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Saturday, December 18, 2010

Greenville (NC) Eats: Thai 360

It's tough being a new place in town, even tougher when the competition is heads and shoulders above most of the places in town. It's a little unusual for a town to have three or four Thai restaurants, even more so considering how big the city of Greenville is. Normally, it takes a lot of confidence by an owner to open an ethnic place in town when there are so many sucessful ones around, so when Thai 360 came to town, I knew I had to try and see if they had what it takes to make a mark in the G.

Located in a modest building across from the downtown library (we have a downtown library? since when!?), Thai 360 looks a bit modest from the outside. A glance from the inside, however, reveals a surprisingly decent room with a handful of tables scattered around the dining room. Anyone couple looking for a little privacy may feel a little out in the open with the lack of privacy between tables due to space and size of the relatively small dining area, moreso for bigger parties stuffed in between.

We had a party of six this evening, along with a wide range of orders. I opted for the paradise chicken, a supposedly "crispy chicken dish with a spicy chili sauce". Our party was suddenly offered one of the strangest Thai heat charts ever, a scale of 1-20. A friend and I boldly ordered our dishes at 15, but were disappointed with a pretty weak smattering of red pepper flakes. My paradise chicken was unfortunately soaked in pretty watered-down chili sauce, leaving the chicken soft and soggy, a disappointment all-around.

The Alaskan decided to order a pad thai with tofu, but the dish came out a little empty with only half a handful of tofu and little "stuff" in the traditional filled dish of noodles. A couple of curries also hit the table, including a green and a bamboo curry, both of which also suffered from a drowning amount of liquid. Instead of coconut cream, it seems like the restaurant opted for juice which cut the usual creaminess of Thai curries and disappointingly soaked trays like a flood.

All this was only made more disappointing by the service, which seemed to have trouble keeping orders and questions straight throughout the evening. It's understandable in a new restaurant where kinks are still being worked out, but considering the relatively light amount of customers in the restaurant, it seemed pretty out of bounds what was going on. Expect a long sit if you decide to visit.

No Reservations, The Shakedown on Thai 360
Atmosphere: A little tense considering how small the dining room is.
Cost: Slight above average for Thai. 10-12+
Try: Thai Kitchen.
Expect: Long waits.

The Final Verdict
It's totally possible that Thai 360 is still in its youth and working out kinks, but from what we've seen so far, the future doesn't look too promising for the new downtown restaurant. Nothing stood out in particular, and the service was just nowhere on point. I'll consider a second go in the future if it remains, but for now I would leave Thai 360 alone for awhile until they figure out how to make things work. Thai Kitchen and the many established locations around Greenville still remain supreme.

Thai 360 on Urbanspoon

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Greenville (NC) Eats: Super Mercado El Rancho

Deer on the wall, Christmas decorations in the back, the shouts of foreign languages in the kitchen, Telemundo blasting random Chinese films in the front - El Rancho is the kind of place I live for. Stuffed inside a local Mexican supermarket, El Rancho sets itself apart from most Mexican restaurants by doing something unusual - serving authentic Mexican food (shock!). What the heck is authentic Mexican food you ask? Well yes, you can most definitely expect to find a taco. No, you will not ordering guac, or a cheese dip. Outside of that, I can't say much more unfortunately, because I still have yet to translate three/fourths of their massive menu. What I have translated so far though rings "pretty damn tasty".

Weaving my way in to find a seat on my day out, I took a long gander at what the crowd - mostly local Mexicans, a good sign for any ethnic restaurant - was eating. Tacos filled the tables along with massive burritos, eclectic stews, red hot fried chicken wings, and more. I've been to El Rancho many a times now, and I have to say that each of my taco experiences has been a confusing, hectic, and delicious affair. El Rancho has all the usual suspects from pollo (chicken), asada (beef), and pastor (pork) to some bolder choices including tripe, pigs head, and other delicious parts that I, for one, will be dreaming about on my spare time. On this visit, I decided to start my day off with a chiccarron taco.

There's not much I can do to make this picture look very sexy, it's a pork rind taco afterall, but I will say that this is far and away the most melt in your mouth tender pork along with a delicious smoky-tasting pork skin. For seafood lovers, the camaron, or shrimp, is nicely pan-fried and filling. Most of the tacos in fact, with the possible exception of the chorizo and pastor, has really hit the spot for me, even with the use of corn tortillas which I usually abhor. El Rancho's freshly-made corn tortillas have completely changed my usual contempt for the usually dry and unheroic taco shell (I'm looking at you Cabo Fresh Taco), making me a huge fan even. At around a $1.50 to $2 per taco, you can't really go wrong trying out all the different kinds of tacos they have.

For those who have never eaten at a place like this, you might be puzzled by the empty looking plate of taco you receive on each order, especially when looking at other local's plates, but never fear, the ultimate taco-dressing bar is here. Upon order, grab your plate and make your way to the bar where you can fill your taco with a variety of traditional toppings and salsas, most of which will make you wonder what the heck you were really doing at Moe's or Taco Bell for all these years.

After my taco, I decided to jump off ship and try a little something different from my usual plate of tacos, opting for a huge bowl of pozole. A bright red stew of pork and hominy, its warmth definitely helped make the rainy day a little brighter. There wasn't just pork in this bowl though, but rather a flurry of pork parts from head to toe, perhaps a little bold for the average joe. Fortunately, I'm all about pork from head to toe, so I delightfully clawed my way through this surprising dish. While enjoyable, I have to admit that it was a little on the bland side. Some hot sauce and salt helped brighten an otherwise appetizing meal. Some of the dishes that I've had here in the past, in fact, have been a little bland, but the huge variety of salsas and slaws in the bar definitely went a long way. Definitely dive into the bar whenever you get a chance to get the full experience.

No Reservations, The Shakedown on El Rancho
Atmosphere: Wonderfully local, with mostly native
Mexicans in the Greenville community.
Cost: Amazing. Tacos will keep a wallet happy, more
eclectic affair will only cost upwards of $8-9.
Try: A chiccaron or asada taco with the works. The torta locas,
aka sandwiches, are also fascinating.

The Final Verdict
This is not (hopefully) the best Mexican food you will have in your life. It is one of the best in Greenville though, just for its unique variety alone. Many things are hit and miss here, but the sheer number of traditional style dishes makes the trip well worth it every single time. Worse comes to worse, you can still get some pretty darn appetizing tacos for a cheap price along with a delicious cup of horchata (cinnamon rice milk) and move on with your day. Adventurous eaters can indulge in an assortment of animal parts, and perhaps stop in the grocery store next door and pick up some interesting cuts to take home as well. It can be a bit intimidating when you first walk into a place like this, but if you are open to new things it will quickly become a place you find yourself returning to time and time again.

