My wife and I went on the evening of July 25, 2009, a Saturday evening.
Specifics: to find the Spillway, look for "Old State Road" which intersects SR 730 about 1000 ft north of the junction of SR 350. There is a small sign indicating the turn. You'll proceed on a narrow road that eventually runs along a creek, and the restaurant driveway is unmarked blacktop that Ys off the road to the left (assuming you are going west/north on State Rd.) Park where you can in the gravel parking lot.
The restaurant (not really a lodge or an "inn") is one story inside a converted farmhouse set on a hillside overlooking a valley, where you can almost see the spillway of Cowan Lake from the restaurant.
Impressions and my past history with the place:
My general impression of the Spillway is: mainly a locals place that caters to a local crowd. Decor inside is dated and worn with lots of dark wood like walnut and dark paneling, sort of like the state park nearby that went out of fashion with the construction of Caesars Creek SP in the late 1970s. There is a porch area in the back of the place with a sitting area and a deck outside which looks like an overflow seating area - it overlooks the hill - I have never seen it in use in the last 10 years.
The nicest places to sit in the place are the booths in the rear of the restaurant that overlook the hillside. Otherwise, there are lots of smallish, low dark wood tables with colonial style chairs from the 70s.
We used to go a few times a year back around 2000, then we hit a stretch of really poor table service (I mean somewhat hostile and unpleasant, with waitresses being replaced in the middle of our meal) at the restaurant. We tried it again about a year ago just to get out of town, and service has been OK on the 3-4 occasions we've tried it since then.
The restaurant's main focus is grilled meats: steaks, pork chops, chicken, shrimp, some fish like salmon, and they also have some pastas that I have never tried. I never recall having soup there. There is a salad bar (explained below.) It's basically straight up American steakhouse fare.
The night we were there, they were offering a steak fajita meal for $14.95, or with salad bar for (I think) $16.95. My wife selected this entree, with the salad bar. I chose the "steak and shrimp", a 9 oz NY Strip (done Medium) and five large grilled shrimp, with the home fries, and salad bar, for about $20.50.
(On local-yokel peculiarity of this joint is that when we asked a few years ago, they would absolutely not
substitute a non-potato, like onion rings, for the potato that comes with the meal. We have not asked since then. )
My steak was grilled a bit unevenly, with a burnt tip at one end. The interior was a bit less pink than I am used to with "Medium", and the edges were really in "medium well" territory, but it wasn't so far off that I felt like sending it back. It was flavorful and tender with good marbling.
The shrimp were a bit "off". Generally the grilled shrimp here have a succulent, black grill marked exterior. These shrimp were mainly white on the outside, with a bit of black, and covered with way too much paprika for color. They were fully cooked, but they weren't seared and colored by high heat as I have come to expect. (They looked boiled, not grilled.)
My wife's dinner:
The fajitas were not as good a choice as my meal.
The fajitas were served almost Mexican style. I say "almost" because they had some, but not all the elements of real fajitas. There were three warm tortillas wrapped in foil; a small cup of salsa; the fajita strips were mixed with grilled onions, peppers, and relatively flavorless kernel corn.
My wife said that the fajitas didn't have any flavor. Basically they tasted extremely dry and flavorless.
Also, while the requisite skillet they brought them out on was steaming hot, my wife reported that everything cooled off *very* quickly. The dryness and flavorlessness of the fajitas had me wondering if they make a huge batch at the start of the evening and serve it until closing.
Also, these fajitas had absolutely no discernable seasoning, Mexican or otherwise. No cumin or other flavors. Basically they seem to have grilled strips of (probably) skirt or flank steak with no marinade.
My impression is that the fajitas were basically a cheap (and low quality) way to present something called a "steak" to customers for an inexpensive price, and they didn't have a good handle on how to season or present them. Next time we will avoid, as we will anything else that seems like too much of an experiment for this place.
The salad bar:
Some of the items in the salad bar - such as the sprouts - just seem a bit tired. We often find croutons swimming in the crocks of salad dressing. No sneeze guard. We think that the salad bar needs more attention and some fresher ingredients.
The bread that comes with the meal is a DIY thing: they leave a loaf of Walmart bakery bread (really - it's on the wrapper) in the bag on a cutting board and you saw your own pieces off with a bread knife. They leave the bag on the bread so that in theory customers are not touching the loaf. Still it's a mild turn off. Margarine is dished communally out of a large crock of margarine on the bread table, which is at the end of the salad bar.
Tonight we didn't feel like we received very attentive service at our table. Not bad service, just the "set it and forget it" kind. This was reflected in our tip.
I had a great meal, with the exceptions that the steak was a bit overdone, the shrimp had no grill color or flavor, and the salad bar was lame. My wife had a mediocre meal and wished she had picked something else. Check for two with soft drinks and no coffee or dessert was $41 and change.
We go to the Spillway when we get tired of eating at the same local places and we are ready for a country drive out to the Cowan Lake vicinity.
My opinion is that the cook(s) don't have much of a range of experience and don't innovate well at all.
This restaurant is coasting, in my opinion. They have great potential, but they cling to exactly the same format with no changes. With competition they would not be able to compete and stay in business. I suspect that the economy in Clinton County (DHL layoffs) has something to do with the lack of improvements to the business.
They need improvement and a facelift in all regards: food (variety and quality of non-steak entrees), the salad bar, and more customer friendly policies (never ran into any other place that would not give you rings instead of fries.) They could really use someone with a formal culinary background in the kitchen.
And in general they don't seem to try very hard - they can't even cut pieces of bread for the customers and they let customers manhandle the loaves themselves? C'mon.
Still, it's our thing to run out there once in a while, mainly for the outdoors atmosphere and the drive and to get away. Tonight was about an average experience for this restaurant for us.
<message edited by donw9876 on Sun, 07/26/09 1:12 AM>