Lawrence, Kansas: Price Increases And Poor Service (Literally) Left A Bad Taste In Our Mouths


Zen Zero
811 Massachusetts Street
Lawrence, KS 66044
Phone: (785) 832-0001
Website: zen-zero.com
Prices: $$$$

Unfortunately, Zen Zero is owned by the same group that poorly manages Genovese (and La Parilla), a very sad excuse for an Italian restaurant a couple blocks down the street on Massachusetts. I hesitate to spend our money at Zen Zero only because of the unpleasant experiences we have had at Genovese, but there are not many options when it comes to decent, reasonably priced restaurants in Lawrence, so we bit my tongues and returned after a long layoff.

Zen Zero’s decor is modern, yet cozy with hints of Asian influence in select pieces of art on the walls, warm Earth-tone colors and an open kitchen emitting exotic sounds, smells, and flames as chefs prepare meals in view of customers. As you can see from the photo below, the lighting is much brighter than I remember, ruining the ambience we used to enjoy beside hurting my light sensitive eyes.

Our server arrived with a customary basket of Asian rice chips, light and crunchy, which are tasty but an accompanying sauce to dip in would have been nice, but seemed as though she did not seem overly eager to be there or serve us.

Sunday night used to be Zen Zero night in our house where draught beer is on special for $3.00 a (American) pint. They do not have a huge selection of drafts, a pale ale, a wheat, and a seasonal (e.g. Oktoberfest, Irish Red). I ordered the Irish Red (normally $4.50), two total over the entire meal. My wife had water.

The Fried Pork Momos (now $4.99) come 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 (now $4.29) come with a sweet and spicy sauce infused with chili peppers. They were savory and crunchy, containing ground, seasoned chicken and, beside the small portion, they were also good. But having lived in McLeod Ganj, India for two months last year, a Tibetan colony and home of His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, I ate Tibetan food three times a day, every day. An order of momos there consists of eight, double the number at Zen Zero, they are much better, and only cost $2.50, one-quarter the price at Zen Zero.

Meeting with His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama – McLeod Ganj, India (December 8, 2014)

My wife ordered a vegetarian dish, Phad Phak Ruam Mitr ($7.99), 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 not too spicy for an Italian not used to eating hot and spicy foods (penne arrabiata 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, but it left a strange aftertaste unlike when she has had it in the past. She could barely eat it and the server did not bother asking how our meal was or if there was a problem with the dish, bringing a to-go container and making us box it up ourselves.

I love curry and Zen Zero’s Massaman curry (now $8.29, $10.28 with beef), a coconut curry from Southern Thailand with potatoes peanuts (no pork option), was as good a I remember. Having ordered my curry with the customary beef (an extra $2.99), the curry was rich and well seasoned. A thick red curry, Massaman comes with tofu or meat (other than pork – $1.99 to $3.99 extra charge for meat or seafood) with potatoes and peanuts in a huge bowl served with Jasmine rice. Not overly abundant in the beef department, I was not too disappointed because the thick curry sauce was nearly as good as the best I have ever eaten (the best was a similar curry at a small Vietnamese restaurant in Palos Verdes, California back in the late 1970s).

Our appetizers took quite a while to arrive and our entrees took even longer. I watched my wife’s Phad Phak Ruam Mitr sit on the counter for at least ten minutes until my curry was finally ready, all the while our server was too busy talking on her cell phone to bring us our food and we had to wait even longer after my curry was finally ready.

When we had finished, I gave our server a coupon we had received (2nd dinner half-off with purchase of an entree and two drinks), she told me she did not think we could use it. I asked, “Why?”, and she told me “You have to order two drinks to get the deal”. To which I replied, “We did, I had two beers” (and a couple appetizers to boot) to which she responded, “I’ll have to check with my manager to see if it’s OK”. Really? I should not have been surprised because Zen Zero is owned by the same group that owns Genovese where we had a similar incident a while back (they also refused to honor a coupon). I find myself wondering why the owners bother printing coupons if they are just going to have their servers hassle customers who try to use them.

Zen Zero had become a staple in our house and we may likely be returning in the future even though they have raised their prices rather significantly in the past year and the service was not nearly as good as it used to be. Good restaurants are not abundant in Lawrence, particularly downtown, but Zen Zero is a welcome option, albeit a bit pricier than in the past.

I gave Zen Zero 9 Bombs Out Of 10 in a past review, but with deductions for their price increases, the delays in receiving our appetizers and entrees, the weird aftertaste in the Phad Phak Ruam Mitr, and being hassled by the server for using a coupon …

CombatCritic Now Gives Zen Zero 6 Bombs Out Of 10 … Bombs Are Good!




Six Bombs Equates To:
“Good To Go”

Read Reviews By CombatCritic:

Yelp – Elite ’14/’15/’16

TripAdvisor – Top Contributor

Tabelog – Official Judge (Bronze)

Zomato – #1 Ranked Foodie

View my food journey on Zomato!



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Tabelog Reviewer CombatCriticView my food journey on Zomato!

Zen Zero Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Zen ZeroZen Zero

Title: Lawrence, Kansas: Price Increases And Poor Service (Literally) Left A Bad Taste In Our Mouths

Key Words: travel, value, product, restaurant, menu review, Yelp, TripAdvisor, Zomato, zen zero, zen, zero, Lawrence, Kansas, Massachusetts, Thai, Nepalese, Japanese, 66044, CombatCritic, TravelValue


Translation for Civilians: G2G = “Good To Go”

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Come Down From Your Roost For Some (Pricey) Hooch, Breakfast, Or Lunch


Biscuits and Gravy – $7?

The Roost

920 Massachusetts Street
Lawrence, KS 66044
Phone (785) 843-1110
Web 920mass.com
Prices $$$$$

After 36 hours without food and cameras shoved every which way (I’ll spare you the gruesome details), I thought it was time for some carbs and protein … the biscuits and gravy tasted great, although quite pricey at $7 for a full order, the biscuits being rather small with barely enough gravy to cover them completely. UNSAT! 

Kansan – $8

I had the Kansan ($8) with eggs, bacon, home fries and English muffin on my first two visits. It was good, not spectacular, and a fair sized serving, but the bacon was a tad too crispy even for my taste. Being primarily a breakfast joint, they have very few popular or traditional options to choose from (can you say skillets?), so on my most recent (and likely last) visit, I ordered an omelette ($6) with bacon ($1), onion, peppers, and mushrooms (50 cents each for a total of $8.50). When the server asked me what kind of toast I wanted, I asked if they had English muffins and she said that they did. What she failed to tell me was that there was a 50 cent up-charge, a fact I spotted only after the check arrived (see bill below). The 50 cent English muffin dominated the plate, dwarfing the small, yet tasty, omelette and a smattering of bland, unseasoned fried potatoes (see photo – objects are smaller than they actually appear).

The ALL YOU CAN DRINK self-service coffee bar ($2) is the The Roost’s highlight, a superb selection of four premium coffees with your normal choices of additions (half-and-half, skim and soy milk, cinnamon, sugar) available as needed.

Omelette – $8.50 + 50 Cents for an English Muffin

The service is adequate, not bad, not great, with little interaction and a bit of a “high brow” feel. A breakfast place should have a warmer, more inviting, friendlier ambience, especially in a small college town. For example, when I asked to barista to replenish the half-and-half at the coffee bar on our most recent visit, all I received was a scowl as she was poured a complimentary glass of alcohol by a cohort at 11:30 in the morning.

Their prices are quite high on most things, so I have to deduct a couple bombs when it comes to “value”.  For example, $5 should be the maximum price for biscuits and gravy no matter how big the order is or how good they are and if you are going to up-charge customers, they should be told in advance in order to make an informed decision as to whether or not they choose to pay the difference.


Oddly enough, for a place that is only open for breakfast and lunch (7am-3pm), The Roost has a bar and will serve you rather expensive cocktails ($7-$8) or wine ($5), so if you are looking for a mid-day buzz along with your biscuits and gravy, this is the place for you. But based on the high prices, small portions, uninspiring cuisine, and mediocre service, I think I will keep trying to find a decent breakfast place in Lawrence. I have my doubts.


CombatCritic Gives The Roost 4 Out Of 10 Bombs … BOMBS ARE GOOD!








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Title:  Come Down From Your Roost For Some (Pricey) Hooch, Breakfast, Or Lunch

Key Words: The Roost, roost, breakfast, lunch, bar, coffee, egg, biscuit, gravy, bacon, omelette, food, menu, Massachusetts, Lawrence, Kansas, 66044, CombatCritic, TravelValue, travel, value

Fool Me Once, Shame On You … Fool Me Twice, Shame On Me


Genovese

941 Massachusetts Street
Lawrence, KS 

(785) 842-8300

In my initial review of Genovese, I gave them a lackluster 5 Out Of 10 Bombs … BOMBS ARE GOOD … but looking back, I may have been too generous.

Bruschetta

We had bought a Genovese Groupon for $58 which included two appetizers and four entrees because we had planned to go with some friends, but our dinner plans fell through and after our first paltry experience, we were in no hurry to return. With the Groupon promotion lapsed, the “face value” of the Groupon “will still be honored” (according to Groupon’s website and disclaimer) and not wanting to waste $58, we decided to use it when my sons came to town for a visit from Colorado.

