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Another thumbs down on Oinkster and why...

Before the review/opinion, here's the epiphany: Oinkster is NEITHER a fast food restaurant, coffee shop or something in between. It is to my mind simply a rather obvious attempt at setting up a franchise operation where the product happens to be food. It's sort of like The Counter's business plan - the food is secondary. Forget about Langer's having nothing to worry about - I'd say once the hype dies down, Troy Burgers, Rick's, Jim's, or just about any other ubiquitous drive-thru will be fine.

On the the Chow.
I finally went this evening, in spite of the lukewarm (to be polite) reviews here. One would think what with Carter extolling its virtues for the last year, that the owner would have addressed the opening days issues by now (at least in terms of the universal complaints about sandwich size). Apparently not. Ordered the Pastrami combo for $11. The sandwich was meager, more bread than meat, and arrived slathered with mustard that wasn't requested. The fries were forgotten - a surprise considering the more than abundant crew. I went to the counter and returned with lukewarm,and fairly tasteless fries, with whatever flavor coming from the salt. It wasn't until leaving that I saw on the menu that the sandwhich comes with pickles, and the fries with the garlic aoli - neither of which I was served. Maybe the burgers and chicken are a different and more successful story.

The entire ambience was sort of a strained attempt at a hip drive thru.

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  1. I've never grasped the hype over this restaurant.

    1. I went Saturday night and some local hot rod club was occupying one parking lot...so very little parking.

      I thought it was good until I thought about what I paid and then was some what turned off.

      Pastrami Combo $11 (meager amount of Belgian fries and drink), pulled pork sandwich, hamburger and large side order of Belgian fries= Total $33

      7 Replies
      1. re: monku

        When I went on Monday, apparently the portion issue had been addressed, and I was told that the portion of meat on a pastrami sandwich had been increased, while the accompanying $2.50 order of fries was more than I could eat.
        I could not have eaten anything more after those two items, although I did wash them down afterward with a Boylan's R/beer.

        1. re: carter

          Well, looks like as of Tuesday when I went as did Briggs, the portion issues were not addressed. Still meager and my fries were also lukewarm. I agree with Briggs & Monku, not worth the price.

          1. re: carter

            Totally agree, Carter. Perhaps we have tiny (read:healthy) appetites, but my half of one burger and fries was more than enough for me (and my husband).

            I'm wondering if the problem was people's expectations of what Oinkster would be. I knew OInkster wasn't going to be a Jewish deli, so I never thought they'd offer "sky-high" pastrami sandwiches, like Langer's. And I knew it wouldn't be a bargain, with $1 menu items.

            I like Oinkster because I know the food is of the highest quality, thoughtfully and methodically prepared, and most of all, delicious. When I'm craving quantity over quality or just a really cheap meal, I'll go somewhere else. And hopefully, they'll work out the kinks soon.

            1. re: Suebee

              I noticed several couples there just "trying" the place out and sharing an order of just Begian fries or just a hamburger combination among them.

              The 1/3 lb. hamburger $4.75 was excellent. They must use a fair amount of ground chuck because it was juicy and flavorful. The Belgian fries (still don't know the difference between that and French fries) were hot and crispy. They make their own sauces like the ketchup was different and tasty. My pickle which they also make was good, but I'd forgotten they made their own until I had it halfway down so I didn't appreciate it enough.

              I think their idea and intention is good, but will be a challenge to stay in business with that pricing when you have places like Tommy's and Casa Bianca just down the street. I can go to Casa Bianca get a large sausage and garlic pizza and antipasta salad and I'm out of there for about $33 including tax and tip.

              They could have done more work on the presentation. Nothing about the place seems different than a fast food operation like Tops including the paper eating baskets and plastic utensils. If you stopped there thinking its just a fast food place not knowing their mission, you'd be in for a shock.