Super Mercado El Rancho on Urbanspoon

Monday, November 29, 2010

Columbia Eats: Cafe Strudel

I'm kinda new to this "brunch" thing. Coming from a family which enjoyed the comforts of home in the morning, we rarely went out and about town on Sundays for a meal. Ever since I've ventured out on my own for graduate school, however, I've been fortunate enough to enjoy the company of my peers on Sundays and take part in the southern tradition.

Sometimes, however, Sunday just isn't enough for brunch. Fortunately for Columbians, Cafe Strudel is one of the rare gems in the world that serves breakfast at all times. Just over the bridge from downtown on the West Columbia side, Cafe Strudel is located inside a homey light blue building. Upstairs, downstairs, and patio seating are available, all of which are decorated with funky artwork and bright, vibrant colors.

Any place I go to I try to do a little research ahead of time to find out what to order, and Cafe Strudel is no exception. The Hangover Hashbrowns would have been an easy choice regardless of the research (its name alone makes me warm inside!), but these have long been hyped by local eaters, and for good reason. Crisp and creamy hand cut potatoes with just the right amount of cheese and onions, those ingredients alone would have made for a perfectly fine hash, but Cafe Strudel kicks it up a notch with tomatoes to give it some more brightness and, best of all, a handful of banana peppers which gives the dish extra crunch along with a perfect tang to keep the hashbrowns engaging from beginning to end. Eggs can be done any way, but sunny-side up easily made the dish even dreamier with the creamy yolk soaking into the hash. From top to bottom, these hashbrowns easily made my day.

My companion for the day decided to fulfill her desire for bagels with a breakfast sandwich, which came just about any way you could possibly want it. The bagel was perfectly toasted the way every bagel should be, making for a deeply satisfying sandwich. The fact that it was under $4 made it all the better! Cafe Strudel excels in the all-day breakfast menu, but they also have the usual lunch options and a bar (with a half-decent selection to boot) for those looking to relax in the evening.

Being a cafe, we can't forget the tea and coffee. Featuring over 30 teas, including rotating seasonal specials, the list featured everything from green and black tea to a few special blends. We tried a small pot of the Holiday Dream, a blend of black tea with several holiday spices and mint. It was delicious needless to say, and a beautiful pair with the breakfast items.

No Reservations, the Shakedown on Cafe Strudel
Atmosphere: Casual and cool, hip enough to be trendy,
but still homey enough for the whole family.
Cost: A steal for most items. $4-8.
Try: The Hangover Hashbrowns. A must for any first-timer.
The breakfast menu in general seems to be a hit all around.
Let me know: How the gourmet soda is if you try it!
I never get around to it thanks to the tea selection lol.

The Final Verdict
I tried to find something bad to say about Cafe Strudel, but all I could think of is the fact that it might take a few minutes to find seating because it is so busy. Even then though, the longest wait I've had is ten-to-fifteen minutes, and they even offer you a drink while you wait! The food is satisfying, the options are varied and rewarding, and the atmosphere is just spot on. With breakfast being all day, there's simply no reason not to try it. Parking can be a bit of a walk because of the area, but it is worth the trouble for this Columbia eats.

Cafe Strudel on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Hunter's Manual: A Guide to Vietnamese Food

Once a rare find, Vietnamese food seems to slowly, but surely be finding a place among the vast landscape of American restaurants. With Pho Viet becoming a solid foundation in Columbia, SC, and well... a bunch of random places serving pho in Greenville, NC, it seems like a good time to pull out a bit of a beginner's guide for a new generation of pho eaters out there. Read on to get a taste of the traditional dishes you can expect to find in a typical Vietnamese restaurant.

"Pho", more than just a cup of noodles.

Essentially Vietnam's national dish, this noodle dish is served in a delicious, savory slow cooked broth of soup bones, ginger, and various spices. Usually a choice between thinly cut slices of beef or chicken, this is definitely the dish to judge any Vietnamese restaurant on. You should look for a hot (as in fresh off the stove) sweet, savory broth. Cold broth's are an instant no-no! Garnish with fresh bean sprouts and fragrant basil for a comforting dish at any time of day. Pho, though simple in principle, easily is one of the hardest dishes to make and compare. No one person does it the same way, using different spices, seasonings, and even methods. Some even have paid thousands for an award-winning recipe for their restaurants.

Fun fact: Pho is traditionally a breakfast item in Vietnam.

"Bun Thit Nuong", pasta the Vietnamese way.

Thin slices of pork marinated in a bit of something sweet and grilled, served on top of noodles with pickled carrot/daikon (white radish), fried onion, and a sweetened fish sauce, bun thit nuong sounds like a heavy dish on paper, but is actually a wonderfully refreshing dish that fits the bill any time of the year. It comes in a ton of variations, sometimes adding shrimp or egg rolls to the mix. This is one dish that's all about the meat though. Some places are a bit heavy on the sugar, either making it burn or just too sweet. The right balance, however, makes this dish a winner. My personal favorite.

"Goi Cuon", fresh, fast, and fun.

The freshest of ingredients wrapped in rice paper, this Vietnamese appetizer is a classic starter at any restaurant. In the household, a few of these can easily become a meal any night of the week. There's a beautiful art with goi cuon, one that separates the winners from the losers. A pour wrap can spoil the whole show, leaving you in an ugly mess. A nice, tight wrap makes all the difference here. The second biggest key to this whole app is the sauce. Usually a hoisin sauce cooked down and sometimes combined with a little peanut butter and topped with chopped nuts, the sauce definitely makes this a killer app when done right (and should always be considering how easy it is to make!).

"Banh Mi", the king of sandwiches.

It's sweet, it's sour, it's salty, savory, fresh, crispy, and crunchy, a Vietnamese sandwich is just everything you look for in a great sandwich. It starts with a smear of pate on one side of a beautiful baguette, and then a slatter of butter on the other end. In goes various Asian cold cuts, including pork belly and Vietnamese ham, followed by a volley of veggies including the carrot/daikon mixture, cilantro, and a few jalapeno slices. Sometimes grilled pork is used instead in all its glory. Either way you serve this dish up, it's a real eye-catcher.

It can be a little tricky to find though. In the United States, they often are best out of sandwich shops rather than restaurants.

"Com Tam", the national rice dish.

Though it can come in a million different way, shapes, and forms, com tam is a traditional item featuring a special short grain rice served with a grilled pork chop, pickled carrots and daikons, a special baked meat/egg dish similar to a quiche, and fish sauce to tie things together. More traditional plates often include "bi", or pork skin. This is a bit of a bolder dish for those looking to try out Vietnamese food, but you'll should see it on most menus. There's so many factors that go into a great "Com Tam". The egg in particular can go wrong a million ways (I've even seen it blue on occasions. Blue!), and the pork chop can be dry in seconds if not served quickly. The fish sauce also is key in a great "Com Tam". If you want to play it safe and get a more surefire bet, try the dishes above first to make sure they get your seal of approval before venturing out for this dish.

