Sinatra Lives Again at Table 13

Table 13 in Addison, Texas, is named after the original Rat Pack! Bogart would approve.

Table 13 in Addison, Texas, is named after the original Rat Pack! Bogart would approve.

I kept looking for Count Basie to show up with his band. Alas, it was not to be, however the ambiance at Table 13 in Addison, Texas would have made the legendary piano player feel right at home. This fine dining restaurant, located in a northern suburb of Dallas, did a fine job of keeping the bland, chain restaurant-filled strip mall atmosphere outside its doors. When we walked through the front portal, we were transported back a few decades to a time when service was great and the food even better.

Courtesy of a friend’s Facebook post, I had seen Executive Chef T. William Reemtsma, CEC, CCE on a YouTube video. A few weeks later I found myself in Dallas so it was only natural to try dinner on the chef’s home turf, Table 13. This decision did not disappoint. Chef Ted, as he is locally known, produced a fine meal; and his staff served with subtle panache. Let me show you:

The appetizer tells all. A good one creates anticipation of excellent cuisine to come; a bad one portends a trip to the pharmacy for something to smooth the stomach. Table 13’s seared scallops were perfectly cooked. Light in texture and delicate in flavor, I could have eaten four servings and called it a day. The garnish was a treat as well, with Texas red grapefruit slices adding a little sweet acidity and bits of red onion giving some bite. A few avocado slices cooled things off, presenting a nice creamy texture. The first course was delicious on all counts.

Seared Scallops at Table 13.

Seared Scallops at Table 13.

Table 13 offers many types of entrees, from seafood to steak (Chateaubriand for two, anyone?) My dining partner opted for the grilled salmon meuniere; I ordered the mushroom bucatini. For a side dish we chose the green bean amandine. For lagniappe (an unexpected extra) our server brought out fresh bread and a plate of pimiento cheese. Chef Ted later explained he actually makes the farmer’s cheese himself before concocting his luxurious pimiento spread. Yes, the meal was off to a great start!

A picture is worth a thousand words, so let me finish this review by tempting you with candid photos of our dining experience, taken using my iPhone. (Ansel Adams’ reputation has nothing to worry about with these shots, but you will get the idea. Enjoy!)

Pimiento Cheese, finely crafted by Chef Ted at Table 13.

Pimiento Cheese, finely crafted by Chef Ted at Table 13.


Green Bean Amandine, almost a meal unto itself!

Green Bean Amandine, almost a meal unto itself!

Grilled Salmon at Table 13 in Addison, Texas

Grilled Salmon at Table 13 in Addison, Texas


photo 2-1 (3)

Mushroom Bucatini, with soba-style noodles. Intense depth of flavours this one possesses.

And last but certainly not least, the best Bananas Foster I have ever had. The bananas were warmed thoroughly yet retained their firm texture. The rum sauce, flaming as it arrived of course, gave the dessert an elegance not often found in restaurants these days. And for you vegans, Chef Ted is working on an almond milk and/or rice milk version of the ice cream. Huzzah!

Bananas Foster! Of course, the flame went out just as the photo was being taken.

Bananas Foster! Of course, the flame went out just as the photo was being taken.

There are many restaurants to choose from in the Dallas area. Next time I visit? I am going right back to Table 13. Chef Ted’s cuisine, and his gregarious personality, will make for a truly fine dining experience to remember. And here’s a prediction: one day, we will see Chef Ted on either the Food Network or the Cooking Channel. With his own show.

I can’t wait!

Chef Ted and yours truly.

Chef Ted and yours truly.

Table 13 on Urbanspoon

Franco’s Italian – Norfolk, Virginia


Franco's Italian in Norfolk, Virginia

Tucked away in a small shopping center off the corner of Norview Avenue and Military Highway in central Norfolk is a hidden gem called Franco’s Italian. If you live or work in the area, you probably already know about Franco’s. If you don’t, you probably haven’t been there yet.  But you should go. Really.

