Category Archives: Off-Strip

Grouchy John’s Coffee — Great Coffee with a Smile

gj logo

Don’t let the name deceive you, Grouchy John’s is anything but grouchy.  Their baristas are friendly and inviting, their coffee delicious, and their store welcoming with its 80s eclectic style.

It’s noon on a Wednesday and almost every surface holds computers attached to a new breed of cyber worker or e-student.  The walls are decorated with original art — from a portrait of Darth Vader under glass to a hand decorated skateboard to, my favorite, a massive clock of the Grouchy John’s logo, a disgruntled coffee cup à la the original Oscar the Grouch.

The coveted corner tables under the original art.

The coveted corner tables under the original art.

Grouchy John’s began a little over three years ago as a table at Las Vegas’s First Fridays.  Two local boys, John Ynigues and JJ Wylie, manned the table and eventually purchased and modified a trailer, turning it into a mobile Grouchy John’s Coffee.  Today they have their very own brick-and-mortar place at the corner of Maryland Parkway and Wigwam Avenue, complete with an interior loaded with computer plugs and a drive-thru for those in need of caffeine in a rush.

Their drinks include  “The Jedi” (white chocolate and coconut), “The Shirley Temple of Doom” (a matcha green tea cherry smoothy) and the very first drink I ever tasted from Grouchy John’s, the “Evil Monkey” (chai, espresso, and banana syrup), made by co-owner JJ Wylie.  If you like coffee, and are on the southeast side of town, you must come in.  Even if you’re not on the southeast side of town, you should make a special trip — this place is worth the drive. When you come in for a coffee, be certain to ask for a loyalty card and to check in on Facebook or Twitter for the double stamp advantage.  For a local place to relax and chat or to buckle down and work, you can’t beat Grouchy John’s.

Grouchy John's Coffee interior - comfortable and conducive to business or pleasure.

Grouchy John’s Coffee interior – comfortable for business or pleasure.

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Gordon Ramsay’s BurGR — GRoss

GRsign

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.

counter

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.


Contemporary Cantina Laredo – A Must Taste

The place for delicious Mexican food.

The place for delicious Mexican food.

Have you ever taken a bite of something so delicious you wanted to stand up and announce to the entire restaurant that they should order what you have just tasted?  I had such a bite at Cantina Laredo a last week — the Chilean Sea Bass with rice and asparagus  —  and just to be certain it wasn’t a fluke, I had another bite and another until my portion was gone. And

Flakey Chilean Sea Bass - indescribably delicious.

Flakey Chilean Sea Bass – indescribably delicious.

the last bite was as gratifying and flavorful as the first.

But I should begin my experience with the appetizer —  chips and the Top Shelf Guacamole made table side.  Our waiter, Jose, went over every ingredient, asked us how hot we liked our guacamole, and then proceeded to entertain us with the artistry of making a fresh and

Jose plying his craft.

Jose plying his craft.

delicious beginning to our meal. Not only were the avocados flavorful and the heat spot-on, but the chips were crisp and salted to perfection – and they were just as crisp the next day.

Not only is Jose excellent at making guacamole, he is also excellent at suggesting cocktails.  He recommended the Cinco Rita, a blend of five tequilas;  normally I avoid tequila, but this blend is smooth and, though potent, doesn’t taste of alcohol.  A must try if you indulge in libations.

Another libation, non-alcoholic, is the Ahi Tuna Tacos.  Though the menu describes the appetizer as “Mini-crispy tacos with sushi cut ahi tuna, chipotle aioli, jicama slaw and guacamole” all for $8.95, it does not convey the artistry of the plate.  And, since I knew I couldn’t do justice to the order that looked like it should be framed in the Chicago Art Institute, I took a picture.  Now, the first time we ordered, during the start of dinner service,

Scrumptious and beautiful.

Scrumptious and beautiful.

it was perfection; the second time we ordered, during lunch, the tacos were laying on the guacamole instead of standing, and the filling was wetter than before so the bite wan’t as crispy, but the flavor remained.

Avoid the Mexican Apple Pie unless you want a mouthful of butter.  Instead, try the Mango Tres Leches for dessert — the moist vanilla cake blanketed in a mango cream sauce is a combination of just enough sweetness to indulge the sweetest tooth and please those that prefer a subtler sweet.

Divine dessert - just sweet enough.

Divine dessert – just sweet enough.

The dining space is split between indoor and out.  Both are beautiful and inviting.  What adds to the atmosphere is the professionalism and personality of the wait staff.  When making our virgin visit on a Thursday night Happy Hour, we didn’t realize the outdoor tables weren’t connected to the bar and so the bill came with full price for everything.  I asked how the system worked for next time and explained that one of the drinks that was charged wasn’t what was ordered (though still good and still consumed). Our server listened and when she returned, she had adjusted the bill to take care of the drink and one of our appetizers so it would be more in line with the Happy Hour special.  In taking that extra step, she guaranteed my return even during happy hour when the place fills with a sea of business suits and after work chatter.

I can’t vouch for every Cantina Laredo franchise, but I can say with certainty that this one will make your dining experience a pleasure while pleasing your palate.  Happy eating!


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