Saturday, December 26, 2009

Czech Plus

I have visited Gerik’s Ole Czech Bakery & Deli twice since they opened at Sixth Street and Franklin Avenue. They moved things around inside the former home of the Olive Branch restaurant. A new small salad bar and some large cabinets go with the rearranged service counter.

I would give Gerik's check marks for effort and value. I think they have some kinks to work out in the counter service and a few tweaks to the menu are needed. Service has seemed a bit disjointed and confused.

As you might expect, the baked goods are first rate. Their version of the Czech bakery classic - the kolache - is one of the best. Gerik's are bigger and fluffier than most. They make great ones.

Some of the food items are strange. Weird and off tasting sauerkraut accompanied decent potatoes and sausage on a very inexpensive lunch special plate. Very good hamburgers and fries are good choices on the menu.

Give them a try for lunch but stick with the simple choices

Monday, December 21, 2009

Muy Chewy

Since my last update there has been a lot of restaurant news to chew on. The major item is the opening of the long awaited Chuy's. Located in Legend's Crossing off of Highway 6, this Tex-Mex chain began in Austin 1982. Founders Mike Young and John Zapp produced a restaurant that sold fresh, tasty, and affordable food.

I have eaten at several different versions of Chuy's in Austin, Dallas, and Round Rock. This one has the same funky look. Old fashioned dinette sets, tropical plants (some fake) and a diverse color pallet. All have some level of Elvis connections.

The light and crispy chips are a great starter along with a variety of salsa frescas that include a creamy jalapeno one that is just spicy enough and perhaps a bit salty. I had a combo - relleno with an enchilada. Each had several options for filling and six sauce options. This means you could have this combo over 500 different ways.

Chuy's features some New Mexican green chile dishes and some with tomatillo sauce. Not something you find just anywhere. Most of Chuy's menu choices are less that $10.00. Not the cheapest but certainly ample portions. Generally good value all around. In spite of some early big crowds, the service was very good.

This is the first of several promised restaurants in the Legends Crossing development. After the famous Waco Rush, Chuy's will be a great place to enjoy a meal and a drink.

In other news, one of the nation's top rated burger chains is coming to Waco. Five Guys - Burgers and Fries has been around since 1986 when the first one opened in Arlington, Virginia. Who are the Five Guys? Janie and Jerry Murrell and their four sons (with Jerry and the sons being the original Five Guys) are the founders. Jerry and Janie had a fifth son two years after opening their first restaurant and now all five sons, (5 Guys) are now involved in the business. They now have over 450 locations in 30 states.

The menu appears to be very simple. Burgers, Fries, and some Dogs, with about 15 different toppings. That means there are over 250,000 possible ways to order a burger at Five Guys. They use only fresh, never frozen, ground beef. Fries are made with fresh potatoes fried in Peanut oil.

We have plenty of good burgers in Waco but these are very very good. Most of there locations are small so expect a line.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Nutty Not Nice

What if we had a bakery/restaurant in Waco that baked and sold fresh loves of bread each day?! What if we had a lunch stop in Waco that had great sandwiches, soups, and salads for lunch! What if we had a comfortable breakfast place that made great pastries?!?! What if we had a great place to meet and have cup of coffee/tea/cocoa with good atmosphere and good service?!!!! What would we call it? Probably not Colin Street Bakery.

As much as I want to like this import from just up the road in Corsicana, I just can't get past the wacky service, confusing layout, and the below average but expensive soups and sandwiches. With a bit of work and reorganization, CSB might be able to win me over but this looks like an expensive place to operate.

I have made four visits here (both breakfast and lunch) with the hope that CSB would get its act together. "C" is the best grade I have been able to give them so far. It is not from a lack of trying. They have a large number of staff who greet each guest and try to make you feel welcome. Unfortunately they have problems ringing up sales, finding an open register, and answering questions about some of the products.

The building itself is very nice. Comfortable chairs, video menus (which don't really go with the decor) and lovely displays of fruitcakes. You do feel comfortable in CSB. A smaller private room would be great for lunch meetings but suffers from solar gain.

I have had two different sandwiches at CSB- both were on the dry side. Ham with cheese and chicken salad were both over $5. Why can't you just make them fresh instead of wrapping them in plastic? Do you want me to think they came out of a vending machine? Arrived in a chef wagon?

I have tried two soups. One was an awful vegetable. Thin, watery, and without flavor. The cream soups have more body and flavor but are nothing special. I was expecting so much better from people who have a great reputation for baking and selling food.

My breakfast venture was a better experience. The sausage biscuit was very good. Two made a nice meal and at a better price/value. Not much of a crowd in the morning, so things were very comfortable.

