Tag Archives: Best in Montgomery

The Readers’ Choice

I filled out Grandma Advertiser’s 2010 “Reader’s Choice Awards” form. It took an excruciatingly long time – some kind of paleo-Internet form software that required you to write in nominees in dozens of categories – as if everyone who lived here would have an opinion on everything from the best nursing home, church, or wine shop. I gritted my teeth and clicked through page after page of stupid categories, but I did it. Despite my professional training, I believe that there’s something to value in democracy, in the expression of the voice of the populace.

You have not disappointed me, Montgomery. I know now that there is something to the process, and that something is revealed in your horrifyingly bad taste. There. I said it. I have defended you against all comers, against the people who moved away; against the people who are scared to walk your streets during the day, much less at night; against the Homewood snobs, Wiregrass purists, Tuscaloosa hipsters, the South Alabama gin-and-sun crowd. I once cornered an unfortunate lawyer on a cross-country flight and berated him about his decision to move his family to Auburn because your “schools were bad” – I simply observed that the flight of people like him were why the Montgomery schools were bad and waited for his half-assed and quasi-racist response.

I have staked my good name on your gentle charms, Montgomery. I have talked up your surprisingly good taste, your aspirational spirits. And how did you repay me? You have declared the Olive Garden to be the town’s best Italian food, Montgomery, and Books A Million the number one bookstore, and Hardee’s the best milkshake. That’s right, Grandma Advertiser has again come out with her annual Readers’ Choice awards (When you are thankful they got the apostrophe in the place, you know your standards have been irreducibly lowered). And if you can make it through their 1995-era Internet display function you’ll be able to discern the “tastes” of your fellow citizens.

Hardee’s? No wonder you are fat. Is this a cause or effect of your overmedication? What else could explain your persistent love for a milkshake with a flavor profile somewhere between Bhopal and BP? What explains your preference for Italian food notable for its abundance of salt, or for a bookstore that reliably stocks all the latest Tony Robbins and Joel Osteen but whose fiction begins with Grisham, dallies at Meyer and ends with King?

I did consider that perhaps your metrics were off, Montgomery. That maybe you found Olive Garden to be more reliable than Sa Za (fair enough), Books A Million more wide-ranging than Capitol Books and News (sure, if a fully articulated selection of self-help minutiae is your idea of a sufficiently wide range), that Hardee’s … well, nothing justifies Hardee’s, Montgomery. And as for the others, if those are your metrics, you are obviously doing it wrong.

Look, we won’t hassle you about saying Ixtapa offers the town’s best Mexican food. Sure, we thought it was basically a terrible grease pool papered over with bad margaritas, but it has its charms. Why bother you about that choice when we can be positively apoplectic about your decision to declare Papa John’s to be Montgomery’s best pizza? Honestly, in a town where we are hard pressed to choose between Tomatino’s, Sa Za and Sal’s, the idea that we would even discuss the home of “garlic sauce” and the specific ennui engendered by a lone symbolic pepperoncini rattling against a cheese-rinded cardboard box makes me want to vomit. In terror. Which deserves a name of its own and will be henceforth called “feargurgitation.”

Yes, we get it. We’re transplanted big city outsiders unfamiliar with your simple middle American ways. Except, um, that we aren’t. One of us is from an Alabama town that makes Montgomery seem like Manhattan, and the other of us hails from a state where people count themselves lucky to be in the same area code as a Domino’s Pizza (the state has one area code). We were also raised in families that valued the local and unique, among people who thought that handmade was good. Which is not to say that we didn’t eat plenty of bad food. Hell, just tonight we ate at Ming’s Garden. On your recommendation, Montgomery (much good that did us when we ate at East China and regretted it for days afterward – word to the wise trying to follow this year’s awards’ multiple inexplicable East China recommendations). Thanks a lot; no telling how much hot yoga it will take to make ourselves feel better after eating all that “brown sauce.”

Not that we weren’t prepared. Like all self-respecting digital literati, we get Netflix. Which means we can see what you rent. The Montgomery Favorites section, full of Tyler Perry and prominently pimping Aloha, Scooby-Doo!, set the stage for the larger curtain-pull on your profoundly bad taste. But still, we’d hoped for better. Despite our more cynical natures, we’d hoped to see you repping the Tomatino’s incomparable crust, Martin’s fried pie, Thomas’ divine buffet…but perhaps we are less gourmands than gluttons for punishment. Or perhaps we are unredeemed elitists, overdue to be hoisted with our own petard and hurled backward unconscious into a neverending sea of breadsticks and salad.

