Suffering Seriously Slow Service

Yesterday our lunch group picked a restaurant that was about a block from the firm because it was too cold for a long hike.  It’s a place that specializes in sandwiches and hamburgers.  When we arrived at about 12:10, there was — literally — not a single patron in the place, and the wait staff near the front door were glad to see us.  We were seated promptly and given menus and water.

lsAfter a few minutes, our waitress came by to take our order.  We ordered three burgers and a sandwich, then began talking about the issues of the day.  Another table of patrons came into the restaurant, and shortly thereafter another group arrived.  The waitress came and gave us water refills, and our pleasant lunchtime conversation continued.

After about 20 minutes of chatting, however, we started to get antsy because the food hadn’t arrived.  When we hit the half-hour mark, we asked the waitress where the food was.  She was a friendly young woman who apologized for the delay and said they were working on it.  More minutes went by, and . . . no food.  We’d reached the point of inexplicable ridiculousness — after all, we’re talking basic food orders here — and our comments to the waitress became more pointed.  JV noted that we had been waiting a long time, and the Unkempt Guy reminded the waitress that we all needed to get back to work.  Of course, the delay wasn’t her fault, but we had to voice our exasperation to someone, and she was the only option.

At that point, the direction of our conversation began to focus exclusively on the delay.  We noted that there were only three tables occupied in the restaurant, so the long wait couldn’t be due to a busy, backlogged kitchen.  The two of us who were seated facing the kitchen kept an eye on the kitchen door, and we began speculating about what had happened.  Was our order not begun promptly for some reason?  Did somebody just drop the ball, or was there some other issue?  The next time the waitress stopped by, she swore that she had seen our orders being prepared and it wouldn’t be much longer.

Sometime between 45 minutes and an hour after we had placed our order, the waitress brought out the side salads the Bus Riding Conservative and the Unkempt Guy had ordered, and a few minutes later two of our burgers and the sandwich arrived.  JV, alas, was left waiting for about another 10 minutes for his burger.  In the interim, the waitress — knowing we needed to get back to work — asked if we wanted to get our checks, and I think JV actually got his check before he got his food, which has to be be a first.  We wondered how in the world our three orders were finished so long before his, but at that point we weren’t capable of being surprised by anything.  The waitress finally brought his order, and then took the checks, apologized again, and said we were being comped.  No one ever explained why it took such a ludicrously long time to serve us with our orders.

We finished our food — which was fine, by the way — and left cash tips for the waitress, and talked about whether we would ever come back to the restaurant.  JV took the position that the comping was an effective cure for the bad experience, and the UG noted that in prior visits to the place he’d been served promptly.  As for me, I don’t think I’ll be going back.  The waitress was put in an unenviable position, but she clearly was not telling us the truth in giving us initial assurances that our food was on the way.  And I think if you make people wait for such a long time you owe them more than a comped meal, you owe them an explanation.  Somebody — the manager, or the chef — should have come to our table and told us what happened and assured us it won’t happen again.  As of now, if I went back to the place and had a similar experience, I’d have only myself to blame.

By the way, by the time we left the other two tables hadn’t been served yet.

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The Random Restaurant Tour (XXI)

Sometimes, you just want something quick over the noon hour.  Yesterday, work demanded that the New Mentee and I get back to our desks promptly, so she suggested that we head to the Elia Athenian Grill.  It’s in one of the storefronts along High Street near the corner of Broad and High, where a lot of food places have come and gone in recent years.  Unlike some of its predecessors, Elia has shown some staying power.

Elia Athenian Grill is designed for the busy worker who is not going to be lingering over lunch.  You order at a counter, choosing from four base options — a pita, a salad, a grain bowl, or a “mixed bowl” — and then you identify toppings to be added as you move down the line.  By the time you reach the cashier and pay your food is ready and you grab your tray and head to one of the nearby tables.

I went the pita route, and had them assemble a pocket of “chicken yeero” — chopped chicken, helpfully presented on the menu in phonetic fashion for those of us who always wondered exactly how “gyro” is pronounced — with onions, feta cheese, and tzatziki sauce.  And, because the preparer behind the counter said it was “traditional,” she added a few french fries on top.  I’m not sure that french fries are in fact traditional Greek fare, but the meat was good, the sauce added a pleasant zing, and adding a few fries meant that I got a reasonably limited exposure to french fries without have to deal with a mound of them.  In short, the pita was good, and filling.

