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Sunday, February 21, 2010

Review: Wild Tymes Sports Bar & Grill

Today we decided to take the family out to the MN Children's Museum in downtown St. Paul. The kids had been seeing the advertisements for their new "Dinosaurs: Land of Fire and Ice" exhibit and my wife was right on the ball when she realized that today was the 3rd Sunday of the Month. For those that aren't aware, the 3rd Sunday the museum is open free of charge thanks to Target . Of course the downside is that it's extremely busy, but hey free is free. So in our classic fashion we got in the car at almost exactly lunchtime. So by the time we finish with a few errands on the way, we realized we were going to need lunch. We hardly ever take ourselves out to eat, so we figured today might be a good day to check something out in Downtown St. Paul. Once we found our usual parking spot in the Macy's parking garage (also free every Sunday, no purchase necessary) we set about finding someplace to eat. I pull out the blackberry and fire up "Poynt" so that it could "Poynt" me in the right direction. After skipping through the usual list of McDonalds and anything with the word "Deli" in it (since they usually have nothing for the wife to eat) I came across two potentials. Mickey's and Wild Tymes. Both have pretty good reviews, so I called up Wild Tymes as they are a sports bar and I wasn't sure they'd be open for a Sunday Lunch. Sure enough they were, and we were off.

At first we didn't realize we had made it there, the place itself was a little unassuming and not well marked. When we walked in we were immediately greeted and seated in a booth. Immediately upon seating us, the waitress noticed that my middle child Alex had his Chuck Taylor shoes on, and quickly commented. I mean, here is the gaggle of people (5 total) and she actually notices the shoes. The little shy boy now has a friend.

Once seated, we start figuring out what we're all going to have. Of course Zora puts up a stink about wanting to sit in a booster chair, so we get another one for Alex. Shortly into the decision making process he apparently was reaching for Matt at the end of the table and toppled end over end out the side of the booth. He wasn't harmed and it was totally his fault (nothing a little motherly love couldn't fix) but almost immediately his buddy the waitress heard what happened and produced a cookie. This was promptly shared with the other two, and now she has 2 punches in the plus column with the little guy.

While reading the reviews on the Blackberry, I read that the portion sizes tended to be quite large, so I suggested we just get a plate of fries and a plate of chips and salsa (conveniently the two least expensive things on the menu..I'm not cheap, I swear!! ) and see where that took us. When the waitress came over to take our drink order, Zora decided she was going to be cute and order a "Diet Coke" which of course makes just about anybody take a step back when a 4yr old orders a diet, but she is her mother's daughter after all. We ordered our appetizers and awaited our meal.

When the fries came out, they were heaping so high on the plate my wife actually exclaims, "Holy crap that's a lotta fries!!" to which I smile inwardly and thank the reviewer who took the time to give me that little tip. Needless to say, I have now entered that tip in to the Foursquare database as well, so if you happen to Foursquare and check-in to Wild Tymes you should be aware of the portions.

Throughout our meal our waitress was in constant contact with us, and it was clear to us that she genuinely cared about our well-being while in her care (or at least she was really good about faking it. :) ) Overall, our dining experience while there with a family of 5 people was fantastic, and much of the success was thanks to our server. So thanks Joline for a wonderful lunch!! The only gripe I would have of the place was that the menu stated they had Coke products, she offered us Sprite by name, but as we were leaving my wife did notice that they actually served Pepsi products. She thought her pop tasted a little off but wrote it off..so I would suggest they fix their menu or at least make sure people are aware. I know I prefer the Coke persuasion much more than Pepsi, but that may be yet another post.

GPS Navigation for Blackberry Follow Up

Some of you may have read my initial post on Navigation options on the Blackberry after Amaze decided to start charging for their navigation service. I listed several possible options that were revealed after searching. I think I've given each one a good run, and to save you the reading...nothing good.

Nav4All - Recently announced that TeleNav NavTeq (Editted per Ralf's comment) did not renew their subscription to provide Nav4All their data. So instantly 24 million users had the doors shut on them...and surprise surprise Telenav also announced that they have a navigation app and would gladly accept $10 / month to use the service.

Life in Pocket - Definately works to give Turn by Turn navigation, however there's a catch...no map! It shows a nice picture of a the intended turn...terrific.

