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Jan 17, 2008 03:24 PM

Great restaurants that are always empty...

There is an amazing restaurant near me called La Cava. It is a tiny place, nice atmosphere, amazing fresh upscale Mexican food, great service, prices are not over the top. I have never had a bad meal there, and have really heard great feedback from everyone else who has eaten there.

The problem? Every single time I drive by it is nearly completely empty... even during "prime" dinner hours. I really want this place to succeed. I have seen far too many great local places go out of business (Cafe Barelona in Chestnut Hill being the most recent victim) and it breaks my heart. We desperately need places like this, particularly in the burbs where it is just a wasteland of chain restaurants. We really need to support these local businesses.

What are the other places in the area like this (city and burbs)... you know, you can walk right in on a Saturday night, the place is empty, but you have an amazing meal and keep wondering why you are one of the few tables there. We should make a list and make sure that we go out of our way to give these types of places business. Its so important we support these local little places or they will not be around for long!

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  1. I second this post wholeheartedly. My wife and I love La Cava, but have been the only ones in there on several occasions. We try to tell everyone we know about it, but people seem unwilling to try a place that doesn't have a predictable menu and chain-like food. Sadly, every time we drive past there, we expect to see a CLOSED sign.

    9 Replies
    1. re: Tedshell

      I agree, it is a shame that good places are empty, but in main street Ambler it is tough, I live nearby and always forget about trying the places in Ambler so I am sure other people do to. It is such a cute main street with easy parking. I was wondering how Bridget's was doing that it not to far from LaCava, it looks like a nice place too, but I always feel weird eating somewhere and there are only a few people eating at prime time hours, like what is wrong with this place?

      1. re: LowerGwyneddGirl

        Personally I will not eat in a restaurant that is empty as I find it to be very uncomfortable.

        This being said unless a place is brand new there's a reason why an established restaurant is empty during prime time hours on the weekend. Most likely because it isn't that good.

        1. re: mitchh

          "Personally I will not eat in a restaurant that is empty as I find it to be very uncomfortable."

          Boy, am I with you on that. Besides the fact that you have to wonder how fresh the food is, there is nothing worse than being the sole diners in an otherwise empty restaurant.

          We used to love a place on the UWS of NY called the West Side Bistro. The food was very good and they had great live jazz as well. But, we were almost always the only people there. How uncomfortable to have the singer ask for requests when you are the only ones there.

          One of the problems with this place was definitely the location. Rather than being on one of the main drags (Broadway, Columbus, etc.), it was on a side street (94th I think). We only stumbled on it after my wife got off the bus at the wrong stop and passed it walking home.

          Needless to say, the place didn't survive for very long.

        2. re: LowerGwyneddGirl

          Actually, everytime I go to Bridget's it is completely packed, especially on weekends. Sometimes, I actually avoid it because it is too crowded! Maybe they can move some of the crowds down the street to La Cava :)

          1. re: AmblerGirl

            I might try Bridgets one of these days, has anyone been there yet?

            1. re: LowerGwyneddGirl

              I've gone quite a few times. Good menu focusing on steaks and seafood, its considered quasi-hawaiian fusion. Their salmon with avacodo is my favorite, their ribeye is also quite good. Great martini list, good bar specials (free raw bar during Thursday happy hour which is great). Nice atmosphere, lots of dark woods. The only drawback would be the price - they are definitely not cheap. We try to go on Sundays - BYO allowed with no corkage on Sundays - to keep costs down.

              1. re: AmblerGirl

                Amblergirl- which do you think is better?

                Trax or Bridgets? You seem to be a good guide. I am thinking about trying one of them this Friday nite.

                1. re: LowerGwyneddGirl

                  I think they are both really good choices, so it depends on what you are looking for. Bridget's has a bit more of an upscale vibe, and is a bit pricier. Its larger, and can get quite lively on Friday nights (especially at the bar area). The drawback to that is that it can get a bit loud and crowded when they are busy. They have a good wine list, and have delicous martinis. They have really good seafood (I can't say enough good things about their tuna) and steaks.

                  Trax is very different. It is tiny with a very low key atmosphere, I think it is really romantic with dark colors and candlelight, though some could think it is tiny and crowded. They get busy on weekends, but are not nearly as crowded as Bridget's. Food is also great the menu changes fairly frequently. I always enjoy their soups (best butternut squash soup). Great salmon, they do lamb really well, and often have a BBQ dish on the menu that they smoke in house. They are BYO and the prices are a bit lower than Bridget's. Either way, I think they are both great choices. I do admit that I am biased since I live in walking distance from them both :)

                  Another plus is that both restaurants are in walking distance from some fun bars that have live music most weekend nights (KC Alley, Schanachie, Agave) so that is something fun to do after dinner.

                  Have fun and let me know what you think!

                  1. re: AmblerGirl

                    I thought Trax was the loudest restaurant I have ever experienced! We ere a party of 4 and we just stopped talking until we left the restaurant because we had to yell at each other. Not a good experience at all. The food was okay, but not worth the volume!

      2. In some cases, I think location has a lot to do with it. Also whether a place has a bar seems to have a lot to do with it as well.

        The flip side to the question is why are so many of these mediocre places packed?

        In my neighborhood just down from Ambler is Scoogi's. The food could not be more average and yet they pack em in. I just don't get it. I would go to Cisco's every day for cheesesteaks instead of Scoogi's.

        3 Replies
        1. re: Den

          i can't agree more with your point. The volume of customers does not always equate to quality. Like, why is it a two hour wait at the Olive Garden on a Friday night but the wonderful local places down the street are completely empty? I think people just do not like to leave their comfort zone. And, it is a bit discomforting to see an empty restaurant. People think, if its full it must be good, so I guess I'll eat there too.

          1. re: AmblerGirl

            Also portion size and expense are in consideration also. The chain's have economies of scale in purchasing and can afford whopping sized portions (not to mention coupons in the Sunday papers), which unfortunately is how many judge value when dining.
            Also, lets post the address of these restaurants! Never heard of La Cava and didn't know where it was until I had to do THREE WHOLE Google searches

          2. re: Den

            I totally agree about Scoogi's, I went there one time and never went back, it was nothing really great at all.

          3. We ate at La Cava when they first opened and did not have a good meal. We live close by, so it may be time to try them again and see if things have changed for the better. I appreciate your endorsement of La Cava and we are always looking for good local restaurants with BYOB being a plus but not essential.

            1. La Dolce Vita in Bridgeport is another restaurant that falls into this category. The food is good, the atmnosphere is really unique, and the owners are so nice. Sometimes too nice because sometimes I feel they are desperate to keep you happy and have you come back.

              I heard they started serving some mexican food and started a latin dancing night to bring the locals in (thats a jump the shark moment right there). I just heard that they owners have the place up for sale now. Has anyone else heard this? I hope its just a rumor, I really like that place.

              1. I'll add 211 York to the list. I always try to plug it whenever possible because i've never had a bad meal there. It's an oasis of fine dining in the midst of the barren Jenkintown/Abington area. Fortunately, it seems to plug along, but during the week, at any rate, it's usually quite empty.

                1 Reply
                1. re: squashchick

                  I think the crappy parking and/or life-risking crossing of Old York Road have something to do with this