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Friday, September 4, 2015

Disneyland For Golfers ... AARP!. AARP!, AARP! ... HOOAH!

TopGolf 
10611 Nall Ave
Overland Park, KS 66207
Phone: (913) 562-9713
Website: TopGolf.com 
Prices: $$$$

This place is awesome. It's a driving range on steroids! They have food, bar, and this ridiculous set-up with 3 levels of hitting bays, sensors in the golf balls, and 10 or so targets around the massive enclosed hitting area that you aim for and rack up points. It's basically bowling for golfers ... Disneyland for golfers even.


You pay $20 to $40 per hour for a hitting bay with a maximum of 6 players, not bad when you have four or more players splitting the tab. You score points for hitting targets because the golf balls have sensors in them which allow your information to be captured. Cool place!

I have not had a chance to play yet or try their food, but after visiting the facility, it is definitely on my bucket list. Food and drink prices are moderate$6-$14, but the menu is interesting and eclectic ... burgers and sliders ... appetizers and sandwiches ... flatbreads, salads, wraps, and mushis (whatever that is). Drinks run from $3 for a PBR to $8-$12 for mixed drinks and wine. I will provide a more definitive and comprehensive review in the future.

CombatCritic Gives TopGolf An Initial 6 out of 10 Bombs ... More Bombs Are Better!





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TripAdvisor - "Top Contributor" 

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Title: Disneyland For Golfers ... AARP!. AARP!, AARP! ... HOOAH!

Key Words: Topgolf, top, golf, driving, range, golfers, food, beer, Overland Park, Overland, Park, Kansas, CombatCritic, TravelValue, value, restaurant, menu, review, Yelp, TripAdvisor

* Photo links courtesy of Topgolf.com

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Oh-Boy, A Po'Boy ... "Oy Vey!"

Terrebonne Po'Boys
805 Vermont St
Lawrence, KS 66044
Phone: (785) 856-3287
Web: terrebonnepoboys.com: 
Prices: $$$$


I had been meaning to try Terrebonne for some time, but I try not to eat fast food and sandwiches that often, just never having gotten around to going there. My Yelp friend Scott T and I decided to get together for lunch, trying the relatively new Taco Stand on 8th Street. However, when we arrived the door was locked and the lights off ... they are closed on Mondays! So, we headed over to Terrebonne.

The place is quaint with a chalkboard menu on the wall, a few small 1950's diner-style tables and chairs inside and more tables outside if you are the type that enjoys Lawrence's steamy summer days. You order from the counter, pay, and they bring your order to your table. The guy at the counter was not particularly friendly, not rude, but he did not go out of his way to make us feel welcome being my first visit.

The reuben and cheesesteak both sounded good, but being my first time and a NOLA/Cajun/Creole-style establishment, I decided to go with their signature po'boy. I ordered the catfish po'boy ($7) with all the trimmings and Scott got the alligator po'boy and an order of red beans and rice.

About 15 minutes later our order arrived. The bread, about eight inches worth, was fresh, lightly toasted on the outside and soft inside. The catfish breading was not as light and flaky or as spicy as I would expect from a Cajun restaurant, but it was "OK". There were several small pieces of fish rather than one long fillet, making the sandwich difficult to eat and forcing me to have to put the pieces back in the sandwich as they inevitably fell out over and over again. The fish was decent, but a few pieces were uncharacteristically "fishy" tasting, a taste I try to avoid and one of the main reasons I do not order fish in the Midwest. The lettuce and tomato rounded out the po'boy nicely, but I must admit that I was a bit disappointed overall by the sandwich and its price.

A $7 sandwich should impress and fill you, neither of which occurred on this occasion. By the time you order a sandwich, a side, and a drink, you are looking at a $12-$14 tab, a tad high for lunch at a sandwich place in my opinion.

CombatCritic Gives Terrebonne Po'Boys 5 Out Of 10 Bombs ... Bombs Are Good In This Case!





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Yelp - "Elite '14/'15"

TripAdvisor - "Top Contributor" 

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Tabelog Reviewer CombatCritic
View my food journey on Zomato!



Title: Oh-Boy, A Po'Boy ... "Oy Vey!"

Key Words: Terrebonne Po'Boys, Terrebonne, po'boys, po'boy, po-boy, po, boy, sandwich, Cajun, New Orleans, Lawrence, Kansas, travel, value, restaurant, menu, review, Yelp, TripAdvisor

Monday, August 31, 2015

Mystified By BurgerFi's Small-Fry Burger

BURGERFI
Hot Dogs, American (Traditional), Burgers
918 Massachusetts Street
Lawrence, KS 66044

Phone: (785) 856-0824
Web: BurgerFi.com
Prices: $$$$


Reviews I had read were mixed, but having been out of the country since they opened, I had to give them a shot. Here is the low-down ...

