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Sunday, February 12, 2012

Handles Gastropub--Not for the grub!

Friday, January 13, 2012…why are we starting a project on Friday the 13th? Well, we dispensed those silly superstitions and headed downtown, eager to have a great lunch and spend quality time together at Handles Gastropub (www.handlesgastropub.com in the Pleasanton Hotel, 855 Main St. We thought it ideal to start there, since we like the charm and character of downtown, and hadn't tried this one yet. It is notable that the Pleasanton Hotel was once one of Gary and my favorites for dinner many years ago. Then we eventually just stopped going. Over the years, the restaurant ownership has changed. I wasn't too impressed with The Farmer: great location, mediocre food, not great value. So I was curious to try Handles for our first lunch experience. According to the 20-somethings that I work with, this is a fun place to go in the evening. The term “Handles” is derived from the emphasis of having a lot of different types of beer on tap. Fun idea, great website by the way, but neither Mom nor I are beer drinkers so we weren't all that impressed with that aspect of the place. We walked in had had to choose: the restaurant side with linen table cloths, or the pub-side. Since the title includes “pub”, we figured that was the side to choose, especially since the restaurant side was rather empty and looked boring. The hostess confirmed the same menu regardless of the side and sat us at a table on the pub-side near the fire place.

Critique #1 location: 5 points: downtown, historic building, able to find parking. Plus as a previous “Ghost Host” for the Downtown Pleasanton Ghost Tours (put on by the Museum at Halloween), I knew the Pleasanton Hotel history, including the lurking of the ghost of a prostitute that was supposedly murdered in the upper floor hallway. 

Critique #2 ambiance: 2 points: Wow-low score for this one! It just seemed that the proprietors had not done much with the décor—rather plain and probably not much had been changed since it was the bar side of a restaurant. It didn't have a cozy/cute pub feel at all. Maybe it is more exciting in the evening when filled with beer-imbibers, but for lunch, not all that inviting. Ambiance is an important item for me. When I go out, I want to feel excited about my surroundings. I can easily make a sandwich at home. I love walking into a place with charm or an interesting theme. This place didn't have it. Mom agreed it was rather dull.

Critique #3 menu offerings: 3 points. I’m starting to think we are hard-graders…but we weren’t all that impressed. Not a lot of choices that looked all that exciting. We asked the server to recommend signature dishes and tried very hard to get something different than what we would usually choose. I was considering the veggie wrap, but that would be a standard choice for me, so I went with the Brisket-BBQ sandwich served with a home-made sauce containing beer, of course…I suppose that is why it can be called a gastropub! Rather than the usual french fries as the side, I was brave and went for the homemade coleslaw….which by the way contains shredded apple.  Mom chose the hot-pastrami, and let me tell you, she was getting into this project—being a cheeseburger lover, that would have been her usual default…but she did go with the fries on the side. We didn’t, however, see much else on the menu that was all that interesting, hence the 3 points for this category.

Critique #4 service: 3 points. I wonder if the server was new and inexperienced. He did come by to ask if everything was OK, but didn’t refill the drinks until we were nearly ready to leave. The food was served quickly, but Mom’s french fries were cold. Also, the server didn’t seem to know much about the menu. Remember my point about the shredded apple in the coleslaw? I find that a bit unusual. When I had asked our server if the coleslaw was any good, he just stated that it was the usual thing. It actually stated right on the menu that the coleslaw was home-made and had the apple. I believe I sound a bit obsessed about coleslaw here, but it was a bit odd that he didn’t know....maybe he should read the menu!

Critique #5 Food: 2.5 points. Mom’s pastrami sandwich was tough and too chewy. She wasn’t impressed. The best part about my sandwich was that the bread was soft and seemed home-made. Mom commented "I wonder if they made the bread at the Rising Loafer." I think she was thinking fondly of previous good lunches there! My meat was dry and I had to ask for a side of extra BBQ sauce to liven it up a bit. Again back to the coleslaw—that was pretty good actually. It had an interestingly fruity flavor without being too sweet. Best part about the meal: there was plenty for Mom to take home in her doggy-bag—even though the pastrami wasn’t great, it was OK to cart home for lunch the next day as she wasn't going to let it go to waste!

 Critique #6 Value: 2 points! We just didn’t get the feeling that we were getting a good lunch for the price. Each mediocre sandwich was $10.95 and then another $2.50 each for hot coffee for Mom (always black), and hot tea for me (that wasn’t all that hot). If the sandwiches were under $9 we would have scored higher.

Overall score for Handles Gastropub: 2.9 points. Had the place not been downtown—although on the north end, we still gave full points for the location—the overall score would have been closer to 2.0! We didn’t feel that we’d be in a rush to return, nor recommend it to a friend. Wonder if it will last?

So, first lunch date kind of a flop…but, we still had a good time together and then I proposed the idea to write a blog about our lunch project. Mom wasn’t too keen at first. “Will we have to use our real names?” she wanted to know. “No worries, Mom” I reassured her. This would be just for our friends and family members—all of whom will certainly want to read our highly valuable opinions about our dining experiences. Also…once we start then I just know we will have to keep it going. There are a lot of restaurants in Pleasanton that we have to try…this could take years!

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