Saturday, March 26, 2011

Mexico On Main A lot of "Ole!" for very little Dinero!

John and I are now making a weekly trek to a little hole in the wall restaurant in Trenton, IL called Mexico on Main.  Located on Main Street (no kidding, right?) it is a little gem that is getting a big following.  Their prices are more than reasonable, the food is excellent and they offer some dishes that are not seen on very many menus on this side of the border.  The service is fast and friendly and on Thursday and Friday they have pitchers of  lime Margaritas for $9.99 which are some of the best Margaritas I've had in Illinois.  It's a small place and they are open for lunch which is really cheap--and I'm sure it's just as good.  The line starts at around 6 pm, but moves quickly and they do have outside tables for dining al fresco (not something I particularly like) and I assume it's also the smoking section but I don't know for sure as I haven't been here when it was warm enough to eat outside.  The pleasant experience begins with piping hot chips and cold homemade salsa.  The chips are unsalted but you can add a sprinkle from the shaker if you like.  The salsa is cold and spicy with a hint of cilantro but not a lot of bite--but you can spark it up with the habanero sauce on the table if you are a fire-eater. *NOTE:  The green and red habanero sauces on the table are viciously hot and not for the faint of heart--add sparingly and at your own risk.  The Margaritas are served with or without salt at your request and two glasses come pre-filled along with the first pitcher and while they are delicious, they pack a punch, so bring a designated driver if you are in a group that likes to drink.  They have an amazing assortment of fajita combinations to thrill the palate, and enough to make even the pickiest eater happy.  In addition to the unusually flavorful chicken, they have steak, shrimp, chorizo and carnitas in a myriad of combinations.  The chimichangas are remarkably good--filled with lots of nicely seasoned beef or chicken that has been prepared on premises--no canned chicken here--and enormous for the price.  The carnitas are butter-soft, lean and tasty under a blanket of seasoned fried onions.  Every dish comes with guacamole, sour cream and pico de gallo and most come with refried beans and rice.  The beans and rice are the only things I'm not to crazy about--the beans are salty and soupy (which seems to be the norm) and the rice is fairly bland but no worse than any other Mexican restaurant in the area.  Mixing them together helps, but they could be much better with very little effort. The guacamole is delicious--chunky with large piece of avocado (and if it's not homemade, then they are using a first rate commercial product)  and I'm pretty comfortable in saying that it's made by the restaurant. The tortillas are definitely homemade and are delicious--I haven't had tortillas this good since I lived in El Paso.  They make the most amazing chicken soup I've had anywhere; great spicy flavor with huge chunks of white meat chicken and I am sure that they make the stock from the many chickens they boil to make the fillings in their enchiladas, burritos and such.  It's a huge bowl of soup and perfect for a lighter dinner. They also have a seafood soup I haven't tried yet but I have every intention of sampling so I will post an update when I do. The portions are generous, the prices are low and if you aren't a big eater, there'll be plenty for lunch the next day.  Everything I've eaten here has been exceptionally good and they are consistent in their dishes--they taste delicious every time.  I'm very impressed with this little piece of Mexico on Main and I think you will be too! 

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Overpriced, Overrated and Oversalted: Mike Shannon's--a Pinnacle of Mediocrity!

