Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The Flan Club to close....well, kind of

It's with much regret that I pass along the knowledge that The Flan Club will be closing up shop in October. The Latino-Caribbean restaurant was a real asset to Downtown Binghamton and a personal favorite of mine. They will be refocusing their efforts on catering from here on out, so they'll still be cooking their great, authentic food in some capacity for the masses to enjoy. I sincerely wish the ladies of The Flan Club the best of luck with their future culinary endeavors.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Binghamton Restaurant Week Preview

Just a reminder to all...Binghamton Restaurant Week (v. 2.0) is just around the corner. As the extremely unofficial voice of all things Binghamton-food-related I figured we'd take some time to discuss each of the restaurants participating in the festivities, taking place from September 21 through September 30! Here we go...alphabetically:

Crepe Heaven: Believe it or not, I've never been to Crepe Heaven, located on Binghamton's West Side near the Price Chopper, in the same small plaza as Nirchi's Pizza. I remind Megan of this fact every single time we drive past it (quite often). She has been there before, but not since around the time it opened, and I'm pretty sure she liked it. The small cafe offers an array of sweet and savory crepes and many coffee beverages. It's a place I am excited to try out!

Downtown Cabana: This is the new restaurant located inside Boscov's, owned by the same folks who operate Nassy's Cabana in Endicott. Having just opened over the summer, we haven't made it there yet, but my understanding is that they offer a mix of Greek and American favorites. Should we go there, I'll be sure to give a full report.

The Flan Club: What more needs to be said about The Flan Club? This is one of my favorite places to eat in Binghamton. Check the archives for my full review of The Flan Club, Binghamton's premier Latino-Caribbean restaurant. Don't go expecting quick service but do expect mouth-watering food served by friendly folks.

Grande's Bella Cucina: I haven't been to this location of Grande's (Megan has, and she enjoyed it) but the big thing to try out at Grande's is their pizza. We often get take-out from their location on Upper Front St. and it is consistently the best New York-style pizza in Binghamton. Highly recommended.

Holiday Inn: Admittedly, I have nothing to offer up regarding the Holiday Inn's food. Has anyone been? What's it like? Any good? Not a whole lot of information on these interwebs regarding the restaurant there!

Little Venice: Binghamton's oldest Italian eatery is a beautiful restaurant that doubles as a sort of art gallery, with authentic paintings lining just about every inch of wall space! Their pasta is phenomenal and that red sauce is simply legendary. Great desserts, too. If you've never been, you owe it to yourself to try out Little Venice. If you have, now would be a fine time for another visit!

Lost Dog Cafe: "The Dog" has evolved from humble coffeehouse beginnings to become one of Binghamton's premier dining destinations. It's a place with great atmosphere and would not be out of place in a big city. The Vodka Rigatoni is the best I've had, anywhere, and I highly recommend the desserts, particularly the Geisha (fried cheesecake bites with various dipping sauces). It's a fun place that also has strong appeal to vegetarians and vegans. Certainly it's one of the best restaurants in Binghamton!

Mad Moose Saloon: I have not had much luck at the Mad Moose, food-wise. I did not care for their Pork BBQ, and their much-ballyhooed wood-fired pizza was tragically average when I tried it out. Still, its atmosphere is one of the best in the area, a huge space and a fun place to hang out if State St. isn't your thing.

Nezuntoz: I think Nezuntoz is one of the best lunch spots in Binghamton, reminiscent of the sorts of places you'd find 50 miles to the northwest in the hippie haven known as Ithaca. Offering a wide selection of sandwiches, wraps, bagels (fresh every day courtesy of Ithaca Bakery), and gourmet coffee beverages, Nezuntoz is one of the best places I've found since I started Tasting Binghamton!

Number 5: Number 5, ahhh. This is a place we've been to a number of times, but have not reviewed yet. It's a pricey place that we usually reserve for special occasions. The Stuffed Greek Tenderloin is quite possibly the best steak dinner you're going to find in Binghamton. This is truly a fine dining experience the likes of which you won't find at too many places in the area.

Sake-Tumi: Offering very good sushi in a swanky environment at pretty reasonable prices, sake-tumi is a great addition to Downtown Binghamton. Expect slow service, but impeccably-crafted, good-quality sushi rolls. I haven't tried any of their Asian-fusion entrees, but some of them look very interesting. Perhaps I'll need to make another visit soon...

