Sunday, January 6, 2013

Gillie's Vegetarian Cuisine (Blacksburg, VA)

152 College Avenue, Blacksburg, VA 24060, T: 540-961-2703

Gillie’s Vegetarian Cuisine is a cozy, country-style vegetarian restaurant in downtown Blacksburg, adjacent to the main campus of Virginia Tech. It has a clear college town/granola atmosphere.

On this cold morning I go for the Banana Walnut French Toast ($7). Unfortunately, they are out of bananas, so they use blueberries instead. :-(  Two thick slices of wheat toast, battered and fried, covered with walnuts and blueberries. It’s ok, and I doubt it would be that much better with bananas. I also get two eggs ($2.50) with baguette toast ($1.50). Both are very tasty, but the slices of toast are very small. M. wants the Broiled Grapefruit ($3), but they are also out of that, so she gets a scrambled omelet of egg whites with white cheddar, mushroom, tomatoes and jalapeños. It is very nice, the potatoes on the side are deliciously seasoned (some are a bit undercooked), but the biscuit is too dry and tastes a bit frozen.

VERDICT: 82/100
To be fair, no breakfast is complete without bacon, so a vegetarian restaurant is not the best pig out place for breakfast. Gillie's is a good breakfast place, however, particularly for fresh vegetarian options.

Balkan Grill (Alexandria, VA)

5902 North Kings Highway, Alexandria, VA 22303, T: 703-329-3303

Tucked away in a dreary strip mall in Alexandria, the Balkan Grill offers Balkan specialties to go. The place itself is tiny and only has a small counter where some 3-4 people can sit. Next door is a little supermarket, which sells mostly Balkan and German food. The Balkan Grill offers the classic staples of grilled meats, but mostly as sandwiches. It also has various salads and sweets (including baklava).

M. starts with a bowl of lentil soup, which is well grinded and peppery, and comes with fresh bread. It’s very good. We share an Adana Burger ($6.95), which is a large round burger with Balkan spices and harissa on freshly baked bread. It’s absolutely delicious! The Mixed Grill ($12.90) includes a nice piece of chicken, a rather thin and dry pljeskavica, four excellent cevapcici, and a small piece of well-seasoned but dry beef. The fries are thick and a bit too soft.

VERDICT: 89/100
Balkan Grill offers very authentic Balkan food. Best stay away from the mixed grill, which is relatively expensive and ot so good, and stick with the excellent sandwiches.

Uptown Chicago Grill (Harrisonburg, PA)

2101 N 2nd Street, Harrisburg, PA 17110, T: 717-233-7487

The Uptown Chicago Grill is a small neighborhood diner in Pennsylvania’s capital city, famed for breakfasts and burgers. This noon there are some teenagers milling around -- I guess they 'work' there: one goes on and o about going to Harvard and how easy it is to get in (he just has to keep up his 3.0 gpa). Uhm, you might devote a bit more attention to your customers, as you may have a long career in the food service sector.

I order the Super Combo ($6.95): 2 eggs, French toast, choice of meat (bacon), homes fries or grits (fries), and I add wheat toast. The home fries are really good, though some thicker ones are undercooked; the French toast is a bit chewy and tasteless; the bacon is crispy bacon and the eggs are greasy.

VERDICT: 74/10
The Uptown Chicago Grill is a diner and that’s about it. Nothing special.

Xenia Kebab Grille (Harrisonburg, VA)

219 Burgess Rd, Harrisonburg, VA 22801, T: 540-437-4832

Xenia is a small Kurdish place in the back of a big strip mall in the college town of Harrisonburg; it’s actually next to the entrance of James Madison University. It seems mostly for take-out, although one of the other three tables is occupied this Sunday evening.

I order a small portion of “Boardwalk Fries” ($1.79), which are allegedly a specialty. I only later realize they are a particular brand (Boardwalk), which seem to be mostly used in sports venues. They are rather soft and mushy inside; bland but saved somewhat by the added seasoning. I also get a small Greek Salad ($2.49), which is a basic lettuce/tomato/onion/cucumber combination, but with a refreshing seasoning and Greek dressing. Finally, I get the Traditional Athena Gyro ($6.95): a gyros in a kind of naan bread; the meat is a bit dry but crispy, the gyros has good authentic flavors and is topped with tasty tzatziki.

VERDICT: 87/100
Xenia is a nice little Middle Eastern place off the beaten track. The food tastes authentic and the bread gives a special twist to it! Ignore the fries, go for the gyros!

Fox and Hound Bar & Grill (Charlotte, NC)

9325 Center Lake Drive, Suite 200, Charlotte, NC 28216, T: 704-509-2853

The Fox and Hound Bar & Grill is a chain of sports bars spanning almost half of the US territory; various are called Baileys. This Charlotte-Northlake location is in a nice outdoor mall in the north of Charlotte, just off the I-77. I make a stop here on my way to NYC, as I want to see my Colts clinch a playoff spot. They show all NFL games at the same time, but most screens are on the Carolina Panthers game). This Sunday it is absolutely packed, so I have to take a place in the bar section and look across most of the room to the one tv that shows the Colts game.

I start with an order of Champion Chicken Wings ($9.49), which is the second reason I stop here. I have read that they are the best in town (I didn’t know it was a chain). The ten wings are extremely crispy and dipped in a peppery buffalo sauce. Not as hot as some other buffalo sauces, but the pepper gives it an extra kick. While not the biggest, these wings are the best I had so far. (On the way back my wife and I stop here again and I have another order,  equally delicious, followed by an order of “hot honey” wings, which are good, but not as good as the “hot.”) I order the Chicken Tender Meal ($9.99) as an entrée, as a guy next to me is eating them, and they look amazing. Five huge chicken tenders in a crispy beer batter, which unfortunately works much better for fish. The BBQ sauce is spicy, the honey mustard creamy. The fries are not freshly made; thick, but not too crispy.

VERDICT: 97/85/100
This is a great sports bar (chain) with very decent food and fantastic hot wings.

Davis Mountain Market & Deli (Tellico Plains, TN)

1401 New Highway 68, Tellico Plains, TN 37385, T: 423-261-2618

While driving in the middle of nowhere, we were lured to the Davis Mountain Market & Restaurant by a big sign more than 6 miles earlier, announcing what looks like an old-school snackbar. In fact, it is a gas station that has a small grill and about three tables inside. The few people that we see in the roughly thirty minutes that we are there, more on that below, seem mostly local, hunters, who all know each other. Interestingly, few eat here…. We should have picked up on that sign!

I order a Double Big Mountain Hamburger ($4.69) and a cup of chili ($3.69). Sounds like a fairly easy procedure, right? Not here. Not with this woman behind the counter. Almost every word I say I have to repeat before it registers…. and causes great confusion. With the help of a former employee, who is just there to pick up here own food, my order finally get through. Unfortunately, it will take another 20-25 minutes before the food arrives (in the meantime, they take care of exactly one other order). The “Double Big Mountain Hamburger” includes two small but quite thick patties, which do not taste like 100% beef, lettuce, tomato, onion, mustard, ketchup, on a basic bun. Type of burger you’ll pick up at a basic family barbeque… when you are 2 hours late to the party. The chili comes, I assume, from a can, and tastes quite gross and watery.

VERDICT: 31/100
Ok, what can you expect from food at a gas station in the middle of nowhere? Well, at least a bit better quality and much less expensive food. This is GROSS!