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Posted by on Sep 26, 2017 in Blog, Essays, Personal, Restaurant Reviews, Travel | 3 comments

Why I Love Kuby’s but Hate S.M.U.

 

 

Note:  This is the third and final article in a trilogy on my reminiscence of Dallas. Read PART 1 here.  Read PART 2 here.

 

When asked why I ended up enrolling in the University of Texas state school system, the truth is — my S.A.T. scores weren’t high enough to get into Rice.

Sure, I’m proud that I graduated from a state university.  But part of me still peaks across the imaginary crevasse separating the haves from have-nots, connivingly curious about life on the other side.  As with many kids who grew up working-class who spent our adolescence checking price tags and scrambling for lunch money, we couldn’t afford the high tuition to a private school.  Our parents weren’t rich enough.  We weren’t quite smart enough to get academic scholarships.  And, we lacked the talent to play sports or do something else creative to get the tuition-free ride.  So, stuck on the poor side of the tracks and frowned upon by trust-fund BMW-driving brats, that left some scars.  I admit this experience fueled a personal resentment and class awareness which remains to this day.

Wait — wasn’t this article supposed to be about “Why I hate SMU?”

Yep. I’ll get to this in just a moment.  Hang on.

I wanted badly to get into Rice University, which is located in Houston.  Rice was really super cool.  It had a small enrollment compared to most other major colleges — only about 5,000 students total.  But Rice produced many extraordinary graduates and also enjoyed a stellar academic reputation.  Rice was widely considered to be Texas’ version of an Ivy League school.  But what appealed to me most was Rice’s scandalous counterculture.  Sometime during the late 1970s at a college football halftime show, the Rice University marching band paraded into a formation in the shape of — now imagine the utter shock of this — a giant marijuana leaf.  Then, before 20,000 or so rain-spattered fans huddled in disbelief in an 80,000-seat stadium the Rice Owls marching band blasted out the song “Mary Jane,” by funk-rocker Rick James.  While bands elsewhere around the country played stale Broadway tunes and marched lock-step in strict military formation, Rice did the unthinkable.  I wasn’t part of the drug culture, but I still looked at that bravado as something that I wanted to be a part of.  Students being crazy and free-spirited and having the times of their lives — all while getting a first-class education.  That was for me.  Where do I sign up?   The movie Animal House should have been filmed at Rice.

Side Note:  Rice’s academic deeds are equally contentious.  Consider the controversial report issued a few years ago by the James Baker Institute for Public Policy at Rice University, which obliterates the failed “War on Drugs.”  [READ MORE HERE]

Rive had two academic counterparts within the state of Texas.  TCU, in Fort Worth, was very much like Rice so far as size goes, but severely lacked its academic reputation.  Plus, TCU was Viagra hard for Bible-thumping Christianity.  TCU is, after all, Texas *Christian* University.  Even though the city was just 30 miles from Dallas, it might as well have been in the suburbs of Outer Mongolia.  I loathed everything about Fort Forth, as did just about everyone else from Dallas.  So, there was no way I’d ever go to TCU.  To me, Fort Worth was a stupid hick town.  No one from Dallas ever went to TCU.  Not even Christians.  It just didn’t happen.

The other upscale private university within Texas many of us wanted to attend was Southern Methodist University — “SMU” for short.  The red-bricked SMU campus is fortressed within the Highland Park and University Park sections of super-snooty North Dallas.  It’s Beverly Hills sans the palm trees smoking a crack pipe while riding a polo pony wearing an argyle sweater with a bow tie.  Envision SMU’s campus on Mockingbird Lane and every stately manner house and residency within a three-mile radius being worth at least a couple of million dollars — and way up.  It’s Dallas’ version of The Hamptons or Martha’s Vineyard or Palm Beach, only with far more ritzy homes and lots more right-wing rich assholes.  Indeed, even though Dallas is solidly Democratic politically speaking, this is one of the most conservative and uber-wealthy neighborhoods in America.  The musty homes and the musty people and the musty attitudes come straight out of the ’50s — the 1650’s.  That’s SMU.

To be fair, SMU has produced an interesting gaggle of graduates — from former first lady Laura Bush (who seems like a really nice person) to television mogul Aaron Spelling (who produced many of the shitty big-haired bimbo-brained television shows that most of us grew up loving and addicted to during the 70s and 80s)….from H.L. Hunt (once the richest man in the world) to his son Lamar Hunt (who founded the American Football League and owned the Kansas City Chiefs)….from actor Powers Boothe (who died recently — R.I.P.) to Oscar-winning actress Kathy Bates (who was cast in her first movie after someone saw her performing in a college play).   SMU also produced lots of great football players — from “Dandy” Don Meredith to Eric Dickerson, plus many more.

