Project Wonderful

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Review: The League Kitchen and Tavern

Opened in October of last year, owners Tony Ciola  and Creed Ford IV decided to change the format of Tony's Lakeway restaurant - formerly known as Ciola's Italian Restaurant - into something a bit more upper-class, designed for the affluent, (dare I say "trendy") inhabitants of the Lakeway area. And the place has the decor (and price tags) to match.

Its standard American food with an aire of Lakeway snootiness - ($13 burgers, $14 fish and chips, etc.) You can tell just walking through the doors that Tony and Creed have worked very hard to create a mood for the place. Apparently they want it to resemble the days of speakeasys and boardwalk-style eateries of the 1920's (only at about 40 times the price, of course). Im not sure they succeeded, but the fake pressed tin ceiling and retro looking drop lamps help with the fascade. I mean, the place is located in a strip mall, so you cant really expect miracles, here.

The restaurant is split in half with the restaurant on the right and the tavern on the left. Two big red neon signs direct you to your desired destination. Since this was a lunch date on a Monday, we went for the food.

One wall of the restaurant is covered in a giant old time photo of hundreds of people posing for a picture at the turn of the century. Its kinda neat - but when you are sitting at the booth all you see is an abstract blur of ghost-like faces silently staring at you.

The bathrooms are spartan, but nice - though when I was there they were out of towels, leaving me to wipe my wet hands on my pants. The men's room is covered with photos of Sophia Loren (the infamous shot of her staring at Jayne Mansfield's cleavage sits at eye level over the urinal). I fully approve. I'm told that the women's bathroom is filled with pictures of Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin.

My concern for the place began the minute we walked in the door. The host wasn't there when we walked in, presumably doing something else, though the place wasn't very crowded for a Monday at noon. We stood there for about 30 seconds with that confused "do we seat ourselves?" look on our faces when she finally appeared. She seemed annoyed that she had to greet us. Never smiled once. Her only words were "Two?" as she grabbed some menus and quickly walked us to our booth. Instantly I got the feeling like she was some spoiled high school graduate that didn't like her job and was bothered that we were interrupting her texting.

Our server was a portly, neck-bearded, yet amicable fellow. He was friendly, but didn't bother to inform us of the daily specials and wasn't too quick on the drink refills.

On Mondays they have a two for one burger special, so we thought we'd give it a try.  I had the "All American Burger" - a half pound patty with lettuce, tomato and a fried egg.  My girlfriend had the "Southern Burger" which is served with sugar cured bacon, cheddar cheese fried onion strings and "Brooklyn BBQ sauce" which I guess for most Texans means "spicy, but not jalapeno flavored." Both burgers came with a couple chunks of horseradish pickle - it was like a bread and butter pickle that was soaked in a horseradish brine. Interesting. The burgers also come with fries which were nothing to write home about. A bit soggy and limp. Not crisp and flavorful as one would expect from a restaurant catering to the Lakeway crowd. For $2 more you can get the "truffle fries," which are the same fries tossed with a blend of truffle salt and Parmesan cheese and served with a side of garlic aioli (pro tip: you know you're in a fancy restaurant when they call their flavored mayo "aioli.")

We asked for our burgers to be cooked medium rare, but while my girlfriend's was an acceptable level of doneness, mine was much more on the rare than the medium side. Now, dont get me wrong: I love rare meat, but when it comes to hamburger, I kinda want it cooked a little more. Medium rare should be cooked so its mostly medium with only a small portion in the center being pink. Mine was a thin layer of medium and raw in the center.

On the plus side, I have to say that the flavors of the burgers were very good. Juicy, messy, and lots of flavor. The way a good burger should be. Were it not for mine being just a bit too rare, I'd have given this place much higher marks.

On the way out, we thanked our server and walked towards the door. I made it a point to say thank you to our host - which garnered at least a response from her - she was head-down texting away on her iPhone, but at least she looked up. Still no smile, though.

Overall rating out of 10: I'd give The League Restaurant and Tavern a 6. My experience was less than ideal, but its still not outside the realm of possibility that I might return to try them a second time. Maybe I caught them on an off day. Mondays are typically very slow for most restaurants, so perhaps they had their "B" team working. Not sure.

If you are looking for a decent local neighborhood restaurant, I'd say that the League will reasonably fit the bill. If you are looking for more ambiance and more of that "Speakeasy" feel, I'd instead recommend driving a mile down the road to "The Syndicate" and get a much better experience.

The League Kitchen and Tavern
1310 Ranch Road 620, Lakeway

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