Sunday, November 19, 2006

Will the Real Plum's Upper Room Stand Up?

Saturday, I picked up a copy of InTake and almost spit out my lunch when I saw the glowing review of Plum's Upper Room, the new eatery on Main Street in Zionsville. Whoa, did I ever disagree with the review!

On my visits to Plum's Upper Room, a few dishes were fine while a couple of others were nothing but ordinary. Nothing was truly outstanding. They seem to be trying to be both a coffee shop and wine bar. Presentation was hit or miss, service was amateurish and inattentive, the prices too high for the quality and portions of food, and the pastry was less than special. (Case in point, $3 for a mug of cider?) Baked goods were dry and listless (and I've tried many of them however, the shortbread is good), soups were bland, salads were tired and overdressed, and meat was cooked well in one spot and dry in another. The $9 sandwiches at lunch one day were laughable -- tiny rolls with a slice of meat and poorly seasoned sides (when they arrived at all.) (The coleslaw was at first, missing, then awful.) It was worse with bland potato soup and a mixed green salad that was swimming in dressing -- almost to the point of being inedible. Even the dish they photographed for the article was a mess!

Cumbay may feel the room is an extension of the owner's home, but when I was there last, I think I wandered *in* to the owner's home. That is, the restrooms were not clearly marked and after wandering around a bit, I drifted through an open door (that I thought led to a stairwell) and into a bathroom. There wasn't a sign on a door to be found and I think I walked into someone's office or living room or something in the process.

Sure, people get excited when a new, local independent restaurant starts up that looks good, but a reviewer would have to be pretty enamored with the place to overlook the monstrous problems. Does it have something to do with Plum's being a new, local independent restaurant? Yes, of course it does. But when the restaurant is sub-par, it does the reviewer, their publication, and customer, and the restaurant, a disservice.

18 comments:

christine (myplateoryours) said...

Just out of curiosity, why do you keep going back? I choose local and independent over a corporate chain, all things equal, but clearly they aren't equal here. What's the attraction?

braingirl said...

Actually, in this case, Plum's was part of a larger discussion between a couple of reviewer friends and myself. I went once with a friend (also a writer) and after pronouncing a judgement (awful), she convinced me that maybe I should take a bigger view and try it again. The only attraction was that I thought I'd give them a second chance.

It's a big reason why I'm not a formal restaurant reviewer. Reviewers *do* have to check and recheck for consistency. I just couldn't keep going back to some place that was awful. (After my first meal there, it was beyond me thinking who would ever go back a second time.)

Anonymous said...

Plums is much better off not to have you patronize their establishment. I find it warm and inviting and always find something I enjoy eating. My palate is apparently not as well developed as yours. I may have seen you there. Were you using your laptop?

Friend of Plums

braingirl said...

If you mean that it's better than someone who knows and likes good food shouldn't worry about eating there, then, don't worry, I won't be eating there. Nor will I be recommending it to anyone I know.

Eat what you like but don't expect me to give it a pass. (People buy two-buck chuck from TJ's by the case, too, and they're no less entitled to do it. I just don't have to like it.) Lots of regulars keep lots of subpar restaurants in business. But don't expect me to endorse it as a fine-dining establishment -- and don't be offended when I call a critic for doing so.

(and no, both times I went, I was always there with a dining companion -- never my laptop.)

Traci Cumbay said...

Sometimes the stars align. Plum's provided a wonderful experience, through and through. And that cider was worth every penny.

Anonymous said...

My fiance and I were considering reserving Plum's for our rehearsal dinner in June, so we decided to have lunch there on our one-year anniversary to check out the food and service beforehand. I called and made a 12:30 pm lunch reservation; Plum's staff called back and said since it was our anniversary, a special table by the window would be reserved for us, but at 12 noon, not 12:30 pm as requested. When we arrived at the restaurant, the very young and inexperienced waitress/hostess said they did not have a table by the window (even though a nearby table had a "reserved" card on it), and that we could "just sit anywhere." Then, she disappeared for about twenty minutes. When we were finally approached by same waitress, after patrons who had arrived after us were served their lunches, I asked what was the soup du jour. The waitress replied that "the soup was not ready yet," at the same time that another wait staff person was bringing out bowls of soup to other customers behind her! Our experience at Plum's became even more laughable at that point. I proceeded to order the chalkboard advertised Croque Monsieur sandwich, and after another twenty minutes, the waitress returned to announce that they had run out of the Croque Monsieur. So, I re-ordered, and fifteen minutes later, our bland and nothing special lunches finally arrived. We waited another twenty minutes for our bill, and lo and behold, the non-existent Croque Monsieur sandwich magically appeared on the bill tab, along with our other lunch items. Then, the waitress said she didn't know how to remove the item from the bill, and she would have to get another waitress to do that. One would think that if a couple was considering use of the restaurant for a rehearsal dinner, that the owner would make some sort of attempt to not only personally greet said couple, but to ensure food and service were impeccable. It is a shame that the food and service were so lousy because it is a charming space in which to dine.

