Saturday, February 18, 2012

IHOP- 22506 US Hwy 281 N, Ste 106, 78258

Disorganization at its best is how I would classify this restaurant. The entire staff was made up of teenagers, no manager in sight. There were many tables that were still dirty, although the restaurant only had a few other patrons in it. I should have known to run right then, but needed to feed the munchkins, so we proceeded to sit down and dine.

Atmosphere: D

As I stated before there were several tables that were dirty, even dishes still stacked on them. There were also a couple of tables that the staff were using, eating and playing on their laptops, and they were littered with food and garbage as well. The floors could have used a good scrubbing as well. The table we sat at was clean, and our silverware was clean. The only positives were the open kitchen so you can make sure your food isn't being tampered with and the restrooms were clean.

Service: F

It was bad, really bad. The server had very little knowledge of the menu, and ended up getting our entire order wrong, and it was a simple order. There were four of us, two kids, two adults, and the kids got the same thing and so did the two adults, simple, you would think. The sandwiches both came out alone, no french fries as stated on the menu, and for the kids eggs they used an egg substitute. When I asked about the substitution she just shrugged her shoulders and said that is how they all come, I quickly stated, No it is not, I have been to an IHOP before and this is not acceptable. They replaced the eggs for real eggs and brought over-salted french fries, with no apologies. She kept coming to the table the entire time we were trying to eat asking us if we were ready to pay the check, very annoying and flat out rude.

Value: B

The prices are set by the national IHOP company, so the pricing is fair. The size of the food portions are good, but at this location the food is not good. The inaccuracy of the orders made the experience bad, and just put a gloom on the evening. After all the mistakes and waiting for our food to finally come out, you would think that part of the meal would be complimentary. No the full check was brought to us, again without an apology.

Selection: B-

Again this is all set up by IHOP corporate, so this is not based upon this location alone. There is a large selection, and some really healthy options, but if you are not in the mood for breakfast, then there are only three selections. Most of the plates have the option of fruit as well, which is always a good option for kids.

Entertainment: D+

They do have place mats for the kids, but they only bring one crayon per kid to the table. The place mat is not that great, there was actually only one thing to color on the page and a cross word puzzle, which is too much for a toddler to take on. The only other thing that allows for some entertainment is that they offer free Wi-Fi, so you can connect with a smart phone or tablet to play some games or a movie.

Overall this local diner earns a D. IHOP itself isn't that bad of a place to go, but if you are in the mood for pancakes, drive a little further and save yourself the headache.

-The Thomas Troop

IHOP Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Friday, February 17, 2012

Tejas Steakhouse and Saloon- 401 Obst Road, 78163

Adding this restaurant to our review is bittersweet. We love this place, absolutely love it, it is our diamond in the rough. We are afraid to let people know how great it is because we don't want to fight people to dine here, but because of our love for it, we have decided to share it with the rest of San Antonio. Every time we visit here, it is more than just food, it is an experience and we always leave planning our next visit, belly's full and a smile on our face. I feel like this place is our measuring stick for the rest of the establishments that we eat at, they have set the standard high.

Atmosphere: B

The location of the steakhouse is off the beaten path, but that is one of its attributes. The restaurant is clean and the tables and booths are well kept and have always been spotless. The floors are stained concrete and the walls are nicely decorated in cowboy gear and some great taxidermy, this is a great representation of the Texas feeling and flair that most people relish here. There is a stone fireplace that is lit during the winter months and a small bar that is fully stocked for the adults. We have never waited for a table, but even as they are putting together a table the porch outside is inviting for a small stroll. The highchairs are clean, and they do a great job of setting up families with high chairs properly placed among the adults. The only reason they did not earn an A in this category is because of the parking and path to the restaurant is dirt with pea gravel, and when it is spring time and there is that great Texas rain, it is very muddy, making the trek with the kids can be difficult, and anyone who has a toddler knows they somehow find every puddle.

