50 Pounds and Counting

Well, I'm back. On May 9, I posted that I'd be taking a break to focus on my health, and that's what I've been doing for the past several months.

 

Wake-up Call

On April 22, 2016, I had a doctor's appointment and received what was, for me, pretty disturbing news. At my last visit three months prior, my doc had told me my blood pressure was a little high, but he wanted me to monitor it for three months and come see him again before taking action. Like a good geek, I took my blood pressure every day and recorded it on my iPhone, so I was able to tell him that I was averaging 130-140/95-105. He matter-of-factly wrote me a prescription for a medicine to keep it in check.

This hit me pretty hard, because I'd been trying to watch what I ate - avoiding fried foods, trying to limit sodium, but it hadn't made a difference. My BP had been creeping up into the pre-hypertension, then hypertension range, for a couple of years. I knew that I didn't want to end up taking BP medicine for the rest of my life, so I asked him, "Is this a forever thing? If not, what do I need to do to get off it and keep my BP under control."

My doc looked at me and said, "You need to lose weight - a lot of weight."

I weighed myself before seeing him that day, as I always did since, as a fat guy, I've always kidded myself by saying the weight at the doc's office doesn't count since my shoes and clothes (and phone and keys and wallet) weigh a lot.  

I weighed 312.6 pounds that day.

 

Bad Back - A Lucky Break

My back's bothered me for years, especially after I took a tumble off a curb at work and landed in the street. Several weeks of physical therapy helped, but my back's never been the same. Carrying well over 300 pounds on my frame (my Fitbit logs show me averaging 320-330 for most of 2013-2016) didn't help my back, I'm sure.

Things got so bad in April of 2016 that I had trouble walking, getting up and down the stairs, and even turning in my chair often hurt my back so bad that I had to fight the urge to scream. My wife sometimes had to help me in and out of the car, and carrying groceries or other items into the house was out of the question.

A coworker referred me to her chiropractor, Dr. David Shreve. Meeting Dr. Shreve at this time was the best thing that could have happened to me. Not only would he begin to work with me to resolve my back issues, he gave me the kick in the pants that I needed to realize that wake-up call I'd received from my primary doc was something I couldn't ignore.

After being placed on BP meds, the I attended a class Dr. Shreve teaches on nutrition. There were more than a dozen folks in the class, and I was by far the youngest at 46, with the average age probably being closer to 66. Lots of those older folks were using walkers, and many of them raised their hands when Dr. Shreve asked if they had diabetes. He laid out a fairly simple plan for eating - 7 things to do, 7 things to avoid, and it made a ton of sense to me.

I met with Dr. Shreve the next week to share my latest blood lab results. We discussed my blood sugar, which was in the pre-diabetic range but my A1C was "normal", as well as my cholesterol, which was high enough that my doc suggested I consider starting medicine for it, and other aspects of the blood panel I'd never had explained to me before. 

As Dr. Shreve put it, I was in bad shape, but at 46, I had the opportunity to turn things around in ways that his older patients might not have. I recall him saying that his methods probably seemed extreme to me, but that those older folks were in a medical crisis, whereas I was just working my way up to one. He told me if I'd follow his advice on what and how to eat, he was sure I'd lose the weight I needed to lose, get off the blood pressure meds, as well as drop my blood sugar and cholesterol.

 

A New Mission

I walked out of Dr. Shreve's office and texted my wife, "I have to make some serious changes. I've lost and gained weight so many times, and my way hasn't worked. What this guy says makes sense, so I'm going to do it."

I've spent the last several months focused on eating right, losing weight, and getting my health back. You can see the results from my MyFitnessPal chart here. I feel good about it, but I'm nowhere near done.

5 months later, I weigh 259.5 pounds. 

5 months later, I weigh 259.5 pounds. 

So many people have encouraged me to share my experience, and I have in a more limited way via Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. I almost scrapped this blog completely because I can't imagine ever writing another review of a giant cheeseburger or fried chicken again.

But I've decided to write about my health journey here. I spent a few years writing about loving food and eating out as the Geek Food Critic. Now I'm going to write about eating well, losing weight, and getting healthy as the Geek Food Critic.

Look for more detailed posts from me soon about what I've done, how it's going, and where I'm going from here.

My hope is that in seeing what one middle-aged very overweight guy has done and is still working on, someone out there in the same boat I've been in can find the inspiration or motivation to get healthier.

Take care.

 

 

 

 

Then & Now

Then & Now

p.s.  As a fat guy, I've never liked having my picture taken. The one on the left is me and my son at Legoland in May of 2016. The one on the right is me on September 21, 2016. I look at both of those pictures and mostly see myself as too fat, but the scale doesn't lie about the weight difference even if I have trouble seeing it myself.

 

Taking a Break to Focus on My Health

This was going to be a goodbye post, but a couple of people whose opinions I respect have convinced me to make it a “so long for a while” post.

Why I need a break

I love food and I love writing about food - the former too much and the latter helps me justify acting on the former. I truly enjoy finding and trying a new restaurant and sampling its food, and when I do that, it’s really easy for the writer in me to enable the food lover in me to try an extra dish, or dessert when I really don’t need it. I also enjoy frequenting my favorite restaurants, as much for the relationships I have formed with the owners or employees as I do the excellent food they serve. For me, eating out is as much about enjoying the experience and atmosphere as it is the food, and I like the smiles I get when I walk into a place as a regular.

But the simple truth is that I’m a big guy - no, I’m a fat guy, and I’m tired of it. I need to lose a lot of weight and work on getting more fit. I can’t do that if I keep eating out 5-6 nights per week and indulging my Southern hankering for fried foods and lots of beef.

For now, I need to focus on losing weight, exercising more, and eating the right kinds of foods in reasonable quantities, and two of those would be difficult, and history suggests impossible for me, if I keep eating out and blogging about it.

I’ve been asked if I might want to blog about my efforts to lose weight, and the meals and products I’ll be trying along the way. My response to that is no, at least not until I’ve made enough progress to prove to myself that I’m writing about something successful, not another failed attempt to lose weight.

So Long, Not Goodbye

For now, this is so long. Once I’ve made more progress and once I’ve proven to myself that I can balance my passion for writing about food with my real need to stop indulging my love to eat that food, I’ll return to being the Geek Food Critic.  Until then, I’m going to be the Geek Weight Loss Trainee.

A Random List of Great Places to Eat


In no particular order, I’ll list some of my favorites, and my reviews if I’ve posted them.

It’s All So Yummy  -  Sandwiches, Soup, and Ice Cream in Knoxville

Mario’s Pizza & Grill  -  Pizza, Sandwiches, and More in Knoxville

Forte’s on the Square - Pasta and More in Crossville

McNamara’s Irish Pub - Irish Food in Nashville

Blackhorse Pub & Brewery - Burgers, Pizza, and More in Knoxville

Long’s Drug Store - Lunch Counter, Tater Tots, Milkshakes and More in Knoxville

Little Joe’s - Pizza and Pasta in Knoxville

Champy’s  -  Fried Chicken and Hot Tamales in Chattanooga

Review and More: Lone Oaks Farm

I recently had the opportunity to eat a simple but delicious meal prepared for some of my colleagues and me at a place called Lone Oaks Farm. So I’ll write up a quick review of that meal to follow my form here, but the purpose of me writing this post goes way beyond writing about a great meal.

I may have mentioned it before on this blog, but I work in IT, currently for the University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture. I’ve worked in higher education IT for most of my career, and I’ve been with the Institute since late 2013. The Institute is composed of four units, one of which serves as its outreach unit, UT Extension. 4-H is part of UT Extension, and that’s where my trip to West Tennessee comes in, and why I ended up eating a great meal prepared by Chef Allen Cain.

The Meal

After a day of meetings to work on developing a strategy to improve and support the IT infrastructure at Lone Oaks Farm, we were treated to dinner.

Dinner was served buffet style, which was nice because it let me decide how much of each item I wanted. Once I’d tried them all, I was glad there was enough left for seconds.


