Wednesday, November 26, 2008

A Chill at the Grille

The Waco Hilton Hotel has undergone an extensive renovation during the last year. The result is a modern and more luxurious hotel with new food service. I have been to two event dinners at the Hilton since new food service personnel have been on board. Both of these events, offered well prepared meals that were significant improvements from past Hilton experiences. They now have the capability to produce a first class catered dinner in any of their newly remodeled ballrooms.

It is unfortunate that this quality has not transported to the hotel’s new daily food service location, The Grille. Gone is Damon’s and the barbecue/grill menu that existed for several years in a sports bar atmosphere. In its place, is a daily buffet that could have been a real improvement.

Not that The Grille doesn’t have its strong points. At night, The Grille features a traditional menu of steaks and fish that while pricy are of good quality. The $8.95 weekday lunch buffet offers guests an above average lunch. The problem is that it could be so much better.

Many of The Grille’s deficiencies may be due to a lack of volume. After several visits to the weekday buffet, I cannot recall a single day when the room have been at even half capacity. This lack of customers causes some quality control problems that pull down what could be a decent dining experience.

The salad and sandwich portion of the buffet is in serious need of a makeover. The small bowl of greens with only two choices of bottled salad dressing can get a wilted look after an hour or two. Likewise, the cold cuts for sandwiches can dry out. The bread offered for sandwiches could be a bit more adventurous instead of the very ordinary sliced bread served.

The hot entrees and vegetables served in chafing dishes at the buffet have been very good. Fish, pasta, chicken breast, and fajitas have all been well prepared and plentiful. I have been impressed by the quality and quantity of these choices.

Service has been good on each occasion although I have never had the same attendant twice. Not surprising considering the lack of business.

My visit to the weekend brunch buffet (at almost double the price) was a marginal success. The buffet is served from 10:00 AM to 2:00 PM on Sunday and leans heavily on the BR and less one the UNCH. The majority of selections were breakfast items. This can be a problem because the egg dishes offered deteriorate over this span of time.

I did enjoy the Belgian Waffles and the smoked salmon that appeared on an expanded salad buffet. Several additional items were there as add-ins to the basic greens but still the same two inferior dressings. The higher price weekend buffet did not deliver the higher value and quality I would have expected. Perhaps if the volume improves some of these issues will disappear. I can recommend the lunch and an expensive steak dinner but not the weekend brunch.

The economic slide is beginning to take a toll on area restaurants. Ryan’s Family Steakhouse shut its doors in mid November. Dickey’s is back as Bill’s but probably not for long. TGI Friday’s has been rumored to be only a day away from closing.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Nothing But Time

There is not a lot of positive stuff happening on the Waco food scene. New projects seem to be moving slowly and several establishments seem on the verge of closing. I have recently heard a couple of advertising blasts from places that may be trying to stir up that extra bit of business that will keep them operating.

Sad to report that Dickey's has closed. The signs were there in recent months that they were near the edge. The owners took a lot of steps and made several cuts to control costs and attract business. Will they be back? Possible, but the economic downturn makes marginal businesses go under and great ideas for a new place sit on the back burner.

I have been watching progress on the rumored Italian spot located behind McAllister's on Waco Dr. Not a lot happening inside the empty shell.

Stopped in at Se Cocina last week only to discover that they still do not have a beer and wine license. I would expect that they need that extra revenue to stay healthy.

A recent visit to 1424 on Washington was a pleasant evening. I don't think the food slipped much since the Yanni's group took over. It is still a reliable place to take visitors from out of town who might be wondering if we have more that just Mexican, Chicken Fried steak, or barbecue. I had a very tasty lamb dish that is a rarity in Waco.

