The Pick of Destiny

I fell down a rabbit hole called Game of Thrones this week, and didn’t crawl out of it until yesterday, which means I didn’t leave the house all weekend in order to review a new restaurant. That also means I’m now an expert on the fantasy land of Westeros, and considering making people call me the Lady of Winterfell. It also means I was at a loss on what to write for this week’s blog, until I remembered I had a topic and some photos in my back pocket. No dragons, though. Pity.

But look, I have this under control. I’m not going to move back into my parents’ house and invite you over to play Dungeons and Dragons, I promise! Much more in the vein of what you know me for, the new section of the Carousel Mall in Syracuse, rechristened Destiny USA, is now open, and over the past few months, I’ve had a chance to sample some of the wares there. The shopping, I love unabashedly. The new BCBG store has enjoyed so fairly lavish attention from my credit card, and the Off 5th Outlet holds untold treasures, like the dress I wore to the Miss America Homecoming a couple weeks ago.

The new restaurants, meanwhile, ehhh…You know I don’t get too worked up about chain places. So far, Cantina Laredo, The Melting Pot, Gordon Biersch, PF Chang's, and Toby Keith’s I Love This Bar are open. Thanks to a really terrible food poisoning episode many years from The Melting Pot in Dupont Circle, I’m not of a mind to eat there again, so my first and second visit included Cantina Laredo.

I’ll present you first with the positive: they make tableside guacamole, a Mexican restaurant traditional that I adore, and the end product isn’t setting the world on fire or anything, but it’s entirely serviceable:

It could have used jalapeno and lime, for my tastes, but I think we’ve established that my tastes are adjusted to bold flavors and fair hit of spice.

As for the rest of the menu, I don’t have any standouts to recommend from my two visits. I’ve tasted the ceviche, carnitas tacos, and one other dish I can’t recall. I’m not kidding – I can’t even remember what else I ate. Not a shining recommendation of the food, I realize. The thing I don’t understand about insipid chain Mexican restaurant food is that a lot of really good dishes from South of the border are really simple. Get quality limes, chiles, garlic, a pork shoulder, and some corn flour (masa), maybe a little cotijo cheese, and you have a stunning dish. Of course, many dishes, like moles and posole, are very complex, but to make a good taco, you don’t need to recreate the wheel. I guess what I’m trying to tell you is: this place is overpriced and not all that great. If you need a margarita, hit it up. Otherwise: skip it.

They’re just tacos, man

During our last visit, we had an idea to try the Toby Keith behemoth, but the wait was an hour and half, at 2 p.m. That’s right, not even lunch or dinner time, and the line was out the door for food that can’t even be all that special. You guys, it’s Toby Keith. I didn’t realize he could still pull those kinds of crowds.

So we hit up the much less…congested…choice, Gordon Biersch Brewery Restaurant, a chain I’d enjoyed before in Washington, DC. And you know what? We enjoyed this meal quite a lot, for a chain. The food was tasty, just enough out of the ordinary to pique the interest, the service was solid, and it was clean and almost posh in the dining room. I know: wonders will never cease.

We ordered very predictable dishes, if you’ve been reading my posts about lunches with my parents for any amount of time. Mom went for the artisanal grilled cheese, which brought some avocado mayo along to liven up the ride. Dad bit on the classic pulled pork, and was pleasantly surprised by the subtle tones of its BBQ sauce. Natch, I chose the farmhouse burger, because BACON JAM. So, yeah. No surprises from us.

The artisanal grilled cheese, which is a hilarious term – I need a job naming dishes for restaurants – put gruyere cheese up against bacon and a very light, tasty avocado mayonnaise for all the flavor of the ultimate comfort food, elevated ever so slightly. Mom loved it.

The pulled pork was relatively straight forward: juicy, tender, braised/smoked pork and a bit of a dry, ordinary slaw. But the BBQ sauce dressing the meat was really nice, made with GB’s marzen lager, which is a bit sweet, but had the effect of lightening up the sauce so it wasn’t cloying or sweet. In addition, and unlike a lot of pulled pork sandwiches, the sauce was administered judiciously, so that the entire sandwich didn’t fall apart after the first bite. Well done, Gordon.

All the things! Arugula, a fried egg, and bacon jam – all of these things make me happy. Hell, even that tomato slice was welcome. The burger was hand-formed, too, which I never expected from a chain. It was loosely-packed, and therefore still juicy, and even the fries were sprinkled with parsley and chopped garlic to make them unique. Again, the slaw did nothing for me – should have thrown some avocado, or mustard seeds, or something in there to spruce it up – but everything else on this plate brought a smile to my face.

I’m not going to score Gordon Biersch on the BHS scale, as chains aren’t normally in my purview, but if you have to eat at one in Syracuse, this is a decent bet. I’d rather send you to Kitty Hoynes, BC Restaurant, Dinosaur BBQ, or even Zebb’s, but if you’re at the mall and you don’t want to leave when hunger strikes, Gordon will treat you right.

I’ll be in Watertown this weekend for Easter with the fam, and back in The Cuse Saturday night see my high school friend Jason star at Judas in Salt City’s production of Jesus Christ Superstar. I haven’t seen that show in years, and I can’t wait, but I also kind of hope I can convince my comrades to grab dinner downtown before the show. You know I can be convincing. What else, for the Mother of Dragons? ;) My hunger is big; my personality is bigger!


  1. We have a Gordon Biersch in Columbus, and while the food has been tasty every time I've eaten there, I've also been the recipient of an upset stomach more than once afterward. So I usually try to avoid it.

    1. Ugh, thank you for the fair warning. I suffered no such maladies, but it's worth noting,

  2. I must try bacon jam immediately. Why have I still not tried it?

    1. I need to make a new batch. My first ended up sweeter than I'd like. I'm going to try Top Chef Ken's recipe next time. It's a very versatile ingredient. Oh, they sell a jarred variety at DiBruno if you're so inclined.