Report Card: Rock Bottom Brewery

Rock Bottom Brewery at Fountain Square in Cincinnati

Rock Bottom Brewery at Fountain Square in Cincinnati

Rock Bottom Brewery on Urbanspoon

http://www.rockbottom.com/

Overall GrubGrade B+

The Breakdown:

Atmosphere: Grade B+: Rock Bottom Brewery is located right off of Fountain Square in downtown Cincinnati. We stopped by on a Friday at around 8pm, which should be right at the start of weekend rush (it is a brewery/bar, right?). So it was no surprise that we got saddled with a 20 minute wait for a table. And we probably got the best table in the restaurant…right near the kitchen (that statement should be read with a voice dripping with sarcasm). At least the tables were nicely spaced, which provided us a modicum of privacy. Rock Bottom had a definite brew-pub feel to it, especially with the rather large pane of glass behind the bar which provided a spectacular, panoramic view of the fermenting vats. The walls were decorated with bar wall litter and flat screen televisions. The place was clean, but not really unique in its appearance.

High marks: Genre specific décor, nicely spaced tables

Low marks: Minor wait for table, poor table location

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

Service: Grade B: Our service was solid, good, and accurate. Our server was not really engaging, but that’s to be expected considering how busy Rock Bottom Brewery was during our visit. Our only real complaint about the service was I was frequetly caught with an empty drink in front of me. I’m not a lush, but I expect our server to ask if I need a refill when they walk by if they notice an empty glass in front of me. Once you read about what I had to eat, you’ll understand my disdain for being left dry since my mouth was en fuego.

High marks: Good service considering what a madhouse the place was

Low marks: Empty beer glasses and a hot tongue

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

Food/Spirits: Grade B+: We started off with the Skillet Cheese Fries, which is Rock Bottom’s take on chili cheese fries. We both found them to be excellent. The fries were topped with a flavorful chili (and it had better be good chili if it’s coming from Cincy) and had a nice balance with the onions, cheese, and chili. For drinks, Katina started with the Sangria Rojo followed with a Peach Cuban Mojito. The sangria was sweet and fruity and tasted exactly what you’d want sangia to taste. The Peach Cuban Mojito was very refreshing with a nice, subtle peach flavor. I started with the White Tiger, which is Rock Bottom’s version of a wheat beer. That one was so yummy I decided to get a sampler – plus it cut down on my need of our server. The take home message from the sampler is this: Rock Bottom Brewery has, in my humble opinion, the absolute best IPA I’ve ever tasted. It was so balanced and drinkable that at first I thought I got the order of the beers wrong. Now if you are so addicted to hops you like your beer to taste like liquid yard clippings, this IPA is not for you. If, like me, you like a more moderate hop presence in your beer then walk, run, drive, or catch a flight to Cincy and try this beer. Katina ordered chicken enchiladas for her entree. She was very impressed at how good they tasted considering Rock Bottom is not a Mexican restaurant. The enchiladas could have had more sauce and cheese, but the sauce that did come with the dish were pretty tasty. The red salsa was pretty spicy and the green tomatilla sauce was mild. I opted for the El Diablo pizza, which is advertised on the menu as being hot. Most of the time, when menu items claim to be hot, I take that with a grain of salt because I’m usually not impressed. The El Diablo pizza tasted like it had been baked in Hell – and I mean that as a sincere compliment. It was meaty, strong, oppressive, down right rude to my tongue, but I loved every minute of it. Topped with pickled jalapenos (really HOT) and spicy, andouille sausage, this pizza is the real deal. I was impressed with the flavor and taken aback by the amount of heat. You’ll be having heartburn for dessert if you eat this pizza, but pleasure is always a little better when it hurts a little bit, too.

High marks: Awesome appetizer, one bad-assed pizza, and yummy drinks

Low marks: Enchiladas needed more sauce

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

Value: Grade A: Pretty good food and really good beer. Katina enjoyed her mixed drinks and we skated out of there dropping a mere $50, which was quite surprising. If you stop by on a weekend evening, be prepared for a busy experience.

High marks: Surprisingly high quality food for a surprisingly low quality price

Low marks: Dropping by on a weekend afternoon might improve the atmosphere and service

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

Autism Friendly Score: We’d have to give Rock Bottom Brewery a 3 for our Autism Friendly Score. This restaurant might score higher if visited during off-peak hours, but the noise level and chaos would not serve the sensory sensitive kiddos. We didn’t even bother to look into a kids menu– it is a bar, so kids are not its target demographic. Again, this score is only our opinion on how appropriate this dining spot would be for a child on the spectrum and not a comment on the overall quality of the restaurant.

 

Grubgraders and Autism

Morgan and Logan Ives (he's the one in the hat)

Morgan and Logan Ives (he’s the one in the hat)

 

Katina and I welcomed Logan into our lives 04/08/2008.  He has been both our biggest challenge and one of our biggest joys, along with his older sister Morgan.  Logan was diagnosed on the autism spectrum a little before his 3rd birthday.  It was devastating.  But it also gave us a name for what was wrong with him, and that allowed us to focus on what we could do to help him.  One thing that parents of other autistic children will probably agree on is that having that diagnosis makes you look at everything differently.  Noise, light, wall clutter, waiting, and gluten are all things that the parent of the autistic child have to consider when taking their children out to eat.

Having a disabled child is an incredible strain on a family, and particularly a marriage.  The divorce rate for parents of autistic children in around 80%.  The diagnosis takes over everything.  One of the ways Katina and I have been able to make our marriage work is that we still date each other.  Although it’s not as often as when I was actually trying to fool her into marrying me, we still take at least a couple of evenings a month for just us.  But not all parents have the luxury of going out without the kids.  We’ve taken Logan with us enough times to get a pretty good feel for what types of places he will tolerate and which places will set him off.

We thought it might be nice to add another category to our report cards, and we’re calling it the “Autism Friendly Score.”  This score will let caregivers of autistic or possibly other disabled children have an idea of how well a child with sensory issues and restrictive diets might handle a particular restaurant.  So, it is possible for us to score a restaurant really high overall but give them a low Autism Friendly Score if we feel the restaurant would not be a good fit for an autistic person.  Please make sure you’re not missing out on fabulous dining experiences by letting that score alter your decision to eat at a particular restaurant…unless you plan on taking someone on the spectrum along with you.

