Friday, March 28, 2014

Bowie Restaurant Project: (80) Olive Grove

Olive Grove,
6828 Race Track Road
Most Recent Foursquare Check-in: 3/23/2014
Total Foursquare Check-ins: 4
Pre-Foursquare Visits: No
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

My first visit to Olive Grove was with a co-worker for Wednesday lunch. It was a week after their opening, and things just didn't seem quite under control yet. The signs in the parking lot had the wrong address for their web site, and when my colleague asked about the gluten-free options they advertised, the waitress checked and found out that they did not have the gluten-free pasta in stock yet. The breadsticks were not up to par with the Olive Garden's, and the crab cake was disappointing. Just like I expect an "Oh boy, I'm eating sushi" feeling from sushi, I expect excitement from a crab cake. I was unenthusiastic about theirs, though, which is disappointing because it is supposed to be a signature dish. My colleague was not entirely happy with his Eggplant Parmesan.

My second visit was a couple of days later, for takeout on a Friday night. Like Carrabba's, they will deliver your food to your car. They go one better, though, by having you pull along side the restaurant to receive your food rather than wasting valuable parking up front. The food took way longer than estimated, but at least I was in my car. The food from this visit was much better; Christina and I enjoyed our pasta, and the kids meals, while pricey, consisted of some big burgers. The burgers, however, were not cooked through. I'd appreciate it for myself, but that seems like a no-no for the younger set.

Clearly, a tiebreaker visit was needed. After an outing at Allen Pond Park, Christina and I brought the kids there. went well! Our pastas were very good. The kids enjoyed their burgers. The waitress asked whether we wanted them well-done, so good for that. The kids meals included a drink and ice cream, which was not something we enjoyed in the takeout, so it seemed like a better deal. Still on the pricey side compared to, say, Chesapeake Grille, but comparable to other sit-down options like Outback or Carrabba's.

But wait...based on the success of our third visit, Christina made plans for a fourth visit! I had written the above, but put it on hold in case things changed. And they did! Within 8 days, they had completely re-done their menu. They had reduced portion sizes and cut prices. So no more ice cream with the kids' meal (we ordered some a la carte since we had promised it to the kids). I think...that's a good thing. (The less food for less money, not the lack of ice cream.) Olive Grove now has daily lunch specials, and it seems like more of a reasonable choice on a regular basis.

So what happened? I think they got better over the first few months they were open. Certainly the fact that they were really busy around 3 on a Saturday makes that seem likely. But it's also possible that they just don't do crab cakes or eggplant very well. I certainly don't have the dining budget to go back and order things I don't think I'll like, so I'll be sticking with the pasta.

Bowie Restaurant News

Olive Grove is not the only restaurant at Hilltop to offer lower-priced options. I spotted the sign to the left in front of the Irie Cafe. The specials (with $1 sodas) answer one of my concerns about the restaurant, namely the pricey menu (at least if you like chicken). I'll have to give it a try. Also, I saw a sign for a grand opening event on April 5 from noon to 5 (I wasn't aware they weren't already "open".)

The pace of work appears to have picked up on Anthony's Pizza. Every time I go by there, something seems to be going on, and I see the rough outline of a front counter. Hopefully we'll see some sort of announcement for an opening date soon. Here's what their sign is going to look like.

While passing by China Chef recently, I noticed they had a table and a couple of chairs. This put it right on the edge of my definition of what constitutes a restaurant, since in theory you could order food and eat it at that table. Eventually, I decided that you would be annoying the people who wanted to sit there while waiting for their food, which was clearly the purpose of the table. So no China Chef.

That leaves me with four restaurants to go.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Biking to Melford

The author, on his way to work
There is an article in the Gazette today entitled, "Residents voice opposition to new Bowie housing development." I'm one of the residents quoted in the article. Although I'm quoted accurately, I wanted a place to lay out my detailed thoughts on the matter, and well, this is my blog, so here goes.

The Melford Village proposal is a complex and multifacted beast. I am impressed with the attention to detail by both St. John Properties and City staff in analyzing the many aspects of the proposed development. I, however, chose to focus on just one thing -- bike and pedestrian access. I did this for two reasons. One, as someone who sometimes bikes to work at Melford, I know how much bike access needs to be improved. Two, since St. John is touting Melford Village as an environmentally-friendly development, better non-motorized access seems like a good test of their commitment.

I went to the Advisory Planning Board meeting with an open, if confused, mind. I had read through as many of the documents as I could. Some of the documents seemed to show a trail along the Melford entrance, but I could find no commitment to specific connections. In particular, not only was there no assurance that there was improved access to Belair Drive, there was no reference to the proposed trails along 301 in the City of Bowie Trails Master Plan. Those proposed trails would really make Melford Village a lot more attractive to the type of active, environmentally-conscious residents St. John wants to attract.

Once at the meeting, I discovered various items of interest in a handout (that is also available on-line, I just hadn't noticed it). First, at a January stakeholders meeting I was unable to attend, Martha Ainsworth raised a number of concerns, including, "There is no walking or biking connectivity with the rest of Bowie," and
"How can the development be made more conducive to biking, except down Belair Drive, given the two highways that border it? Are biking bridges that cross route 50 or route 3 forseen? One can't bike to any of the stores near the community, to Sport Fit (a mile away), or to Whitemarsh Park without riding on Route 3/301."

St. John's response concerned me. They said,
"The proposed design includes 9.5 miles of sidewalks, 3.4 miles of trails and 1.6 miles of bike lanes within the community. Residents of Melford Village will be able to live a healthy lifestyle without needing to interact with the highways bordering the Village."
It sounded like they had no interest in connectivity with the rest of Bowie.

Fortunately, City staff saw the need for this connectivity, albeit in a form that I saw as insufficient. They proposed 28 conditions for approval. Condition 25 is,
"A pedestrian connection...shall be constructed between the Melford Boulevard/Science Drive roundabout and Kendale Lane in the Kenilworth section, prior to the issuance of the 300th building permit."

I have three problems with this condition.
  1. It should be a bike/pedestrian connection. Given the distances between Melford and the rest of Bowie, bike travel is more realistic than walking for running errands, etc.
  2. It doesn't address connectivity to Route 301, which would give more direct access to commercial features than the Belair Drive connection.
  3. I don't see why it should wait for the issuance of the 300th permit.
I wasn't sure whether I was in the camp of objecting to the development based on the inadequate bike/pedestrian facilities, or saying I'd support it if they were made adequate. Then a representative from St. John objected to Condition 25 on the basis that it wasn't safe for people to walk in and out of Melford. Well, yes, I know that! (Having done so.) The lack of any interest in making it safe pushed me over into the camp of those opposed.

I spoke off the cuff, so I don't remember exactly what I said, but here are the main points I tried to make.
  1. I would like to see Melford succeed with an environmentally-friendly development that is part of Bowie.
  2. In order to be environmentally-friendly and part of Bowie, you need bike and pedestrian connectivity with the rest of Bowie.
  3. It is unrealistic to expect that nobody will want to walk or bike out of Bowie. The developer proposes restaurants as part of Melford Village; I don't expect every dishwasher at every restaurant to be a resident there.
  4. This is not a theoretical concern. In 2011, a Bowie resident biking home from a job in Crofton was killed on Route 301 not far from Melford
This will come up before the City Council soon, and I expect to be engaged. I pushed a year ago for adequate connections to the rest of Bowie being a condition for development, and I'm going to keep pushing for it.