Monday, January 25, 2016

The Sammich Shack

10910 Hwy 21
Hillsboro, Mo.

Leon's Prime Cuts/Sammich Shack Facebook page.

I saw this place around the first of the year. A simple roadside sign, red painted on white. Another one, similar, was mounted to the roof of a small camping trailer in a parking lot, just south of the intersection of Highway 21 and Highway B.
I looked it up on the web later, didn't find it. I searched Facebook and found comments referring to it on Leon's Prime Cuts page. Yup, there it was, menu and everything.
So for the next couple of weeks, I tried to find a good time to stop
by. On this Saturday morning I was up and out well before noon, which for me is kind of unusual. I was heading to Desoto to try to grab some photos, for historical purposes, of the Ball Creek Bowling Alley. Or should I say the former bowling alley, it burned down earlier in the week. I'd never actually been to the pin den, but I do pass by it nearly every week.  I knew The Shack didn't open until 11, so I got the pictures, turned around and headed back to Hillsboro, getting there around five minutes past. Good enough. They had just turned on the 'OPEN' light, the window opened as I approached. A cheery young lady, Terra, greeted me. I scanned the white board menu.
The Food:
"Excuse me, what are Party Girl Potatoes?" I asked. I heard potatoes covered in cheese, she may have said something else, but she had me at potatoes covered in cheese.
The menu was pretty simple, I liked that. Pulled pork, brisket, ribs and burgers. Other sides were chips and 'Ho-Made Slaw'. I like slaw but I prefer it to be made by food service professionals, rather than. . . you know. . .
I asked for a burger with cheese, the prostitute potatoes, a bottle of water and a quarter slab of ribs to take home to Angel. She's a better judge of that sort of thing. I will eat ribs, but usually only if that's the only meat choice.
Terra told me that it would take a few minutes and that she'd bring it out to me when it was ready. No problem, I spend a lot of time in my car so I keep it pretty stocked with provisions. By that I mean books. So I sat there in the lot, reading and listening to the Tappet Brothers on St. Louis Public Radio. I also thought about where I would actually eat my lunch. There were no picnic tables, not that it mattered, it was twenty nine degrees outside. I'd eat in the car.
Before long Terra came out of the trailer hauling a plastic bag and came toward me. I lowered the window and thanked her, then drove to my favorite place in town to dine in my car, the Hillsboro Cemetery.
Long time fans will recall that I have hobbies other than griping about restaurant food. I visit cemeteries and photograph them, for the site 'findagrave' for the past six years and for the Jefferson County Historical Society for the past year, since they lowered their admission standards and let me join. I do other things for them as well, like  photographing every church in the county, but my heart always pulls me toward cemeteries.
Cemeteries are a great place for a quick lunch in the car. Quiet, peaceful, most often there is no one else there.  Well, living people anyhow and the dead ones don't seem to mind my frequent visits.
So I opened it all up, and it was good. It was what I call a diner style burger. Thin patty, standard bun, lettuce, pickle and onions off to the side. I also found a little tub of Baby Ray's Barbecue Sauce. I threw all that together and bit in. Yummy! A good, old fashioned, peppery griddle burger.
Most of the upscale burger and steak places feel the need to put a half pound of beef on a burger. I don't care for that. Give me a thin patty and I'm good. If I'm still hungry, I can get another one. I could eat this thing with one hand and get my mouth around it without popping my jaw.
I tested the Party Girl Potatoes. I was not disappointed. Exactly as advertised, cubed potatoes
slathered in melty cheddar cheese. This portion was not huge either. When I was finished, I was satisfied, not bloated. I finished up my meal and another chapter and left for my other errands.
When I got home later I presented the ribs to Angel.
"That's a good sign." she said pulling the meat of the bone. "It fell right off." This was referring to a place we didn't review a couple of weeks ago. The ribs there put up a fight. It took utensils to tear the meat off the bone. Angel likes it to basically fall apart at the touch.
"Quite nice." she said after a mouthful.
All good. Seriously, all good. The food was first rate, not overthought or frilly. A good burger, nice side, all prepared simply and properly. Terra was a delight, funny, helpful and thoughtful. The bill, for the burger and side, the 1/4 slab of ribs and a bottle of water was pocket change over ten dollars. Nothing to complain about there either.
I don't know what the long term plans are for The Sammich Shop, but I sure hope it stays around for a long while. In my opinion, because they kept it simple and light, this is the best burger in Hillsboro.  Certainly better than any of the fast food outlets, but also better than a couple of other places in town that I will not name here. (Locals will figure it out, there's not that many places to get a burger in town.)
They've only been open since the first of the year, I really, really hope they do well. We need decent places to grab a quick meal, especially if we plan to dine in the car in a cemetery with a good book.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Happy New Year!

