RESTAURANT REVIEW - Players BBQ in Madera used to be a very special place. The original owners put their hearts and souls into every plate that came out of that kitchen. Every single day if you didn't get into the restaurant by 2:30pm they would be sold out of tri-tip, ribs or pulled pork, and you might have to order chicken. Then they sold the restaurant to a friend of theirs who experienced issues with keeping the doors open. For over a year you wouldn't know if the restaurant would be open from day to day. Then the place sat closed until the second owner was able to find a new buyer.
Since the new owner took over there have been some changes. First there seems to be more meat available later in the day but then again the sandwiches I had today seemed to have about half the meat that the original owners put on theirs. When the place first opened meat would fall off the sandwiches into the basket. I can't describe today's sandwiches that same way. In fact nothing fell off the buns because there was no meat protruding from the inside of the bun. It reminded me of a Full-o-Bull sandwich without all the fixings, but still costing a dollar more.
The portions for the side dishes seemed to be smaller. I remember ordering a side of French fries and two people struggling to finish them. Today's portions dont' really compare. My wife and I got through our one side order of garlic fries quite quickly. Don't get me wrong they were still tasty, just not as plentiful as they once were.
There also seems to be a change in the seasoning or marinade used on the tri-tip. It doesn't taste the same as it did with the original owner's recipe. Now I list this third because it is not so much a concern as it is an observation. I am sure the new owners want to make their products their own and they did some tweaking to the cooking. My philosophy on sticking with what works is “if it ain't broke, don't fix it.” I am not saying I do not like the new taste but it's akin to the difference between Coke and Pepsi. They are both good and they both quench your thirst, but there is a difference in the taste.
The last point I have to make would be on their new loyalty program. You get a card and they punch a hole in it when you order your sandwiches and after ten hole you get a free sandwich. Since they have started this program I've been in two prior times and each time I had a guest and I bought two sandwiches for which I got two holes punch both time (Four).
Today when I ordered our two sandwiches they would only give me one hole punch, yet I spent over $21 on two sandwiches. When I explained that my other two times I ordered multiple sandwiches I got multiple hole punches you would have thought the operation of the entire restaurant came to a crashing halt with the only concern being “Who did that?”
After a few minutes of being explained “their” rules on how I spent my money, I asked for my loyalty card back and ripped it in two saying I wouldn't be back as often if this was how they were going to run this program. That I was being penalized for spending more money at the restaurant than the guy who came in once a week and ordered one sandwich. And that's fine. I didn't come in today because of the loyalty card and I didn't come in the past few times because of that card. But I did get to see how unimportant my patronage was that, in that the employees would rather argue with a customer over a hole punch then to focus on trying to please a customer that just spent $21 on two sandwiches, a side and a drink.
Will I return and will I continue to spend my money at Player BBQ? More than likely. But not as often as in the past. To me there is no longer a value in their sandwiches. With the cut backs in portions and the different tastes, it is just not as the same experience as the original was. I can still get a tri-tip at Chase's Chop Shop or on weekends at the Old School House from the Petrucci's. Or a steak sandwich with all the fixings at Full-o-Bull. Players BBQ will just settle into the list of choices I have, rather than being my top preference as it used to be. I'm not complaining. Rather, I am pointing out that (thankfully) Madera offers options on where I can spend my money.