Monday, August 26, 2013

Morgantown Edition: Tropics Restaurant and Bar

TropicsTropicsRemember Jackson's Bar & Grille? It didn't last long. In its spot is "Tropics Restaurant and Bar," a restaurant that has a Hawaiian theme.

This is the third restaurant I've known of in that location since I moved to Morgantown. I can only assume it doesn't do very well because of the location and how it's hidden all the way at the back - 2500 Cranberry Square. But my experience at this place was the best of the locations, yet, so hopefully it breaks the curse.

TropicsWalking in, it looks similar to the other places with some light-colored wood and nice fixtures. It's clean, classy and looks like the interior probably cost a pretty penny. Tropics has added some Hawaiian-themed photos and decorations, but the bones of this place are still gorgeous.

The menu is pretty expansive with a ton of different offerings. Poke, fish tacos, salads, burgers, Hawaiian-style plates, steak, pizza and more. It's really all over the board. Our waitress was pretty friendly, so I asked for her favorites. She told me the "Mochiko Chicken" is her go-to, so I ordered that.

TropicsFor an appetizer, I ordered the pork spring rolls. I really don't know if these are homemade or what, but they are amazing. So good. So perfectly crisp on the inside with ribbons of cabbage, pork and veggies on the inside, and it was just pure bliss. Their soy-chili dipping sauce is a great sweet chili sauce that I got extra to use with my main dish.

I even ate some of the garnish. What can I say, I love cabbage.

When the Mochiko chicken came out, it certainly had a presence. Mochiko is a kind of flour used in Hawaii. And this dish is a classic.

TropicsThe chicken is marinated in soy, garlic and ginger, then lightly breaded in Mochiko flour and fried. It was serve with rice and macaroni salad. And there's some dotted sauce around the edge.

TropicsThe chicken is quite good. It's just lightly crisped on the outside and hot, white meat inside. It is good, but I really just wanted that balance of flavors (like pineapple would be awesome on this dish, I think), so I dipped a lot of it in that chili sauce that I had. As well as the sauce around the plate. But yes, tasty.

The rice warranted a tablespoon of soy sauce on it, and the macaroni salad was fairly mild, but had a slight hint of banana. Weird, I know. But I confirmed this with my friend.

So, it's good. It's a little different, and I got good vibes. Will go back.

Grade: A
Tropics on Urbanspoon

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Morgantown Edition: Bartini

BartiniBartiniBartini is just about two months old and is one of a bunch of new businesses popping up at the Suncrest Towne Centre. It's marketing itself as a more high-end establishment focusing on martinis, of course, and higher end appetizers.

One thing it already has going for it is plenty of parking. And it's on a side of town that could use a bar. So, positives all around.

It seems as though its aiming for an older crowd: read "wealthier," but the volume at which they play music had me leaving almost instantly.

BartiniBartiniWe walked through the inside and quickly discovered we wouldn't be able to talk to one another, so we made our way to the outside at one of the furthest points away from the band that was playing.

It is a classier atmosphere, free of sticky floors and other things you would see at many Morgantown bars, so that was good. I just wish I would've been able to talk loud enough over the band to express that sentiment to the two friends I was with.

I ordered a French martini, which was Titos vodka, raspberry liqueur and pineapple for $8. And it was fine. I think if it was colder and had more vodka, less raspberry, I would've been happier.

BartiniI also convinced my friends that we should order the grilled mac 'n cheese tomato soup shoots, which is grilled mac 'n cheese, Texas toast and shots of tomato soup. Could it get much more comfort food than that?

We were actually pretty full from dinner earlier, but I wasn't going to leave without trying some food. So,  when it came out, we just started at it for a second.

When I pulled a small triangular macaroni and cheese sandwiched between two buttered pieces of Texas toast, the soup nearly sucked half the sandwich back in. It was incredibly soggy. Either they had been sitting at the counter before they were delivered to us for a while, or the shelf life just isn't very long on those bad boys. If that's the case, they should really consider maybe placing the sandwiches in between the shot glasses or maybe lay the sandwiches on top. Something. Because the sog just wasn't cool.

