Having been unable to play much golf in recent years due to bad knees, now that arthroscopic surgery has given me the ability to walk long distances with less pain (note that I did not say “painlessly”) it was time to join a club.
|View of 18th Hole (Member’s Course) from Clubhouse|
We moved to Lawrence, Kansas last August and I gathered information on local golf and country clubs in order to make an informed decision. After visiting the top-3 last Autumn, I narrowed down the field to two after I received an unwelcoming introduction to Lawrence’s city course, Eagle Bend:
It was a blustery day in October when I dropped by Eagle Bend to inquire about annual memberships. I was hoping to play the course as a “single”, never having had ANY DIFFICULTY getting on even the most popular courses in the world last minute, including St. Andrews and Carnoustie (Scotland), Cog Hill (Chicago), Torrey Pines (San Diego), and Princeville (Kauai) to name just a few.
The two men behind the counter acted as if I were an alien, grudgingly taking the time to answer my questions about spending close to $1500 per year to play golf on their course. When I asked about getting out as a single that day, the course was busy but not overwhelmed, I was told it would be “impossible”. “Really” I said, thinking they were joking, but they were as serious as heart attacks. I asked if it was always so difficult getting on as a single and they confirmed that it was, something I had not heard in 50 years of playing golf as a single, so I left, never to return.
|Enjoying Sunday Brunch|
Brian Minnis, Director of Operations and one of the owners, met me when I arrived and personally gave me a tour of the facilities and introduced me to the staff. I was very impressed with the facilities and staff, but even more so with the University of Kansas (KU) Affiliate Membership. Normally $240 per month ($2,880 per year) plus a $300 initiation fee, Brian told me that KU Staff and their families get a golf/dining/social membership for just $150 per month ($1,800 per year, a savings of over $1000) with no initiation fee and access to all of the facilities for my wife included … SOLD!
Alvamar staff reacted immediately and superbly, doing everything they could to help me, including wading through knee deep sludge in a drainage ditch and combing the woods for any sign of my possessions. They was absolutely nothing they could have done to prevent this bazaar theft and went above and beyond after, a testament to the commitment to outstanding customer service I have witnessed so far.
|Eggs Benedict, Quiche Lorraine, Hash Browns, Biscuit and Gravy|
I have since had a chance to play both courses and have been impressed with the layouts and conditions even though the grass is still dormant. With the exception of a few holes, the courses are both very walkable. The Member’s Course is much tighter than the Championship (public) Course, a 7,000+ yard test which reminds me of the Robert Trent Jones designed “Blue” Course at the U.S. Air Force Academy where I was a member while on the faculty from 1988 to 1993.
|Pete’s Omelet and Bacon|
Pete, the chef at the omelet bar, does an excellent job and the omelet was superb. Beside fresh eggs, you can choose from bacon, ham, cheddar cheese, onions, peppers, and mushrooms. Everything else was fresh and flavorful with a few exceptions. The English muffins in the eggs Benedict had obviously been there all morning and were so difficult to cut with my butter knife that I finally gave up. The “Prime Rib” was actually pre-sliced roast beef (no carving station) in a Bordelaise sauce, tender and flavorful, but not Prime Rib. My only other suggestion would be a dew more dessert options other than slides fruit and store-bought muffins and breakfast pastries, possibly homemade cheesecake, chocolate cake, or pie/cobbler ala mode.
19th Hole: The Alvabar and Grill is a large, well-appointed, cozy environment with wood paneling and numerous TVs for viewing sports while enjoying a post-round beverage. A nice selection of draught beers, including Guinness and local craft beers, daily specials, full menu, and reasonable prices make the Alvabar a great place to wind down after a round of golf.
Food: The menu is eclectic and so far I have tried the Reuben sandwich (corned beef, sauerkraut, Swiss cheese, and thousand island dressing on marbled rye with choice of side – seasoned French fries, cottage fries, mashed potatoes, etc – $9), the original mel’t (4 cheese grilled cheese sandwich with melted cheese on top, accompanied by choice of side – $8), the chicken fried steak (flaky, breaded, grilled beef with mashed potatoes and veggie 0 $12.50), the blackened burger ($9), and the taco special (Thursdays – 2 tacos for $3).
|Taco Special – 2 for $3|
The Reuben was good, but not any better than any I have had at a coffee shop for $6-$8 and nowhere near a true Kosher deli sandwich piled high with corned beef. The french and cottage fries are good, but likely frozen. The original mel’t is super cheesy, but in a good way and if you love cheese, this is the sandwich for you. The chicken fried steak has been the highlight so far, a crunchy, flaky, perfectly grilled piece of breaded meat about the size and shape of a Kansas City strip, but half the thickness.
