Sunday, January 4, 2015

Marshall Hall of Fame Cafe

First off, thanks everyone for your restaurant suggestions. We're currently up to 41 locations (which I have a feeling will change before I can finish this article). Secondly, thanks for all the support! I've had several people make a point to tell me that they believe this is a great idea and I just wanted to say "thanks!"

Today I had hoped to review Cam's Ham. To me, the ham sandwich is one of the staples of the American lunch, even more so than a hamburger. When it's a hot day out and you've been mowing grass, cleaning house or whatever your daily tasks include, what's one of your go-to easy lunch options? A ham sandwich. I've spent time helping build a house and we all ate ham sandwiches for lunch. It is the American lunch. Period. This is why I was immensely disappointed when I pulled up to Cam's Ham on 1st Street and saw all the lights off. A small part of me was crushed. I've been to Cam's only once before and was let down to find them closed on Sundays.

This sparked at least 5 minutes of deep thought as I realized that many of the places on my list are indeed closed today. River and Rail Bakery, Central City Cafe, Midway West Drive-In; all closed. Finally I decided upon a place I've only been to once. The Marshall Hall of Fame Cafe.
As I walked past the windows, I could clearly see they were open. The place was packed! I'd completely forgotten about the Sunday-after-church crowd.

Knowing that I had plenty of time, I decided to go ahead and have lunch there despite them being busy.

As you walk in you're greeted by a huge Marshall themed stained glass picture. As busy as they were, there was no line and I only had to wait about 45 seconds for a table. The girl working greeter was very polite and instantly set to work finding me a seat. After I sat down, it may have been a solid minute before my server came to inquire about my drink. I was slightly shocked. They were fairly packed and yet I wasn't having to wait long at all. She returned with my drink, sat down in the seat across from me and began asking about my order. I started off with the Loaded Potato Skins. She went to put my order in and as I waited I took in the atmosphere. It was very cozy. For a packed restaurant, I didn't feel cramped, crowded or uncomfortable at all. As expected, everywhere you look you see something dedicated to Marshall. From the giant mural on the back wall depicting players, students and the Memorial Water Fountain, to the Walk of Fame showcasing trophies, pictures and memories dedicated to the school, team, and 1970 plane crash.

The ceiling looks as if it was once an elegant tile ceiling that may have been accented with gold or copper colors. Now it is all covered in a dark shade of green that encompasses the entire ceiling, duct work and sprinklers. As dark and plain as the ceiling is, it fits the over all theme exceptionally well and doesn't affect the lighting in a negative way. It definitely fits the theme better than the gold or copper colors would have.

I'll venture to say that the wait staff was exceptional. The very second  my drink was empty, my server was replacing it with a full one. She made a point to stop and give me a status update on my meal as it was being prepared and my second refill came before my drink was even half empty. They were constantly running to and fro, yet I also felt as if I were her only customer. At the same time, she wasn't constantly hounding me to see if I needed anything. Overall I give the service and atmosphere a solid 10 out of 10. In my honest opinion, and considering how busy the place was, they couldn't have done a better job. And the atmosphere is very welcoming and comfortable. Despite all the memorabilia, it didn't scream "Marshall student's hangout only." It was more of a tribute.

I narrowed my main dish to two options. Either the Hall of Fame Cheeseburger or the Jamaican Jerk Chicken Sandwich. It all depended upon the cheeseburger; if the beef came preformed and frozen, I wasn't going to give it a chance. When my server returned to get the rest of my order, I asked if the beef was preformed-frozen or if they spiced and pattied them out there. She assured me that they were formed and seasoned in house. That settled it, Hall of Fame Cheeseburger wins! The sandwich is a custom build so I ordered it medium well with pepper jack cheese, lettuce and onions.