Insalata Caprese

Because I was using the “cash value” of the Groupon, not the promotion, I decided to utilize the “buy one entrée and two drinks, get one entrée for half off” offer advertised recently in the Lawrence Journal World (LJW). However, when it came time to pay the bill, the server told us that the manager would not honor the LJW offer. I asked to speak with him, explaining that the “cash value” of the Groupon was no longer a promotion, but if he wanted to honor it (even though it had expired) and give us the two appetizers and four entrees in exchange, that would be great! Otherwise, we were using no other “promotion” and I asked him to please honor the LJW coupon. He refused, not quite able to grasp the complexity of the situation or the meaning of “customer service”.

       Wild Mushroom and Asparagus Ravioli
Our meal, being bland, overpriced, with too much sauce on the pasta, was unremarkable and because it was overshadowed by the manager’s poor attitude, I will not waste too much time here explaining it. Leave it to say that the bruschetta ($6.50 – pronounced “brew-sket-ah”, not “brew-shet-a”) was three small pieces of white bread from the supermarket with a little cheese melted on top (bruschetta in never served with cheese), a little olive oil, and topped by three small grape tomatoes cut in halves. The Caprese salad (insalata), a favorite of mine, at $9.50 was equally as disappointing, being sprinkled with balsamic vinegar, another culinary faux pas, a few small slices of yellow tomato, thin pieces of mozzarella cheese, and a couple grape tomato halves in the middle. My wife’s wild mushroom and asparagus ravioli was supposed to come in a broth, but there was little broth visible, the pasta were dry, and their filling almost non-existent. 

Being a former baseball player, it normally takes three strikes to be “out”, but in the case of Genovese, two strikes shall suffice …
“Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.”

Genovese will not be getting another chance in my book, mostly because of the manager’s unprofessional attitude, but also because of the poorly executed, overpriced food and …

CombatCritic Now Gives Genovese a Paltry 2 Bombs Out of 10 … More Bombs Are Better!







 Genovese on Urbanspoon

Key Words: Genovese, Italian, restaurant, Massachusetts, street, Lawrence, Kansas, 66044, Groupon, pasta, pizza, TripAdvisor, antipasti, Yelp, sausage, wine, UrbanSpoon, CombatCritic, TravelValue, travel, value

The Pita Pit Is THE PITS When It Comes To Value


Pita Pit
1011 Massachusetts St
Lawrence, KS 66044


Prices: $$$$$

The place was empty on a Wednesday night as I entered, a bad sign, and I almost turned around to go to Fuzzy’s for some tacos. Instead I decided to give it a go and walked to the counter.

The staff was friendly and helpful, the place clean, the veggies fresh, and being Wednesday I was told that “double meat’s only an extra buck” ($1 – normally $2.50), so I ordered a Philly Steak with grilled onion, peppers, and mushrooms for $6.59 ($7.59 + tax with double meat, bringing the total to $8 and change – normally $9.09 + tax).


With more meat than Subway, I thought the sandwich would be more filling than it was. They offer white and whole wheat pita, but being so thin the bread offers little satiation. I was still hungry. The extras (veggies, cheeses, sauces) are included and are liberally added, but the pita bread can only hold so much before bursting. In fact, the pita fell apart halfway through my sandwich as the juices attacked the bread less than 20  minutes after ordering.


For $8+ I was not pleased with the value of the sandwich. They offer chips on the side to accompany sandwiches, but french fries would be more appropriate and filling. Overall, I found my experience and the value of my meal disappointing.

CombatCritic Gives Pita Pit 4 Out of 10 Bombs … BOMBS ARE GOOD!





Pita Pit on Urbanspoon

Key Words: Pita Pit, pita, pit, sandwich, shop, restaurant, eat, food, delivery, menu, bread, gyro, Lawrence, Kansas, 66044, CombatCritic, TravelValue, travel, value

Rex’s Offers Value And An Old Time Barber Shop Feel In Downtown Lawrence


Rex’s Offers Value And An Old Time Barber Shop Feel In Downtown Lawrence
Rex’s Stadium Barbershop
1033 Massachusetts Street
Lawrence, Kansas 66044
Rex’s is a small, unassuming barber shop not far from our home and because I support small, local businesses, I decided to give them a try. The four chairs were empty late on a Saturday morning, so I had a seat.
The shop is decorated with hundreds of old KU (University of Kansas) photos and other sports memorabilia, clearly having been collected since 1928 when the barber shop was founded by its original owner.
Prices are fair, just $10 for a regular haircut ($8 for military although I was not offered a discount as a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel), and the haircut precise and well proportioned. I gave minimal direction to Rex, only telling him to taper the sides and back and off he went. Before I knew it, my hair was perfectly short and neat, just the way it had been in 20+ years in the military. With miltary haircuts on base (post) hovering between $7 and $8, $10 in downtown Lawrence is a bargain!
Rex has some cool paintings in the back room, caricatures of the KU Jayhawk and other characters painted back in the early 1950s, possibly earlier. A friendly, welcoming shop with good prices and the feel of an old time barber shop, I will be returning to Rex’s for my haircuts for the foreseeable future!

CombatCritic Gives Rex’s Stadium Barbershop 9 Out Of 10 Bombs … BOMBS ARE GOOD!






Key Words: Rex’s Stadium Barbershop, Rex’s, Rex, stadium, barber, shop, hair, haircut, mens, men’s, barbershop, Lawrence, Kansas, 66044, Massachusetts, street, CombatCritic, travel, value

LOTS O’ TACOS … Border Bandido Offers Abundant, Fresh Ingredients At A Fair Price


First off, if a Mexican restaurant’s name is spelled incorrectly, that is not a good sign. There is no such word as “bandido”. “Bandito”, Mexican for “bandit”, yes … “bandido”, absolutely not. The reviews on Yelp were mixed, so I did not get around to trying Border Bandido until a rainy Saturday afternoon when I found that I had little to do, so why not eat tacos!

The facility is clean and functional with the taco bar prominently placed in the middle of the room in front of the kitchen. The sign on the wall stated “Buffet Hours: 11am – 2pm, 5pm-etc” and because it was a little after 4pm, I was a bit confused. I asked the woman behind the counter if they were open and she told me “yes, the buffet is open all day on Saturday and enchiladas are included in the price ($9), so let me know and I’ll make them to order”.

I took my plate and selected my tortilla shell, a choice of crispy corn or flour, soft flour, and a crispy bowl shaped tortilla for taco salads I presume, I chose crispy corn. I added taco meat (ground beef – shredded chicken also available), a guacamole-type concoction that looked like something out of a container, shredded cheddar cheese, pico di gallo, diced white onion, shredded lettuce, and salsa. There were also jalapeńos, black olives, tomatoes, potato salad, chocolate mousse, and cookies if so inclined. Chili con carne and chili con queso are also available. The tortilla shells were crisp and the other ingredients appeared fresh, the taco meat well seasoned. If your in the mood for lots of tacos, Border Bandido is an inexpensive option.

Enchiladas Included On Saturday Buffet
The enchiladas were an added benefit, so I ordered one beef and one cheese and onion. The beef enchilada’s tortilla was too thin and barely able to contain the ground beef. The cheese and onion enchilada actually was not bad with decent tasting red sauce and melted cheese on top, comparable to most of the other mediocre enchiladas available throughout Lawrence.

Border Bandido is very basic, offering a decent, abundant meal of fair American-Mexican food at a reasonable price. KU students must love the place! I thought it was not bad, not great, but if you are in the mood for LOTS O’ TACOS … Border Bandido is the place for you!

CombatCritic Gives Border Bandido 6 Bombs Out of 10 … BOMBAS ARE BUENAS!



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Border Bandido on Urbanspoon

Key Words: Border Bandido, border, bandito, bandit, Mexican, 23rd, street, food, restaurant, taco, bar, buffet, enchilada, Lawrence, Kansas, 66044, CombatCritic, TravelValue, travel, value

LiMESTONE: Strange Name, Fair Neopolitan-ish Pizza … Pastrami Sandwiches?


  • LiMESTONE
  • 814 Massachusetts St
    Lawrence, KS 66044
  • Phone number(785) 856-2825
  • Business websitelimestonepkb.com

Prices: $$$$$

Having lived in Napoli (Naples, Italy), being married to an Italian, not the “American” variety, and descended from Italian immigrants, I appreciate a well made wood oven Neapolitan (Napolitana) pizza. Many have tried to duplicate pizze Napolitane, but few have succeeded and I said to myself “speriamo” (“let’s hope so”) as I entered Limestone for the first time.

I tell you up front that I am comparing, somewhat unfairly, Limestone to the pizzerias of Napoli because they claim to offer Neopolitan pizza, so I may seem harsh. However, my comments are meant to be constructive, offering Charlie (the very friendly owner who happened to be making pizzas next to me while we chatted about Italy) the opportunity to enhance his restaurant as they grow and flourish.

Arancini di Riso (Fried Rice Balls – $2)
I had heard rave reviews from fellow Yelp Elite Scott T and others during their short time in existence, so I had to give Limestone a go. The name gives zero indication of the cuisine and I would never have known that this was a pizza place had my friend Scott not told me about it. Busy for a Thursday night, as a single I was able to be seated right away at the bar where I could watch the pizzas being made and placed in the ornate wood-fired oven.

The space is modern, not my favorite as you probably know by now, with an abundance of stone, wood, glass, and steel, and bright, almost too bright for my sensitive eyes. The center attraction is the large stone-encased wood pizza oven blazing away while pizzas are being hand tossed and decorated for a quick dip inside. The staff all seemed sincerely friendly and helpful, although the tattoo clad bartender had a bit of an attitude, but not so much that it was off-putting, and service was fast and efficient.

