Checking out The Dock

The DockSOLON— In a small town any new restaurant gets a try from locals and last night we had dinner at The Dock on Windflower Lane. Billed as “Fine Dining and Spirits,” there were white tablecloths set out amid decorations reflecting proximity to a place where fish live and boats tie up. Despite nearby Coralville Lake and Lake Macbride, where fish live and boats do tie up, the experience was not intended to be local. The main sign on Highway 1 offered Seafood, Steaks and Pasta, and there were a number of additional signs the size of political yard signs stuck in the ground along the way to get the attention of passers by.

Whenever a new restaurant opens, we check out the menu for the ovo-lacto vegetarian in the house. On-line there was no mention of vegetarian fare of any kind, and while that is a sign, vegetarians know that in the Midwest, sometimes they have to choose some combination of salad and side dishes to fill up the plate. When asked, the server did not have an answer about the offerings for vegetarians, leaving an uncomfortable silence, which my dining companion filled by making some suggestions. Many of the 14 other dining places in our small town acknowledge vegetarians do exist and offer entrees for them. Nonetheless, when my omnivore friends come calling, there is no reason to rule out The Dock.

There were three seating choices: “high,” “low” and outdoors. The high seating was in close proximity to the bar where television sets were mounted to the wall, and a person could hang out, appreciate the work of the resident mixologist and catch a popular televised event. The low seating was in a dining room where the tables were a bit close together. I bumped a person at the table next to us when moving my chair. We didn’t try the outdoor seating, but might have had the greeter mentioned it upon arrival as it was a beautiful summer night.

When asked about specials, the server indicated there were none, attributing it to the fact that the chef was serving on reserve duty that weekend. He seemed a nice young man, but apparently had not been trained to market the offerings of the kitchen, chef or no. In fact, our dinner conversation turned to how the food came from farm to plate, trending toward late 20th century consumerism, where diners sought specific items, the act of purchase having hegemony over any celebration of food. Not a place a restauranteur wants customers to be.

The food was good, and reasonably priced, and that is a positive. However, rather than the good food, the restaurant’s operational issues dominated the evening. When one dines out once or twice a month, that matters.

Dining out is about expectations met, and The Dock has some work to do to earn repeat business. First, and foremost, the staff needs training. Everyone we encountered was friendly and sought to be helpful, but management hadn’t done their work. Staff is at the core of a positive restaurant experience, and while they promptly replaced the dirty forks on the table,  there shouldn’t be dirty forks, prompting diners to recall the Monty Python sketch on the subject.

An example of a mismatch between the kitchen offerings and the menu is that a side of coleslaw is listed on the online menu for $2.50. In the restaurant, the price had gone up to $3, and they were no longer offering it, the server said, indicating it should be taken off the menu. We agreed. Set aside that local cabbage is in season and abundant. All of this is an easy fix, the responsibility of management.

So at the end, the food was good and reasonably priced at The Dock, but they have some work to do to stay open in what is becoming a very competitive Solon restaurant scene.