Thursday, December 29, 2011

Princeton Edition: Lighthouse Cafe

Located right on Mercer Street, the Lighthouse Cafe has been open for about a year now. I had a taste of their goodies at a local street fair they had, but I never had the opportunity to check the place out until recently. It has some odd hours, so it was difficult to catch them open at the right time. All the stars aligned recently, and we ventured in.

When Chris and I walked in, the restaurant was completely empty. We stood at the front and the sole worker asked if she could help us. Chris told her we'd like to dine in. She said "oh, okay" and told us to choose where we'd like to sit. The tables were kind of a hodge-podge with mismatching chairs, but all had red tablecloths with a small fake plant, silverware, and laminated menus. The woman told us to go up to the counter to order when we knew what we wanted.


The menu has some basic appetizers, some sandwiches, salads and hotdogs. I was excited to see the soup, but the woman working said they didn't have soup that day. That was unfortunate. Since we were the only ones there, the lady working just came out and asked us what we wanted: I opted for a medium chef salad and a slaw mountaineer dog. Chris ordered a turkey sandwich.

As we waited for our meal, I took in my surroundings. It was, in a word, cluttered. There wasn't an inch of space not filled with something. Among the 20 lighthouses placed in the small room, the entire right side of the room was cluttered with random boxes and tables and knick-knacks. It made it seem, well, dirty. The counter where we should have ordered had a ton of kitchenware - like plates and pans and whatnot - on top of it. On the other side of the counter was the kitchen. I just hope it was all clean, but the impression certainly wasn't the best. The constant Christian music playing wasn't that pleasant either - I felt like I was in a church sermon rather than a nice meal.

Considering our waitress was also our cook, our food came out quickly. A hefty sized salad featured some romaine lettuce, hard-boiled eggs, large croutons, tomatoes, cucumber and ham. The ham was not chunks of fresh ham, but instead thin slices of processed meat were clumped together. It was if somebody opened a pack of ham, chopped it into a few slices and didn't bother to separate it. But, overall, the salad wasn't bad. When I asked for another cup of French dressing, it wasn't a problem. It was filled with a ton of veggies, which I like, I just really hated how the ham was slopped on.

My hotdog wasn't bad. The bread was nice and toasted, the chili was mild and tasty, and the slaw was chunky and thick. The hotdog itself was plain tasting and probably microwaved, but the overall taste was decent. Served with a side of potato chips, the hotdog was even better with the addition of a salty crisp.

Chris said his turkey sandwich was average, which is par for the course at this place. The sign for this place touts its catering and desserts, so I was expecting some delicious endings. I looked around - there were a few trays with some small dessert-cupcake-things for about $8. That was too pricey. The only other thing available were some white chocolate praline cupcakes. I picked two up for us to go and proceeded to pay. She was kind enough to give the cupcakes to us on the house for Christmas. Our meal was about $20 total.

I tried a bite of the cupcake, but that was about it. The cake itself was smaller than the icing, which was piled on about two inches high. And it lacked flavor - I only tasted sugar. Chris completely removed his icing and ate the cake. I took another bite of mine and was done with it, too. It just wasn't great, and being a few days old didn't help it.

Grade: C
Lighthouse Cafe on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Princeton Edition: Dragon Palace

Dragon Palace is one of two Chinese buffets in Princeton. Located right on Stafford Drive, it's pretty convenient, and its large blue building makes it easy to find. Chris and I decided to make it a Christmas Eve tradition to eat Chinese food, and this was the place we chose last year. It's around that time, so we decided to check it out again.

At night, this restaurant has alternating red and blue lights in the windows. The other thing I noticed was their bevy of prices. They range from about $5 to $13. For this evening, it was only $5. That's really quite a steal. When you walk in, there is a counter with a menu behind it. You can order to-go easily. But if you walk into the door on the right, there is the buffet.


Three rows of buffet islands, six total, are centered in the dining room. A ton of seating is available all around. The usuals are all here: general tso's, beef and broccoli, crab cheese rangoons, sweet and sour chicken. All were good, too. Nothing was outstanding and super memorable, but nothing was terrible either. The other Chinese buffet in town, Peking House, has more options, though. I feel like they have more varied options instead of the same thing prepared a couple different ways.

The other odd thing on this particular day was that their credit card machine wasn't working correctly. The woman took down my credit card number in a notebook with tons of other numbers to run it at a later time. That didn't exactly sit well with me, but it's not like I had another option.

For the price. it's really hard to beat it. The food is good for the basics, and I'm never disappointed to come here. While the buffets in Princeton aren't the best ever, they are pretty good. Either is a good option.

