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

Friday, January 23, 2009

Dining Diva Review: Texas Roadhouse

If you have a peanut allergy, don't even drive by Texas Roadhouse. Peanuts are everywhere and there are barrels of them all over the restaurant and shells all over the floor. Personally I never liked the shells-on-the-floor ambiance because it's sort of like dining in a landfill, (what's next--beer bottles on the floor?) but it seems to be popular with the other diners and the peanuts are always fresh and tasty so I'll give it a pass on the peanut mess everywhere.
The rest of the food is quite good. Delicious fresh-baked rolls with honey butter were delivered to the table seconds after our waiter took our drink orders. They were steamy and tender and when slathered in the butter made it worth the trip no matter what else went wrong--which in our case was nothing. You are also able to choose a specific steak for your dinner from the refrigerated meat case display, so for those of us who like to meet our dinner beforehand, it's a nice touch. My husband despises gristle in his steaks so I like being able to inspect it for him prior to the cooking! We have made several visits to the store in Fairview Heights and several trips to the one in Newport News, VA and they have replaced Outback as my casual dining steak restaurant of choice when traveling. Their steaks are good quality, cooked correctly and served with your choice of several excellent side dishes. They also have excellent fried catfish, which isn't easy to do consistently. The coating is crisp and the fish is flaky and not dried out with a very nice fresh flavor. I'm not a fish eater, but their catfish is some of the best I've ever had!
The service is friendly and efficient and they brew some excellent iced tea in addition to a full bar and a nice wine and beer selection. It's a good place to take the family and it's a good place to take a date because it's not loud like some casual dining places. I've never had a bad meal at the one in Fairview Heights and the Virginia one only missed once--not a bad record!
HERE'S A SAD UPDATE: Since this post I've dined three times at the Texas Roadhouse and each meal is worse than the one before it. The catfish was hideously overcooked on a subsequent visit, everything has become severely oversalted and today for the last straw they served me RARE chicken and then an overcooked steak. The wonderful rolls were also served cold and hard and the steamed veggies were inedible. I'm crossing Texas Roadhouse off of my list of places where I will eat, they've gone the way of the Outback.

Dining Diva Product Review: Amazon's Kindle Reader

I tested a Kindle device and I have to say it was a total disappointment. I was sucked in by the Queen Oprah review of how much she loved it and all I have to say to her is: "Buy an iPhone". I don't know why anyone would buy this Kindle device. It's too large to fit in your handbag, it's heavy, the device is expensive and overpriced, and the books are expensive to buy for the Kindle. There's a free iPhone application called "Stanza" that downloads entire books to read on the very light and very portable i-phone. I've read 8 books on my iPhone and I can delete them after reading or keep them on the hard drive, Why would I pay $400 for this stupid BIG HEAVY device and then have to buy the books too? It doesn't make sense when I can get the same thing for free with my iPhone. I've had no problems with the application and there are thousands of free titles available through the Stanza application. Don't waste your money on this clunky pile of microchips when you can get an iPhone that does so MUCH more than the Kindle and costs about half as much!
0 stars--not worth the money!!

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Dining Diva Review: Outlaw Blues Restaurant and Saloon, Fairview Heights, IL

Hubby and I had lunch at the brand-new Outlaw Blues in Fairview Heights and it was a mixed bag of delights and disappointments. The restaurant is painted a deep plum shade which is surprisingly attractive when you get over the surprise of the fact that they really did paint it purple. Our server, Keith, was very pleasant and our drinks arrived quickly and they make very good iced tea. The menu items are an eclectic mix of barbecue favorites and Cajun/Southern staples with a twist. The delicious complimentary bread was a freshly baked biscuit and sweet cornbread with a very unique presentation that was original and interesting--they were served in the cast-iron skillet that they were baked in and each quarter of the pan had either biscuit or cornbread batter placed in it before baking. The biscuit was moist and tender and the cornbread was moist and sweet--just the way I like it! John had the barbecue brisket sandwich and I had the shrimp and grits which come in your choice of scampi or creole. I ordered scampi but they sent creole which meant they must have remade it in a hurry and didn't do well. The butter sauce was totally devoid of any garlic flavor and the shrimp, while large and fresh, were as bland as boiled chicken breast. They were purported to be served over cheese grits but my grits were obviously instant and had no salt, cheese or flavor--some of the worst grits I've ever had. They were topped with a teaspoon of finely shredded yellow cheese that I mixed in to the grits along with the 'scampi sauce' and a good helping of salt and pepper. John's sandwich was another story altogether. Overflowing the fresh bun was a more than generous serving of barbecued beef brisket with a deep smoke ring in the meat. He shared a big slice of the brisket with me (as I had to wait for my lunch to be corrected) and it was delicious--everything brisket should be and as I waited for my shrimp and grits, I was wishing I had ordered the same thing! When I tasted my totally flavorless (albeit fresh)lunch, I really wished for that brisket sandwich! Luckily the sandwich was so enormous he couldn't finish it so I did polish off what he left behind. Keith was apologetic and very nice but the kitchen needs to learn how to make cheese grits and scampi sauce! I'd give it another try just to have that brisket again along with the skillet of biscuits and cornbread--but I'll wait till they iron out the 'just opened' kinks!
I'll update you when I go back for another try!

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Dining Diva Review: Corky's BBQ Nashville TN

Traveling home from my Florida visit, I stopped in Nashville to visit my friend Chris and have dinner with her. Being the barbecue lover that I am, I asked her to take me to a place that had really good BBQ and she took me to Corky's Barbecue. I had a combo plate of ribs and pulled pork with a side of the BEST collard greens I've ever tasted--bar none! I'd go there again just for those greens! The ribs were tender as butter with the smoked me walking right off the bone and the pulled pork was also tender with excellent flavor. Chris had a BBQ brisket that she said was very good and I had a bite to check and it was excellent brisket--but I'm a Southern gal and I think good barbecue requires a pig, not a cow! Our server was very sweet and got our orders exactly right and checked on us to make sure we were enjoying our meal and she was very helpful when we asked her to make some menu recommendations. Their iced tea was very good too, brewed fresh and nicely strong. The ladies room was clean, as was the rest of the restaurant, and was nicely stocked with tissue and paper towels.
They do takeout and catering and you can order via their website at and the next time I pass through Nashville, you can bet I'll be eating there again!!