Monday, July 12, 2010
NOTE: As with my International Buffet post way back when, I was unable to get a picture of Westgate Family Restaurant's logo, since one doesn't exist. Hopefully, you won't hold this against the typically professional (and awesome) nature of this blog. Without further ado, I present...the entry.
Morgan and I have a somewhat bizarre habit of family restaurant/diner "hunting"; I use the term "hunting" loosely, because we don't actively go out looking for family restaurants/diners to eat at, but rather randomly pick one to try as we drive around the Greater Rochester region in my air-conditioning-challenged car. While this habit is potentially gas-guzzling and wallet-obliterating, it is spontaneous, fun, and gives me some great material to work with, as we both become more enlightened in the field of Rochester-based family cuisine.
During one such voyage through Chili, on a hunt for dinner, we discovered a little place called the "Westgate Family Restaurant" in the small Shoppes at Westgate Plaza on the corner of Chili Ave. and Howard Road. The placid-looking, family-style eatery sits quietly between a gargantuan Panera Bread, and a loud, steam factory of a Chinese take-out place. Although we love both Panera Bread and Chinese food, Morgan and I zeroed in on the tranquil family restaurant, hoping to uncover a hidden oasis of comfort food.
The inside of the Westgate Family Restaurant is just as unassuming as the outside: modest decor, friendly and efficient staff, and enough of an Early Bird Special crowd to reassure anyone that this is a good place to simply relax. With an extensive diner-style menu, covering everything from breakfast to dinner, the Westgate Family Restaurant just felt - for lack of a better word - right.
I decided to start my meal off with a cup of the Chicken Tuscany Soup, which was comprised of shredded chicken, tomato, celery, lima beans, and carrots, all in a chicken stock broth. I assume it was made ahead of time, and simply ladled into a cup, then warmed up, but it still came out quick and hot, the aroma alone enough to make my mouth salivate with anticipation.
The best comparison I can make of this Chicken Tuscany Soup to any other food would be salty chili. I realize this sounds odd (and somewhat unappealing - trust me, this isn't a bad thing), but the truth is this: after simmering in a pot for God knows how long, the beans lost some of their firmness, and quickly thickened the broth into a delicious bean trace/chicken stock hybrid. The resulting dish kept the consistency of a thick soup, but had the boldness and flavor of a hearty chili. I'm not sure if this was how the soup is intended to be served, or if I simply caught a tasty fluke; regardless, my compliments to the chef.
For my main course, I ordered a Country Sweet Chicken Sandwich - two grilled pieces of white bread, framing two breaded pieces of chicken (essentially, two chicken fingers), smothered in melted cheddar cheese, and a healthy dose of Country Sweet sauce, all served with a side of ridged/wavy potato chips.
This is a sandwich I'd highly recommend to those who have an attraction to sweet and salty combos. The breaded chicken and melted cheddar cheese, not to mention the crispy, buttery bread, lend the typical salty, savory quality to this sandwich, but the Country Sweet sauce stands out in perfect contrast to the rest of the ingredients. For those who have never tried Country Sweet sauce, I apologize to you - truly, a Rochester masterpiece, Country Sweet sauce (best served with chicken...or anything for that matter) tastes a lot like the offspring of a one-night stand between a bottle of honey mustard and some sweet and sour sauce. Not quite spicy, but shouldering enough of a kick to be called "tangy," the Country Sweet sauce on my chicken wrapped up the sandwich nicely. The chicken itself offered a crunchy outside to a mouth-watering, juicy, white meat center, while the cheddar cheese was in gooey contrast to the toasted bread; this sandwich had some serious texture, in all the right ways.
For those out in the Chili area, the Country Sweet Chicken Sandwich and the Chicken Tuscany Soup alone are worth a stop out to the Westgate Family Restaurant. However, those looking for a nice, quiet place to kick back and relax, while enjoying some delicious, diner-friendly comfort food (at a modest price) need search no farther - the Westgate Family Restaurant might just be your new favorite place.
Score (out of 10): 8.5
Location: 1577 Howard Road, Rochester, NY 14624
Phone Number: (585) 426-7280
Wednesday, June 30, 2010
So, I realize you've all sustained yet another long drought of entries here at Rochester's Endless Buffet, and for this I sincerely apologize. To be honest, my life has been busier than normal lately, and finding time to write has become more and more difficult for me. Luckily, I've been documenting reviews of my meals on my phone, and will hopefully be catching up on them all as soon as I find some time to write (and breathe, for that matter). Pardon me ahead of time if this entry is a little on the funky side - I may be a bit rusty.
Morgan and I were watching the Travel Channel (which strangely enough has almost as many shows about food on it as the Food Network), and a bit about Philly cheese steaks came on. Needless to say, we hopped in the car and went to a little place on Long Pond Road in Greece, NY that Morgan's father had told us served a stellar cheese steak. Philly Steakout serves up some authentic Philadelphia flavor to a more than willing Rochester market. Their menu includes favorites, like the cheese steak, but also includes deli sandwiches, chicken-based subs, and a few original recipes as well. The dining room inside is by no measure large, but those with claustrophobia can call ahead of time to place an order for pick-up. Eating there is highly-recommended though, since the open kitchen allows you to watch your fresh food being prepared, and the subway car-esque atmosphere adds some supreme authenticity to the experience.
