I looked them up online to find out about hours, meal choices, etc. Nada.
No web site, no Facebook page, nothing. Some of the auto-populating directories had a phone number and street address, and nothing else, so Friday night I called and was told the hours were Tuesday through Saturday until Good enough.
As I said we’d been watching. Weeks, maybe even a couple of months of construction. This appeared to be a complete renovation off the old building just of the main drag, across from the courthouse. It has its own designated parking area, a necessity being that close to the county court. Downtown parking is, like every other county seat, tricky during weekdays.
We parked and stepped right in, passing by the patio and the half dozen or so patrons seated there. Though the temperature was pleasant enough, the skies were clouding up and the breeze was a little gusty. That and the fact that we don’t especially like eating outdoors made the decision to dine inside rather easy.
We stepped in, the place was much bigger on the inside than any of us expected. There was plenty of available seating in the longer than wide dining area. We glanced around and saw no obvious hostess, no one coming toward us. From the back a young lady finally emerged and advised us to sit anywhere we liked.
We picked a spot near the front, by the window. It afforded a view of the entire place.
The young lady handed us menus and wrote down our drink order, Pepsi, Diet Pepsi and unsweetened tea.
About three minutes later another lady stopped by and offered to take our drink orders. We told her that it had already been taken and she asked by whom. “A younger lady” was all I could come up with and that didn’t help much since there were three or more younger lady waitresses scattered about. She said she’d figure it out.
The drinks did arrive, all in St. Louis Rams beer glasses.
The place looked new. The mostly undecorated walls were painted a curious shade of light green that I can only describe as ‘pickle juice’. The only things on those walls were four or five beer signs, all touting Anheuser-Busch-Inbev products, don’t get me started on that crime. In the back, over the bar was a large TV tuned in to a baseball game. Also over the bar there was one more AB/Inbev related neon sign.
The carpet was industrial and unnoticeably brown on lighter brown. The tables and chairs were noticeable, new, dark wood and modern.
All in all it was fresh, clean and modern. Sparse maybe, but not barren-sparse, more Scandinavian sparse.
The menus were also fresh, clean and uncluttered, Burgers, sandwiches, specialties, seafood and steaks. Classic American cuisine.
Some of the burgers and sandwiches had court-related names like The Defender, The Judge and The Prosecutor. Cute. I was tempted by the simple BLT but decided to forgo my intuition and appetite and to instead try what I assumed to be a signature dish, the Courthouse Burger. They offered two different kinds of fries, shoestring and steak. My preference is somewhere in between, but I asked for the shoestring.
Adam asked for the Defender, a hand-cut ribeye steak served on grilled
Texas toast. He asked
for the steak fries, I was glad, I wanted to compare them against mine.
Cheese, bacon, mushrooms and grilled onions are considered options here. At one dollar per. I added cheddar cheese to mine and the waitress worked to up-sell the onions or mushrooms. I told her I might want the onions but the dollar would come out of her tip. She grinned and shrugged her shoulders, "Fine with me” she said.
Angel asked for the Gulf Shrimp Scampi and two sides, a baked potato and vegetables. Today’s veggie was ‘a medley’ according to the waitress, it sounded like Veg-All to me.
I noticed that the waitress wrote none of this down. As I’ve said before, this is a neat trick if you can pull it off 100% of the time, error free. Otherwise its just a stupid, pointless trick that is more nuisance than impressive. I’ve never been annoyed by a waitress writing down details of an order. I have been annoyed, more often than not, when they get something this simple, wrong.
But we’d wait and see. And wait we did. The place was busy, busier than I could figure out a reason for it to be that busy.
has a population of only sixteen hundred or so, and this was certainly a
local-centric place being located behind the courthouse. It was Saturday
evening, no court, no county business at all, even the nearby county jail
wasn’t doing a booming business (yet). The patrons seemed local-like, no suits,
mostly jeans and boots. Several young cowboy types including two rather large
groups. Tight jeans, snakeskin boots, camouflage ball caps, Skoal rings in the
hip pockets. I was trying to figure out what the draw to a brand new place was until one of the cowboys answered his country-music ring-toned phone. After the
initial hello’s he said “We’re up here in Hillsboro.”
That told me a lot. He and his gang were not locals at all, they were in from the southern, more rural parts of the county, thus the ’up here in
Hillsboro.’ I suspected
there might be an event at the fairgrounds or something like that.*
I watched, waited, Adam and Angel poked at their phones.
Our drinks needed refills before the food ever arrived. The wait wasn’t terrible but it was noticeable. The waitresses appeared to be in a rush, dashing about more with hurry than efficiency. Several other patrons arrived and were told to sit wherever they liked. This would be a problem later. I’ll explain when I get to the sermon portion of this review.
|Gulf Shrimp Scampi|
The food did arrive, and it looked good. Filled plates, sizzling meat, melting cheese. I had enough grilled onions to choke a unicorn, they were piled high on the burger and falling off the sides. There was a pale tomato slice, some slightly wilted lettuce and an entire slice of raw onion on the side The fries were not exactly what I would call ‘shoestring’ but they looked toasty and crispy. Also on the plate was a large dill wedge. The bun was obviously not a grocery store generic bun. I appreciated the touch. Adam’s
toast looked very good, and Angel’s plate certainly seemed colorful. The
waitress stepped away quickly and I noticed as I was photographing the plates,
Adam’s first, he’s the most impatient about that sort of thing, that his fries
were the same size as mine. The waitress had gotten the order wrong, so much
for the ‘I can remember all this without writing it down’ party trick. Fail.