Grade: B
Dragon Palace on Urbanspoon

Monday, December 26, 2011

Bluefield Edition: Key Ingredients

I saw the restaurant Key Ingredients on Urbanspoon, and I was surprised to see something close by that seemed to be a really upscale restaurant. I had no idea it existed, so of course I was so excited to try it out. Chris actually worked near this place, so it was really easy for him to find. We saw the sign out front first and pulled into the parking lot. The parking is kind of precarious because it's on a fairly steep hill, and it didn't look to have many spots. They may have more around the building that we missed, though.

This place preaches good food, good faith and good fitness. While all of those are great, I was there for the food. When we walked inside, we were greeted by our waitress. We were the only ones there, and she asked us where we'd like to sit. We took a table nearby. The dining area that we were in only had about six tables. It was beautiful inside, though, with hardwood floors, white tablecloths and a fireplace. the walls were shelved with products, like their homemade apple butter. Our waitress was very chatty, all night actually, but it was sweet. She was relating to Chris and I via her son, who is around our age.


We looked through the whole menu, and I had some difficulty deciding what I wanted. She said the salmon was their specialty, so Chris opted for a salmon wrap and I chose the crabcake. The chef came out when we were choosing. He was very kind and asked what we were interested in. I told him I was torn between the salmon and crabcake, and he said they were both delicious. He was beyond in shape. It was actually kind of intimidating, but it also made me feel like the food he was serving me will be healthy. Our waitress had been going on about their organic fries, so we put in an order of those, too.

Our plate of fries came out first. It was a pretty large portion, and we were served with two cups of ketchup. Chris really enjoyed these. The fries weren't bad, but I supposed fries aren't really my cup of tea. I'm okay with them, but they weren't much different for me than others. Salty and crispy. I felt like they tasted earthier than I would have liked.

Our entrees came out soon after. Chris's was bigger than mine. His wrap was cold, with the blackened salmon. It had some shredded veggies, like cabbage, surrounding it. It was tasty, but the menu said it would contain rice, which it did not. I was thinking it'd be more like a burrito, warm with rice, but it was a cold dish. That was a little surprising.

Mine was a decent-sized patty with a small cabbage salad garnish on the side. But for $19, I was expecting a little more. There were some lumps of crab meat, and the remoulade was tangy and tasty, but it's simply not worth that much money. Our waitress went on about how the fish was fresh, so I asked where it was from. She hesitated slightly, then mentioned a seafood store. She also kept talking about how the beef was grass-fed and responsibly raised. Okay, so it's tasty. It was golden brown on the outside, and thick and delicious on the inside. It is delicious, and if this is the only option for crab cakes in the area, I could see how it would be very popular. But I was still starving. So we ordered dessert.

Our bread pudding came out on a small plate with a small amount of caramel sauce on top. It was warm and sweet and heavy. It's a nice winter dessert because it's dense and full of spices, like cinnamon. Our total meal was $45, which is pretty pricey for not even being full when I left. In fact, I was still so hungry that we went to Kroger across the street and got some snacks. Interestingly enough, while we were in there, we saw the chef buying some meat. I wonder if the meat was grass-fed or if it was for the restaurant.

Grade: B
Key Ingredients on Urbanspoon

Chaang Thai

Brand new Thai restaurant, Chaang Thai, opened recently, and a friend and I went the opening day. Located on High Street, I assumed parking would be risky. But I luckily got a spot right in front of the restaurant, deposited some coins and walked to the front door. I could see people sitting in the window from the outside, and I was just hoping they'd let us inside. We arrived at 8 p.m., and I wasn't sure how later they were open. The hostess welcomed us, handed us a couple menus and cleared off a table for us. She noted that it was their first day and to try to be patient. She also said they closed at 10 p.m.


I took a quick look around, there were raised bar-like tables along the sides of the restaurant that looked toward the middle. And the middle tables were lined up down the restaurant. We had a middle table. I looked over the menu, and it was all new to me. It's actual Thai food. Well, as far as I know it to be. The menu is super sleek. The first two pages are rice-based dishes, the next page is noodle-based dishes, and another page has curry-based dishes. Each page has a handful of dishes, and you get to pick if you want chicken, pork/beef, seafood or vegetarian. So, there are a lot of options here, but it's very user friendly. You get to first choose what type of base you want: rice, noodle, or curry. Then you look at those dishes. Once you decide on a dish you want, you get to choose what kind of meat. You also get to choose how spicy you want it - from mild, medium, and hot to "Chaang" hot.