The burger was served on a toasted bun. However it was soft, not crunchy and toasted to a crisp like a sandwich from Subway. The meat was spiced very well; not too salty and not over cooked. This pleased me greatly. The toppings were fresh and crisp, not like the wilted lettuce you get on a Burger King sandwich. The portion was vast; that is to say, I left with a full belly and a to-go box containing fries and half the burger. My only quarrel with the meal was the fries. Advertised as "seasoned fries," from my observation they were seasoned with nothing more than table salt. I was expecting some Cajun spices in the least. That said, I still enjoyed them and they complimented the burger just fine. On the topic of food, I give them a 9 out of 10. Everything tasted great and the only reason I am docking a point is because I felt the fries weren't what was advertised. Granted I didn't feel as if I were eating something from a bag of Ore-Ida, but I was expecting something seasoned with more than just salt.

On the whole, I give Marshall Hall of Fame Cafe a 9.5 out of 10. While it was a little on the pricier side in my opinion (right at $20 for appetizer, burger, fries and drink), I would gladly recommend this place to friend and if I lived in Huntington I would definitely add it to my list of weekly places to pick up dinner.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

The List

The restaurants in the Tristate area that I want to and will eat at and then review my experience and the food on this blog. The list will be ever changing as I remove and add establishments. The numbering is only to list, not to denote any particular order, preference or rating. Feel free to make suggestions to the list as you please.

West Virginia:
  1. Black Sheep Burrito & Brews
  2. Schlotzsky's Deli
  3. Marshall Hall of Fame Cafe
  4. Hillbilly Hotdogs
  5. Cam's Hams
  6. Nawab Indian Cuisine 
  7. Jewel City Seafood 
  8. Jim's Steak & Spaghetti House
  9. Hibachi Japanese Steak House
  10. Shoney's (I realize it's sort of a chain, but there's so few left that I can't leave it out.)
  11. Le Bistro
  12. River and Rail Bakery
  13. Midway West Drive-In
  14. Uno Pizzeria & Grill (By request of a friend.)
  15. Buddy's All American Bar-B-Que
  16. G D Ritzy's
  17. Stewart's Original Hotdogs
  18. Margaritas (at the formerly Chili Willi's location.)
  19. Rocco's Little Italy
  20. Central City Cafe
  21. Christopher's Eats
  22. Tascali's Decades Pasta & Grill
  23. Cook Out
  24. La Famiglia

  1. Chimney Corner Cafe
  2. Fiesta Bravo
  3. Bella Fonte Italian Restaurant 
  4. La Finca Mexican Restaurant
  5. The Lamp Post Cafe
  6. J J Restaurant (Route 60)
  7. Crisp's Dairy Treat
  8. Callihan's American Pub and Grill
  9. Shogun Japanse Steakhouse
  10. Rosie's Diner
  11. Smokey Valley Truck Stop

  1. Melini Cucina Italian Restaurant
  2. Peddlers Home Cooking
  3. The Endzone
  4. Frog Town USA
  5. Scioto Ribber
  6. Fred's Pizza
  7. Big Boy 
  8. Casa Grande
I realize that some of these are bars and/or chains. If it's a chain, it's either a local chain or the only one of that franchise in the area. If it is a bar, it also serves food and has a particular staple. (Ex: Frog Town has frog legs.)

Friday, January 2, 2015

First Time Experience: Schlotzsky's, 4th Avenue, Huntington, WV

I am a sandwich aficionado. I love them. The simplicity. The mobility. The dynamics between toppings and choices; it's endless and what makes the sandwich one of the most eaten foods of this world. Every culture has it.
Recently, I've decided to embark on a mission to try all the local eateries of my home area and may even branch out beyond that once I'm done in the tri-state, who knows? Let's see where it goes.

My most recent new experience was with Schlotzsky's on Fourth Avenue in Huntington, WV. It's located in the bottom of one of the few high-rises in downtown; right in the middle of the hustle and bustle. Parking through here was a pain and once I did find a suitable spot, I spent a good ten minutes pillaging my car in hopes of finding a few quarters to pay the meter. However, I can't hold this against the restaurant. This is a Huntington issue, parking in town is just horrible. Yet, I shouldn't complain because I'm positive that it is nowhere as nearly as bad as some major cities.