Arancini di Riso
Offering an “arancini” (“little oranges”) appetizer (“bites”) special for just $2, the two Neopolitan style deep fried saffron infused rice balls complete with fresh mozzarella inside sat atop a small plate of tomato sauce. Aranicni di riso are a pizzeria antipasto staple in Naples along with crocchette di patate (potato croquettes) and other deep fried delights and the only way to start a night in a traditional pizzeria. Limestone’s arancini were very well done, crunchy outside and moist inside, perfectly seasoned with saffron and other seasonings and a small ball of fresh mozzarella inside. I asked Charlie if they made their own mozzarella and much to my surprise he said “yes, about 600 pounds of curd per week”.

Now for the pizza … dun-dun-dun. With only six offerings (seven if you include the special), there is not nearly the variety one would find in a pizzeria Napolitana. I ordered the sausage pizza, a simple and traditional choice and normally not something I would choose, only because it and the Margherita (fresh tomato and mozzarella with fresh basil leaves on top – named after Queen Margherita’s favorite pizza), were the only two traditional Neopolitan pizza options available. I normally order pizza capricciosa (fresh tomatoes, ham, mushrooms, artichoke, fresh mozzarella cheese – fior di latte – and basil) or my all-time favorite, the friarielli e salsiccia (broccoli rabe and sausage), so I was a bit bummed that there was so little variety. Bacon and eggs on pizza? … bacon and potatoes? … Hollandaise sauce? … Gruyere cheese … NEVER IN NAPLES!

The Spud – $9

My wife, shortly after her return from two months in Naples visiting family and enjoying the “best pizza in the world” ordered “The Spud”, with “thin sliced, crème fraiche, house­recipe bacon, and rosemary” ($9). Her first comment was that the pizza was “too dry”, needing more crème fraiche, which was lightly drizzled across the top in an attempt to look “gourmet” rather than contributing to the consistency and flavor of the pizza. It could have also been lightly brushed with olive oil to enhance the flavor and moistness. Again, the toppings were so sparse that there was more dough visible than ingredients. The flavor was decent with a nice ratio of potato to bacon, but the toppings could be more evenly distributed across the pizza in order to ensure there is at least some potato, bacon, crème fraiche, and rosemary in every bite.

The pizza was a bit small ($10 for a 12 incher), one to two inches in diameter less than pizza Napolitana (for comparison, a sausage pizza in Naples would cost around 6 Euros, a little over $8). The consistency of the dough was close, but it was a little thicker than the original, particularly around the edges. Neopolitan pizza is soft on top, a little crisp on the bottom, with a couple burnt spots and thin enough as to not overwhelm the semi-abundant toppings. The tomato sauce was a tad too spicy and excessively visible due to the lack of mozzarella and sausage atop my pizza. Italians do not overload a pizza with toppings as is customary here in the US, but there is normally enough fresh mozzarella cheese to nearly cover the baked pastry completely after it has melted. That was not the case here and twice as much cheese (and sausage) still would not have sufficed. Although not nearly as good as the worst pizza I have eaten in Naples, it was good and surely better than anything I have eaten in Lawrence thus far. If compared to an $8 Neopolitan pizza, my pizza (based on size and abundance of toppings) should have probably been priced at $6 max, so it was not a great value.

But what do I know? Limestone has quickly become a popular spot on Mass Street and from the looks of it, doing extremely well … BRAVO! In a town void of a decent Italian restaurant, – people voted 715 “BEST FINE DINING IN LAWRENCE” in this year’s Best of Lawrence competition – Limestone is a welcome addition. I will return to see if they improve and to try other dishes (including hamburgers and pastrami sandwiches for some odd reason). Charlie seems like a nice guy and I wish him well … good luck Limestone!


CombatCritic Gives Limestone A Respectable 6 Bombs Out of 10 … BOMBE SONO BUONE








Limestone Pizza Kitchen Bar on Urbanspoon

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Key Words: Limestone, pizza, kitchen, bar, Lawrence, Kansas, 66044, Massachusetts Street, downtown, menu, pasta, wine, arancini, rice, Naples, Napoli, Italy, Italian, restaurant, CombatCritic, TravelValue

Cielito Lindo ("lovely, sweet one") … Mediocre Mexican Is The Norm In Lawrence


Patio

We ate here for the first time in August 2013 while in the midst of moving, so I did not have time to write a review. I recently returned for some follow-up visits and now provide my candid opinions.


The restaurant is large and the service pretty good. It reminds me of a real Mexican cantina inside with colorful decor and an open feel with a balcony on the second floor overlooking the dining room. The patio in front is large and inviting on a mildl day or evening and Cielito Lindo has been named the 2014 BEST OF LAWRENCE “Best Outdoor Dining” spot, a great place to have a drink, appetizer, and/or meal with friends and family.

The margaritas are decent, both on-the-rocks and blended, but compared to most places in town they are overpriced unless you can catch a special as we did recently ($12.99 for a pitcher on a Sunday night). 

The chips are abundant and appear homemade and the salsa one of the best I have fond in Lawrence. The guacamole ($3.99 for a “regular”) is reasonably sized and not bad, containing tomatoes as is the norm in many restaurants and a faux pas in my eyes. The regular queso blanco (white cheese dip – $3.99) comes in a similar size bowl, but was lukewarm and runny, not thick enough to cling to a chip and making quite a mess on the table and my clothes as I attempted to get it from bowl to mouth.

The tacos and enchiladas are adequate, yet boring. Tacos are tasty enough, coming in small, prefab shells and the small cheese and onion enchiladas are bland with little melted cheese. The chili relleno’s are well done, coming with plenty of cheese in a large chili surrounded by fluffy egg, but again the sauce was lacking flavor. Tostadas, which are hard to mess up, are OK, nothing special. Combinations are reasonably priced ($7.99) and ala carte items can be mixed and matched for a cost effective meal.

Carnitas
The carnitas appeared underwhelming at first look after arrival, but were crispy, well seasoned, and delicious pork tips that when pulled apart (as most restaurants serve them) filled the four corn tortillas that accompanied the meal ($10.49). I asked the waiter if the dish came with guacamole and pico di gallo before ordering, and he assured me it did, but when the plate arrived there was barely enough guac for one taco and zero pico di gallo. The rice and beans were flavorful and good. Some canned jalapeños topped the dish for some unknown reason with little value added. 

If you do not mind paying $10 for a plate full of grilled onion and a little meat, then the Cielito Lindo’s carne asada is the plate for you! Carne asada is routinely sliced and/or pounded very thin (in this case less than 1/8 of an inch), so it appears much larger than it actually is. In this case, my steak did not even appear that large. The abundance of perfectly grilled onion obscured the small, thin steak … weighing in at a maximum of four (4) ounces. At the equivalent of $40 per pound for a very inexpensive cut of meat, I would expect a top quality piece of beef, which was obviously not the case here.


Side Order of Quesadilla (2) – $14.98?

In conclusion, Cielito Lindo is comparable to the other mediocre Mexican restaurants in Lawrence, all of which fail in comparison to some of my favorite spots in Mexico, California, and Texas. Make sure to check your bill as we have had rather large errors, in their favor of course, on at least 50% of our checks. On our most recent visit, we were charged $7.49 (twice – totaling $14.98) for two small flour tortillas baked with a little cheese (aka quesadilla), accompanied by some lettuce, tomato (half a slice), and some sour cream. So before you leave, check your check and make sure you get what you paid for (or pay for what you got).

CombatCritic Gives Cielito Lindo 5 Bombs Out of 10 … MORE BOMBS ARE GOOD!











Cielito Lindo Mexican Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Key Words: Cielito Lindo, cielito, lindo, Mexican, restaurant, Lawrence, Kansas, menu, food, eat, taco, patio, outdoor, dining, Best of Lawrence. Lawrence, Kansas, 66044, CombatCritic, TravelValue, travel, value

715 … Overrated, Underwhelming, Quasi Italian Fare


715
715 Massachusetts Street
Lawrence, Kansas 66044
Menu: LINK

Prices: $$$$$

I first heard about 715 from one of their former employees and chef, Jake Dodds Sloan, a friend of my son I met at a high-end resort deep in Denali National Park a couple years back. Since then, we moved to Lawrence and I have read numerous glowing reviews on Yelp and elsewhere about this Massachusetts Street institution, so we had to give it a try.

One of the reasons I avoided 715 this long was the decor, modern with sharp edges, steel, rock, and dark wood, uninviting in my eyes as I tend to gravitate toward a more traditional, classic look based on the cuisine being experienced.


The waiter never told us his name or at least I did not hear it over the noisy patrons, another American tradition I do not cherish. The service was attentive and our food arrived in a timely manner, allowing us to savor our antipasti before the primi arrived.

We ordered the “heritage pork” meatballs (5 for $8) and half a Wheatfield’s baguette as it was apparent that no bread would be accompanying our appetizers or meal, a definite fopaux in my eyes. The meatballs were tasty, medium in size and smothered in what they call “marinara”, seemingly canned tomatoes with alarmingly little seasoning and another disappointment I would experience again when my bucatini arrived shortly thereafter.