 

SMU wasn’t always despised as it is today.  During the 1970s, my father took me to most of their college football games, which were played then at the old blue and white striped Cotton Bowl until SMU illegally went pro and moved into the horrors of football warehousing — Texas Stadium.  The Mustangs were plenty terrible way back then.  But they were gutsy.  They were almost always competitive and wildly entertaining.  Seems like SMU lost every game I attended by a score of about 45-36, but we always sat comfortably 25 rows up on the 45-yard line since barely half of the cavernous stadium was filled with fans of a lousy losing football team.

Eventually, SMU and its corrupt alumni living in football-mad Dallas decided they were fed up with losing all the time and didn’t care any longer for playing in a stadium smack dab in the middle of a Black neighborhood, known as Fair Park.  So, they broke just about every rule in the college football rulebook in order to build themselves into a national title contender.  Before the conversion over to the dark side, no good athlete wanted to go to SMU, especially since the in-state powers Texas and Texas A&M were so strong and to the north Oklahoma basically used the entire state of Texas as it’s minor league football farm system.  So, SMU had to get super creative.  They slipped football players envelopes full of cash and gave others new cars to drive — just to play at a rich school in North Dallas.

The tipping point for my loathing of SMU and its horrible graduates (except for Kathy Bates) and the start of my declaration of class warfare came during, appropriately enough, during a football game.  While attending the annual SMU-Texas rivalry when both teams were legitimate national champion contenders, I experienced a true moment of personal and philosophical epiphany.

At that game, on the opposite side of the field (I was sitting in the University of Texas section), the SMU student section unfurled a huge banner like 50-feet long.  It was large enough for everyone in the stadium to see.  The banner was unfurled.  It read:  “Our maids and butlers went to Texas.”

What the fuck!  Hey, it was bad enough SMU openly cheated to recruit players.  Everyone knew those crimes were going on, which ultimately led to the hammer being thrown down called “the death penalty,” which all but obliterated SMU’s football program.  It was bad enough that the perfectly sculpted students who all looked like Tucker Calrson were all spoiled brats who never worked a day in their lives.  It was really bad that SMU was, academically speaking, an inferior school to Texas (quick — name anyone from SMU who’s ever done shit — except for Kathy Bates?).

I hate SMU.  I still hate SMU.  SMU sucks.  Unless I’m betting on SMU.  Then, I cheer for SMU and I become SMU’s biggest, fattest, poorest cheerleader.

______

I love Kuby’s.

Kuby’s is a German-themed restaurant that first opened in 1961.  The family-owned market and eatery nestled in the corner of Snider Plaza, due northwest of the SMU campus off Hillcrest, draws a steady clientele of both on and off campus loyalists — including me.  My first Kuby’s meal was sometime around 1978.  Since then, I estimate that I’ve eaten at Kuby’s at least 60-70 times, including this my most recent visit.

 

Here’s my meal, ordered for lunch.  Question:  What do you think this cost?

Try this — $7.95

Wanna’ know the difference between good versus great?  The Details.

The attention to details here is marvelous.  Three piping hot house-made sausages of your choice.  Two different kinds of mustard are served, including spicy.  Not just one generous side of sauerkraut, but two sides — cut fresh from white cabbage and red cabbage.  The German potato salad is warm and perfectly seasoned.  Rye bread quartered served with real butter.  A couple of pickles serve as garnish.  Plus, a handy steak knife to make shoveling easier.  This is absolute cheap meal perfection.

Dallas is the best city in the country for outstanding cheap eats (okay perhaps, Los Angeles ties for first).  This is a city packed with stupendously tasty meals.  Kuby’s is sort of the embodiment of affordable excellence, am out-of-the-way hermit for insider locals that many people probably have no idea exists, especially in restaurant-heavy Dallas, consistently melding high-quality ingredients with outstanding value.

The layout:  Kuby’s is divided into two sections.  There’s a neighborhood market with a butcher on the premises.  European products are sold here.  It was also something of a cultural center, for a while.  For many years before the Internet existed and made international news and foreign languages easily accessible, this was practically the only place in Dallas you could pick up fresh copies of Der Spiegel or Frankfurter Allgemeiner.  All the waitresses and staff spoke fluent German (and stil, from what I saw last week).

 

The restaurant — open for both lunch and early dinner — offers instant counter seating if things are too busy and heavy wooden lodge-style tables and chairs, as you might expect in the Bavarian Alps.  Lunches are typically bustling.  The counter is mostly stacked with people reading who pretty much keep to themselves.  Tables are filled with college students and Highland Park locals.

