Laurelwood Public House and Brewery

Last night, in the ramp up to our 2nd Annual Stellaween festivities, we took our daughter and some family members out for dinner. Since the goal was to celebrate Stella's 2nd birthday (which is on the 29th, so we hence call this season Stellaween in honor of both her and the fun holiday she was born so close to), we decided to find a place that would be fun for her.

Unfortunately, Portland no longer has Farrell's Ice Cream Parlour (or Portland Ice Cream, the poseur that took it over). And we've sworn off of Chuck E. Cheese. So pickin's were slim.
My wife's dad suggested Laurelwood, which had also crossed my mind, seeing as they are touted as kid-friendly and a fun place for the whole family.

So we went. Upon arrival at the newest location, situated at 51st and Sandy in Northeast Portland, I was pleased at how clean and nice the space was to be in. I looked for the kid's play area, which I'd heard so much about. I was saddened to see it consisted of a small 4'x4' niche in the restaurant. If there was more for kids to do, I didn't see it.

We sat down and started looking for food, as various members of the family took turns running Stella to the play area. We were thrilled to find that Laurelwood has a happy hour every day, including Sunday, from 3-6 pm and from 9-close. Beers are $2.75/pint. Food's about $3.50 off of the happy hour menu.

We ordered two orders of the garlic fries to start. These are awesome. Fries, which in and of themselves are more or less normal (though none were soggy and all were fresh-cooked and crispy), topped with a bunch of minced garlic, some parsley, and some parmesan. They were simply delicious. I've never had garlic fries so good.

The menu is a bit all over the place, which made it hard for everyone to settle on something. There are menus that offer a nice selection, and then menus that offer too much. Laurelwood's falls in the second category. They'd benefit from finding a theme to work around, to help focus the mind of the diner and also to help complement their ample beer selection better.

I had a ton of trouble choosing. Until it was time to order, I was fixated on the crispy buffalo chicken sandwich. However, at the last minute, I switched to the santa fe burger (I'm a sucker for chiles and pepper jack cheese) with a side of onion rings. Total: $9.95.

The food wasn't fast getting out, but it wasn't too slow. We had a party of 8, and service took about 20 minutes, which is okay given that number of people. Our waitress was very friendly, if not entirely on-the-ball, and at least noticed empty drinks fairly promptly (though, on average, it would take 5 minutes to fill a drink order, though I was literally 8 feet from the bar). In terms of a place to go to enjoy company as well as food, Laurelwood does fit the bill.

I took some time to check out the play area with Stella. It was really a let-down. A few broken toys on a small city-scape carpet (if they'd had Hotwheel cars, we could've pretended to drive them on the roads, but alas they didn't). Toward the back corner of the space, I saw what appeared to be old mess of some sort under the carpet. There was no associated smell or crustiness or anything, but it conveyed a feeling of dinginess that was very unappealing. Stella didn't seem to mind, but at the same time she was obviously not that interested in the offerings for kids.

The food finally came and we all dug in. Stella ordered (via her parents, of course) the kids mac and cheese ala carte for $2.50 (you can get the main dish with fries and a dessert for $4.50), which she seemed to enjoy.

My burger initially looked like a sloppy joe. Though I didn't read the menu as indicating it, it was actually sort of a chili burger. The chiles were not really discernable, nor were any of the seasoning elements I'd homed in on while reviewing the dish on the menu. All in all, it was edible but disappointing. The onion rings were quite good, though, and didn't survive to make into my picture, below. My brother in law got the turkey burger, and he said it was good. My other brother in law got the open-faced meatloaf sandwich, which came with whipped potatoes (I tried them and they were alright, but not special) and green beans (cooked a bit too long, so more chewy than crispy, but seasoned nicely). I didn't get to sample the loaf itself, but he ate it all without any complaint, so it must have been at least decent.

My father-in-law ended up performing an act of grandfatherly exuberance, pulling out his card at the last minute to pay, so I never saw the bill. I think, for 8 people with drinks and the appetizers, we ended up around $100, which really isn't bad.

Laurelwood is touted as highly kid friendly. It's smoke free, generally clean, and noone minds your kid running from the table to the play area. But otherwise I don't see how it differs from most other restaurants. Perhaps other locations are more deserving of the kid-free mantle. The food is okay, but not special. The beer is good, and the plentiful happy hours make it a place to keep in mind, especially on a Sunday afternoon when you want to catch a game on the big screen over an affordable pint. It's a place that you'll never miss if you don't visit it, but also one that I could understand you liking if you're nearby and hungry.


The Greek Festival

Among the venues where food is somewhat incidental, the Greek Festival is high on my list. I’m not Greek, my wife’s not Greek, and few people I know are Greek. And, yet, every year the Greek Festival is a must-go destination for my family and a few of our friends.

