Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Parky's Smokehouse

Road trip!!!  Several weeks ago we received a generous invitation from Gary and Julie Parks to try Parky's Smokehouse in Lebanon, and today we finally had the opportunity to go and give it a try.  Being from the south side, it was quite a trek at about a 50 minute drive, so we had to be strategic in our dinner time planning.

After a pleasant drive through old Lebanon, past Memorial Park, Parky's gave a very good first impression.  From the outside, it looked like a chain.  Very polished.  We aren't sure if the building was originally a different chain, but it had the look down...great signage, designated carry-out parking, and a contained playfulness.

Inside was more of the same.  Great layout and excellent marketing.  From the cute pig with shades t-shirts to the signature sauces available for purchase, these people obviously had a lot of pride in their product.

So, for the reason we came...the eats!  We had reviewed the menu beforehand and already knew what we wanted.  To drink, Fred went with a tall New Belgian Fat Tire ale.  For a small selection of brews, they really had a good mix.  The Kentuckarita, their signature margarita made with Jim Beam and frozen smooth, was a must for Libby!  Libby never knew that her two favorite spirits, bourbon and tequila could go so well together!  These came out quickly and were accompanied by a bread basket.  Fred was very happy with the Fat tire and Libby was on cloud nine -- Only disappointed that she had decided on the 12 oz instead of the 27 oz.!

For starters, we decided to go big and take on the Smokehouse Sampler!  This is a belly buster in it's own right; Corn & Black Bean Salsa, Tortilla Chips, Curley Ques(thin onion rings), Boneless Barbecue Glazed Chicken Wings, Mozzarella Cheese Sticks, Fried Dill Pickles and Fresh Fried Potato Chips served with barbecue ranch dressing.  Wow!  So many good things about this appy, it was hard to know where to start.  Our initial interest was in the fried pickles...and yes, they were exactly what you want when you're in the mood...well battered and that little tang that melds so perfectly with the homemade bbq ranch dressing.  The mozzarella sticks, housemade potato chips, curley ques, and boneless chicken wings were all really good, but the show stopper had to be that corn and black bean salsa!  Fred and Libby have never had anything like it.  Such a sweet, flavorful surprise that really makes salsa belong in a bbq joint!

Knowing we still had entrees to order, we paced ourselves and were so glad we did.  Fred, continuing the sampler feel, went with the Barbecue Blast; a quarter rack of ribs, a white or dark chicken quarter, pulled pork, brisket, turkey breast and smoked sausage...what was he thinking???  Libby, trying to stick a more conservative sounding array, went with the two meat combo plate of the bourbon chicken and the pulled pork.  Both came with two sides.  Fred went with mac&cheese and sweet potato fries and Libby the barbecue beans and creamy coleslaw.  Ozzy went with his usual that came with a side of fries and applesauce.  Can we say Pig Out?! 

Where do we begin?
First off, the kids were very happy!
Stella gleefully enjoyed some of the bread basket, sweet potato fries and the applesauce.  We had never seen the girl eat so much regular table food with the family in her life!  Ozzy loved the mac&cheese and kept proclaiming how full he was...he was careful to add that we must box up all the leftover mac as he would want it tomorrow!

Now, for the meat!  What a bountiful feast it was!  We had to agree that everything was good.  There was no failure here, but there were a couple of stand outs.  The ribs were crazy tender and fell apart as they should.  Even the fat was all gooey...no chewiness or underdone bits, just melt in your mouth goodness.  The brisket had great flavor and texture.  The turkey was a surprise and perfect for trying out all the sauces!  Much more flavor than we expected.  The bourbon chicken was moist and the sauce was nice and easy.

Oh, the sauces...can't forget those!  We had the pleasure of trying sweet, spicy, mustard, molasses, bourbon bbq, and apple.  Again, hard to know where to start!  The molasses really stood out as it had a very unique flavor that gave the impression of rich prunes..it was amazing!  Went very nicely on the brisket. The apple was like putting apple pie filling on the meat and that was a treat on the turkey and chicken.  The mustard felt very honey mustard-y and was a good contrast to the wide array of sweetness.  The spicy was mild as was the bourbon flavor of the bourbon bbq.

The sides were good.  The most outstanding being the barbecue beans...a fun twist with black beans and huge hunks of the pulled pork...oh, baby!  The cole slaw was very mild in flavor and didn't really stand up to anything else, but it would have been good with a lighter dish...needed more zing.   As mentioned above, the mac & cheese and sweet potato fries were hits with the kids.  Simple preparations that kept the meat the guest of honor.

FLOE had planned to try dessert, but there was just no way.  Full to the brim, we rolled out in a carb coma, fighting the urge to nap on the way home.  The torrential downpour didn't help, but all in all, this was well worth the trip.  Next time, dessert, but for now, we will rest easy with dreams of molasses over brisket, tender babybacks, and Kentuckarita's by the pitcher...