VISIT KUBY’S OFFICIAL WEBSITE AND SEE MENU HERE

My only disappointment with Kuby’s was the recent shocking discovery that they’d changed their traditional recipe for the classic German delicacy — Black Forest Cake.  For decades as long as I could remember, Kuby’s used to serve the best Black Forest Cake in America.  I usually ordered two slices.  Yes, it was that great.  The former cake used to be multi-layered with a perfect balance of white Bavarian cream, fresh tart cherries, chocolate sponge cake, and an unusual crunchy texture that made each bite of torte a screaming orgasm for the taste buds.

Inexplicably, Kuby’s altered the dessert.  It wasn’t nearly as good.  So, I asked the waitress about this and she said desserts are now made out of house.  Perhaps it was the cost.  Perhaps it was a matter of space.  Perhaps it was the time it took to make fresh daily desserts for what amounts to a lowe profit margin.  Whatever the reason, changing that classic recipe and bringing in an outside supplier was a huge and a big letdown.  I wanted two slices.  This time, I ordered just one.  Mega-saddenz.

Even with the disappointment of dessert, my meal was almost as good as I remember.  Kuby’s receives my highest recommendation for German food lovers who are looking for quick service and extraordinary value.

Kuby’s the only thing about SMU I love — oh yes, and also Kathy Bates.

 

 

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Posted by on Sep 15, 2017 in Blog, Essays, Restaurant Reviews, Travel | 3 comments

Keller’s Drive-In (Dallas) — The Most Wonderfully Disgusting Burger Joint in the Universe

 

 

My unplanned detour off Northwest Highway onto the oil-stained parking slick fronting Keller’s Drive-In prompted a most peculiar of culinary quandaries.  Namely — should I risk my life for a hamburger?  

From the rusty dangling carports taunting wide-eyed anxiety of an imminent collapse….to the dreary landscape beguiling a knife fight between rival gangs….a pit stop at this East Dallas hamburger haven demands a divine leap of gargantuan faith, garnished with an intriguing sense of unease.

Keller’s Drive-In has been around since before I was born — which is to say when all the Kennedys were still alive.  Growing up in Dallas, I fondly remember Keller’s Drive-In as that last great American hamburger joint before the microwaved abomination of corporate fast-food chains conspired to destroy the world and all but obliterated these genuine small-time monuments to food art and guilty decadence.

All I can say is — thank fucking god this awful place is still around and remains so marvelously defiant.

While we’re now in the midst of a trendy faux-renaissance of the good old-fashioned era of the greasy burger, unfortunately, most of the forgers financed by quinoa-nibbling waifs charge at least quadruple the price of the most expensive menu item at Keller’s — and still aren’t even half as tasty.  Fuck them.  Fuck them with triple patty sideways.

See, Keller’s is the raw real deal.  Taste buds never lie.  Where else in this compromised day and age of mass copy-cat conformity can you wolf down a piping hot guilty pleasure and guzzle a cold beer in the front seat of your car (ALL LEGALLY!) for less than ten bucks?  Indeed, Keller’s isn’t just a teary throwback to bygone authenticity given that its days are probably numbered, memories destined to be bulldozed into an Applebee’s next to Chevron.  It’s a cenotaph to anti-political correctness.  Let me put it this way:  If Jesus ever did return and was an auto mechanic instead of a carpenter, and he wanted to re-do The Last Supper, he’d host it at Keller’s.

On this day, I didn’t plan on eating at Keller’s.  Hell, I wasn’t even hungry.  I was full, even.  But you only live once according to my spiritual leanings and if my time has indeed come to keel over from a heart attack or a switchblade thrust into the abdomen by the newest inductee into the Banditos — then so be it.  My friends, this is precisely how I want to go out — with a scrumptiously sinful artery blocker in one fist and some kind of alcoholic beverage in the other palm, all while mutinously singing The Internationale.

Here.  Check out the menu.  Look at these prices!  “The Best” Hamburger clocks in at $2.35.  Throw in some greasy fresh-cut fries for a buck fifty-five.  Then, kill those intestines with a hearty milkshake for $2.25 (not the corn syrup garbage served elsewhere, but the real dairy product where you can taste the cream).  You can also add a cold beer for $1.75.  Holy shit!  I need to rent an apartment next to this joint!  Or, be buried here.

The best burger, plus fries, plus a milkshake, plus a cold beer comes to — cha -ding! — a grand total of $8.90!

 

 

Allow me to become a bit philosophical.