It was no different this year.

The essentials are always the same. ALWAYS get a gyro. ALWAYS get some loukamades. And ALWAYS get some baklava. Everything else is icing on the cake, and recommended.

Gyro’s are $4 a piece. The spanikopita is always quite good, and is $3 for 2. Loukamades, which are sort of a honey and cinnamon-covered doughnut hole of sorts (but lighter), are $2 or $3, depending on if you get the small or large servings. The baklava, along with the remainder of the the Greek pastry, are $2 each, or 2 for $3. You can also get Greek coffee (more a matter of preparation than bean origin) for $2, or a normal one for $1 (which is the price for soda and water as well). There is a large beer garden there as well. In short, everything you need for a full dinner.

The food varies in degrees of goodness, but it’s all some sort of good. The gyros are probably the least sensational of the items offered, as they are pretty standard bulk-gyro type gyros. The spanikopita is delicious, with a wonderful filo preparation that is light and flaky, and not overly greasy.

The loukamades are always just fantastic. And the baklava is simply devine. And, this year, the servings are huge.

If you’re reading this post now, you’re too late for this year’s Greek Festival. My weekend prevented me from doing this post in time to offer a true public service. But, in the realm of seasonal event-driven eating, the Greek Festival is an absolute must. Make your way next year.

Two tips: first, bring $20 minimum. It’s enough for 2 people, and you shouldn’t need more unless you’re getting beer. And, second, bring cash. The money system is based on tokens. You buy “talents,” which are $1 each, but which speed transactions there substantially.

The place is always busy, and it usually rains during Greek Festival time, but it’s always covered so just go, swim in the humanity, and get full. It’s a glorious time, and it’s a ton of fun.

The Pumpkin Patch

‘Tis the season, or one of them, for some good, irregular food fun. So much goes on throughout the year, and my goal is to miss much of it in favor of huddling in my dungeon, getting a moon tan from my computer.

But, really, most food events just bug me, so I skip them as a rule.

There are events with related food, though, and those are the type I’ll show up at. Festivals, fairs, and the like.

And one of the like is the Pumpkin Patch.

One might think that this post is meant to allow me to post a cute picture of my daughter. And, in part, it is. But it’s also to shine a light on a worthwhile secondary purpose for making the annual trip with your kids.

In fact, I’ve been making this trip annually since before the kid came. But having the kid simply guaranteed that the trip will continue in perpetuity.

Most of us have gone to the Pumpkin Patch on Sauvie’s Island from time-to-time over the years. Back when I was a kid, I recall it being a bare-bones operation. Pumpkins in a patch, basically. The name, literally, said it all.

Over time, it’s built up into something grand. A pumpkin patch, sure, but so much more. There’s a corn maze (a “maize,” of course), outhouses, a store, and in the last few years a growing food area.

This year, I decided that there was the requisite supply of foodstuffs available to provide a meal, and I sampled them for you.

I spent about 10 bucks altogether. With that money, I had a pulled pork sandwich, some of a cob of corn (actually bought for my wife and daughter), an elephant ear, and a soda.

The pulled pork sandwich, in particular, was awesome. The bun was typical Costco bulk fare. The pork, well, I couldn’t vouch for the quality of the pig it came from, but it was nicely prepped and mixed with a good barbecue sauce. It was served atop the bun, and further topped with some bulk-brand cole slaw, then enclosed with the bun top. A very, very simple sandwich, and yet somehow I’ve never had anything like it. Surprisingly, it was super-good, on a scale of 1-10. JLowe and his wife brought their kid with me and my wife, and his wife (who’s notoriously finicky) downed her sandwich, offering him only a bite, which in turn forced him to drop a 5-spot of his own for his own delicious pulled-pork experience.

The corn was very sweet, and very fresh. I have no doubt it came from one of the multiple nearby, and well-stocked, corn fields, and it was prepared so it was juicy and crispy and so, so good.

The elephant ears are a mixed bag. I like my elephant ears somewhat doughy and soft. These were thin and almost entirely crispy. The advantage to them, though, is that you get to apply your own butter (you paint it on with a brush, which is a fun experience) and then pour your own cinnamon and sugar on to make the elephant ear as sinful as you need it to be.

$10 was probably a bit much for what I got, but it was $10 that I was very, very happy to spend.
So, if you go to the Pumpkin Patch, go hungry. Though you no-doubt will go for the gourds, you’ll certainly be happy if you stay for some food.


The Cajun Grill

Third time's the charm...for writing this review. I first ate at the Cajun Grill in mid-September with Rusty, and I failed to write a review. Which was sad, because I absolutely hated my dining experience. OK, it is in a food court, but this was really bad.

