Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Grace Restaurant

In a sea of Chinese delivery/takeout restaurants, I haven't heard a lot about Grace. It's located right along Beechurst Avenue and boasts the same menu as local Great Wall, China One, China Wok...

They had a special on DubVmenus that if you buy $12 worth of food (not counting delivery fee, taxes, etc.), you get a free five-piece wonton. I thought, "what the hell?" Of course, that ended with me aimlessly adding things to my cart to get to that $12 limit, which probably would have been cheaper had I just bought them ... but I digress.

I put my order through, and it can add up quite quickly. A $2 delivery charge. A .49 cent "fax" charge. Plus tax. My total ended up coming to $16.84, somehow. Or $16.69, I'm not sure which. On DubVmenus, it said $16.69, but on my receipt from Grace, it said $16.84. Grace had 15 cents more on the tax. Regardless, this annoys me because I keep track of my money, and I don't understand why there is a discrepancy between my receipt from DubVmenus and my receipt from the restaurant. Not cool.

AND THEN, I typed in my address, but it was somehow autocorrected to a numberless "Southpoint Cir." whatever that is. So I called them to give them my actual address, which negates the convenience of it being online. However, I don't think this is really the restaurant's fault.

I got a call back about 15 minutes later from the delivery driver who said he was at an apartment with a different number than mine; I told him the correct number. He apologized and said he must've written it down wrong, but he handed it to me and I finally got from point A to point B.

The Styrofoam container had everything mashed up on one side and some sauce was leaking out. I tried some, and at first bite, I thought the General Tso's wasn't bad. But upon further review, I got those tough, stringy pieces that I always dread. They simply need to step up their quality of meat. The sauce it was in was tasty - not too thick or thin, but a good amount of spice.

The wontons were probably the best thing I ordered. They had a good serving of creamy cheese in them, and they even provided two small containers of sweet and sour sauce to dip in. The wonton wrappers were light and crisp; the interior thick and indulgent.

I wasn't crazy about the eggrolls - they almost seemed to be frozen, but were average. It seemed less greasy than, say, Great Wall. But overall, I wasn't impressed. I think I'll stick with China One.

Grade: C
Grace Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Monday, August 27, 2012

Pizza Al's II

Pizza Al's makes the best, most authentic New York-style pies in Morgantown. For a tasty flat slice, Pizza Al's is the place to go in town. There's even a second location, aptly named "Pizza Al's II" in Sabraton along Earl Core Road. It's in the same plaza as Rio Grande III, but its name is not written above the location; you'll just have to see the actual restaurant front to know you're in the right spot.

The best part about restaurants being a little out of the way is that it has a direct relationship with how much parking there is available. More out of the way = more parking. I'm a fan of that.

Walking in this location is a little different. First of all, there' s a good bit more room. I always felt like the other location is fairly small inside; this location has much more seating and space. I walked up to the counter, took a to-go paper menu and sat at a table to look over my options. They are also listed on a board on the wall, and they're the same as the original location. A small pizza (14") is only $6.50, and it's a pretty big pie. If you want a topping, it'll cost you an extra buck, though.

The folks at the counter here were very friendly, which is kind of a change from the typical surly attitudes at the other establishment. So, that was a little bit more comforting. I also got a fountain drink. The unfortunate thing is it's $1 for a refill, and the drinks aren't too large. You also can't get a 2-liter when you dine in - to-go only. But you pay right at the counter (yes, they take CC), and you can check them out tossing the homemade dough, spreading the sauce and sprinkling mozzarella cheese on it right before it goes into the huge oven.

It wasn't too busy this afternoon, but the other location tends to be busy all the time. After a few minutes,  I was served a huge pie and a paper plate. Dinner ... is served.

I delicately select a slice and do my best to keep the stringy cheese in tact, before delivering a thin, crispy, yet chewy, crust topped with a high-quality, bright, tasty sauce and just the right amount of fresh toppings. The edges of the pizza are thicker and softer. It is hand-tossed; you get something made right for you, with great flavor.

Want a good pie without tons of frills? Check it out. No truffles or goat cheese here. But a solid, cheesy, tasty pizza.

Grade: A
Pizza Al's II on Urbanspoon

Friday, August 24, 2012

The Soul House Bistro

I've had my eye on The Soul House Bistro in Star City for quite some time. It was originally supposed to open up back in April, but like many restaurants, that date got pushed back. They just opened recently, and I went to check it out at the beginning of the week.

The restaurant is located at 3329 University Avenue across from the gas station, and there is plenty of parking along the side. When we walked in, we instantly saw a sign that said "cash only." If you know me, you know that means I'm out of luck. However, we wanted to try this restaurant so bad, we went back across town to an ATM to get cash to eat here. I think this is temporary (hope) because it is so new.

