Sunday, June 29, 2014

Great Lost Bear - Portland, ME

It has been a long time since I've blogged about food.  Much of the reason is because while we were in Georgia we mostly went to the same places and didn't go anywhere new and  exciting.  Now we've move to Scarborough, Maine and are going many places that are new and exciting.

The Great Lost Bear - Portland Maine

Photo by Craige Moore
via Flickr  (CC BY-ND 2.0)
This interesting pub was a place my wife went to several times some 30 plus years ago.  She remembers when it was newly opened and thought it would be fun to stop in again after all these years. We were in the city for some other business and figured that stopping by would be a great thing.

The parking was horrendous.  We thought we found a really great space on the street. No signs were posted.  After parking and getting out I saw a no parking sign, not like most places with the sign on a pole along the street, rather the sign was on the wall of the building and said no parking here to corner. Sigh... Next a look at their postage-stamp sized lot.  No luck there. Luckily there weren't any spaces there.  I say "luckily" because it would have been extremely difficult to park the big F-150 truck in there.  We finally found a place up the street.  I got about 95% of the truck into a legal parking area. Only the front foot or so extended into the no parking area.  I feel sorry for the guy parked behind me.  He didn't have much space to get out.  Well, people could still get out of the driveway in front of me, so I guess my parking was close enough.

The menu

had so many choices it took a while to decide what we wanted.  My wife and I both settled on the "Food From Maine & Away" section of the menu.  She on the Spanakopita and me on the Monte Cristo.  A couple Angry Orchards on a hot day as well as our regular "water with lemon" and we were good to go.

The spanakopita had a delicious crust, however, it could have been called a "feta cheese surprise."  It was a surprise when you found some feta cheese in it.  It was also very bland.  If they used garlic it wasn't very noticeable.  The pastry was very good, better than most, for sure.  My wife ordered the side salad to go with her lunch.  Very uninspiring, however, she was very pleased with the delicious cucumber/wasabi dressing.

The Monte Cristo was a disappointment. The menu said "batter, crumbled, & grilled," I didn't see a batter.  It did have a dusting of some kind of "crumble," however, to say "grilled" was an overstatement. Yes, it probably had been put on the grill but not long enough to make it toasted.  Now, don't get me wrong, it was still a good sandwich just not what I would expect of a Monte Cristo.   I had ordered cheese sauce on the fries but they arrived without the cheese sauce. The waiter was gone before I had a chance to mention it.  However, the fries were quite good.  Not traditional but good.

Overall, the restaurant was okay.  Tough parking, okay service, great atmosphere, okay food. Will I go back? Maybe, if I am in the neighborhood and hungry.  But it is not a place I'd go out of my way to eat at.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Marlow's Tavern - Vinings

Marlow’s Tavern is a modern neighbor tavern mini-chain.  There ten Marlow's Taverns in the Atlanta metro area and another two in Florida. 

We received a coupon in the mail for $5.00 off if you buy so much (I think it was $15.00) at Marlow’s Tavern. We decided to use the coupon at the Tavern on Cumberland Parkway in Vinings. 

My first impression wasn’t very good.  It was dark. With dark walls, black booths, dark wood tables and the summer outside outdoor dining cover blocked most of the windows, it took a long time for my eyes to adjust to the darkness.  The spot lighting from overhead left shadows and the menu was difficult to read in the dim light. The music was too loud for early afternoon.  The volume is probably great when the place is mostly full; however, for our late lunch (about 1:30), it was a bit much.  I’m a big guy and the booth was just barely acceptable.  Finally, most of the wait staff were hanging out at the pass shelf waiting for their orders. so sitting near the pass shelf was chaotic. 

Marlow's Tavern in Vinings
Seemed dark to us. 
Our server came by fairly quickly, “two water’s with lemon, a merlot, and a Corona light.”
It took a while for the merlot, but, no beer. A minute or so later, the manager came by and said they were out and would I like something else.  I asked which of the tap beer he had was the lightest and crispest tasking. He suggested Neighborhood Tap, I said, sure, I’d give it a taste.  Shortly, he stopped by with a small glass with probably a couple ounces in of the beer in it. I really liked being able to taste an unknown beer before I ordered it.  I sampled the beer and was quite pleased. A little while after that the waitress took my order for a pint and brought it a few minutes later.  A few minutes after that, as she was walking by, I flagged her down and asked again for two waters with lemon. A few minutes later, two waters arrived.  Ever so gently, my voice asked the question, “Lemon?” She said she needed to go back and get it. She left and quickly returned with the lemon.  I headed off to the rest room to check it out and wash my hands. The rest room was clean, well stocked, and had a nice decor. 