Everything on this plate was great. The salad had just the might mix of veggies and whatever dressing it was tossed in was good. The sweet potato medly to the right of the salad was outstanding. I don’t know how he did it, but Chef Allen made sweet potatoes exciting and flavorful. The shrimp were great, but I’ll be honest, I worked my way through them with my mind on the steak. The steak was marinated and grilled to perfection, and the second one I snagged off the buffet (yes, I took the last one) was just as good as the first. The cream cheese-filled pastries were also delicious, but I limited myself to two of those.

So that’s the review of the meal - it was outstanding. The one thing I hope is that I will spend another night at the farm when Chef Allen prepares some of the trout you can catch right behind the main building.


 

The Farm

I don’t have the words to describe just how beautiful a place Lone Oaks Farm is. Lone Oaks exists on 1,200 acres of some of the most inspiring land I’ve ever seen. I didn’t have a clear idea in my head of how large 1,200 acres was before spending a few days on the farm.


What I can tell you is, especially since some of the cabins are located deep within some of the wooded areas, reachable by twisting trails, 1,200 acres is big. My boss and I stayed in a lodge at one end of the property and one of our coworkers stayed at a cabin at the other end. Driving to pick her up each morning took 5-7 minutes.

 


This is just one of the cabins/houses at Lone Oaks, one of thirteen. It’s called the Waterfall Cabin because it sits next to a lake with its own waterfall. I’d love to drop our son off at my parents and take my wife out here for a romantic few days away from it all.

There’s too much about Lone Oaks for me to go into here - check out the website if you want the incredibly interesting story of its history and plans for its future by UT.

The Experience - Why I Love My Job

I made a second trip out to Lone Oaks Farm recently - in fact I left Knoxville at nearly 9PM and drove the 5.5 hours to reach the farm so I could be there for an early morning meeting the next day. I was exhausted the next morning, but the work being done at Lone Oaks is important, and I was happy to do it. While the purpose of the trip was to work on the networking, IT, and video conferencing needs of the farm, what I saw that morning before breakfast cemented for me why I love my job and am so proud to be a part of what the Institute of Agriculture and UT Extension does across our state.

As we drove up to the Sale Barn for our breakfast meeting, I saw a large group of kids, probably pre-teens, playing volleyball outside. Considering I was working on about 4 hours of sleep, volleyball was the furthest thing from my mind, but those kids soon came inside and I realized they were staying at the farm as part of its role as a 4-H camp. What happened next took my breath away with its quiet power and simple goodness.

Chef Allen had prepared a pancake breakfast for everybody that day, and the 4-H kids were gathered at several large tables near us. Gary Rodgers, County Director and 4-H Agent in Hardeman County, got the kids’ attention and said to them something like, “As is our habit, we guys will wait for the girls to go through the line and get their food. Once we all have our food, we’ll give thanks.” And that’s exactly what they did.

And just like that, I was wide awake and excited about the day and our mission at Lone Oaks in a way that I hadn’t fully understood before. Here was a man, modeling courteous, respectful behavior, and reinforcing it with a group of boys and girls. I was raised in the South, in Tennessee, and this resonated with me. I knew right then that, even though I don’t want my 4 year-old son to grow up any faster, I look forward to the day that he can be in 4-H and be exposed to examples of leadership and citizenship like those kids at Lone Oaks have in Gary. Knowing that the work I do helps just that one part of 4-H and UT Extension be more connected, more technology-enabled, makes those trips across the state more than worth it. I didn’t take this pic, but it shows Gary working with some 4-H’ers.


 

If you have a chance to schedule an event of the kind Lone Oaks Farm can host, even if it’s just staying a night or two at one of the cabins, you should do it. You’ll see a place like no other you’ve seen before, and you’ll be supporting the great programs of Tennessee 4-H.

 

Review: Carnivore Club March Shipment

You know your day is going to be interesting when you receive an email from a company offering to send you a box of meat.

I was intrigued by this offer, even though I had previously never heard of Carnivore Club. I actually thought somebody might be punking me, but nope - it turned out to be completely legit. If you’re looking for a good laugh, go check out their website and watch the video - it’s a riot. I just watched it again and still laughed.

I had no idea subscription meat services were a thing, but they are, and since that video was so funny, I let the company know that, sure, I’d be happy to receive a box of meat and write about it.

Unboxing

I will say that arriving home to discover a box of meat on my doorstep was kinda thrilling. I’d seen the box in the video, and even seen it in a review video I found on YouTube, but seeing it there on my porch made it real.


I will say when I took the box out of the envelope it shipped in, I did chuckle a bit at it being referred to as an “impressive faux wood box” on the Carnivore Club website. It is, in fact, faux wood, but it’s cute, and I’m pretty sure, especially given the video on the site, that the CC folks very purposefully call it faux wood.

Inside the box were six types of meat.

 

All of the meats were uncured, and they included sliced Sopressata, Capocollo, Chorizo, and Prosciutto. Also included were two tubes (?) of Hot Sopressata and Hard Salami. The sliced packages were 3 ounces each and the tubes were 4 ounces. I’ve tried all of them, and whether I liked them or not, they were all obviously of good quality.

Here’s how I would rank the meats:

#1 Hot Sopressata - spicy and full-flavored
#2 Hard Salami - great flavor and consistency
#3 Sopressata - the first I tried, very tasty
#4 Chorizo - lots of flavor, and my wife, who doesn’t like chorizo, liked it
#5 Capocollo - good, but not a huge fan
#6 Prosciutto - I did not care for this one, but I’ve never liked prosciutto

How Did I Eat Them?

The first couple I tried, I just rolled up the slices and ate them like that - and it was great. Then I got the bright (not) idea to try to make a sandwich with some of the sliced meats, but that didn’t turn out so well. It wasn’t a fault of the meat - this just isn’t deli meat and it requires more chewing than the sandwich I slapped together could handle. I sliced off a few bites of the tube salami and loved it. We eat out a lot, so I grazed on the box of meat over a few days.

Then my wife suggested we put together an antipasto with the meat and some cheese and fruit.


That turned out remarkably well, and I’d imagine that’s how most folks would choose to serve this selection of meats. The chorizo especially mixed well with the pepper jack cheese.

Overall Thoughts

I liked the selection of meats from Carnivore Club. I’ll admit that I was mildly disappointed when I discovered mine wasn’t filled with various types of jerky like one of the YouTube videos I’d seen, but I’d say this one likely made for a healthier, more well-rounded collection.

Carnivore Club costs $50 if you subscribe for at least 3 montly shipments, or you can purchase a single month’s shipment for $55.

Is it worth it? I can’t say, as I didn’t pay for it. I also don’t typically buy this type of meat, so I have no concept of what it costs. I can say that my wife and I could have enjoyed at least 2 meals based on the antipasto she prepared, and while we bought the cheese and fruit separately, we’d buy that stuff anyway. We’d pay more than $50 for a dinners out over two nights, so I suppose the price really isn’t bad. My wife said if we were going to throw a party and want to prepare the same type of meat & cheese tray for our guests, she’d be happy to buy this type of meat to use in it.

I liked Carnivore Club’s meats, but then again, what’s not to like about having a box of meat delivered to your door? If you’re a discerning meat-lover, give it a shot.

Review: Primo Ristorante Italiano

Every now and then I feel really lucky to write this blog, usually because it gives me a reason to try new restaurants when I hear about them, and, very rarely, because I discover a true gem in doing so. I was recently invited to be a guest at Primo Ristorante Italiano, and I can’t wait to return.

Before I write about our experience, I’d like to direct you to another write-up on Primo, if for no other reason than all of the awesome pictures of the restaurant and its staff. I snap pictures of my food mainly as a quick reference, but in this blog post you’ll see just how elegant Primo is. I’ll admit that, as parents of a 4 year-old with no family in town, we don’t often eat at restaurants like Chef Bruce Bogartz’s new establishment, but after the meal we enjoyed the other night, I’m thinking we need to find a sitter more often.

Location, Location, Location

Please do click through to see the pictures in the write-up I mention above - I’ll wait. Now I’ll admit something that may come as a shock: I’ve lived in Knoxville since 1993 and the first time I stepped foot in the Sun Sphere was last week in March of 2016. I’ve walked by it and around it numerous times, but never had a reason to enter it. The view from our table was beautiful, especially as the even progressed and night fell.

