Jay Fox's Dining Guide

FOX: BACK IN THE SADDLE AGAIN

“A gourmet who thinks of calories is like a tart who looks at her watch.” — James Beard

BEEN OUTTA TOWN for a coupla weeks. I returned to 579 emails and 122 voice messages. It took a while to recuperate from the vacation/business trip I took to Chicago and now back to the scribing business.

The National Restaurant Show (NRA) was not as informative or as much fun as it had been in past years but that’s a sign of the times. The economy has taken its toll. Many major vendors no-showed this year cuz costs of travel, cost of the show itself, and methinks a lack of understanding of the power and reach of advertising. I don’t know how anyone can really measure the value of advertising. You just don’t know who saw your ad or in this case your product at the Show, and will remember it two months or maybe two years later and purchase your product. But hey, these are the Big Guns and they know everything. It did seem that vendors were selling more goods than at the past few shows. The Monday crowd, the best buying day, seemed busier than in recent years.

All the restaurants I chose to dine at in Chicago were disappointing. But the stops en route brought new experiences and made the long drive worthwhile.

Part of the problem was that I was a sole diner in very busy, high-end eateries, and I gotta tellya, as much as management assures me that service will be just as good it wasn’t and it ain’t ever gonna to be. A new rule. Never ever dine in an upscale restaurant by yourself, unless you are prepared to have lousy service or maybe be your own waiter. Hadn’t thought about the latter, but perhaps that’s the answer. I’ll just bring an apron and wait on myself. I could even do a few dishes.

Chicago is known for its steaks and I chose three very high-end steak houses and one (primarily) seafood and steak house. I’m not going to divulge the names of the restaurants today cuz I plan on returning to most of them in August with G and our two eldest granddaughters, Emma and Harper. I’ll reserv judgment until then.

Service at all four restaurants sucked. I was a sole diner leaving a reasonable gratuity, but that was for one-person and not what the waiter was accustomed to. At the seafood restaurant I never saw the waiter except when he took my order. Someone else brought the food, filled my water glass, and brought me dessert and the bill. At one restaurant service was sooo bad I left a two buck tip. I didn’t want the waiter to think I forgot. Which reminds me of the time many years ago when the standard gratuity was 15 percent. I had lunch with my boss at a very upscale eatery in Cherry Hills, N.J. Service was mediocre, so I left what I thought to be a reasonable gratuity, $4 on a $40 tab. The waiter literally chased me down the aisle, and told me, “I believe you made a mistake, sir.” He stood there, with four one dollar bills fanned in his hand. “You’re quite correct.” I replied, and snatched the four ones and walked out the door. My boss’s jaw dropped six feet.

My first stop eastbound was at Ole’s Big Game Steakhouse & Lounge (I-80 Exit 145, Paxton, NE – 308-239-4500; www.olesbiggame.com). I’ve driven by and seen the billboard advertisement for Ole’s many times, but never stopped. This year a friend from Nebraska told me abit about the history of Ole’s and sed that the food was actually good, but I had to stop just to see the trophies and fixtures inside this historical restaurant. And trophies there are: over 200 of them gathered from countries on every continent. The elaborate history of this restaurant that opened the day prohibition ended, is available on their website. I was interested in the grub.

I stopped for a late lunch and wasn’t disappointed. The menu is extensive, consisting of sangies and burgers, munchies, soups & salads, and dinners and desserts. The burger I ordered came medium rare and was mighty fine. But the fresh apple pie from the bakery down the street was outstanding.

In Blair, NE, I made my usual stop at what Cuz Allan and I call Lean Cuisine, a local service station with a very good restaurant, and I had a maavelous burger.

On the return trip I stopped at an old fav on the way back, and was disappointed. Chances “R” Restaurant (124 West 5th St, York, NE 503-362-7755; www.chancesryork.com). Over the last dozen or so years I’ve stopped here many times and always enjoyed the burger or whatever else I might order. They do have the best shrimp cocktail in America. Musta been the plan for this trip to have sucko food, cuz the burger, altho served rare as ordered, was tasteless and boring.

But then my luck changed. An old friend had recommended Lucy’s Place Café in Sedgwick, Colorado. Now you might miss Sedgwick, but you can’t miss Lucy’s. As you get off of I-76 its right thar. I mean right thar in your face. If you think it’s a run-down shack it’s that too, but it’s clean inside. The home-cooked comfort food is first class. I was in between meals, so I had just a ham sangie, but it was a mighty fine one, and the D/P was good and cold. I’ve had several recommendations for this boondock eatery and glad I finally stopped.

Cya.

Jay Fox is our traveling restaurant reviewer and bon vivant. He can be reached at jay@jayfoxcpa.com.