Hopefully the next - or first - time you try out a Vietnamese restaurant, you can sink your teeth into some of these fantastic dishes. Thanks for reading!

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Greenville (NC) Eats: Mike's Deli

Deli's have it hard. With so many around every town, it takes a lot to stand apart from the competition. Some have better cuts of meat, some make crazy twists to their specialties, others throw a little bit of overseas flair into the mix. Mike's Deli attempts to do the latter, adding some Mediterranean and Lebanese in the menu along with a collage of New York deli classics.

Located just across from ECU in an old fixture all by its lonesome on 10th St, Mike's Deli is one of those places you might notice driving by but never really care to enter unless dragged in by some local amigos. The menu consists of a lot of deli favorites like the Reuben along with some interesting Mediterranean picks like falafel. Not really feeling in a ham sandwich sort of mood, I decided to take a boat overseas and try out the falafel sandwich along with some grape leaves.

I love falafel. It's the perfect vegetarian choice for anyone looking for a sandwich. I've had big, beautiful falafel sandwiches in the past, consisting of hot, delicious rounds of the fried chick pea/fava bean ball crammed into a pita with lettuce, tomato, and a huge glop of tahini sauce. Unfortunately, Mike's Deli didn't quite hit the mark. The tahini sauce was too thick, creating more of a paste rather than sauce. The falafel itself was not immensely flavorful, bordering on bland at times. The huge mound of chopped lettuce and cold pita didn't help either, making for an uninspired sandwich overall.

The grape leaves were only more disappointing. I'm willing to bet that they were store bought, unless they like to brine these missiles. Almost too salty to choke down, I barely worked my way through half the order. My partner in crime for the meal also fell prey to the salty monster in the back, giving up on his minestrone soup even after attempting to water it down. Overall, not the most pleasant experience in recent memory.

No Reservations, The Shakedown on Mike's Deli
Atmosphere: Casual diner fare.
Cost: Average, $5-8
Deli Rank: Meh.
Deli Rank Compared to others in Greenville: Still meh.

The Final Verdict

A lot of people swear by Mike's; considering the courteous owner who runs the front and the variety of deli choices, I can see why. The Mediterranean and Lebanese fare, however, won't be going anywhere near me in the future. Just forget about it! As far as the deli part of Mike's is concerned though, their selection of sandwiches is probably fitting enough for any stomach around lunch time. There's nothing that makes Mike shine like a New York deli; there's no special sauce, memorable sandwich, or sexy cut of meat that will make your mouth drool just thinking about it. If you want a stacked sandwich for an okay price though, Mike's is an alright (just barely alright) place to go in an area where options are a bit limited on the deli front.

Mike's Deli on Urbanspoon

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Greenville (NC) Eats: Acasia's Tipsy Teapot

Tipsy Teapot is like the Amazon of the real world. It's a cafe, it's a bookstore, a jazz club, part-time organic grocery store, meeting venue, once-a-month Sunday brunch locale, and just a really cool, chill place to be at any time of the day. Oh, and you can have some tea too.

First and foremost though, Tipsy is a cafe filled with a variety of organic sandwiches, wraps, and various treats alongside their collection of tea. Some places would just serve you a glass of tea, but not Tipsy. Expect to have a nice, long seat while they provide you a full kettle set of your choice - the orange spice mate being a personal favorite. People on the go during a hot Greenville day can also select from some iced teas, particularly the black currant, a sweet, fruity, and refreshing tea perfect there or on the go.

Menu-wise most of their food leans towards the sandwich variety. Vegetarians will feel right at home with the large list of fruit and vegetable choices, including a delicious vegetarian lasagna. On my visits there thus far, I've tried the veggie sandwich - stuffed with all kinds of sprouts and various things - and the Havarti pear, an open faced sandwich topped with walnuts and fresh herbs. The rich, salty havarti cheese paired nicely, making for a pretty satisfying meal. Tipsy's sides include a variety of choices such as fresh fruit or bean salad. Definitely spring for the salad which easily tops the other choices by miles with it's fresh, flavorful mix of various starchy beans. Perhaps best of all thus far has been the veggie lasagna, a gooey pile of roasted vegetables and enough cheese to keep you satisfied for weeks on end.

For people looking for a brunch spot on say, oh, the second Sunday of each month should definitely check out Tipsy Teapot. A spread featuring a large array of good eats including made-to-order crepes, fresh nonstop black currant tea and coffee, and select organic casseroles, Tipsy without a doubt gives you a bang for your buck.

No Reservations, The Shakedown on Tipsy Teapot
Atmosphere: Casual cool with a dose of hippy.
Cost: A little high, but for quality ingredients fair, $7-10
Try: Sunday Brunch, and the Veggie Lasagna
Don't: Get be afraid of bean salad, Tipsy's gets major credit for the bold and bright flavor in this side.

The Final Verdict
While the food may not be tremendously exciting for some, Tipsy still provides a host of sandwiches and teas to keep most happy. The prices are a little steep - in the $7-10 range - but still holds up to most places in the downtown area regardless. Anyone simply looking for a place to relax, do some reading, and enjoy some tea will find the cafe a beautiful place to be.

Acasia's Tipsy Teapot on Urbanspoon

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Greenville (NC) Eats: Boli's 5th Street Pizzeria

I can't claim being a pizza aficionado by any means, especially since I grew up on trashy carry out pizza from Dominos, Pizza Hut, or some even more tragic places. Having eaten at popular establishments in the South, like Mellow Mushroom or the ever-popular Danos in Columbia, South Carolina, I've had a taste of what decent pizza might be, but I'll admit that I'm still simply not the biggest pie fan in the world.

Hoping this journey would change my mind, the usual group of omnivores rolled into Boli's, a local student stop for pizza in the ECU area. A modest bar and restaurant on fifth street, it admittedly looks a little wonky going in with the wood carved seating arrangements in every possible way. We quickly shrugged it off as we grabbed a booth and hit the beer list.

If you are looking for some sexy beer to go with your pizza, this might not be the place for you. A handful of random imports chilled high atop the bar while the locals were drowning in the usual college fare. Boli's menu has everything you'd expect from the average pizza joint, from calzones to pasta and of course pizza. Some unusual options were on the list though, including several meat and seafood combination pies, a greek pizza, and my eventual pick - the "Three Amigos", a crazy southwest mix of chili, jalapenos, and the usual works. I also tacked on an appetizer order of the "Crazy Greek Pizza Bread", basically the greek pizza in the bread shape form. Its garlic butter spread along with crumbling feta, melted cheese, and fresh tomato got approval from the table. It was a little oily, but not enough to bother anyone by any means. The salty feta and richness of the pizza dough worked well.