Tranquil Bar & Bistro: Another place we've been to but haven't yet reviewed, I absolutely loved Tranquil on my first visit there. Lo and behold, it's a real French restaurant in Binghamton, with perfectly prepared entrees with truly memorable presentation. The bone-in pork chop was excellent, but the English Toffee Pudding I had for dessert was probably the single best thing I've had to eat in Binghamton. Absolutely delicious. This might be Binghamton's best restaurant.

Whole In The Wall: Appealing to herbivores and health-minded carnivores alike, Whole In The Wall offers an array of Middle Eastern and Mediterranean fare. Honestly, I didn't care for it on my only visit there. It was just OK. But the Garlic Ball appetizer was positively awesome, and their pesto dishes are definitely worth trying out (even if they don't deserve the "best in the world" distinction). It's certainly a place I'd like to try again, but admittedly it's not tremendously high on my priority list.

And so there we have it: your 2010 Binghamton Restaurant Week participants! $8 for 3-course lunch, $20 for 3-course dinner. Tough to beat those prices at some of these places! Happy eating and I'm sure we'll make it to at least one of these destinations that week ourselves!

Website: Binghamton Restaurant Week

Facebook: Facebook

Twitter: Twitter

The Beef

Name: The Beef Restaurant
Location: 62 Leroy St., Binghamton NY 13905
Phone: (607) 722-9732
Cuisine: American Steakhouse
Price: $60+ for two for dinner

Formerly known by the clever name "What's Your Beef?" the newly revamped "The Beef Restaurant" (new owner, new menu, renovated space) is located on Binghamton's lovely west side on Leroy street on small commercial strip that includes the infamous Leroy Package Store as well as a few other small businesses. Dan and I had visited this restaurant years ago when it was under its former moniker and while we enjoyed our meal, we had not been back since due to the fact that we often forget that it is there. Usually we associate restaurants with what other restaurants are nearby and since there is really nothing else near The Beef, it gets neglected. However, while discussing dinner plans yesterday afternoon, my desire for steak brought it back into our minds and we decided to go back to see what changes had been made.

The first thing you notice when you walk into The Beef is that you are faced with a choice between two doors. The one to your right takes you into the small bar area and the one to your left will take you into the dining room. One small issue with the set up is that there is no proper hostess stand to check into and wait at - granted the dining room is small enough that someone will see you and seat you quickly, but there are still a few awkward moments when you are left standing around not knowing what to do. We were seated and given a menu and wine list to peruse. This was a bit tough because it was very dark inside - so much so that we were not able to take any pictures of our meal. Bummer, but I think most people can visualize a steak. The wine menu runs the gamut from dry rieslings to more bold fare. I actually broke my usual white wine precedent and opted for a red since I knew I would be getting a steak. Who wants to go to a place called "The Beef" and order chicken? Not me. Dan went with an Ithaca ale and we were both very happy with our drink selections. For our meals, I went with the house cut (9 oz) delmonico with baked potato and a house salad while Dan opted for the house cut prime rib with house potatoes and a bowl of french onion soup. Each dinner comes with bread, a choice of soup or salad and a choice of side. I should note that there were other options besides steak which included chicken, pasta, and other dishes which I'm sure are all good.

While we waited, I noted the dining room. It was on the small side, but did not feel crowded. Each table had lit candles and some soothing music (think unplugged versions of popular songs) played in the background. As I said, it was dark, which made the reading of the menu difficult, but which I didn't mind as much during the meal. It is a nice little space, very open and not at all stuffy. You could tell that it had been updated with new tables and wall decorations as I remember it being a bit more weathered looking the last time I was there.

We did not have to wait long to receive our salad, soup and a small loaf of bread with butter. The salad was a salad - I got the house italian and it was nothing special, certainly not as awesome as the house italian at Cacciatores. Dan enjoyed his french onion soup although it was extremely hot and probably should have sat for a few minutes before being brought out. He also noted that it was not your standard french onion soup - the onions were different and it didn't look as if the cheese had been baked over the top of the bowl. At any rate, I think we were both happy with our starters but not blown away.

