Monday, February 25, 2013

2/25/13 The Other Half of the Family OR What Happens When You’ve Got Minors, and You Really Want to Go Gambling

We heard that the NPR show “Wait, Wait! Don’t Tell Me” reviewed the McDonald’s Fish McBites.  We’d like it known that we, too, have a review.  We gave our kids a mission, $10 and the keys to a car.  The following is what happened…

TRIGGER WARNING: This review was written by my 16-year-old son F, whose deadpan cynicism is often liquefied and force-fed back to him as a form of nutritional paste. If he comes off as a bit too snarky for his own good, it’s because we accidentally gave him an overdose. Be warned…

Apparently, my parents think McDonalds is Catholic.

If all goes according to plan, you will already know that D and T went off on a magical adventure to a place called a “casino,” leaving us kids behind at home to fend for ourselves. I’m sure that their gambling night was wild fun, but right before they headed out, they declared that we would be spending our dinnertime at McDonalds eating their brand-new FishMcBites®.

Naturally, both Z and I had the response of “Ehhhhh…”

Still, heaven forbid we disobey our parents, so we set off with their money to the nearest location of everybody’s favorite burger franchise. I, not wanting to show off how amazing I am at reading an internet map, immediately turned left instead of right at a crossroads, heading in the opposite direction and thereby putting my sister in the perfect mood for eating the food McDonalds had to offer.

A quick note here: By parental stipulation, we had to eat “there”. Not “to go” or “Drive Thru and Drive Home,” but “there.”  “So, it’s nice, hot and fresh.”

Finally, after convincing my sister that I totally knew what I was doing, we finally stepped in to the fast-food joint to commence ordering. It seems that any notion of a “dollar menu” has completely slipped McDonald’s mind, as everything on the menu seemed to be priced at two dollars or over. Even the Fish McBites®­ were, at their smallest, $2.39, with the regular being $3.39 and the large costing a wallet shattering $5.39.

Yes, twenty-some pellets of Alaskan Pollock cost more than twelve eleven inches of sandwich at Subway.

Anyway, after ordering the meal we had set out to get (as well as a medium fries to share), we sat down and began eating. On the plus side, the bag was very colorful and featured multiple fun facts such as “We wash our lettuce twice!” and “In India, a big favorite is the McAloo Tikki potato burger®!” Also, the box was pretty innovative, with a little flap hanging off the side to hold the tartar sauce box. 

And you will need that tartar sauce, tasteless as it may be, because the pellets of fish themselves tasted like absolute –

I’m a little unclear how clean my mother is with this blog, so I’ll just say they were *ahem* quite terrible.

I know the Lutheran 3rd amendment is “Do not take the Lord’s name in vain,” but Jesus Christ! Did they just flash fry these and call it a day? I’m not even sure they qualify as food! 

While nice and tongue-burningly hot, as my mother had hoped, they did not properly prepare them in any possible way! I am under the belief that I ingested 230 calories of pure cardboard airbrushed white and stuck in a vat of oil for about 3 seconds to get it to that nice “We hate you, never come back” texture.

I am ashamed that I spent my parent’s money on you, McDonalds.

Also, the fries were lukewarm and over-salted. So there’s that.

To recommend McDonalds for your Fish Fry fix would imply that it had nutritional value outside of calories and saturated fats. Instead, I recommend getting a large supply of their water cups, because at least then you might find a grease stain that you can lick up which, while being incredibly unhealthy, would at least have some sort of flavor.

PS. I asked Z for her opinion, and she gave me one word:


She summed up my 560 word rant with one word. You win this round, little sis.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Betting on St. Cajetan's

As mentioned last week, we are running out of Catholic Churches close to home, but on the way to St. Stephen’s last week, we spied St. Cajetan’s advertising their Lenten Buffet. For those of you not up on your Catholic  saints,  St. Cajetan is the patron saint of gamblers  and, perhaps not too ironically, the unemployed. Yup, we decided to check out Columbus’ new casino!

Now, I am not trying to be sacrilegious; in fact I had no desire to venture into our new local gambling establishment. I’m not really a fan of gambling since I would rather see something for my money. But there, in flashing letters on the sign was the siren call of the “ALL YOU CAN EAT SEAFOOD BUFFET!  Only $32 during Lent!”

You have probably observed, many dining establishments roll out a fish option during  Lent.  The fast food joints that don’t usually serve fish suddenly have it on the menu ( see F’s review below) or more posh locations offer the Friday fish special.  It was no surprise then, that The Hollywood Casino would join in capitalizing on the tradition.  

