NOTE: I visited Laci’s Lunchbox and wrote this piece before going to Laci’s Tapas Bar and writing my piece on Nov. 9.
Is it lunch box or lunchbox? I tend to go with the singular word, as if the box’s sole purpose was to carry lunch. But, I think most people would go with two words, as in a box that happens to have lunch inside of it.
On his 2008 album Chewed Up, all-world comedian Louis C.K. discussed his eating habits, leading to an oft-quouted line: “I don’t stop eating when I’m full. The meal isn’t over when I’m full. It’s over when I hate myself.”
I’m not sure that there is a better characterization of our Friday evening visit to Texas de Brazil at DestinyUSA. I’m certain that one could go to this all-you-can-eat steakhouse, show some restraint, and experience it in a manner that doesn’t result in paralysis and food coma. It would require willpower and knowing your limits, two things that I do not possess.
Texas de Brazil sits at the back of the Canyon entrance to DestinyUSA, in a court of other higher-end chain restaurants like Cantina Laredo, P.F. Chang’s, The Melting Pot and Gordon Biersch. The concept is Brazilian churrascaria, where passadores, or servers, come to your table with swords of meat, called rodizios. Typically, one flips a painted rock to indicate whether they would like more food or to signal that they need some time to eat. At Texas de Brazil, one receives a laminated card that is typically ignored by the sword-bearing staff. The Turning Stone Resort had a Brazilian steakhouse that The Wife and I had been to prior to its closing. Continue reading Texas de Brazil, Syracuse, N.Y.→
The allure of dining week is the opportunity to try places you would not ordinarily go for dinner. Two years ago, our trip to Pastabilities during dining week renewed my faith in their dinner service (I’ve long been a fan of their lunch). A Syracuse-area economic development group, the Downtown Committee, organizes the local version each year. With the exception of a couple of outposts, the concept is three courses for $25. Pretty simple.
We had childcare for Friday evening and planned to take part. When looking at the menus for this year’s event, I mentioned to The Wife that I thought the 317 at Montgomery, Pastabilities and Bistro Elephant/Lemongrass had the most attractive menus. Sometimes places will prepare special menus of smaller or lesser quality items to make it economical. These three looked as if they were just restricting portions of their menu for the event. I left it to The Wife to choose where.
The space occupied by 317 has seen a lot of traffic over the past five years. It’s longtime inhabitant, the Brick Alley Grill, closed a few years back following a flood. Something called Checkers Cafe followed it, then a Persian restaurant called Parisa. This past fall, The 317 opened with a local heavy-hitting chef named Chance Bear and a Japanese-American fusion menu. It didn’t last long; Bear flew the coop for the aforementioned Bistro Elephant/Lemongrass. The reboot is called 317 at Montgomery. Continue reading 317 at Montgomery, Syracuse, N.Y.→
Admittedly, I had been hesitant to try Laci’s Tapas Bar though I don’t know why. Small plates restaurants are either very good or very bad, with no middle ground. On one side there’s the Meddlesome Moth in Dallas, Tex., which was listed on Eater.com‘s lists of best and hottest restaurants in the metroplex when I visited last winter. On the other is a recently opened restaurant in Syracuse’s Armory Square that has received the same anecdotal review from everyone I have talked to: the food is ordinary and the service is terrible and borderline rude.
Laci’s opened in its current location on Hawley Avenue in 2010, after its owners moved their operation from Eastwood’s Palace Theatre. The historic house it sits in is the former Pascale’s Bake House near Catherine Street. I’m glad I did make reservations for 6 p.m. on the evening of our visit, as the restaurant would be packed with a line by the time we walked out a couple of hours later.
NOTE: I am expecting people to read the following entry and tell me that I am wrong, uninformed, missing the point, and/or a terrible human being who should spend his time eating at Applebee’s. I have braced for impact.
I know nothing about how to run a restaurant. As someone who is particular about where he eats, though, there are certain things which separate good from the rest. The men from the boys. The lion from the rest of the jungle.
A restaurant should aim for a particular demographic. A great restaurant aims for their demographic, but welcomes everyone else without pretense.
A restaurant should have a basic theme or a hook that makes them unique. A great restaurant not only has a theme, but they also have personality and energy.
A restaurant should have a menu. A great restaurant offers you an experience.
So, what am I getting at? I went to LoFo. I ate at LoFo. Alas, I didn’t like LoFo.
The audible gasps among 21-35 year old women and men with beards is expected. That’s fine. Let me continue…
Its demographic seems pretty straightforward. LoFo aims right at the heart of the locavore movement. Heidelberg Baking Company and Harrison Bakery breads. Recess Coffee. Locally sourced foods prepared fresh. Very respectable. The menu shows a strong balance between vegan, vegetarian and carnivore. It also features a number of raw and gluten-free foods. Traffic in and out of the restaurant on Friday when I visited was decidedly female, between the ages of 25 and 40. There were some bearded and tattooed men that came in from the neighboring art spaces, but the professional women who work in Armory Square make this place tick. Again, this is all respectable and our market needs restaurants like these.
Ordering was done at the counter with a paper menu placed in front of me by a rather disengaged staff member. She was not much for conversation, giving off the vibe that she could not be bothered to respond to my questions as if I should already know the answers. With two people at tables already eating and only me in line, I thought her impatience at my reading of the menu was a little much.
