Tuesday, November 25, 2008

J Gumbo's

With Ozzy in preschool (big boy!!), Fred and Libby had a rare opportunity for a quick weekday lunch. After hearing of the combination of good beer and cajun, we decided to try this 2nd attempt at reinventing BW3's old downtown location. Upon entering, we were immediately greeted by the take-out counter -- a confusing holdover from the restaurant's first incarnation. Once it was explained that we could either order and then sit down or sit first and order from a waitress, we decided on the latter. The tasteful, upscale decor only served to make the front counter that much more out of place.

Libby excitedly ordered a Brugge Triple de Ripple while Fred begrudgingly chose an iced tea, it being a working lunch. He regretted his decision immediately after tasting, suspecting that the tea came from a bag. Not a teabag, mind you, but a concentrate one. Bad form.

After skimming over the simple menu, we violated our own rule by both ordering our favorite cajun staple, crawfish etouffee. At only $5 a bowl, a true steal. We were quickly presented with a small but adequate portion of simple white rice covered in a brown crawfish gravy and a piece of garlic toast. While not unpleasant, we were both nonplused. Although an etouffee is always mild in spice (assuming that the patron will add their own), there should always be a depth of flavor. Not only was the rice undercooked, but the flavor of the etouffee was muddied and lifeless. Bad food, and in such small portions!

Simply because the food is cheap does not mean one's expectations are. It's surprising that a product like this would keep even a regional chain such as J. Gumbo's afloat. With exceptional competition in town from Yat's, they will be hard pressed to stay in business for long, even with their extensive beer selection.

Wrap Up
Price-$, A very cheap downtown lunch location.
Atmosphere-***, Apart from the out of place front counter, the actual decor was tasteful and comfortable. Would be a **** considering the price
Service-**, Fast, yet with only one server for the whole room, she was unable to keep up with clearing tables.
Fred -C+, Saved only by the beer selection. But I will most likely be back to sample a different cajun staple.
Libby - C, My beer was the saving grace. While the etouffee wasn't horrible, it wasn't enough to bring me back again.
Ozzy - N/A

J. Gumbo's  on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Vito Provolone's

Nestled in a run-down strip mall off of Stop 11 & US135 in Greenwood, the FLO drive past Vito Provolone's almost every day. Yet in our 10 years in town, we'd never eaten there. A victim of judging the book by it's cover and our penchant for pickiness with Italian food. No Buca's or Johnny Carino's for us. We can make a better tomato sauce at home. But our blogging duties demanded an end to the chain madness!

We were well prepared to write a negative review. Expecting the worst, we entered into a small, low-lit, worn-but-comfortable dining room with stucco walls, sconces and faux-brick. Tony Bennett and Frank Sinatra played in the background. Libby immediately felt they were going for an outdoor Italian cafe, inside... The half-brick walls and tight table arrangement played this out. Even though everyone was whispering, several conversations could be heard at all times. It led to a family-friendly intimate feel. Very pleasant.

We were immediately impressed with the Northern Italian influence in the menu. We're suckers for Piccattas, Marsalas and clam sauces. Fred and Libby immediately decided on ordering our bellwether italian dishes to give a true basis for comparison. Libby went with the Chicken Marsala, Fred with the Chicken Lamone (Vito's piccata). Italian is one of Ozzy's favorites (carb-based of course) so it was the kid's spaghetti for him.

After ordering two glasses of the house Chianti (nice! f-f-f-f), Ozzy's eye's lit up as the complimentary garlic bread arrived. Baked fresh (or sure seemed like it!) and brushed with a nice salty garlic-butter, Oz was in heaven. After Fred gave him only one piece at a time, he eventually grabbed half a loaf in a hilarious display that was too cute to stop. So much for our appetizer...

Each entree came with a soup or salad option. Fred went with a house salad with blue cheese (one of their 4 homemade dressings) while Libby enjoyed a wonderful cream of mushroom soup. Well seasoned. Not too powerful. A nice mild flavor that most people would enjoy.

The main courses arrived quickly and we were immediately impressed with the quality. Fred couldn't wait for Libby to finish cutting up Ozzy's noodles before he tried his first bite. Yum. The chicken was pounded flat (which usually spells of disastrous, dried hunks of jerky) but instead it was moist with a crisp pan fry. They were very generous with the capers, much to Fred's delight. It was a very zesty lemon-caper sauce with angel hair. Perfect.

Libby was equally happy with her Marsala. The same preparation for the chicken and pasta. After enjoying the mushroom soup, it seemed a natural progression to move to this lightly mushroom flavored Marsala sauce. It was a more sweet, yet still a mild version that was unique to Vito's.

But the real grand-slam was Ozzy's spaghetti. It's always a good sign when the boy is still eating after Mom & Dad have finished. He actually gave his own review. "This is good." and "Still not done yet." We stole a few tastes and the sauce was a sweet, heavy basil and oregano marinara that was screaming to go on pizza. We both made a mental note for next time.

Wrap Up
Price-$$$, A bit on the pricey side, but we didn't exactly go with the cheap eats either...
Atmosphere-**1/2, We think we know where they were going, but it wouldn't hurt to put a little more effort into it. Especially if you're actually in a rundown strip mall and only open for dinner.
Service-***, Fast, friendly, and quick to offer more bread & drinks.
Fred -B+, I was SO looking forward to a negative review! Oh well. Darned good wine sauce!
Libby - B, Although I was pleasantly surprised with both my soup and entree, I prefer bolder flavors.
Ozzy - A, See above!

Vito Provolone's on Urbanspoon

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Thai Spice

Another fine Saturday afternoon, and the FLO was on the hunt for food. After being shut down by the new barbecue place(a wait we could not bare), we had a fabulous idea....time for thai! Thai Spice opened a few years ago on county line in Greenwood and was a much celebrated arrival. This was a first for the south side. We have been faithful customers since it opened and have enjoyed every dish we've had. We finally decided it was time to share our enthusiasm.

