Monday, December 30, 2013

Morgantown Edition: The Tea Shoppe

Tea shoppeTea shoppeThe Tea Shoppe is a loose-leaf tea shop where you can create your own tea blends, and it also has a small dining area for lunch. Located in the Seneca Center, this place is quite unassuming from the outside. Once you walk inside, there are huge glass containers full of leaves and trickling to the back of the store through creaky wooden floors are mismatched tables covered in lace linens and all sorts of different plates, cups and saucers that make up a small dining space. And one wall is even devoted to crazy Kentucky Derby-style hats and boas for patrons to use to really get into the spirit -- which explains why many folks inside the place on this day were older women or young girls. Those are the two main demographics who enjoy tea parties. Them, and odd British dudes.

Tea shoppeTea shoppe

Tea shoppeTea shoppe

Tea shoppeTea shoppeFirst things first: the tea.  They have English, black, flavored black, green, white, herbal, red and specialty. Basically, a whole ton. I got a berry berry cup of tea. When they bring out the tea, they bring a set of hourglasses that are color-coded. They tell you how long to steep your tea. Kinda cool.

Tea shoppeI liked it. It was fine. Is tea my first choice of something to drink? No. Maybe I'm not southern enough. But if you want water that tastes slightly like berries, this is probs for you.

Tony got a flavored black tea: ginger peach. His had a little less sweet flavor than mine, but he was happy with it.

Tea shoppeTea shoppe

Tea shoppeTea shoppeThe menu has a couple of pretty standard sandwiches, but they each have a little something that sets them apart from something you might make at home: turkey with cranberries, spinach and basil mayonnaise on ciabatta. Or maybe their special tarragon chicken salad. And tuna salad. And Brie with pear slices. Egg Salad. Classic Caprese. Oh, I know: roast beef, bleu cheese, mixed greens, red onion, tomato and horseradish mayo on ciabatta. Yep, that was my choice. Sandwiches come with a side of chips or house salad, or you can pay $2 for a cup of coup or their spinach salad. I ordered the french onion soup.

Tea shoppeSo I just kind of figured I wasn't a huge fan of french onion soup. Oh my god, this was so good. It was perfectly seasoned - rich with this cheesey, almost meaty taste. Hunks of bread to sop up the broth, some nice caramelized onions and cheese oozing up from the bottom. I finished off every last drop.

My sandwich was also quite good. Despite it being fairly small, it was packed with flavor. A good bit of the horseradish mayo gave it a kick, with some bleu cheese, sweet onions and a snappy tomato made for a light, yet really tasty sandwich. When I first saw it, I was not impressed by size or presentation, but simple flavors and fresh ingredients made for a good one.

Tea shoppeTea shoppeFor whatever reason, we decided we also needed the dessert sampler. That consisted of mainly whatever desserts they had on hand and felt like compiling for us. It came with a pot of tea, so we chose the Holiday Winter Spice - "Notes of cinnamon with a citrus finish." It definitely tasted like Christmas. Warm and cinnamon-y.

Tea shoppeThe desserts consisted of a minty brownie. A little too much mint for me, but meh.

The cookie had white chips and chocolate chips. Would've been better with just the white chips, in my humble opinion.

Tea shoppeThe peanut butter bar was a little dry.

The cookie with the jam filling was buttery and not bad overall.

Then, we also had a scone with a whipped cream and a lemon topping. I liked the lemon topping better - gave it some more tang. Overall, the desserts weren't overly impressive - especially  for $10 total (luckily we split), but I enjoyed the soup and sandwich enough to make up for it. A little on the pricier side for the amount you get, but give it a try.

Grade: B
The Tea Shoppe on Urbanspoon

Friday, December 27, 2013

Charleston Edition: Su-Tei

Su-TeiSu-TeiIn a Kanawha City space that previously housed a Block buster is new restaurant Su-Tei. Su-Tei is a portmaneau of sushi and Thai - so think of the theme here as Asian fusion. And I've been wanting to try it out since I first wrote about it for the Daily Mail (and the Gazette later did, too).

From talking with the owner, I knew he had some restaurants he managed in New York City, and he was hoping to bring some of that vibe to Charleston. From the outside, you can see some glowing lanterns and long curtains, but it's not until you're inside that you get get that luxurious feel they were going for.

Su-TeiThe dark woods and white leather furniture stands out against the gorgeous floors and other modern Asian decorative elements. There's even a garden and waterfall in the center of the restaurant, as well as a bar, sushi bar and private dining area. Carl was a bit less impressed with the ambiance - thinking it was a bit too trendy - but I thought it was lovely. And while there were some people dressed up, I felt fine wearing my jeans.

