Various vittles

I haven’t blogged in a while and haven’t created a restaurant review in months. I am making up for lost time with several mini reviews in a series of posts. This will focus on eateries located near Corvallis.

Breakfast

In both Columbus and Greenville we had a hard time selecting a breakfast location, but for completely different reasons. In Columbus, there were too many delicious choices and in Greenville, there were too few. With a dearth of tasty breakfast restaurants, I became quite skilled at making breakfast and while my abilities grew, so did my standards.

breakfast, yogurt, egg, fruitThis is the rushed weekday breakfast at our house. Any restaurant has to beat this, and offer excellent service, to get my breakfast business.

Corvallis has both an Elmer’s and Shari’s. These are comparable to Bob Evan’s or Cracker Barrel, well maybe not quite CB. They offer a number of options ranging from indulgent to reasonably healthy. Both can have long lines on the weekends but this is to be expected, especially in the fall.

Darrell’s used to be an option for breakfast, though we only ever took advantage of breakfast- all-day and ate there in the evening. I had cheese blintz with strawberries and home fries the last time I ate there. The food memories cause my mouth to water but alas, this is no longer an option.

Tommy’s 4th Street Bar & Grill is another local diner with a big breakfast menu.  Once again, we have only eaten there in the evening. I had the crunchy strawberry French toast. The portion was more than generous; the taste was quite satisfying though the berries weren’t fresh. Here are some photos from a visit in December when I ordered a patty melt with onion rings (delicious despite the grease) and M had a massive omelette.

tommy's patty melt corvallis, or tommy's breakfast

Tommy’s allows you to select a pancake as a “side” for your breakfast. M doesn’t like potatoes so this is a fine option for him.

Finally, Philomath brings us donuts from NutCakes. These things might as well be called “crack-cakes” since there must be an illegal substance in the batter; it is the only thing that explains the amazing flavor. I have enjoyed the maple bacon donut, a must for any good donut shop in Oregon, and the buttermilk bar. Both are delicious. The bear claw was the only disappointment since I wasn’t expecting to find chopped up apples inside.

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There are some good options here but we still eat breakfast at home most of the time. It’s a comfortable part of our routine.

Lunch and dinner

IMG_1007While it isn’t perfect, we have made Cibelli’s our go-to pizza parlor. Their flavorful pies are made with quality ingredients. This is some of the best pizza I’ve had in Oregon but it wouldn’t touch some of the good New York style shops in Greenville. The staff is friendly and the pickup estimates are always accurate. On one visit, they accidentally made a 24″ pizza for us instead of the 14″ we ordered. I took home a monstrous pizza (would only fit in the trunk) for the price of a much smaller pie.

There are a number of brewpubs and casual dining spots in Corvallis. I was not impressed with Flat Tail Brewing, the flavors and variety weren’t there. Squirrel’s Tavern is a decent option. The tots are delicious. After an undercooked burger, I will stick with the salad. Brew BBQ is really very good. If a Southerner tells you that your BBQ joint is good, that’s a big compliment. Downward Dog has phenomenal chicken fingers with an espresso stout BBQ sauce. At $4, this healthy appetizer is a steal. The chicken is so juicy and the light smoky flavor is a great balance for the tangy sauce.

Until a few weeks ago, I was a huge fan of Sky High Brewing. The oyster po’boy was my tried-and-true selection. I finally took Mr. McB a few weeks ago and found that the oysters had a strong, unpleasant flavor; I only ate about half of my sandwich because it was so noticeable. The tots arrived lukewarm which was another big disappointment. The Mister picked pizza. At first, he really liked it but as he ate a bit more, the story changed. I took a bite and immediately tasted cinnamon, making the whole pizza taste like Skyline Chili. Thanks, but no thanks.