Waco and surrounding areas (30+ miles)

Top Restaurants
Cheeves Brothers
The Green Room Grille

The Grille (Hilton Hotel)

Elite Circle Grille

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

Top Barbecue
Bunkhouse Barbecue (Clifton)
Uncle Dan's

D's Chicken
Parks Buffet
Bangkok Royale Thai
Clay Pot

Top Burgers

Kitok Restaurant
Zeb's (China Spring)

Cricket's Grill & Drafthouse

Top Tex/Mex
Don Carlos
El Tapatio
La Fiesta

Top Italian
Italian Garden (China Spring)

It is all opinion.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Don One

I waited until after the first week before attempting a visit to Don Carlos. This Houston based small chain (4 locations - 3 in Houston) hit Waco around mid-August. As usual in Waco, it has been swamped with customers since the opening. The fact that the opening date was published in the paper was probably an error. A soft and quiet opening a few days in advance of the published date would have given the management a few shifts to work out any kinks in the kitchen or in the front of the house. I always advise people to wait a while but many want to be the first to each new place.

Judging from what I heard from some of these earlybirds service has been an issue. Some of the complaints are probably due to long wait times, some to inexperienced staff, and in some cases it appears that the kitchen may have been surprised and overwhelmed by the traffic. They probably should have called and talked to the people at Cheddar's.

I made first visit on a weekday morning when I completed a trip to Best Buy. I was driving by at about 11:20 AM and decided to beat the rush. This proved to be a good strategy because when I left about fifty minutes later the wait was over 40 minutes. This also allowed me to get fresh and hot food from the kitchen without a long service delay.

The lunch menu at Don Carlos is of unusually good value. I expected smaller servings and higher prices but was very surprised by the quantity, quality, and price of my three enchilada plate. I hope this is not just an introductory offer but I don't see how that can serve three beef enchiladas, rice, beans, chips, salsa, and queso for $4.95. That's right - I paid $4.95. I am eager to return at lunch just to see if this is still the price.

Of course price doesn't matter if the food is bad. It wasn't. Just the basics first. I loved the lightweight chips that were fresh and crisp. The fire-roasted tomatoes added an extra dimension to the warm bowl of salsa that came with the chips. Not too spicy but good flavor. Flour and corn tortillas were about average. The beans were very good. I thought that the refried and the charo beans had good texture, aroma, and taste. The rice clumped a little and could have used some additions. It was just OK.

On my second visit (late dinner), we waited about fifteen minutes for a table. Service was quick and efficient. I ordered a grilled sirloin dish and was very satisfied with the size of the cut and the flavor. There was a bit of toughness on one edge of the meat but not enough to spoil the dish.

Take your time and give the menu a full read. You will find some dishes with some unusual ingredients that we don't often see in Waco, Texas.

It took about twenty-five minutes from order to table. This a bit too long but not unacceptable at the end of a busy evening.

My third visit was on Fajita Night (Wednesday). Walked in at 8:15 PM and although the restaurant was crowded, we had no wait for a table for five. Beef or Chicken, fajitas were offered for a special price of $8.95! This is $3.00 below the regular menu price.The chicken was tasty and plentiful. I could have made four well stuffed fajitas of six normal ones. The plater of meat was accompanied by onions, peppers, rice, beans, tortillas, pico de gallo, and avocados. The plates arrived within fifteen minutes and the service was sharp and attentive.

Margaritas were pronounced good and were fairly priced. An order of sweet and crispy sopapillas topped off the dinner.
I have spoken to several people who have placed this new restaurant at the top of their list for Mexican food in Waco. I have to agree with them. I have been to Don Carlos three times and it has been better each visit.

I think it is too early to proclaim Don Carlos as the King of All Mexican Food in Waco. But Don Carlos has made a good start by providing ample servings and delivering strong dollar value at both lunch and dinner. If you were one of the unlucky ones that visited Don Carlos too early, wait another week or two and try it again.

Monday, August 25, 2008

China Spring Road

Last month, business took me on a drive to a part of our community that I do not regularly visit. 19th St. becomes FM 1637 as you travel northwest to China Spring. The development along this corridor is proceeding at a fairly fast pace. With the growth, comes new restaurants to explore!

An old Hewitt favorite of mine, Trevino's, has resurfaced in this area after a brief stopover on Valley Mills. Zeb's Backyard Grill has been featured on a local PBS show because of its hamburgers. Another branch of the successful La Fiesta family has sprouted in this area as well.

