Friday, January 21, 2011

China Lake

Name: China Lake
Location: 3215 E Main St., Endicott, NY 13760
Phone: (607) 748-2133
Cuisine: Chinese (American and Authentic)
Price: Around $10 per person

Endwell's China Lake represents one of at least two Chinese restaurants in the Binghamton area that offer not only the standard Americanized Chinese take-out that most folks in this country are acquainted with, but also a special menu of more "authentic" Chinese cuisine. The other, Moon Star (also in Endwell, about a quarter mile up the road from China Lake), has long been a favorite of mine. It's been my "go-to" Chinese place since I first went there a few years back. Lately, I've had somewhat of a renewed interest in the area's Chinese restaurants. I heard China Lake was one of the best from friends, from various blurbs around the internet, and from loyal readers of this blog, and today we went to try it out.

China Lake is located in a small strip mall in Endwell on 17C, just before the North St. split. There's a tiny, awkward parking lot in front of the restaurant. Upon entering China Lake you'll notice there is hardly any ambiance to be had. The place has about 8 tables. There are a few 4-seaters along the left side, but most of the tables are for larger parties of 8 or more. The restaurant is slightly on the dingy side and has little by way of decoration to spruce it up. One gets the sense that China Lake works best as a take-out place. They also deliver (not sure to how wide a radius).

We took a seat and were given menus, noodles, and a homemade duck sauce. Since it was lunch time when we were there, we ordered from the lunch menu, which had two components. First was a list of Lunch Specials featuring an entree with soup of your choice (wonton, egg drop, hot & sour), from which Megan ordered the Chicken with Broccoli with wonton soup. On the flip side was the authentic Chinese menu, with several interesting looking choices (some easily more adventurous than I was willing to go on this day). From the special menu, I ordered the Barbecued Beef and also opted for some wonton soup.

The soup came first and I thought it was pretty good, maybe the best of the wonton soups I've had in this area. The wontons themselves were smaller, tighter pouches than what you get at many other places, but had very nice flavor. This is a soup I would definitely order again.

Next came the entrees. Megan liked the Chicken with Broccoli quite a lot, preferring it to the same dish at Moon Star (and any other Chinese we've had in the area for that matter). I had a couple bites and it wasn't bad. But not nearly as good as my entree.

I really enjoyed my Barbecued Beef entree a lot. This featured beef stir-fried in a somewhat spicy garlic sauce with green onions served over a bed of Chinese cabbage. Completely delicious, and something I would order again in a heartbeat. If I had to be a little bit critical of the dish, I'd say it was very oily. From the above picture, you can literally see it swimming in oil. This didn't bother me, nor detract from my enjoyment of the dish, but I get the sense that some people might be a little turned off by that aspect. Fortune cookies and fresh orange slices followed to complete the meal.

Service at China Lake was provided by friendly, if a bit gruff, older Chinese lady. I'd have to say the service was a bit spotty, as it took about 15 minutes for us to get drinks (just water and tea), and there was an extended wait for our check because the restaurant staff decided it was their time to eat. All this means is that China Lake has not supplanted Moon Star as my "dining-out" Chinese restaurant. I thought China Lake's food was probably the best Chinese I've had in the area, but I plan to enjoy exclusively it as take-out in the future. For what it's worth, Megan shares the exact same opinion. She enjoyed the food quite a bit, but to quote her: "There's no way I'll ever eat there again." If you choose to dine in, consider yourself warned.

China Lake is a very good, if somewhat flawed, Chinese restaurant. No doubt the menu is more expansive and unique than most others around, and most importantly, we found the food to be extremely tasty. Ambiance and service definitely knock the place down a peg in our eyes, an area in which the restaurant pales in comparison to the nearby Moon Star. But if all that matters is the food, I would have to conclude China Lake is the best restaurant of its ilk that you'll find in the Triple Cities.

Grade: B+

China Lake Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Acropolis Restaurant

Name: Acropolis Restaurant
Location: 27 Washington Ave., Endicott, NY 13760
Phone: (607) 754-7766
Cuisine: Greek Diner
Price: Very inexpensive. Around $10 for two for breakfast.

Another day, another stop on our diner tour. Monday, we ventured to the Red Robin Diner in Johnson City for some old school ambiance. Yesterday, we decided to try out Chris' in downtown Binghamton. Today, it was a trip to Washington Ave. in Endicott to the Acropolis.

The restaurant is much bigger on the inside than it appears from the outside. There's a coffee counter along most of the right side of the restaurant, where the grill is also located. To the left, there is a long, narrow dining room full of spacious booths. The ambiance of the place is nothing to get excited about (the decor looks like it hasn't changed much since the 1960's), but it's pleasant enough. Nevermind the blinking icicle lights strung throughout the dining room. In the end, we found the environment to be comfortable and inviting.

