That Food Guy
Wednesday, November 16, 2011
  Denny's - Crystal River, Florida

Denny’s - Crystal River, Florida
2380 N W HWY 19, Crystal River, FL 34428
(352) 563-1177

I suppose just about everyone has heard of Denny’s. They have had some bad press in the past to be sure but of recent there has been little to hear about them. I think it would also be safe to assume that most people think of them as a place where you can get familiar food, stick to the ribs kind (they have advertized their Grand Slam Breakfast for quite awhile) and perhaps a free meal on your birthday. Beyond that Denny’s doesn’t raise the excitement level, at least to me. They are there and sometimes they are just the most convenient place for a meal.

And so it was on out recent holiday to Crystal River to swim with the manatees. Denny’s occupied the connecting building to our motel. Now that is convenient. We took advantage of the amenity. We went for dinner after a long day touring looking for a quiet and relaxing meal.

Build You Own Grand Slam - Eggs, bacon and toast.Although it was the dinner hour, the wife wanted something different and chose to select from the breakfast menu. That is another thing that comes to mind when you think of Denny’s, breakfast served all day. She did the Build Your Own Grand Slam (You get to pick any four items from the list that includes: two strips of bacon, buttermilk biscuit, two buttermilk pancakes, two eggs, English muffin, grits (this is the South), hash browns, oatmeal with milk, two sausage links, two slices of toast. The list also includes some additional charge premium items: grilled ham slice; fruit in season, yogurt. I(t seems that all the fast food and restaurant chains have added healthier items to their menus and Denny’s calls theirs Fit Fare. The Fit Fare options include: one chicken sausage patty, two egg whites, two wheat pancakes, two turkey bacon strips.)

Build Your Own Grand Slam - Hotcakes and syrup.With all that to choose from, she selected two eggs, over medium, bacon cooked crisp, white bread toast unbuttered, and pancakes and syrup. That she cleaned her plate would indicate she did enjoy the meal. The cooks have it down very well; the toast very nicely browned, the pancakes also browned to perfection, the eggs cooked to order, the bacon crisp as requested. When asked later if she wanted dessert she declined. That would attest to the adequate portions.
In tune with the hour, I chose something more in line with the dinner hour. It was hard to pass over my favorites, like a burger and fries, I decided to try some of their “healthy choices.” In light of recent birthdays, I chose the Senior Fit FGarden salad with substitute Thousand Island dressing.are Grilled Chicken Dinner (a grilled seasoned chicken breast with corn, broccoli and a fresh garden salad with balsamic vinaigrette – A Fit Fare Light under 550 calories). I did ask the waitress if I could substitute the less fit fare Thousand Island dressing in place of the vinaigrette. It was a nice dinner salad with crisp lettuce, sliced red onions, cucumber slices, crunchy croutons, shredded cheese and grape tomatoes. A large serving of dressing was served alongside so I could add as much or little as I liked.

The chicken breast was nicely grilled, golden brown. I had a slight crust from grilling but was tender and juicy inside. The vegetables were whole kernel corn and broccoli. The broccoli was nicely cooked; a bit to bite on but tender, not oGrilled chicken with corn and broccoli.vercooked and mushy. With the salad, the meal was filling and satisfying. Had I prepared this meal for myself at home I would have been pleased with the results.

The young lady serving our table was immediately there on our arrival, brought things to the table in a timely manner, and was aware of when beverage glasses needed refilling. We finished the meal and came away with a new respect for “good ol’ Denny’s.” Maybe this healthy food thing won’t be so bad after all. The food was good, well prepared, the facility clean and the service was excellent. It was but a short stroll to our room, comfortable beds and a good night’s sleep. What else could we have asked for?

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Wednesday, November 02, 2011
  Bob Evans - St Petersburg, Florida (Tyrone and 66th)
Bob Evans Restaurant
2410 66th St No (Tyrone and 66th St)
St Petersburg, Fl 33710
(727) 347-4545

December 2008
My father in law was a great one for going out to breakfast. Seems like the first thing he would say in the morning is where do you want to go to eat (he said that in the evening too but that is Sonny's eggs, sausage and cottage fries.another story). He often went with his cronies from the Coast Guard Auxiliary or the Over The Hill Gang. One of the favorite places was Bob Evans. One of a number of stores in the chain, this Bob Evans is close to the house and very convenient.

On this particular day we just couldn’t convince him to sit back, relax, read the paper and sip coffee while we prepared breakfast. We all got dressed in our going out duds and went to Bob Evans for breakfast.

Bob Evans has a bit of a reputation for heavy fare, things like sausage gravy and biscuits, three egg omelets and three egg combination breakfast platters to name a few. To be fair, they also offer lighter fare, healthier selections in addition to the traditional meal choices. One has to read the menu and make informed, considered selections…
Sonny's sausage gravey and toast.