Since a cheese steak is what I drove out for, a cheese steak is what I ordered - well, kind of. I actually ordered a slight variation called a Philly Classic, which consists of the basic thinly-sliced and chopped steak, and cheese (I went with provolone), but adds the option of peppers (I chose hot peppers), grilled onions, and mushrooms (which I dislike and declined). Being my first time eating at Philly Steakout, I chose to go with a "regular" size portion, as opposed to the "large" cheese steak, despite the heavenly aroma wafting from the kitchen window, beckoning me to do otherwise. The sound of the steak sizzling on the grill, combined with the smell filling that building make it physically impossible to resist ordering something upon entering Philly Steakout.
My sandwich came out of the kitchen piping hot, and dripping mouthwatering juices from its meaty core. The first bite into the Philly Classic made me instantly realize why it became a "classic" - all the different ingredients lent a unique piece to an amazing flavor puzzle. The savory flavor of the tender steak met the crunch and texture of the grilled onions and peppers, which easily could've been overpowering if the rich provolone didn't compliment the bolder flavors so well. The bread was fresh, fluffy, and light, and helped soak up some of the juices from the steak. The Philly Classic was messy, losing bits of meat, onions, peppers, and globs of cheese, and I had no shame in scooping up these delicious scraps with a fork after I finished off the sandwich.
All in all, a great meal, although I found myself craving more after eating only a regular...next time, I will definitely tackle the large. The price wasn't terrible, comparing to most local delis and sandwich shops in quantity and quality. For those looking for a great taste of Philly, who don't want to make the drive or spend the cash on a vacation, I highly recommend stopping by Philly Steakout and showing them some New York love.
Score (out of 10): 8.5
Location: 1595 Long Pond Road, Rochester, NY 14626
Phone Number: (585) 225-6810
Wednesday, June 2, 2010
In perhaps the most supreme example of procrastination of all time, I bring to you a review of a meal Morgan and I had on our last afternoon in Ocean City, MD, almost a month and a half ago. I remember we were really craving pit beef, since the boardwalk was littered with signs advertising said food item; fortunately for us, several venues along the beach sold open pit beef sandwiches. We were walking along the boardwalk by 2nd Street, when we noticed a little hole-in-the-wall place called Bull on the Beach. Bull on the Beach has a handful of locations throughout Ocean City, each priding themselves on serving up some of Maryland's best open pit beef. The particular boardwalk location we chose is part of the myriad of seasonal businesses that Ocean City is famous for, and is only open from April until October each year. Not wanting to miss out on their specialty, Morgan and I decided to order an Open Pit Beef Platter, which consisted of an open pit beef sandwich and a choice of a side - we chose french fries, since we were sharing the platter between us.
The open pit beef sandwich consists of thinly-sliced, lean, tender, top round beef, cooked on an open pit, and piled extra high on a warm, fluffy bun. The sandwiches are made-to-order, ensuring they're fresh and served steaming hot. The staff when Morgan and I went were all young kids, but they were mostly polite and efficient in what they did. The view of the boardwalk and ocean while we ate was a great feature of this humble, little grill.
A quick lunchtime meal, the Open Pit Beef Platter turned out to be plenty of food for Morgan and I. The fries were a nice starter; lightly-salted and crispy, they served as typical side dish fare. The sandwich itself was essentially a larger version of an Arby's roast beef sandwich - this isn't necessarily a bad thing; I like Arby's roast beef sandwiches. The meat was easy to chew, lean, and full of delicious, robust, savory flavor. The only downside to this meal was that the beef was a little dry, a common negative effect of cooking beef on an open pit for too long. Despite this, the sandwich itself did not suffer any loss of flavor.
For what Morgan and I got, the price was pretty reasonable, especially for a beachfront meal, coming to about $8 and some change. The menu extends far beyond pit beef as well: chicken, ham, and steamed and raw seafood comprise a succulent menu of boardwalk fare. Although not mind-blowing in any aspect, Bull on the Beach proved itself a great place to grab a quick bite to eat, and definitely proved to Morgan and I that Ocean City has more than enough to satiate those looking to enjoy a breath of ocean breeze in good company.
Score (out of 10): 7.5
Location: 2nd Street, Ocean City, MD 21842
Phone Number: (410) 289-2855
Wednesday, May 12, 2010
For our final night in Ocean City, Morgan and I decided to treat ourselves to one of the area's famous all-you-can-eat buffets. We had a tough time deciding which place to go to, with our choices including The Bonfire Restaurant, The Embers Restaurant, Hall's Restaurant & Buffet, Phillip's, and many more. All the restaurants were similarly priced, and most of them had comparable menus, but after reading over a few (dozen) reviews, we finally set The Embers Restaurant as our destination.
The Embers Restaurant is conveniently located on Philadelphia Avenue, by 24th Street, and is open a majority of the week during the off-season, and daily during the on-season. Prices might seem a bit high for both their buffet and à la carte menus, but in truth, the prices are competitive to similar restaurants in the area, with a $20 buffet special available every weekend. The Embers is kept clean, well-lit, and is staffed with friendly, helpful employees. The buffet offers an almost overwhelming variety of food, from typical seafood fare, to American diner-style dishes, to freshly-made Italian pizza and pasta, and even Asian-inspired cuisine; one thing is for sure when you dine at The Embers Restaurant - you will get your money's worth. There's even a carving station that offers up prime rib, top round of beef, and ham. For those who still have room in their stomachs after all that food, The Embers also sports a full dessert bar. All the essential food groups, of course.
Me? Well, I couldn't help but sample a little bit of everything. And by "little bit," I mean I tackled this meal with the mindset of a death row inmate.
