Sunday, April 13, 2014

JordanCon6


Not so far from home was this convention for fans of Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time (WoT) series, 14 books long (plus a prequel) that spanned publication dates over 23 years.  The author passed away in 2007, and the series was completed in three (gigantic but relatively brisk) books by Brandon Sanderson, the last of which was in 2013.

For those who read this blog who are more familiar with DragonCon, below is a picture of the onerous registration line.  Yeah, tough times.

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I enjoyed the WoT series, to a point.  Unlike many series that are too short, this particular series lost its stride early and wore on far too long.  Still, it was a rich book for those willing to either embrace its minutiae or weather its tedium for the grander narrative obviously sustaining its fan base.   On its own, I don’t know that a JordonCon would have attracted me.  Though I liked the main characters, I lost track of the details over the duration (there are said to be 2,782 characters in the series).

But...  Brandon Sanderson is an author I greatly enjoy, and he returned as a participant/Guest of Honor.    I’m interested.  Sealing the deal was another Author Guest of Honor, Patrick Rothfuss, who authored my favorite fantasy series (which remains incomplete at present). 

A brief recap of the Con:

Friday, I was able to get Sanderson’s autograph on his latest book, the second in his own epic series called The Stormlight Archive.  It was after work, and I headed home.

Saturday morning, we attended an author panel including Rothfuss, author Eugie Foster, and editor Harriet McDougal, also Robert Jordan’s widow.  This was an interesting panel about writing “more than just prose,” which covered naming choices for cities and characters, cuss words in fiction, lyrical voice in prose vs. music vs. lyrics inserted as songs in fiction, the sound of words, the art of the tease, and... other tidbits which speak to the intent of experienced writers.  It’s not for everyone, but I got a kick out of it.  For Rothfuss, particularly, it was interesting to hear in very thoughtful terms his deliberate and exhaustively considered choice of words.  This tendency is likely to “blame” for the duration between his books, but the quality of his writing bears patience.

The next panel featured Brandon Sanderson explaining his views on the use of magic in fantasy, known as, surprise, Sanderson’s Laws of Magic, of which there are three.  No notes were used, just a two hour lecture delivered in an hour and fifteen minutes.

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His final point, the Zero Law, was “Err on the Side of Awesome.”  It was a greater point to consider what satisfies the author, and then change the story/magic/universe to get there.  Kind of.  An example was the Knights Radiant, who were the result of a geeky desire to include heroes with powered armored and swords and working backwards to figure out a way to make that happen.

Like Rothfuss, it was interesting.  Unlike Rothfuss, it was the equivalent of drinking from a fire hydrant.  The pace of their presentations mirrors the pace of their written output, and their styles obviously work for each of them. 

This certainly wasn’t a large convention, but I have to note that providing a hospitality suite was unexpected and remarkable.  Hot dogs, chips, salad, canned sodas and bottled water, cookies, and places to sit... Free.  I don’t know what resources JordanCon has at their disposal, but I can’t help but wonder how they managed this, not to mention the permission of the host hotel given a loss of related revenue.

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We  chatted with Artist Guest of Honor Larry Elmore in the artists’ area, where he explained a collector’s ambition, and rather fanatical focus, to create a museum for the genre fantasy art genre.   My wife then ventured off for a couple of panels featuring Elmore, including a sketching session followed by a “KaffeeKlatsch,” where 10 fans were able to chat about whatever around a table.

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Meanwhile, I was interesting in a demo of X-Wing, a table top game, in a room dedicated to gamers.  However, as one person was putting the contents of the game into a box minutes before the demo was to begin, I interpreted this as a non-event.

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What to do...  One, a trip upstairs for a free bottle of water and... maybe I could take pictures of people in costume in the meanwhile.  JordanCon certainly has people who “dress up,” but its scale is dwarfed in comparison to DragonCon, and most attendees were actually in the panels, which is a good thing.  So, there were few people wandering around for photo ops.   Still, here’s two, both of characters in the WoT universe.

