Report Card: Eddie Merlot’s Part 2

Eddie Merlot's

Eddie Merlot’s

Eddie Merlot's on Urbanspoon

http://www.eddiemerlots.com/

Overall GrubGrade A-

The Breakdown:

Atmosphere: Grade A: We first visited Eddie Merlot’s a couple of years before we started this website. For us, Eddie’s is like that first high school crush – we couldn’t imagine any better until we got some experience. Eddie Merlot’s was one of the first upscale dining establishments we visited, and we fell in love. It was the standard by which we judged all other restaurants from that point on. We have already reviewed Eddie Merlot’s once, but we were sure that if we revisited, Eddie’s would get a better overall grade than before – and it did. But based on our previous experiences, we expect Eddie Merlot’s to score and Overall Grubgrade of A+, so the score of A- is a little disappointing to us. Inside and out, Eddie Merlot’s oozes class and upscale sophistication. The atmosphere is just about perfect, and Eddie Merlot’s is one of our top picks for a date restaurant. We had a slight issue this visit with some dirty glassware, which isn’t the end of the world but cannot be tolerated at a restaurant this upscale and that charges the amount of money Eddie Merlot’s charges.

High marks: Upscale and nearly perfect

Low marks: One dirty glass

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Service: Grade A+: Our server on this visit was named Monica. The service was flawless. Monica seemed a little too formal, but with this type of setting we really can’t fault her for taking her job seriously. Our only complaint, and it is a small one, applies to this visit to Eddie Merlot’s but also applies to a whole bunch of other visits to restaurants we’ve had. For most restaurants, the server will ask if you have dined at that establishment before. We hit Eddie Merlot’s at least 2 or 3 times a year for the past 3 to 4 years, so we’re pretty comfortable with the menu. Even after relaying this fact to Monica, she still felt the need to tell us about the toppings for the steak and how the steak is cut in house, etc, etc. Those are all great facts to know, and we would have been really impressed had this been our first dance with Eddie’s, but the spiel was really just a waste of everyone’s time. We didn’t penalize her for schooling us on all things Eddie because she is probably required to do so, but in the future we would appreciate our server to allow us to ask questions if we need to and save the script for the newbies.

High marks: Quick, accurate, flawless service

Low marks: Unnecessary lesson on steak delayed our gratification

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Food/Spirits: Grade B+: Here is where we get a tad bit disappointed. We fully expect Eddie Merlot’s, due to their reputation and the price of their food, to get no less than an A in this category. As such, we are disappointed with the B+ (actually, that is probably a bit generous in this instance). For drinks, Katina ordered a martini called a Berry White and I opted for a cocktail called Eddie’s Paradise Infusion. Katina’s martini had a pronounced berry flavor and was very sweet. The drink has a slight but very tolerable alcohol bite. The Paradise Infusion had absolutely no alcohol bite, but I am sure it did have alcohol in it because my noggin started feeling all warm and fuzzy after the first couple of sips. The Paradise Infusion has slight pineapple flavor, but the flavor wasn’t a strong as I expected. For our appetizer, we ordered the Filet Mignon Pot Stickers. The pot-stickers were good, but there wasn’t much going on with them. We frankly expected something a little less simple. The pot-stickers were crammed full of meat, but there wasn’t much else inside. We felt like more could have been done with them. Plus, the pot-stickers were served with a soy sauce that helped kick up the flavor, but we thought Eddie Merlot’s was a little skimpy with the sauce. We selected the tempura green beans for our side, and Katina ordered the twin lobster tails (don’t faint with surprise) and I ordered the Trio of Medallions for our entrees. The tempura green beans were crisp and lightly battered, and the creamy wasabi sauce was the best we’ve had. Honestly, Eddie Merlot’s has the best sides of ANY restaurant we’ve been to, with the lobster mac and cheese being the absolute cat’s pajamas. When we do lobster tails, the standard we use for comparison is Bonefish Grill. While the lobster tails at Eddie Merlot’s were bigger (and over double the price) than those at Bonefish, we still find Bonefish Grill prepares them better, and their butter sauce is the best. We thought the tails at Eddie’s were just a tad on the tough side, but Katina really liked that Monica de-shelled the tails for her. The Trio of Medallions were simply awesome. I almost didn’t order them, but I am glad I did. The medallions were perfectly cooked, and each medallion was topped with a different topping. For me, the Gorgonzola bacon topping was hands down the best tasting, with the peppercorn in second place and the Oscar-style in third. The Oscar-style topping had a brown-sugary taste to it that was inexplicable and a little off-putting.

High marks: The Trio of Medallions were awesome, tempura green beans the best we’ve had

Low marks: A little stingy with the sauce, lobster tails a little tough

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Value: Grade B-: With a coupon (which is embarrassing), we still dropped well over $150 for two of us, and we skipped dessert. The food and atmosphere are about the best you can find in Columbus, but you are certainly going to pay for it. We usually grade this category based on what we expected to spend versus what we actually do spend. We knew Eddie Merlot’s was expensive, but with skipping dessert we would have expected to spend $15 to $20 less. We highly recommend Eddie Merlot’s, especially if you are looking for a special experience, and although it is no longer our top restaurant (it is still in the top 5), it is still about the best place to indulge in Columbus.

High marks: The entire experience is about the best you can find in the area

Low marks: Seems pricier that our last visit

 

Report Card: Flannery’s Pub

Flannery's Pub in downtown Cleveland

Flannery’s Pub in downtown Cleveland

Flannery's Pub on Urbanspoon

Overall GrubGrade B+

The Breakdown:

Atmosphere: Grade A-: It was a windy, dark evening when we stopped by Flannery’s Pub. We had just checked into our hotel, and wanted someplace close to eat. Flannery’s was on our bucket list from our previous visit to Cleveland, but we just couldn’t fit it into our schedule. This time, however, we were on a mission. We made a beeline to Flannery’s, partly because the sky was threatening rain and partly because we were famished. Flannery’s Pub looks and feels exactly like you would expect an Irish pub should look and feel. The place was devoid of any upscale, pretentious décor, and the inside was a lot larger than we expected, especially with a downtown location. We think the threat of rain kept a lot of would be patrons inside, so there were not many people in Flannery’s at all. Well worn tables and lots of wood greeted us, and the casual atmosphere was welcomed after a day of traveling. If you’re looking for an authentic looking Irish Pub, Flannery’s should be atop your short list.

High marks: Looks and feel like an Irish pub should

Low marks: None…an A- is about as good as a pub can score in this category

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Service: Grade B+: Our server, Tim, was quite friendly and had a good sense of humor. However, the service itself was pretty straight forward. And even though our server was friendly, we didn’t seem to have a whole lot of interaction with him. I thought that was a missed opportunity, especially after we told him we were from Columbus. Since the rest of Flannery’s was empty, he missed an opportunity to give us his take on downtown Cleveland, and he probably missed out on a bigger tip. The food came out with minimal wait, and there were no glaring errors with our service.

