Seven Seas: An Outstanding Beach on PUERTO RICO’S Northwest Coast


Parque Nacional Balneario Seven Seas
Fajardo, Puerto Rico
$$$$$



Seven Seas is a very nice public beach and national park about 30 miles West of San Juan and is clean with a protected swimming area, public toilets, life guards, and access to a nearby snack bar (pastilillos).


Parking is $5.35, but worth the price thanks to the attendant who watches over the lot. There is street parking, but we were told that the police ticket cars, so pay the price or park in Casa de Los Patilillos parking lot. The beach is adjacent to both parking lots.

You can avoid paying the $5.35 parking fee by visiting on Monday or Tuesday when the national park is closed and park your car at Casa de Los Patilillos. Tito, the owner, is very friendly and speaks excellent English. He has a full bar, soft drinks, pastalillos (homemade deep-fried dough pastries with a variety of savory and sweet fillings), and entrees. We tried the ham and cheese (jamon con queso), ham and pineapple (jamon con piña) and beef and cheese (carne con queso), and all three were hot, fresh, and delicious!

The very fine sand on the beach is easy on the feet, but adheres easily to the skin. Much better than the rocky beaches of Greece, the sand is easily brushed or washed away with a towel or the sea.

The water drops off to about three feet then quickly drops off. There are numerous species of fish inside the reef, so bring your snorkeling gear. The bottom is sand and small, smooth rocks, and is easy on the feet. Water temperature was probably in the high 70’s, perfectly cool enough to refresh while not so cold it shocks the system.


Mostly families and couples, Seven Seas is highly recommended while in the Northwest part of the island.

CombatCritic Gives Seven Seas 9 Out of 10 Bombs … BOMBAS ARE Bueno!

Key Words: beach, CombatCritic, Seven Seas, snorkeling, fish, ocean, public, restroom, sand, sea, toilet, snack, bar, Fajardo, Puerto Rico, San Juan, CombatCritic, TravelValue

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Keith’s AirBnB Miramar (Avenida Miramar – San Juan), Puerto Rico Apartment … Central, Afforadable, Friendly!



Living Room and Balcony

We found Keith’s apartment in Marimar (San Juan) by chance and were we glad we did! For a reasonable price considering the location, we had a bedroom and access to the living area (bath, kitchen, living room, terrrace) of a modern apartment centrally located between downtown San Juan and Old San Juan (less than 2 miles). 


Kitchen

Keith was visiting relatives stateside when we arrived, so Tiffany (a student at University of Puerto Rico and tenant) was there to let us in, orient us to the area, and give us the keys, all on Christmas Eve. She was friendly and helpful before leaving for Ponce to spend the holiday with her family.


On Christmas day there was not a lot open, so we went to El Escambrón, a nice public beach between the apartment and Old San Juan with clean sand, public restrooms, snackbar, and parking ($5).

The next day we took the bus (M1) to Santurce Corazon station where we caught the train (Rio Piedras Station) to Mercado del Rio Piedras, a vibrant indoor market frequented by locals.



Bedroom
The apartment is on the 3rd floor of a modern high-rise with street parking that was at times difficult to find close by. We had to walk a few blocks much of the time there as the parking spots out front were occupied by static vehicles after day two.


Access to a fridge, stove/oven, washer/dryer was very convenient although we had to go out on Christmas Eve and find a Walgreens that happened to be open to buy enough toilet paper to get us through the holiday. The apartment was relatively clean with a lived-in feel and nice, although dated furnishings and decor. There was one beach chair and one beach towel, a thermal lunch bag, and small umbrella available for beach use and we took advantage of all on our trip to El Escambrón.


There is a tub/shower combo in the bathroom with plenty of hot water despite what the previous reviewer had written. Keith provided soap, shampoo, and conditioner as well as laundry detergent and fabric softener (which we replenished prior to departure), but I would advise bringing your own or purchasing at the local market just a few blocks away on Avenue Ponce de Leon, the hub of the area with upscale restaurants, markets, cinema, and fast food (Subway, Papa John’s are close by). Having access to a washer and dryer was an unexpected luxury, and a definite advantage to staying here.


CombatCritic Gives Keith’s Miramar Apartment 8 Out Of 10 Bombs … BOMBAS ARE BUENAS!

Key Words: Keith Poimboeuf, Keith, Poimboeuf, apartment, airbnb, Miramar, San Juan, Puerto Rico, puerto, rico, washer, dryer, kitchen, bath, bedroom, terrace, balcony, CombatCritic, TravelValue

A Friendly, Vibrant Vibe Awaits You at Mercado del Rio Piedras!


A Friendly, Vibrant Vibe Awaits You at Mercado del Rio Piedras!

Leaving the Rio Piedras train station, go straight one block to De Diego street, turn left, and go about 10 blocks. Mercado del Rio Piedras will be in your left. 


Occupying a full block, the market has fruit, vegetables, food stalls, clothing and sundry shops. Mostly locals, it’s a good place to escape tourists and get a cheap lunch!

Strictly locals, this market has a little of everything either inside the large mercado or in the surrounding shopping zone. Inexpensive food stalls, fruit and vegetables, clothing, toys, souvenirs, and a friendly, vibrant vibe await you in Mercado del Rio Piedras! If you want to escape tourists and find some great bargains, THIS IS A MUST SEE in San Juan!


CombatCritic Gives Mercado del Rio Piedras 9 Bombs Out of 10 … BOMBAS ARE BUENAS!

Key Words: Mercado del Rio Piedras, mercado, market, rio, piedras, river, stones, shopping, food, eat, clothing, shops, shoes, fruit, vegetables, San Juan, Puerto Rico, CombatCritic, TravelValue

Taco Rico Is Cheap and Muy Bueno!


Punta Santiago, Puerto Rico: Taco Rico is a small restaurant where you order at the counter, then they bring you your food. Our hosts, Tony and Bonnie, recommended Taco Rico, so we had to give it a try. It’s a small place on Route 3 adjacent to a bar/ nightclub. The owners are very friendly and the men spoke limited English, so our poor Spanish was put to the test.

Tacos are $2, burritos $3.75-$5, burgers under $4. A whole meal including drink easily had for under $7.

The owners were very friendly and the men spoke limited English, so our poor Spanish was put to the test. The microwave was broken, thank heavens, so quesadillas and burgers weren’t an option. So we went with the namesake tacos,

The shells were pre-fab, but the cheese, tomatoes, and lettuce were fresh and the meat flavorful. I had a beef burrito and at $3.75 was a great tasting value with beef, beans, lettuce, tomato and cheese. The salsa was “butt-burning” good, coming in a squeeze bottle.

For two dinners, a soft drink and two cervezas the bill came to under $15. Simple and unobtrusive, Taco Rico is nothing fancy, but was a very good value, hence my rating …

CombatCritic Gives Taco Rico 7 Out of 10 Bombs … BOMBAS ARE BUENAS!

Key Words: Taco Rico, taco, rico, rich, burrito, hamburger, French, fries, travel, value, CombatCritic, TravelValue, Punta Santiago, Puerto Rico, 

Delta Airlines … Is "We Don’t Care, We Don’t Have To" A Thing Of The Past?


Happy Campers
Am I just lucky or is Delta Airlines more user friendly than they used to be? Our recent experience has been nothing but pleasant AND SURPRISING after many years of intercontinental travel and an “I could care less about you because you have no other choice” attitude by the vast majority of airlines. If you have flown in the last 25 years, you know exactly what I am talking about.

It all started when we found a decent airfare for a Christmas trip to Puerto Rico. At $600, more or less, for economy round-trip tickets, we decided that we could afford a few weeks away from the freezing cold and a holiday in the balmy breezes of our tropical Caribbean cousin. 

View From 1st Class … Don’t Get Used To It!
When it came time to choose our seats, I was shocked that the first class cabin was an option, so I jumped on seats 1A and 1B! Woo-hoo … could this be a glitch in Delta’s system or were we really getting “premier” seats for the cost of an economy ticket?

The day before departure, I went online to check-in. A relatively simple process, I had done my homework in advance and resigned myself to the fact that we would be paying $25 per bag for luggage. I heard on National Public Radio just the day before that one airline alone had made BILLION$ this year in baggage and other travel related fees. I never realized how lucrative the airlines add-ons actually were prior to that, so it’s no wonder why they changed the rules just a few short years ago. So when check-in was complete and there was NO $25 FEE for our luggage, I thought I had won the lotto … YIPEEEEEE!

The next surprise came when we arrived at the Kansas City International Airport (they can call it “international” because the apparently have one flight to Canada per day) early on Christmas Eve morning.  Arriving and hour-and-a-half prior to takeoff, there was no line at the Delta counter and we were greeted by a smiling and friendly agent … was I dreaming?

Atlanta, Georgia from 10,00 Feet
Being retired Air Force and having lived overseas for 9 of my 20-year career, I traveled quite extensively by plane and rarely, if ever, encountered a compassionate agent. The best I could normally hope for would be non-committal or neutral attitude and, at worst, an openly hostile and aggressive personality and “we don’t care, we don’t have to” interaction.

The Delta agent was actually quite friendly and helpful, and we breezed right through check-in in less than five minutes. As we approached the security, the TSA Agent told me “you are pre-screened Mr. Sorrentino, please proceed to the gate (without the usual security hassles – shoes/belt off, computer out of the bag, etc.). I never applied for a TSA clearance, so they must have comped me for having had a Top-Secret Clearance and being a retired lieutenant colonel.

All first-class got us on the flight from Kansas City to Atlanta was early boarding, a couple free bloody Marys, and a piece of pound cake. Gone are the days of Mimosas and filet mignons on domestic flights, but hey, who’s to complain!

After much consideration, I think it was just a fluke, one of those times when the planets simply align and everything goes more smoothly than it is supposed to. Deep down inside I hope that the airlines are finally treating us like humans AND WITH JUST A LITTLE DIGNITY AND RESPECT because, after all, WE PAY THEIR DAMN SALARIES … THANKS FOR THE NICE EXPERIENCE DELTA!