We've been off the air for a few weeks, mostly holiday conflicts and too much food in the house, you know how it is.
This post would have marked our return to regular posting.
 But I just can't do it.
It's not the first time in the last few weeks I'd uttered those words. Maybe I'm getting soft.
In fact, this very sentiment has hit me, including this weekend, three times in as many weeks.
1. Before Christmas, out on the  road, finishing up some shopping. I decided that since I was roughly in the vicinity of a place I liked to have a little chili now and then, that this would hit the spot.
The chili  itself was fine, as always. Everything else and I mean everything, was awful. The dining area had not been cleaned or swept. The wait was terribly long (25 minutes for a bowl of chili) at one point the person in charge told the impatient line at the counter that if they were in a hurry, they might want to go somewhere else. While waiting, I counted three people going to the counter to report that their order was incomplete or wrong. The place was not all that busy, it was adequately staffed,  I sensed a huge management issue.
I started a harsh blog review. About halfway through, I gave up. I was embarrassed for the place, seriously embarrassed. Instead, I wrote a letter to the manager, detailing the issues I'd noticed. I mailed it on a Saturday. The following Tuesday night I saw a Facebook post saying that the place was closing, permanently, the next day. That was confirmed by an article on a news site later.
There's no way my letter was the cause. It would not have even been received at the address I posted it to until Tuesday or Wednesday, plus I seriously doubt that a letter from me, a tongue in cheek amateur reviewer, would push any business owner over the edge.
I felt really bad for the employees though. As I said, I saw what was very obviously a serious management problem. I assume that by the time I went there the closure was already decided and what I was witnessing was the complete absence/retreat of management.

2. Sometime the next week, I had a couple of days off, I decided once again to try a more local place, a diner of sorts, to get some breakfast. I've actually been there a half dozen times since it opened, but have always been reluctant to write about it.
I want it to be good, I really do, I like local people opening up places and thriving. But this place can't seem to make a decent breakfast. The hash browns are bland and greasy, the toast comes out cold, and the coffee is weak and bitter. It's been this way for a while. I can go a couple more miles and have a great breakfast, every time, at one of the national franchises. IHOP, Waffle House, Huddle Hut, all make better breakfast plates than this local diner. Heck, even I can make a better breakfast. I mentioned it here once, quite a while back, but I've been deliberately NOT writing about it on subsequent visits.

3. This weekend. A place that opened up about a year ago. The owners used to run another restaurant, one we liked a lot, but they lost the lease on the charming location. Instead of re-opening in another location, they opened up a different style of place a few blocks from the original. We tried it, reviewed it and were generally underwhelmed. I dinged it on several points, some major, many minor, but since it was a 'just-open' review, I gave it a lot of slack. We hadn't been back. No one in the family really wanted to go back, it was that un-fulfilling. However, recently we heard they'd brought a couple of the dishes from the old place over to the new place.
Solid, we loved those dishes, so we went.
Annnnnd, once again, underwhelmed. They'd even changed a key component of that one beloved dish.
Leaving the place, Angel remarked that the meat on the plate she had was very dry, under seasoned and that even though she'd put half of it in a take-out box, she would probably not want any more of it. Adam, who had ordered the old dish said he just couldn't get around that replaced key ingredient. I couldn't either. It was good, well, okay, but once again we could get better nearby. In summary, we found nothing really positive about the whole experience. The service wasn't awful, but it was a bit erratic and spotty. The place was clean, but noticeably not very busy for a Saturday night. They don't serve alcohol, that might be part of it.
I told Angel afterwards that I just didn't think I could do it. I know (have met) the owners, I do not want them to fail. Good, local, hard working people, I just think they may be off track with this particular venture.
It has been brought to my attention a few times that people actually read this site, though I am always a little surprised by that. Sure, the page has been accessed nearly two hundred thousand times, but I'm not sure how accurate that count is.
I've received comments from a few people saying they tried or avoided a place because of my reviews, which always scares me a little. I'm not accustomed to people taking me, especially my personal tastes, seriously.
But I'm in a state of mind now, where I just don't want to stand over a locally owned business and call them out for subjective issues. I don't mean to harm anyone's business. I'm actually a nice guy, really.

