Saturday, July 23, 2016

Restaurant Review – Pappy’s Café aka Pappy’s Tavern

Review by Don Taylor

Pappy's Tavern - Andover, Minnesota
It is rare that I go to the same restaurant two times in a row; however, I during my recent visit to Minnesota I went twice with friends to Pappy’s Café (The sign outside says Pappy’s Tavern while the menu says Pappy’s Café. People who know me know I really love a good breakfast, so two sets of friends on two separate days took me to Pappy’s.

Frist, I went with friends from Blaine, MN, who live about 10 miles from Pappy’s. When we arrived, the place was very busy. We threaded our way to the back to a table next to the pull tab sales booth. It was busy, but it made buying pull tabs easy for my friend who only needed to turn around to purchase them.

We ordered Bloody Marys while we reviewed the menu.

The waitress, Sidra, brought the Bloody Marys with a snit. It had been a long time since I had a Bloody Mary in the Midwest that I had forgotten the tradition of having a small beer chaser (called a snit) with your Bloody Mary. We clinked glasses, toasted our friendship, and then ordered.

I ordered a “Western Skillet,” two country fresh eggs, sausage, green peppers, onions & cheese. A hearty breakfast to be sure. One friend ordered hash and eggs; the other ordered a mushroom and cheese omelet.

We bought some pull tabs while we waited for our food. I always lose with those things, and this was no different. I’m not sure what the pull tabs there benefit, but I’m sure it must be a good cause.

Western Skillet at Pappy's Tavern
Andover, MN
When the food arrived, I could see my skillet was a perfect mix of diced ham, onions, peppers mixed into hash browns with eggs over-hard on top. I couldn’t have asked for more.

I don’t care for mushrooms. However, my friend’s mushroom omelet looked nicely folded. The accompanying hash browns were a beautiful square of brown goodness, and the marble toast looked properly toasted. The hash and eggs of my other friend order looked suspiciously like Mary Kitchen. We were all pleased with our breakfasts. Another Bloody Mary to go with breakfast, coffee, some water and I was hydrated.

The omelet and hash browns
on the second visit.
The beautiful, crispy, hash browns
on the first visit
That day I was visiting friends in Oak Grove, about nine miles north of Pappy’s. After an evening and a night of catching up in Oak Grove, my hosts suggested going out for breakfast before I headed to visit my mother in Buffalo. She suggested we go to a place she and many of her guests go to often. Had she said we were going to “Pappy’s” I would have known exactly where we were going.

We arrived about a half-hour earlier than I had arrived the day before. It was busy, but there were still a few vacant tables. We had the same waitress as I did the day before. She remembered me, and we joked about how I seem to know many of their regular customers. We ordered Bloody Marys all around and reviewed the menu.

Across the room, I saw a specials board and saw they had chicken fried steak. I thought, wow, I wonder how Pappy’s compares with Travis Restaurant. I had eaten chicken fried steak there just a few days earlier when I was in Detroit (See Review: Travis Restaurant).

Chicken Fried Steak and Eggs
Pappy's Tavern - Andover, MN
My chicken fried steak was considerably smaller at Pappy’s than it had been at Travis. It also had a couple small bits of gristle that I didn’t experience at Travis, but it was okay. The gravy was also good, but I would have liked more of it. The hash browns needed a bit more cooking time.

It must have been a different cook. All-in-all the food wasn’t nearly as good the second day. The omelets weren't as nicely folded; the hash browns were not as nice and brown. (See comparison photos above. Half of the toast was missing on one plate. Don’t know if it was the cook’s fault or the server’s fault. Don’t get me wrong, it not that it was bad, it just that it wasn’t quite as good as the day before. However, the Bloody Marys were just as good as the day before.

Rating: 3.8

Ambiance: 2 (Typical strip-mall diner but more crowded (tables were close together) then most.)
Food: 4 (Every item was cooked perfectly the first day (5), not quite as good the second day.(3)
Service: 4 (Server was friendly and attentive although very busy.)
Price: 5 (Breakfast: Western Skillet was $8.29.)
Value: 4 (Good hearty breakfast at an excellent price..)


Would I go back -- Absolutely? It was good food at a good price.


Pappy’s Café is at
13827 Round Lake Blvd.
Andover MN 55304

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Review: Travis Restaurant - Clinton Township, Michigan

Review by Don Taylor

My sister and I were about during Memorial Day. After an early start and a long day of paying our respects at various cemeteries in the Detroit area, we decided we were finally done and it was time to eat. We were both famished and stopped at a place for a late lunch, early dinner. We stopped someplace, (I forget where) and learned that the place closed at 3:00 PM because of the holiday. She then suggested we go to Travis Restaurant in Clinton Township. She said they have good food at a great price. She couldn't have been more right on.