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Two spots we really liked were Fireworks in Corvallis and The Woodsman in Philomath.
Fireworks showcases their wood fired oven with their sizable menu. Mr. McB ordered pizza. The crust was light and crispy with a zesty sauce and generous supply of peps and cheese. I had the Polynesian pulled pork. I love tangy food and this sandwich didn’t let me down. The handout fries are also made in the wood-fired oven. It’s a small place and the meals do take time so pack your patience.

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Woodsman in Philomath OregonThe Woodsman might not look like much on the outside but it is a stellar Thai restaurant. The massive portions are piled with fresh ingredients. I enjoy the pad Thai and also find the stir-fry dishes to be very flavorful. You can easily eat your fill at the restaurant and still bring home enough for a couple of lunches.

Before wrapping this up, let me cover two restaurants on Monroe near OSU. University Calzone, my tastebuds would visit weekly but my waistline won’t let me.

university calzone

Bombs Away Cafe, you gave me chips from the bottom of a bag and lukewarm queso. Your food was either bland or unappealing. For me, you are a one-and-done restaurant.

Bombs away cafe

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Tastes of Oregon

On Friday, I had the opportunity to sample some delicious new flavors. The first was the coconut oatmeal cookie created by Mennonite bakers. That is a delicious flavor combo. Overall, I prefer an oatmeal scotchie but the coconut oatmeal is not as rich, making it a better choice for summer.

On Friday night, I sampled the bacon guacamole from Del Alma. I enjoy my guac with loads of lime and cilantro so I wasn’t sure about this concoction featuring bacon, chipotle peppers, and chopped hazelnuts but it turned out to be so good that my taste buds did a little dance. The hazelnuts were a perfect balance to the heat of the peppers. The bacon appeared in thick, flavorful chunks. It isn’t an everyday guac, but it is delightful!

Yesterday, I thought I would order a pizza because I had good experiences on Friday and good things come in threes, right?

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Wrong! Woodstocks delivered this pizza in a timely fashion and they use quality cheese. That ends my list of positives. The crust was burnt on the edge and soggy on the bottom. The sauce tasted like spaghetti sauce and the seasonings didn’t belong on a Hawaiian pizza or any pizza for that matter. This pizza was not great cold on day two. At least American Dream had that going for them. A good pizza is hard to find in Corvallis!

One and done

Mr. McB and I had many regular breakfast spots before moving to Greenville. There is just something nice about starting your day by having someone else take care of you.

We’ve tried a few places since moving to South Carolina but haven’t found our spot. Southern Thymes Cafe’s Living Social special seemed like a perfect opportunity to give them a try. We were so hopeful that they could be our breakfast nook.

We arrived in the Greer restaurant around 11:15 on Saturday morning. Immediately we experienced that “does someone seat us/do we seat ourselves” conundrum that plagues many small restaurants. We spotted an empty booth and decided to seat ourselves. The server was over with menus almost as soon as we sat down. It surprised me that she was so quick since I was getting a cagey vibe from the other diners.

Within five minutes we had placed our order and were sipping our on beverages. Just as I noticed some schmutz on the outside of my water glass, a little bit of a kerfuffle broke out with some of the other folks who were tired of waiting for their meals. I just pushed the dirty glass to the side of the table. I didn’t want to deal with asking for a new cup.

We were entertained during our wait. There were kitchen mix-ups, another loud discussion between patrons, and a couple who left without ordering.

I thought there might be some backup because of added traffic from the Living Social deal but I was not prepared to wait a little more than 30 minutes to get our breakfast. There were no systems in place. People who came after us received their food at least five minutes before our meals arrived. Their dishes seemed more complex than ours. It made no sense. There were moments when meals would come to the pass and a slew of servers would have to discuss the items to determine who they belonged to. It was very poorly organized.

By time the food arrived around 11:55, we were starving. I ordered French toast and a side portion of ham. Mr. McB got toast and an omelet with cheese and bacon. I like a little crusty crunch to my French toast but this was just limp. It tasted like batter. The ham was good and plentiful. Mr. McB’s toast was good. His omelet was filled with what he described as “hard” bacon and shredded cheese that was not melted. He said that bacon wasn’t crispy, it was just like having potato chips in your omelet.