John and I had dinner at Mike Shannon's lauded restaurant last night and it wasn't just bad--it was the epitome of an over-hyped restaurant that is long on promises, short on delivery and needs a chef who isn't resting on the laurels of past glory.  We were seated in some very uncomfortable chairs in front of a window with the hot sun pouring through it and the air-conditioning wasn't on--I was dripping sweat for the first 20 minutes!  Finally the A/C kicked in--which is good because I was dying from the heat.  I expected an excellent meal as I bought into the reputation of the restaurant that I had been hearing about for years.  The menu prices would leave one to believe it was a quality dining restaurant as it makes Ruth's Chris look like bargain dining! Tragically, the steaks aren't even close to the quality needed to justify the price.  $38 buys you an 8 ounce filet mignon (a la carte--not even a breadstick or piece of parsley--meat and plate)  that even cooked rare didn't have a drop of juice--not one drop.  It made up for the lack of juiciness with a total lack of flavor but didn't lack for salt.  I've had beef jerky that wasn't as salty as that steak--or as tough.  My husband should have sent it back, but didn't as he doesn't like to send food back no matter how horrible the dish--but he never goes back after a bad first experience.  Along with his $38 dollar hunk of Clydesdale he he ordered an $8 order of again horribly over-salted fries of which I tasted three.  The outside was crisp and the inside fluffy but the amount of salt would have put McDonald's to shame.  I've never had fries that were so over-salted, and sadly the chef's passionate love affair with the Morton Salt Girl was a theme that was repeated with every dish except the macaroni and cheese which mercifully had no salt.  Sadly, it also had no cheese, no flavor and no exposure to a heat source as it arrived stone cold in a hot metal dish.  Having eaten beef for my last 4 meals, I ordered the appetizer calamari ($8) and the mac-and-cheese side dish ($9) for my meal.  The server didn't bother to bring me a plate for my meal which was stunning--even the cheapest Chinese joint brings a plate--apparently Mike Shannon's expects their customers to eat directly from the serving dish to save wear and tear on the dishwasher.  I took a bite of the calamari and while it was tender, I couldn't taste ANYTHING but the exceptionally heavily oversalted coating.  I took a second bite from another side of the plate hoping that the salt had been confined to one area but alas, this was not the case.  The mac and cheese was without a doubt THE WORST MAC AND CHEESE I HAVE EVER TASTED IN MY LIFE. Morrison's cafeteria has better mac and cheese--as does Piccadilly, Bob Evans, Stouffer's frozen--even Kraft powdered from the box is better.  It had no cheese; it was cold even though the serving dish was hot  and the best thing I can say about it is that the bread crumbs on top were nicely buttered, crispy and not salty--the only dish in the meal that missed being buried under the salt avalanche.  I sent it back 15 minutes after it arrived--I would have sent it back sooner, but the waiter who dropped it off sans plate, took 15 minutes to reappear.  By the time a woman (who didn't introduce herself so I can't tell you what her position is) came by to offer to make me something else, my husband had finished his dinner, so I declined although I would have declined if they'd offered something else as I was over my salt allotment for the month after the 3 bites of food I'd already consumed.  The waiter returned to offer sell us some dessert (although I don't know why he thought I'd eat dessert when I hadn't had dinner yet) but we declined and asked for the bill which for 3 domestic beers (Michelob products--2 Shock Top and 1 Amber Bock) an 8 oz steak and an order of fries was SEVENTY DOLLARS before tip and EIGHTY-FOUR DOLLARS with the 20% tip which was about 10% more than a server (who didn't bring a plate for me to put my food and waited 15 minutes before coming by to see that my food was untouched) deserved.  It's no mystery to me that the dining room was a sea of empty tables.  I don't know how a restaurant as lauded as Mike Shannon's can fail so miserably to make french fries, mac and cheese and a steak.  The calamari was not made on the premises--it was a frozen product that would have been acceptable until they drowned it in salt and served it with lemons that were old enough to vote.  It was unbelievably bad--if I hadn't seen it myself I don't know if I would have believed it but this restaurant is living on it's reputation which won't hold up much longer--it's lucky there are a lot of tourists in the area from the local hotels because if they had to depend on the local trade, they would have locked their doors by now.  A truly awful dining experience all the way around.  NEVER AGAIN!!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

George's Continues to Shine--great Po'Boys and icy beer with reasonable prices make it the best of Baton Rouge

My favorite hole-in-the wall, George’s, continues to be a shining light under the interstate.  The Po’boy muffaletta I ate for dinner Wednesday night was as delicious as I have come to expect and hubby loved his burger.  They have fresh potato fries here that are crispy and delicious and not one bit soggy or greasy (unlike 5 guys—which is another review) and they are the perfect side dish.  Get one order for up to 3 people because the portions here are enormous.  The beer is still ice cold, the service friendly and the parking is still underneath I-10 and tricky to find—but oh so worth it!  It’s on a par with the best little places only locals know about so I am grateful that my husband was born here!  It’s on the edge of LSU and it doesn’t get any better than George’s.  Don't forget to staple a dollar to the wall somewhere!

Another one bites the dust. Copeland's of Baton Rouge has jumped the shark.

