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.
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.
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.
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.