Ashaman:

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Aeil Maiden of the Spear:

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The above is Paige Gardner, of costumeartist.com, who was well known to attendees and also works with the DragonCon costuming program track.

Again, one of the main reasons for attending was to meet Rothfuss, to whatever extent such events allow, and get some books autographed.  The queue line was well managed, and Rothfuss was as personable and gracious as one might hope.

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Signings... and then the fun breaks out:

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It’s a three day convention, and somewhat to the organizer’s surprise and delight, attendance increased to over 600, which was uncertain considering last year’s Con celebrated the finale of the series.

We’ll see how long JordanCon can hold the attention of its fans.  In any case, the intimate size of the event was refreshing, and there was plenty to entertain those who have invested themselves so heavily into the WoT universe.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Wrecking Bar Pub


Prior to a recent concert, I returned to Little Five Points’ Wrecking Bar Brewpub, for my third visit.  Looks like a pub, right?

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Actually, the main floor is an events facility. 

But, tucked away underneath, accessible from a side entrance...

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If someone were to think that brewpub is a redundant term, they brew their own beer and have the usual pub fare, including other drinks and food.  Out of customer view is the brewing area:

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And there’s your exterior tour.  But inside is where the magic is at.  Wrecking Bar makes the most out of its original stone pillars and wood, making a masculine feel without feeling oppressive.   Tables are placed close to the windows, while others surround the centrally located bar.

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Their menu changes.  Below are their beer offerings from August, 2013.

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The Jemmy Stout and Breakfast Stout are the only holdovers 8 months later.  But that’s okay because they’ve added more, of course.  Sampled on this visit was the excellent Victor IPA (described as “a complex IPA with mostly English and German base and caramelized malts and loads of American hops; providing flavors of tangerine, mango and a hint of lemon citrus.  ABV 6.7%”) and the HopfenRoggenLager (“a happy rye lager.  We created a recipe of all German malts and a new German Polaris, Smaragd, and Mandarina Bavarian hops”).  I’m sure that means more to people who are further in the know.  There are others, of course.  The point is that the beer is actually quite good, in a very engaging environment along with...

... yummy burgers.  This was from August, a fairly straightforward interpretation:

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And this one just a week ago:

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Their house Burger varies monthly.  This one with “local beef, pickled spring veggies, fresh jalapenos, cilantro & Chinese mustard sauce.”  In other words, a spicy offering that hit my palate just right.  Just delicious.

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The menu otherwise includes gyros, BBQ pork sandwich, pastrami, and more fully featured entrees such as trout.

All that said, particularly enjoyable was the “In Fashion” (“not your grandfather’s old fashioned, Fur Roses Bourbon, orange & cherry on the rocks with our twist”).  The Luxardo cherries were particularly good, adding distinction without tampering with the whiskey.

If you’re in Little Five, or near it, or want to stretch your legs from the suburb, Wrecking Bar is a worthwhile trip... better with company, of course.

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5 of 5 STARS

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Television – Live at Variety Playhouse


My concert buddy mentioned Television as one of his favorites.  At face value, I, and most people, would agree.  But he was talking about a band named Television who played in the 70’s and had some influence on other bands, particularly in the use of rhythm guitar as a lead element, referred to as an “interlocking” style. 

The band has had an off and on history, and is apparently now “on” as a concert was scheduled at my favorite Atlanta venue.  Was I interested?

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Well... it’s a weeknight.  The price was agreeable, though.  But it’s a weeknight!  Oh, and another friend was coming?  Also, we’d be going to the Wrecking Bar Brewpub (subject of another blog shortly) prior?   Arm only mildly twisted, sure.

I listened to the band’s albums on Spotify.  There’s only three of them, from 1977, 1978, and 1992.  There was certainly enough to like – fairly straightforward rock presentation, none of the songs were bad, and some of them had pretty good hooks.

