Billy's Tap Room, Ormond Beach (a long rant)
On the advice of several other people I trust (including Chuck, who I am sad not to see on this board anymore) I have recommended Billy's Tap Room to lots of hounds without having been there, something I RARELY do. I now must apologize, since I've been there and will NOT go back.
I had a rare middle of the week day off, and DH and I decided lunchtime would be the time to drive up to Billy's (it's a bit out of the way for us). We got there about 12:30 on a Wednesday and found the restaurant to be about half-full.
Billy's has won lots of recent Reader's Choice awards from the local newspaper, all very unscientific voting -- the same awards also voted Red Lobster as "best seafood" and Olive Garden as "best pasta." Some of Billy's awards were best crab cake, best steaks, best service and best place for a rendez-vous. We didn't have steak, but I can address the others.
First, while the decor seems like it might be someone's idea of romantic (dark wood, historic paintings on the walls), the floor and walls are wood, which translates to a very LOUD room -- like Cheesecake Factory loud. I sat 14 inches away from DH and had to ask him to repeat himself often. That scratches it off the date-place list for me right away.
Now, I understand standards would be a little more lax for lunch than for dinner. For example, our table had a basket full of Premium and Captain's Wafer crackers instead of real bread. (No butter.) And boy, did we make use of them, because it took us over half an hour to get our appetizer. It didn't seem to be a problem with our particular server -- while nursing my soda, I had plenty of time to see when the people around us were being served, and it seemed to be that slow for everyone.
We shared an appetizer of baby bella mushroom caps baked with crabmeat stuffing and provolone cheese with some assorted herbs ($8.95) which was much smaller than anticipated, and a busgirl tried to take it away before it was finished. (I fought her hard for it -- not knowing how long we'd have to wait for our food.) It tasted all right. . .just all right. I could taste, but not see, the crabmeat in the stuffing, but there was much more cheese than stuffing. I mean, you can't really screw up stuffed mushrooms, but for how long we had to wait for them they were definitely underwhelming.
I ordered the much-lauded crabcake as a sandwich ($11.95), and DH ordered an open-faced roast beef sandwich, a special that day. (I don't recall the price -- somewhere between $10 and $13). I don't know if our young waitress had had problems with service before, because as our drinks were getting low, the hostess came up to us and asked if she could get us refills -- and both women returned at the same time bearing four sodas, which were all left at our table. Turned out to be a good idea, since the food took so long. Finally we asked the waitress about our food, and it instantly appeared. (A good 45 minutes after we had sat down.)
I divide crabcakes into two categories -- good and not. Good usually means not too greasy, and more crab than bread. So by my parameters, this crabcake was good, though about 30% smaller than the bun it was served on, which turned me off a bit. However, I had TWO excellent crabcakes, served with a fantastic remoulade and baby greens with vinaigrette, in a much better atmosphere (if not better service) at Captain Jack's in Downtown Disney for the exact same price. Billy's is no Captain Jack's, the problems I had with the latter restaurant notwithstanding. IOW, for what I paid I was not satisfied with what I got (rubbery steak fries, cole slaw I didn't try, and tartar sauce -- does anyone actually put tartar sauce on crabcakes?).
DH felt the same way -- for just a regular roast beef sandwich, it cost too much and took WAY too long. I'm not sure what the extra price was for -- it certainly wasn't service or atmosphere, or even decor (signs on the ouside window blocking view of the street proclaiming "best steaks" were several computer-printed 8.5x11 sheets scotch-taped together).
I asked some co-workers, basically, "wtf??" and their answer was that Billy's had recently changed either owners or chefs. I searched the board and pretty much all of the rave reviews for Billy's were from dining experiences a couple of years old. Another co-worker proclaimed their food to be "gross."
I don't think it was a horrible place. But when we consoled ourselves last night with a great Mexican dinner at La Fiesta in Port Orange, with lots of alcohol and seafood quesadillas, it still came out cheaper than the lackluster lunch at Billy's. Just for that disappointment -- and the very poor service -- I won't go back. A place that doesn't care about its lunch customers shouldn't shape up for the dinner crowd just because they pay more.
Another place that we considered light years better than Billy's was Greg's Steak and Shrimp, a little hole-in-the-wall on Yonge St. (U.S. 1) between Granada and Wilmette, filled wtih red, white and blue decor and blue-haired diners. But their bread was fresh and homemade, the lunch specials were terrific, and all the seafood was perfectly cooked and very flavorful, with bend-over-backwards service. For HALF the price of Billy's.
Daytona's not exactly the chow Mecca, but there IS hope, and no reason to deal with substandard places like Billy's.
Thanks for the feedback on Billy's. The worst I can report from my own experience is the reservation / seating / waiting seems to lag . . . we have always sat at the bar, had a drink and then ordered dinner there . . . I know that's not suitable for groups or a more relaxing dinner, but I have not encountered the service problem that seems to prevail in the dining rooms.
re: Covert Ops
I have stopped a few times at Billy's on our way south in the early winter season and have been pleases with the food, service and cost - though I was once surprised with the cost a particular grouper presentation. We went on the Chowhound rec of "Chuck" if memory serves me and he was always perceptive and his notes were very reliable. So I am very sorry to hear of your very ban experience. And I am left to wonder if you are turned off permanently or do you think it was a limited time failure and might warrant another try? I know from my own experiences that long waits and faulty service can make any dining out totally negative even when the food finally turns out good.
I think I've found the answer: Billy's changed ownership in May 2006, a real estate developer from Holland for whom this is his first restaurant venture. In the article he "vows to keep Billy's as is" but apparently that might not have been the case. (The previous owners had had it since 1990, and the founding family sold it in 1985.)