Friday, December 16, 2011

Tres Time Is a Charm

The new Tres Restaurant at 723 S. 6th Street in Waco is the third attempt at success in this location. Basabaru was followed by the Z-Bar and Grille before Tres made its debut. Not since Tapatio was open on Austin Avenue has there been Mexican food this good in the downtown area.

The owners trace its lineage to the Tres Hermanos restaurant in Whitney that was destroyed by fire in February, 2011. Tres was opened while the Whitney location was rebuilt (It has reopened). Tres is owned by members of the Camacho and Ramirez Families that are related to the owners of the Whitney restaurant.

Tres served inexpensive Tex-Mex cuisine that is tasty and filling. Nothing is too fancy here but the portions are generous and the service caring. My favorite is their chile relleno. The large pepper is stuffed with several different ingredients and fried in a (guessing) batter of mainly egg white. It comes out crispy but soft and spongy on the inside. The enchiladas are large and filled with, cheese, beef, or chicken. Two of these with rice and beans are very filling. The fajitas were excellent as well. Beef or chicken at a very reasonable price. Watch the outside signboard for the daily specials.

The salsa at Tres is served in small pitchers with individual bowls for each guest. The chips are nothing special but the flour and corn tortillas are adequate. They now have a liquor license but after tasting the margaritas I would advise sticking to beer.

Thursday, June 09, 2011

What? Another Sandwich Shop!

Didn't we just get rid of all the Quiznos in Waco? It seems that everyone of them closed more than a year ago. Now along comes Jimmy John's. Can they make it if Quiznos couldn't?

Jimmy John Liautaud founded Jimmy John's Gourmet Sandwich Shops in 1983 when he was 19-years old. After creating four sandwiches for his family to test, Liautaud opened the first Jimmy John's in a converted garage in Charleston, Illinois.

Twenty-eight years later Jimmy John Liautaud is still the CEO of a chain of over 1000 stores. Jimmy John's has reproduced at the rate of 200 units per year from 2008-2010, with an additional 1,500 units planned. About 95% of the current restaurants are franchise-owned. In January 2007, Liautaud sold a 33% stake to Weston Presidio a San Francisco-based private-equity firm. He retains 67% ownership of the company.

When it comes to rating sandwich shops, for me it is all about the bread. If you like toasted - you could be Quiznos crazy. If you like crusty, may be you are a Blimpie buddy. Did you grow up in Austin eating Schlotzsky's sourdough? There are even people who love the spongy-soft white bread of Subway. There is no explaining taste but which ever brand you prefer it is probably because you like the bread it is served on.

I like Jimmy John's bread. With a handful of cookbooks checked out from his local library, Liautaud baked several different recipes until he found the one he liked. It is not too soft and not too hard - more like a French or Italian baguette. They use only fresh baked bread and quickly sell the extra loaves for a bargain price.

I like the meat. The substantial amount served on each sandwich makes the price seem like a good value. Although Jimmy John's sells mostly their owned designed combos, they are generally pretty good mixtures of meats and cheeses. They do seem to lack some of the flexibility of some other sandwich shops. I liked the BILLY CLUB® and the ITALIAN NIGHT CLUB®.

Jimmy John's is not a place for a lot of extras as compared to a McAlister's Deli or a Panera Bread Company. It's subs, soda, and chips plain and simple. And while we are on the subject of soda ... the choices are limited and there is no Diet Dr Pepper.

If I wanted a good sandwich for lunch, I would go to:

1. Panera

2. Jason's Deli

3. Schlotzsky's

4. Jimmy John's

5. Newk's

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Trip to Bountiful Calvert

A long anticipated trip to Cocoamoda Chocolate Boutique & Restaurant in Calvert confirmed what many people have told me. Cocoamoda offers a first class dining experience at first class prices.

I have always had reservations about spending $100 for a dinner for two in Central Texas. Could anything in this area be as good as the top tier of restaurants in Austin? In Ft. Worth? In Dallas? The logical answer is probably not but there are some things that just defy logic.

It is not exactly a short drive down Highway 6 to Calvert, Texas. With only 1,350 people and shrinking, you would not expect to find a chocolate factory and first class eatery in the middle of town.

The restaurant is small only a few tables that will seat 25 maybe 30 people. The staff is limited but expert in their handling of guests. I can recommend both the appetizers and the soups as well conceived and delicious. The Cocoamoda Shrimp was very unusual. I am not sure about the soggy pastry under the jumbo shrimp but the dark chocolate sauce (made from their wonderful recipe) gave the shrimp a slightly sweet mole flavor. The salads suffered from a little dryness due to being made ahead. The outstanding blackberry vinaigrette dressing almost made up for the slightly wilted greens.

My lamb chops were very good. They came pan fried and seasoned to a bright red-orange color. The presentation could have been a nice one accept for the pool of red-orange oil that ran amok on the plate as it drained from the chops. Although it did not affect the flavor, it was one of the few missteps of the evening.

One of the menu specials was Beef Wellington. Delicious pastry surrounded a very large piece of tender beef. The portion was certainly more than one person should eat. Both entrees were accompanied by carefully prepared vegetables. Asparagus, carrots, and mashed potatoes were all tasty.

