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Sweetwater Tavern, Merrifield, Sterling, and Centerville - A Great American Restaurants Group Chain

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Dean,

It is a vicious cycle. When I want to go locally to eat, I ONLY have chains to choose from. (See previous thread) UNtil that moment when small restaurateurs (sp?) start opening restaurants where I live, I have no choice but to support these chains and the cycle.

By the way, I have a Bonefish across the road from me, I see Slavin and Sons delivering there every day.  That isn't exactly a bad suppler or cheap at that. As far as a chain restaurant goes, I think they are one of the best. The other chain I think does very well is  the Great American.

And speaking of the Great American chain, I had some of the best, yes BEST, shoestring fries at the Fairfax Sweetwater with my lunch yesterday. The beer, well that was just OK.

ETA: loctation

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And speaking of the Great American chain, I had some of the best, yes BEST, shoestring fries at the Fairfax Sweetwater with my lunch yesterday.  The beer, well that was just OK.

ETA: loctation

Their fries can be decent (although they smell like yeast doughnuts) but their beers - all their beers - S-U-C-K.

They used to be good, a couple of years ago, but now the beers at Sweetwater Tavern ...

S-U-C-K.

Likewise just about anything store-bought from Old Dominion these days, which has gone so far downhill that you have to look upward with a telescope to see the bottom of the bathyscaphe. Old Dominion beer is center-of-the-earth bad: it has gone to Hell and it didn't even bother taking the handbasket.

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Their fries can be decent (although they smell like yeast doughnuts) but their beers - all their beers - S-U-C-K.

They used to be good, a couple of years ago, but now the beers at Sweetwater Tavern ...

S-U-C-K.

Likewise just about anything store-bought from Old Dominion these days, which has gone so far downhill that you have to look upward with a telescope to see the bottom of the bathyscaphe.  Old Dominion beer is center-of-the-earth bad:  it has gone to Hell and it didn't even bother taking the handbasket.

I have had the occasion to dine at Sweetwater a couple of times in the past couple of weeks and tried a couple different beers. You know what? They both tasted exactly the same despite the fact that they were different styles. One was a spiced winter ale which was served with spices on the rim of the glass like a margarita. :lol: What are they thinking?

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I am not a fan of the Great American chain. I find that the food at all of the outlets has a similar taste, and find that their food is generally quite bland. I include in this Carlyle, the queen of the chain. I have never understood how people believe that the mediocrity of Carlyle is worth waiting more than an hour in the noisy bar area for a table. I do have two exceptions to my distain of all things “Great American” chain, those are the fried calamari at Coastal Flats, and the breads from Best Buns.

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I have never understood how people believe that the mediocrity of Carlyle  is worth waiting more than an hour in the noisy bar area for a table.

Amen. Praise for the food at this place continues to mystify me. However, I do like the bar area itself for a cocktail.

Edited by JPW

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Really? I think the Crab fritters are delicious, and the ribs have always been great. I've had plenty of things that were mediocre, but nothing ever bad, and coupled with the generally excellent service I give them high marks.

The quibbles:

Same soups, same days, all restaurants

About four side dishes/entree accompanniments for all dishes, all locations. I think they must have a team of people in Sterling stirring a huge cast iron skillet of corn.

Those shitty wine glasses.

The otherwise charming and acquiescent service is compromised by the "Can I interest you in the Dumbass Cocktail of the day or try to sell you tonight's special/fresh catch they start with.

The beer. It's terrible. I have five empty growlers at home that are waiting for some sweet elixer to fill their empty shells. But every time I enter Sweetwater the beer sucks. The worst was the Pumpkin ale. The bartender tried to sell it to me and I told him I thought it would blow. He assured me it was great "our best seller" and plied me with a free one. It came rimmed with nutmeg and cinnamon. I wiped off the rim, took one sip, and it was horrible. I'd rather drink a warm Tecate.

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Both Houston's and Coastal Flats/Sweetwater Tavern have excellent dinner salads.

