Saturday, 17 August 2013

Waitrose Café, Banstead – I'd rather go to Pistachios in the Park...

Don't get me wrong, I've always liked Waitrose, the quality of the food is unrivalled – although some say M&S is better (and I disagree) – but when it comes to in-store catering, perhaps they should leave it to the experts. Not that in-store catering ever really shines and today proved to be no exception.

Wandering, or rather driving, aimlessly just for a bit of fresh air, I arrived, with my wife and daughter, in Banstead, Surrey. The plan was to take a walk and then go home, but, as we passed Waitrose, we spotted a Waitrose Café, an operation mentioned before on this blog, but never experienced first hand.

This shot of Pistachios on the Park courtesy of Families Online
I wasn't impressed, especially after my recent trip to the USA where I experienced the delights of Panera Bread.

Why wasn't Banstead's Waitrose Café my cup of tea? The answer is lengthy, but simple: it was disorganised, untidy, messy and off-kilter and there were many different reasons. First, the food display looked decidedly tired. Stocks hadn't been replenished and the whole thing had the look of a half nibbled through party buffet. Then there was the person behind the counter who was simply slow and unsure of herself. There was no urgency in her delivery. Regular-sized paper cups had run out, so I decided to have a small tea, like my wife and daughter, but then the regular cups turned up. My daughter had wanted a hot chocolate, but they'd run out of the necessary ingredients.

Eventually we sorted out our order: two small teas and one regular tea plus three iced cinnamon swirls, which were fantastic and cost just £1.19 each – the whole bill was just over £6.50.

What made the experience unpleasant was the mess on the floor surrounding our chosen table: broken gingerbread men and all sorts of rubbish was in dire need of being swept up, but nobody had bothered. It was like finding a table amongst the rubble of a toddler's birthday party in a local authority leisure centre. This sort of thing matters to me and while the cinnamon swirls were great (they were the only thing on display that looked anywhere near inviting) and the tea was fine, the fact that we had to sit in what amounted to a pile of rubbish and food debris – and I had to clear the table myself before we sat down – meant that next time I visit Banstead I'll be heading for the nifty-looking caff in the park, imaginatively named Pistachios in the Park.

Saturday, 3 August 2013

Panera Bread – Boulevard of the Allies, Pittsburgh, PA 15213

Panera Bread is a chain operation, let's make no bones about that, but it's good and worthy of mention. The one I've been visiting for breakfast over the past day or two is located within the same building as my hotel, the Quality Inn.
Paper cups – showing Panera's fast food credentials.

When I first visited Panera Bread I was a little unsure whether I liked it or not. It has a fast food store formula, combined with a bit of the Starbucks methodology of a separate area where you can put skimmed or whole milk in your tea and coffee. There's a bank of cashier terminals behind which is the store's menu displayed overhead like in a McDonald's.

Panera offers up a very spacious environment and, it has to be said, a homely atmosphere. It's even got a private dining area and larger tables for those who want to conduct meetings.

What I found impressive, apart from the cheap prices – $11.30 for a Power Sandwich (ham, egg and cheese) a Bear Claw (a pastry of which I'll explain more in a second or two), a hot tea (a ginger and orange concoction that was very enjoyable) and a bottle of fresh orange juice – was that the portions were not huge. You might think that a Power Sandwich would be a huge sub overflowing with crap, but it was just under the size of a normal sandwich in the UK and, it has to be said, was so tasty I could have ordered another

The pastries were a little on the large side and I discovered what I believe to be the best pastry ever – the Bear's Claw. I don't know what's in it, but in essence it's a Danish pastry shaped like a bear's claw and it was delicious. Worth every cent at $1.79 (roughly a quid in the UK, although, in the UK it would cost the best part of £3.00, probably just under, but equating to roughly $6.00).

I had a Bear's Claw yesterday too and loved it so much I couldn't resist another one this morning. f

Panera Bread is independent from the Quality Inn and is merely sharing the same building, but that's good news for Quality Inn customers and for Quality Inn as it doesn't have to provide a restaurant.
You can't beat a Bear's Claw – I could eat another one!

The lift in the hotel has one floor marked as R. This is the Panera Bread floor from where I have just hot-footed it to my hotel room to write this post.
That's a large plate and a large Danish pastry

Panera Bread is open throughout the day and right up to around 9pm in the evening. It's good and just what the doctor ordered if you don't like those poncy hotel breakfast services where you're checked in, directed towards a table and then asked if you want tea or coffee and so on. To be honest,  I like the poncy breakfast experience, but sometimes a change is as good as a rest.

