Who knew so much destruction could come from Steven’s desire to order off-menu? Oh, cruel world! When Steven asks for something new from Beach Citywalk Fries, Peedee digs all the way in the back of the freezer to find mozzarella sticks—an exciting meal for Steven, but a disastrous snack for the boardwalk. As Kofi points out, mozzarella sticks, in addition to being delicious and a perpetually underrated appetizer, contain bread, cheese, marinara sauce: all the ingredients of a pizza. This prompts Kofi to pull a “new serving fries” sign from right next to his door, reigniting a a long-dormant war between Fish Stew Pizza and Beach Citywalk Fries.
“Restaurant Wars” is a really fun episode, maybe the first back in Beach City that’s really felt of a piece with what Steven Universe was doing toward the end of its first season. (“Mr. Greg” and “Too Short To Ride” are both great, but they’re less situated in the town as a specific location and more interested in Gem characters.) Storyboarders Katie Mitroff and Lamar Abrams get to kick off the bulk of the action with a couple of their favorite stylistic touches: aggressive title cards (see “Rising Tides, Crashing Skies”) and faux-devastating scenes of a war-torn Beach City full of sad, scared people (see “Drop Beat Dad”). Paired with equally downbeat and militaristic music from Aivi and Surrashu, it’s clear that, as Peedee puts it, Steven has “reignited the hot oil of war.”
The feuding families are all about escalation, both in and out of the kitchen. Mr. Fryman just yells a bunch, but Kofi tries to make Steven sign a loyalty pledge, then brand him as a Fish Stew Pizza VIP. And, scarily, their menus converge. Mr. Fryman tries to get Steven to eat fried pizza, with pizza bits, while Jenny blandly tells Steven that she’s obligated to offer him French fry pizza. Both of these are basically the same item, and they sound disgusting, so it’s no wonder that Steven manages to beat both families at their own game. More on this in a sec, but first, Ronaldo.
I know most of the Steven Universe fandom does not share my feelings for Ronaldo, but “Restaurant Wars” is basically the perfect way to use the character, conspiracies aside. (Where are the lizard people?) His frustration at the war isn’t because he has to work, it’s because he’s been banned from the Fish Stew Pizza WiFi and can’t blog from the restaurant. He rejects Steven’s attempt to get him and Kiki to fake a relationship, because he already has a girlfriend—information conveyed with an intense Zachary Steel line delivery that makes it impossible for anyone to believe him, least of all Steven and Kiki. (Cue Peedee: “Where’s she at, though?”) The plan fails when Jane, Ronaldo’s girlfriend (voiced by DeeDee Magno Hall!), comes back to Beach City to return Ronaldo’s Koala Princess DVD. He tries to tell her what happened, but it’s too late: “Save it for your blog, Keep Beach City Single.” (Savage.)
This stuff is all fun, but the episode really finds its groove at the end, when Steven enacts his final ploy: setting up a competing restaurant serviced by the Gems, in an attempt to get Kofi and Mr. Fryman to band together against him. Steven’s may only serve two items (fantastic fries and a pizza bagel), but he provides enough of a spin on the old stalwarts to send Mr. Fryman and Kofi running. The food at Steven’s is visually depicted as a trump card anime move with Steven as cunning master, and it’s a delightful moment for everyone, from Lamar and Katie to Aivi and Surrashu (who really have a blast with the different notes in the score) to the voice actors. Billy Merritt hasn’t had a ton to do as Mr. Fryman for most of the show so far, but he makes a strong case for keeping the character around just from the way he gawks: “The ketchup… is inside the fries?!” The cream cheese in the pizza bagel brings out a whole new level of pizza flavor, and it means you can eat pizza at any time. (Has Kofi never eaten cold pizza for breakfast? You’re missing out, my dude.)
The lesson here is, obviously, that food should be made with love. (And that if Onion is waiting on line for your restaurant, something is wrong.) If there’s something “Restaurant Wars” doesn’t do, it’s hit on that theme a bit more. Sure, there’s Ronaldo’s lost love for Jane (who I do hope we see again, because Ronaldo in a relationship would be amazing), but also in Kofi and Mr. Fryman themselves. Both of them appear to be single fathers—as far as I can tell, we’ve never seen Mrs. Fryman, if there is one, and Nanefua is Kofi’s mother—which seems like a much stronger grounding for the connection they form at the end of the episode. (Or, rather, a connection they’d already had and lost over an order of mozzarella sticks.) “Restaurant Wars” is a really nice, fun episode, but whenever we get that full food backstory, it’s going to be a tearjerker.
- UPDATES: Nanefua is definitely Kofi’s mother! Sorry about the typo. Also, I have never had boardwalk fries and genuinely did not know they were a thing, and I think I have spent a decent amount of time on grimy East coast boardwalks? Time to go on a field trip.
- It continues to astound me that the Frymans can successfully run a business selling only fries. I know it’s the boardwalk (and also nobody seems to require a ton of customers out in Beach City), but they seem so limited. Is it just me, or are fries obviously less good than pizza?
- You know the feud is serious, because even Jenny has to work at the pizzeria.
- “Do you know how much blogging I haven’t been able to do?”
- Is Ronaldo owning heelies the best thing to ever happen on Steven Universe? Yes.
- Don’t worry Kofi, Kiki and Ronaldo haven’t done anything serious. “Just hugs and longing looks.”
- Pearl looks great as a waiter.
- “I doubt a pizza bagel can beat pizza that isn’t on a bagel.” I don’t know, guys. I appreciate the sensibility, but I’m not the biggest fan of pizza bagels. Thoughts?