Heat Meiser and Guy Fieri

Grinders West

I have a confession to make. I heard about Grinders West, in Kansas City, from The Food Network’sDiners, Drive-Ins and Dives.” I have another confession, I think the host, Guy Fieri, looks like the Heat Miser from The Year Without A Santa Claus.
And I think he’s a bit of a tool. I know a lot of people love the guy but you’ve got to admit with his spiky hair, ubiquitous wraparound shades, and abuse of cliche’s like “the bomb” and “flavor town,” his over-the-top personality, gets a little insipid. Grinder’s is my third of Fieri’s “Triple D” recommended joints and, like the others, it’s good but falls short on its way to flavor town.
Grinder’s West style is as funky and eclectic as Fieri’s shirts. It’s a casual place with glass tables, wooden chairs, lots of retro-futuristic Jetsons-looking lights,

old-school-meat-packing-district red brick walls, an austere concrete floor, an open but cluttered  kitchen, and a very casual vibe.

It’s a great atmosphere to enjoy some grub and what Grinder’s does best, beer. Lots of beer. Whether you like Belgians, large scale American domestics, or my favorite, microbrews, they’ve got a brew for you. I started with a Schlafly American Pale Ale from St. Louis.

It’s proof that, despite the popular mass produced swill St. Louis is famous for, the city can craft a great beer with loads of personality. Schlafly APA masquerades as a summer sipper with its caramel color and grapefruit rind finish but in-between it flexes a hoppy muscle and an earthy attitude that asserts itself on your palate. I only ordered one but the waitress brought an extra that was poured by mistake and I couldn’t let an orphaned beer go to waste.
Grinders West has a food menu that’s a bar fly’s dream, whether they’re an omnivore or vegetarian bar fly. There are nachos, wings, burgers, hummus, guacamole, a veggie Philly, and of course pizza. I started with a half order of Hail Caesar, which was a grilled wedge of romaine, topped with red onions, garlic parmesan aioli, and fresh parmesan. $7.75 for a full.

Half a salad is BIG, plenty enough for one, and had great flavor, especially from the salty parmesan and the earthiness the grilling imparted to the lettuce. The smoky taste and great-looking grill marks on the still crisp lettuce would make this salad at home at any summer BBQ.

At home, but to make this salad the king of the Que, I’d suggest a few suggestions. Garlic croutons for a little crunch, more aioli so you have enough dressing for the whole salad rather just the top, grilled red onions or half grilled/half raw, freshly grated parmesan added while the lettuce is still warm, and a few roasted tomatoes would make this salad so good you wouldn’t have to be named Brutus to want to stab this Caesar.

Oh look, while I eat my salad, my pizza is placed next to it so it could start getting cold while I’m finishing my salad. Awesome. I know Grinders isn’t fine dining but there was one other table when I was there so it’s not like anyone was slammed. Note to the owner – teach your waitstaff how to stage an order.
Grinders West has lots of 10″ Gourmet Pizzas for only $12.50 which they’ll let you combine any way you want with their “Have it Your Way” attitude. My apologies that in one of the BBQ capitols of the world I ordered a 1/2 Fun Gi (Fun Guy) – Shitake and button mushrooms with creamy white sauce and extra parmesan and a 1/2 The Levitt (Hippie) – Red Sauce, green peppers, black olives, spinach, tomatoes, artichoke hearts and almonds. Yes, almonds.
Is there anything more disappointing than mediocre pizza? All those calories consumed when you could have had dessert or another beer. It brings a tear to my palate. The Fun Gi would have been more fun with simple additions such as fresh basil, oregano, and parsley plus a mozzarella that didn’t taste like plastic grocery store cheese. The veggie side was no better with flavorless black olives that should be illegal on any pizza, and almonds that tasted boiled rather than crunchy and nutty. On the plus side, I loved the huge variety of veggies they topped it with.

I love thin crust pizza but the crust of my pizza tasted a little raw and dense like the dough had been manhandled more times than a frequent flyer by TSA.

I’m a huge fan of hot sauce when it adds a kick to food but doesn’t overwhelm it. Grinders has an array of hot sauces for sale and with names like Insane, Near Death, and Molten you know they mean to inflict the kind of harm chili heads prefer. Since I’m a Mid-level chili head, I skipped the Wimpy and went for the the Molten followed by Near Death.