A short time later we received our beef. Mine was perfectly cooked (medium well) and had far less fat than other delmonico steaks that I have had at other places. My baked potato was served with sour cream and it complimented the steak. One issue I had was the absence of a vegetable - yes, I realize that potatoes are vegetables, but they usually do not serve as such - usually one can get a potato AND a vegetable, preferably a green one to add some color to the plate. The waiter had told us that the vegetable of the day was green beans and I was stoked because they are my favorite. So, I was a smidge disappointed to see only meat and potato on my plate. A minor point, but one worth commenting on.

Dan's prime rib was cooked to his specifications (medium rare) and looked very juicy - a little too juicy for the plate as it turned out. The plate was not deep enough to accommodate the prime rib juice, so Dan had to take extra care when cutting to avoid being splashed. The house potatoes he received were baked slices that had been sprinkled with seasoning and were also served with sour cream. Overall, I think we were both pleased with our steaks - he also noted that his prime rib had far less fat than he expected.

For dessert, we split a slice of cheesecake - made on the premises. It was very good, not too heavy, but rich and the right note to end the meal on. Our waiter was really good - attentive without hovering and he paced the meal perfectly - never did we feel rushed or wait too long for anything. It was a very nice meal that Dan and I were pleased with.

At the end of the day, did The Beef deliver the best steak I've ever had? No. Was it the best piece of beef that I have had in Binghamton? No - that honor goes to the greek tenderloin at Number 5/Lampy's. However, The Beef delivered a nice steak and potato dinner in a nice, comfortable space with a nice waiter serving us at a nice pace. It was not a cheap meal - $70 for the two of us with drinks, dinner, dessert, tax and tip, but I would not say that it was overpriced. All in all, I would definitely go back to The Beef anytime for a laid back steak dinner.

Grade: B+

What's Your Beef on Urbanspoon

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Tony's Italian Grill

Name: Tony's Italian Grill
Location: 2315 E Main St., Endicott, NY 13760
Phone: (607) 785-3750
Cuisine: Italian
Price: Usually $40-$60 for two. Could be much cheaper or much more expensive depending on your order.

It's amazing to me that we haven't yet taken the time to review Tony's Italian Grill, seeing as it's one of the area's restaurants we've visited most often. Located on Main St. in Endwell, Tony's is quite literally the "brother" restaurant to Nick's in Endicott. While Nick's is a much smaller restaurant that in my opinion is most notable for its pizza, Tony's is a spacious eatery with a huge, beautiful dining room, a separate bar area, and even a porch available for outdoor seating while the weather is accommodating. On looks alone, Tony's has long been one of our favorites.

The menu consists of all the usual, traditional Italian options, in addition to some other less common ones (Bucatini all amatriciana, Penne Rustica to name a couple). They have a long list of appetizers, several different soups and salads, and pizza available both by the slice and by the pie. Certainly there's something on the menu that would appeal to everyone.

We decided to head to Tony's yesterday for lunch. During lunch, Tony's has a bit of an abbreviated menu, but the portions you get are exactly the same as those you get for dinner. Being in a particularly gluttonous mood, I elected to start with the Fried Calamari appetizer, opted to try a slice of their meatball pizza, and went with the Penne Rustica as my entree. Megan went with one of the entree-sized salads, the Insalata Milanese.

The calamari is, in my opinion, one of the best items you can get at Tony's. Served with red sauce and light buttermilk breading, this was a top-notch way to start the meal. It's worth noting that this appetizer will easily feed four or more, and if you really like calamari, you might even be happy with this as your entree. Yesterday, I felt like there was a little bit of a salt issue, as some of the calamari pieces were significantly more or less salted than others. But this is an appetizer I can certainly recommend wholeheartedly.

In perusing the menu yesterday, I was surprised I'd never tried the pizza before yesterday, and my choice of a meatball slice was a pretty good selection. This was a standard NY-style slice and, not too surprisingly, was reminiscent of the pizza at Nick's. It didn't blow me away or anything, but it was pretty good pizza and probably a notch above-average for the area.

The Penne Rustica was a good choice for an entree. Featuring grilled chicken and fresh broccoli florets in a garlic cream sauce served over al dente penne, it was pretty tasty. I expected the garlic cream sauce to be rich and overpowering, like an alfredo sauce is often prone to being, but it was refreshingly light yet flavorful. One thing the dish was lacking was a savory component. It's my understanding that Penne Rustica often is made with pancetta, which I think would have made a fantastic complement to the flavors inherent in this dish. But, as seems to be the case with every visit to Tony's, in the end I found an entree that I liked quite a bit, but did not love.

