Monday, November 27, 2006

What were we thinking?

OK, I admit, I was wooed by a radio commercial I heard for Applebee's. Apparently they paired up with some chef, Tyler Florence, and came up with some limited-time menu items. I heard them describing this steak dinner: "Enjoy a grilled 7 oz. House Sirloin brushed with olive oil, fresh herbs and Italian seasonings paired with plump sautéed shrimp topped with succulent crab stuffing and lemon garlic butter. Served with almond rice pilaf, fresh seasonal vegetables and toasted side bread". It sounded GREAT. So off we went to try it.
The picture on the menu also looked great. The steak looks juicy and succulent and is covered with herbs. StfRon ordered a steak from the special menu as well. We both asked for medium rare.
When they arrived, I was at first taken aback by the lack of any sign of herbs on my steak, plus no smell of herbs and actually, no scent at all from the food. StfRon noticed that his steak was gray instead of brown. In looking, I realized that mine was as well. I tried to cut into it, and it was rubbery. When the waitress came by to check, StfRon said the steaks looked gray and were kind of rubbery. She agreed that they did not look right and offered to have them remade.
While we were waiting, a manager visited our table and told us that all the steaks pretty much look the same, so chances our that our new ones would look that way, too. She said despite the looks, they taste fine.
Our new steaks arrived and sure enough they didn't look much different, still no herbs on mine and still looking a little gray. We tried them, and the flavor was OK.

As we had been waiting for our meal to be delivered a second time, we had been talking about when the last time was that we had visited a chain restaurant. Neither one of us could remember because it had been so long. And really, what IS the goal of marketing like this where places advertise, verbally and/or with beautiful, glossy photos that the actual meal never lives up to? Is the goal to get people in once and get that sale, or is the goal to keep them coming back? If I feel like I've been misled, I'm not likely to rush back.
Surely it could also be the franchise's interpretation of how to prepare the meal, but big chains should make sure the employees know how to prepare something that is going to be plastered all over the place.
The last time this happened, it was Lonestar wooing me with a "garlic lover's" steak and shrimp. You say garlic lover's and you are calling my name. This meal had no garlic at all visible on the steak, unlike the photo covered with minced garlic, and actually my shrimp arrived fried and not garliced. The waitress said you need to specify garlic shrimp, despite the picture showing the shrimp grilled with garlic in the menu.

The employees at Applebee's were great and did right by us. And we left a great tip for our waitress, who was very apologetic. But I doubt we'll be back, and if we are, we'll steer (no pun intended) clear of the steaks.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Vonachen's Old Place

StfRon and I went to the newly reopened Vonachen's Old Place early this month. It was an anniversary of our first date; and our first date was at VOP's. VOP's, located in Junction City in Peoria Heights, was Bud's Aged Steaks for a while, but now has been returned to the Vonachen's name.
Having never been to Bud's, we were a little disappointed to see the decor had changed so much since the last time we were there. The decor is a lot of browns now, and more contemporary. Also missing was the train which used to run in the dining room along the ceiling. We did not have a chance to see how the train car dining looks now.
The menu has changed a lot, too. I was sorry to see that the French onion soup was no longer offered. I remember VOP's as having one of the best French onion soups I've ever had.
For my dinner, I chose an appetizer of rare tuna rolled in sesame seeds, and accompanied this with a side of asparagus. The tuna was superb, and at first I was planning to request some hollandaise after my asparagus arrived naked, but once I tried it, I changed my mind. The asparagus was wonderful, sprinkled with some sea or kosher salt.
I also ordered a glass of pinot noir with my meal, which was $9. Overall, it was an expensive night out, but my meal really was wonderful.
Vonachen's does accommodate groups of up to 90 people.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Uncle Billy's Bakery

Yet another wonderful place in Galesburg is Uncle Billy's Bakery, 83 S. Seminary Street. They ground flour on the premises and everything is made from scratch, from whole-grain breads to cookies, muffins, cakes and pies. They also serve coffee and tea to accompany your treats. I stopped in there recently and saw that they had oatmeal fudgies, one of my favorites. But there was a new addition, white chocolate fudgies. I had to try one, and I think I have a new favorite! My favorite non-bar cookie from the shop is a cocoa oatmeal cookie. I also picked up a loaf of cheddar herb bread, which is made with organic flour. The bread is wonderful when toasted and used for a sandwich.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Tanner's Orchard

Fall is always the time Tanner's Orchard comes to mind. People go crazy for apple cider, cider donuts, caramel apples, gourds and pumpkins at Tanner's each year.
StfRon and I made the trek to Tanner's last weekend. Of course we always go in the same door and volley for space at the cider sampling barrel. We each drank a refreshing Dixie cup full and moved on.
I was looking forward to some soup, which I know they had served in the past, but this time they had cider brats, steak sandwiches and hot dogs, so we both had hot dogs. We visited the goats and sent a cup of food up the conveyor belt for them.
Tanner's has lots of fun things for kids like the barrel train and corn maze.
They've also started an online store, so if the drive out Route 40 to Speer is too far or you want to avoid the crowds, visit There is a lot of great information on the web site as well.
This weekend is the Christmas open house, November 3 & 4.