Poynt + Google Maps - Isn't navigation at all, Poynt is just a search engine that acts like a wrapper to Google Maps. That's good, because everybody knows that Google really wasn't made for searches...:-P

Google Navigation - Still the true winner, and I've never even seen it in action aside from videos. The wife will be getting her Android next week, a Samsung Moment. Needless to say, this geek is excited considering she was initally leaning towards a Palm Pixie. (However, while researching things for this blog post I found out the Moment is still shipping with Android 1.5, so no Google Navigation out of the box, but it appears they will be updating to 1.6 or 2.0 soon....hrmmm) As far as Blackberry receiving Google Navigation there has not been any official news but the reality is it will happen like everything else...about 6 months behind the iPhone. And the iPhone is rumored to receive it "as soon as Apple gives the go ahead" according to a Google Spokeperson. Can't we all just get along?!

So there we have it, no good options but to work with except the current Google Maps interface with no turn by turn. But as I'm attempting to feign a sense of objectivity...here's a few options that aren't free:

Amaze - While I can't fault a company for wanting to make a buck, this one in my opinion was not worth almost $3 / month service fee.

Telenav - The convenient newcomer to the scene once Nav4All shut it's doors unexpectedly is $10 / month.

Garmin - This is a one time fee of $100..not exactly chump change, but at least you don't have to pay for it monthly. There is a 7 day free trial, so I guess if I cared more I'd give it a shot.

I'm sure there are more, but I only care about paid apps so much, after all I have a pretty well functioning blackberry without paying a dime for any pay apps. Of course..there are apps I wish existed or worked better, but that's a whole different post.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Undercover Boss

Let me start by saying that I don't watch TV. Let me also say that for the most part I really despise most reality TV. I was about to type "all" reality tv but then I was reminded by the brain that some of my favorite shows are reality tv. Shows like Mythbusters, Deadliest Catch, Dirty Jobs...I'm only a little infatuated with the Discovery channel so leave me alone...(boom de yadda boom de yadda, boom de yadda...) But I can't think of a reality tv show that I've enjoyed on broadcast tv, I mean Survivor? Big Brother? Amazing Race?! Can't these shows just die? Networks sure are happy to take away the good shows (The Unit and West Wing just to name a few)and leave these crappy ones. The only good part about losing good shows is it keeps the number of shows to watch low so as not to get overwhelmed.

However, tonight I watched the premiere of Undercover Boss. For those of you that haven't heard anything about it, it's a show that puts the Presidents and CEO's of large corporations on the front line. They get to see how their broad brush policies change the ways of everyday workers. Their first show featured Larry O'donnell, President and COO of Waste Management. He spent 7 days undercover in his own company posing as a run-of-the-mill worker. Now perhaps it's because I feel passionately that management of companies should be held accountable for the policies they end up creating so we can meet our company goals. I've said more than once that it'd really be nice to say we need to become x% more efficient without having to worry about what it's going to take in order to do that.

So anyways, if you haven't checked it out yet, I highly recommend that you go over to CBS and watch the episodes online. One reviewer said that it was "Surprisingly Moving" and that is exactly the case, you don't expect it to move you quite as much as it does.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

The Spice House Responds

Not long ago, I blogged about our experiences at The Spice House. I sent the link to the contact form on their website, and one of the owners Patty Erd wrote me back! I'm not sure how much of this letter was canned, however to me it didn't sound at all canned, so I'm amazingly grateful for her to take the time to engage the conversation with me. Some things I agree with, some things I disagree with, however when I read through her letter the first time it sounded as if she was a little on the defensive. Perhaps my original post sounded negative, and if that was the way it was received I apologize profusely. My goal from my review was to HIGHLY recommend the Spice House, but as with most things I think that even good things can be made better. So check out Patty's letter below, and I'll have some short responses below that.