CombatCritic Gives Delta Airlines 8 Out of 10 Bombs (On This Trip – 3 Out of 10 Bombs Overall) … Bombs Are Good!






Title: Delta Airlines … Is “We Don’t Care, We Don’t Have To” A Thing Of The Past?

Key Words: Delta, airlines, Delta Airlines, plane, airplane, trip, flight, vacation, customer, first-class, travel, value, TravelValue, CombatCritic, combat, critic

San Juan, Puerto Rico Bus and Train Information


San Juan, Puerto Rico Bus and Train Information

If traveling by public conveyance in San Juan, Puerto Rico, there is not a decent website or app I could find with a good map of the bus and train system. Not wanting my fellow travelers to hunt as much as I did to find a map, the folks at Puerto Rico DayTrips have published a decent product on their website:


http://www.puertoricodaytrips.com/wp-post-images/san-juan-bus-routes.png

Courtesy of the Nice Folks, Ray and Gwenn, at Puerto Rico Day Trips (Link Above)
You can always go to a bus stop and ask someone for help as many locals speak English. There are information counters at the train stations where you can also buy free cards for the trains and busses that you can load as much money on as you like, eliminating the need to take rolls of quarters with you (required on trains – buses only take coins). 

Good luck!

CombatCritic … On the Front Lines …yadah…yadah…yadah

CombatCritic, Puerto Rico Bus and Train Information, San Juan, TravelValue, 

El Escambron (San Juan, Puerto Rico): Awesome Public Beach Near Old San Juan


Balneario El Escambrón (Public Beach)
San Juan, Puerto Rico
$$$$$


San Juan, Puerto Rico: El Escambron is a very nice public beach just West of Old San Juan. it is clean with a protected swimming area, public toilets (closed on Christmas Day unfortunately), a life guard, and snack bar.


Parking is $5, but worth the price thanks to the attendant who watches over the lot, accompanied by a police cruiser and several police officers the day we were there. The beach is adjacent to the parking lot.

The very fine sand is easy on the feet, but adheres easily to the skin. Much better than the rocky beaches of Greece, the sand is easily brushed or washed away with a towel or the sea.

The water drops off quickly to about three feet and remains fairly shallow all the way out to the rocks. There are numerous species of fish inside the reef, so bring your snorkeling gear. The bottom is sand and small, smooth rocks, and is easy on the feet. Water temperature on Christmas day was probably in the high 70’s, perfectly cool enough to refresh while not so cold it shocks the system.

Mostly families and couples, El Escambron is highly recommended while in the San Juan area.

CombatCritic Gives El Escambron 8 Out of 10 Bombs … BOMBS ARE GOOD!

The Leaning Tower of San Juan … El Hamburguer


El Hamurguer
298 Ave Muñoz Rivera
San JuanPuerto Rico 00901

(787) 721-4269









$$$$$

San Juan, Puerto Rico: Feeling burger deprived all day after our horrible experience at El Patio de Sam last night, we walked 2 km (uphill in the snow … both ways!) for a real burger at El Hamburger!


My wife says she saw Anthony Bordain … “I eat, I travel, I drink too much” … eating there on one of his episodes in Puerto Rico and Yelp reviews were mostly 5 stars, so we had to try it. We almost literally ran into the place on Christmas day coming home from El Escambrón beach, so I knew where it was.


The place looks like it’s on fire with smoke billowing out the top and across the busy street from the dozens of small, very thick burgers being prepared for inhalation by their many ravenous patrons. It is rather small with one dining area seating about 40, a small counter, and another small room that we did not see well because of the crowd around the front door. The place was packed!


Counter and Cash Register

They had two servers, as far as we could tell, doing a remarkably fine job considering the number of people crammed inside. We ordered the bacon cheddar burgers ($3.60 each), a side of French fries, onion rings, a root beer, and a Medalla beer.


Leaning Tower of San Juan – $3.60

The burger patty, like El Patio de Sam, were smallish but thick, probably 5 ounces or so (but also $7 less than Sam) and smothered with cheddar cheese. There were several pieces of bacon wrapped in a heap on one bun and our server brought a container with plenty of lettuce, tomato, onion and pickle. By the time I built my burger, it looked like the Leaning Tower of Pisa.


The onion rings were good and plentiful for $1.90, but a little too well done for my taste. The fries were abundant for the $1.90 price, the shoestring variety, hot and crispy just the way I like them. Root beer is root beer ($1.49) and the local Medalla Light thirst quenchingly cold and at $3.60 a reasonable price.


Dining Area – Couples and Families

The servers are nice and the crowd mostly couples and families, so the noise level is moderate. They only take cash, so bring enough with or use the convenient ATM they parked right outside the door and you must pay the quiet, burly man behind the cash register before you leave.


El Hamburger serves a great, reasonably priced burger and all of the usual accompaniments, so if you are hungry for the all American meal, by all means … give them a try!


CombatCritic Gives El Hamburger 8 Bombs Out of 10 … BOMBS ARE GOOD!


 




Key Words: El Hamburger, hamburger, burger, French, fries, onion, rings, beer, soda, pop, Coke, Medalla, bacon, cheese, eat, food, lunch, dinner, CombatCritic, combat

El Patio de Sam … More Like El Yucko de Sam!


Santa? What Are You Doing In This Dump?
El Patio de Sam
Calle San Sebastian 102
Old San JuanPuerto Rico 00936
(787) 723-1149


$$$$$

San Juan, Puerto Rico: We came for the piña coladas… advertised prominently out front as “2 for 1” until 7pm weekdays … and decided to try a burger ($10.95) with cheese and fries because the server told us “our burgers are the best, not only in Puerto Rico, but in ALL OF THE US!” We trusted her, first mistake!

Pina Colada – $9

Our burger FINALLY arrived after 30 minutes and was slightly bigger than a White Castle (Whitey One-Bite). There was no sauce, the patty (advertised to be 8 ounces) was small, maybe 5 ounces at best, and accompanied by a pickle spear, very small slice of tomato, and a little lettuce. The fries were shoestrings and not many of them at that. We finished the sandwich literally in less than 3 minutes and I am not a fast eater by any stretch.


Thankfully, the piña coladas ($9) were large and tasty, not strong, good, but thank God it was happy hour because they were way overpriced … $33 for two drinks and an itty-bitty burger … Never again!

CombatCritic Gives Patio de Sam 3 Out of 10 Bombs … BOMS ARE GOOD!










Key Words: Patio de Sam, patio, Sam, Old San Juan, San Juan, Puerto Rico, old, San, Juan, bar, saloon, restaurant, pina colada, rum

Nonna Cucina Rustica Serves Food My Grandmother (Nonna) Would Be Proud Of!


Nonna Cucina Italiana
Calle San Jorge
San Juan, Puerto Rico
(787) 998-6555


$$$$$


San Juan: Nonna Cucina Rustica Italiana is very nice, somewhat small, slightly upscale classic Italian restaurant near downtown and not far from Miramar where we were staying. We found her on Yelp* and the reviews were very positive. We had difficulty finding a restaurant open on Christmas Eve when we arrived in San Juan, so I figured that Christmas day would be even worse. To our surprise, Nonna was open (as were several restaurants we saw – everything else was closed as they should be) and had a table available … “we’ll be right there!”

Waze, our eMap, was a bit off, so we called the restaurant and the manager guided us in (a couple blocks ahead of where Waze took us), sticking her head out the door until she spotted us pulling up. They have Valet Service, but we decided to go through the next signal and found plenty of street parking in the next block.

It is nearly impossible to find a traditional Italian kitchen in the US and we were expecting as much in Puerto Rico … WE WERE VERY PLEASANTLY SURPRISED!

Homemade Mozzarella Caprese ($9) and Vido di Alicante
Carmen, our server, was extremely pleasant even though, still being on “non-island time” and expecting things to move rapidly like they do on the continent, we were hungry and a little impatient to start. I ordered a Spanish Alicante red, a simple yet robust dark red wine ($27), to accompany our meal.

For antipasti, we had the veal polpette (meatballs) and homemade mozzarella, and both were excellent. The polpette (3 for $9 – polpettone, by the way, is Italian meatloaf) came atop a bed of mashed potatoes (polenta would have been a more traditional and excellent choice) and covered with a light tomato sauce. We had to ask for bread and it took a while to arrive, a very small basket of what looked like foccacia sliced into small pieces, and the only disappointment of the night. Local bread on the table is standard in all Italian restaurants, even in Italy, so when I did not see bread on a single table and had to ask for it, I was a bit surprised. It was decent, but too little to accompany the wonderful appetizers, both of which cried out for bread, good bread!

Polpette with Mashed Potatoes and Tomato Sauce – $9
The homemade mozzarella was also delicious. Atop the four rather small, thin slices ($9) of mozzarella were three large cherry tomatoes, a few pieces of arugula, and a hefty dose of olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and chopped, toasted hazelnuts. A kind of insalata Caprese, you would never see balsamic vinegar on mozzarella in Italy, but it was very tasty if not filling.

The Casoncelli alla Bergamasca ($17), a light yet complex dish of pasta shells (the size of perogi) was stuffed with sausage and quickly sautéed in a mild butter and sage sauce. They were sublime, the only fault being that the obviously homemade pasta shells were a bit too “al dente” and could have been boiled another minute or two. Otherwise, we were quite pleased.

Casoncelli alla Bergamasca – $17
I ordered the lasagna ($18), which came in its own 7″ x 7″ baking dish with a crispy layer of cheese and béchamel sauce and it was exquisite! More than I needed to eat, it was layered with a hefty portion of minced lamb, lasagna noodles, spinach, and ricotta and mozzarella cheeses. The lamb tasted very much like lamb, so if you are not into lamb, DO NOT order this dish. I like lamb on occasion, not daily, and was very happy with my choice.