My wife, Janis, doesn’t really care for egg for breakfast but she does like her pancakes, especially chocolate chip pancakes. Those are not on the Evans menu so she settled instead for Stacked and Stuffed Hotcakes ("You’ve never had hotcakes like these!” says Bob Evans’ menu. “We take two stuffed hotcakes, stack them with vanilla cream cheese, add more delicious toppings, then finish with whipped topping and a sprinkling of powdered sugar.”) As usual, a large breakfast is too much and about half of the pancake stack went into a take-home container. That is normal and she did enjoy the her pancakes that day as well as the next.

Janis's stuffed pancakes.Father -in-law Sonny, although born in Colorado, he was raised in Florida since infancy and considers himself to be a genuine “cracker” and no self-respecting cracker would pass up grits for breakfast. That helped him to narrow his selection to the Homestead Breakfast (Named after Bob and Jewell Evans’ original farmhouse, this classic includes all of your breakfast favorites: Bob Evans® Sausage or bacon, two eggs, hash browns, home fries or grits, a cup of creamy sausage gravy and two freshly baked biscuits) It was a large meal and part of it went into a doggie bag. In this case it really was for his dog, a yellow lab named Bo. The part of the meal he did eat he enjoyed.

I enjoy a traditional breakfast of eggs, bacon and potatoes. That narrowed the choice down to the RMy eggs, bacon and cottage fries.ise and Shine Breakfast (Our most popular breakfast: Two eggs, Bob Evans sausage or bacon, hash browns or home fries and two biscuits). The only hard decision was whether or not to have hash browns or cottage fries. After agonizing seconds of deliberation I chose the cottage fries. The eggs were ordered over medium. The whites were all set and the yolks soft to runny, just right and what I ordered. The bacon was order crisp and that is what I was served. The toast was nicely browned and there was a selection of jelly cups to choose from. It was what you would expect from bacon and eggs. It tasted fine, was cooked to order and was filling. I certainly was satisfied with my meal.

Bob Evans is a busy place during breakfast and there is a bit of noise but finished ceilings help to muffle some of the background sounds. The serving staff was quick, courteous and seemed to be very efficient.

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Tuesday, November 01, 2011
  Terry's Fish and Chips - Seward, Alaska
Terry's Fish and Chips - Seward, Alaska
Terry's Fish & Chips
1401 4th Ave # B, Seward, AK 99664
(907) 224-8807 ‎

Seward is at the end of the road, figuratively and literally. That means supply trucks deadhead back to Anchorage some 3 hours and 125 miles away. Add to that that Seward is a summer tourist destination that is pretty much closed down in the winter. Restaurants in Seward have to cope with expensive supplies and the need to make a year’s revenue in a short summer season. That is much of the reason that dining out in Seward carries “sticker shock!”

Terry's Menu - part 1My neighbor Dale had his sail boat, the Cirrus, for a couple of seasons but I had never had the chance to see it. Dale was going down to Seward from Chugiak to do some work on his boat and asked if I would to go for the ride. I am more a land-lubber than a sea dog but I hoped that I could be of some use once we were there. Either way, it sounded like it would be a fun day.
We worked up an appetite on the drive to Seward. Our first order of business was to get a bite to eat. Right across the street from the city dock and the rows of terminals for fishermen and glacier tours are a couple of places to get a bite to eat. One of these is Terry’s Fish and Chips. The gray brick corner building has a Spartan look. That would also describe the interior; sets of tables and chairs, set well apart, seem diminutive in the high ceilinged room. Lots of hard surfaces and harsh sounds, the sound of sliding chairs echoed throughout the dining area.
It was a slow day and few tables were occupied. We were seated quickly, given water and a menu. I must have started when I read the menu because Dale, in his uniquely terse style said, “Yep! They’re kinda expensive.” Boat owners often frequent Terry’s and other local restaurants and his experience let him anticipate my gasp of first-time sticker shock.

The menu included burgers and chicken sandwiches, fish and chips and chowder, a selection of beer and wine and strangely enough, here in the wilds of Alaska, a selection of Southwestern favorites including tacos, burritos, chimichangas and enchiladas.

Terry's Menu - part 2I ordered a Number 9, the 2-piece fish basket (All baskets served with French fries, lemon and out homemade coleslaw and tartar sauce $14.00). For a beverage I ordered the 16-ounce glass of Coca Cola ($2.50).The food did not take very long to prepare. The basket was served with piping hot food. There was a good helping of French fries, all hot and crispy golden brown, lining the bottom of the basket. On top were two very large breaded and fried fish filets. Wedged in the corner were serving cups of coleslaw and tartar sauce.