Food is the most obvious revelation and the ultimate confirmation, that above all else, egalitarianism rules.  Screw everything else.  Fact:  We all want to eat well.  Food is the magnet that makes snooty rich people drive into shitty neighborhoods for no other pursuit than that uniquely scrumptious meal you simply can’t get anyplace else in the city, or the universe for that matter.  Food is the epicenter our most inherent of social and commercial bonds, often between the most disparate tribes.

My rental car pulled up next to a Tesla.  Across the breezeway was a lowrider, which looked to be a ’66 Chevy Impala, though I’m not a car guy (thanks Google).  To my left was a soccer mom with her too many kids in a Toyota SUV.  Behind me was an old paintless pickup truck with a bunch of lawnmowers in the back — presumably all “rapists and murderers” doing their part of keep Dallas green and beautiful.  See, lots more cunts live in Highland Park than Oak Cliff.

Where else but Keller’s Drive-In would I witness a solo visitor from Las Vegas parked right next to an asshole driving a $100,000 car, next to suburban soccer mom, next to a Cheech and Chong wannabee, next to illegal aliens on lunchbreak — all eating pretty much exactly the same incredible meal for the same price?  If that’s not egalitarian awesomeness, then nothing is.

Note, however.  Badass bikers have recently been banned.  [READ “EATER DALLAS” STORY HERE]

 

 

Not often does one accurately describe a popular eating establishment as a total shithole, yet also give it a glowing recommendation.  Well, here you go.  Keller’s Drive-In is a total shithole with fabulous food at ridiculously cheap prices.

Which now brings me to the close.  The culinary encore of this review can be expressed in either one word or perhaps two words.  I’m not sure which.  That word or those words are — POPPYSEEDS.  Ersatz POPPY SEEDS.  I’d crawl over broken glass to devour those poppy seeds.  They’re sewn into every bun at Keller’s Drive-In.  My new sick fetish is poppy seeds.

I’m not sure what exactly is the best thing about Keller’s Drive-In, but the poppy seeds in the bun are right there next to the free knife fight.  Then, there’s the burger.  The burger is so messy, napkins aren’t adequate.  More like you need a beach towel, and perhaps a shower.

Keller’s Drive-In reminds us all of what we once used to be and what can still be, given the will of taste over convenience, the popular demands of quality over quantity, and the indubitable love of great food over mass production.

This is badass greatness on a poppyseed bun slathered in a special sauce.  Blow your dick off perfection with a heart attack in your hand all washed down with a cold brew.

Keller’s Drive-In is absolute magnificence.

 

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Posted by on Jul 22, 2017 in Blog, Essays, Las Vegas, Restaurant Reviews | 0 comments

Restaurant Review: The Black Sheep (Las Vegas)

 

 

The Black Sheep has been getting rave reviews, so I had to pay this cozy neighborhood restaurant a visit.  Marieta and I dined together on a busy Friday evening and were lucky to be seated at the last table available before the inevitable wait list began.

There are many things to love about The Black Sheep.  There are also a few disappointments, admittedly more the result of my personal biases and clashes in tastes, rather than quality or service.  In other words, if you’re into the trendy nouveau restaurant scene, you’ll probably like it more than I did.

First, the good things:  The Black Sheep offers a marvelous variety of food and drink — from specialty cocktails ($9-12) to tasty appetizers ($5-16) to plenty of entrees with a unique flair ($15-25).  There’s at least one item of beef, chicken, pork, and seafood to satisfy most tastes.  I listed the price ranges because, as one can see, this is a surprisingly affordable place to dine out when compared with other contemporaries in this class.

Advertised as Vietnamese-American, this is the type of snooty restaurant one might expect on the Las Vegas Strip, at double the prices.  However, The Black Sheep is far friendlier.  It’s tightly nestled in the corner of an L-shaped storefront and conveys much more of a local’s feel, the perfect after-work meeting place, especially singles from the crowd we witnessed.  On the night we dined, the clientele was almost exclusively comprised of younger professionals.

Marieta ordered the Slow-Cooked Short Rib with Yucca Gnocchi on a bed of Summer Squash Ratatouille.  Her dish was stellar (I devoured a third of hers), and was a relative steal at just $20.  The short rib was so tender, no knife was needed.  The medley of beef, gnocchi, and ratatouille was divine.

My order consisted of something more simple — Rainbow Trout in a tasty vinegar sauce.  I’m a Rainbow Trout fanatic, so wasn’t quite sure this would match my palate.  However, the chef grilled the trout to absolute perfection, conveniently deboned, but also served with full head and tail.  My only complaint about the food was my jasmine rice accompaniment was a bit too sticky and clumped badly.  Still, I didn’t come here for the rice, so this was only a minor annoyance.  Also of Note:  The portions are not large.  This is not a place to go if you savor a huge meal.  Think of what you might expect in some fashionable Beverly Hills bistro, sans the attitude.