The pizza, however, deserves a long discussion. First off was the crust; though somewhat crispy, it lacked that crackle and pop I love from a thin crust pizza. The base of the pizza was a bit of a near disaster for me, falling apart before I could even pick it up. I liked that the pizza wasn't super oily like a chain pizza, but it definitely wasn't keeping things together. The toppings were an interesting marriage of flavors. The chili wasn't the best, but it still held together with the toppings and somewhat held its own. I would be willing to try it again, though I think the "Crazy Greek" deserves more attention for its balance between the tomatoes and feta.

Across the table were a few more pies and a calzone, which came out disappointingly small, particularly for it's $8 price tag. Everything turned out to be a bit more costly then we preferred to be honest, with most of us hitting the $14-18 dollar range even with just water. There were certainly leftovers though, so at the very least we got a second helping of everything for the next day.

No Reservations, The Shakedown on Boli's
Atmosphere: Lots of wood coming out of every angle possible with a
bar somewhere in there. It's casual man.
Cost: For a small pizza, on the expensive side
considering the portion. Starts at $10
Try: The Crazy Greek Bread.
Do: Try to convince a couple of friends to tag along and split a large.
It'll save you a ton.
Best Pizza in Greeenville, NC: We shall see...

The Final Verdict
Boli's didn't change my life, but it wasn't the complete washout that it could have been. If you are in the ECU area and are pining for pizza, Boli's is alright, especially for its fairly convenient location in the middle of downtown. They didn't have anything that stood out, but they didn't particularly do anything criminal enough to make me throw out the penalty flags. Stick to what they're known for and you'll do just fine.

Boli's 5th Street Pizzeria on Urbanspoon

Friday, October 15, 2010

Columbia Eats: Tea

It's pretty terrific to see all the ethnic food that's been creeping into the capital city. One can easily dismiss how much ethnic food Columbia has, but it really isn't that bad all things considered. From the always growing number of restaurants littering Decker Blvd. to the new trendy locations opening around the University, the town's slowly become a hotspot for ethnic eats.

Tea is the newest contender in town with their Vietnamese Banh Mi. Those who have hovered over Immaculate Consumption's counters may have had a taste of this delicious sandwich, but for most who are unfamiliar it, banh mi is a densely packed sub consisting of several possible meats from honey grilled pork to cold cuts of the Asian variety. A fresh, warm piece of Vietnamese baguette smeared with a pate and butter spread, and garnished with pickled carrots and daikon - essentially a radish - cilantro, and a few pieces of jalepeno - banh mi is a tantalizing trip full of fresh and savory flavors from the East and West.

Getting right to the heart of things, I tried out their number one sandwich - the house adventurer - a combination of several sandwiches meats including grilled pork and cold cuts compounded one. What came to the table was a bit unexpected; the baguette was hundreds of feet bigger then a traditional Vietnamese baguette. While there was a lot going on in the sandwich, the size of the bread definitely was a bit of a letdown. The rest of the banh mi itself was a dizzying, but strangely satisfying array of flavors. The pork was not as satisfying as I've had in other banh mi sandwiches, in fact being far too thinly cut, but it still worked. The pickled vegetables were dangerously sweet, but fortunately with the fresh cilantro played its role well enough.

Along with my sandwich came a bag of shrimp chips and a bubble tea. The shrimp chips may be a bit of an acquired taste for most, but for this long time fan it was a nice trip down memory lane. Savory, and with a light shrimpy aftertaste, they made for a nice snack while waiting for the banh mi. The bubble tea, on the otherhand, was kinda terrible compared to Fruiti Cup in the Five Points area. Try your hand at their huge tea selection instead if you're looking for something nice to wash down the sandwich.

No Reservations, The Shakedown on Tea
Atmosphere: Small, kinda contemporary. Very little seating.
Cost: Kind of expensive for a banh mi.
Approx. $6-7.
Try: House Adventurer. Get the whole picture in one bite.

The Final Verdict
This is not the best banh mi sandwich in the world. Let's just throw that right out there. For a fresh and fun option outside of the burgers and other forms of carbs littered throughout Columbia though, Tea is a great option to try out.

The seating is disappointing, however, enough to accommodate only a handful of people. The service was also outrageous; our party of four - essentially the only people there at the time - somehow took nearly a whole half hour to get our orders of the 'House Adventurer'. Pretty ridiculous considering that banh mi is one of the easiest sandwiches to put together in a short amount of time. The baguette was also a bit of a crime that is dying to be solved. Perhaps the biggest appointment may have been the "cash only" sign chilling out on the frontdoor. To not take credit in 2010... blasphemy!

As disappointing as all this news may be, I still have high hopes for Tea. A few simple fixes could easily make Tea into a long time fixture of the Columbia area much like Pho Viet and others have become. The cafe has all the charm and appeal of being a great lunch fixture in the capital city, it just needs a little more love to make it all come together.

Tea on Urbanspoon

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Greenville Eats: Plaza Azteca Mexican Restaurant

How many Mexican restaurants are there these days? Coming in all shapes and sizes, these restaurants have flooded the American landscape with tortillas and salsa done a million ways, so much so that it becomes difficult to separate the best from the rest. It's tough being in this genre of business, especially in a city full of them.Plaza Azteca does have one thing that helps put it over a few of its peers, but was it enough to warrant a second helping?

Located at the tail-end of Greenville Blvd, Plaza Azteca may be one of the most deceptive buildings on the strip. Borderline-Taco Bell on the cheese scale, you almost want to just keep on passing by on first sight. Two steps in, however, reveals a completely different location from what you might have expected. The dining area contains hints of the cheesy interior you may have been looking for, but with a contemporary seating that will surely surprise anyone on their first trip.

Getting to the food, our dining group dived straight into a variety of dips. If memory serves me right, there was a cheese dip along with some salsa on the table and ranch on the table (Ranch!? Really Plaza Azteca?), but those were immediately cast aside in favor of the highlight of the night - the fresh, made a table guacamole. Plaza Azteca's claim to fame, the guacamole easily was the winner of the nite. It's hard to argue with when the restaurant is confident enough to make it in front of each and every guest who orders it.

As great as the guacamole was, the meal quickly came back down to Earth as we hit the entrees. My Azteca special came with a flurry of items from a tamale to a couple of tacos. Unfortunately everything came without any salt or real flavor that you'd come to expect from quality Mexican food. Everything needed a good shot of salt to chow down, and was just similar enough to taste like a big pile of the same stuff rather than being individual flavors in the dish. Reviews around the table were about the same: lots of food, perhaps, but none of which really peaked our interest long enough to finish.