Lamb Lasagna – $18
For dessert, offered by the very sweet, young pastry chef with a huge smile, we had the tiramisu. Untraditional in every way, I had seen it on other tables throughout the night and thought it was an ice cream sunday, but it was not! All of the usual ingredients were there, cookies, mascarpone cheese, and cocoa (accompanied by a shot of espresso to pour over the top), but a scoop of ice cream was also included along with chocolate syrup. It did not taste like any tiramisu I have ever eaten (and at $12 it was the most expensive tiramisu I have eaten), but it was extravagant.

Not cheap by any stretch, Nonna was a delight and extremely good value … BUONISSIMO!

CombatCritic Gives Nonna Cucina Italiana 9 Out of 10 Bombs … BOMBS ARE GOOD!






Key Words: Nonna, cucina, rustica, Italiana, Italian, restaurant, food, San Juan, Puerto Rico, eat, dinner, delicious, pasta, wine, mozzarella, cheese, tiramisu, CombatCritic

The Java Break Breaks The Monotony … Coffee, Caffiene, Studying … What Else Do You Need?


Our very first visit, we had a cappuccino with homemade almond milk, a 16 ounce latte with skim milk, and a bacon, egg and cheese breakfast panino to start Christmas Eve Eve day, paying just $10 for the whole shebang!

The Java Break has friendly service and four large rooms perfect for studying while ingesting some much needed caffeine while studying or an early morning breakfast with your (my) sweety.

The place may seem small from the outside, but it’s not. They have fair prices and we will be back again soon!

CombatCritic Gives Java Break 7 Out of 10 Bombs … BOMBS ARE GOOD!

Key Words: Break, coffee, CombatCritic, Java, Kansas, Lawrence, New Hampshire, TravelValue, combat, critic, coffee, cafe, caffiene, cup, joe
Rear (Right) Room
Rear (Left) Room
Coffee Menu
Sandwich Menu
Bacon, Egg, and Cheese Breakfast Panino – $5.25
Back Room

Salon DiMarco: Hair Today, Spa Tomorrow!


Salon DiMarco: Hair Today, Spa Tomorrow!


This was my first time here after being haircut free for over a year. After 20 years in the Air Force, long hair is not something I am used to.


Corrina (“Carina” means “pretty” in Italian) was very nice and she did a great job with what she had to work with … my hair. She washed my hair, cut it, and blew it dry, spending about 30 minutes overall ($25 + tip).


The salon is in an old building downtown, occupying a large space two stores wide, with 12 foot ceilings and an old decorative copper ceiling (which could use a paint job by the way). 


Greeted as I walked in, my only complaint being that the nice pair of older ladies were offered tea by the receptionist while I was merely instructed to “have a seat”. 


Overall, a nice experience and fair value, I will return, maybe getting a tea next time?


CombatCritic Gives Salon DiCarlo 7 Bombs Out of 10 … BOMBS ARE GOOD!







Key Words: Salon DiMarco, salon, dimarco, di, marco, hair, cut, haircut, beauty, spa, color, massage, Lawrence, Kansas, 66044, CombatCritic, TravelValue, travel, value

$400 for a GoPro Hero3+ (Black) and Support Is Questionable … Not User Friendly


I purchased a GoPro3+ (Black Edition) and mounts early this month, spending nearly $475, but updating the software is a nightmare! I also did not know that the camera HAS NO VIEWFINDER OR DISPLAY before I purchased it, intuitively thinking that ALL CAMERAS HAVE A DISPLAY … NOT THE GOPRO.

After wasting a great deal of time trying to figure out how to use the camera’s remote, installing and using the iPhone app (the only way to see a display of what the camera sees and then you can only see the display in certain resolutions, not all), and attempting to update the camera’s pre-installed software, I sent the following to GoPro Technical Support ($475 and no phone number?):

First, I’m not sure why I have to enter my serial number all the time. Why don’t you update my account so you know when I bought the camera, what updates are installed, etc? Not very user friendly!

Your instructions for updating my camera are missing a step. After I drag the UPDATE folder to DEVICE “NO NAME”, you don’t say whether I should reinstall the battery and SD card before powering off, powering on, and waiting for the camera to cycle with several beeps, on and off, etc. I have tried both ways, following the instructions exactly and, intuitively, reinserting the SD card and battery, then powering the camera on, but neither does anything! 

Why can’t I merely update my camera via the USB cable like I do to download video/photo files when attached to my Macbook Pro 13 (Mid 2012)? It does not make sense to download an update to the SD card. 

After spending $475 for the camera and mounts, I would think the support I get would be better and easier than having to fill out this long form. NOT VERY CUSTOMER SERVICE ORIENTED! 

You can read more about my experience on my increasingly popular blog, http://www.CombatCritic.com, where you will find this comment in addition to how well GoPro responds to my concerns. I am trying to test the camera before leaving on vacation next week, but GoPro is making my life rather difficult. Please assist ASAP! 

Sincerely, 

Chris Sorrentino, LtCol, USAF (Ret) 

aka CombatCritic

I will keep you posted on their response, if any, as I try to test-run this rather complex little camera before we leave for Puerto Rico on vacation in a few days. 

CombatCritic Gives GoPro 5 Out of 10 Bombs (So Far) … BOMBS ARE GOOD!







Key Words: GoPro3, GoPro, go, pro, 3, camera, sports, waterproof, housing, HD, high-definition, video, photo, audio, production, CombatCritic, 3rd, Wave, Media, Group

Gli Ristoranti di Firenze, Italia … The Restaurants of Florence, Italy




Osteria Vini e Vecchi Sapori
Via dei Magazzini, 3R
50122, Firenze (Florence, Italy)
Tel: 39.055.293.045
Prices:  € €  €  
We, literally, stumbled upon Vini e Vecchi Sapori while heading for the Palazzo Vecchio and Piazza della Signoria, the busiest and most famous square in Florence. The streets in Florence are made of large stones, not so evenly laid and sometimes causing tourists to stumble. I had heard of this restaurant through word of mouth and reviews on Yelp, but was not sure where it was. We almost missed it if not for my clumsy feet, hurling me toward the menu outside the door.

The menu says, in English, “NO PIZZA NO STEAK  NO ICE” and consisted of five to seven each of the antipasti (appetizers), primi (first courses), and secondi (second courses) followed by a few contorni (side dishes) and dolce (desserts). The menu changes each day depending on what the chef feels like cooking and the fresh ingredients available. The choices on our first visit were enticing, so we asked if we could get a reservation that night…WRONG!

Tomaso, the 3o something owner and front man, is thin with Harry Potterish glasses and wavy brown hair. He was extremely nice as he explained that the restaurant was sold out for the next week, so we asked for the first available table, which was seven days away on the following Saturday at 9:00PM (fairly early by Italian standards). We snatched the reservation quicker than turtle tucks his head and waited, and waited, and waited…

When Saturday rolled around, we arrived at the appointed hour and Thomaso greeted me at the door…Signor Sorrentino, welcome! Impressed that he remembered my name after only one encounter, the festivities began. The restaurant is very small in a very old building with tall (18 foot) ceilings and tile floors. Beside the five or six tables, there is only a glass refrigerator case, like you would see in a deli, a small counter, and the door to the bathroom and to the kitchen (different doors). The walls are smothered, but tastefully so, with an eclectic variety of original art and prints, making the small room, I mean restaurant, warm and inviting.

Pappardelle con Ragu di Anatra
The restaurant sits on a short, narrow, quiet street just north of the Piazza della Signoria and has five tables or so, holding about 20 people. It reminds me of my favorite Italian restaurant in Los Angeles, Palermo, run by my old friend Tony, an immigrant from Palermo, Sicily and a warm, wonderful person. When Palermo opened back in the late 1970’s, it was just as small and quaint. Now Palermo is huge and packed every night of the week, a few blocks west of its old location. I hope that the same does not happen to Vini e Vecchi Sapori for it will lose much of its charm.

Paccheri con Fiori di Zucca e Zafferano
Thomaso sat us, then sat with us to explain the night’s menu. My wife’s dear friend Maddalena was with us and we were celebrating her birthday. We had visited Pistoia and Lucca by train that day, and had eaten foccacia con mozzarrella, prosciutto cotto, e carciofi (thin, herb covered bread with mozzarella, cooked ham, and artichoke inside) in Lucca that was larger than expected, so we decided to skip the antipasti and save room for the wonderful selection of primi and secondi. We started with the pappardelle con ragu di anatra (pappardelle are very wide fettucini-type pasta and they were covered in a rich minced duck sauce – €9) and paccheri con fiori di zucca e zafferano (yellow zucchini flowers and saffron – €8). The papparedelle con ragu di anatra was out of this world, just enough to satiate the palate for the time being, but never to be forgotten.   The paccheri con fiori di zucca e zafferano was delightfully done in a rich, creamy sauce and the pasta was thick and al dente, just firm enough to hold all of the wonderful sauce. I had never had saffron, a spice used mostly in the Middle East, in an Italian pasta sauce before, but it was creamy and dreamy. I hinted to Thomaso about obtaining the recipe, but will wait until we establish ourselves as regulars to make such a proposition.

Ossobuco con Piselli
Having trouble deciding whether to have the scaloppine alla pizzaiola (similar to veal parmigiana, but much better – €14) or the ossobuco con piselli (veal shank – slow cooked with peas), Thomaso decided for me, it was the ossobuco (€14) and I was not disappointed! The veal shank was cooked to perfection, not huge by American standards, and falling off the bone with a hint of marsala wine sauce. It was delicious, the best ossobuco I have eaten and I have had a few. My wife had the torta ai carciofi (artichoke omelette – €8), but she wolfed it down while I was talking to the couple from Shang Hai at the table next to us, so I did not have the opportunity to get a taste.

