Billy’s – Southridge Center, Charleston, WV
Thanks to the twitteratti, we were alerted to a great dining opportunity: try out the food at the soon-to-be-open Billy’s Restaurant and the best part…it would be free!
I know, I was skeptical, too when I saw the tweet from @oncee, but he verified it was indeed true and emailed me a menu. Billy’s is the latest venture by Chef Bill Sohovich of Blossom and Soho’s fame. It is located in the former Smokey Bones building at Southridge off Corridor G. Daniel & I were anxious to see (and taste) what Chef Sohovich had to offer from this menu that appeared to be vastly different from his other establishments.
The inside of the restaurant looks just as it did when the Smokey Bones sign hung outside – same tables and chairs, lots of televisions, same rustic bar. The staff wear matching shirts with a small “Billy’s” logo. They have these really cool gadgets procured from Austria that allow them to enter orders and process credit cards tableside. Ribs are on the menu, so the familiar smell of smoky pork hung in the air as we walked to our table.
My synopsis of the menu: home-cooking. I am not a fan. I had already reviewed the menu @oncee sent me and knew I’d like to try the English-style fish & chips. I certainly wouldn’t be chowing down on a cabbage roll or fried chicken livers. My parents would love it, but that’s just not how I roll. About a dozen side dishes are available, but most are full of starch. Honestly, there are only a handful of items I would ever order.
Since the restaurant is open only sporadically this week for training and customer feedback, and let’s not forget that it’s FREE, they were out of several dishes. Unfortunately, there was no fish for me. I chose the burger with hand-cut fries.
The burger was large, presented on Texas toast and tasted just like the hamburgers mom would fry at home. The fries had a good flavor, were presented in a nice cone-shaped basket lined with paper, but were limp. I also tasted the homemade onion rings – they were large, had a nice beer batter and fried crispy. The rings were great. A very sweet, thick sauce coats the candied yams which could qualify them as a dessert. Sinful! The sweet potato fries, like the regular fries, were not crispy, and presented in the same manner. Daniel’s chicken & dumplings did nothing for me. I felt the dumplings seemed undercooked and there was a strange flavor I could not identify. Personally, I like the Teays Valley dumpling and gravy mixes much better.
I cannot comment on pricing because the prices were not listed on the menu.
Ryan, obviously part of the management team, came around to each table to speak with the customers. He asked how we liked the food and was genuinely interested in our comments.
I was excited when I found out that Chef Sohovich was adding another jewel to his restaurant crown. Though Soho’s and Blossom are on both ends of our fork scale, you can get a good meal at both. I knew from the beginning that this location and concept had great potential. Susan kept on asking why he was going in this direction and I guessed he had been watching too much Diners, Drive Ins, and Dives. I was thinking he wanted to do high brow home cooking.
Now I didn’t hobble my opinion of Billy’s before I even darken the door like Susan. She can’t help herself. I have been told by a good authority that she sneaks down to the kitchen in the middle of the night to fry a thick piece of hot bologna. I was looking forward to what Chef S was going to dish out.
I think I was half right and half wrong. He has upscaled some of the dishes, but it is far from high brow. He has collected some his favorite meals from across West Virginia and the bordering states. He has menued momma’s meat loaf and the Kentucky Hot Brown. I think he figured out that he isn’t serving East Enders and Charleston business folk, but in fact he has aimed his sights on the Olive Garden crowd. I think they will be pleased with what he has to offer.
Susan’s comments about the food are right on target and kinks are still being ironed out. Thus there will be no forks awarded for this soft opening. I have never had a crisp sweet potato fry so they were as expected, but the fresh cut fries had been ready for more than a few minutes and had already given their best. The onion rings are great and I wish I knew how much they cost, because my wallet has been getting gouged by onion rings and fountain drinks lately.
I ordered chicken and dumplings, which I consider next to the peperoni roll, a quintessential West Virginian meal. I didn’t taste the seasoning that Susan referenced, and I think it needed a little more salt and pepper. The real issue I have is: it isn’t West Virginian. Colleagues and I nearly got run out of town 10 years ago when we tried to serve noodle type dumplings in this dish. Billy’s does not use noodle type dumplings, but they have they same consistency. The dumplings natives prefer is light and fluffy much like a steamed biscuit. The kind you boil on top of your chicken ragu for 10 minutes and then you put the lid on and steam them for 10 more minutes. They should have air bubbles in them. Billy’s chicken appeared to be fresh pulled and not frozen. The sauce was under seasoned and contained carrots, which is OK. What I don’t understand is why there were sliced, skin on white potatoes in the sauce. I think the potatoes should be saved for beef stew.
I too enjoyed the candied yams. They may have been the best I have EVER had. I think there may be enough things on the menu for “The Vegetarian Wife”, but I wish that the management team will go one more step and develop a children’s menu. A good menu for the kids would make me a regular customer.
Susan and Dan agree that…
Based on our test run of Billy’s, here are our comments:
Things we liked
- The dishes are modern, plain ivory and distinctive. The chicken and dumplings came in a bowl with a lid. Remember, you eat first with your eyes.
- Service by Mimi was excellent. She was prompt, knowledgeable about the menu and friendly.
- The onion rings are great.
- Candied yams have a yummy thick sauce made with Bourbon.
- There are menu items that you can’t get anywhere else in the area.
Things we didn’t like
- Fries lacked crispness.
- Potatoes don’t belong in chicken & dumplings.
- Chicken & dumplings lacked seasoning.
- How about a “head’s up” that the burger comes on Texas toast instead of a bun?
- Offer a 50/50 mix on the fries: half regular, half sweet potato.
- Indicate on the menu which items are vegetarian.
- Consider another non-starchy side for people watching their carbs.
- Develop a children’s menu.
121 Cross Terrace Blvd
South Charleston, WV 25309