And... I’ll put you on hold for a minute.

Always check the fine print.

Shannon Wright, 4 out 4 concert goers agreed, was the worst opening act... ever.  Sure, she can play different instruments.  But her talent was as visible as her face, which was constantly hidden by locks that seemed a tribute to Jimmy Page, further obscuring her face as she crept around the stage bent at a 90o angle.  I get that she plays to a perceived deep, counterculture vibe.  I don’t have to like music to appreciate it.  But there was nothing to appreciate.

She finally slunk off the stage, and there were maybe a couple people of applauding, which is appropriate as she’s apparently now a hometown girl.

I don’t go out of my way to bash opening acts, folks.  I look forward to them.  Everyone starts somewhere, and she did something right to get this far.

So, shortly after, Television took the stage.

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I would recognize only a couple of their songs through the evening, but my ear caught on pretty quickly to guitarist Jimmy Rip.  As it turns out, he’s played with Jagger, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Debbie Harris, so he’s been around.  He’s also really, really good.  It’s been a while since I’ve seen someone play a Telecaster live, at least for more than a song.

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The concert ended seeming somewhat brief.  It was a work night, so I was okay with that.  Later investigation revealeded that the set was two songs shorter than their stop in Nashville a couple of nights earlier, namely “Glory” and “I’m Gonna Find You.”

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On the other hand, maybe they hadn’t turned into a jam band at the previous show.  They made lots of space for the guitar interplay between leader Tom Verlaine and Rif, and, from the vantage of someone who wasn’t yet even a casual fan, played an excellent show, far better than just playing their old songs over again.  It’s great to see and hear older bands play who still have a point to make.

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It goes to show that everyone should have a concert buddy (or at least a music buddy) to expose you to new artists, or, in this case, a Television show you would have otherwise missed.

Setlist:

1880 or So
Venus
Elevation
Prove It
Little Johnny Jewel
See No Evil
Torn Curtain
Persia
Marquee Moon

Encore:

That’s All I Know (Right Now)
Psychotic Reaction (Count Five cover)

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Steve Hackett – Live at Symphony Hall (Atlanta)


My concert buddy and I were discussing within the past 6 months which artists remained on the list which we would like to see in concert.   Shortly after, Presto!   Steve Hackett announced not only a North American tour, but a stop in Atlanta.

Hackett was the guitarist for Genesis from 1971 to 1977, the era that I would hope all progressive rock fans would agree as thuntitled-56-4eir best years, before the band’s sound began to lean towards contemporary influences under Phil Collins’ leadership. 

As Hackett’s discography is much longer as a solo artist since he left the band, it was a further surprise that Hackett would play only Genesis songs.  Maybe that’s what it would take to fill seats in the U.S.; I’m not sure when the last time he toured here.

So, we booked early, 2nd row on a balcony.  Good stuff.  Sadly, I guess there’s not as many classic Genesis fans in the Atlanta area as I might have surmised, or the advertising for the show was particularly ineffective.  In any case, we were directed to better seats on the lower balcony, in the center, which was a fine deal for us.  I’d guess there were about 1,000 present in a venue that seats 1,762. 

This is where I would say that the seats were very comfortable, which they were, and that the sound was excellent, which it wasn’t quite, and overall that the venue was awesome (the staff were excellent).  However, on that last point, the ventilation system wasn’t quite adequate to overcome the wafting body odor of the fat bastard two seats to my side.   It wasn’t the untitled-56-2venue’s fault, I suppose. 

The concert began with rousing applause... and a false start due to the lack of a bass feed.  This was handled fairly graciously, at least in the apology for “swearing so close to Sunday.”  After that, it was off to the races.

The band’s stage set was basic, of the variety that can be affordably hauled around on a foreign continent.  The stage lighting, though was good and literally added color throughout the show.  This may seem trivial or expected, but, like his previous band, the performance of Genesis music tends to be a static thing.  There’s little stage movement.

