Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Peppermill Diner & Bar - Colley Avenue - Norfolk, VA

The Peppermill Diner and Bar Sign
Laine and I have a growing list of ‘off the block’ places we need to visit (translation, outside of downtown Norfolk). A few weeks ago, I received an email from Press 626 letting its patrons know that they opened a new restaurant, the Peppermill Diner & Bar, situated in the former Retro Diner on Colley Avenue near Colonial Place. Last week, we decided we needed ‘out’ and that Peppermill’s menu and Facebook page warranted us getting in the car. It took no time to get to the diner, located near the intersection of Colley Avenue and 42nd Street.  The Peppermill Diner and Bar Ceiling
We arrived and were happy to see the fun tin ceiling we had noticed in the Facebook photos of Peppermill. Black and white checkerboard floors gave it the diner feel as did the small tables and bar. We were seated immediately and began to peruse the large menu. Peppermill serves breakfast all day, but they also have salads, burgers, sandwiches, some larger entrees and alcohol. They even have happy hour!
Peppermill hails their chicken and waffles and their vegan options. I had spotted the Fried Zucchini Lasagna a few days prior and while a few other items, such as the Red Organic Quinoa Salad and a vegetarian version of a club sandwich, caught my eye, I stuck with my original choice. I also saw Peppermill has tator tots and if you know me, you know I have much love for the tots. The options were plain, cheddar-topped or ‘fancy’, this variety was doused with truffle oil and Parmesan cheese. I saw the price and thought it was a little steep, but Laine and I had to try the truffle oil version and while they were good, they are not worth $6.50. The Peppermill Diner and Bar Tater Tots
I would say $4 is more reasonable for the fancy and around $3 for the cheddar. They are tots, after all. My lasagna was enormous for $11.99. The price was very fair for the dish and I enjoyed it. Two large sections, if you will, lay atop a plate of marinara sauce. The lasagna noodles were filled with zucchini and ricotta, rolled up and fried. When the dish arrived, it almost reminded me of a calzone in appearance. I was pleased with my choice and would order it again. I definitely had leftovers, which were packed in recycle-friendly containers (a plus!).
The Peppermill Diner and Bar Lasagna

It was Friday and we were somewhere new, so that meant a dessert sampling was in order. There were only a few choices, one of which was a brownie sundae with strawberries and blueberries. Sounded good, let us have one. When the brownie arrived, it was indeed a sundae, two brownies, topped with vanilla ice cream, whipped cream and chocolate and caramel sauce. There was only one strawberry and maybe five to six blueberries. Laine and I both thought there would be more fruit to it. The brownies tasted fine, but they were very thin. We both agreed brownies should be thick and that more fruit would have made this dessert somewhat worth its cost of $5.99. The whipped cream was from a can, another reason this item should have cost about $4. If you have ever tried the Blondie Tower brownie sundae at No Frill Grill, you can feel my pain. Frill’s version has two large scoops of chocolate or vanilla ice cream stacked between two large, THICK, blond brownies, drizzled with caramel sauce and a hefty side of whipped cream. A few strawberries and chocolate sticks, usually two white and two chocolate, decorate this beauty. Yes, it is $7, but it is worth its weight in decadence. I have also had this prepared with two giant chocolate chip cookies - the blondies are better BUT it is still great. It ‘towers’ (get it), over Peppermill’s version and let’s be honest, it is not difficult to make a brownie sundae awesome.

The gentleman, who we think is the manager, was very friendly and checked on us a few times. I enjoyed hearing about his time living in San Francisco. Our waitress was nice, if a little distant, but the food seemed to take a long time. My entree might have been the culprit since it was more labor intensive than Laine’s, but even the tots and the brownie seemed to take too long to arrive. Peppermill is cute and I will definitely try it again, but I might avoid ordering the couture tots and dessert. I would like to try one of the breakfast items or a sandwich the next go round.

There are a couple of "Yelpers" out there that I follow. After reading a couple of good reviews, I became interested in The Peppermill Diner & Bar. What is it about a diner? Growing up, we lived close to the famous (Newport News famous anyway) Blue Star diner. It was of course, blue, and kind of looked like a trailer. Any normal American kid would beg to eat there. My parents, unfortunately, were not equally intrigued. When I finally dined there in later years I discovered that my parents were right about the Blue Star (and many other things). It was simply okay, if not a little dirty and ragged about the edges.
The Peppermill Diner and Bar Interior

The Peppermill appears unassuming from the road. It is a rather boring square building painted a maroon vairety of red. The interior has more flare, with a funky mis-match of chairs, and decor. There is a nice glass divider separating the bar area from the dining section. Real chairs with arms were a nice surprise. This is no ragged diner. Someone put thought into the design.

