Monday, October 19, 2009

Lebowski's Grill and Pub

Lebowski's is in it's maiden year opening this past March 2009. It's on East Blvd, nestled within the likes of Cantina 1511, Big Daddy's, Moe's and Rock n' Lobster. It's named after the Big Lebowski and has various posters and quotes around the restaurant as well as album covers hanging from the wall. I decided to meet my spouse for lunch - we've never been and it's in the middle of where we work... a good meeting spot. We arrived and our drink orders were taken and delivered promptly. At that time, we were busy reviewing the menu - which had several items I wanted to order: The Sizzle Salad, the Turkey Burger, the Quesadillas... the list went on and on. We decided to both order a sandwich and split it as well as split the sides:

Me - Turkey BLT Wrap with Mac and Cheese (the wrap had Roasted Turkey Breast, Applewood-Smoked Bacon, Lettuce, Tomato & Mayo)
Spouse - Chicken Florentine (Chicken Breast, Provolone, Baby Spinach, Bruschetta and Spinach-Artichoke Spread on Grilled Sourdough) with garlic fries

We waited not even 10 minutes and out popped our food. The wrap was a good size - much larger than I have seen at other sandwich places. There was plenty of turkey and bacon (I loved that the turkey was crisp and not oily) and it was stuffed end-to-end. The mac and cheese was definitely homemade. The mac was cavatappi pasta and the cheese were several cheeses that oozed in the bowl. There was enough melted cheese left to scoop up with the garlic fries. The mac and cheese was hot and not overly salty. My half of the Chicken Florentine was still hot when I got to it (this was after eating my half of the wrap and mac and cheese). The chicken breast was thinly sliced and with each bite I could taste a piece of artichoke and spinach. The artichoke gave the sandwich the perfect sour bite - a good balance with the chicken and cheese. The garlic fries were equally delicious. They appeared to have a garlic batter and were garnished with parsley. The fries were a true treat - something I normally don't order (yes, even ghosts need to watch their weight) but they were worth it. I will be thanking these fries and the mac and cheese for my 3 mile run this afternoon.

All and all, the lunch was very good and at a great lunchtime value. The two sandwiches, sides and drinks was ~$23. You can pay the same price (or more) at Panera or Five Guys and the meal at Lebowski's was far better. I would like to go back to try the burgers and wings and their "mystery beer." I give Lebowski's 4 ghosts for overall service, food and price. We'll be meeting there again in the future.

Friday, October 16, 2009

The Counter

The Counter is a hip, Southpark burger bar (and a small nationwide chain). I went during lunch and it was actually pretty empty (I have been on weekends and you usually have to wait). I was seated promptly and ordered an unsweet tea. The waitress explained that you 'build your burger,' which is a trend now throughout the burger business (as well as Five Guys, Big Daddy's, Red Robin). From the looks of the menu I noticed two main things - 1) the price - pretty steep and 2) no fries or other sides offered - you have to get those separately. You basically build a burger with a choice of cheese and 4 toppings and a sauce and bread. Anything more costs extra.

I settled on a 1/3 lb beef burger with jalapeno cheese. This was topped with more jalapenos, tomatoes, pickles and grilled onions on a wheat bun and roasted garlic aioli sauce on the side. I also broke the bank and ordered the 50/50 basket of onion strings and fries. The burger came out and it was stacked high... I knew this was going to be messy. The garlic aioli sauce was on the side and I took a single taste prior to using on the burger - it was smooth and not overly garlicky. I then thinly spreaded this on the burger (saving some for the fries). The burger itself was pretty good - a little dry but the sauce and toppings helped. Oh the toppings - there were a lot - so much so they fell off the burger. The fries were McDonald's like with some seasoning (Lawry's maybe?) on them. The onion strings were thin slices of onions (surprise!). I did finish the burger though and was full the rest of the day. Overall, the burger was pretty good but a little dry and not as juicy as a burger can be.