 

 

Honorable Mention: Blaze Pizza

thIUKZKGVT
Blaze Pizza on Urbanspoon

http://blazepizza.com/

We had never heard of Blaze Pizza prior to them contacting us and informing us of the grand opening of their Columbus, Ohio location.  We were actually really looking forward to giving them a try on their opening night.  However, it was not meant to be.  The location of the Blaze Pizza in Columbus is right near the Ohio State University campus.  We love tOSU, and personally I bleed scarlet and gray.  However, until my kids are enrolled there, they aren’t going anywhere near that campus.

 

But all was not lost.  This past weekend, we decided to hit the Cincinnati Beerfest (more details on the Beerfest later — supposedly I was in rare form).  On our way back, we happened to pass right through Mason, Ohio.  Amazingly, they have a Blaze Pizza, so why not.  I mean, the people at Blaze Pizza were kind enough to send us a couple of freebies, so at least we could give them a try.

 

First, we’re assuming the name Blaze Pizza comes from how the pies are actually cooked — they’re sort of flash baked in about 3 to 5 minutes.  However, maybe the chain should be called Kramer’s, or Cosmo’s.  Patrons at Blaze Pizza get to make their own pie, in essence.  Yes, one of the employees puts the actual ingredients on the pie, and another one slides it into the oven, but each diner is essentially in control over almost every aspect of the design of their pizza.  In other words, you make you’re own pie.  Fans of the show Seinfeld should be familiar with this concept, as it was touted numerous times as one of Kramer’s more idiotic ideas.  BUT, they were all wrong.  The concept worked very well.  If Donatos and Chipotle had a love child, it would be Blaze Pizza.  The flash baked pie had a nice, crispy crust that was ever so slightly charred.  We both opted for the Meat Eater signature pizza, and we both thought the pizza was very tasty.  The staff who topped our pizza did an impeccable job of balancing out the ingredients.  The pizza was slightly greasy, but most good pizzas are a little greasy.   The staff were very friendly, and the location was really clean.  Plus it was fairly busy considering it was a Sunday.  Even though we didn’t stop by the Columbus location, there’s nothing that would lead us to believe it wouldn’t be similar to the Mason location.

 

If you have a hankering for  pizza but you just can’t figure out where you want to go, you should visit Blaze Pizza (if there’s one close by).  The quality is surprisingly good, and the price was completely reasonable.  But take our advice and skip the signature pies.  It’s not that often you can creatively express yourself with pizza without having to worry about dropping serious bank or wasting 30 to 45 minutes, so don’t squander the opportunity Blaze Pizza give you.

 

 

Report Card: Hyde Park Prime Steakhouse

Inside Hyde Park Prime Steakhouse

Inside Hyde Park Prime Steakhouse

Hyde Park Prime Steakhouse on Urbanspoon

http://www.hydeparkrestaurants.com/

Overall GrubGrade A-

The Breakdown:

Atmosphere: Grade A-: We stopped by Hyde Park Prime Steakhouse in Worthington right as they were opening on a Friday evening. Inside and out, Hyde Park wears the colors of an upscale steakhouse with pride. Hyde Park also shows their Columbus pride with both their wall decorations and their Columbus-themed menu. It was quiet and not crowded when we arrived (that’s why we visited right when they opened), but there was definitely the start of a rush by the time we left. We really liked the way the tables were set up, which offered a modicum of privacy but still allowed us to see a large portion of the restaurant. Everything was clean and tidy, and the soft music playing in the background created a nice, romantic vibe. Our only issue with Hyde Park Prime Steakhouse, and it is a small one, is that there was nothing really unique about the décor, with the exception of the wall hangings. The inside just needed a little something to grab your attention.

High marks: Quiet, clean, traditional steakhouse décor, near-private seating

Low marks: Interior lacked something really eye-catching

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

Service: Grade A: Our server, Michael, did a fantastic job. He gave us time to look over the menu and briefly described the highlights of the menu and features of the steaks, along with some suggestions which we promptly ignored (no offense intended – we just knew what we wanted). Michael was attentive and knowledgeable without being intrusive and coming across like he lived and breathed all things steak. We appreciated the nice balance, as well as the fact that Michael had both a personality and a sense of humor. Drinks came out with minimal delay, and once the food started to make an appearance, the pacing of the different courses was nearly perfect. Overall, this was a great service with no glaring issues, but there wasn’t that signature “above the call of duty” moment that we usually need to kick this score up to an A+.

High marks: Accurate, friendly, and nicely paced service

Low marks: Nothing – just no over-the-top “WOW” moment

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

Food/Spirits: Grade B+: Let’s start, as we usually do, with the drinks. Katina ordered a drink called a Prairie Lemonade. The drink was quite sour and tart, and really needed to be a bit sweeter to be really enjoyable. This drink caught Katina’s attention because it contained pomegranate, but the overall tartness of the drink washed any hint of pomegranate away. I ordered a Blackberry Cider. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you should be familiar with both the nature of a cider and how it tastes. This was my first experience with a blackberry cider, and I have to admit I was greatly impressed. If only the rest of my meal tasted as good as my drink, Hyde Park’s overall score might have been stratospheric. The blackberry cider still had a nice apple flavor, but it also had a hint of blackberry on the back end that was very smooth. Hyde Park Prime Steakhouse had pretty standard appetizers on the menu, so we went with our standard selection: calamari. Hyde Park’s version of calamari contained both carrots and cashews, which was a first for us. Our normal instinct would have been to pick out those ingredients, especially the nuts, but we resisted the urge and ate the dish as-is. That worked out well, as the both the carrots and the nuts did not add much flavor but did give the calamari a nice, crunchy texture. The calamari was tossed in a well balanced sweet chili glaze that gave the dish just the right amount of heat. Katina ordered the crab cakes for her entree, and I opted for a steak called the Thad Matta Porterhouse. I should pause here and make the reader aware up front that this is the point in the meal when Katina’s experience and my experience diverged. Katina’s crab cakes were packed with large chunks of crab meat. They were moist, and the sauces that came with the crab cakes were delicious. Katina attacked the spicy mustard sauce and the red pepper aioli with equal abandon, pausing occasionally to inform me that the spicy mustard had a pretty substantial kick before she dipped her next piece of crab cake in the mustard and continued to chow down. The Thad Matta Porterhouse, however, was a complete disaster. First, it wasn’t the best cut of meat. It somehow managed to be fatty yet tough at the same time. I’ve had worse cuts of meat, but there was no way this porterhouse was worthy of the $44 price tag. Despite the poor cut, the steak was cooked to the temperature I had requested. I might have been able to get over the texture of the beef and enjoy the steak if not for the sauce. The sauce that was drizzled over the steak was wretched. I would have much preferred my steak naked. To me, the sauce tasted what I imagine under arm sweat and unwashed feet would taste like. I was quite disappointed. We opted for the lobster mac and cheese for our side. Again, this is the tale of two perspectives. Hyde Park’s version of this popular side dish had a generous amount of sliced onions. Katina loves onions – she’d eat them on almost anything. Maybe it’s her way of getting out of having to kiss me, but she will often take my onions and add them to her own to make whatever dish she’s eating extra oniony. I like the flavor of onions, but hate the texture. I need my onions finely diced so I can taste them but not feel them. Nothing grosses me out more than biting into something and getting a mouthful of slimy, booger-like onions. So the mac and cheese was out for me, and Katina got to eat the whole batch. Thank God this was the only version of lobster mac and cheese that had onions in it – and hopefully it stays that way. So to sum up, Katina’s crab cakes were the 2nd best she’s had (Columbus Fish Market has the best, in her opinion) and the 2nd best lobster mac and cheese behind Eddie Merlot’s. I had one of the worst steaks I’ve eaten, and in my opinion the lobster mac and cheese was nightmarish. I have to believe that the steak was an anomaly and my aversion to onions is unique to me and makes me the charming dude that I seem to be. So Hyde Park Prime Steakhouse gets a B+ based primarily on Katina’s experience, ’cause I’d have D’ed them up otherwise.