Somewhere in the midst of all that, we did order our food. My wife decided on a Rustic Grilled Cheese, (Havarti and Swiss cheese, Classic Mornay sauce, and Applewood Smoked Bacon on a Sour Dough) with extra bacon. I opted for the Tavern “Double Cheese “burger, medium. We both asked for the Ceasar salad instead of fries. 

Grilled Cheese with extra bacon
and Caesar Salad
"The best grilled cheese ever!"
Food service speed was typical for a neighborhood tavern.  The Caesar Salad was excellent. Romaine lettuce, with clearly hand grated parmesan cheese, a sun dried tomato, a piece of delicious flatbread (instead of the common croutons) nicely dressed with a very good tasting dressing.  A pleasure to eat.  

A grilled cheese sandwich is “comfort food” for my wife. She was amazed at how incredibly good her sandwich was.  The bread was really good, the cheeses were a delicious mix with the Mornay sauce adding something more than typical.  She has made many grilled cheese sandwiches in her time, but none as good as Marlow’s. She just couldn’t say enough about how good it was.  My burger’s presentation was a bit of a disappointment.  All I could see was the top of the bun.  I cut it down the middle for easier eating and found it was cooked medium, exactly as I requested. I tasted it and it was juicy and flavorful. A really excellent burger. I was surprised that it could be  that juicy without being a mess to eat. 

Overall, we liked it.  The really excellent food made up for the atmosphere and service.

Ambiance: 3 (darker and nosier than we care for - especially near the pass shelf)
Food: 5 (Best Grilled Cheese Ever) 
Service: 3 (The tasting overcame mediocre wait service)
Price: 3 (over $15 each for lunch & 1 drink - before coupon)
Value: 4 (Excellent food) 

We'll be back the next time we receive a coupon in the mail.

Marlow's Tavern on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Ruby Tuesday - Smyrna, GA

We have grown to really love Ruby Tuesday.  After I returned from Minnesota, the first restaurant we went out to at at was Ruby Tuesday, on South Cobb Drive in Smyrna.  On the Ruby Tuesday website they call it Ruby Tuesday of Concord. Although it is about a block from Concord Road, the other Ruby Tuesdays in the area are named based upon the city they are in and not a nearby road. 

We receive coupons in the mail regularly for Ruby Tuesday which help convince us to go there.  Our last visit was excellent.  My wife goes for the Memphis dry-rub ribs. Her big decision is if she is going to get a half rack or a full rack and take some home.  Steamed Broccoli and White Cheddar Mashed Potatoes comprise her sides. As usual, she was extremely pleased with her food.  Fall-off-the-bone ribs are always wonderful.

I, on the other hand have a lot of trouble deciding what to have.  There are so many choices.  I usually go for something I don’t get at home, and the Ruby Tuesday Menu has so many things that are great.  It took me a while, but I finally decided on the “New Spicy Fish Tacos.”  It comes with your choice of soup or the salad bar.  The Ruby Tuesday Salad bar is quite good and, I’ll admit, I can fill my plate quite nicely with all that healthy goodness. 

Ruby Tuesday Memphis Dry Rub Ribs 
So, I’m off to the salad bar, I like the spring mix of greens as well as the array of cheeses and toppings.  I particularly like the dark, crispy but still chewy croutons. The broccoli cheese is really good too. 

Just about the time I finished my salad, I have about three bites or so left, the food arrives.  Using just her fork my wife pulls the meat off the bone, no need to cut these ribs. No need to rip the meat off the bones with her teeth, she can eat them nice and civilized.  Anyway, she’s off to “Ruby Ribs Bliss.”

Ruby Tuesday Spicy Fish Tacos
(photo is slightly out of focus)
My fish tacos look amazing.  They come in a little rack that hold the soft shells up and keep the filling on the inside -- Nicely presented. The  proportions of each of the fillings were about perfect, not too much cilantro, enough cheese, and sour cream. The pico was fresh and tasty.  I enjoyed the fish tacos a lot, certainly the best I’ve had a a major restaurant chain. 

The service was good. Our server, Latony, was personable and attentive; she did a great job. 

With the coupon, we were out of there at less than $10 each which is a great dinner value. 

As I said, my wife really loves the ribs so I have absolutely no doubt that we’ll be back; she’ll have the ribs and I will be able to try another of their new items. 