We ordered coffee and I decided to go with pancakes and bacon today, while Megan once again went with eggs, bacon, home fries, and toast. All of this amounted to a mere $9.50, making the Acropolis one of the premier value breakfast spots in the area. For those curious, the menu is fairly standard. The usual egg/pancake fare, in addition to about 6-8 different omelet choices.

Both of us thought our breakfasts were merely decent. My pancakes were not the best I've had--there was something a little weird in the flavor, while the syrup was a far cry from real maple. The bacon was OK, if perhaps a little thin and flabby. Megan enjoyed hers but shared my opinion that it was merely average. But for $9.50 total for the two of us, I'm not expecting a gourmet meal.

For a cheap breakfast in comfortable surroundings with friendly service, you could do a lot worse than the Acropolis. I look forward to going back to try their lunch menu in the near future; I am a sucker for gyros, souvlaki, and the like. For now, I give the Acropolis a mild recommendation. If you are predisposed to liking diners, you'll probably find this one to have some admirable qualities, but if you aren't a diner fan, this will not be the one to convert you.

Grade: B-

Acropolis Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Chris' Diner

Name: Chris' Diner
Location: 192 State St., Binghamton, NY 13901
Phone: (607) 723-6854
Cuisine: American Diner
Price: Around $10 per person

The diner tour rolled along again today with a trip to Chris' Diner, located on State St. in downtown Binghamton. The first notable thing about Chris' is the name, which almost certainly is grammatically incorrect and should instead be "Chris's," but I reckon this is Binghamton, not Oxford.

Chris' is the classic "greasy spoon" variety of diner, serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner. They seem to have a pretty loyal following among working class folk and college students alike. Its proximity to the Binghamton Bus Terminal probably leads to a fair bit of traffic as well. Appearance-wise, it's a little shabby looking on the interior with the seats in the booths having gaping holes in the cushions; one gets the sense that this is a place that has seen better days. There are a couple booths and a few tables toward the front of the restaurant and a coffee counter taking up most of the right side along the back. In the old-fashioned diner style, behind the counter lies the grill, where you can watch the cook prepare your meal. From an ambiance perspective, I was not impressed with Chris'.

I ordered a Greek omelet (green pepper, onion, tomato, feta cheese) while Megan went with eggs and bacon. Both meals came with home fries and toast, and we had coffee to drink. Service was quick; within ten minutes, our food was on the table.

As it turns out, I didn't care too much for my breakfast at all. The omelet was on the watery side and the eggs were overcooked (an odd combination, I know). I did not get the sense that the vegetable contents were the freshest, either. The home fries and toast were decent. Coffee was on the weak side.

Megan had about the opposite reaction to mine. She enjoyed her breakfast thoroughly and said that everything was good, even the bacon, an item she is normally picky about. She did agree with me that the ambiance of the diner left a lot to be desired relative to some others in the area, like the Park Diner and the Broadway Diner. On the plus side, our breakfasts were pretty huge and fairly inexpensive.

Chris' Diner did not leave me with the greatest of impressions. I found it average at best, even by diner standards. If you're looking for old-school diner ambiance, there are several places that offer a better experience. And if a good breakfast is what you're seeking, I can't say that Chris' is the place to find one.

Grade: C

Chris' Diner on Urbanspoon

Monday, January 17, 2011

Red Robin Diner

Name: Red Robin Diner
Location: 268 Main St., Johnson City, NY 13790
Phone: (607) 729-2346
Cuisine: American Diner
Price: Less than $10 per person

Today, we decided to resume our tour of the area's diners. We've covered a lot of ground and have found some good ones, but still have a few to go. This morning's stop was the Red Robin Diner in Johnson City. We've lived in Johnson City for a long time and passed by the Red Robin countless times over the years, but never bothered to stop. Until the last couple of years, the place looked rather rundown and somewhat sketchy, from the exterior at least. Since acquiring new ownership a couple years ago, I heard that the Red Robin had made somewhat of a rebound to its glory days of years past. I was pretty stoked about giving it a shot.

Ambiance at the Red Robin, located on Main St. in the heart of Johnson City, is old-fashioned even by diner standards. The signage around the restaurant looks like it hasn't changed much, if at all, in the last fifty years; some empty glass Coke bottles in a case near the entrance serve as a reminder of yesteryear. One unique thing about the layout of the Red Robin is that the coffee counter faces the street. A little research shows that the Red Robin is indeed a rarity which has existed in the area since 1950, making it one of the Triple Cities' longest-running establishments.