Franco’s is a small place. There are a fair number of tables and booths, all positioned to make the most of the limited square footage. When it gets crowded, you will have to wind your way around people and chairs to get from the door to your spot. If you are already seated, be prepared to have people brush against you as they pass by. Personally, I am okay with this intimacy given the quality of the food. If you aren’t, well, I told you so. Just pretend you are in New York City.

Back to the food.

I have been to Franco’s for both lunch and dinner, once with a good friend and once with my family. We all agreed, this is a great place to get tasty, made-from-scratch Italian food. I did not get a chance to speak with him, but I think Franco was cooking in the back. The servers were good, not too intrusive, yet helpful when needed. Some people have mentioned they aren’t too friendly, but I have not seen anything of the sort.  In fact, our server last night was great – bringing us warm pizza bread without us having to ask. And you have to ask, since it’s not on the menu. Consider yourself a local now. Ask for the pizza bread.

I had the peppers and sausage grinder for lunch, and the penne with meatballs for dinner (on separate days – the lunch was so filling I doubt I could have made a second trip within hours.)  I’m telling you, nothing beats a homemade meatball, the kind fashioned with veal and pork goodness. These were awesome. Moist, full of flavor, possessing a gentle texture. And fairly big, too. Size matters with meatballs, especially if they are this savory.

My wife had the Eggplant Parmesan, which she was very happy to receive. I had the leftovers today and I can see why she was so happy. The marinara sauce was beautiful; and not too acidic. My daughter, who favors plain noodles, ordered the linguine with oil and garlic sauce. All I can say is she was a very, very happy camper! Portions were more than generous and the bread products were either baked on site (the pizza bread) or baked locally and delivered daily. I took the photo in the morning, just as the bakery dropped off the day’s grinder rolls.

There is one problem with Franco’s Italian and I would be remiss if I did not mention it now. There are so many great sounding items on the menu, you will want to keep going back to try new dishes. I have already decided that on my next visit, dinner will start with mussels in wine sauce, followed by puttanesca over spaghetti.  Puttanesca, for those not familiar, involves anchovies, olives, capers, garlic and marinara sauce.

And people seem to rave about all of the grinders and pizza. Will there ever be enough time to try them all?

I hope so!


Franco’s is located at 6200 North Military Highway in central Norfolk, just down the street from the airport. Look for the Shell gas station on the corner; Franco’s is way in the back. They are closed on Mondays, but open Tuesday through Saturday for lunch and through Sunday for Dinner.

(757) 853-0177


Major credit cards and cash accepted.

Beer and wine on premises.

Franco's Italian on Urbanspoon

Review: Prime 103 Steakhouse, Virginia Beach


UPDATE: AS OF NOVEMBER 2013 – PRIME 103 IS CLOSED. And that is a shame. There is a raw bar in its place.


So often a new restaurant will need days if not weeks to work the kinks out of their operation, and this can sometimes result in a less than accurate review. Prime 103 Steakhouse, newly opened in Virginia Beach, is not one of those places.

Prime 103 is an artfully decorated, “smart casual” restaurant, catering to those who desire fine dining without the white tablecloth, as well as anyone wishing to sit at a nice bar, watching sports on one of the flat screen televisions. The crowd, and it was a full house when we visited, ranged from young professionals to early retirees. There was no posted dress code, but all patrons were “out for the evening” and dressed accordingly. The kitchen, almost a “show kitchen,” gave the place a bit of pizzazz, with flames erupting high enough to be seen from the street. I wish I could have made it back there to see what was being prepared. (That’s the old cook in me, I guess.)

Now for the important stuff – the food and service. You are paying higher than average (for the area) prices, but you get higher than average cuisine. Much higher. Let’s start with the appetizers. Disclaimer: I dislike scallops. Can’t stand them. So a plate of bacon-wrapped scallops arrives and I try one, to be polite. I loved them. I will use these scallops as a benchmark to compare all others. Very light texture, tasty, and certainly not a hockey puck, I would order them again without hesitation. I also had the calamari, which was good, thankfully not overcooked, but the dipping sauce made the dish. We also had a crab dip with pita slices, excellent as well.

