Sunday, January 4, 2009

The new and improved Steffens Restaurant: A review.

Based upon the T&G article to ensure future T&G advertising by Steffens, I went there for lunch today. I arrived about 1:15. The place was absolutely packed. Cars were parked out on the street and in the grassy lot to the right of the place. I decided to go on in. Had to wait about 15 minutes to get a table. Much was made in the paper about the new diner-like decor. It is very pleasant, but had you not read the article, "diner" is not the first thing that would spring into your mind, even if you had ever actually been in a big city diner in the Northeast or upper-Midwest, as the overwhelming majority of Camdenians never have. Still, it is lighter and cleaner looking than when Delmus and Trellis sold it. The "very retro" accent drop lights are very irritating. The have very bright bulbs inside of the cylindrical glass and chrome fixtures. The fixtures hang down into the upper portion of your line of sight. They are completely superfluous insofar as the original recessed fluorescent tubes are still in place, in use, and more than adequate. I would strongly suggest going to a 15 or, at most, 25 watt bulb in those low-hanging accent lights. Otherwise, the renovation was a much needed improvement. The three waitresses were all old-timers who had worked for Trellis. However, what was quite noticeable was that they were all in much better moods and much more attentive to their customers. No doubt, they are making way more money than when they were about to starve in the waning days of the old ownership. The customer base has changed dramatically. It still appears to be all local and mostly pre-NSBKB residents, but a bit more upscale than before. I literally did not recognize a single customer, save Mr. and Mrs. David Rainer. Not one of the old gang of ne'er-do-well, aging, James Dean wannabes that used to festoon the counter nursing a bottomless coffee cup was anywhere in sight. The prices, however, are still very reasonable. I had occasion to meet the owner, Linda Cagle, but more on that later. The menu will be familiar to long time Steffens patrons. Virtually everything you've been used to for many years is still there. However, there are also a lot of new items to be found. The wording on the page that lists the daily special needs to be reworked. She says that each dish comes with your choice of three sides or two sides and a dessert (as before), but then lists only two "daily vegetables" for each respective day. The uninitiated would not know that you can actually choose from the much wider selection of "daily" vegetables listed on a prior page. The waitresses realize the problem and explain the oversight verbally. I had the roast beef and gravy dinner with mashed potatoes, green beans, pickled beets, and rolls. It was all delicious as I remembered it. I would bet that at least one of the old cooks is still there - and that's a good thing. There was a sign on the wall which proclaimed that their "fiery dog" chili had been voted the first or second (I forget) best chili in Camden during last year's chili cook off. Well, as you can imagine - especially any of you who have actually made my "Jay's Killer Black Bean Chili," I had to sample a cup. The chili was made with black beans and kidney beans - the latter being an authentic chili no-no. Real chili is made with - you guessed it - chili beans. There was chili powder and minced garlic thrown in, along with ground beef, into very watery chopped tomatoes. Way too thin and watery for my taste and missing several indispensable chili ingredients. Nominally better than typical canned chili, but not by much. Save your money. So, I had just finished analysing the chili when the owner, Linda Cagle, walked up to my table and very cheerily asked how I liked the chili. I told her that it was not bad (by which I meant not all that bad, but toned it down), but mine was way better. I told her to "fear not" because I was going to give her my recipe before I left. Well, suffice it to say that she did not take it well, She replied rather snarkily that they had won the contest and had no intention of changing the recipe - "at least not this year." Then, thinking better of it, she assured me that she would like to see my recipe though. NOTE to restaurateurs (and humans in general): don't ask me a question if you are not prepared for an honset answer - the only kind I give. So, when I got my bill, I gave her my blog address on the back of the bill and invited her to adopt my chili recipe. I overheard a conversation in which Mrs. Cagle told another customer that she had actually bought (as opposed to leased) the old, grungy, St. Marys Seafood building from the Williams. I'm really looking forward to a good restaurant for breakfast in St. Marys. Cruddle House, is of course, no option for self-respecting Homo Sapiens. Given that she owns it, I do hope that Mrs. Cagle will rip out the existing restrooms and replace them with spacious, wheelchair friendly ones. And watch that lighting - don't make your customers squint. Oh, and by all means, check out those glare-blocking, yet see-through window shades they have at IHOP. Those things are great. Oh, and please, deep six the kitchy port holes for real, plate glass windows. In conclusion, both the food and the service at the new and improved Steffens are very good, reasonably priced, and well worth a visit and continued patronage. I'll be back - albeit in disguise. Just be forewarned that while doing a very good job, the owner is sufficiently new to the restaurant business to have not yet quite figured out how to take and profit from sincere constructive criticism. Proceed with caution.

15 comments:

St Marys Resident said...

Thanks for the review...sounds interesting and I will give it a whirl. I think you need to enter your chili in the cookoff next year! Happy New Year!

Anonymous said...