We got off on wrong foot when I was charged extra for the rice. On the menu board, it clearly stated that for $5.20 I would get my blackened chicken with a vegetable and rice. When I pointed this out to the cashier, the cashier stated that the particular rice I chose had an extra price to it (which is nowhere to be found on the menu board). I should have just walked away, leaving the food behind, but I didn't. Instead, I complained to Rusty and proceeded to place the food into my mouth.

The rice was icky (that's a profession term for tasteless, greasy and dry - how can a dish be greasy and dry at the same time? I don't know, but the Cajun Grill pulled it off). The chicken was gooey, due to the skin and fat still attached to the meat. I couldn't finish it. I only ate five bites and threw the rest away. The vegetables were tasty and crisp.

Imagine my distress when I failed to post the blog? All I could think was, "I have to eat that crap again?" And, back I went, because you, the readers of this blog, need to know the truth.

Round two happened a week or two ago. That time, I ordered the Bourbon Chicken and vegetables. I declined the rice, as I didn't trust them. The vegetables were mushier then the first time and the chicken was gross...sticky sweet with really no taste and a nice fatty finish. And yes, I failed to post a blog entry again. I felt ill (not due to the meal, just to the thought of having to return for Round Three).

Rusty berated me, and I deserved it. So, given my duty to you, and Rusty, I went back for a third time yesterday for the Blackened Fish and vegetables. I experienced a reversal of fortunes. This time, the vegetables were really very nasty (mushy and tasteless) and the fish was swallowable. But, for $5.99, it wasn't worth it. I would pay maybe 50 cents. And, now that I have posted this blog, I will never have to go there again.


The Daily Grill


I'm calling a JLowe Mulligan.

I told him this today, as I called him out for failing to fulfill the promise of writing up our trip to The Daily Grill on Thursday.

In my opinion, JLowe's pretty much a slack-ass bastard. Case in point: we went to the food court several weeks ago, and he had food from the Cajun place, as neither of us had reviewed it. He hated it, and couldn't wait to let you all know. Of course, the post was never written, because JLowe's a slack-ass bastard, as I've mentioned already.

Last week, he went there again, on Monday. He didn't want to, but he agreed with me that he owed you, our readers, the service of going again. We have a rule that all reviews need to be written by the end of the day following our visit. The rule is fairly strictly enforced. It's designed to make sure we don't forget things that influenced our opinion.

Since I, for one, would never go to the Cajun place after seeing JLowe's reaction, and he really wanted to be able to bag on them for how awful they were, and he has a "three visit" rule before he'll totally write a place off, he figured he owed it to everyone (including the Cajun place) to go back. And I told him that he could cheat a review of his first experience in with the second one.

Of course, he never wrote that review either. He sucks. A lot.

There are other reviews he's missed. Thankfully, I have a really bad memory, so you don't have to be bothered with hearing about them any further.

But, anyway, we went to The Daily Grill on Park Avenue for lunch on Thursday, and it was blog-worthy, so here's your JLowe Mulligan-ed late review.

We went to The Daily Grill not by design, but because the restaurant we wanted to go to (The Park), which was new, had apparently closed up shop, leaving us towards the end of Park Avenue with few choices. We didn't want Subway, and chinese at the Hunan (oh, yeah, that's one he forgot to write...) would have been to heavy.

We saw The Daily Grill, and decided to check it out.

The restaurant's is a nice space. You walk in to a stairway down into the bar area and the host/greeter area. We were seated promptly in the next room over, which is a nice open restaurant space with high ceilings and good lighting. We were handed a "Blue Plate Special" lunch menu and a normal menu, and our server went immediately to fetch us water.

The menu is something. The Thursday Special is Grilled Cheese with Tomato Soup for about $11. It has three kinds of cheese, but still, that's ridiculous, especially if you're going to call it a "special," which I've always thought meant "deal."

JLowe ordered the BLT. I ordered the California Turkey. We each ordered ours with the side of shoestring potatoes.

Each of our sandwiches was in the $10-12 price range, which was too much for what we got. JLowe opined that the prices were to "keep out the riff-raff." While the food was by no means bad, I'd suspect that he was right on the pricepoint selection. The Daily Grill appears to be as much about who's eating there as it is about what's being served.

For instance, the iced tea was $3, and my lemonade was $3.50. Sure, the refills were free, but the prices were still ridiculous.

On the positive side, the food was tasty and filling and the shoestring potatoes were nicely cooked, crispy, and not at all soggy. The service was excellent, with repeated visits to top off our water and other beverages and a visit by the manager to make sure all was well.

We left satiated. We felt heavier in our guts for having gone there. Sadly, we felt the wallet was a little too much lighter to justify a return trip. Apparently it got plenty of exercise while we were stuffing our gullets.