Dinner and a Show: Rhapsody and The Spikedrivers at Stuarts Opera House
Posted by cmh gourmand on April 13, 2010
A tale in which our hero traveled to the principality of Nelsonville with Bear and the Doyenne of Highland Estates.
It seemed like a perfect plan to me. A perfect music venue for an excellent band. It is Spring, so it is the perfect time for a road trip. As the clincher, there would be fine food for feasting. Unexpectedly, I had an extra ticket for the show which I could not give it away. Fortunately, I was in the good company of good friends. For those that were offered the ticket and did not take it, here is what you missed.
Rhapsody is a test bed restaurant for hospitality management and culinary arts students at Hocking College. This weekend only restaurant features a seasonal and eclectic menu. My traveling companions are well versed in the worlds of food and drink. The Doyenne in particular, is an epicurean’s gourmet goddess with highly refined standards. When our server mentioned that it was opening night for the new spring menu with a new cadre of students, my first thought was…uh, oh.
As a learning environment, the restaurant solicits feedback as part of the growth experience for their staff. That being the case, I am converting their comment card to blog post and covering the meal in detail. Each question gets a rating of 1-10.
Were you greeted promptly and courteously? Yes. Score: 9
Side note on this one. I made a reservation for four online. I was called two days before to confirm the reservation and it was suggested that since we were seeing the show at 8:00, I should change the reservation to 6:30 pm from the original 7:00 pm. I did. The phone contact was efficient and professional. Good job.
Was your server prompt and courteous? Courteous – Yes. Score 8.5; Prompt: See below. Midwestern manners score: 5, Doyenne’s assumed score: 4, Bear’s assumed score: 6 for food, Fail for drinks.
Was your server competent and efficient? Competent – Yes. Score: 7.5; Efficient – Um, the thing is…., Score: Midwestern 5.
Was your server friendly and attentive to your needs? Yes. Score: 8
OK. So here is the lowdown. Our server was a very likable and fun fellow. He scored several points with us for candor. Upon sitting at our table, we noticed that the muzak in the background was too loud and too bad. The Doyenne mentioned this to our server and he was happy to comply with our request. The volume was changed to a barely registering level that could be drowned out with conversation. The canned music was later replaced by a cowboy hat wearing live musician. The musician was very good.
We ordered cocktails and a glass of wine when we were seated and I placed an order for an appetizer. The restaurant was not busy when we placed our beverage order. When our appetizer arrived we had just received our drinks and bread. That is a service fail. However, this is not fully controlled by the server and that is acknowledged. While we were waiting, Bear had an opportunity to size up the bar area and he found that it made muster. We were collectively impressed to see that the restaurant carries Kinkead Ridge wines which (as an excellent Ohio wine) is a score for any restaurant. My cocktail was really good. So a note to Rhapsody – move your drink orders faster. This allows your customers sufficient time to order more drinks. On the flip side, our water service bordered on the aggressive. If half of the energy invested in hydrating us was invested in dehydrating us, we would have been happy. I believe I heard the bartender state: “It is my pet peeve to see an empty water glass.” Sister, make that your motto for an empty wine glass or cocktail shaker and you will go far in the trade.
Was your table setting clean and complete? Yes. Score: 10 (This should always be a 10, the answer choices here should be 0 or 10 with nothing in the middle).
How was the quality of your meal?
Our server are knowledgeable and candid about the sourcing of our meal. I ordered a Philly beef spring roll as an appetizer to share. This seemed like a bold combination which I think the chef executed exquisitely. The meat was perfectly cooked. The shell had a zen balance of crispy and chewy. There was a bit too much sauce for Bear but all three of us enjoyed this unique merging to two disparate street food cultures – Philadelphian and Asian. (Score: 8.5)
One of the items ordered was a spring salad. About 1/4 of the greens in this salad were wilted. Note to Rhapsody, don’t serve a less than perfect salad to someone (from Highland Estates) that sells vegetables all day. I had the beet salad topped with microgreens from Green Edge Gardens. The microgreens were near their last legs. We knew this because the three of us have been to Greenedge Gardens and know the owners. The microgreens were acceptable to serve but for an opening night – something more fresh would have made a better impression. The beets were (not in season) admittedly from Kroger or GFS. My salad was good but not great. (Overall Salad Score: 4.5)
Bear and the Doyenne were pleased with their entrees. I ordered the pork belly. Inspired by my muse, I have been studying the pork belly in 2010 at such places as Bexley Monk, L’Antibes and The Refectory. Rhapsody’s pork belly rivals the Columbus competition. However, I give the student chefs an extra pigskin point for execution. The skin was sliced/serrated before cooking which gave the outer belly crust an extra crispness and crunch. This also made the presentation damn attractive. Bear and the Doyenne sampled the pork belly as well and each voiced some satisfaction. As a swine dining expert, the Doyenne noted that the pork belly could have benefited from just a bit more cooking to achieve greatness. In retrospect, I agree. The pork belly was one minute of hot heat away from perfection. (Pork Belly Score: 9.4).