As you enter, you'll see the coffee counter and some booths off to the right, and a larger dining area (which I assume may have been expanded later) straight ahead toward the back. We chose a booth toward the front and were quickly presented with coffee while we perused the paper menus already on the table. Since we were there at 9:00 AM, breakfast was the only option available to us at that time. The menu featured all the usual diner stuff, eggs, home fries, bacon, sausage, French toast, pancakes, corned beef hash, omelets, and many combinations thereof. I did not find the menu to be as expansive as some others in the area, which is fine. It's all about quality over quantity in my book.

Megan and I both ordered the same thing, the Breakfast Special which featured two eggs any style with bacon, home fries, toast, and coffee for $4.00 including tax. A steal of a deal if I may say so. I went over-easy on my eggs with white toast, while Megan went scrambled with wheat toast. In about ten minutes, our meals were ready.

Overall, this was average diner fare. Bacon was crispy (just how we like it--though Megan much prefers the bacon at Danny's Diner), eggs were done properly to order, home fries were slightly crispy and not too mushy. Megan's toast was a little burnt. If you like a cheap diner breakfast, the Red Robin will certainly hit the spot. It won't amaze you, but then again, it's not meant to. Service was friendly and quick. Make sure to bring cash, as the Red Robin does not take credit/debit at this time.

One of the things I like about diners is that the best ones offer a glimpse into the history of the town to which they belong and an overall feeling of nostalgia. As I sat in the Red Robin, looking out onto Johnson City's Main St., I wondered what the town must have looked like 40 or 50 years ago during the Red Robin's heyday. These days, it's mostly rundown and/or abandoned buildings surrounding the place. I am hopeful that the Red Robin will soldier on, as a comfortable, inexpensive diner and as an artifact of the village's past, until better times someday return to the region.

Grade: B

Red Robin Diner on Urbanspoon

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Antonio's Galleria and Cafe

Name: Antonio's Galleria and Cafe
Location: 100 Oak Hill Avenue, Endicott, NY 13760
Phone: (607) 748-6269
Cuisine: Paninis, Salads, Pizza (Lunch Menu)
Price: $10-$15 per person, depending on what you get

It's a fact that Dan handles the majority of our reviews. Usually he has more to say than I do or is more motivated to comment. However, Antonio's has inspired me to snap Dan's review streak with its casual elegance and simply delicious food. Suffice to say, I am in a hurry to return.

While I have been aware of Antonio's existence, it wasn't until driving by it earlier in the week that I took a second to look at it. From the outside, it is a cute building with some decorative painting on its exterior. Its location on the corner of Oak Hill across the street from Consol's sets it in a neighborhood that Dan and I have come to enjoy for the great food that the entire street has to offer. As a result, I had an interest in what Antonio's could offer.

Yesterday afternoon, after parking in the small lot adjacent to the building, we entered Antonio's and I was immediately impressed and taken aback by its charm. The space is much more open than you would expect from the building's size and is well used. There is a bar with some sort of colored glass decorations immediately as you enter and you see the delicious looking gelato selections to the bar's left. The restaurant space has quite a few tables as well as several leather couches and ottomans for those looking to sit and relax. I know that the restaurant hosts a Thursday night trivia, as well as musical acts on the weekends. It has a downtown, almost European feel that makes it seem a bit out of place given its location in Endicott, but it sets Antonio's apart in a good way. I absolutely loved the sophisticated vibe of Antonio's and could definitely see myself coming back for drinks in the near future.

As for food and drink, we were presented with a small paper lunch menu, as well as a bound drink menu that was loaded with martini cocktails, as well as drinks made with gelato - all of which I am dying to try, but thought best not to partake in during lunch, so we both got water. For lunch selections, there were some appetizers of the Italian ilk, as well as pizzas, salads, and paninis. Not a huge selection, but I think there is something for everyone. Dan and I elected to try out the risotto cakes for an appetizer (given my love of risotto) and I went with the Tacchino Panino (turkey, bacon, cheddar, lettuce and tomato), while Dan went with the Italiano Panini (your basic Italian meats with cheese and greens, along with roasted red peppers). We were excited to see if the food could match the beauty of the space.

The risotto cakes came with a dipping sauce that was most likely marinara, but with an additional element (probably cherry peppers) that really made it special. The cakes themselves were much like crab cakes, but way better because they were filled with creamy, cheesy risotto. Seriously, I love a good crab cake, but given the choice, I would pick these every time, particularly since you don't find them on many menus.

Then came my panini with its side of pasta salad, which was fine, if a little bland. However, that pasta salad did not deserve to share a plate with my panini, which was AMAZING. From the crusty italian bread, to the bacon crumbles, to the perfect proportion of cheese, turkey, tomatoes and lettuce, it was one delicious bite after another. What really took it to the next level was the honey mustard sauce that I elected to have instead of ranch. That little kick of sweetness made this sandwich one of the best that I have ever had. I was kind enough to share a few bites with Dan and he agreed that it was righteous.