Not being Catholic myself, I can only say that I don’t believe Catholic’s frown on gambling, since they are historically the prime sponsors of Bingo Nights. Perhaps they did give it up for Lent, but I am unaware of that tradition.

A plan was hatched. We would not take the kids. We would however invite our friends V and C. Since we know they are always up for some competition, our plan was this….Each couple would take $125.  Dinner would be $64 plus tip. We would then each get $25 gambling money and see who could either last the longest or win the most. For an added bonus, T discovered that the casino has a loyalty card. When you sign up for it you receive a $10 credit for the slot machines. Fortunately, V and C were free that night, and the game was on!

We arrived at the Casino at about 6:30, clearly early because there were not a lot of people there. The place is enormous though, so it is hard to get a good read on how many people are there at any time. Because C and I work in the design industry we were busy checking out the finishes and critiquing the carpet. (Which, by the way, we both thought it was hideous.)

We all made our way to the back of the casino to get our loyalty cards giving us a chance to scope out the place. Like any casino, it seems to be predominantly occupied by slot machines. There are at least three areas for table games, three restaurants, that I saw, and two bars.  There is a stage for shows.  Sadly, we missed the Village People by one night.  If you go this Friday you can catch Sheen Easton! Sugar Walls, anyone?

We of course were headed to the Epic Buffet.

One of the big draws for the buffet is that each diner gets a lobster as part of their meal. When you pay for your dinner at the entrance they give you a ticket that you will hand to someone who will serve you your lobster, this is to make sure you only get one.

Everything else is All-You-Can Eat. From the front door you are taken to your table and a server takes your drink order, gives you the lay of the land and turns you lose. No alcohol seemed to be served at the buffet, but you could probably bring some in from outside.

At this point I should tell you I am generally not a fan of buffets. For the most, I find their food below average at best. I can count on one hand buffets I have been to in my life that I actually thought were good, but I consider even a good buffet to be about a 5 on the scale of 1-10 compared to a standard style restaurant. This one was a 4.  If I were only comparing it to other buffets, it bumps up to an 8. If you are a fan of buffet style eating, you would probably enjoy it much more than we did.

We all scoped out the offerings. They do offer lots of variety. It is important to note that while they offer many seafood options they have not given up on other meat for lent, so if you are not following the Lenten tradition you would have many more options. There is a pasta and pizza station, a carving area, salad and dessert bar on top of all their various seafood options.

Three of us opted for the lobster first. T decided to give it a miss, and made a good choice. I am not a huge lobster fan, but even I know it isn’t meant to be tough and rubbery.  Also, you have to wait for someone to serve it to you, and despite the fact that there was a line of people waiting for lobster, the two young men working in that area chose to talk to each other and studiously not make any eye contact with the patrons. So, it took a little while.

The lobsters polished off, we all headed back to investigate other options. I kept to the fish and seafood category and indulged on things like peel-and-eat shrimp, fried and baked fish, fried clam strips and scallops, steamed clams, oysters on the half shell and crawfish.  I also made sure I tried veggies like green beans, glazed carrots and steamed broccoli as well as a mashed redskin potato.

The others tried various meat options as well as the seafood. Not one of us was brave enough to try the sushi. We were all skeptical, and as V said “No Asian had anything to do with that sushi”. That pretty much summed it up.

For the most part, the food rated okayto pretty good. If you were able to get some of the fried items when they came out fresh they were on the high end of pretty good. I can also say that other than the lobster, nothing we ate could be called bad either.

Three of us also tried the desserts, if you remember from last week, T has given them up for Lent. They have a pretty extensive spread, though again some of the items are behind glass and you have to flag down an employee to get them for you. The best of the deserts we tried was the bread pudding. Everything else was pretty much what you would expect from a buffet.

After dinner, we all headed out to gamble. A little tip here, don’t go the casino expecting to use their ATMs.  Both T and I were out of cash and were charged $5 for the luxury of getting money.  We broke up our little group into men vs. women and looked for ways to lose our money. C and I hit the quarter slots. As I said, we are novices, so it took us some time to figure out the loyalty card. My brag moment...I was rather quickly up to $65! However, I am not shocked to tell you I was also out of cash in 30 minutes.  C out lasted me by 10 minutes.