Let me start off by saying that I have eaten at my fair share of all-you-can-eat buffets: some good, some bad, some so foul that I can only imagine that the chef was attempting to capture the flavor of a make-out session with Satan's armpit; however, after trying the food offered at The Embers Restaurant, I can easily say that it ranks among my favorite buffets of all time. While not every dish was a masterpiece, the food was clearly of a higher caliber than your average smorgasbord. The pastas I tried (including one of my favorites, tortellini alfredo) were cooked to perfection, and served with a variety of bold, flavorful sauces. The fried foods I ate were not suffocating in batter, nor did they taste like they had spent too much time in the oil. The meat from the carving station practically melted in my mouth, each slice served fresh, after being cooked in its own juices. All the crab meat I tried (including some excellent Crab Imperial) embodied that perfect blend of salty-sweet seafood flavor that has established crab as one of my favorite meals of all time.
I could go on and on about the high-quality food, the great staff, and the wonderful atmosphere, but the true reason Morgan and I loved The Embers Restaurant so much was the fact that it felt like it truly represented our time in Ocean City: an eclectic collection of some of the brightest laughter and experiences life has to offer. If you're ever in the area and want an excellent way to wrap up your evening by the ocean, The Embers Restaurant is guaranteed to leave you feeling warm from head to toe - especially your stomach.
Score (out of 10): 9
Location: 2305 Philadelphia Avenue, Ocean City, MD 21842
Phone Number: (410) 289-3322
Wednesday, May 5, 2010
I realize it's an incredibly late review, but my life has recently been quite busy: I'm constantly working, and I try to find time to pursue personal hobbies as well, such as the video game review blog I manage. I apologize that this is the case; I will try to write more frequently. With this being said, it's time to start the review.
While the off-season nightlife of Ocean City was somewhat lacking, Morgan and I frequently took twilight walks through the city's empty streets and along the deserted boardwalk. Not only was this incredibly relaxing and fun, but informative as well; during one of our aforementioned walks, Morgan and I stumbled across a small, quiet-looking place known as Adolfo's Italian Restaurant, tucked away at the end of South Baltimore Avenue by the boardwalk. Since we were in the mood for some local Italian, we chose to eat there the next evening.
Family-owned and run, Adolfo's is open year-round, and provides some excellent, personal service. Their menu is pretty extensive, offering standard Italian fare, as well as some original recipes, and while the prices might seem a little high (in truth, they're pretty comparable to other boardwalk businesses), the quality you get in return is well worth it. The inside of the restaurant itself is dimly-lit and modestly-decorated, adding a somewhat romantic ambiance to the whole place; unfortunately, this same dim lighting made taking pictures impossible (at least impossible to take without being rude to the other patrons).
Since it was the off-season when Morgan and I visited Adolfo's, we got to take advantage of their limited time, off-season specials: every Wednesday and Thursday, certain entrees on their menu are half price, and all-you-can-eat spaghetti and meatballs is offered every Thursday as well; we just so happened to be there Thursday, and ordered ourselves some all-you-can-eat spaghetti. Our meals came with fresh-baked bread with slices of warm pepperoni on the side, and garden salads with homemade Italian dressing.
I apologize ahead of time for the picture, since it's not mine; as I stated before, the lighting within Adolfo's was pretty low, and due to this I had to take a picture from the internet. Fortunately, the picture I chose looks very similar to the meal I ordered.
The bread that came out before the main course was soft, fluffy, and still warm from the ovens. The sliced pepperoni that came with it added a little extra kick to what many consider a boring, old starter.
Our salads were crisp, fresh, and interestingly enough, lacking croutons. There was also ricotta cheese crumbled on top of the greens. The homemade Italian dressing was delicious - not too oily, although the portion was a little meager; I really would've liked more of it on the salad to help balance out the bold flavor of the ricotta, and to make the salad a little less dry. Overall, it was a nice appetizer though.
Next came the all-you-can-eat spaghetti and meatballs. Served in big, heaping portions, Adolfo's was more than generous in quantity. The spaghetti was tender, the sauce was salty-sweet and seasoned with basil, and the meatballs were large, hand-packed, and hot. The meat used wasn't quite as rich as I originally hoped, but was still flavorful enough to satisfy my taste buds. Unfortunately, this slight lack in bold flavor made the huge serving size grow a bit bland by the end; regardless, I enjoyed the meal enough to ask for a second plate.
While I can't rank Adolfo's among my favorite Italian restaurants of all time, I can certainly recommend it to anyone in the Ocean City area looking for a good deal on all-you-can-eat Italian. The price might initially put off some, but as I stated before, it's pretty standard for a restaurant by the beach. If you enjoy nighttime walks through deserted city streets like Morgan and I, take a stroll by Adolfo's Italian Restaurant: you might just like what you find inside.
Score (out of 10): 8
Location: 806 South Baltimore Avenue, Ocean City, MD 21842
Phone Number: (410) 289-4001
Tuesday, April 27, 2010
Morgan and my dining experience in the off-season ghost town of Ocean City, MD continued when we chose to go out for some local pizza. However, we were unwilling to spend our money at one of the tourist traps along the main strip, where the quality and portions most likely lacked in comparison to the price. Instead, we chose to drive around aimlessly, as we sometimes do, in search of a pizza place a little deeper inland. By doing so, we found ourselves ordering off the menu of a local Italian and seafood restaurant, known as Salvatore's (not to be confused with the local pizza chain).
Salvatore's is located on the corner of the Stephen Decatur Highway and Ocean Gateway (Rt. 50) in Ocean City, and has (as far as I know) only one location. The location is convenient for those staying at a hotel nearby on the beach (only a few miles away from the main strip), and quite easy to find. While the decorations of the outside (and inside, for that matter) are a tad gaudy, the dim lighting inside gives the quaint, little bar and dining area a somewhat romantic feel. As I stated before, Morgan and I were visiting Ocean City during the off-season; the area was practically deserted, and Salvatore's was completely empty, save for a bartender/waiter and someone I assumed was the owner. Despite this, Morgan and I were greeted with smiles and great, fast service.