The lunchtime menu is pretty basic: four sandwiches, two soups and a handful of salads, plus the daily specials. An extensive list of vegetable juices and almond milk smoothies highlight a drink menu that includes looseleaf teas and small batch sodas. A breakfast menu includes eggs, pancakes, and sides to satisfy carnivores and herbivores alike. After ordering, paying and being prompted to tip by the iPad screen used as a cash register, I grabbed a table and began scrolling through Twitter to pass the time. I popped my iPhone’s camera app open to take the above photo of the interior and got an “If you do that again, you will be asked to leave” look from the snarly counter staffer. Her icy glare continued until she was sure I was reading something on my iPhone and no longer using it to take a photo.
The chicken and brie sandwich was, on the outset, what I would consider to be a perfect lunch-sized sandwich. Not too small, but not too big. Shredded chicken, pear slices and a creamy brie were served between two thick slices of Heidelberg Baking Company cracked wheat bread and grilled. The sandwich had a good flavor, thanks to the pear, but was mostly bread. A side salad of mixed greens with a mystery dressing (I asked the snarly counter staffer who told me that she would find out and tell me. She didn’t. I’m guessing miso and ginger.) filled the plate, but didn’t make up for the rather paltry portion of chicken. It made me wonder what the $9.50 was paying for.
The chorus will say that I shouldn’t look at the price tag. They will say that I am supporting a local business that is supporting local businesses and, sometimes, that costs more. Trust me. I get it.
The Honey Bear smoothie proved to be the highlight of the meal. Served in a pint-sized beer glass, the smoothie was a balanced blend of peanut butter, almond milk, banana, honey and cinnamon. It had bite. It had sweetness. It was creamy. It was $6. It was the best thing placed in front of me.
A steady trickle of customers made their way into LoFo during the 30 or so minutes I was there. It was fun to watch the snarly counter staffer interact with the loyal regulars and treat the first-timers like, well, like she had treated me.
As far as concepts go, LoFo is good. It could probably be strong. It joins local mainstays like Alto Cinco, Empire Brewing Company, Dinosaur Barbque, and Riley’s (among others) in promoting the idea of eating where you live. It has a loyal base of supporters and good for them. But, to me, it seems like it’s trying too hard. It wants to be the cool, different kid in the Armory Square mix of bar-restaurants and fine dining, but it doesn’t know how. It wants to be Open Face or the Beer Belly Deli but it’s still developing its niche. It wants to be in Syracuse, but it needs Syracuse to think more like Ithaca. It wants to branch out and spread its message, but it treats new customers like locavore luddites that take up space better suited to its wheatgrass slurping twentysomethings.
“It is cool and different,” they’ll say. “You just don’t get it. It’s not for you.”
And that might be the problem.
Maybe LoFo isn’t for me and my ilk. Maybe it’s just for the people in their loyal fanbase who “get it.” And that might be why the crowd was cozy and small at LoFo, while the lines at other establishments in Armory Square were out their respective front doors.
Maybe I am too old for LoFo. Maybe I’m just a cranky, curmudgeonly jerk. Maybe this was a snapshot of an off day at LoFo.
Maybe I wanted a relaxed lunch and, instead, got a wheelbarrow of attitude.
Maybe I’ll learn from my mistakes and go to one of my regular haunts next time.
LoFo is located at 214 Walton St. in Syracuse’s Armory Square district near Onondaga Creek. It is open Monday through Saturday for breakfast and lunch. Lunch for one was $16.51.
When the opportunity of an evening out sans child presents itself, you take it.
When it involves an overnight at Grandma and Papa’s house, you don’t rush.
The drive to Manlius, one of Syracuse‘s higher-rent districts, was slow. Combine post-work traffic with roadwork and one of the busiest intersections in town (Lyndon Corners), and our drive took almost as long as dinner.
Located on the corner of East Seneca and Wesley Streets in the center of the village, the Ironwood occupies a storefront on the end of the block that includes the Manlius Art Cinema, a local landmark. While it lacks its own parking lot, on-street spots and a municipal lot across the street provide an assist. Continue reading Ironwood, Manlius, N.Y.→
First things first. The restaurant is perfectly fine for a themed chain restaurant located in a mall. For a brewpub, it’s not quite Empire Brewing Company, but it is better than most of the other child-friendly options available to us on a Friday night.
Second things second. The beer is good. I had two — the märzen and schwarzbier — and half of The Wife’s golden export. The märzen was quite good. Full-flavored, smooth, and as good as Spaten’s offering. The schwarzbier was good, though not as good as the first. It’s a smooth, dark lager with a coffee finish that was both surprising and pleasant. The golden export was ordinary. It was a bland lager, perfect for The Wife and her narrow liking of beer, but nothing to jump up and down over. They call it a kolsch, but it didn’t have that refreshing flavor characteristic of that summertime beer.
Good sushi is not difficult to come by in Syracuse. Great sushi, on the other hand…well, that bus doesn’t make it that close to the Salt City. It’s the downside of being at least five hours from a major fishing port.
Tokyo Seoul and Secret Garden were the best of the best for a long time around here. There are others that serve sushi, but those two reigned in terms of fresh fish and quality preparation. Koto, a regional chain with locations in Albany, Vermont, New Hampshire and Connecticut, was a game changer when it came to town in 2010. It brought a menu of traditional and specialty rolls representative of sushi restaurants in larger cities.
Saturday’s visit with The Wife was not our first. When it first opened, you could sit right at the sushi bar — my preference — and order directly from the chefs (the seats are still there, but now you have to order through a server…meh). Since The Wife was paying and made the reservation (it was my birthday), we sat at a table. Continue reading Koto Japanese Steakhouse, Syracuse, N.Y.→