The Chef

I’d never had the pleasure of meeting Chef Bruce Bogartz until last week. He’s a great guy - obviously passionate about what he does and proud of what he, or his family (more on that later) creates. He was very nice to us and I observed him stopping by each table as diners arrived for the evening. Conversing with the owners of some of the restaurants is a common thing for us, but this is the first time I got to do that with a chef at such an elegant establishment.

The Star of the Show

We started off with some delightful biscuits - both fluffy and crispy in all the right places. The house-made pesto they were served with was outstanding.

For our appetizer, we selected the Truffle Fundata. We might have been a bit more adventerous if it had just been my wife and I, but with a four year-old to share with, we decided on something we could present to him as similar to other appetizers he’s had. The fundata was delicious, and it complimented the bread, broccoli, and chips.

Chef Bruce wanted us to try a variety of food, so he whipped up some D’oro Patata Gnocchi for us. This was delicious in such a decadant way that, had I been by myself and not worried about what anyone might think of me, I would have asked for another bowl of it. The pears were firm and sweet and the gorgonzola cream, especially with the walnuts, made me think I had skipped to dessert. Everything I had that night was wonderful, but this little dish is the one thing I’ll keep coming back to.

I wasn’t exactly sure what I wanted, but I knew I wanted to at least try one of the pasta dishes. Chef Bruce explained that the pasta was offered in a small or large portion, which made the choice easier for me as it meant I could also try another dish that piqued my interest. I selected the Cannelloni Piccolo, and I’m glad I did. My wife and I shared it, and for it to be the small version, it was a good amount of food. This was a thought we had repeatedly throughout the meal, that the portions weren’t what we’re used to at upscale restaurants - tasty but too small.

The duck confit in the Cennelloni was delicious, and while this isn’t the sort of dish I’d normally order, I was so glad to have tried it. I told Chef Bruce that night that I could eat it every day, and I could.

For my entree, I ordered the Pork Chop Vesuvio. The pork chop itself was enormous and very tender. I shared a goodly-sized slice of it with my wife, and as I reached my last couple of bites, I felt a tiny pang of regret at my generosity. The pork chop alone would have been great, but it was covered with house-made sausge that itself was incredible, artichoke hearts, tomatoes, and mushrooms. Served on top of polenta, it was a symphony of tastes and textures.

My wife ordered the Chicken Nona for herself and to share with our son. She liked it, he liked it, and to the extent that I was given a couple of small bites to try, I really enjoyed it as well. The carmelized onion and lemon combined to the tender juciness of the chicken itself.

 

Keeping it in the Family

For our first dessert, we had the Cannoli Cake. Chef Bruce told us how his fifteen year-old daughter had learned to make it and came by the restaurant three days a week to prepare it. The pride in his face and voice were moving, especially to the father in me, and that pride was backed up by the outstanding dessert we were served. Our son loved it, and we both deeply enjoyed it as well, at least as much of it as he was willing to share with us. I’m not normally a huge fan of chocolate, but I’d make an exception for this any day.

Our second dessert was Rice Pudding with amaretto and apricots. This was more my speed and after letting my wife try it, I kept the rest of to myself. And no, I’m not a bad father - my boy is just too young to turn away from chocolate to anything else!

A Truly Delightful Experience

Before dinner, as we were early and needed to encourage our son to work out some of his limitless supply of energy, we parked across the street by the convention center. When we return to Primo for a romantic dinner in the near future, we’ll take advantage of the valet parking, especially since the maitre d’ pointed out that, had we done that on this visit, they’d have the car waiting for us after our meal.

I look forward to our next visit to Primo Ristorante Italiano. If you’re looking for a new place to have an awesome meal, I can whole-heartedly recommend it.




Primo Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Quick Review: Quality Turkish Market

I love discovering new (to me) restaurants - especially when I do so via personal recommendations. Last week I took action based on independent recommendations my wife and I had received from coworkers to try Quality Turkish Market, and let me tell you, I am so glad I did.

Round One - Great First Impression

I stopped by on Tuesday afternoon on my way to an evening class I’m taking right now, planning to scope the place out in anticipation of brining my wife and son by for dinner in the future. I had a great chat with the owner and really enjoyed the food, knowing I would be back soon.

I ordered the Hummus to start. Once I saw how large my entree was, I knew I didn’t need all this food, but I soldiered through eating it all so I could report back to you, my readers, that it was awesome. The hummus was simple and tasted great.

For my entree I ordered the #1, the Döner Kabab platter. It was outstanding, and even better than the meal by the same name I’ve had at Grujo’s twice in the last few weeks. Everything about this dish worked for me. The pita was warm and fresh. The vegetables were crisp and juicy. The rice (pilav) was light and accentuated the döner meat perfectly. I really liked the döner meat - I could eat some of this every day. It’s shaved thinly and full of flavor.

Something that impressed me about the owner, AJ, was that when I mentioned that I had come at the recommendation of a coworker, he remembered exactly who she was and described her precisely to me even though she must have been one of many customers he’d seen in the last week. I told him I’d be back with my wife and son soon, and I made good on that promise just two nights later.

Round Two - An Instant Favorite

Our first family visit to Quality Turkish Market was very enjoyable. My wife and I both ordered the Döner Kabab platter and she liked it every bit as much as I did. We also split the Hummus, and in fact we picked up a couple extra pitas to take with us for lunch the next day since we couldn’t finish it all. Our now 4 year-old boy loved the pita and tried everything else, which was a victory in and of itself.

We had a really comfortable time and learned a lot about the history of the market from AJ, who was happy to discuss it. One of the things I like most about writing this blog is getting to know so many hard-working small business owners who run their own restaurants.

Baklava - Out of this World

I remember the first time I ever tried baklava. I was a freshman at Rhodes College in 1988, away from home for the first time. To this day, that baklava stands out as one of the best-tasting things I’ve ever put in my mouth - at least it did until I tried the two different types of baklava at Quality Turkish Market.

 

The one on the left is made with walnuts and the one on the right with pistachios. Both were outstanding, so light, fresh, and obviously homemade. If I had to pick a favorite, it would be the pistachio.

A Call to Action - Support Local Eateries

I can whole-heartedly recommend Quality Turkish Market. The food is outstanding, the prices are more than reasonable, and, just as importantly, it’s a family-owned business run by somebody serving up great food to happy customers.

I’m going to be doing a lot of traveling for work over the next year, and more often than not those one or two day trips don’t leave a lot of time for research into local restaurants. I can promise you that, for every meal I’m forced by time and circumstances to eat at a Wendy’s or Cracker Barrel, I’m going to balance it out once I get home with a visit to a place like this.

Quality Turkish Market Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Quick Review: Grujo’s

We were returning to Knoxville last week from Johnson City, so my wife and I decided to look for something new on the East side of town for dinner. We asked for recommendations on Facebook but ended up finding something interesting-looking via Trip Advisor. Grujo’s bills itself as German Fast Food - German Beer. I can’t speak to the quality of the beer, but we were thrilled with the food and everything else about this little gem.

Family Friendly

We read in some of the reviews online that Grujo’s was family friendly, but had gotten the impression that was primarily because the kid’s meals come with some German chocolate. That would’ve been nice by itself, but we discovered something else as soon as we settled into the restaurant and reviewed the menu before ordering. The restrooms at Grujo’s, both men’s and women’s, are the most family friendly restrooms I’ve seen. Each restroom had a stool for smaller children to stand on while using the sink - not common at all and very much appreciated. Each restroom also had a detachable toilet seat for young children to use, and this is the first time I’ve ever seen that in a restaurant. My wife told me to be sure to mention this in the review because it would be very important to parents - so here it is. I was impressed, and combined with the friendliness of the owner’s mom, I’d call this the most family friendly restaurant we’ve encountered.

Great Food - Hard Choices

We ordered the Small Bratwurst plate for our almost 4 year-old son. To him it was a tasty hot dog and fries, along with a creme-filled piece of German chocolate.