Service: A+

This is the part of the restaurant that should be the standard that every establishment should abide by. From the moment you are greeted at the door, they see to it that no want or need is not attended to. The drinks are brought out promptly in kids cups, they bring homemade black pepper and cheddar biscuits as long as you desire, and it is clear that they are family conscious. They take extra care to bring the kids meals earlier than the remainder of the food, they are very cautious about setting a hot plate in front of a child, and they even encourage the kiddos to share because the portion sizes are abundant. They talk to the children on an equal level, making sure that they know they are an important guest as well. We have met almost the entire staff, and even the owner stops by for a chat most of the time. I have even witnessed the owner helping run food, bus tables and keep the place looking tip top. It is rare these days to find a staff that takes so much pride in what they do.

Value: A

The average cost to feed the youngsters is $5.00, and for that pricing you get a kids beverage, the entree and a side item. The food is all cooked fresh and nothing is processed, not even the macaroni and cheese. There is not one item on the kids menu that an adult wouldn't be tempted to eat. There is plenty of food to feed a school aged child, and for toddlers you can easily share. The food for adults is simply amazing as well. The prices are right and the food is outstanding, everyone will leave the table satisfied.

Selection: B+

There are six selections on the menu for children, most of them your standard choices, however there are 9 different selections for side items, and not all of them are fried. You have your choices from starches, vegetables, and even fruit, all made from scratch that day, or just prepared that morning. I appreciate an alternative to french fries as I know most parents do. They have also brought out half sides, smaller portions but two selections for those picky eaters. The beverage choices are sodas, lemonade or milk. Overall they have a decent selection for kids to chose from, and they do a great job of accommodating to each child individually to make the experience much more enjoyable for the parent.

Entertainment: B

The restaurant itself has two televisions above the bar, they have played Disney movies a couple of times for us on slower days, but most of the time they are displaying rodeo footage. They have place mats and crayons to keep the young ones occupied for a while, but bring food quickly so a while is all you need. During the warmer months though, and adult can take them outside and walk the grounds and have some visits with the livestock while biding your time for the food to hit the table. From March to November the rodeo in season, and on most nights, beyond the doors of the restaurant the place is buzzing with live entertainment. The rodeo fee is not included with your meal, if you want to attend it is a separate charge.

-Attached to the rodeo
-Can make reservations
-Open late
-Live music
-Tejas Social Club once a month for a night off from the kiddos

Overall the Tejas Steakhouse and Saloon receives an A. They know how to make a family night out a wonderful night off. The food and service are second to none. Give them a try, and I promise you will be planning your next adventure to Obst Road the moment you walk out the door.

-Thomas Troop and Sitzman Crew

Tejas Steakhouse and Saloon on Urbanspoon

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Olive Garden- 22503 N US Hwy 281, 78258

I know everyone has had an Olive Garden chain experience, but this location is the strong link in the chain. I have to admit I wasn't all that excited to see a this name go on the building near us, but they changed my opinion quickly, and we have been several times and each venture has been positive. Even if you have a bad taste for this common restaurant, I urge you to give this location a chance.

Atmosphere: A

All new restaurants go overboard with niceness in the beginning, sometimes it is too much and most of the time, the friendliness disappears over time. Not the case here. Each time, we have been greeted as soon as we walked in the door, and on every occasion, even with a large party with several high chairs needed, we have never waited for a table. The cafe is always clean and very well lit, the decor is different from the original Olive Garden decor, and the eating area is spic and span. They also do a good job of putting most of the families in the same section of the restaurant so that the noise is common, and isn't going to bother a quiet party of two.

Service: A

The staff here is very friendly and prompt. We have always been greeted and had drinks within minutes of sitting down. We did have one instance where one kids meal did not come out with the rest, the server forgot to order it, but they handled it very well, putting a rush on the dish and bringing some extras for him to tide him over while we waited. The item was taken off of the bill and we were also brought free dessert courtesy of the manager. The manager has always stopped by the table to check in, and one time even brought a scoop of ice cream for each child so that the adults could enjoy the rest of the meal without hurrying to avoid a meltdown. They make sure that you get the relaxation of eating out as well as your child.

