminds me of Vonnegut’s Breakfast of Champions, only much shorter. There are a few moments here when the insanity does overpower the writing, leaving the reader in the dark. Characters seem to appear and disappear out of nowhere at times, but hey—it fits the story. What’s on the Menu? is a quick, easy, and super-fun read that will have you laughing your ass off while unexpectedly developing affinities for the characters and their plights—kind of like that creepy refrigerator at the abandoned candy factory. –Buddha (Long Day Press, LongDayPress.com)