My wife ordered the Bratwurst. We thought about getting the Jaeger Fries, but weren’t sure if we’d like the mushroom gravy. May try them next time. She was torn between ordering this and something else, but really liked the Bratwurst.


I wasn’t torn at all about ordering - I knew I wanted the Bratwurst and the item listed as their #1 seller, the Döner Kebab, so I ordered the Kraut Platter and the Döner Kebab and shared some of the Kebab with my wife. I ordered one each of the two different kinds of sausages, red and white. I liked them both, but if I had to pick one, I’d go with the white.


Here was the real star of the meal. If you thought of this as a German (actually Turkish) Gyro, you might be kinda right, I guess. I was told the meat is a combination of beef and lamb, and it is shaved off a big chunk like a Gyro. But this was better than any Gyro I’ve ever had. I ordered mine with Spicy Yogurt as the sauce, and it was fantastic. The bread, meat, and vegetables all worked together to make an explosion of yummy. It was a bit hard to eat, even after cutting off some for Rachael, but I wouldn’t want to do without the bread, so next time I’d probably just carve it up and eat it like a platter of food rather than as a sandwich.

Final Thoughts

There are four mustards to choose from on a bar in the dining area. I tried the Beer Mustard and Spicy Mustard and liked both, although I would go with just the Spicy next time. Speaking of next time, which may be as soon as this Wednesday since kids eat free, I’m going to try the Schnitzel. Another item to note - Grujo’s was packed the entire time we were there on a Saturday evening, with people hanging out at the bar along the front wall waiting for tables to open up as we were leaving. With food this good, I can see why it would be so busy.

Emory Road isn’t exactly convenient for us given where we work and live, but we’ll be making the trip to Grujo’s again.



Grujo's German Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Quick Review - K-Town Tavern

Peerless, a longtime west-Knoxville restaurant on Parkside Drive, of which I was not a fan, recently rebranded itself as K-Town Tavern. It’s close to our house and even though I didn’t care for Peerless at all, we decided to give it a try.

We’ve eaten at K-Town Tavern twice now, and I would say I was mildly satisfied with some of the food on the first trip and extremely dissatisfied the second. The only reason I’ll give it another chance is because of my “wait 6 months and see if they work out the kinks” policy. Since the main issues I have with K-Town Tavern are people/service-related - they ought to be fixed over time if the management is good.

What I liked

So far, the main thing I liked from K-Town Tavern is the Big Orange Ham & Jam Fritters. These are good enough that, if I weren’t so irritated by the terrible service we received last time, I’d go back and just order a couple plates of these as my meal if I were eating alone.

The fritters were truly excellent. I liked the pimento cheese, I liked the red pepper jam, and even our 3 year old admitted they were great.

 

I also liked the burger I ordered on our first visit, but only the burger itself. The Mac-n-Cheese on it tasted funny. Not like something in it had gone bad, but like one of the 3 cheeses they used was unusual - like a gouda or something. The burger itself, ordered medium, was very good. If I’d just scraped the Mac-n-Cheese off it, I would call it one of the best burgers I’ve had in a while.

 

What I didn’t like

In general, I’d say I didn’t like the lack of familiarity of the servers with the menu and its offerings, although as a just-opened establishment, I’m willing to cut them some slack on that, especially if they own up to it. I’m less willing to be tolerant of what I experienced during our second visit, which I’d call confident and assertive ignorance, combined with a seeming lack of interest in customer service.

I was completely underwhelemed with the desserts. Called out as “hand-crafted” on the menu, but having eaten plenty of “homemade cheesecakes” that come from a food service business, I have my doubts about K-Town’s. I was also disappointed when I left the restaurant after trying the desserts the first time, as I was asked if I would like dessert to go, and I noticed a plain New York Cheesecake - something I would’ve vastly preferred over what I ordered, but unfortunately plain cheesecake wasn’t on the menu and I wasn’t told it was an option.

Here’s one of the desserts we ordered - a Baklava Cheesecake. It was only OK, and not nearly as good as I expect for $8/slice.


Another disappointment was the Tavern Hash on our first visit. I asked what it was, and while the server mentioned a couple of vegetables, what he did not mention was mushrooms, and it was full of them. I didn’t bother to take a picture because I didn’t want to remember it.

What I really didn’t like

Our entire second visit. In fact, if I could go back in time and warn myself, I would have skipped it entirely. But a friend was in from out of town and he wanted to meet us for dinner had asked me to pick a place, so I picked something close to home and new.

The entire visit was a wreck. We were seated in the open area with the slide-up doors and the ridiculously overpowered ceiling heaters. I’ve been in places before with this setup that weren’t physically uncomfortable to be in, so I know it can be done right, but we even joked that it was painful to stand up in the room and a relief to sit down.

We were seated in a room that had quite a few open tables, and our drinks were brought to use by a manager or hostess who noted our server would be over shortly. That evening’s definition of shortly definitely didn’t match ours, because by the time he showed up with 3 glasses of water we hadn’t asked for, for the 4 people at our table, we were beginning to regret our choice of venue.

Everything took too long that visit. Drink refills took several minutes. Our son’s burger came out first, which was fine, then my wife’s pizza arrived 5 minutes later, and it was a good 15 minutes before my Taco Board and my buddy’s Fajitas arrived. Luckily we’d ordered the Ham & Jam Fritters as an appetizer, so we didn’t go completely hungry for that time.

The true tragedy of the evening, though, was my entree, the “U” Build Taco Board. Here’s how the menu describes it - something I didn’t pay a ton of attention to then, because I assumed if I ordered something from the menu, I’d get what’s on the menu. I know, crazy, right?


Jose Corn Salsa, White Mexican Cheese, Black Beans, Guacamole, Sour Cream, Lettuce, Jalapeño, & Southwestern Rice. I bolded the items that did not arrive with my Taco Board, as you can see in this picture.


That’s right - what I was served was the fried catfish (wouldn’t make that mistake again), black beans that obviously had any trace of liquid drained from them, the driest and most tasteless two tablespoons full of rice I’ve ever had, 3 bone-dry tortillas, and … a random handful of tortilla chips someone seemingly just threw on top of the board as it was being carried out of the kitchen. I wish I’d taken a picture of it as it arrived at the table, but like I said, my meal arrived a good half hour or more after we ordered, so I was hungry.

So I sat there trying to make sense of “build your own tacos” consisting of dry meat, dry beans, dry rice, and tortillas so dry that they cracked even more as I folded them around the items I’d been served, and I just couldn’t imagine this was correct. It wasn’t, of course, so I managed to get our server’s attention and asked him if there was supposed to be some salsa or sour cream or anything with this, pointing at the board and its contents.

And this was where the confident ignorance made its strongest appearance that night, which in hindsight made me question all of his other assertions about the menu earlier. He said, and I’m pretty sure this is an accurate quote, “We don’t have salsa. I can bring you some sour cream.” What he brought was the tiniest of sauce containers with maybe a tablespoon of sour cream on it and, wonder of wonders, a mexican-style pottery jar containing corn salsa - almost as if they had something in the kitchen specifically designed to hold a garnish he’d just asserted they didn’t have.

So I made do with the salsa and enough sour cream for half a taco and had the worst meal I’ve eaten in quite a while. It might have been drastically different if I’d been served the items listed on the menu under the Taco Board - who knows?

Bottom Line - Can’t Recommend Right Now

Like I said above - I’ll give K-Town Tavern a second chance in 6 months. It may well be possible to get a decent meal there right now, but that Taco Board screwup really soured me on the place, and there are way too many great options in Knoxville for me to risk it again for now. I might be willing to meet some buddies there for a giant 32oz mug of cider and an order of those fritters in the meantime, but when it comes to taking the family out for dinner, I’m looking elsewhere.



K-Town Tavern Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Quick Takes VI - Little Joe's Pizza Still Great

I often lament the lack of good deep dish, let alone true Chicago style pizza in Knoxville. Even so, when we want pizza, Little Joe's is always there to serve up a great thin (almost cracker) crust pizza     We ate there last night and it was great. We ordered our usual - a large pepperoni $ sausage and an adult portion of the mastaccioli past with meat sauce. The bread sticks were fresh and tasty, as was the pasta.  When Little Joe's is on their A game, and they were last night, their pizza is awesome. The sausage feels and tastes homemade. 

