Sunday, October 7, 2012

Legends Steakhouse (Smyrna, TN)

1918 Almaville Road, Smyrna, TN 37167, T: 615-220-2115


Legends Steakhouse is a chain of six steakhouses situated mostly in Tennessee. The decor and menu is fairly standard: dark, brown, leather and steaks, ribs, burgers, chicken, pizza, salads, respectively. We have a sweet waitress, who is new and cannot really help us much with suggestions.

I thus go for a fairly classic order: a 9oz top sirloin with onion rings ($14.99). The steak is rather thin and more well-done than medium, as I had ordered. The taste is ok, nothing special. Similarly, the onion rings are ok, but taste fairly generic.I doubt that they were homemade.

VERDICT: 78/100
Legends Steakhouse offers rather standard fare at acceptable prices. Nothing remarkable, really.

Laziza Mediterranean Grill (Evans, GA)

4272 Washington Road  Evans, GA 30809, T: 706-504-4303


I know what you are thinking: a Mediterranean restaurant in the middle of nowhere, that doesn't bode well. I thought the same, but just really craved ME food! Hence, we went to Laziza, situated in a small strip mall in a suburb of Augusta, GA.

We start out with Jalapeno Humus ($3.99), which has a very nice taste and kick. The warm Lebanese bread is great to scoop. We also have Fatoosh (5.99), which is very crispy and has a fresh dressing. A good start!

For entrees, we have a Falafel Dinner ($9.99): big crispy falafels, which are fresh and tasty; the two sides are Red Pepper Humus (ok) and Tabbouleh (fresh and lemony). We also have a Spicy Chicken Shawarma Combo ($8.99): shaved chicken, pickled beet and pickle, and spicy wrapped in Lebanese bread - the chicken consistency is odd (very soft, not tender). The fries are standard: airy with crust.

VERDICT: 87/100
Laziza offers very decent Middle Eastern food, particularly for a non-urban setting. The Fattoosh, jalapeno hummus, and spicy chicken shawarma are the best; the falafel and Tabbouleh are good; the fries are mediocre.

Frozen Moo (Hilton Head Island, SC)

1 North Forest Beach Drive, Hilton Head Island, SC 29928,T: 843-842-3131


Frozen Moo is a very popular ice cream shop in a shopping mall close to the beach. It serves 92 flavors of ice cream, frozen yoghurt, sorbet and sherbet, including low fat and low carb.

I get a cone with one (large) scoop of Sunken Treasure: caramel, caramel cups and chocolate covered pecans ($3.21). It tastes exactly as it sounds: sweet! M. gets a small Sunday with one scoop of low fat caramel-pecan twist ($3.44): it is "bingerific" and very sweet.

VERDICT: 78/100
Frozen Moo serves many varieties of (too) sweet and (too) pricey ice cream.

Hot Dog Harbour (Hilton Head Island, SC)

1 North Forest Beach Drive  Hilton Head Island, SC 29928, T: 843-785-5400


We stumbled upon Hot Dog Harbour by accident, as I was looking for a (light) midday snack. I love hot dog places and while all shops on Hilton Head Island look the same, this place had a nice snack bar feeling inside. They opened in 2009 and serve a broad variety of hot dogs and some burgers.

Although I wasn't looking for a challenge, I was directly gripped by the "Titanic Dog Challenge." The Titanic Dog is a quarter pound sausage with mustard, chili, onions, cucumber, tomato, relish, slaw, jalapeños, Harbour Sauce, grated cheddar cheese, Texas Pete® hot sauce, a fried egg 'n bacon! It weighs approx. 2 lbs. and you have to eat it without a fork and knife and no napkins. I ate it without the cheddar and thoroughly enjoyed it. It was actually one of the best hot dogs I've ever eaten and the messiness of eating it with your hands only added to the pleasure. It only took me a couple of minutes, and I secretly wondered whether I could eat another one. But, as my wife was sitting next to me, I decided against it and simply had my picture taken for the Titanic Wall of Fame. :-)

VERDICT: 93/100
The Hot Dog Parlour is the type of hot dog place every town should have; locally run by people who love their business and come up with delicious challenges to make their customers feel good about stuffing themselves!

Al-Salaam Deli (Savannah, GA)

2311 Habersham St, Savannah, GA 31401, T: 912-447-0400


Al-Salaam Deli is a very small Middle Eastern deli that serves gyros, falafel, burgers, salads (unfortunately, this time they were out of Fattoosh), and Indian-type food (chicken curry and tikka). The people are very nice, but a bit slow.

