Sunday, August 26, 2007

Great Expectations

In the last two weeks, I have visited two newer establishments in the Waco area. One I had eagerly anticipated - The Green Room Grille and the other - The Wild West Steakhouse and Saloon in West I stumbled on by accident. These are two very different kinds of food experiences. The Green Room will cost you $40 to $50 per person while dinner for two at the Wild West will be less that $50 for two. Both of these places met the expectations I had for them before I entered the restaurant but neither scored an A.

It would have been very easy for the Wild West to establish itself as one of the better outpost country steakhouses in and around Waco. It is in a nicely refitted building with a lot of stuff on the walls that give it a country barn sort of atmosphere. It was comfortable and not too noisy even though they had a good Saturday night crowd.

You can have your steak grilled or charbroiled - with or without garlic butter. My charbroiled sirloin came medium as ordered with a side of delicious mushrooms. They are not stingy with the garlic at the Wild West. My steak had a teaspoon of chopped garlic and melted butter sizzling on top.

Although we seemed to change waiters at least twice during the meal, I can't say that the service was anything but attentive. At least four people combined to make my experience a good one.

So why is the Wild West not quite an A? It is the little things. Lets start with the salad. The nice sized side salad served with dinner was tasty enough and had enough different ingredients that you could call it a garden salad. But it was obvious that there were bowls of salad made up in advance and placed in the refrigerator. Instead of filling a small bowl from a larger premade salad, my small salad was left to dry out a little around the edges uncovered in the chiller. I was glad to hear that they had a bleu cheese dressing (which had real chunks of bleu) but disappointed to see it served in a two ounce tub with a plastic lid.

One of the biggest failings of local steakhouses like Lake Brazos, Miller's, Lone Star, or Heitmiller's is to serve condiments is a very cheap and unappealing way. Why not bring it in a small bowl with a serving spoon? Unless we are talking fast food at a counter, I don't enjoy liquid butter and salad dressing in a squeeze bottle or ketchup, sour cream, and salad dressing in packages. It is such a short step to butter, dressings, and sauces presented at the table in a proper way. Plastic containers at the table do not add to that homey atmosphere.

Wild West also fell short in the bread department as well. Rolls (preferably homemade), French, Italian, German or a sourdough loaf would work fine. The sliced white bread I was served with my steak and baked potato seemed laughable.

The Wild West Steakhouse and Saloon serves up a good steak at a reasonable price but could have been so much better if they made some very small upgrades to their presentation. Try it yourself and see.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Top Five

I had an inquiry about why I have not been more specific about what are the top places to eat in Waco. I can make numerous excuses but the fact is I just have not wanted to go to all the trouble that this complicated question produces.

The Top Five restaurants in any community can be defined in a lot of ways. I really don't consider chain restaurants the equal of chef/owner establishments. Yes, chains do occasionally have professional chefs that prepare excellent dishes but most of the time the food is prepared to exact recipe standards by a skilled cook who has been trained to follow specific instructions for those items on the company menu.

Some where back in Omaha, an executive chef is designing these dishes right down to the last cut. At some places, all the sauces and ingredients are prepared in advance and shipped to each location where they are combined according to plan and laid upon your table.

In my book, the food may taste just fine but this is not in the same category as a restaurant that allows a professionally trained chef to design a menu, select fresh meats and vegetables, and prepare the food according to local tastes and preferences.

Waco and surrounding area (10 miles)
Top Five Restaurants
Top Five Chain Restaurants
Top Five Hole-in-the Wall Restaurants
Top Five Barbecue Joints
Top Five Tex/Mex
Top Five Burgers

Top Five Restaurants
135 Prime
The Green Room Grille
Elite Circle Grill

Top Five Chains
Outback Steakhouse
Pei Wei
Logan's Roadhouse
Cotton Patch Cafe

Top Five Barbecue
The Rib Crib
Uncle Dan's

Top Five Hole-in-the Wall
El Tapatio
D's Chicken
Park's Buffet
Tony DeMaria's
Clay Pot

Top Five Burgers

Kitok Restaurant
Dubl-r Hamburgers

Top Five Tex/Mex
El Tapatio
La Fiesta
Siete Mares
El Chico

It is all opinion.