Like any normal American who was a kid or pre-teen in the 90s, my fiery love for Saved By The Bell will burn until I’m 90 years-old. I once dressed as an over-caffeinated Jessie Spano for Halloween, I enjoyed the Off-Broadway production of Bayside! The Musical!, and I had no shame about asking Tiffani Amber Thiessen for a pic when I saw her randomly on the street. So, when I heard about a replica of The Max that people in Chicago were lining up down the block to eat at, I was easily the most intrigued Eat This, Not That! staffer in our NYC headquarters. And when I remembered I had an already-booked flight out there to see family, you can bet I was like, “Timeout!” in the middle of my work day so that I could secure a reservation at Saved By The Max ASAP.
The pop-up diner is open until the end of 2016—just long enough for SBTB fans to go crazy and then calm down—and is so legit that even NBC gave its blessing for the creators to have the rights to use trademarked components. And from the “Attention, Bayside High!” Facebook announcements to the clever menu descriptions with items like AC Sliders, the preppies in the Midwest pulled out all the stops to pay homage to one of the greatest shows of all time. The one thing out of place (other than the bar, which made me a nice Mark Paul 75 cocktail) was the row of mounted flat screen TVs playing SBTB episodes. But I loved looking up and seeing the familiar scenes. I literally watched Kelly and Zack on a date at The Max and was able to look around where I was sitting and compare the identical components. I really was eating at The Max! “Seeing someone sitting there, looking around and smiling—like you—reminds me of what makes this so special,” said Rob Stein, Manager for Saved By The Max. "There's so much nostalgia around the show and people have just loved this experience."
But wait, what about the food? Admittedly, the healthy options were limited. In fact, I accidentally ordered pork three times. (AC Sliders had pulled pork; The Kelly Kapowski monte cristo—pictured at top and worth every single calorie—had ham; and I tried out the candied bacon for dessert. Oops!) But my Spano’s Seasonal Veggie was broccoli rabe with clarified butter, so at least I got some calcium. (Yes, broccoli rabe is ranked #4 on our list of The 20 Best Calcium-Rich Foods That Aren’t Dairy!) The diners to my right had some amazing looking burgers and I did notice a “Big Bopped Salad” on the menu that would easily be the best Eat This!-approved option.
Since kale wasn’t even a thing in the 90s, I think it’s safe to say that eating at Saved By The Max can be a cheat meal—so just enjoy it while you’re there and worry about your diet the next day. Maybe you could hop around doing The Sprain to burn off the damage to your waistline?
Check out a few of my favorite highlights below:
The outside view from inside the diner’s front door was designed into the (just for decoration) Saved By The Max one. Also, the jukebox (not pictured) is “now playing song A-12.” (To refresh your memory on that drama, watch the moment.)
The menu is chock full of shout-outs to the show.
Speaking of menus, Ed Alonso (the original Max!) gave Saved By The Max a real menu from the show to put on display.
There is four-top in a special section that’s “Mr. Belding’s office,” complete with a screenshot of a picture he had on his desk during the show.
Last but not least, the vibe was great!
While eating at the 2016 Chicago version of The Max from Saved By The Bell probably won’t do your waistline any favors, it’s way more fun than eating at a belly-bombing place like Cheesecake Factory. And if you’re like me and also one to also get a little nostalgic about great TV shows, don’t miss these 35 Funniest Food Moments from "Friends"!
All photos by Christie Griffin