The Bucatini all’ Amatriciana ($17) was described as “rich pork guanciale [cured pork cheeks], caramelized red onion, spicy chiles, san marzano sauce, and parmigiano reggiano”. Traditionally, amatriciana is made with pancetta (Italian bacon) and sautéed white onion, lightly basting the pasta with definite evidence of both ingredients on the palate. My bucatini, thick tubes of pasta resembling oversized spaghetti, was more than al dente, it was undercooked, chewy, and lukewarm. The pasta was smothered, not lightly tossed, with what appeared to be the same tomatoes we had on the meatballs, again overly acidic with little seasoning (garlic, olive oil, salt), chunks of tomato pulp, and no sign of either the cured pork or onions that make the dish one of my favorites. I had to ask for more cheese, but by the time the paltry little dish with a smattering of shaved parmigiano arrived the pasta was cold and even harder than when it arrived, so I decided to finish my wife’s Asian spaghetti and take the bucatini home where I could season it properly.

Shiltake Spaghetti

My wife was going to order the spinach and ricotta ravioli, but at $15 for just five (5) and $23 for ten (10), it didn’t seem like a very good value. Instead she ordered the Shiltake Spaghetti, a blend of Shitake mushrooms, spinach, carrots, olive oil, and garlic with chunks of mozzarella tossed in. Untraditional in every sense of the word, the dish actually had much more flavor than my Bucatini all’ Amatriciana, a favorite when I lived in Italy and ate real pasta. Italians love their pasta and she enjoyed hers, noting just a bit too much olive oil.

Half Baguette – $5

My ratings are based on “value”, taking into account the entire experience including the quality of the food, ambiance, service, and price … the entire culinary experience. I have had far better meals for much less (in Italy) and more (see my review of Nonna in Puerto Rico), so price is but one factor. Based on my experience at 715, prices in the range of $10 to $13 would be more appropriate for the pasta dishes, $5 to $6 for the meatballs, and NO CHARGE for the bread would earn an extra bomb or two, but for an 8 to 10 bomb experience they would need to train their chefs in proper Italian culinary techniques, including how to cook pasta, season the sauces, and NOT drown the pasta in excess sauce. I was going to give them 5 bombs, but decided to add one additional for “effort” as they apparently make the pasta in-house, a rarity these days and something which should be rewarded.

CombatCritic Gives 715 6 Bombs Out of 10 … LE BOMBE SONO BUONE!



715 on Urbanspoon

Kitchen

Key Words: 715, restaurant, Lawrence, KS, 66044, Kansas, Massachusetts Street, Massachusetts, CombatCritic, TravelValue, travel, value, Italian, food, pasta, menu

Balmy Nights, Harbor Lights


On my first visit, the place was quiet being a Thursday night before 8 pm. A few folks on the back patio, a group of noisy guys at a table, and a few “locals” bellied up to the bar, including me I guess.


I ordered an O’Dells IPA, not inexpensive at $5 for an  “American” pint (16 ounces versus 19.2 in an “Imperial”, British, pint), but not outrageous, with a head so big that a Brit would seethe. It was cold and wet, not room temperature like a traditional English IPA would be, but hey … THIS IS LAWRENCE … WE ARE IN KANSAS DOROTHY … Heeee heeee heeee heeee, I’ll get you my pretty AND YOUR LITTLE DOG TOO!


The bartender, a 30-something woman in jeans and t-shirt named Heather, was quiet yet nice and the only person to actually acknowledge my existence.  A few neon signs, a dirty floor, a couple of pool tables and dart boards, the place is a bit divey, but isn’t that the way bars should be?


I’ll be updating this review as the summer languishes and I become more familiar with Lawrence’s public houses.

CombatCritic Gives Harbor Lights 6 Out Of 10 Bombs … BOMBS ARE GOOD!







Key Words: Harbor Lights, harbor, lights, pub, bar, beer, drink, Massachusetts Street, Lawrence, Kansas, 66044, Massachusetts, Mass, street, CombatCritic, TravelValue, travel, value, combat, critic, menu

CombatCritic’s TravelValue eZine – Averaging Over 145 Hits A Day!


CombatCritic’s TravelValue eZine has recently been averaging over 145 hits a day. Not bad for a small, unassuming food and travel blog from America’s Heartland:

Thanks to all of our followers, visitors, and fans for your loyalty and trust … 

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CombatCritic Is Neither Laughing Nor Amused After A Visit ToThe "Mirth" Café


Mirth Cafe
947 New Hampshire Street
Lawrence, KS 
Living just 3 blocks from the Mirth Cafe, yet never realized it was there! The windows are dark in this ground floor space of what looks like an office building and their sign is barely visible through the tinted windows. Once inside, a modern decor of wood, tile, and dark steel has none of the hominess I enjoy in a good breakfast spot (e.g. The Roost).
Mirth’s “Big” Breakfast
We were quickly met at the door and seated, but it took 10 minutes for our server, Brittney, to arrive. A young man dropped off some water, but was off before I had a chance to ask for some much needed coffee. Once Brittney arrived, we found out that it was a “self-service” coffee bar, so we wasted 10 minutes for nothing. I scurried to the bar only to find a dirty mug on my first attempt. There was neither half-and-half in the creamer nor coffee descriptions (dark roast, etc.) on the 5-6 available carafe options, only “Columbian” or “Ramona’s”, whatever that is, “DeCaf” … blah, blah, blah. Splenda was available only in shaker form and I had difficulty locating it because packets were provided for all other sweeteners (sugar, SugarInTheRaw, Sweet&Low). Brittney appeared a bit dismayed by my request to show me where the Splenda was and even more miffed when I asked her to please fill the half-and-half carafe so I could enjoy my mystery coffee. There was no Stevia, a disappointment as I avoid sugar and recently stopped using artificial sweeteners.
The coffee was good and warm, but the coffee bar was splotched with spilled coffee, sugar wrapper ends, and sweetener granules. To my dismay, the first upside-down mug I chose from the batch sitting on counter was filthy, containing adhering coffee granules from the previous customer. I was fortunate that I noticed them just as I started to pour my coffee as I normally assume that the dinnerware in restaurants are clean, a bold assumption I know.
I had Mirth’s Big Breakfast ($8.25) with a side of country gravy ($1.75) for a total of $10, a bit pricey for not-so-big breakfast in my opinion. The “BIG” breakfast was not as big as advertised. The two “over-medium” eggs I ordered looked “large” at best, not “extra large”, and were closer to over-easy than what I ordered. The bacon was crisp, yet chewy just like I like it, but it was lukewarm and came in a clump of two or three pieces as it was difficult to tell how many ends I saw on the intertwined pieces which had obviously been sitting in a pan waiting to be dispensed to a plate. Which brings me to the potatoes. They were “home-style”, which apparently means burnt, cold chunks with little if any seasoning. The accompanying biscuit was very small and the gravy minimal for the price ($1.75), coming in a “side” size cup, maybe 3 ounces at best, and barely covering the two small biscuit halves. It was “OK, but nothing special and not nearly as tasty or abundant as The Roost’s and there was no sign, either visible or tastable, of either bacon or sausage.
My wife had the Vegetarian Biscuits and Gravy, which had much more flavor than the sausage variety and chunks of something … possibly the sausage missing from my gravy! It was much spicier than mine and I would have actually preferred it to the non-vegetarian version, a sad statement from a longtime carnivore. $5.25 seems a little high for two small biscuits and a bit of gravy, but it beats paying ten bucks for a mediocre egg dish.
Brittney was very nice for the most part and very attentive after she finally arrived, so no gripes there. We were mildly disappointed by the experience and Mirth Café will likely not become a household staple, unfortunate in that it is the closest café to our home. The décor and service was somewhat cold and impersonal, leaving me unimpressed overall.
CombatCritic Gives Mirth Café 6 Bombs Out Of 10 … MORE BOMBS ARE GOOD!




Mirth Cafe on Urbanspoon



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Key Words: Mirth Café, mirth, café, cafe, Mirth Cafe, Lawrence, Kansas, 66044, Massachusetts Street, Massachusetts, street, yelp, tripavisor, urbanspoon, CombatCritic, TravelValue, breakfast, lunch, eggs, bacon

The Basil Leaf Cafe … Still LEAFs Me Unimpressed


Basil Leaf Cafe

616 W 9th St

Lawrence, KS 66044

Phone number(785) 856-0459

Website

When I was told by a Lawrence Bohemian acquaintance of mine that “the Basil Leaf Cafe has the best Italian food in Lawrence”, I was intrigued because we have yet to find a great restaurant of ANY kind since moving here in August. Paisano’s (reviewed in August 2013) is “OK”, but nothing to write home about, so our quest to add a new Italian restaurant to our arsenal continues.


Enter … The Basil Leaf Cafe. Yelp reviews are mostly positive with people raving about the food, but slamming the “gas station” decor of the previous location (it really was in a gas station). The new building sits in a row of shops on 9th Street not far from downtown and the University of Kansas campus. The decor is modern with a smattering of tables (about 8) in a room that could easily handle 12 or more. The arrangement of tables, bar, kitchen window and cash register is inefficient, appearing as though there really was not a plan in the first place.

