Restaurant Impossible

Restaurant Impossible is one of my guilty pleasures. One day this spring I was under the weather and watched about six of them in a row. Sometimes I think the decorating results lean a little too heavy on the “done on the fly on the cheap” schtick, but still, it generally looks better than the (usually) filthy mess they start with.

Today I ate lunch at a restaurant that could use a bit of that sleight of hand magic.

But first I taped a very brief interview, as a dog expert (truly) for television news. The friend I was meeting for lunch is a public servant in an adjacent small town, and he asked if I would be willing to comment on a terrible mauling there on Saturday. An elderly woman was killed by her own two pet dogs. No, they weren’t pit bulls. I’m not saying what they were, the breed does not matter.

The reporter asked me “Isn’t it unusual for a dog to attack its owner” and I said “Well, not as much as you might think,” and went on to explain that particularly in a pack situation, canine responses can be unpredictable. We talked about dog behavior for a few minutes and then I went off with my friend in his truck, worrying about all the ways that interview could be edited to make what I said seem idiotic, and wishing I’d worn more makeup.

We got to lunch at a brand new restaurant in Trotwood, Jerseyz Grille. It’s been open less than a month, and I understand that they are trying hard to get a liquor license that will allow them to serve all alcohol (instead of just beer) on Sunday afternoon. Sadly, they seem not to realize that this is the least of their problems.

Met at the door with a warm greeting, we were seated quickly by a friendly member of the staff. The restaurant smelled odd: like bad breath at a slight distance. (It was not my luncheon companion or me or our server– the odor was constant and never varied for the extended time that we were there.) Our waiter brought menus (but never took them away) and quickly brought us the glasses of water that we asked for. The glasses themselves were lovely– much nicer than typical restaurant ware, and they had a very small lemon slice. (Half a lemon, quarter-inch wide, not really worth bothering at that size.)

It was the last quick thing that happened.

We ordered a turkey club on sourdough and a salmon wrap. About 20 minutes after the order went in our waiter came back to say that “the truck hasn’t come this morning, they are out of sourdough.” Rye was substituted. Another fifteen minutes or so passes. The restaurant has fewer than ten other patrons, and a front house staff of about four, it seems. Our waiter is back again. Apparently the salmon was on the same “truck” as the sourdough, and I choose a chicken caesar wrap instead. I’m patient, but my friend is now looking at his watch with some regularity. Considerably later, the waiter comes back a third time and I’m sorry to say that it is not with our food.

“Would sweet potato fries be okay?” The potatoes, it appears, were also “on the truck.” Sure, fine, whatever. Here’s the thing: it is very rare for food service trucks to just not show up. To guests with any restaurant savvy, this indicates that maybe there are unpaid bills or some other impediment. But more to the point, if you don’t have these basic ingredients in your restaurant for whatever reason, send someone across the street to Cub foods or up to Wal-Mart to buy the sourdough, salmon, and potatoes that you need.

Finally, the “club” sandwich (not quartered) arrives with sweet potato fries. Remember what I ordered? A wrap. When it finally arrives, my friend has finished his lunch. There are no fries, but the waiter– who was really a very nice guy– assures me that they are coming out any minute. The wrap is delicious, but it is very modest in size. Okay, so I’m dieting, maybe I should not complain about portion size, which usually errs on the too large.

This was essentially one leaf of romaine, approximately three ounces of grilled chicken breast and some caesar dressing rolled up in an 8-inch tomato-red tortilla. It was delicious. But it was very small, so much so that my friend is compelled to note that the salmon wrap he’d had here previously was “much bigger.” One can’t help  but wonder if this “skimpiness” is also indicative of money problems.

The sweet potato fries arrive, they are not bad, but it is clear that they are not freshly made, but just food service frozen, heat-and-serve. I brought the leftover fries home to my husband and he ate them, but noted that they had not been salted out of the fryer. Even if you serve sweet potato fries with brown sugar and cinnamon– they still need salt.

We are not offered dessert.

Apparently the bill was adjusted. I was the guest, so I didn’t inquire too closely. But still. You cannot have a restaurant without plentiful food. This kind of performance within a month of opening does not bode well for their future. Which is too bad, because I’d like for them to succeed. I’m a big fan of the independent restaurant, it’s a tough act to compete against the chains. Jerseyz has an interesting and appealing menu. They’ve taken an empty shell of a chain restaurant and made a very tasteful job of redecorating. It seems scrupulously clean. But you can’t eat ambience.

It would be useful for the owner to go up the street a quarter mile to the New Asian, where they serve the Best Chinese Food in Dayton. That restaurant has a staff of two– a man and his wife– and no one waits an hour and a half for lunch. Between the two of them they cook and serve (and sometimes leave to make a delivery!) from ten in the morning until ten at night, six days a week. They know what it means to hustle. They are never out of food. Their place isn’t glamorous, but the food is excellent, the portions are generous and the service is fast and friendly.

While we were waiting for the check, we figured out how long we’d been there. We walked in at 12:30. We were served lunch at 2:10 p.m. If Jersey Grillz wants to survive, they have to do better.

As for the interview, it was fine as it turned out. The two statements they excerpted were good ones, sympathetic to the victims, and insightful to the nature of dogs. While my expression is laughable, at least I did not look as fat as I might have.

Target today 70 (again) Steps 2821

Breakfast: Yogurt with granola. Lunch: small chicken caesar wrap, half a dozen sweet potato fries. Special treat  much later in the day: chocolate croissant and coffee Dinner: two cups of watermelon. 

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7 thoughts on “Restaurant Impossible

  1. I used to base my opinion on first impressions, especially when it came to restaurants and stores. I don’t do so as much now. If there were good things about it, like the food/menu and cleanliness, I’d wait until they “got a better grasp”, if that’s what they need, then I’d try it again. In this case, it certainly does sound like money problems. How true. Why not go down the road and pick these stapes up? I loved hearing (reading) about the Chinese restaurant and how it is run, quite efficiently, by two. That’s the old time work ethics, I’m sure, having a lot to do with that. I wish we could try that place out! I digress. Thanks for sharing with us and glad your interview went well. Love the shot, even if it made you laugh. 😉 I wish we had your local TV stations. Sigh.

  2. I spoke with the restaurant owner this morning. He was aghast at our experience. It seemed to me there was poor and slow communication between the kitchen and the servers, He was on another errand while we were there and was unaware of our incident, but I could hear him in the background relaying the incident to a staffmember (some of the words I cannot repeat here)

    He said there is a process in place which obviously did not kick in. I too want this local entrepreneur to survive and we will give them another chance. This was my third time there for lunch and the previous times the servings were generous and tasty.

    I missed the evening news Larkin, I’m glad they grabbed your best quotes for the story. It is such a sad story and deserved some logical explanation of how these things can and do happen.

  3. Good news for Jerseyz – the state today admitted they made an error while reviewing the sunday license application and have granted them a full sunday license. Stop in this Sunday to watch some football and have a drink. Tell the owner you saw it here.

  4. As one member of the management team here at Jerseyz, I wanted to extend my appreciation for you coming out to join us and giving us this review. We do have some things to work on, and we are pulling all the stops to get things together to create an amazing experience for you and your friends/followers in the future.

    I personally look forward to having you back sometime, and please don’t hesitate to send me a message if you have any questions or comments. stifflerdean [at] gmail [dot] com

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