 Friends from Shang Hai & Jordon…Tomaso
Our meal was accompanied by a litre of sparkling water (€2) and a litre of Chianti wine (€14), which was dark, rich, and flavorful with hints of berry and chocolate. Being so small, you easily fall into conversation with the table next to you. The first diners were a couple from San Francisco, she a teacher on break, and very nice, he a silicon valley marketing executive, seemingly very impressed with himself and eager to end the conversation. The next couple was from Shang Hai and it turns out that his family was from Glendale, California where I spent much of my childhood and college years, moving to Hacienda Heights after his graduation, where I had spent all of my school years. What a small world! Emma is Chinese, a native of Shanh Hai, and extremely engaging and sweet. The couple on their other side, I thought were from Holland by the accent, turned out to be from Jordon and were equally as warm and engaging. It was one of the most delightful dinners I have experienced in a long time.

Front Door & Tall Ceilings

Finally, the dessert was ordered, while I was talking to Emma about her soon to be baby (due on Christmas day), so I did not have a choice in the matter. We tasted the tiramisu (€5), which was light and refreshing and minus the coffee, which by this time in the evening would probably have kept us awake all night, and the meringato (“big meringue” with cream and chocolate – €5), which was good, but not outstanding.

The bill came to €86, but Thomaso rounded it off to €80 even, so we left a generous tip, which usually is not required in Italy. On the way out we met the chef, Thomaso’s mother, and congratulated her on her wonderful meal, telling “ritorniamo prossima Sabato” (“we will return next Saturday”) and the Saturday after that, and the one after that …


HOOAH … It’s the “BOMB”!



Vini e Vecchi Sapori gets 9 BOMBS OUT OF 10 (“bombs” are good) from CombatCritic…my highest rating yet!



Trattoria da Giorgio

Via Palazzuolo 100r, 50123 Firenze 
Tel: 39.055.28.43.02
Fax: 39.055.28.43.02 
Email: info@trattoriadagiorgio.it
http://www.trattoriadagiorgio.it
Prices:  €  € €  

A hidden gem! At €13 for a 3 course, excellent dinner (€12 for lunch), wine and water included, Trattoria da Giorgio is a terrific BARGAIN! 

Diners select from a primo (first course, usually pasta or soup), second (secondo…that wasn’t so hard! – usually a meat dish, but not necessarily), contorno (side dish – vegetables, salad, french fries – accompany the secondo), 1/4 litre of wine or a can of Italian beer, and 1/3 litre of water…ALL INCLUDED IN THE PRICE…NO TAX…SERVICE INCLUDED (although you should always leave a little something extra if the service was good).

Primi
Pasta and risotto dishes are moderate in size, just large enough to allow room for your secondo and maybe a little dessert. The ravioli with butter & salvia (sage, not something to smoke) was perfectly cooker light with a hint of sage and the ravioli slightly al dente as they should be.  The bigoli tartufo nero (thick spaghetti with black truffle cream sauce) were also excellent, thick and rich as you would expect from a truffle sauce. The risotto (rice) with asparagus and radicchio (not, radish, but a red cabbage-type vegetable) was of a perfect consistency and delicious while not overwhelming. The farfalle (butterfly) pasta bolognese (creamy meat sauce originating in Bologna…where else) with peas and mushrooms was outrageous and the pasta, again, cooked to perfection. 

Secondi
On our first visit, my wife and I both had the scallopini al tartufo (pork tenderloin in a cream and black truffle sauce) and it was WONDERFUL!  The pork tenderloins were medium in thickness and the sauce rich and creamy, softening the somewhat stale bread as I sopped-up what was left on my plate…not much! On our second visit, my wife had the prosciutto e melone (thinly sliced, cured (not cooked) ham, usually from Parma and white melon, similar to a cantaloupe in size and consistency, but not quite as sweet). The prosciutto was a bit dry, but delicious and the melon perfectly ripe. I, on the other hand, could not make up my mind between the insalata caprese (sliced tomatoes and mozzarella di buffala with freach basil and drizzled with extra virgin olive oil) or the scallopine marsala (thin veal medallions covered in a rich marsala wine reduction with walnuts). I love caprese and it rarely varies much in Italy, so I went for the scallopine…I was not disappointed! The veal was thin and tender as it should be and the marsala sauce was the best I have had in an Italian restaurant, and I have ordered it in many restaurants all over Italy, thick and rich….YUM! 

Dolce (Desserts)
The tiramisu, €3, was icing on the cake on our first visit, an excellent mixture of mascarpone cheese, savoiardi cookies, coffee, cocoa, sugar, egg, amaretto…and two spoons of course! We tried the pear tort, all desserts are €3, smothered in warm chocolate sauce on our second visit and were not disappointed. The tort was warm and fresh, fresher than the bread unfortunately, and the chocolate sauce equally so, tasty and not overwhelming.

Service
The service on our first visit was excellent and friendly, even though the place was packed (the place seats only around 50 diners at a time) and when the bill (conto) arrived, the extra 1/4 litre of wine we ordered and the service charge (servizio or coperto) were missing, so we left a generous tip. On our second visit, we arrived very early (by Italian standards), around 7:00 PM, and the trattoria was basically empty. The tattoo covered waiter seemed a bit overwhelmed by our arrival and spent more time surfing the internet than taking care of customers. We had to ask the chef for wine and my wife had to get up to get the dessert menu becaise our waiter had mysteriously disappeared. The chef seemed embarrassed by all of this, as he should be, but it really did not detract from our wonderful meal.

Trattoria da Giorgio – Florence, Italy

The only other disappointment remains to be the bread, while tasty, is obviously leftover from lunch, possibly yesterday’s.  In any event, we will be returning again over the next month and will add menu items as we go…buon appetito da Giorgio!


Trattoria da Giorgio gets a very respectable 8 BOMBS (bombs are good) out of 10 from CombatCritic:











Abondanza…Simpatico…Buonissimo…La Vinaina is a Bargain and Treat in Residential Florence!

La Vinaina Firenze

Via dell’Agnolo, 48r, 50122 
Florence, Italy
Phone: +39.055.234.4120

Prices:    € €  


My wife and I visited La Vinaina on several occasions with the students of the University of Kansas in July 2012. Our apartment was just around the corner and we enjoyed the proximity, warm welcome, fresh ingredients, and very reasonable prices for lunch.

Being a chef and food restaurant critic, having traveled to 46 countries around the world, I have eaten at few restaurants with the impeccable quality and value as we found at La Vinaina.


The pasta and bread…always fresh; the meat and fish…always prepared to perfection; the service…always attentive and friendly. I would recommend this restaurant to anybody…on a budget, like students, to more EXCLUSIVE and seasoned travelers alike. There is something for everyone at La Vinaina!


Watch my video collage dedicated to our friends at La Vinaina on CombatCritic TV:



Watch My Video of La Vinaina and Surrounding Area on CombatCritic TV!

or read more about this wonderful cucina tipica toscana in The CombatCritic Chronicle: 


http://www.CombatCritic.com

I have also posted reviews on Yelp, Trip Advisor, and Fousquare…search for “CombatCritic” and send a Friend request.







CombatCritic gives La Vinaina 7 BOMBS OUT OF 10…bombs in this case are good!

LIKE La Vinaina on Facebook!



Trattoria Lounge Bar Il Girasole

Via dell’Agnolo, 91R
50122 Firenze
Phone:  39 348 8768071
Web: www.trattoriagirasole.it
Email: info@trattoriagirasole.it
Prices:  € € € €  


Bring your fan…it’s hot, and I am not talking about the food. Beside the lack of AC, the pizza was good, although a bit overpriced and the house wine (della casa) not inexpensive (7 Euros/Half litre), but as hot as the room.


We had a pizza with prosciutto, walnuts, and gorgonzola cheese (7 Euros) and another with salame piccante (similar to American pepperoni, but much better), mozzarella, and tomato sauce. The salame pizza was very good, reminding me of pizza napolitana (Naples style) and the pizza prosciutto was dry and crisp, not all that great.


The owner told us he is Egyptian and the staff were mostly Eastern European. Considering the heat, and the great amount of sweat emanating from the owner, the service was good, not great. Thankfully, the owner did not bend over our table and our pizza was served senza (without) sweat!

Trattoria Il Girasole gets a very mediocre 4 BOMBS (bombs are good) out of 10 from CombatCritic:



Osteria Santo Spirito
Piazza Santo Spirito, Firenze
Phone: 39 055 2382383
http://www.osteriasantospirito.it/
Prices:  € €  €  

Osteria Santo Spirito is a small osteria with outdoor (covered) patio on the Piazza Santo Spirito, varied menu, and fairly reasonable prices.

The Spezzatino Di Manzo (beef stew) was HUGE and delicious (€15) with big, tender chunks of beef and potatoes in a gravy much like you would find it the US. The gnocchi in salsa di formaggio gorgonzola e tartufo (€10 – cheese and truffle sauce) al forno (baked) was scrumptious and plentiful. The ravioli in cream and walnut sauce looked delicious and was also also huge (€12). The insalata mista (mixed green salad) came in a bowl the size of a cooking pot and was fresh and colorful.

The crostata di mirtilli (blackberry tort) was warm and tasty, and the accompanying caffe Italiano completed the meal nicely. The service was fair and the staff spoke English well. In all it was a nice lunch at moderate prices. Smaller portions and prices are also available on some dishes.

CombatCritic gives Osteria Santo Spirito 6 bombs out of 10.













Buon Appetito … A Presto!

Is The Voice’s Will Champlin Just Shy or Is There More To It?


Is Will Champlin, the very talented contestant and finalist on this season’s NBC’s The Voice, just very shy or does he possibly struggle with what has been referred to until recently as Asperger’s Syndrome? Could NBC, The Voice, or Will himself be waiting until the season is over to make an announcement, not wanting to influence fan voting either positively or negatively?