We will not be returning to Southern Thymes. I saw a lot of other people leaving food on their plates. Since we were all waiting a long time on our meals, that says a lot. The servers really tried but it was a bad situation for everyone.

Our disappointment continued later in the day when we had an early supper at the Chipotle near Haywood Mall. This location is new and a bit of a disaster. We hoped things would be better since our visit in early January but they were not. We had to wait on white rice but when it arrived, it was gummy and completely without flavor. The pinto beans were like little pink pebbles in my bowl. McB’s chicken was burnt. Until someone tells me that this location has it together, I’ll brave Woodruff Road if I get a Chipotle craving.

 

 

Savory Saturday

Palmetto Olive Oil Co. and Bacon Brothers Public House have lingered on my list of places to check out. Thanks to some free time, a gift certificate, and indecision, we were able cross them both off the list on Saturday.

We started our day at Palmetto Olive Oil Co. on Augusta Street. The shop specializes in fresh olive oils and high-quality balsamic vinegar varieties. Upon entering the shop, one of the nice ladies who works there asked if we would like to sample. We said yes and were given a bowl of bread chunks and some general guidelines.

At first, we sampled the oils. The store stocks oils from both hemispheres depending on which area is harvesting. The oil we tasted was pressed from olives in November and December. Since this oil is very fresh, it contains antioxidants and other health benefits not found in grocery store oils. The flavor is also very different. The more robust oils take on the flavor on what grows around the olive trees. This can lead to a very fresh almost grassy flavor. I have to admit, this was not my favorite.

We moved into the flavored oil section. I found many things to like here. A few of my favorites were the spicy chipotle, a rich butter-flavored oil which would be great if you wanted to reap the health benefits of replacing butter with olive oil,  a delightful Herbes de Provence, and zesty blood orange. We wound up bringing home the blood orange olive oil. While I look forward to using it for entrees, I’m also interested in the idea of infusing brownies with a hint of orange by using this oil.

After sampling the oils, we moved to the white balsamics. A few of the highlights here were the fresh peach, Sicilian lemon, pineapple, and the original unflavored white balsamic.

We moved the the back of the store and exchanged our bread for a scoop of vanilla ice cream to use with the dark balsamic vinegar selections. Mr. McB loved the Tahitian vanilla and black cherry. We brought home bottles of both. I was a big fan of the maple, champagne, lavender, and raspberry. I selected a small bottle of maple and am looking forward to pairing that with the blood orange oil for what could be a delicious salad dressing.

After leaving the store, we decided to travel toward home and have lunch at Bacon Brothers Public House. This small farm-to-table establishment is located in a strip mall on Pelham Road. If Farmer Brown was a hipster, his house would look like the inside of Bacon Brothers. Functionally, there is a smoker behind the restaurant and a chamber inside the restaurant where their homemade meats and sausages are cured. Take the name as a clue, Bacon Brothers is not for vegetarians.

We both ordered the burger which is made from ground chuck, brisket, and bacon. Mr. McB had the traditional two-patty version and added a fried egg. I went with one patty and added a side of onion rings.

bacon brothers public houseLook at the size of that egg hanging off the side of the burger. After one bite, he had a pool of rich, egg yolk all over the plate. The burger became a fork-and-knife food at that moment. He doesn’t normally like messy foods but the unique flavor of this burger made it worthwhile.

photo 2Before I get to my review of the burger, let’s start with the onion rings. They weren’t the crispiest rings I’ve ever had but, they were far from soggy. They were fresh and featured a very light beer batter. The sweet onion was really allowed to standout instead of being overpowered by a mound of coating.

photo 4As you can see from this photo, the single burger is pretty substantial. The flavor is very different from a normal burger. Here you are getting the sinful smokiness of the bacon and brisket. It’s like a barbecued burger minus sauce. The leaf lettuce, American cheese, pickle, and special sauce all complimented the flavor very well. They balanced without muting. As a bread-lover, I have to take a minute to wax poetically about these delicious house-made buns. They are fluffy but still substantial enough to handle this burger.

