Sunday, April 30, 2006

Club Phoenix

What, where, who?

Club Phoenix. As I'm sure, most have not heard of this place and it's been in Bartonville for 10 years (I believe). It's located at 4206 Pfeiffer Road next to Stone Country. If you don't know where Stone Country is, ask your teenager.

I knew very little about this place except that I have the 411 that they buy some really good beef. After the Longhorn debacle (post below), I remembered Club Phoenix. Club Phoenix is more bar-like than restaurant like. It has a bar, several booths and a few tables. It also has an array of video games, two pool tables, one of those indoor shuffleboard tables and several TVs going. The Sat. night crowd seemed like a group of regulars. The menu is the usual bar apps, some pizzas and dinner selections. For beverages, we ordered beer. I'm all about $3 Heinekens. My DA ordered the ribeye, rare, baked potato and salad with blue cheese dressing. I had the same except a rare NY Strip. The salad was your standard iceberg lettuce with a few sprinklings of carrot, red cabbage, red onion, tomato and two shredded cheeses. Nothing outstanding, but nice enough. As we are eating our salads, the bartendress wheeled a cart by with many HUGE steaks on it. We looked at each other with a "you gotta be kidding, those are HUGE" look in our eyes. Shortly thereafter, my DA's ribeye showed up. It had to be 18 ounces. My NY Strip had to be 14. The baked potato was just a bit smaller than the monsters they serve at F. Scotts but was included with the meal and very hot. And the steaks were rare, almost very rare. Yummmmeee! My NY had a bit of grissle at one end but the steak itself was very tender, juicy and flavorful. The baked potato was a baked potato...nothing fancy except it's size.

I know. You're saying "OK, bigsteakeatingsmartass, how much did that cost ya?" 4 beers, 2 steak dinners: Out the door for under $60 and that included a tip as big as them steaks. We later found out though that steaks are "on special" and are $1.50 cheaper than menu price on the weekends.

If you need a beef fix, don't want to spend a fortune and if all the pomp & fluff of the high falootin' places doesn't make any difference to ya...Club Phoenix.

See your cholesterol rising around the table....

Longhorn Steakhouse

As my vivid readers are aware a. I'm not a fan of chain restaurants b. I usually let a new place get a few weeks under it's belt before I go there. Well, in this case, neither holds true. But then again, I didn't eat there, either. HUH?

I was given an invitation to attend a "soft opening" at Longhorn's new location next to the Shoppes at Grand Prairie. A soft opening is supposed to be a controlled atmosphere to allow the new staff to "roll together", get some real life practice with systems, menus, service, etc. and if someone is having issues, the managers, training crew can step in. All food was complimentary as this was the final stages of the crew's training.

As the invite requested to make a reservation between 6-8 PM for Sat. 29, I made my reservation for 2 at 7:15. We arrived at 7:10 and told there would be at least a 45 minute wait. Several things popped through my head. 1. We have a reservation and there is a 45 minute wait. 2. If they were accepting reservation from 6-8, it's now 7:10 which means you are 45 minutes behind and you've been open an hour. Yikes!! 3. Uh, I know you guys are a big corporate chain, etc., but a soft opening doesn't mean to beat the hell out of your staff pre-day one out of the gate.

So, we didn't stick around. Even free it isn't worth my time. We had plans for later on in the evening and starting 45 minutes late didn't fit into those plans.

Here is my feedback: You're looking for people to act as guinea pigs and to give you feedback. I'm hoping that some of your feedback was that paragraph 3 is unacceptable. If not let me tell you: paragraph 3 IS unacceptable; free food or no. If you handed out too many invitations and accepted far more reservations than you could handle, that doesn't give the public and your new staff much confidence in what you are doing. I also know I wasn't the only one who left due to the wait. Let me give you another heads up. There are other steakhouses in Peoria. People here aren't going to put up with paragraph 3 bullshit. There are a few morons that feel they have to be one of the first to try any new restaurant in town and will put up with waiting forever. I, for one, will not. I'll just go the the Butcher Block and have the boys cut me some 14 oz. NY strips. Or go to the joint reported on in the preceeding blog.

I'm not bitter at the fact that I couldn't eat at Longhorn or eat at Longhorn for free. big whoop. It's how potential guests were treated (only one chance to make a good first impression) and the empathy I have for your staff.

Probably won't see you around the table....

Saturday, April 22, 2006

A Tale of Two Bars

I've been a bit quiet of late as I've been a homebody of late working on home remodeling\repairs.