I got a bowl of Maryland crab soup to start with. For those unfamiliar with this particular recipe, it is essentially vegetable soup with cooked crab meat added. Salvatore's crab soup is loaded with plenty of corn, red beans, green beans, potato, celery, carrots, and bits of onion.
The Maryland-style crab soup came out hot and fresh from the kitchen, and smelled delicious; I could see hearty vegetables and big pieces of crab meat floating in the steaming broth. However, despite the great, robust smell, I found the flavor of the soup somewhat watered-down. While it wasn't necessarily bad, the soup definitely wasn't as bold or flavorful as many of the other Maryland crab soups I've had; instead of complimenting each other, the flavors of the various vegetables, crab meat, and broth did not blend as well as I hoped they would. All in all, this dish wasn't terrible, but wasn't nearly as great as it could have been.
Score (out of 10): 6.5
For our main course, Morgan and I ordered a large pizza, half cheese for Morgan, half onion for myself. As such, I will only be reviewing the onion pizza.
Once again, I don't claim to be any sort of pizza expert, and will refer you to my good friend at The Rochester NY Pizza Blog for such expertise. That being said, I will try my best to give my impressions accurately and professionally. The pizza came out quickly (probably because we were the only ones in the restaurant), and was hot, fresh, and baked to perfection. The cheese wasn't saturated in grease, nor was it slathered on haphazardly, but was melty and light. The pizza wasn't drowning in sauce, which was also nice; the sauce itself wasn't overpowering, and the seasonings gave it that great, balanced, salty-sweet taste. The crust was incredible - light and crispy, easy to chew, and not too filling or bready; I did not expect to find such a great New York-style pizza crust in Ocean City, MD. The onions on my half were slightly-browned, crunchy, and added amazing texture and flavor to the pizza.
The pizza more than made up for the lackluster crab soup, and I highly recommend it to anyone else from New York seeking a taste of home away from home. The best part about Salvatore's was the cost: being a little farther away from the beach, Salvatore's provided large quantities of food for a more than reasonable price; Morgan and my bill was only around $15, all food and drinks included. For those looking for a more affordable meal than the standard by-the-beach fare, Salvatore's is more than close enough to be worth the drive. I'd be a little hesitant to try their seafood again, but finding a slice of New York pizza in the heart of Maryland was like heaven on earth.
Score (out of 10): 9
Location: 9935 Stephen Decatur Highway, Ocean City, MD 21842
Phone Number: (410) 213-7070
Wednesday, April 21, 2010
During our first whole night in Ocean City, MD, Morgan and I were unaware that almost every local restaurant was closed for the off-season. Upon realizing this, we spent about 30 minutes driving around the main strip in a desperate attempt to find a seafood buffet. After that search proved fruitless, we decided to take a chance and eat at the first random restaurant we saw open: the result was us stumbling into the Old Mill Crab House.
Apparently, the Old Mill is a small franchise, with only two active locations: the original is located in Delmar, DE, and the newer Ocean City restaurant. As such, the service maintains a hospitable and personal air, and the restaurant itself is well-lit and well-maintained. The menu is a bit limited, and the prices are a bit high (but expected; it IS in a tourist beach town, after all), but what is offered ends up being served fast, served hot, and served fresh. The Old Mill is sure to please those looking for fresh surf and turf, chicken, or even ribs. A kid-friendly menu is available for picky eaters, and a surprisingly extensive selection of alcohol is offered by the Old Mill for adults in the group. For those looking to loosen their belts a few notches, an endless "all-you-care-to-eat" special is available that includes clams, shrimp, crabs, corn on the cob, hush puppies, and more.
Since I'm currently on a budget, and was also craving a local crab cake, I went with the crab cake sandwich (relatively inexpensive), which was one of the Old Mill's famous lump crab cakes (either broiled or fried - I chose fried), topped with fresh lettuce and tomato (which I discarded; I'm not a fan of uncooked tomatoes), wedged into a fresh, fluffy hamburger bun. The sandwich also came with a choice of french fries or coleslaw - I ended up going with the fries, figuring they'd be more filling than the coleslaw. Sides of ketchup and tartar sauce rounded out the meal you'll see below.
The french fries that came with the meal were wonderful, and arrived at the table crispy, hot, and perfectly-salted. As for the crab cake...well...
I've eaten a lot (and I mean A LOT) of crab cakes in my life, and even I can't describe how amazing this crab cake sandwich was. Normally when I order a fried crab cake, I expect them to bread it or deep fry it in a vat of grease, which, while delicious, sometimes alters the flavor of the crab meat; however, the Old Mill surprised me by only lightly-battering the crab cake before frying it, which gave it a great crispy outside, without unnecessarily soaking the inside meat. The crab meat ended up being light, moist, and subtly sweet, just as it should be. The tartar sauce was delicious, providing a tang that matched and melded perfectly with the salty-sweet flavor of the crab meat. Lettuce added a great amount of crunchy texture to this otherwise incredible meal.
There are truly some great places to eat at out here in Ocean City, and I'm glad I can say that the Old Mill Crab House is one of them. This was a wonderful meal, and the best part was that Morgan and I stopped entirely at random. It just goes to show that not every part of a vacation needs to be planned out; sometimes the fun experiences come along completely by chance.