Pros

1) Clean, inviting atmosphere

2) Prices seemed reasonable at first glance

3) Service was friendly and efficient 

4) Burgers, fries, and onion rings tasted great

5) Beer special, $2 for a cup of IPA, was a bargain

6) Bathrooms were clean


Cons

1) $27, not including $4 for the beer, is not exactly cheap for two burgers, a small order of fries and small onion rings

2) My $10 burger was ridiculously small, somewhere between a White Castle "Slider" and a McDonald's double cheeseburger


If you pay $10 for a burger, you should expect to need both hands to eat it. Mine was a one-hander and, other than Whitey One-Bites, the smallest hamburger I have ever seen. Unfortunately, the two cons overshadow the six pros in this case and, therefore ...


CombatCritic Gives BurgerFi A Middle Of The Road 5 Out Of 10 Bombs ... More Bombs Are Better!
Read Reviews By CombatCritic:

Yelp - "Elite '14/'15"

TripAdvisor - "Top Contributor" 

Tabelog - "Official Judge (Bronze)

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MENU





Title: Mystified By BurgerFi's Small-Fry Burger

Key Words: BURGERFI, burger, fi, hamburger, french, fry, onion, rings, Massachusetts, street, Mass, Lawrence, Kansas, CombatCritic, TravelValue, travel, value, restaurant, menu, review, Yelp, TripAdvisor

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Exceptional Northern Italian Cuisine Plus Moderate Prices Equals A "Decent Value"

Lidia's Italy
101 W 22nd St
Kansas City, MO 64108
Phone number (816) 221-3722
Website: lidias-kc.com
Prices: $$$$


We have been going to Lidia's since we moved to Kansas City in 2008 and have never been disappointed. Whether ordering ala carte from the menu or enjoying their fabulous Sunday brunch, the food is always consistent and delicious although a bit pricey.

Antipasti (appetizers) range from $7.50 to $14.00 and include traditional favorites like "frico" (cheese crisp - $12.50), "cozze" (mussels - $12.00), "arancini" (deep fried risotto balls - $12.00), and "pappa al pomodoro" ( a Tuscan tomato and bread soup - $7.50). The frico, for example, is delicious with crispy cheese (usually a higher-fat hard cheeses like Montasio or Asiago) baked in the oven with various decadent ingredients, having originated in the Friuli region of Italy.

Insalate (salads) are normally ordered along with the main course (secondo) when dining in Italy and are not "meal size" as you will find in the United States. At Lidia's they range from $8.00 to $12.50, but I cannot comment on them as I have never ordered one because, other than the Caprese salad - one of my favorites, you should not come to restaurant like Lidia's unless you plan on focusing on pasta and meat/seafood dishes, all of which are quite filling.

Ranging from $17.00 (canneloni) to $22.00 (pasta trio), the prices for their "primi" (first courses - pastas) are Lidia's "Best Value", especially their "pasta trio" which my wife and I have had on numerous occasions. This "all you can eat" medley of three pastas changes daily and includes three different selections (fettucine, penne, ravioli, etc.), each with its own sauce (butter and sage, amatriciana, and other favorites). Servers come around with a large plate of each, giving you as much or as little as you desire so you can sample all three before deciding on which one (or three) you want more of. You can add a caesar salad and choice of dessert for an additional $13, but I would not waste my money and recommend enjoying as much pasta as you can eat instead.

The meat and seafood (secondi) dishes are not cheap at $21 for the lemon chicken to $49.50 for the bone-in rib eye steak, but if you like a traditional Italian meal with antipasto, primo and secondo, you will not be disappointed ... you will, however, be bursting at the seams! Secondi at Lidia's, unlike restaurants in Italy, are accompanied by "contorni" (vegetables and potatoes), making a full meal if you prefer meat and potatoes over pasta. My favorite used to be their "involtini di manzo", rolled beef scallops with pickle, vegetables and mustard (a Northern Italian recipe), accompanied by mashed potatoes, but it has not been on the menu lately.

Their wine list is extensive with nothing under $32 for a bottle (the "Value List" has a nice selection of reds and whites) and ranging up to as high as $495 for a bottle of Lange (2005) Gaja if that is your style. We have ordered from the value list every time we have been there and found the wines quite good and somewhat as the name implies, a "decent" value. They also have a full bar with drinks ranging from $9 to $34.