Jay forget Linda Cagle being receptive to any type of critism. At the end of the day she is just a yankee snob who doesn't have a clue. I ate their on Friday night and everything was wrong with our meal. although the new tile backdrop is nice the lights are way to bright and the service was lousy. I recognized only one of the wait staff all of the others were new. The menu has far too much on it. She should pick some nice items and become good at preparing them as opposed to having a six page menu that you get lost in trying to decide what to eat. She has already tanked with her BBQ idea.

Jay Moreno said...

Well, even if she had no intention of checking out my chili recipe, she will surely come here when customers with Jay-hating syndrome tell her about my review. That being the case, here's your chance. Tell me (and her) what you had, what exactly was wrong with it, what was wrong withte service, and so on.

My food and service were both quite good. That is not in any way to suggest that I doubt what you're saying. You would be doing her a favor by giving us details.

I did not really study the menu in great detail, but I did note that it was much more extensive than what Trellis had. Your suggestion is probably spot on.

I wish her every success and I think the place has real potential.
The learning curve from Realtor to resturateur is pretty steep. She's got enough old hands on board to cover her while she learns - if she will.

Jay Moreno said...

P.S.,

Before anyone asks, yes, I've been both a Realtor and a restaurant manager - and I'm a damned good cook to boot. As a life-long bachelor, I've probably eaten more meals in more different restaurants in more different states (long haul truck driver) than anyone in Camden County. I really do know good food, good service, good management, and mediocre chili when I see it.

Anonymous said...

I love the western omelet with no tomato, with a side of homefries covered in sautee' onion with link sausage on the side. This is my favorite breakfast in Camden County. You could only get it at Steffans. Someone who visited there with me quite often said its no longer on the new menu. PLEASE BRING IT BACK.

If not when she opens in St. Marys please add this back to the breakfast menu...

Anonymous said...

Although I'm not the above poster, I too ate there this weekend. My order was quite simple. A hamburger, no mayo, no onions. No mayo because of a food allergy and the onion just because I really don't care for them. French fries and sweet ice tea no lemon. No lemon because it is a phobia of mine since seeing a report of the most common ways for transmitting ecoli was lemon on drink glasses and the uncleanlyness of wait staff. Enough about that. My hamburger arrived after 30 minutes dripping with both mayo and onions. My tea glass arrived with lemon and after asking the waitress 3 times for a straw, I walked up to the counter beyond the register and retrieved one myself. The tea was unsweetened. Five minutes later the waitress returned to my table to ask if everything was okay. I advised her about the tea and sent the burger back to the kitchen. A few minutes later she returned with my burger with only the bottom bun changed out mayo was still on the burger and the tea was now so full of sugar you could almost use if for a pancake syrup. Oh yes and let's not forget the lemon that was added to the tea glass yet again. Hopefully they were just having a bad day. As for Ms. Cagle, I have met her and she came off as being somewhat on the stuffy side. Hopefully that's just her getting adjusted to being in this type of business.

Jay Moreno said...

Can't believe I typed "before you asks." Slip of the finger.

Seems to me that that western omelette sans tomato smothered in sauteed onions with link sausage on the side is something that you should be able to order and get even if it is not on the menu. Give it a try.

Regarding the blown burger order, that is just exactly th kind of feedback a good manager needs in order to correct problems.

When I was there for Sunday dinner, all three waitresses were very experienced old hands whom I recognized from years back. Service was good. My order was fine. I'll have to stop in on a weekday.

Jay Moreno said...

You know, I just might enter that chili cook of next year (though it hardly seems fair to the other entrants :-)). Anyone know when, where, and who puts it on?

Jay Moreno said...

Here's a thought. If I owned a restaurant today, I would establish a blog for the restaurant. I would publish the address on my menu and print it on the cheques, along with a statement soliciting comments - good or bad - from customers. That would be a grea management "systems analysis" tool.

Jay Moreno said...

Damn! That should have been "cook off." Let me go get some coffeee.

Anonymous said...

Jay have you ever been to the restaurant across from Navy Federal Credit Union in St. Marys. Located in the old Geico office. Curious as to what that is like. But I want someone to tell me what its like first.

Anonymous said...

I am the person who had the blown burger order this past weekend. I just wanted to mention that most of the Steffan girls are great and you really couldn't ask for better service. Just thought I would make a mention and thank Kristine, Pat and Melissa, to name a few. I'm sure I'll remember some of the other girls. Thanks for all that you do to make our visits great.

Jay Moreno said...

No, not yet. That's O'Brien's. I've been meaning to go, though. A friend ate there and said she liked it. I'll go and let you know.

Jay Moreno said...

Oh, sure, I know Pat and Melissa. Glad to here they are both still there. I probably know Kristine, too, but can't put the name to a face right now.

Jay Moreno said...

Geez! Glad to "hear," of course. These senior moments are killing me.