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Sunday, September 21, 2014

Specialty's Café: A Decent place, we say!

Lunch date #61, September 5, 2014

Somehow we missed going to lunch throughout August…now it is time to get back into the swing of things. Thought we'd try something new: Specialty's Café on Hopyard, at the old El Balazo site near 580 (5331 Hopyard Rd, www.specialtys.com). This is a newish chain on the seen-similar to Corner Bakery type of place; this one with locations in the Bay Area, So Cal, Seattle and Chicago.

Location 3 points: Not easy to pull into this parking lot as motorists are gearing up to get on the freeway. Might access from Owens. A reasonable amount of parking.

Ambiance 3 points: They did a great job with the build-out of this location to totally change the look from the previous restaurants-my guess is there is probably a common look to all of their locations. Order at the counter/bakery case, with the Peet's Coffee bar adjacent (go there to pick up drinks).  Inside: open space with a tall ceiling with lots of seating at basic tables, and the outside seating is nice—unfortunately the local view isn't so great of either the low-budget motel next store or the Hopyard on-ramp to 580.

Service: we decided not to score service when we order at the counter, but their "thing" is that you can skip the line and order on line—and there are several computer terminals at the entrance. Interestingly, on this day, they were all covered with bags and out of service…so no skipping the line today! One good idea: once you order you get a buzzer that will light and buzz when your order it ready to be fetched.

Menu 4 points: Great choices for lunch: sandwiches hot or cold and many salads. They also have some breakfast sandwiches and lots of goodies in their bakery case, and they sell mix for their cookies. We had Emily along as our guest diner and she chose the turkey pesto sandwich, Mom went for the turkey cranberry sandwich (sans the sprouts and sunflower seeds), and I tried the Southwest salad.

Food 3.5 points: We loved the bakery items (Em tried a chocolate chip cookie and I got a morning bun). My salad was fair, but fresh and a good portion size. Mom liked her turkey cranberry and was very happy with the portion size-a full half sandwich as a left over for another day! Emily's turkey pesto had such little pesto that we really couldn't see it (and she couldn't taste it), so more of a regular turkey sandwich, that wasn't bad…just not what she thought it would be.

Value 4 points: all prices are very reasonable at $7-9 per item. It is all a la carte though-no chips or anything else included. Still, a good deal for decent food. The bakery items are about $2 each; which I think are better than Starbucks' prices…and much better and freshly baked on site.

Overall score for Specialty's: 3.5 points. My main criticism: all served "to go"-all plates are paper (but the sturdy recycled type), but eating a salad on a paper plate isn't great. It's definitely a grab and go type of café. On a prior visit with friends, I had the turkey/apple/brie/bacon sandwich-that was very good, but the service was really slow. It was better on the day I went back with mom and Emily. Overall, the food is quite fine and the prices are great…so I think we will go back and try other menu items. 

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Pasta's revisited: New menu and prices to match

Lunch date #60 July 25, 2014

I wanted to take Mom to a "nice" lunch to thank her for all of the house sitting she had been doing for us this summer while we were traipsing around England and then South Carolina…so where to go? I remembered she loved the burger at Pasta's, and we hadn't been there in quite a while. After two years, we figured it was worth a revisit to Pasta's Trattoria: 540 Main St., P-town.

Updated review:

No change in location (5 points) and last time we rated ambiance as 5 points (really?) so this time we give it a 4 (no reason, just more savvy now).  We were rather late for lunch and they were willing to stay open for us, which was nice (service would have been 4-5, but see below... making it a 3 which is the same as 2012).  It was a hot summer afternoon, and though it was my choice to sit outside-it was a bit toasty, even in the shade. We were quickly served iced-tea and bread with dipping oil, making us pretty happy at the start. Then…we looked at the menu. I was surprised to see that the $10 burger we raved about in 2012 was now $14, quite an increase!!! Actually, everything was much higher than our previous review, even the turkey sandwich that Emily, our guest diner for the day, ordered was $13. I went with the $10 arugula and peach salad---no, not because I'm cheap, but because I was hot and it was refreshing. The entire menu was quite different form our 2012 experience, but had several choices keeping with the unchanged score of 4. So how was the $14 burger you ask? Well, it was pretty good, quite large, and packed with meat, such that Mom had not one, but several meals to look forward to from her take-home left- overs this time—which made her pretty happy! My salad was fair and Em's turkey also OK, but 
Mom with her giant "left-over" bag
 really not any better than the $9 roasted turkey-cranberry at Café Main next door. (Food score 4 points, last time 5 points). Our only criticism: Mom did order fries, but was served the pasta salad. I'm sure the cooks were quite done with the deep fryer for the afternoon, and the pasta salad was probably a healthier choice anyway. Value for the meal: 4 points. Our final review of Pasta's revisited: 4 points (last time 4.5 points): : clearly higher-end dining for downtown P-town, even at lunch. All in all, still a great place, but no longer such a great deal.