Friday, December 08, 2006

Almost As Good

Another barbecue place opens in Waco! Well it's not exactly headline news. We have a few too many here and this one is almost good. The arrival of Dickey’s is probably a good thing for Waco in that it may interest some other better franchises to take a look at our town. I have eaten at the original Dickey’s in Dallas, which is not the same as eating at the clones. I have eaten at a couple of their early spinoffs within the last few years. This new version is a bit different, as has its good points.

When you think of large multi-location barbecue franchises in Texas you think first of Spring Creek, Rudy's, Sonny Bryan's, Colter's, Luther's, and maybe even Tony Roma's before you get around to Dickey's. And that's the problem with this new Q outpost on Valley Mills. When compared to these other restaurants, it's almost as good. I would much preferred a Spring Creek or a Colter’s to Dickey’s.

My visit was just after the lunch peak traffic was clearing out at 1:15 PM. There was only a short line and a brief wait as we got our trays and moved down the cafeteria line. I liked the simple combination menu that presented the choices and prices clearly. Dickey's is not over priced for this market and gives adequate portions of beef, ribs, ham, sausage, and other meats. The list of over 15 sides is impressive and they are self-served. There were some heavy plates moving through the line ahead of us - heaping with a tasty baked potato casserole, waffle-fries, and coleslaw.

I sampled two meats and was satisfied with the quantity but not the quality. I think the piles of oak wood stacked out front of the restaurant must be just for show. There was little evidence of any smoke aroma in either the sliced beef or the pork spare ribs. I relied on a half and half mixture of the mild and spicy barbecue sauce to add any smoke flavor. The beef was tender but tasted like it had been slowly baked. The meaty ribs were large and a bit chewy (I like them to have some firmness) but were too pale on the exterior with little or no crust. Now some of this may have been due to the large demand associated with the opening. Maybe in a month this might improve.

I think the best way to sum up Dickey’s is to compare them with some of the other options we have here in Waco.

Brisket - Almost as good as Uncle Dan’s; Almost as good as Michna’s; Almost as good as Rudy’s; Almost as good as Rib Crib!

Ribs- Not as good as Uncle Dan’s; Almost as good as Michna’s; Almost as good as Rib Crib; Better than Rudy’s!

Sauce - Not near as good as Rudy’s; Almost as good as Rib Crib; Better than Uncle Dan’s; Better than Michna’s!

Sides - Better than Rudy’s; Better than Rib Crib; Better that Michna’s; Better than Uncle Dan’s!

Value - Better than Rudy’s; Almost better than Rib Crib; Not as good as Michna’s; Better than Uncle Dan’s!

Atmosphere - Almost better than Rudy’s; Almost better than Rib Crib; Better than Michna’s; Almost better than Uncle Dan’s!

Wednesday, December 06, 2006


I was amused by someone's comment that as a Texan is is our God given right to eat all the trans fat we want - even if we don't know we are eating it. This viewpoint was expressed in response to New York City banning the use of trans fat in restaurants (effective in 2008). Certainly no good deed goes unpunished. Oils with trans fat can be stored longer than oils that do not have hydrogen added to them. I suspect that most who object will do so because of the cost. Using peanut, canola, of another more expensive oil can effect flavor, texture, and shelf life. I have a hard time complaining about anything that makes food healthier.

I visited D's Chicken on Colcord last week. I enjoyed the food and the great value. The gyro's are large and tasty - maybe a bit dry for some tastes but good. I tried their hummus and was very pleased. In all, a nice place that has something a bit different.

Friday, November 10, 2006

They Are Dropping Like Flies

And they seem to be doing it pretty quickly in Waco these days. Yet more establishments have demised in the last two weeks. Two Mr. Gatti’s, and Vito’s shut their doors.