After the salad course, it was time for the entree. Some of us chose the flounder, others in my group tried the Delmonico-style steak. Two ordered the chicken piccata, so we covered the sea, land and barn, so to speak.

The main course was awesome. The flounder, a nice sized double filet, came stuffed with crab meat (not filler with crab bits.) The steak, a 10 ounce slab, looked so good a vegetarian would almost think twice. The chicken? I don’t know. The two who ordered it had finished their meal before I had a chance to even ask. Must have been that good.

Finally, the server stopped by with the dessert tray. So many choices, all of which looked luxuious. I went with a creme brule style cheesecake. It didn’t last long. I may just have to go back to sample the dessert tray!

Now let’s talk about the area most new (and some old) restaurants struggle with – service.

We had a large group, over a dozen of us. The staff accommodated us extremely well, without sacrificing service to the “regular” tables. We had one issue where the server heard the wrong thing and one of us had to wait for a new entree. That said (and it happens even in the best of places) what impressed me most was how well the staff handled the problem. Not only did the server apologize and immediately run back to the kitchen to rectify the mistake, the manager came over several times to make sure our guest was being taken care of. His meal was comped and he received a few extra beverages.

The service was excellent. The staff also showed great teamwork in handling a large group. I took note of the other diners, to see how they reacted to our large group. They appeared fine, with their food arriving in a timely fashion like ours. No one was discounted, service-wise. For a new place, it was obvious that much thought and care had been taken to ensure a memorable dining experience for all.

Don’t go expecting Applebee’s prices, but do go knowing you will get so much more than you pay for!

Prime 103 is located at 972 Laskin Road in Virginia Beach, close to but thankfully not at the resort area, in the same spot as the now-gone Jack’s Bistro. Don’t let the strip mall location fool you. Prime 103 is worth your time and money for that special dining experience.

And try the bacon-wrapped scallops.

Prime 103 Steakhouse on Urbanspoon

Review: Surf Rider at Taylors Landing


Yesterday, when it was 103 degrees outside with a heat index of 115, the boss offered to buy lunch for the team. Giving the weather a “Pa-shaw”, and never one to turn down free food, we all agreed and met at the Surf Rider, Taylors Landing edition, located on Shore Drive in the Oceanview section of Norfolk, Virginia. (Click on the link for pictures and location info.)

What a nice experience!

We had a party of seven, which was not a problem for the staff, even with the lunch crowd coming in. To be fair, there are no reservations at Surf Rider (any of them) and they only seat you when at least half of your group has arrived. The place was full by the time we left and there were several people waiting. Given the heat of the day, this is a testament to the restaurant’s popularity.

The food was very good. Not five-star gourmet fare, but down-home seafood cooked with some thought and care.

We tried the crab cakes, fried oysters and seared tuna bites. Others had one of the chalkboard specials, the fried flounder.  There were no complaints and not much talking once the food arrived. The talk of the table was the vegetable of the day, however.

Most items come with your choice of two vegetables or steamed broccoli.  By all means, if you like broccoli – get the broccoli. What you get is an entire crown of the green veggie, steamed, served with a side bowl of Hollandaise sauce.

Who’d a thought?

Surf Rider has several locations throughout the Hampton Roads area, each with a slightly different ambiance. Having several Surf Rider aficionados at our table, it was agreed that this was the best one overall.  Cost? Reasonable. With a generous tip (deserved I will say) our tab came to $130. That works out $17 per person, including tax and tip.

I will definately be going back, when it is cooler so my lovely wife and I can have a nice lunch or romantic dinner on the deck facing the beautiful marina. Can’t wait!


The Chesapeake Grill is no fish story….


The Flounder Sandwich at the Chesapeake Grill

Driving across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel from Virginia Beach to the Eastern Shore is normally about 18 miles of dodging wayward seagulls and New Englanders speeding their way to or from the Outer Banks of North Carolina. People who like to fish also know that the Seagull Pier, located on the first island (the South Island,) is a great place to hook monster flounder. Now there is a new reason for everyone to stop – The Chesapeake Grill.