Value: B+

Most of the items on the kids menu are priced at around $5 an entree, but for the quality of food that you get I think it is fairly priced. Each meal comes with a side item, and a drink served in a kids cup. The amount of food is good, for toddlers there is enough to make two meals. The quality of the food is great, it is a meal that an adult would find appetizing as well, overall the value at this establishment is above average, for adults and kids.

Selection: A+

They have a great selection of entrees to chose from. You can build your own pasta dish, which gives your child plenty of customized choices so they can get what they like. The Olive Garden also has great side item selections, none of which are fried. They have mashed potatoes, steamed broccoli, and grapes, wonderful selections from a parent perspective. The drink options are vast and offer some healthy alternatives as well. The have several juice options, 1% milk (both white and chocolate), and of course soda, but for an extra charge you can get a smoothie made with real fruit and non fat yogurt. With all the options that the Olive Garden provides, you can feel like even though you ate out, your child didn't get loaded up with grease and sugar.

Entertainment: C

This is the area that the weak link appears. They do have kids menus that serve as a coloring page and they provide crayons. Other than that, the distractions are up to you. The nice thing is that you are started off with salad and bread sticks so they are munching while waiting, which makes most kids happy.

-Gluten Free Options, even pasta
-Kids dessert menu, with options of a fruit smoothie made with yogurt
-Pasta Tales-a yearly sponsored essay contest for kids, rewarding them with a trip to NY and educational funds
-Pasta for Pennies-a fund raiser for The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, over 3 million school age children participate to give back to their communities

Overall the Olive Garden in the Stone Oak area has earned an A. They have done an excellent job at fitting into the demographics of their area, and do a fantastic job at making a family dining adventure a marvelous experience. The added bonus of the community involvement also is a big plus, I know they are global, but they think local, and I respect that.

-The Thomas Troop

Olive Garden Italian Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Friday, February 10, 2012

Beefy's Backyard- 25900 Us-281 N, 78260

Forget the name, that is the least appetizing feature of this place, in fact it will become a common household name after a while if you live in the North Central area of San Antonio. This place is a great sunny weather hang out, for adults and kids. On weekends they have live bands, but the best thing they do is taking care of the neighborhood families.

Atmosphere: C-

It is a rustic burger joint, like a Texas roadhouse. The floor is concreteand the outdoor area is a giant wood deck or concrete covered patio. If you are looking for fancy, you won't find it here, if you are looking for a fun Texas summer night, then Beefy's is the place. Our most recent visit was disappointing as far as the level of cleanliness. The trays and baskets that the food came out in were even dirty. The gameroom inside made you just want to wash your hands by looking at it. They hopefully will get it together and take a scrub brush to the place or we won't continue to visit. The noise level is high, this is a family place, and people come there to let their kids be kids and enjoy a bucket of cold beers while enjoying the weather. The staff is always friendly and we have even had a few conversations with the owner. They do get quite busy on weekends so be ready to have a 10-15 minute wait for your food, while you sip your soda or cerveza.

Service: B

You order at the counter and they call you up when the cuisine is ready, however they are pretty good about coming around and cleaning up trays and baskets if you are done with them. More often than not, they will get the kids food out before the rest so you can get your rugrats munching if they are hungry. They nickel and dime you for side items, and they are great about substitutions.

Value: B-

The kids menu is well priced at $3.50 for each item. That price is consistent, there are no discount nights or kids eat free days. The amount of food that is served is decent. There is always a heap of french fries, but sometimes the main item is a little on the smaller side if you are feeding a school age child. The quality of the food is lacking, they need to replace some of the items with better quality ingredients that they already have available on the regular menu.