I do like their "Asian" salad with a sesame peanut dressing and orange slices - both at Mike's and Sweetwater.

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I have never understood how people believe that the mediocrity of Carlyle  is worth waiting more than an hour in the noisy bar area for a table.

No kidding. I haven't had a positive experience at any time I've tried Carlyle.

On the other hand, I really enjoy the GAR group's salads and other veggies. I know it can be a very different experience when having the meatstuffs though, as evidenced by how many places my +1 isn't too fond of that I still enjoy 'cos he's primarily consuming meat and I'm not.

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No kidding. I haven't had a positive experience at any time I've tried Carlyle.

On the other hand, I really enjoy the GAR group's salads and other veggies. I know it can be a very different experience when having the meatstuffs though, as evidenced by how many places my +1 isn't too fond of that I still enjoy 'cos he's primarily consuming meat and I'm not.

My last time there was for brunch, and my wife's medium rare burger showed-up raw, it took five minutes to get the attention of the staff. Being a carnivore, I find their meats to be boring, not bad just boring. As to their ribs, the one time I had them I found them to be overly gooey, and the meat tasted like they had been par boiled, not to mention the overly forward smoke flavor that I am sure came from a last minute smoking, not a slow cooking amongst just the right amount of smoke. They are not as bad as Ribsters, but close.

I also find that the much lauded lobster pot stickers have always tasted off to me, too fishy, not lobstery enough. Every time I have posted comments on other boards that have been less than complementary of Carlyle or GAR I have been told to try the salads. If my wife can’t get me to eat them at home, there is no way I am going to wait in line at a middling restaurant just to order one.

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Really interesting, Steve. I believe that there have only been a couple of times over the past eight or ten years that I've had anything OTHER than the salads at the GAR. I really do like several of them a lot, especially the ahi tuna salads. My wife likes the crab cakes at Coastal Flats along with their corn chowder; I think they're both fairly good and worth the price but nothing I would rave about. Of course at Coastal Flats I like their shrimp ceviche and she hates it!

I've never had a red meat course, even a hamburger at any GAR. Ever. Nor a dessert. I don't like their wine glasses, I hate their daily offering of ONE soup.

Everything I've said about GAR I would also say about Houston's. Great salads! But in twenty or so years I haven't had much more than this at any of them-in any city!

Somehow I think I've been lucky to order what I have over the years!

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I have only had positive experiences with Great American. I agree with Sthitch though, I won't wait over an hour for a table. I would rather get back in my car and drive to Arlington or the District.

Their service, though not of the caliber of a place like Citronelle, is great. At Coastal Flats, my daughters soda was delivered in a dirty glass, and when I mean dirty (well it looked like dried on puke).. We brught it to their attention and within seconds, the manager was at the table apologizing. We were told the tables' desserts would be comped, plus they also comped her meal and drinks. It is just too bad she did not order the bottle of wine!

Sweetwaters beer does kind of stink, but on Monday they have half priced wine bottles.

Consdering the other choices, Ruby Tuesdays, TGIFridays, UNO's, Great American seems like fine dining at times. And now you know how pathetic my weekday dining out life usually is. :lol:

Edited by RaisaB

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I've never had to wait more than 15 minutes for a table at any location, at anytime. They have the call ahead seating down to a science. It's rare I'll wait an hour for anyone's food.

Their meats are always troublesome. You literally have to order items a degree or two over what you generally order. I have always been surprised by that, because it seems to me they go to great lengths to get everything right. If you order rare, you get raw. Medium rare-raw. Medium is a rare in every other establishment. I actually order mine medium well. And it's the same in every restaurant.

Is it the pinnacle of dining? Actually, for some it is. To me, it's just a consistent, mid-range restaurant with good to very good food and generally excellent service. And their salads are excellent. Shtich, the ahi tuna salad is more like rare ahi tuna served with sticky rice and some greens. Not too salady.

Edited by B.A.R.