We look forward to returning to both establishments and enjoying more of what they have to offer.

Paisano’s Italian Pizzeria and Restaurant

Last Friday night we were in the mood to try something new so I used Google map’s “nearby” feature to find restaurants close to us.

From this search we stumbled onto Paisano’s Italian Pizzeria and Restaurant, at the intersection of Rte 14 and Pelham Road in Greer. For all my adventurous eating, I am not a fan of “red sauce” Italian but this place had a full range of Italian items and a lot of Greek cuisine choices too. We began scanning the extensive menu and were in the car just as our mouths started to water and our bellies began rumbling.

Paisano’s is located in a strip mall. Mr. McB described the location as a culinary UN as there are Korean and Japanese groceries, a Thai restaurant, a BBQ joint, a deli, and this Italian-and-Greek establishment.

The restaurant itself will not win any design awards and the lighting is a little dim but it’s got a comfortable, family feel. While I appreciate good restaurant design and decor, it’s not a must for me. I have been in far too many fancy restaurants with substandard food. I go to art museums for my eyes and restaurants for my belly.

We were seated quickly and began another scan of the menu. I had already decided to go Greek and picked the moussaka. McB decided on the tortellini with chicken.

Both of our meals came with a salad. We both selected the house (Greek) dressing. It was quite good and tangy. The salads were fresh and while they weren’t huge, they were a good start for the meal.

M’s pasta came out on what can only be described as a platter. He had a mountain of tri-colored tortellini and grilled chicken. The dish was served with an alfredo sauce and garlic bread. He was a big fan of the pasta and sauce. He said the chicken was nothing special and actually took away from the enjoyment of the pasta. He couldn’t put his finger on what was wrong with the chicken but it just didn’t measure up to the pasta. He’ll definitely order the tortellini again but won’t ask for the chicken to be added in the future.

I was a little apprehensive about the moussaka. I love Greek food and this is one of those areas where my travels work against me. I have consumed some of the most delicious food of my life in Greece and am often disappointed by what passes as Greek food here in the US. One bite of this moussaka but a big smile on my face. The beef was perfectly seasoned. The eggplant was not mushy or bitter. This was a big hit. My meal came with a side of pita (freshly made) with yogurt dip and Greek potatoes. I enjoyed the pita but found the yogurt dip to be too thick and a bit bland. The Greek potatoes were a little too lemony for my taste. The sides made the meal a great bargain but with the salad it was just too much food for me to handle. This is especially true since we were guided by our hunger and made an ill-advised choice to order the cheese stick appetizer.  The cheese sticks were good and they came with a wonderful homemade marinara but they were just unnecessary given the size of our entrees.

We are both looking forward to a return trip to Paisano’s and are so glad to have this gem in our area. It’s not often that the ubiquitous Italian/Greek combo restaurant does justice to both cuisines.  The service is wonderful and the prices are very reasonable. I highly recommend stopping in the next time you’ve got a rumble in your belly and no particular place to go.

Grill Marks

During our last trip to downtown Greenville, Mr. McB and I had lunch at Grill Marks, 209 S. Main Street.

Since Grill Marks is part of the Larkin’s family, we went in with high expectations.

interior_gmWe were promptly greeted by the hostess and seated at one of the tall tables near the bar. The restaurant is smaller than I expected and the layout is a little disjointed. Things seemed cramped and this was  exacerbated by the fact that one of the sections was closing and everyone had to be seated in either the main dining area or the tall tables near the bar.