I give the Counter 3 ghosts. This is because the burger was good but not great. The price is steep, esp when you have to order the sides separately. The waitress was good though - esp keeping my glass filled with tea. The meal with tax and tip was almost $18 (yes, for lunch).

Feel free to go build your burger and try it out -

Friday, October 9, 2009

New South Kitchen & Bar

New South Kitchen and Bar serves food like its namesake... Southern food. The interesting thing about this restaurant is that it serves seasonal dishes, which allows rotation of a variety of dishes (but keeping their regular favorites like meatloaf and shrimp and grits). We went to dinner there on a Saturday evening to a good sized crowd. Our server came to our table and she was energetic and hip. She went through the menu and explained the restaurant's mission of their seasonal flair to the guests I brought (as it was their first time). We gave our drink orders (vino!) and reviewed the menu. The menu had a special of selecting an appetizer, entree, dessert and a glass of wine for $25 or you could order off the regular menu. You can't be a prix fixed meal if the price is right.

For the appetizer, we all seemed to settle on the fried green tomatoes. These tomatoes were brought hot to the table. The tomatoes were quartered (which you don't usually see - mainly arrive sliced) but it was a nice change as it allowed everyone at the table to have several servings versus just one or two slices. The tomatoes were served with horseradish relish with corn and bacon. This sauce complimented the tomatoes nicely and gave them a subtle bite. As for the entrees, we ordered the following:

Friend 1 - Meatloaf with mashed potatoes, thin beans, tomato demi
Friend 2 - Grilled chicken salad (not on the menu but this friend was not too hungry and the chef mixed up a seasonal salad with some chicken)
Friend 3 - American Kobe Sirloin with creamed spinach and potatoes and onion marmalade
Me - Shrimp and grits served with homemade sausage and mushrooms

The dinner came about the same time as the second glass of wine. My shrimp and grits looked steamin! I took a bite of the shrimp and they were perfectly cooked and well seasoned. The shrimp were also plentiful (usually you find only 3-4 shrimp but this dish had about 7). The homemade sausage was to die for... it was nice slices of sausage that were spiced just right. As for the grits - I couldn't have loved them anymore. They had a nice consistency and taste (not watery at all) and mixed well with the mushrooms. The dish was just a little on the salty side but overall, it was a great meal. I also tasted of the Kobe sirloin (medium) and it was a melt-in-your-mouth experience. The meatloaf was also very good and was moist - unlike some dried-out counterparts. As for Friend 2 - they were perfectly happy with their grilled chicken salad.

Lastly, we all ordered dessert. I settled on the sauteed bananas served with ice cream. They were great and the caramelized taste was perfect with the cold ice cream.

The waitress was great through it all as well - keeping drinks flowing and us customers happy. I give the New South 4 ghosts for overall great food and service. Also - Saturdays they have live music... very Jack Johnson like.

Check them out - in the Arboretum

Friday, October 2, 2009

Mamma Lena's

Last night a small group of us went to Mamma Lena's for dinner. I heard from friends that is was real good Italian food and was looking forward to it... however I would 'eat' my words by the end of the night.

Walking in, it seemed like a cozy place settled in a historic building in downtown Waxhaw. Brick walls, a huge bread maker (where they make the homemade bread) and pictures of people enjoying food on the wall. I sat down and prepared to look over the menu while waiting for other friends to arrive. The menu, by appearance, had many options from pasta to pizza to specialities. Once our final friend arrived (there were five of us), the waitress came over to get our order. Waters all around except a friend and myself ordered a glass of wine ($7). The wine arrived and it was generously filled - I figured it must be for the price. Friend 2 noticed that the owner wasn't working and stated the food isn't as good when the owner is not there (Flag #1). This is when it starts to get dicey... We began to place our orders:

Friend 1 - small pizza with bacon and ricotta
Friend 2 - small pizza with meatballs and ricotta
Friend 3 - small pizza with meatballs and olives
Friend 4 - gnocchi with side salad
Myself - gnocchi with side salad

Seems simple enough, right? Well, Friend 4 asked if they could upgrade to a Caesar salad instead of a house salad. The waitress stated that they only had large Caesar salads and couldn't do that (Flag #1 - this means that the salads are premade in the bowls - how hard is it to put some romaine, croutons and some parm in a smaller bowl?) - so Friend 4 was stuck with the house salad. While we waited for the salads, the bread was brought to the table. Not to ruin it, but this was the best thing we ate all night. The inside was moist and soft and the crust was flaky and crunchy. It was served with garlic butter that had nice sized pieces of garlic.