Dan's Italiano Panini was slightly less successful than mine. Although he also liked the bread and found the overall taste to be good, he has more affection for other Italian paninis in that area, particularly from Vincenzo's. He also agreed that the pasta salad was somewhat lacking. Maybe some chips or a side salad would prove more of a tasty accompaniment to the giant paninis.

Moving on to dessert, we could not leave without trying the gelato. There were many selections ranging from fruit flavors to more chocolate decadence. I elected to go with a chocolate hazelnut offering, while Dan went with the tiramisu. Although both were very good, I think that those who have had real Italian gelato in Italy would agree that Antonio's version is slightly less authentic. It was not as creamy as I remember gelato to be, but that could be due to other factors, such as freezing. Nonetheless, the gelato was a nice ending to a fantastic lunch.

Clearly, I have been won over by Antonio's. I have been looking for a place with its casual sophistication in the Binghamton area since I moved here - one that would cater to those who don't like the dive bars of Main Street or the student hangouts of downtown. Add to that its delicious food and tasty desserts and you have a winner in my book. I am very much looking forward to checking out Antonio's for dinner and drinks in the very near future.

Grade: A

Antonio's Galleria & Cafe on Urbanspoon

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Ithaca Ale House

Name: Ithaca Ale House
Location: 111 N. Aurora St., Ithaca, NY 14850
Phone: (607) 256-7977
Cuisine: Burgers/sandwiches/desserts/BEER
Price: Likely around $20+ per person

The Ithaca Ale House has caught my eye often on my more recent trips to Ithaca, as is the case with most things involving "ale" in the name. Located just off the famous Ithaca Commons on Aurora St., I'd never been before the other day, when Megan and I found ourselves in Ithaca around lunchtime in search of a place to eat. Thankfully, I had recalled a post I'd read on the Big Hungry Shelby blog, which pronounced the Ithaca Ale House 2010's Best Restaurant in the entire area. With such lofty expectations going in, the Ithaca Ale House couldn't possibly live up to such great heights, right?

Wrong. This place is awesome.

One of my main motivations for going was to sample the latest Ithaca Excelsior! Series brew, their Thirteenth Anniversary Ale. This is a beer released only very recently, since the beginning of the new year, and I am a fan of all of Ithaca's Excelsior! offerings. The 12th Anniversary is a nice Belgian-style Abt, while the Brute is probably the brewery's most famed offering, a golden sour ale made with champagne yeasts which is positively delicious. The Thirteen is best described as a wheatwine, an extra-hoppy version of a wheat beer. Imagine a hefeweizen on steroids, brewed with lemony Sorachi Ace hops and Citra hops with slight pineapple notes. DELICIOUS! When it came time for Beer #2, it was time for another carrot-juice lookalike Thirteen. Yum.

But, yeah, on to the items our readers probably care more about than beer. In addition to a solid beverage menu, the Ithaca Ale House has a great menu full of gourmet burgers and sandwiches, each marked with a style of beer that would serve as a tasty complement. Megan ordered the "Perfect" burger, featuring lettuce, tomato, onion, bacon, cheddar cheese, ketchup, mustard, and mayo on a grilled roll. Sounds perfect in theory; hopefully it would stand up to the taste test. I elected to try out (on blogger buddy Shelby's recommendation) the French Dip, shaved prime rib with provolone on toasted French bread with au jus on the side. I had high hopes for this sandwich beforehand but after downing half of my 8.9% ABV wheatwine, expectations were at a fever pitch.

Luckily, these expectations were not just met, but exceeded. This was pretty much a perfect sandwich in every way. There is no way it could be improved upon. Served with fries on the side, I was in foodie heaven throughout the consumption of this delicious sandwich. On the downside, the fries were not bad, but not my favorite style, the crispy golden variety that you find at diners and the like. I like the "homestyle" variety that are more "potato-skin-esque" in flavor and texture. But that's just like, my opinion, man. The bigger deal here was the French Dip, which was amazing.

Megan's burger was equally fantastic, perfectly cooked to order. She got it with their "salad of the day" which she also enjoyed, but she has since commented that she won't be able to eat another burger for a while, since it will almost certainly pale in comparison to this one.

When it came time for dessert, we knew we had to try the Fried Oreos, proclaimed as Best Dessert of 2010 by the aforementioned Shelby. Served with whipped cream, a few smears of caramel on the side, and HOT CHOCOLATE for dipping (I can't make this stuff up, people!), this was a very tasty finish to the meal. Not nearly as good as some of the desserts I've had recently in Binghamton (English Toffee Pudding at Tranquil springs to mind) but for pub food, pretty amazing both in theory and in execution.