Hi Nick,

Thanks for your review, very nice blog site you have. I wish I could find the time to blog more. In actuality, the business we are in, is extremely time consuming as we make all of our product, not quite from scratch, as the farmer gets the credit for the hard work of growing and harvesting the spices and herbs. We get it is bulk from all over the world, the sourcing and procuring high quality on a crop by crop basis is one of the hardest things we do. Once it arrives, we grind small batches fresh weekly to ensure very fresh product moving in and out of the store. So we grind cinnamon once a week, today we ground a weeks worth of black pepper. These then get mixed into our seasonings, and unlike you and your wife, the average customer buys far more mixes than straight spices. Very few people make their own taco seasoning, for example, but most home cooks make tacos and they use some sort of premade seasoning. We also hand package our gift boxes, and even though my staff is primarily culinary school graduates, I do not have any cheap nighttime labor to do this tedious gift box making, we all pitch in. We also have an incredibly busy website, and on any given day we ship out several hundred packages, again all packed up by us. So rarely does the free time expand enough for all we would like to do!

We appreciate and understand your suggestion, but we have been in business 53 years, and it has been a long evolution to figure out what does and does not work. The little bags are the cheapest way to buy spices, but they are not at all good for long term storage of spices. So if we premade your box, and those spices stayed together for a few weeks, all the bags would become similar in flavor, and cloves would be the dominant flavor. Sort of like that smell you get in our store, which is a mix of everything? We also have over 450 products, and for us to pick what the average person would want, would be pretty presumptuous, sort of like me telling your wife what five colors of blouses she should have in her closet! On your list, for example, I never use paprika, whole cumin, rosemary, sage or nutmeg as I really dislike these flavors. We do let people buy these one ounce packages so that they can try new things without huge expense, but once they have figured out what they like, most of our customers get a jar, and then continue to refill the jar when they bring home the next batch of spice. We only sell these one ounce packages in the shop, the website does not offer them. We also have really, really nice gift cards, so your gift recipient can be sure to pick which flavors they like. The gift card is packaged in a nice bag with our 52 page catalog and some lovely smelling spices we drop into the bag, bay leaves, cinnamon sticks, cloves, to make a much more special presentation than a generic gift card.

So next time you are in, please ask if I am in and if so, I will be happy to give you the nickel tour and show you where the straight spices reside. I do want to let you know that most of Chicago's top chefs even buy curry powder from us, which is quite a testimonial to our curry. I had to drive to our Milwaukee store last week, as the film crew of Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations filmed me and a top Milwaukee chef mixing up our special Maharajah curry powder which was going to be used in a special luncheon dish for Anthony the next day. They filmed the whole day, so if I don't get edited out, this will air on the show in a few months. So hopefully, you might give our curry powder a chance! And Alton Brown does actually order vanilla extract from us regularly, although he certainly does not need to worry about budget like most of us do.

Thanks again for the review,

Patty Erd
The Spice House

So there you have it. Overall I want to thank Patty for taking the time out of her busy schedule to write back to me. A few things I want to throw out there...

- Wonderful point that the little bags wouldn't be good for long term storage, but I guess I'd just say let's remove a few spices and throw them in the shaker jars. Or do you know of another low cost method in which you could pack them so the tastes wouldn't wander?

- As far as not being presumptuous about what the average cook would want in their spice cabinet, granted not everybody would use the same few basic spices/herbs, but I would say that we could make a pretty good guess. I mean, every time you put together a gift basket you are being presumptuous about what somebody would want.

- Regarding the large number of spice mixes, one of my good friends Don reminded me that creating a spice mix isn't always an easy task and a good spice master is hard to find. Perhaps I'm just not used to using spice mixes (aside from the Italian Seasoning Blend and Chinese 5 Spice) that it was just a bit overwhelming to me. I will chalk this up to my inexperience with spices. Perhaps I just expected a shelf of straight spices and the other shelves were the mixes, instead of just intermixed with everything. But this I suppose organization structures are different for everybody.

Overall though, I want...no check that...I NEED to convey how much I love your store. I think I said that when we arrived my wife froze at the possibilities and didn't know what she wanted to buy. Once we got home to MN, she cleaned out our spice cupboard and we sent away for a stocking order from you. We have a friend who lives a few blocks away from the Milwaukee store so he went and bought the small packs of them for us and sent them over. We just want to make sure we actually would like them, especially for those with more than one option. Paprika for one...we've never used it as a spice as anything at the grocery store is just coloring. We went with the Hungarian Spicy or something like that, and it's fantastic. We had the spices sent to work and everybody who came by my cube could smell the bag I had on my desk and asked about it. Maybe a MN branch is on the horizon? I still haven't found a good option here in MN....more on that later.