Monday, September 28, 2015

Steve's Hot Dog's

3457 Magnolia
St. Louis, Mo.
On the web

I've been hearing about this place for a few years. Angel's son Tyler (the guy who designed our logo) raves about it and tries to go there at least once on every trip into the St. Louis area.
Steve's has two locations, one on 'The Hill' and another, the one we decided to go to, alongside Tower Grove park. Either is a little further into the city than we like to go, since, with city traffic, it can eat up a lot of our limited together-time window.
But Angel was wanting to go to Whole Foods as well this weekend, so we doubled up. She'd gone with her son to Steve's once, but for me, it was a first.
Hot dogs are rarely, if ever, a destination meal for me. They're fast and easy to grill at home, so I'll occasionally do that, but frankly, (pun intended) I don't have them very often, I couldn't recall the last time I'd slapped a wiener on a bun.
The Place:
Tower Grove is a nice area. The park is very large and well taken care of. An old-school park, mostly
trees, sidewalks and several very well constructed pavilions. If you plan a trip to the city, you should put this area near the end of a day. Relax in the park and enjoy any of the fine eateries and shops surrounding it.
Steve's is in a small building it shares wit the Tic Toc Tavern. It has picnic tables under umbrellas in the front, for the nicer days. Inside, music played loudly. I was to learn that we were listening to 'The Urge', a band fronted by Steve Ewing, the owner and the 'Steve' in 'Steve's dogs'.
I don't listen to music much and don't keep up with styles or genres. I admit I don't know 'The Urge' from 'Toad the Wet Sprocket'. I hear they did alright for themselves though.
The giant chalkboard covering most of the left wall tells you pretty much everything you need to know. Hot dogs, mac and cheese, that's it.
We stared at the board for a while, then stepped up to place our order.
Me: Steve's Famous Chili-Cheese Dog. grilled onions please.
Angel: Same, with raw onions.
Adam: Gorilla Mac & Cheese Dog.
We went combo, which adds a drink and a bag of chips.
For drinks, there's a glass-front cooler, get your own. I assumed water, but changed my mind in a sudden burst of nostalgia. Fitz's Premium Grape Pop. Fitz's is a local brand. In 1993 they bought an old bank building on the Delmar Loop and brought in a 1940's bottling line they found in Wisconsin. I've been to Fitz's. You can watch the bottling line from your table. Their flagship is their root beer, which is pretty darn good. So this pop wasn't available in my youth, but it did remind me of the venerable old Nehi brand. I had a lot of Nehi Grape when I was a kid. I do not recall having one since.
Adam grabbed the root beer, Angel, a Diet Dr Pepper. I also plucked some Lay's Potato Chips off the rack, Angel, Doritos and I think Adam went for the Lay's as well.
We found an empty plastic picnic table and stumbled into our seats. It's been a long time since I sat at a picnic table, I kept forgetting that you have to step over the seat.  We twisted our tops and boy was I pleased. The candy sweet grape flavor, the tickling burn of the carbonation. . man that was good. I hadn't had a soda pop of any kind in a year or more. . . a diet thing, but this hit the sweet and burn spot perfectly.
We sat waiting for a few minutes, people came and went, lots of pickups and take-outs. I looked around and noticed a lot of Star Wars themed toys on the shelves. . . I don't know why, but it did seem to be an underlying decor theme.
The Food:
They brought out our diner-style baskets. The dogs at Steve's are 1/4 pound Nathan's Franks.
Nathan's opened its first store in 1916 on Coney Island. So Nathan's Hot dogs are the real deal, unlike in nearly every way to the cheap, flaccid ten-pack dogs you get at the supermarket. Nathan's have that distinctive 'snap' when you bite into them, natural casings. I had trouble seeing my weenie though. It was completely covered in chili and cheese. the bun was not a standard grocery store bun either, it seemed more dense. That would keep it from disintegrating  under the wetness of the chili, but to think you could pick this up and eat it would be foolishness. You'd end up wearing most of it. Plastic knives and forks were thankfully provided. I pinched off a piece of the bun, indeed it was denser, and stretchier that a standard bun. It was also, in front of me, completely pointless. A bun, to me is a delivery vessel. I couldn't pick this thing up, so there was no need for the stretchy, dense and admittedly tasty roll. I used my knife and fork to locate the frank. I cut slices, then halved
those. A 1/4 pound wiener is pretty thick. But lordy, it was good. The chili, with beans, was quite good as well, for what it was. I prefer a more tomato-y chili, which is never really suitable for topping a hot dog, since it tends to be more moist and thin than this more traditional chili style. I like that it had beans though.
Adam's Gorilla had no chili, but it was just as smothered with creamy mac and cheese and bacon. The mac and cheese had intrigued me, though putting it on a dog seemed too much. I have trouble putting pasta on bread. . . it just seems redundant. Instead we ordered a half pint side of it, no toppings, just for Angel and I to try. Oh yeah, they got it right. A perfect blend of creaminess and cheesiness. Comfort food nirvana. We ended up finishing off that
half-pint. All of Adam's tray was gone pretty quick, Angel had made the same tactical decision I did to pretty much ignore the bun and just have the dog, chili and macaroni.
Really good hot dogs and mac and cheese. Angel mentioned she really wanted the Brat and kraut, but they had sold out, according to the note on the chalk board.
As I mentioned at the start, hot dogs are not really a destination meal for me. I rarely crave one. But as far as dogs go, these were very good. I might not get the chili next time, maybe just the 'Madeline' which is listed as 'For the purest of the pure. . . . plain, with or without bun'. I'd certainly add a side of that awesome mac and cheese though. Some of the mac and cheese bowls looked pretty good as well. Adam said he'd like to try the Hawaii 5-0 dog. . .
I really liked the place, despite the long drive. Both Adam and Angel agreed, these were some good dogs. . . and Angel knows a thing or two about dogs. . .
The price was very friendly three meals and a side for twenty seven and change. I can't think of any reason to not highly recommend this joint. By far my favorite dog shop in town.