High marks: Accurate, friendly, and fast

Low marks: A little bland

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Food/Spirits: Grade B: For drinks, Katina opted for a margarita and I ordered a couple of Boddington’s – but I didn’t order them both at the same time (that would be a cry for help). The Boddington’s were good but nothing mind blowing, but what needs to be discussed is the margarita. It wasn’t the best or the worst margarita that Katina has tasted, but who really cares. The important thing is that she ordered a margarita while at an Irish pub. You all do see why that’s messed up. If the Irish didn’t invent drinking alcohol, they certainly perfected the art. So to go Mexican just seemed sacrilegious. For our appetizer, we ordered two – I told you we were famished. We tried both the spicy garlic chicken wings and the Boom Boom Shrimp. In hindsight, it was probably a wasted opportunity. We ordered the chicken wings to see of Flannery’s could recreate the magic we experienced in Charlotte, NC when we visited Ri Ra. And while the wings were good, they weren’t close to the ones from Ri Ra. We found the spicy garlic sauce in which the wings were tossed to be very tasty, but without much spiciness. We sampled the Boom Boom Shrimp because we wanted to see if it was close to the Bang Bang Shrimp from Bonefish Grill. The result was similar to the wings. The shrimp was tasty, but could have used more sauce and been a bit spicier. Katina ordered the Pub Burger for her entree and I ordered the Smoked Gouda and Bacon Meatloaf. The Pub Burger is Flannery’s take on the barbecue bacon cheeseburger. Topped with jack cheese, bacon, and house made barbecue sauce, Katina found herself enjoying the burger but could have used more sauce (she always wants more sauce). As for my dish – look at what it’s called again: Smoked Gouda and Bacon Meatloaf. How could that be anything but fantastic. Actually, I was a little taken aback by the flavor when I tried it. I didn’t feel like I could taste any of the individual ingredients but instead got the unique flavor of the combination. It was unique tasting, and I was a dozen or so bites into the meatloaf before I decided I liked it. So if you love Gouda and bacon and think you have a handle on what this meatloaf tastes like, you’re wrong. If you order it, eat at least half of it before deciding thumbs up or thumbs down.

High marks: Unique tasting meatloaf, good appetizers and burger

Low marks: Almost everything needed a little more sauce

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Value: Grade B: We kind of pigged out, so the fact the we had two appetizers, two adult beverages each, and entrees without doling out a Ben Franklin was pretty good. However, we didn’t really order any big ticket items like steak or lobster, so dropping $80 is bordering on a little steep. But the rational couple can probably have a nice meal for around $50 if you’re in the mood for some Irish pub fare. And if you are in the mood, Flannery’s Pub is a good choice.

High marks: Lot of food and booze for the money

Low marks: Still pricey considering actual food ordered

Report Card: Koto Japanese Steakhouse


Koto Japanese Steakhouse on Urbanspoon

http://kotocincinnati.com/

 

Overall GrubGrade B-

The Breakdown:

Atmosphere: Grade B: We stopped by Koto Japanese Steakhouse in Cincinnati on our way home from Nashville. It just happened to be Katina’s birthday on the evening we visited, so I was hoping for a really nice experience. I was disappointed. There’s nothing wrong with Koto, but it is not a place to take someone for a romantic experience. First, the place was nearly impossible to find. My car’s navigation system and Katina’s Magellan-like sense of direction were both challenged trying to locate Koto. Once we finally arrived, we found a pretty typical looking Japanese steakhouse with typical Japanese steakhouse décor. There were only a few other diners in the place, and that was a good thing since Koto’s appeared to be woefully understaffed. But it was quiet while we waited to start our meal, and that at least gave Katina and I a chance to chat.

High marks: Quiet and almost empty

Low marks: Hard to locate

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Service: Grade C+: Our server’s name was Julie, and she did a fairly commendable job in taking our order and snagging us some drinks, although it did seem to take a bit before the drinks actually arrived. The poor service grade comes from the fact that there appeared to be only one hibachi samurai manning the table-side grills. So, after we arrived we had to watch this guy cook for the two tables next to us. Add the fact that we had been driving pretty much the entire day, and the restaurant staff were lucky I didn’t brain them with a wooden bowl and grill them right next to the traditional onion volcano that is always present at Japanese steakhouses. Once our “chef” got going, he whipped the food up fairly quickly and with a decent amount of showmanship. It’s just a shame there weren’t two or three of them on duty.

High marks: Decent showmanship from hibachi chef

Low marks: Very long wait to get meal started

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Food/Spirits: Grade B: Koto Japanese Steakhouse is not the best Japanese steakhouse we’ve been to, but it certainly isn’t the worst either (that would be you, Benihana). For drinks, I opted for a couple of giant-sized Sapporos, and Katina opted for a drink called Constant Buzz. The Constant Buzz was good, but not really strong enough to warrant an awesome name like Constant Buzz. Most of the beer drinkers out there have had a Sapporo before, but if you haven’t tried one you should. You might find the light taste to be right up your alley. For our entree, we ordered the Dinner for Two, which came with chicken, shrimp, lobster, and filet mignon. The food was actually pretty good once cooked, but again, we might not be objective since we were hungry enough to briefly consider cannibalism. Plus, Koto Japanese Steakhouse had their own version of Genji’s Yum-Yum sauce, and it tasted pretty close to the original. And finally, we got more fried rice with our meal than we have ever received at a Japanese steakhouse before, and the fried rice was really good.

On a side note, even though Katina and I love the hibachi style food served at Japanese steakhouses, our visit to Koto underscores one of the drawbacks to this style of dining – the other diners. Sitting at a table with a bunch of strangers inevitably leads to a conversation with said bunch of strangers, whether it is wanted or not. The other people at our table weren’t bad, though. But the real action was happening next door, at the table to our right. It was here that Katina and I watched a couple of late twenty-something/early thirty-something “studs” doing their best to pick up a couple of “wholesome young women” that were seated at their table. The “studs,” in this case, were a couple techno-nerds visiting the Queen City for something to do with cell phones. The “wholesome young women” were a couple of late 30’s/early 40’s Kim Cattral wannabes who were not playing hard to get. I imagine if we would have stuck around for another half-hour we could have watched them play spin the bottle. That was much more entertaining than our hibachi chef’s onion volcano.

High marks: Pretty good food and lots of rice

Low marks: Weak mixed drink, same old Japanese steakhouse tricks

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Value: Grade B: It’s hard to score Koto Japanese Steakhouse any higher because of the very long wait and apparent staffing issues. However, food quality and portion size were a little above average, and the entertainment was top notch. While not able to supplant Genji’s as our all time favorite in this category, Koto performed well enough on most fronts to make us feel comfortable recommending you give them a try if you’re in the neighborhood (and you can find them).

