That Food Guy
Friday, June 22, 2012
  Ross Park Drive In - Pocatello, Idaho

Ross Park Drive In
2340 S 2nd Ave Pocatello, ID 83204

During my first trip to Pocatello, Idaho, many, many years ago, my sister took me to the Ross Park Drive In for a burger and fries. Memory always recalled the burgers as a bit special, perhaps a cut above the usual chain store burgers. With that in mind, these many years later, we went to the Ross Park Drive In for a hamburger and fries. On the corner the streets cross at an angle and the corner where the drive in is located juts out making a triangular plot. It has been a fixture in Pocatello for many years. Open seasonally, it serves fast foods to the locals and visitors to the nearby Ross Park. Although called a drive in, it doesn’t offer car-hop service, it is walk up window instead. It frequently serves a hangout for local teenagers though it does offer limited parking.

The Idaho afternoon sun was fierce as we waited in line. Our turn at the order window was next. The order was straight forward: two double cheeseburgers, one without sauce and one with everything, one double hamburger with everything, one large French fries, one Tater Tots, one onion rings and one small Coke. The clerk seemed to have a bit of trouble getting it all noted correctly. We sought the comfort of the shade provided by a large tree while we waited for our order to be completed. The small patio was shaded and although the direct sun was fierce, the shaded area would have made a comfortable place to eat the meal.

Our name was called and we carried the food to the car. Something didn’t seem right; perhaps the bag too small? Then it dawned on us. There two Cokes instead of one. We checked the bag. There were the three burgers, one onion rings and one Tater Tots, but no French Fries. Sister went back to the order window. The clerk was rude and told her she got what she ordered. He didn’t offer any apology for the mis-order or even offer to correct it. Rather than argue and make a scene and prolong our wait in the hot sun we took what we did have home.

Eagerly, we all gathered around the dining room table. The foil-wrapped burgers were not identified. We had to unwrap and pry open the sandwich to see who got what. The burgers are reminiscent of the roadside diners of a bygone era. Griddle cooked burger patties, the buns toasted on the back of the grill, and when assembled, a few moments under a dome on the grill to steam them. Perhaps it was just the foil wrap that didn’t allow the moisture to escape. The result is a slightly damp and wrinkled bun, cooked lettuce and the sandwich pretty much glued together. We doled out the sandwiches and put the onion rings and Tater Tots in the center of the table. Each hamburger came with a small Solo cup of dressing much like Thousand Island.

The appearance notwithstanding, the proof of the product is in the taste. As we ate our meal we traded words back and forth looking for just the right word to describe the hamburgers. The best we could come up with was just adequate. Not bad burgers but certainly nothing special. The quality of the burgers seems to have deteriorated over the years. They certainly were not what we remembered. The Tater Tots were just that - Tater Tots and the onion rings were the good
 kind made with rings of real onion, not the mashed, processed and formed kind. The serving size of the Tater Tots and onion rings was small for the price.

Not much further away in the opposite direction are a McDonalds and a Burger King. Their comparable burgers are much better than the Ross Park Drive In. Although you still have to check your order at the drive-thus, they will correct the order and, with a smile, bid you to come again. In summation, the local chain drive-thru restaurants offer a better product as well as better and kinder service. Perhaps one day Ross Park Drive In will turn around and upgrade their product and service to the way it once was. Unfortunately, we’ll never know because we won’t be back to see.

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Tuesday, June 19, 2012
  Olive Garden, Albuquerque, New Mexico
 
10500 Coors Blvd By-pass NW
Albuquerque, New Mexico 87114

The road trip, not yet over, had been long and sometimes arduous. The stopover at my son and daughter-in-law’s house in Rio Ranch, New Mexico was to be a welcome respite from the rigors of cross country travel. I had called a bit down the Interstate with my late evening arrival. They awaited my arrival and their dinner so we could all go out and have a bite to eat together. We were quickly off to the local Olive Garden. This was to be my first venture to an Olive Garden. I have seen their many television commercials and have wanted to sample their fare for quite awhile. I welcomed the opportunity to broaden my experience.

The menu offers much more than a selection of pastas and sauces. The main menu features a large varied selection of their standard fare including spaghetti and sauces. An insert offers their newer innovations. My daughter-in-law, Vickie, asked for the gluten free menu. The special menu is actually quite large and I was impressed at how large a selection of gluten free dishes the restaurant offered. I think Olive Garden should be lauded for providing such a large selection for special dietary needs. Eventually, though, she ordered from the standard menu and requested wine braised short ribs of beef with Portobello mushroom risotto, the sauce with the gluten on the side. My son, Larry, ordered spaghetti and meatballs with marinara sauce, light on the sauce. One can only judge a trattoria by is pasta so I ordered spaghetti with meatballs and meat sauce.

The entrees come with breadsticks and salad or soup. The breadsticks are excellent. They were a nice golden brown, hot from the oven and a nice firm bread texture inside. Vickie and I chose salad. The salad is served, family-style, in a bowl with tongs. It s a nice mixture of crisp lettuce greens, slices of red onion, some shredded carrot, tomato, pepperoncini and black pitted olives. The house Italian dressing is unobtrusive but adds to the flavor of the salad greens. Larry chose the minestrone soup. The soup is hearty with beans and vegetables, almost a meal in itself. The servers are all armed with cheese graters and fresh grated Parmesan cheese is added, as little or much as you like. The salad, soup and bread sticks were a nice beginning to dinner. Soup, salad and bread sticks are replenished almost automatically.

Vickie’s braised beef was a nicely served dish with four large pieces of braised beef arranged around the risotto. The risotto was creamy with large pieces of Portobello mushroom. I sampled a bit of the sauce on the side with a breadstick. Very tasty and I would seriously consider ordering the braised beef on a future visit to an Olive Garden. She was quite happy with her selection.

Larry’s spaghetti, meatballs and marinara sauce was served in a pasta bowl. An adequate serving of pasta, the sauce applied just enough to order, and it was topped with three large meatballs. Again, the server applied a generous portion of freshly grated Parmesan cheese. Of course the pasta was cooked perfectly al dente. The sauce was nicely seasoned, thick enough to cling to the pasta. The meatballs were savory with Italian-style spices. He enjoyed his spaghetti.

My spaghetti with meat sauce and meat balls was served in a similar manner. I had a nice topping of Parmesan cheese. The sauce is thick with ground beef and clings well to the pasta. The meat sauce is very tasty and would have been sufficient without the meatballs. However, since meatballs a rarity at home I was glad I went the extra mile to satisfy my curiosity. The pasta was cooked just right. The serving was ample, perhaps a bit more. After the salad, breadsticks and the entrée, I was very full. I enjoyed meal and was thoroughly satisfied with my selection. As a side note: the table setting is salad fork, dinner fork and butter knife. When the spaghetti dishes are served, there is a spoon tucked in the side of the bowl for us twirlers; a nice touch.

It was a late arrival at the restaurant but it was still very busy. It would seem that late evening dining is fashionable in the hot summer desert of New Mexico. We were quickly seated in a comfortable booth. Our server, Roxanne, was quickly there to offer menus and take our beverage orders. The restaurant was clean and tidy. In spite of the large number of patrons, the noise level was very low. Casual conversation across the dinner table was possible, seemingly a rarity in most other theme restaurants. That certainly is a big plus when considering another Olive Garden visit. Every one we encountered, the hostess and the server, were polite and friendly. Our server worked very hard to make sure everything was to our satisfaction in spite of some special requirements. A quite relaxing atmosphere, quick and courteous service, a lot of tasty food, and quite dinner conversation with family made for a most enjoyable evening.

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