High marks: Blackberry cider, lobster mac and cheese (I guess), crab cakes

Low marks: Almost everything I put in my mouth

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

Value: Grade B: While not the most expensive steakhouse we’ve visited, Hyde Park Prime Steakhouse wasn’t the best either. As is the case with most premium steakhouses, the price tag for dinner was high, but you’re paying to be pampered a little on top of your meal. I won’t be back, but maybe somewhere in the distant future Katina can take hubby number 2 there there to eat.

High marks: Price was what you’d expect from this type of establishment

Low marks: For the price, both of us should have been satisfied

Report Card: Sweet Clove Sunshine Cafe

 

Sweet Clove Sunshine Cafe

Sweet Clove Sunshine Café

Sweet Clove Sunshine Cafe on Urbanspoon

https://www.honeybakedforyou.com/sweet-clove-home-page.aspx

Overall GrubGrade B+

The Breakdown:

Atmosphere: Grade B: It’s been a while since we’ve visited a restaurant that specializes in breakfast/brunch. We recently decided to swing by the Sweet Clove Sunshine Cafe on Sawmill road in Columbus. Sweet Clove Sunshine Cafe is the name of the breakfast eatery that is part of the HoneyBaked Ham Company. As is generally the case with breakfast/brunch specific restaurants, Sweet Clove Sunshine Cafe was pretty packed when we visited. We had to wait around 20 minutes for a table to open up, so we got to explore their “lobby” area. Much like their more famous counterparts Bob Evans and Cracker Barrel, this area was full of foods and fares to take home. Personally, I’ve never had HoneyBaked Ham since I detest ham in general (it’s a long story involving a grandmother and her crippled pug) and avoid the stuff at all costs. Therefore, I had no idea what to expect. The inside of the restaurant looked very similar to what you’d expect at any other breakfast spot.

High marks: Appropriate décor and plenty to look at

Low marks: Had to wait 20 minutes for a table

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

Service: Grade B+: Once we were seated and started checking out the menu, our server, Eva, came over to our table to check up on us. She did a really nice job catering to our needs and seemed very pleasant. She was completely bald, and no, I am not joking. Eva pulled the look off, though, and I hope her look is a fashion statement and not the result of a medical condition. Our beverages arrived fairly quickly, and the rest of the meal came out in a timely fashion. Eva didn’t bat an eye when Katina sent her back to the kitchen for a side of barbecue sauce (bet you saw that coming, didn’t you?). Breakfast/brunch service generally lacks the complexity of dinner service, so it’s rather difficult to amaze us on breakfast, but our server really did a great job.

High marks: Good, timely, and accurate service

Low marks: Would like to see Eva during a dinner service to really see what she can do

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

Food/Spirits: Grade B+: We opted for brunch, so for drinks we had coffee and orange juice. Coffee was hot and good and the orange juice was terrific, but you’d expect those two beverages to be good at a breakfast restaurant. We both opted for burgers for our meal. Katina ordered the BBQ Cheddar Bacon Burger, and I snagged the Chipotle Bacon Cheddar Burger. If we heard our server correctly, the burgers were baked instead of fried, which led to some really juicy burgers. Additional napkins are definitely needed as we found the drippy goodness to be a little messy. The only drawback to the baked burger is that they were cooked well done, and we don’t believe there was an option to tweak the cooking temperature. Both the barbecue sauce and the chipotle mayo were tasty. Katina needed additional sauce for her burger, but don’t take that as Sweet Clove Sunshine Cafe being stingy with the sauce as much as Katina having an unnatural need to slather all food items in whatever sauce in which they are served. I found the amount of chipotle mayo to be perfect – giving a bit of heat without overpowering the rest of the burger. Both burgers were covered in a generous portion of thick bacon, which had HoneBaked Ham’s traditional honey glaze on it. This bacon was sticky enough (and very delicious) to stick to the wall had we decided to hurl the bacon against it. Katina had the broccoli salad for her side and really enjoyed it. I decided on the waffle fries, which were cooked perfectly. The fries were tasty without being greasy. We were pleasantly surprised with the quality of food, and we both are looking forward to returned for a legitimate breakfast experience.

High marks: Juicy, well cooked burgers, delicious sides

Low marks: No options on cooking temperature for burgers

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

Value: Grade B: We dropped around $36 (before tip) for the meal, and while that’s not a bank-breaking amount, it still just a tad steep for burgers. But there is no doubt that if you’re looking for a great place to eat breakfast that’s a little higher quality than most breakfast joints, Sweet Clove Sunshine Cafe should be at the top of your short list. We definitely recommend a visit.

