On February 8th I arrived in Charleston, West Virginia, for a few days of work with a client and noticed a Quaker Steak & Lube about 100 feet from the hotel I’d checked into. I’d heard about the place when Adam Richman of the Travel Channel’s Man v. Food had taken the restaurant chain’s Triple Atomic Wings Challenge in the Pittsburg episode. I wasn’t up for any challenge even remotely close to that (and never will be). I just wanted some dinner, so I wandered over to the place and settled in.
The interior is more eclectic than I thought it would be. Full cars and motorcycles are suspended overhead … one motorcycle was positioned going from the lobby through a “broken” plate-glass window into the sports bar. You can eat at tables inside floor-mounted car jacks with a racing car over your head on the jack. And for some odd reason, with all three screens showing the live WVU basketball game going on down the road, the center screen had a 5-second delay behind the outer two even though all three were showing the same channel, ESPN-HD. Go figure …
I have to say, my server Michelle was probably on-par with some of the best servers I’ve met yet. In her mid 20s, biker-type, she fit right in with the sports bar atmosphere during the live game, and was attentive to everyone even though the place was packed. She’d probably do well in even better restaurants simply because she cares about customers. I want to make sure to point this out … you’ll understand why later.
After the 6.5 hour drive from Michigan, the Sirloin Steak Sandwich sounded great: “Choice sirloin steak strips sautéed with roasted peppers, Black & Tan caramelized onions, A-1 mushrooms and melted provolone on toasted Ciabatta with horseradish mayo aside.” I ordered this sandwich medium-rare with a side of onion rings and a Guinness.
The sandwich, as you can see above, was picture-perfect. Michelle brought it out that way even before I asked about taking a picture of it. The Ciabatta was toasty on the outside and soft on the inside, to the point where it came close to coming apart as I ate the sandwich. The combination of flavors was so broad and nicely balanced that I may have to try to duplicate it at home. The onion rings weren’t what I’d hoped and came across as a commercial item, looking almost like a product from McCain’s Foodservice. If that’s the case, it seems a shame given how nice the sandwich was. Fresh-made batter-dipped rings would have been more appropriate. Oh, and of course the Guinness was good, too.
Michelle asked about dessert and I told her the sandwich had filled me up. She reached into her pocket and, laying them on the table, whispered, “Here’s a couple Twizzlers, now don’t OD on them!” As I finished the Guinness I caught her doing the same with the Twizzlers with other customers. Just a class act, that one.
The exterior of Quaker Steak and Lube after I checked into the hotel next door and walked to the restaurant.
I want to take this opportunity to make a point:
If you go to a restaurant and get poor service from a particular server, make sure to try the place again, making sure to get another server, before giving up on it.
If I had gone to Quaker Steak & Lube on Monday first and gotten the service I did, I probably wouldn’t have gone back, and I would have never experienced the excellent service I’d gotten from Michelle the evening before. The gal the second visit was friendly and attentive up until I ordered the 8oz sirloin steak with fries and mac ‘n cheese. She then took my order to the kitchen, came back out …
… and sat down at a table at the window with other customers. For 10 minutes. I know because I timed her. Was she on break? I don’t think so as she still had her tray with her. Apparently the guy who brought my food was one of the kitchen staff as I only saw him that once. I ended up stopping another server to ask for A-1. Once my server got up from that chair I barely saw her, and she only asked “Everything alright?” while still walking. The place was almost empty so that’s not part of whatever was going on with her. I was looking forward to trying the Guinness ice cream dessert, but she never asked. She just planted the bill on my table with a “No rush” comment.
That’s why she only got a 40-cent tip. The previous evening, Michelle’s tip was $4 on a $16 tab. I only left the 40 cents that second visit because that was the change from what I left on the table as I walked out.
The 8 oz sirloin was just right, very tender, a good medium-rare. The fries were good as well. But the mac ‘n cheese? Again, I think it maybe a commercial product. The menu reads, “Cheesy mac ‘n cheese”, and the texture of the food itself combined with that blurb alluded to Kraft. Not only that, apparently the portion was kept under a warmer as the top layer was hard and somewhat dried. I didn’t eat it past the first bite.
If I lived near one of these restaurants I may not go to Quaker Steak & Lube much for the food, but maybe for the bar food and atmosphere. Coming in from out-of-town I’d probably go again and stick with the sirloin sandwich and fries on those rare visits.
And I’ll be avoiding a certain server. Maybe there’s a market for server training academies …