High marks: Portion size, quality

Low marks: Nothing able to make up for eternal wait

Report Card: Bon Vie Bistro


Bon Vie Bistro on Urbanspoon

http://bon-vie.com/index.html

 

Overall GrubGrade B-

The Breakdown:

Atmosphere: Grade B: We’re fans of Brio and Bravo, so there is no reason that we wouldn’t be big fans of Bon Vie since they are all owned by the same parent company. We stopped by the Bon Vie Bistro at the Easton Town Center at about 4:30pm on a Friday. The restaurant was fairly empty, so it looked like we beat the evening dinner rush. We’re not exactly sure that Bon Vie was even ready to go with the dinner service since we were seated with lunch menus to order from. After a few minutes of looking at the menu and wondering why some of the dishes we saw on the online menu were absent, Katina figured out we had lunch menus instead of dinner menus. We stopped a passing server and were promptly brought dinner menus. The décor was nice and the restaurant was clean. But, one of our big pet peeves was present – the bench seat. Check out our review of the Cheesecake Factory to see how much we really hate the bench seat. I know my wife appears to be out of my league, but I do assume that most of the restaurant staff know that we are on a date. As such, why, may I ask, do you insist on sitting us at that stupid bench seat? Since we were the only ones there, it wasn’t a real big deal at first, but by the time we left we had groups of 4 on each side of us, so privacy was nil. Couple that with the fact that the music was too loud, and any romantic atmosphere that Bon Vie started with was quickly wiped away.

High marks: Clean, not crowded (at first), nicely decorated

Low marks: Given lunch menus, that horrific bench seat, no privacy

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Service: Grade B: If you look up the word “stiff” or “serious” in the dictionary, you might see a picture of our server, Tim, with the definition. And while all our needs were met and our service was timely and accurate, we were a little uncomfortable because our server seemed almost too intense. We certainly appreciate someone who takes their job responsibilities seriously, but diners want a relaxing experience when they visit a restaurant, and we just didn’t feel relaxed when our server was nearby. We still had to give Tim a “B” since he performed his duties professionally, but had he cracked a joke or projected some friendliness, that grade would have probably been an “A.”

High marks: Accurate, timely, very professional

Low marks: Too stiff and formal

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Food/Spirits: Grade B-: We both started out with raspberry mojitos, which has strong but not overwhelming raspberry flavor with no alcohol bite. Unfortunately, we had quite a bit of a wait for our drinks. While we were waiting, our server brought us some bread. Now since Bon Vie has a French vibe going on, we were assuming the bread would be really good. It was mediocre, and certainly not sliced at all. Other than eating crab legs, when we are paying for a meal, we’d like to keep the manual labor down to a minimum. So, Bon Vie, we suggest you take a couple of minutes and slice that loaf of bread for your patrons next time. We ordered the Sweet Chili Calamari and Shrimp for our appetizer. The calamari and shrimp were lightly breaded and had a nice flavor, but the sauce was a little on the skimpy side, and that was where most of the flavor was stashed. But, overall it was a pretty nice appetizer. By the end of our appetizer, our drinks were dry so Katina ordered a Strawberry Basil Lemonade and I ordered a beer called Kronenburg 1664. The strawberry lemonade (we’re not sure where the basil was hiding, but we never found it) was very sweet and sugary tasting. The beer, on the other hand, has almost no flavor. It would be a good beer for someone who doesn’t drink a lot of beer. For entrees, Katina ordered the Crab Crusted Tilapia and I ordered the Grilled NY Strip. The tilapia, like the appetizer, needed more sauce. The fish itself had a nice flavor, and the haricots verts that accompanied both entrees were fantastic. The tilapia also came with a vegetable blend that was also very tasty. The NY Strip was cooked to the perfect temperature, but way under-seasoned and dry. The menu stated it was supposed to come with truffle butter, but we couldn’t detect and butter anywhere in or on the dish. I opted to swap the baked potato for their fries, which was a good call as the fries were delightful. Had the quality of the preparation matched the quality of the cut of beef, then the dish would have been much, much better.

High marks: Decent calamari, great haricots verts and fries

Low marks: Entrees needed more sauce and more seasoning

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Value: Grade B-: We weren’t blown away by either the portion sizes or the quality of the food, so coming close to dropping a Benjamin for just the two of us seemed a little steep (and, I am ashamed to admit, we had a coupon – so it would have been over $100). Parts of the meal were really good, but others were just slightly better than average. Bon Vie Bistro is certainly a viable choice if you are out at Easton Town Center and want mix it up a bit, but we wouldn’t recommend making a trip out there just for the dining experience.

High marks: Parts of meal very nicely executed

Low marks: A little expensive for the quality

Report Card: Amerigo Italian Restaurant

Amerigo Italian restaurant

Amerigo Italian restaurant

Amerigo Italian Restaurant on Urbanspoon

http://amerigo.net/

 

Overall GrubGrade A-

The Breakdown:

Atmosphere: Grade A-: After our knockout first evening in Nashville at Burger Republic, we were pretty excited to try some Italian food. Katina chose Amerigo Italian Restaurant, and she hit it out of the park. When we arrived, Amerigo’s wasn’t too busy, and we were sat in a table near the back of the restaurant. That allowed us to get a nice look at the décor of the restaurant on our way through. With the muted lighting and the dark wood paneling, Amerigo’s had a nice romantic vibe going. Add to that our server with her European accent, and we starting to border on exotic. There were no other diner’s in the area where we were sitting, so we felt as if we had the restaurant to ourselves. We found Amerigo Italian Restaurant to be very nice and bordering on the upscale, but it was just missing that something that made you feel like you were going to have an awesome dining experience.

High marks: Almost everything

Low marks: Pretty much nothing

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Service: Grade B+: We dined at Amerigo’s a little over 2 months ago. Unfortunately, we don’t remember anything specific about the dinner service except that our server had a lovely accent. The fact that we do not remember the service means two things: there was nothing wrong with the service and there was nothing special about it, either.

High marks: Nothing wrong with service

Low marks: Nothing overly special or memorable about service

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Food/Spirits: Grade A-: Katina behaved herself on this occasion and just ordered iced tea to drink. I, on the other hand, selected the Turtle Anarchy Portly Stout for my beverage. It was dark and creamy with a slight bitter finish. I found the beer to be very sessionable and found it to be one of the better new beers I’ve samples recently. For an appetizer, Katina and I shared an order of calamari. The calamari was lightly breaded and served with an excellent pesto dipping sauce. Amerigo’s was the first restaurant we’ve been to in months to nail the calamari. I also ordered the soup of the day, which happened to be homemade chicken noodle soup. Katina tasted the soup as well, and then proceeded to help me finish it. The soup was an excellent and unexpected surprise. The soup had an almost rustic flavor with an excellent broth and a ton of shredded chicken. It wasn’t thick, but it tasted thick (if that makes sense). The soup would have been perfect if there were a few more homemade noodles in it. But this was one of the best soups either of us have had, and definitely the BEST chicken noodle soup we’ve ever tasted. For entrees, Katina ordered the veal marsala and I ordered the 5-layer lasagna. Katina felt like the veal marsala had really good flavor. The veal marsala was nice and saucy (just like she prefers it) and she really enjoyed the homemade noodles. The noodles had a thicker texture and were almost dumpling-like. The marsala sauce had a great flavor with a real heartiness to it. Katina did feel like she could have used more noodles in the dish, but otherwise it was an excellent dish. The 5-layer lasagna wasn’t the best lasagna I’ve ever had. It was good, though. I found it to be a little too soupy for lasagna, but my real issue with the dish was how hot (temperature-wise) it was served. I could have gotten a similar experience eating a spoonful of lava. I do not understand how any normal human being could have been expected to eat that dish without lighting their mouth on fire. It would have been a little more tolerable if the lasagna would have been cooked 10 minutes before the rest of the food.

