Some Random Thoughts

  Maroon Restaurants...Posted 4/19/14 by Tom (How's that for random)

The Minus Returns...Posted 02/08/13 by Tom

Comeuppance...Posted 12/06/12 by Tom

We're Back...Posted 12/03/12 by Tom

Mary Beth's Rant...Posted 09-09-11 by Mary Beth

Restaurant Ratings Redefined...Posted 09-04-11 by Tom

Is Carl Rogers On The Menu?...Posted 07-28-11 by Tom

There Are No Two Finer Words In The English Language Than “Encased Meats,” My Friend. Hot Dougs (Chicago)...Posted 07-28-11 by Tom

An Ode to Tom or Why You Should Eat at Momocho...Posted 01-17-11 by Tom

Steph's First Random Thoughts...The Reluctant Foodie a year in review…Posted 01-07-11  

Tom's First Random Thoughts...One Year In, Things Learned and Confirmed...Posted 01-03-11 
 

Maroon Restaurants

Just a quick note to explain why some of the restaurants are now listed in maroon. We have been looking for new places for some time now. We don't really have a sense of how long this will go on or what it will look like, just enjoying do what we want. We will still be hunting and trying new places, but since this has now officially gone on for a few years, we are going to return to some of our favorite haunts and others we have not tried for appreciable time. Things change. We've changed. So we'll be reporting some of what's changed and what's not.

The Minus Returns

One more time, maybe even the last, I am making some adjustments to the overall scores. Now that we are well past 300 different places we again have a much wider field for comparison. Last time I eliminated the minus scores and now find they would be helpful for more direct comparison with so many restaurants to compare. I still remind myself to be as fair as possible, I do my best. While going through all of the pages, I was again struck by some of the great things we have eaten and experienced over the last three years and couldn't help but comparing them as I worked my way through. As a result you'll now see some of my favorite things listed from high to low on a few pages. Well, the call of the dissertation is turning into a howl, so I will be spending more time writing in an academic vein but I'm sure we will still need to eat and will be sure to throw them up here.

 

Comeuppance

I have a confession to make. I am a human…and with that comes a certain degree of pettiness and countless other failings. I likely have more than the mean. Having a certain degree of knowledge about cooking and food I also have a wide range of iffy opinions on all sorts of associated topics, including those who prepare our meals. This includes bad-mouthing people I don’t know for any variety of reasons, most recently Bobby Flay and Todd English. I have absolutely no knowledge of these guys at all on a personal level, just what I have seen on t.v. I hastily generalize these impressions to everything about them and well, we all know how accurate mass media based impressions can be.

We went to each of their Vegas based spots and while I still know nothing about them to like or dislike, both run a pretty tight ship which both produced a much better than average experience for us. I was wrong. Again. Happens a lot. I have been told by someone who actually knows Chef Flay that while he may come off as a %#$@ on t.v. he’s one of the nicest guys he knows. Could be; I don’t know. All I can tell you is regardless of who many of these people might be, many of them have their faces splashed on the tube for a reason. They are good at what they do. What should I care who they are. If I had a choice between an excellent and arrogant surgeon, or a really nice one who had the dropsy’s, it’s an easy choice. I guess that’s what makes it a rare treat when you find fabulous people who do fabulous things. I could stand to be less judgmental about folks I don’t know, and more understanding of the one’s I do until they pass the limits of redemption. I still have to learn to temper my weaknesses instead of letting them fester. I might be wrong less often. I still feel alright about being judgmental about the product…I think I’ll stick to that.

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We're Back...

We have been off our game for a while now. While my motivation for doing this is still 99% internal and personal I have been surprised by how many people have been checking in on my ramblings on a regular basis. Especially since I never registered this mess to be found. Since this is a pet personal project it gets easily sidetracked by things like back surgery and broken ribs. We have been sitting at home eating delivery (not that there aren’t benefits to a few weeks lounging on the chair) and had few opportunities to stretch our culinary adventure. We were actually stalled just short of our 200th restaurant and more woefully we have haven’t been spending enough time with our fellow “gourmands”.

The scars have mended, ribs recuperated, bruises faded and we have returned with a fervor. Fueled and energized by our annual pilgrimage to Lost Wages Nevada I had forgotten how much fun it actually is to try new places and things. Vegas was great and our list of local joints continues to expand past the point of ever catching up, what fun.