High marks: High quality

Low marks: A little pricey for burgers

 

2014 Grubgraders: Best of the Best

We here at Grubgraders were busy in 2014. We were mainly busy stuffing our faces, and it’s a miracle we’re both not morbidly obese. We dined at 54 different restaurants in 4 different states (Ohio, Tennessee, Pennsylvania, and Virginia). Now, that’s 54 different restaurants that we graded – we actually dined out at lot more than that. We visited the Winking Lizard at least 15 times this past year. Our big regret is that we didn’t make it to Boston as we had initially planned, but we had a blast at our alternate destination (Nashville). The following is our list of the best things we ate this year. If you want more details on any of the restaurants we are about to mention, please use the search option and read the entire review for yourselves:

Best Italian Restaurant: We had to choose from the following: Bucca di Beppo, Guiseppe’s, Brio, and Amerigo. The winner, without a doubt, was Amerigo. Amerigo Italian Restaurant near Nashville had better than expected quality for a reasonable price, and it was the only Italian restaurant to score in the “A” range (overall grade of A-). Watch out for that lasagna that’s cooked to the same temperature as the surface of the sun…you don’t want to leave with burned lips.

Best Mexican Restaurant: Contenders were as follows: Plaza Azteca, Cuco’s Taqueria, La Casita, Chile Verde, El Vaquero, Abuelos, and El Acapulco. The winner, hands down, was Abuelos. In 2013, we had a great year for really good Mexican restaurants. In 2014, however, that was not the case. It was a pretty lean year for Mexican restaurants, so it wasn’t hard for Abuelos to capture the title with a mix of great food for a good price despite the service not being to our normal standards.

Best Burger Joint: We had to choose between Burger Republic, Smashburger, Flipside, and B Spot. The winner was Burger Republic, but it was a tight race. Three of the 4 contenders really impressed us, making 2014 definitely the “Year of the Burger.” The atmosphere at Burger Republic allowed it to edge out B Spot, but barely.

Best Breakfast Spot: Only 3 to choose from in this category: Puffy Muffin, Shorty’s Diner, and Pocohontas Pancake. Shorty’s Diner barely edged out Pocohontas Pancake for the top honors, and despite not quite understanding what the word “stuffed” means, the breakfast at Shorty’s was quite good, and the atmosphere was a little less touristy than Pocohontas Pancake.

Best Irish Pub: Our choices were Keagan’s, Flannery’s, and Brazenhead. While all 3 were terrific spots to dine at, Keagan’s gets the top prize here. We were blown away at the quality of the food and the fun atmosphere, and I almost vetoed Katina’s suggestion we stop there. That would have been a huge mistake.

Best Seafood Restaurant: We just had Nick’s Fresh Seafood and Bonefish Grill to choose from. Obviously, if you’ve read the Crabbageddon post, you can figure out the winner here is Bonefish Grill. We’re definetely going to have to target more seafood restaurants in 2015.

Best Asian Restaurant: Contenders in this category were as follows: Koto Japanese Steakhouse, Molly Woos, J Liu, and PF Changs. With a combination of really good drinks and superior food (as long as you don’t try to reheat the leftovers), Molly Woos took the top in this category. J Liu was a close second but was a more expensive for comparable quality – thus Molly gets the nod.

Best Pizza Joint: Our choices were Natalie’s Coal Fired Pizza and Villa Reale Pizzeria. Honestly, this was like trying to pick which disease you’d rather have…malaria or dysentery. We picked Natalie’s because even though Villa Reale had the same overall score, the service was so poor we could never suggest it was the best of anything.

Best Upscale Steakhouse: Our choices were Eddie Merlots, Mitchell’s Steakhouse, J Alexander’s, Ruth’s Chris, Capital Grille, and Firebirds. Mitchell’s Steakhouse took top honors this year, beating out our normal favorite of Eddie Merlots. While the quality of food between the two restaurants is simliar, the service at Mitchell’s was in a class by itself, making our evening there one of the best experiences we’ve ever had.

Best European Restaurant: We had Bon Vie and Barcelona to choose from, since Barcelona was one of the few restaurants to score an “A” this year, it is the hands down choice for best restarant in this category, and was one of the best overall restaurants we visited this year.

Best Casual American Restaurant: There were a ton of restaurants in this category (pretty much all of the restaurants we reviewed this year but haven’t mentioned yet). Columbus Brewing Company was the one true standout in this category this year, and has been one of our favorites for a while.

Individual Honors:

Best Overall Restaurant: Mitchell’s Steakhouse

Best Appetizer: Philly Egg Rolls (Burger Republic) with an honorable mention going to Bang Bang Shrimp (Bonefish Grill)

Best Dessert: Fried Cookie Dough (Keagan’s Irish Pub)

Best Burger: B Spot – Burger Republic might be the overall better restaurant, but for the actual burger itself, B Spot smokes the competition.

Best Dish: King Crab Legs (Bonefish Grill)

Best Beer: New Holland Dragon’s Milk (Flipside) with Tennessee Brew Works Southern Wit (Burger Republic) a close second

Best Mixed Drink: Banana’s Foster Milkshake (Burger Republic) with Stawberry Limeaid (Keagan’s) a close second

Best Value: Keagan’s Irish Pub

Best Atmosphere and Best Service: Mitchell’s Steakhouse

Special Report: Crabbageddon (Bonefish Grill, part 2)

Oh Yeah!

Oh Yeah!

Bonefish Grill on Urbanspoon

https://www.bonefishgrill.com/

On my first date with the woman who would become my wife, we didn’t eat crab. I knew I liked this girl, but I wasn’t about to drop crab money until I knew we were compatible. And, I knew she could eat. This was no “I’ll just have a salad” girl. So after a couple of months, we went to a restaurant and I watched Katina, this beautiful, feminine light of my life, completely ravage at least a pound of snow crab legs. It was actually a little scary, and I remember distinctly pieces of crab shell flying by my head as she cracked her crab legs. I had never had crab legs before, and eventually she got me to try them (boy was I missing out). I returned the favor be introducing Katina to lobster, and those of you who follow us know how she feels about lobster.

Bonefish Grill is one of our favorite seafood restaurants. It may not be the most expensive or the most swanky, but it’s up near the top on both of those lists. We’ve reviewed Bonefish Grill before, and our feelings toward the restaurant have not changed. The have the absolute best appetizer we’ve ever had – Bang Bang Shrimp. If you have never gone to Bonefish Grill, or you’ve been but not tried the Bang Bang Shrimp, then wake up because you’re missing it. The shrimp are the perfect size, and the sauce that they’re tossed in is to die for. So, of course on this most recent visit, we ordered the Bang Bang Shrimp. For drinks, I opted for a mojito followed by a beer, and Katina ordered some drink that was really strong and fruity, but I can’t remember the name of it (old age). The point is that Bonefish makes some mighty fine drinks, and they have really good sangria if you’re in to that kind of drink.

