The selection of all-day breakfast restaurants in The Woodlands has been lacking for some time now. There are a number of restaurants which offer fantastic breakfasts, but those tend to have either limited hours in which breakfast is served, or they only serve breakfast on certain days, or they are only open until early afternoon. For those of us that might want breakfast for dinner, then (or lunch, for that matter) we've been limited to pretty much only national chain restaurants.
So when we heard that 59 Diner was coming to The Woodlands, we were pretty excited. Sure, we'd only been to the locations on the Tomball Parkway and Southwest Freeway in most recent history – and neither of those have ever been life-changing meals. Never the less, we are glad to have another dining option for breakfast and the fact that they offer 24 hour service is a welcome bonus. Circling back to 59 problems, that number is arbitrary and the location, well... if you have lived in The Woodlands for very long, you are likely aware of the history of this particular address. There are several other restaurants nearby which continue to enjoy a constant flow of consumers through their doors, so there are definitely hungry people in Shenandoah, Texas. We here at The Woodlands Eats aren't superstitious people by any stretch of the imagination but this building has not been home a successful restaurant buisness in quite some time.
For the most part, everything that we've heard so far about 59 Diner in Shenandoah has been less than stellar. And because of that, we thought we'd give them a few weeks to work out the kinks, so to speak. Every restaurant, whether it's a mom & pop upstart or the 250th location, has some initial hiccups. So we waited about a month from when we first heard they had opened their doors to venture in.
It was late Wednesday morning. We arrived at about 10:45, and we were quickly seated across from the soda counter in the nearly empty dining room. Joel, our server, was with us after just a minute or two, but not before we'd already noticed a horrible and overpowering odor all throughout the restaurant. From the moment we'd stepped in the door, actually, it smelled to us as though the sewer had backed up recently; foul and musty. Still, we opted to stick it out, so we both asked for coffee and water with lemons.
When Joel brought the beverages a couple of minutes later, he only provided two creamers each, and the waters were sans lemon. A forgivable offense; he seemed new to restaurant service and a bit nervous. Maybe it was because the odor was decreasing our appetite, or the mis-mash of sounds coming from four different televisions over the soda fountain mixed with the overhead speakers playing music was assaulting our ears, but it took us about 10 minutes to decide what to order.
And it wasn't just my meal that had some issues. I chose the Big Country Breakfast $11.99, served with hashbrowns, three eggs, and some very large pancakes. The eggs were as bright like a yellow sun, a tell-tale sign of less than natural eggs. The hash brown potatos seemed real enough and when mixed up with 'eggs' were palatable. I wasn't really in the mood for biscuits (an option in the Big Country Breakfast) or the pancakes but, I did sample them with my meal and found them to be a little on the bland side, and somewhat fluffy if not slightly under-cooked.
Getting to the meat of the matter, the Chicken Fried Steak was tender enough to cut with my butter knife which was convenient considering the plate was not served with a steak knife. The meat itself, was not a pre processed patty like you might get at Denny's but, was just a flavorless as what is served up at other breakfast places like IHOP. All of the flavor, if you can call it that, came from the deep fried oil that is apparently also used to cook the fried fish at 59 diner. That being said, I was not able to finish my fish-steak and eggs.
There were at least four different types of French Toast on the menu, and as I've mentioned before, French Toast is one of my tests of a breakfast restaurant. I chose the "Very Berry French Toast," which was described as, and pictured with, four slices of cinnamon swirl bread, topped with strawberries, blueberries, and bananas, with a dusting of powdered sugar. When Joel finally arrived with our meals about 15 minutes later, the French Toast only had a minimal amount of strawberries and bananas, lacking blueberries altogether – certainly nothing like the picture in the menu. When Joel came back a couple of minutes later to ask how everything looked, I pointed out the missing blueberries. He apologized, removed my plate and said he would have the kitchen add them.
Presumably, the plate he brought back to me was the same one, now with added blueberries. At this point, the French Toast wasn't very warm. Also (and not that I wanted it, per se) he still hadn't brought out any syrup. But our reviews aren't just about the service. The French Toast was just barely dipped in the egg/milk wash before being griddled; the upside being it wasn't a soggy puddle in the middle, the downside, though, being that it was dry and more "bread" than "toast." Also of note, while the strawberries seemed fresh enough, the banana slices were soft and browning already, and as for those blueberries? They were gummy, and had an odd flavor to them – almost as though they had fermented in their juices. Ultimately, I gave up on my meal about two and a half slices in, when I ran out of strawberries and bananas.
At the end of our meal, as we were waiting for the check, I was watching a server prepare several milkshakes behind the counter. As she was doing so, she dropped the first scoop of ice cream onto the counter, picked it up with her bare hands (which I hadn't seen her wash beforehand, but it doesn't mean she didn't) put it in the cup, then wiped her hands on her apron. She then went on to scoop up the remaining necessary ice cream into the three metal shake cups, but this time proceeded to touch every single scoop of ice cream so as to prevent any more from dropping on the counter. Then, before turning to put the shakes on the mixers, she grabbed a bar rag and wiped down the counter before wiping her hands with it. At this point Joel had returned with our check and I asked him to have the manager stop by. Fortunately, he arrived only moments later, just as that server at the counter was putting the shakes into their serving glasses. When we told him what I had seen, he quickly excused himself to go and stop those shakes from being served, which was great, but unfortunately he was then called over to the pass-through and didn't come back to finish our conversation about our meal before we needed to leave. We couldn't hear what he said, but we did note the replacement shakes were prepared by yet another server, this one wearing gloves. This made us feel a little better, until that server dropped one of the shake glasses on the floor; she did get a new glass from the freezer (good), but then proceeded to pick up the broken glass on the floor with her gloves still on (not so good), and finally, finished making the new shakes, adding the whipped cream and cherries on top, still wearing the same gloves (not good at all).
The location that 59 Diner has moved into has been occupied by a number of restaurants over the years. A German restaurant, "authentic" Mexican, a seafood restaurant owned by a locally-famous chef, and most recently Bennigan's, which folded in under a year. Oddly enough, the WiFi signal being broadcast still bears the name Bennigan's, though, like that restaurant, just couldn't seem to make a satisfactory connection. The feedback we've seen from the public on Facebook has many eerie similarities to what we experienced today – including a previous snippet where the manager's explanation that the restaurant wouldn't be "officially" open for another month or so. This location of the 59 diner is certainly not ready for prime time. We really are rooting for someone to succeed here, but at this point, maybe what needs to happen is the whole place be demolished and replaced with some other type of business altogether. Maybe they will be able to overcome the numerous issues at this location, the manager appears to be diligently working towards making improvements.
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