We just returned from a wonderful trip to Willsboro, NY after a wonderfully relaxing family vacation on the shore of Lake Champlain.
After settling in and unpacking we headed out for something to eat. We stopped first at a small grocery store attached to a gas station (which seems to be the norm in this neck of the woods) and asked the employees for a good family place to eat. Two of them recommended Zeke’s pub and, not seeing a huge amount of options, we decided to give it a try.
From the start the signs were not good. A surly waitress waved a hand to the near empty restaurant and indicated we should take our pick.
(Warning sign #1) The fact the restaurant was empty at dinnertime on a Saturday should have been a sign to turn tail and run, but we toughed it out and sat down at the only table that could fit five.
The menu contained the usual pub fare and so the men selected the usual assortment of burgers, while my daughter and wife went for pizza and fish and chips respectively.
(Warning sign #2) We were a little surprised when the french fry options were presented as “hand cut or frozen”. I honestly thought I had not heard correctly because I have never been to a restaurant that offers you frozen french fries, even if that is what many of them actually do provide. We all opted for the hand cut. Perhaps that was a mistake as we will see later.
There followed a long delay in which we sat in direct line of the A/C and tried to stave off hypothermia. We made it…just.
The food finally arrived and we tucked with gusto. It had been a long day and we were famished. That enthusiasm soon faded when we discovered the food was tasteless. The menu said that Joanne was supposed to get two pieces of fish with her fish & chips, but she only got one. She was going to complain, until she tasted it and decided to just let it be. Then we found the first long black hair in Joanne’s fries…then Greg found a long BLONDE hair in his burger…and at that point we were pretty much done. We paid the bill and left vowing NEVER to return to Zeke’s again.
A couple of days later we stopped at Johnny’s Family Smokehouse just a little way down the road from Zeke’s. What a difference! The place was packed and we had to eat in the bar area. We were greeted warmly, the menu was interesting and the food was excellent. The pulled pork sandwiches were wonderful, the calzone tasty and we left feeling full and happy with a new discovery. This place definitely warranted a second visit before we headed home!
As always happens on vacations the last day arrived far too quickly and, before we knew it, we were heading out for the last meal of the trip. We asked the kids where they wanted to go and Johhny’s was a unanimous and resounding favorite. They received no argument from us and off we went.
(Warning sign #1) We pulled into the parking lot and, despite being Friday night, it was mostly empty. Odd but this meant that the large open air section near the carpark was available and we opted to sit outside as it was a beautiful night.
As we walked to the door one of the kids pointed at the new sign which read “Johnny’s and Zeke’s”! The “Zeke’s” part was more of a footnote at the bottom of the sign… they seemed to be trying to make that part look unnoticeable. We should have turned around right then but the sign nearby read “The best of both worlds” so we figured that they must surely have kept all the good stuff…right?
(Warning sign #2) The menus arrived…they were the menus from Zeke’s. They were even the same cheap white paper, rather than the high-quality Johnny’s menus. The glasses were the cheap plastic glasses from Zeke’s also. Both places had pulled pork so Joanne asked if this was the pulled pork we had the other night only to be told “No, this is a different recipe”. I eyed the car parked nearby and absentmindedly fingered the car keys.
(Warning sign #3) The first thing out of the waiter’s mouth was a long list of things they were out of, which covered about half of the menu.
(Warning sign #4) The french fry options…you guessed it…now it was hand cut or frozen! Not only that, but you now had to pay an extra two dollars to just get the french fries, unless you would prefer your burger with cheap Lay’s potato chips straight from the bag (a Zeke’s specialty) .
I chanted the optimistic mantra that surely they would keep the best while we waited for the food to arrive.
(Neon warning sign #5) My optimism lasted right up to the point where the only other table requested to speak with the manager and then spent the next 30 minutes blasting her and then what I presume to be the co-owner with phrases such as “Disgusting and unsanitary”. He reminded them that “shrimp scampi isn’t normally served as a soup” and that it was “not normal for the chef to decide what he would serve someone after realizing that they were out of what he had ordered.”
(Flashing neon warning sign #6) Our neighbor said he couldn’t understand it because he knew the chef…and that was when we heard that we heard that the old chef had quit because he didn’t like the new arrangement. Yes…it seems we were back to the “Chef” from Zeke’s!
We had plenty of time to listen to this tirade in detail because about 45 minutes had passed since we placed our order with still no sign of it appearing. The waiter did come and tell us they were backed up, which was hard to understand considering they place was nearly empty.
I was now actively campaigning for an immediate exit after leaving enough cash to cover the drinks. Joanne was much more hesitant as she had never left a place after ordering food. That continued right up to the point where we pointed out that one of the things our neighbor complained about (and the reason for the disgusting comment) was that he found hair in his food. The look on her face was priceless, followed by a comic swirling dust cloud as she headed for the car at top speed. I pushed some money under a glass and, without a second glance, peeled out of there in a tire smoking dash for safety. We went to another restaurant and, admittedly, the food there wasn’t that great either. But it was hairless, and that was good enough for us.
As we were driving home from that other restaurant, we passed by the sad building that was once home to a wonderful restaurant. The parking lot of this PUB was completely deserted… at 9:30 on a Friday night. That was a sure sign that something had gone horribly wrong.
We now have a new phrase in the household. To be “Zeke’d” is to take a great restaurant…and destroy it thoroughly. Also, whenever we pull into a restaurant, we double-check to make sure there’s no “and Zeke’s” on the sign.
Ahh, family vacations, they are all about making memories…and this one is going to stick with the family for a while!