Steve's Hot Dogs Tower Grove Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Ruby Tuesday

1120 Shapiro Drive
Festus, Mo.
On the Web

September 2015 marks this prestigious journal's sixth anniversary! Nearly three hundred highly
researched, sane and articulate posts, highlighting and occasionally skewering eateries in our limited universe.
Once again, I feel obligated to regale you, the fans, with the story of the birth of Eat and Critique.
By September, 2009, we'd lived in Jefferson County for a little over three years. We continued a tradition, an appointment of going out to eat on Saturday evenings. It was a way to interrupt our very busy lifestyles and spend some quality 'us' time.
Choosing a place to go was always a chore. Three years in, we'd pretty much settled into a rut of a handful of places. One of those places was Ruby Tuesday.
If we were celebrating something, a new job, a new client,, etc. This is where we would go, since it was the pricier of the rut-places. I usually got the same thing, yeah the rut was that deep. Steak, mashed potatoes and sauteed green beans. This particular meal, everything went wrong. The steak was overcooked, the tea was bitter, the potatoes over salted, the service was lousy, the courses were terribly timed, the check took forever, our waiter disappeared, twice. . .
I was livid. I complained about it for hours, maybe days. I was threatening to write a terse letter to the corporation. Somewhere in all that righteous indignation, I declared that we would absolutely, positively, drag ourselves out of that rut and find new places.
That's is how all of this started. My frustration with a lousy meal at Ruby Tuesday.
So, in honor of that bad meal, we decided to go there on this, our sixth anniversary.