Score (out of 10): 9.5
Location: 12407 Coastal Highway, Ocean City, MD 21842
Phone Number: (410) 250-2722
Tuesday, April 20, 2010
Hello out there in cyberspace! Let me start off by saying that currently Morgan and I are enjoying ourselves out in Ocean City, MD; as such, the next series of posts will be from this sunny city, its surrounding area, or from wherever on the road we decide to eat. I realize it's not quite "Rochester's Endless Buffet," but I thought it'd be a fun way to share my experiences while I'm out of town. Hope you all enjoy!
This post is from Monday, when Morgan and I decided to take a quick break at an Allentown, PA rest stop during the grueling 8 1/2 hour drive. The food selection there was pretty mediocre, so we settled on pizza from Famous Famiglia Pizzeria, figuring it would be filling and inexpensive. Turns out, we were right.
This particular location (Famous Famiglia Pizzeria is a national chain) is inside of the Allentown Travel Plaza on the Pennsylvania State Turnpike, right outside of (you guessed it) Allentown, PA, and can be accessed from both the northbound and southbound roads. The rest stop is clean, well-maintained, and offers a number of roadside snacks at fairly affordable prices. The Famous Famiglia Pizzeria in particular has friendly, efficient staff, and stretches your dollar out without sacrificing quality. Since rest stop food is notorious for being overpriced, I was expecting to shell out around, possibly over, $10 for two slices of cheese pizza, but in reality only spent about $7 and some change. Famous Famiglia also offered a limited assortment of pasta, salads, and calzones, but I figured that cheese pizza would give me the most bang for my buck, and would serve as a great example of the pizzeria's most basic offerings.
Now, I'm no pizza expert (I leave that to my good friend at The Rochester NY Pizza Blog), but I have to say that Famous Famiglia's cheese pizza was a more-than-adequate snack during the long trek to Ocean City. While a slice of cheese pizza from a Pennsylvania rest stop can only hope to imitate the amazing quality of a New York-style pie, the emulated recipe at Famous Famiglia in Allentown does a damn good job in that department. The mozzarella cheese was melted to perfection, browned a bit on the top, and wasn't simply a tarp serving to hold pools of grease; in fact, the whole slice was only slightly greasy, unlike many New York-style pizzas I've had in the past that were practically oily hand towels. The crust was thin, light, and crisp, but was fluffy enough to give the slice some real substance, and was incredibly fresh in flavor and texture. As for the sauce, Famous Famiglia has found a wonderful blend of sweet, roast tomato flavor and aromatic, Italian spices.
While a single slice proved to fill my stomach only so much, in terms of rest stop food, Famous Famiglia definitely provided some great quality and value. If you ever find yourself in the Allentown, PA area, or traveling along the Pennsylvania State Turnpike, I highly suggest giving Famous Famiglia Pizzeria a shot...especially if you're on a budget!
Score (out of 10): 8
Location: Allentown Travel Plaza, Pennsylvania State Turnpike, Allentown, PA
Phone Number: (610) 366-3872
Thursday, April 1, 2010
California Rollin' actually has two locations in the Greater Rochester area: the original location is in Village Gate, on North Goodman St. in Rochester, while the other location (known as California Rollin' 2) is in the old Ferry Terminal in Charlotte. California Rollin' serves up fresh, hand-rolled sushi, in both traditional and more unique, innovative forms. They further add to their menu with creative spins on other traditional Japanese recipes, and offer daily specials as well. This review is from a meal Morgan and I had at the original location, which has a distinct flair and atmosphere that is artsy, yet laid back.
On this particular outing, I started off with an appetizer of miso soup; for those unfamiliar with this traditional Japanese dish, it is fish broth with shiitake mushrooms (I ordered mine without these), scallions, chunks of tofu, miso paste (a soy-based paste), and wakame (a type of edible seaweed).
I didn't take a picture of my own miso soup, so I found a picture on the internet. Hope you don't mind!
For my main course, I went the unorthodox route by ordering two California Rollin' originals: the Katana Roll and the BBT Roll. The Katana Roll is a cooked maki roll (rolled sushi), featuring crab stick (imitation crab meat), seaweed salad, Japanese mayo, and "onion crunchies" (basically French fried onions). The BBT Roll is a tempura roll (deep-fried rolled sushi), made from pan-seared tuna, smothered in Dinosaur BBQ sauce.
BBT Rolls on the left and right. Katana Roll in the middle.
While miso soup might not sound appealing to many who read a description of its ingredients (and I've definitely had my fair share of crappy miso soup), I assure you that if you're a curious first-timer, California Rollin's recipe is the one to try. The soup's broth was not overpowering in fish or soy taste, and both the tofu and seaweed leaves absorbed the flavors of the broth and the scallions perfectly. I highly recommend this particular miso soup.
As for my sushi, I still can't decide whether I like the Katana Roll or the BBT Roll more. The BBT Roll may sound simple, but it has a great flavor: the seared tuna is a wonderfully light and familiar fish base, while the BBQ sauce adds some great bold and spicy flavor; the fact that this roll is tempura-fried adds some real crunch to the entire thing, providing some awesome texture.
The Katana Roll is an incredible whirlwind of flavors: the imitation crab meat is light and sweet, while the seaweed salad and "onion crunchies" combine into a great mixture of flavors and harder textures; the juxtaposition of the creamy Japanese mayo and the crunchier layers is damn near perfect.
All in all, California Rollin' is one of my favorite places to eat something a little different. While it runs a little expensive (at least for my wallet), I still think everyone in the area should give this place a try. Sushi is a unique enough dish as it is in Rochester, but California Rollin' manages to innovate beyond the realm of the ordinary. If you're a sushi beginner, I highly recommend trying the BBT Roll; for those with a craving for something with a plethora of interesting flavors, try the Katana Roll. Regardless of what you choose, California Rollin' is sure to not disappoint.