Megan's salad was somewhat less impressive. Its components (grilled chicken, Italian greens, walnuts) were good, but she commented that it was overly drenched in its oil-and-vinegar based dressing.

According to Urbanspoon, Tony's Italian Grill is listed as the #1 restaurant in the Greater Binghamton area. At first, I have to admit this was somewhat surprising, but after some thought, it made perfect sense. On Urbanspoon, restaurants are rated based solely on whether a patron liked it or disliked it. In my estimation, it's nearly impossible to dislike Tony's. Aesthetically, it's one of the nicest places around. It's a versatile place where you could easily eat for under $20 if you just come for pizza, while also serving as a destination for special occasions like birthdays and anniversaries. Service is good, if somewhat unremarkable. (It's worth noting that Megan was mildly peeved about being carded when she ordered a glass of wine yesterday. We aren't that old, but come on, do we really look 20 or younger? ) And there's no doubt that the food is good: I have never had a meal at Tony's that I've disliked.

But the problem with Tony's, if there is one, is that while the food is always good, it's never great. I've probably eaten my way through about half the menu at this point, and quite simply, there's nothing I've ordered that I crave, that I would absolutely have to get again on a future visit. For that reason, Tony's takes a backseat in my mind to some of the area's other Italian restaurants. Don't get me wrong, Tony's is a good restaurant, and a fine place to grab lunch or dinner. We have done so many times and will inevitably do so again. But the best restaurant in Binghamton? Sorry, Urbanspoon, methinks not.

Grade: B

Tony's Italian Grill on Urbanspoon

Friday, September 10, 2010

Tokyo Sushi Buffet

Name: Tokyo Sushi Buffet
Location: 1247 Upper Front St #5, Binghamton, NY 13901
Phone: (607) 773-8888
Cuisine: Japanese/Chinese
Price: Around $10 per person for lunch, around $15 per person for dinner

I have to admit, I'm not usually a big fan of buffets. Most of the time, the quality of what you get on a buffet pales in comparison to what you'd get if you order the same food from a menu--after all, who knows how long that stuff's been sitting there? The benefits of buffets, of course, are numerous also. On most, there's usually something that will appeal to any taste. It gives you the opportunity to try out some different foods you wouldn't ordinarily order off a menu. And prices tend to be affordable. My last buffet experience was at The Silo out in Greene for their Friday Night Seafood Extravaganza, and it gave me the opportunity to try out lots of different, unique entrees for a totally reasonable price. When I heard about the Tokyo Sushi Buffet, I was pretty skeptical, though intrigued by the idea of a buffet where sushi was the main focus. Today we decided to check it out for lunch.

Tokyo Sushi Buffet is on Upper Front St. across from Northgate Plaza and occupies the space that used to be the King Grill Buffet. On the inside it's really a rather nice, clean space with ample seating and about five different buffet stations featuring sushi, various Chinese food, a fresh fruit bar, and some fried American stuff.

I filled up a plate with various maki sushi and nigiri sushi pieces and went to town on devouring it. There are about 50 or so different sushi options available, so you can certainly get your money's worth. Definitely bring an empty stomach, as I did. At any rate, I thought the sushi in general was pretty decent. Presentation was definitely a little lacking, which is completely understandable given that the sushi chefs have to be working constantly to refill the buffets and have very little time to worry about careful construction. As for the quality of the food itself, I'd say it was not nearly as good as sake-tumi in Downtown Binghamton nor was it on par with Sakura in Endicott. Still, I enjoyed the Spicy Tuna Roll quite a bit, and the American Dream Roll (featuring shrimp tempura and topped with avocado) was a favorite of both Megan and myself. The "Magic Roll" is one I hadn't seen before, which consisted of tempura shrimp with cream cheese in the middle. Interesting, though not exactly a grand success. The Rainbow Roll, a sushi classic, was not up to snuff compared with other such rolls I've had before. And a word of warning: many of the rolls tended to be spicy (without adding your own wasabi/soy concoction), so if you aren't a fan of spicy stuff, proceed at your own risk.