But for the half of the sandwich that doesn't get soggy, it's not bad. This is something I could totally do at home and it's super marketable. Macaroni and cheese AND grilled cheese? Uh, duh. Who does this not sound good to?

I think it's better in theory than in practice. The macaroni and cheese itself is basic - if it were homemade, that could make this dish amazing. But otherwise it's Kraft on a sandwich, which is really more nostalgic and comforting than fantastic dining. Grilled cheese with some noodle.

So, while it is more of a novelty item, it's tasty, too. It could be kicked up a notch with some really good mac and cheese, though.

Bartini is open Tuesday through Thursday from 4 p.m. to midnight, and Friday and Saturday from 4 p.m. to 3 a.m. For more information on the Bartini, visit their Facebook page at


Grade: B
Bartini Morgantown on Urbanspoon

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Morgantown Edition: Atomic Grill

Atomic GrillAtomic Grill has quickly gained some positive attention in Morgantown during the short time that it's been open - since June 17. I've been hearing a lot of great things about this bbq place, so when I made the trip up there recently, it was first on my list to try.

It's located in the former Hostess store on the intersection of Greenbag Road and Kingwood Pike.I had actually been to the old Hostess store and bought a few fruit pies. It reminds me of the bread store we used to have in Wellsburg.

It does have a parking lot, which is a luxury for many Morgantown restaurants. The inside is quite small. It's just one open room where they placed a bunch of tables, which is odd. I would think some sections or dividers would help break up that space a bit.

It has a very cool vibe, though. Dark colors, some alternative staff - tattoos and piercings galore, and some  locally sourced foods are throughout the menu. I love the locavore movement, just FYI. And the dishes are a little bit more upscale than many other restaurants in town.

Atomic GrillAtomic GrillAtomic Grill

A friend told me to start with the Appalachian Bruschetta. Sounds cool, right? It's cornbread crostini served with a variety of regionally influenced toppings. Those toppings ended up being a compound butter, smoke roma ragu, green tomato relish, boursin and collard green pesto.

Atomic Grill
Definite points for creativity, right?

Atomic Grill
I didn't blow me away, but I appreciated the thought that went into this dish. They were all fine dipping sauces. I'm not sure cornbread's flavor profile fits perfectly with any of them, but there were a few that I appreciated more than others - the pesto was pretty good, and the soft cheese is good.

Next time I want to try the fried green tomatoes, though.

For the main entree, I went with the ribs because our waitress said they were the best she'd tasted. I thought, well, this could change my entire outlook on ribs. So I did it. I just got the smallest rack I could because it's definitely on the pricey side.

Atomic GrillYou get to choose which sauce you want, so I asked for a sampler. They essentially have a West Virginia sauce, a hot sauce, a Hawaiian sauce, a horseradish sauce and a vinegar sauce. The West Virginia is the closest to a traditional BBQ, so I went with that.

The ribs came out with a giant portion of fries and also baked beans. I am not a baked beans fan, so those went to my friend Tony.

The ribs were good. They could have been more tender. But if they're locally sourced, I understand that a bit more. The fries were flimsy and not crisp. Not my favorite way to cook fries. I want some crunch going on.

We rounded out the meal with dessert. They pay homage to the roots of the building by offering some pastry-influenced desserts. The one that caught my eye was the Krispy Kreme Bread Pudding. I am, indeed, a bread pudding connoisseur. I've eaten it for many, many years. My family reunion has bread pudding contests.

Atomic GrillThat's usually a bad sign when I'm trying a restaurant's, because it's tough to live up to that nostalgia and level of expectation. This bread pudding was okay. Essentially, it became this giant cup of soft bread. And I think having some different textures is key to bread pudding. If it's all just this oddly soft goopy mixture, it's not a pleasant thing to eat. It did not taste bad - in fact, the spices used were lovely. But I think having a little crunch would do this dish wonders.

Better than many restaurants in town, but not as great as all the hype I've heard.

