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

 

 

 

Report Card: Shorty’s Diner

Shorty's Diner

Shorty’s Diner

 
Shorty's Diner on Urbanspoon

http://shortysdinerva.com/

Overall GrubGrade B+

 

The Breakdown:

 

Atmosphere: Grade B: We almost missed Shorty’s Diner. According to my navigation unit, Shorty’s is on the wrong side of the street. I know what you’re going to say, Shorty, and you can save it. You need to pick yourself up and move to the other side of the street so we’re not all confused.

Shorty’s Diner (despite not being where it is supposed to be) was a real authentic looking diner on the inside. The booths and tables seemed to be really clean, and our silverware and other dining utensils passed inspection. We stopped by Shorty’s for some breakfast, and while the diner was doing pretty brisk business, none of the staff seemed overwhelmed.

High marks: Clean and authentic looking

Low marks: Someone built it on the wrong side of the street – my nav unit doesn’t lie!

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Service: Grade B+: Breakfast, in our humble opinion, is probably one of the harder meals to serve. There is usually not much patience in waiting for the first meal of the day, and that coffee better be fresh and constantly being poured in our mugs for us to be happy. With that being said, our server pulled it off. There was nothing really spectacular about the service, but everything came out correctly and there was minimal wait for the server when we needed her.

High marks: Solid and accurate service

Low marks:   Nothing special about the service

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Food/Spirits: Grade B+: We just had coffee and orange juice to drink (with some chocolate milk for Morgan) since this was breakfast (despite what you may think, we are not animals). Morgan ordered French Toast, Katina opted for the biscuits and gravy, and I selected the Meat Lover’s omelet. The French toast was scrumptious, as evidenced by how our daughter swallowed each piece with minimal chewing. She could give an anaconda pointers on how to swallow a meal whole. The toast was thick and sweet and rich, and according to Morgan, might be even better than my French toast, which I’ve heard is pretty awesome. Katina’s really enjoyed the biscuits and gravy. The sausage in the gravy had a nice kick, and the portion size was on the generous side. In a word, she thought they were delicious. The Meat Lover’s omelet was also good. It had a really nice flavor, but it was a little too light on the cheese. According to Shorty’s menu, the omelet is supposed to be “stuffed” with cheddar cheese. I’m not exactly sure there was ANY cheese in the omelet (which is kind of one of the characterizing ingredients of an omelet). However, the omelet was still really good.

High marks:  Fantastic French toast and awesome biscuits and sausage gravy    

Low marks: Minimal to no cheese on an omelet advertised as “stuffed” with cheese

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Value: Grade A-: We left Shorty’s just shy of having to unbutton our pants/shorts, which is a good sign when it comes to rating portion size. The quality of food was good enough to take us by surprise, and topping out at $31 after tip, we felt Shorty’s Diner was a real bargain. You could probably do a lot worse if you’re in the neighborhood than Shorty’s – just make sure when your navigation system tells you an empty lot is your destination, you look across the street.

High marks: Great value and high quality food along with really good portion size

Low marks: Some might find $31 a little high for breakfast (not us)

Honorable Mention: Pierce’s Pitt BBQ

Pierce's Pitt -- in the middle of nowhere

Pierce’s Pitt — in the middle of nowhere

Pierce's Pitt Bar-B-Que on Urbanspoon

http://www.pierces.com/

I was absolutely certain that both my wife (who seems to have a Magellan-like sense of direction) and my navigation unit had completely lost it on the way to Pierce’s Pitt. We got off the exit from I64 West and drove through this tiny little speck of civilization that’s usually present off of most highway exits (you know…the standard gas station or two along with at least a McDonald’s). Then we proceeded to leave this little hamlet of society and drive into the wilderness. At any moment, I was expecting someone in a jacked up pick-up truck to force me off the road. The last things I would hear would be Dueling Banjos playing from the truck’s open windows and some hayseed with less teeth than fingers telling me I had “a real pretty mouth.”

Thankfully, in the midst of the acres and acres of woods, we came upon Pierce’s Pitt. Couldn’t miss the building if you tried because 1) It was huge and 2) It’s the only building around. Despite the remote location, there were a ton of people dining at Pierce’s Pitt. It was inexplicable.