The New Mentee went for something called a Power Green Mix salad, which featured kale, romaine, spinach, chards, and cabbage, hummus, olives, some kind of non-meat substance that looked like meatballs, and God knows what else.  There was a lot of leafy green stuff in that bowl, so I tried to avert my eyes and not give it too close an inspection.  Clearly, the New Mentee needs mentoring in the food department!  Nevertheless, I did observe that, after eating about half of the Power Green Mix, she walked back to the firm, clutching her carry-out bowl, with a demonstrably more powerful stride.

Elia obviously has a solid core of regulars; the Bus Riding Conservative came in when we were there and no doubt grabbed a Power Green Mix to consume at his desk.  And the New Mentee was right — we were in and out in 45 minutes, easy.  Elia Athenian Grill is a good option if you’re in downtown Columbus looking for something speedy . . . or a Power Green Mix.

Changing One Corner

When I first started working at the law firm, more than 30 years ago, the lot at the western corner of Gay and High Streets in downtown Columbus was occupied by some kind of five and dime store.  It may have been a Woolworth’s, it may have been a Kresge’s, but there was a building and business there where I bought some small item, once.

I only went there once, because very soon after I made my purchase the building was torn down and the lot was paved over for parking.  It was one of the last gasps of the Columbus urban craze for demolishing old buildings that left the core area of downtown a veritable wasteland of ugly surface parking lots.  The preponderance of parking lots gave the center of downtown a kind of sad, scarred feel that made you wonder whether the area would ever be revived.

But slowly, over the past decade, many the surface lots are being replaced with buildings.  Some of the buildings are pure residential developments, many are mixed-use concepts with retail on the ground floor, office space above, and residential at the top, and a few purely commercial buildings have been constructed, too.  And some of the commercial buildings with parking lots have been converted into something that is much more interesting — like the former tire and lube business a few blocks from the firm that was turned into a cool bar, with its former parking lots becoming fenced-in outdoor seating areas complete with fire pits and games and food truck space.

And now the big, long-empty lot at the corner of Gay and High has finally joined this welcome trend.  Work has been ongoing for a while now, and as the picture with this post indicates, it’s getting close to being done.  It’s a huge project that is one of those mixed-use developments, and the buildings look pretty cool — and are much preferable to the grim asphalt expanse that we’d been looking at for years.  We’re now wondering what business might move into the ground floor options, and are hoping they will add to the buzz on Gay Street — for some years now the coolest street in downtown Columbus largely because the original buildings on the block between High Street and Third Street somehow survived the wrecking ball.

After more than three decades, our little part of the world is being reconfigured.  Scratch another surface parking lot and substitute something more attractive and vibrant and hopefully a harbinger of more to come.  Our downtown is on the move, one parking lot at a time, and we couldn’t be happier about it.

The Random Restaurant Tour (XX)

The Ringside Bar & Grill is one of the oldest establishments in Columbus, dating back to 1897.  Also known to those of us of a certain age as Clem’s — the name of the gruff, cigar-chomping boxing fan sitting at the bar who ran the place for years — it’s a modest brick structure in Pearl Alley, tucked in behind the Rhodes Tower and the other buildings fronting Broad Street.

These days the Ringside is also one of the unlucky businesses shrouded by the massive scaffolding apparatus surrounding the Rhodes Tower, where lots of exterior work is being done.  The Ringside has exercised a little self help, decorating the concrete abutments for the scaffolding to direct patrons to the front door and hanging signs on the scaffolding itself to remind people that the Ringside, and the other restaurants in the alley, remain open for business.

Yesterday a group of us decided to hit the Ringside on a rainy day.  Inside, the place is a snug joint that has the warmth and pleasant feel of an Irish pub, with the kitchen on one side, the polished wooden bar on another, a row of wooden booths against the wall, and some tables in the middle.  I always feel right at home at the Ringside.

And the place always serves a very fine burger, too.  Yesterday I went for the patty melt, and I got a piping hot, juicy burger on crunchy toast, dripping with melted cheese and sauteed onions, served with kettle chips.  It was excellent, and left me well nourished for the afternoon’s work.  I hope patrons don’t let the scaffolding deter them — the Ringside is right there where it always has been, ready to dish out one of the very best burgers in downtown Columbus.

Scooter Dodging

Urban Columbus has taken to rent-a-scooters like a duck takes to water. Every day you see dozens of people zipping down streets, in bikes lanes or on sidewalks, looking super cool because that’s how people on scooters inevitably look.