Probably the biggest surprise was the closing of Beef O’Brady’s. O’Brady’s was the below average sports bar with an above average core of loyal followers. The Irish cousins reacted with fire and brimstone when the initial review of BO’B in the Waco trib was less than wonderful. For a week or so, they filled the editorial page with indignant letters questioning the fairness and accuracy of the review. Some may say it was just a coincidence but that was one of the last restaurant reviews to appear in the Trib.

Now it seems that the people have spoken. I guess the loyal base was just not broad enough.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Going, Going, Gone

I saw the news in the Waco Harold’s Tribune that two fine food establishments became ex-Waco restaurants last week. The giant Waco Steak and Seafood suffered from schizo consistency and quality. The times I ate there the food was acceptable but many of my friends recounted horrible service and food tales. I gave up on them months ago. If this was your favorite place, you will need to drive to College Station to get your seafood fix.

Talk about an idea that is past its prime…. Krystal, White Castle, Sliders, what ever you call them, no longer has the following to survive in this market. I found the food at Krystal to be very ordinary. I thought “What a great place to take the younger kids in the family. This will be just right for their appetite.” Think again. They were not excited to go there. Lack of a good kids marketing campaign I guess.

Are there others that should be on this list?


1. Smoky Bones – no cars, no people, no money!

2. Backyard Burgers – we needed two of these?

3. Rosati’s – Who pays this kind of money for pizza? Even if it is good.

4. Trevino’s – had a good business on Hewitt Dr.

Post any additions to this list.

Eatin’ in the Bunkhouse

I am going to go out of my way to publize what I consider to be a very fine barbeque choice that is a bit off the beaten path. You will have to drive 35 miles west of Waco on Highway 6 to Clifton, Texas to sample the tasty ribs. The dark finish and texture on these beauties make these some of the best in this region. The Bunkhouse (254.675.8409) sits on the south side of the 6 just before you get into Clifton. There is a sign about a mile before get to the dirt driveway.

The restaurant is furnished with many country paintings, curious old farming tools, saws, a guitar, horseshoes, and much more hanging from the walls. To enhance the central Texas atmosphere, country music is played in the background and the owner wears a cowboy hat, wranglers, and boots while he cuts the meat in front of you. His line of patter and country customer service is among the best in the west. Also interesting were the TV sets that seem to be a part of some strange performance art or broadcast from space. If you figure out what they are doing, let me know.

Tuesday thru Friday there is an all you can eat lunch buffet from 11am - 2pm that includes salad bar and dessert. Each day sliced brisket, chopped brisket (in sauce), and sausage are served along with alternating fourth meat. Be advised that the regular orders are large and are served with some decent sides. The onion rings are frozen but OK and the fries are also tasty. The sauce is average. The special rib sauce/glaze is a bit sweeter. The prices here are very reasonable and the serving size make this place an exceptional value.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

See and be scene

Dining in Waco is like the soft drink industry. You can eat with relative certainty with the big guy chain restaurants or you can look for something distinctively different and out of the ordinary. The food scene here in Waco is fairly static. The opening of a new chain restaurant or nationally famous donut shop might cause a few ripples in the media stream but most small/family/chef owned operations struggle for attention and then disappear. A few build a clientele and set themselves apart from the others by providing consistent quality or at least a reliable value. Mexican food, Barbeque, and burgers dominate the landscape in Waco. Steaks, Chinese, and Italian can also be found in limited quantity and quality.

This past month I ate at an old favorite
the Park’s Family Buffet at Hwy 84 East in beautiful Pellmead. Park’s is a great place to pig out on some good homestyle cooking. It is one of the true "real bargins left in Waco. Two look-a-like brothers (on in back and one at the register) are responsible for keeping the steam tables full and overflowing. This food is not for anyone with a heart condition or worried about what they might look like next week. Heep eating those Healthy Choice frozen lunches if things like calories and fat grams bother you. Crispy fried pork chops, catfish, meat loaf, and baked ribs in sauce make frequent appearances on the rotating daily buffet. I enjoy the bread pudding dessert that is surprisingly tasty.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Winging It

I had seen Buffalo Wild Wings in Dallas and its suburbs but had never ventured into one. I was not very excited when they bought the Tony Roma’s location and transformed it into another wing joint. Their Internet location proclaims that they seek to be more that just another New York chicken wing purveyor. They do this by using the unique concept of combining their food with a dozen TV’s showing many sports events. The chain is based in Kent, Ohio. There are over 400 locations in 36 states – mostly in the east.

