The Sly Fox - 902-F Gervais Street

Posted by The LunchMen Friday, May 28, 2010 0 comments

The Sly Fox is a relatively new destination in the Vista, appropriately located directly next to The Wild Hare. The Sly Fox roped the Lunchmen in with the promise of immortality in the form of a customized shield on the wall with our name, crest, and motto. The gimmick works on me every time. For instance, as I am striving for that golden plate, I feel guilty about going to drink beer anywhere besides the Flying Saucer, and I never order the same beer twice when I'm there. Sad, I know.

The menu is British-Pub-Meats-Southern-Cooking fusion. What does that mean? It means that you can ordered Scotch Eggs for an appetizer, Shrimp & Grits for an entree, and have an Irish Car Bomb for dessert. That idea seemed right up our ally, and so the Lunchmen rallied a crowd to break in the Sly Fox. The Publican, Rabbit and I were joined on this Friday excursion by Tex, Fabio, The Lawnmower Man, and Bill Brasky. By way of introduction, when Brasky is not bathing in Vodka and digesting turtle shells, he makes time to come from Devine Street to dine with the Lunchmen. The combination of good friends, good weather, and the challenges of the Hunt Club had everyone's expectations for the Sly Fox running pretty high.

The actual food, however, did not quite live up to the level of excitement we brought to this seemingly bold Friday lunch call. Fabio ordered the pulled pork sandwich, which comes topped with a chipotle/blue cheese coleslaw and a barbecue sauce. That sandwich looks good on paper, and Fabio liked it fine, but he was not really blown away by it. Certainly, he conceded that it paled in comparison to a similar barbecue sandwich we had on a work trip in the restaurant at the Hermitage in downtown Nashville a couple of months ago. Carolina restaurants are obligated to do pulled pork better than anywhere else. Its a matter of regional barbecue pride. I did think Fabio's side of mac and cheese looked pretty tasty, but I admit that I have never found a mac and cheese that I don't think looks tasty.

I ordered an open-faced smothered steak sandwich made from NY strip, mushrooms, onions, blue cheese crumbles, and brown gravy. No concern with calories on this trip, my friends, I went all-in on this order. My sandwich was accompanied by some raw fries - too crispy for my liking - and was chased with a tasty, cold Widmer Hefeweizen. Maybe the sandwich would have suited me better on a cold, rainy January lunch. However, on this occasion, the concoction was too heavy, drab, and dense for my liking. The sandwich is the definition of sleepy food, too. Good luck getting work done after taking down the smothered steak.

Although only a couple of us had the wisdom and fortitude to order a beer as we dined at this pub, our group covered the menu pretty well, cheeseburgers, fish po-boys, even the crab cake blt (the CCBLT). Brasky, Rabbit, Tex, the Lawn Mower Man, they all seemed satisfied, but underwhelmed. The Publican defined his meal as "mediocre." The response was a little disappointing. Nevertheless, Rabbit, The Publican, and I each signed up for the Hunt Club on this inaugural trip. However, even that let us down, because the Hunt Club form in the restaurant is different from the one online; the restaurant form requires you to earn 50% more points and cuts the gift certificate in half. That felt like a bait-and-switch, and I hate a bait-and-switch more than almost anything. That's no way to earn our loyalty, Sly Fox.

The Sly Fox adds some different options for the Vista lunch scene, and for that I am glad it is around. Perhaps the real problem is that the Sly Fox is trying to do too much without doing anything very well. If you are in the mood for something different, give the internet menu here a look to see if they've got a new option you would want to try - just don't get too excited by the Hunt Club application, because our waitress said that the reward is not as easy or as great as it seems.

- Tank

The Sly Fox on Urbanspoon

The Mouse Trap - 2711 Middleburg Plaza

Posted by The LunchMen Tuesday, May 18, 2010 1 comments

When the Lunchmen first started tossing around the idea about lunch at The Mouse Trap, an out-of-the way destination that has quietly served office workers and residents in Middleburg for 40 years, Captain Understatement spitefully rebuked the idea. I cannot, in good conscience, utter his descriptions on this blog. Suffice it to say, Captain Understatement had me convinced it was a seedy hole in the wall that should be avoided at all costs. Captain Understatement (a sarcastic nickname that stems from his excessive use of hyperbole) completely lived up to his title once again. In fact, I would go to the mattresses in defense of The Mouse Trap after our lunch experience.

