An EPIC FAIL a Columbia Cafe

The TS team decided to try lunch today at Columbia Café…and it’s safe to say this experience was two hours of our life we wish we had back.

At first glance, Columbia Café appears to be exactly the kind of place we want to see more of in the Shreveport area. Located on the edge of the Highland neighborhood, the renovated craftsman bungalow is locally owned and operated, and has a funky, eclectic atmosphere. The concept of turning a historic home into a hip, hangout/eatery is exactly the kind of community revitalization we would love to see more of in that area.

Though the inside of the restaurant seemed interesting at first appearance, with its’ unique layout and local art, a closer inspection revealed a few problems. Specifically, the filthy upholstery of the seat cushions was a big turn-off. However, we chalked it up as a sign of the restaurant’s popularity, though it wasn’t the most pleasant thing to look at. Also, parking at Columbia Café is limited, and if you fail to snag a spot, be prepared for a hike down Kings Highway to the overflow lot. Nitpicking aside, the interior was certainly creative.

Our first warning that things were about to go terribly, terribly wrong occurred when our harried waitress recited a laundry list of food items they were out of already, which effectively took out a large portion of the limited lunch menu. It wasn’t even noon yet and the fact that a significant amount of standard menu items were missing spoke to a severe management problem.  In the meantime, our waitress’s see-through shirt, inability to remember the side dishes and mostly unprofessional demeanor was not what we expected at a seemingly more upscale restaurant;  however, we have to give her credit, because waiting on an entire restaurant by yourself at noon would hamper anyone’s performance.

To start our meal, N ordered both a cheese plate and a cocktail, which was served in a glass so small, we wondered if we were being punked. We remarked that it looked like a kid’s cup, because it was barely larger than a standard shot glass. We agreed that tiny, pricey cocktails were not a good way to start our meal. Meanwhile, in an effort to expedite our workday lunch, we went ahead and placed our entrée order: the roast beef sandwich and wasabi mashed potatoes for N, while S opted for the pesto bagel with sweet potato fries.

Forty minutes later, we began to wonder what was so difficult about cheese board to warrant that kind of delay.  Placing some cheese and accompaniments on a plate can’t be that complex, right? The restaurant was mildly busy, but by no means was it packed. We began to fear that our order was lost or forgotten. When we finally did receive our appetizer, we were disappointed to find that the cheeses were just the basic fare from any local grocery store…nothing special, and certainly not worth the mind-boggling forty minute wait. Also, with no utensils included, we were baffled as to how we were supposed to eat the soft cheese. We were out of luck with solving that issue, because our overworked waitress was missing in action as she attempted to wait on an entire restaurant singlehandedly.

By now, we had already far surpassed our allotted time for lunch, and we both began to get antsy as to how long our entrees would take. In the meantime, we heard the waitress announce to another table they were now out of the sweet potato fries (something else?!?) and asked for substitution requests from the other side dish offerings. Since she never approached us, we assumed that our order must be up soon, and S had probably snagged the last of the fries.

Twenty minutes later, our frustration with the never-ending wait reached the breaking point. We had only ordered sandwiches for goodness sake, and by then we could have gone to the store, made it to our house, cooked the same things and still beat the service time of Columbia Café. S finally tracked down our mostly absent waitress and informed her that if our order wasn’t imminent, we would have to cancel it completely. She assured us that they were “just now putting the side dishes on our plate.”

Another ten minutes later, we finally received our entrees, only to find that the kitchen had automatically substituted S’s fries (without consulting her) with the wasabi mashed potatoes, with only a “hope that was alright” from our waitress as she slid the plate in front of us. Considering that S absolutely hates wasabi, this was stomach-turning in addition to being presumptuous and offensive.

As for our food, both our meals were bland and unimpressive. Even without the interminable wait and bad service, we still found it to be subpar for the price. S’s pesto bagel was not worth ordering, and N’s sandwich, though mildly better, was a soggy mess. Also, though he likes wasabi, even N couldn’t stomach the mashed potatoes, and both our plates remained mostly untouched.

The true tragedy of our meal was that the owner and manager of Columbia Café was onsite, and seemed truly oblivious to the problems at hand. Sure, he waited on a table here and there, but failed to check on his customers, especially ones who were visibly unhappy. Didn’t he start to wonder why we had been there so long, with no food in front of us? He obviously fails to manage his kitchen, because he can’t keep it stocked with food or ensure that even the most simple of dishes are prepared in a timely manner. If some cheese and sandwiches takes the kitchen nearly two hours to deliver, we shudder to think how terrible dinner service must be.

