Mini-post: Screen Door

So we often post one visit and never discuss a place again. But today I'm establishing the mini-post. Places we've been before but where there's something new to say, quickly.

Today: Screen Door.

What's new? Ate different food.

What's the same? Great ambience, great quality, good service.

Today's quick thoughts:

Avocado omelette: super-good. It's a special item, but if it's on the menu, snatch it up.

Spicy pork scramble: not spicy. If you want spicy, stick with the cajun scramble instead.


The Olive Garden

Rusty and I had a brief discussion as to whether we should include the Olive Garden in this blog...after all, it's just a chain. But, I felt that not including the meal we had at the the Olive Garden the other night would violate the spirit of this blog, which is to talk about where we eat. It would be snobby not to talk about it.

Rusty's family and my family met at the Olive Garden by Mall 205 this past Friday night. I remember when the Olive Garden first came to the Portland area...it was the coolest thing around (I was ten, give me a break). The Olive Garden is certainly a chain restaurant, in that the food is the same from place to place. Our meals were tasty, but nothing too exceptional. Rusty had a pizza, his wife had the soup and salad, and my wife and I both had the five cheese ziti al forno. Our daughters (ages two and three respectively) shared a dish of spaghetti. As is always the case, they brought us plenty of salad and bread sticks.

The Olive Garden is not cheap. Meal prices range from $11 to $18.

I think what was great about this particular meal was the service. Our server was terrific! A word of caution, this server did come on the heels of two very atrocious servers. But I have found, over the years, that the Olive Garden tends to hire and employee well-trained people. As Rusty observed, in a city like Portland where there are so many places to eat, sometimes what makes or breaks a restaurant is the service. I guess that's why we waited 45 minutes to be seated in a very full restaurant. The Olive Garden may not be exceptional food, but it is a nice place to go and enjoy a warm meal with good service and friends.


Hopworks Urban Brewery

This is two reviews in one.

First, Hopworks the Happy Hour Spot:

Fantastic. No complaints. Highly recommended. Good deals, good beers, good environment, good service.

Second, Hopworks the Restaurant:

Spotty, so-so, nothing-to-write-home-about-except-for-beer.

I've been to HUB several times for the happy hour reason, and I'll go back several more. I've got no complaints whatsoever, and I can't think of a single reason to poo-poo the joint on that score.

Last week (Friday night, to be entirely fair), JLowe and I took the wives and kids there for dinner.

Hopworks lives up to their family-friendly credentials, which is commendable. They have a play area for kids that occupied our children for awhile as we waited for food. They live up to their brewery credentials with an array of good beers. But as a restaurant, it left something to be desired. On a couple of fronts.

First, food. JLowe and I ordered (as we typically do) a pre-dinner set of buffalo wings to enjoy together. Not great. A little too sweet, not spicy enough. The good part was that they were plenty meaty and not breaded, both nice points. The bleu cheese served with them seemed more like ranch. For dinner, JLowe and his wife got a pizza, which appeared nice. My wife got a chicken tender platter where the tenders appeared to be half-breasts that were breaded somehow and soaked in sub-par barbecue sauce. The texture was weird, the flavor not great, and the course altogether unappetizing. I had the Portland Bella sandwich, which was a nice vegetarian offering but nothing to rave about.

The food was not helped by the service. Our waitress was very nice and very cute. That said, our wives ordered appetizers that didn't come until after JLowe and I had been served our appetizer and I'd been served my sandwich. Same with my daughter's cheeseburger. And there was no communication with us to explain it. It was weird; JLowe and I were served our wings, the waitress disappeared altogether, and then the pizza and my sandwich came out. Then, for 10 minutes, nothing else. No waitress, no salad for my wife (per her order), no cheeseburger, no explanation, no check to see how we were. My wife ended up tracking down the hostess to track down the waitress to inquire as to the food. We were given some excuse about "the pizza side being ahead of the food side" of the kitchen (didn't explain my prompt sandwich with the pizza), and no apology. The waitress seemed to be mildly aware of agitation at the table because she made two trips to talk to JLowe and I (not to apologize, but to offer us a free sample of a new brew and then to, it appeared, just stand there and remind us she was cute), but the good move would've been to at the very least give us a thorough apology/mea culpa, and more appropriately comp us one or two of the appetizers or late courses. None of that, so a definite ding in my book.

I have only a couple of big musts in restaurants. The food has to be decent for what you pay, and the service has to be, at least, good. There's so much fungibility in restaurants that, often, the only thing that puts you over the top is value and service and, maybe, ambience. I love HUB's building and won't say anything against the atmosphere. But if the food ain't great and the service is sub-par (despite being cute), I see no reason to recommend it to anyone.

So, HUB - go for the beer and the happy hour pretzels. And nothing else.