The blackened burger was “OK”, nothing special. And the tacos were a huge disappointment, even at a buck-fifty a piece. On prefab, store bought corn taco shells, a smattering of overly greasy, seasoned beef, very little (melted) cheese, and a wisp of lettuce barely filled the shells (not the large variety) halfway. The salsa appeared to be Pace or some other commercial variety, not homemade and the big cup of sour cream was wasted on a taco aficionado who would never think of putting sour cream on anything, well maybe a baked potato, much less a taco. I can walk to Fuzzy’s Tacos on Massachusetts Street and get a top-notch taco with shredded beef (ground beed, pork, and chicken available), abundant cheese, lettuce, and fresh tomato on a crispy handmade corn shell for only $2, so these were very disappointing.
I was talked in to trying the baked Ziti ($14) by Pauly, who as a Bostonian should know good Italian food. I have to say that the dish was not bad, probably a bit overpriced (it should come with garlic bread or a salad for that price). The mozzarella cheese on top was baked to perfection (see photo). The store bought pasta was al dente as it should be and the accompanying peppers, onions, and sausage were tasty although there was a bit too much sauce. Overall, the dish was decent, not great.
A new veal dish, Veal Scaloppini Francesca ($22.00), parmesan battered veal with gnocchi dressed in boursin cream and served with a vegetable medley recently caught my attention. Being a lover of all things veal, I had to try it. The photo is deceiving, but there were more vegetables than either veal or gnocchi on the plate. Maybe 3-4 ounces of veal max, it was lightly battered. tender, but appeared and tasted frozen. The gnocchi, all seven of them, were hidden under the sauce and mushy, overcooked. The sauce was tasty enough, but drenched the plate and obscured what little veal and gnocchi were on the plate. At $22, the dish was disappointing. A price in the $14 range or a few more ounces of veal and gnocchi would make the dish more palatable.
Golf: The golf courses are challenging although not as well maintained as I would expect from a “country club”. The fairways are mowed too tightly, offering poor lies in many places where a fairway shot should be rewarded. The local “muni” also has zoysia fairways, but they are much more plush and forgiving than Alvamar’s at this point in the season. Alvamar’s greens are challenging and in good shape except for the dozens of ball marks on each green from the (too) many tournaments held weekly and self-centered people whom obviously care less about anybody but themselves.
The member’s driving range is an utter disappointment. Very large with plenty of room to move the tees around, the grass is so poorly maintained that it is difficult to find a decent lie to practice from. On the other hand, the “public” range is well kept and plush, having recently been verticut and reseeded, telling me that members are not as appreciated or respected as well as non-members.
|Original Mel’t – $8|
Staff: Management, who are mostly indifferent to me as a whole and cater to the more affluent and influential members, aside, staff at Alvamar are wonderful. Valerie in the front office is very nice and helpful anytime it comes to sorting out the discrepancies on my bill. Travis, the Alvabar Manager, and his staff, including Hillary, Libby, Lizzie, Carena, Troy, Tatania, and Pauly are all friendly and customer oriented, making spending my money there almost a pleasure. Sammy, Cody, Eric (Clemson), Larry, and many of the other golf course staff are also very customer service oriented and helpful. THANK YOU ALVAMAR STAFF!
Conclusion: Early on in our membership, I can say that Alvamar Golf and Country Club is a pretty good value, providing good customer service and individualized attention from most employees. The food is adequate, fairly reasonable in price, but for what you would expect from a “country club” … a bit “below par”.
Having joined Alvamar to meet people in a new town, I have to say that management does not practice what they preached during my initial tour, catering mostly to the more affluent, socially connected, better golfers at the club. They rarely have a word to say to me, talking at length to those sitting beside me while ignoring me for the most part. The Alvamar Ambassadors, those key members tasked with making new members feel welcome, dropped the ball after our first Bounty Night (Friday night cash and prize drawings), virtually ignoring my wife and I ever since. Members, while mostly pleasant on the surface, are cliquish and isolationists, avoiding talking, much less asking new members to join them for golf, or otherwise interacting with those they deem cool enough for their attention. A few key members, one who staff and members refer to as “Lord” SoAndSo, are apparently so impressed with their golf acumen and/or social status that they have refuse to even acknowledge my existence after several attempts to interact with them by simply saying “hello”. It would have been nice to feel included for the hundreds of dollars a month we have been sacrificing to try to meet people in a new town, but after six months we have no more friends than when we joined in March. We will be taking that into consideration when our membership is up for renewal next March.