Pierce’s gets the “Honorable Mention” treatment because it was essentially fast food (although in our case, not so fast at all), and thus we had no server to speak of. And despite quite a few bbq-themed selections on the menu, Katina and I both decided to order the catfish (we were planning on having barbecue when we got back to Ohio, so there you have it). We ordered, took our number and our empty drink cups, and then found one of the few vacant booths to kick back in.

Then we waited…and waited…and waited. We were number 41, and I am pretty sure they were almost out of the 60s when they called our number. I was hoping for an experience that would blow my socks off, but it was not to be. There was a pretty good amount of catfish with each dinner, along with a heaping mound of French fries. The catfish was good, but by no means the best I’ve had. Katina’s Granny can make some mean catfish in a pot in the back yard that would make Pierce’s catfish seem like canned tuna. The breading was a touch overcooked, but the filets themselves were tasty, if not a little overly crunchy. As for the fries…very good. But when the best part of the meal is the French fries or the hush puppies, then that speaks volume about the rest of the food. To be fair to Pierce’s, however, we did not get anything barbecued, and since that is obviously their specialty, maybe the saucy stuff is better. We have to recommend Pierce’s if you’re in the area, primarily because we’re not sure there’s any other choice. When you go, though, opt for some barbecue and let us know if it was as good as you hoped it would be. And one final note – the barbecue we had once we got back to Columbus was the bomb!

Honorable Mention: North End Pizza

north-end-pizza-header
North End Pizza Pastas and Subs on Urbanspoon

http://www.northendpizzavb.com/

Our first vacation review is a quick glance at a pizza joint called North End Pizza. Known for their “New York” style pizza, North End Pizza is right on the oceanfront. Inside and out, nothing about the look of North End Pizza is probably going to get most vacationers too excited. A fairly plain exterior and an interior that looks like it was lifted straight from a nearby Dairy Queen, if you hit up North End Pizza, you had better be going for the food rather than the atmosphere.

North End Pizza gets the “Honorable Mention” treatment because like most average pizza places, there’s really no service to speak of. We entered, placed our order with the cashier, and took out receipts and empty cups over to the fountain drink dispenser and then our somewhat sticky and greasy booth. After about 15 minutes, our number was called and after an acknowledging nod from myself, an employee did bring the pizza to our table along with a wad of napkins.

As for the pizza itself, it wasn’t too bad. The thin crust wasn’t too crisp or too chewy, and was just firm enough to not fall apart when you picked up a slice. A word of warning to any health nuts out there: you’re probably going to need your arteries Roto-Rootered if you eat more than a few slices of this pizza. If you’re in the camp (and I think this is primarily a college student mentality) that the greasier the pizza the tastier the pizza, then North End Pizza should be the end point of your quest for the perfect pizza. However, if you’re more like us and would rather not have to bury your pizza in grated parmesan cheese to soak up the excess grease (which forms a rather tasty but extremely unhealthy yellow-orange paste) then you may want to skip North End Pizza. Bottom line is that the pizza wasn’t too bad, but we’ve certainly had better (and worse). The price was reasonable, which may also be a factor since the majority of those who will visit North End Pizza will be on vacation and probably on a budget. If you’re in the neighborhood, we recommend you at least give North End Pizza a try. You can order by the slice if you don’t want to commit to a whole pie, and legend says they have some pretty choice salads, which is the direction you should definitely go if you post-first-heart attack.

Grubgraders heading east

Well it’s summer, and with summer comes the vacations.  And while Grubgraders loves the restaurant scene in Columbus, even we gotta get out every now and then and explore.  This year, we’re heading east — making stops in Williamsburg, Virgina and Boston, Massachusetts.  Why the sad look?…you know we’re bringing you all along with us.  I think next year we will head west, but we are certainly looking forward to our eastward journey this year.  I just hope I pick up a little Boston accent so I can drive my coworkers nuts.  We at Grubraders hope you all have a great summer, and we hope you enjoy hanging out with us on our trips.  You can bet Katina’s already got her list of restaurants ready.

