Baboon Pirates

Scribbles and Scrawls from an unrepentant swashbuckling primate.

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Location: Texas, United States

Friday, October 14, 2005

A Dismal Dinner

An Open Letter To B & B's Village Cafe*

I had a really hard time deciding where to eat last night. I knew I wanted chicken fried steak, but the important question was who's going to get my business.

I like the CFS at Salt Grass, but their restaurant layout really annoys me. What kind of ignoramus puts the only door to the restaurant on one side of the building, and all the parking on the other end? By the time you've hiked 1/2 mile to get inside, you're almost too tired to eat! That, and their wait staff is just too darned perky for a curmudgeon like myself.

The Mason Jar has an OK CFS, but it's the size of a manhole cover. Not quite that hungry tonight! There's supposed to be a good one at Steak Kountry Buffet, but I make a habit of never eating at places that use gratuitous 'K's in their name. Cracker Barrel's too far away, and Goodson's Cafe, which had the best CFS in Houston, has been gone for years.

This leads me to your restaurant. My father had mentioned to me that he'd eaten a CFS there recently. Dad's no gourmand, but his opinion can usually be relied upon. So, I pulled into the parking lot to see what kind of place you have.

Upon entering, I was pleased by the wide open spaces. I dislike crowded restaurants, and your decision to leave an open floorplan is admirable. The old belt-driven ceiling fans, each the size of a Spitfire propeller, are really great! Upon first glance, the restaurant seemed clean and well-lit, and the addition of couches and comfy chairs in a separate section for the coffee drinkers is a nice touch.

I had to wait a while to get a host to seat me. If it wasn't for an observant customer at the bar noticing me and calling to the waiters in the kitchen, I might have passed the 5 min "drop dead" limit which has me walking out the door permanently. Unfortunately, this lack of visible waitstaff was a recurring theme throughout the evening, and especially distressing since one of your staff was sitting at a table outside, and not only watched me come in, but continued to sit out there even though I was standing by the host area and visible from his location.

I was finally seated by a waiter that could have been no older than 16. That's not a bad thing in and of itself. He was certainly nice enough, but his inexperience in serving diners showed up a little later in the meal.

The first thing I noticed upon being seated was a table that dipped and swayed. When this is so easily remedied by a folded drink coaster and a bit of duct tape, it's a mystery why it is allowed to remain in this condition.

The young waiter got me some iced tea very quickly, then took my order. I requested cheese sticks with marinara for an appetizer, a side salad, and CFS with mashed 'taters and spinach for the entree.

First to arrive was the salad. Not too many experienced waiters attempt to deliver the side salad before the appetizer, but this young man did. As it happens, the salad was one of the better parts of the meal, once I got the waiter to supply me with a normal amount of dressing, as opposed to the miniscule amount in that ridiculous plastic cup. OK, the timing's off on my meal, but I can adjust. Surely the waiter will hold off on the appetizer until I can eat the salad, right? Wrong.

I had no sooner applied the dressing to the salad when out comes the cheese sticks. Six ordinary freezer-to-fryer breaded sticks laid on a rather dodgy piece of lettuce, accompanied by yet another little plastic cup of sauce.

OK, time to shift gears. Must eat the cheese sticks before salad, lest they get cold! So, pop the piping hot cheese stick into the marinara, and take a bite. Adding poor planning to bad timing, the marinara sauce was icy cold, obviously just taken out of the cooler. NOT a good match with the hot cheese sticks!

I had just finished the second cheese stick, when Mr. Johnny-On-The-Spot reappeared with my entree. Great. Just fantastic. Now I have to delay on the salad yet again, essentially forcing me to have it for dessert, since I don't like eating hot foods that have cooled off.

OK, what the heck. Let's just eat this thing. I reach for the salt & pepper, only to discover the pepper grinder is just about empty. There's maybe three peppercorns rattling around inside. Your waitstaff should be refilling those nightly!!

Oh, yeah. The waitstaff. Almost forgot. After serving the entree, my waiter dashed outside to join the other two. Didn't see 'em again for nearly 10 minutes. Fortunately, my tea glass was full, as I have a habit of wandering back into kitchens looking for the tea pitcher if no one is available to give me a refill.

The CFS is OK. Not world-class, but certainly acceptable. The mashed 'taters are pretty darned good! There's just a hint of horseradish to them, which I really hope is intentional, and not the result of the prep cook failing to wash the mixing bowl!

The spinach? Nasty beyond words. Poured right out of the can and heated to lukewarm. After tasting the potatoes, I'd hope for a similar tweak to the spinach, maybe some bacon & onion, or curry & cream. Alas, I got the plain old Steam Table Special.

The hot yeast roll was a nice touch. It was tasty, and came in useful for sopping up the cream gravy. When I could finally get to the salad, it was not bad at all. Your "No Iceberg Lettuce" credo ought to be used more often elsewhere! I'm just sorry I had to eat it at the end of the meal.

Overall, I'm sad to say my first visit to B & B's Village Cafe was a mostly negative experience, and one that will be hard to overcome to return again in the future. This is a shame. I like the ambience of your establishment, and the service was good, at least when the waitstaff was inside the building. I prefer to give my custom to neighborhood restaurants, especially non-chain eateries. I also use a "three strikes" rule before giving up on a place, so sooner or later I'll probably try you again. Here are some things to consider:

Hint #1 - Ditch the plastic cups, and pick up a gross of stoneware ramekins. They look nicer, and since you can't just snap a lid on 'em you avoid the temptation to fill them early and store in the walk-in cooler. Portion-control your meats and liquors to hold your margins, not the sauces!

Hint #2 - Talk to your waitstaff about timing. Have them ask if we'd like our order out all at once, or in any particular order. You had all of eight customers last night, so there was no need to be turning tables.

Hint #3 - Pay attention to the little things. Fix the tables, fill the condiment containers, and PLEASE have your waitstaff develop a sense of situational awareness! The last thing I saw upon my exit was that young waiter bursting through the exterior kitchen door, obviously being chased by someone. Horseplay in view of customers is never a good thing!

Hint #4 - Keep that marinara sauce simmering on the stove! Nothing's worse than icy tomato sauce!

I sincerely hope you can take this as it's intended, which is constructive criticism aimed at improving a restaurant which has great potential.


El Capitan

* A slightly modified version of this is being mailed to the restaurant manager.