The Chinese part of the buffet leaves an awful lot to be desired. The General Tso's Chicken was nearly unidentifiable. I will say that I enjoyed the Shrimp with Garlic Sauce, but was pretty disappointed by that side of the buffet as a whole. Then again, I came to eat sushi, and the place is TOKYO Sushi Buffet, not BEIJING Chinese Buffet, so it's hard to be too critical there.

Service is quick, with wait staff scurrying around to clear empty plates and delivering drink orders, and the price was phenomenal (around $10 per person) for an all-you-can-eat sushi experience in a nice atmosphere. But I would have to say that I like Tokyo Sushi Buffet more in theory than in execution. All-you-can-eat sushi is an excellent idea, but I thought most of the rolls at Tokyo Sushi Buffet were just average. Of course, if you want to eat massive quantities of sushi and you don't want it to cost an arm and a leg, this place will almost certainly be up your alley.

Grade: B-

Tokyo Sushi (King Grill) Buffet on Urbanspoon

Sunday, September 5, 2010

The New Argo Restaurant

Name: The New Argo Restaurant
Location: 117 Court St., Binghamton, NY 13901
Phone: (607) 724-4692
Cuisine: Diner
Price: Around $10 per person

I'm always up for a Sunday morning diner venture, and today we decided to check out The New Argo, a large diner located downtown on Court St. Things I'd read on social networking sites like Yelp led me to believe that the Argo was one of the better diners in the area, so I was pretty stoked to give it a shot. Sadly, I found it to be below-average in just about every way.

On appearance, The Argo is certainly a nice space. Upon entering you'll notice a long coffee counter/bar (complete with 8-10 beers on tap) to the right, and a large dining room to the left. There's another dining room in the back as well. There are chandeliers hanging from the ceiling and sturdy dark wooden tables and chairs throughout the place. Judging The Argo on looks alone, I'd say it's certainly one of the finer looking diners around.

When we arrived, we noted the sign "Please Wait to be Seated" and told the cashier, who appeared to be the only one working, that we wanted a table for two. Without saying a word, she rudely wagged a finger in the direction of the dining room. Were we supposed to seat ourselves? Eventually someone with vocal cords told us we could sit anywhere, so we picked a small booth and had a seat and were fairly promptly presented with menus.

The breakfast menu consists of most of the usual egg-and-pancake fare in addition to some relatively less common items like Eggs Benedict and Eggs in a Nest, which featured eggs any style over a bed of corned beef hash and home fries served with toast. We opted to try out these special items. Megan ordered the Eggs Benedict, which elicited a chuckle from the waitress who instructed us that the cook "hates to make Eggs Benedict." My thoughts: if he hates it so much, take it off the menu. When I order something, I really don't want to hear that the guy who's going to make it hates it. But whatever. The waitress asked Megan if she wanted toast with her dish and Megan asked if toast came with it. The waitress did not know, good-naturedly telling us that she doesn't know the menu, she just takes the orders. Wait, what? You're a waitress in a restaurant, and in addition to ratting out your cook's hatred of Eggs Benedict, you have no knowledge of the menu. Great. Good job, you. At any rate, I ordered the aforementioned Eggs in a Nest and thus began the half-hour-plus wait for our food. Unacceptable, frankly, given that there were about two other people in the entire restaurant when we were there.

Finally, the food came out. My scrambled eggs (how exactly do you screw up scrambled eggs?!?) were way overcooked and kind of crusty. Yuck. The toast tasted kind of odd as if the bread that comprised it was on the stale side. On the plus side, the home fries and corned beef hash were pretty tasty but nowhere near a similar dish I recently had at the Broadway Diner in Endwell. All in all, my plate of food was below-average, even by diner standards. For what it's worth, Megan was reasonably pleased with the Eggs Benedict, though she agrees with me that the ambiance is by far the best aspect of the experience that The Argo offers.

Overall, I would rate The Argo among the worst dining experiences I have had in the Binghamton area. The service teetered between rude, slow, and bad. Weird, considering we were among the only patrons in the restaurant. My breakfast walked a fine line between passable and inedible, though in the end I did manage to choke it down. They say not to judge a book by its cover, and usually, that suggests that the contents are superior to the surface. The Argo is the exact opposite.