A word of warning...this place is not for the weak of stomach.  Bring an appetite and extra insulin if you got it! ;)


Wrap Up
Price-$-$$$, Actually, very well priced for barbecue.  Our meal included, one large and one small beer, two 12 oz Kentuckarita's, the biggest appetizer, a kid's meal, the largest meat sampler, a combo platter, and everything came with two sides.  Our total was right at $80 and was well worth it.  If one doesn't order basically everything but the kitchen sink, it is quite reasonable.
Atmosphere-****, You would think this place is a chain!  It is so polished and professional, yet has so much personality.  Julie and Gary are doing things right!
Service-****, Again, very impressive.  Our waiter seemed pretty new, but it was obvious his goal was to give us a fun, inviting experience. By the way, the menu is HUGE, so there is literally something for everyone!

Fred -A-, Wonderful find with surprising off the beaten path items.  Couldn't get enough of the salsa or the kentuckarita...only complaint....have to ask for any of their amazing sauces rather than have them at the table.
Libby - A+, I absolutely LOVE this place!  Not only is it a great mix of clean and contemporary, but it has a feel of downhome hospitality that is hard to find north of the Ohio.  The food was so comforting and it was not just a meal, but an experience!
Ozzy- A+, Comments like "This is great!" "I'm so full," and "Don't forget the leftovers!" really speaks volumes from our finicky fella.
Estelle- A+, As Stella's first opportunity to enjoy the meal with the rest of us, she was one happy 9 month old!  It was nice to put the baby food up entirely for one meal!
Parky's Smokehouse on Urbanspoon

Monday, June 21, 2010

Monon Food Company

So, FLOE went out on a limb and decided to chance a trip to the Monon during the week.  It was beautiful out and Fred got home a little early, so thinking we could squeeze it in just before the girl's bedtime, we went for it!

Unfortunately, it didn't turn out to be much of a walk, but we did make time to try the Monon Food Company.  Situated in the old Hogheads BBQ location, MFC changed it up by brightening the inside and making it an order at the counter/deliver to table set up. 

The menu is chalkboard style and in the very busy line, one of the owners(we assume) was taking orders ahead to try and speed things up a bit.  One especially nice touch is the outstanding beer selection and wine by the glass.  So, first challenge, which beer to choose?  A few items really stood out so we had to give them a try.  First, would be the Gorgonzola Steak and Potato Basket(see above).  Fred decided on the rotisserie chicken with potatoes and corn muffin.  Libby had to try Tim's chipotle fish tacos and Ozzy, naturally the kids mac 'n cheese. 

First off, we must say the service is awesome!  These people have a lot of pride in their restaurant and make it a priority to give fast, friendly, and very personable service.  Case in point...we actually tried to stop in a couple of weeks before, but had to leave due to a personal matter and one of the staff remembered Ozzy's name when we returned!  Pretty impressive.

Anyway, back to the food.  The appetizer, though a bit heavy for an appy(had to use a knife and fork), was awesome!  Libby doesn't even like gorgonzola and she was ooing and awing over it.  The steak was a nice medium, tender and juicy and the potatoes had a good amount of seasoning.  The whole thing went together so well...felt more like an entree...yummy! 

But sadly, that is where the amazing ended for us.

The entrees came out fairly quickly and Libby's fish tacos looked the part, fresh ingredients, nicely crisped tortillas, but unfortunately a healthy dose of raw onion was used as a garnish.  Normally, a small amount of red onion wouldn't be an issue, but this was a bounty of raw white onion and sadly took the tacos to an unpleasant place for Libby...it gave the impression of a tuna salad...you know, the canned tuna version with mayo and onion and bleh...not Libby's cup of tea.  The ingredients were top quality, but the amount of onion just threw the whole thing off...just a damned shame.  Otherwise, it would've been great.  And no, onions were not mentioned in the menu at all. 

Fred's dinner had different problems...the rotisserie chicken was dry or overcooked, he couldn't figure out which and had very little flavor to boot.  Sadly, this is another instance we have experienced lately where the local Kroger version would've put it to shame.  The same yummy potatoes were on the plate, but the cornbread was too grainy and had little flavor on it's own.  Ozzy usually will eat up any bread you put in front of him and after one bite, he pushed it aside.

The saddest part of the meal was the mac 'n cheese.  Ozzy took one bite and started to pout.  "It's not good" is something we have NEVER heard him say about a kids mac 'n cheese.  Stunned, both Fred and Libby tried it and yeah, it wasn't good.  Needed salt or more cheese, not hot, congealed beyond pleasantness, something.  The same young lady that took a special interest in Ozzy asked permission to get him a little snack from a candy machine and we consented.  It was a sweet gesture. 

We loved the vibe, the beer and wine by the glass, the service...it is so Broadripple.  It will succeed with fine tuning and perhaps some menu tweaking, but our experience was a major disappointment.  We will probably stop in again and give it another shot as we did like the concept so much and the people even more.


