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Brookfield Zoo

We did not have any plans for this weekend but we figured we had come all the way to Chicago and had time to do something else if we could time traffic and distance. It didn't take long to figure that the we'd all enjoy taking in a different zoo. We usually go to John Ball Zoo a few times a year and went to Binder Park Zoo earlier in the year. The Brookfield Zoo looked like a good candidate, it was easy to get to, large and on our way back to Michigan. These were important criteria given our limited time budget.

Once, we go there I began to notice a couple of things. The first thing was that the was a noticeable division of old exhibits/buildings and new. The new exhibits were quite good and we got to see animals that we didn't get to see in the zoos we had been to. My favorite had to bee the aardwolf. I had never heard of such a thing. My wife was a big fan of the aardvark once we found it hiding in its den. The Polar Bears were also quite impressive. The one thing everyone enjoyed that I did not expect was the dolphin show. I had no idea they had a dolphins. If we were to go in the future we would probably skip the show itself and watch the dolphins from one of the under water viewing areas. These are free and I am betting it would be good time to watch them during the shows.

However the other things we noticed was less positive. It was clear they still had a lot of cleanup to do at the very least. There was no real flow to the zoo. We are used to an obvious path that allows you to see pretty much everything at the zoo. The map listed a couple of paths but when we tried to follow them we found that what we thought were entrances to the various zoo buildings were not entrances or were old entrances that were no longer in use. We had to back track several times to try and find entrances. This meant that our limited time was cut even further. I am hoping that in the future they will be able to use the unused spaces in the park to not just expand their offerings but to improve the flow. There was lots of concrete that just seemed to be taking up space. The other negative thing was the service/food quality of the place we got food. Someone needs to tell the cooks that bison meat is not the same as beef. It was ridiculously dry by the time I go it. The service was also terrible. The customers would get a number but often times after far too long a wait the food would be served up with a different number. This caused further delays and a great deal of frustration.

Overall it was a good time and I would not mind going back at all when we had more time. There were several areas we ended up skipping because we ran out of time or had to go over very briefly. I'd still skip most of the extra cost items like the trolley, dolphin show, etc. There did not seem to be much benefit to them unless you were someone who had been to the zoo a great deal and were looking for something new. The only lasting disappointment was we did not get many pictures because the battery died and we did not have any spares or the ability to charge it.

Papa's Dog's and More

Today we finally stopped by Papa's Dog's and More for lunch. We had intended to stop by for a while now but just hadn't gotten around to it. This is primarily due to the location, they are in a strip mall on the end of 28th street that Grandville has sucked the life out of. We have almost not reason to head down that way. They had apparently just moved into a new location a couple doors down from their smaller original location. The new one looks like a pretty basic setup but clean and had plenty of tables which were being put to good use while we were there.

The guy, who I think was the owner, gave us the run down. Their schtick is that they bake skinless Koegel's or other sausages into homemade bread. This does mean you're limited to what they have on hand or you get to wait forty-five minutes for them to cook what you're interested in. However, they have plenty of their standard Papa dog's so we went with them. The kids went with basic white bread while Melissa and I tried the Garlic Cheese Bread and Pretzel Bread. The bread was quite good. I'd definitely like to see more hot dogs places take a moment and re-evaluate their buns. There is certainly room for the basic hot dog bun to improve. Another point in their favor is the toppings bar. The selection was huge. They had an actual salad bar full of toppings of various types; a cooler full of various salad dressings and other condiments; and crock pots of chili and cheese.

However, I am not really a fan of the dog being baked into the bread. I would rather have traditional shaped buns made out of their various bread types. There must be a trick or two that I am missing when it comes to keeping the toppings on. No matter what I did the dog rolled and dumped the toppings and a look at my family's trays confirmed I was not the only one. Still, I would definitely be willing to go back. The food was good and you could spend plenty of visits trying out various toppings/dogs combinations. The pricing was reasonable and the location is close enough that there's no real planning needed to go. If you want something specific than you will want to call ahead so they can have what you want available.

Cinco de Mayo

Lunch during the week and Dinner on the weekends are clearly different things. I've been to many restaurants where ordering the lunch special resulted in food so terrible that you'd question whether it was the same place that served the amazing dinner you had the weekend prior. I try and keep this in mind if lunch turns ends up being more than a tv dinner.

In this case, one of my co-workers and I decided to try a new Mexican restaurant that opened up near where we work. The name was Cinco de Mayo and it is in an old Perkins building at 3300 Alpine Avenue Northwest, Grand Rapids, MI 49544. It appears to be part of a chain of restaurants know variously as Cinco de Mayo, El Burrito and others. I'm not sure of the exact relationship and which ones are tied in but the restaurant I was at was clearly a work in progress. There was a small bar area that was unfinished and waiting a liquor license. The dining area was clearly redecorated Perkins but comfortable and appropriate for the style of restaurant. The menu was well laid out and had a large selection. The service quick and efficient. The food off the lunch menu was good but not great. Prices were reasonable for a sit down restaurant.

I would have no problem going again if someone wanted to go. However, there is nothing to draw me there again either. The whole experience reminded me of an Applebees. Like Applebees, it is a solid middle of the road restaurant where you can find something to eat. The problem is if you know what you want there are so many other specialized restaurants that are better. There are cheaper places to get your fix of Mexican and places that have a better Mexican. If you go, skip the lunch menu and the specials. You are better off digging into the menu and looking for something that they can hit out of the park.