Grade: D

Argo Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Mama Giuseppa's

Name: Mama Giuseppa's
Location: 4 S. Liberty Ave., Endicott, NY 13760
Phone: (607) 748-7200
Cuisine: Italian/Pizza
Price: Likely $20-$30 per person

Mama Giuseppa's is yet another entry in the long line of Italian restaurants that dot the landscape of the Triple Cities. This one is located on North St. in Endicott (technically a Liberty Ave. address), not far from the Cider Mill, and they've just celebrated their 10-year anniversary of being in business. It's a restaurant that I truly had not heard much about before we went, but based on things I'd read, those who like the place are staunch defenders of its low-key charm and home-style Italian eats. A Facebook page with over 500 supporters certainly seems to support this notion.

The restaurant itself is a fairly small space with somewhere around six to eight booths along the right hand side and 15-20 tables toward the back. It's a clean space and the atmosphere gives off the vibe that you're eating in someone's kitchen; the decor is quaint and homey with all sorts of family photographs on the walls, and there was some 1940's big-band music piping through the speakers. On atmosphere alone, it is somewhat reminiscent of both Frank's out in Maine, and Johnson City's Cacciatore's.

We took a minute to look through the menu before placing our orders, and found it to be rather extensive. All the traditional Italian pasta favorites are accounted for, in addition to many different chicken, veal, and seafood dishes, and they double as a pizzeria as well. I opted to go with the lasagna ($10.99) and added both a meatball and a sausage ($1.25 each); on the recommendation of the waitress, Megan went with the Shrimp Scampi ($15.99) served over penne. Entrees come with a house salad (we added the bleu cheese crumbles for $1 each) and complimentary garlic knots.

The salad, with its homemade Italian dressing, was a decent start to the meal, but nothing to get excited about. It featured the standard greens, tomato, onion, cucumber, and olives. The Italian dressing was a tasty balsamic vinegar-based topper and the bleu cheese crumbles were a solid add-on. The garlic knots, what I perceive to be a specialty at Mama Giuseppa's, were quite excellent.

The first thing we noticed about our entrees was the sheer enormity. The lasagna was easily two full portions in size, if not four. The shrimp scampi certainly wasn't skimpy either. We admired the presentation of the dishes, finding it to be in line with the aforementioned home-style ambiance. Aside from the fact that that the lasagna was a little crusty and burnt around the edges, as you can see above.

The lasagna was very good, with thick, sweet red sauce, flavorful beef, and a fairly thick layer of mozzarella. It wasn't the best lasagna I've had in the area (that title would go to Frank's), but it was tasty, and the leftover half will make for a good dinner tomorrow night as well. I tried out Megan's scampi and found it to be only average--nowhere near the amazing scampi at the Oaks Inn (which Megan and I have vowed to visit again very soon). The shrimp were good, but the dish was somewhat lacking in flavor beyond oil and garlic; some fresh herbs might have taken the dish to the next level. For its faults, it was still a decent dish--but I doubt that either of us would order it next time.

Since we both stopped short of finishing our enormous portions, we left a little room for dessert and opted to split a cannoli, as has seemed to become the custom in our visits to the area's Italian restaurants. I will say that the dessert menu at Mama Giuseppa's was totally up my alley, and everything on the dessert tray looked really great, including a peanut butter pie that I was *this* close to persuading Megan to order instead. But she had her heart set on the cannoli, and it ended up being an excellent choice, a great, flaky warmed pastry with cheese filling that rates favorably among the desserts we've had recently. Certainly a fine way to end a fine meal.

All things considered, I thought Mama Giuseppa's was certainly worth visiting. It has a casual, neighborhood atmosphere, good service, and the home-style food is pretty solid. I am interested in trying the pizza, which I have heard good things about. Based on this visit, I don't think Mama Giuseppa's is exceptional in any way (aside from portion size), and I doubt we'll head there often because the similar and superior Cacciatore's is closer to where we live, but it's a solid entrant to the area's Italian scene. It's definitely a notch above the celebrated-yet-overrated Consol's.