Selection: C

For a hangout that focuses on families, I feel that this is Beefy's area of most needed improvement. There are six options on the kids menu, all the standard American kid fare. That is not the downfall though, they don't use the same quality of food that they have on their standard menu for the little patrons of their establishment. The beef for the burgers is not the same, and the worst of all is the chicken nuggets. They have chicken tenders on the adult menu that are made with breast meat, however the chicken nuggets on the kids menu are Tyson Dinosaur nuggets that you or I could purchase at the local grocery store. Every item comes with fries and a drink, or you have the option to substitute fruit or milk with no extra fee. I like to have alternative to french fries and soda, and at no charge that is a plus.

Entertainment: A+

This is where Beefy's tops most other restaurants. They have a very large area dedicated to play. There is a jungle gym, a basketball court, even a fenced in soccer area. Inside there is also an game room with arcade games. The set up of the eating area easily allows you to see your child in every area, so you can finish your meal and relax while the kids have a good time too. In the spring/summer months they have live bands on Fridays and Saturdays. They have managed to keep both young and old entertained and it is nice to be able to spend time out, with no countdown clock to a meltdown.

-Free Wi-fi
-Happy Hour daily

Overall Beefy's gets an B for kid friendly dining. If they stepped up the quality of the food in the kids baskets, cleaned up the high chairs, and the play area a bit, they would be almost flawless. Writing this review on a cold day was a bad idea, now all I want to do is sit on the back deck, let my kids loose and enjoy a cold beer in the warm Texas sun, soon.

-The Thomas Troop

Beefy's Backyard on Urbanspoon

Alamo Cafe- 14250 Hwy 281 North, 78232

In my opinion some of the best Tex-Mex that San Antonio has to offer. We have grown to love the Alamo Cafe ever since we moved here, and it has become a place we frequent, and when people come to visit, it is a must on the to-do list. They pride themselves on good priced, family friendly, and relaxed dining, and more often than not they deliver.

Atmosphere: B+

We have been at all different hours of the day, on weekdays and weekends. Rarely do you have to wait for a table. The restaurant is large and they have plenty of seating. If you do have to wait though, as long as it's a nice day the outdoor area isn't bad to hang out in, but the indoor area is small almost like a larger hallway, and it can be difficult to keep your kids out of people's way. The Alamo Cafe is pretty clean, I have always been sat at clean table's and overall the restaurant is well kept. Sometimes the high chairs are dirty, I usually wipe them down with my own antibacterial wipes. The level of noise in this place is high. The floor is concrete, the ceilings are high, and if your child is testing the volume of his voice, no one is going to care, a huge bonus, I hate getting "the look" when your kids are babbling on in their not so 12 inch voice. Another plus for the Alamo Cafe is that they have plenty of indoor and outdoor seating. The outdoor seating overlooks a large grass area with a river and waterfall. Good for both the sprouts and ripe ones.

Service: B-

This is an area that is overall strong, but can be less than desirable if they are reaching full capacity. Most of the servers engage with the kids on a limited basis, to get their order and to serve the food. When they are busy, you can tell that the staff has been trained to be courteous and efficient. They are working to get people fed and out the door, and sadly sometimes it shows. When they are not jam packed though, you are encouraged to dine at leisure and enjoy the meal and drinks. They are excellent at busing the table as the meal goes along, clearing out dishes that are finished and refilling drinks that are approaching empty. I have had a couple of servers that have set a hot plate in front of my kids, so just get your cat like reflexes tuned up when they deliver the food. In all the time that we have gone, the service has been mostly positive, they hire a lot of young adults, so they aren't savvy on all the things to do with kids, so basically they are the norm.

Value: A

The Value at the Alamo Cafe is one of the brightest spots there. The meals are very reasonable priced. The portion sizes of the meals are appropriate, not too small, but not an overabundance. The quality of the food is good, not overdone, tastes good without a lot of flair. They do provide a drink with the meal as well, and they come in kids cups to minimize the spill factor. They also have the Young Defenders Club, you can sign up your tot and when you get 6 meals the next is free.