Overall, we were incredibly disappointed in our Columbia Café experience, especially since we wanted so much to like it. We really hoped to support a business that contributes to improving the Highland neighborhood, but even the best of intentions could not overcome the abysmal cluelessness we witnessed. The ideas are there, but the execution fails so terribly, we would be hard-pressed to ever give it a second chance.

Columbia Cafe on Urbanspoon

TS Tries Abby Singer’s Bistro

In a cosmic fluke, the members of the TS team were both in the downtown area the other day, and dropped by Abby Singer’s Bistro for lunch.

Located on the second floor of the incredibly awesome Robinson Film Center, the Bistro offers lunch, dinner and a variety of cocktails to both the Center’s patrons and the downtown crowd. We were excited to try this obviously eclectic eatery, and we are always interested in supporting all downtown establishments; we hope that current restoration efforts will help revitalize this historic and important part of our community.

We arrived relatively early for the lunch rush, and had our pick of seating. The décor of the Bistro reflected the hip, urban location, and we felt like we were finding a semi-hidden gem of the Shreveport restaurant scene. As for the food, the lunch menu featured a limited selection of sandwiches and salads, but the spectrum of offerings was diverse enough that we felt anyone could find something appealing.

Unfortunately, the tantalizing promise of the Bistro soon wilted under the weight of spotty service and mostly mediocre food. Given that the restaurant was practically empty, we anticipated a fairly brisk service, perfect for our workday lunch. However, shortly after taking our order, our server parked herself at the bar to visit with her coworkers. As a result, our drinks remained mostly empty, and a couple of other observant servers finally stepped in when even they realized that we had been abandoned. While we give those servers credit for going above and beyond, we felt that our service should never have fallen so obviously far, especially with management clearly observing.

As for food, both N and S were underwhelmed with our selections. N ordered the pulled pork barbecue sandwich with a side of fries.  N felt that the pork was bland, overly sauced, and had the taste and presentation of a prepackaged product that had been scooped and reheated. The bun was chewy and tasteless, and his fries were poor quality and no better than a local fast food joint. While N didn’t feel that the food was bad per se, it was still something he would not order again or recommend to others. In fact, his common description throughout our meal was, “Meh…”

S ordered the chicken salad sandwich with a side of sweet potato fries. The chicken salad itself was a bizarre mix of unidentifiable ingredients, but S conceded that she is pretty dang picky about chicken salad. So, while that assessment should be taken for what it is, she maintains that this dish certainly falls last on her list of Shreveport chicken salad sandwiches.  The sweet potato
fries were nothing special, and were seasoned with some type of cinnamon-sugar, which made them taste more like a dessert than an entrée accompaniment.  Again, this may be a preference issue, but for the TS team, it further illustrated the disconnect between the “bistro” façade and the short-cut food we experienced. The outward appearance sets a standard to which the fare simply doesn’t live up.

While the TS team hates to write off a place that epitomizes what our downtown area could be with a little creativity and ingenuity, we won’t be back to Abby Singer’s Bistro any time soon.  However, we still support the Robinson Film Center, and encourage everyone not to let the Bistro’s failings reflect on the Center itself. We’d still catch a film there any day.

Abby Singer's Bistro on Urbanspoon

A Lunch (Or Two) at Bistro To Go.

TS is always looking for a good reason to indulge in a nice work-day lunch, and thanks to a recent special on Groupon, we decided to give Bistro To Go (BTG) a try…twice. We convinced ourselves that we were really just doing our due diligence, and not looking for a good excuse to feast in the middle of the work-day. It’s a tough job, but somebody has to do it.

Hidden in a small location near the Pierremont Commons, BTG offers a concept similar to that of Fairfield Market. While BTG only serves lunch in-house, it also offers a variety of “market items,” that patrons can purchase to take home and serve later, such as casseroles, dips, soups and salads. While some items remain in-stock, we think it would be better to call ahead and order these items for pick-up if you are so inclined.