We order a Chicken Curry Sandwich (5.99) and get it spicy rather than mild. The chicken is marinated and comes in a soft pita, which sucks up the spices of the more Indian-style sauce: excellent! We also order a Gyros with fries and a can of soda ($7.69). The gyros is very good: standard meat, but soft pita and subtle garlic sauce. The fries were very crispy and lightly spiced: excellent for generic fries.

VERDICT: 91/100
Al-Salaam is a great little place that serves authentic Middle Eastern snack, though with a surprise Indian twist. It is well off the beaten track, but worth a visit!

Little Cuba (Chamblee, GA)

3350 Chamblee Tucker Rd, Chamblee, GA 30341, T: 770-451-0025


Little Cuba is a cute little restaurant in an uninteresting strip mall just off the I-85, north of Atlanta. It seems to cater to a broad Hispanic clientele. Inside the little restaurant feels very authentic, making you forget the fact that you are in a dire strip mall.

I order a Cuban Sandwich ($5.50); what else? It is fairly classic: thick chunks of roasted pork, several layers of ham, pickles and mustard on pressed, but still soft, bread. It is decent, but not remarkable. It comes with (some) chips, which seem freshly made, but could use more salt/taste.

VERDICT: 78/100
Little Cuba offers decent Cuban food in a nice, authentic setting, letting you escape the dire surroundings of the Atlanta strip mall-suburbs.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Star Kebab (Florence, Italy)

Via dell'arriento 69, Florence, Tuscany 50123, Italy, T: 055-2654371

I know, why have kebab when you are in Firenze, home to some of the best of what Italian cuisine has to offer. Well, when you need a snack, around 3-4 PM, when all Italian restaurants are closed (between lunch and dinner). Star Kebab is a small kebab place in the multicultural part of Florence, which serves pizza, kebab, and Turkish specialties (although this day there is no Lahmacun). 

We get a Panino Kebab (€3.50/$4.50): a big bun, heated up to make it fresh and crunchy, shaved pieces of lightly spiced meat, very fresh lettuce, tomato and (spicy) onion, spicy sauce and garlic sauce. Surprisingly good!

VERDICT: 82/100
Star Kebab offers surprisingly affordable and good kebab in the center of an expensive city. A great alternative to good, but often expensive, Italian food.

Blue Ribbon Grill (Tucker, GA)

4006 Lavista Road, Tucker, GA 30084, USA, T: 770-491-1570


The Blue Ribbon Grill is a "neighborhood bar and restaurant" tucked away in a strip mall in a suburb of Atlanta. I had passed it several times before, but recently I read on a website that it had one of the best burgers in Atlanta. Although I was a bit suspicious of the list, as it missed some solid contenders, I decided to try it out anyway. Perhaps I should have taken more notice of the slogan: "You gotta eat somewhere and we need the money."

We started with a daily special, the chicken tortilla soup, and a classic staple, a half portion of the Golden Brown Onion Strings ($5.25). The soup was heavy, but tasty. The (huge portion of) onion strings were cut very thin and lightly battered; nice but lukewarm when served. I also liked the spicy horseradishy sauce.

I then had the Montana 'Big Sky' Bison Burger with a side of homemade chips ($10.95). The thick dry burger came on a thick dry bun. Not that much taste. Ok, but nothing special. The homemade chips were still warm, but kind of chewy and with a stale taste.

VERDICT: 71/100
The Blue Ribbon Grill is nothing special, but affordable, and offering a nice look into a long-forgotten time.

Friday, July 6, 2012

McDougal’s Chicken Fingers & Wings (Nashville, TN)

2115 Belcourt Avenue, Nashville, TN 37212, T: 615-383-3005

McDougal’s Chicken Fingers & Wings is a small wooden chicken shack in the Hillsborough Area, very popular among the students of nearby Vanderbilt University – there is also a location in Franklin, TN. Its menu is remarkably similar to that of Raising Cane’s, as is incidentally its McDougal’s Sauce (reminds me of the movie Coming to America): chicken fingers, chicken wings, salads.

I order the Large Basket ($8.49): 5 chicken fingers, French fries, Tennessee Toast, and 3 sauces. The chicken fingers are big and very juicy, only lightly battered: perfect! The fries are thin and both soft and crispy: excellent! McDougals sauce is ketchup-y and peppery (very similar to Raising Cane’s); the honey mustard is good, and the buffalo sauce addictive. We also get a little soft serve ice cream for free. :-)

VERDICT: 98/100
This place is AWESOME! You won't find a better chicken tender basket anywhere!