Travis Restaurant, Clinton Twp, MI
Photo from Google Maps
Travis Restaurant is what I call, a "hole in the mall" restaurant -- a small strip mall with several different businesses in it. We arrived about 3:45 in the afternoon and they still would serve breakfast, my favorite meal of the day. It has been my experience that if you want to judge a place on their breakfast there are two things to order. First, if they make their own hash, I like to try their hash and eggs.  If they use Mary Kitchen out of the can, that is a definite mark against them.  I'd rather they not serve hash than hash out of the can. The second best thing to try their country fried steak.  Not only can you tell the quality of the meat they use, you can also tell about their gravy.

So, I ordered the Country Fried Steak "smothered in homemade sausage gravy" along with two eggs and hashbrowns. 'Cause everything is better with bacon, I ordered a side of bacon to go with it. My sister ordered a club sandwich without tomato. If I was still hungry shame on me, 'cause I definitely ordered enough food.

Country Fried Steak, Hash Browns, two eggs, & toast
with an extra side of bacon and extra butter.
Travis Restaurant, Clinton Township, Michigan
Photo by Don Taylor
When the food arrived, I looked with awe upon my breakfast. I then began tasting it - Delicious. The country fried steak was most excellent. I found no gristle or tough places. It really was smothered in a thick, homemade sausage gravy that tasted superb - not bland nor over spiced either.  I don't know that I've ever had any better. The bacon was crispy and, to me, perfect.  The hash browns were cooked nicely. The sourdough toast didn't have enough butter for my liking so I asked for additional butter, which came quickly. The only detraction was that the eggs came over well instead of over hard, as I had ordered. (Over hard means the yoke is broken, over well means the yokes are cooked to have no runniness.) All in all, it was one of the best breakfasts I've had in a long time.

The atmosphere was such that my sister could have a nice conversation about our day.  It was an excellent experience.

Rating: 4.6

Ambiance: 3 (A typical neighborhood diner environment.)
Food: 5 (I probably couldn't have cooked it better.)
Service: 5 (Staff was friendly and extremely attentive.)
Price: 5 (Meals were under $10 each, not including drinks)
Value: 5 (For lunch I don’t know of many places better.)

Travis Restaurant is located at 34400 Harper Avenue in Clinton Twp, Michigan. I will happily stop again.

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Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Review: Pine Point Grill - Sublime Dining

By Don Taylor

When we want a really great meal, we go to the Pine Point Grille in Scarborough. I think it is the best restaurant I've ever been to that doesn't have tablecloths. The food is elevated, I'd even say gourmet, and the service is impeccable.

We had two reasons for going to the Pine Point Grille. First, my wife's birthday was last March. She wanted to go there for her birthday, but they hadn't opened for the season yet. Our going kept getting put off and I needed to make good on my promise to her.  Second, we had an out of town guest that we wanted to take to dinner. The Pine Point Grille seemed to be the perfect place to do both.

We arrived early -- opening time, which is at 5 PM. and ordered drinks. We took our time with the menu. I'm a native of Minnesota, where "Tater Tot hot dish" is a staple. I was amazed reading about how the Pine Point Grill was elevating the humble Tater Tot ® to gourmet status with truffle ketchup, black garlic aioli, and Romano. It sounded so delicious -- I had to have it. I also ordered a Pine Point Burger with bacon and sautéed onions and French fries. My wife and our guest ordered the ribeye with black garlic mashed, succotash, and a demi-glaze.

Tater Tots at the Pine Point Grill
Photo by Don Taylor
In a few minutes, the Tater Tots arrived. They looked beautiful and tasted fantastic - perfect crunch on the outside and creamy potato inside. The truffle ketchup was excellent, not at all overpowering. The black garlic aioli was sublime. I learned from our wait person that the chef made the black garlic over the course of several weeks. Well, his or her efforts produce an amazing result. The gentle sweetness and rich flavor of the aioli is just what an elevated Tater Tot needs.  Wow.

My burger and my companion's ribeye's arrived. The burger was cooked exactly as I desired. It was flavorful and juicy without making a greasy mess.  The bacon was perfectly crisp. It was definitely the best burger I've had in quite a while. The accompanying French fries were excellent as well. Nice crispy outside and creamy inside.

Ribeye with black garlic mashed potatoes and
Succotash. Photo by Don Taylor
My wife's ribeye was cooked perfectly -- medium rare exactly as she asked. A great job with a great cut of meat. The use of the black garlic in the mashed potatoes made the potatoes unique and incredibly delicious. Finally, the succotash was apparently made from fresh ingredients and complemented the meal perfectly.

