The staff was paying attention and immediately popped out of the kitchen to greet us and reassure us that a server would be out shortly. A few minutes later, when said server had not appeared, the same person who had greeted us took our drink orders–two sodas.
We pondered the menus for a little while, settling on a chicken bacon bleu sandwich for the hubby and a half rack of ribs for myself. As we put in our orders, our server asked me what temp I would like my ribs cooked at. I blinked and stated that that question was generally not asked…and she responded by saying that she was “sort of” new.
As we waited for our food, I soaked up the ambiance. Our booth featured tall wood backs, too straight to be comfortable, with thin red pleather cushions attached to the seat. The walls were divided into two sections, sort of an exaggerated chair rail concept. The bottom section was multi-colored distressed wood, fitting nicely into the reclaimed wood trend in decor. The top section was light, pale wood with southwestern feeling turquoise painted trim. Framed black and white photos hinted at history from “out west” and lazy ceiling fans circled overhead. Despite the relatively low speed, one rocked unnervingly in its socket.
Each table has its own lamp–the booths with wall mounted fixtures and the tables sporting black pendant lamps, with thick cables bent and contorted to angle just so. Several small tvs were placed in relatively unobtrusive locations. One ran a steady stream of local ads, while somewhere behind my head, one pattered away covering sports. Even with a light sweater, the restaurant was cold, and more than once I found myself looking up, trying to see if I was under a vent.
When our food arrived, I was impressed with the polish of the plating. We aren’t in food art spectacle territory here, it would be out of place, but the food was neatly stacked, the plate free of smudged sauces, and the deliberate care definitely caught my attention.
As someone who considers fries both a food group and an item best served piping hot, I began there. Each fry was large, barely crunchy, and coated in a seasoning blend that tasted to be 99% salt and 1% something undetectable which added a hint of color. I found them to be too salty for my taste–and when you are considering ketchup as a way to make something less salty you know that you’ve made a wrong turn. I thought that perhaps it was just my serving that got over seasoned, but my husband made the same comment unprompted.
The coleslaw was made of the large, crunchy, strips of cabbage and carrots that I generally prefer. The mayo based sauce had an oddly orange cast and a heat that built with each bite and provided a sustained burn. Generally when a traditionally mild/non-spicy dish has a kick, the menu plays it up. Code words like “southwestern” may be used, but usually something distinguishes it from the run-of-the-mill dish. I was puzzled since I hadn’t recalled any such labels and indeed a later check of the menu proved that there had not been one. My husband, with a greater spice tolerance than I have, enjoyed this greatly. I was less enthused.
I was excited to try my ribs, they had smelled great as my plate was positioned in front of me and based on both smell and look I was expecting a thick, sweet sauce. So it was…odd…to take a bite and find that instead the sauce tasted more vinegar based and there was a slightly burnt aftertaste, despite there being no visibly burned spots on the ribs. A friend of mine, an experienced cook, suggested that it may have been the sauce itself which was slightly burned. It would certainly explain the ghost like presence of the aftertaste. The meat was tender, but the flavor of the sauce made any other features unremarkable.
The garlic bread was great–french bread with a crispy, crunchy exterior and a full buttery, garlicky flavor.
Bison’s Cafe offers a variety of American fare in a casual full service environment but on our visit, everything seemed just a little bit out of step. My meal consisted of dishes which came close, but fell short in one way or another–salty fries, spicy coleslaw, ribs with potentially burnt sauce. The service was similarly spotty. After our server’s faux pas with the ribs, things were continuing along swimmingly until we reached near the close of the meal. Then there was an odd rush in the pacing–a sudden flurry of motion to get us the check and a box and out the door–despite the fact that it was still several hours to close and the dining area was no where near full. The staff may simply be used to people who want to leave in a hurry, but personally I just felt rushed. I would give it another try, especially if a friend wanted to stop in, but it’s not a place I am compelled to return to.
Total for the meal: $27.53 (Includes one sandwich, one half rib plate, and two sodas.)
*Bison’s Cafe and Bison’s Bar and Grill are the same establishment. I’m not entirely sure why they have two names, but since Bison’s Cafe is the name on their website, we’re running with that.