After our 40 minutes at the slots, we found the boys. They had both played video poker, T left with $26.25, so was the winner with total actual winnings of $1.25. He’s been trying to tell me he could have won more if I hadn't run out of money so quickly.  

All in all, I would rather go shopping with my money. It was a fun night out with friends, though, and worth the price of admission for the adventure.  T says that if you just want a good fish dinner, head around the corner to St. Stephens The Martyr and get your fill of fish for $9.00. Then you would have a larger gambling stake.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

St Stephens the Martyr

Hello friends! Well, Lent managed to sneak up on us again this year. Admittedly it is on the early side. When Ash Wednesday falls before Valentine’s day it throws me for a bit of a loop. At least I am not like some people in my family who gave up sweets for Lent and suffered through the Holiday of Love because of it.

It is of course time for our annual exploration of Fish Fries. Last Friday was the first night for our venture. I want to share a few things with you first though.

One: I get asked all the time so here it is… Our favorite Fish Fry is St. Michael’s in Worthington. In our humble opinion it is hands down the best food for the price and the fish is the best in the city. Runner up is Our Lady of Victory in Marble Cliff with Perch for their fish.

There are other churches that do a good job and at least two that bill themselves as the best in the city. They are good but not in our opinion the best. There is only one that I would not go back to but I won’t put that in writing. If you know me in real life you are welcome to ask and I will tell you.

Two: Spring break falls right in the middle of Lent for our family this year. We are splitting it up, but there may be at least one week where we have no one in town to review. Unless we have a volunteer backup you will probably have to miss a week.

Three: We have visited most of the Catholic Churches within the beltway of Columbus. We are not giving up on them, but as with our review of the Shamrock Golf Course last year, we thought this year we might venture to some alternate locations as part of the mix.

So here is this week’s review:

As mentioned, we have visited most of the options from the city and have started to venture further afield. This week we went far out of our usual territory to the west side of Columbus at St. Stephen the Martyr at 4131 Clime Rd.

For an added challenge there were accidents on Columbus’s freeways last Friday night so we programmed our GPS unit to take side roads and crossed our fingers we would make it while the fish was still hot. It was a twilight tour of the city.

Background: St Stephen was martyred for speaking the truth about God. He was put on trial by Jewish scholars. During his trial (I paraphrase here) he looked up in the sky and said, “Look! I see god.” Everyone turned and saw nothing and they became even more enraged, hauling him out and stoning him to death on the spot. For this reason he is the patron saint of Headache sufferers and stonemasons. He also lends a hand to casket makers and horses if horses are inclined to pray to him. 

Now, St. Stephen’s, the local church, is a multi-cultural church with a mix of Hispanic and Caucasian. This added some interesting twists. The menu was presented in both Spanish and English, there was hot sauce for the fish (a first), and two lines for ordering, one English and one Spanish.

The two lines brought on confusion for us because the older woman in the English line waved us on to the Spanish line. We responded to the Spanish order inquiry with blank stares. It took us a moment or two to figure out that she assumed my dark skinned, dark haired family was Hispanic. I guess I was the odd one out.

Once we cleared that up we were able to place our order in English. They fill out a form; you pay and find a table. The servers then take your order form while you collect your drinks and dessert. Everything was quick and efficient and they were all very friendly.

We all ordered fried fish which came in small pieces and was clearly made in house. F and I had fries and slaw. Z had green beans and mac and cheese and T had a baked potato and slaw. We all agreed that the fish was tasty and liked the batter. It was very crispy and very hot. Later they came through with seconds and we tried the baked fish. We could not give that a good review. It was rather bland and the taste, one dimensional.

T said his baked potato was good but maybe a bit overdone, probably because we were there at the end. F and I thought the fries were about average, not the best but we have had a lot worse. We all thought the slaw was great, nice and creamy and tangy. And everyone tried Z’s green beans and thought they were good though it took us a bit of time to identify the flavor the used for seasoning, we think lots of onion but don’t hold us to it. Finally the mac and cheese was only average.

Drinks and dessert were included in the price and the offerings were water and canned soda to drink and three kinds of sheet cake for dessert. Only F and I had desert, as the others had given up sweets. We thought the cake itself was good, but I wasn’t sold on my frosting. It was probably store bought and I’m pretty picky about frosting.

The prices are $9.00 for adults, $8.00 for seniors and $4.50 for kids under 12. The menu is all you can eat. If you want more, just ask.

Overall, a good fish fry and while I wouldn’t travel out of my way to eat there, I would recommend it if you are in the area.