The Mouse Trap is the epitome of the neighborhood restaurant. It has friendly, established staff. It has a long, wooden bar that locals can saddle up to in the evenings and enjoy a cold, refreshing ale or a strong glass of bourbon. It has daily specials which are advertised on their Facebook page. I can't help but feel like the fact that The Mouse Trap has a Facebook page proves that Facebook is taking over the world. In any event, The Mouse Trap feels like a Cheers or a Moe's that serves good, home-cooked meals. That is my kind of place.

Since the Mousetrap posts its specials twice a day on Facebook, I was determined to eat the lunch special. We went on Wednesday, and the special was fried boneless chicken, dirty rice, green beans, cole slaw, and a roll. That feast cost six dollars and some change. There was nothing spectacular about the green beans or the dirty rice, but the cole slaw was delicious and the fried chicken was cooked perfectly. You are going to have a hard time finding a place in Columbia that can fry boneless chicken and keep it so juicy.

The Publican pulled down a slaw cheese burger with tomato on it. He noted that it is not the best burger in town, but he was very pleased with it. The burger is home-style, just what you would expect from a good neighborhood restaurant like The Mouse Trap. Rabbit had a hefty chef salad that left him full and satisfied.

Thoroughly pleased with our lunch and enjoying the vibe at The Mouse Trap, we looked for something else to order to keep us hanging around a little longer. Cold brewskis? Nahhh, not on a Wednesday, the Lunchmen cannot afford the luxury to be sipping cold ones that early in the work week. Delicious, home-made desserts advertised on the board that greeted us when we entered the restaurant? Caloricly speaking, it seemed a bad idea, but it sounded so good. So we consulted with our helpful waitress and ordered up some treats. We were blown away by the desserts.

The Publican and I both wanted two of the fresh pies - the chocolate pie and the banana cream pie. We found a simple solution; we each ordered one, cut them in half, and then swapped halves so that we each had both. Excessive, but outstanding. It was the best dessert I've ever had at lunch. Rabbit went super bold, and ordered the strawberry short cake. Given the time of year, he made the absolute correct decision, because everyone from Columbia knows that our regional farmers are dolling out fresh, tasty strawberries in droves right now. That cake made Rabbit happier than a bunny in a carrot patch.

I must admit that we almost did not post this entry. The Mouse Trap is such a satisfying lunch spot that we really did not want to advertise it. Don't get us wrong; we are not wild about The Mouse Trap because all the food is spectacular. The Mouse Trap shines because of its location, is staff, its vibe, its comfort food - the whole experience. To us, The Mouse Trap is a great lunch spot for getting off the beaten path and having a home-cooked lunch in a place that makes us feel at ease. If you feel inspired to go, please do me a favor -- don't tell your friends about it.

- Tank

Mouse Trap on Urbanspoon

Nick's House of Pizza - 1082 Sunset Blvd, W. Columbia

Posted by The LunchMen Monday, May 17, 2010 0 comments

Even if I wanted to, I could not cast West Columbia in a sexy light. It is blue-collar to the core, and that is why we like it. Discount stores, struggling strip malls, and a chicken factory all serve as a sharp contrast to Columbia's shiny pride and joy, the Vista, just across the river. The Lunchmen do not really care about glitz and glamor when they are scouting for that much-needed retreat between 12:00 and 1:00 p.m. They care about one thing -- deliciousness. The stretch of Sunset Boulevard extending from the Gervais Street bridge to Lexington Medical Center runs deep with deliciousness, and it features some of the most notable, down-to-earth lunch destinations in the Columbia area.

Nick's House of Pizza is not fancy. Its deserts are featured in a revolving cabinet. Its waitresses lack the polish of their younger, bubblier counterparts across the river. Instead of roping you in with a cohesive, paired down menu featuring trendy, portion-controlled fare, Nick's menu offers almost anything you can think of for lunch, and it offers them in LARGE portions. Therefore, it was no surprise to this writer that Pizza the Hut wanted the Lunchmen to head their for a Friday lunch. I am glad we did.