On our first trip to BTG, we went early, hoping to beat the lunch rush. Upon our
arrival, we perused the menu, as well as a few specials that were listed on the
chalkboard. Overall, we found an eclectic mix of sandwiches, salads and plate
lunches, as well as a diverse selection of side items.  S. was immediately
intrigued by the smoked Gouda and pimento cheese sandwich, particularly since it was offered with an optional fried green tomato on top. In deference to her desire to feel mildly less guilty about that selection, she also ordered a
strawberry salad on the side. S. really liked the salad and found it to be
light and refreshing, then devoured the delicious sandwich in record time. She
was thrilled at the way the fried green tomato complemented the sandwich, and
gives BTG props for the unusual pairing. N. chose the special burger of the
day, with a side of pasta salad. He liked the burger, which was substantial,
but was not overwhelmed by his pasta salad; however, N. admits that he can be
unusually picky about pasta salad in general, and his lack of enthusiasm may
just be more indicative of personal preference than any fault in the dish.
Since we were on a culinary roll, we both ordered dessert, with N. opting for
the bread pudding while S. chose the fudge pecan pie. Both desserts were
absolutely divine, and we agreed we would definitely order them again.

On our second visit to BTG, S. could not resist ordering the Gouda sandwich again, but chose to try the loaded potato salad as a side item. The sandwich was
equally as good as the first time, and the potato salad was some of the best
we’ve ever had in Shreveport. Our only complaint was that the cheese that
garnishes all the dishes at BTG is clearly the pre-shredded, powdery, packaged
kind. Since these types of cheeses are fairly tasteless, we wish BTG didn’t
employ this shortcut when so many other items are clearly fresh and
high-quality. Though he was tempted by the special of smoked Gouda grits with
shrimp and Tasso, N. instead ordered the pot roast and a side of gumbo, and
found both to be delicious and satisfying. Our only low-point on this trip was
that we arrived at 12:30, to an obviously packed house, and many of the dessert
selections had already run out. If you plan on catching lunch at BTG, we’d
advise going as early as possible, so you beat the rush and ensure your claim
on dessert.

As for service, both out experiences at BTG were acceptable, though the servers
seemed to struggle somewhat during our second and most busy visit. However,
considering the high volume of customers, we still felt that we received what
we expected for a crowded, noon-time diner. Also of note, while the décor is
pleasant and the layout open, the acoustics at BTG amplify the noise level as
the crowds grow. This wasn’t really an issue for us, but it may be for others
who really want a more quiet lunch atmosphere.

Prices at BTG are very comparable to the other lunch places in the area, and we
certainly felt that we got what we paid for.

After two successful and delectable visits, TS gives BTG a big thumbs-up, and is already planning another visit soon.

Bistro To Go on Urbanspoon

TS Relaxes at Wine Country Bistro

Recently, the TS team had the opportunity for an impromptu date-night, and headed straight for one of our favorite local spots, Wine Country Bistro.

While Wine Country (WC) definitely has an upscale feel in both its’ dining room and decor, the large bar area and patio provide a welcome option for those who are feeling a little more casual. However, given the increasing popularity of this eatery, we still recommend reservations if you plan to go on a Friday or Saturday night. We usually prefer to sit at a table in the bar, because we like the more laid-back atmosphere in this area in comparison to the main dining room.

On our most recent trip, we were in the mood for a leisurely round of cocktails before ordering dinner. N. started with a Mojito, while S. opted for a glass of Chardonnay from the extensive wine list. We then ordered a cheese board from the appetizer menu, which is our standard choice on any visit to WC. Of all the restaurants in town we’ve tried, TS thinks that WC’s cheese board is hands-down, the best. The cheese selections vary depending on the day, but they are always unique, artisan and interesting. We especially love the Bayou Blue, and always enjoy the experience of lingering over this dish with good cocktails and good conversation. On a hot, summer evening, when our appetites are light, we sometimes make a meal out of WC’s cheese board and a good glass of wine.

The menu at WC is smaller, but very eclectic, and they usually offer two or three specials as well. On this particular evening, N. decided to order the special steak of the evening, a rib-eye, which was served with roasted potatoes and grilled asparagus, and he paired this selection with a glass of Cabernet Sauvignon . N. was impressed with the quality and size of his steak, and he found it to be well-cooked and full of flavor. He even enjoyed his asparagus, which he normally avoids like the plague elsewhere.  S., on the other hand, chose the braised beef short rib, which was served with garlic whipped potatoes and roasted root vegetables, and she ordered a glass of Merlot to accompany it. Both N. and S. absolutely loved this dish, which was a compelling mixture of flavor and texture, and we fought over the last few bites. Overall, we both felt our entrées were well executed in both taste and presentation, and the good quality of the ingredients really shined through. Though the prices at WC are higher, we felt that we certainly got our money’s worth out of this meal.