Ruby Tuesday (Smyrna) 
Ambiance: 4 (Clean, Spacious)
Food: 4 (Excellent dry-rub ribs)
Service: 4 (Friendly and timely)
Price: 5 (Dinner under $10 per person with coupon)
Value: 4.25)

Ruby Tuesday on Urbanspoon

Sunday, May 19, 2013

El Loro - Mounds View, Minnesota

El Loro Mexican Restaurant - Mounds View, MN  

I love it when an iPhone app really works. I was recently (yesterday) in Minnesota visiting friends and family.  While at my friend Doug’s house, we decided to go to lunch and used the Urbanspoon iPhone app to help us decide where to go.  We had some trouble narrowing in to what cuisine we wanted; however after a bit, we finally decided on my favorite, Mexican. The Urbanspoon app has a feature where you select nearby restaurants and can then filter by cuisine.  Press the “thumbs up” and you receive “Nearby Mexican by Popularity.”  Urban Spoon suggested El Loro, at 2535 County Road 20 in Mounds View with a rating of 96 (50 people rating).  My friend had never been to El Loro (the parrot) so we decided to head to it before going to the airport.

The atmosphere was excellent. Bright, cheery, choices of booths, tables, or at the bar.  We were led to a booth, which was comfortable.  There are excellent paintings on the walls and it looks festive. 

The chips were good and the salsa acceptable. The chips also came with a bowl of some sort of spiced crema, which I believe was homemade ranch. I could see where some would really like it, but I’m not into cool ranch chips or dips and stayed with the traditional salsa. 

The waitress was there quickly to take our order and then gave us time to decide.  For appetizer, we ordered two Patrón Reposados and a Queso Fundido. I love queso fundido and the picture in their menu looked really good. I wondered if the delivered product be be anywhere near as good.  

When the queso arrived I was impressed.  It looked as good as the picture in the menu.  Perfect amount of chorizo sausage and cheese, cooked and melted perfectly, not overcooked or burned.  Like most restaurants that serve queso fundido, it came with three tortillas.  It really should come with four tortillas if there are two people enjoying the appetizer so they both have two tortillas. But that is sort of a personal quest for me.  I should have asked for an extra tortilla.  El Loro’s presentation of queso fundido was very tasty, very good, and a nice portion. The Patrón also arrived and was a very good pour. We were happy and saluted our friendship (48 years).  

We both ordered the lunch chimichangas, fried with shredded beef, mine with beans and my friend’s with rice. Timing was excellent, the chimi’s arrived moments after we finished the queso. The ends were crispy, as they should be, with a good amount of filling.  Nice taste. Our server, Heidi, was excellent.  

El Loro

Ambiance: 4 (Clean, Spacious)
Food: 5 (Best queso fundido ever)
Service: 4 (Friendly and timely)
Price: 5 (Lunch under $10 per person)
Value: 4.5 (My friend Doug will go back regularly, me whenever I’m in town.)

Thanks to Urbanspoon, we found a great restaurant, just what we were looking for. 

El Loro on Urbanspoon

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Bridge Street Cafe - Rockford, MN

While I was in Minnesota my brother suggested we go to breakfast at just about the best breakfast place he had been to lately.  He said it was about ten miles but would be well worth the trip.  So we loaded up our mother and headed to Rockford and the Bridge Street Cafe.

The Bridge Street Cafe is a home-town cafe which is open for breakfast, starting at 6:00 AM (7:00 AM Sat & Sun) and open until 2:30 PM (3:00 PM Sat & Sun) and provides a nostalgic trip to a classic all American classic cafe. 

Apparently downstairs of a Masonic Lodge the decor is pleasant. We were quickly greeted and asked if we wanted coffee or juice. We looked over the menu, my mother decided upon the “Breakfast Scramble” with breakfast potatoes (versa hash browns).  Both my brother and I decided on “The Bridge Street Breakfast.”  Three eggs, sausage, bacon, potatoes, and toast.  Quite unusual, one of the options is French toast and both of us selected that as well as hash browns. 

Breakfast Scramble
We chatted as our coffee and water was pleasantly refreshed and we awaited our breakfasts. The wait was both reasonable and well worth it.  Mom’s “skillet” came on a plate but had everything she would expect. I like my eggs over hard, yoke broken and thoroughly cooked and they arrived perfect. I had opted for the patty sausage (verses links) and it tasted wonderful.  I had also asked that the bacon be well done/crispy and it was. The hash browns were delicious and cooked perfectly.  The French toast was excellent. I understand the idea of putting the butter on the toast (so it will soften) but I don’t care to have it put directly onto the food. The food has been cooked but the little plastic containers haven’t.

