Sunday, December 21, 2008

Merlins Rest

Visited on Friday, December 19th

Outside Merlin's Rest

Erin's Review
This past month has pretty much been a blur. Due to a number of different factors, we haven't been out to eat to one of the places on our list for almost a month. We did try last Friday - and we now know that Blue Door Pub is not a place to go at 7pm on a Friday night with no reservation with 6 people. Or with 2 people, apparently. We'll have to go back and try that place on weeknight. We headed over to Merlins Rest after trying Blue Door Pub again and easily got a table there.

Inside Merlin's Rest

Merlins Rest is a "British Isles and Irish Pub". I pretty much always like these type of places, and I wasn't disappointed - it was exactly what I was expecting. The surcharges for fries and live music are a little off putting - Ben gets into that more below. I ordered a Strongbow and fish and chips, British style. The Strongbow was the same as it is everywhere - and I think $5.75 is a little steep but nothing outrageous.

Fish & Chips, British Style

The fish and chips came out very quickly (probably less than 10-15 minutes from when we ordered). This wasn't that weird as it doesn't take that long to cook this dish, but Ben's should have taken much longer and came out right away as well. I thought the fish was perfect - greasy and salty, just like I remember eating when I spent a semester in London. The fries were just ok - not sure if they hand cut them here, which I would expect for a $2.75 surcharge when ordering with a sandwich.

Fish & Chips, British Style

I liked the atmosphere at Merlins Rest - it was pleasantly crowded with a little live music going on that wasn't too loud to interfere with conversation. It would be a great place to go with a small group. It was also fairly bright, which is different from most bars and pubs. I would go back if I was having a fish and chips craving. Other than that, probably not - but I can see why fans of scotch would love this place.

Ben's Review
I was sick all last week with a flu-like cold (I got MY flu shot this year, did you??) and Erin was getting sad that we couldn't go out to eat at all. By Friday I felt good enough to venture back out and eat something other than toast with butter, washed down with water. We wanted to try Blue Door Pub after getting shut out last Friday night when our group of six had issues finding a place that could take us without a long wait. I hadn't realized how small BDP was at the time. On this night it was nearing 7 o'clock again so I suggested we have a backup in case BDP was again full up. This turned out to be a good plan because BDP was indeed full again with people already standing, waiting for a table, so we headed to our backup, Merlins Rest on E. Lake St.

If you look at the Google Maps pictures of Merlins Rest, it looks like a place that would sell fireworks off of 94 once you cross into Wisconsin - a huge white sign with huge, simple block letters. I had read on their website that they had an Irishman decorate the interior of the restaurant, but clearly the same TLC hadn't been applied outside. Nevertheless, we headed over knowing what to look for, of course I nearly blew right by the place because since Google came around they have replaced their sign with a more "Irish pub looking" sign that says "Merlins Rest" in the appropriate script.

It wasn't apparent if we should wait to be seated when we got in, but I suppose the absence of a sign means you can seat yourself, so we grabbed a tall table on the left side of the bar. On the right side there were several of those circular booths that I like - it'd be fun to come with a bigger group and grab one of those.

Being that I was just getting over being sick, I knew I wasn't going to have a drink, although the scotch list is tempting. The scotch menu is an entirely separate menu that you can get on request. The list is impressive, and they include the 'wench' ratings for each scotch on the list. I had never heard of a 'wench' rating for a scotch, so I just assumed that was how people rated scotchs. As I'm searching google now, though, I can find NO mention of a 'wench' rating or a 'wench' scale for scotch, so maybe the people at Merlins Rest just like saying 'wench' (who doesn't?).

Scotch Menu

Anyways, I was sticking to water, but I'll be back for the scotch. As for food, I was a little shocked at the $2.75 surcharge to have fries with your burger instead of chips. That seemed a little excessive so I looked for something other than a sandwich to order. I read the description of "Ol' Grandmas Cottage Pie" and I was sold. A layer of ground beef with carrots and parsnips, covered with garlic mashed potatoes, covered with cheese. Yes. That is what I needed getting over a cold.

Cottage Pie

Our food came out much faster than I expected, which makes me think they didn't actually MAKE the food. In spite of this my food was pretty damn good, although instead of carrots and parsnips (which I was actually looking forward to) it was just ground beef with red peppers? Further evidence that it's not cooked on site. The portion was also huge, I just had the rest of my meal for lunch today as it lent itself nicely to reheating.
  • Service: Our server was around to check on us at perfect intervals and was not overbearing.
  • Food: The food was good, but I am suspicious that it is just frozen meals heated up.
  • Drinks: Top notch scotch list, full bar, and typical pub beer list.
  • Ambiance: It was nearly full when we arrived, there were only a couple tables open and the place had a good volume. Some live music started while we were there, but it was almost background noise, not loud at all.
  • Price: The prices were interesting. The base prices seemed reasonable but the $2.75 for fries was a bit much, and there was also a notice that prices "may increase $0.50 to $1.00 during live music." That seemed a little vague and annoying. If I go back for scotch, I probably won't eat.
  • Convenience: Merlins Rest is right on Lake St. with plenty of on-street parking available.
Merlins Rest
3601 East Lake

