That Food Guy
Sunday, December 31, 2006
  Hearthside - Pigeon Forge, Tennessee

Parkway, Highway 441, is the main street through Pigeon Forge, the home of Dollywood. For miles the highway is lined with glitz - there are games and amusements galore, many dinner shows, pizza parlors and fast food restaurants of every description. It is the tourist Mecca in the foothills of the Smoky Mountains, just a few miles from Tennessee Tuxedo’s favorite big city of Gatlinburg.

We drove down the busy, tourist thronged steet looking for a place to have breakfast out. We selected the Hearthside because it stood out by not garishly standing out. Of dark wood and brick, the folksy building blended with the hills and the trees. It didn’t have chrome and stainless steel, flourescent plastic and yards of neon tubing. It would have been more at home a few miles down the road in a more rustic setting. The building has window walls on three sides. It made for a light and airy interior. A English-cottage ceiling with suspended lights in hurricane chimneys lent a rustic charm. The tables and chairs were wood with Colonial chairs, all befitting a pastoral Tennessee.

We were quickly seated although the restaurant was near capacity, a busy place. Looking around, one could see the furnishings and decor were of age but clean and well maintained. The first item on the menu caught my eye. The Today’s Special, a country buffet breakfast that featurd a long list; scrambled eggs, buttermilk pancakes, bacon, sausage, biscuits and gravy, grits, has browns, cooked apples, French toast sticks, doughnuts and a fresh fruit bar. Being more trencherman than gourmet, I opted for the all-you-can-eat breakfast buffet.
The food at the buffet was cafeteria style. In steam trays and iced bowls, it was basic food, what you would expect from a cafeteria offering, but it was well prepared and with small containers, kept fresh with frequent refills. I filled my plate and headed back to the table. On the way I noticed that the buffet seemed to be the most popular choice. Of those dishes noted ordered from the menu, the presentation was good, the food looked wholesome and appetizing and I suspect prepared with care.

The food I chose was tasty and I was happy with my selection. The waitress kept the coffee cups filled and offered clean plates for a refill run at the buffet. She gave quick and courteous service even though she was ever busy with a constant stream of new diners. So, to recap, pleasant surrounding, good basic food, courteous service at reasonable prices. That rates a thumbs up from me anytime.

It wasn’t until I went to the cashier to pay the bill that I found there was even more to the story - something not apparent until you were told. I asked for a take-home menu as I usually do to remind me of prices and selections. The cashier told me they didn’t have any but offered one of the service menus instead. I offered to pay for the menu but she said that wouldn’t be necessary. You see, today was the Hearthside’s last day. After 20 years in business, the restaurant was closing. New owners were coming and would someday open a store but that was quite a bi in the future. I asked about the employees. She said that they would all be unemployed at the end of the business day. I thanked he for our pleasant meal and wished he and the others well. Clutching my souvenir menu as I left, I reflected on what amazed me more. Here was a restaurant full of soon to be unemployed workers. They were without the usual incentives, a continuing job, chance for advancement or pay increase. But they were there doing their jobs in a courteous and professional manner. It made our breakfast an even more satisfying meal. The Hearthside employees demonstrated a great deal of personal integrity. I have great respect for those people and surely wish them well. To the new owners of the Hearthside, if an applicant lists previous employment with Hearthside, consider it a hearty and well deserved recommendation.
Saturday, December 30, 2006
  Mamas Kitchen II - Seminole, Florida

Mamas Kitchen isn’t what you might at first think. It isn’t Mama like your mother, it is said Ma-mas, the Protector of the Shepherds, based on a medieval Cypriot legend. Mamas is regarded as the Patron Saint of Cyprus and Naxos. The lion of the legend is the logo of the restaurant. The Seminole restaurant is one of three operated by the Saints namesake, Mamas Antoniou and his family. The consider themselves a family restaurant and their menu features a children’s section. They are open daily 6 am to 9 pm.

The menu features breakfast, lunch and dinner selections with a wide variety of egg and pancake dishes, sandwiches, both hot and cold. There is a good selection of entrees with steaks, chicken, local seafood and Italian fare. Dinner selections run from $7 to $12. Beer and wine are available.