I have visited BWW twice and both times I have been pleased with the service and atmosphere of the place. They have a large selection of sauces for the wings that are carefully graded for hotness. I found the Honey Barbeque and the Asian Zing to be very tasty. I had some of the wing with the HOTcoating that live up to the name. They were much to warm for my companion and did make my lips burn after just two wings. Unless you are taking a bet of showing off it is probably wise to stick with the mid-range choices. The ranch and blue cheese side dips were thick and tasty as well.

They have several sandwiches and salads to compliment the wings. This is good because not everyone wants to make a meal of chicken parts. Quite by accident I stopped in on a Tuesday and found that the wings are only $.35 each that day. This is a nice bargain. 10 wings cost only $3.50 combined with some blue cheese, fries and a drink for about $6.00. Not bad.

I have eaten at other wing places in Waco including Wing Stop (I like the fries) but I think BWW is a cut above the rest. Frozen potatoes and no Diet Dr Pepper keep BWW from getting a higher rating but I thought I got some tasty food with decent value for my dollars.

Authentic Is Our Middle Name

Surveying some fairly new additions to the Waco food scene might be fun. I visited Rosa’s Café and (the not really) Tortilla Factory for the third time. After three trips, you should be able to sum up the strengths and weaknesses of just about any chain restaurant.

Rosa's Cafe is a growing Mexican food restaurant chain with beginnings in San Angelo. Back then it was probably an interesting local place that had its own personality. The original and its concept were bought in 1995 and now 21 additions later we have our very own Rosa’s clone.

There are some positives. The salsa bar is clean and fresh. Several tasty choices of condiments like the Pico de Gallo and Chile Arbol had real heat. This is good because liberal use of these condiments will enable your enjoyment of the rather undistinguished food. The staff should be complimented for keeping the self-serve bar clean and filled. They did this twice during the 45 minutes I was in the restaurant last week. At 12:45, I had no problem parking, waiting in a line, or finding a clean table.

I guess the real star of the menu is the made-before-your-very-eyes flour tortilla that comes from a stainless steel baking machine that has been used at several other chains like this one. They are good. You can take home 12 for $1.99. So end the positives.

My lunch this time was a modest plate of two tacos (al carbon) with decent rice and soupy runny refried beans. I added a small order of corn chips and a small drink. Total $10.70 for lunch at this quick serve place. This is too expensive for this type of food. I should have learned from my previous visits to go ala carte order a large basket of chips and use the condiments.

Unfortunately corn tortilla chips were as bad as the flour tortillas were good. They are just plain ordinary.

I settled for tea because they have no Diet Dr Pepper. I keep a mental list of places that carry Dr Pepper but refuse to offer its popular sibling. Waco is the Home of Dr Pepper. If you come here from out of town to do business – Try to act like you belong here. I was not impressed by their selection of Fanta flavors.

The tables and chairs were comfortable enough. The décor, while colorful, had that manufactured feel – no spontaneity. I’m sure they had an exact layout from the designer so that every object and graphic was placed just so. If you have ever been to a real border café that has a wonderful haphazard feel to it, a designed environment like this can’t fool you. I doubt there is much difference in #19, #20, or #21.

I can’t see any reason to eat here when we have at least 6 home grown places that are just as good. I would place it equal to or above some of the other chains but it seemed to me that this was not a great value.

Thursday, August 31, 2006

The Burger Debate

I was just reading a debate about - What is the best burger chain? The discussion was all over the map comparing the $10 burger at Cheesecake Factory to the burgers at White Castle. Such a conversation is pointless because their really is no comparison between a fast food burger costing less that $3 and the burgers at an actual restaurant such as Chili's or Fuddrucker's.