The Bad:  What was annoying for me was the ambiance, which had several shortcomings.  To be fair, The Black Sheep is a new hit spot, so it’s to be expected that the restaurant is already way too small for the crowds.  That’s not a knock on the establishment, at all.  Yet, while the culinary treats are ample, physical comforts are nonexistent.

For one thing, the spartan tables and chairs, dark concrete floor, and industrial loft look is certainly trendy, but also not the greatest atmosphere for a first date or casual conversation among friends.  The restaurant is very loud, made worse by a sub-standard sound system playing music that’s indecipherable from the ambiance of 75 people within seemingly talking all at once.  One of my major pet peeves is having to strain to hear the person next to me who’s talking in a normal tone of voice, even though my table mate was just 3-feet away.  Many people obviously aren’t bothered at all by this.  I don’t like it.

Another negative was the lighting, where The Black Sheep fails badly.  Many Las Vegas restaurants are at a comparative disadvantage with dining establishments in other parts of the country.  That’s because the sun here is often hot and blazing.  While there’s nothing The Black Sheep can do much about 105-degree afternoons, they should do something about the front windows, which blasts in a headache-inducing glare.  Since the restaurant is open 5-11 nightly (closed for lunch), blinding light is a big problem for diners who come in during the first few hours.  The rest of the place is dark, while sun rays peer through the front like it’s a midnight drug bust.  Sure, a small takeout joint can get away with this annoyance.  An upscale restaurant of this quality cannot.  Something needs to be done about those windows.  At least — pull the drapes.  No one wants to look out into a parking lot, anyway.

Here’s a stock photo (not taken during my visit) which shows the layout.

 

 

The service was excellent.  Our host, waitress, and busboy all seemed to know a great deal about the restaurant, even though they’d been open only two months (at the time of this review).  Staff were on top of every need and checked on us just enough to make sure we were happy without the constant hassle of interruption so often experienced at other places.  Remarkably, our dinners came out in less than ten minutes.  Not sure if this is routine, but the kitchen here can put out food quick — if needed.  A somewhat limited main menu of about a dozen entrees probably speeds things up for the back of the house.  Moreover, a smaller restaurant like this will rely on turnover in order to survive, so the quick service might be part of the standard plan.

So, I credit The Black Sheep on their affordable prices, excellent food, originality, and fast and efficient service.  However, I slightly downgrade them for some problems with the decor and customer comforts.

Also note — Early Happy Hour runs from 5-6 pm with $5 wine, $4 craft beers, and $1 fresh oysters on the half shell.  There’s also a late 10-11 pm Happy Hour for night owls.

Overall, this was a positive experience.  I recommend The Black Sheep and give them a solid 7/10.

Based on the popularity of what’s become one of the hottest new spots in Las Vegas, reservations are strongly recommended.

VISIT THE BLACK SHEEP WEBSITE HERE

 

 

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Posted by on Jul 3, 2017 in Blog, Essays, Las Vegas, Restaurant Reviews | 2 comments

Elia Authentic Greek Taverna — Las Vegas (Restaurant Review)

 

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Elia Authentic Greek Taverna is a new restaurant located on the west side of Las Vegas, just south of the intersection of Flamingo and Durango.

This location has been quite a tough sell for restaurauteurs and local foodies who fancy trying out new and creative ethnic cuisine.  Previously, the sun-bleached strip-mall storefront has been the culinary graveyard of an upscale seafood eatery (closed in 2008) followed by Gino’s Italian Bistro (which closed last year).  For those keeping score, that’s 0-for-2 — even though both prior places were well above-average restaurants that I enjoyed frequently (though apparently not frequently enough).

Elia likely stands a much better chance for success based on a number of reasons.  First, the local economy is far better now, than a decade ago.  Many popular upscale eateries in Las Vegas shuttered their doors following the economic crash of ’08, which now seems like a distant memory with all the mess going on right now.  The surrounding area has changed also, with the most notable new neighbor being Mint Indian Bistro, which moved in directly behind Elia’s.  Using the magnet marketing theory, the very best thing that can happen to restaurant struggling to create a steady clientele is having another creative dining force located right next door.

