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.