Can't wait till we eat there again.

Quick Takes V - Taco Bell on Lovell Road

No, I’m not punking you. Those who know me know that, with almost no exceptions, I avoid eating at chain restaurants as much as possible, and fast food chains especially. I’ve often had a granola bar or a couple tablespoons full of peanut butter out of the jar (you do it too) instead of getting even quick food at McDonald’s or similar places.

But these days I have a men’s group that meets at church on Thursday afternoons. I have no time to stop for dinner at a sit-down restaurant on the way to the meeting, so I started grabbing whatever was on the right-hand side of the road near church. I tried something different each week, and only once until I stopped at the Taco Bell on Lovell Road.

Was the food there spectacular? Not really. Don’t get me wrong - it’s OK, but it isn’t something I’d choose to eat if I weren’t in a rush. In fact, the food there is no different than the food at the Taco Bell past church on Kingston Pike, which I tried the week before when I couldn’t decide on a place until I’d driven past my destination.

You know why I’ve eaten at the Taco Bell on Lovell Road every Thursday for the last several weeks and why I’ll keep eating dinner there for the forseeable future? Because the lady who works behind the counter there is nice and friendly and remembers me from the last time I came in. She’s practically overflowing with cheerful friendliness - and that’s pretty rare in fast food employees. Given a choice, which I have, I choose to keep eating at a place where I know I’ll get to exchange a few words with somebody who obviously cares about not only projecting a positive, happy attitude, but seems glad I walked in the door.

So yeah, I eat a fast food dinner once a week. If you’re curious about what I have, and I don’t take pictures of it because who wants to see pictures of fast food, I have a Chicken Quesadilla and 2 Grilled Steak Soft Tacos. And they’re not bad.

Quick Takes IV - It’s All So Yummy Still a Favorite

My wife did something she almost never does yesterday. She stayed home sick because she was sick, not because our son was. So when I was bringing The Boy home from daycare, I asked if she wanted me to bring food home or pick her up to go get some, and she said pick her up.

I asked if she wanted to to go It’s All So Yummy, one of our favorite places, and get some soup, and she said that sounded great. They serve comfort food and delicious homemade (albeit in large quantities) ice cream at It’s All So Yummy, so I couldn’t think of a better place to eat.

The Boy got his usual - Fried Bologna & American Cheese. My wife got a cup of Chicken Soup and a half Deli Sandwich. I noticed a soup I hadn’t seen before, the Buffalo Chicken Chili, was given a taste of it, and ordered a cup of it and the Cuban sandwich.

The sandwich was great, as usual. The chili was outstanding - very hearty with a big kick to it. I may just order a bowl of it next time as my meal.

We can’t go to It’s All So Yummy without getting ice cream. This is where my pal Phillip can feel free to give me a hard time since ice cream definitely doesn’t fit my goal of losing weight. The Boy ordered a kid’s scoop of Oreo icecream in a bow. Rachael got a scoop of Oreo in a Waffle Cone. I ordered a scoop of Salted Caramel in a Waffle Cone.


When Kim, the owner, saw that I’d ordered the Salted Caramel, she asked if I wanted sea salt on it. I wasn’t sure but I said yes, and I’m glad I did. I’ve had it without sea salt before, but it’s definitely even more awesome with it.

Another happy trip to It’s All So Yummy in the books. If you’re in Knoxville and you haven’t tried it, you’re really missing something.

Quick Takes III - Five Points Pizza and More

We made an overnight trip to Nashville recently to attend my nephew’s birthday party, so we were able to enjoy an afternoon and evening to ourselves while The Boy got to have fun with his cousin and grandparents. First, we saw Jurassic World, which both my wife and I agreed was far better than we expected to to be based on the more recent installments in the Jurassic series. After walking around the seemingly endless Opry Mills mall, we reviewed the pizza recommendations from my friends on Facebook and decided to try Five Points Pizza, and I’m glad we did.

Several of the reviews mentioned this place is regularly packed, and since this was a Saturday night, we headed over at what we felt was an early time, about 4:30 PM, and still had to wait about 15 minutes for a table to open up. We were seated at a high 2-top near the bar. Normally I offer to wait for the next table since I find perching on a tall chair hurts my knees, but this table was off to the side by itself, whereas all of the other tables were far too close to their neighbors for my comfort, so I made the best of it.

Our server, a young man, was great. He took our drink orders and got us a full order of Garlic Knots. The garlic knots were very good, with or without the marina sauce. Next time I might ask them to skip the marinara and give us just a bit more olive oil.


Five Points has a very large selection of beer on draft, in bottles, and cans, and they also had several varieties of hard cider. I had two bottles - a Crispin Pear and Original Sin Elderberry. Both were very good, and I found the Crispin Pear to be a perfect cooldown drink on this extremely hot day.

 


For our pizza, we ordered an 18" half and half. Rachael created her how half with pepperoni, meatball, red onions, and green peppers. Our server thought about that for a second and heartily approved. I decided to go with one of the standard pizzas on the printed menu, although I don’t see it on the website, so I’m not sure if it was a limited time special or a new addition. My half had a habanero cream sauce, sliced tomatoes, fresh basil, and bacon. This was NY style pizza and while my wife commented that it may have done better to be taken out of the oven a minute sooner so the crust was less crisp, we both really liked it. Her DIY half was excellent, as I used a slice from it to take a break from the intense heat of the habanero cream sauce on mine. My half was amazing, and while I had to admit it was perhaps not the best choice for a super hot day, I’d order it again in a heartbeat.

 

I was thrilled with the recommendation for Five Points Pizza, and after we hit a couple of the other pizza spots on our list, I will gladly return.

The Pied Piper Creamery

We asked our server at Five Points Pizza if there was somewhere nearby where we could get some good ice cream and he directed us to The Pied Piper Creamery around the corner and up the street a bit. We walked over and enjoyed some good, if not awesome, ice cream. It’s the best ice cream I’ve had in Nashville, but I wouldn’t pick it over our Knoxville favorite, It’s All So Yummy Cafe. We each got the 4 scoop sampler at Pied Piper. My favorite was the Peanut Butter? I Hardly Knew Her, and my least favorite was the Some Like it Hot, mainly since it was too heavy on the cinnamon and not enough on the cayenne pepper.

 

I Dream of Weenie

We were stuffed after pizza and ice cream, so I just admired this place from afar. But the thought of a hot dog-selling food truck run out of a VW microbus is too hard to resist, so I’ll be visiting it on a trip to Nashville soon.

Quick Takes II - It’s All About It’s All So Yummy

We continue to have great experiences at It’s All So Yummy, so this edition of Quick Takes is all about our favorite sandwich & ice cream spot.

We recently attended the Rocky Top BBQ Festival. While there, sampled BBQ from a restaurant in NC which was average, and some from Atlanta, which was good. We also got to hear some good local music and walk around in the heat with a 3 year old who was overdue for a nap. We knew the folks from It’s All So Yummy would be at the festival, so we saved visiting them for ice cream for last, hoping it would both taste good (it did, of course) and improve The Boy’s attitude. As you can tell from this picture, it did not.

Earlier this week my wife’s family trickled in for a sort of family reunion / Father’s day visit. Her sister and brother-in-law from Orlando arrived a day before everyone else and we took them out to the newer Sweet P’s downtown, which was very disappointing, but that’s a story for another time. After the BBQ, we decided to take them to It’s All So Yummy for some ice cream. They were out of Butter Pecan, which was both disappointing and confusing to me since, as far as I’m concerned, if it isn’t Butter Pecan, it isn’t ice cream. Still, I’d seen pictures of the Watermelon Chip on Instagram, so I figured I’d try it. Here’s where the confusion comes in. Because I don’t eat anything but Butter Pecan if I can help it, I don’t walk around thinking, “Wow, these two great ice cream flavors, while amazing by themselves, would suck if mixed together.” So when I saw they had a Caramel with Chocolate-covered Bacon flavor, I decided a scoop of that would go nicely with my scoop of Watermelon Chip. I was wrong. Delicious apart, weird together. I’ll keep brightly colored flavors separate from now on!