The Molten had an early and persistent burn, like a 6 on Thai menus. It’s a hot lovers palate pleaser you want to return to again and again. Next, I tried Near Death. It was like gargling with lava; It had the kind of uncomfortable heat that seems to burn before coming out of the bottle and lasts forever and a day. Humbled by my Near Death experience, I skipped the death sauce, but if that’s what you like, I’m sorry for the tragic accident you must have had earlier in life when you lost all your taste buds.

When the Heat Miser finished dancing on my tongue, I ordered another beer. This time an Arcadia Hopmouth IPA from Battle Creek Michigan. Its dark caramel color matched its deep roasted caramel flavor and it finished with a honeyed quality.
Overall Grinders West is a cool and casual place to hang out and drink great beer but when it comes to the food, it passes creative ville but falls short of reaching flavor town.

Grinders West
417 East 18th Street  Kansas City, MO
(816) 472-5454

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Portobello Burger and Eggplant Salad

Robin’s Restaurant

The next time you’re on the 101 freeway, around the city of San Luis Obispo, take a 30 minute detour off the beaten path to the quaint enclave of Cambria, where you’ll find plenty of pines, a plethora of painters, and a place that brings the woodsy and artsy together: Robin’s Restaurant.
Robin’s has three dining areas, an indoor dining room, a big beautiful outdoor garden where you can eat under a gazebo warmed by the sun or large patio heaters,

and a commodious sundeck with many windows, which gives it a bright and airy feel. The sundeck feels like a cross between a mess hall at camp and an artist’s retreat space.
Adding to that artsy homespun feel are the many bird houses, flying-insect art, a couple of Thai statues, and colorful mosaic-tiled tables.

If the decor isn’t enough to make you feel that you are in a yoga-retreat, have Kimberly, the world’s friendliest waitress, wait on you. She encapsulates the spirit of Namaste with phrases like, “Are you pleased with your lunches?” and “Have a beautiful day.” Slices of refreshing cucumber in your water round out the vibe that they care about your well-being here.

The only thing better than cucumber in my water is beer in my glass, especially when it’s from one of my favorite breweries, the Central Coast’s own Firestone. I ordered their Firestone DBA which is an English Style Bitter Amber Ale with 30 IBU’s, and is hoppy enough to make me happy.

Robin’s describes their food as handcrafted global cuisine and with dishes such as Vietnamese Banh Mi, Curried Chicken Salad Melt, and Cumin Black Bean Nachos, you can see why. I decided to go Mediterranean with a portobello sandwich topped with fresh tomato and sauteed red onions on a bed of basil, and substituted the included side for a delicious-sounding eggplant salad with red bell peppers, tomatoes, parsley and feta.

I appreciated they were accommodating with my substitution without a charge; I only wish the food was as pleasant as their attitude. The eggplant was too large, too firm and someone in the kitchen added too much vinegar. Also with the Lilliputian portobello on the Brobdingnagian bun they should have called this a porto-bun-o sandwich.
Something’s wrong when the bun tastes better than what’s between it. While the bun was fresh, homemade, and flavorful, the mushroom was dry and in desperate need of a marinade such as a balsamic vinegar. The mozzarella on top would have been better too if it were melted or if a buffalo mozzarella had been used. If this was all I had for lunch, I would have been disappointed with Robin’s; fortunately Gail ordered the Halibut Fish Tacos – Corona beer battered fish with lime crema and fresh mango salsa served with a jicama slaw, tortilla chips and salsa for $14.

I prefer my fish tacos grilled rather than battered and fried, and even though the halibut was a little fishy, with the mango salsa, shredded cabbage, and red onion, I still enjoyed every bite Gail would let me steal. She also had to guard the fresh tasting corn chips and jicama slaw, topped with a very tasty cilantro lime and jalapeño dressing, that came with her tacos.

The well tended garden outside was blooming with fresh flowers when we were there and would have been an excellent place to have lunch if it had been a little warmer.

Robin’s restaurant defines themselves as “creative meets local where international inspiration collides with the season’s bounty. Authentic. Sustainable. Wholesome. Surprising.” I agree but unfortunately with their dedication to Authentic, Sustainable, Wholesome and Surprising, it’s Surprising the food isn’t better. It’s worth checking out if you’re in Cambria but expect more of that Namaste spirit from the vibe and servers than from your meal. Oh well, we were drinking beer on vacation on a beautiful day in a beautiful place so Kimberly, you got your wish, we did indeed “have a beautiful day.”

Robin’s Restaurant
4095 Burton Drive  Cambria, CA 93428
(805) 927-5007

For more about me, check out my About page.

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