Our service at WC was fairly good, especially for the bar area, and we had no complaints. However, we sat closer to the actual bar than we usually do, and noticed that the hectic pace of activity behind the bar was somewhat distracting. Particularly, bartenders were hand-crushing ice for drinks by thwacking rolled-up linens full of ice on the counter. While we appreciate the attention to detail, we realized we’d prefer to sit father away from the bar next time in order to avoid too much distraction.

On a side note, WC also offers lunch, and after perusing the prices, we think they are definitely comparable to all of the other restaurants in the Line Ave/ Pierremont area.

Overall, TS has enjoyed our numerous trips to WC. Though the higher prices make this an occasional treat for us, we feel that the quality we receive is well worth what we pay. The eclectic nature of this restaurant means we can drop in for a full meal, or just appetizers and cocktails if we’re in the mood.  If you’re looking for food that is fresh, a little different and flexible for your mood, Wine Country is definitely worth a try.

Wine Country Bistro on Urbanspoon

Where Should TS Eat Tonight??

TS got an unexpected babysitter tonight, which of course means we’re ready to hit the town and eat something great.

Where should we eat tonight? Any thoughts?

A Night Out at Anvil Bar & Grill

This weekend, the TS team dropped the kids with the grandparents, and decided to try a restaurant on our long wish-list of eateries without a kids’ menu. However, after a long work-week, we also wanted something more on the casual side, so we opted to try Anvil Bar & Grill.

We arrived at Anvil fairly early in the evening, and opted to sit at a booth in the bar area. Overall, the décor was nice, but somewhat confusing. The entire restaurant reminded us of an upscale Italian eatery (music included), but the bar area contains a few sports posters that seemed very out of place.  We noticed that Anvil also includes a smaller menu of bar food for patrons who just want to pop in for a drink and a snack, so we assume they are going for diverse appeal in the competitive Pierremont/Line Ave. area.

We immediately snatched up a drink menu, and though the wine and specialty drink list was quite limited, all the choices were definitely better quality. N ordered a Sazerac, while S tried the Chardonnay. Both were delicious, and since it was happy hour, S’s wine was offered at a very nice discount.

For our appetizer, we were torn between the Abita onion rings and the Firecracker Shrimp but opted to try the special of the day, fresh crab claws, upon the recommendation of our server. These over-sized, steamed and chilled claws were both fresh and impressive, and were served with an aioli that complemented them well. S noted that the freshness of these claws allowed the true flavor of the crab to shine, and the usual overpowering fishy taste of frozen, processed crab was blessedly absent from this dish. Anvil provided all the implements we needed, including lemon and moist towels to clean our hands afterward. Overall, the dish was beautiful, yet simple, and we appreciated both the quality of the crab and the overall experience.

The entrée menu at Anvil is comprised mostly of Italian basics (fettuccini Alfredo, spaghetti with meatballs and a few veal dishes), seafood and steaks. However, our server also informed us of at least three specials for that particular evening. These included a couple of fish dishes, as well as veal pasta bolognaise. S. opted for a filet steak, with au gratin potatoes, while N. ordered the special fish of the day, snapper with a Beurre Blanc sauce (though Anvil also offered a crabmeat topping if we were so inclined).

S. liked her steak, though she wished that she had ordered it medium-rare instead of medium. Anvil clearly states in the menu how they prefer to cook their steaks (medium-rare being a warm, pink center),  but after so many undercooked steaks at other places, both N. and S. tend to order their steaks a shade above what we really want.  S. advises that, if you get a steak at Anvil, order it a level down from what you usually order….you can always send it back if it’s undercooked. S. also loved her au gratin potatoes, and was satisfied her entire meal. She ordered a glass of Merlot to go with her entrée, and was pleased with the wine as well.