On Friday, June 19, It’s All So Yummy ran a one day special for a sandwich they called the Wacon, which was a grilled cheese sandwich with waffles for bread, with the whole sandwich wrapped in 10 slices of bacon. I’d seen pictures of it on Instagram and Facebook, and I heard it was on WBIR earlier this week when the owner, Kim, did one of her regular spots there. I was worried I wouldn’t be able to get one of these since we had family in and our dinner plans were already locked in for Friday night, and my brother-in-law had to leave town no later than noon that day to make it to a wedding. So I solved the conundrum by taking a half day off work, sent Kim a text message to let her know I’d be there at 11AM when they opened, and since she’s just awesome that way, she had 2 Wacon’s ready for me and Gus when we showed up.

I begrudgingly shared a bit of this beauty with my wife. Gus wimped out and only ate half of his and sliced up the other half to share with family at my house. This sandwich was sinfully decadent - an awesome mixture of sweet and savory. If it ever returns as a special, I’ll order it again. Gus told me that if he had a place like It’s All So Yummy near his house, he’d eat there all the time since he’s a huge fan of grilled cheese and tomato soup.

And here’s a final pic just to commemorate why we love It’s All So Yummy so much. We had dinner at our Saturday spot, Mario’s, but The Boy had said earlier that he really wanted a milkshake. So we obliged him. We ordered him a Birthday Cake (his favorite flavor of ice cream) milkshake. That’s off screen in this pic, as he decided he wanted some of Rachael’s Caramel Candy Bar ice cream. I had Butter Pecan, of course. It was all yummy.

Review - Scotty’s Restaurant

Eight years ago I attended a writer’s workshop in Dayton, Ohio, which meant I drove North on I-75 for about 4.5 hours and got to see parts of Tennessee & Kentucky I’d never seen before. As I was returning to Knoxville, I pulled off at an exit to get some gas and saw a sign for Scotty’s Hamburger and figured I’d give it a shot. I was delighted to discover they made what I’d always called “Krystal-sized” burgers but which most people call sliders, and served them in what seemed like a throwback to the 50’s diner concept. I vowed to return someday, and that day finally happened this weekend. Saturday is normally when we eat at Mario’s Pizza and Grill, but I had a hankering for something different, and pitched the idea of driving about 25 miles north to Caryville to my wife and she was all for it.

Scotty’s Restaurant, which you will most likely find misspelled at review sites as Scottie’s Restaurant, is a throwback to an earlier time in many ways. The building is very old, the decor looks like it belongs at an exit on Route 66, not I-75, and the prices are surprisingly low.

You have a choice of a long counter with stools, or a couple of tall tables with 2 stools each, and since there were three of us, we sat at the counter. Our son sat in my wife’s lap for part of the time, but while he sat on a stool on his own, my wife helped him keep his balance by placing her purse underneath his feet as they hung over the side of the stool. He commented that the counter was “dirty” but it was just stained in the way a counter that’s likely 40-50 years old at least would have to look.

The menu at Scotty’s is pretty basic, although it does run well into two pages. It also proves, along with the giant “visible from the Interstate” sign on top of the building, that Yelp, TripAdvisor, and other sites have the spelling wrong for the name of the establishment.

We knew walking in that this wouldn’t be a healthy meal, so I didn’t even try to pretend to make it one. I ordered Fried Mac & Cheese to start. It’s basically what you’d expect - macaroni & cheese, breaded and deep-fried. It was good, and I’m glad I ordered it since Mac & Cheese is one of my favorite things to eat, but next time I’ll just get another slider or two.

Rachael ordered Fried Corn Nuggets, and we both agreed that while it was OK as well, next time we’ll focus on the sliders.

The sliders are the reason I returned to Scotty’s, and they’re the main reason we plan to return. I’m not going to claim they’re the most amazing, delicious, hamburgers in the world, because they’re not. But for someone who grew up eating Krystal burgers, made out of site, and for all I knew heated up in a microwave, seeing Scotty’s burgers made a few feet away on a griddle was a delightful experience. They’re very basic burgers - a small square of beef, cheese if you want it, and a choice of mustard, pickle, and onion. One of the ladies working at Scotty’s lays down the number of patties you order, and if you are getting onions, they cover the entire patty with finely chopped onions and grill them as a unit. The result is a very tasty, if simple, slider. It puts to shame the greasy, almost slimy versions you can get at Krystal. The fries - they’re just frozen fries from a bag, so I won’t be ordering them again.

I'd read glowing reviews of the chili dogs at Scotty’s, so I decided to order one of them along with a couple extra sliders for my wife. The lady who took my order was shocked I only wanted one, and when I mentioned I had several sliders, she replied, “Yeah, but each one of those is only a bite.” So I ordered two chili dogs. They weren’t anything special - basic hot dog with way way too much meat only chili on them. I didn’t hate them, but this is something else I won’t be ordering next time, not with the sliders available.

We decided to order a couple slices of pie as well, and I have to say, for $2 each, the slices were larger than we thought they’d be. Rachael ordered chocolate, while I, of course, ordered pumpkin. Kinda strange to find pumpkin pie in June. I’d say the pie was OK, although since neither of us could tell for sure if it was homemade or store-bought, chances are it was store-bought. We wouldn’t get it again, as we’ll likely try ice cream next visit.

I needed to check out the facilities before we left, and they were … interesting enough that I decided to post a picture of something I don’t think I’ve ever done before - the bathroom. Harkening back to its roots as a roadside diner from another era, the bathrooms at Scotty’s are located outside. If you weren’t convinced before that Scotty’s is a blast from the past, this spartan bathroom should convince you. Check out the coil heater built into the wall, the cloth towel dispenser (pass, I used my t-shirt to dry my hands), and the sink has definitely seen better days. It was clean, though - I’ll give it that.

We’ll return to Scotty’s again someday. It isn’t close enough or outstanding enough to work it into our regular rotation, but it’s definitely interesting enough to come back. The lady’s working there did what nearly all women of a certain again do when presented with our son - they doted over him. I like that, of course.

If you’re making your way up or down I-75 near Caryville or La Follette, and you’re in the mood for some tasty sliders, stop in at Scotty’s.



Click to add a blog post for Scottie's Restaurant on Zomato

Review - Mario’s Pizza and Grill

We’ve added a new restaurant to our regular weekly list in the last couple of months - Mario’s. I can’t recall exactly why we tried Mario’s for the first time, but it was likely because it is near our church in Farragut and we were looking for something new. The pizza and spaghetti were good enough on our first visit that we happily tried it again, and we’ve been going every week since.

Basics Covered - Good Pizza

It may be hard to believe, but some pizza joints do really well at other types of food but not pizza. Mario’s isn’t that type of pizza joint. We made the mistake of ordering the Super Mario pizza the first time (like any self-respecting geek could avoid trying it) - and we barely made a dent in it’s gigantic 20 inches. But what we did manage to eat of this enormous pepperoni and sausage pizza was excellent. If we were better about heating up leftovers, we would have had a full second meal just from the pizza alone.

On most visits to Mario’s, we get the Large 14” pizza. We’ve tried many toppings including meatball, bacon, green pepper, and onion. I’m partial to the meatball, especially since it seems like they just slice up the meatballs used in the spaghetti and meatballs. This picture shows one of our regular combos - bacon and pepperoni.

Supporting Cast - Pasta

We’ve ordered several of the pasta dishes at Mario’s and liked almost all of them. That first night I ordered the spaghetti and meatballs and it was phenomenal, especially for the price. I’m not even a huge fan of spaghetti, but I’d be happy to eat this by itself as a meal.

The meat lasagna is quite good as well. As is the case with most of the pastas, I’d be happy to order this at another restaurant, but during most visits I’m in the mood for pizza, so pizza is what I order.

My wife loves chicken parmesan, so she tried that once. I didn’t try it because I don’t care for it, but she assured me it tastes much better than this picture might suggest. She and I are in agreement on what we prefer to order most of the time at Mario’s - pizza - but it isn’t because we don’t like the pasta.