If you like great burgers and sandwiches, or if you're a beer connoisseur (some would say "snob," I prefer "geek") like myself, do yourself a favor and check out the Ithaca Ale House. For a restaurant of its ilk, things really don't get any better than this. Thanks, Shelby!

Grade: A

Ithaca Ale House on Urbanspoon

Phil's Chicken House

Name: Phil's Chicken House
Location: 1208 Maine Rd., Endicott, NY 13760
Phone: (607) 748-6855
Cuisine: American BBQ
Price: $10-$15 per adult, $5-$10 per child

Phil's Chicken House has been a Southern Tier institution for close to fifty years, offering take-out, buffet-style BBQ chicken dinners, and a Sunday brunch buffet to longtime local patrons and curious outsiders. Having never been, we decided to go for dinner last night for the buffet, which they offer seven days a week with some variations depending on which night you go.

The restaurant is one of very few in the West Corners area just north and west of Endicott. Upon arriving at Phil's for the buffet, you'll want to enter through the back, which means parking behind the restaurant and finding the entrance for the lower level. You can also enter via the upper floor but will be directed to take the stairs off the right to find the dining room. We found the dining room to be typical of what you'd expect of a "family restaurant," with a few booths along the left and some larger tables to accommodate bigger parties on the right side. A waitress came by and took our drink order and provided us a large bucket in which to place the chicken bones.

The buffet ($9.99 per adult) is not gigantic in size, but has a lot of really good options. For soups, they have both chicken noodle and cream of broccoli available regularly. A few different kinds of bread (white, garlic, banana, and pumpkin varieties) were available. There's a full salad bar complete with side salads--potato, macaroni, cole slaw. And then there was the main courses, BBQ chicken, spare ribs, beef tips, real homemade mashed potatoes and gravy, macaroni and cheese, a seafood casserole, rice pilaf, buttered green beans, and perhaps a few other things I didn't get to. I did my best to try everything, but as soon as I tried the chicken, I knew I'd be eating more of that than anything else.

The soup was good if unremarkable, and I enjoyed the salad bar too. The potato salad was pretty delicious and I'm not sure if the Thousand Island dressing was homemade or not, but whatever it was, I liked it. The pumpkin bread (not something I usually enjoy) was a definite highlight also--very moist and well-spiced and just overall very tasty.

The real draw of Phil's Chicken House, is, obviously, the BBQ chicken. A little research has turned up that the style of chicken that Phil's serves is unique to this area (the Southern Tier region south of the Finger Lakes) and is called Cornell Chicken, thus named due to its being invented by a professor at Cornell back in the 1940's. This style involves marinading the chicken in a mixture of egg, vegetable oil, cider vinegar, salt, poultry seasoning, and black pepper before grilling. I'm not sure if Phil's uses this recipe or some variant thereof, but this was some of the most tender, delicious chicken I've ever had. I admired that it wasn't at all greasy, but rather juicy with tons of flavor.

The chicken was, in my mind, the only real standout on the buffet. The barbecued spare ribs were passable, but left me pining for the recently-departed Theo's. The beef tips were tasty if perhaps a little on the tough side, while the mashed potatoes and mac & cheese were good but not transcendent.

When it came time for dessert, I opted to try the dessert of the month, Cherry Cobbler. It should be noted that while desserts are not available on the buffet, you get a free dessert with the purchase of the buffet. So definitely save a little room. The cherry cobbler was really tasty with fresh real whipped cream on top. It was pretty much like eating really good cherry pie out of a cup. I would certainly order it again, given the opportunity.

Overall, if you're looking for a solid home-style, family restaurant in the Triple Cities, Phil's Chicken House is exactly what you're looking for. This would be an excellent place to bring families with small children and the grandparents alike; there's certainly something for everyone to enjoy. From my "foodie" perspective, the Cornell Chicken is reason enough for me to make a return visit. Next time you're thinking of heading over to the Cracker Barrel, I encourage you to consider giving Phil's your business instead.

Grade: B

Phil's Chicken House on Urbanspoon

Fu Star Chinese

Name: Fu Star Chinese
Location: 1185 Vestal Ave., Ste. 3, Binghamton, NY 13903
Phone: (607) 722-5767
Cuisine: Chinese
Price: Less than $10 per person

Sometimes I get these cravings for Chinese take-out for lunch, and the Triple Cities have many options in that regard that are always very quick and inexpensive, but variable in quality. Moon Star in Endwell and Foliage on Riverside Dr. in Johnson City are a couple good ones that I've found, but I'd heard some good things about Fu Star on Binghamton's South Side, and so off I went to try it out.

Fu Star is located in a small plaza on the South Side, behind Thirsty's and across the street from Whole in the Wall and South Side Yanni's. The restaurant is small but has a few tables available if you choose to eat there. My guess is that 90% of their business is take-out. The small store is clean, but does not offer anything by way of ambiance. Which is fine. I do not expect much from these sorts of places.

