We went “off the reservation” a few days back and ventured down to Big E McGee’s in Old Town Spring. The Boarding House Style Restaurant in Spring Texas is located in the historic part of town in an old home. While these types of restaurants are usually quaint and nostalgic, this one was neither. We had heard a some positive buzz about the place, but nothing concrete, and wanted to see for ourselves. The tag line of the place touts such features as “Family Style Dining, Southern Hospitality, Grandma’s Recipes and Farm Fresh Ingredients.” Well, maybe one out of four works for you, but it didn’t for us; my Grandmother wouldnothave felt challenged.
Yes, those are (3) Flies on our cornbread…. yuck!
True to http://bigemcgees.com/ their website (which, admittedly, we didn’t re-check before we went) the meals are served “family style,” but unless you understand this in advance, and we’re guessing most anyone that walks in off the street won’t, you could be in for just as much surprise as we were. When we arrived at 6:00-ish on a Thursday evening, we were the only patrons in the restaurant. We selected our table as the hostess suggested and within minutes of our taking a seat were surprised by her immediate return with Texas Caviar, Broccoli Slaw and Baked Potato Salad. That’s right, she returned with three different salads along with our drink order. All of the three salads were served in tiny little half-cup serving bowls with large serving spoons. Two things immediately struck us weird; first that all three salads were provided without consulting us, and that no one of them were in servings large enough to even be considered substantial. When we asked our waitress (who was also the hostess, it turned out) about this, she just shrugged and stated, “that’s how it works here. You get all of them.” She went on to explain that this is how it would be for the duration of the meal. We would be provided with the three salads, plus rolls and corn bread, four sides, three main dishes and dessert.
There was only the two of us, and we were not looking for an all you can eat dinner! What are earth were we going to do with all of that food? Why couldn’t we have not received the two salads we didn’t care for, and only get the one we wanted? Were we, the customers, not allowed to voice an opinion? And the same with the rest of the meal, couldn’t we just tell her what main dishes and sides we wanted? Why prepare all that extra food, some of which would almost certainly go to waste? Long after we had finished our two-bite salads we finally received our four sides, all lukewarm and all also doled out in those same tiny serving bowls; Green Beans, Sweet Potato Casserole, Pinto Beans and Southern Greens. Surprise! We only liked the Sweet Potato Casserole. So we sadly wasted three sides and asked for more of the Sweet Potato Casserole, as well as the Baked Potato Salad. We also asked for more bread, but only because the original basket of bread was cold, stale and had begun attracting flies.
Shortly after picking at our sides, the main dishes arrived. Sadly, the meal didn’t get any better and apparently, we were expected to continue using the same plates on which we had just sampled the salads and sides; we had to request clean plates. The Thursday selections were Southern Fried Chicken, Roasted Turkey Breasts and Fried Pork Tenderloin. It was at this point we began asking ourselves at who’s Grandmother’s table we could ever remember being so wasteful, or having not two but three main dishes. We agreed no Grandmother of ours would have ever been so wasteful of time or energy. And, once again, disappointment abounded as neither of us eat fried foods. The remaining main dish, Roasted Turkey Breasts, was the best of the three meats we were served but that’s not saying much. On the flip side, these main dish servings were actually pretty large; three chicken parts, several slices of turkey and four slices of pork tenderloin.
One of the things we couldn’t get over (besides the wait and the waste) was that even though we were the only patrons until late in our meal, and despite being able to see two cooks in the kitchen, getting the food out to our table was erratic and slow. What’s more, despite the slow service, the foods that should be served hot were lukewarm at best, and the cold foods had quite obviously been prepared hours, if not days beforehand and pre-portioned into those tiny bowls. The only food that arrived at our table that was actually hot was the Southern Fried Chicken (which was delayed), but this was overshadowed by the dirty oil flavor, dark color, and lack of any discernable seasoning. Doesn’t Southern Fried Chicken imply the use of at least some variation of “eleven herbs and spices”?
When it became pretty obvious we were done picking at our food, our waitress brought us our dessert; Peach Cobbler with obviously pre-scooped vanilla ice cream (and no, it wasn’t even Blue Bell). Along with our pre-portioned dessert, she delivered our check, or checks. There were two laminated cards indicating our meals were $15.00 each. I guess it’s a good thing we went with the iced tea that was included, not the soft drinks that were not as we frequently drink water – not to be cheap you understand, it’s just the more healthy option when compared to a drink that can also remove rust from your car’s bumper (not included).
After a long hour or so of repeated hopes being dashed, we proceeded to the front desk to pay. The man behind the till identified himself as being “in charge when he’s there” so we expressed our concerns; the lack of explanation for the dining experience, the food temperatures and so forth. We were also complimentary of the décor, as well as the Baked Potato Salad and the Sweet Potato Casserole (our mama’s taught us manners). Our concerns were answered with short explanations such as “the menu is right outside the door” (DOH!), a quick “sorry you didn’t like it, a lot of people do” and of course a “no, we don’t pre-portion servings.” Yeah, sure you don’t. We would have liked to be able to share his name but alas, he did not introduce himself or wear any kind of name tag. He was dismissive; about 6, 200 lbs, dark hair and early to mid twenties – and not someone that I would consider to be a good manager.
Well, maybe some people do enjoy the food at Big E McGee’s. We could see how large parties (in every sense of the word) would appreciate all those different options and the ability to have more of any of the dishes brought to the table. The only other patrons to arrive were obviously repeats and had invited some friends to join them. But we couldn’t help but wonder at what point the foods went from “Farm Fresh Ingredients” to ‘It WAS Fresh, When We Made It Two Days Ago.’ And how exactly is “the menu is right outside the door” translated to “Southern Hospitality”? It seemed more like it was your fault that you didn’t stop and read it on the way in. We’ve paid less for better “southern” food at chain restaurants such as Cracker Barrel and Waffle House. Also keep in mind that while “Family Style Dining” is merely an old fashioned term for the more modern ‘Buffet’, that doesn’t mean that you can make the food a day or two early AND pre portion it into those little bowls. You should at least try to make it appear as fresh as possible.
So the next time you decide to head on down the highway for a little something different, take our advice and stop in at Cheddar’s. We have it on good authority their steaks come from the same providers as restaurants such as Vic & Anthony’s and Brennan’s, but at a fraction of the cost. Plus their bar is awesome. Or, if you’d rather stick with the independents, go with Puffabelly’s or Wunsche Bro’s. Café. Judging from the crowds outside of all three of these that night (or any night), it’s fairly safe to assume we’re not the only ones that think of these as the best places for comfort food.
That’s what we get for thinking it was going to be a “big” deal. Turns out, the only thing big about it was the price.
Big E McGee's
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