Report Card: Mitchell’s Steak House

 

Mitchell's Steakhouse

Mitchell’s Steakhouse

Mitchell's Steakhouse on Urbanspoon

http://www.mitchellssteakhouse.com

 

Overall GrubGrade A

 

The Breakdown:

 

Atmosphere: Grade A: Inside and outside, Mitchell’s Steakhouse exudes classiness. We’ve seen reviews that are critical of Mitchell’s because of the lack of table linens, but we don’t have a problem with it. Personally, I get embarrassed when I drop some sauce on the white linens – it makes me feel like more of a slob than I normally do. Mitchell’s Steakhouse was very clean and the tables might be just a touch too close to each other, but we didn’t have any issues overhearing anyone else’s conversations. We had a very light wait for our table despite having reservations, but unlike Capital Grille in Pittsburgh, Mitchell’s only had us waiting for a few moments (we grabbed a seat at the bar and they had our table ready before the bartender could take our drink order).   The interior décor was nice and upscale, but might be considered a tad boring since it looked pretty much like every other premium steakhouse at which we’ve dined.

High marks: Very clean and contemporary

Low marks: Slight wait for table, décor not very unique

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Service: Grade A+: Katina and I had selected Mitchell’s because we were celebrating our wedding anniversary and we felt like getting pampered. So, I was ready to really tear apart our service, but I didn’t get that chance. Our server, Julie, was worth her weight in gold. This was one of those rare occasions when a server obtains near perfection in our eyes, and probably the main reason we score this category so harshly. She was amazing, and to the management of Mitchell’s Steakhouse, whatever you’re paying her isn’t near enough. Julie was very personable and wished us a happy anniversary without harping on it all night. She had an uncanny ability to not be near us when she wasn’t needed yet appear the moment we needed something from her. She made us feel like we were her only table, but I know she had more tables than just ours. The meal was very appropriately paced, allowing Katina and I to have a conversation but not having us waiting for food or drinks to arrive. Our orders were spot on in accuracy, and we could find nothing negative to say about the service. Outstanding.

High marks: Felt pampered, service was accurate, it was all good

Low marks:   None

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Food/Spirits: Grade A-: Like most of our dining experiences, we started off with drinks and an appetizer. Unlike most of our dining experiences, this one started off with personal menus, which was a nice touch.

Our personalized menus

Our personalized menus

Katina ordered a Blueberry Mojito, which was well-balanced with just a hint of mint. The mojito had a nice strong blueberry flavor and virtually no alcohol bite. I ordered a Guinness because I like how the flavor of that beer complements most steaks and chops. We selected the Spicy Lobster for an appetizer. The Spicy Lobster consisted of lightly breaded bite sized chunks of lobster that were perfectly cooked. A spicy cream sauce accompanied the lobster. The cream sauce wasn’t really spicy despite the name, but did have a really nice flavor. For entrees, Katina selected the Twin Caribbean Lobster tails (big surprise) and I selected the lamb chops (even bigger surprise). Katina thought the lobster tails were nicely seasoned and they were served with regular melted butter. The tails were really good, but mixing a little heavy cream with the butter (a la Bonefish Grill) makes the butter thicker and causes it to stick to the lobster better. Yummy, but the lobster was still really tasty. The lamb chops came out as a fairly large portion (I find most lamb chop portion size to be on the small size).   Other than a couple of spots that had some gristle, the chops were perfectly cooked and absolutely delicious. Whereas Barrel 44 couldn’t get medium will right with their burgers, Mitchell’s Steakhouse nailed it. We has some green beans cooked with red pepper and bacon as our side, and they were simply some of the best green beans we’ve has to date. They were crispy and very flavorful, and made me not mind earing my vegetables (which is not an easy feat). After finishing off our entrées, we were ready to pack it in, but Julie was having none of that. We scored a complementary desert to share since it was our anniversary, and the cheesecake we selected was simply awesome. It has a nice, rich flavor without being overwhelming like some cheesecakes can be. We gathered up our stuff and headed out the door, but we were stopped on the way out and handed an envelope. Inside was a note wishing us a happy anniversary and a $25 gift card. Wow! We really felt like we were getting individual treatment. If you are going out to celebrate an occasion, we can think of no better place than Mitchell’s Steakhouse to spend your money.