More belaboring a proven point, if I may.  This area has been utterly flooded by Mediterranean restaurants over the last decade, at least in proportion to the local population, many who probably don’t know the difference between a falafel and kibbeh.  Directly across the street, a nice Persian restaurant closed-down just three months ago.  Half a mile to the north is Zaytoon, my favorite Iranian market-bistro here on the West Side.  Even Putter’s Bar and Grill, a popular neighborhood pub about 200 feet away serves up tasty Lebanese food.  Yeah, I know — Greek food isn’t the same as Lebanese or Persian food, but many Americans likely won’t see much of a difference in the basic ingredients.  This is what makes Elia’s challenge all the more intriguing.

Elia is small, about what one might expect if vacationing on the islands of Kos or Crete.  White tablecloths, perfectly manicured tabletops, and a sparkling clean interior are most welcoming.  So was the house music, played at the perfect decibel level, which are mostly mandolin-heavy Greek instrumentals — a perfect background for table conversation.  Even more welcoming is the friendly ownership and staff, which greets customers instantly.  From the moment we walk in the front door, we are made to feel like their house guests.

What may be the best price-fixed menu in Las Vegas is available until 3 pm daily at Elia, and this made for an easy choice among lots of temptations to choose from.  For $15, a three-course meal with various options is available.  The courses include an appetizer or salad, a main course with potatoes, and a dessert.  All for 15 bucks.  That’s quite a bargain.

This might seem like a small thing, but it’s really a big thing.  It often foretells of the experience to come, and that’s the bread.  Many restaurants opt to go cheap in the bread, serving stale unimaginative dinner rolls or slices of white bread that are little more than caloric time-buyers intended to stave off customers until the main course arrives.  Not Elia.  Their bread was oven fresh, as good as any European bakery in the city.  Pipping hot, laced with flour, crispy, and accompanied by an above-average ramekin of Greek olive oil.  This was a very good sign.

Then, the first of three courses was served.  We began with Keftedakia, which is essentially Greek meatballs (borrowing from the Turkish Kofta).  Four were served on a platter with mint, onion, and parsley.  I could have enjoyed this as a main course — yes, it was that satisfying.  My three-course meal also included a marvelous Greek salad, though not of the standard creation one is typically used to at many Greek-American restaurants.  Mine was made of immaculately chopped rocket lettuce, topped with a perfect seasoning of olive oil, zesty lemon, and mint, accompanied by a delicious block of feta cheese and black olives.  Yummy.

The main course (e.g. the second course) was also satisfying, but not quite up to the glorious standards of both value and quality set forth in the appetizer (and finished with the dessert).  I enjoyed my home-made gyro sandwich, which is pretty standard at all Greek establishments.  To their credit, the meat wasn’t nearly as salty as I’ve tasted elsewhere.  The yogurt sauce wrapped in the pita was delicious.  Elia also serves fresh, hand-cut fries (not frozen) on the side, which merits applause.  Again, this is a very minor critique, and can certainly be overcome by ordering one of many other Greek dishes available at lunch and dinner ( must return and try multiple items — perhaps worthy of a follow up report).  If the bread and appetizer scored a 10, the main dish would scale an 8.  As for the next course, I would give it an “11.”

Dessert was fabulous.  I wolfed down my rice pudding, served in a cold cup, topped off with a generous dazzle of reddish cinnamon.  Marieta enjoyed her fresh yogurt topped with a coulis of three fresh berries — raspberries, blackberries, and blueberries.  The rich creamy yogurt, which I’m not typically a fan of, was stunningly delicious.  We fought over the last few bites.  The tart topping of berries was as zestfully delightful as any five-star restaurant.  I would call this simple, yet delicate Greek closer absolute perfection.

Our two three-course meals, with a drink and tip all came to $42 — a steal.  Dinner prices are equally competitive, but are assuredly an even better value given all the alternative mediocre food served elsewhere by run of the mill chains which charge considerably higher prices and then cut on the quality.  Give this place a try.  Skip the stale old Applebee’s or abomination of Friday’s for a night, and live a little.  You’ll be glad you did.

Elia receives my highest possible restaurant rating based on fast and friendly service, a comfortable atmosphere, authenticity, quality, and more than enough menu choices to keep me (and hopefully many readers) returning for more.

ELIA AUTHENTIC GREEK TAVERNA (OFFICIAL WEBSITE)

 

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Posted by on May 15, 2017 in Blog, Essays, Las Vegas, Restaurant Reviews | 5 comments

Restaurant Review: Gilley’s (Treasure Island — Las Vegas)

 

 

If you’e on the prowl for shitty barbecue, may I respectfully suggest the ghastly catacomb of rotting animal flesh which fronts the Treasure Island Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, better known as Gilley’s Saloon, Dance Hall, and Barbecue.