We have not been there for Sunday brunch in several years, but it used to be an excellent value at $25 (now $29.50). Served buffet style, you can help yourself to a nice selection of antipasti and dolci (desserts), ordering a selection from the wide variety of main courses, including the "Pasta Tasting Menu", frico, porchetta hash, osso buco, and lasagna Bolognese among others.

We have never been there for lunch, but looking at the menu it appears to be a decent value with meal selections reduced by $5 or so compared to the dinner menu and with sandwiches in the $12 to $13 range. 

Expect to pay a $100 to $125 for dinner for two, including antipasti and either a primo (pasta) or secondo, a bottle of wine from the value list, and a shared dessert (tip and tax included). We cannot afford to spend that kind of money every time we go out to eat, but for special occasions Lidia's Italy - Kansas City is a decent value with exceptional food, excellent service, and moderate prices.

CombatCritic Gives Lidia's Italy - Kansas City 7 out of 10 Bombs ... More Bombs Are Better!


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TripAdvisor - "Top Contributor" 

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Title: Exceptional Northern Italian Cuisine Plus Moderate Prices Equals A "Decent Value"

Key Words: Lidia's Italy, Kansas City, Kansas, city, Lidia's, Italy, Lidia, Bastianich, crossroads, Missouri, Italian, pasta, CombatCritic, TravelValue, travel, value, restaurant, menu, review, Yelp, TripAdvisor

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

"Fair" Italian Fare in Historic Parkville

Café Italia
160 English Landing Dr
Parkville, MO 64152
Phone: (816) 584-0607
Prices: $$$$

With a shortage of non-chain Italian restaurants in the Northland, Cafe Italia in Parkville did not let us down. The atmosphere is sparse, but modern with a touch of elegance as opposed to their old location on North Oak. The menu was missing one of my favorites from the old location, vitello (veal) saltimbocca. We started with wine, Canyon Road Cabernet ($22/bottle) from the limited wine list. Prices by the glass are reasonable, from $6-$7.50/glass.

We ordered a stuffed artichoke, while tasty, and hot, was too "cheesy" and drenched in olive oil. It was a bit disappointing, but my standards are very high because I learned an excellent stuffed artichoke recipe form my grandmother who was born in the Irpino region of Italy. We both had the caesar salad which was excellent, the only problem being the very large (but delicious) croutons that had to be eaten by hand because they were too hard to cut into pieces. My wife, a native Italian, had ravioli con funghi, stuffed with chicken, prosciutto, and capocollo in a mushroom sauce. The taste was excellent, but the pasta was too "al dente" (undercooked). Being Italian, my wife is hard to please when it comes to Italian food, but she enjoyed her meal very much. I had the vitello alla parmigiana which was tasty, but a little tough for "milk-fed veal" which was advertised on the menu. The color and texture seemed more like sliced beef to me, but it was tasty and reasonably priced, veal or beef.

The size of the portions were overly generous, so we had to pass on dessert. The owners stopped by to talk and one had family from the same area of Sicily where my wife was born, so they were able to speak in Italian about their shared heritage. Overall, we had a nice meal, the service was very good, and we will return soon to see if any of the problems noted above have been taken care of.

CombatCritic Gives Cafe Italia 6 out of 10 Bombs ... More Bombs Are Better!





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TripAdvisor - "Top Contributor" 

Tabelog - "Official Judge" (Bronze)

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Title: "Fair" Italian Fare in Historic Parkville

Key Words: Cafe Italia, cafe, café, Italia, pasta, wine, Parkville, Missouri, MO, Kansas, City, restaurant, Italian, Italy, menu, CombatCritic, TravelValue, travel, value, food, definitive, review, Yelp, TripAdvisor

DayTripQuip™: A Free Bus Tour Of "The Prato You Do Not Expect"

That's Prato
Phone: +39 328 00 21 009
Web: ThatsPrato.com
Prices: € € € € 

Abbey (Badia) of Santa Maria of Montepiano
Across the piazza from Chiesa Santa Maria Novella, a free bus will take from Florence's Santa Maria Novella train station to various itineraries in and around Prato, a town between Florence and Pistoia heading toward Lucca and Pisa. You pay only for the entrance to museums (if applicable) and your lunch.
Monastery of St. Nicholas -Courtyard

