Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Billy Frogg's Bar & Grill

Restaurant: Billy Frogg's Bar & Grill, West
Address: 8724 W Dodge Rd
Website: (Unofficial menu listing)
Genres: American, Bar & Grill
Check Constraints: None.
Chain: Local. | More Omaha Locations: Yes.

  • Chicken Parmesan Sandwich w/Fries ($6.95)
The inside of Billy Frogg's feels like a young rich dude trying to impress you with how much old stuff he's collected. The place is -saturated- with old time signs of all sorts, from Standard Oil to old tavern signs to a giant baking powder sign or something. I forget exactly what, but there's so much of the stuff, and it feels so inauthentic, that it's really kinda sad. What it -really- is is a sports bar, and it shows in the kind of food they have available.

The appetizers will be listed later, but for my part, the cheese balls were preprocessed mass produced stuff, and the potato skins, though not bad, were also preprocessed mass produced stuff and could have been so much better, if only they'd had real bacon instead.

As for the sandwich, it was surprisingly good. A nice sized chicken breast, on a nice thick bun, with two types of cheese and lots of (I think) handmade marinara. It was definitely not the super-processed marinara dipping stuff you get at most sports bars, and unfortunately, it was a bit on the wet side, so if you get this, be careful when you pick it up, as it's going to leave a mess on the plate and possibly your shirt. On the other hand, it was pretty damn good, with all flavors working together in harmony.

My only other note is that damn, that hot dog was HUGE. You'll understand when you get to Moogle's post. I am really kinda sad that I didn't order that instead.

  • Chili-Cheese Hot Diggity Dog ($6.00)
  • Cheese balls ($6.00)
They charged me $6 for each item, but I'm not sure that's what was printed on the menu. It was close, though, and may have been something like $6.25 and $5.75. Either way, I got a good deal on the dog. The fried cheese balls were nothing special. You got reasonable number of them, but a runny ranch dipping sauce. The potato skins were pretty plain.

I was a little worried ordering the hot dog that I'd be hungry afterward. When this beast came to the table, I quickly decided it was a great choice. This thing was a footlong (as they said in the menu), but it was no wimpy, skinny dog. It was an inch diameter. The whole top was burried in cheese. The bun was splayed out to about 5 inches wide and almost all you could see was cheese. There really wasn't a lot of chili compared to the cheese, but to me, it didn't really matter. It was enough. I think more chili might have just made it a hot-dog soup. It was a fight to finish the last bits of it. I left at least half of my fries. This monster also comes without chili-cheese for a little less cost, but I think it's worth the extra charge. Impressive and delicious.

  • Patty Melt ($6.95)
  • Side of Onion Rings ($2.95)
I think ND's being a little uncharitable in his characterization of the decor. It's true that the place comes in about halfway between a "Crap On The Wall" restaurant (e.g. TGI Friday's, Applebee's, &c) and a sports bar. It's also true that the signage felt like someone was trying too hard. But it's not an uncomfortable place to be in - in fact it reminded me of a bar & grill I used to visit in Terre Haute, Indiana (side note: Go there, the patty melts are delicious).

In fact, it was partially due to the memory of that bar & grill that I decided to go for a patty melt today. And while I was abandoning the pretense of eating healthy, I decided that some additional onion rings wouldn't be out of place. I should start with the onion rings, which were clearly dipped and fried on-site, but which were nothing special. That sentiment was echoed in the other appetizers - avoid them unless you're just looking for something to nosh while you drink.

The patty melt was surprising. The construction was the same as any good melt - a generous patty, some good marbled rye bread, and some cheese which may have been Swiss but was probably Monterey Jack (if it was Swiss it might as well have been MoJack, since it had no bite). This one eschewed any additional dressing, which was fortunate, as it would have overshadowed the melt's one unique contribution, which was a strong black pepper taste. I have to admit that recently I have been ... rediscovering black pepper, for lack of a better word - it's such a ubiquitous condiment that sometimes one can forget it's really quite a nice flavor when given some real prominence. So, returning to the melt, I will comment that the pepper flavor was a nice twist on a good execution of the patty melt, and it's recommended. I should mention there is a Fuddrucker's-esque condiment bar with pickles, lettuce, etc over by one of the walls, but the patty melt didn't need anything of the sort.

The prices here may be a little overinflated, but to be honest they're cheaper than something off TGI Friday's menu, and the food is decent enough if you're in the mood for the bar and grill genre. I'd be interested to try one of the other locations - there's one downtown, and a newish one on 72nd in La Vista (near the husk of the old Walmart, in the place that used to be Boston's).