Tortellini Cordon Bleu, Side of Meatballs

On our first visit, we sat at a table uncomfortably close to the front door and were quickly greeted and given menus. I ordered a glass of the house wine, a “primativo” that was aptly named being primitive and obviously cheap. At $6.00 a glass, I would not be surprised if the mark-up was in the 600% to 700% range. The glass was small and filled a little more than halfway, leaving four, maybe five, ounces …


I ordered the New England (the white variety) clam chowder, the tortellini cordon bleu, and a side of meatballs. After asking for water three times, my wife finally received hers, but I had to ask yet again to get mine, coming in a mason jar for some odd reason. This restaurant is apparently trying to find an identity with its’ eclectic menu, modern decor, and new location, but they obviously have not figured it out yet. The soup finally arrived just seconds before our

Having lived in Italy for three years and traveling there extensively over the years, I found that Italians would NEVER think of eating meat and pasta together. Basil Leaf’s menu is not even close to authentic Italian. Meat loaf? Yes, Italians actually eat meat loaf, calling it “polpetone”, literally “big meatball” (meatballs are called polpette in Italy). They eat meatballs too, but NEVER WITH SPAGHETTI!  Spaghetti and other pasta dishes are called “primo piatto” or “first plate” and are also referred to as “primi” for short. Meat dishes fall into the “secondo piatto” or “second plate”, aka “secondi” and are not brought to the table until the antipasto (appetizer) and primo have been consumed.

Anyway, the New England clam chowder came in the smallest soup cup I had ever seen and was filled a little more than halfway. I asked the server if I could get some bread with my soup, but she said “the bread sticks come with your entree”. Translation: “No, you cannot”. Fortunately, the entrees arrived just seconds after I got my soup, so it did not take long to consume it and prepare for my oversize entree.

I had heard good things about Basil Leaf’s tortellini cordon bleu on Yelp, so I had to try it. The presentation was well done, being served in an oversize bowl (see photo). I love veal and schnitzel (pork cutlet) cordon bleu and this dish actually came close in terms of taste. Nontraditionally covered with a chicken cutlet (something you would never see in a classic Italian restaurant), the dish reminds me of a carbonara with ham and cheese added. It was delicious, but would have been better had it been served fresh from the pan and hot (warm). I finished half of the pasta, the lone bread stick (cut loose folks), and one of the three meatballs, leaving me a hearty dinner for the following night. The meatballs were excellent, having the correct consistency and seasoning and obviously homemade. Kudos to the chef!

Mac and Cheese

My wife ordered the “mac and cheese”, another heaping helping of handmade pasta reminiscent of my Aunt Gina’s chicatielli from Ariano, Irpino (Italy). The sauce was creamy and rich, but not overwhelmingly so. Being a native Italian born in Sicily, her palate is well honed when it comes to pasta, an Italian staple. She liked the mac and cheese even though there is no such recipe in her homeland.


Basil Leaf Cafe left us unimpressed on our first visit. Maybe it was because of the hype, maybe a bad night, so we decided to return.

On our second visit, seven months later, we skipped the appetizers, soup, and salad as they are overpriced and unnecessary based on the size of the entrees. A Thursday night, we were surprised to see only one free table and were quickly seated although the hostess seemed confused after I asked for a table for two as my wife had not yet entered the building. Before she had the menus, my wife had arrived and we were seated.

Our server was very nice, but a bit pushy when it came time to order as she seemed in a hurry to get things rolling and ensure our tab was of sufficient size. When we were finally ready to order, I decided on the Penne Abruzzi and my wife, not a pioneer by any stretch, went with the Mac and Cheese … again.

The Penne Abruzzi has penne, obviously, with onion, bell peppers, sun dried tomato, and bacon in a three cheese sauce. I have no idea which three cheeses they use in the sauce, but it was tasty enough although a bit too salty for my taste, possibly a result of the sun dried tomatoes as they are normally sprinkled with salt prior to being dried. There was too much sauce for the amount of pasta, giving it the consistency of a thick soup, appropriate for pasta fagioli, but not a standard pasta dish where a light coating would suffice. The bacon added just enough flavor to the dish and the three large meatballs sitting atop the penne, something you WOULD NEVER SEE in Italy, were decent.

I asked a server if I could have a menu as we left, but was told “we only have them available online”. That was fine with me as I am not interested in killing trees, but when I went “online” to check the menu to complete this review, I had great difficulty finding a current menu and never did find a website. How a business can succeed without a website these days is beyond me, but Basil Leaf apparently believes they only need a Facebook page. I never did find a current menu after an exhaustive search (MenuPix had a menu with prices several dollars less than we paid) and the Facebook menu never did load. That is what you get when you trust your “free” business webpage to Mark Zuckerberg!

The pasta dishes, “starters”, and salads are overpriced ($9 for a house salad? – up from $8 last October) as was the wine ($7 for 4 ounces of cheap wine – up from $6). The decor still needs some warming up, and the tables could be rearranged to seat more customers or create a much needed waiting area (waiting customers now hover over tables of seated customers). The service was sketchy on our first visit and a bit too intense this time. The menu and food remain underwhelming. I spotted only two or three dishes on the limited menu that I would bother ordering, so our options for return visits are already limited. 

There are enough “classic” Italian pasta sauce recipes to fill the menu twice over (carbonara, amatriciana, ragu, bolagnese, boscaiola, marinara, alfredo to name a few) and some classic meat dishes (veal marsala or saltimbocca) would be nice, so embrace something … anything … and create an identity of your own in your decor, servers, and menu fit for a town that still does not have an Italian restaurant worthy of our custom.


CombatCritic Gives Basil Leaf Cafe 6 out of 10 Bombs (Previously 5 Bombs) … Bombs are Good!


The Basil Leaf on Urbanspoon








Review Updated May 12th, 2014

Key Words: Basil Leaf Cafe, basil, leaf, cafe, Italian, restaurant, Lawrence, Kansas, pasta, soup, salad, wine, vino, meatball, marinara, penne, spaghetti, macaroni, cheese, CombatCritic, 66044

Copyright 2011-2014 – CombatCritic and 3rd Wave Media Group, LLC – All Rights Reserved

Fast, Affordable, Friendly … FUZZY’S!


Great tacos … CHECK!
Tex-Mex style enchiladas … CHECK!
Fresh guacamole … CHECK!
Tasty chili con queso … CHECK!
Good margaritas … CHECK!
Get in line to order … CHECK!
Reasonable prices … CHECK!
Rowdy, friendly employees … CHECK!


CombatCritic Gives Fuzzy’s Tacos A Solid 9 Bombs Out Of 10 for solid, fast, affordable Mexican food … BOMBS ARE GOOD!






Fuzzy's Taco shop on Urbanspoon










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Key Words: Fuzzy’s Tacos, Fuzzy’s, tacos, taco, fuzzy, fuzzie, enchilada, burrito, guacamole, queso, cheese, margarita, Lawrence, Kansas, Massachusetts, street, 66044, CombatCritic, TravelValue

Try "1006 Pho" Pho A Good, Reasonably Priced Bowl Of Goodness


Tofu Pho ($7.99)
This restaurant just opened in place of Wild Pho, another Vietnamese pho restaurant that recently closed. According to the server, the new owner, a very nice woman, apparently used to be connected to either Wild Pho or the space itself. Anywho, we thought we would give them a try considering they are so close to our home.

I asked if they had Vietnamese egg rolls, but the server did not know what I was talking about, so I asked the owner and she told me “no problem”. At $5 for four (4) pork egg rolls accompanied by lettuce leaves, sliced carrot, cilantro (no mint leaves), and a dipping sauce of rice vinegar and seasonings of unknown, but tasty origins, they were excellent or as Tony the Tiger would say “they’re grrrrrrrrrreat!” 

Steak Pho ($7.99)

My wife had the Tofu Pho. A “regular” is $7.99 and plenty big, but you can get a “large” for $9.99). The tofu is the same price as the meat (steak, meatball, chicken, shrimp, tendon?) pho and comes in a vegetarian broth option for an extra $1.50. 


I tried the Steak Pho (regular – $7.99) with veggie accompaniments and Sriracha OF COURSE! Extra meat is $1.99, which I ordered, but apparently did not get and was not charged for. No biggy because I was plenty full on the delicious broth, abundant noodles, a little sliced beef, and extra vegetables (no charge), including bean sprouts, sliced jalapeño, and cilantro.

They are updating the menu and a few dishes will not make the cut apparently, including the calamari, but if the pho was any indication of the quality and value of the meals, we will be back soon and provide an updated review as we try new dishes.


CombatCritic Gives 1006 Pho 7 Out of 10 Bombs (with room to grow) … BOMBS ARE GOOD!

1006 Pho on Urbanspoon


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Key Words: 1006 Pho, 1006 Massachusetts, 1006, Massachusetts, street, Lawrence, Kansas, 66044, pho, Vietnam, Vietnamese, food, CombatCritic, TravelValue, travel, value, Thai, noodles, egg roll

Genovese (Lawrence, Kansas): Decent Quality, Overpriced American-Italian Cuisine, Disappointing Experience


Genovese

941 Massachusetts Street
Lawrence, KS 

(785) 842-8300

Being of Italian descent with a grandmother from the homeland who was an excellent cook, having lived in Italy for three years and visiting frequently, and married to a Sicilian, let’s just say that I know good Italian food when I eat it. I found Genovese to be a fair Americanized reproduction with limited options.


With just “3 1/2 Stars” on Yelp and what I had heard about Genovese around town, we were not in a hurry to give them a try. There has been a long standing Groupon available for Genovese offering one appetizer ($6.50 – $9) and two entrees ($8.50 – $19) for $30 (notice that if you buy the least expensive offerings, you actually lose $6.50 on the deal), so we decided to have Easter dinner there.

It is not well advertised on Groupon, but the entrees are strictly from the pasta and pizza categories and the extra meat add-on for the pasta (chicken or sausage – $3, salmon or shrimp – $4) is included in the Groupon. If you do not order the most expensive options and the meat add-on, this Groupon is not a great value. 

