This is one of the most difficult reviews I've done. The last time we went to this place We were terribly disappointed. So much, in fact, that we have not gone there in nearly two years.
The only reason we went this time is that Angel had noticed that they'd just reopened after a major remodeling. Sometimes that means nothing, sometimes that means they are trying to make improvements. I never really had a complaint about the decor or the layout, it's always been the food that I thought needed re-thinking.
The decor had indeed changed. Entering we immediately noticed it was brighter, fresher. In the center, between the two dining areas, they had set up a bakery area. They seemed to want to emphasize/capitalize on this. There were donuts crullers, etc. It looked tempting, but we were hungry for actual food.
We were seated and introduced to a young lady, whose name I was going to mention, but I have decided not to since I do not want any of the somewhat negative things I have to say later to be tagged to her. She was polite, friendly, professional and she got our order right.
I had a little fun with her since she seemed to be in pretty good spirits. "Could I start you off with some tea or lemonade?" She made the mistake of asking.
"Why yes, yes you can." I answered and went back to scouring the menu. The look on her face a few seconds of silence later was priceless. I of course ordered tea, she upsold it by suggesting a lemon. I relented. Angel asked for sweet tea, Adam, the cola.
The menus were shiny and fresh, they'd capitalized on the effective use of white space and that made them seem brighter as well. Angel pointed at the lower left hand image on the burger page. It showed a sparkly glass of ice tea and the promise: "Our all-natural, long leaf black tea. Brewed fresh throughout the day."
BE sells comfort food, hearty, wholesome, southern/mid-western fare. Nothing fancy or spicy, nothing extravagant. This BE sits at the foot of a large hotel, it's a perfect location for a place that sells this sort of thing. Seasoned, weary travelers often want something other than fast food. I know when I was a road warrior, I eventually sought out a place that at least mimicked home cooking.
Coincidentally, we all ordered the same exact thing we did at our last visit, two years prior.
Me: Meat loaf, mashed potatoes and green beans.
Angel: Country Fried Steak, mashed potatoes and green beans.
Adam: Deep Dish Chicken and Noodles.
We were offered a selection of breads, rolls, biscuits, etc. We chose rolls.
The young waitress and her trainee scampered off. Our drinks were in front of us.
I was impressed. The tea sparkled as only fresh brewed tea does. I took a cautious sip.
It had taste, it had substance, it was actually very good. They'd not been merely boasting, this was exactly as advertised. I awarded it a +4 on the PJTea scale.
This seemed to me a very good omen. Perhaps they were trying to improve. A fresh bakery, fresh tea, things were certainly looking up.
The rolls were not delivered. We were told that they had just a couple more minutes before they came out of the oven. Not a problem in my mind.
The plates were simple, no garnish or flair, simple, clean, to the point. The portion size was modest by many restaurant's standards, but just right in my mind. The Meatloaf is offered in two versions, one slab or two. I opted for the single and once again appreciated the option. Not everyone wears the same size pants, why would you only offer up one size of food portions?
The meatloaf, made with ground beef and sausage, had a dense texture. It was not as dense as I'd found it on my last visit, when I'd compared it to tofu and dog poo. It was still more dense than meat loaf is typically made. The taste was not bad, although once again the flavor of the gravy was stronger than the taste of anything else. But not near as bad as I'd said about it before.
Angel in fact made a lukewarm pronouncement about her food. "Pretty good, not too salty. Adam seemed to like his noodles as well.
About halfway through the meal, the waitress returned, told us that the rolls were still in the oven and asked "Do you still want them?"
It was this question that caused me to decide to not use her name. It's the wrong question, at the wrong time.
I said we did, since I now was now a little annoyed. The rolls did finally arrive, fresh from the oven, after two of the three of us had already finished our meals.
Adam and I both buttered one up and wolfed them down. It was not exactly the delight I had been anticipating. I wrote a word down in my official eatandcritique notebook.
I waited for Adam to finish chewing his, which took a little longer than one would think such a thing would take. He took a big swig of his cola and said "Doughy". The exact word I had just written down. The d*%$# things were not in the oven long enough.
This is where it gets tough. I want to be fair, but thorough here, so please bear with me. The tea was outstanding. The service was, for the most part, quite good. The food, well, as best as I can manage is to say that it was mostly improved. Unfortunately, that's a pretty low bar. It was bad enough the last time that I actually wrote a scathing rebuke to Bob Evans HQ and then we didn't go back for nearly two years. So to say it was improved is not really an A+. It's more like going from a D- to a C- or a C.
The bread thing is no small point, because it was allowed to needlessly spin out of control.
As I'd pointed out the new Bob Evans showcases its bakery. That's a bold move. That a simple roll was not thoroughly cooked, not ready in time to be served with the meal is not exactly a trophy winning effort. I appreciated they were fresh-made, but the fact that they weren't well-made, and that they weren't available at prime time dining hours is almost inexcusable.
The waitresses error may not be entirely her own. I can't excuse management and training from this.
The meals were served very quickly, and why not? It's all batch made stuff. In the back there were probably meat loafs, CFSteaks and noodles being heated in steamers and pots. All they had to do was dish it out on a plate. If the rolls were not ready, then why blow the natural order of things by not waiting for them? OR, offering us an alternative. They offered several bread choices when we ordered, surely something was ready. This was an error. The waitress's question ' Do you still want them.' should have been way down the list of options when it was obvious that the rolls were not going to be ready. Thus, one small problem quickly escalated from understandable to annoying, to frustrating and memorable.
I really wanted Bob to be better. I really thought it might be happening. But as I polled the table, things darkened.
"Good at first, but then it got too salty." was Adam's critique."And the gravy didn't taste real, like it was made from a kit."
Dagnabbit, these are simple things to fix, mostly. I think BE over-thinks their meatloaf, and their gravy is too strong in taste, and the taste is not that of house-made.
The waitresses should be trained in how to handle unavailable product situations, because, hey, it happens. And the back of the house expediter, if there is one, should not rush out a meal until it is complete.
Unfortunately, even though the place looked fresh and bright, the waitress was mostly spot-on, and the price ($34.28) was not bad, I still can't recommend this place until the rookie mistakes are fixed. This is a long-established franchise in a prime location. It should have these sort of things sorted out.
I fully realize that in the greater scheme of things, that my criticisms are pretty trivial. My life did not alter its course because the rolls weren't ready. I doubt that anyone has ever slammed their fists on the table and demanded a refund or filed a lawsuit over a little thing like this.
I point it out because the food service industry is very, very competitive. Multiple little things, fixable things can add up easily and become lack of repeat business and lack of good references. Sometimes little things like this, especially the food quality, can be all it takes to have people, without them saying a word, staying away in droves.