07 October 2016

Review: The Black Olive – Voorhees Twp, NJ

Category: Reviews — Posted by Michael at 1612

The atmosphere and service at Black Olive was great. Our waiter was very attentive and the space feels much bigger than it is thanks to some cool modern design choices. The acoustics aren’t the greatest, but really, have you ever been in a quiet Greek restaurant?

Moving onto the most important part, the food, I would sum up my first meal here as not bad. It was not the best Greek food I’ve ever eaten, but it was not terrible by any means. I love Greek food. So as far as the staples go, I know how they should taste. I know every restaurant puts their own spin on things but I felt like most of the food here was bland. It seemed as though the chef was trying to conserve his limited supply of spices.

We started out with the saganaki which was delicious. It was not flambéed tableside with ouzo as I’ve enjoyed in some other restaurants, but I certainly can’t hold that against them. The spanakopita was good, but instead of being layered as it usually is prepared, it was more of a roll where all of the filling was wrapped with layers of phyllo. The phyllo was nice and crispy, but the filling lacked the depth of flavor that you’d expect.

The house salad was unique and very tasty. The whole salad was finely shredded which I’ve not seen before. I ordered the pastitsio, my favorite Greek entrée. The dish was bland and a bit dry. The béchamel formed a solid cap on top of the pasta. For dessert, we had baklava and ekmek kataifi. While not bad, they too were generally lacking in flavor.

I’d like to think it was just someone in the kitchen being stingy with herbs and spices the night I was there and maybe it would be better next time. This is certainly not a restaurant that I’d refuse to try again, but reading similar comments in other reviews makes me think our meal might be the norm.

17 June 2016

Review: Village Grille – Williamstown NJ

Category: Reviews — Posted by Michael at 2044

When you think of a restaurant in an Amish market you think of simple homemade comfort food. That is exactly what this restaurant’s predecessor used to serve. A visit to the Village Grille, however, yielded only food that tasted like it came out of the frozen foods aisle of the supermarket. I was sorely disappointed. I ordered the pulled pork sandwich because the old proprietor used to smoke his own meats and they were delicious. The little bit of meat on the sandwich that was placed in front of me this time looked and tasted much like the stuff that comes in plastic tubs in the refrigerated aisle of the supermarket. The rest of the meal was not much better. Thankfully the Amish market the Village Grille is located in sells great meats and much more so I can make my own meals at home.

23 February 2016

Review: Country Cottage – Jim Thorpe PA

Category: Reviews — Posted by Michael at 0923

While this store sells great gifts, pottery, candles and more, the real treasure is back by the register. It’s a wall of pickles. Packaged in Ball jars with a paper tag held on by twine, these are some of the best homemade pickles you’ll ever taste. Besides delicious dills, there are spicy pickles, pickled green beans, garlic, asparagus, salsas and more. Now you understand why the sign out front says “Home of the Blue Ribbon Pickle.” The very friendly owner (locally known simply as “The Pickle Lady” makes all of these the pickles herself. When I was in this area a few years ago, I found myself lugging a heavy bag of pickle jars around with me. This visit was no different. Even in subzero temperatures, it was worth it! It’s hard not to buy one of everything. For those who don’t want to carry many jars of pickles up and down the hills of Jim Thorpe, she told me she also ships. I hope to take her up on that offer. I just wish she had a website instead of having to call.

22 February 2016

Review: Pappy’s Schoolhouse Restaurant and Tavern – Lehighton PA

Category: Reviews — Posted by Michael at 1022

While looking for a late night meal on a weeknight, your choices are usually limited to diners and bars. Diners around this area aren’t open 24 hours so we settled on Pappy’s Schoolhouse. It’s a small local bar. Bar foo can usually go one of two ways… frozen food that you could have picked up at the supermarket yourself or delicious homemade food. This place falls squarely into the homemade category. All of the food was scratch made. They even smoke their own meat! As soon as I heard this, I had to order a brisket sandwich. I was glad I did! Served on a delicious roll with a side of house made barbeque sauce, I was tempted to another one to go!

It’s clearly a local place where everyone knows everyone else, but they made us out-of-towner’s feel welcome too. The waitress actually stopped by our table a few times just to chat. Our dinner took a little longer than expected due to a minor mix up by a new staff member in the kitchen. We didn’t complain since we were in no hurry, but they voluntarily gave us each free dessert to make up for the delay. When do you ever see that type of great customer service anymore?

