Aug 292011
 

Update: Now called iPho Tower!

I don’t normally review chain restaurants on this blog, but as Mr. Ferruzza has pointed out, Pho Hoa is run much more like an independent restaurant. It fits nicely into the spectrum of Vietnamese joints on the near northeast side, and is perhaps a little hipper and more boisterous.

Exterior

Interior

Interior

The decor is not necessarily modern but it doesn’t incorporate the kitschy, old lady aesthetic that many Asian restaurants do. As many have noted, Pho Hoa is difficult to locate from the street, but that doesn’t seem to have stopped many people from finding it. My visits have found it quite busy, patronized by youthful Vietnamese, curious suburban whiteys, students from the nearby medical college and even some older folks. The sea of tables in the main dining room creates quite the upbeat atmosphere, as do the host of young employees who seem to share all duties, from hosting and sandwich-making to food running and bussing. One fairly clueless server with a poor grasp of English took our orders, but we were equally attended by other workers who delivered our drinks, appetizers and food, and others still who delivered our check and we found them quick and friendly.

The house special banh mi is quite delicious, although a little too sweet for my taste. Having tasted a similar version from Kim Long’s I find I prefer that sandwich.

Banh Mi

The namesake Pho was good, and featured the best treatment of tendon that I have ever tasted. We were disappointed not to see the accompanying plate of bean spouts and herbs that always come with Pho, undoubtedly an oversight due to the busyness of the place and the odd division (or lack of division) of labor.

Pho

The food all came out at different times, and the Pho was last, making it less desirable to ask for the accompaniments since we were already full. Indeed my partner received her drink almost immediately while I waited quite a while for my avocado shake. I made it through an order of spring rolls (they call them summer rolls) before I received it. The shake was only slightly sweet, but silky, rich and delicious. The avocado flavor was not particularly strong but I really enjoyed the beverage and would order it again. In general, I was a little disappointed at not receiving our dishes in any order that made sense.

Avocado Shake

Summer Rolls

Nothing at Pho Hoa struck me as being any better looking or tasting than other Vietnamese spots in Columbus Park. The selection of banh mi is a selling point for sure, but better Pho can be had almost anywhere else in town, particularly Hien Vuong in the City Market, Vietnam Cafe and Sung Son in Westport. I feel likewise about the spring rolls and the banh mi. But Pho Hoa does offer all these items under one roof and in a perfectly acceptable style.

Pho Hoa Noodle Soup on Urbanspoon

Jun 292011
 

I made a weekend jaunt out to Philos Grill recently with high hopes. The admittedly scant information I dug up about it indicated that this place dished out tasty, Greek-inspired diner food from a counter. Located on the city’s east side on the once-great thoroughfare of Truman Road, I expected an old school joint and I got it.

Exterior

The place is a classic urban pit stop, featuring a huge menu and a confoundingly schizophrenic interior.

Interior

Interior

The walls are covered with a combination of handwritten signs, promotional materials straight from food vendors, cheap European tchotkes, and faux nostalgic elements including a huge mural featuring Marilyn Monroe, James Dean, Humphrey Bogart and a crazed Elvis in a sort of re-imagining of Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks.

Interior

Mural

Adjacent to the counter is a small area with condiments, a small tabletop ice machine and the cheapest plastic utensils known to humankind. There is no beverage fountain, just a cooler of Coca-Cola and a few random off-brand sodas. There are also several arcade games, at least one of which was out of order on my visit.

The gentleman at the counter, who I can only assume was the owner, was a surly sort, not one to make small talk or sell you on anything from the extensive menu. And boy what a menu. It offers everything you’d expect like gyros, Greek salads, burgers, and chicken wings but also strays into dubious territory with offerings like spaghetti, steak dinners and pulled pork. My take on Philos Grill is that the owner falls for every new product that his Sysco sales rep pitches to him. I saw slick posters for a ton of menu items that are likely purchased already made, frozen, bagged or cryo-vacced, and heated up to order. There is no way the Grumpy Greek is smoking meat or aging steaks. To me, this was a warning sign that I was going to get mass-produced, premade food.

So I ordered a gyro, seeing the skewered Kronos gyros meat cone behind the counter. Some salad, some hummus rounded out the meal. Once it arrived, delivered after a perplexing 15 or 20 minutes in flimsy styrofoam containers I was admittedly disappointed. I recognized not just the meat, but the pita as being a packaged, frozen product. I’ll bet the tzatziki sauce came from a jar too. The Greek salad was comprised of iceberg lettuce (perhaps prewashed, from a bag) topped with a mushy stuffed grape leaf, a couple of black olives and some onions and stuff. The gyros and the salads were both dusted with smoked paprika, a bitter and offputting element to say the least. The paprika, mixed with the brownish dressing created the appearance of eating a salad well-past its prime, despite the fact that the lettuce was sufficiently crunchy and fresh-tasting.

Greek salad

Gyros

The restaurant was also pretty dirty, not something I normally like to complain about. But the owner had at least two guys there on the payroll to buss tables and stock the condiment area. The floor and half the tables in the joint had food detritus on them. A couple of ancient televisions rounded out the ambiance, playing an infomercial through a staticky haze.

Philos Grill is old-school for sure, but it represents a class of restaurant that we would just as soon forget. There is ample opportunity for a reasonably priced counter service diner in this neighborhood, and Philos may in fact be doing very well, but they can do a lot better.

Philos Grill on Urbanspoon