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I like GAR. When the in-laws are in town, it's an easy place to take them that doesn't require reservations, a wait (as long as you call ahead) and isn't ethnic. I love love love the fact that their children's menu has real food and not processed deep fried crap served with a side of corn syrup. Not many places where you can get a cheeseburger, a side of whipped sweet potatoes, and a milk for a kid for $5. I like their spice rubbed smoked half chicken with brown butter sauce, available at Sweetwater but not at Carlyle. The short smoked salmon is usually a pleaser with me, the in-laws, and the 2 year old.

I do think that there are some things that they do spectacularly badly, like their crab cakes. I'm generally also not pleased with steak their but I'll go to Ray's for meat and not order it at any of the GAR. For what it is, I think the business model works.

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A few of my friends and roommates enjoy Sweetwater, and it ties with Five Guys for favorite chain restaurant. (That's not saying much, but sometimes dining companions gang up on me and there's just no going anywhere really good.)

I like Sweetwater's roasted chicken, their lobster bisque, and the breadbasket...especially those little yeast rolls. Mmm. I'm getting 10 pounds fatter and my palate is getting less sophisticated just thinking about it...

:)

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The roast chicken salad is one of my all time favorites.  And yes, you can get it at any Great American restaurant.

God damn, when you are right you are right. I love this dish. I used to get this everytime I went to Sweetwater.

I also think that they mix good cocktails at this joint.

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One remarkable thing about the Sweetwater Tavern in Merrifield is how serene and tranquil the open kitchen looks, even when the restaurant is full with many hundreds of diners. There's no yelling, there's no panic, and the cooks look like they've been treated with ether, smiling and relaxing as they work their tickets.

I asked our server about how much of the kitchen was hidden. There's apparently a prep kitchen that's the size of what you see through the window, plus another large cooking area hidden from view. The number of staff (both BOH and FOH) during dinner rush is noteworthy.

And if every dish was like the Hickory Smoked Mahi Mahi ($20) I had last night, my "grudging respect" wouldn't be grudging for much longer. This was a well-cooked piece of fish, served on mashed cauliflower with some greens on a caper butter sauce. The Bacon Cheeseburger ($9 + $1.00 for bacon) was ordered medium-rare, served medium rare, and was its usual sloppy, caloric, tasty self.

Even a pint of Great American Pale Ale ($4.50) showed great improvement from what it was two years ago, with a good balance between malt and hops, and enough flavor so that I'd happily order it again These beers used to be uniformly bland, but this was better than that.

I've been to Sweetwater Tavern many, many times over the years, and suspect that it went through a down period several years ago. Last night, I saw glimpses of what I originally liked about it. It's food for the masses, to be sure (this restaurant must do 1,000-1,500 covers on a busy day), but last night the masses seemed to be eating decently (albeit gloppily). The wine list remains abysmal, and the bread is not as good as it was five years ago.

Cheers,

Rocks.

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And if every dish was like the Hickory Smoked Mahi Mahi ($20) I had last night, my "grudging respect" wouldn't be grudging for much longer. This was a well-cooked piece of fish, served on mashed cauliflower with some greens on a caper butter sauce.

I had a very similar Hickory Grilled Fish on Cauliflower at Jackson's over the holidays and if was much better than I had hoped for (grilled fish s never going to be the most exciting thing on a menu).

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Sweetwater Tavern has jumped aboard the gluten-free train - in addition to their regular menus, the Merrifield branch was handing out separate menus featuring gluten-free items this evening. I only glanced at it, but it appears that they just compiled the subset of dishes they offer that are gluten-free.

Coincidentally, this was an off-night for them, at least at my table: the outer hull of my prime rib looked, and tasted, something like corned beef - I've never before mentally linked the two meats, but as odd as it sounds, my prime rib was somewhat red and fibrous. Also, my Caesar salad had overtones of horseradish (dressing) and dried rosemary (and/or oregano - sorry, writing from memory and having self-doubt (croutons)) that aren't normally there. I've had these two items at Sweetwater Tavern a multitude of times, and they were very different tonight than they've ever been.

(GARG: Change secret shoppers, trust me - you thrive on consistency, and tonight, things were very off.)

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