By the way: What ever happended to the great burgers at Chili's. As a part of my personal culinary lore, I ate in the first Chili's on the first day they opened back around 1973. They used to have wonderful burgers. My favorite was a Chili's Trip - a cheeseburger with grilled onions. They were an excellent chain delivering good food in the early years.

Then like many others, they strayed from what made them good. They expanded their menu, and ditched the items that brought them their original customers. Reaching a broader audience will make them more money- never mind that they are not a good at lots of items as they were very good at a few. Too bad for some of us that enjoyed Chili's before it was sold to Brinker.

What are the best burger places in Waco?

My Fast Food Burger Rankings:
1. What-A-Burger - could use better fries but they are fresh and made to order. They also have Diet Dr Pepper.
Wish we had a Carl's Jr. They would be second.
2. Burger King - I know that the flame broiling is not for everyone but when you get a fresh hot one they taste good.
3. Jack-in-the Box - Just for the commercials I put them ahead of the others.
4. Sonic is similar in style to Whata but a bit cheaper. Love those drinks.

Upscale Restaurant Burgers:
Sadly Tony Roma's is gone along with the Roma Burger which I thought was pretty good.
1. Fuddrucker's meat is good quality and you can make it how you like it at the fixin's bar.
2. Cheddar's has a very nice upscale burger with plenty of choices.
3. Crickett's never dissapoints and has several nice combinations of add-ons. They are the place for a burger and a beer.
4. Backyard Burger has a decent piece of meat but I am not all that crazy about their specialty choices.

George's, Logan's

Non-chain Burgers:
1. Kupps - I love the fries
2. Double R - just like an old fashion burger should taste.
3. Health Camp - certainly a legend.

Kitok's, Captain Billy, Tom's, Chrisiti's

I know this is an area where everyone has an opinion. Post your own.

Friday, August 25, 2006

The Rib Crib

One of the newest additions to the Waco restaurant seen is the Rib Crib. This Tulsa based small chain has most of its locations in Oklahoma. This franchise is owned/operated by the same family that has the Sonic restaurants here in Waco. Our lunch visit included several salads ordered by female members of the group. The ladies particularly liked the BBQ Ranch dressing that came with each of the large salads. Each one contained plenty of turkey, shredded pork or beef.

Rib Crib does Barbeque right. Brisket, pork, and ribs all were very good. My Rib Wrangler (lunch) included two large spare ribs. They were superior in color, aroma, flavor and texture. The three sauces – Mild, Spicy, and Mustard/Vinegar were interesting and nuanced. The prices at lunch are reasonable for the food. Like every other place in town, they all will charge you almost $2 for a drink. This stratedgy of infalting the check by raising the prices for high profit beverages needs to be protested. Yes, the price includes refills but thinking you can drink $2 of soda or tea silly. You really can't. If you could, they would raise it to $3.

Dinner rate are a bit more but the portions increase as well. You can easily split some of the entrees to save a bit. Just make sure you get your fair share of the ribs! Rib Crib is a welcome addition to Waco. It ranks well above most of the others here in Waco.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

The Waco Tribune Herald

In case you haven't noticed, the Waco paper no longer publishes critical reviews of new restaurants. This happened a few weeks after a new spot in Hewitt got a less than favorable write-up. A few days later - what smelled like an organized letter campaign - descended upon the Trib. My guess is this was followed by a threat from one or more local restaurants and businesses. "We don't like your criticism so we will pull our advertising." The end result was that the Trib buckled. Now we have a benign column called "Nibbles" - a real embarrassment to the world of journalism.

But now comes the Wide World of Waco Eats! A new blog meant to bring back fair, honest, and critical opinion to the consumer. Where to eat? What is new? Is it quality? Is there value? Read our opinions and post your own here. We don't take freebies and we don't run ads. We just eat, digest, and blog!