High marks: Noodles were excellent, excellent beer, spot on calamari, best chicken noodle soup ever

Low marks: Lasagna was more like lava than pasta

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Value: Grade B+: We didn’t have to take out a third mortgage to pay for our dinner, and the quality for most of the meal was above our expectations. If you live in Nashville, or you plan on visiting, Amerigo Italian Restaurant should be at the top of your list, especially if you have a craving for some pasta.

High marks: Superior quality

Low marks: Not the cheapest meal around (but worth it)

 

Report Card: Puffy Muffin

Puffy Muffin

Puffy Muffin

Puffy Muffin on Urbanspoon

http://www.puffymuffin.com

 

Overall GrubGrade B-

The Breakdown:

Atmosphere: Grade B: First things first…do NOT Google the phrase Puffy Muffin without your parental controls turned on…at least not if your kids are in the room. The Puffy Muffin we visited was in Brentwood, TN (right outside of Nashville). We stopped to snag some breakfast prior to starting our return trek to Ohio. Puffy Muffin is a fairly small and quaint, with a lot of room dedicated to display cases filled with baked goods. This gave us the impression that the Muffin is more bakery than restaurant. There were quite a few patrons in the place when we arrived at 10:00 am, but everyone was spaced apart enough that we didn’t feel intruded upon.

High marks: Small and quaint

Low marks: More bakery than restaurant

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Service: Grade B: Our server was named Dana. Her performed adequately, but there was nothing special about the service. Again, we couldn’t help getting the impression that menu was a secondary service and that the bakery was the primary purpose of Puffy Muffin. We didn’t have too much of a wait for our food, and our order was served up accurately. We ordered some cookies to go and had a bit of a problem getting the correct ones, but once we told Dana the mistake she corrected it quickly.

High marks: Quick

Low marks: Minor error in “to go” order, not much emphasis on restaurant compared to bakery

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Food/Spirits: Grade B-: We had coffee to drink (Katina and I have reached the age where morning coffee is less a luxury and more a necessity). Our meal at Puffy Muffin reopened a debate that Katina and I have had since we started dating – Is breakfast a time of day, or a type of food? For Katina, any food is considered breakfast as long as it is the first meal of the day she eats. Anything from left-over seafood to a carton of Chinese take-out, it doesn’t matter. It is considered fair game for breakfast. I, on the other hand, contend that breakfast is a type of food, like scrambled eggs, French Toast, waffles, pancakes, and cereal. If I were to eat a waffle at 5:00pm, I would suggest that I have had breakfast for dinner. The point is that Katina ordered a chicken quesadilla for breakfast, which in turn forced me to order the Roadhouse Burger so that I wouldn’t look weird eating breakfast while the rest of my party was partaking in lunch. I mentioned in the section on service that we didn’t have much wait for our food, and you could tell by the look of Katina’s chicken quesadilla. Most of the quesadillas we’ve had were stuffed with ingredients that were diced up into fairly small bits. We wish our food would have taken an extra 5 minutes to come out to us, that way the cook would have had time to actually chop up the ingredients. Instead, we got a quesadilla stuffed with huge chunks of chicken that was very bland tasting. The Roadhouse Burger was nicely prepared, but there was nothing really special about it. The cookies we ordered to go were pretty good, but even those didn’t blow our socks off.

High marks: Decent cookies, solid Roadhouse Burger

Low marks: Poor execution on the chicken quesadilla

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Value: Grade B-: The food was decent, but nothing spectacular. We dropped $40 for breakfast (after tip) which seems a little steep considering that we weren’t pining for a Puffy Muffin to open in Columbus after we finished eating. Our suggestion is to save Puffy Muffin when you in fact need to get some muffins, and skip the whole restaurant thing with them.

High marks: Decent food (we’ve had much worse)

Low marks: Overpriced – better bakery than restaurant

 

Report Card: Burger Republic

Burger Republic

Burger Republic

Burger Republic on Urbanspoon

http://burgerrepublic.com/

 

Overall GrubGrade A+

The Breakdown:

Atmosphere: Grade B+: We were quite relieved when we finally arrived at Burger Republic. We visited the location in Brentwood, which is a suburb of Nashville. We had some difficulty finding the place, despite punching in the address in our navigation system. Take a good look at the picture above, because you might need to know what the outside of the place looks like if you aren’t familiar with the area. After some confusing walking about in circles, we finally located the entrance of Burger Republic. There’s nothing really noteworthy about the outside of the place, and on the inside, it seemed a little small. That perception might be because the place was insanely busy. The inside of Burger Republic looked like a cross between a garage, a bar, and a burger joint. We, of course, had never heard of Burger Republic, but we were definitely in the minority. We waited a good 15 to 20 minutes for a table to open up, and we had been traveling all day, so expectations were high. Read on to hear how Burger Republic shattered them.

High marks: Nice for a burger place

Low marks: Busy, noisy, and really hard to find

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Service: Grade A: It’s been a good month and a half since we visited Burger Republic, and for the life of me I can not remember the name of our server. That’s a real shame since he was fantastic. He was a little alternative looking, but other than that he provided us with phenomenal service. He was engaging and offered us some hints to tweak our dishes to make them better. He also brought us some horseradish aioli to go with our appetizer that wasn’t normally included. Our order was prepared accurately, and other than a slight delay in getting our check, everything progressed nicely even though Burger Republic was very busy. This score might have been an A+ if not for that slight delay.

High marks: Personable, accurate, great suggestions

Low marks: Delay in getting the check

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Food/Spirits: Grade A: We started our meal with Philly egg rolls for an appetizer. In order to understand that they tasted like, imagine if a Philly Cheese-steak and some egg rolls hooked up. The resulting offspring would be Philly egg rolls. Stuffed with sliced steak and finely diced onions and peppers, these lightly fried bite sized wonders were heavenly. And, as previously mentioned, our server brought us out some horseradish aioli that went perfectly with the egg rolls. For drinks, Katina ordered a Banana’s Foster milkshake (and yes, there was alcohol in it).

Bananas Foster Milkshake

Bananas Foster Milkshake

The shake tasted exactly like banana’s foster, with pronounced banana, nutmeg, and caramel flavors. I opted for a local micro-brew called Tennessee Brew Works Southern Wit. Golden and cloudy, the beer had some spicy notes but lacked the citrus characteristics most wit’s have. The beer had a nice, thick texture with just a hint of hops. It was really one of the better beers I’ve had recently.

Tennessee Brew Works Southern Wit

Tennessee Brew Works Southern Wit

For her burger, Katina ordered the Tennessee burger, and I ordered a burger called Chili Chili Bang Bang. We both ordered the bacon mac and cheese for our side. The Tennessee burger was smothered in Jack Daniels Honey BBQ sauce and served on a pretzel bun. It was cooked to perfection and came out moist and juicy. In a word, it was orgasmic (uh, using orgasmic, moist, and juicy to describe this burger is making me a little peckish). The Chili Chili Bang Bang is Burger Republic’s take on the chili cheeseburger. Smothered with a chili so tasty it would be great as a stand alone dish, the burger was perfectly cooked and amazingly delicious. Something else that should be noted was that this was the cleanest chili cheeseburger I’ve ever had. Usually, if you’re going to attempt a chili cheeseburger, you need a bib or a ton of napkins. The Chili Chili Bang Bang somehow stayed together nicely. Accompanying both burgers was a crock of bacon mac and cheese. The mac and cheese and an unbelievably creamy and delicious cheese sauce, and just the right amount of bacon and chives to make a really nice and well balanced mac and cheese.