21 February 2016

Review: Local Kitchen & Beer Bar – Norwalk CT

Category: Reviews — Posted by Michael at 1621

While we were in Norwalk, we intentionally tried a different restaurant for every meal. We stuck to this plan until we tried Local Kitchen and Beer Bar in the South Norwalk (SONO) neighborhood right near the SONO Railroad Bridge.  After stopping in once and sampling a variety of menu items, we just had to go back again the next day before we headed out of town. We mainly dined on their small plates all of which are available in two sizes, little and lots. Offering small plates/appetizers in 2 sizes is something I wish more restaurants did. Sometimes you want to sample a bunch of stuff, other times you just want a single appetizer for yourself or to share. Our two favorites were the Thai Popcorn Chicken and the Crab & Artichoke Fondue. With bacon, smoked gouda and a little sriracha, the fondue is something that I’d buy by the gallon if I could!

On both visits we had a seat by the windows which allowed for people watching on the pedestrian heavy Washington Street and a fun view of the railroad bridge.

While I’m not a beer drinker, they obviously have quite a beer selection as well. Their “bourbon room” is definitely something that might be worth a visit at a later date.

Local Sign
Crab and Artichoke Fondue Thai Popcorn Chicken

01 February 2015

Review: Poynor’s Pommes Frittes – Pigeon Forge TN

Category: Reviews — Posted by Michael at 1114

This restaurant sits in the shadow of the giant Great Smoky Mountain Wheel and is named for its fries (Belgian fries actually). While they definitely serve good fries, the bratwurst sandwiches are what really caught our attention. More specifically, the bread on which the sandwiches are made is amazing. It’s called Broetchen. It’s a small hard roll from Germany/Austria. My mother, who was with me, said she had them years ago on a visit to Germany and had never seen them in this country.

We met the very friendly couple (Tammy and Poynor) who owns the restaurant. Poynor bakes the delicious rolls. He explained that they’re made with a process that involves breaking them three times. We discussed how we could arrange take some home with us and he offered to bake a batch twice so that we could take them home and finish them. They were so good that we took him up on the offer and drove back to Pigeon Forge the following day to pick them up before leaving Tennessee. They survived the 10 hour ride home and we ate them nearly every day for a week!

When visiting Tennessee I’d expect to find southern food and moonshine (we found plent of both), but Poyner’s surprised me with a brilliantly baked German specialty that I wish was available closer to home.

30 January 2015

Review: Kitchen 519 – Gloucester Twp NJ

Category: Reviews — Posted by Michael at 1906

This small casual restaurant is a bright wide open space with a lot of very eclectic decor. Vintage clothes hang on clotheslines on the wall alongside artwork and old photos.

While you wait for your meal to be ready you can keep yourself occupied with the Trivial Pursuit cards on each table. You can also enjoy some appetizers. The garlic fries are good and the Cuban quesadilla is an interesting (and tasty) twist on traditional Cuban sandwich. However, the fried pickles (usually a favorite of mine) were disappointing because the cornmeal breading fell off most of the pickles while they were still in the basket.

I haven’t been here for dinner yet but the lunches I’ve had were quite good. All of the sandwiches on the menu sound good making it hard to choose. I particularly enjoyed the Pork Rojo.

I look forward to exploring more menu items on future visits.

29 January 2015

Review: Smoky Mountain Trout House – Gatlinburg TN

Category: Reviews — Posted by Michael at 1906

While in Gatlinburg we intentionally dined at a different restaurant for each meal of our trip. There are a lot from which to choose. This was the only restaurant we decided to go back to for a second dinner. It’s farther east on Parkway then many other restaurants but it was well worth the mile and a quarter round trip walk from our hotel.

It’s a very small restaurant that is only open 4 hours each evening. I would highly recommend calling ahead for reservations. Because the restaurant is so small, when you enter they have you go upstairs to wait for your table to be ready. You can also wait outside. The gentleman who runs the place (the owner?) keeps everything moving smoothly.

They serve dishes other then the fresh caught rainbow trout for which the restaurant is named although I am guessing nobody knows what those dishes taste like because you would be crazy to order anything but one of the 15 available trout dishes. All of the trout preparations that we tried were lightly seasoned enough to let the amazing flavor of the fish come through. It all tasted so fresh.

If I ever make it back to Gatlinburg this would be the first place that I head for dinner.

082 Smoky Mountain Trout House 104 Smoky Mountain Trout House105 Grilled Trout 106 Smoky Mountain Trout House

22 June 2014

Book Review: An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth

Category: Reviews — Posted by Michael at 1755

I never typically write reviews for Amazon purchases, but Chris Hadfield’s book warrants special attention.

