Tag Archives: Restaurant Reviews

Twelve Things About Sinclair’s

While it’s true in some senses that it’s easier to write what you know well, it’s also true that familiarity with a place makes it tough to offer a review that reads as credible to an outsider looking for a fairly objective snapshot of a place. As such, it’s hard to write about Sinclair’s, the cornerstone neighborhood restaurant of our part of town. We’ve been fairly regular there since moving to Montgomery a few years ago and that alone ought to tell you that it’s good enough to keep bringing us back.

And as with any place you’ve been countless times, we’ve seen some good, some bad, and pretty much ordered most of the things on the menu (well, most of the things that can be eaten by vegetarians who occasionally make exceptions for seafood). As such, there is no one prototypical meal for us at Sinclair’s. We’ll recount for you some facts you ought to know, and present them in list form for your convenience. And if you don’t want to read the list, the bottom line is this: It’s a great restaurant and you should eat there.

1. Outside seating: We have noted before that it’s a crying shame that our town lacks sufficient outdoor dining areas. It’s the South. We need chairs and patios in order to function as a decent society. There’s good enough weather here in this particular part of the world that, properly equipped with a few tables and umbrellas, we ought to be able to eat outdoors. Sinclair’s understands this. Best patio in town.
2. Full bar and strong drinks: These folks have a solid, if not flashy, bar and know how to mix drinks. You can sit inside or on the aforementioned patio, but we appreciate their ability to make drinks properly the first time and serve them in nice glasses. This all dovetails with the fact that there’s a movie theater next door, meaning you can have a great meal, have a few drinks, and walk over to the movie (or sit and discuss the movie after the fact).
3. No smoking: One of the downsides of many bars is the smoke haze. It’s nice to not leave Sinclair’s smelling like there’s some kind of film clinging to you, thinking that you need a bath.
4. Trivia: There really aren’t all that many places in town that do the trivia box competitive networked trivia game. Sinclair’s has it, along with the associated crew of eccentrics who take it super seriously. We love trivia. We are glad they pay for this service.
5. Good ambiance: It’s just a nice place to chill. It’s sort of formal, but you don’t feel awkward for sporting a t-shirt or shorts. It’s formal enough for legislators to make regular appearances, but informal enough that you can rip through a bunch of cranberry vodkas and not feel like you’re going to draw ugly looks. There usually aren’t a bunch of kids running around. The restrooms are snappy, the art is good, and it’s all around a nice place — the sort of place where you could bring a date or out-of-town friends, but also feel comfortable as a neighborhood regular just in for a meal or a night out of the house. They even do something in the men’s room certain to confuse future generations of “smart phone” users: They hang the sports page over the urinals. And the women’s restroom has a couch!
6. Fried foods: There’s trashy fried food in the world that leaves you feeling greasy and then there’s Sinclair’s fried brie wedges and simply otherworldly onion rings. Healthy? No. Fantastic? Absolutely. And atop the Sinclair’s pyramid of fried goodness must be the artichoke hearts, which we can’t do every time, but on those special occasions, are truly a delicacy of the highest order. The dipping sauce is creamy and the fried hearts are rich and, at the risk of overusing a foodie word, decadent.

Brie wedges

7. Brunch: Not to overplay the “Why doesn’t everyone have this?” angle, but it’s baffling that more places don’t have tasty brunch. Sinclair’s has it right, with multiple options for your eggs, amazing potato compliments, and quality mimosas served in good potency and quantity. Not something we can afford to do every weekend in this economy, but a fantastic benefit to be able to go there whenever we can make it work. Ask your server about the difference between Eggs Sardou and Eggs Soho. We always forget. Also, if you like crab, order the crabbie eggs. Nothing confusing there.
8. Smoked trout: The best thing on the appetizer list. There’s a photo below, but the texture of the fish is great and the combo of the capers and the cucumbers with the creamy sauce, well, it’s filling but not a tasty throwaway like so many other appetizers. It’s fresh-tasting and should be considered among the best appetizers in the city.