Genovese has a $20 wine list which is a nice option for those on a budget with one bottle from each of the most popular grape varieties, including a Jacob’s Creek (Australia) Shiraz (Syrah) which I have had before that was quite nice and a very good value. There is a Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and a Cabernet/Sangiovese blend from Italy among others in the “red” category and an equal number of white options which I did not even peruse.

For our appetizers (antipasti), we decided on the “spinach risotto fritters stuffed with fresh mozzarella cheese topped with fonduta sauce” ($6.50) and an appetizer of the day, a selection of salumi, including capicollo, soppressata, and a cured duck accompanied by dried figs. We had to ask our server to bring bread because our antipasti had arrived and there was no indication that the bread would be forthcoming.


The bread was sliced into six small pieces, resembling a thick, fluffy focaccia and was accompanied by a lava bean puree and olive oil/Balsamic vinegar blend both in small cups. The “risotto fritters” are actually called “arancini de riso” and a specialty of Southern Italy (from Rome to Sicily). A small ball of rice and herbs with a piece of cheese in the center formed into a ball is then coated with flour, dipped in egg and bread crumbs, then deep fried. The cured meats (salumi) were sparse, with just three extremely thin pieces each of the capicollo, soppressata, and duck for two people, and the soppressata still had the exterior casing attached which I only realized after finding it lingering in my mouth. The meats were tasty and of good quality, but at $1 for each slice, neither very filling nor a great value.


For my entree, I decided on the penne with veal Bolognese, Wakarusa Valley wild mushrooms, and shaved Parmesan with a side of sausage ($16.50 + $3 = $19.50). The penne were store bought, as advertised, cooked “al dente” as they should be, coming in a light ground veal sauce which was a little too soupy. The “shaved Parmesan” tasted like no parmesan (or Parmigiano) I have ever had and was more similar to an Asiago from Sam’s Club than the aged cheese I love more than life itself. Unfortunately, the side of sausage was cut into pieces and added to the pasta instead of coming on a separate plate, which I had expected. The pasta was “OK”, not overly abundant, and certainly no better than anything I have had at Olive Garden (the few times I was forced to eat there). At $16.50, the dish was at least $3 to $4 more than it should be, but that is to be expected at the high rent establishments on Massachusetts Street in Downtown Lawrence.

At $16, my wife had the “wild mushroom and asparagus ravioli with Shiitake mushrooms, vegetable brodo (broth), and Ricotta salata” (salted ricotta cheese) along with a side of sausage ($3). She asked for the sausage on the side, but when the pasta arrived, the sausage were already added to the ravioli for some reason, so we had to send it back. Again, not abundant in size, the ravioli were colorful, but bland and a little too dry until doused with some broth.

The decor is odd for an Italian restaurant, more appropriate for a hamburger joint than a ristorante, but comfortable with a small outdoor patio on the sidewalk with just four tables for those who enjoy people watching, noise, and exhaust fumes. The service was attentive, friendly, and professional, the highlight of our meal.

The bill came to close to $80, so by the time tip was added we were looking at a “C-note” for dinner, not an inexpensive venture by any stretch. Thanks to the Groupon, our portion came to nearly $45 (plus the $30 we paid for the Groupon – a grand total of $75), a much more tolerable total but still quite a bit higher than it was worth. For comparison, a similar dinner at Lidia’s, one of the best Italian restaurants in Kansas City, with two appetizers, two entrees (meat dishes, not pizza/pasta), a bottle of wine and dessert usually comes to a little over $100 including tip. So without the Groupon, Genovese does not even come close to a meal at Lidia’s and is a poor value in my eyes …

CombatCritic Gives Genovese 5 Bombs Out of 10 … MORE BOMBS ARE GOOD!

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 Genovese on Urbanspoon

Key Words: Genovese, Italian, restaurant, Massachusetts, street, Lawrence, Kansas, 66044, Groupon, pasta, pizza, TripAdvisor, antipasti, Yelp, sausage, wine, UrbanSpoon, CombatCritic, TravelValue, travel, value

Ad Astra Acupuncture … Excellent Value, Professional Services


Ad Astra Acupuncture

106 W North Park St
Lawrence, KS 66044

Phone: (785) 760-1961


Focusing on value, it does not get much better than Ad Astra Acupuncture, just off  Mass on 12th Street across from South Park.

Treatments are $15-$35 (suggested donation) … You decide! There is no pressure to pay the max as employees pay no attention to the amount, tossing the bills into a drawer without counting. Honor System … WHAT A CONCEPT! 

Needles are sterile and not reused. There are a number of recliners in each of two “group” rooms and there is no disrobing for the introverts out there. All you do is show up, pay, and grab a recliner. When the therapist enters, they ask how you are doing, then place needles in your arms, legs, hands, feet, and head. After 30-60 minutes (or more if you like), Nick or Ann, who are both wonderful, remove the needles and send you in your way.

I have been going for about 6 weeks, I am feeling much better, and my back pain has almost entirely disappeared! There is little if any pain involved and only when needles are inserted. The slight sting disappears quickly and you can then focus on relaxing, a wonderful byproduct of the treatment.

CombatCritic Gives AD ASTRA ACUPUNCTURE a nearly perfect 9 Out of 10 Bombs … BOMBS ARE GREAT!




Read this review and many others on Yelp!

Title: Ad Astra Acupuncture … Excellent Value, Professional Services

Key Words: 66044, acupuncture, ad, Ad Astra, Astra, combat, CombatCritic, critic, Kansas, Lawrence, travel, TravelValue, value, 

"El Sol" Is Not A New "Shining Star" In The Lawrence Restaurant Scene


    El Sol Mexican Restaurant

    1520 Wakarusa
    Lawrence, KS 66047

    (785) 331-2663

    Price: $$$$$

    Another closed El Mezcal location in a shopping center on the corner of Wakarusa and Bob Billings Parkway (now called “El Sol”), I had read in El Sol’s inaugural review that they were a “Tex-Mex” restaurant. My fellow Elite ’14 member had high praise for their food, service, and ambience, so we had to give them a try. Our experience was once again very average in a town not well town for outstanding cuisine and I found not a single Tex-Mex item on the menu. In fact, when I asked the waiter if they were a Tex-Mex restaurant, he stated “definitely not”.
    As mentioned in recent reviews, I am a Mexican food snob, having grown up in LA where Mexican restaurants outnumber Bentleys and spending three years in San Antonio, Texas during my first Air Force assignment. Not changing my modus operandi,  I stuck with the basics, tacos and enchiladas, during my first visit to see if they can get them right before moving on to more complex dishes.
    Taco and Enchilada Combination Plate

    The restaurant’s decor is very colorful with natural wood tables, bright tones, and reminiscent of  a traditional Mexican cantina. The service was very attentive, friendly, and fast. Our server, Rafael, was extremely polite and amenable to answering my many questions. We ordered the guacamole ($3.99) and the white cheese dip (queso blanco – medium – $2.99). The guacamole was small, made with avocado and SMALL PIECES OF TOMATO, but tasty. The queso blanco was warm and well seasoned, adhering to the pre-fab chips, another disappointment and a dead giveaway of a sub-par restaurant in my experience. I had the 27 ounce margarita (on the rocks – $6.99) which was decent, not very strong, and priced $2 more than El Mezcal. My wife had the horchata, a Mexican rice-based drink which was better than El Mezcal’s various versions.

    Cheese Quesadilla with Guacamole and Pico di Gallo

    My wife ordered the cheese quesadilla, coming with a small dab of guacamole and pico di gallo ($4.99) and a cheese and onion enchilada with queso blanco instead of red sauce (ala carte – $1.99), coming with refried beans. It is difficult to mess-up a quesadilla and El Sol was again no exception. She liked the enchilada, but queso blanco was a bit too spicy for her Itialan tastebuds (the spiciest dish in Italy is penne arribiatta).

    Cheese and Onion Enchilada with Queso Blanco

    I decided to forego the rice and get down to brass tacks, ordering two shredded beef tacos and a cheese and onion enchilada ($8.49) combo plate (all beans). The tacos came in pre-fab corn tortillas and the beef, although skimpy, was well seasoned and topped with a little lettuce, white cheese, and chopped tomato. I saved some of the guacamole for my tacos, borrowed my wife’s pico de gallo, and added their salsa, which was not bad. The tacos were not great. The enchilada sauce was a bit too watery and lacked taste, the enchilada cool, not even lukewarm, another disappointment. True Tex-Mex enchiladas are smothered in chili con carne and topped with cheese, but this bore no resemblance to any Tex-Mex I have eaten and was one of the worst enchiladas I have had.

    Pre-Fab Taco Shells

    Again, not my favorite Mexican restaurant in Lawrence by any stretch and we will likely not return given the distance from our home and the fact that there are at least four better Mexican eateries in closer proximity.






    CombatCritic Gives El Sol 5 Out of 10 Bombs … BOMBAS ARE BUENAS!

    El Sol Mexican Restaurant on Urbanspoon











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    Key Words: 66044, burrito, CombatCritic, eat, el, El Sol, el, sol, enchilada, food, guacamole, Kansas, Lawrence, margarita, Mexican, mezcal, restaurant, taco, travel, TravelValue, value

Genesis Health Clubs (Lawrence, Kansas – North/South) DID NOT DO THE RIGHT THING


I joined Genesis after a miserable, humiliating experience at The Summit, which is just a couple blocks from our home in Old East Lawrence, yet eons away in terms of values and how they treat their customers. I was hoping Genesis would be focused more on compassion, integrity, dignity, and respect, but I am starting to have my doubts.
I was lured into signing a one-year contract, an obsolete practice in the fitness industry for decades, by a young salesman who told me that my “wife can join for just $10 extra per month”. Considering that my monthly payment is close to $50 per month, that information sealed the deal and I joined that day.