Score (out of 10): 9
Location: 274 North Goodman St., Rochester, NY 14607
Phone Number: (585) 271-8990
Sunday, March 28, 2010
The Hilton Family Restaurant is a quaint, little diner, tucked away in downtown Hilton, NY. Despite being located in a town with otherwise unremarkable dining locales, the Hilton Family Restaurant proves to be a hidden diamond in the rough. While many will be tempted to disregard the Hilton Family Restaurant, due to its quiet, homely appearance, I strongly urge against this - this place is definitely worth checking out for their home-style meals and warm, casual atmosphere. Morgan and I find ourselves wandering out to Hilton every couple months or so, just because we find the place so incredibly comfortable.
On this particular trip, I ordered the Meatloaf Hot Plate - a simple meal, consisting of a meatloaf sandwich and mashed potatoes, smothered in brown gravy. Despite lacking a lengthy description, this was one hell of a meal.
The cooks at Hilton Family Restaurant proved to me once again that they definitely know what they're doing. The meatloaf was baked perfectly: the breadcrumbs and seasoning used tasted like a home-cooked meal; savory and hearty, but not too salty, or overbearingly rich. The bread was fresh enough to soak up the flavor of the beef gravy - which I found lacked the overly-salty, beef bouillon quality so many beef gravies possess - and managed to not get disgustingly soggy (not that this mattered, as this is a meal meant to be eaten with a fork and knife). The mashed potatoes were smooth, creamy, and buttery; combined with the gravy, they were easily on par with the quality of the sandwich.
This is a meal that will fill you up and warm your core: home cooking at some of its finest. If you're on a mission to find savory, rich, and hearty food, this meal is most likely right up your alley. If you're not a fan of mashed potatoes, the Hilton Family Restaurant has no problem subbing them out for one of their many other sides. For those looking for cheap eats, the Meatloaf Hot Plate, as well as many other items on the menu, come at incredibly affordable prices (just be sure to bring cash, or at least a debit card to use at their ATM). Those of you missing Mom's homemade meatloaf should definitely stop by the Hilton Family Restaurant and give the hot plate a try; you might be surprised at how genuinely it gives the old family recipe a run for its money.
Score (out of 10): 9
Location: 52 Hovey St., Hilton, NY 14468
Phone Number: (585) 392-4700
Saturday, March 6, 2010
Nathan's Soup and Salad is a quaint little take-out place tucked away on Park Avenue in Rochester. Morgan and I have never had a bad meal from Nathan's, and we love the assortment of unique, homemade foods. The menu changes each day, which may seem annoying to some, but in reality keeps the food fresh and the selection interesting. The prices are ridiculously inexpensive too, which is never a bad thing (just check out the website for a full menu with prices).
On this particular visit, I chose to try a pint of Nathan's Cheesy Pasta with Meatballs soup; Morgan got the Cream of Potato with Bacon, Onion, and Chives, and we both got a loaf of Cheddar Cheese Bread.
The Cheesy Pasta with Meatballs soup was delicious; I'm not quite sure what kind of cheese they used in the creamy broth, but it was rich and somewhat smoky and tangy in flavor. The meatballs were firm and flavorful, and the pasta complimented a perfectly hearty soup. Everything about this soup was right up my alley; the unique flavor might not be for everyone, but for those tired of bland soups, this might make your day.
The Cheddar Cheese Bread was freshly baked; the bread was fluffy, soft, and really awesome for dipping in my soup, while the cheese was perfectly melted inside, and didn't overpower the senses, despite being cheddar.
Score (out of 10): 9
The entrees from Nathan's are great, but the desserts definitely help complete the package. On this particular outing, Morgan and I shared a medium dish of Key Lime Sublime: a key lime-flavored whipped mousse, covered in graham cracker crumbs.
This dessert "soup" was light, fluffy, and wasn't so rich that it gave either of us that "too full for our pants" feeling. A must-try for fans of key lime pie!
Score (out of 10): 9
The only downsides to Nathan's are these:
-No table/chairs to sit at, except when the weather is warm: Nathan's is purely a take-out place in spirit and practice.
-Limited hours: 10AM - 6PM from Monday - Friday, 11AM - 3PM on Saturday, and closed on Sundays. Nathan's very much adheres to the lunch-rush crowd.
-Limited food availability: Nathan's soups are in high-demand and run out very quickly; fortunately they counter this with a large menu, featuring sandwiches, salads, and more.
Despite the limits of a small local business, Nathan's Soup and Salad is among my favorite restaurants in the Greater Rochester area, and is highly, highly recommended.
Location: 691 Park Avenue, Rochester, NY 14607
Phone Number: (585) 461-3016
Tuesday, March 2, 2010
Note: I don't have a picture of the International Buffet's logo, nor could I find one online. If anyone out there has a picture of it or could take one for me, just shoot me an e-mail at BLongCA04@gmail.com. Much appreciated!
International Buffet is located in Greece Ridge Mall in Greece, NY, right by the Barnes & Noble Bookstore. Much like its predecessor I Eat Buffet, International Buffet is a hodgepodge of primarily Chinese food, with a smattering of Japanese, American, and other international (go figure) cuisine. Dessert, including ice cream, is also available.
For my first plate, I chose some chicken with broccoli, sesame chicken, lo mein with vegetables, and a piece of pepperoni pizza (just to give the "American" food a try).
For seconds, I got a bowl of wonton soup (not pictured), and some more lo mein with vegetables.
Let me start off by saying that I would have eaten a larger variety of food, but I somehow became quite full after what I did manage to eat (my norm is somewhere around 3 - 4 plates).