Montgomery’s Best Milkshake

You’re in Montgomery, the capital of Alabama. It’s hot. You want a milkshake. Your Google search of the terms “Montgomery Alabama milkshake” provides, not information about which establishments have tasty ice cream-based concoctions, but rather, information about revolting sex acts. It’s time to change all that.

The Montgomery Advertiser’s rankings of the best milkshakes in Montgomery have Hardee’s at #1, Chik Fil A at #2, and Dairy Queen at #3. As with many of Grandma Advertiser’s “best of” rankings, we totally disagree. We hereby offer you a breakdown of the ultimate truth of the milkshake landscape and we crown a legitimate winner of the title of Best Milkshake in Montgomery.

Chick Fil A – (915 Ann St.) – Loathsome purveyor of advertorial concentration camp humor. Georgia-based chain owned by right-wing super Christians. Refuses to sell food (and milkshakes) on Sunday because of ancient traditions regarding rest dating back to book of Genesis. Still, we were told by a trusted source that the peach milkshakes were “just like home-made ice cream.” We got one peach and one chocolate. Unless you are into 7-11 diabetes-inducing “Mega Gulp” sizes, take the small. Small is still plenty big. Both came with whipped cream and cherry on top. The price is good. For two, we spent $3.50.

The peach was not “just like home-made ice cream.” It had good little giblets of peach in it, and was pleasant, extremely sweet but not cloying, and easy to drink through a straw. The chocolate was better, even though it didn’t have a super rich chocolate flavor. Overall they balanced thickness and flavor, didn’t seem to be full of artificial ingredients (though we’re sure they were), and were affordable and good. The texture was nice and it didn’t melt too quickly. Stephen gave them between a 6.5 and an 7 out of 10, and Kate rated them an 6.

Sonic – (2025 Carter Hill Rd.) – You drive in and order at the box. They bring you your stuff. Easy & straightforward, and you don’t sonic shakesneed to idle your car. No, really. Please don’t. We went to the Sonic at Montgomery’s Worst Intersection™ – the absurd chaos of the place where Carter Hill meets Narrow Lane meets Mulberry. We ordered caramel and chocolate. The caramel was really good – nice and thick, with a caramel flavor that wasn’t overpowering or chemical-ly. The chocolate wasn’t too rich and was a bit thinner. Both were good and more than enough shake comes in the small size. Sonic offers a variety of frozen & ice cream treats, as pictured in the menu here. Kate gave them an 6.5 out of 10 – they were very good, but lacked that “wow” of a really great milkshake. Stephen rated them an 6.

Bruster’s – (6835 Vaughn Rd) – Stephen ordered oreo. Kate ordered strawberry cheesecake. The list of flavor options is dazzling. The Bruster’s shakes put the emphasis on the milk. They’re creamy and thick, but also have the ice crystals that add that “milkshakey” texture. It flows through the straw easily. There’s no aftertaste. The prices are reasonable. The only complaint is that a “regular” is quite large and is too much for a person us to drink in a single sitting. Then again, with Alabama the second fattest state in the nation, many people probably think that these milkshake are too small. They are delicious. Almost certainly the best in the city. 9 out of 10.

 

Very large milkshakes

Zolo’s (2055 Carter Hill Rd) CLOSED – We really wanted to write this place up.

Marble Slab Creamery (7929 Vaughn Rd) This is the one in the Hellscape, over near the Rave movie theater. We had high expectations for our chocolate shake, if only because it seems unfair for the purposes of competition to compare a milkshake that costs $5 to one from a fast food place costing less than $2. Yet, here is a case where the extra expense does not befit the resulting product. Not worth the time, money and effort.

