Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Wheaton Redevelopment Update

Some very long hours at work have kept me from posting about this sooner, but input to the county council from residents regarding Wheaton redevelopment is still needed this week.  The council and the county executive office are in the process of hammering out a compromise for what the $55 million in Wheaton redevelopment can be spent oc.  For those of you in favor of the platform over the metro, you should email the council to tell them that they should include the bus bay platform in the list of projects that the $55m can be used to fund.  It's sounding like the negotiations are moving towards listing a number possible projects the $55m could be used for - i.e. the parks and planning office building, town square, etc.  At the last WRAC meeting, a DGS representative basically said that B.F. Saul will most likely walk away from their project if the platform funding doesn't happen.

Getting the platform added to that list for the $55m is an important first step in making the construction of the platform a reality.  Once (and IF) that happens, there will still be a struggle down the line to make sure the money actually goes to the platform and doesn't get diverted to one of the other potential projects that will be listed (everyone seems to acknowledge that the $55m won't be enough to do everything that will be listed).  So, please, email the council again to let them know you want the platform to be included in the funding that they're voting on April 10th.

According to a Patch article, all comments should be submitted by end of day this Wednesday.  Here's the link with contact info for council members.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Pollo Sabroso Review

On a recent Sunday, Mr. WC and I attempted to stop by Moby Dick for lunch but found that they are closed on Sundays (darn!).  We decided to venture across the street to Pollo Sabroso, which located on Grandview right along parking lot 13.  I've had Pollo Sabroso's food at the Taste of Wheaton before but this was our first time dining there.  We walked in, and there was a mix of patrons - guys sitting at the bar drinking beer and some families seated at the tables.  It wasn't the hole-in-the-wall that I was expecting - the inside was fairly bright and clean.

We were served by a waitress who was also doubling as the bartender, but she stopped by to give us menus shortly after we grabbed a table.  Since "pollo" is in the name of the place, I decided to order a 1/4 chicken with two sides for a whopping $4.99.  I selected fried yucca and plantains for my two sides, but they also had rice & beans, salad, and a few other options to choose from.  I ended up with a thigh, which is what I prefer anyways (they don't let you choose white or dark here).  The meat was juicy and tender, but the flavor was very different from other peruvian chicken places around here.  Actually, I'm thinking it might be more Salvadorean or something because the spices were totally different.  Instead of a strong garlicky-herby flavor, this chicken has a sweet pepper flavor to it that I'm pretty sure came from heavy use of paprika on the skin.  I liked it, but it was a very different flavor from El Pollo Rico, for example.  The fried yucca was pretty good - it could have been a little crispier but at least it wasn't overfried  to the point of being twig-like like some yucca that I've had.  The plantains were great - sweet and almost creamy when you bit into them.

Mr. WC attempted to order some of their fried chicken (he remembered liking it at Taste of Wheaton), but was informed that they weren't serving it that day.  Instead he ordered yucca con chicharron, yucca with fried pork.  Again, the yucca was pretty good and chunks of pork also had a good taste to them.  The pork was either slightly overcooked or maybe it was just a leaner cut of meat, because it was a little chewier and drier than versions of this dish that I've had at other places (Los Chorros review to arrive in the near future!).  It did come with a good cole slaw on top of it, which added a nice fresh flavor to an otherwise deep-fried dish.

Overall, we were happy with our food and even happier with our check.  Including a soda for each of us plus a 20%  tip, the total came out to $20.  Not bad.  My biggest issue was that it took a looooong time for our food to come out.  The restaurant didn't seem that busy and both of our meals basically just had to be thrown in a deep fryer (or hacked off of a pre-roasted chicken) but it took at least 20 minutes for our food to come out.  Still, it was a good value for the money and we were both pretty happy with what we orderd.
1/4 chicken in front, yucca con chicharron in the back

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Los Chorros Review

My long run of Asian food craving (which seems like it started nearly 3 years ago when we moved to Wheaton) is finally subsiding and now some of my attentio has turned to Mexican-Salvadorean options here.  That's not to say that I won't still be hitting up Ren's, Ruan, Nava, and my other favorites on a regular basis, but I'm starting to get more ethnic diveristy in my dining selections.  And isn't that what Wheaton's all about?