With all these choices, it was difficult to make a decision where to eat first. I chose the Italian Garden at 10207 China Spring Rd. Owned by Nicki and Sophia Colaku, the restaurant has survived the most critical period for most places and is approaching its second birthday.

Because of its strip shopping center location, the restaurant has very little drive by appeal. Once you have parked I can't really say that a closer look will fill you with any apprehension of Great Food Inside. Upon entering you will find a more pleasant and comfortable atmosphere. You won't think you are in Naples but enough interior design is in place to make you feel like you are in an Italian setting.

Even this modest decor would be wasted if the food was poor. It is not. In fact, it has enough flavor and creativity to make it worth the short drive. My Italian sausage and peppers served over pasta had good flavor and was loaded with meat. Our young and inexperienced waiter suggested Joe’s Garden Special. Lot's of chicken breast sautéed with spinach and fresh tomatoes in a creamy pink sauce. A solid choice. The special of the day was a broccoli and fettuccine in an Alfredo sauce - again a large and tasty entree.

The house salad dressing was described as a tomato vinegarette. It came thickly applied and seemed to overwhelm the lettuce. My blue cheese was just fine. The pizza seemed quite popular at other tables and looked like something you might want to order.

Our server acted as though it was his first day on the job. He repeatedly interrupted our conversation to ask if we needed anything or if all was OK. A less intrusive observational approach would have been appreciative. Still, he tried very hard.

The portion sizes were all very good and I felt they offered good value. Most of the dinners are priced between $10 and $15. This price includes a dinner salad (iceberg average) and some delicious house made dinner rolls (very good). The lunch specials are also a bargain.

How would I rank Italian Garden? If you are tired of chain restaurant Italian, then Italian Garden should grant you some welcome relief. The main dishes show some flair and provide something a bit different. I think it is on a par with Gratziano's and Rossati's. I would rank it ahead of all the Barris incarnations. It is worth the drive.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Cheeves Steakout

A visit to the remarkable Cheeves Bros. Steak House in Temple, Texas was a very nice surprise. Our group agreed that the beef was very good, the atmosphere was very very good, and the service was good. The rest of this blog may seem to nit-pick some of the flaws of the place so I guess I should say up front that it was a very pleasant dining experience - probably as good or better than anything Waco has to offer. Certainly top tier for central Texas.

If I were comparing Cheeves Bros. to others that I have visited nationally or to those just up the road in Dallas, I would probably rank it in the upper half of the class. While it is not as good as a Pappas Brothers or a Del Frisco, it can be favorably compared to a Ruth's Chris or a Smith and Wollensky.

My rib-eye steak was perfectly prepared and nicely presented with a delicious blue cheese wedge salad. Others chose the lobster bisque and were disappointed that it was served tepid and a bit on the salty side. The requested reheat helped but the soup was just not up to the rest of the meal.

Cheeves offers a sizeable number of steak cuts prepared several different ways. Merlot, Hollandaise, Bearnaise, and Peppercorn sauces are available as additions. Blue cheese and wild mushrooms are also listed as toppings on some of the beef. Most of these cuts are priced at $40+. Prime Rib is also a menu option. Duck and wild salmon are interesting non-beef choices on the menu. A special section of the menu lists several prime rated steak cuts.

It has been several years since I have had a Ros-O-Baked Potato. The old Bavarian Steak House in Dallas served these. Don't ask me exactly how they are prepared - there is paper wrapping and rosin involved I think. They are a fancy take on a traditional baked potato and here a sweet potato as well. . Good if you like to munch on the potato skin.

The Internet says it is a method of preparing a potato by wrapping the potato in a wrapper formed from a rosin impregnated piece of cellulose that has perforations to allow steam to vent as the potato is baked.

The Wine List is recognized by Wine Spectator but that is not exactly as great as it sounds. The list is adequate but like most steak houses very over priced. I saw several examples of wines that were being offered a double and triple the retail price. Wines that should have been reasonable and could have been excellent compliments to the meal were priced well beyond what they should have been. Unusual in Dallas? No - but certainly not the norm in central Texas. Order by the glass or stay to the low end of the price scale to minimize the damage.

