On the Boardwalk

A new restaurant seeks to feed downtown with dirt-cheap burgers, pizza and cheesesteaks

I wanted to like the Boardwalk restaurant; I really did. For one thing, it's a locally owned small business, and those are almost always worth rooting for. For another, the owners clearly want the place to succeed; they were courageous enough to request a review a few months ago.

After one visit, and an attempt at another, it's clear the Boardwalk has some things going for it. Its space, located right across the street from the Ronstadt Transit Center, has some old-pizza-place kitsch and charm, even if it's a bit run down. (One ominous sign: A lot of restaurants have come and gone in this spot, including Firehouse Pizzeria, the Bus Stop Café and Totally Wrapped, in recent years.) Also, the Boardwalk's food is beyond affordable; in some cases, it's downright cheap. A hamburger will run ya $1.40; if you want to go nuts and get the 1/3-pound Boardwalk burger, it will cost a mere $3.95. Pizza by the slice ($1.45-$1.70), hot dogs ($1.25), wraps and bowls ($4-$5.75), quesadillas ($3.50-$4.50) and breakfast items ($1.75-$4.50) are also available. And for dessert, you can have a scoop of ice cream for a mere 89 cents.

But, I hate to say, the restaurant is also extremely flawed. The Boardwalk suffers because its small staff is severely overworked, and the food--while not bad--is unspectacular. As a result, the only reason I would return to the Boardwalk is because I want them to succeed, not because the dining experience enticed me back.

I visited the Boardwalk on a recent weekday for lunch with Laurel Allen. We went in, only to learn that that the credit-card machine was apparently down, so we had to make an ATM run before returning. At the counter, I chose the Philly cheesesteak ($5) along with fries and a drink (an extra $2) and a slice of cheese pizza ($1.45). Laurel chose a pepperoni and mushroom calzone ($4.20).

We sat down and took in the atmosphere. A TV sitting on a ledge in one corner had some old movie on, with the sound getting drowned out on occasion by a passing bus. Red and yellow is the color scheme here, with both the walls and the booths featuring the primary colors. Three tables with mismatched chairs split the middle of the restaurant, and various paintings hang on the walls, along with a few fake plants. Signs also inform customers that the Boardwalk is a drug- and alcohol-free zone--although they do have cigarettes for sale.

The woman working the counter--as well as delivering food and clearing off the tables--brought my slice of pizza, and I dug in. Thin-crust pizza, this was not. As a matter of fact, this was the thickest slice of pizza crust I'd ever seen, topped with cheese and some so-so sauce. Because the dough was so thick, it dominated the flavor. Filling, yes; delicious, no.

Soon after, our main courses were ready. Laurel's calzone--featuring ricotta, mozzarella, pepperoni and mushrooms, along with pizza sauce--looked pretty good, but Laurel said it was "unremarkable" and "serviceable." Not bad, but not a ringing endorsement.

My cheesesteak was the lunch's highlight. It was enormous, served in a paper bowl with the open side of the roll facing up, and pieces of beef, peppers, onions, mushrooms and provolone cheese flowing out. The beef was tender and juicy, making the sandwich a success. I was half-full from the pizza slice (which I didn't even finish), so I picked out all the beef, along with some of the onions, mushrooms and cheese; there was no way I could get my big mouth around the thing anyway.

One problem: My fries were AWOL. This was a mixed blessing, as I was full and didn't need nor want the fries at that point. I pointed out the faux pas to the woman, who apologized profusely and offered the fries to go instead. I declined and asked if she'd substitute a scoop of mint chocolate chip ice cream instead; she agreed. Laurel also got a scoop, of orange sherbet, making for a nice dessert after a decidedly average lunch.

About a week later, I decided to return for breakfast. I was mentally deciding between a Boardwalk deluxe omelet (three eggs with two toppings, $4.50, includes home fries and a drink) and a slice of breakfast pizza ($1.75) as I parked and put money in the meter. I arrived at 8:05 a.m. (five minutes after the supposed opening time) and went to the door--only to find the "closed" sign still up. Some 15 minutes later, it was still up, so I peeked in the window and saw nobody. The place was dead; there was not even anyone prepping in the kitchen. Thus, I left and went to work. I called several hours later, fearing this location had claimed another restaurant victim, and was relieved when someone answered the phone. The voice on the other end said opening time is indeed 8 a.m., but that the Boardwalk opened late because of a family issue.

That's understandable, with someone trying to run a small business. But it's not good customer service. How will the business succeed if customers try to visit during business hours, only to find a closed sign?

I wish the folks at Boardwalk the best of luck. I hope they find ways to make the food a bit more spectacular, to spruce up the place a bit (without having it lose its character) and to get more staff so they aren't so overwhelmed. There's talk of them doing more with their basement and possibly bringing in entertainment. We're rooting for you, Boardwalk.

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