As a licensed professional counselor with over 30 years experience as a clinician and experience working with and treating those with autism, I would personally not be surprised. If Will did have Asperger’s Disorder (now referred to as Autism Spectrum Disorder in the new DSM-V) or another form of autism, all I could say is BRAVO! Not because I would ever wish something as debilitating as autism on anyone, but because he could make an excellent ambassador and role model for those individuals and families struggling with autism and other mental health concerns and obviously overcame great odds to achieve the success he has on The Voice. That could potentially have a massive impact on the elimination of the many negative stigmas surrounding not just autism, but all mental disorders, something I have personally been fighting very hard to achieve.

I am not going to detail the differences between DSM-IV-TR and DSM-V diagnoses here as that would take many pages and is not really relevant to this discussion. Let it suffice to say that whether we call it “Asperger’s Disorder” or “Autism Spectrum Disorder” is not important because they are both merely diagnoses, labels we as clinicians are often mandated to provide and do not define who a person is.

Will Champlin appears to be an extremely quiet person and smiles are few and far between, both symptoms of what we used to call Asperger’s and other Autism Spectrum Disorders. In-fact, Carson Daly commented for the first time just last week that it was nice to see Will finally smiling. Will also appears rather uncomfortable on stage with difficulty making eye contact. Another thing that has stood out is Will’s unwillingness, inability, or lack of comfortableness touching others. Most, if not all Voice contestants hug or otherwise touch Carson Daly after a performance or when greeting others, including their coaches and other contestants, but Will does not. 

I have seen Carson deliberately not touch Will in those situations and last week, while the very talented (and probable winner of this season’s show) Tessanne Chin and James Wolpert (who was eliminated last week), Adam Levine’s two other finalists, were holding each other tightly while waiting for the announcement of whom would be moving on to the #VoiceFinale, Will Champlin stood alone and emotionless. These are all symptoms of the Autism Spectrum Disorders, a very few symptoms of a very complex set of criteria we use to make diagnoses.

I do not know Will Champlin and do not have enough information to make a diagnosis, nor should I. Maybe he is just a very shy person or maybe he struggles with autism. All I am saying is that based on the behaviors I witnessed during this season of The Voice, he could be one of the millions of people who struggle with the developmental disorder we refer to as “autism”. 

Autism comes in many forms and varies wildly in severity, as do all of what we in the profession call “mental disorders”. Whether Will Champlin has a diagnosable disorder or not cannot and will not be determined here nor would it define him. However, an influential person with Asperger’s, Autism Spectrum Disorder, or whatever label we as humans feel the need to put on people with symptoms of social discomfort, could bring positive awareness to the struggles the millions of people with mental health issues suffer through each and every day.

I have written extensively about the stigmas surrounding mental disorders such as PTSD, anxiety, and depression, both in general and specifically in the military. My goal here is to help eliminate those stigmas and the many misconceptions the public has regarding mental disorders and mental health treatment. 

The winner of this season’s The Voice has not been announced as I write this and believe Tessanne Chin will likely win. But I am pulling for Will Champlin mostly because I would like Will to succeed on the Voice and in life. 

Good luck Will!


Key Words: NBC, television, The Voice, voice, Will Champlin, Carson Daly, show TV, singing, song, talent, Asperger’s, autism, spectrum, disorder, CombatCounselor, combat, counselor, psychology, therapy

Copyright 2013 – CombatCounselor and 3rd Wave Media Group, LLC – All Rights Reserved

Wheatfields: A Field of Dreams for Bread Lovers


WheatFields Bakery Café
904 Vermont Street
Lawrence, KS  66044

Phone: 785.841.5553
Web: www.WheatfieldsBakery.com
Hours:
Monday through Friday – 6:30am to 8:00pm
Saturday 6:30am to 6:30pm
Sunday – 7:30am to 4:00pm

I have been meaning to review Wheatfields, a bakery and restaurant one block West of Mass Street in downtown Lawrence, for quite some time, but this morning was the first time we actually had a meal there. I love a good, hearty breakfast, but because bacon, eggs, hash browns, biscuits and gravy are not as healthy as they are tasty, we normally only indulge on special occasions. With today being my birthday, we went for broke!

Wheatfields makes the most wonderful breads and my wife has been buying them since she started working at KU nearly three years ago. Our favorite is the raisin and pecan sourdough ($, a robust torpedo-shaped loaf with a thick crust outside and plenty of raisins and pecan pieces inside. It toasts marvelously and is delicious alone, with butter, or coated in my favorite delicacy in the world … peanut butter … YUUUUUM!

They have many other varieties, including sourdough, semolina with sesame and poppy seeds, and many others:
Baguette: The French standard. A crisp crust and an open, irregular crumb with lots of yeast fermentation flavor make ours a true classic. Great for sandwiches, crostini, or on its own. 

Ciabatta: As Italian as the baguette is French. Somewhat flat, somewhat rectangular, ciabatta has a wildly open crumb and a complex fermentation flavor. We add a touch of extra virgin olive oil. 

Country French: Our flagship Pain au Levain is naturally leavened and made with organic unbleached flour with stone ground wheat and rye. 

Kalamata Olive: WheatFields Sourdough, loaded with ripe Kalamata olives. Maggie Glezer (Artisan Baking Across America) calls ours “by far the best.” Available as either a regular boule or a “mini”: too big to be called a roll, too small for a loaf. 

Pain de Campagne is, literally, Country Bread, and is the traditional bread of the villagers and farmers of the French countryside. Historically, pain de Campagne had as much as 10% rye flour, was risen with levain and baked in a wood-fired oven. Ours is all of that, plus, we add some spelt (l’epautre) flour and season with sun-and-wind-dried Breton sea salt. 100% organic flour. 

Rustic Italian Round: Choose from our plain or rosemary loaves every day. Rustics are made of very wet dough that gets lots of fermentation time. The results are round crusty loaves rich in flavor with an irregular open crumb. Risen with bakers’ yeast and an overnight starter. 

Walnut Raisin: Thompson raisins and California walnuts in our naturally leavened Pain de Campagne dough. Toast it at breakfast, of course, but also try a soft goat cheese spread atop. 100% organic flour. 

Walnut Sage: Country French with walnuts and fresh sage. We serve our immensely popular “No. 9” sandwich on this bread. The sage and walnuts complement the turkey-cranberry pairing –our “everyday is Thanksgiving” bread. 

100% Whole Wheat: The heartiest in our Pain au Levain series, this loaf is about as fundamental as bread can be: 100% organic wheat ground between natural granite millstones and baked on the hearth of a wood-fired oven. Made with a natural wheat levain 100% organic flour.

Classic Breakfast ($5.99)

Breads range in price from $4 to nearly $9 for their holiday specials, including chocolate cherry ($8) and anise and grape ($4) which are only made during the month of December.

When dining at Wheatfields, you order at the counter immediately in front of you as you enter through the lefthand door (the bakery counter sits in front of the right), pay, and are given a small sign to place on your table so the servers can bring your order to the correct table. Drinks are help-yourself with three varieties of coffee (two regular and one decaf) and a small selection of fountain drinks.

Always keeping it simple on a first visit, I decided on the Classic Breakfast (#1 – Two eggs, freshly grated hash browns and toast – $3.95, with sausage links or bacon – $5.95) and a full order of the biscuits and gravy (#5 – Buttermilk biscuits, spicy sausage gravy – Full order $5.75, half order $3.75) to share with my wife. Not a big meat eater, she had the French toast (#3 – Three slices dipped in egg, Irish Cream, and cinnamon, grilled, served with pure maple syrup – $6.95). Some other breakfast choices include:
Biscuits and Gravy (Full Order – $5.75)

#2 – Frittata Sandwich ~ Potato, mushroom, green olive and spinach egg pie served on Country French with scallion cream cheese. $5.95 

#4 – Primavera Omelet ~ Roasted zucchini, caramelized onions, spinach, mushrooms, and herb chevre with freshly grated hash browns and toast. $7.25 

#6 – Locarno Omelet ~ Bacon, ham, roasted garlic, and Swiss with freshly grated hash browns and toast. $7.25 

#7 – Ciabattina Sandwich ~ Two scrambled eggs on grilled Ciabattina – $4.25, with Swiss cheese – $4.75, with bacon – $4.95 with Swiss & bacon – $5.45 

#8 – Breakfast Taco ~ Flour Tortilla, scrambled eggs, hash browns, bacon, herb cream cheese and feta. Served with chipotle salsa. $6.25

Our meals arrived rather quickly, even before I was done pouring our coffee and toasting the sourdough bread which accompanied my breakfast. My Classic Breakfast was good with the eggs cooked perfectly over-medium, the bacon crispy but not burnt, and the hash browns also crunchy, just the way I like them. The order of biscuits and gravy was HUGE with two very large biscuits smothered in a thick country gravy with loads of sausage. I was surprised that my breakfast and the biscuits were luke-warm considering the fact that they arrived so quickly, leading me to believe that they are not cooked to order, but are prepared in advance, kept semi-warm, and served buffet-style from the kitchen. The taste was good, but my meal would have been better had it been served piping-hot.

The coffee was hot, obviously fresh, and delicious! My wife’s French toast consisted of three large slices of sourdough dipped in egg and fried with an overgenerous amount of cinnamon. At $6.95 for three slices of bread, a little egg, a dash of cinnamon, and a little (maybe Maple) syrup, this dish is overpriced by at least $1. Again, this dish could have also been warmer and it would have been nice if the accompanying cup of syrup had also been warm, but it seemed to be straight out of the jar (bottle or can). The cinnamon was overbearing, but otherwise the dish was good, not great.

French Toast ($6.95)

As breakfast goes, I have had better, much better, but we enjoyed our meal and may return for lunch or dinner to see how they do. Lawrence does not have an abundance of good restaurants, but being a fairly small town of around 90,000, I guess that is to be expected. Wheatfields is a very popular meeting place with great (not cheap) bread, excellent coffees, and “very average” breakfast fare. They seem to be doing well because the place was nearly full at 10:30AM on a Sunday, but I believe they would be bursting at the seams, as most GREAT breakfast restaurants do, if the food was cooked to order and hot. I would also suggest having the servers, who are already there to serve the food, take orders rather than creating a choke-point by having customers order at the counter and fiddle about with coffee, cream, sugar, drinks, silverware and napkins. The servers would likely also appreciate it, instead being tipped 15-20% instead of the loose change they receive in the jar by the register. A few smiles and an occasional “thank you” from staff would also be much appreciated.