With it being around 1:00 PM, I opted to order a Lunch Special, which features one of about 25 different entree options (the usual ones) served with your choice of white or fried rice. To me, this is kind of "meh" for a special. Many of the other places offer soup or an eggroll, or at least a beverage as part of their special; Fu Star did not. Cripes. But I was hopeful that the General Tso's Chicken with pork fried rice I ordered would be up to snuff.

Within 5 minutes my order was ready. Be sure to bring cash if you're going to Fu Star, as they do not accept credit cards. It's 2011 and they don't take credit. Come on! Anyway, $5.35 later, I was out the door. A pretty good deal.

Unfortunately, I did not care for this meal at all. As soon as I opened the packaging, I knew this was going to be subpar Chinese due to the glossy, syrupy appearance of the chicken. I am usually a pretty big fan of General Tso's. I like it best when the spicy quotient is amped up and the sweet component is secondary. This was the exact opposite of my preference. Sugar-sweet chicken that wasn't spicy at all. The rice was pretty much par for the course, a little dried out. And no fortune cookie in the bag? What's that all about?

Here's how the missing fortune should've read: You will never return to Fu Star Chinese Restaurant.

Grade: D

Fu Star Chinese on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

City Light Cafe

Name: City Light Cafe
Location: 254 Washington St., Binghamton, NY 13901
Phone: (607) 723-7430
Cuisine: Sandwiches/Soup
Price: Less than $10 per person

Always in search of a good lunch place, we headed downtown today to check out City Light Cafe on Washington St., just up the road a bit from The Forum, owned and operated by the First Assembly of God church across the street. I'd heard next to nothing about the place and did not really know what to expect.

Located at the corner of Clinton and Washington, parking for City Light Cafe can be found right across the street. The restaurant itself is a huge, beautiful, well-decorated space with seating to both the left and the right. We were quickly presented with menus and I decided to try out the soup of the day (chicken and rice) as well as something called the Montana Turkey Melt consisting of sliced turkey, bacon, cheese, tomato, and ranch dressing on grilled sourdough. Megan got a regular turkey sandwich on rye. She is forever in search of the perfect turkey sandwich and hoped that City Light Cafe could be a contender.

The soup was excellent, very flavorful and rich and much thicker than the standard chicken broth-based soup. I was also impressed with my sandwich; actually, for what it was, it was just about perfect. The ingredients were all really fresh and tasty. It was certainly nothing to get too excited about, and I think another ingredient like avocado would have taken it to the next level. But I cannot complain--I enjoyed the sandwich and it definitely hit the spot.

Megan really liked hers as well, proclaiming it to be better than the turkey sandwich at the Full Belly Deli in Vestal. This is high praise coming from Megan, as the Full Belly is one of her favorite lunch spots in the area. Again, no frills, but just a very well-made sandwich on fresh bread.

City Light Cafe is certainly not perfect. In our opinion, they could do a LOT more with the space, most of which probably does not get utilized on a daily basis. Whether they have the desire and the resources to do so, of course, is another matter. The menu is really very limited as well. In addition to the two turkey sandwiches we ordered, they offer a Reuben, Rachel, BLT, Tuna Salad, and Grilled Cheese, and that's about it (they do have a couple wrap options including a Philly Cheese Steak as well). So if you're looking for an expansive menu with lots of variety like that at, say, the nearby Old World Delicatessen, you're going to be out of luck here. Also, they're only open from 11-2 Monday through Friday for lunch.

If you like a good, no-frills sandwich place, City Light Cafe will definitely be up your alley. It's a great space for a restaurant and I hope they will expand their menu and hours at some point. As it stands now, City Light Cafe represents yet another low-key gem of a sandwich shop that most people would probably really like if they gave it an opportunity. If you are a regular at Escape State Street or the Old World Deli and haven't tried City Light Cafe, I highly encourage you to check it out!

Grade: B+

City Light Cafe on Urbanspoon

Lampy's Mediterranean Grill

Name: Lampy's Mediterranean Grill
Location: 105 W Main St., Endicott, NY 13760
Phone: (607) 748-5200
Cuisine: Pasta/Steaks/Seafood, leaning toward Italian
Price: $75+ for two

Lampy's is the so-called "sister" restaurant to Binghamton's best known fine dining establishment, Number 5 Restaurant. We've been to both restaurants several times over the years and while Megan has a slight preference for Number 5's attention to detail and consistency, I have historically tended to prefer Lampy's more relaxed atmosphere despite some occasional inconsistencies with the food. These are restaurants we are apt to save for special occasions like Valentine's Day, birthdays, and New Year's Eve. So when it came time to make New Year's plans for 2011, Lampy's was one of the first places that sprung to mind. We made a reservation, brought along a couple of good friends, and hoped for a great meal.

