Category Archives: Restaurant Reviews

Round Rock Donuts – World Famous?

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Donut display. Note the Texas sized donuts – upper left.

What do you do when Waze is showing a nine minute bumper-to-bumper delay on the I-35 but the side streets are clear?  Right, you take the side streets which is what I did yesterday and happened upon a Texas institution: Round Rock Donuts.

This almost century old establishment is known for its Round Rock donut, a medium density glazed that predates its closest cousin, the krispy kreme, byIMG_7842 fourteen years.  It also boasts the Texas donut which is, as you can guess, Texas sized for $6.99, the price of a dozen regular sized round rock donuts.   I tasted the wee one, but was unimpressed.  Even the plain cake donut, the standard by which all donut makers are measured by me, was just okay.  I thought that redemption would be found in the eclair.  I was wrong.

So is it worth the trip? Yep, but not for the donuts. Go for the employees, some of the nicest I’ve found in Texas. And when you go, be certain to look at the display offerings and note your favorites – you order at the register.  Because I was uninitiated, I was totally unprepared when I got to the

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View of the lobby.

front, but the cashier was kind enough to walk with me to the display, answer my questions, and take my order.  This may seem like no big stretch, but because I was acting like, well, a kid in a donut shop, I was in full hyper mode and changed my order at least three times.   Throughout it all, she was as pleasant as a Texas bluebonnet in spring.

Another thing as pleasant as those bluebonnets? Having my order brought out to me and finding, when I finally went to open the box on one of the waiting picnic tables out front, the box and the donuts both warm.  The first one I tried was the applesauce donut. This one melted in my mouth and was all apple and cinnamon goodness – so good that I went back in and ordered a strawberry one as well.  Unfortunately, the strawberry one, though flavored of strawberry, was also too sugary to be good. As for the applesauce cake donut, it was a bit lackluster later that day when cold and only slightly better when dunked in milk.

If you’re looking for the best donut in Texas, look elsewhere.  If you’re looking for an authentically Texas experience, stop on by, put up your boots, and sample the applesauce cake donut, warm.

 

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Lula Jane’s: A Taste of Grandma’s Love

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View from Lula Jane’s front porch

There is a little place on Elm Street in Waco, Texas that bakes some of the best cookies, cakes, and cinnamon rolls north of the Brazos. For this west coast transplant, walking into Lula Jane’s was like walking into a local Mendocino eatery – fresh baked goods, locally harvested produce, and farm fresh eggs – all served with Texas hospitality.

Below is one of my many must-have recommendations  –  a slice of Lula Jane’s blueberry pie. The flakey crust’s buttery layers melted away to reveal the subtle sweet taste of ripe blueberries just warm enough to raise the bite to near perfection.

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Lula Jane’s blueberry pie

My other favorite bit of pure perfection is found in the Lula Jane oatmeal chocolate chip cookie.  Each one I have had (and I have had many over the last thirteen months) is as delicious as the one before.  Oatmeal texture sweetened by chocolate chips combine to create the perfect bite whether taken straight off the round or after a quick dunk in coffee. The consistent goodness combined with the homemade feel are indicative of owner Nancy Grayson’s philosophy, “We’re here to make people happy.”

Just walking into Lula Jane’s can make a person happy.  Chatter of friends and smiles from staff and customers let a first timer know that this bakery is something special.  Though

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Nancy frosting a Chocolate ‘Dirty’ Cake while the Thursday Cake waits to the left for slicing and a baker works on fresh baked bread.

named after Nancy’s grandmother Lula Jane, the bakery recipes are all Nancy.  Of her grandmother, she says, “She was a wonderful woman, but a terrible cook.”  Summer days of sitting on her grandmother’s porch laughing and eating are the template to what she’s created at Lula Jane’s.

To create the southern sweets, she makes certain her team of bakers replicates her recipes with exactness and joy so that each bite of your favorite is as good as you remember whether those bites were taken from the same sweet or tasted months apart.

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Elvis cake – so rich half came home.

However, when those rare Thursday cake delicacies are announced Wednesday afternoon on Lula Jane’s Facebook page, call quickly because they sell out faster than you can say Lula Jane’s.  I was lucky enough to obtain a slice of Elvis cake – peanut butter, chocolate, and banana — and would have traded in my blue suede shoes for another piece, but I’ve been too slow for delights such as their Eclair Cake or their Lemon Cake or their recent  Summertime Mojito Cake.