What brought us out to Bonefish Grill on this particular evening was crab legs. In the past, we’ve raved about Bonefish’s twin lobster tail dinner – it’s probably our favorite lobster dish ever (or it’s at least tied with Jeff Ruby’s). Bonefish cooks the tails to perfection, but the real draw in the butter (pun intended). Mixed with cream, Bonefish’s drawn butter is creamy and thick, so it sticks to the seafood and explodes in your mouth. So we figured Bonefish would use the same butter for the crab as they do for their lobster tails. We were right. For a limited time, Bonefish grill is offering up a pound of king crab legs pre-cracked, so all of us lazy folk can eat crab without all the work. The whole purpose of this post is that we are afraid some of you may not get to Bonefish and try the crab, and that would be a shame. The legs were cooked to perfection, and since they were already cracked for us, we were able to snag all of the tender meat – and there was a lot of it. In a moment of insanity, I subbed my standard sides with a cup of crab and corn chowder (note: more crab) and Bonefish’s new side, rice with lump crab meat. Note that there was yet more crab. Katina pretty much ordered the same thing, but elected for broccoli instead of the soup (I know…it confuses me, too). With the exceptions of our drinks, we pretty much had crab in or on everything. If you are a fan of crab, stop what you’re doing AND GET TO BONEFISH as soon as possible. It was perfect. Our first date in quite a while, and we were pretty much ready for the post festivity cigarette before we left the restaurant. I would like to mention that at one point, Katina poured her left over drawn butter on her crab and rice. On the surface, it was gross, but deep down I am peeved that I didn’t think of it first.

Crabbageddon wasn’t cheap. But I swear it was so close to heaven that I might of heard Jesus speak. Bonefish definitely wins the prize for the best promotion menu we’ve tried all year, and I need to reiterate that if you like crab, you have to get to Bonefish before it’s all gone. And don’t tell Katina, but I almost went back a few days later while she was a work. She’d kill me if I did, though. This was probably our last dining out experience until after the New Year, and what a way to go out. Check back near the end of 2014 (in a week or two) and check out our 2014 Best of the Best, where we’ll revisit some of the stellar establishments and dishes we got to experience in 2014. Cheers.

 

 

Report Card: El Acapulco


El Acapulco Mexican Restaurant on Urbanspoon

http://elacapulcorestaurant.com/

Overall GrubGrade C+

The Breakdown:

Atmosphere: Grade B: There are pretty much “authentic” Mexican restaurants on almost every corner here in Columbus, so you need to be pretty special to stand out. El Acapulco falls pretty short of that. On the outside, El Acapulco is fairly non-descript, and it turned out to be as small on the inside as it looked on the outside. The interior was clean and decorated in typical authentic cheesy Mexican décor. There weren’t many diners when we arrived, but it was starting to get packed by the time we left. It stayed fairly quiet throughout the meal, with Mexican music softly playing through the speakers. Table spacing appeared to be adequate. We are going to be honest, we really wanted to score this lower as El Acapulco was not physically impressing (kind of like the Gary Coleman of Mexican restaurants).

High marks: Clean and fairly quiet, acceptable table spacing

Low marks: Very small and under-whelming

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

Service: Grade B-: We have no idea who our server was. His name wasn’t printed on the postage stamp sized receipt we received, but he spoke perfect English with minimal accent, so no language barrier. However, when we first walked into the restaurant, we were greeted with a sign that advised us to “Seat Yourself.” Okay, lets all agree on something – if we have to seat ourselves, your restaurant should have a drive-thru. Which would be okay in El Acapulco’s case since their food ranked right about even with Taco Bell. Service was okay and worthy of a B or B+ grade, but we cannot forgive having to seat ourselves – that sets a bad tone for the meal. Food arrived very quickly as is par for the course with Mexican restaurants in general, and our order was accurately prepared.

High marks: No language barrier, accurate and quick service

Low marks: “Seat Yourselves”– ’nuff said

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

Food/Spirits: Grade C: We are 99% certain the complimentary chips and salsa came from a bag and jar, respectively. They were not impressive at all. For her drink, Katina ordered a strawberry daiquiri, which ended up being pretty small and tasted like there was zero alcohol in it. I stuck with the traditional Coronas served with a slice of lime. Despite what is technically the way beer is supposed to be served (sans fruit slices), Corona tastes like what I would expect a sweaty sock tastes like without the lime slice added. We ordered the queso with sausage for an appetizer. When it arrived, it was served with a few warm tortillas. We now believe that we were supposed to spread the queso on the tortillas since the queso was really too thick to use as a dip. Taste-wise, the queso was okay, but the consistency should have been much thinner (plus, a thinner texture could have helped hide the abundance of grease present from the sausage). Katina decided to get crazy and ordered the chicken fajitas (sarcasm). She found the fajitas thin on meat and heavy on the veggies, and the meat that was present was bland. Whatever time they used to marinate their meat, it wasn’t long enough. Katina rated the fajitas “not very good” and “average to below average.” Ouch! I ordered a combination platter that had 1 beef tips burrito and 1 chicken burrito. The beef burrito was sparsely filled with tough, under-seasoned beef. The chicken burrito was actually much better. The chicken actually had some flavor and just a hint of heat – plus there was a bunch of it in the burrito. They probably had a bunch left since they obviously did not use the same chicken they used in my burrito in Katina’s fajitas. The re-fried beans were okay, but nothing special.

High marks: Chicken burrito was actually pretty good

Low marks: Pretty much the rest of the food – while not awful, not impressive either

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

Value: Grade C: We dropped $75 on dinner (granted, we had our kids with us, but their portion of the bill was negligible. Food quality was not high enough for us to recommend El Acapulco as a place to eat. If you drive past it in either direction, a better Mexican restaurant is probably right up the road.