We waited for a good 10 minutes before a waitress came over to take our drink orders. I know how restaurants are on their opening day, so I was cutting them some slack. But we went ahead and put our orders in at the same time of our drinks. We had settled on a vegetarian appetizer - the "Chaang" fresh rolls. These were soft rolls filled with vegetables, spices and tofu, all served with a peanut sauce.

For my main dish, I quickly ruled out curry, as spicy isn't my preference. So I looked through both the rice dishes and the noodle dishes. Two stuck out to me: the "Chaang" pineapple rice dish and the pad thai. My friend was set on the pad thai, so I opted for the pineapple dish, with chicken.

Our appetizers arrived almost immediately - we were quite surprised since it took us so long to initially get waited on. Six small rice paper rolls came out on a plate. I grabbed one, dipped it in the sauce and popped it in my mouth. The first thing I tasted was lemongrass and citrus. The tofu was tasteless, the carrots were muted, and there were these tiny, thin noodles that gave the roll some texture and substance. I wasn't a fan of this dish - I didn't like the acidic flavor, I was expecting something more fried. The peanut sauce was tasty, but it couldn't overcome the lemony taste. We finished them, and almost as soon as we swallowed the last bite, our entrees were out.

Couldn't believe how quick it was. A giant white dish cradled a gorgeous mixture of tender, sliced chicken, onions, peppers, pineapple, tomatoes, carrots and zucchini, with another side of finely shredded carrots. The first thing I noticed was the amazing quality of the chicken; it was slices of tender breast. Not chunks of chicken/rib meat and not fake thick slices. It was thin, tender, quality chicken mixed in this sweet and tangy pineapple sauce. The zucchini was slightly gingered, and the tomatoes and carrots packed a hint of spiciness. The pineapple sauce marinated the veggies and chicken, and the dish connected for a sweet, tangy, spicy deliciousness.

This dish hit the right notes - the flavors blended well, and it had a hint of spiciness, which is essential to much of the Thai cuisine. I also tasted the pad thai, which was excellent. The noodles were stir-fried to perfection, and had a nice texture. This dish was more on the spicy side (as requested), but easily manageable and tasty. I think I'll order it for a full taste next time. For around $20, this meal was definitely worth it. I'm happy to see another addition to the Morgantown food scene. I think this will be a crowd-pleaser.

Grade: A
Chaang Thai on Urbanspoon

Monday, December 19, 2011

ZenClay

ZenClay is one of the few coffeeshops in Morgantown. I had to meet my professor for office hours here, so I decided to kill two birds with one stone - have a review of this restaurant, too, while meeting with my professor. I had been here only once before, so I was looking forward to what else they had to offer.

Located along University Avenue, closer toward the Evansdale Campus, ZenClay is not only a cafe, but it's also a studio and gallery. The middle floor is the restaurant portion, and you can access it via the door on the side of building. Parking is available right there or across the street, and there's usually plenty of space.

When you walk in, you know it's an art gallery. The interior is decorated with sculptures and paintings and other art in a really clean and sophisticated way. After going through a second set of doors, the counter where you order is right there. Small paper menus are available, but I had already perused their website, so I had a good idea of what I wanted. I chose the Ananda sandwich - a panko-breaded eggplant, organic greens, cucumber, tomato, muenster cheese, and honey mustard on a sourdough bread. It came with a side of their sweet chili slaw and chips. I also grabbed a bottle of water from the cooler. I paid for my meal and found my professor where we began chatting.

Soon enough, a plate was delivered with my sandwich and sides. The chips were dark blue tortillas, tasted like a regular tortilla chip. The slaw was not my favorite - it was runny, and the sauce wasn't too tasty to me. It just didn't have that little creamy kick; it was more like not-quite-the-mark slimy. The sandwich looked delicious though. I bit into it and caught the distinct taste of a picked cucumber. It was quite potent and kind of took over the flavor. I then tasted the crumbly eggplant, which was fantastic. I wanted more of that eggplant, but the other flavors fell to the wayside in the presence of that honey mustard.

Honey mustard comes in a variety of forms, and some are great and some are not so much. This was the latter. I couldn't put my finger (or tastebud) on what it was that made it so strong, but it tasted like horseradish. It was too strong, and it, along with the pickled cucumber, took over the flavors of everything else. I really wish I could have gotten a taste for those other flavors, because I'm sure they were fantastic. But the sandwich didn't let them sing.

For under $10, though, it was something different. And it's really a cool environment because of the local art. It's pleasant to eat local food among local art because you can get a true feeling for Morgantown - not just the college scene. It's a place to check out, and next time, I want to see the other floors.