No Reservations, The Shakedown on Plaza Azteca
Atmosphere: Comically bad on the outside,
surprisingly trendy on the inside with a hint of cheesiness.
Cost: Average dinner prices, slightly high even. $8-12
Try: The tableside guacamole.
Don't: Get bother with anything else. A bland affair.

The Final Verdict
If you want delicious, freshly made guacamole, come to Plaza Azteca, find yourself a nice, comfortable seat and order yourself not one, but two orders of their specialty. And steal the recipe. Those looking for the complete Mexican meal to fill your late night cravings may want to consider looking elsewhere.

Plaza Azteca on Urbanspoon

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Greenville Eats: Cook Out

Sometimes I just want something blindingly stupid to eat, and really, what better blindingly stupid thing is there in our great country than good ol' fashioned fast food. I grew up with it and spent the better part of my last five years painfully gouging on it between equally as painful academic studies, so I certainly was looking forward to trying out Cook Out during my latest eating adventure.

I haven't had much fast food since moving to Greenville, NC (thankfully), but I finally found a craving for it the other day and decided to check out Cook Out, North Carolina's very own independent food chain. Regional fast food chains has always been a fascination of mine. Growing up in Iowa, I swam in an ocean of midwest chains, from the butter burger at Culver's to the ground beef and tenderloin monstrosities at Maid-Rites. In Columbia, South Carolina, I indulged in Zesto's fried chicken for a completely unreasonable amount of times, chowed down dozens of chicken sandwiches at Drakes Duck-In, and, well, stared at people walking into Maurice's BBQ (Cola natives will know what I'm talking about). Regional fast food chains are always a pretty neat way to learn about the locals I think, and NC's Cook Out is no exception.

I remember actually being somewhat dumbfounded at Cook Out's menu the very first time I went. Packed with everything but the kitchen sink, the menu looked like McDonalds, Burger King, Sonics, Chick Fil A, and a portion of Long John Silver's collided at an intersection and became a drive-thru restaurant. Serving everything from half pound burgers to hush puppies (!?), Cook Out certainly had one of the thickest menu's I've seen since Culver's back in the midwest.

Pining for something that would solve my fast food craving for at least a month, I went ahead and decided to shove my face in a half pound "Cook Out style" burger, which was piled with chili, coleslaw, and some mustardy onions, alongisde an obligatory order of onion rings and sweet tea. Okay, admittedly this was an absurd order by any means. Just look at the picture to the left, it's ridiculous! The burger itself was a bit on the disappointing side. It was a lot of meat, for sure, but the slaw and chili really didn't bring home any real flavor to make the burger memorable. I tried the onion ring test (take a bite, if onion runs out with the bite then you got a failure) and came away with mixed results. Some were spot on while others just ran right out. The breading was too salty as well, a frustration as memories of delicious beer-battered rings started flooding my mind. The tea of all things turned out to be the best part. Overly sweet, for sure, but unusually satisfying thanks to the crushed ice, it turned out to be a nice way to wash out all that onion ring and mile-high hamburger out of my mouth.

No Reservations, The Shakedown on Cook Out
Atmosphere: It's a drive-thru, what can I say?
Cost: Fast food glory land. $4-6 for a meal.
Try: Their milkshake brings all the boys to the club.
Don't: Go for the breaded stuff. It's generic-ville! Burgers are fine.
Better than McDonalds: Yes, but that's not hard now is it.

The Final Verdict
If you are really that darn desperate for fast food, I guess you can go to Cook Out. They've got a huge menu and a really good meal deal for $4.25 where you can get everything from corndogs to chicken quesadillas as your sides and for a small extra fee choose from over forty (I kid you not) kinds of milkshakes, including some rotating holiday specials. Personally though, in my few experiences at Cook Out I haven't been too thrilled. Their breading is a bit too salty and repetitive (good luck trying to find the difference between a chicken sandwich and onion ring), and their burger just doesn't have that "it" factor that makes me want to go back for seconds. I'll admit that Cook Out is a huge step up from the generic stuff, but as life for me goes on in Greenville, NC, I'll be forging on in search of a bigger, better bite to eat in Pirate territory.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Greenville Eats: Tokyo Japanese Restaurant

Sushi is a pretty finicky thing. The difference between good and bad sushi is so slim that it could seem negligible to most due to the actual experience. Many sushi restaurants, in fact, contain so many elegant notes that quality becomes that of a steakhouse to some where it's more about the show rather than the food.

Walking into Tokyo, however, one definitely does not get that impression. Even with the Japanese style seating on the far side of the restaurant and the bar in the center that surrounded the sushi chefs, Tokyo has the casual atmosphere of an eat-and-run type of place. Despite the low-key affair, the building was still buzzing with energy and continued to be so as things got busier throughout the evening.

Food-wise, Tokyo has just about everything you'd expect to find at any sushi restaurant from its spicy tuna rolls to bento boxes. I decided to grab the Tokyo Roll, consisting of tempura soft-shell crab, avocado, and eel. The roll was surprisingly sizable unlike some of the similar rolls I had back in Columbia, South Carolina which I found to be a huge plus. You definitely get your money's worth here. There's not much to say about such a roll itself; it was fresh, fast and filling, all I could ask for from a sushi restaurant. The roll was surprisingly well stuffed with crab, something that can be a disappointing rarity at other sushi restaurants.

My comrades in chopsticks flooded the table with mounds of various sushi, all of which seemed to satisfy. The Hawaii Roll in particular, a mix of shrimp tempura and spicy tuna topped with mango and crushed almonds, was an exercise in yin and yang with the cool mango and spicy tuna. For appetizers, an order of edamame kept things casual while an order of fried squid kept this blogger busy. Though cleverly presented, I couldn't say it was the best I ever had as the squid was a bit more rubbery than I had before and not well seasoned. We also had a dish of hibachi chicken at the table which looked pretty ordinary on the whole. In fact, glancing around the restaurant, customers definitely didn't seem to be enthused about the non-sushi fare. That being said, this is a sushi restaurant, and in that area Tokyo clearly didn't disappoint.

No Reservations, The Shakedown on Tokyo
Atmosphere: Contemp, but casual and lively at all times.
Cost: Average sushi prices, but the special rolls are generally
worth the price of admission. $8-16
Try: The Tokyo Roll. Crispy soft shell crab and avocado
makes almost anything idiot-proof.
Best sushi town?: I think so.

The Final Verdict
Despite its location on the outskirts of the Greenville area, Tokyo proved to be a nice, trendy place to grab some casual sushi and relax with your bare feet in the ground if you're lucky enough to grab the Japanese style booths. The prices ranged from extremely affordable to upscale depending on your taste and, perhaps more importantly, your choice of company. You won't find anything revolutionary here, but you will find good eats as long as you stick to what their known for.

