First jobs. If you haven’t stacked shelves at a supermarket or chucked tabloids into people’s sprinklers on a paper route, you haven’t lived. Lela Radojkovic, co-owner and manager at the decorated Restaurant Balzac, spent her teen years in a Sizzler uniform. Now, for the first time in two decades, Time Out is taking her back to the scene of the crime.
“We’ll have Malibu chicken with a baked potato, a rare rump steak with mash and Diane sauce, and the seafood platter with chips,” says Lela, as the order is punched into a cashier’s counter sprayed with neon pictures of food. “Salad bar?” we ask, gazing at the glistening smorgasbord across the emerald green carpet amid walnut paneling. “Of course,” she grins.
Sizzler exploded onto the Aussie dining scene in 1984 with an all-you-can-eat policy and was immediately popular. By the early 1990s there were queues out the door and down the road in Sizzlers from Bondi to Campbelltown, Mosman to Maroubra. All filled with folks waiting to eat somewhere that was fast but not fast food and where a bottomless feast cost no more than $15.
Alas, as we became more conscious of what they were eating rather than how much, Sizzler lost favour. Today there are only three left in Sydney: Caramar, Kogarah and Campbelltown (Brisbane has 18 in its CBD alone).
Today the cheesy bread so revered among children nationwide is exactly the same – thick white bread fingers toasted golden brown, with plenty of butter and cheese. “I used to watch the kitchen make trays and trays of this,” remembers Lela, “it might even make an appearance some day on the Balzac degustation!”
But with nostalgia comes the reminder that Sizzler is mass produced. “Everything is easy to prepare – anyone could do it,” says Lela. “The only thing you had to learn and where you had to be a cook was the grill.”
Today the steak is fine – the mash is smooth and well seasoned and the Diane sauce is no worse than average. The highlight is Malibu chicken – a flat piece of fried chicken covered in ham, draped with melted cheese with a lemon mayo on the side. Back in the day, Lela ate it every shift. Is it up to scratch 20 years on? “It’s exactly how I remembered it – lovely and yellow.”
The salad bar is a varied collection of offerings. One tray for example, is filled only with sultanas. But you’ll find the potato skins here (that Sizzler staple of deep fried potato skins covered in a MSG tainted mystery spice) as well as spag bol and a technicolour dessert bar complete with apple crumble.
So what’s changed for Lela from then to now? “I keep things real, now. Then, I was more like a robot. I’d say the same thing over and over again: ‘Welcome to Sizzler, would you like fries?’ then I’d bring them to the table and I’d do it all over again. That’d happen 6-8 hours a night.
At Balzac, it’s so like my home that I don’t even say good evening sometimes. It’s just ‘Hi, how are you? Come in and have a seat in my home’ as opposed to ‘Hello, welcome to Sizzler, have a nice day’.”
Sizzler is all about value. Eat all you want and come out no more than $20 out-of-pocket. We recommend the Malibu chicken, hold the yellow sauce.