Totally refurbished, the mini-rest stop on the world famous bridge is a combination of a rest stop, scenic overlook, snack bar, gift shop, fishing pier, and…fine dining?

Okay, the Chesapeake Grill is not exactly fine dining. There are no white tablecloths. I did not see a wine list. Zagat has not visited. If, however, you are in the neighborhood, do yourself a favor and stop by for a bite to eat. Open from 6 AM to 10 PM, the C.G. offers awesome food for reasonable prices.

Grilled Vegetable Sandwich at The Chesapeake Grill on the CBBT

My wife had the grilled vegetable sandwich. Presented on grilled focaccia, the sandwich had sauteed yellow squash, zucchini, spinach, tomato, red onion, mushroom, and artichoke heart (just a wee bit.) The chef used an aioli that was seasoned with a hint of sun dried tomatoes, along with a nice blend of spices. As a vegetarian, my wife was thrilled that someone put that much thought into a dish for those who do not choose seared animal flesh for meals. It was a hit!

I always try the seafood when dining over the water, literally. The flounder sandwich was a total surprise….in a good way. Two HUGE flounder fillets, slathered in a beer batter and then deep fried, covered the bun and then some. I had the option of sides: fries, cole slaw, potato salad or pasta salad. The pasta salad that I chose did not come out of a tub. It was put together by caring hands: penne, red and yellow bell pepper, chopped green onion, feta cheese, tomato, capers and seasonings. Again, a very nice surprise.

The price? $7 for the grilled veggie sandwich and $11 for the flounder. Looking at the menu, it seems that prices range from $5 to $14 or so.

Everything that came out of the kitchen had presentation that would rival the best of restaurants.

The fine details: sandwiches and salads for lunch / full menu for dinner. We already plan to go back for dinner. You just can’t beat the view, either. BONUS: the food is procured from local sources whenever possible.

Walking in the door you will be confused. There is a sign that helps, but let me elaborate: gift shop to the right, to-go snacks to the left. For table service, go straight ahead and wait at the entrance to the dining area. A server will seat you.

Is it worth the $12 toll to cross the bridge, maybe or maybe not. That’s up to you, but if you are visiting the Eastern Shore, the Chesapeake Grill is a GREAT PLACE to start your culinary adventure. Try it and let me know what you think.

Next week…how “corny” can you get?

Mini Crab Cakes on the Shore


For lunch today, my wife and I went to the Coach House Tavern, located in the clubhouse at the Bay Creek Resort and Club in Cape Charles, Virginia. For those not familiar with the area, Cape Charles is an old railroad town on the southern part of the Delmarva Peninsula, known as the Eastern Shore of Virginia.

If you don’t live there (on the Shore) you either have to take 13 south from Maryland or the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel north from Virginia Beach. If you take the CBBT, make sure you have an “Easy Pass” or 12 dollars for the toll. If you go back within 24 hours, it’s only 5 bucks for the return. A bit pricey for a lunch trip, so I always suggest that people make a weekend trip out of it. Chincoteague is right up the road, it is definitely worth a visit.

So if you find yourself in Cape Charles, bring your golf clubs because there are two golf courses at Bay Creek, one designed by Jack and one by Arnold. While open to the public, the resort is gated, but all you have to do is tell security that you are there for a round of golf…or lunch at the Coach House Tavern!

Here is a hidden gem of a pub.

Mostly American pub fare, there seems to be something for everyone. Being located right off the Chesapeake Bay, the seafood is fresh caught and cooked superbly. My wife had the flounder. I have had it before and will say that the lightly seasoned breading is just awesome. The best flounder I have ever had. Period.

I ordered the mini crab cakes. They came in a basket (pub fare, remember?) with fries and homemade cole slaw. Light and fluffy, these bite-sized crab cakes were magnificent. The tarter sauce was seasoned with Old Bay perhaps? A perfect complement to the cakes.