Thanks to "Alaska" for the photos.

Tokyo Japan Restaurant & Sushi Bar on Urbanspoon

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Greenville Eats: Winslow's Tavern

Winslow's Tavern is the kind of place that you'd like every city to have. With its upscale wine and dine facility and large array of fairly-priced beers on tap, it's the kind of place that brings in both the students and professors without all the annoyances that often come with undergraduate drinking.

My party of five decided to drop by for one of the restaurants many special deals this past Sunday - brunch, of course. Unlike your average brunch buffet, however, this came packed with champagne and mimosa specials which definitely peaked our interest.

After ordering our drinks, we hit the buffet line to check out their spread. Modest in size, the line had plenty of the basics: biscuits, fruit, hash browns, a cheese omelet, random assortments of pastries, bacon and even parfait was on the menu. Though frighteningly borderlining on a continental breakfast rather then brunch - both in terms of quality and presentation - the "brunch" portion started to show with the other assortment of goods. Whether or not they were "good" is a whole other story though.

The first was a potato and onion/pepper sort of hash brown/casserole. While edible, it somewhat reminded me more of a store bought hash, and only slightly heated. The chicken and rice wasn't particularly better: the glob of salty gravy on top left a memorable impression on me that I don't think I'd like to remember.

Even more problematic was the french toast concoction which had a banana base. Obviously a bit burnt on the bottom, the toast itself was too dry to touch while the bananas had that bottom-of-the-pan taste. There was also a potato casserole which just isn't worth mentioning as well.

Basically, the truth of the matter is that the brunch turned out to be a disappointment on the whole for the price. That's not to say everything at Winslow's is bad though: its selections of appetizers and sandwiches definitely looked immensely more appealing. The hot chips, their twist away from the standard fries, are definitely a plus for casual drinkers looking for a bite to eat and share. The variety of sandwiches and some of the chances they take on the menu are pretty standard. Though substantial, few make an impression or duplicate the the quality of the actual bar itself.

No Reservations, The Shakedown on Winslow's
Atmosphere: Classiest bar in town.
Cost: Far too expensive. $8-10 for
most entrees (all of which are mostly sandwiches)
Try: Beer. Fantastic selection.
Don't: Eat the food, or come looking for sexy party.

The Final Verdict

My opinion of Winslows is pretty cut and dry: if you are looking for an upscale, atmospheric location to drink and chat at a decent price, Winslows is the place for you. Its variety makes it an ideal spot for those looking to sample some options a bit more exotic then the normal budlight/miller fare around town. The drink specials are frequent and seem to change often, so definitely inquire for the best deals. The food, however, is a bit on the pricey side, even with the offerings being reasonably substantial. The Sunday brunch itself proved to be a very hit-and-miss deal that doesn't cry for a second chance. If you do plan to eat, you can check out the appetizers and sandwiches, but don't expect anything life altering.

It's been well-noted in reviews of the restaurant that the service can be a burden. Both times that I've ventured there, however, my group has been decently taken care of. Though a few hiccups were apparent when business picked up, we never had any major problems to cry home about. If you are looking for something fast and efficient, perhaps you should look elsewhere; those looking to settle in and enjoy the evening should feel pretty cozy at this upscale hangout.

Winslow's on Urbanspoon

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Greenville Eats: Dale's Indian Cuisine

Dale's Indian Cuisine is a North Carolina based family restaurant that serves up traditional dishes in a formal, fine dining setting. The restaurant offers a buffet line during the lunch hours and a brunch on both Saturdays and Sundays. In the evening, however, it drops the conventional notions of an Indian restaurant in favor of an intimate wine and dine restaurant.

The intimate setting actually proved to be a little uncomfortable at first, for our party of four. Despite that, we settled into our table and quickly ordered a vegetable platter to get things started. The platter came with a variety of items off the appetizer list, the first of which being a vegetable fritter which definitely seemed to be a favorite. Flavorful, with a generous crunch, the fritters gave us a good first impression of things to come.

Next was the samosa, a puff pastry stuffed with chick peas and spices, and the aloo, a fried potato patty. Truth be told, I was hard-pressed to find a difference between the two, besides the texture of the pastries. The samosa was crunchier, but aloo was somewhat savorier. Neither made that memorable of an impression. There was also the cheese pakora, basically cheese fried in a batter. I was expecting something rich, but the pakora actually had the taste and texture of tofu, which I found to be uncomfortable with the other appetizers. All-in-all, a mixed bag, but not unpleasant by any means.

Our entrees soon came afterwards, piling our little round table. First was the Baigan Bhartha, an eggplant dish mashed in herbs and spices. Though I usually don't condone Indian dishes mild, this proved to be much better that way as it allowed the eggplant to shine through. My only concern was that it didn't feel like a dish that should be paired with rice. The next entree was the Chicken Korma, a curry dish that features an onion base alongside nuts and herbs. Traditional in every since of the word, fans of curry - or those looking for a place to start - will likely enjoy this down-to-Earth dish.

The oddest dish had to have of course been my own. Recommended by the server, my Chicken Tikka Masala was not a curry, but rather a tomato-based dish with cubed pieces of chicken and a flurry of Indian spices injected into the sauce. Sweet at first bite and bitingly hot after, the Masala was a dish that quickly came to stump me. I ended up not getting very far into it. Thinking about it the next day though, I popped my leftover Masala into the microwave and poured it over my own rice. Lo and behold, it actually came to somewhat win me over as the spices were able to settle overnight. As decent as it was the next day though, its the first eating that counts, and for that I would have to give it a bit of a thumbs down.

The winner of the night was easily the Tandoori Chicken, a pit-grilled dish featuring an array of seasonings and a light, spicy sauce underneath. Mouthwateringly juicy and tender enough to make plastic spoons look sharp, the dish was the flatout winner of the evening.

No Reservations, The Shakedown on Dale's Indian Cuisine
Atmosphere: Formal. Casual clothing is okay,
but dinner here is best left for date night.
Cost: Very expensive dinner. $12+
Lunch buffet runs for under ten though.
Try: The Tandoori chicken. Tender, juicy, and flavorful thanks to the grill.
Consider: Lunch. A fair price along with a buffet screams opportunity.

The Final Verdict

Personally, I've had Indian food from a cart, in a buffet, at a friends, and even at home. This, unusually enough, was the first time I had ever had it off a menu. As far as setting goes, I couldn't say I was a fan. It didn't allow the natural buzz of a college scene, and it forced the prices to go somewhere foreign to our entire table - most of which easily hit around the $16-20 range. Groups may want to consider cutting a dish and going the sharing route if that want to save some change.