When we walked in, we weren't quite sure what exactly to do. There were a couple of tables that were arranged pretty close together and the front had two buffet-style islands. We took a seat and discovered the menus on the table. Essentially, you get one main meat dish and two side items. As I perused the options: BBQ ribs, pork chops, meatloaf, fried fish. Really, I wanted to try everything. But the meatloaf was jumping out to be. For the sides, I opted for mac & cheese and candy yams. All the dinners also come with a side of corn bread/biscuit. When I was done ordering, I sat down and waited for them to prepare the dish.

It's cafeteria-style. You can see all the food right there, but the workers behind the counter get it prepped for you and bring it to your table. It's fairly tight inside - I assume they're going to have to take out some tables at some point. There were a lot of two-person tables, and I'd much prefer a couple more larger tables. The walls are covered in famous African-American politicians, artists and athletes. They even have two small TVs on either wall that we have the option to change channels.

I can safely say when my plate came out, I think it was probably the biggest portion of food for the price anywhere in Morgantown ($8.99). The mac & cheese is homemade, so you get those small chunks of cheese and the ooey gooey creaminess. The candy yams were sweet and comforting, and the meatloaf was perfection. The two sides were overflowing portions, while the meat was smaller. But with that said, I still got two good size hunks of meatloaf. It was seasoned to perfection and the sauce on top had a slight sweet taste to it.

I was crazy about this entire meal. It's the best I've had in Morgantown or anywhere in a long, long time. I loved it so much I tried to eat the entire thing. I couldn't. Both of my friends got to-go boxes. Quiet frankly, I felt like rolling over and dying after stuffing myself, but my tastebuds were happy.

I think this restaurant fills a void in our community. That southern, down-home soul food is nowhere to be found. And for many of us, it reminds us of homecooking as children. I love this cuisine - heavy, sweet/salty and comforting. It's clear they put some time and energy into this food. It's not just a restaurant to make money; They're giving a part of themselves to us all.

Grade: A
Soul House Bistro on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Point Marion, PA Edition: Apple Annie's

I've heard great, great things about Apple Annie's, which is just a short drive out of Morgantown and across the PA border. I've been told on multiple occasions to go with someone who knows how to get there because it's sort of situated in an alley. All I know is we took Point Marion Road for a while, then made a couple of random turns once we got close, and there it was.

The first thing I noticed was the smell. We parked in a lot adjacent to the building, but the whole area smelled like a bakery. I asked "Is that the restaurant?! It smells amazing out here." You must have cash for this place; they do have an ATM here, but I try to avoid those extra fees.

Inside, it's very homey. Newspaper clippings about local events or the restaurant decorate the walls. Delicious desserts dot the front counter. We were in for breakfast, and the menu is quite small but complete nonetheless. Unfortunately, both of the people I were with ran into some problems when ordering: One ordered something they ran out of and the other ordered a waffle, but their machine was broken.

All of their specials are $5. I went with the French Toast with sausage (or bacon) and two eggs (sunnyside up). You can also get a la carte items. The portions were huge, homecooked and made me feel at home. The french toast was fantastic, as was the sausage and eggs. I felt like I was back at my parents' house. I was so full by the time I was done, I couldn't take another bite.

But I did. I had to try their apple dumplings that I saw as we walked in. I hadn't had an apple dumpling before. But it's like a miniature apple pie. It's a whole apple with the crust around it. It was a little slice of heaven.

If you want a good homecooked meal, check Apple Annie's out. Service was spotty and not the kindest when we were asking about desserts, but the food makes up for it.

Grade: A
Apple Annie's on Urbanspoon
Apple Annie's on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Fair Food

Summer is a time of sunshine, swimming and fairs. Fairs are infamous for their fried delicacies and sugary treats. The Mon County Fair recently made an appearance, and I went to see what it was all about. While I was disappointed they didn't have any local vendors, they did have a handful of shops serving up your typical fair fare:

Cheese fries, cotton candy, pulled pork, deep-fried Twinkies & Oreos, meatball hoagies, pizza, corn dogs, candy apples, and my choices that evening - lemonade, Philly cheesesteak and funnel cake.

ABC made their own list of top fair foods:

1. Caramel Apples
2. Belgian Waffle on a stick
3. Deep-Fried Oreo Cookies
4. Corn Dogs
5. Frozen Coffee On a Stick
6. Cotton Candy
7. Funnel Cake
8. Fried Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwich
9. Deep-Fried Norwegian Banana Split
10. Open-Faced Grilled Spam Sandwich

What's your favorite?