Grade: B

Mama Guiseppa's on Urbanspoon

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Tom's Texas Hots

Name: Tom's Texas Hots
Location: 1237 Upper Front St., Binghamton, NY 13905
Phone: (607) 771-4687
Cuisine: Barbecue (Hot dogs, burgers, pork barbecue, etc...)
Price: $5 to $10 per person

Tom's is the second (and as far as I know, last) of the area's "Texas Hot" joints I'll review. Unlike the ancient Tony's Texas Hots in downtown Johnson City, Tom's hasn't been around too long, popping up on Upper Front St. across from Northgate Plaza sometime in the last five years. They have a surprisingly varied menu of different styles of hot dogs, burgers, specialty sandwiches, and sides, but also feature some Greek-style items like gyros and souvlaki. Tom's is a surprisingly cute and clean little restaurant with friendly service, and there's even a drive-thru for those who wish to take their dogs elsewhere before chowing down. In appearance, Tom's reminds me quite a lot of Skyline Chili out in the Cincinnati area.

I am a sucker for a quality hot dog and was hoping that Tom's could successfully deliver the goods. I decided to order a regular Texas Hot (options with cheese and with peppers and onions were also available) and a Pork BBQ sandwich, and opted to eat there in the cozy environs of the small restaurant. A few short minutes later, my order was brought out to me and I was pretty happy by what I saw.

The pork sandwich was really quite good. This was vinegar-based BBQ (Carolina style, I reckon) instead of ketchup-based, topped with sweet relish and served with a side of homemade cole slaw. The slaw was quite excellent in fact and I think it had an ever-so-slight hint of horseradish to give it a little extra kick. The relish was a nice touch for a topping, while the pork was flavorful and well-seasoned, if perhaps just a slight bit dried out.

I was pretty stoked about the Texas Hot on first glance, and it would not disappoint! The dog itself was the flavorful, snapping variety and was covered by chili, chopped onion, and mustard in perfect ratios. The chili also had excellent flavor and was a little bit thicker and heartier than the chili topping I'd had at Tony's. I really could not find a flaw with this hot dog, and I will gladly return to Tom's again in the future for more.

It surprised me how good Tom's Texas Hots truly is, and it's definitely superior in every way to Tony's in Johnson City. (Admittedly, Tony's is much more fascinating to me from a historical perspective.) For a restaurant of its ilk (fast food) in the Binghamton area, Tom's is definitely in a league of its own, with good, fresh-made food made by friendly folks at low prices. This is truly one of Binghamton's hidden gems.

Grade: A-

Tom's Texas Hots on Urbanspoon

Home Deli

Name: Home Deli
Location: 4700 Vestal Pkwy E Ste 13, Vestal, NY 13850
Phone: (607) 729-3495
Cuisine: Sandwiches/Bagels/Deli
Price: $5 to $10 per person

The Home Deli can be found in University Plaza. They offer an array of different hot and cold sandwiches, bagels, breakfast sandwiches, soups, and standard deli sides (potato salad, cole slaw, etc.) at low prices. Since I work nearby and was in need of a quick lunch, I decided to scope it out.

The restaurant is a pretty small space with a few tables set up in front and the deli counter taking up most of the left side of the place. I took a long look over the menu before deciding I was in the mood to try out their Philly Cheese Steak, since I hadn't had one in awhile, and opted to go with grilled onions and peppers and provolone cheese as toppings.

The sandwich was solid, and for a mere $5 represented good value. I got the sense that the bread was not the fresh-baked variety, which definitely causes the Home Deli to pale in comparison to some of its peers. But the sandwich was most certainly well made (not too greasy, which I certainly appreciated) and it satisfied my cheese steak craving. All in all, judging by this sandwich, I would say that the Home Deli is the kind of place I wouldn't mind frequenting if there weren't many other options available, but the unfortunate thing is that it lies in the same plaza as several other superior eateries (Mediterranean Gyro, for one).

What is noteworthy about the Home Deli is the service. The owner is a chatty fellow who seems to get to know his customers well; several customers came in while I was there and he knew what each of them wanted before they even ordered. He expressed sincere thanks when I paid for my sandwich. It must be difficult to coexist with Subway right around the corner, but I can understand why people keep coming back, even if the product is less than exceptional. Good, familiar service goes a long way, and for that reason, the Home Deli could be a place you find worthy of patronage, and is probably the reason the small shop has stuck around as long as it has.

Grade: B-

Home Deli on Urbanspoon
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