Lawrence, Kansas: Middle Of The Road Thai On Mass


Baan Thai

741 Massachusetts Street
Lawrence, KS 66044
Phone: (785) 856-8424
Website: baanthaikansas.com/lawrence


With a love for Thai food, I had high expectations after reading the rave reviews, particularly by my friend Scott T. on Yelp who (normally) has very similar opinions as mine when it comes to food.

In the middle of downtown Mass Street (as residents of LFK call it), I had stopped by Baan Thai for a look once before and the menu seemed appetizing and reasonable, but the decor put me off as it did on this our first visit. With cement floors, orange plastic-backed chairs (which, by the way, possibly acrylic and not cheap), and little decor, the inside is not warm and inviting, at least to my taste.

Josh, our server, was very nice, efficient and professional, but the dishes came out one at a time. Josh said it was because they are “made to order”, but are most decent restaurants making food to order, bringing appetizers out together and entrees all at the same time?

First, the Pot Stickers (6 for $4.95) came out. The pork, cabbage, and onion dumplings were deep-fried and served with a soy-based dipping sauce. They were good, but were more dumpling than filling. We waited for 10-15 minutes for our Chicken Satay (4 for $6.95) to arrive, so when Josh asked me a question about my entree, I inquired about our second appetizer. He scurried to the kitchen with little explanation and after another ten minutes, our satay finally arrived. The marinated skewers of charbroiled chicken were accompanied by the traditional peanut sauce and cucumber salad, and were also pretty good, but both were overpriced by about a buck and would have been much better together as I like to dip my pot stickers in the soy AND peanut sauce.

My wife’s Pad See-Ew ($9.95) was next to arrive. The rice noodles were stir fried with egg and broccoli with enough spices to make the dish tasty without being too hot as my spouse cannot tolerate food that is too spicy, a pitfall of most Italians. She loved it and it was plentiful, but eggs, noodles, and broccoli are not a good combination in my book.
My Gang Massaman Curry ($11.75) arrived 5-7 minutes later. Massaman curry is one of my favorites and I have had it at many Thai restaurants. This was far from the best I have had although the curry was flavorful. The coconut milk based curry, traditionally simmered with beef, was not nearly as thick (a bit on the watery side) as any other I have had and the potatoes were not cooked quite enough. When Josh had come out to ask me about my entree earlier, he had asked if I minded having “sliced” beef rather than “boiled” beef, assuming that he meant that the beef had not been simmering for 60-90 minutes in the curry sauce as should be the case. Even though I agreed, the sliced beef was plentiful enough, but was a tad on the chewy side, not tough or grisly, but not as tender as it should have been. The yellow onions were tender, but the boiled peanuts were a also bit too raw.

My wife and I were both excessively thirsty later that evening and I had stomach cramps, a potential sign of MSG being used. I later checked their website and menu and there was not a claim of “No MSG” that I could find, so it you have a sensitivity to it, I would definitely ask in advance of ordering. I am not saying that they use MSG, but our symptoms were consistent with ingestion of the additive/flavor enhancer, so if they do not use it, they should say so on the menu.

Our meal was good, not great, the prices fair, the servings generous, and the service efficient, but compared to other Thai/Asian Fusion restaurants, including Zen Zero just up the street, this one was very “middle of the road”.

CombatCritic Gives Baan Thai A Very Average 5 Bombs Out Of 10 … More Bombs Are Better!

Five Bombs Equates To:

Read Reviews By CombatCritic:

Yelp – Elite ’14/’15/’16

Tabelog – Official Judge (Bronze)

Zomato – #1 Ranked Foodie

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Tabelog Reviewer CombatCriticView my food journey on Zomato!

Baan Thai Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato


Title: Lawrence, Kansas: Middle Of The Road Thai On Mass

Key Words: Baan Thai, baan, Thai, Thailand, curry, Lawrence, Kansas, Mass, Massachusetts, street, CombatCritic, TravelValue, travel, value, restaurant, menu, review, Yelp, Zomato, Tabelog

Translation for Civilians: Charlie-Mike = “Continue Mission”
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KC Yelp Elite Event Comes To … Lawrence, Kansas – It’s A Burger Bash @ BurgerFi!


Burger Bash @ BurgerFi
Yelp Elite Event
BurgerFi
918 Massachusetts Street
Lawrence, KS 66044
First off, thanks to Josh, owner of BurgerFi-Lawrence, for hosting such a great event and to Adam for FINALLY bringing an event to Lawrence … HOOAH! It was so close to home that my wife and I were able to walk to the event.