We’ve been looking for the ultimate burger place ever since our local Fuddruckers closed. A couple places have come close, but Burger Republic is officially our new king of the burgers. While a little more upscale and pricey than most of the other burger spots we have gone to, I really hope Burger Republic expands beyond Nashville and comes to Columbus. It would we a great date spot for those who want really great food but not a whole lot of fuss.

High marks: All the food and drinks were spectacular

Low marks: There’s not one in Columbus

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Value: Grade A: We can’t remember how much we spent at Burger Republic, but it wouldn’t matter any way. Burger Republic’s superior quality means it earns an A despite the bill. If you’re in Nashville, you’d be doing yourself a disservice if you don’t stop by Burger Republic for a bite. We loved our visit to Nashville, and this burger joint is one of the reasons why.

High marks: Quality that is off the charts

Low marks: None

Report Card: Famous Dave’s

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Famous Dave's on Urbanspoon

http://www.famousdaves.com

 

Report Card: Famous Dave’s

 

Overall GrubGrade B+

 

The Breakdown:

 

Atmosphere: Grade B+: We don’t have many Famous Dave’s in Ohio, and the few we do have are not anywhere near Columbus. We’d heard of them, so when we visited Nashville and we saw there was one close to where we were staying, we had to stop by. On the inside, Famous Dave’s looks like somebody set of a hillbilly bomb. The walls were chock full pictures and paintings that were all country themed, and beneath the wall there was a definite log cabin motif. We got there right when the place opened, so the place was pretty empty and quiet. Tables looked adequately spaced, but it really didn’t matter. We were fully expecting to be offered possum pie for dessert, but once again, you can’t judge a book by its cover.

High marks: Spacious and quiet

Low marks: Very country

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Service: Grade A-: Following the theme of not judging a book by its cover, let’s talk about our server. His name was Dustin, and we we’re thinking he might have just come in from milking the cows. But, Dustin really did a very nice job taking care of us. He was friendly and personable, which was a nice change considering we were there for lunch (we usually find lunch service lacking when compared to dinner service). Service was accurate and we had a pretty minimal wait for our food (which we actually expected since there were only a couple other diners in the restaurant). It was almost a shame that we weren’t there for dinner – it would have given Dustin a chance to really shine.

High marks: Accurate, friendly, and quick service

Low marks:   Dinner would have been a better measure of server’s skills

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Food/Spirits: Grade A-: For drinks, Katina ordered something called Sweet Mama’s Punch. If you go online an read the drink description from the menu, you can probably imagine exactly what the drink tasted like (rum, amaretto, OJ and pineapple juice) – think sweet and citrusy.  I ordered a couple of Sam Adam’s, which most of you have tasted or at least heard me describe before. For her entrée, Katina ordered the Sweetwater Catfish platter and I selected the Devil’s Spit Brisket Burger. Katina found the light breading on the catfish fillets to be perfect. The brisket burger was really quite delicious as well, with a nice amount of zip from the Devil’s Spit barbecue sauce. The whole concept of mixing beef brisket with ground beef seemed moderately deranged to me…until I tasted it. This was one of the best “burgers” I’ve ever had. Plus, Famous Dave’s French fries are some of the best we’ve had. Overall, the quality of the food exceeded our expectations.

High marks: Almost everything               

Low marks: I though their beer selection could have been more diverse

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Value: Grade A: We dropped about $40 for lunch for two, and we didn’t have an appetizer or a dessert. So on the surface, a grade of A may seem a touch too high. But the food quality was so delicious we felt we had to give an A for value. Next time we’re in northern Ohio (which is pretty rare) we’re probably going to hit up the Famous Dave’s there and see how it compares. For those of you visiting Nashville or living in that area, we certainly hope you stop by Dave’s and spend a little coin. It will be worth it.

High marks: Better than expected quality

Low marks: There’s not one in Columbus

Report Card: Firebirds

Firebirds -- You do know what's in those bottles, right?

Firebirds — You do know what’s in those bottles, right?

Firebirds Wood Fired Grill on Urbanspoon

http://www.firebirdsrestaurants.com/fb/

The Breakdown:

Overall Grubgrade A-

Atmosphere: Grade A: When we found out that a Firebirds was being built right down the street, we were pretty excited. So, a few days after they opened their doors, we decided to visit. The place had a high end appearance on the inside. It was contemporary and clean. The lighting was a little subdued, which gave the place a slightly romantic feel. There wasn’t much of a crowd when we first arrived, and the music being piped in was soft enough not to be intrusive. However, by the time we left, Firebirds was hopping and it got a tad too noisy. We also felt that the tables were just a touch too close together, which made the noise issue a little more problematic.

High marks: Clean and contemporary with an upscale feel.

Low marks: A little noisy once the crowd showed up, tables could be farther apart
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Service: Grade A-: Our server, Harrison, did an excellent job meeting our needs. We found him to be quite enthusiastic but not intrusive. He gave us suggestions when we requested them and engaged us casually. When we didn’t need his assistance, he faded into the mist…only to reappear when something was needed. Our food was delivered after an acceptable wait, and our order was accurately prepared. This grade may have been slightly higher if not for the “newness” of Firebirds. It would appear that there are a few minor timing hiccups that need to be ironed out, but we have faith our next visit will be even better.

High marks: Enthusiastic and accurate
Low marks: Some minor timing issues
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Food/Spirits: Grade A-: For our appetizer, we selected the lobster queso. It was very good with a nice balance of flavors between the lobster and the cheese. The house made chips were executed very well. For drinks, we ordered the Jack Daniel’s Honey Peach Tea and a Blackberry mojito. Both drinks were very sweet with little to no alcohol bite. The tea had lots of peach flavor and an underlying creaminess that could not be explained by the ingredients. The blackberry mojito tasted just like you would expect a blackberry mojito to taste like. Katina ordered the Firebird Chicken Pasta. It had a little bit of heat to it. We expected the asiago sauce to be creamy, but it wasn’t. On a positive notew, the dish has alot more meat (chicken and bacon) in it than we expected. I ordered the NY Strip cooked medium well. What was delivered was a NY Strip cooked well done (absolutely no pink inside). There was no effort to trim the perimeter fat off of the cut, and though the steak was tasty, it was underseasoned. For me, if I order a steak and find that I need to add steak sauce for flavor, something was off.

High marks: Great lobster queso, good drinks, generous meat in entrees
Low marks: Lack of creaminess to asiago sauce, incorrectly and underseasoned steak
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Value: Grade B: This grade might have been an A if the entrees had been just a little better prepared. But we feel like Firebirds deserves a little bit of slack since they were just starting up. We definitely recommend you stop by for a visit. Most of the visitors to Firebirds will we very pleased with the experience.