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|Crunchy Thai Chip Basket|
Restaurants in downtown Lawrence are not necessarily well known for their value. Rents are high on and around Massachusetts Street, so most food is overpriced, particularly based on the quality of said, which in this case is not necessarily a positive thing. We have tried several, including The Mad Greek, Teller’s (now closed), Rudy’s Pizza, La Parrilla, Cielito Lindo, La Familia, Fuzzy’s Tacos, India Palace, The Casbah, and Curry in a Hurry to name a few, and with the exception of the last four, have yet to find great food and true value … UNTIL NOW!
|Fried Pork Momos with Two Sauces|
My wife had heard that Zen Zero was good and had I known it was a Thai restaurant, I would heave tried it sooner. I love Thai, Vietnamese, and Korean cuisine thanks to their abundant use of exotic and flavorful spices, particularly curry, so when I heard Zen Zero was a Thai restaurant, I eagerly agreed to give it a try.
|Chicken Spring Rolls|
The App (appetizer) Sampler ($7.29) which came with two steamed veggie momos (a tasty Tibetan dumpling), two chicken satay (grilled chicken on a stick accompanied by peanut sauce) and two fried tofu triangles. It took quite a while for our appetizer to arrive considering the restaurant was only about half full, but I enjoyed a pint of pale ale ($2.50 – normally $3.75) while waiting. The appetizer was relatively small, arriving on a plate smaller than our dinner plates at home, and left me hungry for more. It would have been enough for one person, but there were two of us, so we each had one momo, one satay, and one tofu each. The momo (Himalayan dumplings with charred tomato and spicy sesame chutneys served steamed) would have been better fried, an option when ordering the momo appetizer, but not on our sampler platter, and was delicious, but it was consumed in just two bites (I could have easily handled it in just one). A steamed dumpling the size of a fortune cookie filled with veggies and served with sweet and sour sauce, momos are likely better deep fried.
The Fried Pork Momos ($4.79) are much tastier and less healthy than the steamed variety, coming with four dumplings and two sauces, a mildly spicy red tomato chutney and an almost white sauce that reminded me of very well-blended hummus. The Fried Chicken Spring Rolls ($4.29) come with a sweet and spicy sauce infused with chili peppers, but for the price I would expect more than two, both of which were consumed post haste. They were savory and crunchy, containing cabbage, bean sprouts, and a few other unknown vegetables, and, beside the small portion, they were also excellent. The chicken satay ($4.99) is also good with four skewers of grilled chicken accompanied by a decadent peanut sauce and zesty onion and cucumber relish.
|Phad Phak Ruam Mitr|
My wife ordered a vegetarian dish, Phad Phak Ruam Mitr ($7.29), a mixed vegetable stir-fry with broccoli, onions, garlic, carrots, bell peppers, snow peas, Napa cabbage, scallions, baby corn and tofu and served with Jasmine rice. It was light and delicious, not too spicy for an Italian not used to eating hot and spicy foods (penne arribiatta is as hot as it gets in Italian cuisine). The vegetables were fresh and crisp, and the sauce light yet complex enough to satiate the palate.
|Green Curry ($7.69) with Beef ($2.69)|
On our next visit I wanted to try the Green Thai Curry ($7.69 – green curry with bell peppers, eggplant, and bamboo shoots), but I hate bamboo shoots because they have the consistency of Styrofoam and zero taste, so I asked the server (Zana) if I could substitute potatoes. Yellow and green Thai curries are excellent and normally are served with chicken, pork, or beef (chicken is the norm) with potato and peas, so I was dismayed when I saw bamboo shoots as an ingredient. Bamboo shoots and water chestnuts, another dreaded ingredient, are usually found in Chinese cuisine, not Thai, so I thought potatoes would be a rather benign request.
I was told that there would be a $1.00 up-charge for substituting potato for bamboo shoots! Considering the fact that potatoes are one of the cheapest staples in the produce department and much more pricey than an equal weight in potatoes, I declined and simply asked for the dish minus the water chestnuts and plus beef ($2.69 extra). The green curry was delicious, spicy enough for the pallet but not too much for my acid reflux. The bell peppers (red and green) were a bit too crunchy (raw) for my taste, but the dish was excellent. The “Jasmine” rice, which accompanies most dishes, seems to be merely white rice because I could neither taste nor see any hints of Jasmine. The beef, which I paid nearly $3.00 extra for, consisted of 3 or 4 pieces of thinly sliced beef and 1-2 inches in length, nearly non-existent. If there had been MORE MEAT, the dish would have been perfect, beside the fact that a couple of chunks of potato would have also been nice!
The Phad Thai ($7.29), a classic Thai stir-fry with rice noodles, eggs, bean sprouts, scallions, cilantro and peanuts in a mild red curry sauce, was robust and delicious. Looking much like an Italian pasta dish, it had nothing else in common with Italian cuisine other than the noodles, and was perfectly seasoned. The vegetables were well cooked and not raw, the dish was sprinkled with small chunks of peanuts and stir-fried in a mild red curry sauce, for a vegetarian dish it was scrump-diddly-umptious!