Good wine, spirits, and beer, provided by BurgerFi (4 oz samples of each draft), a local winery (Chardonnay), and a Parkville distillery (vodka and gin) got the evening off to a roaring start. Then the food began to arrive and arrive and arrive and arrive. Two kinds of French fries (regular and Urban Style) and scrummy onion rings to share, then half of a BurgerFi Burger, half of a Breakfast All Day Burger, half of a VegeFi Burger (no bun), and 1/3 of a Chicago Style Hot Dog. Then it was time for dessert … a small Key Lime or Coffee Mocha shake and a Red Velvet Concrete.

The food was plentiful and good and the drinks kept flowing for two hours. We were stuffed by the time it was over. The company, excellent as always, it was great to see some of my old Elite friends (Adam, Scott and Billie) and meet a few new ones (Bill and Sara).
I gave BurgerFi an average (3 Star/6 Bomb) review on my first visit, offering some suggestions for improvement, and was impressed by the owner’s and corporate’s willingness to reach out and ask for more feedback. I am even more impressed that they apparently took some of it to heart as they are increasing the size of their burgers and buns in the near future … WOO-HOO! I look forward to trying the NEW AND IMPROVED BurgerFi Burgers when available.

CombatCritic Gives The “Burger Bash At BurgerFi” 10 Bombs Out Of 10 … More Bombs Are Better!


Ten Bombs Equates To:
“Phonetic spelling of the acronym HUA, which stands for ‘Heard Understood Acknowledged.’ Originally used by the British in the late 1800’s in Afghanistan. More recently adopted by the United States Army to indicate an affirmative or a pleased response.” – Urban Dictionary

“The Department of Military Science and Leadership, University of Tennessee claim HOOAH ‘refers to or means anything except no’ … Regardless of its meaning … the term is an expression of high morale, confidence, motivation and spirit.” – WarChronicle.com

“The U.S. Air Force stole ‘HOOAH’ from the Army because we were part of the Army until 1947 and rather than waste a bunch of time coming up with something new and unique, we said ‘fuck it, let’s go with HOOAH’ … thanks Army … HOOAH! – CombatCritic

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!


Title: KC Yelp Elite Event Comes To … Lawrence, Kansas – It’s A Burger Bash @ BurgerFi!

Key Words:  KC, Kansas City, Elite, Event, Comes To … Lawrence, Kansas, Burger, Bash, BurgerFi, hamburger, Massachusetts, Mass, street, CombatCritic, TravelValue, travel, value, restaurant, menu review, Yelp

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

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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”

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!








Read More Reviews By CombatCritic On Yelp And TripAdvisor … And Don’t Forget To Subscribe To TravelValue TV on YouTube

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

Papa KENO’S Is A GAMBLE When It Comes To Timely Delivery And Customer Service


My son ordered over the phone because we could find no way to order online as advertised on their Yelp page but the employee told him “we’ll have it out when we have it out”. We live just 3 blocks away, but after 45 minutes there was still no sign of our pizza. It finally arrived nearly an hour after we placed our order, so I guess the guy on the phone was right after all.

Poor customer service aside, the pizza, although not cheap at $18 for a one-topping 18 inch cheese pizza, was not bad. We had the salami pizza and two order of breadsticks and the tab came to a little over $31 before tip. Not cheap. As far as I could tell, they do not offer specials online so what you se is what you get.

Decent pizza, not so decent value, and poor customer service means …

CombatCritic Gives Papa Keno’s (Lawrence) Only 4 Bombs Out of 10 … More Bombs Are Better!






Papa Kenos Pizzeria on Urbanspoon

Key Words: Papa Keno’s, papa, keno’s, keno, pizza, parlor, food, Italian, menu, review, Lawrence, Kansas, Massachusetts, street, downtown, delivery, 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

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 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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Free State Brewing Co on Urbanspoon


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

Rub Your Lamp and Wish for MORE FOOD at Aladdin Cafe (Mass Street – Downtown Lawrence)


Rub Your Lamp and Wish for MORE FOOD at Aladdin Cafe (Mass Street – Downtown Lawrence)

Aladdin Café
1021 Massachusetts Street
Lawrence, Kansas 66044
Phone: 785-832-1100

My wife had heard good things about Aladdin Café in downtown Lawrence (Mass Street), so we figured we would give it a try while a friend was visiting from Colorado.  She had never had middle-Eastern food before and was enticed by the unfamiliar smells emanating from the kitchen.  As we entered there were two parties seated out of probably 20 tables throughout the restaurant which is sparsely decorated with a small store containing a few middle-Eastern products in the rear next to the kitchen.  We stood there for close to five minutes while the only server in the place yukked it up with a table of three men whom apparently could not make up their minds and could obviously care less that we were standing there like bumps on a log.  She finally ended her conversation and came over tho seat us.