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Asian Bistro

I saw the sign for Asian Bistro pop up a few weeks ago in Northpointe Plaza, next to Club 24 Fitness. It's from the same owners of China One. One day, while out and about, I stopped there and asked the construction workers when it would open. They told me two weeks. Ever since, I've been keeping an eye on it.

On Friday, I got word that it was the restaurant's opening day. There even had a sticker on the Dominion Post advertising so. I grabbed a friend and headed that way.

I luckily was able to snag a copy of the menu beforehand and studied it. First off, when calling something an "Asian" bistro, it's tricky. Asia is a giant continent full of lots of countries. And there are a ton of different cuisines located there. I don't think we put that in perspective as Americans and sometimes see "Asian" food as Chinese food. And, that's embarrassing. So, I was hesitant about what the menu would entail.

The menu could use a healthy dose of organization. I had studied it beforehand and still had a great deal of trouble. There's a page called "Asian Cuisine," which is pretty non-helpful category. It ranges from chilean seabass, to Bangkok Beef, to Bulgogi, to Kalbi, to sizzling Mongolian Beef. My suggestion would be to separate these by the type of cuisine. They boast Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Thai and Vietnamese - SHOW us where each of these dishes is from (similar to Asian Garden). Other pages included "Hibachi Dinner" and "Entrees from the Kitchen" and "Sushi" and "Noodle" and "Rice Dishes." That doesn't make any sense to me. It is difficult to navigate, and you don't really know what you're eating without that organization. I do like the variety here; I just wish I could fully enjoy it.

That being said, I love the location - tons of parking and not too far from my apartment. The interior is gorgeous. It looks upscale, romantic and modern. There's a bar and sushi bar and mood lighting that softly rotates colors. Our server sat us quickly, took our drink orders and filled our glasses with water.

I wanted to try something that I had an idea of how it's supposed to taste; that way, I can have something to compare it to. That led me to the pad thai. It's $10 for tofu and vegetable, $12 for chicken and $14 for beef or shrimp. I went with the chicken pad Thai, as well as a California roll. Just ordering this made me wonder how they were going to do it: They need a sushi chef, as well as someone experience in Thai cuisine. Image a "European Bistro" and expecting the chefs to execute a Spanish dish, as well as a French dish. There's just a good bit of difference here.

Our server kept adding and taking away things from our table. When I ordered, she went to grab for the water glass, but I told her we still wanted water, too. When my friend ordered only sushi, the server grabbed her silverware from the table, as well as the dish it was sitting in. It was just odd - that kind of thing is fine to leave until the end. It was kind of distracting.

Finally, our meals came out. Their timing isn't quite right yet. My friend got hers a few minutes before my meal came out, but that's the kind of thing you work out after opening day. The presentation was quite appealing, but the taste wasn't quite as good. My overall thought was "Meh." California rolls were okay. Not tons of flavor. I added even more wasabi than usual to compensate for that lack of taste. My friend wasn't crazy about her sushi, either. The pad thai was fine, but kind of bland tasting. It lacked that sweet spiciness I've come to love from Chaang Thai. It needed more flavor, more ... something. It was just okay. And there were a lot of onions - some are okay, but I wanted more noodle and less crunch for my buck. When we were finished, they brought us a sliced orange.

So far, I've paid about $20 for a meh dish, so I thought trying dessert might help amp up this meal. The server was adamant about the tempura ice cream (kind of like the Mexican dessert - fried ice cream?), even telling me to get it without solicitation. You can get chocolate or vanilla, so I went with vanilla. My friend got the fried banana & ice cream (but I just realized, she actually didn't any ice cream? Just the banana...). My ice cream was great - light, fluffy tempur covered a frozen ball of french vanilla ice cream, topped with chocolate sauce, caramel sauce, sprinkles, whipped cream and a cherry. I like the crunchy cone, essentially, wrapped around a creamy decadent dessert. The banana was tasty - a fried banana, essentially. I love the coolness of the ice cream, though, with the fried. It was great.

Since it was opening day, we also got a gift set, which was really nice. Unfortunately, they only gave us one. I let my friend have it.

Overall, though, it was a pretty hefty bill for mediocre food. However, since there is such a variety here, another dish could be excellent. I just haven't found it yet. I do know one that I won't get again, though.

Grade: C
Asian Bistro on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Tutto Gelato Cafe

The iconic Tutto Gelato stand on High Street migrated toward another end of town on Chestnut Ridge Road, where it now serves "cafe" items like breakfast, pastries, paninis, pizza cones, salads and soups in addition to their signature gelato. They also have a coffee and espresso bar. Wild Mountain Bakery now occupies that building.

According to their About page, Tutto Gelato "started with the dream of bringing Italy back to Morgantown after a trip abroad in 2003. By 2007, that dream had become a reality, and Tutto Gelato opened on High Street offering gelato, coffee, and an espresso bar. Four years later the small "gelato stand" has become a full-fledged cafe."