Service was attentive yet not overbearing. The staff was friendly, welcoming and knowledgeable. It did not matter to anyone that we were obviously not golfers. The Coach House Tavern is on my list of “Must Visit” places when we have out-of-town friends and relatives stop by for a visit.

While I understand the greens fees are higher than most for the area, the prices at the Coach House Tavern are very reasonable, with most main dishes priced between $8 – 15.

The Coach House Tavern – a nice way to start or finish a weekend venture to the Eastern Shore of Virginia!

Bananas for Charity and Spam Fritters!


Tonight I had the great fortune to witness an event that happens only once in a band’s career – the ”first gig.” Three young ladies, all still in high school, had the opportunity to play an acoustic set at the Oasis Café and Bar, located in a shopping center on North Great Neck Road in Virginia Beach. All three sang solo and in combination of duet and often as a trio. Two named Hannah and one named Charity, they perform as the group, Bananas for Charity.

While not quite ready for the proverbial record contract (yet) it is obvious that they take their music seriously and, more importantly, have the music in their hearts. Bananas for Charity gave the crowd a variety of well sung tunes, ranging from Simon & Garfunkel, Pink Floyd, the Beatles, and Kansas to Norah Jones, Kings of Leon, Coldplay, Train, and Antsy Pants. A crowd favorite was John Denver’s Country Roads, which had plenty of audience participation. I could go on about the sheer number of different artists covered, but many over the age of 30 may not know The Postal Service, Oasis or Snow Patrol. I did recognize one tune from the movie, Napoleon Dynamite, too.

The girls had excellent stage presence, interacted well with the crowd, and didn’t let the occasional flub dampen their spirits. Bananas for Charity had fun on stage and the audience connected with them. No easy feat for established bands, let alone first timers who are not yet old enough to have a pint at the pub they are performing in.

The café’s owner, who I did not get a chance to speak with so I haven’t his name yet, is to be commended for seeking out local talent and providing such a welcoming place to play. The Oasis Café and Bar is set as a pub, which makes sense since the owner is an actual Brit, not a faceless corporation with a marketing department trying to create what “they” think “we” think a pub should be like. The food was excellent, as was the service. Considering there was just one server, plus a bartender/owner/dishwasher, and presumably a cook somewhere, the packed house looked to be very satisfied with the service and food offered.

The Food
Our party of six had a mix of entrees. The presentations, simple yet thoughtfully executed, were met with looks of approval and anticipation. The hamburger and cheeseburger platters looked home-cooked, not prepackaged. The salads, one Caesar with grilled chicken and one house salad, were full of fresh ingredients and looked fabulous. Unlike salads offered at higher-priced restaurant chains, these salads were large, yet not overwhelming. One of us had the grilled salmon bites, slathered with a garlic butter sauce. The one-word comment I kept hearing was “Awesome.”

Since we were at a “British pub,” I just had to try the fish & chips. Judging by the dozen or so platters I saw leaving the kitchen, many others ordered this, too. After a bite or two, I could see why. Two large pieces of breaded and deep fried cod, served with steak fries, young peas and two slices of bread made for a filling dinner. But wait, there’s more! I opted for an additional side dish, labeled on the menu as something for “True Brits.” Spam Fritters. Yes, you have read correctly. A half inch slab of Spam, breaded and deep fried like the cod. I actually liked this better than the fish! What memories that little side dish brought back from my youthful days in Scouting, where fried Spam was a veritable staple for survival. Good for your arteries? Probably not. Tasty and worth getting again? Most definitely!

I will keep my ears open as to when Bananas for Charity will perform again, hopefully at the Oasis Café and Bar. There are enough enticing menu items remaining untested to keep me coming back for many more times. Well played, ladies and well cooked and served, sir.

The Oasis Café and Bar is located at 1348 North Great Neck Road in Virginia Beach. That is per Google and the Oasis Facebook page. The address on the door reads 1314 N. Great Neck. Take your pick, I guess.