Zen Zero has become a staple in our house and we will be returning frequently in the future, so expect updates to this review as I try the red, yellow, and “dry” curries, among other dishes, in upcoming months. Good restaurants are not abundant in Lawrence, particularly downtown, but Zen Zero is a welcome addition!
|FREE CHIPS AND SALSA!|
I am admittedly a Mexican food snob, if there is such a thing, having grown up in LA where hispanics seem to outnumber us gringos (PC???) and Mexican restaurants outnumber McDonalds. As usual, I stick with the basics the first time I visit a restaurant to see if they can get them right before moving on to more complex dishes.
We ordered the small guacamole ($3.79) and the highly touted white cheese dip (queso blanco – small – $3.79). The guacamole was very good, made with fresh avocado and NO TOMATO, well seasoned and a fair portion for the prices. The queso blanco was also scrummy as advertised, warm and well seasoned, but not too hot as my wife does not like her food too spicy. I had the 27 ounce margarita (on the rocks – $4.99) which was good, strong, and very reasonably priced, and my wife had the horchata, a Mexican rice-base drink which was a bit watery for our taste.
My wife ordered the vegetarian special #1, a cheese quesadilla and cheese and onion enchilada (with queso blanco instead of red sauce – she hates tomatoes – $7.49), coming with retired beans. It is difficult to screw-up a quesadilla and El Mezcal was no exception. The enchilada was good, but the beans rather bland, missing that fatty taste traditional refried beans emanate hence the name “refried”.
|Beef Tacos ala Carte|
I decided to forego the rice and beans and get down to brass tacks, ordering the beef tacos ($3.99) and cheese and onion enchiladas ($5.79) ala carte. The tacos came in prefab shells, normally a dead giveaway for bad food, but they were actually pretty good. The ground beef was well seasoned, the shells not too soft, not too crispy, holding up well to the punishment my teeth inflicted, with a little lettuce and plenty of white cheese. Their menu mentions “juicy tomato”, but there were none in my tacos, my only complaint other than the prefab shells. I saved some guacamole for my tacos and added their salsa which was pretty good, making up for the lack of tomatoes.
|Cheese and Onion Enchiladas ala Carte|
The cheese and onion enchiladas were tasty, but so tough (yes, tough) that I could not cut them with a fork and my knife even had difficulty at times. I like burnt, crispy cookies and brownies, so I actually enjoyed the crunchiness. It was obvious that they had been either broiled or microwaved too long BEFORE adding the enchilada sauce, which was actually very good. My only other recommendations would be to flash fry the tortillas before filling them, adding the sauce and some white cheese on top before putting them under the broiler to melt. There was also about 50% too much sauce, a waste of money considering the fact that I left much of it on my plate.
El Mezcal was a nice surprise after the ho-hum experience we had at the Iowa Street location. The decor is colorful and reminiscent of old Mexico complete with a small fountain and the service attentive, friendly, and fast. Not my favorite Mexican restaurant in Lawrence, but we will return from time to time for the cheap, abundant margaritas if nothing else.
CombatCritic Gives El Mezcal 7 Out of 10 Bombs … BOMBAS ARE BUENAS!
Key Words: El Mezcal. el, mezcal, Mexican, restaurant, food, eat, taco, enchilada, guacamole, margarita, burrito, Lawrence, Kansas, 66044, CombatCritic, TravelValue, travel, value
An old haunt, I had to try it again after 6 years in the Midwest … Tacos, enchiladas, you know the drill.
Lawrence, Kansas: I had seen Great Harvest while driving up Vermont, but being a regular at Wheatfield’s (less than two blocks away), I had not bothered to stop in. My wife and I had to park across the street from Great Harvest during a recent visit to Massachusetts Street for some shopping, so we decided to go in.
As we entered, the aroma of freshly baked bread and pies consumed me as the baker and ovens are directly behind the counter and he was removing piping-hot pie from the oven. Flavors vary by season.
Unlike Wheatfield’s, bread is self-service in plastic wrap on shelving next to the counter. There were samples of five different breads and a bowl full of butter next to the register and when I inquired about the offerings, the young lady sliced a piece of multigrain bread as wide and thick as the palm of my hand. The bread was moist and crunchy with chunks of wholegrain throughout, the crust being a bit too soft for my taste, but delicious nonetheless. At nearly $6 a loaf, the bread is more than I have ever paid for a loaf and $1-$2 more than their competitor down the street.
The pies were gorgeous, a plump golden brown, but at $16 a pop, a bit pricey for my taste. Their products are obviously high in quality and flavor, so the only thing limiting my rating to four stars and not five was the prices. The service was excellent, the bread delicious, the prices a bit high …
CombatCritic Gives Great Harvest Bread Company 7 Out of 10 Bombs … BOMBS ARE GOOD!
Key Words: Great Harvest Bread Company, great, harvest, bread, company, Lawrence, Kansas, Vermont, 66044, pie, multigrain, bakery, baker, CombatCritic, combat, critic, TravelValue
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