Desserts are good to very good and are large enough to split. At $8 to $10, they were at least affordable. To there credit, Cheeves has a nice children' s menu that offers some good choices for less than $10.

The service is probably the most noticeable difference. It is competent and central Texas homey. Our server was nice, attentive, and knowledgeable of the menu's basics. But the level of service did not rise to the level of professionalism that you would experience at III Forks or at Morton's. This might not be a bad thing to some people but when the bill approaches $300 for a party of four, you should receive exceptional service for the 20% gratuity expected at this type of establishment.

Cheeves Bros. in a very good special occasion experience for people who want quality steaks without going to Dallas, Houston, or Austin for the event. Cheeves Bros. delivers on many levels and falls just short of elite dining in a couple of critical areas.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008


My visit to Se Cocina last week was a pleasant one. It was very interesting to see what was done to the interior of the old El Tapatio space downtown (608 Austin Avenue) for probably a modest amount of money. A considerable amount of furniture and accessories were reused in a more dressy and creative way. A good coat of paint and some repairs have transformed the space into a modern looking and cleaner appearing restaurant.

Some of the changes are superficial. A small wall mounted LCD TV replaced the old analog set, CCN replaced One Life to Live, and some of the wall art has been upgraded (subjective art opinion). The place now appears so upscale that a group of citizens formed a small welcoming party last month. Just before midnight, three men robbed the owner. One shot was fired during the robbery and the well-wishers dropped some of the money as they fled the scene.

Fortunately, I ran into a different crowd when I had lunch there last week. When I arrived at 11:45 AM, the place was nearly empty – reminding me of El Tapatio. The service team of about 12 seated our party immediately and remained very attentive while I decide on the Tacos Magnificos. Of course, the prices have changed. What would you expect in all this new splendor. Very few restaurants have $5 lunch specials these days. I had mentally prepared for the higher cost.

I like El Tapitio. I like their chips. I like their salsa. I like their lunch prices. I am sorry they left downtown. I ate there frequently. The food was not spectacular but for the price it was good value.

I was also mentally prepared for a less that great plate of food as well. That’s the good part. The food was not awful. My tacos were stuffed with nicely grilled beef. The guacamole was tasty. The beans a bit bland but the rice was good. The chips were ordinary and the salsa was plain looking but with a heavy garlic punch. I don’t think Se Cocina ranks at the top of Waco’s Mexican restaurant heap but it is well above the bottom.

By the time we left, just after 1:15 PM, Se Cocina was nearly full. Something that rarely happened when the place was El Tapatio.

My lunch and a glass of $1.75 tea (!) came to $12 before a tip for the good service I received. That is a bit pricy for a downtown lunch. I can usually exit Ninfa’s, Crickets, and Gratziano's for less. It’s not a cheap lunch but the food is acceptable, the decor better, and the service is above average.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

They Come and They Go

Is there such a thing as too much Barbecue in Waco? Is the closing of the Rib Crib proof of this? The demise of the Rib Crib following Smokey Bones and Tony Roma's could be evidence that there is no room for another barbecue based restaurant in our town.

I have eaten at the Rib Crib both here in Waco and in other cities. I have to say that this franchise did a very poor job both in service and in food quality. I felt that the portions were smaller and the ambiance was missing from this version of a fairly good barbecue franchise. Both the wait staff and the management seemed confused as to how to greet and seat customers.

I continued to see cars in the parking lot for several months after I stopped eating at the Rib Crib. But in the end they were not able to build a large enough base to survive. I must admit that when dining out with more than two or three family members, I chose the dollar value of Dickey's over Rib Crib.

Will another barbecue franchise try to make a stand here in Waco? I am not confident that any others will be opening in the near future. Only a Spring Creek or perhaps a Shady Grove would stand much of a chance.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

If We Build It

One of the first places that I tried when I arrived in Waco was Tapatio. It was cozy, friendly, cheap, and uncrowded basic home-made Mexican food. When I stopped by last week, I learned that they were closing the downtown location. This is a loss for those regulars who have enjoyed the privacy and comfort of an unhurried lunch.