Monday, May 18, 2009

The Drover

Restaurant: The Drover
Address: 2121 South 73rd Street
Genres: Steak
Check Constraints: None seen
Chain: No. | More Omaha Locations: No.

  • Pork Chop ($13.95)
    • Salad Bar
    • Cottage Cheese
It is clear - both from the website and the context of the paper menus we received - that the Drover's lunch menu is a pale and pitiful reflection of its dinner one. The flimsy paper forerunner for lunch concerned itself mainly with sandwiches and moderate fare, but as is evident from their site, the robust dinner menu prides itself on having $30 steak. Let me tell you this, though; if the dinner's as good as the lunch? It's probably worth it.

In all seriousness, the lunch menu is probably an excellent way to get a good meal out of the Drover without paying high prices. The steak on the lunch menu, as Mecha will attest, is only $12, and there are several other grilled favorites there in that price range.

Since I am currently - still? again? whatever - watching my food intake, I opted for the pork chop with the salad bar and the relatively healthy option of cottage cheese. Well, initially I opted for the prime rib, but they were out of it. A mild interrogation of our server revealed that they receive the meat daily in time for dinner, and then cut it as necessary. If there's any remaining, it's sold at lunch the next day. The tone in her voice indicated this is a rare occurrence, with the notable exception of Wednesdays, when Whiskey Prime Rib is the special. If that Thursday was like any other, the special then was meatloaf with mashed potatoes.

But I ordered the pork chop, and that is what I will review. First I should mention the salad bar, though. If forced to pick a single term to define it, I'd go with "traditional". It had iceberg lettuce, green peppers, cucumbers, and olives, among a few other toppings, most notably beets. I'm not sure at what point my brain classified these as "traditional" salad bar fare, but it seems to me that when I was a child all salad bars seemed to have these dark red taste-bud landmines. Of course, now that I like them, it's actually difficult to find them anymore. Regardless, the salad bar's only real failing was the iceberg lettuce. The fresh cracked peppercorns (located on the top of the bar itself) were an extra plus that should not be ignored.

The pork chop, which at the server's suggestion was cooked to medium, was delicious. There was good flavor to it, and just enough fat remaining around the edges to give an added boost of flavor at times. It was bone-in, though the bone wasn't obtrusive, and the meat had a good amount of moisture still in it. If I were a man who truly feared trichinosis I'd have ordered it sent back and scorched, but I never saw the need to cook all the moisture out of an already lean meat. Regardless of personal preference, if you like your pork cooked to death, the plate comes with cinnamon applesauce for added moisture. Nothing too special about it, but certainly not bad. It also comes with two slices of grilled toast, and - as garnish, apparently - a slice of what we surmised was spiced apple. A strange rarity, and though you're probably not supposed to eat it, we all did.

In short, it's definitely worth a visit here at lunch, and if you've got the scratch for it, probably dinner as well. That said, I know that one's choice of steakhouse is a matter of often no less than religious import in this city; keep in mind that I didn't have the steak here. I'll leave it to the others to tackle that.

  • Beefy Cheese Sandwich ($9.25)
    • Cottage Cheese
  • Cup of Beer Cheese Soup (Soup of the day) ($3.25)
Those apple rings were standard Christmas apple rings. If they're not made to be eaten, nothing is. Delicious. What's also delicious is their beer cheese soup, by the way. It was very thick, nearly to the point of forming soft-peaks, and it was fabulous. Thick and cheesy, with strong smoky flavor and bits of very good ham, with just a tiny bit of celery, and a good beer flavor throughout. I don't think I could take a full bowl of it, but as a cup of soup, this is as good as it gets.

I grabbed cottage cheese with my beefy cheesy sandwich. I continue to be amazed that Mecha didn't realize that serving cottage cheese with a pineapple ring was traditional. I don't know how he could not know this. It was a little less than properly cold, but it wasn't warm like I got at McKenna's. If you do not love cottage cheese as much as I do, go with the fries, because the plate comes with a big dipping cup of quite good barbeque sauce, and you are NOT going to want to put it on the sandwich.

The sandwich is on toast, just crisp enough to more or less withstand the onslaught of melted cheese and prime rib juice. The meat is a reasonable portion of prime rib, cooked medium rare or so, and sliced thin, with swiss cheese on one side and cheddar on the other. All the flavors blend together superbly, with the cheese managing to always be there without even coming close to overshadowing the flavor of the prime rib. If you want a sandwich, get this sandwich. It is king of cheese and beef sandwich. If I ever taste a better sandwich, I may die of the explosion of awesome in my mouth. And if you put barbecue on it, then may whatever god you believe in have mercy, because I will not.