WheatFields Bakery on Urbanspoon

CombatCritic Gives Wheatfields Bakery Cafe 6 Out of 10 Bombs … BOMBS ARE GOOD!

Key Words: Wheatfields, wheat, field, bread, bakery, eggs, bacon, biscuit, gravy, food, eat, breakfast, lunch, dinner, Lawrence, Kansas, CombatCritic, TravelValue, travel, value,

Come with me to the Casbah, we’ll make beautiful music together!


Come with me to the Casbah, we’ll make beautiful music together!

The Burger Stand at The Casbah
803 Massachusetts Street
Lawrence, Kansas 66044

Phone: (785) 856-0543
Web: http://thecasbahburgerstand.com/THE_BURGER_STAND.html

Hours: Mon-Sat 11AM to 10PM; Sun 11AM to 9PM

We walked into the Casbah during FINAL FRIDAYS in October because I had heard good things about their food, but there was a line a mile long and a strange smell in the air, not food-borne and not in a good way. We were again in the area the other night, a Thursday, and decided to drop-in and give them a smell and a try. The aroma this time was more conducive to our appetite, so we continued in to place our order.

Orders are taken at the end of the bar furthest from the door, a location backed by a large chalkboard with menu items packed in so tightly it is a bit difficult to read. The bar is a bit of a dive, but that is a good thing because I am NOT a metro-sexual, feeling homey and full of locals with long hair, jeans, and t-shirts. The decor is eclectic to say the least, a smattering of nondescript accouterments, booths, tables, and bar stools in a semi-dark room.

Being our first visit I decided to go with the CLASSIC BURGER ($7.50), a 1/2 pound of beef on a brioche bun with Vermont white cheddar cheese and assorted locally grown greens. Thinking it strange that a so-called “classic” burger did not come with tomato, onion, or pickle, I chose to add bacon ($1.50 extra) and tomato (no charge). Ordered medium-well, when I picked-up our order at the kitchen window in the rear of the building (not an intuitive location, it took me a few seconds to figure out where to go), my burger was almost perfectly cooked. For a 1/2 pound ground beef patty, it seemed small to me (more like 1/3 of a pound) and the cheese appeared almost non-existent. The “greens” consisted of 7-8 small pieces of arugula, not nearly enough, and the tomato, although fresh and tasty, was cut too small and was difficult to keep from falling out and onto my plate. Even still, the burger was very tasty!

Offering a variety of “fries”, you have a choice of “regular” (side – $1.50/basket – $4), fried in “duck fat” ($2.50/$6), “truffle” ($3/$7), “sweet potato” ($3/$6), “Cajun” ($3/$5), and “bourbon-bacon cheddar” ($4/$8). Again, being my first visit I wanted to keep things as simple and traditional as possible to see if they get the basics right, so we ordered a basket of regular fries. They came out of the kitchen piping-hot, crispy, not burnt, and salted to perfection. I have heard good things about the truffle and duck fat fries, so I will give them a try on future visits … and there will be future visits!

My wife, who prefers vegetarian options when available, went with the “Romesco”, a lentil patty with feta cheese, toasted almonds, green beans, and roasted red pepper sauce on a brioche bun (made in-house I believe). The lentil burger was delicious and flavorful, but a bit too dry and falling apart as teeth were sunk. Green beans on a burger you ask? I asked myself the same thing and thought it a bit strange with little value added from my standpoint. I like feta, but such a dry cheese on such a dry burger probably is not the best combination and the burger could have been enhanced by a softer, more flavorful variety, gouda perhaps.

The Burger Stand at The Casbah was an enjoyable experience and a reasonable value, coming in at a bit over $25 for two of us, including two draft beers ($3 each on special). The menu could have a few more options with only 6 burger options along with a Catfish Po Boy and 4 vegetarian options. They also offer onion rings ($4/$7), root beer floats ($4), malts ($5), and shakes ($5). Not a daily staple, a good burger and fries are always a welcome combination and The Burger Stand does an excellent job on both!

CombatCritic Gives The Burger Stand at The Casbah 7 Out of 10 Bombs … BOMBS ARE GOOD!

Key Words: burger, stand, Casbah, hamburger, French, fries, shake, malt, root beer, food, eat, bar, saloon, dive, Massachusetts, Lawrence, Kansas, 66044, CombatCritic, TravelValue, eZine


Mexquisito is Exquisito According to CombatCritico!


Mexquisito

712 Massachusetts Street
LawrenceKS 66044

Phone: (785) 856-8226
Web: Mexquisito

Prices: $$$$$


I recently reviewed Tortas Jalisco, one of my few favorite Mexican restaurants in Lawrence, a sister-establishment of Mexquisito in downtown Lawrence.  Like its sister, Mexquisito is bare-bones in terms of decor and ambiance, but the food more than makes up for the lackluster environment.

Being a Mexican food junkie from SoCal (LA-LA LAND) and used to some of the best Mexican food north of the border, I have high standards. I read about Mexquisito on Yelp where the restaurant seemed to get mostly very positive reviews.  I heard, like several Lawrence Mexican restaurants, that they charge for chips and salsa, something I have never seen in over 50 years of eating at hundreds of Mexican restaurants north and south of the border.  Not a good business practice from my perspective and a fact that may account for the reports of empty tables even on Friday and Saturday nights. When we arrived on Sunday night at 6PM, there were in-fact only two tables occupied by customers compared to 95 to 100 percent occupancy every Sunday night at our favorite Mexican restaurant in Kansas City or at Lawrence’s own El Potro (which serves not only free chips and salsa, but a free bowl of queso blanco as well).

Guacamole, Chips, and Salsas – $5.99

We ordered the guacamole ($5.99 compared to $4.99 at Tortas Jalisco) which came with a basket of chips and salsa (green/spicy and red/mild), bringing the price of the guacamole down to just over $3 after deducting the price of chips and salsa.   The “green” salsa I had heard so much in Yelp reviews was excellent with just enough heat and the “red” was also very good, being more mild than the verde (green) version. 

The guacamole was good, but a little too spicy for my wife’s taste and with too many tomatoes (and corn?) for mine. Tomatoes, much cheaper than avocados, are used by many restaurants as a filler even though traditional guacamole is not normally prepared using tomato (see my recipe below). There could have been much less tomato (no corn) and more guacamole for the price, but it was well seasoned and tasty although the price seems very high at $5.99 for a small cup.

I ordered the house margarita (frozen with salt – SPECIAL – $3.00), coming in a 12 ounce beer mug, a tasty concoction with a tangy lime base and enough tequila to stand out from other Lawrence Mexican restaurants that seem to serve more diluted drinks.  Twelve ounces did not last long so I ordered another margarita with dinner, getting two margaritas for the price of one at other restaurants.  After all, having a teetotaling wife and built-in designated driver is wonderful for a guy who enjoys a little booze with his dinner!



Tacos de Papa with Rice and Beans – $8.99

My wife is Italian, not a big fan of Mexican cuisine, and usually orders a quesadilla, but surprised me when she decided on the Tacos de Papa ($8.99 – mashed potato crispy tacos). An Italian that hates tomatoes, does not cook (thankfully, I am quite a good cook) and does not drink, as I mentioned earlier, she makes a great designated driver. However, trying to find Mexican food WITHOUT TOMATOES is like trying to find a tree in Greenland … good luck! My wife liked the Tacos de Papa even though they were rather bland because she does not like the sour cream that accompanied the dish. Containing mashed potato and white cheese in a crispy corn tortilla, the Tacos de Papa are an excellent choice for those who enjoy a vegetarian option. My wife asked for the tomatoes “on the side”, but the dish came without tomatoes. A small portion of sour cream accompanied the dish, but guacamole or pico de gallo would be have been a nice addition to the rather bland potato tacos.

I normally order the staples, tacos and enchiladas, when trying a new Mexican restaurant because if they cannot get those dishes right, there is little chance the rest of the food will be worth trying. Store-bought chips and pre-fab tacos shells are always a dead give away for mediocre food and Mexquisito came trough with flying colors!  

Tacos ala Carte – $1.79 each

The tacos ($1.79 each ala carte) are excellent, with the shells fried in-house, they were tasty, the shells thick, and the tacos withstood several bites without falling apart, beating out most Lawrence Mexican restaurants so far in my culinary journey (Fuzzy’s Tacos and El Potro being the only exceptions). 

Enchiladas Poblanos with Rice, and Beans – $9.99

Cheese and onion enchiladas in red sauce are not on the menu (available upon request), but the Enchiladas Poblanos ($9.99) with shredded beef were scrummy with just the right amount of filling covered with a homemade white Poblano sauce that was one of the best I have tasted. A small scoop of guacamole and some rather nondescript rice and beans accompanied the meal, adding little value or flavor.


Mexquisito’s interior is quite basic, yet clean, and the service excellent with Jose (our server and the owner) being very friendly, helpful, and attentive even though he appeared to be doing everything himself (we saw no other workers in the hour we were there). The chips, thick, crunchy, and also made in-house, were excellent with just the right amount of salt.  I would recommend that the owners consider providing free chips and salsa like the vast majority of Mexican restaurants, silencing their few critics.  As far as I can see, having to pay for chips is the only flaw Mexquisito has, but as I said, ordering an appetizer solves that dilemma quite easily.


CombatCritic gives Mexquisito 7 out of 10 Bombs … Bombs are good!