I just wanted to send a note of thanks to the folks who are participating and tell you I have enjoyed the conversations we have had online and in person about the importance of sharing sustenance together. We’re going to keep going since it has been a great experience so far, I hope you’ll continue to join us.

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Mary Beth’s Rant:

As I look back on all the places and meals I have enjoyed with Tom and Steph, and the growing list of restaurants that they have attended, one thought came to mind…why the f*** was I not invited to the majority of these dining experiences.  Sure, I got to tag a long to some token restaurants, but I’m as opinionated as they come and I share.  I so should have been on more of these food extravaganzas.

Okay, my rant is over.  Some highlights:  Greenhouse Tavern and the wings and Pot de Crème.  I could eat it for every meal.  Casa del Rio in my mind is unparalleled for Mexican.  It could be that the margaritas are so potent that it dulls my taste buds and everything just tastes good after a few too many beverages. Either way, sign me up every time.  The Top Secret location is a place I look forward to every year and fortunately for me always seems to come at a time where I am on hiatus from watching my weight. Let’s just say I look forward to August every year.  Momocho, Brassa, Vacarro's, Primo’s, Cilantro and more all had their standouts, but it was the company more than the food that I remember.

On a final note, I would be better able to recite hilarious lines from the evenings we enjoyed the meals than from any one dish I tried.  Cheers to you, Tom and Steph, and the many wonderful evenings.

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Restaurant Rating Redefined

Recently I went through the pages and realized that it was time to review the grading system. While our individual experiences have not changed, we have. When we started I essentially gave equal weight to all of the categories. Having a great deal more under our belts for comparison I realized that many of the final grades were inaccurate and most often towards the positive. We decided to remedy this and have instead balanced each experience against the others so that average means average and movement either direction makes more sense. I am also taking out the mathematical aspect of the final grade since the dining experience is so subjective. There are places where the ambiance or service slightly affected the visit and others where it was instrumental to success or responsible for failure. Near 200 restaurants I now feel better equipped to make that distinction and have it reflect in the final grade. To be as fair as possible I am including the original overall grades and the adjustments below.

Original Ratings...

New Ratings...

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Is Carl Rogers On The Menu?

Being a counselor in the state of Ohio and now having been teaching it for a few years has reaffirmed my belief in a number of things. One of the big Daddies of Psychology was a guy named Carl Rogers. He started the branch of the tree we refer to as Humanistic or Client Centered Therapy. If you are old enough to remember Mr. Rogers on T.V. you have a fair equivalent of this other Mr. Rogers. “Won’t you be my neighbor?” Really at the foundation of what we do with people is the concept of a therapeutic relationship. I have believed for some time that even if you have the best interventions in the world without that underlying connection both of you are doomed to failure. Rogers described three components to this relationship Unconditional Positive Regard, Genuineness, and Empathy. If these exist in the relationship the folks involved feel secure enough to try new things and grow, so the thinking goes.

With some apologies (sincere) to those front of the house folks, we have been to some real holes where the staff made us feel like family and where we had an incredible time. We have also been to some exceptionally high-falutin’, up-scale restaurants (like L Atelier du Joel Robuchon) where a sudden failure in that professional relationship turned a night of celebration into one resonating with bitterness. Sometimes I wonder if it is really possible to learn to create those connections in the interest of other people in counseling or hospitality. I do believe that some folks just have a gift and it comes naturally to them. The more places we go the more I am buoyed by other people’s interest in my well being, even if it only for a short time. Tom at Momocho, Januaryy at Barry Dyngles, our server at The Pit, it’s amazing what a difference that show of care makes in your life. I hope I can manage the same more days than not.