The trout

9. Spa salad: The go-to item when you’re not sure what else to get, this is truly an admirable baseline for the menu. It’s big, hearty, fresh and consists of greens, tomato, cucumber, mushrooms, red pepper, purple onion, artichoke hearts (not fried), and hearts of palm. At $8, it’s a bargain and a great meal.
10. Unsweet tea: Why doesn’t Sinclair’s have sweet tea? It might have something to do with the restaurant once being a Sinclair Oil gas station. They offer you sugar packets, as if you weren’t from the South and hadn’t looked with contempt at some other servers across the country when they tried to equate the granular mess made with packet and spoon to the ambrosia of actual Southern sweet tea. Why? Why? Damn you, Sinclair’s. I guess I’ll have a Coke instead.
11. Veggie burgers: We might go out on a limb and say that they’re the best in the city. The great thing is that they are willing to make them up like the many kinds of regular burgers they offer: with Swiss, peppers on it, mushrooms, etc. These people “get it.” A veggie burger is not meant to be some kind of health treat like a rice cake. And we can tell if you keep a box of Boca burgers in the freezer and thaw one out when the rare vegetarian stumbles along. Sinclair’s doesn’t do that. They create a big and tasty patty on good bread.
12. Good service: A recent trip had the server offering thoughtful suggestions on a couple of menu items, all of which turned out to be spot-on accurate. Drink glasses are rarely empty and most times you get the thing that you ordered. And if there is a mistake or a mix-up, they’re really cool about it. They’re friendly, laid back, and seem to genuinely want you to have a good meal. And that stands out and really makes you want to go back. Again, that’s the kind of thing that’s easy to say if you’re regulars and get good treatment from friends, but really, we’re not. Although we mentioned above that it’s hard to write a review of a place you know well, it’s also not like we are daily visitors. We just make frequent enough visits that we know we’re going to get good food in a good atmosphere at a good price and we want to make extra sure that we aren’t taking a neighborhood institution for granted.

Shirmp Po Boy: A little too much bread, excessive sour cream on the potato.

The fantastic Spa Salad

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Martin’s Restaurant

Sometimes on the way back from New Orleans, we stop at a little gas station just across the bridge to fill up for the trip to Montgomery and stock up on Hubig’s Pies. For years we have considered these delightful snacks to be the apex of the fried pie arts. And then we tried the fried pies at Martin’s Restaurant. We stand corrected. We’ll still stop and get Hubig’s whenever we can, and even seriously consider ordering them from the Internet, but they’re not even in the same category as Martin’s fried pies.

Getting your fried pie can require a bit of experimentation. They take some time to make – we were told to order them at least 15 minutes in advance – so it is best to request them when you order your meal. Sometimes they run out of the advertised flavors of the day. Other times they just don’t have them. Fried pies aren’t on the regular Martin’s dessert menu, so you have to ask. But when you sink into its flaky crust, lemon glaze, warm filling, it’ll all be worth it. Everything in your life up to that point will have been worth it.

Not that the other desserts are bad. On the contrary, they are both gigantic (prepare yourself for the slice of chocolate pie as large as your head) and delightful.

It’s just that in a place that’s famous for its fried chicken (and in case you didn’t know they were known for fried chicken, several dozen plaques advertising it adorn the wall above the cash register), you might expect that everything else on the menu will play second fiddle.

Not so at Martin’s. You start with the cornbread, which is dense and sweet with an intense butter flavor. The fried fish is fantastic, salty and light with just the right breading. And the vegetables are well worth a starring role in a plate of sides. They rotate from day to day — and of course some offerings are more appetizing than others (we are not fans of “congealed salad,” for example), but the tomato and okra is great, the fried okra is uniformly perfect, and they have macaroni and cheese that is actually made with cheese.

Recently we played host to a visiting musician friend from Athens. We wanted to show off the town a little bit, so we took him to the strip mall that is home to Martin’s. He pronounced the chicken “delicious” and swooned over the fried pie. We were so proud you would have thought we cooked the meal ourselves.

Kate and Stephen are Midtown residents with a cat, a garden, an old house and a sense of adventure. They write about life in Midtown here and about life in Montgomery at their blog Lost in Montgomery.

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Sal’s Pizzeria

By Kate and Stephen

Outside Sals' on a Friday night

Zelda Road is a weird place. Named for Montgomery’s own Zelda Fitzgerald (neé Sayre), it’s home to Midtown’s only Waffle House. Which restaurant is basically your only eating option in Midtown if you’re up late. It is near the should-be-prosaic intersection of Zelda Road and F. Scott Court, where there is a fast food chain restaurant selling tiny hamburgers — but no monument to the famous literary couple’s troubled romance.

In Zelda’s short stretch you can sample a full spectrum of Montgomery’s food offerings  – everything from local, seasonal gourmet meals (Michael’s Table) to the simple, vaguely gross pleasures of eating at (or food from) a Taco Bell. And now Zelda is home to a new sitdown place — Sal’s Pizzeria, a dimly-lit, semi-formal place.

We hit Sal’s on a Friday night and were happy there was only a short wait, which some members of our party spent playing a stand-up arcade-style driving game called Cruisin’. This was just as well, because one of our only quibbles with Sal’s is that there’s not a good place to wait for a table. And you might wait a good long while (as we did on our first attempt to eat lunch there), because a) there aren’t that many tables and b) the food is really good, so people are likely to take their time. As such, you’re likely to stand in a cramped little hallway area for a while, hoping that tables will turn over.