This might be the worst restaurant on The Strip — including the hot dog hustler parked out in front of Pawn Stars 24/7.  If there’s a more dire dive of disappointment in this city — I’ve yet to succumb to such culinary depths.  Virtually everything about Gilley’s sucked — from the utterly flavorless incarceration masquerading as a main course, to the scatterbrained service staff which can generously be described as uninformed and indifferent to every customer necessity and desire.  Did I mention yet that I didn’t particularly care for the place?

I’m just getting warmed up.

Allow me to elaborate, and even go on a bit of a rant.

Two of us wasted blew spent $110 (with tip).  Still, we left hungry as toothless wolves.  Mind you, we weren’t enticed by any more of the tasteless travesty plopped upon our table at Gilley’s — just famished for anything for fucks sake, even that stale hot dog down the street that sure as shit would have hit the magic spot after 90 minutes inside Gilley’s pushing my food back and forth across the plate like I was playing chess.  We ordered one adult beverage each (one domestic beer and a house margarita).  So, subtract standard gratuity and two drinks, and the food still came out to about $35 a piece.  For half that figure, a five-minute drive could have landed us instead at Rollin’ Smoke Barbecue, a heap of picnic-tables nestled on an industrial strip crammed under a busy interstate, which are the local experts at feeding the hungry for $16 a lip-smacking plate, complete with all the delicious trimmings (and no tipping required).  Live and learn.  Sometimes, you don’t get what you pay for.  Sometimes you just get fucked.

Seriously.  How do you royally screw up good ole’ Texas barbecue, when that’s supposedly the house specialty?  You’ve got one job, people.  Do your job.  Good grief, how can someone actually put his (real) name on this place?

Of course, Gilley’s was never known for the food.  It’s more like a poor-man’s pick-up joint for shit kickers driving Chevy trucks worth more than their mobile homes.  Long neck beer bottles, $24 t-shirts, mechanical bulls mounted by drunk girls wearing thin-string bikinis — a sort of contrarian “we don’t give a shit” Times Square-South tourist trap where you expect to be fucked in the ass without the grease and pay twice the going rate for the privilege — that’s Gilley’s in one sharp spur of a sentence.

Gilley’s was created by country-western singer Mickey Gilley (who apparently is still alive according to his Wikipedia page and deserves to be charged with crimes against humanity for opening this abomination).  The bar and saloon first achieved fame in 1980 as the filming location for the hit movie “Urban Cowboy,” starring John Travolta, back when he was still the cute feather-haired Kotter kid and long before he turned into a psycho for the cult of Scientology.  The Houston suburb of Pasadena instantly became the Gilley’s flagship property and turned the notoriety of a brawling backroom brimming with barstools into a bustling multi-million dollar business, ala a Hard Rock Cafe for the country music crowd.  Years later, the (now imploded) Frontier Hotel and Casino housed Gilley’s initial venture into Las Vegas.  Then, following a six-year void when Gilley’s was demolished into dust and the last remnants of the mechanical bull had been trucked off to a garbage dump in Pahrump, Giley’s rebooted and 2.0 opened just as short walk away, at TI.

Our first hint of the disaster to come should have been as clear as the gorgeous 75-degree day.  Gilley’s front room was only about one-third filled to capacity during what should have been the busiest time of the week — 6:30 on a Saturday night.  When it comes to restaurants, if empty tables in prime time could talk, they usually scream — this place sucks!

Gilley’s is divided into two sections — a honky-tonk dive bar corded off towards the rear with a giant concrete dance floor and the famous bucking mechanical bull.  All this looked about as appealing as standing out in a parking lot watching someone change a flat tire.  I can’t imagine the unfathomable experience of spending a Saturday night (or any night of my life) sardined in-between line dancers of cowboy-hatted and belt-buckled yahoos guzzling Coors Light like it’s tap water at $7 a pop with a line stretching to the flooded urinal like Garth Brooks was playing a free concert inside.  Not my thing.  Then again, I didn’t come for the bull.  I came for the pork.

To be fair, Gilley’s does have at least one redeeming aesthetic quality, which is it’s ideal location.  It’s perfectly situated near the corner of Las Vegas Blvd. and Sands Blvd. — across the street from the Wynn, the Venetian (which continues to be boycotted), and Fashion Show Mall.  Giant plate-glass windows looking out onto The Strip makes for prime people watching, although by the time I’d begun ingesting my sad excuse of a meal, those on the outside had become the object of my envy.

Full barbecue dinners with multiple meat options plus two side dishes range in price from $28.95 up to $55.95 (for fucking barbecue!).  Fortunately, as things turned out, less turned out to be more.  We both ordered the economy portion ($28.95), which was a blessing in disguise since the ribs (and side dishes) were so inexplicably bland, my taste buds seemed to numbed by an overdose of Novacane.  What happened to the flavor?