Also, when people are paying to see and hear Steve Hackett, there’s an awkwardness about the required vocalist.  I can’t fault Hackett for being front and center.  As he would demonstrate throughout the evening, he’s one of the premier guitarists in shaping sounds and controlling tone (as opposed to being as fleet fingered as the prodigies abounding today).  What he does suits the music perfectly, which should be every musician’s intention.

That said, it falls to Nad Sylvan for the unenviable task of singing lead parts formerly performed by Peter Gabriel and Phil Collins.  Unenviable in that many of the lyrics, though obviously firmly bound with cherished songs, are laughable, silly, precocious and/or simply dated. 

So, with the weight of that chore, singing from mid-stage rather than in the front limits his ability to engage the audience.  By the time the closer “Supper’s Ready” came around, he chose his “acting” moments well and finally had the audience drawn in.   Otherwise, his vocals were appreciated, but it’s awkward for the audience to look beyond the musicians to find the singer.  That said, Hackett avoids the potentially distracting parade of costumes that Gabriel wore back in the day, which is best left to the many Genesis cover bands

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Sylvan’s voice was more than suitable in mimicking both Gabriel and Collins in that he is apparently naturally a blend of them both.  In fact, he came to some recognition for just that in a Genesis inspired release called Unifaun in 2008.   That said, the vocals weren’t as clear as they could be, which was surprising considering the venue.  While it could have been better, with some consideration of the state of sound systems and venue design back in Genesis’ heyday, it’s likely that Hackett era Genesis probably never sounded so good.

Regardless of the lyrics, the “voice” fulfills an instrumental role, and it’s always been Genesis’ music that has drawn me in.  Hackett’s band had this in their pocket. 

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To give Hackett credit, he didn’t simply choose songs that highlight his playing, but rather traditional favorites that were played in concert.  That said, the songs I enjoyed the most were the ones where he has the space to be heard, namely “Squonk,” a biting “Fly on a Windshield,” and an absolutely gorgeous “Firth of Fifth.”  Also, “The Knife,” a rocker that the band recorded the year prior to his arrival, was a nice surprise.

Of note, the music wasn’t simply re-presented.  The tour is advertised as “Genesis Revisited,” and the jazzy treatment of “I Know What I Like” was exceptional.  In fact, Rob Townsend, who primarily played sax and flute, added a very fresh dimension to the music (notably replacing a number of keyboard leads with his sax) and is obviously a comfortable spar for Hackett on stage. 

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I used to wonder looking at Genesis’ live album “Seconds Out” why they had two drummers playing at once.  To a point this was because Phil Collins sang and at times played drums, but during the concert, I kind of “got it.”  A second drum set would have rounded out the bottom end among a lot of other instruments being heard, which is a separate thing than just adding “punch.”

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A remaining observation is that Hackett didn’t have a rack of guitars.  Other than his acoustic guitar, he played his Les Paul throughout the show.  To supplement this, he has a massive pedal array, and the view from the balcony was perfect to watch him manage his sound in each song.

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Lastly, a quote (as I remember it) on his experience touring with a Mellotron: “When she sings, she’s a beautiful thing.  But you tend to start in one key and end in another.”

In any case, this was a great concert for those who love Genesis and progressive rock, and seeing Steve Hackett is not an opportunity that often comes around.

4 of 5 STARS

 

 

Set List:

Dance on a Volcano
Dancing with the Moonlit Knight
Squonk
Fly on a Windshield
Broadway Melody of 1974/The Lamia
...In That Quiet Earth
Afterglow
The Musical Box
I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe)
Horizons (acoustic)
Firth of Fifth
Lilywhite Lilith
The Knife
The Fountain of Salmacis
Supper’s Ready

Encore:

Watcher of the Skies
Los Endos Medley (incl. solo song “Slogans”)

Monday, March 31, 2014

Noah (2014)


I went to see Noah with an open mind.  Or, I didn’t go with a closed mind.  More specifically, I didn’t go with any expectation of a tale consistent with Jewish/Christian writ.  Oh, and Warning: Plot spoilers.