Nick's cooks some food that is just okay, and it does others quite well. The Lawnmower Man was not blown away by his hot ham sandwich; he found it merely "okay." The Lawnmower Man lives in Lexington County and is an aficionado of all blue-collar menu items. If he doesn't like your ham sandwich, then you've still got work to do on it, Nick's. Similarly, Rabbit got a Caesar salad with chicken, which he found to be only average. No one knows lettuce like Rabbit.

Nick's is not bashful about offering some menu items in the double-digit range, and The Dude did not shy away from the opportunity to order one of them. Then again, when you are balling at the Dude's level, dropping $10.40 for a Grecian Pasta with Chicken is nothing - the Dude abides, man. The Dude thought that the Grecian Pasta was pretty good. This picture of it I took is deplorable, I know, but I'm going to share it with you anyway.

So, what does Nick's do well, you ask? For one thing, pizza and pizza-related goodness. You don't go to a deli and order the lasagna, do you? Would you eat a hamburger at a health food market? Of course not, and I refuse to eat anything besides pizza, stromboli, or calzone at a place that calls itself a House of Pizza. I ordered the small Gyro Stromboli, which is still more food than any one man should eat at lunch unless he is actively working towards a by-pass surgery. Fortunately, I have no known family history of heart disease. My order was loaded with gyro meat, onions, bell peppers, cheese, and meat sauce. I found it delectable, and as far as strombolis/calzones go, I believe it plays second fiddle in Columbia only to Dano's.

Pizza the Hut shocked us all when he did not order pizza. After all, he is famous for allegedly making Pizza Hut seriously reconsider offering a buffet on Sumter Street. Not to be typecasted, he threw aside his role and ordered the hot turkey sub, complete with lettuce, onions, bell peppers, tomatoes, mayonnaise, provolone cheese, and a special dressing. He devoured that sub with a side of french fries, and he gave the sandwich an enthusiastic thumbs up.

You know who else likes Nick's? Mrs. Tank and Grandma - they go every few weeks and tackle salads and hot subs. That should be all of the inspiration you need to head across the bridge, ladies. Grandma knows good eats.

I am afraid to say that Nick's House of Pizza didn't make it on our pizza poll. After eating the Gyro Stromboli, I realize that was mistake. My bad, Nick's House of Pizza, my bad. I'll be back to order more stromboli to make up for it.

- Tank

Nick's House of Pizza Restaurant on Urbanspoon

The Kingsman Restaurant - 936 Axtell Dr., Cayce

Posted by The LunchMen Friday, May 14, 2010 1 comments

Cayce, S.C. is a thriving metropolis of just a shade over 12,000 people, and home to a bowling alley, a vigilant police force, a jam-up Krispie Kreme, Blackwater Rattlesnake Outfitters, and many other fine institutions of Southern living. For a town of its size, Cayce boasts a remarkable amount of business due to its proximity to Columbia. Despite a few run-ins with the local police department and some bitterness over the replacement of a perfectly good crack motel with a CVS, I can proudly say I hold our brethren across the river in high esteem.

One of the reasons I hold this little hamlet in such high esteem is The Kingsman, a cornerstone of the venerable Parkland Shopping center. As soon as you hit the parking lot, you’ll know you’ve found a good lunch spot. The concentration of cars outside the entrance boasts everything from utility trucks to Mercedes, suggesting just the kind of diverse clientele that tips off an observant Lunchman. Once inside, you’re greeted by a diner style counter and cash register up front with employees working feverishly all around. On this particular Friday visit, we were also greeted by a half dozen diners waiting for a table... another good sign. Hardly regal, but definitely inviting, the back two dining rooms were filled to the brim with diners enjoying their lunch hour.