There’s just one problem: pedestrians. We poor downtown walkers have been reduced to the status of scooter dodgers, having to pick our way around scooters left willy-nilly on sidewalks, in front of business doorways, or wherever those ultra-cool scooters rider choose to abandon them. And because those sophisticated scooterites apparently can ride the scooters wherever they want, including sidewalks, we walkers have to be especially vigilant — because the scooter users are too busy being cool to pay much attention. Already I’ve had two close calls — one when a scooter rider zipped past at about 10 mph just as I was coming to a corner and we luckily missed a collision by inches, and the other when the rider turned a corner and I was able to dodge without a second to spare. In each case I got a breezy “sorry!” as the rider rocketed on his merry way.

I’m all for downtown Columbusites getting their coolness quotient up to the maximum level, and I do think scooters fill an urban transportation niche — which is why they’ve instantly become popular. But can the cool contingent at least take care in operating the scooters, and show some consideration for the rest of us in where they leave them?

Jeff Ruby’s

For years, there had been deep concern among the people of Columbus, Ohio.  If you wanted a selection of steaks and were in the area of downtown between Mitchell’s Steakhouse on Third Street and Hyde Park on the High Street cap, there was nowhere to go!  Sure, you could get a good steak at Flatiron Bar and Diner as one of the items on its Cajun-influenced menu, but if you wanted the full steakhouse experience, you were totally out of luck.

Fortunately, Jeff Ruby’s Steakhouse ventured north from its Cincinnati roots and appeared on Nationwide Boulevard to address the disturbing steakhouse desert that existed in the north downtown area.  Now we have three high-end steakhouses in the space of a few walkable blocks.

Last night the Bahamians joined Kish and me as we checked out Columbus’ newest steakhouse.  We found a lavishly decorated place — the chandeliers alone might require us to don sunglasses for the next visit — that featured live music in the bar and a busy dining room.  The wait staff was extremely professional and helpful, and featured both our waiter and a sommelier who advised on the many choices on the wine list.  After we indicated our interest in Italian wines and ordered a reasonably priced bottle of Amarone, he stopped by at the end of the meal and offered us a free pour of another Italian wine on the list.  It’s the kind of treatment that helps to bring people back.

The food is on the pricey side for Columbus, Ohio, but it was good, too.  I got the ribeye, which was prepared with a very nice char and was succulent.  For sides we went with some tasty creamed spinach and a kind of loaded potato gratin (the others in the party also tried the green beans, which I studiously avoided), and the four of us split a creamy piece of cheesecake and a chocolate cream puff for dessert.  It was a fine meal from stem to stern.

How many steakhouses does downtown Columbus need?  As far as I’m concerned, there just can’t be too many.  I’m glad Jeff Ruby’s has joined the club.

The Random Restaurant Tour (XVII)

Pecan Penny’s is the new BBQ joint in downtown Columbus.  It’s located in the old Ray Johnson’s Fish Market building on Main Street, between Third and Fourth.  Yesterday, JV, the Unkempt Guy and I decided to venture forth into an end of July downpour and check it out for the first time.

The set-up at Pecan Penny’s is different than at most restaurants, but familiar territory for barbecue aficionados.  You order at the counter from a menu posted on the wall, take your tray to go fetch your drink, and before you know it your order appears and you find a table, inside or outside, to sit down and eat.  The delivery of my order took about the blink of an eye, and I got my food before I’d even filled my water glass.  If you’re interested in something quick, Pecan Penny’s is the place for you.

Oh, and the barbecue is pretty good, too.  I got the brisket with mac and cheese, which also comes with some toasted bread and a large homemade pickle chip.  I doused the meat with some Hot Grandpa sauce — apparently a PP staple — in honor of JV, whose going to be a grandpa here soon, although of a decidedly lower temperature.  The brisket was moist, smoky, and quite good, with the HG sauce adding a nice zing to it.  The mac and cheese, which is infused with crunchy bread crumbs, was very tasty indeed and a great complement to the brisket, and the toast was good, too.  I ate everything except the pickle chip and enjoyed it all.

JV got the pulled pork and baked beans and gave them an enthusiastic thumbs-up, and the UG also enjoyed the brisket.  During lunch the UG regaled us with tales of his home barbecuing and meat-smoking prowess, but the fact that he got some kind of cucumber-oriented side dish made me question his true barbecue bona fides.  Really, UG?  Cukes, rather than mac and cheese or baked beans?  I shake my head in dismay.

By the way, Pecan Penny’s has a very pleasant, informal atmosphere, with a nice wait staff, too.  There is a bar area, a front of the building patio, and a back of the building fire pit.  It has the laid-back, relaxed vibe that makes you think it would be a good place to hang with friends, eat a little charred meat, and enjoy an adult beverage or three.  The lunch crew will definitely be back.