For a few weeks in a row, my craving for Hispanic food has taken us to Los Chorros (detailed menu on website!), located on Blueridge Avenue just off University.  I keep coming back because Los Chorros seems to have that magic trifecta of good food, friendly service, and a nice atmosphere.  The restaurant itself is painted in cheerful pastel colors and is very clean.  It was also larger than I was expecting; this is definitely the place if you have a big group and are worried about getting a table at some of the smaller places in Wheaton.  The various waiters we've had have spoken great English and even remembered us when we came in two weeks in a row.

We've tried a number of their meals and have been happy with just about everything.  Here's a quick rundown...first of all, I'm a fan of strawberry daiquiris, and I really like the version Los Chorros makes.  We've also  tried out a few different appetizers.  The cheese and pork pupusas we tried were both good, but maybe just a little drier and less gooey than some we've had elsewhere.  The yuca con chicharron featured crispy, fatty (in a good way) pieces of pork on top of perfectly fried yuca.  It's definitely the best version of this dish that I've had, but it was so big that it filled us up even before our entrees arrived.

We've tried a few different enchilada dishes (crab & shrimp and a combo with beef/chicken/cheese), and were happy with all of them.  Also, the refried beans that come with most of their dishes were pretty amazing.  I can't tell what they do differently with this side dish, but they have a ton of flavor.  Two meat combination platters, the especial intipuca and especial dona reina, both include a grilled piece of sausage that has lots of seasoning and is nicely charred on their grill.  I also tried the combinacion guanaca, which is a vegetarian combo dish with refried beans and rice, sliced avocado, fried egg, peppers and onions and sour cream.  The sour cream was different from the kind you would buy in the grocery store; I believe it's salvadorean crema, and it was more runny and mild tasting that what I'm used to.  It added a nice creaminess to everything in the dish, and the whole entree ended up being a pretty hearty vegetarian meal.  I also tried a taco combo that had chicken, steak, and beef tongue.  Yeah, that right, beef tongue.  It was actually really good with a steak-like consistency but more flavor.

We've always been too full to try any of their desserts, but their menu has some pretty interesting options if you can save room for them.  Overall, I highly recommend Los Chorros.  It feels a little "safer" than some of the more adventurous off-the-beaten-track food options in Wheaton, but I think it's a great option for consistently good food and friendly service.
Left side is especial dona reina (sausage and a steak topped with fried eggs), right side is the taco combo

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Limerick Review

A week before the Royal Mile's reopening, Mr. WC and I decided to pay a visit to Limerick, since we hadn't be there since our original visit on their second night in business.  I plan on returning to my usual habit of going to the RM whenever I'm in the mood for beer and pub food, but we took advantage of the down time before the Royal Mile's reopening to give Limerick a try.

The first thing I noticed was that I had trouble finding any beers (draft or bottles) that appealed to me.  I have a preference for porters and stouts and enjoy trying out beers from local breweries where possible.  Limerick's beer list is heavy on ales and lagers without much of anything in the way of dark beers other than Guinness (of course) and a Samuel Smith Oatmeal Stout, which I ended up ordering a bottle of.  Otherwise, it was mostly main stream breweries, some of which I consider too crappy to be worthy of a spot on the beer list of an Irish pub (Bud Light??  PBR??  Miller High Life??).  So right off the bat, I was a little disappointed in the beer list.

For food, they had a good selection of all the usual pub favorites, with some vegetarian options thrown in.  Sandwiches ranged from $7.50-$9.50 and entrees ranged in price from $13.50-$20.  I ordered one of their specials, a lamb burger for $13.  Mr. WC ordered the bangers and mash.  I enjoyed my burger, which came on a toasted bun and was served with a tropical chutney and fries.  The fries were better than the mushy ones we were served on our first visit there, so overall I give my meal a thumbs up.  Mr. WC was so-so with the bangers and mash that he ordered.  First of all, the portions seemed pretty skimpy for the $15.50 price tag.  The bangers were good, but didn't have a ton of flavor.  The mashed potatoes were really bland - we didn't pick up any taste of butter, salt, anything.  They were kind of just tasteless white fluff.  The dish also came with a few breaded fried mushrooms.

Where the Royal Mile's service tends to be, um, "leisurely", we experienced the exact opposite at Limerick.  We had two beers, salads, and two entrees, and were done with everything in about 45 minutes.  So, we spent less than an hour there and spent about $55 with tip.