The Atomic Grill is open from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. and until 10 p.m. on Friday and Saturday. For more information, check out their Facebook page here.

Grade: B
Atomic Grill on Urbanspoon

Friday, August 23, 2013

Restaurant Redemption: Ichiban (Charleston)

IchibanIchibanFor the past couple years, 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, 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.

"Hi Candace, I'm the owner of Ichiban in Charleston. When I read your review I was so disappointed with the experience you had! Warm sushi is not the way it should be served! Please accept my apology for your bad experience. I would love for you to give us another try so we could hopefully change your mind? I think you write really nice reviews and I hope some day we could receive an A from you! Please ask for me if you come back. Thank you for your time and passion about great food!" Laura Lea Miller - August 14, 2011


So, it's been a while. But I wanted to try it again. I've gone to Ichiban for lunch, which I feel is a much better option because it always ends up being cheaper for me.

But on this day, I decided to try something I hadn't had before. I went with a firecracker roll for my new one and lobster maki roll. And a glass of wine. Because wine.

IchibanThe firecracker is smart. It's a simple, but smart roll because all it's doing is adding some chili powder and chili oil to an otherwise crab, crunch and spicy mayo roll. But it adds a different kind of kick. Albeit the kick was a little much for me, so I tapped off some of the topping. Tasty, simple but unique.

The lobster roll was pretty good. It's the same as many other rolls that are just basically indulgent - cream cheese, avocado, lobster and topped with a sweet sauce - eel sauce. Quite tasty.

Ichiban on UrbanspoonThe problem with getting these more specialty rolls is that it is so much more expensive. I definitely left spending more than I had hoped to, but the quality of the sushi is better than my previous experience.

It's clear this is marketed as a more upscale sushi experience. And that's totally cool. I just wish I had the extra pocket change to dish out on it more often.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Clay Edition: Gino's Pizza & Spaghetti

Gino's (Clay)Gino's (Clay)Breaking news sent us to Clay a week or two ago. After hours upon hours on the road, we needed a break for nourishment. We couldn't find a nearby mom and pop place, but Gino's was available. In we went.

I've only been to one other Gino's, and it was in Princeton - or Athens, technically. I wasn't super impressed, but this time around was definitely better.

For some reason, when I saw "calzone," I lit up. I knew immediately that's what I wanted. So, I ordered at the register, also picked up a WV county puzzle, and went into the dining room. The ambiance is much more attractive here. There's actual space, it was clean, and it didn't look like it had seen some tough days. It was nice.

Gino's (Clay)When my calzone came out, it was a large portion, but not embarrassingly large, which I've done before.

I went to town. That fork got a workout. But it was really quite good. Lots of sauce and cheese, and I was really a happy camper. It wasn't dry, it wasn't overdone, it wasn't soggy, the crust was the perfect light crisp on the outside but softer on the inside. It was kind of perfect, actually. I was also starving, so that probably plays into my review here.

I'm sure there are some more local restaurants, and I'd love to try them. But this was quick, easy, and really quite good.

Grade: A
Gino's Pizza on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Charleston Edition: The Grill

The GrillThe GrillMy friend and co-worker, education reporter superstar Shay Maunz, recently raved about this fried green tomato BLT (sans the B, because she's all vegetarian) and how it was amazing. To my knowledge, it's a Friday special, and they can be missed.

The GrillI convinced friend and co-worker, city/county reporter superstar Matt Murphy, to go with me recently.

We took the jaunt over to the West Side and found The Grill fairly easily, with the blue and gold banners out front.

We went inside and immediately took a seat at the counter. Mostly because the restaurant was full, but also because we needed to check out what this place has because the Internet is completely void of a menu for this place. You're welcome for the photos.

The Grill I already knew I wanted to try the fried green tomato BLT, but the fried mushrooms also caught my eye. They're a delicacy, and usually only Dairy Queen carries them for sure. But occasionally little places like this have them and I get super excited.

The GrillLuckily we went a little later - around 1 or so, so they weren't super busy. As soon as we put our order in, the lovely gentleman working started our sandwiches.