We ordered pizza, of course – since the restaurant’s name coyly suggests that pizza might be “Sal’s” specialty. We’re already on the record for loving Tomatino’s, and we’ll confess that SaZa has good pizza too. Adding Sal’s to the mix has got to put Montgomery over the edge for one of the great cities in the South. What other town our size has this many outstanding places to get a perfectly crisp-soft crust with locally-sourced toppings and just the right sauce-cheese balance? Our Sienna (eggplant, roasted bell pepper, broccolini, olives and mozzarella – $17 for a large) was great, even if we were left wanting more broccolini. Even with three of us eating, we were still left with ample leftovers.

Maybe that was because we filled up on the cheesebread (frankly, a small cheese and garlic pizza – $5.50) and Olio Misto (the best olive appetizer in town [with apologies to El Rey’s], it’s succulent and garlicky and a bargain at $4). Or the leftovers may have stemmed from the fact that we saved room at the end because we were eagerly anticipating our Strawberry Cake milkshake ($5.50). It’s thick and sweet enough to tide you over till Nancy Patterson’s restaurant (whose legendary cake is a key ingredient of the milkshake) re-opens. The milkshake quickly catapulted onto our list of Montgomery’s best desserts.

Kate and Stephen are Midtown residents with a dog, a cat, a garden, an old house and a sense of adventure. They write about life in Midtown here and about life in Montgomery at their blog Lost in Montgomery.

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Tomatino’s – Pizza

By Stephen and Kate

There are only so many Montgomery things that you can honestly say you’d put up against similar offerings from any other town in the nation. This is not a criticism of Montgomery. It’s a wonderful place to live. But there are only so many things that you can brag about as “world class,” as in “I’ll put our X up against anybody’s.”

Tomatino’s (1036 East Fairview Ave.) is one such thing. You can take your snobbiest friend from New York City or Chicago and tell them that we, here in lil’ ol’ Montgomery, have pizza just as good, if not better, than what they have. And then you force them to come to town and sample the goods. If they’re the honest sort, they’ll likely leave conceding that they were shocked that Montgomery has pizza this good.

We order Tomatino’s all the time, so it’s tough to review something that’s already an “old favorite.” Any one experience may or may not be representative of the larger bodies of experiences that have endeared it to us. And don’t think it’d have a chance of being a staple were it not tasty. We’re not the types to go to a place just because it’s in our neighborhood. If it weren’t consistently good, we wouldn’t go back. And we wouldn’t pay a bit more for a pizza were it not fully deserving of its price.

A recent lunch pizza was of the “build your own” variety. If you like to improv on your toppings, this is the place for you. We are, as you may know, vegetarians. We went with artichoke hearts, green peppers, garlic, and mushrooms. It was outstanding. The crust was crisp without being crunchy and crumbly, but soft enough to fold. The toppings are large, but not so big that they fall off and have to be eaten with a fork. We dashed on a bit of red pepper and asked ourselves how often we could afford to make this a lunch staple.

We love food, but are not such snobs that we’d refuse to eat a slice of Pizza Hut, Papa John’s, or Domino’s. But the point is, even factoring in our ample laziness, once you call a delivery place, ask about specials, pick something out, wait for it to arrive, and then factor in a tip, you’re left with the greasy cardboard pizza in the same amount of time and at the same cost as simply calling in an order to Tomatino’s and going to pick it up. And you’re not left feeling like you’ve been kicked in the colon afterwards.

And, as if you needed further assurance that we aren’t “foodies,” on that same scale of “college dorm room” evaluation, Tomatino’s slices hold up quite well for a second day, meaning that leftovers make for an exciting lunch the next day and can also be eaten cold.

Our usual order is either the ultimate vegetarian or the Mediterranean. The former is heaped with vegetables, whereas the latter focuses more on flavor combinations. Really, there’s something about the crust. It’s weird to say, but it tastes like it’s made with good water or something.

This place is the only local restaurant to be entered into our phones. Not only that, they have come through for us in the clutch on several occasions. Ever been getting back into town late at night and spent that last leg of the Interstate or the drive home from the airport wondering what in the hell you’re going to eat? Calling ahead to Tomatino’s for an awesome pizza really does make you feel like things are going to be OK. You’re home. The food is good.

Should you opt against ordering takeout, the décor is great. The walls are a warm orange. There is great art on the walls, always rotating and for sale. It’s laid back. The servers are hipsters, but they don’t bring any condescension to the table. There’s a good beer list, and we hear the calzones are great.

It’s a crucial part of our neighborhood. It’s such a luxury to be able to walk from our house to get world class pizza. If we’re so inclined, we can even cross the street to get world class cinema at the Capri. Your friends in other cities should be jealous.

Kate and Stephen are Midtown residents with a dog, a cat, a garden, an old house and a sense of adventure. They write about life in Midtown here and about life in Montgomery at their blog Lost in Montgomery.

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