When I finally talked my wife into joining after years of begging, we went to sign her up ONLY TO BE TOLD BY LISA THAT IT NOW WOULD COST $20 per month … NOT the $10 I was quoted before enrollment. Lisa, the young, female manager, did not offer to honor the price we were originally quoted, but instead offered a two-week trial membership available to the public at-large. 

I informed Lisa about the poor public perception of Genesis’s practices, particularly on Yelp where I am an Elite ’14 member, but she did not seem in the least bit concerned, a potentially fatal flaw for a business in a college town like Lawrence where students use Yelp (and other social media apps), making or breaking most small, local businesses.

I am considering canceling my membership due to false advertising and breach of (oral) contract, but will wait to see if my wife wants to join and if GENESIS HAS THE INTEGRITY to honor the price quoted prior to enrollment.

GENERAL COMMENTS: 

1) Even though $50 per month is the most expensive gym membership in Lawrence by far, Genesis offers fair value due to the fact that the other fitness centers in town do not compare in terms of facilities, equipment, amenities, and classes offered. The equipment, while somewhat dated and dirty, is sufficient in number to accommodate patrons without having to wait and the classes (yoga, spin, Pilates, cross fit) offered are abundant and varied enough to fit anybody’s schedule.

2) With only one drinking fountain at the Lawrence – South facility, with a prostate problem at that, BRING YOUR OWN WATER … filling your bottle in the bathroom with the smell of poop lingering in the air is disgusting! A couple of Culligan water dispensers in one of the back exercise rooms would cost $100 a month at most, increasing sanitation and hydration for customers.

3) The men’s locker layout in the Lawrence – South location is sub-optimal in that there are only two benches and they are situated by the entrance so that traffic to the shower and toilets must pass between the benches and lockers, a logistical nightmare for the few people lucky enough to have a seat and one of the sparse number of lockers available.

4) The Lawrence – South facility has only two showers and no sauna, steam room, or whirlpool, so exercise is all you are going to get there. The North facility has all three, but the steam room is never hot enough, the sauna is broken more times than not, and the whirlpool, beside being a little too hot, is so chlorinated that it burns the eyes and lungs.

Beside the concerns addressed above, I was pleased with my membership even though both facilities are somewhat dirty, until I found out I was lied to during the registration process. As a retired military officer, honor and integrity are paramount in my life and I do not frequent businesses which fail to practice those core values. We will see if Genesis holds the same values and whether or not they choose to DO THE RIGHT THING, honoring the price I was quoted prior to enrollment. 

UPDATE  – April, 2 2014:

Sad … not for me, but for the shortsighted owner of Genesis- Lawrence. Not only will Lawrence South Manager Lisa NOT HONOR THE PRICE I was quoted before signing-up, she had the nerve to insinuate that I, a retired military officer, Veteran, and customer, was trying to game the system! Extremely be ad decision on her part. 

I will pay the additional $10 per month over what I was quoted before signing the contract because $10 is not going to break the bank and I do not want to go through the hassle of suing Genesis for Breach of Contract. Genesis, on the other hand, now has a very unhappy customer, one who has provided them with FREE AND MOSTLY POSITIVE check-ins, tips, and reviews up until now. As I told Lisa, I cannot in good conscience continue to support a business that neither treats customers with dignity and respect NOR DOES THE RIGHT THING … IT IS CALLED INTEGRITY FOLKS!

CombatCritic Gives Genesis Health Clubs (Lawrence, Kansas) 2 OUT OF 10 BOMBS (based on the lack of truthfulness prior to enrollment and poor customer service) AND THAT IS GENEROUS … BOMBS ARE GOOD!










Follow CombatCritic On Yelp (An Elite ’14/’15 Member) And  TripAdvisor (“Top Contributor”) Where You Can Read His Latest Reviews, Try His Favorite Recipes, And More!

Key Words: Genesis Fitness, Genesis, gym, center, exercise, workout, yoga, integrity, honor, truth, lies, membership, CombatCritic, TravelValue

Zen Zero Update … Quality, Reasonable Thai and Nepalese Cuisine in Downtown Lawrence


Zen Zero

811 Massachusetts St
Lawrence, KS 66044
Phone: 785-832-0001
Fax: 785-841-8759
Hours:  
Sun-Mon  11AM – 9PM
Tue-Sat     11AM – 10PM

Email: zenzerolaw@sbcglobal.net
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.


The decor is modern, yet cozy with hints of zen influence in select pieces of art on the walls and construction with warm Earth-tone colors and an open kitchen emitting sounds, smells, and flames as chefs prepare meals in view of customers.  The server arrived with a complimentary basket of Asian rice chips, light and crunchy, likely a rice-based starter, which are tasty but an accompanying sauce to dip in would be nice.  There are soy sauce and an Asian-style chili sauce on the table, so you can easily make your own dipping condiment, but a creative and inexpensive accompaniment would be an added bonus.

Sunday night is Zen Zero night in our house and draught beer is on special for $3.00 a (American) pint. Not a huge selection, a pale ale, a wheat, and a seasonal (Oktoberfest, Irish Red), I ordered the Oktoberfest (normally $4.00), but the server quickly told me they were out, so I went for the pale ale (normally $3.75).

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.


Massaman Curry
I absolutely love curry and Zen Zero’s Massaman curry ($7.69), a coconut curry from Southern Thailand with potatoes peanuts (Sorry NO Pork Option with this Curry), was THE BOMB! Having ordered mine with the customary beef, the curry was scrumptiously rich and perfectly seasoned. A thick red curry, Massaman comes with tofu or meat (other than pork) and potatoes and peanuts in a huge bowl served with Jasmine rice. Not abundant in the beef department, I was not disappointed because the thick curry sauce was probably the second best I have ever eaten (the best was at a small Vietnamese restaurant in Palos Verdes, California back in the late 1970s) … SUPERB!

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!

Phad Thai


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!

The Dry Chicken Curry Thakali-style ($8.99) is a traditional Nepalese curry made with onions, ginger, garlic, garam masala and tomato, served with jasmine rice, rahar ko dal (yellow lentils) and potato achar. The achar sat atop the dish and was oddly cold, so I asked the server if that was the intention and it was, looking and tasting like Nepalese potato salad. With quite a few chicken chunks throughout, the dish was my least favorite of all my meals so far, somewhat boring with a bit of bite and too much jasmine rice for the amount of sauce.

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!

CombatCritic gives Zen Zero 9 OUT OF 10 BOMBS … Bombs are good!






Key Words: zen zero, zen, zero, Lawrence, Kansas, Massachusetts, street, Thai, Nepalese, Japanese, curry, noodles, stir-fry, 66044, CombatCritic, TravelValue

Pueblo … New Name, Same Boring Food


  • Pueblo Mexican Restaurant
  • 804 Lowa St
    Lawrence, KS 66044
  • Phone number(785) 331-2710
  • Business websitepueblomxrestaurant.com

  •  Prices: $$$$$
    Queso Blanco, Guacamole, Chips and Salsa
    We tried the El Mezcal on Iowa Street (now closed and called “Pueblo”) shortly after moving to Lawrence last summer and were not impressed. So when I read the yelp* reviews for the new restaurant, I was a bit surprised that they were so good. In fact, a fellow Elite ’14 member had high praise for their food, service, and margaritas, so I had to give them a try. Our experience was very average, even disappointing. Based on the menu, it looks like El Mezcal simply changed the name to Pueblo, hoping to get more business, but they should have copied the 23rd Street location’s recipes because the food is not as good.

    As mentioned in previous reviews, I am a bit of a Mexican food snob, if there is such a thing, having grown up in LA where Mexican restaurants far 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.

    Steak Tacos ala Carte – $2.40 each
    We ordered the small guacamole ($3.49) and the highly touted white cheese dip (queso blanco – small – $3.49). The guacamole was small and too dark, made with avocado and SMALL PIECES OF TOMATO. The queso blanco was warm and well seasoned, but way too runny, barely adhering to the store bought chips, another disappointment. 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 better than El Mezcal’s watery version.

    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 refried beans. It is difficult to screw-up a quesadilla and Pueblo 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 Enchiladas ala Carte – $5.49 (3)

    I decided to forego the rice and beans and get down to brass tacks, ordering the  steak tacos ($2.40 each) and beef enchiladas ($5.49) ala carte. The tacos came in flour tortillas and the steak was well seasoned with a little lettuce and plenty of white cheese. I saved some of the guacamole for my tacos, ordered some pico de gallo, and added their salsa, which was pretty good, making up for the lack of tomatoes.


    The beef enchiladas were OK, but the sauce was lacking flavor and a bit too sweet for my taste. I recommend that they flash fry the tortillas before filling them, adding the sauce and some white cheese on top before putting them under the broiler to melt.

    Pueblo was no surprise after the ho-hum experience we had at this Iowa Street location when it was called El Mezcal. The decor is colorful and reminiscent of old Mexico and the service attentive, friendly, and fast. Not my favorite Mexican restaurant in Lawrence by any stretch and we will probably not return.

    CombatCritic Gives Pueblo 5 Out of 10 Bombs … BOMBAS ARE BUENAS!










