Trouble In Foodie Paradise

You know the saying: bad things always come in threes.

I’m fortunate in that I usually have a lot of luck when it comes to dining out. Even if the experience isn’t worthy of a Michelin star, most restaurants in town do what they do, and do it well.

Unfortunately, the rule of three became a reality for me during three recent dining experiences. Even worse, all three restaurants are go-to’s, including one that I recommended recently right here on my blog.

The first was a few weeks ago. Ryan and I were hungry and weren’t in the mood to cook, so we headed to one of our old faithfuls: The Rusty Bucket (otherwise known fondly as the “Busty Rucket” in our house – I know, we’re hilarious!)

The Rusty Bucket is a pretty good chain, serving up pub food in a fun, sports bar setting. We’ve liked it since it first opened years ago in Rookwood Pavilion, although they have slowly but surely taken most of my favorites off the menu since then (replacing them with things like a bologna sandwich, of all things!) Anyway, it’s been consistently good, and is the type of place that’s just…easy. The menu offers a wide variety of dishes (from burgers to pizzas to Chicken Parmesan), so there’s something for everyone.

I was in the mood for a burger, and typically, I really like their Rusty Bucket Burger. The Rusty Bucket is one of the few places that does a basic burger with all the toppings I like: it’s a 1/2 lb. burger topped with American cheese, lettuce, tomato, pickle chips, onion, sweet pickle relish and mayo on a really soft but substantial bun. Not enough places have sweet pickle relish on their burgers! I ordered the burger medium with a side of sweet potato fries – much better than their bland, regular french fries.

The burger came out, and when I took a bite, it was red. Not just a little pink – dark red. Look, I’m the wife of a former butcher, and I’m not afraid of a little pink in my meat. This one freaked me out a little, though. I asked Ryan for his advice, and although he agreed it definitely wasn’t a medium burger, he said it was safe to eat. Considering a server couldn’t be found to offer help, I ate half of it, immediately felt queasy, and spent the rest of the night (into the morning) full-on sick. I’ll spare you the details, but we haven’t been back since – and I’m not sure I’ll ever go back, to be honest.

The second of the three came when we went to another tried-and-true restaurant. I have recommended this place continuously to friends, my family, and of course, my dear readers: Tacqueria Mercado in downtown Cincinnati.

Now, this place isn’t known for its stellar service – it can admittedly be patchy at times – but I was pretty astonished by the way we were treated this time around, especially considering we are regulars! We were completely ignored. When we finally flagged someone down to take our order, we each asked for the tomato soup to start, and then main entrees. 45 minutes later, our server brought out the soups and our entrees all at once, which meant that we had to decide if we wanted hot soup or hot chimichangas. What’s worse is that the server didn’t make eye contact with us at all throughout our entire meal, even when she gave us our check – she grunted at us when we gave her the payment! It made me want to retract my review, even after so many positive experiences there.

The third, and hopefully final, bad experience came last weekend. I have been a regular diner at The Echo since I was 10 years old, when I would walk to Hyde Park Square and chow down on chocolate milkshakes with chocolate chip pancakes at the bar top with my friends after a sleepover the night before. The Echo is a neighborhood institution, home of the Hot Mess (the ultimate hangover cure), and a place that will always be very nostalgic for me.

I had never had a bad experience here – even on their busiest Sunday mornings – until now. Again, we were ignored for 30 minutes before anyone came to take our orders. I ordered a burger, and Ryan ordered a double decker. I watched for another half hour while my burger sat under the heat lamps. When it was finally brought to the table with Ryan’s sandwich, I asked the server if it would still be okay, considering I had seen it sit out for that long. She rebuffed, rudely: “I promise you, it’s fine. We let food sit out for longer than that ALL the time. If you’re really THAT worried about it, I can get them to make you a new one.” Warm isn’t the same as hot, and how about we take that attitude down a notch?

I touched the burger and it was cold, so I sent it back. We were pretty perplexed by how quickly my burger was ready, but how long it took to make a cold, double decker sandwich. Then, Ryan dug into his meal, and we were even more confused. His sandwich was a complete disaster: the meat was in huge chunks – not lunch meat at all – and half of it was piping hot, and other parts were stone cold, almost like it had been microwaved.

When Ryan had finished his meal (he left the majority of it on the plate), the owner of the The Echo brought out my new burger, placed it in front of me, and said, “Is THAT better?”

I’m almost afraid to eat out again, just in case I lose my faith in any of my other go-to casual restaurants. Maybe I should just avoid burgers? Hopefully, the rule of threes holds true, and it will be smooth sailing from here on out.

What’s the worst dining experience you’ve had? How did you manage it?

Until next time,