That’s a good thing, because, like seemingly so many other Christians, I could be shouting to the heavens about the biblical abomination that noah-movie-poster1Noah’s story, as told here, is.  If you want to enjoy the movie, simply don’t approach it biblically.

There’s some good reasons.

Russell Crowe doesn’t appear anywhere close to being 950 years old.  The movie has dialogue; Noah doesn’t say a word in the Bible/Pentateuch.  The movie clocks in at over 2 hours.  It takes two minutes to read the biblical account.  “The Watchers,” fallen angels that have become the stone versions of The Lord of the Ring’s Ents, are inexplicable, other than a mention of “there were giants in the earth in those days.” (Gen 6:4).  And, so it goes.

Lighten up folks.  Noah is only a slight step above Avatar for its reach in moralistic perspective.  If you want your theology served straight, then don’t entrust it to a secular industry desiring to make a buck.  Or to make other points.

Here, we find that Noah, bless him and his generations that follow (like you and me), is a vegetarian who espouses the enviro-friendly view that we should take only what we need for each day.  Sounds noble and good, yes?  

We find that God The Creator is the one who set the heavens and earth in motion to position The Garden in all of its divinely ordained splendor and... who likely regretted creating Man.  That would be the Cain type man who razed the land in an eco-travesty one might not think possible for people essentially of the Middle Ages industrial skills.  But apparently it is so.   There’s barren land in abundance.

I struggled with King Tubal-Cain.  Not so much from the character he played, but because of the quality of the acting.  I didn’t know Mickey Rourke could act so well!  Only, it was Ray Winstone in the part.  Oops.

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Honest mistake.  Val Kilmer maybe?

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Well, it’s not that any actor could have played the part.  It’s more that any man has a part of Tubal-Cain in him.

So, a few observations.

1)  Many will climb to their highest pedestals and point at Noah and decry how people of faith are simple minded, blindly led and are dangerous to others.   They’re not tolerant and get a bit fussy when told they’re intolerant.  You know the types.  They clearly see that Noah’s conviction and obedience are evil, despite whatever evidence there may be that he’s established an upright life for himself and his family.   They will also blithely ignore that the more free-willed population are raping and murdering (people, that is.  Yeah, yeah, the environment, too.)  Simply stated, some will see this movie as an indictment on people of faith, regardless of the result.

2)  There will be some measure of Emma Watson/Harry Potter FanGeeks who will be delighted to find that she is the mother of mankind, in the rebooted population pool of the post-diluvian world.   Yes, geeks, you now have some of Emma in your blood. 

3) Some will walk away from this film thinking that man deserves this fate, but not because of anything concerning a Creator who judges, but rather our defiling of Mother Earth.  We’ve polluted the world, and and a flood of Biblical proportions would be a suitable reboot.  And, they will, of course, have missed the point.  Good and evil, morality, the nature of man... this is the tension in the story, not the particular outworking of man’s actions (the environment in this case).  In Noah’s crisis of decision regarding repopulating the soggy world, he’s not debating the future defilement of nature, but the imperfection of man. 

I haven’t been able to find the quote, but near the end, Tubal-Cain asks something similar to this:  “Are we men of the heavens?  Or are we men of will?” 

Tubal-Cain is earlier much more direct about (free) will: “We are orphaned children in this world, cursed to struggle by the sweat of our brow.  Damned if I don’t do whatever it takes to do just that.”  Welcome to humanism.  It’s not a fair leap to say that Noah, and by proxy “The Creator,” was judging exactly that.

4) If you pick your spots in the arc of the story, you’ll find a thread:

Man acts adverse to his creator’s will.  Prophecies are made concerning judgment on man.  The prophecy is fulfilled, and mankind is judged. 