“I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
Maya Angelou

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There Are No Two Finer Words In The English Language Than “Encased Meats,” My Friend. Hot Dougs (Chicago)

Looking back through the now 180-some restaurants we have been to in the past couple years I noticed we have had a whole bunch of hot dogs or some other sausage type sammitch. (The spelling is a shout out to our old Pittsburgh neighbors.) I can’t tell you the number of time people have told me they don’t think they would want to join us on a culinary adventure because they don’t like fancy or weird food. I know they haven’t been reading at that point. Sure we have had fresh white truffles and fru-fruey preparations of all sorts of nuttiness. Some good some not. I don’t know if I have had a horrible hot dog. One that is overdressed? Nope, not even at Hot Dougs. One that is too plain? Nope. The chili and cheese slathered Sugardales at Jib Jab take me back to days when my Dad would snag some from the old shop in Girard (The Family Pack with is no longer available) and we would have family pack time. The load of veggies atop the Chicago style at U.S. Cellular Field reminded me how long we have been gathering together to watch and cheer at games. Celery salt and a side of nostalgia. The insanity of the stuffings at Hot Dougs. The ethnic flavors that standout as you tour the country in the spicy smokiness of Andouille, the pepper and paprika of Chorizo, garlicky Bratwurst, sweet/spicy Italians, bland Viennas, Polish, Hungarian, Kielbasa, and on and on. Everyone has versions. Even the standard American dogs vary. You know you have a favorite. Nathans or Oscar Meyer or whatever. For whatever reason, you like one more than the others. I know I do…but when they are coming off the grill in the backyard…I don’t have any complaints about which it is.

Why do I complain about the French? Mostly cause they complain about our dogs, our burgers, our lack of refinement. People who go EEEWWWWWW! when they see a hot dog aren’t to be trusted. You don’t know what’s in it! Trust me. If that is going to be the threshold for what you are willing to eat you had either be prepared to farm or starve. John D. Rockefeller said  "The secret of success is to do common things uncommonly well." Maybe I’m a little old school at this age but I still have a serious appreciation for people who throw their all into everything they do…no matter how insignificant it might be to most others. I guess the hot dog is a pretty good metaphor for that. How much different would my life be if I had the imagination of Doug’s, rested on the history of Comiskey, if I could create the familiar comfort of the Jib Jab for others…? I think today I’ll have a dog and see if I can’t invest as much in my day as I have had others invest in what we have enjoyed for a year and an half. Worst that could happen? I’ll be proud of myself. And who knows, someone else might notice at some point along the way. Geez, this is pretty schlocky for a hot dog!

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An Ode to Tom or Why You Should Eat at Momocho

Well friends, a recent experience brought me a bit of clarity. When I started this whole adventure to try to get my mother online, I took to these tables with a good bit of my MST trained counselor intact. This means looking to find strengths in each experience. While by nature I am incredibly judgmental and biased; I have learned I am at my best as a professional by finding the positive in many situations and using those as levers for the desired change. What has bothered me over the last year is the fact that some of my write-ups have been scathing. I have never been a fan of many food critics as they have come across as vindictive and soulless in their opinions. Now I have had occasion during this escapade to match their vitriol. I don’t particularly enjoy being negative or snarky. After checking with Steph to ensure what I have typed is an honest interpretation of our experience at places like The Sub Station, or Otto Moser's or The Galaxy, or Spunkmeyers or the Uptown Deli, or Margheritas, I posted reviews which still made me uncomfortable, even though I felt they were fair. This has continued to bother me, as I am not sure how I have managed to post files that in some ways are intended to bring someone down a notch professionally. Simply not my style, but I did it nonetheless.

Tonight we enjoyed a meal at Momocho in Cleveland. During that meal we were served by a back-of-the-house-guy named Tom. We were sitting right against the hot-line upstairs. Like any pro working a two-man line, Tom’s hands and feet never stopped moving throughout our entire experience, unless of course he had stopped to care for us. Then he became completely ours. If you are familiar with Carl Rogers theories on who we are and what allows us to grow, you would recognize the steps Tom took throughout our evening, namely unconditional positive regard and congruence. While we ordered more than two people should and took home more than we ate…Tom was happily and quickly wrapping up our leftovers without judgment. He also had a free and easy way of being himself (congruent) amidst the rush of a busy service that made us both comfortable and happy to be sitting at the counter right in front of the hot line for two hours. He mentioned in discussion that in three years he had only had one couple when things didn’t work out well…he attributed this to luck. I attribute this to Tom. He embodies much of what I have learned to be the heart of the hospitality industry. He would make a fine counselor.