Selection: B-

There are two sections that the kids can order from, a Tex-Mex section and then All American Favorites. I appreciate the two categories, it can be difficult to get a toddler to get down on an enchilada sometimes. There are six options in each subdivision, which gives you some choice and variety. They are not the healthiest of all, which is why they earned the B-. I know kids don't usually go for the healthy choice, but if you offer it, you may be surprised, grilled chicken can go a long way. Their drinks selection is the usual, soft drinks, lemonade and milk.

Entertainment: B

This grade can be raised depending on the weather. If you have the option to dine outside, take it. The outdoor dining area is a great place for kids to get some energy out without annoying other patrons. The backside of the restaurant has a large open area that is grassed with a water feature. It is nice to let the kids get some energy out while you can sit, relax and watch them comfortably. The do provide kids menus and crayons, but if you are sitting outside the tables are permeable and don't allow for coloring on them. Inside they are a welcome distraction, and can keep your children occupied until the food shows. There is usually very little time in between ordering and food delivery, so it is nice that they don't get bored.

-Young Defenders Club-free kids meals after 6 punches
-Open almost all year, closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter
-Their tortillas and queso are simply amazing, and you can buy them to take home.

Overall the Alamo Cafe receives a B+. We have been loyal patrons for years and have plans to continue in the future. I applaud them on their family friendly environment, and good food without a high price tag.

-Thomas Troop and Sitzman Clan

Alamo Cafe on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Firewater Grille- 26108 Overlook Parkway, 78260

We live within walking distance of this restaurant, and were excited to have a place so close to take the kids on nights that we just needed a night off. We have been here five times, and each time was a big disappointment. We will not be returning so this review probably won't get an update.

Atmosphere: C

The location was obviously a plus, and then decor of the restaurant is nice, trying to be very modern, they have a waterfall wall that changes color and concrete floors. There is also covered outdoor dining that is not right by a highway, so it is an enjoyable area. They have a screen that they are intending to use for Spurs games and family movie nights, however we have yet to see it actually be utilized. We have usually gone on week nights, only once did we go on a weekend, but each time the restaurant was in need of a broom and mop and some of the tables were dirty. On the weekend night we were quoted a wait time of 20 minutes, and were sat in 50 minutes with no apology. The other times that we have been the restaurant was slow, but we still waited twice for about 5 minutes for them to wipe a table off. When you have kids, every minute of wait is equal to about 5 for a child, and it gets more painful the longer it goes on. We have been a couple of times when we did not get a high chair because they were out of them, and there is no kids menu at all. The waiter had to spout off the options that they had for children, and of course when that happens the prices are not mentioned.

Service: D

Each time we have visited the service has been less than acceptable. Greeted very late, one time we even had to flag down a server to get noticed. They consistently brought the wrong item out, and when you tell them that is not what you ordered, they actually have told us that they were out of what we ordered so they just subbed in another option! The food has not been all that tasty, I feel I could easily top them in my own kitchen with not much effort. The kids meals, oh the kids meals. Three different times I had to share with my daughter because her food had been sitting so long under a heat lamp it was dry and inedible. When we pointed this out to our server, they just said sorry! So now we have a dish that someone cannot eat (and the dish was ready to burn her skin off), and my husbands dish was cold. Never has a manager even been seen, let alone come by and visit the table. When I need a night out, a night off, leaving feeling more frustrated than I do a horrible day at work is not what I am in search of!

Value: C

I realize that this is a local establishment and not a chain, so I expect the prices to be a bit more, and I can appreciate that. However, this place is overpriced a bit. The menu descriptions of the food make it sound appropriately priced, but the reality is the food doesn't taste like it sounds. When you order something and it is not really edible, it should be taken off the bill, in fact good customer service would have been to comp another meal, or offer free dessert, none of that was even an option.

Selection: C

I have to give this area an average rating, because I don't remember all the items that were rattled off to us that were kid fare, and I cannot even find a list on their website. I do however remember that they had more than chicken nuggets, burgers, and Mac and Cheese, so that is why I am giving them a C.