    Pueblo on Urbanspoon
    Key Words: 66044, burrito, CombatCritic, eat, el, Pueblo, enchilada, food, guacamole, Kansas, Lawrence, margarita, Mexican, mezcal, restaurant, taco, travel, TravelValue, value

U.R.U. Has A Little Bit Of Everything … For Everyone


A very nice antique and collectible shop in an old building on Mass Street between 11th and 12th Streets in downtown Lawrence.

As an avid collector and American and English antique auction veteran, I know quality and value when I see them. U.R.U. has a plethora of items, from vintage jewelry, books, and comics to Murano glass and antique furniture at reasonable prices.

Service with a big smile and convenient hours make browsing or shopping a delight. I will be back regularly as inventory is turned frequently. Grab a $2 taco at Fuzzy’s next door or take a walk in South Park just across the street while you are in the neighborhood .

CombatCritic Gives U.R.U. 9 Bombs Out of 10 … BOMBS ARE GOOD!

Key Words: U.R.U., URU, home, decor, antique, collectible, furniture, knickknacks, jewelry, vintage, clothing, glass, porcelain, CombatCritic, TravelValue, Lawrence, Kansas, 66044

El Mezcal: Good Mexican Food, Strong Margaritas, Fair Prices


El Mezcal Mexican Restaurant
1819 W 23rd St 

Lawrence, KS 66046
(785) 832-8775

El Mezcal Website

Prices $$$$$
FREE CHIPS AND SALSA!
We tried the El Mezcal on Iowa Street (now closed) shortly after moving to Lawrence last summer and were not impressed. So when I read the yelp* reviews for the 23rd Street location, e is such a thingI was a bit surprised that they were consistently so good. In fact, a fellow Elite ’14 member, Alicia “Lush” R, had high praise for their food, service, and margaritas, so I had to give them a try.
Small Guacamole

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.

Queso Blanco

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.

Quesadilla

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!

El Mezcal Mexican Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Key Words: El Mezcal. el, mezcal, Mexican, restaurant, food, eat, taco, enchilada, guacamole, margarita, burrito, Lawrence, Kansas, 66044, CombatCritic, TravelValue, travel, value

Great Harvest Bread Company: Great Bread, High Prices Equal Moderate Value


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

Don’s Auto Center: An Honest Business In A World Plagued By A Lack Of Integrity


Lawrence, Kansas: I took our 2000 VW Beetle TDI to Don’s Auto Center to see if the “problems” another mechanic (Das Autohaus – see review at http://www.combatcritic.com/2013/12/if-you-want-to-spend-lots-of-money-take.html) told me needed repairing were indeed concerns. On my recent Das Autohaus invoice, the owner had stated that the vehicle needed “new struts” ($400-$600 on RepairPal) and removal of “excess carbon buildup on intake manifold” (which I had done less than two years and 20,000 miles ago at a cost of $700), for a total of $1,100 to $1,300 in repairs.

I had recently taken the vehicle on a 500+ mile trip to Colorado to visit my mother and noticed that the fuel economy was six to seven miles per gallon less than last summer (intake manifold?) and the ride somewhat rough (struts?), so I decided to take the vehicle to Don’s when I returned to see if the Das Autohaus “recommendations” were accurate.

I explained to Mike, the owner of Don’s, what the symptoms were and what I thought could possibly be causing them (based on the Das Autohaus diagnoses – struts and carbon in manifold). Mike called me later that day and told me that he had checked the suspension thoroughly and found “no issues”, no concerns and certainly no need for new struts. He told me the cause of the rough ride was likely caused by the tires being overinflated and simply let some air out of the tires. As for the poor gas mileage and possible carbon buildup on the intake manifold, Mike said that the winter additives in the diesel fuel cause lower gas mileage and because the manifold was cleaned less than 20,000 miles ago, there was no need to have it done again. He told me that the air filter was a bit dirty, so I had him replace it and do an oil change ($30 for an air filter, $50/gallon for synthetic motor oil) for a total of LESS THAN $200 and OVER $1,000 LESS THAN THE DAS AUTOHAUS “NEEDED REPAIRS”.

I thanked Mike for his honesty and integrity, values I as a retired military officer hold dear, and will return to have him service our
vehicles from now on. You can come to your own conclusions regarding Das Autohaus. All I know is that by taking our vehicle literally a couple blocks down the street to an honest mechanic, we saved over $1,000. Enough said … THANKS MIKE!


Key Words: Don’s Auto Center, Don’s, auto, center, Lawrence, Kansas, 66044, honest, mechanic, integrity, honor, price, fair, manifold, tire, strut, repair, CombatCritic, combat, critic, TravelValue

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

Basil Leaf Cafe … Mama Mia, That’s One Spicy Meatball


Basil Leaf Cafe

616 W 9th St

Lawrence, KS 66044

Phone number(785) 856-0459

Website

When I was told by a Lawrence Bohemian acquaintance of mine that “the Basil Leaf Cafe has the best Italian food in Lawrence”, I was intrigued because we have yet to find a decent restaurant of ANY kind since moving here in August. Paisano’s (reviewed in August 2013) is “OK”, but nothing to write home about, so our quest to add a new Italian restaurant to our arsenal continues.


Enter … The Basil Leaf Cafe. Yelp reviews are mostly positive with people raving about the food, but slamming the “gas station” decor of the previous location (it really was in a gas station). The new building sits in a row of shops on 9th Street not far from downtown and the University of Kansas campus. The decor is modern with a smattering of tables (about 8) in a room that could easily handle 12 or more. The arrangement of tables, bar, kitchen window and cash register is inefficient, appearing as though there really was not a plan in the first place.

Tortellini Cordon Bleu, Side of Meatballs

We sat at a table uncomfortably close to the front door and were quickly greeted and given menus. I ordered a glass of the house wine, a “primativo” that was aptly named being primitive and obviously cheap. At $6.00 a glass, I would not be surprised if the mark-up was in the 600% to 700% range. The glass was small and filled a little more than halfway, leaving four, maybe five, ounces …


I ordered the New England (the white variety) clam chowder, the tortellini cordon bleu, and a side of meatballs. After asking for water three times, my wife finally received hers, but I had to ask yet again to get mine, coming in a mason jar for some odd reason. This restaurant is apparently trying to find an identity with its’ eclectic menu, modern decor, and new location, but they obviously have not figured it out yet. The soup finally arrived just seconds before our

Having lived in Italy for three years and traveling there extensively over the years, I found that Italians would NEVER think of eating meat and pasta together. Basil Leaf’s menu is not even close to authentic Italian. Meat loaf? Yes, Italians actually eat meat loaf, calling it “polpetone”, literally “big meatball” (meatballs are called polpette in Italy). They eat meatballs too, but NEVER WITH SPAGHETTI!  Spaghetti and other pasta dishes are called “primo piatto” or “first plate” and are also referred to as “primi” for short. Meat dishes fall into the “secondo piatto” or “second plate”, aka “secondi” and are not brought to the table until the antipasto (appetizer) and primo have been consumed.

Anyway, the New England clam chowder came in the smallest soup cup I had ever seen and was filled a little more than halfway. I asked the server if I could get some bread with my soup, but she said “the bread sticks come with your entree”. Translation: “No, you cannot”. Fortunately, the entrees arrived just seconds after I got my soup, so it did not take long to consume it and prepare for my oversize entree.

I had heard good things about Basil Leaf’s tortellini cordon bleu on Yelp, so I had to try it. The presentation was well done, being served in an oversize bowl (see photo). I love veal and schnitzel (pork cutlet) cordon bleu and this dish actually came close in terms of taste. Nontraditionally covered with a chicken cutlet (something you would never see in a classic Italian restaurant), the dish reminds me of a carbonara with ham and cheese added. It was delicious, but would have been better had it been served fresh from the pan and hot (warm). I finished half of the pasta, the lone bread stick (cut loose folks), and one of the three meatballs, leaving me a hearty dinner for the following night. The meatballs were excellent, having the correct consistency and seasoning and obviously homemade. Kudos to the chef!

Mac and Cheese

My wife ordered the “mac and cheese”, another heaping helping of handmade pasta reminiscent of my Aunt Gina’s chicatielli from Ariano, Irpino (Italy). The sauce was creamy and rich, but not overwhelmingly so. Being a native Italian born in Sicily, her palate is well honed when it comes to pasta, an Italian staple. She liked the mac and cheese even though there is no such recipe in her homeland.


Basil Leaf Cafe left us unimpressed. Maybe it was because of the hype, maybe a bad night, time will tell. The pasta dishes, “starters”, and salads are overpriced ($8 for a house salad?) as was the wine ($6 for 4 ounces of cheap wine). The decor needs some warming up, the tables could be rearranged to seat more customers or create a much needed waiting area (waiting customers now hover over tables of seated customers), the service sketchy, and the menu and food underwhelming. I spotted only two or three dishes on the limited menu that I would bother ordering, so our options for a return visit are already limited. There are enough “classic” Italian pasta sauce recipes to fill the menu twice over (carbonara, amatriciana, ragu, bolagnese, boscaiola, marinara, alfredo to name a few), so embrace something … anything … and create an identity in your decor, servers, and menu fit for a town that still does not have an Italian restaurant worthy of our custom.


CombatCritic Gives Basil Leaf Cafe 5 out of 10 Bombs … Bombs are Good!

The Basil Leaf on Urbanspoon














Key Words: basil, leaf, cafe, Italian, restaurant, Lawrence, Kansas, pasta, soup, salad, wine, vino, meatball, marinara, penne, spaghetti, macaroni, cheese, CombatCritic, 66044