The decor was also confusing to me. This is a grill, albeit modern and upscale, and a large part of the beverage menu is focused on the milkshakes and floats, including the spiked versions of these classic treats. Yet there are empty wine crates displayed on a loft above the bar. There is also a big focus on wine in the decor at the bar. It wasn’t very cohesive.

milkshake_gmEnough about the decor and seating, let’s get to our meal. Mr. McB had the Madagascar vanilla version of the $5 shake. Five bucks is a bargain for the high quality milkshake you’ll get from Grill Marks. First, it is served the way it should be with patrons receiving the main portion in a frosted glass and the remainder in the metal mixing cup. Second, this shake is made with premium ingredients. It reminded me that vanilla is indeed a flavor and not just a synonym for “plain.” McB was very happy with his milkshake. I will definitely indulge in a shake of my own (salted caramel? chocolate chili bacon?) during our next visit.

We both decided to get a burger and split an order of “fat” fries.

The fries are nothing special. They were not piping hot or crispy. I believe the restaurant puts most of its effort into the truffle fries and the other options (skinny, fat, and sweet potato) are not given as much care. I would probably order a side salad instead of fries on my next visit.

gm_angelaburgerIn this picture you see my burger, the left coast, and our basket of fries. The menu says that burgers will be cooked to medium unless otherwise specified. I ordered the burger medium and found it to be quite undercooked. The center was bright pink, barely warm, and had a consistency of raw meat. I sent the burger back and was quickly greeted with a fresh replacement. This one might have been a bit closer to medium-well but that was just fine with me. The manager said that they would rather undercook than overcook the meat but he agreed that my original burger was not medium. Keep this in mind when deciding how your burger should be prepared. I really enjoyed my second burger. The cheddar, avocado, and bacon added a nice element to this juicy burger.

gm_cheeseburger2Mr. McB ordered his burger well-done and it was served that way. More importantly, it was juicy. It’s almost impossible to get a juicy, well-done burger; he was very satisfied. He was also happy with the brioche bun.

Other than the fries, we enjoyed our meal and would recommend Grill Marks to others.

Cafe at Williams Hardware

DSC_0376Back in October, we decided to go for a little drive and wound up in Travelers Rest for lunch at the Cafe at Williams Hardware (13 Main Street).

Located right along the Swamp Rabbit Trail, the cafe was hopping on this gorgeous autumn day. The line was long when we arrived but there was a greeter handing out menus and the ordering systems seemed to be both fast and organized. I opted for the chicken salad sandwich with potato salad while Mr. McB ordered the grilled cheese BLT sans “T.”

Unable to secure a spot on either of the porches, we took a high-top table inside the cafe. We enjoyed chatting and people watching.

A mother and her teenage daughters soon sat near us. They were our first indication that the ordering system (you place the order at the register and get a number to take to your table) might not be so efficient since they made it to their table without a number. They flagged down a server and after trying to find the order, she took it again. It was when these ladies got their food that we really noticed that we had been waiting for more than 30 minutes on our sandwiches. We asked our server about it. She set off to find our order and said that she would get us a free dessert to make up for the wait.

DSC_0351Within five minutes our sandwiches made it to the table. My chicken salad was really very delicious. It was prepared with a mix of herbs that made it light and delicious. The chicken chunks were plump and juicy. The bread was good and the tomato and lettuce were both very fresh. The potato salad (made with redskin potatoes) had a nice flavor but the potatoes didn’t seem to be cooked thoroughly. I like the potato to retain a little of it’s bulk but I don’t want to encounter a bite of potato that borders on raw.

DSC_0348McB’s grilled cheese BLT came with the “T” despite his request and assurances that this was no problem. It was an easy remedy since the tomato was simply added to the top after the sandwich was prepared. It was still a little disappointing that after waiting all this time the simple request wasn’t fulfilled. They were very generous with the bacon which had a smoky flavor that I enjoyed but that he didn’t find as appealing.

DSC_0352We selected a piece of chocolate cake for our dessert. It was very moist and nice.

We decided that the cafe was a nice spot if you were out for a walk or ride on the trail but that it didn’t merit a special trip.