With no bar or alcohol on the menu, you are able to bring your own wine or beer (no corkage fee), so I had done my research on Yelp and brought a nice bottle of wine, a $10 Syrah that would easily cost $30 in most restaurants.  This is a nice option and it was the first time I had the opportunity to partake of such a custom, definitely keeping the bill from getting out of hand.  The server brought two glasses along with our water and a corkscrew.  It would have been nice if she had offered to open and pour the wine for us, and she would have been tipped accordingly, but that was not the case.  I opened the wine, poured, and waited for our server to take our order.


Being our first visit, we decided to try the Agrabah Appetizer Combo, a combination of hummus (blend of chickpeas, tahini, lemon, and garlic garnished with sumac, parsley, and hot sauce), baba ghanouj (roasted eggplant blended with

Appetizer Combo – $8.99

tahini sauce, lemon juice, and garlic), genie dip (roasted red pepper mixed with chickpeas, garlic, and tahini), falafel (deep fried patties of fava bean, chickpea, cilantro,

garlic, and onion blend), dolmati (VERY small rolled grape-leaves stuffed with rice, tomatoes, and herbs, simmered in tomato and lemon juice), feta cheese, and Kalamata olives ($7.99) served with a small plate of pita bread.  After 20 minutes and no appetizer, I thought our server, who disappeared much of the time we were there, had forgotten, so we tracked her down to ensure our combo platter arrived well before our meals.  The hummus, genie dip, and baba ghanouj were plopped on the oval plate alongside two small falafels and two small dolmati.  Considering the price and that were were three, I would expect a bit more, considering the fact that the dolmati and falafels were so small you could pop one in your mouth and still have room for an entire White Castle burger.  

Falafel Sandwich with French Fries – $8.99
My wife had the Falafel and Baba Ghanouj Sandwich (Vegan – roasted eggplant spread and falafel served with tahini sauce on pita bread – $7.99) which came with rice.  My wife wanted French fries instead of rice, so the server told us it would be a $1.00 up-charge, not unreasonable, but when the plate arrived there were hardly any fries, maybe six or seven medium size pieces and not nearly enough to satisfy her hunger or justify an extra dollar.  The sandwich had much more lettuce than fillings, a couple small falafels in a medium size pita and at $8.99 including fries, no bargain.  My wife is not a big eater and was still hungry after finishing her food, not a good sign.

Beef and Lamb Gyro w/ Fries – $8.99
I decided to try Aladdin’s Gyro, a combination of grilled lamb and beef ($7.99 – chicken also available) with lettuce and tomato and topped with tzatziki, a creamy Greek cucumber sauce.  I also ordered the fries and after tasting our friend’s rice and was happy to pay an extra dollar for a few measly French fries.  Her rice was bland and white with a dollup of canned mystery tomato sauce on top, a tasteless side and nothing like the wonderful saffron rice I had eaten in the middle-East in the early 2000’s.  The few small slices of gyro meat inside were overwhelmed by the massive amounts of cheap lettuce and a few pieces of tomato.  I have had gyros with three times the meat in Greece and the U.S. that were less than half the price, so do not expect good value when visiting Aladdin Café.

I am not a huge fan of middle-Eastern cuisine, but the offerings at Aladdin were enough to allow some variety.  The service was inadequate, the food mediocre and NOT plentiful, and the ambience non existent.  It is unfortunate because we live just a few blocks away from Aladdin and it would be nice to have a few exotic options in the neighborhood.  Unfortunately, the only thing exotic about Aladdin Café on Mass Street are the prices and that is not a good thing.

CombatCritic gives Aladdin Café 4 Out of 10 Bombs … BOMBS ARE GOOD!





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Key Words: Aladdin, Cafe, middle, eastern, falafel, gyro, food, eat, Lawrence, Kansas, Massachusetts, downtown, service, hummus, baba, ghanouj, pita, bread, tzatziki, CombatCritic