              You go to a place like Farmer Boys where they call themselves the "original fastaurant" and its a good deal. Good food(75 freshly prepared items) and nice ambience. At least they serve you on Melamac plates with stainless steel silverware.
              http://www.farmerboys.com/

              1. re: monku

                If Tommy's or Farmer Boys will suffice for you dining needs, then the Oinkster will never work. But for those of who feel Tommy's and Farmer Boys are awful, or damn close to it, then the Oinkster has merit, and warrants your attention, much like other slightly more upscale places do, be it Baja Fresh or Chipotle in the mexican category, or Daphne's, or ... - you get my idea.
                The Oinkster is just taking fast food, here dubbed slow fast food on the sign btw, and ratcheting it up a notch and providing quality products at well below dining restaurants. Whether I eat on Melamac(sp?)or a paper wrap matters zero, as I don't eat the plate, and I don't go there for a major dose of ambiance, even though the Oinkster has more of it in its minimalist way than some of the competition nearby.
                If Bob's Big Boy in Toluca Lake has allure in its nostalgic kind of way, then you will love the Oinkster as the food and decor are both better, yet the menus barely overlap, which allows for the enjoyment of both, depending on mood, location, and eating whims.

              2. re: Suebee

                "I'm wondering if the problem was people's expectations of what Oinkster would be."...
                "I like Oinkster because I know the food is of the highest quality, thoughtfully and methodically prepared..."

                I have no doubt you enjoyed your meal. Perhaps I ordered wrong, and the burger or pulled pork is the way to go. Still, you can't deny that for last year, the place HAS been over-hyped - especially here. I mean why else the cachet of "house-cured Pastrami" and the Max pedigree? Nonetheless, my problem wasn't diminished expectations, it was a diminished sandwich. I didn't necessarily expect a Carnegie Deli bohemeth, but I certainly wasn't wild about the meager amount of NOT all that tasty protein between the bread, and it seems apparent that I'm not alone in my opinion. As I also pointed out, the quality problem was compounded by the lack of the advertised sides.

                I vividly remember Dante's (formerly across the street) getting ripped a new one when they too didn't deliver right out the gate.

                1. re: Suebee

                  SueBee - you are one the very few posters I have read that "gets" what the Oinkster is all about. Regardless of the kinks that need to worked out, the concept is unique, the quality of the ingredients is top shelf and the skill of the chef is undeniable.
                  Expecting a staff of new recruits to perform immediately at Andre's level is unrealistic, yet given time and experience, I think it is fair to say that the Oinkster is destined to become recognized as a great place to get a quality meal; in Eagle Rock and hopefully...beyond.

            2. Did it last night. Bumbling but sweet natured staff. Still a lot of kinks. Like why do they ask you your name when you order when they're going to hand you a number sign to place on your table anyway? Also, the injunction to staff to encourage customers to order MORE is profoundly NOT subtle. Furthermore, because I drive by the place every day, and watched it being built, I must ask, "Is that all there is?" Is it just my own Zeitgeist or is this place just not cute? Maybe I'm missing something but 70s garage converted to rec room just doesn't tingle my aesthetic. And I did so want for it to be cute.

              I had a burger which was really respectable. I added caramelized onions which would have been nicer if the onions were a bit sweeter. The bun was soft and puffy like In'N'Out which to me is a good thing. The fries weren't the best I'd ever had, but I'd eat them again. I found the aioli a little thin and sort of slightly off flavor. I think the catsup is homemade and maybe it's heresy, but I really like Heinz. The red cabbage slaw had whole celery seeds and was nicely underdressed but perhaps the cabbage should have been blanched a bit.

              We went early and the place wasn't crowded. It was sort of fun sitting outside on the picnic tables. The food came really quickly and the kids liked it. I don't think it's fated ever to be a destination restaurant (like Lucky Devils, which I think is pretty swell) but it's a nice, albeit underwhelming, addition to the neighborhood.

              More food writing and other stuff at http://www.myspace.com/familydramagar...

              1. Interesting post. Onikster sounds like Taylor's Refresher in St.Helena (Napa Valley). An old 40's burger stand that now sells calamari and seared ahi sandwiches with wasabi aioli etc. through a walk up window (Tastee Freeze sytle). I must say I appreciate the stab at the concept, but the expectation, pricewise, never fails to stun me...jaw dropping sticker shock. The problem is, with this concept, is that they are making their own soups,stocks and sauces, as well as curing their own meats etc. This takes oodles of time and man power. While it makes for better flavor, it costs a lot of money to support...that's why you don't see much meat in that pastrami sandwich. They really should just find premium sources like Hobbs cured and applewood smoked meats from Marin, Free range products from Nieman Ranch, and have close relationships with local farmers...then cut prices by 25% or so.