The menu is large, and it took me a while to get through it. When there are so many options, the decision process slows down for me. I knew I wanted eggs, but was torn between an omlete, curried egg salad on wheat or Eggs Benedict. I discussed my dilema with Alex, and decided upon the Spinach and Tomato Eggs Benedict. While waiting for our entrees, I helped Alex with the tots. They were good (I've never really had a bad tot), but they were not ground breaking.
The Peppermill Diner and Bar Spinach and Tomato Eggs Benedict

When my eggs arrived I experienced an initial feeling of regret. I knew I had ordered poorly. The eggs did not look appetizing to me. As I took my first bite, this feeling deepened. The bread was slightly burnt on the bottom. Our server offered to replace the meal for me, but I already knew I didn't care for the bread itself and declined. I have since learned it was brioche, which is actually considered a french pastry, not bread. Regardless, I did not like it in this combination. Next, the spinach. It tasted bitter. The grilled tomato was lackluster. The hollandaise was bland and a bit thin in consistency. The grits, in my opinion, were bad. They had a thick consistency. You could stick your fork in them and it stood straight up. Yes, I tested this. They used some seasoning which neither Alex nor I could determine, but agreed they didn't have the usual grits flavor. Lastly, they were a bit salty. Darn. I ate my poached eggs and suffered through the spinach. When the waitress removed my nearly full plate, she made no comment on it.
The Peppermill Diner and Bar Brownie Sundae

Having plenty of room for dessert, I glady helped Alex with her brownie sundae. It should be renamed the "15 Minute Brownie Sundae". The actual brownie was in a couple of pieces which were about 1/2 inch thick and very fudgelike. The fruit was minimal, there was one scoop of vanilla icecream and the whipped cream was fake. I can live with fake whipped cream. I DO live with it actually, and I expect it at Dairy Queen or McDonalds too. At Peppermill it didn't sink the brownie ship per se, but it certainly didn't enhance the item either.
The Peppermill Diner and Bar Brownie Sundae with Fruit

This meal stuck with me all day. Literally. I will return someday and give some other menu items a try, but right now I just need some space.


Peppermill Diner & Bar
4110 Colley Avenue
Norfolk, VA
Peppermill Diner & Bar on Urbanspoon

The Jewish Mother Backstage - Granby Street - Norfolk, VA

This is one of those reviews I keep putting off and putting off. Ever since I heard back in the fall of 2010 that The Jewish Mother was replacing the horrible Kelly's that previously occupied the backstage locale, I was excited. I have been a Jewish Mother fan since the..., well, let's just say a long time! Favorite sandwich? Mother's Mother! Favorite late night nosh? Crepes!
I was really looking forward to having them within walking distance from work.

We now return to our previously scheduled reality. They are not what they used to be. The Mother's Mother, my former love, no longer has "real avocado". Instead they have replaced it with what I like to call Wholly Quacamole. You know what I mean? That fake avocado spead. Let the sobbing begin. So, I no longer order it. We are offically broken up forever. Time to move on....
The Jewish Mother Backstage dish Nachos

On a recent Friday Alex and I ventured out for lunch. We went out of our box by ordering the Jewish Mother Nachos, Latkes, and Hush Puppies (Alex's last minute addition). Our server was very good, and the food arrived rather quickly. As usual we dug in, forgeting about our "job" to photograph the food. We do this frequently, as we have hearty appetites! Intestingly enough,the nachos were hollow. As in, nothing in the middle. I immediately renamed them the Hollow Nacho, which I thought was hilarious. (Alex not so much). They tasted just okay. Cheddar is not a great melting cheese. It becomes oily when cooked and hardens quickly when it cools. A good nacho requirement is melted cheese that separates as you pull apart the tortillas chips. When the cheese is hard, the chips break apart and you cannot get a serving.

I like their Latkes. They are consistently good, and we have order them at least 3 times now. They are crispy on the outside and nicely seasoned, served with applesauce and sour cream. I like mine straight up.

The Hush Puppy is a misnomer at the Jewish Mother. These taste nothing like a traditional cornmeal Hush Puppy. They are large and round, with a soft batter-like inside and a crispy dark outside. The taste is definitely sweet. I realize that Hush Puppies are never considered a "light" menu item, but these sat in my stomach like a rock for the remainder of the day. At 8PM that evening I still regreted eating them.
The Jewish Mother Backstage dish Latkes

Lastly, the desserts. This is the BEST part of the Jewish Mother menu. Don't bother reading the menu either. Get up out of your seat and walk over to the showcase. These cakes need to be seen to be fully appreciated. Alex and I will stand in awe, like kids in a candy store, trying to decide which one tempts us the most. Typically, we cannot chose just one, and either buy a couple to share, or buy some to take home. No self control! On this day we chose the Lemon Berry cake, and the Four Layer Chocolate. I thought the Lemon Berry was exceptional. After eating all that heavy food, it was light with just the right amount of sweet. Oh yes, Alex and I always have room for dessert!

