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.