Grade: C
Zenclay Cafe on Urbanspoon

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Restaurant Redemption: Gino's Pizza & Spaghetti (Princeton)

For the past (almost) year, I have posted a ton of restaurant reviews. Some good, some bad, many indifferent. When my blog began to pick up some momentum, some restaurants that I've graded low, or maybe not so low in this case, have contacted me in various ways. Some are angry, and some want to know how they can improve my experience.

Restaurant Redemption is a small series I've created that will allow me to give those restaurants who are keeping up with their social media (notably, my blog) and have made an attempt to rectify a poor or mediocre dining experience. For the restaurants that have contacted me, I'm giving it another dining go. For the most part, I will try a different dish and make note of the previous observations about the experience as a whole.

On my recent blog about Gino's in Princeton (technically, Athens), the marketing director commented:
"Hi, Candace. My name is Carey and I work in the Marketing Department at Gino's Pizza & Spaghetti House. We're glad you enjoyed your pizza and cheese breadsticks during your recent visit. And we appreciate your candor regarding our spaghetti. Will you please email me (carey@ginospizza.com) so we can discuss further? Thank you"
So I emailed Carey saying I'd be happy to discuss my experience, and she responded with questions concerning the menu board I saw. I had noted that I saw a photo of a plate of spaghetti with two meatballs on it on the menu, and what I was served was a pile of spaghetti with meat sauce. Carey said that this was an issue they recognized and were going to rectify the problem.
"I have spoken with our upper management and we are devising a plan to fix this problem - in each of our 38 locations. It may take a little time, but we want to remedy this so that every guest is clear about what they are ordering ... Thank you for your insight. Feedback like yours helps us to improve the dining experience for every Gino's guest."
Apparently there is a bit of sign confusion. There are two different spaghetti dishes, but the restaurant only offered one - and the photo was of the one they didn't offer. But, I was very happy she took the time to figure out a problem and quickly implement a solution. A few emails and a couple of days later, I received three coupons in the mail from Gino's. One for a sandwich, a large one-topping pizza and a pasta dish.

I ventured back to today to use up my coupons. As soon as we walked in, I instantly noticed that the menu boards were different. No longer was the spaghetti with two plump meatballs featured in the overhead menu - or anywhere else. In fact, the menu seems to have been redone - much cleaner and more concise.

I handed my coupons to the woman behind the counter. She looked befuddled. I started listing off what I wanted: a pepperoni pizza, a baked lasagna and a philly cheesesteak sandwich. Why? Because I wanted to try something different. I stood back while she didn't say anything for an awkward minute. Finally, she said, "Where'd you get these?"

I wasn't really sure how to respond to that. That's kind of imposing? I pointed to the back of one card where Carey so kindly wrote that I was able to use all three coupons on one visit and signed her name. The woman behind the counter seemed to perk up. "Oh. Okay. It'll be about 25 to 30 minutes," she said.

We left for awhile & Chris picked up the order. He arrived with three treats - a large box, a smaller box and a bag. The first thing I did was open the pizza. While most of it looked delicious, it was pretty burnt around one edge. And the pepperonis got pretty crisp, too. After eating around the bad spots, though, it was the same delicious pizza I had once before. It's thin-crusted, with loads of stringy cheese. I'd be happy to do without the pepperoni.

Then, I opened the box containing an aluminum container full of baked lasagna. Not as pretty as it would have been, I assume, had I not ordered it to-go. It's a decent portion, and not too shabby tasting, either. The meat sauce tasted strikingly like a batch of chili. In fact, it was nearly identical. The cheese could have been more prominent, but fairly average overall. A bag of garlic bread was included in the box, which was delicious when warm with buttery deliciousness and garlic.

Finally, it was time to try their philly steak sub. It was split in two good-sized halves, which was perfect for Chris and I. It has shaved steak, cheese, onions, green peppers and mushrooms. This was tasty, though I do wish it had more cheese, I wasn't disappointed.

Overall, my meal was pretty good. It was tasty, free and convenient. Does it get much better than that? I really like Gino's, and their pizza is really starting to move up my pizza rankings.

I do not aim to act as though my second time around that all is perfect. That's not what a review is about. However, it is a good opportunity to see what problems have been fixed and try out a different mean to see where it ranks. I think it's obvious that this restaurant is aiming to please. The menu changed quickly, and that's not always easy to do.

I think there is something to be said for a dining establishment that is so concerned with each and every customer that not only do they keep up-to-date on their social media standing, but they also reach out to customers in a very proactive way. It's one thing to follow-up to address concerns; it's a whole other thing to go out of their way to send coupons to ensure I dine there again.

With good food, excellent customer service and it being a local dining chain, there's really no reason to not go here.
Gino's Pizza on Urbanspoon