This book is fascinating on several different levels. First it provides a biographical look at Chris Hadfield’s life. He explains his childhood and everything that led up to his becoming an astronaut. It’s a great story of someone who knew what they wanted their entire life and worked exceptionally hard to achieve it.

As Hadfield tells his own story he uses his own experiences to give some really good advice on how anyone can think like an astronaut in their own life as a means to achieving their goals and focusing themselves on being prepared for whatever life throws at them. This is certainly not a self-help book but it leaves the reader with a lot to think about regarding how they handle events big and small in their own life.

The third angle to this book is the inside look at the space program. Hadfield provides a firsthand account of what it takes to become and astronaut plus a detailed description of what it’s like to be an astronaut when you aren’t riding a rocket into outer space. People generally don’t think about the training and everyday work done by astronauts in the he months or years between going into space but this book paints a great picture of it.

Of course, it also describes in great detail the exciting part of being an astronaut, launching into space and living in space (Hadfield was the commander of the International Space Station). From the most mundane tasks that become complicated while living on orbit to performing space walks, he describes experiences that most people will never experience for themselves.

Regardless of which of the above facets of this book interests you the most, it will keep and hold your attention. Chris Hadfield comes across as a totally honest and genuine author and if you’ve ever seen the cover of “Space Oddity” that he performed aboard the ISS, then you that’s probably an accurate depiction.

02 June 2014

Review: Lumpy’s BBQ – Gloucester Twp NJ

Category: Reviews — Posted by Michael at 1925

I love good barbecue, but it can be hard to find it in the Philadelphia area. This isn’t the south. Here cheesesteak and pizza places are on every corner, not BBQ joints. Lumpy’s BBQ can be literally hard to find. It’s easy to accidentally drive right past because it sits in a nondescript shopping center and isn’t all that visible from the road. I’ve passed it a thousand times and never noticed it. I only found it because I was looking up some other local restaurants on Yelp.

However, I can happily report that Lumpy’s has the best barbecue that I’ve ever had north of the Mason-Dixon Line. It’s a simply decorated place and operates much like most barbecue restaurants. You go the counter to order and you get your own drinks. Your food is brought to your table when it’s ready. When we first walked in and saw we were the only diners in the place, we were concerned, but they clearly do a booming take-out business. I was also really excited to find out that they deliver.

We ordered pork ribs, pulled pork and burnt ends. They were all delicious and served with 2 sauces (hot or mild). The burnt ends were especially delicious. The sides we chose were good, although the mac and cheese was not as good as I would have hoped for.

In doing some research on my phone on the way home, I read that the owner competed on the BBQ Pitmasters TV show, so when we got home, I immediately bought that episode on iTunes. It made me want to go back for more right away or, better yet, get some delivered!

18 May 2014

Review: Box Hill Pizzeria – Abingdon MD

Category: Reviews — Posted by Michael at 2019

Box Hill Pizzeria looks like a typical pizzeria, but upon walking in you see it’s packed with customers. Sure, there’s a takeout counter on one side and a separate dining room on the other side. Like many pizzerias, if you want a drink refill, you take you cup up to the machine and refill it. What’s not typical about this pizzeria is that I don’t think anyone goes there for the pizza. Their specialty is crab cakes. In eastern Maryland, a crab cake place isn’t especially uncommon, but I’ve yet to find one that has crab cakes as good as Box Hill. They give you a good sized portion served either baked or fried with almost no filler and huge pieces of lump crabmeat. They also have uncooked crab cakes available for takeout along with instructions to cook them at home and will even ship frozen ones.

To put into perspective how good their crab cakes are, I live 90 minutes away and I’ve done the 3 hour round trip to get them. I’m sure their other menu items that are more typical for a pizza place are good too, but I’ve never tried them. I heard about the crab cakes, tried them and haven’t looked at the rest of the menu since!

22 January 2014

Review: Snydersville Diner – Stroudsburg PA

Category: Reviews — Posted by Michael at 2150

I’m a big fan of old school traditional diners. I randomly stumbled upon the Snydersville Diner while traveling through the Poconos. Upon walking in, it was clear that this was a traditional old diner much like the one my grandmother worked in many years ago. It’s nothing fancy. There’s plenty of chrome all around. It looks like it hasn’t changed one bit in the decades it’s been open, yet it is clean and tidy.