The facility is a casual diner on a busy street but access is good. There is adequate parking. The interior is clean, well maintained and the glass front facade makes for a light and spacious feeling. The staff is quick and courteous and seem genuinely glad to see you.
Friend of ours brought us here because it is one of their favorite places for a breakfast out. That in itself is always a good recommendation. As is our friends custom, this visit was for breakfast.
The wife ordered pancakes as is her want, a platter that included eggs over medium. The pancakes were thick and fluffy, and well browned. The eggs were over medium as requested and the yolks intact but still soft. Individual serving cups of syrup were served on the side. She described the pancakes as good and surprisingly, cleaned her plate, also a good but silent recommendation.

I opted for the eggs, hash browns and bacon. The eggs were ordered over medium and were served as requested. The potatoes are "cottage fries," apparently from a large griddle. There was nicely golden brown crisp edges with soft, tender potato between. The bacon was thick slice, fried crisp. Often, with breakfasts, grease is a complaint. That was not the case. The potatoes were "dry" and the eggs did not leave a tell-tale ring. The toast was hot and buttered. Not a complaint, but the toast was cut in a most peculiar manner, across, side-to-side, rather than the usual top to bottom or even diagonally.

We lingered over coffee. The coffee was fresh and hadn’t "simmered" in the pot. The waitress was around frequently to refill our cups. Even though we tarried, there was never a push to move us along. In our defense, we watched to see that there was always seating available.
Mamas Kitchen is close to our friends home and makes for a convenient stopping place for a breakfast out. Were it closer to where we live, it would probably be a more frequent stop. The food is good, the service quick and friendly, and we are assured that the quality is consistent.
Friday, December 29, 2006
  Steak and Shake - St. Petersburg, FL

The Steak and Shake restaurant chain has roots that go back to 1934 Illinois. Gus Belt, the founder, would grind piles of steaks, including round, sirloin and T-bone steaks, during the busiest hours so his customers could see the meat being prepared. He coined the phrase, "In sight, it must be right." Mr. Belt continues to manage the growing chain of restaurants until his death in 1954. The family continued to conservatively operate the chain until it was sold in 1969. Even though the new owners expanded the chain to 130 units by 1975, several stores that were distant from the supply chain were closed, including the St. Petersburg store. In 1981 the chain agin changed hands and the new owners, E. W. Kelly d Associates, continued the expansion program and have more that 430 stores in 20 states. Two of those new stores are back in St. Petersburg, Florida.

My wife can remember the old Steak and Shake on 66th Avenue. In the 1970, she went there often as a school girl. She was happy to hear of the return of Steak and Shake and we make at east one stop there each tome we are in town for a visit. Of the two store in town, the Park Street location is the closest and the subject of this critique.

The stores are well scrubbed and maintained inside and out. After several years, the store looks new, just like the grand opening. The chrome is polished, the tile shiny and there are no cracks or gaps that I have seen. The glass is clean. The tables, chair and booths are in excellent condition. The staff is quick and efficient and the orders always seem to come out right.
Mailers and newspapers have coupons for Steak and Shake. They are a good deal because one coupon is good for all the covered dishes on the one check. If everybody orders the same thing, everyone gets the coupon discount. On this particular day, three of us went to dinner and we all ordered the Steak and Shake Dinner. Normally $7.99, the dinners were $5.99 each, a savings $6.00 dollars for the three of us.

The dinner platters are a good deal because they include the milk shake and a choice of two side dishes. You can choose between french fries, coleslaw, chili, baked beans in their trademark miniature bean crock , cottage cheese, soup or salad. Cheese, onion rings and a few other items are extra, but you are well on your way to a complete dinners with the platter.
On this visit my choice was the Steak and Shake Dinner Platter with everything. I chose to add cheese, and selected the French fries and baked beans for my side dishes. I asked for a vanilla shake. The burger is served open faced. The plate is full with the sandwich, the French Fries as well as the lettuce, tomato and onion slices and pickle. By the time you have assembled your burger, you need both hands to keep it together. When my order arrived, the food was hot, attractively plated and the cook had not skimped on the relishes. The serving of shoestringFrench fries was adequate. The milk shake glass full, topped with a cherry and whipped cream. It was frosty and thick, a perfect compliment to the burger and fries. I was perfectly happy, as were my dining companions, that our food had been delivered as ordered, was as we expected.

Their menu features a large number of other sandwiches, clubs and melts, besides the burgers. There are also chili, soups and pasta dishes. The menu also features a large number of breakfast items - You can have Steak and Shake for breakfast, lunch or dinner.
We enjoyed our meal and the staff was courteous and efficient. The coupons made for a sizeable savings and, as a result, we shall be back for more Steak and Shake.

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Location: Chugiak Alaska, St Petersburg, Florida, and Friendsville, Tennessee, United States
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