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The View from My Kitchen

Benvenuti! I hope you enjoy il panorama dalla mia cucina Italiana -- "the view from my Italian kitchen,"-- where I indulge my passion for Italian food and cooking. From here, I share some thoughts and ideas on food, as well as recipes and restaurant reviews, notes on travel, and a few garnishes from a lifetime in the entertainment industry.

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Monday, June 2, 2014

Restaurant Review: Macado's, Marion and Lynchburg, Virginia

The “Land Where Time Stands Still.”

I went to a place called “Macado's” yesterday. It is fairly likely I won't do it again. Oh, don't get me wrong, the food was fantastic. I just don't have the time to eat there.

Macado's is a casual dining restaurant similar in concept to places like Applebee's and Ruby Tuesday. They are a regional chain with locations in Virginia, West Virginia, North Carolina, and Tennessee. Their website boasts that they have been “serving extraordinary overstuffed sandwiches for over thirty years.” Like similar places, their angle is that they decorate their walls with lots and lots of sports memorabilia, most of it locally based. And their tag is “You Just Have To Be There.”

Well, I've been there. Twice. At two different stores. And I wasn't impressed at either place either time.

As I said, there is absolutely nothing wrong with the food. It is really quite good and, as advertised, quite “overstuffed.” The portions are generous and I totally blew my calorie count for the day on a sandwich, fries, and a soft drink. My wife had an enormous hamburger that sent her diet into a tailspin, while our dining companion made a whole meal out of an appetizer. And, I say again, it was all very, very, good.

Here's the problem: the service was slower than any I've experienced in any similar establishment anywhere in the country anytime in my life. Really. I don't think it's the fault of the servers. There just seems to be something wrong with the operation of the kitchen.

My first exposure to Macado's came from a recommendation in Marion, Virginia. We were in town for a 7 pm concert and were on a bit of a schedule. The folks at the venue pointed us toward Macado's, situated just down the block. They also corrected our pronunciation. I had assumed “muh-CAH-dohs,” but it is actually “MACK-uh-doos.” It was just after five, so we figured we'd be okay.

The Marion store is located in a renovated post office and it has a definite cool as far as atmosphere is concerned. Seating was prompt and our server was very quick to provide our drinks and take our orders. Collectively, the four of us ordered three simple sandwiches and a pasta entree. And then we waited. And waited. And waited. And asked our server what the problem was. And then we waited some more. The server blamed the kitchen and apologized profusely. And still we waited. We started pleading with our apologetic server, explaining that we had tickets for a show that was rapidly approaching its curtain time. (Side note: we had actually invited a couple of members of the band to join us for dinner. It was becoming apparent that their declining of our offer was fortuitous.) When, one hour and ten minutes later, our three sandwiches and one pasta entree finally arrived, we had begun to consider eating the napkins. More importantly, we were looking at being seriously late for our show, so we wound up wolfing down the food and running for the door. We made it with about ten minutes to spare.

So, one year later, when we saw the highway sign for Macado's in Lynchburg, Virginia, we thought we'd give them another try. I mean, the food really had been good and even though we'd had to shove it down our necks pretty quickly, we did enjoy it. And surely the service issue wouldn't arise again. This was a different store a hundred miles down the road.

You know what they say about lightning not striking twice? Forget it. It happens. At least it does at Macado's, which I shall henceforth refer to as the “Land Where Time Stands Still.”

Three of us entered a practically empty restaurant well before the beginning of dinner service and were greeted by – nobody. The hostess stand was empty. It's rude to yell, “Hey! How about some service here,” so we just stood there until we were noticed. That notice came from a server who came in the front door ready to clock in for his shift. He put down his backpack and picked up the seating chart. Eventually,the hostess theoretically on duty came out of wherever she had been secreted and took over. Once we were seated, our server – the same guy who started to check us in – arrived promptly and took our orders. And then the waiting game began once again. Not nearly as bad as it had been in the Marion store, but bad enough. Forty minutes for a burger, a sandwich, and an appetizer.

Once again, there were no complaints about the quality and the preparation of the food. It was as good as any we've had anywhere. But you've got to ask yourself if it's worth the wait.

Genuinely curious about what goes on the kitchen, I asked to see the manager. I really wasn't trying to bust anybody's chops; I earnestly wanted to know if there was something in the expediting or something in the setup of the line or some other factor that could account for the horrendously slow service. Predictably, it took fully eleven minutes for a manager to appear tableside.

He was apologetic, of course, and explained that the reason he had been so long in coming to our table was that at Macado's the manager is expected to cook on the line and he had been finishing up a dish. I'm sorry, this is a cheap cost-cutting measure. Cooks cook and managers manage and if an establishment can't afford to keep the positions separate, then perhaps the establishment should go into another line of service. The place wasn't that busy and when asked how many tables they were serving at the moment, the manager said “seven.” Allowing that all seven were four-tops, that's a total of twenty-eight covers. A competent kitchen should have no trouble handling twenty-eight people. We are talking burgers and sandwiches here, not five-course meals. And then the young manager made an observation that struck us as odd: he said that most of his customers did not have our standards. Is he saying that most people who eat at Macado's have low or no standards? I'm sorry, but I think the standards of the kitchen need to be raised rather than the customer's standards being lowered. And a forty-minute ticket time on a burger, a cold sandwich, and an app is unacceptable by any standards.

I don't generally pay much attention to social media “reviews,” but I scanned a couple of places and found these comments relating to a Macado's location in North Carolina: “We were seated right away because there were only about 3 other tables in the entire place. You would think that would mean we would have quick service (I saw 3 waitresses including ours)...wrong. It took quite awhile for the waitress to even come to our table. Then took awhile to get our drinks and an excessive amount of time to get our food.” And, “My only other slight complaint is the time it took to get our sandwiches, which was a considerable wait though we were the only people in the place...and we all ordered sandwiches.” Or, “I seem to have service issues (slow!) nearly every time I come here but the food is good, so... It's a good place to stop for a meal before seeing a movie. If you're trying to make a specific movie time, though, don't stop in here expecting a quick in-and-out.”

Obviously, there are some really basic kitchen issues that need to be addressed chain-wide. It's a shame because the food is excellent. But, great food not withstanding, I guess people with my “standards” would rather go someplace they can get a simple sandwich served in less than an hour. Sorry, Macado's, but I don't think our relationship has much of a future.

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