A new Mexican restaurant named Se Cocina is preparing to take over the space after some interior remodeling. The newer and nicer El Tapatio is doing very well out on New Road.

The Chipotle restaurant is still under construction but getting closer. Probably by the end of June we will be able to crowd into this new fast-casual outlet. Chipolte started in Denver about 15 years ago. The management favors naturally raised meats and vegetables from smaller farms for use in their tacos and burritos.

The founder, Steve Ells, still runs the company. He started as a line cook at a famous upscale restaurant in San Francisco named Stars. There are now over 500 Chipolte Mexican Grill company-owned restaurants in the United States. The expansion was fueled by McDonald's - they once owned a major interest but sold it in 2005.

There is work going on at the former Smokey Bones. Last year owner Darden Restaurants (Red Lobster and Olive Garden) closed over 50 Smokeys and sold the rest to another company who must not have ever tasted real barbecue. Now the building is being renovated so that we can enjoy another much needed Mexican restaurant.

When it comes to Mexican food in Waco, the philosophy is, "If we build it they will come!"

Sunday, April 06, 2008

One Mikeska or Another

My apologies for assuming that all of the folks named Mikeska in Central Texas are related. It turns out that they are not or do not wish to admit it if they are. Janell and the late Reuben Mikeska, are the owners of Cyclone Corral Barbecue in the tiny place in the road known as Cyclone, about 15 miles east of Temple. They are not a part of the Mikeska family that has a restaurant in Temple (Clem) or his relations that have places in other parts of Texas. I do recommend the Cyclone. You will have to try the different Mikeska barbecues and decide for yourself which is better.

Basaberu and Billy Too

My visit to Basaberu was made during their third week of operations. That's usually long enough to make sure that at least some of the kinks have been worked out. I was a little surprised by the rather ordinary menu selections. I was reminded of a basic American menu at TGI Fridays or Bennigan's. With a name like Basaberu, I was expecting something more exotic. I was informed by my server that the name is derived from the initials of the owners and their children. Basaberu is not some mysterious foreign name in an obscure language. They should have made up a better story.

The two-story building looks quite large from the outside and has a large parking lot. The seating area for food service takes up less that one-half of the ground floor. The kitchen, restrooms, and offices are also on the first floor. Most of the second floor is taken up by a lounge and bar area.

The menu choice consists of burgers, sandwiches, salads, and a few full meal selections. Most of the choices are in the $8 to $12 range. Surprisingly a glass of iced tea cost only $.99 - a bargain in today's Lets make a ton of money on the soft drinks mentality.

My Rosemary Chicken dish was of adequate size and tasty. Burgers are fairly large and well presented. Soups and salads are delivered in unusually shaped bowls.

The service was just OK. The restaurant was not very crowded at 1:30 PM so I expected a faster delivery of the meal. My plate sat on the counter for several minutes while my server passed it twice to deliver water and a bill to another table.

Basaberu is someplace different to go for lunch in the downtown area. It won't survive just on lunch but if they sell a few drink upstairs on nights and weekends it might last long enough for me to decide to go back.

Two Waco veterans have recently relocated to new locations. Bangkok Royal has moved into the downtown area from the Baylor owned shopping strip on University Parks Dr. where it has been for several years. Buzzards Billy's has fled downtown and opened in the old Dock's location. In both cases, the food and atmosphere has improved in each restaurant.

Bangkok Royal's food tasted better and presented better in the sleek modern surroundings. Isn't it funny how much better food looks in nice lighting than under dingy florescent tubes. Prices may have risen slightly but portions were also a bit larger that I remember. I was not a fan of Waco's only Thai restaurant. This is a nice improvement.

