We recently had our first meal, and possibly our last, at Stomping Grounds. The food was excellent and inventive, and the outside seating atmosphere was as expected when along Main Street in Buzzards Bay, but the service was so flawed that under ordinary circumstances we would not provide a review, especially without a second visit.
However, we concluded that there are so few optimal days, weather-wise, for a restaurant with outdoor seating in our region, so when those optimal days occur, we have every reason to expect the restaurant staff to be on its “A” game. We visited Stomping Grounds on what had to be one of the nicest Saturday afternoons this summer, and we didn’t expect the 150-minute ordeal it became.
First, the good news: the Stomping Greens salad ($12) is hands-down one of the better salads we’ve had this year. It included generous additions of sliced green grapes, toasted pine nuts, chick peas, and roasted brussels sprouts. We marveled at how much prep time that dish must have taken, and wondered why no one else had come up with this delicious combination. It’s tossed with a light lemony parmesan dressing that makes all the ingredients sing. Twelve dollars for a salad? When your licked-clean plate is taken away from you, we promise, you will be thinking you got a great deal.
We also ordered an appetizer called “Spuds MacKenzie” ($8), described as “our twist on a classic favorite and a must try.” We did try, and while we have no clue what “classic favorite” this was twisting and found the presentation kind of weird, we liked it. Thin wedges of roasted red bliss potatoes were served with a a little bowl of dipping sauce that included gorgonzola blended with ground walnuts and bacon. Gina initially objected, saying it was too rich, but in no time was slathering it on the end of her salad.
We also enjoyed the Mediterranean Fish Stew ($16), another unexpected bargain. Served in an oversized bowl — too big, really, and it was difficult to get the spoon at the right scooping angle as a result — the soup had a rich tomato broth in which we found giant shrimp, scallops, tuna, mussels, carrots, celery, and potatoes. It came with grilled pita bread with a subtle curry topping, excellent to dip into the soup. This was Gina’s entree, and she took half home after sharing much with the Big Dog.
The Dog’s lunch was a Buzzards Bay Reuben ($10), which seemed like a regular Reuben. There’s a choice of corned beef or turkey, and it comes with Cape Cod brand potato chips and some crisp, fresh, slaw made of red and green cabbage.
We ordered a bottle of Josh Cellars cabernet ($34), as it’s one of our favorites, and this proved to be a wise move, because we were able to pour ourselves a second glass while we were waiting for our food to arrive.
It took a bit for our waitress to make her way to our table, and she apologized excessively for the delay, and then for the fact that she had not brought menus. When that finally happened, we selected the Josh from the short but carefully considered list of beer and wine options, plus artisanal spirits. Soon, the wine was delivered, opened, and ceremoniously poured by a young man in a grubby tee-shirt who we assumed to be a bus boy but who we later learned was the chef-owner. Note to chefs everywhere: Call us old fashioned, but we’ve chosen to spend a special occasion with you, and we think you should be dressed as if it’s a special occasion for you too. We want to believe you’re working magic in the kitchen, and if you feel more comfortable wearing a stained hoodie or a flour handprint on your pants, please don’t dash our illusions — stay in the kitchen.
(Rant over. You know we believe that chefs and other restaurant staff are the hardest-working humans and we hate to criticize them.)
Our appetizers were delivered with another round of apologies, and this time, the Big Dog stepped in and asked the waitress to stop doing that. We were enjoying a relaxing afternoon on a beautiful patio with a nice glass of wine, and the waitress’ implication that something was going terribly wrong was detracting dramatically from our enjoyment. The young couple sitting near us snickered audibly, clearly having thought the same thing.
Twenty minutes later, with the sun beating down mercilessly, the wine bottle nearly empty, and our entrees yet to arrive, we regretted saying anything. The waitress returned again empty handed, said she really needed to apologize now, and blamed someone else for losing our order.
Entrees arrived, we thought they were excellent, packed half for home, and that was that.
We realized, driving away, why this scene seemed not just unpleasant but inappropriate: because in the universal language of restaurants, the second “I’m so sorry” is followed immediately by, “… Save room for one of our outstanding desserts, on the house!” or “… We’ve taken that weird potato thing off your bill.” None of that here.
Will we return? Too soon to tell. The food was excellent, but the fact remained that we spent $99, with beverage, tax, and tip (yes, 16.5 percent despite the flaws, mostly because Gina is not good at math) on a lunch that consisted of soup and salad, a sandwich, and an appetizer. We thought the food was a great value, but we did not get anything close to hundred-dollar service.