It’s another sad RIP for what was once my husband’s favorite restaurant and one of my Baton Rouge favorite.  Good bye to Copeland’s because it has jumped the shark from expensive and delicious to expensive and not worth it.  My husband’s ricochet catfish, his favorite dish for many years, has gone from 2 large filets of catfish to one and the extra sauce that he and my mother-in-law asked for when they ordered the dish was left in the window by the very inept server.  I asked if they could make my steak Pittsburgh and was assured that they could.  They couldn’t.  Additionally, the steak was freezer burned and tasted old and stale.  If I hadn’t been the guest of my mother-in-law, I would have sent it back in a heartbeat.   I was starving, so I ate it, but my baked potato came with virtually no butter or sour cream and during the 10 minutes I waited for butter, sour cream and stale bacon bits, it got so cold that it wouldn’t melt the butter.  There was no bread or water brought to the table and the service was truly awful even though the restaurant was about ¼ full, always a bad sign.
The slice of cheesecake was good, although I didn’t order a slice of my own.  I wouldn’t pay EIGHT DOLLARS for a small slice of cheesecake if I won the lottery, which to the best of my knowledge hasn’t happened yet.  It was good cheesecake (again with a 14 minute wait to get it) to be sure but it wasn’t worth $8 to me.  They are on their way to being out of business and it’s sad because it was so good for so many visits.   I hate to see my beloved husband disappointed, but we won’t be going to Copeland’s in Baton Rouge again.  It’s just simply not worth it.  The food is terrible,  it’s wayyyyy overpriced and we can find better places to eat for less money.

Horribly Oversalted Food Ruins Baton Rouge's White Oak Plantation's Thanksgiving Dinner

I was expecting a lot from Chef John Folse because of his reputation and I was disappointed. If you like extremely salty food, medium rare pork, the fishy stench of frozen snapper and mediocre service then make your reservation now for the next dining "event" at White Oak Plantation.  I started with the Bisque of Wild Mushroom soup as I was sure it would be an exquisite treat.  It had a wonderful aroma and was thick with cream and minced mushrooms and I could hardly wait to taste it.  It was so horribly oversalted that I couldn't eat it--but I did use it as a mushroom gravy on the woefully undercooked pork roast.  I know that it is supposed to be OK to eat medium-rare pork as the trichinosis threat is gone, but I've spent a lifetime (51 years) eating pork roasts that were cooked to 175 degrees or so and rare pork is as palatable to me as raw chicken.  It wasn't over salted but it was definitely too undercooked for me.  The dirty rice was the highlight of the meal.  It was perfect--literally perfect. Fluffy, flavorful and not overly salty or greasy made it the perfect Louisiana side dish and if I'd had just the rice, the chicken and oyster stuffing, the sweet potato soufflĂ© and the turkey leg, this would be a rave review. The smoked chicken and oyster dressing had quite a bit of chicken but no discernible oysters and with a hint of sweetness it was delicious--and escaped the horrible over-salted fate of most of the other dishes. The sweet potato soufflĂ© was light, fluffy, perfectly cooked and delicious.  I was able to procure a turkey leg which had nice flavor and didn't need a thing--it was excellent. Sadly, I like to taste everything as it's unfair to do a review without tasting as many dishes as possible.  The "shrimp mirlton casserole" had a VERY pungent fish smell and was terribly salty--a theme that was carried through on almost every dish.  The Caesar salad was so wilted and warm that I couldn't eat it.  It looked like it had been refrigerated overnight or longer and was unpalatable.  The marinated meat salad looked like fried cold cuts swimming in oil so I couldn't bring myself to eat them.  Quail isn't something I would ever eat again after the food poisoning that accompanied my last dining experience that included them.  I also don't like seared duck--I like it thoroughly cooked.  The rolls were cold and hard and the butter balls must have come from the freezer as it took a steak knife to cut them while they skittered about on the plate.  The crowder peas with ham looked rather unappealing as it appeared to be thick pea soup and again were very, very salty. The cranberry relish was the sourest cranberry sauce I've ever had--a lot of pucker power but not much else--they needed some sugar in the worst way.  The iced tea lacked ice and the refills and the service were excruciatingly slow although there appeared to be plenty of wait staff.  The dessert tray looked rather old with the mint leaves used for garnish appearing to be wilted and tired.  My sugar-free cheesecake was still frozen in the middle, so I'm guessing it wasn't made in-house although it wasn't bad--it was commercial grade and tasted a lot like Sam's club cheesecake--but it was OK.  I think that the chef overreached and missed badly.  It was a third-rate meal in a first class venue with prices to match, and if Chef Folse would lose the salt shaker (or in this case the salt SCOOP) it would be a great improvement.  My family members that were dining with me were similarly disappointed and the consensus was that we could have had a better meal at Picadilly cafeteria.  If Chef Folse had gone with simple goodness, it would have been better by far.  He may be talented but he's either way overrated; (or his kitchen staff didn't follow the recipes) but he way overreached with this meal and he missed badly. The overwhelming theme was one of many poorly done dishes with so many cooks that they spoiled the meal.  The exotic dishes were bypassed for the turkey and pork roast which means there was a lot of waste of very expensive ingredients.
Here's a hint for next year Chef:  Keep the turkey, the stuffing, the sweet potatoes and the dirty rice.  Cook the pork loin to 175 degrees and leave out the salt in the mushroom bisque.  Lose the over-salted cheese and stale crackers in the hall and replace them with some spinach dip and homemade Cajun chex mix.  Add a leg of lamb rubbed with garlic and rosemary and a steamship round of roast beef or chateaubriand grilled to medium rare with a nice horseradish sauce.  Corn pudding,  steamed asparagus, green beans almandine and broccoli with hollandaise sauce, put some sugar to the cranberry relish and THAW the cheesecake before you serve it.  While you’re at it, serve some Abita beer in the bar and get some single malt scotch—Chivas is crap—the people that come to this expensive of an event don’t drink crappy liquor.  Go top shelf with the bar, think fresh and simple and you'll do more business and have happy diners.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Schatze's in Belleville: Nothing fancy but all you need for a good meal and a beer!

