Monday, July 28, 2014

The Farmer's Kitchen

4660 Yeager Rd.
Hillsboro, Mo.
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Angel was out of town, her and Deede went to Fort Wayne for a dog training seminar of some kind.
Adam and I struggled with a choice. By default we would go to Gordon's Stoplight Drive in in Festus, where we usually go when she's out of town. But neither of us was pumped for that. So we struggled, up to the  moment we walked out the door.
I'd had breakfast at Farmer's Kitchen, I've even remarked that this place made the best waffles, ever. But I'd never been there for a grownup meal.
It made sense for us since Adam and I couldn't even decide what kind of food we were in the mood for. At least FK had a variety of offerings. I wanted catfish, one of their reputed specialties. I also knew they pulled a smoker up to the front on weekends and cranked out some quality barbecue.
So we piled into Das Coche Negro, (my black VW Jetta, German engineered, but built in Mexico) and made the seven minute drive. The weather had been pretty mild for a July, except for this day, it was balmy, sticky, humid and hot.
We chatted on the way, his day at work was 'fine'. I gathered.
The Place:
It's been open for less than a year by the current owners, Karen and Rick Lindwedel. It's located on the road to the Post Office, Just north of Queens Market.  Those are legitimate Hillsboro directions, if you need more than that, then get your fancy self one of those highfalutin GPS machines.
They cleaned the place up and decorated it in the style of a farmer's man cave. Framed feed sacks, antique wood tools, hand carved cows, etc.
There was only one other couple there when we walked in, (it turned out they weren't a couple at all in the Biblical sense, just a man and a woman that happened to be there at the same time.) We were early since we didn't have to wait for Angel.
I led us to an empty table off to the side, near the door. A lady behind the counter saw us, but was talking on the phone. We waited.
She brought us menus pretty soon though and asked about drinks. Tea and Pepsi.
The menus were simple, colorful, laminated, single sheets. There were fewer offerings than I expected. I located catfish, and barbecue. I also made note of the chalkboard by the counter that touted the day's specials. Still plenty to choose from. When she returned with Adam's drink, she apologized, saying that  they were almost done brewing a fresh batch of tea, my drink would be a few minutes "If you don't mind waiting." She said. Mind? Me mind waiting for a fresh batch of tea? It was obvious at this point that she did not know me. Or maybe she did.
The Food:
I asked Adam if he was ready, he said sure. So I asked about the catfish. "Oh, sorry, we're out, we had an unexpected run on it last night and haven't restocked." She did offer a couple of fish alternatives, Tilapia, and another white fish I'd never heard of, but I told her they were a bit too un-fishy, I liked catfish precisely because it had actual taste. So I asked her about the barbecue.
"Oh, we didn't smoke today." came her apologetic answer. Oh well.
"I'll just have the sirloin and shrimp special then." I was a little disappointed, but how disappointed are you really if your fall-back option is a sirloin steak with shrimp? I had to choose two sides. I went for the baked potato and grudgingly, green beans.
Adam asked for the Chicken Fried steak, fries and corn, off the cob please.
I was concerned about the green beans. In 'country' restaurants, you usually end up with overcooked, flat, either tasteless or too salty, mush.
We waited. The non couple split up and went their separate ways. I learned later that the man was actually Rick, the co-owner. We were being served by Karen.
We waited long enough for me to get sick of the music. The cheap, plastic boom box by the door was tuned to J-98 (The Boot) out of Farmington, a town that makes Hillsboro seem like Gotham City. It was whiny, nasally country music. Lots of steel guitars, lots of drunk guys regaling about their lost loves and pickup trucks, arrrrgggghh...
But, it is 'Farmer's Kitchen', alas.
Then the food arrived. Alongside a juicy, thick looking sirloin and a split open and tender baked potato, were a couple of thick slices of grilled toast. Grilled, beautifully browned and buttered on one side only.
The shrimp basket held a lot of breaded and fried sea creatures, a lot of them. My carb alarm went off just looking at the meal. Bread, breaded shrimp, a fat baked potato. I'd have to eat strategically, no way would I be able to eat all that filler. Concentrate on the steak, nibble on the rest.