The fettucini alfredo is the only pasta I’ve had at Mario’s that I wouldn’t eat again, but it isn’t because the pasta itself wasn’t good or that the sauce wasn’t a good representation of that kind of alfredo sauce. I’m just not a fan of thick, creamy alfredo, but instead prefer it much lighter - just butter and parmesan would do me fine.

Mario’s serves an appetizer of fried ravioli. I believe we ordered this one night when we weren’t sure about what else we might want, and while it is pretty good, if I were in the mood for an appetizer again, I’d probably go for the cheesy bread, which is outstanding, especially when used to dip Mario’s excellent marinara sauce.

A Sweet End

The desserts as Mario’s are outstanding. On that first visit we ordered the cinnamon pizza. It was very good, and we’d get it more often if not for another dessert that’s less work to eat.

So what’s less work than spreading icing on top of cinnamon pizza? Dipping beignets into chocolate sauce. These little fried balls of joy come out piping hot, covered in powdered sugar, and are delicious with or without the hot chocolate sauce. It’s a good thing these come in a baker’s dozen because that gives us plenty enough to avoid fights at the table.

Why We Keep Coming Back

So you may be asking - has Mario’s earned a regular spot in our dinner rotation simply because the pizza and the rest are very good? Not really. Don’t misunderstand - we wouldn’t keep coming back if the food weren’t also very good. Much like another Knoxville pizza joint, what brings us back to Mario’s is the service. One of the owners, a nice lady, is always happy to see us and pays special attention to our son, who is now three. I recall my mom telling me that when I was still a baby, my dad would tip servers based on how much they made over me. I don’t go that far, but I’ll be honest - making this dad feel like you’re happy my cute little boy is eating at your restaurant is an easy way to push me from just liking to eat at your place to loving it.

One of my friends and her family were visiting from out of town recently and she sent me a message asking me for a quick dinner recommendation for the Turkey Creek area. I pointed her to Mario’s and she let me know they loved it. If you’re in West Knoxville and you’re looking for good pizza and great service, give Mario’s a shot - you won’t be disappointed.

 

 

Mario's Pizza & Grill on Urbanspoon

Quick Takes I

Blackhorse Pub & Brewery

We had dinner at Blackhorse on a Friday night recently and one of the specials was a Mahi Mahi dish served over pasta. The cream sauce was good, the pasta was plain but well-cooked, and the fish itself was light and flaky. I’d order it again.


Burger Republic

I visited Franklin, TN on business and, after a truly terrible meal at a local barbecue place that I will review when I get some emotional distance from the experience, my coworker and I decided to find some good dessert. I flicked through some options on Urbanspoon and selected Burger Republic after reading some reviews of its milkshakes. I’m glad we stopped there because the Nutella shake was outstanding, even if it was just vanilla ice cream, nutella, and chocolate sauce. Looking forward to returning to Tator Tot Fondue.


Chick-fil-A

On that same business trip we stopped at Chick-fil-A for breakfast on the way back home. I was finally able to try something several people had recommended - the Chick-n-Minis. These were nothing short of delightful - a chicken nugget inside a piping hot roll. I’ll admit to having two orders of 4.

A Tale of Two Receipts

It was the best of dining experiences, it was the worst of dining experiences. Ok, it wasn’t the worst, but it was quite disappointing.  

Tomato Head

We recently had dinner at Tomato Head in Bearden. We like Tomato Head, but hadn’t eaten there in a while. I’ve always considered Tomato Head to be a nice, if slightly expensive, place where I can get a good meal made with good ingredients. After seeing the new menu and paying too much money for too little food, I have to remove the word “slightly” from my previous characterization. I regret not taking any pictures of our dishes during this visit, but I’ll try to describe what we were served in words.  First, here’s the receipt for our meal:


Our total was $38.24. That’s a bit more than we normally pay for a regular dinner, but it was especially surprising given the tiny portions of our adult meals. That’s the real problem I have with Tomato Head here - it seems like they’ve not only raised their prices, they decreased the quantity of food as well.

We had no issue with the meal we order for our son, the Simon Plate. At $5.50, it may be more expensive than kids meals elsewhere, especially given that it doesn’t include a drink, but he loves  it - especially when my wife combines the penne pasta and broccoli to make “pasta trees."

My wife’s dish was $11.25, and that included a Small Sandwich Special and a Side Salad substituted for the normal side - chips and salsa. To get an idea of how small this sandwich was, picture a slice of Wonder Bread, and mentally trim a quarter inch from it all the way around. Now cut that slice in half diagonally. That single slice of bread is what was used to make my wife’s sandwich, with maybe half an inch worth of meat or whatever came on the salad in between. My wife said the sandwich was good, but if she’d known by “small” Tomato Head really meant a “half” sandwich, she would have ordered the “large” and presumably gotten a full sandwich.  Her side salad was similarly tiny - maybe a half cup worth.

I ordered the Chicken Burrito, and I’ll admit, it tasted great - as it should have for $13.25. But it was also tiny. I’m not a burrito connoisseur by any means, but I am sometimes cajoled into eating at a Moe’s or Chipotle for lunch. What I can tell you is that the burrito I was served for $13.25 at Tomato Head was roughly half the size of what I am served at Chipotle, for roughly twice the price. Was the Tomato Head burrito better than a Moe’s burrito? Absolutely. Was it better than a Chipotle burrito? Not really, especially considering I paid twice as much for less food.

A key takeaway from this experience was that my wife and I left hungry - to the point that we took our son for some ice cream elsewhere.

Blackhorse


I’m going to contrast our experience at Tomato Head with one the very next night at Blackhorse Pub & Brewery.  Blackhorse is one of our favorite places to eat, and it is our regular Friday night spot for dinner. Here’s our receipt for that meal:


The total alone might not suggest that big a difference - $36.03 versus the previous night’s $38.24. But let me explain what we got for our 36 dollars. First, though, understand we didn’t intend for this to be a comparison when we ordered - we just ate whatever sounded good.

Our son’s meal was a little cheaper, but it was also just a couple of sliders and a bowl of fruit. Not as healthy or varied as the Simon Plate, maybe, but he’s a toddler - we’re happy when he eats.

We ordered two appetizers that night. I arrived early, so I ordered a side of the Sweet Potato Fries. They’re awesome and for $2.95, probably the best appetizer you can get in Knoxville for the money. When my wife and son arrived, we agreed we’d like some of the Chips & Beer Cheese. A bit more expensive at $7.75, but Blackhorse’s beer cheese is amazing and the chips are warm and tasty.

I can’t pass up the soup of the day at Blackhorse on Friday, so I ordered a bowl of their Cheeseburger soup, which cost me $4.50. There are nights when I eat nothing but this soup and some sweet potato fries.

My wife and I decided to share a meal that night, so we ordered the Pub Club sandwich. It cost  $8.95 and came with a side item, so I ordered Mac & Cheese. We couldn’t even finish all the sandwich, although I made a sizeable dent in the mac & cheese. The Pub Club is a double-decker sandwich, and I’d say it was roughly four times the size of the tiny sandwich at Tomato Head, and that’s not counting the extra slice of bread.

A key takeaway from our Blackhorse experience is that we left more than satisfied and couldn’t have eaten ice cream after if we’d tried.

So What?

Good question. Am I saying Tomato Head is a terrible place? Heck no - I like their food. They make some amazing cupcakes that I really shouldn’t eat again and their Warm Bacon Salad is outstanding. But at some point in the not too distant past, they crossed into “just not worth it” territory. We eat out a lot, and with our son getting bigger and eating more, I can’t justify paying too much money for too little food. So Tomato Head is no longer on our list for eating out.


Shaking up the format

Site Business It's been a cold and busy Winter so far, and I've let far too many posts pile up in my queue without giving GFC the attention it deserves. In an effort to remedy that, I'm giving myself permission to be more flexible with my posts here. Starting now, I'm going to separate my posts into at least 3 categories:

First Impressions

A quick post after an initial visit or two at a restaurant new to me.  These will be shorter than my usual reviews, although I'm not going to limit myself to a specific word count.