Anonymous said...

every time I have been to plum's the service has been outstanding, the food has been delectable, and the ambiance couldn't be more perfect. i can't imagine what lesser gods may be frowning upon you that have had poor experiences there, but clearly the gods have lavished their blessings on plum's. i love it, and i'm a foodie freak!

Anonymous said...

Braingirl,
I thought journalism was supposed to be objective. You clearly have allowed your personal expectations to get in the way of good reporting; so much so that you have tainted further postings. Plum's didn't have a chance with you at the pen.

It is unfortunate that you have not allowed yourself to experience what the majority of us have...a great, cozy little place that offers a variety of unique items and combinations from espresso to pastries.

It is definately a place where you can go to be with people you care about and let the stress melt away. A "new" kind of venue that has tables and chairs but also allows you the comfort of sitting for hours (if you choose) on overstuffed couches.

You should be applauding the owner for striking out and attempting to give the people of Zionsville and the Indianapolis Area something truly different. For simply having the guts to have a beautiful coffee bar perfectly meshed with tastfully chosen wines and backed by a seasonal, whole foods menu. Did you ever even bother to interview the owner?

Suffice it to say, Plum's Upper Room is a dynamite and comfortable restaurant that holds a high level of integrity which most seem to lack today.

braingirl said...

This is a blog. I'm not a journalist nor am I paid to do this. I'm under no shadow of objectivity. My only opinions colored about Plums were due to my own experiences there. I don't know anyone involved in the business. (Not sure what other personal opinions you think could have colored my thinking. The food was just bad. Maybe it's better now, who knows.)

Reviews -- formal or informal -- *are* personal opinions. I don't have advertisers and "no negative review" policies like many of the publications in town. I can say exactly what I see, as in my opinion, an issue.

When I comment on a restaurant, it's as any other customer sees it -- good and bad. I don't often return multiple times (newsflash, most customers don't if they have a bad experience), and I don't interview the owners. And FYI, I receive no active income from this blog. I'm not paid by restaurants to post, or show up, or mention their names.

Why does my opinion matter? Hey, if you disagree, it doesn't. Don't read. Most foodies I know will go out of their way to check something out on their own. If you do agree (and many people I've spoken with on line and off do agree), it's only because we share a common language of food.

Clearly Plum's has fans. Good for them. Doesn't mean I have to go back or endorse them. Eat what and where you like.

Anonymous said...

I fully agree with brain girl. Plum's has terrible service and food! I kept going back as well because there are not many good independent restaurants in this city plus I live in the area. I was in denial and gave second and third chances only to be disappointed each time. I find it sad how low the standard is here. I wish the pidge (a zionville resteraunt from a few years ago) would come back & save me.

Anonymous said...

Not sure what the difference was but I have eaten in several 100.00 a plate plus restaurants and Plums was on par with many of them.

Maybe I just got lucky. You are as you have mentioned of course entitled to your own opinion but my experience was completely different. The meal and service were wonderful from the tapenade, to the soup, to the entree.

I did skip dessert so I'll offer no take on that.

J. Silverheels Gray said...

Regarding the last two comments: The Pidge *has* come back, and it's at Plum's. Chef Casey Uglow, the Pidge's owner / chef, has been cooking at Plum's since mid-October. I've heard nothing but rave reviews since then.

SkepticalGeek said...

My wife and I have eaten here a couple of times and have loved it on both occasions.

At our last visit, I had enjoyed a ginger carrot carrot cake that was absolutely one of the best deserts I have ever tasted in my life.

internationaldiner said...

Awful and bland food, bad service and attitude from the wait staff.

One of my girlfriends and I chose to try Plums last week to see if it will be a good place to have future business luch meetings. Well, they lost all our future business and will never waste our time and money there again.

As we were walking up the stairs, we noticed somewhat dirty ceiling. No one was at the front but we were approched by a middle age waitress who told us to sit anywhere we'd like.
It was about 1 p.m. and there were only four other tables with people eating.
I ordered 'Black Current Iced Tea'-$3.00- and Mapleleaf Duck Breast Salad-$13.00-. My friend ordered Panini -$12.00-

First, the Iced tea was very dark and sweet but it still needed more flavor. The waitress came to refill the glass with her pitcher of tea but it looked very light in color and diluted. I asked her to see if it could be made any darker like my first glass, she said no and explained what kind of tea it was and how they brew the tea first and then add ice before they serve it.Doh! Isn't that the way all ice teas is made? She walked away acting very upset with me. I ended up adding 2 packages of sugar to get it as sweet as first one and it still didn't taste the same.
After we both looked around at the other tables, we saw that everyone had the color variety of iced tea. Nevertheless, I gave up on asking for a new iced tea beverage.