I've blogged about the gelato before, so I wanted to focus on their new line of food items at this new location. Right beside Kegler's in the Suburban Plaza, Tutto Gelato has improved their chances for folks driving to them, but it probably cut down on the foot traffic. While the other location didn't have a dining area, this location has a gorgeous one. When you walk in, it's cool, clean, modern and sophisticated. The space is a good size, with seating for a couple dozen people and photos from Italy on the wall and polished fixtures. The atmosphere is relaxing.

The gelato case is on display as soon as you walk in. I bypassed it (momentarily) to gaze at the menu behind the counter. There's something called a pizza cone that I'm dying to try, but with the option of doing a "Duetta" - 1/2 and 1/2, it was hard to deny trying two items instead of just one. So with the 1/2 and 1/2 deal, you can get either half a panini, salad ("insalata"), soup ("zuppa"), or the second to smallest gelato ("bambino"). I went with half a panini and half a salad - the Milano and Pomodoro. They all have cutesy Italian names like that. If I got a Bambino gelato with the meal, it was only $2.50 instead of the usual $3. So, sign me up.
Piccolo (1 scoop)                                        $2.25
Bambino (2 scoops)                                    $3.00
Medio (3 scoops)                                        $3.75
Generoso (4 scoops)                                   $4.50
Side note: Monday was actually Medioso Monday, where there's a special on getting that size.

All the paninis are made to order, so it took a little bit of time before they came out. But before I knew it, I had a gorgeous presentation of a sandwich, salad and a side of cookie. The sandwich and salad are both pretty small. For $7, I suppose that's what you get. But so small that I was actually still hungry when I finished. With that being said, they both were pretty good. I liked my "adult grilled cheese" sandwich. That being the Milano, which is a combo of provolone, fontina, and pecorino romano cheeses. It was pretty tasty; I only wish I got a full sandwich instead of half. The cheese was melty and had a little bit of a kick in some bites.

The salad - the Pomodoro - was their tomato, mozzarella, salad on a bed of spinach and arugula with balsamic vinaigrette. I do like that they placed the vinaigrette on the side. I wish there had been more tomatoes, and I wish the mozzarella was more fresh. But it wasn't bad. The red onions gave it some more sweet flavor, and the balsamic topped it off.

You get a side when you order, and they have things like an apple, a veggie cup, a fruit cup, chips, a cookie, etc. So I said cookie, and it ended up being Oatmeal Raisin. Which I'm totally cool with. I was hoping for the fresh, bakery taste. It was a little hard. But sweet and still made me feel warm inside, so I ate it. If I was grading on food alone, I'd probably say this was right down the middle of the road, but with the gelato ...

Gelato is Italy's version of ice cream, and these little shops are everywhere. When I went, I had gelato just about every day. Per their website, gelato contains less butterfat than ice cream's typical 18 and 26%. With the lower butterfat, gelato is less solidly frozen than ice cream and melts in your mouth quicker. Gelato is denser than ice cream.  Air is added to ice cream, doubling its quantity but lowering the quality.  Much less air is added to gelato which leads to a higher quality dessert with a richer, creamier taste. Last but not least, gelato is served slightly warmer than ice cream.  Gelato is served 10-15 degrees warmer than ice cream.  With the combination of lower butterfat and lower temperatures, gelato's flavor is enhanced as it melts in your mouth.

Remember that extra $2.50? I walked up to the case when I was finished with my sandwich and looked over the options - mango, blood orange, strawberry, chocolate, lime. The bambino is two scoops, which means I can get two different flavors, so I went with the stracciatella (vanilla with chocolate chips/shavings) and cherry chocolate chip. It's surprisingly a huge amount. Maybe the flat spoon makes you eat slower - I don't know.

I had a strawberry/kiwi one once that was delicious. My two flavors this trip weren't bad. The chips are more like frozen shavings in the gelato. Not thick little dollops, so it gives you a different texture. I enjoy the creaminess, while containing iciness at the same time. I think I like the fruitier flavors a little better - it's that nice, refreshing, cool feeling after a meal that just rounds it out. But it's gelato, and you can't really go wrong with any of the flavors.

For $11, I got to try a good bit here. I'm happy with that. Next time, I'll be trying some other options, though.

Tutto Gelato Cafe
755 Chestnut Ridge Road
Suburban Plaza, Suncrest
Morgantown, WV 26505
Phone: (304) 291.2444 Fax: (304) 241.1666
Monday - Saturday 7 am - 9 pm, Sunday 9 am - 9 pm

Grade: B
Tutto Gelato Cafe on Urbanspoon