Okay, you can read all about that in my story. Let's move on here.

Su-TeiThe service here was just, well, odd. I think our server was trying to crack jokes or be smooth, but it just wasn't working for him. Sorry.

However, my food was pretty damn good. They had a number of noodle and curry dishes, as well as sushi.

Su-TeiI ordered an Alaska roll - I think - which was salmon, cucumber and avocado. They were decent-sized rolls that were well done. Fresh, full of ingredients and good texture. I was a fan. So much so that I dropped one on the table and even ate it. Gross, I know. Oh well.

Su-TeiFor my main entree, I ordered chicken pad thai. They give you the option to have it regular/medium or spicy. I went with regular, and Carl got his (with duck) spicy.

First, we got the miso and salad. I liked this soup much better than others mostly because there were a bunch of mushrooms. By bunch, I mean like three. But, hey. That works for me. The salad I always skip. But this ginger dressing was less offensive than most.

Su-TeiThe pad thai, though. Mine was a bit more sweet and saucier than I've had in the past, but it was quite tasty. And it was a huge, huge portion. There were whole chunks of chicken - skin, too - mixed in. I could've gone without the skin, but it was kind of crispy enough to work. I really liked it, though. I think I wouldn't have minded a little heat to balance the sweetness. Always next time. And Carl's? Well, he didn't need a to-go box, so I think he enjoyed it.

Here they are on Yelp and TripAdvisor.

Grade: A
Su Tei Asian Cuisine on Urbanspoon

Monday, December 23, 2013

Charleston Edition: Happy Days Cafe

Happy Days CafeAfter being gone for nearly three months, I couldn't wait to return to Charleston. In addition to seeing some of my favorite people, I got to check out two new (or new to me) restaurants.

Happy Days Cafe is one that was new to me.

My boyfriend Carl (!) and I devoted our Saturday to shopping. First, we went to Stray Dog Antiques then Taylor Books. We then hit up a lots of antique stores around Charleston. And in the midst of this, I felt like my stomach was going to eat itself.

Happy Days Cafe, in South Charleston, had a steady stream of customers that afternoon, and it was one of the few on that block that I hadn't tried, so we took a chance.

Happy Days Cafe
Happy Days Cafe It's probably exactly what you'd imagine. The inside is a decent size, and they have a hodgepodge of furniture. Waitresses have probably been there for years and know the regulars' orders. We had arrived just after the Christmas parade had finished, so there were some families inside. And sitting right beside us was Bob Anderson, the executive director for the South Charleston Convention and Visitors Bureau, who I interviewed for a parade story a while back.

Since it was busy - or maybe not - service was a little slow. It took a bit to even get our drinks. Or I could've been even more impatient than usual. One of those.

Happy Days CafeI ordered their Big Bopper, which was their quintessential burger. Your choice of cheese (provolone for me), lettuce, tomato, onion, pickle, ketchup, mustard and mayo. Carl went for two WV-style hotdogs. I think. In addition to burgers and hotdogs, they have some sandwiches, hoagies and salads. So, diner food, but lunch style. Apparently they also have popcorn and an ice cream bar. Neither one of which I got.

Happy Days CafeThe burger was okay. I devoured it, so it couldn't have been too bad. The patty itself was nothing to write home about - not a whole lot of spices or flavor (aka probs frozen), but since it was covered in veggies and condiments, it was fine. Pretty average.

Carl was a little less enthused about his hotdogs because they were cold. That's kind of one of the few ways to ruin a hotdog. I'm not totally sure what the price came out to, but I'm guessing it was a little bit more than I would've liked. Pretty average, but if you're in the area, an okay diner option.

Grade: C
Happy Days Cafe on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Morgantown Edition: Gulf Grocery Mediterranean Food and Juicebox

JuiceboxI don't really know what's going on with this space located on University Avenue. In the plaza, on the left side, have been a series of terrible Middle Eastern restaurants. Is it the same family reinventing this place? Is it a few different family members trying their hand at something new? Is it a coincidence?

I don't know, but it's terrible. When I first tried it, it was Albasha, then it was La Baba. And now, it's the Gulf Grocery Mediterranean Food and Juicebox.

I totally went in here with an open mind. I walked in. A couple guys were sitting at a table playing chess right in front of us. To the right were some shelves full of grocery product. In front and to the left were a haphazard buffet and the Juicebox menu.