Lunch, dinner, if you want steak, this is a good place to go. Well worth the money.

  • Luncheon Steak ($11.50)
    • Fries
  • Beer Cheese Soup
Pineapples are from the tropics! Cottage Cheese isn't! I don't know how that doesn't seem weird to anyone else. Ahem.

The Beer Cheese Soup was a 'Soup of the Day' as well, so it's unclear what kind of soups they have other days (although Chili seems always on the menu.) The soup, however, had a strong beer flavor note (which not all beer cheese soups have!) as well as the smoky cheese and ham flavors ND mentioned above. It kind of reminds me, texture-wise, of a thick cheese salsa, complete with blobbing on the top instead of just flowing back together. It's very good, though. Hopefully their other daily soups are as good.

The steak was a fairly small portion (7 oz) but as steaks go, this is about as well made as it gets. A thin layer of browned/blackened on the outside, and then a large area of medium-rare inside (I ordered it medium-rare). It had excellent flavor for a steak, and I ate it in thin slices, slowly to get the most out of it. The fries are normal long squareish fries, neither too thick or too thin, and tasted like the fries at a chain of steak houses back in my home town, so I'm figuring it's standard steak house fare on that front (as opposed to big honkin' steak fries) and they went well with ND's BBQ sauce. I also got the candied apple (and it was good) and some buttered (and maybe garliced lightly? We theorized it might have tasted garliced from what was cooked in that oven earlier, it was so light on the garlic flavor to ND and Cham's taste.)

On the overall, it was a good place to go eat a lunch and get some real flavor. The speed was a little slow (not annoyingly so, just noticeable) but that probably happens sometimes. I really am curious what the dinner looks like, though. Another time, perhaps.

  • Beefy Cheese ($9.25)
    • Coleslaw
  • Texas Chili ($4.00)
The chili was good. You have the choice to add onions and cheese. I picked both, but could have done without the onions. They ended up a bit overpowering. It was nearly a beanless chili, and not too thick or runny. It's not a bad choice, but you could probably do better for the money with the cheese soup, from what I hear.

The Beefy Cheese sandwich was amazing, and disappeared way too quickly. It came on two regular pieces of buttered toast, didn't seem terribly large. It had plenty of flavor, however. It came with a side of BBQ sauce as ND mentioned. It wasn't bad sauce, but it was way too strong for the sandwich. I tried maybe a third the sandwich with it (I'm a fan of BBQ), but it really overpowered everything else. The sandwich has a really good flavor all by itself. The coleslaw was pretty bland and not terribly creamy. I would pick fries as the side next time.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Blue Planet Natural Grill

Restaurant: Blue Planet Natural Grill
Address: 6307 Center St. Suite 101
Website: Blue Planet Natural Grill
Genres: Cafe, Organic
Check Constraints: Short Order
Chain: Sorta| More Omaha Locations: No

  • Macaroni & Cheese Bowl (5.49)
    • Chicken (1.00)
    • Beef (1.00)
    • Bacon (1.00)
  • Sun Baked Fries (1.49)
  • Apple Muffin (1.99)
  • Orange Muffin (1.99)
  • Drink (1.49)
If you like eating outdoors, Blue Planet has a nice looking outdoor patio area for you to eat in. I do not like eating outdoors, especially in the heat, so screw that crap. The inside is nice and roomy, though, which I can get behind.

In any case, this is really about the food. The apple muffins are really more wheat or bran than apple, the apple flavor is very understated. Instead, opt for the orange muffin, which is better than any place short of Wheatfields.

The sun-baked fries are cooked via hot air instead of oil, and it shows. They're reasonably crisp, plenty good, but you're going to want to make use of their three different catsup blends. I am especially fond of the garlic catsup, and would not recommend the pineapple-mango. The sweet potato fries (with just a bit of cinnamon) are also excellent, and give an odd but not unpleasant flavor when combined with the catsups.

The macaroni and cheese is not really macaroni and cheese. It's penne rigate in a light cream sauce with a bare hint of cheese. If you come here expecting to get CHEESE, you are going to be disappointed. On the other hand, if you order the right meats with it, you can get a good flavor going. I suggest avoiding the ground beef, as it tends to overwhelm other flavors, but if you went with, say, chicken and ham, you could get a good not-quite-chicken cordon bleu going. On the up side, though, they are VERY generous with the grilled chicken, it's in large, tasty chunks and there's plenty of it. Well worth the buck it costs to get it.