Cocoamoda also has some huge lobsters. These 3 to 5 pound monsters were carefully dissected by the wait staff and served with drawn butter. They looked great.

There are some desserts on the menu but if chocolates are their specialty, why would you try the pumpkin pie?

Cocoamoda is a great place for a special occasion or a day-trip adventure. Do make reservations. Take advantage of their BYOB situation at least through May 2011.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Top Choices in Waco

A New List

Top Restaurants

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

1424 - For adults looking for a moderately priced evening/Greek influence

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

135 Prime - Good steaks, not great but very good

Top Chains (not BBQ or Mexican)

Cheddar's - very consistent with just plain good food.

Panera Bread Company

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

Top Barbecue

Bunkhouse Barbecue (Clifton, TX)


Michna's Barbecue

Uncle Dan's Barbecue and Rib House


Bangkok Royal (Thai) - Really the only Thai in Waco but good

Tokyo - Japanese Steakhouse

Park's Buffet - Best country buffet around

D's Chicken - Middle Eastern in Waco

Top Burgers

Kitok's Restaurant


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

Top Italian



Tokyo Road

After three visits to Tokyo in the last month, you might think I have gone overboard on the newest Japanese Steakhouse in Waco. Located on Franklin Avenue in the former TGIFridays location, Tokyo is a very nice addition to Waco. Waco now has 4 very similar Japanese Steakhouse restaurants. Tokyo certainly tops its numerous rivals.

After an extensive remodeling that seemed to take forever, Tokyo offers a fresh and clean look that is both comfortable and engaging. The Hibachi grill service is similar to others that you have probably experienced but Tokyo's attractive sushi bar and table service set it apart from other restaurants. The service was not quite as knowledgeable as it could have been but was attentive and swift.

The menu is reasonably priced compared to the other choices in Waco. It offers some combination opportunities not found at the others. Most of the entrees come with a generous dinner salad with a very tangy Asian dressing and some unique little crispy bits of crunch sprinkled on top. I have enjoyed the glazed salmon on two visits - once at lunch and again in combination at dinner. I have found the Bento Boxes to be a good value both at lunch or dinner.

I usually do not eat raw fish in Waco but the sushi I have tasted at Tokyo has been both fresh and tasty. Don't be afraid to ask for a sample of any of the choices before committing to a full order.

Compared to the other three Japanese Steakhouses - Tokyo is at the top.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Local News

I am sad to report that A Cancun which opened last year is gone. It has been replace by El Ranchito #5 (where are the other 4?). Too bad. It had some good things to offer and a bit of money was spent to upgrade this multi-failure location.

The construction taking place on the Highway 6 access road inside Texas Central Marketplace is a new restaurant called Newk's Express Cafe.

The team behind Newk’s are the founders of McAlister’s Deli, Don Newcomb, Debra Bryson and Chris Newcomb. They sold the successful chain to focus on creating the future of fast casual dining: Newk’s Express Café. Newk’s provides a tantalizing variety of made-to-order menu choices, available for comfortable in-café dining or for convenient pick-up.

New Heights

The attractive new Heitmiller's Steakhouse maintains a similar relationship to I-35 as its former location once did. Both were/are larger structures, both only a few feet from the west side of the highway, and both attracted large crowds of hungry diners. Fortunately for the new Heitmiller's, there are enough positive changes that a lunch or dinner can actually be recommended.

The new building is an attractive structure both inside and out. The restrooms are nice as is the comfortable waiting area. A new gift shop helps pass the wait for your table. The glass enclosed bar area has its own separate entrance. Only the acoustics are disappointing. Hard floor and high beamed ceilings bounce every whoop and holler all through the main dining area. Don't come here for a quiet evening.

The hundreds of customers who have besieged Heitmiller's since it opening have been rewarded with a much better dining experience, good service, and an improved menu and food quality. I expect some additional improvements when the initial Waco Rush subsides.

There is no doubt that the kitchen and service are strained by a tidal wave of customers. If you went during the first month of the new Heitmiller's opening, you probably experienced a long wait for a table and service that was feeling its way through a new menu and an overwhelmed kitchen.

The menu and table service has undergone a transformation. Gone are the golf pencils and the pick your dinner menu sheets. You now place your order with the waitstaff just like in other restaurants. Gone too are the squeeze bottles of salad dressing and liquid margarine that gave a distinctive kitchen table feel to the old location. Neither of these will be missed by most diners.

The quality of meat served has also improved. Steaks were flavorful and are now thick enough to be cooked to order. The list of side dishes has grown and improved. Sweet potatoes and a mashed potato offering topped with sour cream, cheese and bacon both were tasty.

On a lesser note, the kitchen's fry cook need to reduce the cooking time or perhaps the temperature for most of the items. On two visits, the fried potatoes and the adventurous calf fries were well passes done when presented. For the calf fries, this is a disaster, since they are similar to oysters.

The service was rushed on each of my visits but you can tell and appreciate a more experienced server from the newbies who can't really answer questions about the menu. All the help seems willing to please.

The new Heitmiller's is a solid improvement over its former self. As a country steakhouse, it represents Waco in a positive way. For the price, it is an acceptable alternative to the chain steakhouses (Outback, Texas Roadhouse, or Logan's) we have here in Waco.