I would be remiss if I failed to mention that the Jewish Mother is pricey. A lot of folks in my office won't go there because of this. Most sandwich and burger options start at $9.99, which is putting them in the $15+ lunch category when you add a drink, taxes and tip. As Alex also mentions, this is the Backstage for the Norva. I appreciate the ease with which you can get Norva tickets, and it keeps me from having to experience the bureaucracy and price gouging fees of Ticketmaster, LiveNation, etc. Don't get me started on these guys... Lastly, the Jewish Mother recently opened a new Hilltop location which also features live music. I have driven past the brightly painted building, but haven't paid a visit yet. There is some brouhaha over the ownership of The Jewish Mother which has resulted in a lawsuit you can read about here.

I remember going to the Jewish Mother at the Oceanfront when I was in high school and during summer college breaks. It was always a fun place that showcased decent bands. The rumor started that the Mother was moving to downtown Norfolk and Laine and I were excited to have a new, old place to add to our lunch list. The Mother did not change much of what used to be Backstage Cafe/Kelly’s, but they did bring their enormous menu, which includes all day breakfast, tons of sandwiches, a few salads, appetizers and a plethora of delicious desserts.

For our first visit, I decided the Mamma Ada Avocado Muenster burger would be great with a veggie burger. I was glad when it came out like it did but the burger was not a veggie burger, but rather a large portabella mushroom, topped with avocado spread and muenster. I love portabellas, but not everyone does and then menu should let customers know that the veggie burger is in fact a big shroom. As I mentioned, the avocado is a spread, not slices, so it was a bit of a slippery sandwich. I did enjoy it, as well as the cole slaw I chose for my side.

For our next visit, I decided I had to try the Pita Pan, peanut butter, honey, bananas and raisins. I swapped the pita for wheat bread and nixed the bananas, being that I despise this fruit more than one can imagine (I cannot even smell a banana without gagging). The sandwich was exactly as described, but the bread was definitely pre-sliced loaf bread, of which I am not a fan. Bread can make or break a sandwich and this bread took the sandwich down a few notches. Jewish Mother’s potato salad is great though, so not all was lost. Our guest ordered Laura’s De”light”ful Wrap, with hummus, lettuce, tomato, sprouts, black olives, cucumbers and cheddar cheese. He was not impressed by the wrap but did like the potato salad. This visit we decided to try some of the homemade desserts that look pretty killer in the cases. One slice each of the Red Velvet and Florida Sunshine cakes. Both were fantastic, particularly the Florida Sunshine. It reminds me of an orange cake Laine’s friend had at a party we attended. Lights, summery and delicious.
On the third visit, I decided to try the Pita Pan again, but give it a go on the actual pita. Thinking this would make the sandwich better, I was dead wrong. The pita was definitely store bought and SMALL and dry. The lame wheat bread was better! A different guest of ours ordered Laura’s De”light”ful Wrap, with hummus, lettuce, tomato, sprouts, black olives, cucumbers and cheddar cheese and she received the wrap better and was pleased. We also ordered Mama Rachel’s Potato Latkes and they were divine. Always a favorite, latkes are potato pancake that is fried and the Mother serves them with applesauce and sour cream. If you have never had a latke, you must try one. Trader Joe’s does sell a version and honestly, they are not too bad for frozen.

On yet another visit, I decided to tempt danger and order a salad. BAD move. The You Asked for It - You Got It! salad with spinach, pecans, sprouts, chopped eggs and marinated vegetables seemed like a good idea, but I just do not think the Mother is a salad kind of place. The marinated vegetables were carrots and who knows what else diced up so small that you could hardly determine the vegetables’ identities and the marinade tasted like plain vinegar. For $11, this was lame at best. I was bugged big time. Boo on bad lunches.
The Jewish Mother Backstage dish Hush Puppies

Finally, another Friday arrived and I realized I had an online deal to use at Jewish Mother. Laine and I lost our minds and ordered Hush Puppies, the Latkes and the Jewish Mother Nachos. The puppies were like rocks (improvement needed there), the latkes were good as usual and the nachos were not bad. They had enough cheese but could have used more vegetables (I know you have olives!). If that was not enough (and it wasn’t to use our online deal), we ordered a slice of the Lemon Berry Cake and a slice of the Four Layer Chocolate Cake. The chocolate cake was good (chocolate cake - not a novel idea there), but the berry was superb and our favorite of the two. We clenched our hearts as we left and hoped we would avoid any afternoon cardiac arrest episodes back at the office.