Lampy's is at the corner of Main and Nanticoke in west Endicott, with parking behind the restaurant (I suggest turning into the HSBC bank parking lot just past the restaurant to get to the parking area). If you're going to Lampy's, I highly suggest making a reservation for two reasons. First, it's nearly always busy, and more importantly, there's hardly any waiting area to be found at all. There's a bar, but finding a seat there is unlikely. The point is, this is a place you'll need to make a reservation.

The restaurant is divided into four distinct regions. As you enter, there's the bar area off to the left, and a small dining area straight ahead. To the right lies the main dining room, and back and to the right lies a smaller dining room that looks like it could be used to host private parties and the like. The decor is modern and appealing and low lighting offers an air of sophistication to the classy establishment. On looks alone, I prefer Moxie Grill in Conklin to Lampy's, but they are in the same vein.

We were seated in the back room, and the first thing we noticed was that it was ROASTING back there. We were pretty much dripping sweat by the time the meal was over. And the tables were a little bit closer together than I prefer. There was enough room to move awkwardly between the tables but no more than that. I was bummed that we weren't seated in the main dining room, which was much less stuffy and offered a bit more room to maneuver.

Lampy's menu offers a diverse array of appetizers, soups, salads, steak, chicken, veal, and seafood options. My friend Tom and I decided to split the Honey Horseradish Shrimp appetizer, and I ordered the Linguine Frutta del Mare as my entree. Frutta del Mare (literally "Fruits of the Sea") features a variety of seafood--in this case, shrimp, scallops, calamari, and clams--served over linguine and topped with marinara sauce. As a complimentary starter, I ordered the soup of the day, a Rhode Island-style Clam and Corn Chowder. Megan ordered Lampy's signature namesake dish, Lampy's Scampi. Lampy's Scampi offers a unique take on classic Shrimp Scampi. In this case, the shrimp are breaded and deep-fried, smothered in a somewhat creamy marsala sauce, and topped with button mushrooms. Sounds different, I know, but it is probably Lampy's most popular dish and one I've ordered and enjoyed on several occasions.

Another hallmark of any Lampy's visit is their spice tray. At the beginning of the meal, each table is given some Italian bread and a metal tray with fresh garlic cloves smothered in balsamic vinegar, parmesan cheese, red pepper flakes, and butter. Pretty tasty stuff and a good start to the meal, for sure.

Next came the Honey Horseradish Shrimp appetizer. This, I did not care for at all. It featured four small shrimp covered in honey and wrapped in burnt bacon. Combined with our uncomfortable seating arrangement, this meal was on the fast-track to disappointment in a big hurry. Perhaps the soup would save the day?

It would not. The Rhode Island-style Clam Chowder was pretty mediocre. It featured a cream-based broth but was much thinner than the classic New England style. That was not the problem I had with it. My issue was that the portion I was given had hardly anything in it. One measly clam, a few kernels of corn, and some stray bits of carrot, celery, potato, and bacon. I will admit that the broth had nice flavor, but I ordered clam chowder, not broth. Next.

The Frutta del Mare entree offered some improvement from the mediocre starters, but was not a dish I really loved. It was a little cumbersome to eat without splashing myself; the dish it was served in was somewhat shallow and the marinara was watery. Aside from the logistics of eating it, this dish was alright. The shrimp were tasty, and the scallops were some of the hugest that I've ever seen. The marinara sauce had a nice, fresh taste and was well-seasoned. I did not care much for the clams or calamari; both were overly rubbery and the clams were not cleaned properly--I found some sand inside a couple of them. Yuck. I am not in a rush to order this dish again.

Megan's scampi dish was just OK on this night. She did not care for it, commenting that the soggy texture of the breading on the shrimp was a particular concern. She would have preferred it crispier. Overall, as far as Lampy's Scampi is concerned, I will say that on other visits, it's been nothing less than outstanding in my opinion. Clearly, Lampy's was not on top of their game on this night in many ways.

For dessert, Megan and I split the Coconut Cake, which looked similar to the coconut cake we got at Frank's in Maine back in the summer. Both of us thought it was just OK. Normally, I am a sucker for any dessert, but this one was dried out, tasted like it had just come out of the freezer, and just simply not very good.

Overall, this visit to Lampy's was not very good and I am in no hurry to go back anytime soon. We were uncomfortable due to the stifling heat for the entire meal, and the food was lacking in some very fundamental ways. I realize that it was New Year's Eve and that many restaurants are not at their best on special occasions, but I know they are capable of better. We went there for Valentine's Day last year, for example, and had a great meal from start to finish. I know this review has been harsh, so let me make it very clear: I think this visit was more the exception than the rule. But I'm of the belief that if you're going to plunk down $100 for dinner, quality should never be a concern. Had this been my first visit to Lampy's, it almost certainly would have been my last. I realize this is cheating, but...