High marks: None, really

Low marks: Poor quality and too pricey

Report Card: B Spot


B Spot on Urbanspoon

http://bspotburgers.com/

Overall GrubGrade A-

The Breakdown:

Atmosphere: Grade B+: We hope you all had a great Thanksgiving. We’ve been away for a couple of weeks preparing for that delicious holiday, and hopefully you all understand with that particular holiday, we skipped the normal dining out routine. This food adventure finds us visiting B Spot in Gahanna, Ohio. This burger restaurant is fairly new, so it is not surprising that it was incredibly clean on the inside. It wasn’t overly packed when we stopped by, but B Spot was still fairly noisy. The décor was contemporary but fit nicely with the theme of the restaurant. Tables weren’t too close together, but having them a smidge farther apart might have helped with the noise level. Bathrooms were a little difficult to find, but other than that minor inconvenience the atmosphere at B Spot was very pleasant. Expect a laid back and casual dining experience.

High marks: Clean, new

Low marks: Noisy

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

Service: Grade B: Matthew, our server at B Spot, did a really nice job serving us on our visit. He did a good job explaining the menu and how to order, as well what to expect from the sauces located on the table. There’s not much a server can do in a burger restaurant to really impress us, so a grade of B is actually a fairly high mark. The wait for the food was minimal and our order was delivered exactly like we had ordered it.

High marks: Good service, accurate and timely

Low marks: Fairly simple menu

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

Food/Spirits: Grade A: Our followers know that we have been searching for quite some time for a local replacement for our dearly departed Fuddruckers. We found a really great burger joint in Nashville called Burger Republic that ranked right at the top, but let’s face it, we’re not driving to Nashville a couple times of year for a great burger. B Spot fills that horrible void left by the closing of Fuddruckers. Those of you who watch The Chew (like Katina) should be familiar with the restaurant’s owner, Michael Symon. Mr. Symon perhaps has the biggest personality on that show, and his burgers and sauces have almost as much personality as their creator. For drinks, we started with a Wrong Island Iced Tea (Katina) and a beer called La Fin du Monde (Rick). We’ve previously discussed La Fin du Monde in another post, so we won’t repeat the same thing here. The Wrong Island Iced Tea was very smooth but you could still taste some whiskey, so if you’re a fan of whiskey, this might be a good drink to try. We ordered an appetizer called Porky Fries. As the name would suggest, the Porky Fries are fries loaded with pulled pork. Sound good? Well, they weren’t. They were freaking amazing. We particularly liked the addition of cheese whiz to the mix. These quite possibly were the best fries we’ve ever had, and I found myself not wanting to share them with Katina once I tasted them. For our burgers, Katina did a “build your own” burger and I ordered the Smasher Special (called the Red Hot), which is B Spot’s burger of the month special. Katina ordered a well done beef burger with cheddar cheese, grilled onions, and fresh onions. With that amount of onions, Katina’s lucky this wasn’t our first date, ’cause that breath would have been kicking for that first kiss. Katina found her burger to be fairly typical, but was surprised at how moist the meat was since she had asked for it to be prepared well done. The burger, by the way, was cooked to perfection. The Smasher Special was a beef patty smothered with picked jalapenos, pepper-jack cheese, pulled pork, and sriacha mayo. The burger has a nice kick and was super moist and soft (I had ordered mine medium well). I also ordered another beer, called Rivertown Roebling Porter, which was a little bitter with some heavy chocolate notes. If you a Bud Lite type of person, this is not your beer. But if you have some hair on your chest and enjoy a nice stout porter, this beer is one you should taste.

What elevates the burgers found at B Spot to the next level is the pickle bar (which definitely reminded us of the condiment bar at Fuddruckers), and the array of sauces on the table. Our followers will recognize the significance of high quality sauces since you all know I’m dining with the Sauce Czar of Columbus. Anyone whose been to a Cleveland sporting event is probably familiar with their famous stadium mustard – B Spot has it. One of Katina’s favorite sauces was the Coffee BBQ sauce. It was tasty, and Katina has a thing for bbq sauce. We both thought the Shasha sauce was the best. A mixture of bananna peppers and mustard, this sauce had a well balanced and interesting flavor. More tangy than spicy, we used that sauce on both our burgers and some of our fries. Yummy! We also found the Lola ketchup to be quite tasty as well.

High marks: Perfectly cooked burgers, pickle bar, sauce selection

Low marks: It’s across town, so we can’t eat there at least once a week

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

Value: Grade A: Three drinks, and appetizer, and two of the highest quality burgers we’ve ever had set us back less than $50. Not bad at all.

High marks: Superior quality, reasonable price

Low marks: None

Report Card: Brazenhead Irish Pub


Brazenhead Irish Pub on Urbanspoon

http://www.hdrestaurants.com/brazenhead/dublin/menu.htm

grubgraders Columbus restaurants
Overall GrubGrade B

The Breakdown:

Atmosphere: Grade C: We visited Brazenhead Irish Pub in Dublin, Ohio, on a late Friday evening. On the outside, Brazenhead looked like a big red house in the middle of downtown Dublin. When we walked inside, the place was really busy. The basement area was closed off for a private party, and except for the couple of occasions where we had to crash the downstairs party to hit the restroom (we could only find ones in the basement). The rest of the restaurant seemed cramped, and since there was no hostess, we had to seat ourselves. We might have snagged the last table in the upstairs lounge area, judging by the despondent people who came in after us and couldn’t find a table. This place really needed a hostess. Once seated, it took around 10 to 15 minutes just to receive a menu. Luckily, since we’re both geniuses, we had already looked at the menu online and made our choices. Table spacing was okay, but the upstairs tables were extremely small and probably not intended for dinner service.

High marks: Okay table spacing

Low marks: No hostess, very busy, cramped interior and tiny tables

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

Service: Grade B-: Our server, Kelly, did an alright job with our service. We’ve certainly had better, but we’ve had worse as well. We believe it was just too busy and noisy, and our server had to keep going up and down the stairs. She was out-shined by the food runner, who made sure we were okay every time he walked by our table. When our food arrived, we were missing silverware, but Kelly quickly corrected the situation. Other than the initial wait for menus and a rather lengthy wait for our check, the meal progressed at an acceptable pace. Had Brazenhead been anything but a madhouse, this service would have been horrible. But in the context of the situation, it was okay.