High marks: Nice to have another option in the Polaris area
Low marks: Need just a little better execution on entrees

Report Card: 101 Beer Kitchen

101 Beer Kitchen

101 Beer Kitchen

101 Beer Kitchen on Urbanspoon

http://www.101beerkitchen.com/

 

Overall GrubGrade B+

 

The Breakdown:

 

Atmosphere: Grade B: This was our second trip to 101 Beer Kitchen. We turned around and left immediately the first time we visited because the wait was horrendous. We got a lot luckier this time. The outer appearance of the place is pretty basic. The restaurant happens to sit on the corner of a strip mall, so there’s not much that can be done with the exterior. On the inside, the décor was pretty simple – chalk boards with various bits of info written on them and some stone walls. Tables were basic restaurant fare, and the dinnerware, while not overly fancy, was really nice and clean.  It’s a little difficult to discern what theme 101 Beer Kitchen is going for, but it appears like they’re trying to be a place where a normal Joe can go have a nice bite to eat and pound some serious beer. That’s perfectly okay with us.

High marks: Clean and comfortable

Low marks: A little on the simple side

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Service: Grade B: Our server, Meagen, was good but nothing memorable. We had minimal wait for food and beverages, and the tableware was clean. Granted, we visited 101 Beer Kitchen over a month ago, but we honestly can’t remember anything about her or the service, which means the service was fairly ordinary. It does bear to mention that we had some leftovers to take home, and the take home box we were given was absolutely silly, especially when considering the type of food we were taking home

High marks: Accurate and timely

Low marks:   Nothing special or memorable

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Food/Spirits: Grade B+: We started off with the pretzels for an appetizer. Unlike many of their competitors, the pretzels at 101 Beer Kitchen were actual twisted pretzels and not pretzel sticks. The pretzels were accompanied by a beer cheese sauce. The pretzels themselves were pretty good: crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. The beer cheese was a little bland, with the chives that were in the sauce dominating the flavor. For spirits, Katina ordered a drink called Lavender Blueberry Lemonade, which was tart and sour but drank very smoothly. However, don’t order this drink if you are in the mood for something blueberry flavored since the flavor of blueberries was almost non-existent. I selected a beer called The Poet from New Holland brewery. The Poet is an oatmeal stout, and it was a good one. It was thick and creamy and had all the characteristics I love about dark beers but more of them. For entrees, Katina selected the Carnivore Pizza and I opted for the redfish. The Carnivore Pizza is a twist on the traditional meat lover’s pizza. Katina found it to be a little spicy from the sausage, and both meaty and smoky due to the abundance of bacon on the pizza. The redfish came with dirty rice and black beans, which are two of my favorite sides. The redfish itself was a very busy dish, and I wasn’t a big fan after the first bite. However, as I continued to eat, the redfish grew on me. It was light with no “fishy” taste, and that allowed all the other ingredients in the dish to make their presence known, which is why the dish comes off as so busy. By the end, though, I was tempted to wipe up the remnants on my plate with my napkin and wring it out in my open mouth. I resisted for Katina’s sake. After a bit of a debate, we ordered the banana pudding for dessert. We were iffy because the menu description stated the banana pudding has merengue in it and we’re not big fans of merengue, but we rolled the dice and were pleasantly surprised. If you like banana pudding (and who doesn’t?) then you should give it a shot.

High marks: Great beer, good sticky rice and black beans, yummy banana pudding, delicious pizza

Low marks: Lavender Blueberry Lemonade might be misnamed, redfish very busy initially

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Value: Grade B+: The food was pretty good, and portion size on the pizza was generous since we took some home in that ridiculous box. We spent pretty much what we expected to spend on a nice dinner with a few drinks and a dessert. We would recommend 101 Beer Kitchen, especially if someone in your party is an avid beer connoisseur.

High marks: Decent portions and good price

Low marks: Idiotic take home box

Report Card: Plaza Azteca

 

Plaza Azteca

Plaza Azteca

Plaza Azteca on Urbanspoon

http://plazaazteca.com/

 

Overall GrubGrade C

 

The Breakdown:

 

Atmosphere: Grade B: If you bothered to read our previous post, then you’ll know that Keagan’s Irish Pub won the prize for the best place we dined at during our vacation. On the flip side of that coin, Plaza Azteca wins the prize for the worst. We stopped at the Plaza Azteca in Williamsburg to kill some time before we checked into our next hotel. We’d have been better served just taking a nap in the car. On the plus side, Plaza Azteca was huge – both outside and inside. But, it probably doesn’t cost too much to build a warehouse-sized restaurant when most of it appears to be built of plastic. The place looked clean, but the other diners…not so much. We followed a young couple into the restaurant, and the female of the pair looked like she was wearing an outfit she outgrew a decade ago. Yummy. The place was fairly quiet, but also fairly empty. That should have been our first clue as to what was to come.

High marks: Large and quiet

Low marks: Cheap looking and cheap feeling

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Service: Grade C: Sometimes the language barrier we encounter when dining at Mexican restaurants can seem funny or even cute. However, in the case of Plaza Azteca, this was not the case. We had to practically shout our order slowly, even though the place was quiet, and the look of confusion on our server’s face did not bode well for a good outcome. That being said, our server got everything correct, but was very flat. We were served with minimal to no enthusiasm. Wait time for drinks and dishes was acceptable, but we can’t shake the feeling that the only reason the service wasn’t a complete disaster was good old-fashioned luck. Asking questions about the items on the menu was definitely out of the question, and a small mix-up with our drinks really left us disappointed.

High marks: Normal wait time for food and drinks

Low marks:   Bland service, huge language barrier

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Food/Spirits: Grade C: Plaza Azteca has a banana margarita on the menu (cue violins). However, these margaritas had no banana flavor at all. They did have some unidentified fruity taste, but it wasn’t banana (false alarm on those violins). Katina also ordered a raspberry mojito, but received a raspberry margarita instead. She toughed it out and drank it, because who knows what would have come from the bar had she sent it back. For her entrée, Katina ordered the chicken fajitas (as you can see, she’s branching out) which she characterized as average at best. Definitely not the best she’s had, but she claims not the worst either (I bet if you challenge her to name where she got worse chicken fajitas, she couldn’t answer, though). I ordered a dish called Chori-Steak. From the menu description, it should have been heavenly. An 11 ounce NY strip covered in chorizo and cheese sauce. I can vouch for the cheese sauce, and I think there was chorizo on the other meat. The NY strip, on the other hand, was suspect. Almost beef jerky like in texture and toughness, the meat was pretty much just gristle wrapped in a lovely layer of fat. I ended up leaving the steak and just ate the sausage, beans, and rice. You have to understand that my leaving steak on the plate is equivalent to Steve Buscemi winning a best smile contest – it just doesn’t happen (we love you Steve…but that grill is something else). We were quite disappointed with the entrees. On a final note, even the chips and salsa were substandard, with stale chips and a salsa that tasted like it came from a jar.