 Schatze's in Belleville is a super little bar and grill a little off the beaten path, but with really good food and unbeatable prices.  Similar in concept to Fast Eddie's and Cutter's, you can't get food to go and you have to have a drink to eat.  They need to upgrade their A/C because it's not keeping pace with the summer heat, but it's a friendly little place with cold beer and good service and food that's both delicious and VERY reasonably priced.  They have a band on weekends and their grill stays open late so you can get a decent meal that isn't breakfast after 9 p.m. which is something Illinois needs more of--good quality late dining!  Not all of use like to eat dinner at 6 p.m. and those that do, aren't dining here.  I haven't seen any signs advertising karaoke so I'm hoping that the fad of horrible singing by very inebriated people is falling by the wayside.  I haven't heard the bands here, but I'm willing to bet that they are at least decent if not pretty darn good.  The barmaids are friendly and the crowd consists of a lot of regulars which is always a good thing and they play a great game of trivia on the TV monitors.  I love NTN trivia and there are some very good players here--and they are seriously into the game.  The bratwurst here is the best--and grilled to perfection.  They also have giant shrimp sold by the piece, great burgers, pork steaks and pizza which I haven't tried. Their desserts are purchased rather than homemade, but they are good quality and fresh--you can't go wrong with Cheesecake Factory brand cheesecake for a LOT less than the CF charges for it!  Friday afternoon cocktails, late night dining, friendly crowd, good food, reasonably priced drinks and good service make a winning recipe at this little bar on Main Street!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

The End of the Raindancer. 12-16-75 to 2-17-10 RIP

 ****UPDATE:  Raindancer is BACK!!  Hubby and I had dinner with another couple on our last visit to Florida and I am delighted to be able to tell you that they have corrected the problems that marred our last two visits and the packed dining room showed that they are having success again. I was heartbroken by the thought that my favorite steak place for more than three decades was going the route of so many and I am thrilled that once again the Raindancer sets the bar for steak restaurants in the USA and around the globe!

***UPDATE: After reading my review, the Raindancer (unasked) proactively removed the charge for the dinner from my husband's credit card, called me and apologized.  I will have to go back and see if they have gotten back up to par when I visit Florida again.  This was a very classy thing for them to do and they've always been a class act.  Stay tuned for the next review--they WANT to be the best!
It's been a wonderful ride dining at the Raindancer in West Palm Beach.  Everything was perfect every time I dined there--from the service to the food to the atmosphere from my first visit in 1975 when I was celebrating my 17th birthday but sadly I've now made my last trip to the restaurant that was my favorite steak house for an astounding 35 years.  When I first visited I was a 17 year old kid in college, on my last I was a 51 year old Republican Congressional Nominee.  I was hoping to celebrate being elected to Congress at the Raindancer, just as I've celebrated about 90% of the memorable occasions in my life at the venerable establishment.  What changed?  The steak that no other restaurant could match for quality or preparation was sadly lacking.  Not only was it way overcooked, but the burnt Pittsburgh crust that I so love was absent.  The service was way under par too.  There was no butter on the table for the bread and my iced tea refill was served  with a lemon instead of the requested lime and I had to ask twice for refills on drinks.  This is something that has never happened in 200 visits--I've never had a steak that wasn't perfect or service that wasn't flawless.  The potato had the unmistakable flavor change of a refrigerated spud which tells me they are keeping potatoes longer than they used to.  The steak was full of gristle which has never happened before--and shouldn't have happened this time as it was $38.95 for a 12 ounce NY strip.  I am devastated that it has fallen so far so fast but the half-empty dining room told the story of how far the quality of food and service has dropped.  I was used to waiting an hour for a table during the winter season but no more. The service standards are lax as well--a sad thing because the service could always be counted upon to be flawless.  I've always been able to count on the Raindancer to provide the perfect backdrop of food and service to impress anyone I was ever closing any kind of business deal with--the ambiance, food, service and class of the place sold everything and everyone.  No more.
There's no pot of gold at the end of the Raindancer--just a very disappointed 35 year customer that loved everything it used to be.  Rest in Peace and thanks for the memories!