I'd definitely eat here again, though it wouldn't really be my main choice, but being at around 60th and center makes it nice and accessible for a lot of people, at a pretty good price for what you get.


  • Santa Fe Salad ($7.99)
  • Drink ($1.49)
  • Edamame ($1.49)
As near as we can tell, this is the only Blue Planet Natural Grill in existence. Their website mentions franchise opportunities but doesn't list any additional locations, so I feel fairly safe in saying this is not only a new restaurant for Omaha, but a new restaurant in general. I also feel safe in saying it's a good thing it's here.

The thematic gist of the place is natural/organic and/or healthy food which does not beg unpleasant comparisons to giant bricks of shredded wheat or overcooked brussels sprouts. That puts it, culinarily, in the same vein as McFoster's Natural Kind Cafe, which is pretty much an Omaha staple as far as I'm concerned. Still, this place is to McFoster's what Chipotle would be to a good Mexican restaurant; a streamlined, more publicly-accessible version of the food.

That's not to say it's a fast food joint, but it's quite definitely short-order. You get a number at the counter and wait for your food. Personally I think the inside of the place can get a little cramped when it's full, but there is actually room to sit down, as opposed to Worker's Take-Out. While you're waiting I suggest you avail yourself of the ketchups, all of which are organic. They've got original, and as ND mentioned, garlic and then pineapple-mango. They also have a chipotle ketchup. They're all pretty decent, but the garlic is the clear winner, and it's tough not to put it on everything.

It's pretty easy to eat healthy at Blue Planet (not surprisingly). Their salads double as wraps - or is it vice versa? - and they're tasty. What might be called the one downside to the Santa Fe salad is that there was too much stuff in the bowl to get it properly mixed. Additionally, it was an entirely spinach salad, which I usually find too monotonous but which in this case worked pretty well. as ND mentions, they're not shy about the chicken, and I got a fairly large serving for something on top of a salad. Their dressing selection, if you care beforehand, is Newman's Own.

The edamame side dish was interesting - it comes in-shell, and to be perfectly honest I wasn't certain if one was supposed to eat the shell or not. If you're supposed to be able to, then Blue Planet needs to cook it more, as I found the shells tough and fibrous; this leads me to conclude I was supposed to do what I wound up doing, which was squeezing the beans out of the pods individually, like a legume Push Pop.

I've eaten here maybe a dozen times before, and danced around the menu quite a bit. Their pizzas are good, if you can get one - they have a tendency to sell out of the materials by dinnertime (they may have fixed this, but I don't know for sure) - but the thing I like most on their menu is probably their bowls, which combine a decent amount of food with some good tastes. Definitely better - and better for you - than a trip to Burger King.


  • Asian Style Chicken Burger ($7.99)
  • Orange Kick Smoothe ($4.49)
Their burgers come, by default, with the sun fries. The 'problem' with them really is lack of any seasoning or spicing whatsoever. They just end up very dull to my tastebuds (who just eats potato with no flavor? At least butter or something!). That's why the others went for ketchup, and I'm not a huge ketchup fan. The sweet potato fries, much more flavorful, and probably worth it even though they're a 79 cent substitution on the basic fries (according to the page.)

The burger itself had a very large chicken patty (overlarge, really, for the burger, but you can take care of that with some preemptive eating), and a very good mix of flavors. The wasabi mayo in particular had just a hint of wasabi, that I for one would have liked a little more of. The pineapple and teriyaki and everything worked together extremely well. It's definitely something I'd like to have again. I'm not sure it would work as well with the beef, with all the kinda subtle flavors, due to overpowering flavor on the part of beef. The pineapple also needs, perhaps, to be a bit smaller/some help with sticking, as it and the teriyaki were the two things most likely to leak/slip.

The place advertises their smoothies, so I had to give one a try. The orange kick was pretty simple in description, orange, cream, sugar. And that's exactly how it came down. The orange part was surprisingly sharp, like lemon instead of the nice unobtrusive orange most people are used to. The cream was very noticable (in fact, the only word I could use to describe that flavor/texture note was 'cream') and added an enjoyable lightness. The sugar cut that sharpness down to tolerable levels, I think, was the point. However, we are not talking a huge smoothie here, which makes the price point a bit unfortunate (there are a lot of other generally expensive drink flavors I enjoy at various resturants that are less expensive than this/have more flavor).

The place has a lot of options that seem worth pursuing, and I'd definitely consider it a second and third time. My main curiosity is how well it works for pre-order/takeout, since it has to compete with Gandolfos for me there (they're in the same minimall area), and Gandolfos is no slouch.