High marks:  Great menu descriptions

Low marks: Execution on the entrees left a lot to be desired

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Value: Grade C: It really doesn’t matter how much we spent, the poor food quality and almost painful service does not allow us to consider Plaza Azteca a good value. In fact, we recommend passing right on by the place. If you do pull in, do yourself a favor and take a nap instead of going in. When you wake up, use your navigation system to find a better place.

High marks: None

Low marks: Poor quality and service

 

 

Report Card: Keagan’s Irish Pub

Keagan's Irish Pub -- you must find your way here

Keagan’s Irish Pub — you must find your way here

Keagan's Irish Pub on Urbanspoon

http://www.keagans.com/

 

Overall GrubGrade A

 

The Breakdown:

 

Atmosphere: Grade A-: This place was fantastic. Keagan’s Irish Pub absolutely does not have an identity crisis. Upon entering, you definitely know you’re in an Irish style pub. One clue was the fact that the flat screen televisions all throughout the pub were tuned into soccer matches, and the World Cup hadn’t even started yet. Plus there were a ton of Irish themed pictures on the wall. Keagan’s reminded us a lot of the very imaginatively named “The Pub” here in Columbus. Because it claims to be a pub and is dressed like a pub, it’s a little hard for Keagan’s to really impress us with its ambiance, hence the “A-“ grade. But that’s okay, because it looked and sounded exactly like it should have. We might have been impressed with more upscale décor, but it would have been weird when considering the theme of the restaurant. The staff wore pseudo-Irish uniforms (they were a little more Scottish (kilts) than Irish, in our opinion). The restaurant was clean and a little crowded, and there was quite a bit of noise to deal with, but the hostess seated us in a little nook that gave us some privacy and made the noise level a little less obtrusive.

High marks: Pub properly decorated, clean

Low marks: A little noisy

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Service: Grade A: Our server, Alex, was awesome. And just so there’s no confusion, Alex was a she. She was attentive without being intrusive (that is an actual SKILL many servers lack), and very personable. Alex even offered us some suggestions and helped us pick out our dessert. Our only issue with the service was that it was a tad slow, with appetizers and entrees taking a little longer than expected to arrive, and a small inaccuracy with our bill that Alex quickly corrected. The service was about as close to an “A+” as you can get without actually getting there. Toss out the slow speed (minor) and bill discrepancy and Keagan’s would have totally nailed it.

High marks: Server made helpful suggestions and recommendations, attentive but not intrusive

Low marks:   A little slow with the food, minor inaccuracy with the bill

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Food/Spirits: Grade A: Katina ordered something called a Strawberry Limeade to drink (yes, it did have alcohol) and found it to be very smooth and delicious. If you order this drink and expect it to taste like strawberry limeade, then you will not be disappointed, and you’re probably smarter than you look. We are definitely fans of drinks that actually taste like their name suggests they should. I opted for a Guinness and a Smithwick’s, and most of the beer drinkers out there will have come across both those beers at some point in time. Morgan just had a ginger ale, and guess what it tasted like…ginger ale. We ordered Pretzel Sticks for an appetizer. The pretzel sticks were served with 3 sauces: beer cheese, Dijon, and parmesan garlic. All three sauces were excellent. And let’s face it, if you follow this blog, you know we’ve eaten a lot of pretzel sticks, so by now it’s really all about the sauces. In that regard, Keagan’s hits a home run. Usually when we’re served multiple sauces, we like one or two but there’s always one that basically sucks. Not the case here…all three sauces were scrumptious. Morgan ordered a turkey club (big shock) and we think she described it as “really good.” It was a little hard to understand her with her mouth stuffed full of bread and turkey. She might be part snake since she seems to be able to unhinge her jaw in order to stuff more food in it that should be humanly possible. Katina ordered crab legs for dinner. And who wouldn’t enter an Irish pub when you need to satisfy your crab leg fix, right? She got a huge portion, and the crab legs were surprisingly well prepared. I ordered the chicken wings, hoping that I could recreate the magic I experienced at Ri Ra in Charlotte. The wings were prepared perfectly (nice and crispy) and really saucy. They weren’t as mesmerizing as the ones from Ri Ra, but they were still excellent. The wings were just right on the level of spiciness, but they needed to be a little warmer temperature-wise. I got the impression my wings were done first and had to wait for the rest of the food to catch up. The wings were served with French fries, and those were also excellent. For dessert, Alex suggested the Fried Cookie Dough. The dessert was unique and delicious, and the recommendation much appreciated (we expressed our thanks with a big ol’ tip). By far, Keagan’s was the most enjoyable dining experience we had in Virginia Beach, and they had the best food by far.

High marks: Good turkey club, excellent crab legs, delicious drinks, great sauce for the appetizer, awesome French Fries, amazing dessert              

Low marks: Wings not warm enough

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Value: Grade A: To recap, an appetizer, 3 entrees, a dessert, and 2 grown up drinks each for Katina and myself and we spent less than $80 (remember, one of those entrees was a huge portion of crab legs). We left stuffed and we spent right about what we expected we would spend. What we didn’t expect was the superior quality of the food, which pushed a normally “B+” or “A-“ grade up a notch. Very well done, Keagan’s. If you’re hitting up Virginia Beach for vacation, do yourself a favor and get away from the ocean for a night, drive 15 to 20 minutes, and enjoy a feast at Keagan’s Irish Pub. Your tummy will thank you.

High marks: Great portion size, superior food/drink quality

Low marks: There’s not one in Columbus, Ohio

Report Card: Pocahontas Pancake House

Pocohontas Pancake House

Pocohontas Pancake House

Pocahontas Pancake House on Urbanspoon

http://pocahontaspancakes.com/

Overall GrubGrade B

 

The Breakdown:

 

Atmosphere: Grade B-: Pocohontas Pancake House was certainly nothing special from the outside. The outside of the building looked pretty much like all the rest of the little shops located on the strip near the ocean. On the inside, the décor was interesting but pretty dated. There was an abundance of Native American themed artwork around the interior, but the rest of the inside looked like it hasn’t been updated in a couple of decades at least. It was busy when we stopped by for breakfast, but you would expect a large crowd at a pancake house in a tourist town. Table spacing was okay based on the size of the place and the volume of diners.

High marks: Interesting Native American themed décor

Low marks: Bland exterior, dated booths and tables

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Service: Grade B: We believe our server, Nicole, took pretty good care of us. I say we believe because we honestly couldn’t remember a single thing about the service a day after our visit. That means two things occurred…1) there was nothing special about the service and 2) nothing bad enough to permanently imbed itself into our memories occurred.

High marks: Nothing really bad occurred

Low marks:   Nothing memorable occurred

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Food/Spirits: Grade B: We had coffee and juice for beverages for our breakfast (with Morgan chugging a glass of chocolate milk), so there’s not much to talk about in that regard. Morgan had French Toast (again) and Katina had a waffle (again) and I ordered a Meat Lover’s Omelet (again). Evidently we forgot to pack our sense of adventure for this vacation. Morgan didn’t say too much about her French Toast, but that’s probably because her mouth was jammed full of French Toast with each bite she took. I swear that girl thinks that eating is a race. Katina described her waffle as “good” which I am sure really distinguishes it from the hundreds of other waffles she’s eaten in the past. If you’re a waffle freak, you’re on your own here. The Meat Lover’s omelet was really tasty, but it contained no cheese. In fairness to Pocohontas, they do not claim to put cheese in the omelet in the menu description, but in my opinion the presence of cheese is a defining characteristic of an omelet. A cheese-less omelet is like chip-less nachos…it might be tasty but it’s just not right.