For my first plate, I found the chicken with broccoli to be quite well-prepared, albeit a little more bland than I hoped for. The sesame chicken had a great flavor, but was unfortunately somewhat softer than it was crispy, from sitting under a heating lamp for so long. The lo mein with vegetables complimented the chicken with broccoli perfectly, and absorbed the flavor of the sesame chicken quite nicely as well. The piece of "American" pepperoni pizza was unfortunately not my favorite, but that was expected; crusty cheese and a lack of sauce made it fall flat in my opinion, but those looking for a piece of more familiar food might enjoy it. The wonton soup was great: the broth wasn't too salty, and the wontons were stuffed full of hearty and flavorful meat.
The food definitely had more pros than cons, and those cons were expected; this was a buffet after all, not a five-star restaurant. But for a buffet, I gotta say it ranks up there on my list. If you're exhausted from a day shopping at the Greece Ridge Mall, the International Buffet is definitely worth checking out.
Score (out of 10): 7.5
Location: 326 Greece Ridge Center Drive, Rochester, NY 14626
Phone Number: (585) 368-9988
Tuesday, February 23, 2010
Morgan and I went to The Gate House a while ago for Valentine's Day; it's a favorite of ours, and located in Village Gate on North Goodman Street in Rochester. Famous in the area for its gourmet pizza and burgers, it seemed like a great choice for a slightly-upscale, yet still casual date. The price is pretty reasonable as well (check out their website for a full menu, with prices).
For those of you out there who aren't big fans of unorthodox burgers or pizza, the "Small Plates" menu features chicken fingers with blue cheese fondue dipping sauce, macaroni and goat cheese (highly-recommended), and eggplant "fries," among other selections. There are also equally-creative salads available, as well as a far less funky menu for children.
I wanted to take a step out of the "norm" and try something new, so I chose a burger which The Gate House calls "The B. Anthony," named after Rochester's own women's suffrage champion Susan B. Anthony (it may seem hokey to some, but The Gate House names most of its food items after Rochester icons, like "The Kodak" or "The Wegman," which I find amusing and endearing). The B. Anthony consists of a veggie burger patty, lettuce, salsa fresca, and sriracha mayo (to add a little kick). It also came with a side of "black and tan" onion rings.
I'm not a huge eater of veggie burgers, but I do occasionally enjoy them, if not only for something a little different than the standard greasy burger fare. Compared to other veggie burgers I've had from restaurants, The B. Anthony ranks somewhere near the top: the vegetable mix used for the patty was a perfect combo of beans, red peppers, onions, and who knows what other delicious ingredients. The patty was cooked so well that, at times, I forgot I wasn't eating meat. The lettuce was crisp, and the salsa fresca added a great layer and texture to the burger. The sriracha mayo added the perfect amount of spice, without making my tongue burn.
The only complaint I had with this meal rested not with the burger, but with the "black and tan" onion rings that accompanied it. Named for the dark lines on the batter caused by the grilling process, these onion rings sounded like they would be the perfect compliment to my burger. However, I found the taste of the batter on the rings quite strange: slightly sweet, with a somewhat bitter aftertaste. I wasn't impressed with the unique flavor, but it might appeal to those looking to compliment their wine.
Despite the disappointing side (I would recommend trying the garlic rosemary french fries instead), I still give this meal a solid score: The B. Anthony is beyond a doubt my favorite veggie burger in the area, and has given me yet another reason to visit The Gate House in the future. For those of you who are reluctant to dine in, take-out is also an available option.
Score (out of 10): 9.5
Location: 274 North Goodman St., Rochester, NY 14607
Phone Number: (585) 473-2090
Saturday, February 20, 2010
Morgan and I went to The Cheesecake Factory out in Pittsford Plaza on Monroe Avenue out in Pittsford (a redundant, but potentially necessary description), to meet with my parents for my mother's belated birthday dinner. For those of you unfamiliar with The Cheesecake Factory, it is a chain restaurant similar to Olive Garden, offering a casual dining experience and boasting over 200 items on their menu; not really Morgan or my kind of place, but we never turn down a free meal (my father was paying). We're also fans of their cheesecake.
On this particular outing, I ordered the Garlic Noodles - a dish comprised of spaghetti, asparagus, shiitake mushrooms, roasted tomatoes, and parmesan in a garlic sauce. Herb-roasted chicken or shrimp is also available to add; I ordered mine with chicken and without mushrooms (I tend to avoid putting anything that can grow on feet or in poop anywhere near my mouth). As a quick note, I found this picture of Garlic Noodles online, since I forgot to take a picture of it while at the restaurant - as a result, it doesn't include the herb-roasted chicken.
I found that this dish lacked the careful preparation a lot of local restaurants and diners take pride in when cooking a meal: the asparagus was a little tough, and the large quantity of roasted tomatoes overpowered many of the other flavors (including the parmesan, which I was unable to taste at all). The herb-roasted chicken came in a less-than-generous portion - most of which was fat - and seemed more "drenched in oil" than "roasted," giving it a slimy quality. I found myself wishing for a stronger garlic flavor for the spaghetti, which was almost impossible to identify in the crowded dive bar of tastes in my mouth. These were all things I hope that can be chalked up to a simple fluke error made by a chain restaurant kitchen; regardless, my meal was not nearly as satisfying as I had hoped it to be, and I doubt that I will be ordering this particular item from The Cheesecake Factory again.