About 10 - 15 minutes later, the house salads arrived. They looked like they have been sitting in the bowl in the fridge (yea Flag #2!). The bowl contained iceberg lettuce and wilty carrot sticks with some croutons on top. The balsamic vinaigrette that came with it was thick and tasteless. It had the consistency of maple syrup. During this time, I noticed that several diners in the nearby tables just up and left... leaving their empty bread baskets and water. Yes - the service/kitchen seemed to be that slow. It took about 20 - 30 more minutes it seemed for our entrees to come to the table. All in all, it was ok as we enjoyed each others company chit-chatting - but the chit chatting was turning into grumbling stomachs. First, the small pizzas were brought out. Friend 1 and 3's order was right... Friend 2 was brought a bacon and ricotta pizza instead of meatball (Flag #3 - the waitress said it would be an easy fix as the meatballs are premade and cooked and could just put them on the pizza - should food be made to ordered? This isn't a fast food restaurant - believe me). The 'adding meatball process' was so fast, the pizza came back out with mine and Friend 4's gnocchi orders.

Gnocchi time. Ok - the plate appeared big. From appearance, it was gnocchi shaped balls with red sauce and mozzarella cheese. The cheese wasn't fresh mozzarella cheese either but just shredded cheese from a bag it seemed - I could tell because some was melted and some was not. Yikes. I decided to dig into the dish to give it a try... the 'gnocchi' didn't really seem like gnocchi. You know how homemade gnocchi has the definite potato dumpling taste, weight and texture (a nice, plump piece of dough with a moist center?) - this did not have it. The gnocchi appeared to be just a big piece of store made pasta with perfect lines. It was overcooked and had no gnocchi qualities that I have ever seen. As for the sauce, I might as well have just poured pure salt in my mouth. It was the saltiest dish I have had in a long time. If you count salt as a spice - it was really anything that seemed added to the dish. The tomato sauce had the consistency of a jarred sauce (Prego maybe?). Not to mention with the shredded cheese (that was cold) - this was not worth the $12.50 pricetag. I only really ended up taking 4 bites and setting the plate aside asking for a takeout box - maybe the spouse will eat it. Friend 4, who also ordered the gnocchi was not impressed either - also only taking a few bites and setting it aside. At this time trying to choke down the Atlantic Ocean with floating pasta, I really needed some water. The server only came once the entire time to refill our water glasses and I never saw her refill again - boy, did I need it.

As far as Friend 1-3's pizza - they all seemed to like it ok but stated it didn't taste like it usually does. The dough seemed to be homemade by the big bread machine also. Friend 2's pizza did look pathetic... pieces of bacon and ricotta thrown around with some cheese melted, then on top - clumps of meatballs that were thrown on as an afterthought.

I don't think that 'the owner isn't there so it's not as good' is a valid excuse. A great... even good restaurant should be on top of its game any and everyday. It took us about 2 hours for our meal and ~$30 just for mine - which was definitely not worth it. There are definitely better Italian, nonchain restaurants in the area (which will be showcased later) - heck even Carraba's is better (shutter - a chain!)

I give Mamma Lena's 1 ghost. Service was poor (even though the waitress seemed friendly but definately stressed), the wait was long, the food was over salted and not seasoned properly, food seemed store-bought and premade.... should I go on? Hey - I am sure some of you are going to disagree with this assessment but 'the owner wasn't working' isn't an excuse.
Downtown Waxhaw