Review: Menu and Hours app for Android is worth the wait

A screenshot of Menu and Hours. This is a portion of the Dish on Market menu.
A screenshot of Menu and Hours. This is a portion of the Dish on Market menu.

Let me start this review with a few disclosures.

I’m friends with Michelle Jones, the creator of the Menu and Hours app. Michelle began to publish my $10 Challenge pieces on her popular blog, Consuming Louisville, back in 2010 when I was just a fresh-faced blogger fresh out of a traditional newsroom. I consider her a role model and a friend.

I’m a financial supporter of Menu and Hours. I donated money to the Menu and Hours Kickstarter campaign, which means I received this app for free as a reward for my donation.

I’m not a tech writer. I still haven’t figured out the technology behind fax machines (something about pictures or magic, I think).

We square?

Good.

*clears throat*

Menu and Hours is a Louisville-centered restaurant app that provides you with the basics — the menu, hours, location and phone numbers of some of the region’s local restaurants. There’s no reviews, PDFs or other annoyances I’ve found on similar food-centric apps. Instead, Menu and Hours uses a slick, clean design to relay the information that really matters when you’re hungry.

Menu and Hours debuted on the iPhone in September and arrived in the Google Play store last week. As a devoted Android operator, it’s been a long few months of seeing iPhone-leaning friends plug the usefulness of this app. Now it’s my turn.

The app’s appearance immediately grabbed me. There’s no pictures and not a lot of color, just some bright blue spot color and a couple of clean sans serif fonts. It’s odd to see a food app without a lot of bells and whistles, but the sparse displays help me hone in on the basic information I want from my favorite restaurants.

The restaurants are sorted into basic categories such as American, Chinese and Breakfast/Brunch, but I really like the special categories listed at the bottom — Louisville Classics, New and Noteworthy and Fancy Cocktails, to name a few.

Non-traditional categories in Menu and Hours.
Non-traditional categories in Menu and Hours.

Restaurants are easy to find throughout the app, whether you search by keyword, location or type of food. When you find a restaurant that you particularly enjoy, you can add them to your favorites by typing the star in the top right-hand corner so the name will appear in the left sidebar for easy access any time you use the app. This will come in handy when I want to show friends and co-workers the items available at some of my go-to establishments (I’m looking at you, Dish on Market and Wild Eggs).

The menus are comprehensive in the Menu and Hours listings. Prices and descriptions are available for most restaurants. It gets a little dicey with places such as Sweet Surrender bakery that have menus that change daily. But Menu and Hours includes a note when a restaurant has a flexible selection and, in the case of Sweet Surrender, lists all the items that could be offered on a given day.

Some of my favorite Louisville restaurants haven’t agreed to be listed in Menu and Hours — yet. I remember Michelle making the rounds of some Louisville businesses to ask for their inclusion in this app. Now that Menu and Hours has arrived in the Android space, I hope restaurants can see the value of providing her with their information for inclusion in Menu and Hours. I’d also like to see restaurants working with Michelle to make sure the most up-to-date menu is available on the app. I found one case (Café Lou Lou, specifically) in which the menu had been changed in real life, but not on Menu and Hours.

Even though Menu and Hours is a fairly new addition to the smartphone horizon, I already wonder what I did without it. Menu and Hours is one of those few apps that I can see myself using every day, right along with Twitter and Facebook. This app tells me where to go and what to expect when I get there. I don’t just love Menu and Hours because I’m a Louisville food writer. I love Menu and Hours because I’m a Louisville food eater.

[Review] The Motorola Xoom will help you cook, grocery shop and blog. Just don’t drop it.

Photo courtesy sekimura via Flickr.

(Blogger’s note: This isn’t a review of the Xoom’s tech specs and other things I don’t understand. This is all about how the Xoom integrates into food-related tasks. For more high-tech info and a review, give CNET a click.)

 The nice people over at Guthrie/Mayes Public Relations in downtown Louisville had a good question for me:

“Do you want to test the Motorola Xoom tablet on Verizon’s 4G network to see how useful it is in the kitchen?”

You had me at Motorola Xoom, Guthrie/Mayes.

Before I used the Xoom, I had never had any intimate times with a tablet. I wasn’t sure how useful a tablet could be in my life when I already use a MacBook and a smartphone.

After a couple of weeks with the Xoom, I discovered that the device is a nice addition to the life of a techie cook like me.

I used the Xoom for three main purposes: cooking, grocery shopping and blogging here at Ashlee Eats. Here’s a breakdown of how the device performed in each category:

Cooking

The Good: This is where the Xoom performed the best. It was easy to pop up a recipe from the Internet, sit the Xoom on its stand (sold separately, but definitely a necessity) and turn the device into a modern cookbook. It takes up less room than a laptop, which is the device I usually use to call up recipes I find on the internet. For optimal use, I changed the sleep settings on the Xoom so the screen would stay active for 20 minutes at a time, eliminating the need to constantly touch the screen and leave smudges while cooking. I cooked this Moroccan beef stew recipe using the Xoom.

The Bad: I mainly use Pinterest to mark recipes I find online, and the mobile version of this site doesn’t even compare to the full version. It’s hard to access all of your pins, so I found myself Googling the recipes I wanted to access.

Grocery Shopping

The Good: The strength of the Xoom in grocery shopping depends on what app you use to keep track of your grocery list. I discovered and fell in love with Out of Milk, an app that allows users to keep multiple shopping lists, a list of pantry items and to-do lists. There is also a barcode scanning feature that makes compiling a grocery list a matter of pointing the Xoom and letting the app do the work. I also never had any connection problems accessing my apps on the Xoom once I got inside of stores, a problem I sometimes have on my smartphone.

The Bad: Boy, is this thing bulky when you are trying to grocery shop. It was hard to balance this 1.6-pound device in one hand while grabbing cans and cartons with the other. The tablet’s size (the screen is about 10 inches) also puts in a category of being too big to fit in a purse, but too small to fit in a computer bag. Since I didn’t have a case, I found myself cradlingbthe Xoom and shopping in fear that I would drop it.

Blogging

The Good: I got to use a Bluetooth keyboard with the Xoom, which made blogging from the tablet even better than using my laptop. It was easy to include links and switch between different screens and applications because of the touchscreen, and the keyboard allowed for traditional typing.

The Bad: You have to buy the keyboard separately, or face a lot of blush-worthy autocorrects if you’re a clumsy touchscreen user like me.

Overall, I really liked the experience of using the Motorola Xoom. Service was fast, it was easy to use, and it was great for using to cook. But the $499 price tag, the need for so many accessoriea and the inconvenient size make me hesitate to buy one for myself.