Wrap Up
Price-$$, For Broadripple, average pricing and certainly not a deterrant.
Atmosphere-***, Relaxing outdoor seating and excellent location on the Monon.
Service-****, Yes, you order at the counter, but big deal...they make up for it in enthusiasm.

Fred - C, The entree drags down this rating.  Loved the beer selection and the appetizer, but I wonder what's going on in the back of the house when they are working so hard up front.
Libby -C+, I have never had a fish taco with that amount of fresh, white onion before and it was just wrong, wrong, wrong...IMHO. Outstanding beer selection.  Great service.  
Ozzy-D, Ozzy has never been so disappointed with his standard fare.  Although, we think he might be sweet on the pretty young lady who took a shine to him. ;)
Estelle-B, High chairs available and a nice amount of buzz in the air to keep her occasional squawks from interrupting the other diners' experiences.

Monon Food Company on Urbanspoon

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Jonathon Byrd's Cafeteria

In need of a quick lunch on the south side, FLOE stopped in at Jonathon Byrd's Cafeteria.  When we first moved into town 11 years ago, we asked a local for a good place to eat and this was her first suggestion.  We weren't impressed then and are even less so now.

Upon entering, you're greeted with the usual cafeteria line and extra long spread of various preprepared items.  Immediately upon grabbing our trays we noticed the brown lettuce on the salad and moved on to dessert.

It's always struck us as strange that cafeterias put the desserts first. But at least the yummy-looking pies and cakes cleansed our minds from the wilted greens.  Libby chose the chocolate cake and Ozzy immediately pointed towards a very large eclair.  "That one!!!" Fred is never really a dessert person so he chose to pass.  Libby's cake was uninspired and frankly a little stale.  While Fred agreed that Ozzy's eclair looked amazing, Ozzy did little but pick at it until Fred demanded a fork full.  It was indeed all bark and no bite.  The crust itself was hard and flavorless.  The filling was fine but not enough to make up for the overall.

While Ozzy & Libby flew straight past the soup station, Fred decided to make up for dessert with a bowl of their vegetable soup.  It had a cabbage base and a good mix of veggies.  Solid overall.

Next was main courses where Libby opted for the fried chicken and Fred the breaded cod with cocktail sauce.  The chicken was by far the best item we had.  Judging by their geriatric clientele, we had expected it to be bland, but it was nicely seasoned and juicy.  Fred's fish was crispy and artery clogging yet completely unremarkable.  He was thankful that it was served with cocktail sauce to at least give it some flavor as it seemed to have zero on it's own.   Ozzy didn't like the looks of any of the main dishes but was assured that there was indeed mac 'n cheese at the sides station. 

Ozzy picked out his perfunctory side of mac 'n cheese as well as a cornbread muffin while Libby chose the green beans and a baked potato.  Fred, knowing that we'd never get a bite of Ozzy's mac, picked up one for himself as well as a cup of the sweet potatoes.  Ozzy destroyed not only his sides but the second half of Fred's mac 'n cheese.  They definitely know the way to the boy's heart.  Fred's sweet potatoes were cloyingly sweet and heavy on the cinnamon.  Overall it wasn't horrible, but much more a dessert than a side dish. Unfortunately, Libby's sides both went more or less untouched.  The potato was cold and Libby immediately pushed it aside.  The green beans were the typical over-cooked over-salted dish found at every cafeteria.

Before leaving, we took a few minutes to look around at the dining room.  They have obviously not updated the decor in decades.  It felt like we had been eating in a nursing home.  Actually, we've eaten in nicer nursing homes.  We suppose they were going for down-home country, but it was instead just depressing.  Vinyl-covered chairs with dusty, rusty wheels do not add to the ambiance and need to go.  Although Stella did enjoy her old-fashioned high-chair as it was more functional than the standard restaurant ones that are inevitably too short.


Wrap Up
Price-$$, Afforable with large portions. 
Atmosphere-*, We don't recall ever leaving an eatery more deflated than when we arrived. 
Service-***, Above-average service for a cafeteria.  Staff helped with getting Ozzy's tray to the table and came around to refill drinks.

Fred - D-, Jonathon Byrds embodies the worst of cafeterias.  Uninspired warmed-over food reminiscent of your great-aunt's who wasn't the family's best chef.  Combined with a depressing dining room, this does not make for a pleasant dining experience.
Libby - D+, No.  The chicken was good.  But if I want really good fried chicken, decent sides and a home-style meal, I'm going to Maxine's Chicken & Waffles.  The atmosphere was sterile without being clean.  Wiped down surfaces that were still tacky.  Muzak in the background.  Decor that would have been outdated 30 years ago.  Overall just a stagnant feeling.
Ozzy- B, LOVED the mac 'n cheese.  The eclair, not so much.  But dug on mommy's stale chocolate cake.
Estelle-B, She loved the high chair and was, for once, at eye-level with the rest of the diners.  A big upgrade over the standard high-chair.

Jonathon Byrds Cafeteria on Urbanspoon