At this point a decision needed to be made. It was 7:47 pm. The show started at 8:00 pm. Our plates were just being cleared. My mind asked the as yet unanswered and unposed question – what about dessert? I did some mental figuring. Service delivery had been a bit slow up to this point. We were 100 feet from the entrance to our music venue. We were in Nelsonville, which is about 18 miles from Athens, therefore we were in the hippy time zone of Ohio. Finally, this was a musical performance and (with the exception of symphonies and operas), musicians never start on time. We had time if Rhapsody could ramp it up at the finale. I recalled there were Beignets on the menu. Without consulting with my peers I ordered those from our server the second he arrived. I told him: we had a show to go to at 8:00 pm; we must consume those Beignets STAT; and we needed our checks computed as well as delivered instantly. The Doyenne’s reaction to this was “Hey”, “what the…”, “are we going to have time to..” To which Bear’s response was…”make that two orders please.” To which the Doyenne’s reaction was “Hey”, “what the…”, “are we going to have room to..” Indeed.
At 7:58 pm, our orders of Beignets were delivered with our signed copies of the bills. We were shocked by the serving size of one order, let alone the two delivered. The Doyenne was incredulous that we had over-ordered. However, upon consumption of one each, it was collectively agreed that we had ordered the correct amount….one Beignet, not one serving, too many. The only misfortune was that the Doyenne lacked my ability to stuff an entire serving of powdered fried dough into my mouth without touching my face. Therefore, in addition to a tip, she also left a Hansel and Gretel style trail of powered sugar in her wake.
How was your overall dining experience?
The Pork Belly helped. Our server’s good attitude earned a point. However, it was the Beignet’s and their delivery that saved the day. Overall score: 8 (with a very important disclaimer: opening day for a new team, some extra consideration was given for that).
An Open Letter to Rhapsody,
Thank you for the meal. Keep up the good work. Execute your bar service more expeditiously. Don’t ever drop your Beignet’s from the menu.
So, a good meal. It was an excellent show. Here are the cliff notes on the venue and performance with a serving of shameless gushing about a superior musician.
There is no better small venue in Ohio than Stuart’s Opera House. The acoustics are good. The place is charming and every seat is excellent. The Spikedrivers are a Columbus based alternative folk/country band that includes an all star cast of talent. The evening was a special acoustic show by the band which included bongos, a piano, a xylophone and other treats. The band was missing one of their lineup but carried on without missing a beat. Of special note, Megan Palmer is a member of the Spikedrivers. Megan is also a solo artist who adds her talents to other bands as well. She currently resides mostly full-time in New York so having her in Ohio is a treat. Megan’s music is like an excellent fine wine that continues to refine over time. This is the best compliment I can give Megan: I think she is the most talented multitasking singer/musician on the planet and I would give up several meals at any of my favorite restaurants to see her play. She can sing, write lyrics, strum guitar, play the fiddle/violin and has a great stage demeanor. Megan Palmer kicks musical ass.
Stuart’s Opera House is a non profit organization that hosts a variety of events and music acts. It is not uncommon for the bar area to serve Jackie O’s Beer from Athens along with samples of Athens county cuisine. During the Spikedrivers show, offerings included Crumb’s Bakery Crackers, Frog Ranch Pickles (awesome) and local cheese. If you want to see the Spikedrivers as well as twenty odd other excellent bands and support Stuarts Opera House in the process, buy a ticket to the Nelsonville Music Festival.
If you would like to go to Rhapsody for dinner and a show, I have an incentive for my readers. On the back of my two ticket stubs, there are coupons for a free order of Beignet’s. Make a post on this entry if you want a coupon and I will make arrangements to mail one to you.
18 Public Square
Open: Thursday to Saturday for dinner