We averted conflict with an overly anxious and protective fellow diner, and pounced on a small booth in the back dining room. Cramming Tank, Rabbit, Tex, the Queen of Frozen Cuisine and I into a booth proved to be a small challenge, but we sucked it up for an intimate lunch. The staff here is friendly and colorful. One waitress even drives an old Chrysler with a pair of gigantic, pink testicles dangling from the trailer hitch. With no shortages of “honeys” and “sweethearts,” our harried waitress buzzed in to take our order. My order was never in doubt – the Special. Two modestly battered fried pork chops, served with immodest portions of greens, rice and gravy, macaroni and a roll to sop everything up, are enough to bring lesser men to their knees (the Tuesday special is also pork chops, but with a different combination of sides). Much to my surprise, my fellow Lunchmen followed suit and ordered the Special with a few targeted vegetable substitutions like green beans and sweet potatoes.

As you might expect, none of these menu items are prepared in accordance with American Heart Association guidelines. The vegetables are slow cooked to ensure the eradication of any vitamins, and slathered with all the delicious things that make foods bad for you. The only complaints I recall had something to do with Tank’s sweet potato envy (Tex’s was bigger than his) and the plain style rice and gravy. I, for one, happen to like the simple, understated rice and gravy as a compliment to the more assertive flavors of the other side items. Different strokes I suppose. On balance, the Lunchmen were uniformly well pleased. The Queen of Frozen Cuisine even managed to polish off both pork chops while singing their praises to her sister via telephone.

While we all opted for the special, past experience tells me the regular menu is no slouch. The ribeye and steak tips are particular standouts. Garden and Gun magazine even named the Kingsman’s pimento burger one of the “100 Southern Foods You Absolutely, Positively Must Try Before You Die”:

"Pimento burgers are the national food of Columbia, a statement complicated by the fact that Columbia is not sovereign. But never mind that. And never mind that the Kingsman is technically in the Columbia suburb of Cayce. When a hot patty hits a cool patch of pimento cheese, melt is achieved and goodness blossoms."

Better than Rockaways? Sounds like a Lunchman showdown for another day...

So, go on, drive on across the Blossom Street bridge and treat yourself to some fine hospitality and even better food. Try the ribeye, steak tips and pimento burger – but don’t miss the Pork Chop Special.

- The Publican

Kingsman Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Cabo Fresh Taco - 1425 Sumter Street

Posted by The LunchMen Wednesday, May 5, 2010 20 comments

Hola, mis amigos! Happy Cinco de Mayo. Cabo Fresh Taco, the new restaurant on Sumter Street that took over Craving's old spot, rolled out a 2 for $5 taco day in honor of this Mexican holiday. The Lunchmen could not resist.

Rabbit and I were a little late to the party this afternoon, but I am glad that we did not miss it. On the way to the restaurant, we ran into The Publican and Spoony. The reports were good - nice taco fillings, delicious salsa and queso, even Mexican Coca-Cola sweetened with cane sugar. The only complaint Spoony and The Publican raised were that the taco shells were the small, corn tortilla shells rather than the flour shells. I was slightly disappointed.

Why? Because the name of the restaurant suggested to me that it was going to be a wholesale rip-off of my favorite taco shop of all time, Cabo Fish Taco in Charlotte and Blacksburg. "Surely," I said to myself, "if they were going to rip off Cabo Fish Taco, they would have used the double-flour-shell technique that provides all of the structural integrity to Cabo Fish Taco's delightful creations. Its a no-brainer" Although there were some similarities, such as tasty slaw topping on the taco and double corn tortillas, Cabo Fresh Taco is no Cabo Fish Taco rip off. They just have a similar name and similarly good tacos.

Rabbit and I were very pleased with our meals. First, how about that salsa? It oozed with smoky chipotle, was not acidized, and even appeared to have some grilled peppers or tomatoes in it. Good salsa is half the battle, in my opinion. As for the tacos, the barbacoa beef taco was outstanding. In a side-by-side comparison, it would absolutely dominate the ones over at Chipotle. Rabbit was enamored with his veggie taco, which had portabella mushrooms cooked in what we believe to be Worcestershire sauce. That's thinking outside of the box.

The seafood tacos did not impress us as much as our other tacos. Spoony recommended the fried shrimp taco. It was good, but not as good as my barbacoa. Rabbit was not very thrilled with his mahi taco, either. At $3.95 a piece, I'd recommend saving a little money and going for a non-seafood option on the taco. Spoony and The Publican said that the pork (al pastor) was a little dry, but tasty nonetheless.