In particular, I really didn’t like watching the preparation process. The bored lady behind the counter started by pouring some kind of clear mystery fluid from an unmarked bottle. This stuff (simple syrup?) went into the mixer before the milk. Gross. I do not want mystery liquids in my shake. The use of real ice cream is good, but the end result is way too thick. You can’t pull it through the straw. Further, there are no tasty ice crystals, so you basically have your giant cup of mostly-solid ice cream, whipped through with suspicious liquid, and you’ve got to wait for it to melt or go at it with a spoon. Oh, and there’s a slight coating on your mouth lining after you’ve decided you’ve had enough. Glop, glop, glop, pass. 4 out of 10.

Cold Stone Creamery (7240 East Chase Parkway) – I had Milk and Cookies. She had Lotta Caramel Latte. Our description of both: “outstanding.” The purchasing process is quite an exercise in pretension. We cracked up about how the advertising signs use three umlauts to spell German Chocolate Cake. There are three sizes, each linked to desire: You’ve got the $4.09 “like it,” the $4.49 “love it,” and the $4.99 “gotta have it.” No word on future plans for a $7 “will kill for milkshake” size. But we do commend the Creamery for being able to monetize the distance between like and lust. Hey generations of poets, suck it. The answer is $1.

The PB&C (peanut butter and chocolate) flavored milkshake at the Creamery made headlines recently for being equal in nutritional content to 68 pieces of bacon. Yes, really.

End result of driving to the Hellscape and waiting on these shakes? Tasty, but it’s no Bruster’s. 8 out of 10.

Dairy Queen (Atlanta Highway) – These are sort of the baseline archetypes of the modern Montgomery milkshake. The ice cream is better than very good, verging on great. It’s that soft serve stuff you know so well from your trips to the DQ. But the flavors aren’t eye-popping. Sure, you get a few other choices when ordering, including pineapple, but our ultimate reactions to the chocolate and strawberry were mixed. On one hand, they were quite good and really improved our mega-hot day. On the other, we had to drive a good way to get them and were somewhat nonplussed with the power of the flavor. The chocolate was the better of the two but did not have an especially rich taste. The strawberry did have tasty bits of berry (risking straw clog), but it was just that packaged, probably once-frozen “berry sauce” stuff they keep in the tub next to the fudge and other toppings. We decided that the shakes were great, but probably not as good as the more famous DQ offering, The Blizzard. And yet, the shakes made us happy to the point that we were delighted to be writing reviews of milkshakes, even as we said that no decent shake could be worse than the DQ baseline. Rating? 6 of 10.

Flip’s Uptown Grill (Atlanta Highway) – We’ve never actually set foot in the Uptown mainstay that is Flip’s (check that hilarious website). We’ve heard they have good breakfast food, but we were there for one reason only: a Jiggle. That is what Flip’s calls the small size milkshake they serve. We were not entirely sure how to react to this news, much less how to react to the Flip’s employee who seemed dead set on forcing us to say the word “Jiggle” into the order box. Finally we just mumbled something about how we wanted two of those, one chocolate and one vanilla. The size-that-shall-not-be-spoken is actually perfect. The shakes themselves are great. They taste like milkshakes, not just whipped up ice cream. The chocolate could have been more chocolate-y, but otherwise we liked our, um, milkshakes just fine. The difference between these and the Bruster’s shakes could be chalked up to a difference in ice cream, but Flip’s does use the ever-reliable and tasty Bluebell, so it’s a close call. Quite tasty, although next time we’ll just say, “give us your smallest size” and take it from there. 7 of 10.

Hardee’s — Hardee’s is one of those fast food milkshakes that used to be like, well, average fast food milkshakes. The kind you grow up on. They used to come in the same sizes as the drinks. And you’d have your basic trifecta of flavors: chocolate, vanilla, strawberry. Well, some marketing jerk got a hold of the Hardee’s brass and told them that they needed to specialize and start advertising “hand-dipped shakes.” Now, they only offer one size and have tripled the cost of shakes. Thing is, aside from serving them in new kinds of plastic cups and spraying some whipped cream on top of them, they sort of taste the same as they used to. And that’s not good. Our recent order (a strawberry without whipped cream) turned our conversation to the oil dispersants being used in the Gulf by BP — as in, what they may taste like. The shake, stunningly voted the Best in Montgomery, by the readers of Grandma Advertiser, tasted like a coagulated sugar carpet. This made us think about Krusty the Clown’s notorious fast food franchise from The Simpsons, where instead of milkshakes they sell patented Krusty Partially Gelatinated Non-Dairy Gum-Based Beverages. 3 of 10.

