CombatCritic's Recent Reviews
- Food: 2.5
- Service: 3.5
- Decor: 3.0
- Meal price: $30 - $49
I have been wanting to try Merchants since they opened over three years ago, but every time I checked their menu online, it just did not inspire me. Local hipsters and metrosexuals gave them high marks, raving about their food and beer options, but these are the same people that gives 5-stars (10 Bombs in my book, a rating reserved for only the very Best in Value) to some of the many mediocre restaurants in Lawrence. As a matter of fact, links on Merchants' website list them among "The Best Restaurants In Lawrence, Kansas" (KCUR Radio) and "Lawrence is a great day trip for foodies" (Kansas City Star), along with several less than stellar Lawrence restaurants, according to Kansas City media outlets.
We arrived at around 5:30 for our Valentine's Day reservation, having been called the day before to confirm our reservation and asked if I was "disabled", a rather odd question. I said no, even though I am an 80% disabled veteran, because it's basically none of their business, and was told "good", we'll put you upstairs then". Rather than make an issue of it, I painfully made my way up the stairs to not the first balcony, but to the very top floor, two stories above the "prime" dining room. I survived, but felt like a second (or is it third because of the floor we were on?) class citizen.
Merchants advertises "Happy Hour", but fails to mention anywhere on their website or menu what time Happy Hour actually is. It turns out, after asking our server, that it is from 5pm to 6pm, so I ordered an IPA ($3.50 vice $7) and a porter ($3.25 vice $6.50) before the clock struck six. Both were quite good and a great value at half of their regular price.
For our appetizer, we decided on the burrata. It was actually quite good, but there was too much of the creamy spread for the six very small slices of baguette. At $10, it was a fair value, but would have been better had it come with a couple more slices of baguette to spread the sweet and savory concoction on. The menu should also mention the fact that "burrata" is a type of mozzarella cheese because even a Southern Italian (my wife) had not realized that mozzarella was the main ingredient.
For entrees, my wife had the Housemade Fettucine ($16), a rather skimpy and dry plate of reddish pasta, apparently in a white wine butter garlic sauce with spinach, almond, onion confit, dates, and breadcrumbs. Beside being quite a small portion for the price, it was very dry and tasted mostly of onion. Not a very good dish and my wife, who is not a big eater, was still hungry when she finished it.
I had the Grilled Ribeye ($32), the most expensive thing on the menu, a 12 ounce steak in a peppercorn, red wine-shallot butter and Worcestershire onion jam sauce (incorrectly spelled "worchestershire" by the way, uncapitalized - Worcestershire is a county in England - and with an "h' where there should notbe one). I ordered it medium/medium-well, telling our server that I do not like bloody meat and that a "little pink in the middle" would be great. The steak came out more medium rare than medium well, but even though the server offered to have it cooked some more (meaning "thrown in the microwave"), I declined and ate the "bloody" thing. Even though it was much rarer than I prefer, it was actually quite tender and the sauce extraordinary, making up for unappetizing color of the meat. It came with horseradish roasted potatoes, which were decent, and creamed greens (kale perhaps), which were extremely good.
Because my wife was still hungry, and she has a massive sweet tooth, she could not resist the Persian Love Cake ($7), a cardamom sponge cake with "spiced pistachios, rosewater and saffron scented cream, and candied rose petal dust". It sounded quite bizzare on the menu, but was actually quite exotic and tasty, a nice finish to a decent meal.
First of all, our server, Devin, was very good, quite attentive, and the highlight of the meal. The atmosphere is also warm and inviting, even if we were in the nosebleed section. However, I got the impression that the chef in particular or the establishment in general are trying a bit too hard to be trendy and "gourmet", pulling it off on some occasions (the steak sauce and the dessert) and not on others (the pasta and undercooked steak). The prices are not exorbitant, but when you drop a C-note for dinner, it should be closer to flawless than we experienced at Merchants (e.g. my raw steak).
CombatCritic Gives Merchants Pub And Plate 6 Bombs Out Of 10 With Deductions For The Measly Portion Of Pasta (1 Bomb), Bloody Meat (2 Bombs), And "Nosebleed Section" Table (1 Bomb) ... More Bombs Are Better!
- Food: 1.5
- Service: 2.0
- Decor: 2.5
- Meal price: $10 - $19
Noodless to say, our experience on this evening was less than stellar. OK, we are talking about Noodles & Company, a chain, so this review will not be as detailed as usual, but I need to comment.
The place is clean, standard Noodles & Company layout, lots of poor KU students eating big bowls of noodles. You get the idea. The staff we are friendly and helpful and the food decent, with one major exception. More on that soon.
We ordered the Korean BBQ Meatballs ($5 for 10) as a starter, I the Spicy Korean Beef Noodles ($9.25), and my better half the Steak, and I use that term loosely, Stroganoff ($9.25). The meatballs were pretty good and a decent value. My Korean Beef Noodles had barely a trace of beef, so I tossed in some of the meatballs, but otherwise it was pretty good although lacking enough broth (and meat).
The BIG problem came when my wife started eating the beef stroganoff. There was more beef than in my Korean noodles, but she chewed and chewed and chewed and chewed. You get the picture. The beef was "cartilagine" (literally "cartilage"), she said in Italian. I said: "Huh?", not being familiar with this word. Oh, you mean gristly! Yes, that was what she meant. I tasted a piece and it had the texture of a large, thick rubber band.
A very nice young lady came by and asked how our meal was. I told her "gristly", so she offered to exchange the stroganoff for something else. Well enough, so my wife asked for the Wisconsin Mac & Cheese ($6.25), a $3 difference. The mac & cheese came quickly and tasted very much like Kraft Macaroni and Cheese, a big bowl of it. The main problem was that nobody apologized, nobody offered a refund for the difference, to comp the meal, or even offer a free dessert. When I asked for the manager to leave my card as we left, three people pointed at each other (must have been Larry, Moe and Curly), so at that point I gave up. We left with a sour taste in our mouths ... or was that just gristle in our teeth?