Duck breast was good but some dried up noodles were served with it that were too hard and chewy. The spinach that was served with the meal was not fresh at all.
The soup that came with the salad was bland although it was supposed to be peppery and have a "kick" to it. The panini was very tiny and was served with a small wilted salad-almost looked like cole-slaw-.

The worst part of our experience was that the waitress never came back to check on our table.
45 minutes passed before she came back. She returned just to collect the plates from our table.
I told the waitress that the noodles were too dry and couldn't eat it. She responded, "'I will take it off your check." and quickly walked away. I was hoping to have a replacement lunch of a quick house salad to take back to work, but she never offered anything as a replacement for my uneaten lunch.

Another 10 minutes went by, the server comes back and says, "Your tea and lunch is comped!" No apology or no offering of another replacement. I spent an hour for lunch and was still hungry! The server was very rude through out our dining experience.

Another interesting thing - my friend's change was $4.01, the server came back with just $ 4.00. This bothered both of us just! We could have used that lucky peeny after THAT lunch!

I feel really bad for the owner who hired and trusted that server to represent the establishment.

I am actually glad to find this blog to let others know 2 other people had a bad experience as well.
Some people like 'braingirl' ,the lady who wanted have a rehearsal dinner and I are the kind of people who will give honest opinion on other things in life. -When others said, 'no others ever complained about the same thing! You are the only one......'

Over all the rating is 1 from 1-5, 5 as high point. I will go out of my way to make sure that I discourage other people from stepping into 'Plums'!

Oh, by the way I love to try small local restaurants since I travel internationally and have eaten in all types of establishments - from 5 star restaurants to local street vendors.

Anonymous said...

You have spent too much time overseas. Bad grammar and spelling make for an unbelievable review.

zcalgal said...

As a Zionsville resident I have been following this blog thread with much interest. I have to say I agree with everyone! I have such a love/hate relationship with this establishment. I have been there probably a dozen times and while I will continue to go I will no longer bring guests with me to play 'restaurant roulette'.

The good news - I have had a few of the best lunches of my life here. There was a beef tenderloin sandwich that still haunts my dreams it was so good. I have had some fantastic soups; great homemade taste, great flavor, etc.
I do love the atmosphere, the surroundings are very nice and on a beautiful day it is wonderful to sit in one of the windows and watch the people on the street below.

The bad news - over 50% of the time my soup is cold and has to be sent back. Every time I have been in Plums people are sending their soup back for this same reason. You would think they would realize they have a problem with this and FIX IT! The worst part is that when this problem is brought to the server's attention they: 1) act surprised, and 2)act insulted and remind the customer that "there isn't a microwave here to warm the soup up." I don't care HOW you do it, just serve me soup at the temperature it should be served!

Overall the service is terrible. There is one server that I like and when I go in I try to get her if she is there so I know I will be taken care of. The rest are rather a hit-or-miss bunch. The worst is the lady that I think is the owner or manager. The last time I came in they had just opened for the day, I was the first (and only) customer there at the time. She brought me my drink but then proceeded to ignore me for ten minutes while she chatted with a friend at the front counter. She then brought me cold soup (cold, not even lukewarm) and the wrong sandwich. I went ahead and ate it because I was afraid of how long it would take to get the right one! I ended the meal with an overly dry shortbread cookie. What a bummer!

So, I keep going back hoping I will get the "Good Plums" - a great tasting hot soup, a wonderful chicken salad or beef tenderloin sandwich, and a tasty and moist dessert. I go back with high hopes but low expectations.

internationaldiner said...

Another blog to

Anonymous said...

You have spent too much time overseas. Bad grammar and spelling make for an unbelievable review.

4/28/2008 10:03 PM

Are you the owner of Plums?
English is my second language. Could you write a review in French or German? If you do, I would love to read it.

It is a shame for the restaurant owner to not to get it right after all these comments.

zville5 said...

When Plum's opened, more than 18 months ago, a rash of bad reviews appeared -- focused mainly on horrible service and hit-or-miss food quality. It was a new place in a new space and much can be forgiven for the first few weeks or months. But now, there are no more excuses ... and the problems are the same or worse. Service this poor takes some deliberate effort. A Tuesday night, only three tables of guests, and six (count 'em) staff on duty ... and it's 90 minutes from arrival to entree. With no explanations let alone an apology, clearly the staff saw nothing unusual in this. They are universally indifferent and sluggish and I can't imagine what the situation would be like in the midst of a real "rush."
If something had arrived that was worth the wait, again much might have been forgiven. But Plum's seems to have only two spices in the rack -- salt and pepper -- and they use both in large quantities. Of the five different entrees at our table, nothing was acceptable at half the price. (If you can imagine a dry chicken breast drizzled with a sauce and served with six overcooked zucchini slices at $21, or a postcard sized omelette served with ... nothing ... at $17, then you have a sense of the value for money here.) The entire experience was so incomprehensibly bad that we thought we were in the midst of a practical joke.