Entertainment: F

Remember this is a blog about kids, not entertaining adults, and I am afraid that a waterwall doesn't count. There is nothing that this restaurant provides to fancy a child. I had to laugh when I saw on Urban Spoon that they mention they are kid friendly, not even the servers were friendly with my children. We were constantly trying to keep them occupied as nearby patrons looked on, some with smiles, others with scowls. I have no problem keeping my kids busy during a meal, we come prepared, but the dining experience there always has last almost 90 minutes, and I believe that even Mr. Rogers would struggle with a hungry kid and that time frame.

So basically this restaurant has been a local disappointment. I hoped that they did poor in the beginning and would get better with time and experience, but recent visits have proven that wrong. Overall this restaurant has earned a D.

-The Thomas Troop

Firewater Grille on Urbanspoon

Monday, January 30, 2012

Buffalo Wings and Rings- 203 N. L. 1604 W. Ste #100, 78232

This review is compiled over a few visits. We have been there with the kids a couple of different times, and each time has gotten a bit better. This establishment is fairly new and they are expected to have some growing pains.

Atmosphere: A

Each time we have been to this place, there was no wait, the only time we waited was while they were pulling tables together to accommodate our larger party with kids. The restaurant is very clean, this could be because of just opened luster has not worn off, I hope they can keep the shiny gleam up. The noise level is medium, just perfect for some kid babble that doesn't overpower a normal conversation. There is also an outdoor dining area, but we have yet to experience it since it opened in the winter months.

Service: B

This is the area that has not been consistent between visits. The first time we ate here, the service would have earned them a solid F. The server showed up very seldom, our order was wrong when it arrived 25 minutes after we placed the order on a less than busy night. When it was discovered that the order in fact was inaccurate, they just took the food and told us a new order was being made. So one of us got to sit and wait while everyone else was nibbling their order. We were never visited by a manager either, the overall service experience was less than desirable. The following times have been their redemption. The service was prompt and courteous, our server engaged with the kids and teased them while taking orders around the table. She also had another server help her deliver the food so that everyone could begin eating at the same time. The manager came by twice to ensure that everything was up to our standards and that we didn't need anything else. The later visit redeemed their service grade big time.

Value: B

The kids menu is priced at about $4-$5 per menu item, however the great thing here is that on Monday evening it is kids eat free night. For each adult entree that is ordered you get one free kids meal, huge bonus in my eyes, makes dining out a little more budget friendly, and gives me an excuse to take the busy Monday off from the "What's for dinner?" question I so love. The taste of the items is good, and the adult selections are pretty tasty as well. If you are on a low sodium diet though, I would probably skip this place.

Selection: B-

This is the weakest area of the Wings and Ring experience. The selections are the usual friend chicken, hamburgers, Mac N Cheese, corn dogs, or grilled cheese, the saving grace of their kids selections are the side items, although it is not on the online menu, you have a selection of steamed broccoli, salads, apple slices as well as french fries, good way to add some nutrition. The kids meals also come with either soda or milk, but there are no refills on the milk, but on a positive side they do have actual kids cups, so that spills are not a huge worry.

Entertainment: B+

There are some great options to keep your kids occupied while you are enjoying an evening or afternoon out. There are TV's all over the restaurant, not one seat in this place is without a TV view, so you can keep the kids and husbands busy for a bit. They also provide kids menu's that are coloring/activity pages, good for some distractions. Free Wi-Fi is also available, so if you need to open your Netflix and get a video going, easy to do. Also they have a small arcade space in the corner that is convenient for the older kids to check out.

Although they have experienced some growing pains in the beginning, it seems that Buffalo Wings and Rings off of 1604 North is going to be a good option for family dining. Guys get to watch sports, gals can chat and kids can enjoy the outing too. Overall we give them a B+, with more visits this grade may change to an A.

-Thomas and Sitzman families

Buffalo Wings & Rings on Urbanspoon