The coleslaw was a bit tart, a bit sweet and a bit spicy; all attributes of a good coleslaw. For a mass serving, side dish salad, it was quite good. It is surely ironic that good fish and chips fish doesn’t taste like fish. The delicate flavors of the white fish mix with and are soon lost in the batter and frying oil. A bit of tartar sauce adds some zest back to the fish and helps to elevate the natural flavors. Terry’s tartar sauce does a good job of accompanying the fish. The large, Alaska portions of fish were coated with a thin batter and fried. The result was a crispy coating over a flaky and tender filet of fish. There were no gobs of thick, gooey batter. Even though it was the smallest of the offered dishes, the 2-piece fish basket, it was of adequate proportions that I was full and satisfied after the meal.

The question is, “Would I go back to Terry’s Fish and Chip again?” If I were in Seward again at meal time, was hungry, I would check my wallet for enough cash and then I would probably try the fish and chips again.

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  Don's Drive In - Traverse City, Michigan

Don’s Drive In – Traverse City, Michigan
2030 N Us Highway 31 S
Traverse City, MI 49684
(231) 938-1860
August 2009

Street view of Don's Drive In
Our friends Dick and Cheryl spend a lot of their summers in the Grand Traverse area of Michigan. It fell to them to be our guides on our first trip to the area. We were auto touring in Traverse City near lunch time and they wanted to take us to a local, long enduring institution they are fond of, Don’s Drive In. The drive-in restaurant was founded in 1958 by none other than Don himself. Don is no longer with us and a new owner has continued the tradition started so very long ago.

It was a small drive-in restaurant when it first opened on a nearly vacant stretch of two-lane road overlooking a part of Lake Michigan. Over the years Don’s has grown a bit bigger and the local area has developed. The multi-lane highway out front is a busy thoroughfare and the view of the lake is obscured by large buildings, all part of the development and growth of Traverse City.

Seated with friends Dick and CherylIf you needed a prop setting for a remake of Happy Days or American Graffiti then Don’s would do nicely. It is a 1950’s drive in caught in a time warp. If you can fondly remember that period of time, hot rods, transistor radios, poodle skirts, duck-butt haircuts and the like, then you will already have a liking for Don’s. Grab a pocket full of coins for the juke box, pick up your girl and head to Don’s for burger and a malted (made with fresh Michigan fruit, of course).

Their menu offers soups, including a soup of the day, hot and cold sandwiches, hamburgers, hot dogs, cold drinks and their locally famous malted milks. They offer a basic burger and burger baskets that include creamy coleslaw and French fries. They advertize, “We cook em the way you like em – rare, medium, well.” Additions to your burger are charged extra and things like cheese, mayo, lettuce, tomato, bacon and fried onions will quickly raise the price. Fountain soft drinks are small ($1.25), medium ($1.50), and large ($1.95).

The interior is bright white, chrome and red and filled with things hot rod. It is actually a smaller than it appears from the outside place. Seating can be at a premium on a busy day and a wait to get in is not uncommon. Strictly by chance our timing was good and our party of four was immediately seated in a booth. The tables are a bit on the small side and you can knock knees with the person seated across from you.

Don's burger basket with coleslaw and French friesI ordered the ¼ pound burger basket ($5.95, American cheese $0.50, lettuce $0.10, tomato $0.10, ketchup, mustard and raw onions free for the asking) and it comes with coleslaw and French fries. The burger patty is large and I am told the weight advertized is after cooking and not before as is the usual. Personally, I prefer ground meat served in a food establishment to be cooked to the 140 degree mark if not a bit more. I may cook them rarer at home but out I feel safer when I know they are cooked through. I ordered mine medium well and it was cooked through but not dried out. If you have a lot of burgers going at the same time to get each one right must prove to be a challenge and in this case they got it right. The French fries are the thick cut variety. These don’t fry crisp like the smaller shoestring styles but they have the advantage of mass and keep warm throughout the meal whereas the smaller fries are stone cold by the time they reach the table.
Don's cherry milk shake with real Michigan cherries
I ordered a real fruit milkshake. Strawberry, cherry and raspberry are offered. It was Michigan and the cherry harvest was in so I went with the cherry shake (medium $3.80). That is a premium price for a milkshake but I think it was worth it. It was a nice large glass of thick milkshake. I had to start out with a spoon and it wasn’t until later I the meal that the milkshake softened enough to sip through a straw. The fresh fruit swirled through the shake really make the drink exceptional.

We all enjoyed the excursion back through time. It is quite an illusion and you can remember the dates, the drive-in movie and the hamburger after. It was a great time to be a teen. I can remember it so well when gas was 25 cents a gallon, and a hamburger was less than a quarter at the local drive-in. I guess I had better stop now before I ruin the rest of the illusion created by Don’s Drive In in Traverse City, Michigan. Be sure and stop in when passing through. I think you will like it.

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