Friday, February 12, 2010

George's The Best Little Dive on the Planet--Po'Boy Heaven in Baton Rouge

For at least 30 years (and possibly much longer) George's has been a Baton Rouge institution and favorite dive with an offbeat location, extensive menu of po'boys and other Louisiana classics.  Located underneath an I-10 overpass which gives covered parking to early arrivals, George's doesn't look like much although the display of neon beer signs in the windows send the message that there will be a wide selection of beer, which proves to be the case. The inside is a triangular room decorated with hundreds of dollar bills stapled to the walls and ceiling with the names or nicknames of the people who 'donated' them to the decor written on them.  The food is unbelievable--gumbos, etoufee and the Louisiana classic po'boy sandwich in many varieties.  The french fries are from fresh potatoes and are actually crisp which is a technique that no one seems to be able to do--most places with fresh potato fries serve a soggy and greasy product. The po'boys are made with the best French bread I've ever tasted along with generous servings of meat and cheese for a memorable sandwich experience.  The crawfish etoufee is as good as any I've ever had in New Orleans and the gumbo is the classic style as well.  Service is at the bar and they give you a kitchen check to write down your order and they call you to the bar when it's ready for pickup.  The eclectic crowd was everything from LSU college kids to executives in suits along with casual locals, and the occasional tourist who lucked into a great meal for a reasonable price.  Interstate 10 goes over the top but there is no traffic noise to speak of, so I'm guessing they have world class soundproofing in the roof.  The bartenders are friendly and since the customers write their own kitchen checks, special instructions can be added. The chairs are decently comfortable as are the barstools and you can get your order to go.  The owner, "Smokey" is on the East Baton Rouge parish council so politics are not a taboo subject, and any guy who owns a great dive like this must be a man of the people!

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Gus's World Famous Fried Chicken, Memphis, Tennessee

Just off Interstate 55 is a little restaurant called Gus's World Famous Fried Chicken (which is touted to be hot and spicy but isn't any spicier than Popeye's mild) is serving the best fried chicken in the world.  Elvis would be proud of this Memphis chicken joint, the crowds beat a path to the door and every time I pass through, it's a treat I look forward to having.  It's without a doubt the BEST fried chicken I've ever had in my LIFE and I've eaten a LOT of fried chicken.  It has a thin layer of some sort of coating with a tingle of spice--no thick, greasy breading here.  It is very crisp and when bitten into gives a satisfying crunch followed by the tender and juicy white meat and the perfect blend of spices.  The only thing I can say is WOW!!  It's the most delicious fried chicken on the planet (or at least so far in my 51-and-counting years) and we stop there for lunch coming and going to Louisiana to see the family.  Memphis is almost exactly the halfway point and the location right off the Interstate makes it a quick off-and-on for travelers and although the place is packed, the line moves quickly.  You can also get your order to go if you need to get back on the road.  Service is very friendly in the traditions of Southern hospitality, the ambience and the appointments are picnic-in-a-park but the incredible chicken trumps everything.  As a bonus, the sides are also very good, the iced tea is fresh-brewed and refills are swift and the waitresses are as friendly as Southern gals are reputed to be.  Well-worth a special trip or a 40-mile detour to Memphis and a bargain at twice the price, I give Gus's Fried Chicken my highest rating and can't wait to eat there again! 

Friday, January 22, 2010

Product Review: Magic Jack It's certainly got the right name--it works just like magic!!