The place was packed when we were there early on a Friday (around 6pm) and a fiddler was playing some songs, so it was a lively atmosphere.  They also had the lighting dimmed down a little bit from the first time we visited, so it was a little more dim and comfortable than I remembered it being.

As you can tell, my visit to Limerick hasn't made me a convert.  Honestly, even if the reincarnated Royal Mile doesn't live up to expectations, I probably still won't ever be a Limerick regular.  Still, if we were with a larger group of people that wanted to just hang out and have some beers, I'd probably head to Limerick for their roomier bar area (although it was packed to the gills while we were there).
Lamb burger in front, bangers and mash in back

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Royal Mile is Back!

I left work a little early yesterday to make sure I got a table last night at the Royal Mile's reopening.  Mr. WC and I got there around 5:45 and we still got one of the last empty tables.  Other than a new coat of paint and some nice big flat-screen TVs (great idea!), it still feels like the Royal Mile I know and love.  There were some new faces among the waitstaff but still quite a few familiar faces, so it does look like they rehired a number of former employees.  I was happy to see such a great turnout, and I hope it keeps up!
Now, on to the food...

Friday, March 16, 2012

Council Postpones Vote

It appears that the council has indeed decided to postpone its vote on the parking lot 13 schedule, originally scheduled to be voted on this Tuesday.  Here is the email response I received from George Levanthal's office:

Thank you for your messages. We just learned that the Wheaton revitalization discussion has been postponed and will not take place on Tuesday the 20th. Feel free to keep in touch with my office to find out when it will be rescheduled.

Best regards,

George Leventhal

Montgomery County Councilmember

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Reminder to contact county council

This is just a reminder to contact the county council members regarding their plans for parking lot 13.  I'm hearing that the most effective message to send right now is to simply tell them to postpone their vote on the Wheaton parking lot 13 proposal (the vote is currently scheduled in 5 short days on the 20th).  They should not vote on this issue until they have had a dialogue with the community, explained what they feel are the benefits of their plan, and hear input from local Wheaton residents on their vision for the downtown area.

I've been told that all emails should be sent by end of day tomorrow (Friday) to have a shot at getting the council to take this item off their agenda for Tuesday.

Here's the link with email contact information.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

County Council throws wrench into Wheaton redevelopement

In a decision that was expected by many to pit funding for a Bethesda elevator against funding for the Wheaton bus bay platform (an essential element to redevelopment plans by BF Saul), the county council on Monday instead decided to throw out months (maybe even years?) of planning by the county and extensive input from local residents and business owners by recommending a totally different vision of redevelopment for Wheaton.

Instead of providing the $42 million in funding to construct the platform over the metro bus bays, a key first step in BF Sauls redevelopment plans, they instead voted to pay $55 million to build an office building for the planning department and county services, a garage and a town square.  The office, below-grade garage, and town square would all be located on the parking lot 13 site.
The BF Saul project would have injected more evening foot traffic into the area through the opening of a hotel on top of the bus bay platform, mid-rise apartment building in parking lot 13 with ground floor retail and restaurants, and a new town square in parking lot 13.  It would have also substantially increased daytime use of the area through the construction of a large, two-tower office building on top of the bus bay platform.  In the process of many meetings and discussions about these projects, the planning department expressed interest in building a new headquarters in the bus bay area at the "tip" of the triangle where Viers Mill and Georgia split.

The county council's version that they sprung on everyone Monday would ditch the planned development over the bus bays completely and instead put their building on parking lot 13 and their own version of a town square in the parking 13.  No funding would be provided for the bus bay platform.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Royal Mile Reopening Date Confirmed

It's official...the Royal Mile will be reopening this Friday, March 16th!  An anonymous comment to my post the other say they've heard that at least half of the original staff will be back, which is great news.  I plan on being there (along with most of Wheaton probably) this Friday to celebrate the reopening of this neighborhood institution.  I'm hoping that their burger remains as tasty as ever and that they keep the great beer selection that they always had (something that Limerick was sorely lacking when I went there last weekend, but that's a future post).

I will, of course, be posting my experience at the reincarnated Royal Mile after their reopening.  After that, I hope to refocus my energy into blogging about something OTHER than the Royal Mile for a while.  Cheers!