The food is simple but delicious. There’s nothing fancy; just your standard diner fare. Everything was hot, fresh and made exactly as it should be. Diner’s are about comfort food and that what you find here.

The waitresses are your classic diner waitresses. They are friendly and more than happy to suggest the best items on the menu yet just gruff enough so you know that you probably don’t want to mess with them. The only odd thing is that the waitresses wear what appears to be a uniform you’d find on an employee in a doctor’s office. It’s not a bad thing, just odd.

One of the things that our waitress provided a suggestion on was dessert. Snydersville Diner is apparently well known for baking a huge variety of pies. Since we were there in the Fall, I chose a slice of pumpkin pie. The waitress told me that she suggested that I order a slice of pumpkin cream pie instead. She was right, it was delicious. Though I suspect that it would be very hard to find a pie on their menu that isn’t delicious!

Whether you want a delicious fresh cooked meal, yummy pie or just a step into the past, this diner is worth a visit.

21 January 2014

Review: Royal Cracovia – Magnolia NJ

Category: Reviews — Posted by Michael at 2148

When I see a new restaurant that seems to have gone over the top with its decor, I often wonder if they’ve put more energy into making it look pretty than making it good. Sometimes I’ve been wrong. In this case, I was not.

When you read the “about” page on their website you see a lot of bragging about how beautiful the decor of the restaurant is. This is mostly accurate. The only complaint I have about the atmosphere is that it is a bit bright in there.

The service is another story. After being seated, we sat for a while before someone finally came to take our order. We were never asked if we wanted beverages at all. I had to tell the waitress that we wanted to order soft drinks with our meal. When the drinks finally arrived my water glass was covered in bright pink lipstick. It wasn’t just a smudge. These were full lip prints. I don’t know how the waitress missed it while filling them.

The drinks themselves were served in very small glasses. I ordered a soda so I had to ask for refills several times.

We ordered some pierogies as an appetizer because they advertise that they have a “pierogi lab.” This would lead one to believe they have great pierogies. (And who doesn’t love pierogies?) Well, as it turns put there is such a thing as bad pierogies. Honestly, even frozen pierogies from the supermarket are much better than the pierogies at Royal Cracovia. The pierogies were made with a dough that is thin but inexplicably chewy and tough. The fact that they were room temperature instead being hot did not help any.

The other food such as sausages was not terrible but nothing to get excited over. We were brought a bottle of mustard for it but the inner seal hadn’t been removed from the bottle so we had to cut it off ourselves.

It would be nice to have a nice Polish restaurant nearby. Unfortunately, this is not it.

20 January 2014

Review: Lamp Post Diner – Gloucester Township NJ

Category: Reviews — Posted by Michael at 2147

Lamp Post Diner ExteriorThe first time I visited the Lamp Post Diner was just a few days after they opened. There were a few small glitches like a waitress who apparently quit in the middle of her shift. The management did their best to figure out what orders she had or had not taken. The next few visits were much improved. We spoke to one of the owner/managers and he was very friendly. It’s clear that they are working hard to make their new diner the best it can be.

The food was quite good and their selection of desserts is expansive. Their portions are huge. I’ve tried sandwiches, breakfast and other menu items and haven’t been disappointed. Personally, I have to give them some extra points for serving their coffee classic “diner mugs.”

The only negative is that they are not open 24 hours/day. I hope that they will soon move to a 24 hour schedule since that’s what I expect from a true New Jersey diner. I also found the fact that there are TVs around the restaurant a little odd.

Overall, this is one of the first new diners to open around here in a while and it seems to have some real potential to become a long lasting institution in the community.

03 January 2014

Review: Piston Diner – Westville NJ

Category: Reviews — Posted by Michael at 0800

New Jersey’s official nickname is the Garden State but it could be called the The Diner State. There are diners everywhere and I’ve almost never been to a bad one. I enjoy trying new ones when I hear about them but The Piston Diner lands squarely in the “not worth going back to” column.

When you first walk in there’s no clear indication of where you should go to be seated. We stood there awkwardly for a minute before a waitress walked by and told us someone would be with us in a minute. Once we were finally seated the service didn’t get too much better. Very little attention was paid to us throughout our meal.

They only serve breakfast and lunch. I found that odd, but thankfully it was lunchtime when we stopped by.

I ordered a diner staple… the French Dip sandwich. It was mostly bread. The roll was huge and there was barely any roast beef on it at all.  I would say that the upside to this was that I could use the bread to soak up the au jus. However, the au jus had an odd flavor to it that wasn’t all that appealing.

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