Buzzard Billy's owners have remodeled their new location as well. The building looks brighter and cleaner, the staff is uniformed, and the whole place no longer smells of stale beer. The crowds have subsided just enough that an 11:45 arrival got me a table. The menu seemed to have a couple of new offerings. Service was better than at the old BB's. Billy's has always done a fair job with Cajun food. Give the new location a try and you won't be disappointed.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Now That's (Waco) Italian

When I arrived in Waco several years ago an acquaintance told me that there was no decent Italian food in town. It took only a few short months to confirm that he was correct. In the subsequent years, there has not even been a hopeful prospect open.

Every new venture we get here is another chain, another Mexican food place, another barbecue joint, or another steak and burger house. You can count the number of chef owned/family owned restaurants that have appeared in recent years on the fingers of one hand.

Let’s do a quick rundown of the available Italian choices in Waco. The Big 2 are both reputable chains – Carino’s Italian Grill (I think they have dropped Johnny) is a national brand that owns, operates, and franchises over 170 restaurants in 29 states and a few in the Middle East. The originators are an Austin, Texas based group named Fired Up Inc. It was started in 1997 by two former Brinker (Chili’s and On the Border) employees.

The Olive Garden is owned by an industry giant The Darden Group. Darden Restaurants is the #1 casual-dining operator (in terms of revenue) with more than 1,600 restaurants in the US and Canada. Its flagship chains include seafood segment leader Red Lobster and top Italian-themed concept Olive Garden. Both chains cater to families with mid-priced menu items, themed interiors, and primarily suburban locations.

I think most people in Waco have probably eaten at Carino’s or its main competitor The Olive Garden. Both have signature gimmicks (bread sticks and salad vs a fresh bread loaf served with a seasoned olive oil dip) that have stood the test of time. I know that many people go to OG for just the salad and bread sticks alone.

I know people long for a Macaroni Grill or maybe even a Carrabbas in our town. We could set our sights a bit higher and hope for an excellent chef-owned Italian dining experience. But the OG and Johnny are what we have and they are what they are. Both of these chains serve average pasta and Italian dishes that appeal to a broad range of tastes and budgets. The Olive Garden gets a slight nod for having a few more adventurous offerings and specials and a far better wine program. If there were no other choices then eating at the OG or with Johnny would be understandable.

I do think that Gratziano's Restaurant is worth a mention although I can truthfully say that I have only ordered from their menu once. Their lunch buffet for $6.99 is a good value featuring soup, salad, pizza, two or three pastas, dessert, and a rotating chicken entree. All are OK for a quick lunch. The quality has improved from two or three years ago. I don't usually think of it as an evening stop because I eat lunch there fairly often. It is never really crowded at lunch, it is quiet enough to talk, and the brownies are tasty. The decor is a little tired after several years and could use a bit of upkeep. New table covers, tables that fit on the carpet, and some better lighting might give the place a new look.

What else is there here in Waco? I guess I won’t even mention Fazioli’s. How about Baris? My wife calls it M-Baris. I will admit that I have eaten at a couple of incarnations of the Baris Empire including the newest, Mama Baris located in the Hewitt/South Waco end of town. Although it really isn’t any better than the chains, it is locally owned.

That brings us to the new guy in town Rosati’s. And guess what? It’s a chain as well! The Rosati Family started a small restaurant in New York in 1895. They later moved to Chicago and ran an import business until they opened another restaurant in 1927. The Family expanded into the suburbs in 1959 and in 1979 began franchising their concept of Authentic Chicago Pizza. A least 10 Rosati family members owned carryout-style restaurants. Then a bad thing happened. Family members/stockholders disagreed about who could franchise the restaurants and a bunch of legal stuff happened. Now there seems to be a lot of different Rosati’s all over the place. Waco’s franchise is the first in Texas.

Located in the Wal-Mart parking lot on Hewitt Dr. at Imperial, Rosati’s has been open for over a year. It has recently added some space next to the takeout pizza counter. The expansion was needed and judging from the crowds on Fridays and Saturdays they probably could expand again. The tables are packed together and the noise level is high. This is family pizza parlor ambience not a romantic candle lit bistro. Go early or plan on a wait.