Monday, March 5, 2012

Back from Vacation & RM Update!

After a wonderful 3-week trip to the other side of the world, I'm back in the swing of things here in Wheaton.  What better way to re-enter the blogosphere than with a Royal Mile update?  Thanks to a tip by an anonymous poster, intrepid man-on-the-street Mr. WC stopped by the restaurant location late this afternoon to investigate the report of a crew at work in the restaurant.

Mr. WC happened upon Michael Moore, who was taking a smoke break outside of Limerick.  The big news is that he is now the former owner of the Royal Mile.  Moore said that he found a buyer, and described them as someone with some experience in the restaurant industry.  From the sound of things, the new owner will be keeping the Royal Mile name and Mr. Moore even said that the owner is getting in touch with former staff to try and rehire as many of them as possible.  The new owner has a crew at work to make needed repairs to the restaurant and Moore said the owner hopes to reopen the restaurant by St. Patrick's Day.

The Royal Mile's website doesn't show any updates, but we'll keep an eye on the store front and report on any updates that might get posted on the windows.

If all of this is true, I think this is the best possible outcome of what sounded like a very difficult situation just before the restaurant closed.  Of course, only time will tell what the reincarnated Royal Mile will be like, but keeping the name and trying to rehire former staff is certainly a good start.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Be back in 3 weeks

I'm heading off on a 3 week vacation to the land of the Hobbits.  Be back at the end of February!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Island Hut, I hardly knew you...

Well, as Good Eatin in Wheaton hinted in a post last week, it appears that Gloria's Island Hut has indeed closed, but with hopes of reopening at some point in the future.  It's unfortunate timing after being mentioned (along with Ren's Ramen) as one of the Post's food critic Tom Sietsema's "Tom's Cheap Eats". 

Mr. WC has continued his intrepid reporting by getting in touch with Island Hut owner Gloria via email, and she provided this response:

"We apologize for the delay in notifying our customers. A message was supposed to be placed on our website. We had many issues with Greenhill Realty and had no choice but to close our doors.

We are considering reopening at a later date.

Thank you,

It's interesting that their landlord is Greenhill Realty, whose owner was recently featured in a Just Up the Pike post about their attempts to develop property in Wheaton.  Based on stories I've read/heard from some of Greenhill's former tenants, they are fairly unforgiving if a business falls on hard times and gets behind in payments.  This is certainly their right as a landlord, but I have to wonder about this strategy when many of their properties in Wheaton sit vacant.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Gazette Article about Royal Mile

I promise that I will be posting about something other than Royal Mile within a few days, but the Gazette website has just posted an article about the status of the pub.  Among the more interesting tidbits is that a co-owner of Flanigan's Harp & Fiddle in Bethesda was in discussions in November with Mike Moore about becoming a partner in the restaurant, but that the talks fell through because of the poor financial position of the Royal Mile.

Other than that, there are some nice tributes and memories from people who have visited the Royal Mile over the years.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

RM owner looking for partners?

Well, I was going to break my streak of Royal Mile postings by writing about a great dinner I had at Ren's Ramen on Friday night, but Good Eatin in Wheaton just posted a review of his recent visit there and kinda stole my thunder.  That will teach me to procrastinate on posting restaurant reviews!  With the cold weather we've been having, I think we're all in a "soupy" kind of a mood.

The Gazette reporter who covers Wheaton got in touch with me over the weekend about a story he's working on about the Royal Mile.  I'll post a link to that article once it's online.  The comments to Wheaton Patch's article about the Royal Mile have been dominated lately by someone named Charles Garris.  Garris makes several mentions in an "unofficial" capacity that the owner Mike Moore may be in the market for some financial partners.  He throws out the sum of $100k to buy in as a partner or $1.25 million to purchase outright.  He also mentions that the cost of purchasing the restaurant plus the land have ended up being more than the revenue the restaurant is bringing in, resulting in a negative cash flow.  I find it odd that a friend of the owner is posting this kind of information online, but hopefully he has Moore's blessing to be doing this.

So, if any of you have a spare $100k laying around, you could be the proud partial owner of a restaurant that is spending more money than it's making!  Seriously, though, I'm pulling for something to get worked out here to reopen the restaurant.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Update from Royal Mile Owner

My significant other (often referred to on my blog as Mr. WC) walked by the Royal Mile late this afternoon and happened to see some people inside the building, even though the lights were off.  Being the intrepid investigator that he is, he knocked on the door until someone came over.  It was the owner, Michael Moore, who appeared to be in the process of meeting with a contractor.