The Province of Prato has organized these free weekly tours available on ten consecutive Sundays from May to July, taking four routes/itineraries with both Italian and English Guides:
  • CONTEMPORARY ART AND INDUSTRIAL ARCHEOLOGY
  • WHEN THERE WERE THE ETRUSCANS / ETRUSCAN PAST
  • THE NOBLE TRAIL: VILLAS AND CASTLES
  • THE PATH OF PILGRIMS
I emailed That's Prato, asking for a reservation for the Path of the Pilgrims tour which was quickly accommodated with a reply the following day for the next Sunday. When we arrived at the train station on Sunday morning, the group was in front of McDonald's next to Track #1 as promised. We gave them our name, waited until everyone arrived, then made our way to the other end of the station where the bus was waiting.
Monastery of St. Nicholas - Fresco
In a modern tour bus with air conditioning and comfortable seats, we were quickly on our way to Prato, a historic city (comune) and one of Italy's newest provinces (Provincia di Prato), established in 1992 from the Province of Florence. There were about 30 tourists on the bus for The Pilgrim's Walk tour, mostly Italians and, oddly enough, from the Florence area no less.
"THE PILGRIM'S WALK:
The Prato area has a long history associated with monasteries and holy places as well as Marian devotion, Which dates to the Early Middle Ages. This tour retraces some of the stops made ​​by pilgrims as they journeyed through the Apennines."
Our first stop was the Dominican Monastery of St. Nicholas (admission € 5) in the city of Prato. Established in the 13th Century, the monastery has beautifully decorated chapels, a pharmacy, dining hall, and many other rooms with fabulous frescoes and antique furniture. One of the resident nuns accompanied us on the tour, providing details of the history and tales of the ancient building.
Small Lake - Montepiano
We then took a route through the city streets and squares of the old town, then up the winding mountain road to the top of the mountain for lunch in Montepiano, a small town in the Bisenzio Valley. After a reasonably priced (€10) two course lunch on the small lake, we hiked up the hill to Abbey (Badia) of Santa Maria of Montepiano, a small church also from the 13th Century with a fresco of Saint Christopher which sits on what used to be the main road from Florence to Bologna for hundreds of years.
Fresco of St. Christopher - Santa Maria of Montepiano
Next, we made our way down the mountain to Vaiano and the Abbey of San Salvatore with its small, but very interesting museum. This quaint complex dates back to the 11th Century and has a serene courtyard with fountain and bell tower, halls with ancient frescoes, and a museum with historic artifacts, the abbey's original kitchen, a small chapel, and trap door that leads to a 1,000 year-old lavatory. 
Abbey of San Salvatore - Paiano
Our bus driver then took us on the 40-minute ride back to Florence by the appointed hour of 6pm as promised, leaving us at the Santa Maria Novella train station where we had started our journey.
Kitchen (Fireplace) - Abbey of San Salvatore
That's Prato recently added free tours on eight consecutive Sundays in September and October with the following itineraries:
  • ART AT THE TABLE IN THE RENAISSANCE / ART AND FOOD IN THE RENAISSANCE
  • THE PATH OF PILGRIMS / THE PILGRIM'S WALK
  • THE NOBLE TRAIL: VILLAS AND CASTLES
The only negative I can think of is the fact that for a free tour provided and paid for by the province, very little background of or information on the City or Province of Prato was disseminated during the tour. During the 40-minute bus journey from Florence to Prato (and on the return trip), for example, would have been a perfect time to explain about the city and relatively new province to their captive audience. Instead, passengers were left on our own to chat privately while the guides talked only to each other, a lost opportunity and waste of government funds from my perspective.

A trip by train to Arezzo or Siena, for example, will cost you €16 per person for train tickets alone, so for just €15 including lunch and museum entry (both optional), you will not find a better value when visiting Florence in terms of day trips.

You can email thatsprato@po.camcom.it, visit their website: http://thatsprato.com/, or call them at +39 328 00 21 009 to request your spot on the tour.

CombatCritic Gives 9 Bombs Out Of 10 ... More Bombs Are Better! 





Read Reviews By CombatCritic:
Yelp - "Elite '14/'15"
TripAdvisor - "Top Contributor" - Tabelog - "Official Judge (Bronze)
Zomato - "Super Foodie"
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Tabelog Reviewer CombatCriticView my food journey on Zomato!