The Place:
It's a Ruby Tuesday, one of the many mid-level chains of 'sports bars' like TGI Friday, Chili's, Outback, etc. Like the one parodied in the movie 'Office Space'. I can't usually tell them apart on the inside. They used to have more sports junk on the walls, but that went away in a small, infrequent, but refreshing display of good taste.
As you step in, you come face to face for the only real reason we ever go there, the salad bar.
We were greeted and seated in an area to the left of the bar, pretty much the same place we always get seated. Katy introduced herself and handed out menus. Not that we really needed menus, traditionally we always get pretty much the same thing.
The Food:
 The main thing at RT is the salad bar. We pick our meals based on how hungry we will be after we have our big salads.
Due to fairly recent conversations, punctuated with a lot of finger wagging, with my doctor, I have drastically altered my lifestyle. I won't bore you with details, but the alterations have worked, all my 'numbers' are back where they should be. Bottom line, I can't eat as much at a single sitting as I used to. That terrible meal I had six years ago has even been paired back. Instead of the salad bar and a full sized steak, potatoes and beans, sometimes followed by dessert, I order the Petite Sirloin and mashed potatoes to supplement the salad. I don't often even finish that.
This is what I went with again. Angel surprised us by going off script and getting the crab cakes. Adam put us back on course, choosing the chicken tenders. He doesn't do the salad bar. No appetizer this day.
Katy took our order and was nearly washed away by the slipstream we left in our rush to the salad bar. We have salads at home frequently, but keeping everything fresh is a problem. We rarely have everything we want at the same time as we want it. This is what makes RT's bar perfect. it has everything and it is all fresh. We don't have to buy heads of lettuce, pounds of mushrooms, etc. just to let them mostly spoil in or chill box.
What did I pick for my salad this time? Well, 'everything' is probably the best way to sum it up. I topped it with two dressings, blue cheese and Italian. I should point out that the photo makes it look massive, but that is not a full sized plate. Besides, this was the main course, the meat and potatoes were just side dishes.
We finished off our salads as well as the complimentary cheesy biscuits. Had we stopped then and
there this would be a completely positive review.
Katy brought the main courses a few minutes after we were finishing the salads, perfect timing. The plates looked rather sparse, nothing on them other than precisely what we ordered.
Right away I wished I had stopped with the salad. The steak was overcooked. I don't send things back, it takes too long. I ate about half of it, but was fortunately already sated by the voluptuous salad. I didn't finish the potatoes either, they were too salty. The steak also seemed too salty, something I was hard pressed to explain. It's a steak, you don't need more than a pinch of anything added to it. To over-salt steak is nothing short of criminal.
When I mentioned this to the family, Angel chimed in. "Well I wasn't going to say anything, but the crab cakes were too salty. I thought it might just be me."
No dear, it wasn't. The chef was heavy handed, we've seen it before. Jilly's has been serving food laden with an oceans' worth of the mineral for several years.
Adam said his meal was "good". That's all. He doesn't talk a lot.
Adam and Angel decided to order some dessert to take home. RT was pushing a Pumpkin Spice Cheesecake. That's what they both went with. To me, pumpkin is an Autumn decoration, not a flavor. I don't eat or drink anything with the word 'pumpkin' in it. Besides, my tolerance for sugar is way down, so I rarely have a full dessert anymore.
We were not really disappointed, the salad bar was great and our expectations for the other stuff was not very high. It is a shame that they managed to ruin a perfectly good cut of meat though, again. Katy did a spectacular job, her timing and attentiveness were excellent, no complaints there. Since we lived in Maryland for five years, our expectations for a crab cake anywhere else are considerably lowered. Nobody out here gets them right.
The real sore point with Ruby Tuesday is that we only occasionally get it all right, yet it still costs more than most other places we go, the tab this time was over sixty dollars. That's a lot to pay for a salad and small, incorrectly cooked sides.
Yeah, we'll go back, for the salad, but maybe only the salad.

Ruby Tuesday Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Thursday, August 20, 2015


7070 State Rd. BB
Cedar Hill, Mo.

This was an ad-hoc plan B. We'd planned to go to Sorelli's in Cedar Hill, pizza, pasta, sandwiches, etc. As soon as we got there I had a memory flash. While looking up the menu earlier in the day, I had noticed a mention of a benefit auction for something. The parking lot was full. Ambulances in full show car mode, more than a dozen parked Harley's, many pickups and SUV's. They had quite the turnout. All three of us shy (run) away from crowds, so we didn't even need to take a vote, we were out of there.
We don't get to Cedar Hill often, it's not a very big town and it's not really on the way to anything we can get to on much less curvy, shoulder-less and narrow roads. This was highway BB, built to 1940's standards. A farm road built around farm property lines, streams, hills and creeks.
I'd been through Cedar Hill several times this year though, looking for churches. (long story) I knew there were other places in town, so did Angel. We had, in fact, just passed one. We went there.
The Place:
The Dar-E-Kreme is in a standalone, one-story, wood frame building, 1940's or 50's vintage. It does not have a drive-thru, but it does have a walk-up window. there were a few picnic tables scattered around.
As the name implies this was an old-school Ice Cream/Burger joint. Those of us in my generation, especially those more rural of us, will fondly recall places like this. This is what constituted fast-food when I was a kid. Before McD's or any of the rest of the plastic clones of McD's. During long, hot summers people would line up for some soft-serve or a sundae. Dad might get a burger, a feast for the whole family. Ahh, memories.
We walked in and I realized that they'd clung to that nostalgic notion. They hadn't copied it, this was it.
The back wall was mostly menu, bright, colorful and in the very style of the old 'Dairy-Dips' of my long-ago youth.
The yellow and beige checker pattern linoleum tile floor showed its age, but was clean and wax-shiny. The floor sagged a little in the middle as is quite common in 50 year old buildings. The sag was almost not noticeable except for the big spinning, stainless steel ice cream machine behind the counter. the squared top of the machine was parallel to nothing. Also behind the counter, scattered around on every available top, were colorful, gallon sized jugs of various syrups for the sno-cones and other frozen treats.
The walls themselves were painted a 50's shade of pale pink and almost hidden by the hundreds of photos and mini posters of The Three Stooges, 'I love Lucy' and 'The Andy Griffith Show' etc. Above the booths were yellow and orange Tiffany style hanging lamps, featuring a smiling ice cream cone. These fixtures were hardly vintage, they looked fairly new, but they fit the place like a glove. Behind the counter were a few black tee-shirted crew members, busy, sweating a little, but behaving quite professionally.