CombatCritic’s “Gnarly Guacamole” Recipe:



4 Ripe (dark and soft, not too soft, to the touch) Avocados

1 Tablespoon Diced Garlic (or 1 teaspoon garlic powder)
1 Tablespoon Fresh Lime Juice
1 Teaspoon Sea Salt
1/2 Teaspoon Ground Black Pepper
1/8 Cup Fresh Chopped Cilantro (or 1 tablespoon dried cilantro)


Remove the avocados from their skin by cutting them in half, removing the seed, and scraping the contents into a large bowl with a tablespoon.  Smash the avocados with a mashed potato masher until all large chunks are well smooshed.  Add the garlic, lime juice, salt, pepper, and cilantro to the bowl and stir well, ensuring all ingredients are thoroughly distributed (the lime will keep the avocado from turning black too quickly from oxidation – lemon juice can be substituted depending on your taste).



Serve with fresh baked chips (cut corn tortillas in half, distribute evenly across a baking sheet, spray with Pam or other cooking spray, coat with salt, and bake at 325 for 20 to 15 minutes – until brown and crispy) and salsa or pico de gallo.


Mexquisito on Urbanspoon


Key Words: Mexquisito, Mexican, food, restaurant, taco, tacos, enchilada, enchiladas, rice, beans, guacamole, salsa, eat, tasty, delicious, CombatCritic, recipe, Lawrence, Kansas, 66044

If You Want to Spend Lots of Money, Take Your Car to Das Autohaus!


DAS AUTOHAUS

1045 New Jersey Street
Lawrence, KS 66044

Phone: 785-843-9494

As is usually the case, I should have listened to my gut instinct before trusting Dave, the owner of Das Autohaus and the Scuba Shack, co-located businesses literally around the corner from our home in Lawrence, Kansas.  When I stopped by to inquire about snorkeling gear for an upcoming trip to the Caribbean and discuss hiring him as our new mechanic (having recently moved to the area), the price for a mask, snorkel, and fins that go for less than $50 (with free shipping) on Amazon.com were quoted at $99 … HINT #1 that things to come from Dave would not be cheap!

Being unemployed, we do not have a lot of money and our previous mechanic in Kansas City was always honest, fair, and did excellent work. I knew I could trust him and he never took advantage of us, unlike many mechanics, including, in my opinion, Dave and Das Autohaus.

I took our 2000 Volkswagen Beetle to Dave for a simple check of the battery (which was losing its charge on very cold mornings) this morning, expecting a fair and reasonable estimate.  He told me that it would take about an hour to run some diagnostics. I asked him how much an oil change would be while I was there and he told me, “$60”.  I told him that my last mechanic only charged me $25 (including oil, filter, checking fluids, and inflating tires) and that I thought his price was too high (HINT #2 of a rip-off … I should have walked away right then, but I believe in supporting local small businesses), so I told him not to change the oil.

Three hours later, Dave finally called and told me that the problem was in-fact the battery, which I assumed was the case, and considering the fact that batteries for my vehicle run around $100 (including FREE testing and installation) at any reputable auto parts store, I figured it should run me $160 more or less ($100 for the battery and an plus or minus an hour, to be generous, for labor – diagnostics and installation). I asked him how much it was going to cost and he said, “that comes to a little over $280”.  

I thought maybe I had misheard the price, so I asked him, “did you say $280?”. He confirmed the ridiculous price and I said, “I can buy a battery for $100 with free installation at an auto parts store, so why do you want to charge me $280? How much is the battery?”.  He replied, “$140”, to which I responded, “so you want to charge me $140 in labor to replace a battery I can get installed for free anywhere else?” He told me, “that’s what it costs.  Do you know how long it takes to install a battery?”  I told him that I do in-fact know how long it takes because I installed the VW battery 4 years ago myself, taking only about 15 minutes. His “I could care less” and aggressive tone of voice ticked me off, so I told him I would be right over to collect my car. 

When I arrived, he insulted me further by saying that the car had not been well maintained and, in an attempt to up-sell someone who was not going to fall for his BS in any event, that I needed to replace the timing belt.  I told him that the timing belt had been replaced less than 70,000 miles ago and that the VW had been well maintained, changing the oil every 5,000 miles even though recommendations are to change diesel oil every 10,000 miles and making all RECOMMENDED and NECESSARY repairs (from our honest mechanic).

He then handed me a bill for $75:


As you can see from the invoice, he not only overcharged me for the labor involved with the estimate, HE CHARGED ME $9.99 FOR SUPPLIES?  What supplies could he have possibly used to test my charging system?

Having spent my Air Force career as a transportation officer and responsible for hundreds of auto mechanics (and the Best Transportation Squadron in the United States Air Force), I know how repair costs are calculated, so I asked Dave how much his hourly rate was. He said, “I work by the job, not by the hour”, so I knew he was not on the up-and-up. In comparison, here is a quote from AutoMD.com for the exact repair on my vehicle and as you can see, it is MUCH closer to my estimate than his:



Quote Number # 636221

2000 Volkswagen Beetle GLS 4 Cyl 1.9L

    Parts Selected
    CARQUEST

    Jobs* Warranty Qty/Hrs Cost Total
    Battery Replacement
    Parts CARQUEST Battery (New) 2 yr / 24k mi 1 $136.05 $136.05
    Labor 2 yr / 24k mi 0.60 hrs $80.00 $48.00
    $184.05
    Other Fees
    Shop Supplies $1.84 $1.84
    $1.84
    Quote Summary
    Parts 1 $136.05 $136.05
    Labor 0.6 hrs $48.00 $48.00
    Other Fees 1 $1.84 $1.84
    Total $185.89

    He was trying to charge me over $140 in labor for a job that takes 6/10 of an hour, ATTEMPTING to charge me over $250 an hour for labor when the average is $65 to $70 an hour elsewhere … CAN YOU SAY “RIP-OFF” … SURE YOU CAN!


    I took my car to Walmart (invoice below) a few days later. They tested my charging system FOR FREE, CHARGED ME ONLY $109.97 FOR THE BATTERY, and INSTALLED IT IN ABOUT 20 MINUTES FOR FREE … for a total of only $124 and change! Adding in the $75 Dave charged me for doing practically nothing and the grand total came to $200, SO I STILL PAID $80 LESS THAN DAVE WAS GOING TO CHARGE ME even though I should have paid over $150 less if I had been dealing with an honest person.


    Mechanics are notorious for taking advantage of uneducated customers as we have all seen on shows like 20/20 and 60 Minutes, but there are good, honest people out there as our last mechanic proved over the last five years. I assumed, and you know what happens when you “ASSUME” … YOU MAKE AN “ASS” OF “U” AND “ME”, that Dave would be fair and honest, knowing very well that this was the first time I had been there and possibly trying to “do the right thing” by a new customer. In my opinion, Dave obviously has no idea what the “right thing” is or what “integrity” entails, so if you have more money than you know what to do with and do not care how much a service costs, by all means go to Das Autohaus! I did not realize how good I had it with our last mechanic, but maybe it is worth the 40 minute drive not to find out how many crook mechanics there are in Lawrence, Kansas!

    CombatCritic Gives Das Autohaus 1 Out of 10 Bombs … Bombs Are Good!












    UPDATE: Since this debacle, several people (friends and strangers alike) have come forward with stories of their own about Dave and Das Autohaus. It seems as though he has an unsavory reputation in Lawrence, a reputation I wish I had been aware of prior to trusting him with my car. So I am sharing my story and opinion with you in the hope that I can spare some of my neighbors from a similar experience. Take heed and pass the word along so that others will not be victimized by this unscrupulous business owner.

    Key Words: das, autohaus, mechanic, car, auto, automobile, Volkswagen, VW, battery, repair, cost, con, pro, rude, Lawrence, Kansas, InstitutionalTerrorism, institutional, terrorism

    This review is based solely on my opinion and what I believe to be true based on my direct experience with the service(s) in question. Readers should take these facts into consideration when deciding to utilize a service (or not) and that my opinion may or may not reflect the true nature and/or character of the individuals and/or institutions being reviewed.

    Little Saigon Cafe Left Me Hungry for More … MEAT!


    Little Saigon Cafe Left Me Hungry for More … MEAT!

    Little Saigon Cafe
    1524B W 23rd Street
    Lawrence, KS 66046


    Open 10AM to 8PM daily 
    Closed Sundays

    Our friends told us about Little Saigon Cafe, a small, unassuming diner on 23rd Street, claiming that it is a terrific value.  I love Vietnamese food, particularly deep fried Vietnamese egg rolls with fresh mint, wrapped in lettuce leaves, and accompanied by a mild sweet and spicy dipping sauce.  Unfortunately, the fried egg rolls ($3.25 for two) only come with dipping sauce, so I asked if I could get some lettuce and mint and the lovely young lady that took our order was happy to comply.

    Kitchen and Counter
    You enter through what looks like a (black) service door next to what is supposed to be the main service entrance and give your order to the hostess at the cash register.  There is a large menu on the counter for reference, but it was slightly uncomfortable arriving for the first time, being unfamiliar with the menu and having to make a quick decision while trying not to hold-up the line behind us. The restaurant is small, four four-top tables and a counter that seats six, so after submitting our order, we were lucky enough to have one table still available.

    I did not see a curry on the menu, for a Vietnamese restaurant an unusual experience, so I asked if they made any curries.  The man whom I assumed was the owner and knew was the chef (the kitchen is right there in front of you behind the counter) overheard me and said “we can make a curry with beef, chicken, tofu”, telling me the “Saigon Beef ($8.99) is not on the menu”.  Sold!  My wife, who is predominantly vegetarian, ordered the Vegetable and Tofu Pho ($6.99).  We also ordered the fried egg rolls, one order of pork and one vegetable (also $3.25) for my wife.

    Fried Egg Roll with Lettuce and Mint
    The hostess, who doubled as a server after taking our order at the counter, quickly arrived with the lettuce and mint, followed shortly thereafter with the egg rolls.  Unfortunately, both of our orders were overcooked, dark and crispy, and even though I like my egg rolls crispy, they were burnt and not golden brown as they should be.  The flavor was still good and the filling mostly pork in my case, a nice surprise for a carnivore such as myself.  The lettuce and mint helped mask the flavor of the overcooked egg rolls. I have had better Vietnamese egg rolls, with all of the accompaniments, elsewhere, but they filled the void in any event.