I have eaten Rosati’s food on several occasions during the past months. Their pizza comes in three different thicknesses – traditional thin (which I didn’t particularly like) – Double Dough and Chicago-Style – a deep pan variety. I can recommend the latter two as very good. This pizza is not cheap. Expect to pay between $12 and $20 for a large pizza with two or more ingredients. The crust is crispy, thick (but not doughy), and flavorful. The toppings were plentiful with a good balance between the cheese and tomato sauce. The Chicago-style looks great when it is brought to the table.

A discussion of who has the best pizza in Waco is reserved for a future post. For now, I think you can say that Rosati’s is representative of Chicago Pizza and could be ranked in any Waco Top Ten List.

Rosati’s offers an array of sandwiches and lunch specials that are reasonably priced and some are very tasty. The Vienna Beef Chicago hot dog may remind some of Chicago, and the meatball sandwich is a good choice.

Rosati’s has a very tasty marinara sauce that is puts to good use on a limited variety of pastas. It has a bright and tangy tomato flavor with a hint of lemon. Get a $2.50 side of large meatballs to add some oomph. I was less impressed by the meat sauce that didn’t seem nearly as tasty.

This is the section of the menu that could be improved by adding a few additional choices. I do not taste as though they are using fresh-made pasta. My mostaccioli arrived well past al dente. Why not add some linguine, fettuccine, or penne a specials? If you stick with basic spaghetti or ravioli you will be OK. The pasta entrees come with one bread stick. No replacement was offered. I was disappointed in the Baked Lasagna. Both my tastings of this dish have had a strange flavor in the ricotta layers that I did not find agreeable. The price range for a nice sized serving of pasta is from $7 to $9.

Many restaurants will allow you to add on a dinner salad to your pasta entrée for a reasonable additional charge. Rosati’s smallish house salad or Caesar costs an additional $4 and the tablespoon of accompanying dressing is served in a tiny plastic cup.

They have an active bar that features a broad range of beverages, frozen drinks, and martinis. The modest selection wine is below average even for Waco. My recent dinner for four that included a medium pizza and four pasta selections approached $60. Not outrageous but not a bargain/value either.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Mondo Hondo

Lunch at Hondo’s today was certainly a better experience than the original occupant Beef O’Brady’s. Located in the corner space of Hewitt Drive’s WestRock Centre, Hondo’s offers a simple menu of appetizers, salads, burgers, and sandwiches. Not too much here that you haven’t seen before.

If you are a fan of the University of Texas (I am not), you will enjoy the burnt orange decor, the football posters, and the orange clad servers. If you are not, then let’s hope you enjoy the burgers. This is Waco. They do have a Baylor doormat.

Mine was a chili cheeseburger and my companion tried the bacon cheeseburger. Both were cooked to order and served in baskets with one side. The onion strings were unremarkable but tasty and light. Hondo’s gets extra points for having unfrozen potatoes. The fries arrived just a bit limp – probably from sitting in the basket a few minutes too long but they had a good potato flavor. Not as good as Kitok’s or Cupps but much better than frozen.

I ordered the chiliburger just to see what they called chili. The ownership of this restaurant is Texas based so I was hopeful that they would be able use good chili. The menu described the burger as large and messy but I had no difficulty with it. Although there wasn’t a lot of chili on it even though the menu made it sound like a cupful at least, thank goodness the chili had some flavor and no beans.

It is a good thing it was not that messy because we were not presented with any kind of dinnerware. No forks, no spoon or straw to stir my tea, or a knife to slice the burger in half (if I was a lady). Service was spotty but our drink glasses were refilled several times.

If I had to compare Hondo’s to others, I would say that the burgers were about equal to Crickett’s in flavor and size – and without the beer joint smell. If Chili’s were located next door, I would probably eat at Chili’s over Hondo’s because of the menu variety and a slightly better burger at Chili’s. But since it is not. And I don’t live near Chili’s – so I might eat at Hondo’s again because it is acceptable quality and convenient. The cost of lunch consisting of two burgers (comes with a side), two drinks, and tip was $20.