Ozzy had made it very clear that he was not in the mood for experimenting. The chicken strips and fries, available for kids, was calling his name. While he waited, Mom and Dad went for the lemon grass soup(Thom Yum) as a starter. On this chilly fall day, Fred and Libby couldn't imagine a more savory warm up. A broth base, with chili oil, lemon grass(leaf and stem), ginger, tofu, basil, tomato, mushroom, and a host of spices greeted us with a bouquet that was nothing short of intoxicating. The flavors were so fragrant that Libby couldn't stop thinking that it was like a potpourri soup. Smooth. A dish that exemplifies what Thai food is all about.

On this occasion, Libby chose the Padd Makur(#86)...a delicious stir fry of spicy Japanese eggplant, basil, peppers, and chicken for the protein; all served with a side of steamed rice. The real genius in this dish (other than an amazing spice combination) is the Japanese eggplant. Unfamiliar to the FLO before Thai Spice, it is a much more flavorful version of the popular grocery variety eggplant. It is cooked until soft and mushy and the flavor is...how to explain...velvet. Sweet velvet in a symphony of spice and texture. As with most thai eateries, you get to choose your heat. Libby went with medium. For this dish, it was a perfect amount with a build that left you warm and cozy.

Fred went with the Padd Kemau(#63). Pictured above, it is easy to see the wonderful flat, wide noodles stir fried with brocolli, bok choy, tomatoes, basil and Fred's choice of tofu for the protein. This dish, heavy in basil, and ordered hot, (per Fred's preference) also displayed thai foods' wonderful heat building talent. With a healthy dose of chili oil, this dish never disappoints. Fred's only addition would have been some of that tasty Japanese eggplant!

When Ozzy's linner arrived, before our main entrees, Libby and Fred were distracted by how good his fries smelled. He quickly dove into the still-hot-pile and remained occupied the rest of the meal. Although, chicken strips are always a challenge, he tried a bite and opted to just finish the fries. When asked his opinion, a short and simple "good" was mumbled in between bites. We were surprised that a thai place would provide decent grub for the rugrats.

We would also like to mention the tasty-fried-tofu-goodness served with a spicy/sweet thai sauce as a complimentary appetizer. Chinese sweet and sour makers could take a lesson from their thai bretherin. Just yummy! And how do you make tofu so crispy and delicious?! Ask Thai Spice!

Wrap Up
Price-$-$$, Definitely a cheap lunch and an affordable dinner. It's never a matter of concern when deciding to dine here.
Atmosphere-***, Simple buddhist gold accents, neutral tones, and one open dining area that is inviting to all who come!
Service-***, Very accommodating. Language barriers are always a good sign when considering ethinic cuisine, yet it doesn't affect the speed and quality of service.
Fred -A, always good to have a slow burn on the lips the rest of the afternoon.
Libby - A, as a thai lover, Thai Spice is in my top two thai expriences...definitely the top ethnic choice on the south side.
Ozzy - B, Fries gone. Chicken strips tried and failed. "Good"

Thai Spice on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Ted's Montana Grill

For the Oz-man's 4th birthday, we decided to visit a place he has enjoyed a few times...Ted's Montana Grill. What makes Ted's so awesome? Why, the best buffalo burgers ever, that's what! It is a tall order to even find buffalo burgers on menus around the city. FLO makes a point to always sample the bison whenever we find it -- for better or worse. But there is never a question in our minds when we walk into Ted's.

Naturally, Ozzy isn't there for the meat. He was all about the mac 'n cheese and fries. And yes, he did finish a full bowl of the velveeta-ey goodness. He was actually silent and focused while consuming.

Libby decided to go for George's Cadillac...a succulent bison burger with barbecue, cheddar cheese, and bacon. Oh yes, so rich and delicious! Just look into those eyes! It is so easy to overcook bison due to the lower fat content and with the Cadillac, you would never know it. And as all good fries are, they're double fried and perfectly seasoned.

Fred went with a lot more in the Kitchen Sink...grilled ham, mushrooms, Anaheim peppers(instead of onion), fried egg, bacon, and cheddar on the bison burger....wow, what a mouth full!

While enjoying our burgers, we began taking in the 1920's & 30's decor. At first we did not notice the small art-deco touches which oddly melded well with western-style paintings, horns & buffalo heads on the walls. Our booth was surprisingly private and while Ozzy was on his best behavior, any shenanigans would not have upset the other diners.

Although a small detail to note, it was a pleasant surprise to find our own personal pepper grinder on the table, rather than the standard shaker. Why these are not a common item throughout the restaurant landscape is beyond us. Such a simple, cheap way to enhance your diner's total experience!

Ted's should also receive kudos for it's environmental awareness. Napkins are all cloth, to-go cups are biodegradable... They even reintroduced paper straws back to the US. Impressive.

If we must find a weak point in Ted's armor, it would be the breadth of menu. If you want your bison in a form other than steak, burger, or meatloaf, you must go on it's specific day of the week.


Wrap Up
Price-$$-$$$, Ok, so a burger & drink is gonna run you $10. But we dare you to find a better one.
Atmosphere-***, Inspired. surprisingly comfortable and equally welcoming to the t-shirted or the suited.
Service-***, Very accommodating. Well paced and even brought the birthday boy an ice cream & cookie.
Fred - A, Sorry cow-pokes. I'm a buffalo man.
Libby - A, It is rare that I will travel 40 minutes for a burger.
Ozzy - A, No words, just a glazed-over shoveling with little care of the dripping cheese.

Ted's Montana Grill on Urbanspoon