Despite the prices, the entrees for the most part were all appetizing enough to sort of justify the bill, something that we all came away pretty pleased with it seemed - especially our Tandoori-filled friend. There was one key dish that made me question the whole experience though; the Naan, an Indian flatbread that came with the meal. When I think of Naan, I have memories of a soft, chewy pita that pairs amazingly well with things like curry and the eggplant dish that was ordered. Ours, however, turned out to be a hard fried tortilla-like bread that just didn't go feel right with any of the dishes.

For what we got, Dale's suggest that it would be a great place for lunch with its buffet, and perhaps an even better brunch (mimosas nonstop!). Unless you are looking for an intimate setting for a date, I would stick to the sunlight when checking out this local Indian eatery.

Dale's Indian Cuisine on Urbanspoon

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Columbia Eats: Little Pigs

As much as it pained me, I all but gave up on finding great Southern cooking in Columbia earlier this year. From stuck-to-the-pan mac-and-cheese to banana-less banana pudding, it seemed impossible to find good local southern cooking in the capital city. A disappointing pan of peach cobbler all but closed the door on my search. Two months later, I finally mustered up the courage to try again, this time at Little Pigs.

Located a long ways down Percival Road, this off-the-beaten path Southern buffet could easily be dismissed by those that pass by day-to-day.

Jumping right into the heavy-hitters, Little Pig's offered just about everything that could possibly be thrown out on a buffet line, including not one, but three, types of barbecue. The tomato-based bbq was easily the loser of the bunch with its weaker flavor compared to its sisters. The vinegar based was just that. If you like it you won't go wrong here, but for those looking for something more subtle, the mustard-based - my favorite of the bunch - will fit the bill. More flavorful then the tomato-based, and less overpowering then the vinegar-based, the mustard hits all the right notes. Outside of the barbecue were mixed results though: the fried chicken was just okay, and the heaving pork shoulder came out a bit too dry. Little Pigs also featured a host of other entrees, some of which looked great, some less so.

I've long heard about Southerner's love of collard greens and had tried it at many places since moving to Columbia, but after tasting Little Pig's I've come to the realization that I've never really had collards. Sweet, meaty, and so tantalizing that I literally filled up half of my second plate with them, the collards were everything that I could have asked for in a side dish. In fact, I'd go as far as saying they were the best thing that Little Pigs offered, and something that I would be more then happy to grab to-go. Often. So good!

Not to be outdone (well sorta, the collards are so good!), the sides at Little Pig's all turned out to be solid and substantial. The potato salad was nice and cold as every potato salad should be, and hearty enough to satisfy. Little Pigs also offered hash, a South Carolinian specialty that is quite hard to find in this neck of the woods. It was my first time trying it in fact, but - like the collards - it won't be the last. I was drinking cup-fulls of the hash like water after my first sip.

Desert was simple, a toss-up between banana pudding and a chocolate-marshmallow mish-mash. The banana pudding was okay, a little on the sweet side, but pretty average all-around. The chocolate um, thing, was cool and comforting, a light finish to the meal.

No Reservations, The Shakedown on Little Pig's
Atmosphere: Country kitchen. Picnic tables as
far as the eye can see filled with locals.
Cost: You won't regret it. $8 during day, $9 in the evening.
Try: Everything. A total southern experience at your doorstep.
Plan: To not be doing much of anything after. Even the mightiest
will want to crumble against the weight of this eatery.

The Final Verdict
It may be five years too late for me, but it was great finding some delicious, authentic Southern cooking in the Columbia area. The collards and hash are more then worth the visit, but the mustard barbecue is definitely another worthy reason. Is it the best in South Carolina? Probably not, but for the Columbia area I doubt you will find better. Eat in, take out, do what you gotta do, just make sure you try it out if you're in the Forest Acres/Sandhill area and are hungering for some great Southern cooking.

Little Pigs Barbecue on Urbanspoon

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Columbia Eats: Pho Viet

Pho-Viet opened in Columbia over two years ago, bringing the first real taste of Vietnamese cuisine to the city limits. The restaurant is actually a small chain imported from California. With three shops currently open (two in California, one in Columbia), and a fourth location due in our very own Five Points location this August, Pho-Viet has been winning the hearts of the local citizens with its fresh, flavorful, and authentic Vietnamese dishes.

This blogger, however, has yet to be won. As a Vietnamese-American, my expectations were high - perhaps unfairly so, but high nonethless. Would my latest adventure to Pho Viet win me over?

Walking into the former Zestos location, the first thing most people notice about the restaurant is the decor. A semi-Hawaiian themed decoration, it actually is one of the nicer Vietnamese restaurants I've been to, and noticeably different from your average pho stop. Despite how relatively small the place is, there is ample seating and plenty of breathing room.

Our party of three on our latest outing sat down and got straight to the drinks. One of the many qualities of a Vietnamese restaurant is the great selection of drinks on hand, two popular choices being iced coffee with condensed milk and bubble tea - a smoothie-esque mix with chewy tapioca pearls on the bottom. If you've never had Vietnamese food before, know that textures are a big part of the cuisine - you'll encounter all kinds of interesting things that will keep you guessing. The tapioca pearls definitely can be hit-and-miss with newcomers, but is an experience nonetheless. Both drinks are almost impossible to mess up, and the extra condensed milk thrown in here only makes it better.

The menu features all the usual items and some surprising choices on the special menu for those who want to take a big cultural jump (I believe goat is even on the list for those adventurous enough. Yum! Okay, I've never had it myself, but hey it could be good!). Those looking for some pure and simple Vietnamese food, however, should find all their favorites on the main menu. After glancing through the menu, I went for a big bowl of "bun" with grilled pork and egg rolls while my friend decided to go straight for the traditional beef pho.

Pho is as close to a national dish as you can get with Vietnamese food. Essentially noodles in a rich, beef or chicken broth, it comes with a variety of thinly-sliced meats that have been stewing away in the broth for several hours, making for a rich, powerful flavor. Usually a breakfast item in Vietnam, it has become a lunch/dinner item here in the United States. The pho here doesn't disappoint; filled with slices of thinly-cut beef and served piping hot with a side of bean sprouts and basil, Pho-Viet lives up to its name and gets the dish right, and thankfully so. That being said, those coming from out-of-town might find this pho a bit on the underwhelming side. It's not the best broth I've ever encountered, but it still has a bit of sweetness and flavor to it to make it passable. Those new to the dish will definitely be satisfied with this version.