    Saigon Beef – $8.99
    The entrees arrived a little too quickly as we had only just received our appetizers, but it worked out well because the entrees had time to cool off enough to be able to eat.  My Saigon beef was massive, but mostly (egg) noodles and very little beef for the price.  There were six or seven very small pieces of sliced beef at the most, less than two ounces I would guess and not nearly enough to satiate my hunger for meat. Mostly noodles, the curry sauce was tasty at first bite and the dish was infused with stir-fried green onion and what appeared to be egg, a strange new addition in my experience. The combination of curry and egg was not something I have had before and after the first bite, it became a bit off-putting and with the small amount of beef rapidly depleted, I did not finish my dish.

    Vegetable and Tofu Pho – $6.99

    My lovely wife’s Vegetable Tofu Pho came in a massive bowl and was quite pleasing to the eye.  A savory blend of snap peas, tofu, bean sprouts, carrot, kale, peppers, green onions and egg noodles, the broth was light but flavorful and a nice choice for a cold winter’s night.

    Little Saigon Cafe was decent, but not the best Vietnamese food I have eaten by far.  The entree prices seem a bit high for a few vegetables, broth, and noodles. With the Pho’s ingredients in the neighborhood of $2 to $3 max, $4.99 to $5.99 would be more reasonable than the current $6.99 price tag.  Many University of Kansas (KU) student reviews on Yelp and elsewhere indicated that the prices are in-fact a bit high and in a college town such as Lawrence, restaurants must cater to the needs of cash strapped students or face the music.  Little Saigon’s staff are very friendly and helpful, and that is a rarity these days, particularly in Lawrence where the food scene is not well known for excellence or customer service based on my experience.  The food is prepared to order and the ingredients fresh, so give Little Saigon Cafe a try … maybe the food will be more to your liking than mine, but then again, I am a bit finicky when it comes to Asian cuisine where lots of meat and thick, flavorful curries are more tantalizing to my tastebuds than broth, veggies, and noodles.

    CombatCritic Gives Little Saigon Cafe 6 Bombs Out of 10 … BOMBS ARE GOOD!








    Key Words: little, Saigon, cafe, Vietnam, Vietnamese, cuisine, food, eat, restaurant, diner, pho, curry, broth, vegetables, noodles, Asian, Lawrence, Kansas, CombatCritic

    Redbox Instant by Verizon Delivers Instant Nothing!


    Redbox Instant by Verizon Delivers Instant Nothing!

    I ordered Redbox Instant with live streaming video and 4 credits per month for $8 on November 10, 2013.  Since then, the streaming option rarely works on our PS3 even though Netflix works just fine EVERY TIME!  Then there are the 4 “FREE” CREDITS per month, of which I have only been able to use one.  The last two kiosk reservations I made charged my credit card instead of automatically using credits (as their “HELP” FAQs imply is the case) and it is impossible to apply credits to a kiosk reservation either on the website or the iPhone mobile app. 

    The Redbox applications and customer support options are useless as far as credits are concerned and I wasted a great deal of time online and on the phone trying to connect with Redbox Customer Service.  The website and app are obviously not ready for implementation and they must have one customer service rep for the US because every time I call or try to chat online, there is a long wait.

    I should have known better than to sign-up for a service that has anything to do with Verizon (see my article Your Verizon Data Is Vulnerable for more information on how Verizon allowed my identity to be stolen and refused to do anything about it), so I canceled my subscription.  I do not have either the time or the patience to deal with a vendor that obviously could care less about customers and Redbox’s affiliation with Verizon tells be a lot about their values or lack thereof.

    CombatCritic Gives Redbox 2 Out of 10 Bombs … BOMBS ARE GOOD!

    Key Words: Redbox, Verizon, video, streaming, Blu, Ray, disc, kiosk, rental, movie, TV, internet, film, help, problem, customer, CombatCritic, InstitutionalTerrorism

    Nothing Is Free at Free State Brew Pub Where a Terrible $6 Burger Costs $9!


    Nothing Is Free at Free State Brew Pub Where a Terrible $6 Burger Costs $9!

    Free State Brew Pub
    636 Massachusetts Street
    Lawrence, Kansas 66044
    (785) 843-4555
    Mon-Sat: 11am-Midnight
    Sun: Noon-11pm

    Small Bar with Beer Barrels Behind
    Free State Brewery … Free State Brewery … that is all I have heard since moving to Lawrence in August … “Free State Brewery”.  I have tasted some of their micro brews and they are excellent, but every time we wanted to try the food, the place was jam-packed.  Now I know why while at the same time wondering … WHY?

    The reason WHY people are always outside the door on Mass (Massachusetts Street – Downtown Lawrence, Kansas), I now know, is because there is so little room inside.  The massive aluminum brewing barrels occupy a large percentage of the interior space, leaving room for a small bar and maybe 10-15 tables.  There appear to be more tables upstairs, but the rather large space is dominated by the massive beer making equipment, leaving much less room for patrons.

    The reason WHY I wonder what makes this establishment attractive to their many customers is because our recent dining experience was UNDERwhelming!

    We were walking down Mass last Saturday night looking at the Christmas lights and considering stopping for a bite to eat.  As we made our way north to the 700 block, I noticed that there was an absence of humans outside of Free State Brew Pub, so we went in.  We were quickly seated at a small table next to the bar and a four-top occupied by two attractive young lovebirds.  Let me digress for a moment …

    What I am about to say is a generalization, but it is an observation that has become more and more frequent of late.  This lovely couple was sitting next to each other, he with his legs propped up on the chair across from him as if he were lounging in his apartment, not a restaurant full of people.  When they did not have their tongues in each other’s ears, they were both simultaneously buried in their cell phones, eagerly texting away, probably to each other!  I call it “social dystrophy”, the inability of many people, particularly the younger generation, but not exclusively, to communicate effectively with fellow human beings.  If interested, you can read more in my article “Social Dystrophy: Are Technology or Values to Blame”.

    Brewery Burger with Cheddar and Fries – $8.80
    Back to Free State Brew Pub.  The place was full, but not packed, yet the noise-level was high.  After 20 years in the Air Force working around very loud jet engines, my hearing is not great and I had a hard time hearing my wife from across the small table.  Wood and glass dominate the large open room, the lighting not too bright and not dim, making the setting comfortable except for the decibel-level.

    Our server, a nice young man who never mentioned his name, arrived promptly to take our drink order.  I decided to go with one of two stouts ($4 for an American pint) on the menu, I tried the other later, a flavorful thick, rich chocolaty concoction that was complex, yet smooth.  The second, an oatmeal stout, was also very tasty and smooth with less complexity than the first, but it was delicious.

    I ordered the Brewery Burger medium-well with cheddar cheese, figuring a brew pub would have a top-notch burger, especially at $8.25 “without cheese”.  The menu states that it is a “1/3-pound patty of Kansas pride, Creekstone Farms seasoned premium charbroiled ground beef on an onion bun, slice of onion, leaf of lettuce and a pickle spear. Hot fries stand ready to complete the feast.” Adding Provolone, Blue, Swiss, Jack or Cheddar cheese is an extra 55¢, bringing the price to nearly $9. 

    When our order arrived, I was shocked by the size of the hamburger and not in a good way.  The plate was dominated by overcooked French fries that sat upon a single flaccid piece of wilted lettuce, NO ONION, and a small dill pickle spear hidden under the fries, leaving the small onion roll containing the meat and cheese.  That was it, a beef patty the size of a McDonalds ¼-pounder and cheese, no mayo, no catsup, no tomato, NO TASTE!  First of all, the beef patty was medium or medium-rare, pink throughout and NOT medium-well as I had ordered.  I added some catsup out of the bottle and rather than ask for some tomato or onion, deciding to eat it as is and thinking that maybe they knew something I did not … that it should be eaten this way, it should not!

    Based on value, this was one o
    f the worst hamburgers I have ever eaten … and people wait outside in the rain and cold for this?  Five Guy’s burgers, at less than $6, are eons better than this sad excuse for a hamburger and even (dare I say it?) Burger King’s Whopper is tastier, cheaper, and COMES WITH ONION AND TOMATO!

    Gorgonzola and Mushrrom Gnocchi – $9.99
    My wife had the Gorgonzola and Mushroom Gnocchi – $9.95 – consisting of Shiitake and button mushrooms sautéed with julienne red onions, then simmered in a creamy Gorgonzola white wine sauce with fresh made potato gnocchi and finished with sliced black mission figs, local micro greens and toasted rosemary focaccia.  Her dish was attractive and flavorful enough, except for the fact that the red onions had not only been caramelized, they had been burnt.  The burnt onion flavor overwhelmed the otherwise tasty, creamy Gorgonzola and white wine sauce which had just the right amount of the strong cheese which can be overpowering if not done correctly.  The gnocchi were cooked perfectly, not too soft and not too firm, making the dish a decent value except for the fact that the burnt onions ruined it.  For $10, a side salad would be nice considering the fact that sandwiches come with a choice of potato or salad, but that is not the case.

    I honestly have no idea why this place is so popular other than the fact that it may have become “the place to be seen” by the local college crowd, the same folks that give Chipotle 4 out of 5 stars on Yelp.  The beer was very good, the food extremely disappointing.  Based on our experience and the few available options on the menu, I doubt if we will be back except to have a beer, but based on the size of the bar and the usual crowds, I also doubt if it will be worth the wait.

    CombatCritic Gives Free State Brew Pub 5 Out of 10 Bombs … BOMBS ARE GOOD!

    Free State Brewing Co on Urbanspoon


    Key Words: free, state, brew, pub, brewery, beer, food, hamburger, stout, pasta, gnocchi, cheese, French, fries, eat, drink, Lawrence, Kansas, Massachusetts, downtown, CombatCritic