Score (out of 10): 3
Fortunately, the saving grace of this visit was the dessert. Morgan and I ordered a slice of Stefanie's Ultimate Red Velvet Cheesecake, which was made of alternating layers of red velvet cake and The Cheesecake Factory's original recipe cheesecake. The entire thing was topped with whipped cream, cream cheese frosting, and white chocolate shavings. Once again, I did not take a picture, but rather ripped one off of the internet. Thank God for Google.
Beyond a doubt, this dessert was why The Cheesecake Factory includes the word "cheesecake" in their name. The alternating layers of cake and cheesecake will appeal to fans of either, and the cream cheese frosting was appropriately heavy - and delicious. The accents of white chocolate and whipped cream complimented the rest of the dessert quite nicely. I definitely recommend ordering this if you take a trip out to any of The Cheesecake Factory's locations.
Score (out of 10): 9
Location: 3349 Monroe Avenue, Pittsford, NY 14618
Phone Number: (585) 381-8681
Tuesday, February 16, 2010
Wimpy's Burger Basket is a great little burger joint in Gates, NY in Gates Center, right by Tinseltown, and seems to be a local favorite. Not only is Wimpy's an excellent choice for greasy and delicious food, but it's open until 2AM from Sunday through Thursday, and until 4AM on Fridays and Saturdays, making it an ideal hotspot for a late-night snack.
Morgan and I have eaten at Wimpy's a few times before, and decided to check it out again for some of the unique items they offer on their menu. On this visit, I decided to give the "Chicken From Hell" combo meal a try, named so for its fiery mix of jalapeno, habanero, and Wimpy's own "Evil Sauce."
Before I go on, I need to give a brief description of my tastes in the realm of spicy food: the spicier, the better. At home, I gratuitously lather my food with sriracha hot sauce (made from sun-ripened chili peppers), and when out dining I normally choose the spiciest food I can find on the menu. Normally, I'm disappointed by how mild it is.
The crowning jewel of the Combo From Hell is a grilled chicken sandwich (which can be substituted with a burger or hot dog "from hell") with jalapeno and habanero peppers, mozzarella and cheddar cheese, small strips of bacon, crispy fried onions, and Wimpy's Evil Sauce. Sides include Wimpy's homemade macaroni salad, and home fries.
Let me start off by saying that this sandwich is HOT. When I say "HOT," I mean if you find sesame chicken too spicy, this will most likely send you into shock or maybe a seizure; this sandwich is like biting into the sun (or, to humor Wimpy's naming abilities, hell). This isn't the overpowering type of spice that obliterates the excellent concoction of ingredients on this sandwich though, but rather a sneaky ninja heat that creeps up on you and uppercuts your tongue, just as you're about to utter the phrase "This really isn't that hot." The beauty of this meal is that it allows you to taste and enjoy the mix of flavors before punching you soundly in the mouth and gut.
The biggest downside to this intensely spicy treat is in the after-effects of eating anything this hot: heartburn, indigestion, etc. I don't have a weak stomach, but it felt like a depth charge had just gone off inside of me, right around the time I took my final bite.
As far as the sides go, the home fries were delicious, crisp, and fresh. The macaroni salad had small bits of carrot and celery in it, but was a bit bland. I also would've liked more celery in the mix, if only to add more texture, since it sort of felt like I was eating soggy, cold noodles. Don't get me wrong; the macaroni salad wasn't terrible, but it wasn't my favorite either.
Overall, Wimpy's once again proved to be a great choice for something different, although it does tend to run a little pricier than similar local burger joints ($7.99 for my combo, so be prepared to shell out some significant green if you're bringing out the whole family). Still, if you're in the area and up for a spicy challenge, Wimpy's Chicken Combo From Hell might be worth a stop.
Score (out of 10): 8
Location: 2160 Buffalo Road, Rochester, NY 14624
Phone Number: (585) 247-3160
Monday, February 15, 2010
For those of you unfamiliar with Critic's On the Mall, it's located inside of Greece Ridge Mall in Greece, NY, right across from Chase Bank and Lollypop Farm, and it is definitely worth checking out the home-style cooking offered there.
My better judgment generally causes me to avoid mall diners and restaurants like a pit of used syringes, but Morgan (my girlfriend) and I were hungry, and wanted to try something new. Our first visit to Critic's was back in October and we've returned multiple times since.
I had ordered the Chicken a la King the past few times, and I can say it was like tasting something straight out of my mother's kitchen (this is a good thing). This particular visit, I decided to try the tenderloin tips of beef, which I had the option of enjoying over rice or noodles. I decided to go with the noodles, and ordered a small bowl of homemade macaroni and cheese as my side (also highly-recommended).
The first thing that I noticed about the meal was the lack of vegetables in the dish, giving it a stroganoff quality, whereas I was expecting something more like stew. Despite being just beef and noodles, the meal was still quite enjoyable; the meat was clearly slow-cooked and perfectly tender, and the noodles absorbed the rich sauce only enough to become flavorful, but not over-saturated or soggy. The dish was large enough to pleasantly fill me up, without making me feel over-stuffed, and without emptying my wallet too much; as with most items on Critic's menu, this meal was very reasonably priced.
The only qualm I had was minor and with the sauce: the flavor was great, and made with a beef base. However, the salty quality of the mix was a little stronger than I cared for; I believe it was made with beef broth with too much salt added, or made with one or two many beef bouillon cubes. Regardless, if you're someone who enjoys saltier sauces on your meat and noodles, this meal is probably right up your alley.
All in all, it was a dish I enjoyed and chances are I will try it again on a future visit. For those of you with less aversion to large quantities of salty food, I highly recommend trying this, whether it is your first time at Critic's or your 100th.
Score (out of 10): 8
Location: 362 Greece Ridge Center Drive, Rochester, NY 14626
Phone Number: (585) 227-5520