Considering the fact that you can get a much better, quality sit down Asian fusion (Thai, Chinese, Nepalese) meal at ZZ's just up Mass Street for about the same price, Noodles & Company is not such a great value either.
CombatCritic Gives Noodles & Company 4 Bombs Out Of 10 ... More Bombs Are Better!
- Food: 4.0
- Service: 2.0
- Decor: 4.0
- Meal price: $10 - $19
I love a good, hearty breakfast, but because bacon, eggs, hash browns, biscuits and gravy are not as healthy as they are tasty, we normally only indulge on special occasions. I reviewed Wheatfields, a bakery and restaurant one block West of Mass Street in downtown Lawrence, on my birthday last year after going there for breakfast. Coincidentally, my wife and I returned for breakfast yesterday on my 60th birthday, enjoying ourselves and allowing me to reassess the rating I gave them last year (6 Bombs Out Of 10 ... More Bombs Are Better!).
My wife and I have been buying Wheatfields wonderful breads since we moved to Lawrence a little over three years ago. My favorite is the raisin and pecan sourdough ($4.50), a robust torpedo-shaped loaf with a thick crispy crust outside and plenty of raisins and pecan pieces inside. It toasts marvelously and is delicious alone, with butter, or coated in my favorite toppings, peanut butter and bananas.
They have numerous varieties, including sourdough, semolina with sesame and poppy seeds, baguette, ciabatta, Kalamata olive, sourdough, and 100% whole wheat among others. Breads range in price from $4 to nearly $9 for their holiday specials, but the whole wheat with walnuts and raisins is just HALF the price of a similar loaf at a new East Lawrence bakery on Barker, being quite a good value.
You order at the counter immediately in front of you as you enter, pay, and are given a small sign to place on your table so the servers can bring your order to the correct table. Drinks are help-yourself with three varieties of coffee (two regular and one decaf) and a small selection of teas and fountain drinks.
Always keeping it simple, I went with the Classic Breakfast (#1 - $6.95), coming with two eggs, hash browns, toast, and sausage links or bacon (I went with the bacon of course). They raised their price a buck since last year, but it is still the cheapest breakfast in Lawrence. Adding a half order of biscuits and gravy (#5 - $4.25, up 50¢) brought my very hearty and delicious breakfast to a little over $11, very reasonable compared to other downtown breakfast spots. Not a big egg or meat eater, my wife had a scone and coffee. She loves their scones and was quite happy with this cheese and herb variety.
Our meals arrived very quickly, even before I was done pouring coffee and toasting my bread. The Classic Breakfast was excellent with the eggs cooked perfectly over-medium, the bacon crispy and not burnt, but the hash browns were not as crunchy as I like them. The half order of biscuits and gravy was plenty for me with a very large biscuit smothered in a thick, savory country gravy with loads of sausage. The coffee was hot, obviously fresh, and delicious.
As breakfast goes, I have had better, but we enjoyed our meal and I have to say that you will not find a better breakfast value in Lawrence. Wheatfields is a very popular meeting place with great bread, excellent coffees, and tasty breakfasts. They seem to do very well because the place is almost always full.
My only gripe is with the staff who seem to have an "attitude". There is no "Hi, welcome to WheatFields" when you come in, it is more like "Yea, what do you want". Employees are routinely impersonal and abrupt, not warm and inviting. A smile and occasional "thank you" from staff would be much appreciated.
CombatCritic Upgrades Wheatfields Bakery Cafe To 7 Bombs Out Of 10 With A 2 Bomb Deduction For Arrogant Staff ... MORE BOMBS ARE BETTER!
- Meal price: $10 - $19
Our realtor told us that this is his favorite Mexican restaurant despite the outward appearance. You would think it is an abandoned building as you drive by except for the lights of the sign and inside the restaurant.
A group of Latinas celebrating a birthday occupied the table next to us, always a good sign when people indigenous to the cuisine frequent a place. The food was decent by Left Coast standards, exceptional by Midwest standards, and reasonably priced.
We tried the chili con queso ($5.95) and guacamole ($3.50) for starters. The queso has an odd consistency, similar to ricotta cheese, but was good with big chunks of green chili. The guacamole was cut with something because it neither had the texture of mashed avocado nor the taste.
My wife had the quesadilla and taquitos appetizer (Menu price = $9.95, we paid $10.95) as an entree and it was disappointing. Coming with guacamole, pico de gallo , and sour cream, the quesadilla had hardly any cheese and the taquitos were a bit burnt and dry inside. I went with the chile relleno, taco, and enchilada combo ($11.95) with, as my dad used to say, "refired" beans. I asked for a cheese and onion enchilada and shredded beef taco, but got a shredded beef enchilada instead. The taco was good, but came in a pre-fab shell (deal breaker). The enchilada was also good, but not what I ordered. When I told the waiter that I got the wrong enchilada, he scurried off before I could tell him to forget it. He brought a cheese and onion enchilada a few minutes later, but I barely touched it because I was stuffed by that time. What I did eat was very good though. I could not even see the relleno because it was covered with shredded lettuce and tomato. I think it was pretty good, but the taste was masked by the unusual toppings.
The "Cadillac Margarita" ($5.95) was rather tasteless and weak, so I did not bother ordering a second. In conclusion, the service was excellent and the decor cheesy, just as it should be.
CombatCritic Gives La Carreta 5 Bombs Out Of 10 ... More Bombs Are Better!