This is what I believe has made it easier for me to cast an honest but negative light on poor or nonexistent attempts to serve the public. When you have had the opportunity to have so many excellent and caring people take care of you in a single year…when folks make it abundantly clear that they couldn’t care less…it makes me mad. I’m more okay with that anger in this instance because I have had the opportunity to enjoy the hard earned efforts of those like Tom on more occassions than not. Those other experiences make me as bitter as when I have worked with counselors or educators who aren't at least professionally invested in their charges…they are doomed to fail. If they expect people to continue supporting them they should honestly know how they are being perceived, at least before the strike of the death knell. While Tom made a single evening a spectacular experience, he has done so much more. His efforts and gifts challenge me in what I do each and every day. He makes me more congruent (honest) with my experiences even when they are not positive and he reminds me that there are a lot of good people in the world...doing all sorts of things they apparently love. Long Live Folks like Tom!!! As for me, I will continue to do my best to be honest and fair, even when the fair isn't so nice...both here and wherever else I may be.

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Steph's First Random Thoughts
The Reluctant Foodie; a year in review…

I am truly not sure what I expected a year ago when we started this adventure.  I know it was somewhere along the lines of “here we go: another one of Tom’s crazy ideas…”  I don’t mean that in a negative way at all.  Simply that we both are usually full of crazy ideas and this was just one of his latest! J I worked at Pennsylvania Culinary Institute for a bit in admissions. To this day, I am still very fond of my time there, what the school stands for and the quality education it provides!  At no point, however, would I ever have called myself a foodie.  People can still hear me say “my mom was a Home Economics Teacher, my husband graduated from PCI, I worked there for 5 years and I can barely boil water. I still don’t consider myself a true and qualified “foodie”, but a year into the “PhDelicious” journey here is what I have learned.

Food, like what experts now seem to admit about wine, it really is just about what one thing: what YOU LIKE.  Forget the food snobs, forget seeking only that which is trendy and forget only making reservations at the priciest of joints.  Does it make you close your eyes and sigh?  That’s all that matters.  That feeling can happen at the places where damage at the end of the meal is in the 3 digit range, but it can just as easily happen at a shack tucked away in no man’s land.  I will admit that we have saved up and been to the stupid expensive places….and had some fantastic meals.  I do love getting dressed up once in a while and going out to splurge, but notice the “saved up” part of the earlier sentence.  We can’t do that all the time.  Luckily we don’t need to.  This year we have had our minds blown at places where we have spent less then $50 bucks too!!  I will get back to Baltimore in the next couple of months.  It has been far too long since I have been at Chapps Pit Beef!  There is something magical about finding a little local place that no one expects to be amazing but it turns out to be just that. 

Along the same lines, I have learned that I can just as easily be pleasantly surprised by the meal chosen.  Name a chain restaurant or a fast food place and I can tell you what I will order.  Seriously.  Every time. Like clock work.  This year has broadened my horizons both in where I eat and what I eat.  I have learned that vegetarian dishes can be incredible!  I have learned that combinations of flavors don’t have to be scary.  Pepper is a good thing.  And yes, in Vegas this year the dishes I will remember for quite some time were pork mac-n-cheese and a duck breakfast (even if I was forced to order it because of a lost bet).            

The “where” and “what” might seem fairly common sense. Vacation or short get-aways tend to lend themselves toward a little more adventure in food too.  The grass is always greener – right?  I remember going to Youngstown to visit Tom’s family and being so jealous of all the great little privately owned restaurants.  How can our area be so void of that?  This year has taught me that we absolutely are not!  There are tremendous places around here too.  Truly, there are tremendous places everywhere you go; you just have to seek them out.  They are there.  This site was our impetus to uncover the fabulousness that surrounds us all.

Lastly, many have written about the feelings and memories that revolve around and/or are created by a good meal.  There are two variables to the well documented equation:  good food AND good friends.  More importantly then anything else, this site has prompted some increased time with the important people in our lives and has spurred lots of laughter with all as we pretend to be well trained critics assessing successes and missed opportunities but also allowed us to catch up and stay caught up with each other and be well fed at the same time!

Honestly, it took me a while to get used to snapping photos of meals before we dig in.  Some of the sideways glances at the snooty places when the flash kept going off didn’t sit too well with me at first, but Tom and I do weird things that always warrant some sideways glances.  If strangers don’t like it… tough.  Who can argue with such a fun project with so many side benefits?  I am looking forward to what year two of travels, feasts and amusement and year 12 of our own adventure have to teach.  Thanks Husband.