High marks: Delicious drinks and appetizer, awesome green beans and dessert               

Low marks: A little gristle here and there

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Value: Grade B: We actually got a whole lot more for our money than we were expecting. Normally a bill the size of ours would fetch a grade of C, but the service and experience were so wonderful, we had to give Mitchell’s a B. Watch out though…you’re not getting off too cheap. But we can definitely say the at Mitchell’s Steakhouse, you get what you pay for (and then some).

High marks: Good portion size, great service, and a few perks

Low marks: A little expensive, but worth it

 

Report Card: Barrel 44

Barrel 44 in the Short North

Barrel 44 in the Short North

Barrel 44 - Short North on Urbanspoon

http://www.barrel44.com/shortnorth.html

Overall GrubGrade C+

 

The Breakdown:

 

Atmosphere: Grade B-: Barrel 44 is a whiskey bar located in the Short North. Inside, the place is small and quaint, and looks exactly like what you would expect a whiskey bar to look like. The inside is dominated by a large bar that is surrounded by black and white pictures and some battered tables, which gave the place an authentic feel. When we arrived, we were the only ones dining. We thought the music was a little loud, and we could imagine a raucous environment when the place fills up. Initially, Barrel 44 came off as really clean and tidy, but once we unwrapped our silverware, we found it to be absolutely disgustingly dirty. Hopefully, the silverware wasn’t a harbinger of bad things to come.

High marks: Quaint and authentic looking

Low marks: Music a little loud, really dirty silverware

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Service: Grade B-: Our server swapped out our silverware once we pointed out how dirty it was and we were off and running. Our server was pretty short, which we have no problem with except that every time she went behind the bar we completely lost track of her – like not being able to see that really ancient lady from behind when she’s in the driver’s seat. Service was alright, though. We had a little bit of a wait for our food, which seemed odd since we were the only ones in the restaurant. Our service was accurate, but it was kind of just blah. I would have expected more with nothing else to distract our server. If you really want to hear what great service is like, make sure you check out the next post.

High marks: Accurate

Low marks:   Slow service, hard to keep track of server

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Food/Spirits: Grade C+: For drinks, Katina ordered something called an Irish Spring and I just had a beer. The Irish Spring was really tasty. It had a nice mix of sweet and sour with some peachy undertones. For our appetizer, we ordered the Chili Mac & Cheese. The Chili Mac & Cheese was cheesy and hardy, with a couple of different types of beans and corn thrown into the mix. All of the flavors really mixed well, and no one flavor dominated the dish. It was very well balanced. However, from there the food went downhill. For her entrée, Katina ordered the Barrel Bourbon Burger cooked medium-well. What she received was a burger cooked medium. Again, we still seem to have trouble getting restaurants to nail the medium-well burger (here’s a hint – if there’s a pool of blood beneath the meat, it probably needs to be cooked longer. So, Katina spent half the meal tearing off the bloody parts of the burger, which left a nice clump of mauled meat on her plate when she was done. She thought the parts she did eat were fine, but she couldn’t taste the bourbon glaze that was supposed to come with the burger, and actually the fries were the best part of the entrée. That says it all. I opted for the Shrimp and Sausage Flatbread. Not going to sugar coat it, my friends – it was pretty gross. The shrimp were a little too large (non-jumbo shrimp would have probably been better from a texture standpoint), and the sauce/salsa was just all wrong. It was too sweet and it completely dominated the dish. I couldn’t even taste the Andouille sausage, which has some pretty strong flavors (it didn’t help that there were only a few small bits of sausage on the whole flatbread). I was really disappointed.

High marks: Good drink and appetizer 

Low marks: Burger not cooked to correct temperature, flatbread was not good

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Value: Grade C: The driving force for the value score in this instance is a lack of quality. Considering the low food quality, reasonable portion sizes, and the fact we each only had one drink, we feel like we overpaid. Unfortunately, we recommend you all pass on this one. There are plenty of other places to eat in the Short North.

