Printed with permission of the Alpine Avalanche
Learning the hard way that online reviews aren’t always right
I had every intention of sharing my favorite new place I just discovered this weekend… but that’s not happening. I try to keep things positive and upbeat in this weekly column, and I refuse to write about places where I don’t have a delicious experience.
Online searches told us on Sunday that we would be finding a new favorite place. They lied. So, I’m breaking my self-imposed rule today, and giving you the ugly truth. Without a name, of course.
When my husband and I set out for our at-least-monthly Sunday lunch at Cueva de Oso/The Cutest Restaurant in Balmorhea, we were disappointed to find it had been closed since April 5th. According to the man with a tool belt, it would be closed for at least another three weeks while they remodeled the new kitchen.
Between traveling and cooking at home, we haven’t been eating out much. We drove on to Fort Stockton.
With a crowded parking lot at our usual place in Fort Stockton, we decided to give a different restaurant a try. It was described as “divey” and people online loved it.
We figured it wouldn’t hurt to branch out. One person said they were served, “the best Tacos al Carbon ever!” so why wouldn’t we want that? With all the rave reviews they received, I’m now convinced businesses can delete comments they don’t like.
We walked in, and were told to sit wherever we liked in the big, echoing dining room. We sat on the far wall, where we could see everything around us. There was a large family of fifteen, at least three generations, eating together and they looked happy. Two elderly ladies were enjoying their meals. Several couples and single diners appeared content.
Looking around, the décor was meager, but clean. I appreciate that. The color scheme of greenish-yellow cast a pallor on people and food that should’ve been a warning, but I like to give places like that the benefit of the doubt… not everyone has terrific decorating ideas.
The salsa was good, but didn’t make up for the stale chips served with it. Our appetizer of jalapeño poppers consisted of whole (as in whole with seeds), pickled, canned jalapeños with a cheese-like substance inserted into them (dare I imagine Cheez Whiz?), rolled in batter, quickly fried, and served with off-brand ranch-ish dressing.
I make poppers with fresh jalapeños, seeds removed, stuffed with cream cheese and snuggled with bacon, roasted to tender perfection. This was not that.
“I can’t write about this place,” I said.
“This is one you should just keep to yourself,” he replied.
He ordered the Tacos al Carbon. I ordered the Grilled Tacos. His tacos, described in the review as “the best ever”, and I quote, “weren’t horrible but were some heavily greased sliced meat product with a heavily fried tortilla.”
My “grilled” tacos were actually stringy brisket that was so tough I gave up on trying to eat them.
Maybe they meant the tough tortilla was grilled? I still can’t figure it out.
Both of our meals were served with over-heated refried beans and orange-colored rice that seemed to have been a San Francisco treat, if you know what I mean.
Mediocre food, we could’ve looked past… not every restaurant suits every person’s taste. Bad decorating, we could’ve looked past because not everyone knows you shouldn’t use greenish-yellow as your main color scheme in a food establishment.
Only budgies should be greenish-yellow.
But throw in the fact that they had Tejano music blasting from the left side of the dining room and country music blasting from the right side, and it was an honestly miserable experience.
When we checked out, I asked the waitress about the dueling, loud music, and she said, “My boss likes the Tejano music and my cooks like the country, but you can’t hear it out here…”
I said, “Oh, you can hear it and both are loud. Can’t you hear them?”
She said, “I tune it out, I don’t hear any of it!”
Don’t get me started on the cook eating the entire time he was preparing meals.
I know I’ve said to not let one bad experience with a new place keep you from going back, but this place wasn’t suffering from opening-day-jitters. It was the norm.
And after all this time, the online reviewers finally let me down. My new plan is to find the most crowded place in town, and eat there.
If the front few parking spots are available at lunch time, that might not be a good sign.
So here’s something good… My Jalapeño Poppers.
12 jalapeño peppers
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
8 slices thin-cut bacon
24 wooden toothpicks
Slice each pepper in half, lengthwise. Use a spoon to scrape out the seeds. Fill pepper halves with the cream cheese. Slice bacon into 24 1-1/2-inch pieces. Wrap one piece of bacon around each filled pepper-half. Secure the bacon with a toothpick. Sometimes I get lazy place the bacon over the cream cheese, like blanket.
Heat oven to 375 degrees. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil or parchment paper. Arrange the peppers, filling side facing up, onto the baking sheet. Bake until the bacon is crispy and the peppers are tender, about 25 to 30 minutes.
You can also grill them by placing them in aluminum foil on the grill. Grill over medium-high heat until the bacon is crispy and the peppers are tender, about 15 to 20 minutes.