About a week ago I stopped by Crusen's on War Drive. Not that I care, but I have the sense that most of the people who were there that early evening were regulars. A lot of them knew each other, the waitperson called a few by name and the bartender popped a few cold ones without even asking. It was like being in a roomful of "Norms" (without Cliff). Usual bar banter...who is running around on who, my friend did something more stupid while drunk than your friend, how the Cubs kicked the Cardinals' ass and how Albert Pujols is gonna crush Barry Bonds home run record this year AND be MVP again WITHOUT steroids (Not necessarily my point of view, but I gotta say for how Albert is playing so far early in the season, it's hard not to disagree with the guy...BUT it is still VERY early in the season) The barkeep got me my draft, a Sam Adams, of course, while I looked over the menu. I've eaten here a few times before. A typical bar type menu items, but there are several things that make it standout. I don't take notes, so I don't remember exact things, but they have some unique flavor combinations that make ya go HMMMM......... I had the SW Pork Chop Sandwich & fries. Was nicely seasoned and the thinner side was a bit chewy. It was topped with deepfried onion petals and jalapeno jack cheese. The petals kept liking to fall out, but it was a tasty sandwich, made so with a Southwest ranch style sauce\dressing served on the side. Zippeeee.... Now the fries were typical out of a bag fries, but something I did notice about them: they were the more expensive fries out of a bag fries. There is a BIG difference. You know how you get fries sometimes and they have long, medium, short and little nubby fries in them? Those are relatively cheap, low cut\cost fries. Not at Crusens...these babies were the really nice 3/8" extra long fancy (actually that is the name) fries; you know..the ones that are all about 4-5 inches long, but you get the occasional one that is about 6-7" long and you're like "WWWOOOOOO, look at this baby!" as you squeeze out even more ketchup. Very impressive for a bar. With two Sammys, I was out the door for under $15 including tax & tip. So, it's sort of a tossup on War for me: This place has a more innovative (for a bar, anyway) menu than Schooners and Sam Adams on tap. I like the food a bit better, especially the onion rings, at Schooners and the staff, for not knowing me, is a bit friendlier. So, it all depends on what I want.

My latest journey takes me and my DA to Gormans over by Bradley in Campustown. Busy as heck on a Wednesday night at 7:00 pm. Well, duh, it's next to Bradley. NOT!! I bet I didn't see a dozen people there that I would have guessed were Bradley students. There were some groups of people between my age (mid 40) and my parents' age plus quite a few families. Many televisions are pouring out sporting events as well as the celebrity chef challenge thing. It took awhile for the waitress to get to us. It's a "sit where and when you want sort of joint" and my guess she was running around crazy with all the people that she probably didn't notice us immediately. She got our drinks, left a menu and apologised for the wait. My DA had a grilled chicken salad with poppyseed dressing. Nothing special to look at..iceberg lettuce topped with veggies and griddled or broiled strips of chicken. I didn't try it because I figured it would taste as it looked: iceberg lettuce topped with veggies and griddled or broiled strips of chicken with poppyseed dressing. If I close my eyes, I can taste this without eating it. HEY!! There's a new diet plan!! I had the Philly Steak Sandwich. Strips of seasoned beef with griddled onions and bell peppers and goo-eee cheese. First, the bun. THIS was how a hoagie bun is supposed to be!! Lightly crisp on the outside, griddled on the inside to keep the juices from making the bun soggy, and soft, but slightly chewy in the middle. This was the Mobil 5 star hoagie bun. The contents were pretty good. I'm thinking no "Steak-Um" style meat here: looked like strips (steak-ums are shredded and pressed) and while not tough, the strips had some chew to them. YUM. The whole sandwich was pretty darned tasty but I felt it needed a good dose of pepper to make it complete. The fries were NOTHING compared to Cruzens fries...these failed in comparison. But they were hot and crisp............. The only "bad" part was the poor waitress (until it slowed down a bit and then she was very attentive without being obtrusive) was she forgot, missed, etc. everything: no dressing with the salad, no silverware or napkin for me, sent her back (I hated to) for ketchup for the fries... I'd go back because I was so fascinated with the bun on my sandwich, but seriously, I did like the place and if I'm in the neighborhood, I will definitely drop in. There was nothing specific about it, but the place had this positive vibe of neighborhood restaurant crossed with a bar that is an apeasing combination. Peoria needs more of these type of independently run restaurants.

See you around the table.....

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Goodbye Chef Bill

As you may or may not be aware, Chef Bill of 2 Chez and Chez Willy in Galesburg fame has sold 2 Chez and has gone back to concentrate on Chez Willy in Galesburg.

I haven't spoke to Bill personally, but I can imagine why: he lives in Galesburg. Considering he was open M-F for lunch plus dinner on Sat. means to be in P-town for lunch prep, he'd probably be leaving Galesburg around 8 am. If the restaurant closes at 9 pm, after nightly clean-up, he's home at 11 pm. How many of you would want THAT type of schedule? That's a 75 hour week WITHOUT Saturday!! And with gasoline pushing $3.00 a gallon, I can't say I blame him. And when does he see his wife who runs Chez Willy? Now those might not be the reasons, but hell, those would be reasons enough for me. I find it hard to fault the guy just for what he had to be spending on gas!!

It will still be named 2 Chez. It is being operated by Todd, the familiar face you've seen at Rizzi's on Sheridan since (or just about since) Rizzi's on Sheridan has opened. I've seen part of the menu. While it appears nice, it isn't quite as "white tablecloth" (in appearance on paper, anyway) as Chef Bill's menu. However, it has a larger selection (which I think is aggressive as I've seen the size of the kitchen...I've seen bigger kitchens in some homes...I'm not kidding) and a little less costly.

So, give Todd a chance...he's a great guy, and while I'll miss Chef Bill, I do wish Todd and his staff the very best of luck.

See you around the table...