July 2007

Monthly Archive

McGrath’s Fish House

Posted by on 07 Jul 2007 | Tagged as: Food Review

    With its polished hardwood interior and exclusively double-digit prices, McGrath’s looks like a potential high-class or special occasion favorite, but the fair, somewhat slow service, understandable in most places where fine cuisine is produced, in this case hints almost subliminally at the experience to come.

    The ordinary fish dinners of varying species are served in meager portions and are exactly that, ordinary. The fish and sides alike are bland and, while generally inoffensive to the hungry, are the bare minimum of what constitutes a seafood dinner.

    The fish of the beer-battered fish and chips, on the other hand, are a few fillets of flavorless cod buried within mounds of oily batter with a powerfully alcoholic taste, though it is by no means intoxicating. This could be considered somewhat unfortunate for the establishment, as it leaves even the hungriest guest lucid enough to recognize the fish as unappetizing after one piece at most.

    For seafood in the same price range, but with the quality to back it up, Cameron’s Seafood is a much better choice. Although most of McGrath’s menu is not repulsive, taking into account its unfounded apparent opinion of itself and its prices’ reflection thereof, I can give it only two and a half stars out of five.

Charlie’s Trio

Posted by on 07 Jul 2007 | Tagged as: Food Review

    For high-quality Italian food at low sit-down prices, Charlie’s Trio is the way to go. The meal begins with fresh garlic bread, never bland or too strong, with olive oil for dipping. Vegetarian options abound, but so do seafood, chicken, beef, and even veal.

    The lasagna, available with either meat or spinach, is thick, cheesy, and satisfying. The penne alla norma is an interesting and effective mix of eggplant, pine nuts, spinach, and other assorted vegetables in perfectly balanced marinara sauce. Rich cream sauce is liberally applied to the dishes that feature it, many of which, including the clam linguini, are pleasantly filling enough to be shared between two people.

    The ravioli, meat or cheese, is more parts sauce and fewer parts substance than the other items, but a bite of the actual pasta will dispel any feeling of regret or disappointment in one who orders it. Charlie’s also excels at pizzas, available in personal as well as family size.

    The restaurant itself is small with subdued lighting and soft, comfortable seating. The service is prompt and friendly. Without a single bad choice on its considerable and varied menu, I give it five stars out of five.


Islands Fine Burgers & Drinks

Posted by on 06 Jul 2007 | Tagged as: Food Review

    Often referred to simply as Islands, its full name is descriptive and accurate. Served in a cheerful, tropically themed atmosphere, Islands’ burgers are among the best available, as are their vegetarian versions, and come with several themed condiment combinations.

    The fries are not too greasy, and many excellent sauces are available to go with them, but they are served in baskets big enough that they must be shared or part of them taken home.

    Along with the everyday soft drinks, Islands serves an array of quality tropical alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages. The experience of the Lava Flow, for example, can only be described as closely akin to drinking a cheesecake in the best possible way.

    Islands also used to feature a variety of chicken options, but in a recent professed anniversary celebration, the menu has been revised and most of the non-burger items eliminated.

    Dessert is still exceptional, particularly the Kona Pie, a mocha ice cream cake with an Oreo crust that could tempt the most satiated diner.

    In the case of large groups with varying tastes, a better option in Old Town Pasadena would be Barney’s Beanery, with its equally fine burgers and much wider selection, and for students, families, and anyone else with a tight budget, Wolfe Burgers, also in Pasadena, with its cheaper but comparable beef, turkey, and veggie burgers, more casual atmosphere, and outdoors-indoors theme, may be a better option.

    For fine burgers and drinks, Islands is still top-notch, but taking into account its prices, I can only give this formerly five-star establishment three and a half stars out of five.

Wolfe Burgers

Posted by on 06 Jul 2007 | Tagged as: Food Review

    While the wolf theme set up by the founder’s convenient last name is used only jokingly, the prominent theme of indoor plant décor allows the guest to feel as if he or she is picnicking in the woods, except that the food is not cold from a journey.

    Although a typical, casual burger joint in many ways, Wolfe Burgers allows customers to dress their beef, turkey, or veggie burgers to fit their own tastes at a small condiment bar, and will provide additional condiments, including grilled onions and avocado, on request.

    There are also Mexican options, sandwiches, hot dogs, and a large breakfast menu.

    In addition to traditional fries and onion rings, Wolfe Burgers serves deep-fried mushrooms, breaded and lightly seasoned with a well-placed hint of cinnamon. One leaves the table with a mild case of the greasy, sedentary feeling that so often accompanies American food, but in this case it is not so much the food as it is the quantity one is likely to consume once having tasted it that is to blame.