McDonald’sWe did not sample the McDonald’s milkshakes.

Final rankings (in order): Bruster’s, Cold Stone Creamery, Flip’s, Sonic, Chick-Fil-A, Dairy Queen, Marble Slab, Hardee’s

La Zona Rosa

I have been to La Zona Rosa a great many times. Well, that should be qualified somewhat. Yes, I have had a ton of meals there — but only lunches. I can’t speak to what the supper experience is like at all. So this review may not have full bearing on whether it is the second best Mexican restaurant in Montgomery, Alabama.

Lunch at La Zona Rosa (2838 Zelda Rd) is one of those experiences where you can tell they are making a ton of money simply by being efficient. It is a well-practiced martial exercise is bringing vast quantities of food to huge crowds in a short amount of time. At noon, they are slammed. By 1:30, the place really clears out.

The service is fast and efficient. The wait staff really works hard for the notoriously bad Montgomery tips. Mexican places have a particular burden in this regard because not only are business lunch crowds impatient, there is the whole business of chips (leading to chip crumbs and salsa spills) and the higher propensity for alcohol to be served.

La Zona Rosa likely draws these huge lunch crowds not just because they are efficient at serving, but also because they have a specialized lunch menu touting low prices and maximum flexibility. There is an a la carte section of the menu, where 15 or 20 items are listed and prices range from $4.95 for two of the items up to a bit more if you want three or four things. Each item is a reasonable size, but not each is meal-worthy on its own. For example, sure, there is a burrito listed, but one of the items is “sauteed onions and mushrooms” and one is “refried beans.”

The entire menu can be seen here. People like making choices and likely feel quite empowered by their ability to pick and choose from the available options. Today tamale. Tomorrow flauta. Maybe both. Wheee!

My problem with this La Zone lunch experience  is that it seems like you are going to get in and out for a fairly cheap and efficient meal of decent-enough Mexican food. Even if you aren’t ordering off of the “create your own lunch” menu, you can grab some tasty huevos rancheros for $6. Seems reasonable, right?

If you’re ordering a mere two items from the “create your own” or a cheap item like the huevos, you might think you can get out of there for cheap. Maybe not as cheap as I remember from living in Texas, but pretty good by Montgomery standards. However, once you add in a soft drink ($1.35) (because my last attempt to order horchata there resulting in them telling me that they don’t have it) plus tax and tip, you are looking at $12 or so.

The way I explained this experience is this: Every single time I have been there for lunch, I end up feeling like the pricetag is greater than the sum of the meal parts. A guac taco and a meatless chalupa should not cost $5. Plus a drink and a tip and you are left wondering what happened. You pretty much ordered two sides and a drink and you’re dropping double digits for a quick lunch. This is particularly galling when you consider that it would have been easier, faster and probably tastier to have just brought some beans, tortillas and cheese and zapped them in the office microwave. Total cost: $0.70.

Again, the service is great. The atmosphere is decent (not a huge fan of flat screen TVs, but since they are catering to a news-addicted work lunch crowd and probably do some soccer and stuff at night, I understand). There is a balcony patio, which seems good until you remember that it’s 100 degrees outside and it really just overlooks a strip mall parking lot.

But my bottom line on this place is that it very simply isn’t worth the money. I’d go back since it’s popular with people at my office and that requires putting aside some prejudices (unless we are talking about the wretched Marina). But if I’m picking lunch joints, there are better options than La Zona Rosa.

Ixtapa

Ixtapa1We had to go to the mall to get new glasses. Rather than hang out and play the bad terrible games in the arcade there, we decided to get some food at Ixtapa, voted Best in Montgomery for Mexican food by the readers of Grandma Advertiser. This was not the best decision we ever made. But we were celebrating multiple legal victories and needed margaritas. After the disappointment of East China, which was voted by the the best Chinese food in Montgomery by the same scam poll, we should have known better.

First, the good news. The service is terrific. The menu has a vegetarian section, offering a few combo plates for around $8.25. The margaritas ($2.50 on happy hour special) are good and strong enough that you know they have tequila in them. The guacamole is a little too pureed for our taste, but pretty fair. We prefer slightly chunkier avocados, with perhaps a tomato cube or two. Then again, we have spent a ton of time in Texas and are very particular about our guac.

