The Saloon (at East Durham Steakhouse and Pub) - January 2011 (dt)
7, 6.5, 6.5, 6.5, 6.5, 6, 6, 5.25 = 6.28

After an active weather pattern (meaning, it’s darn snowier and colder than we like), DP8 was glad to be close to home, in this case, real close to home, only a couple miles away to the former Darby’s, reincarnated earlier this winter as The Saloon (at East Durham Steakhouse and Pub).
               ... The feedback afterwards reflected the several highlights, along with a few rough spots that time may cure.
               First, the single best part, we all agreed, was the quality of the entrées. The menu, as the restaurant’s name suggests, has a reasonable representation of beef – four preps. Otherwise, three chickens, two fishes, a few pastas, and a couple others fill out the roster, after the few salads and a half-dozen appetizers. The menu looked quite appropriate for East Durham, steak lovers, country music, and affordable prices.
               Our entrées (appearing sixty minutes after seating, about average) included: the Shrimp Scampi (Deb T: with sweet potato gaufrettes, a good preparation with the lemon-butter sauce; Judy, with mashed potato, good, nice arrangement on the plate); the 12 ounce Rib-eye Steak (Chay: well-done as ordered, with bleu cheese bits, with baked potato; very good); the eight ounce filet mignon (Deb K: very good, with sweet potato fries, again good; Kriss, ordered medium-well but came looking medium, was still good for Kriss, mashed potatoes, good); the strip steak (Ken: very good, with baked potato); the chicken francaise (Tim: with mashed potatoes, wonderful texture!); and the Sundown shrimp with pasta (Don: about eight shrimp, enough, with a tasty sauce for the pasta, good comfort food). All around the table came a general agreement of good entrées.
               The accompaniments consisted of a vegetable of the night – zucchini (eliciting a few low groans); a choice of mashed or baked potatoes, fries, or sweet potato fries; and a salad.
               And the second best part? Price. The final bill came to $63 per couple, including tax, tip and drinks. Yup, $63 – an excellent quality-to-price ratio. The Saloon should be a good fit with the community.
               Another notable achievement of the new owners is the physical makeover. An initial attraction was curiosity, to see the result of months of renovation. All new wood stands out, clean and bright surfaces everywhere, and the center square bar remains although the center column was eliminated. An impressive amount of work! The bar room almost looked cavernous with the see-through element. The booths are gone, slightly missed but worth the new look. And we liked the back entrance from the back half of the parking lot.
                The other part of the makeover was the availability of the side dining room, rarely used in the former Darby’s, and we were glad to be there this evening, with the glass panel doors closed, masking much of the noise. At departure, walking through the bar area, we were met with a rollicking, noisy, active scene – a good place for people to watch people. We were glad to have a choice of rooms, and we were pleased to see both sides of the wall doing so well so early. And it’s a change of pace for us to recognize a number of faces. Although it doesn’t count for points, the familiarity is nice.
                Back to the dining room. It’s about a 25’x40’ space, with dark wainscoting, with almost bare beige upper walls. Lighting consisted of a center four-light with fan fixture, flanked by two wagon wheels of seven lamps each. The rest of the lighting was the three recessed lights on the low end of the room, where we sat. Yup, it may be saloon-ish but center lights felt glaring, especially off the finish of the attractively dark-stained woodwork in the ceiling, the boards angling in from four directions except for the center fifteen foot square.
                The upper part of the beige walls remains be filled but, for now, several historic photos of East Durham structures filled part of a wall, and an oxen yoke hung on the opposite wall. A snow covered deck promises delightful evenings come warm weather.
                The seventy person capacity dining room was set with a dozen or so tables, each covered with a forest green linen, poofs of napkins, settings of two forks and a knife (we commented later about the trend toward no spoons), and a center votive candle.
                We settled in at our round table, much to our liking. Our waiter, Sandy, took our drink order, and salads came out in about 35 minutes, with the rest of the meal following.