I bought a Magic Jack a couple of weeks ago. It's certainly got the right name--it works just like magic!! The device was $19.99 and $20.00 for a year's prepaid service and I brought it home and followed the instructions to set it up and started using it.
WOW!!!  All I can say is WOW!!  It works perfectly and gives me crystal clear phone calls all over the USA with no extra fee except for $20 a YEAR for unlimited local and long distance calls without burning up my cell minutes.  It's great for the campaign because I can call everywhere and for the paltry sum of $1.66 a month it's a LOT cheaper than Skype or any of the other VOIP services and it works incredibly well.  I am totally impressed by it, I was able to choose any area code I wanted and I could have chosen my own number for a nominal extra fee if I had wanted a special set of digits.  It travels and I can make phone calls from my computer at any place that has a wireless internet hookup.  I highly recommend it for travelers--and because I just plug the phone into the jack, it's comfortable to use although taking a phone with you could take up some space although you could just pull the hotel phone out of it's wall jack and plug it into your Magic Jack and use it. I give it my highest recommendation and would buy it again--and it's a bargain at twice the price!!

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Broadway Bar and Grill, Highland Illinois

I've been eating in a lot of diners and grills lately due to my running for Congress in the Illinois 12th district.  I love small town local diners and I make an effort NOT to go to chain restaurants because I like to meet the people who serve good food that can't be purchased everywhere and tastes the same in every location.
The Broadway Bar and Grill is a current favorite of mine.  They have the best chicken tenders in the country, bar none!  (Raising Cane's in Baton Rouge is my other current favorite but they are a chain.) Broadway Bar and Grill is an unpretentious saloon with wood floors, lots of TVs with sports events showing and a noisy crowd on any given night.  The food is good but they need to get rid of their post-mix out of the bar gun iced tea--it's disgusting.  The specials are occasionally inspired--a couple of Saturdays ago they served me a Cornish Game Hen with cherry sauce that was one of the best dishes I've ever been served in ANY restaurant, so I can only surmise that their night cook is going to culinary school during the day.  It was OUTSTANDING and I told him so when I went to talk to him.  The service is fast and friendly, and they have a full bar but a somewhat limited beer selection.  It's a family friendly place--people come in with their kids but that's the exception, it's primarily a bar. Their salads are generous with cold, crisp greens and the dressings appear to be homemade and very good.  Their chili is thick and meaty with good flavor but you'll have to spark it up with hot sauce and jalepenos  if you like it spicy because it's made for the masses who like mild chili.  My husband is a big fan of their chicken-fried steak although it's not a regular menu item--it's the regular Monday night special and occasional Thursday night special although it's $2 more on Thursday night for some reason.  They also make a very tasty burger and when they say bacon cheeseburger, the bacon is thick and plentiful, the burger a generous 1/3 pound and the fries are crisp and hot.  It's reliably consistent too--and this is the mark of a good restaurant.  I've never had a bad meal there and while it can get noisy when the sports fans are in attendance, it's not what I'd call a rowdy place.  Women are perfectly safe and and judging from the crowd mix, they enjoy the place as well.  I'd recommend the Broadway Bar and Grill to anyone who wants a reasonably priced and tasty meal with a couple of beers to wash it all down and on Saturday night I'd check what the chef has dreamed up because he's got talent!!

9th Street Cafe, Highland, Illinois: Good burgers but don't eat the spaghetti!!

I went to the 9th Street Cafe in Highland, Illinois for dinner on Friday and ordered the spaghetti.  Big Mistake!!  It's really really terrible and I expected much better than the overly sweet flavorless ketchup-y sauce and watery spaghetti that they served me--and I was HUNGRY--I hadn't eaten all day!  It was so truly terrible that we put it in a box and tossed it in the back yard for the raccoons.  I couldn't bring myself to eat a third bite and only took the second in the spirit of investigative journalism--I just couldn't pan it after one bite--but a third was out of the question!! YUKKO!!!
In all fairness, the cream of chicken with wild rice soup was delicious--and if that was all I'd had this would be a rave review.  Their chopped chicken salad with house dressing (no substitutes) is truly inspired.  They also make a really great hamburger along with sweet potato chips and homemade regular potato chips.  They put together a good breakfast with great menu choices.  The menu is diner food and the atmosphere is small-town diner but friendly fast service, delicious iced tea and a small but nicely done menu selection make this a winner in Highland--just don't get the spaghetti!!

Friday, October 30, 2009

Save the Airfare to Germany, Eat at Roemer Topf in Mascoutah IL!!