High marks: Meal progressed at good pace, attentive food runner

Low marks: Start and finish marked by lengthy waits, no silverware

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

Food/Spirits: Grade A-: The start of the meal was shaky, but once we got going Brazenhead really shined. For drinks, I opted for a Hoegaarden, which in my opinion is the spiciest of the wheat beers. Katina ordered a Woodchuck Raspberry Cider, which had a really nice raspberry flavor. The cider could have been a little colder than it was when served, but other than that she really enjoyed it. For our appetizer, we selected (……dramatic pause)….pretzel sticks. Up to this point, the pretzel sticks at TGIFriday’s have ruled supreme in our opinion. Brazenhead may have usurped them from the top of the pretzel mountain. The sticks were crispy on the outside with a nice buttery flavor. On the inside, they were nice and soft. The pretzel sticks were served with a beer cheese and a spicy mustard for dipping. The cheese had a hearty flavor and was thin enough to work nicely as a dip (as opposed the the cheese “paste” we sometimes get with our pretzel sticks). The mustard was thick and creamy with a nice kick, but the spiciness was not overwhelming. Katina ordered a pulled pork sandwich for her entree, and I asked for the fish and chips. The pulled pork had a nice smoky sauce but it wasn’t as sweet as Katina likes. The sauce did have a bit of a kick, though. Served on a regular bun, the pulled pork sandwich had a generous amount of high quality meat, not the crappy, fatty meat of questionable origin that sometimes tries to pass for pulled pork. The sandwich was topped with mozzarella cheese, which complimented the smoky BBQ sauce nicely. I would be remiss if I did not mention that this might be the first time in 15 years that I have seen Katina eat something topped with sauce and not ask for an extra side of sauce. With fish and chips, it all comes down to the batter, and the tartar sauce. These particular thick cod fillets were coated in a Guinness batter and cooked perfectly. But the tartar sauce….oh, sweet Jesus! Creamy, flavorful, and smooth (all the ingredients were finely chopped), the tartar sauce at Brazenhead is the best tartar sauce I’ve ever had. The house-made chips were crispy and good, but not a star feature of the meal. But I would eat broccoli and Brussels sprouts if they were covered in that sweet, glorious tartar sauce.

High marks: Pretzel sticks with sauce, dipping sauces, tartar sauce, high quality pork

Low marks: Plain sandwich bun, good but not mind-blowing chips, cider should be colder

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

Value: Grade A+: We toughed it out, and while we probably had enough room to snag dessert but showed the willpower to abstain. However, we didn’t leave hungry, and at less than $50, we feel the quality of the food warrants a visit from you if you haven’t been yet. Just try and visit on an off day or time unless you love eating amid chaos.

High marks: High quality food for a very fair price

Low marks: Chaotic

Report Card: Abuelo’s Mexican Food Embassy


Abuelo's Mexican Food Embassy on Urbanspoon

http://www.abuelos.com

 

Overall GrubGrade B+

The Breakdown:

Atmosphere: Grade A-: My wife loves Easton, but I hate it. So I hope you all appreciate the sacrifice I made by accompianing Katina to Abuelo’s at Easton. Other than some parking issues, the restaurant itself is huge and very clean. The size of the interior plays games with the acoustics, and even though Abuelo’s was busy, the noise level was indicative of freight train derailment. The inside of Abuelo’s has a nice classical look, with pillars and lots of murals on the wall. We found the table spacing to be fairly generous, but the interior is cavernous and we’d be disappointed if we were sitting on top of our neighboring tables. Plus the noise level would have been intolerable. Not sure if we’d recommend Abuelo’s for a romantic interlude, but powerdrinking margaritas and eating you weight in tortillas fits nicely with the vibe. Abuelo’s is pretty nice looking and flirts with being more upscale than most Mexican eateries, but it’s relaxed enough for you to get your own bib out of your back pocket if you brought it with you.

High marks: Clean, contemporary and classic, nice table spacing

Low marks: Very noisy

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

Service: Grade C+: Along with the long bench seat, one of our pet peeves is the trainee server. Sometimes it works out okay, but it usually translates to slower service and us having to repeat ourselves. It took quite a while for us to receive our first drinks from the bar. It was probably a bad night to saddle Kristin, who appeared to be fairly compentent, with a trainee. Save the training for the lunch service. Overall, even though our order was accurate, it seemed to take too long to get our food. One of the hallmarks of Mexican dining is that your meal usually arrives 5 minutes after you order – not the case on this night at Abuelo’s.

High marks: Accurate

Low marks: Slow and slower

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

Food/Spirits: Grade A-: Here is where Abuelo’s shined. The complimentary chips and salsa were pretty good, with thin and fresh chips and a tasty salsa. The salsa had very little spiciness to it, but it was still flavorable enough for us to enjoy. For drinks, Katina ordered a peach margarita, which was nice to see her keep her drink selection in line with the theme of the restaurant. Katina is a bit of a wordsmith, so when I asked her to describe the drink I wasn’t surprised to hear words like “good” and “peachy” come out of her mouth (sarcasm intended). The margarita was smooth and had just a faint tequila bite to it. I have a feeling that it was stronger than it tasted because it made my face get all warm when I tried a sip, and by the time we left Katina was a little giggly. I opted for some traditional Coronas, which went down smoothly and quickly. I surprised Katina by ordering some jalapeno cheese fritters for an appetizer/side. I was afraid that since I was famished my meal wouldn’t fill me up, plus the service was so slow I had to fight the urge to do a drive by snatching of someone’s taco. The fritters were simple but tasty and they had a nice spicy kick to them. Katina even liked them, and she is not a fan of jalapeno poppers. We did find it odd that the fritters were served to us on a greasy napkin instead of small plates, but we can live with that. Katina ordered a combo of 3 enchiladas. One was ground beef and fire-roasted queso, one was chicken with sour cream, and the third one was cheese and onion with chili con carne. Katina felt the cheese and onion enchilada was the best tastine, with the chicken and sour cream taking second place. I ordered something called the Durano Burrito, which was absolutely fantastic. The meat, and there was a ton of it, had a really nice spicy kick to it, and the cheese sauce that topped it was a perfect match. Without a doubt, the Durango was one of the best burritos I’ve ever had.

High marks: Excellent Durango burrito, good enchiladas, perfectly mixed maragita

Low marks: Jalapeno cheese fritters served on a napkin

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

Value: Grade A: We feasted on some pretty high quality Mexican grub and escaped barely breaking the $50 mark, which was less than we expected. Had the service been quicker, this grade would have been an A+. But if you want some good Mexican eats, Abuelo’s should be near the top of your short list – just don’t visit if you’re in a hurry.