Some one should tell the CSB management that Dr Pepper is a Waco drink. Can we have Diet Dr Pepper on the fountain???

Actually we have a couple of restaurants in Waco that bake and serve soup, salad, and sandwiches. Panera and Jason's both do a good job but wouldn't it have been nice to have your fruitcake and eat it to?

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Summer News is Mostly Mexican

Well of course there has been some news about Waco restaurants this summer. I have been eating in other pastures during the last two months.

Locally, I visited the newish location of Trevino's in China Spring. It is a nice spot and still a reliable choice in Mexican food. I liked their food when they were in the Hewitt area. I seemed even a little better in this location. Good enchiladas and fajitas. Give it a try.

Mi Tequila on Valley Mills was a no frills lunch spot that offered a limited menu, quick service, and cheap prices. As a lunch stop, it is OK if you are hungry or in the area. It won't crack my top five but it will do for lunch.

What might effect the Top Five Mexican choices is the arrival of Chuy's. Construction is underway in Legends Crossing on Highway 6. The Original Chuy’s is on Barton Springs Rd. in Austin. Owners Mike Young and John Zapp opened it in 1982. The place was decorated with balck velvet paintings of Stevie Wonder and Elvis on a budget of about $20. They now have 14 locations. There arrival will have some impact on the local food scene. Will in be like Cheddar's? Probably not in this economy but it should be popular.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

A New List

Top Restaurants

Cheeves Brothers (Temple) - Not a bargain but excellent beef and side dishes

1424 - Good choice for adults looking for a moderately priced evening

Elite Circle Grille - Nice bar and decent but not great food

Both of these are overpriced for the Waco market.

Your money is better spent in the Metroplex

The Green Room Grille


Top Chains (not BBQ or Mexican)



Panera Bread Company Steakhouse

Logan's Roadhouse

Cotton Patch Cafe

Pei Wei - not a good representative of this chain's quality

Top Barbecue

Bunkhouse Barbecue (Clifton)



Uncle Dan's


Bangkok Royal (Thai) - Explore the menu.

Parks Buffet - Best country buffet around

D's Chicken - Middle Eastern in Waco

Top Burgers

Kitok's Restaurant

Zeb's (China Spring) - Hewitt branch needs improving


Cricket's Grill & Drafthouse

Cupps - Breakfast and lunch counter

Top Tex/Mex

Don Carlos - This Houston import has its ups and downs but is a good value


El Tapatio

La Fiesta

Top Italian



Tuesday, April 28, 2009

I Am Depressed

Disappointment is a part of life. However, when it comes to your table served on a platter it can be depressing.

I recently visited the new Zeb’s located in Hewitt. I am a big fan of Zeb’s (see January 2009) and have enjoyed the food at the China Spring location. Unfortunately, this new location is not quite up to the standards of the original. As usual, they were overwhelmed the week that they opened. Just too many people were trying to sample the newest place in town.

After waiting a couple of weeks, I was able to visit twice during April. The burgers were good – large and juicy and served on a fluffy fresh bun. The fries however were less that spectacular on both visits. Golden but limp on the first occasion, too dark and less that hot on the second. It was clear to a veteran fry critic that the oil in the deep fryer was past its prime. Without getting too technical, after a lot of continued use, the oil can take on a darker color that it imparts to the potatoes. Serving them quickly will keep them from turning limp and losing their heat. I hope that this will be corrected soon since Zeb’s great fries are big attraction.

A recent visit to the Lake Brazos Steakhouse did not put me in a better mood. My ribeye steak was thin and cooked well beyond medium. My companion’s sirloin was unusually tough and fatty. An order of squash casserole had plenty of cheese but not much squash. It was an oily mess instead of the side dish I normally enjoy.

While not one of my favorites, Cotton Patch Café is a regular stop for several of my friends. On a recent visit with them, the CPC underperformed by confusing an order and serving my friends a dinner that had sat too long to be considered at a good serving temperature. Efforts to get this corrected by the staff were too little too late.

I hope this trend turns around soon. I can’t imagine being too depressed to eat out but stranger things have happened.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Country Cooking

During the last few weeks, I have had the opportunity to sample three different country buffets around Waco.. Historically he country buffet is usually a family owned operation that includes a salad bar, an assortment of vegetables, multiple meat options, breads, beverages, and desserts. They are almost always an all-you-can-eat format although many now offer options for lighter appetites.

Today chains such as Golden Corral, Old Country Buffet, Hometown Buffet, Country Buffet, Ryan's, and K-Bob’s replicate this experience throughout the U.S.
Locally, we have lost our Ryan’s but we still have a couple of choices in this area.