The decor isn’t the horrifying minstrel show Mexican you get in some places. We thought it was at least a promising start. We got the #19 and #20 combos – both with a cheese enchilada and veggie & cheese quesadilla. #19 included with a cheese-stuffed poblano pepper, while #20 rounded it out with a bean & salad-type tostada.

Both plates were kind of a cheese explosion, with the poblano item really drenching the bottom Ixtapa2of the plate in grease. We tried to capture the unappetizing image of the grease dripping off the fork, but this was the best we could do. While the golden torrents of liquid don’t quite show up, you can get a generalized idea of the “fill the entire plate with boiling cheese-bean-grease” technique.

We haven’t eaten that much Mexican food in Montgomery, but Los Vaqueros and La Zona Rosa are definitely better than Ixtapa. The idea that it is the best Mexican food in Montgomery is absurd, as we are finding the Advertiser food “awards” to generally be.

East China

East ChinaWhen someone offered to take us out to eat, we got excited. Move over depression era meal budgets! This one’s on someone else! So we decided to try out the place that was voted to serve the Best Chinese Food in Montgomery. At least, that’s what the Montgomery Advertiser poll said.

When we arrived, we felt sure that we couldn’t be in the right place. It had those huge color pictures of food up behind the counter, like some kind of $5 Chinese place in New York City. And yet, it also had some expensive wooden floors and a fairly nice seating area. Maybe this was the place after all.

We were seated in a nearly empty smallish dining room. The menus are pretty expansive, but light on veggie items. They are broken into the familiar meat categories and the familiar staples of the modern homogenized American Chinese restaurant. Sichuan mingles without effort with Cantonese with no explaining. It’s a bit snobbish (but accurate) to say that most Montgomery diners don’t know the difference. They’re there because they can get the noodles with shrimp or one of those pork things. So the menu caters perfectly to that. When you think about food that way, of course there are 90-something options.

We ordered three entrees for the three of us, plus some egg rolls. The waitress was pissed that we asked whether various items contained meat. Of course she was. Still, based on the subsequent service, it was clear she was just pissed to be at work and not so angered by what was definately NOT a hyper-particular ordering on our parts. We ordered a spicy tofu and broccoli dish, a garlic eggplant dish, and some moo shu veggies. We also each ordered a spring roll, which was oddly fried, but the only veggie option of the appetizers after eliminating egg rolls and the dumplings.

The tofu broccoli was the best of the lot. It was far from spicy and generally somewhat bland. The broccoli was cooked right and the tofu was at least fried into golden brown cubes. The eggplant was the worst of the three. It was pretty much an whole large eggplant, cut up and gleaming purple, served with a brownish and flavorless garlic sauce of some sort. The pieces were huge and tough to cut up. And the middle of the road was the moo shu, served with hoisin sauce and three smallish won ton noodles. They were messy and, well, unremarkable. It was fun to assemble little burritos of hoisin and shredded veggies, but they were small and, once they were eaten, there wasn’t much fun about a pile of chopped up semi-crisp cabbage.

One particular highlight was that when seated, they bring you a bowl of fried noodles and a bowl Crispy noodlesof “duck sauce” with a tiny dollop of spicy mustard in it. It was almost as if they had seen the chips and salsa idea in a Mexican place and wanted to copy it. But nice salty chips and fresh cilantro-based salsa is one thing. Heavily fried noodles dipped in yellow glucose sauce is another. Thinking about Montgomery folks shoveling in a bowl (or two) of these before their meal helps explain why Alabama is only ranked above Mississippi in “Most Obese States in the Nation.”

All in all, it seems unlikely that we’ll go back to East China. There’s nothing East Chinese about it. It doesn’t have all of the offensive trappings of many of the worst Mexican places (where they spend more time on having the mariachi band and the sombrero for birthdays and the parrot decorations on the wall than they do on the food). But it does seem to worry more about having a bunch of stuff on the menu than it does worry about making sure the items are good. And in a town like Montgomery, even when there is authentic Korean food at several places around the city, basic worry about appearances is enough to win you the best Chinese food in town.