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Tom's First Random Thoughts
One Year In...Things Learned and Confirmed

So this has been up for about a year now and it seems like I should have learned something. So instead of waiting for others to share their responses I suppose I will instead share some ramblings about whatever. Lucky you!!! With any luck some of our other regulars will share something worthwhile.

So it’s been 108 restaurants. Sweet Lord. Not kidding, just counted them. One hundred and Eight different meals, some as a duo others shared with friends. Please don’t ask which was my favorite…I couldn’t pick, so many different great experiences and some truly atrocious ones. But some things have been learned and some have been confirmed. These are the first things that came to mind.

Among things learned…

  • It has been a spectacular experience to become as critical about what I eat as I was taught to be about what I cooked. While I had been through numerous “practicals” and fire tests trying to perfect a cut or dish; I often would shovel just about anything into my gaping maw without a wit of care or concern. I am a much better consumer nowadays.
  • I have been surprised by how many empty restaurants still have their doors open and how many horrible experiences we have had in packed houses. Sometimes a big name, or a local tradition seems to keep a place rolling when what had made them famous in the first place seems to have gone the way of the dodo. Keeping a restaurant open is economically a real challenge. There certainly seem to be a lot of folks who either don's care or are willing to overlook a poor outing. I do keep in mind that these are all done on a single visit and places do have off days, just like I do. Some of these places, however, I can't imagining ever having instilled a positive memory on purpose. This is not the business to let folks know that you don't care, mistakes or not.
  • One of the most amazing things to me is the number of places right around me, whose door I’ve never darkened, who are really churning out excellent product in a great atmosphere. This year has forced me out of my repetitive patterns and made me more excited about where I live and where I get to travel. I like to blame this all on my mother. Well, it is her fault! But realistically it has been a great experience. I can't wait to discover the next treasure.
  • I sort of hate to say it, I’m a back-of-the-house guy…food food food, but poor service can really ruin a good meal. I don’t care how good the food is. For all the grief I’ve given floor staff over the years, when I’m at a table, your work is important and valued. Jeez, that’s kinda hard to type, but true. Although, if I am ever back in the kitchen and you try to bury the line, no reprieve.

Among things confirmed so far…

  • There is little in the world as awesome as good food shared with good friends. Realistically, good friends even make a heinous meal fun…in a dark and evil sort of way. For all of you who have passed plates with me in the past year, Thanks!
  • It should be written somewhere official. It doesn’t matter how many stars or seats you have. If you are devoted to what you do and it shows; it doesn’t matter if you serve hot dogs or foie gras. Seriously, if you are a pretentious snob who would never dare enter Chaps Charcoal or Jib Jab (Ugh, a hotdog!) OR you are a more of a Philistine who don’t like “fussy” food (On our anniversary we go to the fancy drive through) you are missing out on some seriously great stuff. There are enough people in the world working hard to cheat you, why cheat yourself?
  • On a similar note, going out on limb will at times result in anything ranging from disappointment to a bout of bazooka barfing. In my experiences those letdowns have been outnumbered at least 100:1 by new and exciting encounters. I will go all in with those odds any day. Sure I have eaten some odd things but a lot of that stuff is honestly better than filet mignon anyday. Plus the horror stories are much more entertaining than the positive ones.
  • Money don’t buy good. This makes me think of ZoozaCrackers at the Wynn in Vegas. Here's a gajillionaire offering deli, that while pretty good, can't even begin to approach what has been spawned by poverty and years of experience at places like the Carnegie Deli, Slymans, or Primos. The French may scoff at our cuisine, but our nation is redolent with amazing and delicious traditions, and who really cares what the French think anymore? People have been doing fantastic things for hundreds of years in all realms of American cuisine.
  • The hospitality world is full of some real and remarkable people, putting in hours most of us can’t imagine in conditions that would break many of us and meeting us with a smile. Day after day after day. Much more so than the "celebrity chefs" you see on the tube. Having been in the back, having watched fellow customers out front, I believe keeping the fire going is a monumental task. For those who have lost the fire, there are a lot of other things in the world you could do…the BMV for instance. It doesn’t take us long to notice. For those of you who have kept the fire burning bright and shared the warmth by being kind enough to feed me. Bless You! I will be back.

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