    An excellent value for the money, I give it four stars out of five.

Rocky Cola Cafe

Posted by on 06 Jul 2007 | Tagged as: Food Review

    A typical ‘50s nostalgia diner with an emphasis on Coca-Cola, The Rocky Cola Café specializes in greasy, deep-fried American foods, and does them reasonably well. The chicken and fish are over-battered, leaving one feeling heavy, lethargic, and vaguely ill, but that is more or less the gastronomic fashion it follows.

    It is a decent place to bring children who cannot be persuaded to try anything but traditional American food, but for adults it is more appetizing the less it is contemplated, despite how amusing the spectacle of a cockroach crawling across a grade A health inspector sign may be.

    True to its name, the Coca-Cola at the Rocky Cola Cafe is less watered down than in many diners and fast food places, and tastes closer to the bottled version, and worthy to be poured into their Coca-Cola brand glasses.

    Unremarkable is the best one-word description of the place, and I give it three stars out of five.

Barney’s Beanery

Posted by on 06 Jul 2007 | Tagged as: Food Review

    Barney’s Beanery is one of very few restaurants that really do have something for the whole family. Printed as a newspaper to accommodate its size, the menu encompasses many different kinds of cuisine.

    The hamburgers, far from the basic choice they appear to be, are available with every imaginable combination of condiments, with beef, turkey, or veggie patties, and come with thick, seasoned fries that are far from ordinary.

    There are Italian and Mexican options, as well as American chicken and seafood, all done as well as an ordinary restaurant’s specialty. Breakfast is served all day, including omelettes with as many combinations of ingredients as there are for the hamburgers. Although it would be an impressive feat for one person to sample all that Barney’s has to offer, it seems that all it does it does superbly.

    The food is accompanied by friendly service and a ‘60s retro atmosphere. The tables are collages of famous faces, there are license plates on the walls from every state, and a few booths are inside a double-decker bus. There are televisions in and around the bar area, so non-sports fans may find it uncomfortably crowded during football games. Other than this, the only drawback one may encounter there is severe indecision, so I give it five stars out of five.

Hometown Buffet

Posted by on 06 Jul 2007 | Tagged as: Food Review

    Its name conjures images that are not too far from the reality, images of all-you-can-eat arrays of American staple foods. With a small salad bar, dessert bar, meat counter, and the ever-present basics: fried chicken, mashed potatoes, and macaroni and cheese, Hometown Buffet neither excels nor fails at anything it attempts.

    The customer should be aware when filling his or her plate that the food counters are very loosely monitored and within the reach of children who may find traditional utensils (and hygiene) tiresome, but even if some dishes must occasionally be bypassed for this reason, one will find that the entire meal turns out to be much the same bounty of homogeneous mediocrity each time.

    The few exceptions to this rule are the brisket, always well marinated, and the garlic mushrooms with their well-balanced blend of seasonings.

    A small step outside the bounds of its overarching conventionalism is the availability of a few flavors of soft-serve frozen yogurt alongside the chocolate and vanilla ice cream. Unfortunately the yogurt itself is less than a step outside the bounds of the general quality, and I give the restaurant as a whole three stars out of five.


Posted by on 06 Jul 2007 | Tagged as: Food Review

    Also known as Sweet Tomatoes in some states, Souplantation is a buffet style restaurant and a personal favorite of mine. Consisting of a thirty-foot salad bar, a small bakery, a shifting selection of soups and pastas, and a do-it-yourself soft-serve ice cream machine, it is a perfect place to gorge, diet, or do both at once.

    For any who might be overwhelmed when faced with everything one could dream of putting in a salad, there are pre-designed combinations including classic Caesar and far more adventurous rotating options.

    Their fresh baked muffins and corn bread are light but richly flavorful, uncontested by the artificial-tasting supermarket equivalents, and contain their star ingredients, particularly the blueberries of the blueberry muffins, in abundance.

    The varying availability of many dishes depends partly on the month-long themes such as pineapple, strawberry, or mint, which are used to their full potentials.

    It is inherently vegetarian friendly, but at the expense of meat loving and carb counting patrons. Chicken is usually available at the salad bar, but for an extra fee, and the chicken noodle soup is filled with enormous chicken breast pieces, but it is not always available, and the buffet style allows these pieces to be fished out early in the life of a batch. Red meat is scarce, but appears occasionally in different preparations of pasta.

    Within its specialty, however, Souplantation excels. The made-from-scratch soups are exceptional and make Campbell’s Chunky soups look like broth. With jello, pizza bread, and standard macaroni and cheese, Souplantation is a perfect place for families as well as health nuts, and for anyone who likes to feel full. I give it four stars out of five.

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