N. found his snapper to be substantial, fresh, quality and it certainly surpassed his expectations. The snapper fillets were clearly of a good quality, and the simple Beurre Blanc completed both the flavor and texture of the fish. As with the earlier crab appetizer, the snapper’s freshness allowed us to appreciate the dish as it was intended to be, rather than trying to sift through soggy, fishy fillets for flavor.  S. tasted the dish and liked it as well, even though she is not at all a fan of fish dishes. N. also opted for the au gratin potatoes, and he enjoyed them as much as S. did.

Anvil offered an interesting dessert menu, but we were so full at this point, we passed on their offerings.  Our lack of dessert selection was not out of preference, but simply out of deference to our full bellies. However, we may try the house-made chocolate cake on our next visit.

As for service, we were more than pleased with what we received. Our server was certainly knowledgeable of both the menu and the ingredients, and she was attentive without being over-bearing. We acknowledge that the restaurant was not at all busy, so we hope that this quality extends to the atmosphere of a packed house.

The prices at Anvil are higher, so be prepared for that if you go.  On average, entrees will run about $15 to $30, depending on what you order.  The bar food runs about $10 to $15, so if you are inclined to drop in for drinks and a snack, the prices are average of what you will pay in the area.

Overall, we enjoyed our rare night out at Anvil. While the prices are somewhat higher than our initial expectations, we were still very pleasantly surprised by both the quality of our meal and our service.

Moral of the story? TS suggests that Anvil is worth a visit, but be discerning about what you order, keep an eye on your price point, and be sure to quiz your server on the specials.

By following these guidelines, we had a great time, sampled great food, and we plan on stopping by again soon.

Anvil Bar & Grill on Urbanspoon

TS Tries Monjunis and Strikes Out

During a recent hectic work-week, the TS team decided to take and break, and grab a rare weekday lunch. Not wanting to stray too far from downtown, we decided to give Monjunis a try. Though we’ve eaten at Monjunis before, our last visit was many, many years ago, so we came to the table with fresh eyes and no preconceptions.

Upon our arrival, the restaurant was absolutely packed for the lunch rush, so we grabbed a table on the patio. Like many of Shreveport’s long-standing restaurants, Monjunis has a small, hole-in-the wall atmosphere, with plenty of “Italian” décor…if you call dusty plastic grapes décor. The restaurant certainly has a feel of local tradition and history, but the over-the-top plastic grapes and decorations made us wonder how often all those tchotchkes get cleaned, especially since many of them hang above patrons’ tables.

From the get-go, our service was bad. We gave the waitress plenty of patience because of the noon-rush crowds, but after the fourth time she walked up to our table and realized she had forgotten to bring our drinks, bread, drinks, bread and finally food, we became worried that we’d never make it back to our respective offices.

For our meals, N. ordered the special of the day, which was the Cheesy-Chicken Spaghetti. What he got was neither cheesy nor chickeny (and yes, we know chickeny is not a word). N’s dish looked like a plate of dried-out noodles that took a brief run through a substance unknown, and the spaghetti appeared to be a dry, grayish mess. N took one bite and found it to be practically inedible. N. also ordered the Italian Sausage appetizer, which was simply an Italian sausage on a plate, with the “signature” marinara sauce dumped on top.

S., on the other hand, ordered the Shrimp Aurora (a signature dish) off the main menu, which was labeled as mounds of pasta and shrimp, baked with a blend of marinara sauce, Alfredo sauce and cheese. Though her plate appeared to be far more appetizing than N’s, S. felt that the dish tasted no better than under-seasoned pasta tossed with jarred sauce, with a few frozen shrimp thrown in. The TS team wondered if maybe, this is half Monjunis’ problem. Now that their key sauces and ingredients are packaged for mass distribution at grocery stores, perhaps their kitchen is simply constructing dishes from a handful of pre-packaged items. Looking at the menu, nearly every dish is some variation or combination of their “signature sauce,” and if what the TS team suspect is true, Monjunis is charging upwards of $18 for meals that are 95% out of a jar. Nothing we ate even had a hint of fresh, unique taste. In this economy, high cost better be offset by quality, freshness, service or overall experience, but Monjunis failed to deliver on all counts.

After waiting interminably long for our check, we were out nearly $40 for the most disappointing lunch we’ve had in ages. Overall, we really wanted to like a place that has such an obvious history in our hometown, but after this experience, we can certainly say that we won’t be back any time soon.

Monjunis Italian Cafe And Grocery on Urbanspoon