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Coffee Culture: Your Average Cup o’ Joe

3 Jun

There are two things that really piss me off about the Kenmore/Tonawanda area of Buffalo: there’s a traffic light at almost every block, and there’s any empty hole in my heart where Long John Silver’s used to exist. Instead of those iconic, deep-fried treasures from the sea, we’re now “graced” by the presence of Coffee Culture, a chain that’s relatively new to the Buffalo area and, while I made it a mission to not review chains, I feel that it’s my duty to share my dining experience with you, loyal reader.

Walking into the restaurant, I could already foresee my summary of this very review: Completely and absolutely average. The walls and furniture are exactly what you’d expect from a corporate coffee house, brown with comfy leather chairs. The client-el is also very predictable: People who “want to be social” by burying their faces in their laptops or tablets, only looking up to take a sip of their beverage. It wouldn’t be so bad if the overhead radio wasn’t blasting that obnoxious, douchey coffee house jazz mix that all ho-hum coffee houses seem to play.

The menu isn’t anything special at all. There’s a few sandwiches, some daily soup selections, and a disappointing number of coffee-based beverages. They have a bakery case that’s stuffed with pastries that are longing for a nice, new stomach to call their home. I would have certainly adopted one if it wasn’t for the overwhelming uniformity of their bakery selections. There was no real sense of “OMG PICK ME!” that the one special pastry will yell at me when I mention that I’m trying to keep my calorie intake down.

For lunch, I selected the “Ultimate” Grilled Cheese. The formula was simple enough, combine a mixture of delicious cheeses (smoked gouda, mozzarella, and american) with some old favorites that remind you of home (bacon and tomato, in this case). While delicious and satisfying for a man that has gone hungry looking for the next great review, the overall attempt was just like the sandwich it self: Bland. This sandwich has major potential, but don’t refer to anything as “Ultimate” if there aren’t ultimate elements involved. While the bacon was delicious and crispy, the cheeses melted together and seemed like a lactose-injected brick after the sandwich cooled down a bit. The medium that it’s served on is two rather flavorless pieces of wheat bread that have been smashed beyond recognition with a panini iron. I feel that the sandwich is really missing an oomph to bring it all together. There were no seasonings or herbs to be found, and no wet ingredients to break up the monotony of the sandwich and help out with the toughness of the bread. At least they gave me a tasty dill pickle. For those who don’t know, I freaking LOVE dill pickles!

As for my beverage selection, I went with the Frozen Caramel Latté. I know it sounds repetitive, but it’s just what you’d expect in this scenario. Decent flavored coffee, loaded with syrup and assaulted with sugar.

All I can say about the staff is that they are far more real than normal coffee house recruits. The cashier was incredibly pleasant, and even upsized my coffee because it took a little bit to prepare. Good, honest service is hard to find nowadays.

In summary, Coffee Culture is not a bad place to stop and grab a quick bite, but it’s certainly not great either. If I was driving down the street and saw a CC with a Starbucks or SpoT near it, I’d go the extra distance to ensure that greatness is being poured into my cup.

Atmosphere: 3/5          It’s like walking into a Starbucks, except with worse music. The brown decor really does nothing for the eye.
Menu: 2.5/5          Take a few favorites from Panera Bread and throw them on a menu that’s half of its size. Add a taste of normality and voila!
Beverage Selection: 2/5          Very, very disappointing. A few coffee house staples, but nothing more.
Price: 3.5/5          You get what you pay for. It’s not as expensive as it’s competitors, but that’s for a pretty apparent reason.
Taste/Quality of Product: 3/5
Staff: 4/5          I’m not going to argue with good, old-fashioned hospitality. Very pleasant staff indeed.

Overall: Average. Aside from a few possible gems, the restaurant is completely shrouded in mediocrity. Definitely check it out if you carry a BlackBerry or laptop with you wherever you go, as there more than likely be a few open seats.


Blue Monk – Divine Intervention, or Failed Rapture?

27 May

Allow me to start off by saying that the last time I had set foot into Blue Monk, my band had just finished playing the very last show ever performed while the location was known as “Merlin’s”. Despite remembering Merlin’s as being a place where bands went to binge drink and piss all over the restroom floor, I had high hopes to see how the transformation went.

Walking in the oh-so-familiar door, I was visually greeted with two things: nostalgia… and flannel. Everything was in the same location as before, with the exception of the newly-added kitchen area, and a much needed new set of bathrooms. The bar was nicely lit and featured a gigantic chalkboard with a most impressive beer list jotted down.

The menu is quite impressive, and boasts dishes that are quite unorthodox, but very welcomed to a town that just starting to breakout of it’s former Rust Belt reputation. As I could tell by looking around, a crowd favorite is definitely their fries… but Blue Monk doesn’t serve fries at all. Blue Monk serves duck frites, and they’re damn tasty.

A “duck frite” is a french fry cut potato that is fried in rendered duck fat. The result is a fry that is rich and tasty, with undertones of the gaminess of the duck. To make their frites even more fantastic, they are served with your choice of 2 out of 8 of their very original dipping sauces. The [Chipotle  Bacon Mayonnaise] is simply divine, there’s no other word for it. I also got my hands on some of their [Wasabi Mayonnaise] which made a fantastic condiment for the frites, but reminded me of something that I’d find in a sushi bar.

The dish that I elected to taste was their Poutine. For those who aren’t sure what “poutine” is, grab a passport and hop over the border to the north. “Poutine” is an example of Canadian comfort food. Traditionally, it’s crispy fries and soft cheese curd that’s been smothered in a delicious brown gravy sauce. The end result is a little slice of artery-clogging heaven that’s beyond addictive to chomp on. Blue Monk’s poutine is as different as I have ever seen outside of Canada. The common french fry is replaced with the duck frites and rather than generic brown gravy, they’re drowned in an amazingly silky duck confit. Their cheese curd is spot on, and the portion size is big enough to please a bigger gentleman, such as myself.

The only “problem” that I had with my dish is that it seems if it was over-spiced. While the poutine was amazing the first few bites in, I found myself being overwhelmed by the amount of rosemary and parsley that were incorporated into the confit. It still had a gamey taste, but was left with a moderately bitter aftertaste.

Atmosphere: 4/5          Blue Monk doesn’t come off as a fine-dining establishment, even though the menu suggests otherwise. It’s rather loud and is full of flannel, beards, and over-stretched gauged ears that are typical of a Downtown Buffalo eating establishment. Great lighting, but incredibly cramped tables.
Menu: 5/5          No complaints here. Very upscale ingredients that follow the trend of the Elmwood Village. They have some complex and unorthodox dishes that will make any culinarian or food lover eager to give it a shot.
Beverage Selection: 5/5          If you’re a beer-enthusiast, Blue Monk is at the top of the food chain. Their beer list is massive, and very easy to read and comprehend.
Price: 4/5          They’re not the cheapest restaurant on the strip, and they’re certainly not the most expensive. The portions are big enough to ensure that you’ll more than likely need a doggie bag.
Taste/Quality of Product: 4/5
Staff: 4/5          The waiting staff is very polite, but I can see them being not the most attentive during busy hours.

Overall:          I give Blue Monk a solid B. It’s a decent place to hang out with some friends and knock back a few cold ones, while enjoying a nice list of artisan-type cuisine. I personally wouldn’t say it’s one of my favorite places, but I’ll definitely do business with them again.