Review

Once I've visited a restaurant a few times, I feel comfortable writing a full review of it. These posts will take the place of what I've been calling Quick Reviews, because the truth is I almost never followed through on the "quick" aspect of a Quick Review anyway. These will be longer than First Impressions.

Quick Takes

Anything goes. I may mention a single dish I had at a favorite spot I've reviewed and even re-visited on the blog. I may discuss a new brand or flavor of cider I've tried. I will likely group more than one of these together and post them in a single entry. I'll admit I'm going to queue up some of these and use them during weeks when I simply may not have a new restaurant about which to write.

A Final Note for Restaurant Owners/Managers

I'm being contacted more frequently by folks who would like me to visit and review their place. That's cool, and I've worked with one that I've published so far and have another few in the works. My reviews aren't for sale, but my family likes to eat out, so I'm not opposed to using a gift card to pay for a meal as long as I disclose it and the restaurant understands I'm going to be honest about my experience - good or bad.

Quick Review: Forte's on the Square

On the way back from enjoying Thanksgiving with my family in Nashville, my wife asked me if I wanted to stop for dinner in Crossville. We'd never eaten dinner in Crossville, and based on having lunch there during a couple of work visits, I wasn't hopeful, and said so. Still, I pulled out my iPhone and checked TripAdvisor to see what the top-rated restaurants in Crossville were, and had my lack of hope confirmed when Cracker Barrel was listed as #1. Still, I saw what looked like a purely local place, Forte's on the Square, listed as #2, so we decided to give it a shot. After a false start caused by our car's clock being on Eastern Time but Crossville being on Central which left us sitting in our car for 15 minutes, we walked inside and were seated. Our server made a great impression right off the bat. We sometimes let our son watch a movie on his iPad when we eat out - and I know, that makes us terrible parents. She glanced at the iPad as she walked up and declared in an excited voice, "Oh! Planes Fire & Rescue! I haven't seen that but I really want to!" That made our son smile and us along with him.

I rarely mention the bread a restaurant serves in one of my reviews, and mostly that's because the bread is usually just there as filler and not worthy of comment. The bread at Forte's was anything but unworthy. It was light, flavorful, and so good that I almost asked for a second loaf. The butter was outstanding as well.

fortes_bread

fortes_kids_macFor our son we ordered one of his staples, Mac & Cheese. This was the best kids mac & cheese I've ever seen, and some of the best mac & cheese I've ever had. As we ordered his meal first and it came out a few minutes before our dishes, I'm not ashamed to admit that I sat there waiting for him to look away and transferred a few bites at a time over to my bread plate. In fact, the main reason I almost ordered more bread was because the cheese was so outstanding that it made a perfect dip for the bread. I'd love to see that as an appetizer next time we stop there - two loaves of bread and a small cup of the cheese for dipping.

My wife ordered one of her staples, Chicken Parmesan. She let me have a bite of it and I thought it was fairly good, but chicken parmesan isn't one of my favorite dishes. She really liked it, and shared a few bites of it with our son, along with some of the broccoli.

fortes_chicken

fortes_chopsI was torn as to what to order, and again our server impressed us. I told her I couldn't decide between the Chicken Alfredo or the Pork Chops. She said that both were excellent, but in her opinion, pork chops were not that common at restaurants, so she'd go with them. But she solved my dilemma by offering to substitute pasta for my baked potato, and said she would be happy to put the Alfredo sauce on it for me. I took her up on that, and in fact my wife asked to do the same substitution for her potato. The pork chops were quite good, and the honey balsamic glaze they were served with was exceptional - both simple and full of flavor.

fortes_pastaHere's a picture of the pasta each of us received. It is no shame to say that while we liked our pasta, we both loved our son's mac & cheese more. I would rank this Alfredo sauce better than most in Knoxville, with only Savelli's beating it out, and not by a wide margin. Since I'd eaten a decent portion of our son's mac & cheese and because I'd seen homemade desserts listed on the menu, I left about half of my pasta and my wife left about three quarters of hers uneaten. That I asked for a to-go box, something I almost never do, is an indication of how good the pasta and sauce were.

fortes_oreo_cheesecakeWhen our server brought out the dessert tray, which included several kinds of cheesecake, as well as a "Death by Chocolate" cake and a Coconut Cake, my wife wasn't sure what to get. She and my son really love chocolate, so the cake was a possibility, but there was also an Oreo cheesecake, with chocolate sauce drizzled over it. Our server again helped out, offering to be generous with the chocolate sauce. My wife said the cheesecake itself was quite good, and she was glad our server added the extra chocolate, because she felt there wasn't enough Oreo topping. She also commented that she liked the crust itself, which is unusual for her.

My choice was simpler. I would prefer plain cheesecake every time, but that wasn't an option and I'm not fond of chocolate desserts. So I took the each option seasonal option - Pumpkin cheesecake. I can't say the cheesecake blew me away, but it was good, and I take every opportunity I can during this time of year to eat pumpkin-based desserts, so I was happy to have it.

fortes_pumpkin_cheesecake

All in all, we were very happy with our first stop in Crossville for dinner, and we'll be making an effort to eat at Forte's on the Square again the next time we're heading back to Knoxville. On that note, do keep in mind that while Forte's is open for lunch Tuesday through Friday, its website lists it as being open for dinner only on Friday and Saturday.

This is post 30 in the #NaBloWriMo #vDM30in30 30 Day Blog Challenge

 

Forte's on the Square on Urbanspoon

Quick Review: Gondola House Pizzeria

We spent Thanksgiving with my family in Hermitage this year, and on Black Friday we decided to take everybody out to dinner. We tried Gondola House Pizzeria, mainly because it is the number 2 rated restaurant on TripAdvisor for the area. The place got rave reviews on both TripAdvisor and UrbanSpoon, and after eating there, I know why. We started off with an appetizer - Deep Fried Ravioli. The ravioli was very good - filled with plenty of cheese and only lightly fried. Everyone liked it, especially our son, who ate three quarters of one of the large ravioli himself.

gondola_ravioli

I ordered the Spaghetti and Meatballs with Meat Sauce. It was one of the specific dishes called out in multiple reviews, and I'm glad I tried it. I haven't had really good spaghetti in a long time, and this was extremely good. The meatballs were awesome - huge, dense but still moist. I ate every bite of this - something I'm pretty sure contributed to some heartburn I had later on, but that's my fault for eating so much tomato-based sauce in addition to the pizza I shared with my wife.

gondola_sp+mb

My wife and I also ordered a pizza - the Old School Gondola Special with onions, green peppers, and sausage. This was very good pizza. Maybe not the best pizza I've had in a while, but I'd order it again and be satisfied. The crust was thin and light, with a generous amount of mozzarella. The sausage was really good as well, and our son ate quite a bit of it from each of his mom's slices.

gondola_pizza

Speaking of our son, we ordered him a child's pizza with ham on it, since that's his favorite topping. He ate three slices of it, as well as most of one of the meatball's from my mom's spaghetti.

gondola_kids_pizza

We ordered desserts to go - three of them. The Tiramisu was mentioned in a couple reviews, and both Butterscotch Bread Pudding and Chocolate Bread Pudding were on the special list for the night. We divided them up at my parents' house according to individual taste. My wife liked the tiramisu and I found it to be good as far as it goes, but it's really not my thing. Bread pudding, however, is one of my favorite desserts, so I was really looking forward to trying each of them, even though butterscotch sounded like it might not be that good. As it turns out, the butterscotch was definitely the better of the two, with the chocolate being, according to my wife, "not chocolatey enough."

gondola_desserts

I was really happy with our meal at Gondola House. The food was great. The service was outstanding, with our server being both quick with a joke and a refill of our drinks. The other staff were friendly, thanking us as we left. I sincerely wish that Gondola House were located in Knoxville, because I can't think of another Italian restaurant in town in that price range nearly as good on so many fronts. We'll definitely be returning the next time we're in the Nashville area, and I'm certain my family will try it again as well.

This is post 28 in the #NaBloWriMo #vDM30in30 30 Day Blog Challenge

Gondola House Pizzeria on Urbanspoon