I am glad to have an uptown location within walking distance serving fresh tacos. It is nice to have a new face (literally) on Sumter Street - it is helping me cope with the loss of the Palmetto Sandwich Shop and Cravings. Please get over to Cabo Fresh Taco and show this start-up restaurant some support and to enjoy some pretty good tacos. Trust me, Chipotle will be fine without your lunch support.

- Tank

Cabo Fresh Taco on Urbanspoon

POLL RESULTS: Newcomer Chipotle Wins

Posted by The LunchMen Tuesday, May 4, 2010 0 comments

We asked, you (a few) answered. Chipotle's appearance in Trenholm Plaza prompted this poll. The point of the poll, as its overtly critical title suggested, was to ask whether Columbia really needed another chain "Fresh-Mex" restaurant serving massive burritos. Based on the votes we received, apparently the Fresh-Mex restaurants we already had were pretty boo. Only three people jumped in to support Moe's; only two of you voted for Qdoba; and Salsarita, well, its just the dorky kid at the party, leaning against the wall and sippin' a Capri Sun, and just hoping that someday somebody will like him. Chipotle wins by a landslide.

The Publican, Rabbit and I gave Chipotle a shot a couple of weeks ago. Its not bad. The burrito is not really my thing, but I can see why you all liked it best. My play there is the barbacoa tacos; Rabbit, as you may imagine, he likes the salad. Hey, welcome to the neighborhood, Chipotle, Columbia is glad to have you.

Chipotle Mexican Grill on Urbanspoon

Longhorn Steak House - 902 Gervais Street

Posted by The LunchMen Monday, May 3, 2010 1 comments

I have been avoiding Longhorn for seven years. For me, even the name conjures up childhood images of family dinners at Western Sizzlin'. While there is nothing wrong with hitting up the Sizzler if you are so inclined, it is no place to go if you are craving food from a good chophouse. I believe the same is true for Longhorn.

Quality meat and proper cooking is everything with a steak. I held the preconceived notion that Longhorn would fall short in both categories, so I steered clear of the steak on our trip so that Longhorn would not have to overcome my prejudice. Tex, however, stayed true to his name and ordered a sirloin steak for lunch. I was glad someone else was willing to man up. Tex's report: "it ain't too bad for a 10-dollar steak." Tex is a living tribute to Waco. His face glowed with glee when he saw the saddles, mounted cow heads, and leather chaps.

The Dude and The Publican both ordered the Seven Pepper Sirloin Salad. The Dude was underwhelmed, but not dissatisfied. The Publican liked his salad, but he is convinced it is the best thing on the menu.

If only I could say the same for my pork chop. It looked alright when it hit the table; the chop had some sear on it, and it was coated in a sweet glaze. The trouble began when I tried to actually bite it. My jaw is still sore from the workout. The Queen of Frozen Cuisine asked me how it was after a couple of bites, and my answer involved a cobbler, shoe-making, etc. - you get the point, it was way too tough to enjoy. I tried covering it with the side helping of apples, but that didn't really help much.

Rabbit ordered the Salmon Caesar salad. The salmon looked overcooked for my taste. He said that it was "about on par with a normal lunch salad in Columbia, for about five bucks or more." Hmmmm, notice a trend going here?

Let's face it. Longhorn is, as The Publican likes to say, A BASTION OF MEDIOCRITY. It is not a terrible place to go take a client for lunch - if you are not very worried about impressing that client. Rabbit does not think that Longhorn should make the Boo List, and he is probably right. Our server was absolutely excellent at her job, and the warm bread that was brought out at the beginning of the meal is a nice touch for the lunch scene. Just don't go into Longhorn with high expectations, and don't order the pork chop.

- Tank

Longhorn Steakhouse on Urbanspoon

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Rabbit, Tank, and The Publican are three dudes just trying to get through the work week here in Columbia. Rabbit is a Columbia native, Tank is from Charleston, and The Publican hails from Greenville. Rabbit's favorite lunch spot is the No Name Deli on Elmwood, where you may find him putting down a grilled chicken salad and a side of vinegar pasta. The Publican usually wants to find food to cure his all-too-common hangovers. Tank claims no favorite lunch spot - he lives for the thrill of the hunt.