Owned by a retired military man and his German wife, I expected a lot from this restaurant and I was delighted by what I found. Authentic and hearty German fare coupled with delicious German beers and a friendly staff make for a very pleasant dining experience in this hidden culinary gem. Mascoutah seems to be an unlikely place for the best German food this side of the Atlantic but a pleasant experience waits for those who make the trip! The food here is as good as anything I had in Germany and my stepmother is a German national and a terrific cook in her own right, so I do know of what I write! I've dined here on several occasions and each dish has been authentic, delicious and piping hot. The service is friendly and efficient and the facility is sparkling clean. I'd drive to Mascoutah any time to eat the Roulade or the Sauerbrated and the Spatzle baked with Swiss Cheese and topped with fried onions was so good I can't even put it into words! Factor in a nice selection of reasonably priced German beers and you have the recipe for success! 

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

DiningDiva Review: The Back Porch at Diamond Mineral Springs

With 5-star prices and a very appealing decor concept (even sans air-conditioning) The Back Porch at Diamond Mineral Springs Restaurant in Grant Fork started off with lots of goodwill as I have dined at both Diamond Mineral Springs and Blue Springs which is their sister restaurant off of the I-70 exit just past Highland and both were nice experiences--nothing fancy but good hearty dinner-at-Grandma's house fare and done well. Add in the amazing "foot-hi pies" and I was anticipating the Back Porch as a first-class experience in the Highland area as my experience with Popeye's Chop House in St. Rose was not impressive. The restaurant was moderately busy and the menu ambitious. The plastic Wal-Mart chairs seemed a bit out of place in a restaurant where the entrees are in the $20-plus range but the white table cloths and cloth napkins were a plus--until the incredibly cheap and flimsy flatware made it's appearance. I've used more substantial PLASTIC flatware and to have soup-kitchen quality utensils should have given me the hint that the Back Porch was going to fail to meet my expectations. The salad was premade and the dressing soaked into the greens giving them a wilted and soggy appearance that was matched by the wilted and soggy flavor. Here's a clue--leave the dressing OFF until the salad is served--if you are going to have Waffle House food then Waffle House prices should be in place. My entree of salmon with crab and hollandaise (usually named Salmon Oscar--which apparently the ill-trained staff didn't know) was lovely but very light on the hollandaise that had broken just a bit. Sadly, I asked the server for a bit more hollandaise and it took more than FIFTEEN MINUTES TO ARRIVE. I tried to cancel it, preferring to eat my food while it was still hot but she told me the chef was making it specially and I didn't have the heart to tell her I didn't want it. I'm so sorry I asked for it--what kind of restaurant has to make MORE hollandaise when the item is on the menu? I've never had to wait for a special batch of hollandaise--they grab it from the bain marie and bring it out in a good restaurant because it is made by the quart. When it finally DID arrive, eighteen minutes later, my salmon was stone cold because the ceiling fan had been turning like a plane propeller chilling my food nicely while I waited. Did I mention they don't have air conditioning? On the upside, the filet that my incredibly finicky husband ordered was delightful according to him--perfectly cooked and delicious and he was long finished with his dinner while I waited for sauce. When the sauce did arrive, it was perfectly made and delicious but it didn't do a thing for the now ice-cold salmon.
The server was oblivious to all of this as their waitstaff leaves a LOT to be desired--another thing that a restaurant in this price range should have: Competent Waitstaff. However, I sucked it up and wrote it off to my stupidity in assuming that they would not take nearly 20 minutes to get three tablespoons of Hollandaise. We decided to give it another chance since my husband had so enjoyed his filet mignon, and we went again. This time the salad was even worse but I had ordered the wedge of iceberg with bleu cheese, bacon bits and as it turns out little chunks of diced red bell pepper that didn't make it to the menu description because I wouldn't have ordered it if it had. Our server was different but just as incompetent as the one we had on our first visit and she brought out our entrees about 45 seconds after she served the salads. This was OK with my husband as he said his salad was terrible (again) but it wasn't with me (since there was a hefty surcharge for the iceberg wedge and I didn't want to have a cold entree while I finished my salad which was quite good after I picked off all the bell pepper bits) so I sent the entree back to the kitchen to be kept warm while I finished my salad. I should have looked at it before I sent it back because it was a LONG way from even being cooked and rare chicken isn't something I will eat! When you can't twist the drumstick (or the wing) away from the chicken
it's not sufficiently cooked and will almost certainly cause food poisoning. At this point, once again my husband was finished eating while the server offered me something else on the menu and when I declined, she offered me a free dessert which I also declined. The Back Porch has charm (and I didn't even factor in the loud and obnoxious crying baby 3 tables away or the out of control screaming 3 year old 2 tables away) but the devil is in the details. They need to train their waitstaff and work on their food consistency and for heaven's sake GET RID of the K-mart flatware!! If you want to open a place with 5-star prices, you need to have 5 star food, service and appointments to go with it--the homestyle food next door is 100 times better for half the price and is consistently good. The "chefs" at the Back Porch need to take some cooking lessons from the cooks at Diamond Mineral Springs--and for God's sake put in some A/C so that the ceiling fans don't turn the food to ice before it's eaten!! If you go, get the filet since they did it right twice in a row and hubby loved it, order the wedge with bleu cheese and ignore the details that are so sorely lacking and it should be pretty good--oh and bring about $50 in CASH per person since they don't do credit cards either--but they do have an ATM.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Outlaw Blues Revisited....