There are standalone Panera Bread units too. Check out the link by clicking here.

Friday, 2 August 2013

Addy's Restaurant, 99 St. Clair Avenue, Cleveland, Ohio, 44113 USA

A cup of tea for $1.19 in Addy's in Cleveland...nice place.
Restaurants like Addy's have largely disappeared from the high street and replaced, more often than not, with rubbishy branded operations that think they can charge a fortune and get away with it purely because they offer consistency. Yeah, right, like a consistently high price and the same old boring product wherever you are in the world. It's all a result of globalisation and it means that wherever you are in the world, there's a danger you might find a Claire's Accessories or a Starbucks or any other big brand name you might care to mention. Suddenly, the world is no longer an interesting place.

Well, as Buzz Lightyear said, 'not today!' In these troubled economic times I expect to see more restaurants like Addy's, not less of them. In the UK, in a Surrey town going by the name of Redhill, there used to be the Belfry Café. It was the sort of place where you could buy a huge brick of bread pudding and a large mug of tea for next to nothing, served by school dinner ladies. It's now an expensive Costa Coffee.

Addy's, I'm told, has been around for a long time and is part of the Cleveland furniture, so to speak. This, of course, is music to my ears and I'm starting to think that somebody would make a killing if they set up a 'cheap' restaurant like Addy's in the UK. It's all about volume in a place like this, but I'm guessing that Addy's does all right because people don't want to spend a fortune at lunch time.
Inside Addy's – note lack of tablecloths and tabletop condiments. Excellent!

I'd just had lunch in a slightly 'poncy' restaurant a few blocks away and while it was fine and I had a couple of glasses of cabernet, Addy's was where I should have been: sauce bottles on the table, no tablecloths, a laminated menu – heaven! And, most importantly, it won't break the bank.

But it's more than just price, it's the food on offer. Why is it these days that you only get to eat chopped sirloin and onions, roast beef dinner or grilled liver and onions when you visit grandma? It doesn't have to be that way. At Addy's you can get meals like these for $6.99 – wow! That's £3.50 thereabouts (the price of a cup of tea and a cookie in a UK-based Costa Coffee). Or how about shrimp in a basket for $6.99? Addy's is value personified, but sadly, I just had a cup of tea ($1.19) and had missed the earlier lunchtime bustle.

I say open more restaurants like this, even if it's goddamned chain, although chains = greed = extortionate prices, so let's just support our independent operators.

Addy's gets top marks just for being Addy's.

Arabica Coffee House, Standard Building, Cleveland, Ohio

I was determined to find some kind of independent coffee house in Cleveland, but kept getting directed to Starbucks – or rather, not directed to Starbucks, but when asked about coffee shops that was the name that was on most people's lips. Still, I managed to find the Arabica Coffee House and at first I was confused as to how to get inside.

The Arabica Coffee House is part of Cleveland's historic Standard Building, owned by the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers, a union of some kind and still the driving force behind this amazing building.

To reach the Arabica Coffee House you go into the Standard Building first and there it is, designed no doubt, for those working in the building. It's pretty basic, but the staff are friendly and the prices are ridiculously low when you compare it to a Costa Coffee in the UK. Put it this way, I had a white chocolate and macadamia nut cookie and a medium-sized paper cup of tea – for $2! That's about £1 in UK money. Had I ordered the same thing in a Costa, it would have set me back much more. That cookie would have been, at its cheapest, £1.75 and a pot of tea (carrying much less than my medium-sized paper cup) would have been roughly the same – that's £3.50 (or about $7).
Good value, friendly staff – Arabica Coffee House, Cleveland, Ohio.

When I told the girl serving about this she gasped with horror at the thought of paying so much for just tea and cookie.

I sat down for all of a minute when the phone rang and the girl said I'd have to go as she was getting a delivery, so I went out into the lobby of the Standard Building and watched the Ariel Castro sentencing on the television. Oddly, the whole thing had happened live across the street earlier in the day.

In Cleveland they pronounce 'Arabica' differently from the way we do in the UK. In the UK it's 'A-RAB-ica', but in Cleveland, it's 'ARA-beaker'. Strange but true.

Verdict: nice place and good value for money compared with the UK and, indeed, the Starbucks near the Cleveland Marriott, but they lost points for kicking me out when a delivery arrived.