Indeed, there was something mighty peculiar about the pork ribs I ordered.  They weren’t salty.  They weren’t spicy.  They weren’t sweet.  They were sort of like — nothing.  Like something unearthed at an archaeological dig and tossed into a plate.  The pork ends resembled a grizzled jerky.  The barbecue sauce was so astonishingly flavorless that I did a first — hopelessly attempting to salvage the dining disaster by doctoring the sauce up with a shot of Tabasco.  How to describe the taste?  Think of boiled cafeteria-style ribs where every sliver and ounce of flavor was completely eviscerated out of the poor unfortunate animal which gave up its miserable life for the abomination of this appalling dining experience.

If the pork ribs were a disaster, then the baked beans turned out to be a magic show of disbelief.  Advertised on the menu as marinated in a zesty barbecue sauce and baked in molasses, the (canned?) beans could have possibly salvaged at least a star on my Trip Adviser review had they been the least bit tasty, or edible.  Not that I’m familiar with prison food on a firsthand basis, but those beans belonged in Leavenworth.  Slaves in chains eat tastier fare.  After two bites, and a napkin of mush, I gave up on the beans and pretty much knew the entire meal was a disaster.

One thing you sure have give to Southerners is — they usually know good food.  They (we) especially know good barbecue.  It’s just part of our DNA.  Just like you can’t open up a shitty Chinese restaurant in San Francisco or a lousy cheesesteak grill in Philadelphia and expect to stay in business, how Gilley’s has the balls to bill itself as the place for authentic Texas-style barbecue is jaw dropping.  Then again, if Guy Fieri can bill himself a master chef in this town, perhaps any fiction can be fabricated as fact.

Oddly enough, in some places the food really sucks but the service can partially compensate for a bad meal.  That’s happened to me — more times that I can recount, unfortunately.  Not this time, however.  You’ve got to really hand it to Gilley’s.  At least they’re consistent.  We were seated at the farthest possible table away from the entrance, despite plenty of available seats much closer to the front.  Once the bored waitress dressed in a cowboy hat and ass-kicking boots appeared with an accent that sounded like she was from Connecticut, things quickly went down hill from there.

For starters, I asked our server about a rib recommendation, eager for something that resembled Tony Roma’s — which has long been the gold standard for baby backs.  Well, our waitress had never heard of Tony Roma’s, a terribly bad sign that immediately disqualified her as our resident expert on rib commendations.  Next, when I asked for a baked potato — standard fare in any respectable barbecue joint, especially with a Texas theme — I came up rolling snake eyes.  “We don’t have baked potato,” she snapped.  Silly me, expecting something so goddamned simple as a baked potato to be on the menu.

I opted instead for (jail) beans, plus a side of onion rings.  Unlike the Bloomin’ Onion, a crispy oil-infested heart-stopping delight of debauchery served at Outback Steakhouse which are absolutely terrible for you, but which are about as short-term joyous as a hit of crack cocaine, my Gilley’s onion rings must have come straight from the deep freezer to the heat lamp.  Holy mother of god — even the onion rings were bland!  How is this even possible?  How do you murder the flavor out of onions?  As for other customary accompaniments in many rib joints, no bread was served.  There was no complimentary appetizer.  Nothing.  The waitress even forgot to bring a lemon for the iced tea.

I’m not quite finished yet.  Another bitch about Gilley’s — no bibs.  Baby bibs are typically provided by any respectable establishment specializing in ribs.  That way, the front of your shirt doesn’t end up looking like a Jackson Pollock painting.  Bibs are especially critical in popular rib restaurants where men wear ties.  Every restaurant in Memphis and New Orleans offers a bib to patrons.  Nothing ruins a tie faster than a blotch of reddish barbecue sauce.

After my third rib and second spill upon my yellow shirt, I glanced up at my sad-looking dinner companion and mumbled — “hey, this isn’t very good, is it?”  Wanting to be polite and no where near the asshole I can so often be, he just looked shrugged his shoulders and explained that he was really, really hungry.  I felt like I’d enlisted in the fucking Army.

After this torment of a meal was over, we dutifully paid our check, left a most undeserved 20 percent gratuity, and then bolted for the front door.  Despite walking past several employees who were standing around, including a hostess podium staffed by Gilley’s girls who seemed bored out of their skulls, no one bothered to say, “thank you,” or “please, come back again.”

Then again, don’t bother with the customary salutations.  We won’t be back again.

Gilley’s really fucking sucks.

 

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