High marks: None

Low marks: Low quality means poor value

Report Card: Quaker Steak & Lube

 

Quaker Steak & Lube

Quaker Steak & Lube

 
Quaker Steak & Lube on Urbanspoon

http://thelube.com/locations/ohio/columbus/

Overall GrubGrade B-

 

The Breakdown:

 

Atmosphere: Grade C: If not for the dingy appearance, Quaker Steak & Lube would have probably received a much higher overall grade. Even though the theme of the décor is service garage, we still found the place to be pretty dirty. Menus were pretty sticky, which is a little gross. The interior, besides giving off a stout grungy vibe, is decked out in automobile themed décor. Quaker Steak & Lube is probably what restaurants look like in heaven for NASCAR fans. This wasn’t our first pit stop into Quaker Steak & Lube, but we don’t recall our previous visits feeling so dirty. Tables were adequately spaced, and the noise level wasn’t too bad, but there wasn’t a whole lot of action going on when we visited. We imagine it’s a different story if you stop by during one of their weekly biker rallys.

High marks: Table spacing was okay, not too noisy

Low marks: Dirty and sticky…debated on whether or not to get a tetanus shot after dinner

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Service: Grade B-: Here was another missed opportunity for a server to “wow” us. With little action going on other than us, I would have expected our server, Hubbert, to go that extra mile to impress us. But that didn’t happen. Don’t get us wrong; Hubbert did an alright job. Our service was timely and accurate. The service was just not memorable at all. We had minimal interaction with the server, but that’s really what we would have expected, especially if the place was hopping. Since Quaker Steak & Lube was almost empty, a little small talk would have been nice.

High marks: Quick and accurate

Low marks:   Nothing spectacular

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Food/Spirits: Grade B: Quaker Steak & Lube actually impressed us when it came to the food. We ordered some pretzel bites for an appetizer. The cheese sauce that came with the bites was quite tasty, but the bites themselves were super salty. We know…salty pretzels, how dare they? But this level of saltiness was beyond what you’d expect from soft pretzel bites. We’ve completely abstained from salt since our visit, since we’re fairly certain we received a year’s worth of salt with that appetizer. For drinks, Katina started with the Skinny Dragonberry Lime-N-Ade, which she described as fruity and smooth. For her second drink, she opted for something called the X-celebrate. This was the better of the two drinks and was a bit on the stronger side. It had lots of fruity flavors thanks to the midori and X-rated Fusion liquor. I opted for the Goose Island 312 Urban Wheat. It was smooth and more straightforward than most wheat beers. I found it delicious, and that’s a good thing since it came out in a pitcher-sized beer glass. For entrees, Katina ordered the QSL Burrito and I opted for the Arizona El Camino burger. We can already hear you griping…”Why didn’t you get the wings?” It’s fairly obvious that since Quaker Steak & Lube’s bread and butter are its chicken wings and the place is still open for business, then the wings must be pretty good. But what if you had to go there and you’re not a chicken wing fan? First, you’d be a weirdo for not liking wings, and second, you’d be in luck because Quaker Steak & Lube did an excellent job with our entrees. The QSL Burrito was surprisingly good considering Quaker Steak & Lube is not a Mexican restaurant (we could be overestimating the complexity of the burrito, as well). The burrito was a tad dry, but Katina fixed that with…wait for it…an extra side of queso. One of these days that woman is going to get a bucket of sauce with her dinner and still have the stones to ask for an extra side of it. Just hope I’m there to see the server’s face when it happens. The Arizona El Camino burger was downright delicious. Topped with Pepper-Jack and Cheddar-Jack cheeses, the “steak burger” was an ideal canvass for some bacon, sour cream, fire-roasted corn, black beans, and jalapenos. As a side note, is there any dish that black beans can’t make better? It was really an awesome burger, and I was very pleasantly surprised. We went ahead and got a piece of salted caramel cake for dessert, since we still didn’t feel the need to undo the button on our pants yet. The dessert, while not the highlight of the meal, was still really good.

High marks: Great burrito, great burger              

Low marks: Super salty pretzel bites

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Value: Grade A-: With food quality above expectations and really good portion sizes, we were pretty pleased with our bill. While the food quality seemed to exceed expectations based on how much we spent, appearance and service were below expectations. Clean those little issues up and Quaker Steak & Lube might become a regular spot for us. The rest of you all should definitely give them a try, and don’t feel like you have to order wings.

High marks: Exceeded expectations on food quality