Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Help WANTED: Riverfront Cafe Niles MI

A restaurant by any other name, or even the same name, just isn't as sweet. The Riverfront Cafe used to be a place with fabulously mouthwatering food and a happy eclectic atmosphere. When it closed down a few years ago everyone I knew in Niles was disappointed. When it reopened under new owners about a year ago we were elated. Now we are back to disappointed again.

According to our receipt our server's name tonight was Jennifer, but I am not certain she said her name. Poor Jennifer; she was a sweet young girl without an ounce of spark and only minimal wait service training from my estimation. I would love to work with the waitstaff there and help them enjoy their work. I wish someone had spent time with Jennifer, she has potential to be a great server and to really enjoy her job. If she was awesome I'll bet just her repeat customers alone could bump up business at this struggling cafe. I wanted her to enjoy taking care of us, I wanted to have a great time at the restaurant like old times. I wanted to covet everyone else's meals because they all looked amazing....but that was not the case.

Jennifer was pretty prompt in greeting me and the other woman who just arrived at the table. She took our drink orders and brought them back fairly fast. We said we needed a bit more time to select our meals and we didn't see her again for fifteen to twenty minutes. I finally got up and asked the host if someone could please take our order. In a few more minutes she did come and take our order. When listing sides she neglected to mention the fresh fruit side I noticed on the menu...a side with an extra dollar charge among fatty standards like coleslaw, french fries and potato chips that may be of great interest when waiting on a table full of women!

A friend and I decided to order French Dip sandwich and the Garlic Rosemary French Fries with blue cheese dip appetizer and split it. Bad idea. The sandwich was on the smaller size and really not enough cut in half. It was also pretty salty to me, but my pal thought the roast beef on it was good. The fries we paid seven dollars for were normal fries but a large amount of them. They had a flavored salt on them, a few sprigs of real rosemary on the plate and a 'blue cheese dip' that was mostly mayo with a bit of good old fashioned cheap salad dressing. I was dissatisfied, but getting used to it at the new Riverfront Cafe.

The last time we were there I returned the fried chicken I ordered to the kitchen...it was under cooked, too salty and not like any fried chicken I had ordered anywhere else. I cannot recall ever sending food back in my life. I am embarrassed to do it. But what was even worse for me, a real foodie, was my appetite was gone. I was so turned off by my food I didn't even order a replacement. I should have remembered this and eaten before I met the girls here this time, but I keep hoping it will all turn around. The menu reads like a foodie's heaven, but what arrives at the table doesn't quite hit the mark in my hungry opinion.

When our club met at the Riverfront Cafe two months ago the service was pretty good then even if the food was not. I wish I remembered the server's name from that visit. She saw us again tonight and thoughtfully commented on how much bigger my infant daughter is now. I was very touched by her effort and consideration. She wasn't waiting on us tonight but I wish she had been. I was really impressed by her thoughtfulness.

After the meal, our waitress offered our checks without offering us dessert! Again, not the best route for a bunch of women out for the evening. This was a chance to increase our bills and therefore potentially increase her tip. I asked about desserts and the other women then chimed in as interested parties. Of course, when she showed us the dessert tray I could understand her disinterest in up-selling us: Each dessert only cost two dollars and was the size of a shot glass. No Kidding....creme brule in a shot glass. Two truffles the size of marbles. A teeny piece of cake that may have been the size of a deck of cards. SIX WOMEN PASSED on dessert. And none of us are supermodel thin. We are definitely dessert eaters. The teeny desserts could be cute in Hollywood, but not here in the Midwest. We eat dessert because we adore it, not just for show.

We lamented our choices and wished there was another place to go get good dessert nearby. We raved to each other about another restaurant in Granger, Yesterday's, and their phenomenal desserts. (I cannot say anything critical about Yesterday's...except do not get the blue cheese salad dressing, blue cheese roasted garlic, blue cheese crusted filet and a huge heaping succulent dessert all at the same meal. I discovered you can indeed eat too much blue cheese. Bummer.)

I hope they figure it out soon. I noticed both times we visited this summer that the patio was about one third full and there were maybe only two tables occupied inside. A few years ago it was bustling all the time and I remember raving about every menu item I tried. I want Riverfront to step up; it is such a great location and such a tantalizing menu. No matter what it is named, the location won't be enough to keep it running...it has to be the food, it has to be the customer service. When the waitstaff and cook staff find a sense of ownership, a spark of excitement in the work they are doing I know I'll eat there again. Until then I'll just enjoy a glass of iced tea and a good plan for afterward.

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