Double Duty

Return visits to two restaurants produce one happy surprise

I visited two restaurants with a few things in common this week. First, I've given both restaurants relatively negative reviews in the past. Second, an employee at each restaurant referred to me as "sir." OK, "sir" is better than "madam." It even beats "gramps." But I don't like it. As it happens, I've been thinking I need a disguise like some critics wear. So maybe Creative Loafing would pay to make me less recognizable by underwriting some head-to-toe botox injections.

Meanwhile, I'll continue to glower at people who remind me of my decrepitude. And I can assure you that has nothing to do with my feelings about The Village Café (1259 Glenwood Ave., 404-627-4433) and Gilbert's Mediterranean Cafe (219 10th St., 404-872-8012).

The Village Café is actually the old Burrito Delight with a new name. (And Burrito Delight was the mediocre successor to Ryan Aiken's excellent Burrito Art.) The best thing about the new incarnation is the decor. It has been much improved, with a big mural on one wall, lots of red and yellow paint, plants and cozy lighting.

But the menu is a disappointment. Actually, the menu is bizarre. Most of the old burritos are still there, but a few entrees and appetizers have been added. The appetizer menu, weirdly, includes items like a barbecue sandwich, a turkey sandwich and a quesadilla.

"I don't get it," I told our server. "Why are sandwiches under the appetizer menu?"

"I don't get it, either," she said. "Let me ask the owner why we're doing that."

I told her not to bother and asked why the restaurant had been renamed.

"Oh, so more people would come in and try it," she said.

Honesty is a wonderful thing in a server. I wonder what she would have said if I asked her if the food was good.

We started with some "California spicy wings," served Buffalo-style with celery and ranch dressing. Slippery because they had been rolled in sauce instead of basted with it while cooking, the wings were a mess to eat. (Carry a bib.) Some chips with cheese dip were acceptable, although the restaurant should use white Chihuahua instead of the flavorless orange stuff.

I ordered the "appetizer" quesadilla as my entree - a gigantic affair with tasteless grilled chicken glued together with Jack cheese. Oy. Wayne ordered a special - chicken with mushroom sauce and rice. I'm sorry, but a couple bites of the stuff flooded me with memories of dinner at a high-school friend's house. It was the first time I ever tasted a so-called TV dinner.

I wish I had nicer things to say about the place. As Wayne said, "It's bar food and might taste OK if you'd had enough to drink."

On the other hand, I'm happy to report an excellent meal at Gilbert's. When this tiny restaurant initially opened, I did not have good meals. Then the owners opened the short-lived Balance, which I loved in its early days. I could never figure why one restaurant was so much better than the other.

Gilbert's has since turned into quite a jewel. I always did like the decor here - an exotic, erotic space with a red banquette and kinky lighting. The festive bar seems to be as popular as the restaurant. Gilbert's hosts flamenco dancing once or twice a month, and every Tuesday night you can see belly dancing (featuring men and women). I've not seen either and have difficulty visualizing the events in such a tiny space. But there are worse things than being crowded close to a semi-nude, writhing body.

Wayne and I shared a starter platter that featured baba ganouj, hummus, artichoke hearts, feta cheese, kalamata olives, a small lamb gyro and stuffed grape leaves. I was particularly fond of the smoky baba ganouj, but everything on the crowded plate was fresh and flavorful. We also ordered a plate of grilled squid over balsamic-washed salad greens. The squid was sweet and bore the marks and strong flavor of grilling.

Entrees were also pleasing. I had a burger made of a ground lamb patty stuffed in pita with feta and some tzatziki sauce. (My mama used to make me this, so I got all misty!) Wayne ordered tilapia baked with a seafood stuffing heavy with bell peppers. A light sauce of some sort might make the fish even better.??<p?>It is always a pleasure to return to a restaurant and find it vastly improved.

More about Popeye's

Holy moly, it's been a long time since I got as much mail as my complaints about the service at Popeye's on Boulevard produced. I am pleased - or scared - that so many readers share my guilty fast-food pleasure, and happy that we could have a consoling group hug in cyberspace to commiserate about the lousy service.

Attorney Emily Dosik wrote this:

"I've also been at the receiving end of the abysmal service (and tepid, scrawny, dried-out chicken breasts) at the Popeye's on Ponce. For a while, it drove me to Church's for equally unremarkable chicken but slightly better service. Recently, I decamped to the suburbs of 'Sminings' in search of decent closet space and a yard for the dogs, and discovered what has got to be the best Popeye's franchise in the metro area, just off I-75 at Windy Hill Road. It's worth the 20-minute drive up 75."

John Wolfinger wrote this:

"Just finished reading about your experiences at the Popeye's on Boulevard. Your description of the serving people there was hilarious - but, unfortunately, is an accurate description of the type of people that fast-food places evidently have to employ, and a real picture of what customer service has evolved to in our society. I would hope that a high-up of the company sees your review and cleans house at that location - but, that probably won't happen."

Actually, I gritted my teeth and went to Popeye's last Tuesday. Maybe it was coincidence, but I found the service vastly improved. Hell, they even had everything I ordered.

Leave Cliff Bostock a voicemail at 404-688-5623, ext. 1010, or e-mail him at cliff.bostock@creativeloafing.com.??

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