                1 Reply
                1. re: orangeplow

                  It's funny you would say Tastee Freeze because I think the Oinkster used to be exactly that, before Jim's.

                2. Went on Thusday evening, there were maybe three other customers. Had the puled pork sandwich and the fries. The sandwich was flavorless and the fries were pale and had an off flavor like the oil was old or something. All in all, as somepone posted above, I'd rather have had a burger and fries at McDonalds.

                  What I find really apalling, though, isn't the food, it's the atmosphere. I live in the area, and I watched them take forever to renovate this place, so I assumed it would have some sort of quasi-hip decor. But in fact the place has NO decor. None. It's white walls and red booths and a menu board haphazardly nailed on the wall and that's it. It doesn't even look like a restaurant, it looks like the restrooms at a KOA campground. It looks like the rec room of one of those mental hospitals Geraldo Rivera used to to exposes on. There's nothing on the tables, no flowers, harsh lighting... it's just depressing. And you're telling me the people who run this place have an actual restaurant somewhere in the Valley and it's popular? That doesn't seem possible. I mean, for God's sake, they've been futzing around with this place for a year, couldn't they find time to put a mirror in the bathroom? Or hire a landscaper? Or have some signs made? It's unreal. It's like some neighborhood kids found an abandoned building and decided to open a restaurant on a whim.

                  I realize there are going to be "kinks" when a place first opens, but I worked in a bunch of restaurants in my younger days and some things are just inexcusable. Like running out of chickens. How can you run out of chickens? You run low on chickens, you go to the store and you buy more chickens.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: jesuswept

                    Unfortunately, I had a similar experience to yours. My husband and I went in this afternoon after noticing the place was finally open. I ordered the pulled pork combo, while my husband had the pastrami combo.

                    I know how even short-order lines should work and this was not it -- I knew we were in trouble when after waiting for 20 minutes for our order, I went up to the counter and asked where it was. It was already on the counter, I was informed, but they were just "waiting for the plantains." The hell? Needless to say, by the time we received our food the sandwiches were tepid and soggy. The pulled pork sandwich had virtually no flavor (tough to do to pork, but jeez -- cook it with a garlic clove! a bay leaf, for God's sake!), the red slaw was just shredded cabbage with a tiny bit of vinegar, the fries were absolutely cold, etc. My husband told the server about the fries and was promised a hot replacement order, but the server forgot all about it. We also had to ask for forks and pickles. The place wasn't crowded, so all these oversights had to do with a clueless/indifferent staff. There was no rotisserie chicken, the pastry case looked like something out of an elementary school bake sale, and you're right -- the atmosphere is completely underwhelming.

                    I was really looking forward to this opening, but I don't think we'll be going back. Unless they do some major overhauling on the menu (the homemade sauces are great except for the watery Carolina barbecue sauce, but they should apply the same sort of attention to the menu items) and retrain that sad little staff, the place won't be a success.

                  2. I've gone to Oinkster a couple of times more recently than. The first time, I had the pulled pork sandwich. The menu said it had barbeque sauce on it, but it came with mayo and no sauce. That said, there was an enormous amount of meat and it was tender and tasty. I loved this sandwich. Since they didn't give me any barbeque sauce, I requested some. It's a very thin Carolina sauce, but adds just the right amount of vinegar and spice. At $6.50 I thought this was a good value, since I had enough food to take half the sandwich home.

                    The second time I went they had the rotisserie chicken, so I ordered the quarter dark combo; it comes with fries and red cabbage slaw and the garlic aioili. The chicken portion was small, but very tender, hot and fresh. The fries were a golden brown, very hot, and excellent with the garlic. The belgian fries I've had were long and skinny, but I liked these. The red cabbage slaw was disappointing. It has a vinegary dressing, which is fine, but tasting overwhelmingly of mustard, which I didn't like.

                    I'll stick to the pulled pork and will try the milkshake the next time.