Disclaimer: As with everything on Exploding Potatoes, I have received no remuneration or consideration for my review. Heck, the staff did not know anything about me, which is how I like to keep things, that is to say – anonymous. Also, I am not related to anyone in Bananas for Charity, although my daughter did know one of the singers. Would I have given the same music review had my daughter not had that connection? Probably. Those who know me will tell you that I was in the music business way too long to tolerate poorly performed music. If it sucks, I say so. Notice that I did not use that word anywhere in my review. What counts is (1) did I put some cash into the tip jar? Yes. And (2) will I come back and pay again, probably for much of the same set list? Absolutely. Bananas for Charity is a joy to listen to and the Oasis Café and Bar is one of those undiscovered best-kept secrets of Virginia Beach. See for yourself!

The problem is not with your set…


If all had gone according to plan, you would be seeing a photo of coriander basil spiced kielbasa, served with garlic oven-roasted potatoes and peas, corn and carrots that were sautéed in butter. The perfect comfort food for a night like tonight, where the temperature has dropped into the low 30’s (F) and the wind is kickin’ strong enough that crossing the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel would be an experience you don’t want to remember. If only the camera had worked…

So instead, let me talk about our department holiday dinner a few night’s ago.  It was an awesome time at a well-kept secret in Norfolk, Virginia (maybe I shouldn’t mention it, then?)  Anyhow, if you find yourself in the Ghent area of Norfolk, specifically on Colley Avenue, check out Enrico’s.  It’s a family owned/operated Greek and Italian restaurant that looks kinda iffy on the outside but well worth the time to go inside.

The interior reminded one of our party of a classic bar from the thirties. Dark, rich tones; a certain earthiness. We had the back area to ourselves, cordoned off by a semi-transparent curtain that kept us separated yet still connected to the rest of the cafe. It was a nice touch that owner’s John and Maggie Tsouris decorated the elevated dining area with framed prints of Virginia Opera posters.

The menu had a little bit of Greece and a little bit more of Italy, all cooked with home recipes that I would guess have been in the Tsouris family for years. With 15 of us, we probably ordered over half the menu, including four fabulous chef’s specials.  First, however, we started our culinary adventure with appetizers. The hummas with pita and the dolmades were excellent. To be fair, not all of my dinner companions were “into” Greek food but in the end there were no appetizers left on the plates.  That should say something!

For an entree, three of us had the Souvlaki, tender pork loin grilled to medium on skewers, set on rice pilaf, surrounded by feta cheese and Greek olives. An eerie quiet descended upon our end of the table as we three lucky diners squelched our conversation in order to scarf the perfectly cooked pork. I don’t recall hearing much being said by the other dozen of us, either, so the grilled shrimp limone and all his friends must have been equally as astounding.

While not really a wine aficionado, I will say that Enrico’s wine list was just as popular as the menu. There were the obligatory bottles of Merlot (Aussie wine – Penfold as I recall) and Cabernet (Chilean.) The surprise hit, however was a Greek wine from John’s family hometown in Greece. A nice red wine, Amplelou gris red was the favorite of the night. We also noticed that, for whatever reason, there were no French wines on the list. Hmmm…no one complained.

Now, for those of you who have worked in the food service arena, you will know that no matter how good the food, the experience can be negated by poor service. Fortunately, our server matched the quality of the menu. She handled our party of 15 with a calm yet humorous demeanor. She not only knew the basic components of the four specials, she also knew how they were seasoned and cooked. This was not a $2.13 an hour “associate” who gets graded on how much flair they have pinned to their ballcap; no, our server was what we all hope for when we go out to spend our hard-earned pennies on dinner: pleasant, helpful and accurate. I heard numerous kudos being given by my companions, and I would bet those comments were not just said, they were meant.

John and Maggie Tsouris have a hit on their hands. Not too expensive, make Enrico’s Ristorante a stop on your next culinary excursion. Don’t forget to save room for dessert.  We were too full to have it!

Happy eating!  Oh yes, anyone have a good camera that needs a good home???