From what I gather, Juicebox is just the little juicebar inside. I'm guessing the buffet falls under the grocery store title. Anyway. I went up to the front and asked what was in the buffet, since they had lids. The man behind the counter was very nice, but didn't speak the greatest English, so what I got out of the conversation was rice and some sort of meat. To be expected. I told him I'll order a juice first and the buffet.


I ordered their cocktail juice, which looked to be some sort of strawberry and banana combo. Yum. the man behind the counter called to one of the guys sitting down to make the drink. The guy sitting down pointed to a premade drink sitting in a tray with two others. The man behind the counter went over, picked it up and handed it to me.

JuiceboxUm, what?

How long has this been sitting here? Why is it already made? It's just sitting out on the counter. Not being refrigerated or anything. Just no.

My friend ordered the same drink, but since there wasn't another sitting on the tray, they actually went back and made hers. During this process, I felt my appetite for the buffet dwindle. It seemed he forgot about it, too, so I looked at the grocery section while I waited for her nice and fresh juice to be made.

I stumbled upon some cool items, but then I saw something not so cool - some Laughing Cow cheese. Just chillin'. On the rack. Not refrigerated. I mean, this stuff does need to be refrigerated, right? Something just didn't sit well with me about that.

JuiceboxI had taken one sip of my drink, which was actually good. But my brain couldn't overcome my stomach. I was concerned about my drink sitting out. And now this cheese on the shelf.

When they returned from the kitchen with my friend's drink, they had two styrofoam containers they gave to her. We told them we didn't want the buffet, but they shook their heads and said it was on the house. They didn't tell us what it was. But we took it.

Considering the experience thus far, I didn't really want to take a chance on the food at this point. Which is unfortunate because it smelled good. But I think it was chicken and rice? But I don't really want to take the chance. Food poisoning is the worst.

I feel like this a pretty unfortunate set of circumstances. Their food could be great. But some things are lost in translation. It could be some cultural differences. I could be totally ignorant and that type of cheese can just sit on shelves to be sold. The drink could not have been sitting there super long. But, as a customer, I don't know any of this. And when I have other options that appear more safe, I'm gonna go after that.

JuiceboxAnd I feel bad that they were genuinely trying to be cool and give us some food, and that's super sweet. And I want them to do well. But this just isn't it.

Tips: Make EVERY drink fresh to order. I felt shafted my friend got a fresh drink and I didn't.

Don't have cheese - that I usually see in a refrigerator - sitting out on a shelf. Seems odd.

Don't have your employees just sitting around playing board games. I feel like I'm interrupting something private. Don't feel as welcome.

Invest in some buffet trays that are good quality. They look like an afterthought and make me wonder what the quality of food is like.

Grade: D
Gulf Grocery Mediterranean Food on Urbanspoon

Friday, December 6, 2013

Fairmont Edition: Pufferbelly's Ice Cream Station

Pufferbellly'sThere's a comforting, soothing element to ice cream. It's rich, it's indulgent, and it's special - a treat.

My love affair with this confectionery creation began when I was young. Growing up in a lower middle-class family, we pinched pennies whenever possible. And ice cream, well, it's not a necessity. So when we were able to get it, it was special. It was a treat.

I didn't realize the sense of comfort it brought me until I first moved away from home at age 18 to attend West Virginia University. As a freshman, I was required to stay in a dorm, and the nearest dining option was the beloved Cafe Evansdale - otherwise known as going to eat at Towers.

They had a pretty simple ice cream machine there that I would treat myself to every so often. And it reminded me of something special at home. Now, it still holds that meaning to me. It's this kind of reward when I need a pick-me-up or a celebration.

Pufferbellly'sAfter a long and trying week, Pufferbelly's Ice Cream Station was calling my name. This restaurant features old-school, hand-dipped ice cream in an old train station-themed building at 1024 Fairmont Avenue.

Pufferbellly'sAll Aboard Appetizers, Station House Salads, Steam Engine Soups, Signal Crossing Sandwiches, Round House Wraps and Paninis, and Cattle Car Burgers are just some of the items featured on the menu. They even had a display of a Turkey dinner in honor of Thanksgiving that customers could order.

The ice cream, though, is the show stopper. Not to be outdone, they too bear train-themed names like the "train wreck," which is their version of a s'mores sundae. The one that caught my eye was their "locomotive," which has pretzels, caramel and fudge.

Pufferbellly'sYou can choose if you want hand-dipped ice cream from their freezer or soft-serve from the machine. I went with a soft-serve twist so I could get both chocolate and vanilla. They put the toppings down first, then the ice cream, then reverse the toppings so you essentially get an ice cream sandwich in sundae form.