I reviewed Parks Family Buffet a few months ago. A recent visit found very few changes in the menu or the service. I still enjoyed the crisp pork chops, the fresh squash, and the green pea salad. Don’t miss the catfish (Fridays) and bread pudding for dessert. Parks is a classic country buffet owned by two brothers.

Just south of Waco in Lorena, a new buffet Raymond’s Southern Kitchen operates using a similar formula. Raymond’s salad offerings are a bit slim and the dressing choices limited. The lettuce is a good mix of iceberg, leaf and romaine accompanied by a few additional add-ons.

Some of the more interesting entrees included a tasty stuffed bell pepper, a hearty chopped sirloin in brown gravy and crunchy fried catfish. They were all well prepared and presented. The vegetables were also well prepared. Flavorful mashed potatoes and a excellent sautéed squash mix were standouts. Ordinary rolls and cornbread didn’t excite me but the peach cobbler was a nice finish to the meal.

A weekend visit to Gatesville included a stop at Andy’s Restaurant. This is a very popular place with lots of cars in the parking lot. Their salad bar was the highlight of this adventure. A freezer stocked with chilled plates stood at the beginning of a well-stocked assortment of lettuces and veggies. Additional pre-made salads included a tasty krab salad and an interesting southwestern salad that had hominy. The lack of any blue cheese dressing was the only real omission.

Unfortunately, things went downhill after the salad. All of the vegetable choices looked canned or frozen and the meat selections I sampled were below average. The lemon pepper grilled fish should have been good but too much spice and to much heat made it tasty salty and dry. Chicken fried steak had a nice crust but the thin slice of steak was dry and chewy. Brisket and sausage were below par and served with a too sweet commercial sauce. Andy’s also offers a breakfast buffet that is rumored to be their best offering.

Of these three choices, Parks is still the best value. Raymond’s has some good options and I did like the atmosphere. I can’t recommend a trip to Andy’s.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Patty Meltdown

Backyard Burgers has closed their second location in Central Texas Marketplace. The original location in the little wedge of land where Valley Mills and Bosque meet closed quite a few months ago. That was probably a better location that TCM but there was very little competition in the Marketplace.

Backyard Burgers never cracked my top five burger list and failed in spite of numerous ads and coupons over the last several months. While this was not a big loss, it does demonstrate that many marginal restaurants are on the edge of survival.

The news that Chuy's will locate across Highway 6 in Legend's Crossing is exciting news for the Waco foodscene. Chuy's is an Austin legend with outposts in Dallas and Roundrock. They will be crowded from day one and will give Don Carlos some competition as the best Mexican food in Waco. They are known for their annual Green Chile Festival.

As a follow up to my January Post, a second location of Zeb's will open on Hewitt Dr. in the next few days. This is a great addition to my neighborhood and probably a shorter drive for many customers.

I continue to be amazed at the popularity of Waco's Red Lobster franchise. It is poorly managed and offers average seafood. In a recent experience there, we were told a 30 minute wait at 9:00 PM. with 4 empty prepared tables in view and 4 more tables empty but not bused. I glanced at the list and saw only 4 names ahead our ours. This is typical of this location.

It seems unlikey (in this economy) that we will ever get the competition (Joe's, Rockfish, Pappadeaux's) needed to force them to improve. Why worry about service and quality when you are packed?

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

It Is About The Fries

I am glad the holidays are behind us. Too much home cooking and not enough restaurant visits. I did get to make my second trip to Zeb's Backyard Grill. I now feel comfortable recommending Zeb's to anyone in the area looking for a good burger and fresh french fries. Zeb's is probably the best of the new food spots that have appeared on the road to China Spring. Zeb's can stand toe-to-toe with just about any burger place in the Central Texas area.

Starting with a nice selection of basic burgers and moving to a group of more sophisticated group of toppings, Zeb's seems to get it right each time. I have yet to try the Wambo - a featured offering of pepper jack cheese, jalapeno bun, and jalapenos but it looks outstanding. I have had the Double Time and the Chili Cheese. They were both excellently prepared. For the less ambitious, the Ol' Fashion, Cheeseburger, and Bacon Cheese are sound selections.

Zeb's also has a nice selections of salads including an Apple Walnut Chicken and a Buffalo Chicken that my accompanying friends enjoyed. I think that is why I have not tried the Wambo. I would probably feel self conscious being surrounded by salad munchers. I guess I need a better class of lunch partners.

If anything make Zeb's a standout choice, it would have to be the wonderful fresh cut french fries. They are as good as they get. To me, if you intend to be taken seriously in the burger-barbecue world, you won't serve frozen potatoes. Owner Zeb Hering must agree because he does it right.

Zeb’s Backyard Grill

10207 China Spring Road

They are closed on Sundays