I'm looking forward to our next visit to the Pine Point Grill. I'm not a big fan of Brussels sprouts, but the order I saw go by to another table looked really delicious.

Rating: 4.6

  • Ambiance: 4 (Clean and open, good for conversations.)
  • Food: 5 (Everything was amazingly delicious.)
  • Service: 5 (Staff was friendly and extremely attentive.)
  • Price: 4 (Dinner about $25, not including drinks. )
  • Value: 5 (I don’t know of many places better.)

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Review: The Tilted Kilt - South Portland

By Don Taylor

I have liked The Tilted Kilt ever since I visited my first "TKs" I was hooked. Great atmosphere, great food, and an excellent bar.  What more could you ask for?  When I lived in Georgia, I and my co-workers, particularly our out-of-town visitors would enjoy a trip to TKs.  Yes, I know what you are thinking, it was for the scantily clad young women. But no,  it was for the food.

When I moved to Maine two years ago, I was disappointed that there were no TKs in Maine.  Luckily, last fall one opened up in South Portland.  It was definitely on my list to check them out.

Tilted Kilt Bar & Eatery, South Portland
Photo by Don Taylor
It had taken several months before I had a chance to get there.  When I arrived, I felt like I was back home.  Because I was alone, I decided to sit at the bar. It was a warm day, so I ordered a Leinenkugels Summer Shandy from their excellent beer menu.

I took a look at the food menu. I've been on a fish tacos kick lately and thought, why not give the fish tacos at TKs a try. Then the lights started to flicker.  On-off-on-off... on again... then off. This time for good. After a few minutes, the server came by and let me know the kitchen was still open; they use gas for their grills. Just about the only thing they couldn't do was the fish tacos.  Bummer.  My recollection was that their Irish Nachos were superb. I don't recall the option before to ask for them "spicy" with a "zesty-hot ground sausage blend." I thought that sounded excellent.

In a few minutes, the Irish nachos arrived and they were, in fact, excellent.  They use an in-house made thick potato chip that is crispy.  The sausage blend was good and the proportion of chips, meat, and sauce were perfect.  They may have been the best nachos I've ever had, Irish or not. I loved them! I did try to take a photo of the Irish nachos for this blog, but it didn't come out. In the twilight darkness of the no-power restaurant, my old iPhone flash made the colors wrong.

I finished eating and was finishing my beer when the power was restored; the 20-plus televisions started up with a "Matrix-like" view.  It was cool to watch.

It is not fair to judge service or critique during the stressful time of no power. So, I will just need to go back and do a full review later. ;)

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Thrifty Car Rental - Detroit Airport - Never again

One of my worst car rental experiences ever.

I should have realized things were going to go badly when it started to rain the decrepit van carrying us to the rental site leaked from the roof. The driver would make a turn, and the water would come flooding in.

I spent forty-five minutes standing in line. Neither of the two rental representatives appeared to care the slightest that the line was very long and slow. It appeared that one of the two representatives was new and needed a lot of assistance from the other. While I was in line, it seemed that a manager came out from the back and gave the person some help. That was good, but it would have been nice if he had stayed out and helped to work down the line. He quickly vanished, never to be seen again.
I knew that Hertz owned Dollar and Thrifty, but I didn't realize that their cars were interchangeable, so when I went out to get the vehicle. It was in the Dollar row and had nothing to indicate it was a Thrifty rental. I went back to confirm that I was supposed to take a car from the Dollar cars. There were two cars in the "Mid-sized" row, both Dodge Darts. I checked one of them for body damage and left with it.

Once outside the gate I began to realize that the shocks were pretty well shot. I felt every pothole during my stay in Detroit. I'll tell you there are a lot of potholes in Detroit during "road repair season." I was amazed that a car with only 20,000 miles could ride so rough.

Returning the car was easy and quick and the ride back to the airport was in a different, and better, van.

There are a lot of different car rental companies competing for my business. However, between the 45-minute lone line and the car's shocks were so badly worn, I'll never return to Thrifty Car Rental at the Detroit airport again. I probably won't book with Thrifty anywhere for that matter. That is too bad; I liked Thrifty a lot once upon a time.


  • Reservation - Excellent (I reserved through AARP/Expedia)
  • Pickup - Fair - 10 minute wait for van, bumpy, noisy ride to the rental site.
  • Line - Bad - 45-minute wait in line
  • Car - Poor - bad shocks. No electronics (sync, backup camera, etc.)
  • Return - Good - Excellent checkout and a good van ride back to the terminal. 

Overall: 2.5 Stars.

Note: Reservation was not considered in overall rating because it was through a third party.