The Pancake Pantry (Nashville, TN)

1796 21st Ave S, Nashville, TN 37212, T: 614-383-9333

The Pancake Pantry is the most famous breakfast spot in town, and even made it onto a national top-10 list. Even on this super hot summer day (104F), there is a long line outside. We wait for ca. 15-20 minutes before we are finally seated. The place is old-school and packed. The menu is basic breakfast and a lot of different pancakes.

I order the Bacon & Eggs ($8) with Caribbean pancakes (you get 2 special pancakes instead of 3 regular one). I add sourdough toast ($1.90). The eggs are very runny, the bacon is ok, and the toast is lame. The pancakes are good: banana on the side, pecans and fresh coconut slivers on top. M. gets the Sweet and Spice Pancakes ($8.50), which are five dark small pancakes, of a fairly thick consistency, with a nice gingery flavor. She adds a side of Country Sausage ($3.20): three small and unremarkable sausages. J, who lived for years in Nashville and raved about the place, made the best choices: The Grill Cook’s Medley ($12.60): hash browns, grilled onions, tomato, ham, American and Swiss cheese, green peppers: mixed together, and with added picante sauce, they are delicious, according to M. They come with toast and pancakes (two regular or one special). JC chooses the Georgia Peach Pancake: thick rolled pancake around peach with homemade whip cream: very special!

VERDICT: 85/100
The Pancake Pantry is a place for great pancakes rather than average breakfast. Order the Georgia Peach or the Sweet and Spice!

Bolton's Spicy Chicken & Fish (Nashville, TN)

624 Main Street #B, Nashville, TN 37206, T: 615-254-8015

You can not get a more authentic Southern pig out experience than Bolton’s Spicy Chicken & Fish. Located in a small shack in the east-side of town, Bolton’s is a no thrills place. They have various bbq items (e.g. ribs) as well as fried chicken and fish (medium or hot). On this hot summer day (104F outside), it is unbearable inside the small shack, where some 6 people are constantly frying food over open pans. Unfortunately, the woman at the counter defines slow: it takes her 2 minutes to bring change and the shack is all together 20 sqft big!

I get the Catfish Plate ($8.50), which comes with tw side (I order green beans and fries). She gives me the catfish sandwich instead – as it is extremely hot in the shack, and it takes her endlessly to take care of the simplest orders, I decide not to complain and just go with the flow. The sandwich has two huge fillets on toast, but with cheese sauce. It is very fishy and very hot. JC get the Chicken Tenders Plate ($8), which includes three relatively small tenders, which are very tasty and very hot. However, the hotness does not drown out the flavor of the chicken and the burning sensation disappears within ten minutes.

VERDICT: 90/100
Bolton’s serves some of the most authentic and best spicy fried chicken in the country. However, the prices are remarkably steep and the service poor and very slow.

Bub's Burgers & Ice Cream (Carmel, IN)

210 W. Main Street, Carmel, IN 46032, T: 317-706-BUBS (2827)

While Bub’s Burgers & IceCream was founded only in 2003, it is already an Indianapolis institution. It is situated in the wealthy northern suburb of Carmel, where it also has Bub’s Café (mostly breakfast), and they recently opened up another Bub’s Burgers & Ice Cream in the college town of Bloomington, IN. Bub’s was made into a national celebrity by Man vs. Food. It has a basic menu built around burgers (quarter, half, and full pound), elk burgers, fries, chicken tenders and sandwiches, and ice cream.

I have eaten at Bub’s several times, and each time I would postpone The "Big Ugly" ® challenge. This time, inspired by my buddy JC, I was up for it. The Big Ugly is a one pound patty on a half pound bun ($15.95), which is perfectly grilled and seasoned and stays juicy throughout the challenge. The main challenge, really, is the bun, which is fresh but thick. The tomato, lettuce and onion are on the side, but have to be finished! To my surprise, I finish it all within 5 minutes (JC too). Then again, some people have already eaten four Big Uglies in one serving!

As said, I have eaten here before, and can attest to the top quality of the elk burgers (leaner), the fries, the waffle fries, and (for the healthier eater) the Grilled Mahi Mahi Sandwich ($10.65). On top of that, Bub’s has great ice cream, particularly the Spumoni and the Blueberry Cookie (creamy and tasty), as well as malts and shakes.

VERDICT: 93/100
Bub’s has great food all around, but expect a (long) wait and fairly steep prices.