The Food:
This I knew to be a place for a quick, satisfying burger and fries. I knew that's what Adam and Angel would order, so I went out on a limb and asked for a fish sandwich and onion rings. I had a sneaky suspicion that the fish patty would be fast food square, not a filet as you may find in more upscale places. The fish patties of my youth, like the school cafeteria served. I didn't even ask, I just knew. Adam also showed some sense of familiarity when he ordered a double burger. He just knew that the meat patties would be small and thin. It was just so obviously that kind of place.
Angel made the order, I found us a booth in the back. The place was busy.
It wasn't very long before one of the crew members brought our tray with a smile.
We had nailed it. The burger patties were small and thin, spatula smashed on the grill, rough, crispy edged. Just a simple bun, exactly like those you pick up from the supermarket. The fries were perfectly sized and exactly the shade of brown that a fry should be. I took one of Angel's, it was exactly what I expected, crispy and salty. A perfect fry.
My onion rings as well looked exactly as you would expect from a joint like this. Crispy brown, all the rings intact. The fish patty, oh that lovely fish patty met my hopes and exceeded my expectations. It was crispy, the fish itself flaky and it actually tasted like fish, not burnt cooking oil. Because there was nothing else on the sandwich, like lettuce or cheese, it was just the fish, a light dollop of creamy tartar sauce and my taste buds. What a delight. The onion rings were as good as they looked. Steamy real onions encased in a crispy batter. No flash, no added heat. Simple, nostalgic, not too heavy, not crowded with extras.
Angel and Adam were truly enjoying their baskets as well. The 'Double' was the perfect call, size-wise.
Both of them were quite happy with their meals, for the same reasons I loved mine. Dar-E-Kreme pulled it off, a simple, excellent meal.
Since we were surrounded by people coming and going with frozen treats, we were tempted. Quite uncharacteristically, we succumbed to that temptation. I decided to splurge and go for an ice cream sandwich. Not just any ice cream sandwich though. Here I had the option of a Dad's Original Scotch Oatmeal Cookie. I don't recall the other options, I knew Dad's. It's a St. Louis thing. Many eateries in the area have Dad's jars on the counter. These are old style cookies, the recipe for the Scotch Oatmeal is nearly a hundred years old.
We would be eating our treats in the car, it was pretty hot out, once again reminding me of the sweet and very sticky summer trips to the lake of my youth. Two-three inch cookies with nearly an inch if hard frozen soft-serve vanilla between them. Angel and Adam stuck with their favorites, a root beer float and a chocolate malt, respectively. I assumed they enjoyed them, I was too busy trying to catch the melting ice cream before it coated my arm and lap. I proudly and bravely hosted a small bout of brain freeze. Well worth it.
As you can probably tell by now, we loved the place. Simple, inexpensive (dinner minus the ice cream was just over twenty five bucks) and friendly. I was kind of glad Sorelli's was packed, otherwise we might have skipped around this small place yet again.
Sure, Cedar Hill is hardly on the way to much, but if you do find yourself in that area and want to hark back to the good old days, the real thing, not some plastic, industrialized imitation, this is the joint.

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