According to him, the Royal Mile WILL BE reopening, but that a number of serious issues with the building itself are requiring its temporary closure.  He mentioned electrical issues being one of the main problems.  Mr. Moore did not know when the needed repairs will be completed, so he didn't have an expected date for them to reopen.
Mr. WC mentioned being there on Sunday when all the employees seemed to think the restaurant was going out of business, but Mr. Moore didn't volunteer any additional information to explain this.
Michael Moore also addressed the issue of their website apparently going down.  He said that they changed their web address to ".net" rather than ".com".  He asked that we share the current website with everyone, and said that he would be posting updates there once he has a better idea of when the repairs will be completed.
While I'm encouraged to hear that he is proceeding with the plans of making repairs and reopening, I can't help but feel for the employees who are without work and pay.  While it sounds like the Royal Mile will be reopening, there's certainly no guarantee that the familiar faces we associate with it will be there when that happens.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Royal Mile Update

***Wednesday update:  As of last night, it looks like the sign about repairs has been removed and there was no sign of activity inside the restaurant.  One other thing...While I'm happy to provide a venue on this blog for people to post their thoughts and feelings about the Royal Mile, I don't want the comments to degrade into personal insults against the owner.  I've been on the verge of deleting a comment or two that I think cross the line, so let's tone down the personal insults a little bit.  Keep it classy, Wheaton!

***Tuesday update:  A short article on Patch notes that an email from the owner says that they are in a "restructuring phase".  Other than quoting another local resident who was also told of their closing on Sunday, there are no new updates.  An anonymous commenter to my earlier post alleges serious payroll/money problems at the restaurant and appears to place the blame squarely on the owner.  I'd be happy to talk with any employees who want to tell their side of things.  As other commenters have noted, there are probably a number of people willing and able to help keep the place open, but if the place has been consistently losing money for a long period of time, there may not be much any of us can do other than support the restaurant as patrons if it does reopen.

A sign posted in the window of Royal Mile says that is closed today and tomorrow for repairs.  Hopefully this means that the owner is trying to work out whatever issues are going on.  Still, things sounded pretty final last night when I was there, so we'll have to wait and see if they reopen on Wednesday.  Fingers crossed!

A Sad Loss for Wheaton's Dining Scene

For all of the love I give to the wide variety of restaurants here in Wheaton, the Royal Mile Pub has been the one I go to the most often.  Almost every weekend, Mr. WC and I have gone there to enjoy the food, the beer, and most importantly, the people and the atmosphere.  While it was never a good place to eat if you were in a hurry, the relaxed vibe and slower pace of the Royal Mile was often exactly what I needed on a Friday night after a hectic work week.  There was always a wide variety of people dining there - older couples who had been going there since it opened, families with kids, and friends out for beers.  I always felt like part of a community when I was there.  While I didn't go there quite often enough to be a "regular", the service was always friendly, with the waiters all becoming familiar faces to me after several years of heading there every weekend.

As I posted last night, it all appears to be coming to an end.  From what I was told by the waiters, either last night or some day early this week will most likely be the Royal Mile's last day in business.  While one waiter expressed hope that some other arrangement would come through to keep them open, it didn't sound good.  No one I spoke with had a great explanation behind the closing, but financial issues seem a likely cause.  Last night, the atmosphere was a mixture of celebration and sadness.  I saw one waitress shedding a few tears after getting hugged by a regular.  All the employees seemed to be in a state of shock that the Royal Mile was actually closing after all these years.  The gentleman who occassionally shows up there with bagpipes was outside playing for most of the evening, giving the pub a fitting Scottish farewell.

After 30 years of business in Wheaton, it's hard to believe the Royal Mile will be closing. 

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Stop by Royal Mile tonite...could be your last chance

I'm sitting at the Royal Mile posting from my iPhone to let you know that tonite may be your last to enjoy their scotch, beer, and burgers. I'm hearing from the waitstaff that this could be their last day in business. The menu has been whittled down to a hand-written list but they still have burgers, beer, scotch and half price wine tonite. I'll still be here a while drowning my sorrows so come on down...