I've decided the following for now, it may change later should my heart harden back up a bit.
We may not post as many reviews. We will still go to places, especially locally owned places and try them out. If it is good, we'll review it. If it's pretty good, except for a few minor issues, we'll tell you that as well.
But if there is just nothing good to say about a locally owned place, as the old adage goes: If you can't say anything nice. . . .
As for the chains and franchises?  Well, lets just say different rules may apply.


Monday, December 14, 2015

Waffle House

1304 Veterans Blvd.
Festus, Mo.

On the Web

Sure, I've reviewed Waffle House before. In my mind, a good place deserves mention and a great place deserves frequent mention.
I'll keep it short.

The Place:
West of I-55 just off Highway A. Just look for the big yellow sign.
Diner style, booths along the wall, stools at the counter. Clean, bright and seemingly always staffed by cheerful and hard working people. In this case, the crew consisted of three young folks, Kelsey, CJ and Josh.
Josh was the grill master, the ladies deftly worked the tables and counter. They all wore matching gray shirts, black pants, black apron and black caps. Our primary server was Kelsey, whose pony tail was pulled through the adjusting gap in her cap.
I cannot recall coming across a bad crew at a Waffle House. Always friendly, always busy, occasionally breaking out in song, though not too loudly. Always welcoming and sincere, always helpful. This trio was no exception.
The Food:
Me: Hash browns, smothered and covered (onions and cheese). Add some bacon, two eggs, over medium, a biscuit, and of course, coffee please.
Angel: Hash browns, smothered, covered, chunked and country. (ham, gravy) add sausage, scrambled eggs, skip the toast, with ice tea.
Adam: All American Breakfast, eggs, bacon, scrambled eggs, toast and hash browns (plain) instead of grits, with soda pop.
Yeah, we all got pretty much the same thing. But that's why we like it there, this is what we want when we go to WH, and  WH is our preferred place when we want breakfast for dinner.
The food didn't take very long, but why should it? It's a pretty simple menu. Not a lot of fancy seasonings and sauces to fuss over.
At one point, KC came out from behind the counter and poked the jukebox. This concerned me at first, I'm not much of a listener to music, especially the kind of music most people poke in a jukebox. But she impressed me with Otis Redding's 'Sittin' on the dock of the bay.' We're good.
She seemed surprised when I complimented her on her selections.
As I said, the food came in good time. I looked over at Angel's blasphemic hash brown concoction. Not that I could actually see any hash browns, they were completely covered by an epic mudslide portion of brown gravy. Angel was quite pleased though. Angel likes gravy, I might have mentioned that before. (That night, she posted on FB:"Went out for gravy tonight. Yeah there was other stuff on the plate too, but who cares when there's GRAVY on the plate.")
The real problem, for me, was the ham. I understand the gravy, but the ham corrupts the subtle purity of hash browns. It's like adding a bunch of exclamation points to a paragraph were they simply don't belong.
The last thing to arrive was Adam's waffle. They make a pretty good waffle here. Don't just take my word for it though:
"Whoa, that's good, that's good! . . . this is better than The French Laundry!" -Anthony Bourdain-
I suppose I should explain a few things about that.
I'll assume you know who Anthony Bourdain is. He's all over TV, all over the world. He's been everywhere, tried everything and isn't afraid to call a dud, a dud, he even does so quite profanely. He's worked in some of the finest restaurants in the country, top tier. Among Restaurant Magazine's Top 50 Restaurants in the World, frequently listed is The French Laundry, located in the Napa Valley in California. Bourdain himself once called that high end eatery: "The best restaurant in the world."
That was before he'd ever been to a Waffle House.
The food, every bit of it, was great. Perfectly prepared, cleanly and promptly served.That almost goes without saying. The service was simply outstanding. Every member of that young three person crew checked on us during our visit. They all cheerfully greeted us when we arrived and all three wished us a good evening when we left. My coffee cup never saw the halfway point.
The bill for all that comfy yummy-ness was a modest thirty two dollars. I tipped large.
This is how diners and restaurants should work. Limited menus, simple, fresh ingredients, a crew that truly works as a team. Casual, friendly, relaxed. Dining as it should be.

Waffle House Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato