Preparing to shoot a few segments of Big Jon in 5 for BEER2WHISKEY in our upstairs studio at Barley's Taproom in downtown Greenville. That's owner Josh Beebe preparing for his closeup.

Monday, August 27, 2012

A Movie Hat Trick: Total Recall, Hunger Games and The Three Stooges

Let's talk movies.

I went to the theater to see one a couple of weeks ago and Red Boxed a couple more over the weekend; all of which are worthy of some mention.

I heard the news that someone was remaking "Total Recall" with a healthy dollop of skepticism. I generally am not a fan of remaking movies that seem quite OK as originally released. "True Grit" was an exception to this rule. Although John Wayne is a tough act to follow, Jeff Bridges was a credible Rooster, and I actually preferred all the other actors filling the main-character roles in the remake. But I think "True Grit" is a rare exception.

So, without hearing the details of the "Total Recall" redo, I was not excited. Then I saw the trailer and realized that Kate Beckinsale and Jessica Biel are both in the remake. Are you kidding me? My prayers had been answered. The only thing that would have been better is if they had been frolicking….oops, ummm…I mean I was really stoked they were in the same movie: one a villain and the other a white hat.

I must admit that I haven't seen the original in 10 years. I only vaguely remember what it was about. I didn't even remember that Sharon Stone played Arnold's wife until I was looking for the images I stuck in this blog. I don’t' think the remake religiously followed the original script or even pretended to try. I seem to remember a dwarf in the original that wasn't in the remake, but the three-breasted hooker made the update.

The devil is in the details…

The important thing, though, is that Jessica Biel and Kate Beckinsale are in it! And some guy a good deal smaller than Arnold played the lead. That Aussie who used to chase around Tara Reid. Yes, I know it was Collin Farrell, but he paled when on screen with either of his lady costars. You know, Kate Beckinsale and Jessica Biel.

All in all it's a fun bit of diversion, and certainly a lot more action than I remember in the original.

For my weekend Italian night I rented "Hunger Games" and "The Three Stooges."

I must admit, I was pretty worn out by the time I got around to eating and plugging one of them in. I walked in my back door from my recent eight-day trip at 8 p.m. on Thursday evening. My cat meowed off and on all night long as she is wont to do the first night I return from a trip of more than three or four nights. I may have slept three hours that night.

I had gal pals from Illinois stop in on Friday evening on their way to Hilton Head. In addition to polishing off a bottle of Cabo Wabo via two pitchers of margaritas, we sat up and talked until after 2 a.m. Needless to say that by the time they climbed into their car to resume their southern trek to the coast after brunch on Saturday, I was exhausted.

The fact that I kept dozing off during "The Three Stooges" may explain why I didn't enjoy it as much as the several friends who recommended it. I had no real desire to see it until a few people sold me on the idea. I agree that the three guys who play The Stooges did a bang-up job, but the entire movie only coaxed three or four laughs out of me.

It was still well worth the buck I invested.

Having read the book, I fully expected to enjoy "Hunger Games" and wasn't disappointed. The writer and director managed to follow the book's storyline closely and included all the critical information. Fast paced and action packed, it kept me interested despite knowing how it was going to end.

The actors are engaging and well cast. I look forward to the next installment.

Two thumbs up all around.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Hot Footing Around Leguna Seca in 2013 BMWs and Getting Snookered in Cannery Row: Highlights of Monterey

As I write this, I am sitting in the San Francisco Airport waiting to board my flight to Atlanta that will get me about four and a half hours closer to home.

I am at the gate a full two hours early. This is a situation of my own making. Because I insisted I fly Delta on a BMW event actually held in Monterey, I had to fly in and out of San Francisco rather than Monterey. Apparently Delta doesn't service Monterey.

Using the San Francisco airport required a two-hour slog to the hotel in Cannery Row on arrival and a trip of similar length on my departure. I guess we could have left the hotel 30 minutes or so later, but by then it would have thrust us into morning rush hour and probably added 30 minutes to an hour to the travel time; not to mention it probably would have also meant 30 minutes to clear airport security rather than the 10 minutes it took at 6:30 a.m.

Cooling my heels for an extra hour seems like a small price to pay.

We stayed at the Clement Monterey Hotel. It's in the heart of of the Cannery Row district. This is a shameless tourist trap comprised of T-shirt shops, restaurants, gift shops and whatever else some creative marketing type was able to devise to suck in the unsuspecting.

I fell prey myself. I was in my room at the hotel by 1:30. I had five hours to kill before we were scheduled to meet in the lobby to walk two blocks to dinner. On the drive from the airport, I spotted the Cannery Row Brewing Company.

Sipping on some micro-brew beers sounded like the ideal way to kill a couple of hours.

Those who know me, are well aware that I like breweries and brew pubs. In fact, I find it difficult to pass one by without at least sampling whatever Browns, Porters and Stouts it might concoct. If the shirts are compelling, I typically buy one of those as well.

After settling into my room, I made a beeline for the joint. It was just around the corner from the hotel.

I went inside, found an empty seat at the bar -- there were plenty of them -- and began looking around.

"Hey, hold the phone!" I thought. "Where's all the beer brewing apparatus: the tanks and so forth?" There weren't any. Why? Because despite what it calls itself, it's not a brewery; it's a damn tap room! For the uninitiated, a brewery brews its own beer. This joint had 30 or more beers on tap -- many of them produced by small breweries -- but it didn't make any of it.

Unbelievable: even the brewery is a tourist trap!

I wanted to channel Joe Wilson, point at the bartender and yell, "You Lie!"

I restrained myself and drowned my disappointment by drinking a couple of beers I'd never had before.

BMW flew us to California to drive the 2013 M5, M6 and Alpina B7. Zoom, Zoom.

It wasn't enough that we just drive these beasts, but BMW wanted us to push them to their limits -- not that I am in any way capable of actually finding their limits.

The venue was Laguna Seca. It was an opportunity for me to check off the Leguna Seca box on my bucket list. I've driven a passel of tracks over the years, but never this one.

Leguna Seca is no ordinary raceway. It's a tough course with an array of dips, curves, hairpins and esses. It's not for the feint of heart or overconfident amateurs.

I did a few laps in an M6. It's twin-turbo V8 is matched to an eight-speed, driver-shiftable transmission. Top speed is 155 mph. It rockets from a standstill to 60 mph in 4.1 seconds.

There is all manner of clever technology to help manage so much get-up-and-go. There are three settings for the steering, throttle response and suspension. They range from "Comfort" to "Sport Plus." Unlike some systems on other brand cars that claim to offer various settings, the differences among the settings on BMWs are striking.

I guided the M6 missile I was driving through three laps of hair-on-fire exhilaration. I wasn't done yet, however.

Fresh from his GT Class victory at the Road America Le Mans Series races in Wisconsin a few days before, Bill Auberlen was trackside minding his own business when I climbed out of the M6 and asked him if he was up to logging a few laps with me riding shotgun.

His reply, "I'm always ready. Let's go have some fun!"

I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that my five or so laps with him will probably be as fast as I will ever go in a car that big.

He tossed its 4,200 pounds around that track like it was a go cart. At one point I glanced at the speedometer and from my perspective from the passenger seat, it looked like we were going about 150 mph.

After the first three laps of turning my insides into jelly, he asked if I was getting sick yet. "Hell, no!" I shouted, "This is great!" Evidently he took this as a challenge and really put his foot into it.

There were a few other BMWs on the track that he deftly overcame until we ran up on some clown with a small video camera attached to the C-pillar of his M6. Despite being told in the drivers' meeting before hitting the track that we should maintain our lines and drive normally when another car approached from the rear, this jackass nearly came to a stop just as we entered a turn about half a car length off his bumper.

It was like trying not to hit a squirrel in the road: just when you think it's going to juke left it dashes right. Auberlen had a split second to calculate which way this goof was going to go and what he might do next. He decided to go under him as we entered the turn and it worked out OK. But he glanced at me and said, "That's why I never ride with one of you guys driving. Who stops in the middle of a race track?"

Who indeed? I thought.

I climbed out of the M6, babbled my thanks to Bill for a thrilling ride and then staggered off like a drunk on the final leg of a two-day bender. My eyes were watering, my legs rubbery and my heart was beating like a jackhammer. In other words, I had a blast.

With the track behind me, I began taking assorted BMWs on one of the hour-long road routes they had mapped out for us. By far the most fun I had was putting a 2013 M5 through its paces. What a rush!

The car I had was fitted with a six-speed manual transmission that was tasked to send the turbo-charged V8's 560 horsepower to the wheels. It has all the same performance technology as the M6 and weighs about the same, but really feels like a much smaller, lighter car.

I was reminded why the M5 is widely considered the best handling sedan on the highway.

Easily my biggest surprise, however, was the Alpina B7. Alpina works with BMW to develop higher-end-performance versions of its models. The B7 really acts like a much smaller car when driven aggressively. When you consider that the B7 tips the scales at nearly 4,700 pounds, yet can sprint to 60 mph from a stop in just over four seconds with a top speed of 194 mph, that's quite an achievement. Even more amazing is that it feels about half its size when being tossed through the turns.

So, here I am in the San Francisco airport, bleary eyed because my ride left the hotel at 5 a.m.

The price I'm willing to pay to have a little fun.

Monday, August 20, 2012

A Look at My Few Days in the Road Runner State

I've been visiting my sister in New Mexico for the past few days. It's been a laidback sort of affair. These visits typically are. They consist of lots of home cooking, napping, reading, laughing and catching up.

But they're not all home and hearth. We always manage to get the New Mexico wing of the family out for at least one big gathering during my visits. During this visit we've actually gotten together twice.

In what was an adult-only gathering, we trooped up to a casino north of Albuquerque to have a few pops in the Sadie's Mexican Restaurant that is part of the casino complex.

If you are a regular reader of this blog, you may already know that I am not a fan of casinos. I see them as smoke-filled crap holes designed to bilk folks out of their hard-earned cash. In producing Discover America, I spent a lot of time in casinos from the Pacific to the Atlantic, from the Gulf of Mexico to the 49th Parallel.

I'd almost be willing to swear that the same six-bus loads of people drive around from one to another for my visits. It's the same beat-up, worn-out looking crowd whether in Vegas, Biloxi, Atlantic City or Fort Yates, ND.

Several members of my family love to go to casinos, of which there are several within a 25-mile radius of Albuquerque. Some of them even win big from time to time. And I'm not talking about 80 bucks, but hundreds and hundreds. However, if they added everything up, I suspect -- of course, I don't know -- that the losses outstrip the winnings.

Having said that, to a person, they see a casino as entertainment like playing a round of golf -- what I also judge to be a colossal waste of money -- or going to the movies -- the last one I attended cost me $23 before all was said and done.

So when they walk into a casino with $20 or $30 and manage to squeeze two or three hours of entertainment out of that money, I guess it's not an unreasonable use of entertainment funds.

In any event, I'm not keen on casinos, but I do love Sadie's. It's my favorite Mexican restaurant, bar none. And I've been in Mexican restaurants all over the country.

This event was the first time I can remember that all the adults in this family have been out together without at least one kid along. It just rarely happens. Not that having a kid or two along slows this bunch down much. This is a group of very funny people who pretty much say what's on their mind regardless of who is around.

We went to that particular Sadie's because it has a terrace off the back of the restaurant that looks out at the mountains. That was our plan. However, we wound up staying in the bar area because it was happy hour and it applied only to the bar area. We should have asked exactly what happy hour consisted of. Not much really. Just some munchies.

We didn't realize there were no drink specials involved until we settled the bill. We also think our server padded the bill; but when you have eight people ordering things, there is no way to really keep track.

We were there when happy hour began at 4 p.m., when it ended at 7 p.m. and then when it started again at 9 p.m. In other words, we lapped ourselves.

Our second big family get together was at another Sadie's in Albuquerque's core. This was really the planned event that we do for each of my visits. It is my favorite Mexican restaurant after all.

This included all the kids, which is pretty amazing because they range in age from 3 to 20. To have high-school-age kids eager to accompany a bunch of adults to a family dinner is unique and gratifying. And, it's a testament to how close this family is. It makes me proud.

So, that's a wrap up of my New Mexico visit that will end tomorrow morning. We are already planning things for my Christmas visit that will include 75th and 50th birthday celebrations.  

Bring on December!

Friday, August 17, 2012

Global Entry: It's Not All It's Cracked Up to Be

I travel a fair amount -- not nearly as much as I used to, but still a fair amount by most people's standards. Because of this, I decided to pony up the $100 for the TSA's Global Entry.

Ostensibly this is a program through which American citizens are prescreened for speedier reentry into the country after foreign travel. It's advertised as providing participants an avenue that avoids the long lines at customs and at least some of the hassle.

I don't have that much over-sea's travel -- although I do have a little jaunt to Curacao coming up -- so the avoid-customs-hassle aspect of Global Entry only has limited appeal to me.

No, what I was primarily interested in is that Global Entry also qualifies participants to go through the Pre Check security lines at domestic airports. This is a limited program, but in airports that have it -- like Atlanta that I utilize a lot -- participants don't have to go through the full-Monty X-ray, remove our shoes, remove laptops and toilet articles from our carry-ons, and so forth.

I like that idea! I was especially excited about the prospect of wearing my cowboy boots when flying again. I stopped wearing them because they are too difficult to remove for screening.

So, I was happy to fork over the $100 application fee, and make the 5-hour round trip to the TSA center in Atlanta for a one-on-one interview.  The interview, by the way, required all of 15 minutes, and consisted of asking me a half-dozen questions and having my photo snapped for the ID card that arrived in the mail two weeks later.

I was pretty pleased with myself. I wasn't thrilled with the cash outlay -- I can party for a week in Greenville on a hundred bucks -- but the thought of whisking through security at the Atlanta airport had great appeal.

Imagine my disappointment when upon my second visit to Atlanta-airport security with my new status, I was directed to the regular Premium/First Class lane.

"But I'm a Pre Check flyer," I whined.

"It's random," was the curt response.

"Random?" I cried.

"Yep, it doesn't apply every time."

Gee, the TSA forgot to mention that when they were trying to get my $100.

I am now 2 for 3 in sailing through the Pre Check line in Atlanta.

I'm not as happy as I was. I mean, what's the point? Sure, on those days when I happen to be in the Pre Check bucket, I'll avoid a little hassle, but it's not something I can plan on. I can't get to the airport 15 minutes later, pack my toilet articles in my suitcase rather than an outside pocket for easier access, or, for the love of God, wear my cowboy boots.

I'm sure I will feel somewhat differently if Global Entry lives up to its advertising when I return from Curacao, but because I only go out of the country once a year or so, I wouldn't have bothered investing the $100 or the day I spent going to Atlanta for the interview.

What should I have expected? It is the federal government after all….

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The Most Painful Thing About My Recent Dentist Visit Didn't Happen in the Chair

I invested $1,600 and two hours in my dentist's chair a couple of mornings ago. I could have put both the time and cash to better use.

I've had a couple of dental issues hanging over my head for at least three years. The main one was a molar with a corner broken off around a 45-year-old filling. It wasn't causing a problem; in fact, when they x-rayed it a month ago, there was no decay around it at all. I might have been okay to let it go another three years, but didn't want to push my luck.

Better a crown now than a root canal and a crown later on.

I don't exaggerate when I say that an entire hour of my time in the chair was getting drilled and grinded -- my teeth, not me.

When we laid the ground work for this project on my exam visit a month ago, the plan was to do the preliminary crown work on this visit: take impressions, grind the tooth down to a post and insert a temp crown.

Apparently the tooth behind the one requiring the crown had a failing filling that was showing a crack or two and some decay. The plan was to replace that filling on the next visit when the permanent crown was to be installed.

I guess my dentist, Dr Demento, made a seat-of-his-pants decision yesterday when I was already in the chair to do both procedures at the same time.

I suspect he had a cancellation and found himself with some extra time on his hands.

Oh, did I mention that he didn't even hint at what he was doing to me.

The drilling and grinding went on and on and on. It wasn't painful, just stressful.

If you have a recliner at home, tilt back, hold you mouth open as wide as you can then using your hands force it open a bit farther, and stare into a bright light. Do it for an hour.

I was ready to confess to kidnapping the Lindbergh baby.

As painful as the procedure was, it was nothing compared to settling up at the finance desk.

I cried like a baby.

Hell, I didn't really want to remodel my kitchen anyway.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Even a Jaguar XK Convertible Couldn't Overcome the Negatives of a 2.5-Hour Delay

I had a Jaguar XK Convertible waiting for me when I arrived at the Atlanta airport from the Ram 1500 event in Nashville last week. It made me happy.

I wasn't prepared to drive a convertible home, which translates: I didn't have a cap with me. But skin cancer be damned, I was going to drop the top. I mean, if you are going to drive a $100,000 convertible -- the actual price with about $8,500 worth of options and delivery charge was $99,350 -- you want to enjoy the whole enchilada.

This is a primo showing-off car. You can't drive it 10 feet without attracting attention. It's 385-horsepower 5-liter V8 is an ass kicker of monumental proportions. It'll push the XK ragtop to 60 miles per hour from a standstill in just over five seconds.

Whether it's the XK's sultry exterior lines or the opulent interior with its yards of supple leather interrupted by real wood accents, the styling is a rare combination of heritage and timelessness.

Because I am a creature of habit, I hang out at a lot of the same places week after week. People know me and know what I do for a living. Wherever I go, someone is bound to ask, "What are driving?" Followed by, "How do you like it?"

If I'm driving a Ford Focus or a Kia Optima, I fully expect the "How do you like it" question.

But a Jaguar XK Convertible...

How do I like it? What answer are they expecting: "It sucks to be me?"

It's a $100,000 XK Convertible for the love of God!

My stock answer to that question this week has been, "What's not to like?" The "Dumbass" tacked on to the end is implied.

I took an uber-early flight out of Nashville that morning with the -- what now seems silly -- idea that I would get back to Greenville in time to get some work done.

I landed in Atlanta and was in the Jag on the road home by 10:30 a.m. My ETA into Greenville was 1 p.m.

Atlanta traffic seems to be in rush-hour mode about 18 hours a day. Unless I have a late-night arrival into the airport, which is south of downtown, I take the eastern half of the I-285 loop that hooks into I-85 northeast of the city.

Things were going beautifully until I hit a wall of stalled traffic about 3 miles from the Georgia-South Carolina border. With less than 50 miles to go to my driveway, I was stuck.

After not moving so much as an inch in 15 or 20 minutes, I pushed the button to put up the top and watched as several mechanisms and servos kicked into action completing the task in about 30 seconds.

Once protected from the sun, I was free to dig around in my suitcase for a bag of honey-roasted peanuts I had liberated from the Ram hospitality suite at the Nashville hotel.

I got out of the Jag and sat on the guardrail next to the highway munching on peanuts, sipping water and watching traffic simply sit in place.

After an hour and a half of this nonsense, the Georgia Highway Patrol finally released traffic, allowing those of us who were so inclined to get off I-85 at the next exit to take the detour they had established around the accident area.

Apparently a bus from what must be the unluckiest bus company in America caught fire as it was motoring east on I-85. This was another Megabus bus. Only a few days earlier another bus from the same company ran into a bridge, killing one passenger and injuring scores of others. "I believe I'll walk; thank-you very much."

I pulled off of I-85 along with hundreds of other drivers. Unfortunately, this mishap occurred at Lake Hartwell. The detour required looping around the lake before reacquiring I-85 near Anderson, SC.

It added about 30 miles to the trip. It was a miserable 30 miles and a total waste of the show-off car I was piloting.

I had to navigate through two or three little piss-ant towns with more traffic lights than residents. It was stop and go almost the entire way. It's what happens when you suddenly increase the flow of traffic by about 500%.

My drive from Atlanta airport to my door typically eats up two and a half hours. On this day, it took over five.

Thankfully I was on my way home from the airport and not on my way to the airport.

I'm still waiting for that day.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

My Trip to Nashville Was All About the Music and the 2013 Ram 1500 Truck

I spent the past two days in Nashville with Dodge -- ooops, I mean Ram -- getting the lowdown on the 2013 Ram 1500. I learned much about this vastly improved truck; unfortunately, I can't share any of it with you.

The Ram folks were very explicit about no one breaking the ride-and-drive embargo, which is something like August 18th. I didn't pay much attention to the embargo announcement; I'm not doing a breaking story on it.

I would, however, like to be able to tell you about the new stuff under its hood, but I can't. I'd also like to tell you all of the areas in which it will be best in class, but I can't do that either. I don't think I would even be allowed to tell you how many times the name "Ram" or the Ram logo appears in, on, under and around the truck, even if I knew the answer. The Ram boys didn't know either, but are supposed to be researching it for me. "A lot," one of them said in response to my question. Are those guys good or what?

I can't even show you a photo of the new truck -- despite the fact that only a committed Ram geek will notice much difference between the 2012 and 2013. In lieu of a photo of the 2013 Ram, here's a photo of an old Dodge truck. It looks nothing like the 2013 Ram. I think I'm allowed to tell you that.

I can tell you that the roads we drove outside of Nashville, were killer. They are the sort of roads designed to test the mettle of agile two-seat sports cars. I had a great time on the drive and that wouldn't have been the case had the truck not been up to the task.

Because I can't share details of the Ram 1500 or provide my driving impressions due to that pesky embargo, you will have to settle for some impressions of Nashville.

Ram put us up at The Hermitage Hotel on Sixth Avenue downtown. It's only about four blocks off of Broadway, Nashville's premier live music avenue.

The Hermitage has been around for over 100 years, but a new owner totally gutted and renovated it a few years ago. It's now a 5 Star hotel. Nice rooms, friendly and attentive employees and an ideal location.

Ram set up a hospitality suite for us where I was introduced to a beer I've never had before: Hap & Harry's Lynchburg Tennessee Lager. Either Hap or Harry -- can't remember which -- was a Daniels of some stripe. I couldn't determine if Jack Daniels has a direct affiliation with this beer, but it was pretty darn good.

After dinner on our first night, four of us moseyed down to Broadway for a little local flavor. We hit a couple of joints: Roberts Western World and Tootsie's Orchid Lounge.

We saw John England and the Western Swingers at Roberts Western World. Sort of Asleep at the Wheel meets Bob Wills. It was good stuff.

We saw two different bands on the downstairs stage at Tootsie's, but because Tootsie's has such a half-assed Web site, I can't tell you either of their names. What I can tell you is, they were both good. We only heard one song from the first group. After 20 minutes of tear down and setup, the second band tore the joint up. The lead singer performed on top of the bar -- strolling up and down it -- for the entire set we watched.

We all fell in love with the fiddle player -- a blonde hottie -- who was celebrating her 24th birthday that very day.

Three of us -- with me in the middle -- were sitting on stools on one side of a high-top; our fourth was sitting at a stool for the high-top next to us. As the clock struck 1 a.m., we were talking about leaving. Suddenly two rather fetching-looking women approached us. One of them walked by the guy on the end and up to me. Her friend stayed on the far side of my buddy.

"We just had to ask you guys what you do," she cooed.

We were the only guys in the joint wearing sport coats.

The words, "I'm an astronaut," had no sooner escaped my lips than all hell broke loose. Two guys at the bar right next to our table got into it. Well, actually one of them got into it and the other just got it.

Within 10 seconds or so, one of them had popped the other guy on the head five or six times with a beer bottle. The guy on the receiving end was staggering around in a daze with blood going everywhere. Eventually the bouncers sprang into action and hustled the hurt guy out the front door, and dragged the aggressor out the back.

The young lady who was no doubt dazzled by thoughts of my experience in space, basically wound up in my lap and the other scrunched up against me. This couldn't have turned out better for me had I paid that shit-kicker 20 bucks to dance on the other guy's head.

Sadly I couldn't take advantage of my unexpected good fortune because our handler hustled us out the door.

I glanced longingly back at the young lady who I am convinced wanted to hear all about my daring deeds as an intergalactic traveler.

Timing is everything.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Giovanni's in Travelers Rest: Not All That It Was Cracked Up to Be

I just realized I hadn't posted anything here in four days. Yikes!

I have been -- and still am -- covered up in work. It's a good problem to have; but not only does it eat into the time I might otherwise spend blogging, when I write for six or seven hours a day, I just don't feel like sitting down and writing more.

Besides, when I've got this much work, it doesn't leave time for anything of notable interest to happen.

I did go out to dinner with friends on Thursday. It was a spur of the moment event. I was a little tardy getting to their townhouse because, well, I was wrapping up an assignment and didn't want to quit until it was finished.

Arriving at their place, a bottle of red was already open and a full glass sat waiting for me. Don't you just love friends who anticipate your needs. Of course, in my case, that's not a big mystery. But I was burned out and a glass of vino was exactly the correct prescription.

We discussed our dining options and landed on a new Italian place in Travelers Rest called Giovanni's. Most of the Peddler Wednesday Night Irregulars have been there and spoken well of it. I thought it high time I put in an appearance.

Being a last-minute choice, we didn't have reservations, but we all enjoy eating at the bar whenever the opportunity presents itself.

We managed to time our arrival at the bar to coincide perfectly with some folks leaving their seats; we sat down.

The bartender -- Heather was her name -- was in front of us almost before we settled into our seats. With personality galore, she bantered a bit with us and took our order for a bottle of Cannonball Cab.

Looking at the menu, I'd have to say that the fare is more Mediterranean than Italian. There are some Italian-like pasta dishes, but strictly speaking, it isn't Italian.

We ordered some appetizers, along with our dinners. Dinner salads were included with two of our orders. Within five minutes our entrees appeared. I've had that happen in BBQ joints where everything is basically prepared ahead of time and filling an order is simply a matter of plating the food.

I've never had that happen in an "Italian" restaurant. It made me wonder if everything was premade and microwaved as the orders came in.

After the food runner returned to the kitchen we called Heather over and asked about our appetizers and salads. She seemed as confounded as we were.

She rushed into the kitchen to see what was happening and returned to tell us it was all on its way. With that, someone from the kitchen came out to clarify what kind of dressing I wanted on my salad.

All of that came out a couple of minutes later.

My chicken parm was pretty good. It was served with some sort of round pasta noodles covered in an Alfredo-like sauce. It was OK, but not Alfredo.

This place is new, but it's far from brand new. Snafus like the entrees coming out five minutes before the appetizers should be far in their rearview mirror.

We didn't raise a big stink about it; in fact, we were quite understanding. People who have been out with me when things go South, know I can raise a stink. I've seen me do it many times.

We did like Heather and none of us felt like giving her a rough time, but we were surprised that at no time did a manager come by to apologize, and there was not so much as a glimmer of some compensation like a free glass of wine or desert.

It's more than a 30-minute drive for me to get there; neither the food, the service nor even the Heather's personality was good enough to get me to go back any time soon.