Grade (this visit): D
Grade (overall): B

Lampy's Mediterranean Grill on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

The Galley Tavern

Name: The Galley Tavern
Location: 409 Hooper Rd., Ste. 5, Endwell, NY 13760
Phone: (607) 748-6544
Cuisine: American pub food
Price: Around $10-$15 per person

One kind of restaurant that has not received a whole lot of fanfare on this blog has been the "bar and grill" variety. I'm not sure if that's because the styles of food normally found at such establishments does not appeal to us as much as others, or if we view these places more as "bars" than as "grills," but whatever the reason, we have yet to visit and offer our opinion on many of these sorts of places. And there are literally dozens to choose from throughout the Triple Cities.

Of the pub food scene, the only ones we've reviewed so far are Kelly's Sports Bar in Endicott (home to popular Wednesday night Team Trivia that we have been known to frequent), Vestal's Ale House (a review which admittedly was more of an excuse for me to talk about snooty beer than about food), and JC's Treaty of Versailles-predating hot-pie haven The Oasis. Oh, and Hurricane Rylie's in Endicott, which I think fancies itself more of a restaurant than a bar anyway. Some places I'd like to try out include Binghamton's South Side Yanni's, Harry Tuft's in Endicott, Tom & Marty's in downtown Binghamton, among others. After all, if we're going to Taste Binghamton, it's not always going to be about fine dining. Sometimes, you just want a half-dozen wings and a good burger, and so we headed to The Galley in Endwell to see if they could fulfill that desire.

The Galley is located on Hooper Road in a small plaza between Watson Blvd. and Country Club Rd. It's really kind of two restaurants in one, a bar to the right and a dining room (cleverly named "Galley Too") to the left. I'd advise opting for a table in the dining room rather than the high-top tables with uncomfortable wooden stools in the bar area where we sat.

The menu has all the usual pub food--burgers, sandwiches, pizza, wings, fried appetizers--which was exactly the kind of thing we were looking for this evening. I opted to go with a half-dozen medium wings and the Black and Bleu burger (peppercorns and crumbly bleu cheese) and Megan ordered the BBQ Burger (BBQ sauce, cheddar cheese, and bacon) with curly fries. We were given complimentary popcorn (somewhat reminiscent of Tully's on the Vestal Parkway) to start the meal which tied us over until our entrees arrived.

The wings were decent, certainly nothing to get too excited about. They had good flavor but as far as wings go, they were on the small side and overall inferior to those at Kelly's in Endicott. The burger, on the other hand, was much better. With a little A-1 sauce to complement the peppercorns and a healthy portion of crumbled bleu cheese, this was a tasty burger and certainly one I'd order again. Megan was also happy with her burger and fries; I tried the BBQ burger and I think I liked it even more than the one I got.

Since The Galley is a bar also, I should also mention the beer tap selection for those who care about that kind of thing. Mediocre at best. I saw a tap with Smithwick's and one with Sam Adams Winter Lager, but for those seeking a quality microbrew, this isn't the place to find one.

Service at The Galley was friendly, but somewhat spotty. It took us forever to get straws for our drinks, and service toward the end of the meal was a little slow. But overall, I'd have to say that The Galley was pretty much exactly what I expected it to be: a good place to come and have a couple drinks, grab a burger, watch some sports, and hang out with friends. It's not hard to believe that they've been in business since 1972. Don't expect anything transcendent from a culinary perspective, but for pub fare, The Galley generally gets the job done.

Grade: B

The Galley on Urbanspoon

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year to our loyal readers and new followers alike!

I know the output has slowed to a crawl of late, but fear not: we have plans for more reviews of our dining adventures in the Triple Cities to come in the very near future. In the next few days, expect to see a review of our New Year's Eve outing to Lampy's Mediterranean Grill in Endicott and probably a couple others.

It's amazing to me the response this blog has received in its short, eight-month lifespan. Over 8000 hits, over 100 fans on our Facebook page, an average of more than 50 unique visitors per's pretty overwhelming and far more than I could have ever imagined when I conceived of the idea back in March. I thought it would be something fun that my wife Megan and I could do together, and it definitely has been (even if I write most of the reviews, Megan has been my dining partner and fellow taster on most outings).

The site is not perfect. I'm by no means an expert photographer, for starters. And I'm more of a food fan than a true gourmet. But I am learning a lot, about food and about the history of the Binghamton area and its restaurants, and I hope to continue to do so in the coming year.

Thanks for reading and please feel free to continue to provide your comments, opinions, and feedback. Enjoy 2011, and happy dining!

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