We returned to Outlaw Blues and the opening kinks have gone the way of the dinosaurs and we've been to Outlaw Blues a few times since th original visit and I have to update my review. Service remains efficient and friendly but I've tried a few more of the dishes and I'd like to weigh in on their other food choices. The crab omelette was rated as "Okay, but I wouldn't order it again" by my friend Cheryl who is a fellow food connoisseur but I've fallen in love with the Barbecue Spaghetti which is pasta covered with a tasty meat sauce and then topped with a generous portion of smoked pulled pork that has been lightly tossed with a spicy barbecue sauce.The meltingly tender pork had a wonderful smoked flavor that complimented the Italian meat sauce and reminded me of the barbecue pizza that was served at Pizza Hut back in the early 90's that I liked a lot. John had the BBQ brisket sandwich again since he liked it so much the first time. It is very very good and I always order the lunch portion which is more than enough for either two people or to take home for a GENEROUS second meal--I can't even begin to imagine what the DINNER portion must be like--it must be enough to feed a family of four! The $7.95 dish was more than I could ever hope to eat in one sitting, but it made a dandy lunch the next day after being popped in the microwave for a minute or so! I have to order the appetizer size of the shrimp and grits because I could not even begin to finish the entree--and I'm a pretty healthy eater! They have started getting their desserts from their sister restaurant in Highland and they are homemade and there's always at least one sugar-free choice and they will sell you the whole pie. I would definitely recommend a visit to Outlaw Blues!!

Sunday, April 5, 2009

DINING DIVA REVIEW: Copeland's of New Orleans in Baton Rouge

During my last visit to my beloved in-laws in Baton Rouge, my husband took me to his favorite restaurant, which is Copeland's of New Orleans. The extensive menu of original New Orleans cuisine made it very difficult to choose a dish. This is my husband's favorite restaurant as he is a Baton Rouge native. Each dish is described in tantalizing detail making the choice of what to eat agonizing! On this visit I ordered the Eggplant Pirougue which I can only describe as EXQUISITE! Incredible slices of fried eggplant served with an au gratin sauce stacked over angel hair pasta with crab claws and shrimp mixed in with the pasta. I seldom have occasion to describe any dish as exquisite but this dish deserved it completely. It was totally unique, the presentation was lovely and the eggplant was perfectly cooked and seasoned and had a velvet butter texture surrounded by the crisp breading. The sauce was delicious and the shrimp and crab claws were ultra fresh and perfectly cooked as was the pasta. My husband had his longtime favorite, Ricochet Catfish with pecans and sesame with a Creole Meuniere sauce. The catfish was moist and flaky inside the crisp crust and the sauce is the perfect foil for the succulent fish. The service was crisp and professional but an error on the part of the kitchen wasn't caught by the waiter before it arrived on the table and it should have been--a small flaw but one that should not be present in a restaurant of this calibre--and should have been caught by the waiter. Other than being served the lunch portion of catfish when the dinner portion had been specifically requested, the service was good but not excellent but I assume the first team is dinner service, not the lunch crew, so I give them the benefit of the doubt. The error was swiftly corrected but the dish wasn't remade as it should have been--instead his original fish portion was allowed to get old and cold under a heat lamp while the missing piece of fish was cooked and added to it. Tea refills were swift as was water service. I don't normally have dessert with lunch but the bananas Foster cheesecake was too tempting and I was on vacation so I gave in to my sweet tooth and I'm glad I did! The bananas were perfectly sauteed in the butter and brown sugar and flamed with rum before being poured over the delicious creamy cheesecake--the dessert alone was worth the trip to Baton Rouge! I would make the trip again just for that cheesecake! I can't wait to go back to Louisiana to eat here again--and as delicious as the eggplant pierogue was, I want to try some of the other dishes on the menu!
Food: 4 stars
Service: 3 stars