I have made peace with several of the chains - that is, I have come up with one dish that I like enough to be pleasant company when forced by circumstance to eat there. If dragged to Ruby Tuesday I will eat the Asian Dumplings, Applebees - wonton tacos, Olive Garden - braised short ribs, Cracker Barrel - chicken and dumplings (though they are no match for mine). If taken to O'Charleys I will eat my napkin and drink bourbon. I find no redeeming qualities there.
But what 5 local restaurants would I put on the top of my list? I'll try, but I am waffling on these even now (oh...Waffle House...I have a soft spot in my heart for that!).
#5 - Charley's. First fell in love when they were in the mall and still love it. The food is consistently good. Favorite dish is Chicken Mornay. I get it with rice...and rice. And once I eat the chicken, I put all the rice in the cheese sauce. Damn. Not to mention the fact that I absolutely LOVE Rob Pearson. To have an excellent chef, restauranteur and human being rolled into one body - it is amazing. Rob gives back to the community in so many ways...most people never realize the work he does to end hunger in our community.
#4 - Waterstone. I had a hard time deciding on this one. But the Wild Mushroom Pizza (pesto, mushrooms, sun dried tomatoes and goat cheese) never fails to make me happy. The kitchen is extremely efficient. The servers are well trained and pleasant. The place just needs more seats!! An hour wait is common on the weekend and the bar can't hold enough people so you could drink while waiting. But damn, the food and beer are good.
#3 - I went into this list knowing what numbers 2 and 1 are...so this is the wild card spot. Food is good at Depot Grille, Isabellas, Milan, Monte Carlo.... I would also give an honorable mention to the Fire Patch (okay...really Briar Patch, but since it burned three or four times, we call it Fire Patch), Robin Alexander (glad they got rid of the typo-filled menu), the new Boiler Room (another excellent place from Ralph "Chopper" Wilson - but I had a very odd server there) and Bull Branch (there is a difference between hip and just grimy...dust sometimes!). But if I'm going with the restaurants that I would miss the most - #3 goes to the Hot and Cold Cafe on 9th Street. Uday is an excellent cook and the daily lunch buffet is a destination at least once a week. No, I can't always understand what he is saying. But if you cook cabbage and eggplant that good - I don't care. And I've gotten used to pita instead of Naan bread.
#2 - No brainer. King's Island. Whether it is the best Chinese/Polynesian buffet in town or the sushi that makes me so happy I actually cry...KI is one of my favorites. I also love the fact that I can walk in and greet half the staff by name. And if it is evening, I think John-John starts a Spicy Scallop Roll when he sees me walk through the door.
#1 - but which restaurant would leave the biggest hole in my heart? Thai 99, which celebrates 10 years (!) in Lynchburg this week! I remember being invited to their first anniversary when monks came to bless the restaurant, I've seen Patty and Jeff's son Justin grow up, seen their little girl start to take her first steps. I feel like a part of the family. For a long time I ordered the same dish: Pad Thai, chicken, medium. Until Patty refused to serve that to me - she got me to branch out and try new things. I can still get Pad Thai, but only every other visit. I understand there are a couple of other Thai restaurants around...and I'll get around to trying them. But I know that I'll always be connected to Thai 99 because they took the time to educate me about their food and their culture...and sparked a desire to try new things. Hoping for another 10 years together - and 10 after that!
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