About a month ago, Mrs. Feit Can Write and I found ourselves with the opportunity for a mid-week date night. As any parent of young kids will tell you, when these opportunities arise, you need to a) seize them, and b) maximize them. In doing this, we saw a strange dichotomy between how two different establishments function. What follows is a case study in restaurant extremes – how to do things, and more importantly, how NOT to do things if you want to be successful.
Even though it was a date night, our evening actually began with a familiar parental errand – taking a kid to a practice/class for one of their activities. In this case, it was a gymnastics class that our four-year-old takes. Normally, one of us gets her there, makes sure the class gets started, then run a quick errand (Target, grocery store, etc.). But with both of us taking her, we decided the best thing would be to drop into the nearest establishment for a drink and an appetizer. This led us to our first stop.
Restaurant 1: Skeeter Barnes
First off, Skeeter Barnes is not a restaurant owned by the 1980’s standout of AAA baseball (at least to my knowledge, anyway). It is a barbecue/steak place with three locations in Nebraska that claims to have the “best beef and BBQ around”. While it’s never been a place I crave, they’ve been around for 10-15 years and appear to do a nice business even though the restaurant is kind of tucked away in a nondescript industrial park on the southeast corner of Lincoln.
We walked into Skeeter Barnes around 5:45 on a Thursday. We stood, alone, in the reception area of a mostly empty restaurant for five minutes waiting for somebody to greet/acknowledge us. There were one or two full tables and a two people sitting at the bar, but otherwise, their large space was all but deserted. Strike one. While we’re standing there, I notice they have a grease board saying that Long Island ice tea is on special.
We sit down in the bar area and order drinks. My wife asks if their margaritas are good. To her credit, the waitress responds honestly and states that they use a bottled mix, so their version is nothing special. My wife opts for a beer. I ask for a Long Island. We also order an appetizer to share – one of those fried onion blooms.
A few minutes later, the waitress returns to tell me that they are out of the mix they use for their Long Islands. Aside from questioning why they need a mix for a Long Island (it’s a bunch of booze, some sour mix and cola), I cannot fathom why they list a special if they are incapable of making it. Remember, it’s 5:45 on a weeknight, and the place is almost empty. It’s not like they’ve already made three dozen and used up all of their ingredients. Strike two.
Our onion arrives, and it is less than spectacular. Slightly burnt on the outside, lukewarm to cold on the inside. Strike three. We paid our bill and left to pick our daughter up from her class.
After we dropped our daughter off with the sitter, we headed out for dinner – and a complete reversal of what we had experienced earlier.
Restaurant 2: Blue Orchid
We walked in and were immediately greeted and seated. Blue Orchid does not have drink specials, but they do have a good menu of unique drinks made from scratch – no bottled mixes here. I ordered a Thai Bloody Mary (house infused lemongrass and Thai chili vodka, yellow tomato juice and yellow curry paste) that was one of the best bloodies, I’ve ever had.
My wife loves their spring rolls – little rolls of deliciousness perfectly fried and served hot. For my entrée, I ordered the yellow curry – a rich, warm, bowl of comfort with potatoes, carrots, and beef covered in a mildly spicy yellow curry. It was outstanding. My wife loved her dish, a spicier red curry with salmon and vegetables.
Even though we were both a little full, we each made room for two desserts that we love. My wife loves their ginger creme brule – a rich custard flavored with ginger and topped with burnt sugar. I got the young coconut cake, which is a white cake with a light and creamy white chocolate frosting, speckled with pieces of young coconut. This isn’t the shredded stuff that comes out of a bag and smells oddly like sunscreen, this is the flesh of a unripened coconut – a sweet, slightly chewy delicacy.
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Postscript – Not surprisingly, about three or four weeks after our visit to Skeeter Barnes, they closed their doors. I read that they lost their lease, but I have to believe that their lack of business was probably the biggest culprit.