Bun is a noodle dish without any broth or liquid. Usually piled high with meats, fresh bean sprout, and pickled carrots and daikon (a white radish), it serves as an extremely fresh and filling dish. To eat, take the fish sauce that comes with the dish and pour right over the noodles and dig right in. While the grilled pork in my portion was generous and flavorful, it turned out to be a little too overseasoned with sugar and salt. The pork was also a bit too large; I had to dig in there with a knife to cut the meat into more edible sizes before really getting into the dish - something that usually doesn't happen at other Vietnamese restaurants. The vegetables and herbs managed to salvage things, but I came away somewhat disappointed on the whole.

The third member of our party decided to keep things light and go for a double appetizer: the "goi cuon" and crispy spring rolls. "Goi cuon" is a unique dish to most; similar to an egg roll, it is a rice paper wrap that contains noodles similar to that in the "bun" dish, shrimp, sometimes boiled pork, lettuce, and herbs such as basil. As mentioned earlier, Vietnamese food often revolves around texture, and goi cuon is no exception. The rice paper provides a chewy bite while the peanut sauce that comes with appetizer gives the dish a powerful, nutty taste. Those looking for something healthy to dig into will find no better option then this. The crispy spring rolls here are a bit uncommon in their own right: stuffed with a large shrimp, these rolls are deep fried till golden and served with a side of fish sauce. You can eat them as is, but traditionally Vietnamese usually wrap them in the lettuce that is provided along with pickled vegetables for a big crunchy bite. Both appetizers are definitely filling and are a great way to start any meal.

No Reservations, The Shakedown on Pho Viet
Atmosphere: Relaxed. Strangely Hawaiian even.
Cost: Expensive in relation to other Vietnamese eateries.
Average for Columbia. (Sad face.) $7-10.
Try: Pho, Vietnam's national dish. Goi cuon (spring rolls) offer a
refreshing appetizer while the crispy spring rolls with
shrimp offer a savory option.
Don't: "Bun thit nuong." Harsh seasoning
and large slices makes for a difficult chew.

The Final Verdict
I have mixed emotions about Pho Viet. Being Vietnamese-American myself, I couldn't help but be extra critical of the place. It technically isn't that great compared to all the pho restaurants in nearby cities like Atlanta or Charlotte. It's not the worst, but it certainly doesn't rank among the best. On the otherhand, with it being the only pho restaurant in town it definitely is a welcome sight and is perhaps the most authentic Asian food you can find in the city.

Price-wise, it can get a bit on the expensive side. Most dishes cost between $8 to $9 dollars, with appetizers ranging around $4. Compared with other Asian restaurants, however, you get a lot more bang for your buck here, and a healthier meal as well. The service is kind and helpful, ensuring you know exactly what your getting and explaining how to eat it (which happens more often then you can believe!). If you are pining for Vietnamese food, or are simply just interested in tasting something truly different from the norm, don't be afraid to venture out to Pho-Viet. With the new location in the Five Points area opening in August, you'll have no excuse for missing out on this cultural experience. Those looking for their lowbrow Chinatown noodle goodness, however, will have to make due until their next trip to ATL.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Columbia Eats: Nick's House of Pizza

I had heard of Nick's House of Pizza vaguely through friends and from reviews in other Columbia food blogs, but when my friend and I pulled up to the restaurant on a whim this past week, it was safe to say we had mixed reactions going into this. Located in what feels like the middle of nowhere in West Columbia - which pretty much is the middle of nowhere for local residents - the low-brow venue cast a bit of doubt on our party of two.

Tucked away in a pretty old building compared to its neighbors in nearby downtown, Nick's felt more like a small town restaurant then anything else - certainly not a bad thing though. After being seated, we opened the menu and were pleasantly greeted with a host of Greek options. I immediately turned off my original pizza idea and jumped into a Gyro and Souvlaki platter with beef while my friend decided to stay stateside to try out their special Hamburger Steak.

Our complementary salads arrived first. Topped with their Greek dressing, it turned out to be a pretty satisfying start to the meal - something I rarely say for a salad starter. The dressing, a sweet and sour oil mixture, definitely brightened the salad and gave it a nice bite. My only critique had to have been the olive, which offset things for a moment. It may just have been me, but it definitely cut into what was an otherwise okay beginning.

Our dinners soon arrived hot out of the oven. Served with a side of oven-roasted potatoes, it was safe to say that I got my money's worth in the gyro/souvlaki dinner. This was a love/hate relationship though. The lamb and pita bread, first of all, were to die for. The bread was light, warm and crispy, perfectly complimenting the lamb which satisfied to no end. The tzatziki sauce that came with the dish had a powerful first kick, giving me the pucker face for a moment, but several bites later I couldn't get enough of it. Its extra lemony bite went well with the lamb, adding a nice layer of depth to the dish. The souvlaki beef, however, was a dry mess. Tough to chew down, and not at all compatible with anything on the plate, it proved to be a major letdown, especially considering that it cornered a large portion of the plate. The oven roasted potatoes, at first, were surprisingly good. Generously seasoned and roasted just right, it felt like a good match with the dinner. In the end though, it came to be a bit too salty to finish.

Things certainly looked brighter over on my friend's side of the table. 'Nick's Hamburger Steak', as they called their special version, definitely isn't your average joe. Instead of the traditional grilled onions, this hamburger steak came piled high with melted feta cheese and a few slices of tomato. To quote my friend: "This is some good hamburger steak". Imagine a huge bite of your favorite hamburger along with a hint of fresh tomato and creamy melted cheese, and I'm sure you'll agree that there is simply no going wrong with this one. Definitely a winner.

No Reservations, The Shakedown on Nick's
Atmosphere: Family affair.
Cost: In relation to quantity, worth it! $7-14.
Try: The gyro, pizza, and/or Hamburger Steak.
Goodness found all over menu really.
Don't: Beef slovaki. Too dry. Most of Greek menu does
not meet the height set by the Italian side to be honest.
Don't Forget: To check out the desert setup at the
front desk. Delicious bites waiting!

The Final Verdict
Despite some of the shortcomings in the Gyro/Souvlaki platter, we walked away from Nick's House of Pizza with a sense of satisfaction. The restaurant was fairly busy for an off-hour time of the day, which is a great sign that they know what their doing. The pizza has been claimed to be one of the best in town - though I have not tried for myself - but don't be afraid to venture through their varied menu of specials. On the Greek side, if must, do stick with the gyro. Nick's definitely shines in the Italian section though, and the orders that came fast and flying around us certainly reflected that. The menu is also varied enough price-wise to fit anyone's bill thanks to their long list of subs and salads, but for those looking for the real goods, definitely aim big and get your money's worth.

On our way out, we noticed a revolving tray of deserts. We didn't have time - or stomach - to try out anything, but everything looked absolutely delicious. The list of deserts aren't on the main menu, so definitely be wary of it on the way out during your next visit and let me know how it goes!

Nick's House of Pizza Restaurant on Urbanspoon