The Bridge Street Breakfast
French Toast side with
Bridge Street Breakfast
We were all extremely pleased with our food and service and we will definitely return on our next visit to Minnesota.

  • Ambiance: 3 (70‘s vintage - a bit of home)
  • Food: 4 (Excellent breakfast)
  • Service: 4 (Friendly and timely)
  • Price: 4 (Breakfast under $10 per person)
  • Value: 4 (I will return whenever possible)
Bridge Street Cafe on Urbanspoon

[My brother also reviewed the Bridge Street Cafe on Yelp.]

Monday, May 13, 2013

Lake Cafe - Big Lake, Minnesota

As I mentioned before, my mother has many “favorite” restaurants.  She lived in Big Lake for many years, so she has several there.  Of course, Russell’s On the Lake is one of her favorites but for casual fare, she likes the Lake Cafe in Big Lake. 

Lake Cafe (Building) 20130513_1077 The Lake Cafe is a “home cookin” establishment that has been there since 1968.  It has an extensive menu covering breakfast, lunch, and dinner.  It has a lunch counter, booths, and tables to provide many seating options.  It is also the kind of place you often see a few regulars, just chatting and having coffee.  Real friendly. 

We went there the day after mother’s day, so I was trying to be “good” and have something a bit lighter, so after a thorough review of the menu, I decided on a Taco Salad.  I know a taco salad isn’t something you would expect getting at a neighborhood cafe, but I figured, why not.  

Taco Salad at Lake Cafe - 20130513_1075
Taco Salad at Lake Cafe
Our order came quickly and the taco salad looked good. There was plenty of seasoned ground beef and cheese on top, albeit grated cheddar and not mexican queso.  There were also cups of sour cream, salsa, and guacamole to augment the salad.  Certainly, that it was 100% iceberg lettuce was disappointing.  It could have used romaine or other types of lettuce.  The disappointment was overcome immediately upon tasting the home-mail chips that accompanied the salad.  Rather than serving the salad in a taco bowl, homemade tortilla chips were served as a side.  The chips were really think, almost like peta chips and really good.  Clearly home made and fried on site, the had excellent spices and salt.  Next time I go there I will definitely see if I can get an order of the chips as a side. 

Taco Salad's homemade chips - Lake Cafe - 20130513_1074
Chips with the TacoSalad

I had iced tea and rather than getting real lemon slices, they brought little packets of lemon juice.  I didn’t care as much for that as the oil of the lemon adds additional flavor.

Lake Cafe

Ambiance: 3 (70‘s vintage but still clean)
Food: 3 (Great chips Best queso fundido eve)
Service: 4 (Friendly and timely)
Price: 5 (Lunch under $10 per person)
Value: 4 (I will return, as I have done many times, whenever I’m in Big Lake.)

Lake Cafe on Urbanspoon

Friday, May 10, 2013

Mill Creek Inn - Buffalo, Minnesota

My mother has quite a number of “favorite” restaurants.  During a recent visit with my mom she made sure we went to several of her “favorite” restaurants. The Mill Creek Inn was the second of her many “favorite” restaurants we ate at. I agree, the Mill Creek Inn is excellent. Really good food at a great price.

The Mill Creek Inn is a neighborhood bar and grill on County Road 35, just west of Buffalo about two miles.  It has horse harnesses reused as mirrors on the wall along with wood plank walls for a great northwoods, decor.  The staff was friendly and efficient.  

I ordered the chili burger and my mom order the Reuben both of us substituted onion rings.  The chili was very good and the burger cooked nicely (no hockey puck here).  Mom’s Reuben had a great mix of corned beef, sauerkraut, cheese, and dressing.  Her marble rye was nicely grilled without being soggy. The onion rings were awesome - fried perfectly and not at all oily.  The portion size was also excellent. 

The Mill Creek Inn is definitely a place I will return whenever in Buffalo.

Mill Creek Inn

Ambiance: 4 (Clean, Spacious)
Food: 5 (Excellent Onion Rings)
Service: 4 (Friendly and timely)
Price: 5 (Lunch under $10 per person)

Value: 4.5 (One of my Mom’s Favorites.)

Mill Creek Inn on Urbanspoon

[My brother also reviewed the Mill Creek Inn last fall on Yelp]