High marks: Assuming delicious French Toast and a decent waffle          

Low marks: Cheese-less omelet – pay attention to the descriptions on the menu.

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Value: Grade B-: The three of us feasted for around $50. In my opinion, that’s about $5-$10 more than I would expect to pay for a breakfast of this caliber. There are a few other breakfast places to try in Virginia Beach, but not too many. We would recommend Pocohontas Pancake House based on the quality of the food, even though it might be a tad on the pricey side.

High marks: Decent quality

Low marks: A little over-priced

Report Card: Giuseppe’s Italian

Giuseppe's wall of wine

Giuseppe’s wall of wine

Giuseppe's Italian Restaurant on Urbanspoon

http://www.giuseppes.com/

 

Overall GrubGrade B

 

The Breakdown:

 

Atmosphere: Grade B+: Walking in to Giuseppe’s Italian Restaurant might remind you of walking into someone’s house – if that someone were a raging alcoholic. Look at that wall of wine in the picture. The entire back wall of the main dining room is a wine rack. Giuseppe’s was nice and clean, and definitely felt more like a house than a restaurant. The noise level was a little high, and we found that our tables were a little too close to our neighbors.

High marks: Clean and comfortable

Low marks: Better table spacing needed

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Service: Grade B+: Our server, Susan, did a good job taking care of us. However, we honestly can’t remember a whole lot about her. The service was a little bland. Our orders were accurate, and we don’t recall having an extensive wait for any of the food, but there was really nothing memorable about the experience from the service angle.

High marks: No mistakes or big wait times

Low marks:   No pizzazz or anything else memorable

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Food/Spirits: Grade B: We started off with our traditional calamari as an appetizer. The marinara dipping sauce was quite tasty, but the squid itself was pretty rubbery. We realized when our entrees came out that we had barely touched the calamari and instead gobbled up the bread, which was pretty good. Katina had an iced tea, Morgan had a ginger ale, and I opted for a Bold Rock, which was a local microbrew that was okay but not rapture inducing. Morgan selected a pizza for her entrée. She enjoyed the spicy, sweet sauce and the crunchy crust, but thought there was a bit too much cheese on the pizza and it overwhelmed the dish. Katina selected the lobster risotto. It was creamy with lots of greens, but it needed a little more lobster. The sauce was a tomato based sauce that mixed nicely with the wine that was used for deglazing. I ordered the homemade meatballs. These things were massive and awesome. The meatballs were nice and tender. I wasn’t a huge fan of the pasta that was served with the meatballs (I found it rather bland), but I ordered the dish for the meatballs, so I was still pleased.

High marks: Great meatballs, nice sauce in risotto          

Low marks: Pizza too cheesy, pasta served with meatballs nothing special, need more lobster in risotto

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Value: Grade C: Portion sizes were adequate, and quality was okay but we’ve had much better. But the bill led to a little bit of sticker shock. I would expect dazzling service and an experience that would make us count the days until we revisited for a price of about $30 per person. If you have a real hankering for some Italian food and can’t find any suitable alternatives, you’ll get a decent but slightly overpriced meal at Giuseppe’s. I would exhaust all of my alternatives before I visited.

High marks: Adequate portion size and decent quality

Low marks: Overpriced for overall experience

Report Card: Nick’s Fresh Seafood & Steaks

The very imaginatively named Nick's Restaurant

The very imaginatively named Nick’s Restaurant

Nick's Fresh Seafood & Steaks on Urbanspoon
 

Overall GrubGrade B

 

The Breakdown:

 

Atmosphere: Grade C-: We decided to hit Nick’s Fresh Seafood & Steaks on our first night in Virginia Beach. We were pretty tapped out from the drive in, so we were not real happy when we realized we misjudged the distance Nick’s was from our hotel. It was quite a trek, and we were heartbroken when we arrived. From the outside, Nick’s looked a little on the dumpy side. Nick’s could have just as easily been a dry cleaner judging by the exterior of the place. Upon entering, there wasn’t much about the look of the place to put our minds at ease. Nick’s Fresh Seafood and Steaks looked more like a dive bar than a restaurant. There was enough crap on the tables and walls to be overwhelming, and it doesn’t look like the place has had a facelift since the Brady Bunch was still filming. There was no hostess, so it was seat yourself. Plus there were no menus on the table, so when I took it upon myself to grab a couple from a nearby bin, I was rudely told they were the wrong menus. Overall, off to a real bad start.

High marks: None

Low marks: Cluttered, old, outdated, dirty…the list goes on and on

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Service: Grade B-: Apparently, old Nick isn’t dropping a fortune in labor costs. There was only one server that we could see, and the place was pretty busy. Despite what appeared to be an overwhelming situation, our server did a really decent job handling all our needs. Our server was fairly attentive, but not really engaging at all. That, however, is probably less her fault than that of the Einstein that decided one server would be adequate to handle 20 or more tables. There were other employees milling around, but we have no idea what their function was. Our order was accurate, and although there was a bit of a wait for the food, the wait wasn’t anything we’d consider to be inappropriate.

High marks: Accurate and attentive

Low marks:   Frenzied and not engaging

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Food/Spirits: Grade B+: Had Nick’s Fresh Seafood and Steak not been a 20 minute pilgrimage from our hotel, I might have made the family turn around and go elsewhere (I can sometimes do that since I usually carry the wallet, but Katina doesn’t let me wield too much power too often). It turns out that fleeing would have been a mistake. Nick’s had some pretty good food. The hush puppies were well prepared and delicious, and our daughter, Morgan, would have been happy making her entire meal out of them. Morgan did decide to go with her traditional plain turkey sandwich, which must have tasted better than it looked because she scarfed it down. But it was just turkey and bread, so that would be pretty hard to screw up. Katina ordered the “all you can eat flounder.” The flounder was lightly battered and according to Katina, perfectly cooked. She thought it was delicious, and we both found the French fries to be really good (although not the absolute best we’ve had). I ordered the bacon cheeseburger, which was advertised on the menu as being the best in Virginia Beach. I believe it. It was a really simple burger that was absolutely perfectly cooked with just the right amount of bacon.

High marks: Good flounder, fries, cheeseburger, and hush puppies      

Low marks: Entrees were overly simplified

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Value: Grade A-: We’ve got to hand it to Nick’s. Most of those who will visit this restaurant will be on vacation and probably working with a budget. Nick’s will be a good choice for you. Despite the poor start, Nick’s Fresh Seafood and Steaks turned it around with good food, generous portions (“all you can eat flounder” for Pete’s sake), and a completely reasonable price. We feasted for a mere $53, and we didn’t even order the least expensive dishes on the menu.

High marks: Portion size, quality, price

Low marks: Tidy up the appearance and increase staffing, and it could be an A+ next time