Adam wasn’t too concerned about it so we didn’t ask for a correction.
We dug in after the waitress returned with some ketchup and cocktail sauce. She asked if I’d like mustard. Duh. It’s a burger. “Yes Please.” is how it actually came out of my mouth.
The burger was quite good, cheesy, smoky, just enough char. The fries were nice, but it kind of seemed they were pulled from the bottom of the bag, more ends and short pieces than whole strips.
|The Courthouse burger|
Adam struggled with his ribeye, pulling globs of chewy fat out of it, one glob about half the size of the steak.
Angel handed me a shrimp, I tried it. It seemed a bit overcooked, rubbery, but the taste was dead-on scampi.
I asked her about the veggies. They looked kind of pale, limp and lifeless to me, almost . . . “Frozen” Angel said, interrupting my train of thought. Yeah, that was it, they looked frozen.
Don’t take this all the wrong way, as far as food goes it was all pretty good. Not great, but good enough to go back for and maybe try something else. They’ve got good recipes, the tastes were there, with a little fine tuning and fresher/better quality ingredients the problems can all be fixed easily enough. But then there’s. . .
First off, this place is brand new. I always cut some slack for new places as it takes time for the staff to find its rhythm and timing. So my sermon here should not be taken as harsh criticism, but rather as constructive comments since I want this place to do well.
needs a place just like this.
I mentioned earlier the ‘seat yourself’ policy. Epic fail. (we debated over the modifier ‘epic’ and I won with this one bit of observation:
An elderly couple came in and found a seat, not too far from the front door. I’d noticed them out of the corner of my eye for no real reason other than they were taking up space in the corner of my eye. Nicely dressed, quiet, peaceful folk, not at all like the cowboys and their halter-topped lady friends. Several minutes later, maybe ten or fifteen, I noticed movement in that same eye corner. It was the old couple leaving. I noticed their table had no plates, glasses or even menus. They’d gone completely unnoticed by the wait staff. That’s an epic fail. Lost business, lost positive word of mouth. Ouch. I’m as laissez faire as the next guy, but this free-range seating policy means customers will slip through the cracks. It is actually counter-productive and counter-profit. The solution is simple. Either assign a hostess to seat people so they get immediate welcome and attention, or failing that, assign a floor supervisor/expediter whose primary job it is to keep an eye peeled on the entire dining area to look for things like impatience, empty glasses, etc. This is how every other restaurant in the world handles front-of-the-house service. Someone needs to keep an eye open, a designated person, not just the waitresses, they’re busy enough with their own table issues. Someone like, I don’t know, maybe the lady behind the bar that watched the couple leave. She noticed them as they left, I could tell.
This ‘seat yourself’ policy also meant lopsided service areas for the waitresses. Most people don’t really have a firm seating preference, they’ll go where you take them. This allows balance in the dining area, waitresses given grids, specific areas to serve on a balanced, level playing field. This also explains the issue with twice being asked for our drink order, inefficiency, counter-productivity, disorganization. Not very professional. But so easily fixed. It’s a new place, when we go back in a couple of months we will be looking for this to have been resolved. Seat yourself works in a tiny, ten table diner, not in a full-floor dining area. Also, make the wait staff writes down orders, nobody minds this, but they do mind when their order gets screwed up.
Now the food. Like I said it was pretty good and the problems are easily enough resolved. Trim the excess fat off of steaks, even steak sandwiches. It was simply gross. “Not very satisfying” Is how Adam put it. And seriously guys, the vegetable of the day was frozen? Really? There ought to be a law.
Once again this is a brand new place. The food was for the most part good, the selections were attractive and in theory all good ideas. This is not a greasy spoon nor fast food joint, it is expected that the food will be of better quality than those places. It is expected that the service as well will be better. All this place needs to do is fix these little problems and this could be upgraded to a very good place rather quickly.
The bill came to a respectable thirty six dollars and change, including the dollar for the two cents worth of grilled onions. Though not as expensive as some franchise sports bars, or even Munzert’s right up the road, this is about fifty percent more than a diner or fast food place. For this extra cost the service and food quality needs to make it seem worth it.
They’re off to a good start, you’ve got a great location and the city needs a place just like this, but it will not suffer bad service for very long.
*As it turned out there was a tractor pull at the fairgrounds. This explained the unexpected busyness of the restaurants, the traffic jam on main street, and the much greater than normal number of big, black-smoke-belching diesel pickup trucks in town. Yee- haw.