Service on all occasions was always decent. The first time or two, things moved a little slowly, but the last few we were able to get there, eat and get back to work within an hour. I am not in a huge rush to hit the Mother again soon (my heart is still recovering), but I also appreciate that they are in Norfolk and they give downtowners another lunch option. Plus, if you are hitting a show at The Norva, you can grab something beforehand. I could see myself grabbing a dessert here and there from them because the desserts are one of their specialities and have always been worthy. Look at the case when you visit - the size of the eclair will amaze you. A last pro of the Mother is they sell Norva tickets at the bar for the same $2 fee the box office charges. You do not have to try to time when the box office is open (a mystery) and more importantly, you can avoid Ticketmaster and their outrageous fees, which Laine and I are still trying to understand.


The Jewish Mother Backstage
320 Granby Street
Norfolk VA 23510

The Jewish Mother Backstage on Urbanspoon

Monday, June 20, 2011

Sonoma Wine Bar & Bistro, Virginia Beach, VA

Sonoma Wine Bar and Bistro Logo
I would classify Sonoma as a nice chain and even still, I am rarely a fan of chains. Fortunately, there is only one Sonoma in the Tidewater/Hampton Roads area, but any chain seems so...staged to me. The decor, the menu, the whole experience. Groupon and Living Social ran deals for Sonoma and the ‘deal devil’ got the best of me and I bought both. Sonoma is not in my hood, so it takes a little effort to make it out to Town Center. Weekday lunch was not an option because Laine and I can not make it there, eat and return to work in a reasonable time, so I had to settle on Saturday lunch. Fortunately, Sonoma let me use both of the deals during lunch, which made things slightly easier since I really do not want to drive there for dinner when I have decent restaurants close to my home.

For the first round, Chas* and I journeyed to Town Center one Saturday and had a marginally good meal. Well, his was good, mine was marginal. We started with the French Toast, which was fine, but nothing newsworthy and I forgot to ask them to put the bananas on the side and I picked them off but could still taste them. I have an aversion, which I have mentioned in other posts. Chas ordered the Egg in a Bed which was two buttered, toasted pieces of sourdough with an egg buried in each, accompanied by a lovely mixed greens salad with a light vinaigrette. I ordered the Crab Benedict sans the crab. Of course, I was charged the same, which makes no sense, but we had the deal, so I was not sweating it. Mine was lukewarm and hollandaise should never be less than very warm. I should have sent it back, but did not and regretted it. I ended up eating most of Chas’ salad, some of my eggs and homefries and I did not even order dessert! My meal was such a letdown, it ruined my appetite. One deal coupon down and one to go, but I needed some time to recover.

Sonoma Wine Bar and Bistro interior

As the deal expiration date for that second deal closed in, I realized I needed to drag Nikki* to Sonoma to use it. Waiting until the eleventh hour, we made our way to Sonoma the Saturday before the expiration date. This time, I was set on ordering the Egg in a Bed since I had meal envy the entire meal of my last visit. I was pleased - I had the whole salad to myself and this egg and sourdough combination was perfect and what I had wanted. Unfortunately, Nikki was in my shoes this meal. She ordered the Crab Cake over a wasabi sauce, daikon radish and carrot medley. She was not too impressed with her dish. I sampled the vegetables and they had some serious wasabi heat. I like really spicy food, but wasabi has its own levels of intensity and honestly even though I just tasted the vegetables, I got a hint of the crab and it tasted very crabby, not like good jumbo lump crab meat. I was in a better mood about my entree, so I voted on a dessert, the Butterscotch Bread Pudding with Chocolate Ganache, Coffee Gelato, Magic Shell, and Bruleed Bananas , except NO bananas. This dessert was amazing and it should have been because it was not very big, but still $8. It was my favorite thing at Sonoma.

Service was great the first time, but the second time, Nikki and I had the waiter who did not even let you finish asking a question before he cut you off abruptly and scurried off to the kitchen. We were one of two tables dining at the time, so I’m not sure where he was running to, but apparently, he did not feel the need to stay one extra second than he felt was needed. It became annoying at best.
Today, I saw a new Groupon for Sonoma, but passed. I think I have had enough of them for a good while, maybe even forever. Sonoma had a few high points, but I should stick to avoiding chains of any kind, since I am never happy with them.


Sonoma Wine Bar & Bistro
The Town Center at Virginia Beach
189 Central Park Avenue
Virginia Beach, VA 23462

Sonoma Wine Bar & Bistro on Urbanspoon