The GrillHe took the time to assemble them perfectly. I noticed this because oftentimes, when restaurants are busy, that's not of concern. What's of concern is getting it out. But he took some time, made sure it was right, then carried them over to us.

Okay, you're thinking, it's a fried green BLT. YES. BUT. It's also kind of like heaven. Let me explain.

How great can it be? Pretty damn great. Not only are the ingredients fresh, but there's this cohesive, amazingly delicious element that brings all these flavors together. The tang, the sweet - and the textures - crunchy, soft. It results in a flavor explosion.

The GrillFlavor explosion. I'll have to use that more often.

The sauce and the breading on the tomatoes is just this tangy, sweet, amazing amazingness. It's amazing I'm a writer, huh?

I'm just going to leave it at that, really. Oh, and the mushrooms were good, too. Get they honey mustard to go with them and fall into a fried food coma. Mmm.

Grade: A
Grill on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Charleston Edition: B&D Gastropub

B&D Gastropub
B&D GastropubRemember when people got all riled up at the prospect of a gastropub coming to Charleston? People on Twitter were not pleased when B&D Gastropub marketed itself as the only gastropub in Charleston, when many other places - like Pies & Pints - technically fit the definition of a gastropub, they just don't use the moniker in their name.

"Gastropub or gastrolounge refers to a bar and restaurant that serves high-end beer and food"

B&D Gastropub
So B&D is RIGHT off the bridge in Kanawha City. I passed most of it and caught the tail end of the parking lot when I realized it was right there.

I kind of had low expectations because I had heard not so great things. That usually works in a restaurant's favor for me, though.

It's modern and clean on the inside. Smooth lines, not too much clutter. Brick walls and dark colored woods and metals.

When we were seated, I asked the waiter what he liked. He recommended the burgers. They're advertised as six ounces of fresh beef on a grilled bakery bun with house made chips. I went with "THE MELT," which has applewood bacon and is stuffed with a choice of cheese. It says "We recommend feta :))" That's kind of cute. I love a smiley.

I also ordered mine with sweet potato fries because, well, they're amazing. You can't mess up sweet potato fries too badly.

While I waited for that to come out, I went ahead and ordered a Bridge Brew Works Pale Ale - "English style amber ale with moderate bitterness matching its malty profile. Scottish and English hops are featured."

I wish I could get paid to write beer descriptions because to my untrained palate, it's a bunch of BS. Hints of caramel and yada yada. I can tell you I've never had a beer taste like caramel, and I've had a lot of caramel. This beer, however, is pretty badass.

B&D GastropubB&D Gastropub

B&D GastropubIt's smooth, not too bitter and goes down easy. I also enjoy the fact that you can have local beer here. That's always a positive.

Before the main meal, I ordered an appetizer of the "southern mac & cheese."

The macaroni and cheese is average. The cheese wasn't creamy - it was more hard, block cheese melted over top some noodles. And because it's "southern," I was expecting to have a hint of sweetness there.

No such luck

It also had this kind of bizarre crunched up saltine crackers on the top. 

When I saw that it had a "crust," I was expecting it to more be a hardened crust over all the macaroni, not just bits of cracker mixed in. It tastes exactly what you think cracker mixed in with macaroni and cheese. Lame.

B&D GastropubThe burger was pretty dang good, though. I got mine stuffed with bleu cheese because that combo is fabulous. You can also choose your toppings, and I went with the lettuce, tomato and onion.

When you take a bite of the burger, cheese doesn't ooze out. However, I definitely got the kick of the bleu cheese just interspersed throughout the meat. That may even be better. The bun is a good bit bigger than the burger, which is unfortunate, because the bun:burger ratio favors the bun. When, really, the burger is adequate size, but within the context of the bun, not as impressive.

Good  taste and cooked well.  The fries were also pretty good and came with this tasty sauce.

So, better than I thought. Mind-blowing, no. But above average compared to most of the other restaurants in Charleston.

Grade: B
B&D Gastropub on Urbanspoon