Title: DayTripQuip™: A Free Bus Tour Of "The Prato You Do Not Expect"

Key Words: Prato, day, trip, quip, DayTripQuip, train, Santa Maria Novella, Montepiano, Vaiano, abbey, monastery, fresco, church, antique, travel, value, Firenze, Florence, Italy, free

Monday, August 24, 2015

Forget Overpriced Florence Hotels, Rent A "Little Florentine Retreat" For Your Best Value And Comfort

Little Florentine Retreat
Via di Pilastri 36, Firenze, Italia
Web: Airbnb
Prices:  €  € € 


Accommodations: Apartment

Via Pilastri and Chiesa Sant'Ambrogio (Far Right)
We spent two months in Florence, one month in July 2012 and the other this past July (2015), staying in apartments both times. The first apartment was small, but nice in the Santa Croce/Sant'Ambrogio area and the cost a very reasonable $1000 a month or a little over $33 per day. It had a small kitchen and bath, living room, loft (open) bedroom, air conditioning, wireless internet, and a clothes washer.
Living Room
We tried to rent the same apartment this year, but the owner was not cooperative, so we found another place in the same area, our favorite, and are we happy we did!
Main Bedroom
This apartment, just around the corner from the Jewish Temple and down the street from Chiesa and Mercato Sant'Ambrogio, is on the top floor of a historic villa. With no elevator, the 54 steps (no elevator) to the apartment became tedious over the month, particularly with heavy bags and 100 degree temperatures practically every day, so we limited are exits and entries as much as possible. After all, who wants to spend most of the day in an apartment when in one of the most beautiful and culturally abundant cities in the world?
Main Bedroom and Wardrobe


Kitchen
The owner greeted us warmly upon arrival, explaining the intricacies of the small, but very functional two-bedroom apartment. One decent size bedroom with queen size bed and wardrobe and one smaller bedroom with a pullout bed, desk, and chair were all we needed for the two of us and the occasional guest. Entering into the small kitchen-living room area, the bedrooms and bath were readily accessible. The small bathroom has a shower and bidet as well as a skylight providing ample natural light. The bedrooms both have air conditioning, but the kitchen, living room, and bath do not. However, with the bedroom AC units on and doors open, which we used sparingly, the main living area's temperature was tolerable in the 100 degree heat. The apartment has a TV with limited English language broadcasts, fast (cable optic) wireless internet, a dishwasher and clothes washer. The furniture was modern and functional, and everything necessary to live comfortably (pots, pans, dishes, silverware, toaster, microwave, etc.) was provided.


Entry and Kitchen
The apartment has been renovated inside, but still retains some of the charm of a historic building with exposed wood beams and terra cotta tile roof. The floors were also terra cotta tile. There are windows in each room, medium sized in the main bedroom and living room with views of the pallazzo across the street and a small window with no view in the smaller bedroom. The windows have wooden shutters which can be closed to provide darkness for those who may be sensitive to light when sleeping.

There are two supermarkets (Conad and Carrefour) within a five minute walk as well as shops, restaurants, bars, hardware stores or pretty much anything else you could find elsewhere in Italy. Santa Croce is a ten minute walk, and the Duomo, Ponte Vecchio, and the train station are just fifteen to 20 minutes away by foot. The best pizzeria in Florence, Il Pizzaiuolo, is close by, serving delicious Neopolitan-style pizza at fairly reasonable prices. Mercato Sant'Ambrogio (open 7:30am - 2:30 pm Monday thru Saturday) is also a short stroll away where you can buy clothing, shoes, housewares, fresh fruits and vegetables, bread, meat, salami, cheese, bread or anything else you might need in the kitchen. They also have a small restaurant where you can get an inexpensive lunch for less than €10 per person. It is much smaller than the touristy Mercato San Lorenzo (a ten minute walk away), but has everything you need, is frequented mostly by locals, and has better prices.
Bathroom

The owner has recently listed the apartment on Airbnb at $106 per night, but if you plan on staying for a length of time, contact the owner to see about getting a reduced rate. As I mentioned earlier, we paid $1100 for the month of July, about 1/3 of the published daily rate, so it is worth a try!
Bedroom 2

At $106 per night, you may find better values in Florence ($75-$80 per night would probably be a more appropriate price), but for the $1100 per month that we paid, this was an exceptional value and I highly recommend it for long-term stays.


CombatCritic gives  8 Bombs Out of 10 ... More Bombs Are Better!





Read more reviews of Florence restaurants, attractions and day trips as well as ways to save money in CombatCritic's "Definitive Florence (Italy)" ...

Wood Beam and Terra Cotta Celing

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Title: Forget Overpriced Florence Hotels, Rent A "Little Florentine Retreat" For Your Best Value And Comfort

Key Words: Florentine, retreat, apartment, hotel, accommodation, Pilastri, Santa Croce, mercato, Sant'Ambrogio, Duomo, restaurant, Airbnb, Italy, Florence, Firenze, travel, value, definitive, review, guide,