Moving on... I walked about half a block to Schlotzsky's, which wasn't horrible in itself. I passed several little shops and you get a real genuine feel of being in a big town, but anyone who knows Huntington or the area will know immediately that this isn't the case.

Upon first entering the restaurant, I was caught off guard. I went into this entire venture knowing 3 things.

  1. This was a sandwich deli.
  2. I had wanted to try this place for a long time.
  3. I was hungry.
The entry and counter was in a larger area than I'd anticipated, and the dining area was in almost another room entirely. I realize this is purely aesthetics, but it was a bit of a turn off for me so to speak. I don't like the idea of a huge open dining area and especially in another room. However, this wasn't an issue for me as I'd intended to get my food to go. I approached the counter and began looking at the menu. Having never been there before, I needed to explore my options. A young woman at the counter inquired to my order and I told her that I needed just a bit. She began another task and as I looked over the menu, a man who I can only presume to be the manager asked if he could help me. I informed him too that I'd need a bit. Now, this next bit could be just my own poor first impressions of people, but I felt almost as if he was rushing me. Not that he was rude, or angry. Just rather that I was wasting his time by having to think my order over thoroughly. Now let me clarify- I understand impatience with customers who take too long to order. Everyone hates getting behind that one person at KFC who acts like the menu is a rocket science manual. However, this was a completely new place to me. In any case, I made up my mind and ordered the Angus Pastrami and Swiss. Now normally I do not like rye bread. The flavor is too dark for my palate. However, this being a new place, I was willing to give it a go. While waiting on my food, I struck up a small conversation with a fellow who too was waiting on his food. He'd ordered after me, and thus his number was the order after mine- Logical common sense. We chatted and then my number was called. Just as I grabbed my bag and headed for the door, I was stopped. The wrong number had been called. This was the man I was chatting with's order, not mine. Apparently, they needed to slice more pastrami for my order and had made his first and mistakenly called my number. The man who'd taken my order apologized a few times and explained thoroughly. Just to clarify, I'm generally a very understanding person in cases like this and this instance didn't and still doesn't upset me in the least. My only opposing thought is "they couldn't slice my pastrami then make his order?" However, as I said, it doesn't particularly bother me in the least. A few minutes later, I got my food and left.

On the topics of location, ordering/waiting experience: I give Schlotzsky's an 8 out of 10. As mentioned before, parking isn't something I can hold against them. However, the general environment inside wasn't to my personal liking. It could have felt cozier in my opinion. Service was good, despite the slight feeling of being rushed and he did apologize profusely after the mistake.

As for the food, I enjoyed the sandwich. Though I wasn't overly impressed. The portion size was perfect. A huge sandwich, cut in two. I had a coke and the sandwich and was definitely full after the meal. The meat/cheese/mustard ratio was slightly off. There was plenty of meat. I love a big meaty sandwich; it's the base for the whole thing. So really I should say the cheese and mustard ratios were off. The mustard had a great flavor, but there was so much of it that it over powered the flavor of the swiss. My personal opinion is that the mustard is there to moisten the sandwich and provide a back flavor; it's there to enhance. I could barely taste the cheese, which to me is the next most important element behind the meat. Overall, this was tolerable and still enjoyable. What really got me was the bread. It had a dark rye bun that really just didn't suit me. As I said before, I'm not normally a fan of rye and this toasted, crispy bun just wasn't my cup of tea. It worked well for holding the components together, but the rye flavor was almost just as over powering as the mustard. To me, the bread must compliment the meat, cheese and other toppings.

On the food itself: I give it a 6 out of 10. It was by definition a good sandwich. I ate the entire thing and felt satisfied afterward. However, the ratios being off and the rye were turn offs for me. Would I eat it again? Probably yes, though I'd ask to get it on something other than rye.

Schlotzsky's as a whole receives a 7 out of 10 from me. Will I go back? Quite possibly. It's a good place, with good food. I say good because it's just that- good. If I'm having the most amazing day of my life, I wouldn't go there for the most amazing lunch to compliment it. But I would go there for lunch on a good day. It wasn't spectacular, fantastic or out of this world; it was good. And no matter how you look at it, good is still good.