If you’re looking, instead, for a delicious home made lunch, Lula Jane’s is still the place to go. They serve one lunch special per day, the creation of chef Stacy Russell. Chef Russell creates each meal based on what is fresh for the week. Each creation is worth trying, especially if it comes with a biscuit.  Have you ever had tomato pie?  This Californian had her first slice from the Lula Jane kitchen and  it was divine. Still, the meal I can’t wait to have again

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Left to right: Polenta Ratatouille, Chocolate ‘Dirty’ Cake, and Key Lime Pie Thursday Cake.

is the polenta ratatouille pictured to the left.  The creamy base was perfectly off- set by the seasoned garden fresh vegetables. Somewhere on the table is a fresh biscuit, definitely worth walking a mile for (so is that Key Lime Pie Thursday Cake).  One item not worth the walk, the breakfast pie – order the oatmeal instead or enjoy a bacon cheddar scone while waiting for lunch.  If you’d like a full dinner in a place that feels like home, I recommend trying one of Lula Jane’s new First Friday Dinners .

Though hard to achieve, even better than the food at Lula Jane’s is the sense of community created by the indelible force known as Nancy Grayson. She decided to make a positive change in Waco – first with Rapoport Academy and now with Lula Jane’s. You can find her hospitality Tues-Fri 7:30-3:00 and Saturday’s 8:00-3:00.  Stop on in to say hi and enjoy a slice of that blueberry pie.  Happy eating!

 

 

 


Gordon Ramsay’s BurGR — GRoss

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Okay, not completely gross, more like bland. And definitely not worth the price.  Let me tell you what to expect from your burger:  nothing.  If you expect nothing, you will be pleased with what arrives alone on a huge white plate.  Choose your toppings wisely since any flavor you find from your first bite of the burger is because of the toppings, not the beef.  I’ve ordered the Hell’s Kitchen Burger replete with cheese, roasted jalapeño peppers, avocado and an oven roasted tomato; the Earth Burger where meat is replaced by a grilled portobello mushroom topped with fontina cheese, arugula, and a roasted tomato; and his version of an American hot dog.

Hell's Kitchen Burgr on the right, Earth Burgr on the left: a lot of bun, not a lot a meat.

Hell’s Kitchen Burgr on the right, Earth Burgr on the left: a lot of bun, not a lot a meat.

Whereas the burgers were served with a shiny bun warmed on a greasy grill, the Fresh Roasted Chili Dawg was brilliant!  Gordon Ramsay tops his dawg with roasted fresno pepper and jalapeños, cheddar cheese, avocados, red onion and chipotle ketchup. Apparently the Standard Dawg (mustard, ketchup, pickle and onion) is, according to two best friends visiting from Canada, delicious as well.

Since Gordon Ramsay does not include sides with your burger or dawg, you must purchase these separately.  BurGR’s Just Fries will cost you $7 extra at lunch and $1 more for dinner (on a side note, could someone please explain to me why it costs

Best bite in the joint.

Best bite in the joint.

more to serve the same food with the same staff and overhead after five as it does before?).  Since opening, BurGR has altered their fries from fat and greasy to slim and delectable – I was fortunate

enough to share a neighbor’s truffle fries on my last visit and found them much improved.  The onion rings, however, are as grease laden as the first time I tried them — avoid.

Also avoid the desserts – all of them.  On my first visit, which included onion rings so greasy I got sick and a waitress who presented the check and then added a cup of coffee after I gave her my credit card, I accepted a Shake # 5 “chocolate hazelnut pudding + coffee shake + praline cookie” on the house.  The shake, made from Häagen-Dazs ice cream and house made pudding and cookie, was über thick and sickeningly sweet.  On my second visit, I tried Gordon Ramsay’s signature dessert, the Sticky Toffee Pudding; this variation is presented as two push-up pops and do little to pop the palate. Instead, the deconstructed sticky toffee

Too sweet, too layered, too bad.

Too sweet, too layered, too bad.

pudding provides layers of individual sweetness with no sensation of the tasty layers of deliciousness the dessert usually holds.

There is one good bit about the restaurant — the dining counter reminiscent of true American diners.  When I say good, I mean only in terms of what you bring to it.  I ordered the Roasted Jalapeño Poppers and proceeded to share them with those around me.  This opened up conversation and we began, as days of old, sharing our food (which is why I know that the fries have changed for the better and that the onion rings have not). Additionally, the charm of the counter comes from fellow diners, not from the staff working the grill or the foul mouthed expediter; not even from the jacketed, sullen general manager asked how we were or even make eye contact.

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View from the counter – burgers waiting for pick-up.

If you want a good burger and fries served with a smile, avoid Gordon Ramsay’s BurGR.  Instead, the walkway between the Luxor and Mandalay Bay holds Burger Bar — a local joint that allows you to build your own burger, mixing delicious beef (or turkey or portobello) with too many fixings to list. And if you like beer, they pour a local Sin City Brew.  Happy eating.


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