Archive for August, 2009

Sky High at the Garden

Monday, August 17th, 2009

Location: The Olive Garden, 83 City Line Avenue, Bala Cynwyd, PA

Cost of the Meal: $38

Hippie Male Waiters named “Sky”: 1

The Olive Garden is one of those love-it or hate-it chains, where the breadsticks are plentiful and the house wine free…sometimes. Luckily, this was one of those occasions. Okay, maybe it was only a sip of gratis libation, but who passes up free liquor (except Cook Chris)? This was my second trip to the place, believe it or not, and while I still prefer Maggiano’s or Bertucci’s as my Italian-chain-restaurant-of-dubious-authenticity, The Garden hasn’t done me wrong yet.

Dining at 5:00 or so on a sunny Saturday, my date and I arrived to a fairly empty house, yet were still seated next to a gigantic family of screaming kids who set off emergency alarms (okay, maybe just one, and it was silent, but still..). Our waiter was a tall, long-haired fellow, named Sky (I had to read his nametag to make sure I’d heard him right), whom I like to imagine had just smoked a bowl of peyote before coming to serve us. He pour our complimentary house wine, a blush, fruity zinfandel, which was pretty good. I guess (It tasted exactly like the last wine I had). Water was not brought out to us automatically, which is a no-no, especially if he wasn’t stoned.

Come time to order, the Lady had the Shrimp and Asparagus Risotto and a peach iced tea, while I ordered the Chicken and Shrimp Carbonara and a raspberry lemonade. Our house salad and breadsticks were brought out promptly, though the ‘sticks were a little tough. The Lady barely touched the ‘sticks, though she had raved about them beforehand, so maybe we received a bad batch. The variety (not to mention the fresh olive oil) served at Maggiano’s trumps this, in my mind.  The salad had way too few olives, but otherwise was fresh and tasty.

Our entrees arrived in a fair amount of time for such a sparsely populated place, and were the highlight of the meal. The risotto was more than satisfactory, the creamy parmesan sauce adding flavor to both the prawns and green stalks of veggie. Or so I must assume, since I forgot to get an opinion on the Lady’s meal (I hadn’t brought my camera, so I wasn’t planning on writing up a review. Being the gentleman I am, I should’ve asked what she thought anyway). The shrimp were well prepared and cooked, in both the risotto and my carbonara.

The Chicken and Shrimp Carbonara was a taste sensation, I must admit. Tender shrimp and chicken, noodles that were to the muthaf’in teeth, and a creamy sauce flavored with bacon (which was a surprise to me since I stopped reading the description after I saw the words ‘shrimp’ ‘chicken’ and ‘parmesan’). The chicken was surprisingly juicy and flavorful, and meshed well with the seafood, bacon, and cheese it sat alongside. It was like a party of taste, and everyone was invited, except for me who had to pay a $16 cover charge.

When it’s all said said and done (we skipped dessert), the damage was contained to 38 dollars. A good value for good food and a kind, prompt waiter….who smelled of patchouli.

3.5 out of 5 Shef’s Spatulas

Devil’s Food

Saturday, August 1st, 2009

Location: 1907 Chestnut St.

Typical Brunch entree price: $5.95 – $12.95

Eye Opener Mixed Drinks: $7 -$10

It’s your boy, Al à la Carte here stepping in with my debut post. I need no further introduction than for you to know that I am that guy. So let’s get into this thing man.

The scene is Devil’s Alley. Red and black decor is punctuated with depictions of every sort of devil you can imagine, cartoony, realistic, even reverse-anthropomorphized, all are represented if you look hard enough. The players are dressed in black and move between two floors of seating which creates a half bar, half restaurant atmosphere. This theme of being on both sides of the fence will permeate through any patron’s experience here. The net result being that the place tends to spread itself a little thin, delivering just enough of each experience to be adequate. We’re here to experience the restaurant side however, Sunday brunch being very conducive to the tagline of the place: “Sinfully good comfort food…”

Satan is also watching you pee.
This is the bathroom, where Satan also watches you pee.

I was accompanied by a mid 20’s female for the occasion. We will call her MuMu. She takes pride in the act of eating things that are not animals. I had heard of this sort of behavior before but had never really seen it in action to be honest. Lettuce, carrots and things of that nature are used as decoration in my world, a way to bring further color to what is usually just a brown and red meal. Garnish being the centerpiece of a dish? My mind reeled at the thought.

As we entered the restaurant we were greeted by an over eager young man who gave us the choice of sitting above or at ground level. I chose above to gain a better idea of the venue. Once seated, we ordered quickly: A Veggie Burger with fries and water for her, Salmon BLT on whole wheat with fries and a lemonade for me.

Being a sort of lemonade connoisseur I have to say that the beverage I received was well above average. It was certainly made by an unloving, unattended machine but had the distinctive texture of having actual lemon juice in it. A feat that is, unfortunately, not matched by most establishments. The water MuMu received came in a glass but was filtered, Schuylkill Punch fans look elsewhere for your fix.

The food came out quickly. Too quickly. Disaster struck as my companion noticed she was given the Veggie Sandwich and not the Veggie Burger she had ordered! Who knew eating plants was so nuanced? The gaff was corrected quickly enough, so I didn’t have to feel too guilty about eating while she watched.


The BLT is a simple sandwich, but toss in Salmon and it becomes a battle between meat for top billing. The Salmon was well done, slightly burnt on the edges and also a little on the dry side but the juices from the bacon made up for it and the sandwich was tasty enough overall to win my vote of approval. The fries were nothing special, cooked well, a few burnt. Your standard affair, potato skin on.

Ain’t no meat on that plate.

MuMu reacted quite well to the Veggie Burger. The patty looked like a mish-mashed thing-a-mob with random vegetables poking out of its orifice. My companion took it in stride so I assumed it was quite normal. After only a few minutes it was reduced to mere crumbs. Devil’s Alley is therefore herbivore approved.

In all, the visit was positive and the food was cheap. Be sure to add Devil’s Alley to your list if you’re looking for a no frills brunch while Satan watches you eat.