                Another part to be noted includes the desserts. The list is a bit short – just five items, with most good and one, in particular, not quite making the grade. Ordered this evening included: the Oreo Bash – a creamy, cheesy Oreo-filled pie-cake (Don & Deb: good to excellent, a bit of crunch, a bit of creaminess); cheesecake (Kriss: good even with a bit of her fullness from the entrée); and apple pie (Ken, Judy – each, no sharing among these two! It was mediocre, should have been warm, should have had a choice of ice cream, and not as good as many others they have had.)
               And we also appreciated the efforts of our waiter, who, with a ton of earnestness and attentiveness, completed all of our requests in a friendly manner.
               Other good parts? We like having something to nibble on early, so the two early-arriving baskets of dinner rolls, accompanied by a butter dish filled with individual butter packets, was welcome. Also, the room temperature was comfortable, if one did not overdress, which some of us did after a report of people eating in coats earlier in the month. And, of course, Ken needs his coffee. After a first cold cup was sent back, the rest of the evening was fine.
               A new place should have time to work out kinks and find out what they can do better, and we came only a few weeks after opening, so, perhaps, we are a bit bold in making observations about possible improvements.
               The salad presentation was a tad underwhelming. The small brown plastic bowl hardly matched the quality of the other pieces. And then it was an ordinary (well, barely) salad of a few greens, a shred of onion, two cherry tomatoes, four half slices of cucumber, a half-dozen croutons,  and a side of one’s choice of salad dressing. Perhaps, it was the brown plastic that influenced us; for most people, it might suffice.
               Wine selection needs a bit more variety, and maybe it’s coming, and we know the wine was inexpensive, but having only two reds and a white does a disservice to The Saloon. Five of us had two carafes of merlot (mediocre), two had diet soda, and Judy avoided the wine scene, liking none of the choices. It is one thing to be a saloon, and another when offering a full range menu of fine dining.
               Service, although mostly good, had its rough edges. Distribution of liquids, both water and wine, should be a smooth operation. Remembering which person ordered which dinner should be routine. We are hoping a few more nights of practice will even things out.
              Congratulations to The Saloon for a good start, a comfortable and casual ambience, and an excellent value; and best of wishes for becoming, and enduring as an integral part of the community.

The evening had started at the Teator house, a good spot to meet for those households where someone had to work this Friday! The brick sidewalk was mostly clear, an unusual occurrence this January. Greetings were shared, coats taken, and everyone sidled up to the counter. Waiting there was a bowl of pecans and walnuts, another dish of dried apricots, a collection of toothpicked cheeses (Cheddar and Swiss)-salami-grapes-apricots; a hot tray of a variety of bruschetta toppings on baguette slices, and a tray of cheese and crackers. A half-hour later, we were off to The Saloon in an uncharacteristic parade of three cars.
               Part of the “glue” of our group is the sharing of stories. Topics, this evening, included: weather (of course); the foot and half of snow we missed that NY got (haha); Hannaford coming to Cairo; the Karneses very tough month – loss of Kryppie, death of a close friend, a ticket, wheel bearing damage, ok, STOP, no more for the rest of the year!); unfair picking on names (“Judy started it”); Judy’s and Ken’s instigations;  movies and Oscars and Netflix and Ken’s list of 6 and Judy’s list of 400; ice dams; wildlife visiting our houses; medications (we were sounding old); limited dates for future DP8 dinners, especially July; Deb’s Mom’s 80th coming up; Kriss’s Cheesecake Factory flashback; Ken’s rules on how to judge a movie; Chay’s “Don’t touch me”; the Karneses’ plan for a summer European trip; the Adamses’ trips coming up; and I suspect I left out another half-dozen good ones.
               Deb T had made mittens for each of the women, which was warmly (ha) appreciated.
               And we toasted Kryppie. Here’s one for ya, kid. We miss you. (And our sympathy goes with Deb and Chay.)
               On to February and another local pick.