Charlie's Hamburgers, Folsom, PA


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No-Bull Burger Purist, born and raised in NJ, the heart of the tri-state area and home to the oldest (and best) burger joints in the country. I don't need all the frilly toppings, happy servers or trendy decor, just a good burger...

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Houston's, Hackensack, NJ

1 Riverside Square Mall #181, 
Hackensack, NJ 07601


THAI STEAK & NOODLE SALAD marinated filet, avocado, mango, pancit noodles (also available with crispy chicken) 24
GULF COAST STYLE FISH SANDWICH crispy filet, onion, Thousand Island dressing, and a field greens salad (limited) 20

The service and quality are not what they used to be...

This is not a one-off rant, we've always enjoyed going to Houston's, and frequently, until last week (27-Jan-2017).

I made reservations for an 8 p.m. dinner four days in advance, and was told over the phone to allow for a 15-minute grace period for table prep. No problem, that gave my wife and I a chance to hit the bar for one of Houston's martinis with olives that are hand-stuffed with blue cheese. After announcing our presence, I made my way to the bar and ordered two martinis. The bartender told me it would be a few minutes because they hand-stuff the olives. Again, no problem. Here comes the weird stuff...

The bartender immediately turned and went to the other end of the bar and began making our martinis. He poured the contents of the shaker into our glasses and brought them over to me. I salivated at the sight of the ice chips floating around and on top of my vodka.

After 10 full minutes of waiting for olives, our martinis were now just about room temperature. After another 15 minutes, we were called to our table and we left with olive-less warm martinis.

The wait staff who transitioned us from bar to table were very nice as usual and carried our drinks to our table for us. Yet there was still no attempt to rectify our drink situation and after a long week of work we were so looking forward to our martinis. They eventually did come out just as we were ordering our food but our martini rush was totally gone. One more thing to note, on all our previous visits, Houston's always pampered us by stopping by our table with a frozen martini glass straight from the freezer and pouring the remaining contents of our drinks into it. An awesome refresher and one of the little details that gave Houston's service a 5-star rating. I normally wouldn't rant about a bar drink, but the height of the bar Houston's has set for its customers was nowhere near being reached, and that hurt.

The steak in my wife's Thai steak & noodle salad was so salty, it was inedible. But the real kicker was the spiciness of the dish. Mind you, my wife and I are third-generation Italians in this country and spicy food and hot peppers are a part of our culture, so for us to push a dish away because the level of spice makes the food painful rather than know it's overdone. And why not mention the spiciness on the menu? A subtle little pepper icon at the very least? Something? Nothing.
By the way, still no offer of compensation of any type for the forgotten olives and warm martinis (warm martini + no olives = $16 ea.).

Next up (Houston's, you should be ashamed of this one):
The fish sandwich.

I paid $20 for a fish sandwich no better than a fast food restaurant’s. Don't believe it? Check the photos. I asked our waitress who was about 18 years old, and who knew nothing of food beyond the microwavable type, if the fish were cod since the menu does not mention the species of fish and she said no, it is grouper. Awesome, I love grouper. But my excitement was short-lived.

The sandwich was served open-faced with a 4-inch tall pile of their homemade coleslaw on the bun top. I didn't understand why they presented the sandwich in this way until I scraped all of the coleslaw off the bun and reassembled the sandwich. I cut it in half to photo the autopsy shot and low and behold my filet was less than a 1/4 inch thick! It was much more reminiscent of that sewer fish tilapia, than grouper. The filet was so thin in fact, that it was difficult to see where the coleslaw ended and the fish began (see the photos). And check out the fish-to-bun ratio... it's off the charts in favor of the bun. Honestly, a fish sandwich from Wendy's is far superior to the crap Houston's is serving.
I find it hard to believe I'm writing a full-on rant about what has been our favorite restaurant up until last week. This was our go-to place to splurge on a good meal, good drinks and the best service around. No more. It's become just another restaurant in Jersey where wondering if the meal will be as good as the last is a roll of the dice, a flip of the coin. Just another place on my "not to be trusted,” "never going back" list. What a shame.

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