Pufferbellly'sThe dining area is deceptively large, with a dozen or so tables to rest and enjoy a hot meal or cool treat. The restaurant has a laidback vibe with relaxed lighting and warm colors.

Oh, and the ice cream? Pretty tasty. It was filled to the brim with ice cream, hot fudge and caramel while small pretzels toppled over the edges. If you're a fan of that sweet and salty combo like I so enjoy, this is a good option for you. I only wish that it was a little lighter on the fudge because it could tend to take over the flavor. Still, tasty.

Pufferbelly's Ice Cream Station is open from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Sunday. It is located  at 1024 Fairmont Avenue in Fairmont, West Virginia.


Grade: B
 Pufferbelly's Ice Cream Station on Urbanspoon

Friday, November 22, 2013

Morgantown Edition: Schmitt's Saloon

Schmitt's SaloonSchmitt's Saloon

Schmitt's SaloonSchmitt's Saloon

Schmitt's SaloonI went to Schmitt's Saloon when they FIRST opened - like had a limited menu and everything - and it was one of the worst dining experiences I've had in Morgantown - maybe anywhere. So much so that I debated how to write my review until so much time passed that I probably couldn't have even written an accurate one. It just wasn't even clear in my memory anymore.

I can tell you the service was atrocious - I waited more than an hour to get my bill. The food was awful - including a fly in a cup of ranch dressing, wings that were undercooked, and a burger that was supposed to have cheese in the middle but was instead burnt and all the cheese had seeped out.

Since then, I've had friends tell me it's gotten better and I should try it again. So, I did.

Schmitt's Saloon is positioning itself to be the premier country bar in town. There was a lot of press (and here and here and here, just to name a few) about it opening because WVU football standout Owen Schmitt is the mastermind behind the restaurant/bar. They frequently have live music, including the Davisson Brothers, with whom they headquarter.

Schmitt's SaloonSchmitt's Saloon

It's located across from the Glenmark Center, so there is some parking available. Inside, the wood comes from reclaimed church benches, which I was told my first visit. There's a bar and stage area. They serve drinks in mason jars. The girls wear short short jean shorts - denim panties really - with flannel and cowboy boots. A jukebox in the corner plays country hits on repeat - sometimes too loudly.

And the menu? Well, seems like something that a football player created: fried pepperoni rolls, bourbon glazed deviled eggs, deep-fried pizzas, funnel cake, deep-fried Snickers, deep-fried Oreos, etc. Lots of shock value, novelty items.

Schmitt's SaloonTo start off, we ordered the Schmitty Sampler: Jammin Fries (sweet potato fries topped with peanut sauce, bacon and banana chips), bourbon deviled eggs, fried pickles and fried pepperoni rolls.

Jammin Fries - What an odd assortment of stuff. The peanut sauce was fine, I think. But the bacon wasn't nearly as crispy as it should've been. And the banana chips were nonexistent. But the fries themselves were okay. Seems like an ambitious idea that just didn't pan out.

Bourbon deviled eggs - These are okay. My mom makes a killer deviled egg, so this has nothing on her. The filling was fairly flavorless, and I like mine to be much more tangy. The bourbon glaze added a little sweetness.

Schmitt's SaloonFried pepperoni roll - good. It's a good pepperoni roll, filled with pepperjack cheese, so it's all nice and melty inside. And the outside is just a little crispy instead of soft dough. Tasty. I was also a fan of the marinara.

Fried pickles - Fine. I dipped them in the honey mustard, which had a little kick to it. But I think if these were chips, they would've been better. The batter fell off most of it so meh. Kind of flavorless.

For my entree, I went with the deep-fried pizza - because where else can you get that? They're personal sized pizzas that are deep-fried and topped with sauce and cheese. You can add mushrooms, onions, olives, pepperoni, peppers and sausage. You get two small pizzas for $8.79.

Schmitt's Saloon
This isn't really as exciting as it sounds. It's just a puffy dough with some sauce and cheese on top with three or four of the toppings you requested. Maybe if you like really thick, pillowy crust, it would work. Otherwise, it seems like a recipe gone wrong.

Dessert was fried Snickers and fried Oreos. Because fried.

Schmitt's SaloonThe snickers was just lovely. It had a little blueberry drizzle over it. There's just something lovely about a hot chcocolate, caramel and nut candy bar covered in a batter. Good.

Oreos - here's their description on the menu: "The best tasting cream and goo you'll ever have in your mouth." Blech. But I'm not a big fan of Oreos to begin with - the snickers definitely wins out for me.

Grade: C
Schmitt's Saloon on Urbanspoon