Hello, flood.

But, the creator is loving, and though not expressed from the On High perspective, mercy is the story of Noah’s decision, despite the rightness of the judgment.  The creator allows a faithful man and his family to survive.  A remnant.  That’s biblical.

My friend jokingly referred to the sequel as Sodom and Gomorrah.  It’s not really needed.  The next chapters are in the daily news.  As the movie expresses, “Wickedness is not just in them, it’s in all of us.”   Noah isn’t a biblical movie, but at its core, it confirms the nature of sin, a falling short of the mark, and begs for at lease a moment’s pause to consider ultimate accountability.  And that’s a good thing for people to at least talk about.

Oh, and wait for the DVD rental or Netflix.  The movie’s okay, but it’s not worth $10.

3 of 5 STARS

Saturday, March 29, 2014

The Life I Never Lived


Recently, I decided to venture out on my own to see a friend who plays in a local blues band, called Men in Blues.  It happened to be the Friday before St. Patrick’s Day, and at an Irish Pub, Mac McGees.  It was truly coincidental that this was the evening I chose, largely because it was nearby.

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The evening started a bit slowly, and the band, 3/5 of their personnel and squeezed into a postage stamp, started playing as the place began to fill for the post-dinner hours.  I enjoyed the music, particularly the blues songs, which were surprisingly few among the cover songs.

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What was left then, aside from a couple of Sweetwater pale ale’s, was the people watching.  The place became busy, then busier.  And it occurred to me that, among the old people, the middle aged, and the young, that I’m extremely grateful not to be part of the Friday night bar scene.

Maybe I’m too judgmental about people seemingly having a good time, but it wasn’t a gathering of people grouped to enjoy conversation, food and beverage, and tunes.   It was, instead, the seeking of acceptance from the opposite gender, the posturing of affection, and the effusive cries for attention.

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A phrase that goes around is that “single people dream of being married; married people dream of being single.”   Nah.  Not me.  I’m not old, yet, but I’m mature.

U.S. Cafe


I’ve been gradually going to burger places around Atlanta because I like burgers, obviously, but also because I keep hoping to find an even better burger.   Helpfully, the web is full of Top Anything lists, so the best burgers around Atlanta have been identified and it’s a fairly finite universe.  I’ll probably write my own summary, but... not today.

Featured frequently on others’ lists is the ingloriously named U.S. Cafe.

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The South Cobb location (one of three) is located in a small, easily ignored shopping center, but it’s rather spacious inside.  It’s not a dump and it doesn’t strive for ambience.  But there is a sort of homey feel, and there’s a side room with two large screen TV’s.  That said, the space isn’t particularly well thought out.  A man using the urinal is right in the line of a table outside the restroom door when it is opened. 

When you order, they apparently presume you want it “medium” because they don’t ask.  They’re well known for using fresh Black Angus Ground Chuck

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The food was prepared fairly quickly.  They curiously chose an employee with a limited command of English to butcher the pronunciation of patron names.  It was almost funny, but also difficult to hear.

There were four of us, each with slight variations... different sized patties, no onions, that kind of thing.   How difficult can a burger be?  Well, three of the four of us got orders that were wrong.  And this place has been in business for 25 years?

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Despite all that, the patty was tasty and wasn’t oversaturated with fat.  The fries were better than average also.  If I’m in the area, I’d try it again, but I wouldn’t go out of my way as I did for this visit.   I’d also happily try one of their other two locations hoping for a better result in accuracy, vibe, and customer service.  It was a fine burger, one that is better than the fast food joints and the fancy restaurants that offer burgers as an afterthought.  But, the search continues because I know better is still out there.

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I usually past in a graphic of 1-5 Stars, but this wasn’t worthy of 4 Stars, and, the burger, at least, was better than 3 Stars.  I guess I need to do more graphics work, but this is the first time I’ve struggled with a rating.  I’ll go strictly numerical with a 3.4 rating.