Peppy Grill (Indianapolis, IN)

1004 Virginia Ave, Indianapolis, IN 46203, T: 317-637-1158

Peppy Grill is like being in a small town America in the early 1950s; in fact, I doubt the place has changed a thing since it opened many decades ago. It seems to be mostly known for cheap all-day breakfast (huge pancakes!) and burgers (or “hamburgs,” as the sign says), but Peppy has a full diner-style menu. Similar to the neighborhood it is in, Fountain Square, Peppy's clientele is a combination of local old white working class and young white hipsters.

I order the Hamburger ($3.35), which comes with chips, and make it a "Deluxe (+$0.35), which means lettuce, tomato, onion, and mayo. I think this already says it all. The quarter pound burger is grilled on the griddle, while the wrinkled chips come straight from a huge bag. The burger is thin and dry, the condiments fresh; as close to your average family barbecue burger as it gets.

Somewhat disappointed I sit pondering whether to eat more, and if so where, when I notice that the woman  cuts whole potatoes in chunks above the fryer. The potatoes seem soft - I later hear they first fry them whole and then in chunks. So, I decide to add a portion of home fries (ca. $2.75). They are absolutely perfect: crispy on the outside, well done in the inside, and with a real potato taste!

VERDICT: 82/100
Peppy Grill mostly offers regular fare at good prices. However, their home fries are amazing!

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Oaken Barrel (Greenwood, IN)

50 Airport Pkwy #L, Greenwood, IN 46143, T: 317-887-2287

Oaken Barrel is a brew company that also has a large brewpub annex sport bar in a small strip mall just off the I-65. It is very busy on this summer day; perhaps because no one uses their outdoor seating today (it’s 102F!). They have a regular bar menu, but with a culinary (and spicy) twist. 

We start with the Cajun Beef Tips ($7.75): blackened bits of beef tenderloin sautéed in Cajun spices served with horseradish sauce. They warn that it is very spicy, but that is an exaggeration. The beef chunks are grilled medium, very juicy, and have a great kick to them. Delicious! As an in-betweener we get a basket of Homemade Chips ($3), which turns out to be a rather generous portion of large and thick chips, fried fresh and crispy. Delicious again! Finally, I get the Tex Mex Burger ($7.75), which is exactly how I like my spicy burgers: soft bun, well grilled burger, and the spicy comes from the jalapeños, rather than the sauce, and is complemented by the fresh tastes of homemade pico de gallo. Yum! Finally, the side of onion rings (+ $1.50) is a huge portion of thick sliced onion, freshly battered: good. Oh, and M. tells me that the beer is great too!

VERDICT: 93/100
Outstanding bar food! They only shouldn't use the term "spicy" so lightly. ;-) Service could be better (and nicer) too.

Jib Jab Hot Dog Shoppe (Hubbard, OH)

6965 Truck World Boulevard, Hubbard, OH 44425, T: 330-534-0296

Ever since I was a little boy I had a fascination for trucks, and for a long time I wanted to be a trucker. So, the combination of fast food and truckers is extremely seductive to me, even though it has often worked against me. Jib Jab Hot Dog Shoppe is a small shop in the Truckworld Mall, which serves… well, hot dogs.

I get a Texas Hot Dog ($2.35), which really is a large chili dog. Both the bun and the dog are large and ok, the chili isn’t remarkable. We also get the Trucker's Favorite ($6.87) – how can I resist? – which includes a Texas Hot Dog, a soup of the day, and a large soft drink. M. adds Sloppy Joe to the hot dog, which is chunky and fairly tasty. Unfortunately, within minutes the sweats and the runs hit me. Clearly, I do not have a trucker’s stomach.

VERDICT: 58/100
Jib Jab serves hot dogs for truckers, which means quantity over quality, and price over hygiene.

The Governor's Pub (Bellefonte, PA)

211 West High Street, Bellefonte, PA 16823, T: 814-353-1008

By accident we stumble upon Bellefonte, Pennsylvania, which is a quaint town in the middle of nowhere with an old, rustic downtown. We find The Governor’s Pub, a both modern and traditional pub-like restaurant. The menu is built around a fairly classic fare, but with an original twist: burgers, pub classics, sandwiches, salads.

I order the favorite, the Robert Walker Ruben ($8.50). It is a classic Ruben: toasted marble rye, tender corned beef, a fairly light sauce, and cabbage: very tasty! It comes with their Fresh Cut Fries, which are clearly double fried, perfectly crispy, and sprinkled with kosher salt and thyme: some of the best fries I have had in the US (and I am a traditionalist!). M. has the James Beaver Chicken Salad, which is fresh, and the chicken is juicy, but overall uneventful.

VERDICT: 90/100
The Governor's Pub is the kind of place I love; unassuming and serving regular fare but with exceptional quality. Do NOT miss out on their fresh cut fries!