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E-menus producing oohs, aahs

Guests at The Chop House are now dining in the digital age, and the same technology is coming to its sister restaurant, Tidewater Grill, soon.

The two Town Center restaurants are amping up the guest experience by replacing their traditional paper menus with high-tech electronic tablet menus.

"Our guys from the corporate office actually wrote the software for this technology," said Tim Kirby, general manager for The Chop House. "Once we introduce it in all of our places, we'll then roll it out for other restaurant groups."

Both local restaurants are part of Main Street Ventures, a regional group that operates a portfolio of higher-end steak, seafood and Italian establishments in Michigan, Ohio, Maryland, West Virginia and Florida.

In the name of research, I stopped by The Chop House this weekend to try out one of these gizmos. It's pretty impressive.

At first glance, it may seem like you're just viewing a paper menu on an iPad-like device, flipping through each page with a swipe of your finger. But these black leather-bound tablets from "Menuvative" can actually do a lot more.

When I tapped on the name of each menu item, not only did a full description of the dish pop up, but that was also accompanied by a photo of the finished product.

This, my friends, is a game-changer!

How many times have you been torn trying to choose the scallops or halibut, the beef or the chicken? If only I could see what they look like, you lament, as you discreetly stretch your neck to spy what other tables have ordered.

Well, now you can.

Along with the photo and description, you'll also see suggested wine pairings (yes!), which you can also tap to open another window featuring full descriptions, wine scores and tasting notes.

Not sure how to order your steak? Tap to open a chart explaining - and showing - the differences from rare to well-done. What if a dish is temporarily unavailable? It's automatically removed from the electronic menu display.

The potential for adding new features is huge. Imagine checking out nutritional information or watching a video of the chef preparing the dish you're considering.

"It's a much more interactive experience, and our guests really seem to enjoy it," Kirby said.

I did witness several "oohs" and "aahs" from nearby tables.

Because I'm personally annoyed (borderline enraged) by the proliferation of mobile phone use in restaurants - whatever happened to talking to the folks you're with, people! - I was a little suspicious of these new gadgets.

But traditionalists need not worry about a compromised dining experience. You still interact with your server to place your order. The tablets contain no games, social apps or web-surfing capabilities, and are removed from the table once orders are placed.

I'm definitely on board.

The Chop House is open for dinner from 5 to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 5 to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 5 to 9 p.m. Sunday. For reservations or more

information, call (304) 344-3950 or visit www.thechophouserestaurant.com.

* * *

Thanks to everyone who came out for this past weekend's Taste of Home Cooking School at the Charleston Civic Center.

I especially enjoyed meeting those who came up and introduced themselves as fans and complimented my emcee skills.

This is me, blushing.

I was glad to do it. After getting over the initial shock of not being able to taste all of the mouthwatering goodies being prepared onstage - "What do you mean they are door prizes for the audience?! - I settled right in and had a great time.

And watched others walk away with pineapple-cashew chicken salad, spinach-brie-bacon quiche, pulled pork tostadas with slaw and chipotle cream, braised beef short ribs, steak and bleu cheese bruschetta with caramelized onions.

But I did manage to enjoy a few bites.

Not only did Chef Michael Barna surprise me with a huge slice of Upside-Down Apple Pie at the end of the show, but a woman in the audience came up afterward to offer me a taste of the platter of sausage-stuffed mushrooms she won.

This is me, grateful.

Contact writer Steven Keith at dailymailfoodguy@aol.com or 304-348-1721. You can also follow him on Facebook and Pinterest as "DailyMail FoodGuy," on Twitter as "DMFoodGuy" or read his blog at http://blogs.dailymail.com/foodguy.


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