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Chris & Rob's

Visited on Tuesday, November 25th with Scott

Outside Chris & Robs

Ben's Review
When my co-worker Scott mentioned that he was probably going to hit up Chris and Rob's for dinner, I thought it would be an ideal opportunity to pay him back the $7 I owed him. Convincing Erin was not difficult :)

Not realizing how far away this place was, I got off of 94E at the Cretin-Vandalia exit hoping to avoid the freeway traffic, but it ended up taking a good long time to travel ~35 blocks on St. Clair Ave. from Cretin to W 7th St. Along the way Scott and Erin had the chance to discuss the merits of food processors vs. stand mixers and other cookware.

We got a parking spot right outside the front door (literally about five feet away, it was awesome). We walked into a nearly empty restaurant, I think there were two other tables occupied, not that unusual for a Tuesday night at 5:30 I guess. Scott had been talking up the Italian Beef sandwich served "wet" meaning that it's dipped in beef juice, kind of like a french dip, which makes for a tasty and messy sandwich. I went with a chili cheese hot dog with a side of fries, Erin had the Italian Beef sandwich ("dry") and Erin and Scott split an order of tater tots. When Scott heard that I was paying he also added on a Summit.


There aren't servers at Chris and Rob's, you order at the counter when you walk in and they bring the food out to your table when it's ready. The workers were really friendly and joked around with us while we were ordering, you could tell they enjoyed the work environment. Sadly I don't think we saw Chris or Rob.

Inside Chris & Robs

My chili cheese dog was exactly what I wanted (it's hard to mess this up). Apparently you can optionally get two hot dogs in one bun, I'm not really sure how this would work, seeing as my hot dog was already overflowing, but I'd like to try it sometime, and I'm a little sad that I didn't this time, it would make for a much better story :)

Chili Cheese Dog


I also would like to go back to Chris and Rob's to try their pizza. I think they are known for their hot dogs, brats, and sandwiches, but they aren't strictly a hot dog place, they are billed as the "Chicago taste authority" and I would suppose that authority would cover Chicago style pizza. Given that their menu isn't expensive I'm sure we'll be back at some point.
  • Service: Great service, and I would expect no less when there are more employees than customers.
  • Food: The food is good and cheap, but better than fast food. If I lived near here I wouldn't ever get fast food.
  • Drinks: They have a couple typical beer selections (Miller, Bud, and Summit). I wasn't even expecting to have a beer so any beer was good beer.
  • Ambiance: There was nobody around when we were there, so it was a little quiet. The walls are decorated with Chicago pictures and memorabilia which is interesting to read.
  • Price: The prices are as cheap as anywhere in the city. My chili cheese dog was $3.59. Hell, some places will charge you more than 50 cents for cheese on a burger! At Chris and Rob's the chili dog and the chili cheese dog are the same price (does this mean people who get the regular chili dog are getting screwed??)
  • Convenience: Located right on W 7th St., so there must be bus access, but no parking lot. We found a spot but you might have to walk a block or so if the area was busy.
Erin's Review
Ben alerted me at about 4:45pm on Tuesday that we were going to Chris and Rob's for dinner. I only had my point-and-shoot camera, so the quality of these photos isn't too great, but you can get the idea.

On the long ride over there, Scott was extolling the virtues of the Cheesy Beef Sandwich. After hearing him go on about it for the ride, my choice was clear. I chose to get mine un-dipped because I figured it would be soggy enough from the juices in the meat, and I was right. This was a very satisfying sandwich, with a ton of meat. More than I needed, for sure. At Scott's suggestion, I added sweet peppers to my cheddar Cheesy Beef. I'm glad I did - it did add a lot to the sandwich. I know this because I enjoyed bites with pepper more than I enjoyed the ones without. Pretty simple :)

Cheesy Beef w/ Cheddar and Sweet Peppers

Chowing Chowing
Only slightly difficult to eat

Scott and I split an order of tots, which were delightfully crispy and salty. Not much else to say about them...


Ben has detailed the experience perfectly in his review... since it has already taken us almost 2 weeks to get this review up, I won't make anyone wait any longer by trying to make this sound like anything more than a quick stop for food after work :)

Chris and Rob's is a great place for a quick, filling meal that is a step up from normal fast food. I would definitely return. Aaron gave the pizza a positive review, so I'd like to try that next time around. Despite what Ben says above, I don't think the pizza is necessary "Chicago style"but that won't stop me from trying it.

Outside Chris & Robs


Chris & Rob's
603 West 7th St.
St. Paul