Archive for December, 2006

Conceptually divergent

December 11th, 2006 No comments

After writing my last post about Peppermill Grill, I went back and perused the press release announcing the restaurant concept. Finding it utterly humorous, I’m going to pick it apart here. Here’s the link, in case you need it.

…the Peppermill Grill menu is designed around the flavor profile alluded to in the new concept’s name. Whether on a burger, steak, or pasta, an array of peppercorns and other flavors will be featured in many of the menu items.

I can remember a few dishes having peppercorns mentioned, but I don’t believe I ever thought “Wow, look at all these amazing ideas they came up with for using peppercorns!” I think my burger might have had peppercorns somewhere in it (it was blackened, so maybe in the rub?), but R’s pasta seemed to be lacking them and so was the appetizer. I mean, of all things, they could have thrown some peppercorns into the bland dipping sauces.

Servers are Flavor Ambassadors who bring peppermills with various spices right to the table.

Can you demean a person anymore than referring to them as flavor ambassadors? Probably not. Peppermill Grill is not the United Nations of taste buds, I can assure you. A restaurant should never imply that diplomacy is needed between the kitchen and the diners. And bringing the spices and peppermills right to the table? That never happened. Nor did I see it happen at other tables.

Choosing and adding flavor will be a part of the dining experience at the Peppermill Grill. Peppercorn selections will offer diverse flavor profiles that can be mixed together for new combinations.

R’s volcano chicken pasta thing could have used some pepper, and I probably would have allowed them to crush some over my burger if they wanted. I think this concept was something they thought would be amazing when it was first created, but they found that focus groups didn’t like lots of pepper (assuming they even thought to use a focus group), oops. Seriously, where were all these unique flavor combinations?

To give them some credit, at least there were real peppermills at the tables. But, to give discredit where discredit is due, said peppermills were filled with ONLY black peppercorns. No unique flavor combinations there. The least they could have done was offer a blend or even three different mills, each filled with a different kind of peppercorn just like barbecue joints do with their sauces.

An eclectic collection of artwork will create the feeling of a spice marketplace.

You guessed it, entirely missing was any decor indicating you were inside a spice marketplace. In fact, the decor was more 1950’s supper club with a modern twist. This was certainly a bold new concept gone awry.

The press release was from October, 2005 and there clearly was a diversion from original concept to the restaurant that was built. With the Madison location being their proving grounds, I’m thinking the only thing they’ve proven is that this concept won’t last long.

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Peppermill Swill

December 11th, 2006 No comments

TGI Friday’s on Gammon closed not too long ago and became the Peppermill Grill. Until last Friday, I didn’t know much about it other than that the former owner of the White Horse Inn was involved in it and it was a more upscale chain offered by the same group who does Country Kitchens. Not that you’d ever find me at a Country Kitchen…

Well, Friday changed all that. I headed over there for dinner at about 7:30. My first impression as that it was somewhat busy (well, there was a wait for a table), but not really crazy crowded. We had a drink at the bar, as the host told us it would be a 35 minute wait. 15 minutes later, the little buzzer went off and it was time to be seated.

We were placed at a table against the windows. For whatever reason, it was quite drafty and kind of cold. Within 30 seconds of being seated, our waitress was at the table asking if we knew what we wanted. No introduction, no “Hi, how are you?” nothing. So no, we weren’t ready to order. We told her at least a couple more minutes would be needed before we were ready.

It turned out that “a couple minutes” really means 15-20 for our waitress. We asked to start out with some walleye sticks (the most expensive appetizer, and described as being “basil coated” and having two uniquely flavored sauces – more to come on that later), and I would have a burger without onions and Ross was having the “volcano chicken.” Somewhere in the middle of ordering, the waitress decided it would be a good idea to get out a pad of paper to write down the order. I thought it was a good idea as well. When she walked away, I noted that my burger was now certainly going to come with onions on it.

A few minutes later, our walleye appeared. They were crusted in some sort of flakey crust, but had no indication of anything basil related ever being near them. Fine, I thought, at least the sauces will make up for it. Well, they didn’t. The first sauce was a straight up tartar sauce, which I have little doubt was provided by Sysco. The second was another basic mayo with the tiniest hint of extra flavoring added. It was red and mildly spicy, but not anything to really make you want more.

I only had time to sample a bite of the appetizer before our entrees were brought to the table. Just like our waitress appeared 30 seconds after our seating, our entrees appeared 30 seconds after our appetizer. I had known this was a possibility as the table of 8 next to us had the same thing happen with their entrees and salads. Luckily, I’m capable of sending stuff back. I told the server that we weren’t ready, he looked at me dumfounded, and took the entrees back to sit under the warming lights. Mmm.

After the fish was done (we’d by then decided that they tasted like frozen fish sticks) our entrees were re-delivered, this time by a different server. To no surprise at all, my burger had onions on it. Not just red onions on the side (which I can usually deal with), but with grilled onions on top (the ones I specifically asked to not have). I told the server that my burger had onions on it and she said “yes, it’s supposed to.” She apparently wasn’t all that bright. In any case, she took it back. A few minutes later a new burger was delivered. This time I asked the server to bring a manager over when she got a chance.

When the manager arrived, I gave her my list of complaints:

  • 15-20 minutes for our order to be taken
  • entrees came out with appetizer
  • burger had onion on it
  • had to ask for water, when every other table had a big bottle of water on it

She said that she would take that into consideration, give us some time to eat, and get back to us with a “solution.” I told Ross that, no doubt, her solution would be free dessert. What do you know, she appeared minutes later to deliver the solution: “We’ve decided to give you both free desserts!” I laughed out loud – no joke. She looked astounded, but I explained that “You’ve got to be kidding me.” She offered that the desserts are all homemade and quite good. I told her that wasn’t acceptable, at which point she asked what would be. I told her that, at minimum, my entree should be free. She agreed to that, indicating that it was about the same price as two desserts would be anyway.

She then went to adjust the bill and had our waitress (now after being yelled at by her manager) deliver it. The waitress offered no apology, completely pretended that nothing had happened, and walked away. The bill was $27. I put an extra $3 on for a tip, and got out of there as fast as I could.

Based solely on service, I would not recommend dining at the Peppermill Grill. Yes, it’s still a newer restaurant, but the manager should have been capable of handling the situation appropriately now matter how long they’d been open. At one point, it was offered that our waitress was stuck with three tables that were seated at the same time. Tough deal, but that’s just more indicative of systemic problems than just one server. The person doing the seating should know not to seat three tables at once if they can’t handle it.

The food, on the other hand, was medicore at best. The burger might have been good, had it been served correctly on one of the first two times it was brought to the table. Ross’ volcano chicken seemed to be acceptable, if not a bit boring and mushy. The walleye was fishy tasting, lacked lemon (which is ALWAYS served with fish, especially at chain restaurants that get their fish from the freezer), and was accompanied by uninspired sauces.

I don’t like chain restaurants as a whole, but I’m always willing to try new ones to keep myself in check. In fact, at times, I do go in spurts with chains that are acceptable to eat at – at least until I get burned or burned out (think Chili’s, Applebees and even Chi Chi’s for a while). All too often, I walk away feeling disappointed and angered that I even thought a chain (even a new one) would be someplace I would want to go back to. I felt this way when I ate at the former TGI Friday’s on Gammon, and I felt the same way Friday walking away from the Peppermill Grill that replaced it.

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