Eugene O'Neill's JP?
Having received no replies, I took one for the team. Four of us were there Friday night. Decent fries with curry sauce but rapidly downhill thereafter. I ordered Shepherd's pie which came as a plate of ground beef with Sysco frozen veggies and Sysco generic herb seasoning topped with a clump of Sysco mashed potatoes. Nearby interred Eugene O'Neill could be felt turning in his grave. Others at the table had vegetable curry, chicken quesadillas and caesar salad with shrimp. All pronounced that they could do better at home. The place was packed, presumably by people for whom cheap beer is sufficient for a good night out. This coupled with the recent closing of Tonic (chef wanting to serve interesting food, owners wanting another cheap burger place) continues the curse for this block that Dogwood cafe has seemed to survive.
I was at Eugene O'Neill's for lunch a couple of weeks ago. My quick observations were:
-I thought they had a moderately interesting beer list but am now blanking on any particular examples. There were at 3-4 taps that didn't feel like the standards, and it looked like they pour full pints, though wasn't sure.
-The bartender (who I assumed was the owner, but am not sure) was quite pleasant, as was the server.
-The menu itself wasn't particularly exciting, as straightforward pub food -- it didn't interest me as much as the combined pub+dinner menus at James' Gate do, but is a step above the Jeanie.
-The salad my DC had was quite good - decent mix of real greens, plenty of veggies, not over-dressed.
-My fries were quite good -- I preferred them over Dogwood (which I quite like in general).
-My burger did the trick. Not as good as I could make at home, but I don't often make burgers at home and am happy to have someone else provide an adequate burger with interesting toppings next to some excellent fries.
I'll be back and feel like it's a good addition to the strip.
On the strip itself, maybe call me Pollyannaish but I don't see much of a curse to the strip -- I see long-term improvement in the years I've lived nearby. Certainly more incremental than I'd like, but good steps nonetheless:
-Dogwood continues to look like it's doing well
-Fazenda seems to do a good business and appears to be building a following, and is an absolute upgrade vs Java Jo. Nicer space, better coffee, great roast beans, better food, great employees. And Java Jo was better than the nothingness that preceeded it... (great coffee house > decent coffee house > no coffee house... )
-Tonic was a major upgrade vs the old Griffin's space, and had some demand before temporarily/permanently failing.
I chalk Tonic's (temporary? permanent?) failure to first-time restaurant owner mistakes. From the outside, it looked to me like he spent way too much time and money on planning and decor (which was too kitschy/loungy vs what it needed to be to support "reasonably upscale neighborhood restaurant"), and then didn't really know what to do in running a restaurant or how to judge success once he opened. I imagine he set a budget to open, blew way through it (I can't imagine he planned for build-out to take as long as it did) and then didn't leave enough cushion to operate it at a loss until it found its footing. I found the owner tone-deaf to feedback on my couple of interactions with him (even from the get-go, when he was looking for neighborhood approval to build). He talked about wanting to be like the Franklin in the S End, but I don't know that he understood what that meant or how to deliver on it. The menu itself was interesting but everything was too sweet for my taste -- I felt like all of the sides and many of the mains had too much carmelization, maple, sweet/thick sauces, or sweet cream sauces. The perfect example was the white asparagus dish -- it could have been decent, but the sickly sweet bowl of buttery broth killed it for me. Or the pork chop -- the root vegetables/syrup made it too sweet for me to want to finish it.
I hope the Tonic owner either learns from his mistakes, or that his upgrades to the space (less the light-up bar -- that's just silly) make it possible for someone else to step in and run a better restaurant than he was able to. I really wanted Tonic to succeed and continued to spend there in an effort to support it, but I have to say I thought it was mostly mis-firing and am looking forward to someone re-booting it, whether it's with a different chef, different owner, or both.
re: JP RS
Thanks for your thoughtful review. You are kinder and more patient than I am about this strip. I think the progress has been remarkably slow given the neighborhood potential. I haven't tried Fazenda yet and keep meaning to. RE Eugene O'Neill's, your comment that you can make better at home was exactly my feeling. I tend to eat out looking for things I can't easily make at home. Much prefer heading down Morton for Jamaican or American Legion Highway for Lechon. Given the other choices in the area for pub food (e.g. James Gate), I don't think I will return.