High marks: High quality, lower than expected price

Low marks: Speed

 

Report Card: Natalie’s Coal Fired Pizza

Natalie's Coal Fired Pizza in Worthington

Natalie’s Coal Fired Pizza in Worthington

Natalie's Coal-Fired Pizza on Urbanspoon

http://www.nataliescoalfiredpizza.com

 

Overall GrubGrade B-

The Breakdown:

Atmosphere: Grade C-: One of the first comments we received from a follower was a suggestion to do a review of Natalie’s Coal Fired Pizza in Worthington, Ohio. Here it is, about 18 months later, and we finally made our way there. We stopped by a little after 12:00 noon on a Sunday. We had just finished the Walk Now for Autism Speaks event, and we were pretty hungry. Outside and inside, Natalie’s was quite a bit smaller than I anticipated, especially since Natalie’s also offers live music. The walls were covered with an eclectic assortment of items, but Natalie’s rubbed us the wrong way almost immediately. We felt the table spacing was terrible, but due to the live music no one was able to hear any of our lunch conversation (including us). We’re not really sure the size of Natalie’s interior lends itself to live music, and the jazz trio seemed out of place playing at a pizza joint during Sunday lunch. And, they were very LOUD. If we could rewind back to that day, we probably would have ordered our pies to go.

High marks: Interesting walls

Low marks: Poor table spacing, loud

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

Service: Grade B: Initially, we felt the service was terrible. We sat for at least 10 minutes before anyone stopped by to check on us, and that visit was just to tell us that we’d be waiting for a few more minutes while our server, Kelli, took care of some of her other tables. Not only were we hungry, but we were lost-in-the-desert thirsty. Once we finally got started, Kelli did provide us with pretty decent service. It was fairly straight forward, but there wasn’t a lot of chance for conversation with the music being so loud. But, even with all that racket, Kelli got all 3 of our pizzas correct. That’s really admirable since one of them was a pepperoni/chicken combo that still has us dumbfounded to this day.

High marks: initial service bad

Low marks: Once meal started, service got better

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

Food/Spirits: Grade B: All of the pizzas at Natalie’s seem to come in one size, which is large enough to feed two adults who aren’t starving. We had a party of 6, so we ordered 3 pizzas: one pepperoni, one pepperoni and sausage, and one pepperoni and chicken. Four of the six in our party were 12 year old girls, hence the pepperoni pizza (kids that age simply do not understand the potential of pizza). That being said, we still can’t explain why two of the girls opted for pepperoni and chicken on their pizza. The pizzas themselves were pretty good. We appreciated the grated cheese and red pepper flakes that were available for those of us who wanted to kick it up a notch. The char on the crust was different, but we’re not sure it really added anything to the pizza except for a touch of originality. While the pizza at Natalie’s was good, most pizza is good by default, and Natalie’s Pizza didn’t knock our socks off. Any dish that we could whip up with a tube of biscuits, sauce, and a few toppings would be hard to mess up. The challenge is making it memorable, and we forgot Natalie’s shortly after we swallowed our last bite.

High marks: Interesting crust

Low marks: No variety in size and nothing spectacular about the pizza

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

Value: Grade B: We got 3 pizzas for $50, but we could accomplish the same feat by logging onto Donato’s website and we wouldn’t have to change out of our PJ’s or risk deafness. We feel there are just too many pizza places that have comparable or better quality for a similar price, and for reason, we suggest you skip this one.

High marks: Not super-expensive

Low marks: Same price can get you bigger and better pizzas from other establishments

Report Card: Chili’s Grill and Bar

Chili's

Chili’s

Chili's Grill & Bar on Urbanspoon

http://ww3.chilis.com/EN/Pages/menuitem.aspx

 

Overall GrubGrade B-

The Breakdown:

Atmosphere: Grade B: Those of you who follow this blog have probably realized that we attempt to stay away from the larger restaurant chains, although we are not always successful. We decided to make the trip across Columbus to check out Chili’s, a restaurant neither of us had visited in over 10 years. When we arrived, Chili’s was quite busy. Despite the volume of diners and in defiance of the Urbanspoon reviews claiming Chili’s is dirty, we found a clean restaurant, although we could tell it was well used. But that’s fine with us. We really liked the use of brass kettles for overhead lights, and we thought the wall décor abundant but not gaudy ala TGIFridays. Because of the volume, we found Chili’s to be a little on the noisy side, but nothing that would deter our meal.

High marks: Clean and interesting

Low marks: Busy and noisy

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

Service: Grade B: Service was good but nothing that stood out. We had a bit of a lengthy wait to get our first drinks, but once those were delivered the rest of the food came out without much of a wait. That was actually a bit surprising considering how busy Chili’s was at the time of our visit. Our meal was prepared exactly like we requested, so our service was solid.

High marks: Minimal wait (for the most part) and accurate

Low marks: Long wait for drinks

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

Food/Spirits: Grade B-: We ordered a Triple Berry Margarita and beer for drinks. The margarita had lots of berry flavor with just a hint of tequila. It was very sweet, so you’d better be in that type of mood if you order one. It’s not necessary to comment on the beer since I can’t remember which one I had but it was one I have already described in prior posts. We ordered the pretzel sticks for an appetizer. The sticks themselves were soft and salty, but we thought the cheese sauce was inferior to the cheese sauce served with the pretzel sticks at TGIFridays. This cheese was more of a paste, but it still was tasty. But the paste-like consistency doesn’t lend itself well for dipping. For entrees, we both opted for burgers. We tasted the Sweet and Smoky burger and the Southern Smokehouse burger. We found the Sweet and Smoky burger to not be all that smoky, but it was still real tasty. Cooked to the perfect temperature, the burger was topped with a subtle barbecue sauce that didn’t really taste like barbecue sauce. The Southern Smokehouse burger was excellent – nice and juicy and the garlic pickles tasted even better than they sound. The food at Chili’s was really good – much better than we anticipated. We actually were very surprised.

High marks: Really great burgers

Low marks: Cheese sauce for the pretzels could use some attention

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

Value: Grade B+: Better than expected quality and a very reasonable price helped Chili’s score a pretty good grade in the value category. If you use websites like Urbanspoon to research your restaurants, make sure you take the negative comments on service and cleanliness with a grain of salt. Cleanliness is an objective quality, and we have been in some restaurants that made Chili’s dining area seem as clean as a surgical suite. If you want some good food and don’t want to drop a ton of money, you should go ahead and give Chili’s a try.

High marks: Good food and decent prices

Low marks: None…at least on this visit

 

 

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

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

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

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

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

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

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

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

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

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

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

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

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