Adam's CF Steak looked traditional, just like it is supposed to look. They gave him a choice of gravy, white or brown, he went old school. The corn looked traditional as well, I do not know whether it was fresh off the cob or canned. The fries looked like they could use another minute in the deep fryer, but other than that it looked just fine.
I noticed that something was missing though. Karen was asking how it looked, if we needed anything else, steak sauce, etc.
"The green beans?" I asked. I almost didn't, country style green beans are at best a mediocre item, but I did pay for them.
Karen sighed in disgust with herself. ""I can't believe I forgot your green beans." She said, sincerely upset with her error. I wanted to tell her to never mind since it wasn't that big of a deal for me, but I let it go.
She trotted off and we set in. I buttered and creamed the tater, then sliced an edge off the steak. Perfectly cooked to order. Pink, tender and moist. The taste was exceptional. The char and pepper on the steak was exactly correct. The taste was euphoric, orgasmic, it melted on my tongue. Nothing else in the world mattered at that moment.
I had been worried. There was a big banner at the counter touting "Jefferson County Cattlemen, Best Beef in the state." That to me, looked like a challenge. If you're going to make a claim like that in big, bold letters, you better deliver.
And they did. This was as fine a cut of meat, precisely cooked, as I've had anywhere. The potato was also precise, tender, not burnt, excellent consistency.  The shrimp, well the shrimp was breaded and deep fried. that's the easiest way to overcook shrimp. It was fine, but I actually prefer grilled or steamed shrimp, the breading is too much of a distraction. As far as breaded shrimp goes though, no worse or much better than anywhere else.
Karen brought the beans. I was shocked, amazed, confused.
These were not the flat, dull, mushy beans I was expecting. these were sauteed. Bright green, shiny with oil and littered with bits of onion and garlic. Someone's not quite the quaint, country style cook I'd thought. These were fresh (I think) and still had tooth to them. The garlic, onion and oil gave them the look and taste like you find at more cosmopolitan restaurants. I actually wanted to eat them. Bravo Farmer's Kitchen!
Adam went through his plate pretty quickly, I was still dawdling, agog over the beans and the luscious steak. As planned, I only had one of the toast slices, it was quite excellent prepared that way, about half the shrimp, 90% of the steak, and 1/3, or less, of the potato. I liked it all, but starches bloat me up almost immediately. I got all I wanted, all I could hold, no complaints.
Adam couldn't work up a highly positive adjective to summarize his meal, but he did explain it. "It's chicken fried steak and corn." He said. I understood. It's a mild, almost bland plate at its best.
Summary:
Karen took very good care of us. Near the end of the meal the evening shift showed up and a delightful and friendly, beshorted young lady took care of busing our plates and bowls. Another couple, elderly, had wandered in, they were being taken care of quite well too.
Adam and I headed up to the counter, the young lady met us. This is when I confirmed that our earlier server had been Karen.
As if she knew we were talking about her, she stepped out from the kitchen. I told her the food was quite good. She mentioned that Rick, her husband, was a farmer. "I'm sorry." I told her, then added "That explains why you have to work." She laughed. Farmers in this area are not your ten-thousand acre industrial farms, they are mostly small, traditional, family farms, 120-500 acres. They require a lot of work, for little profit.
Jefferson County was never an agricultural powerhouse. People mostly settled the are because of the mining. Lots of metals, lots of mines.
I did not introduce myself as a food critic, no need making her worry unnecessarily about what I already decided was going to be a pretty good review.
The price was more than reasonable, twenty one bucks and pocket change. You read that right. A mighty good steak, heaps of shrimp, fresh tea, country fried steak, a big baked potato, a generous portion of fries, and some outstanding veggies, for twenty one dollars. Of course, there were only two meals rather than our usual three. I guess we could get by cheaper on this mission just by leaving out Angel. I'll suggest that to her when she gets back.
I was a little disappointed I didn't get catfish, or barbecue, but a small business just can't have everything on hand all the time, a lot would go to waste if they did. Besides, the steak was exceptional.
We've got a real jewel here. I knew they put out pretty good breakfast fare, but they've proven themselves equally competent on the more challenging meals. I will go back, mainly to try the catfish and probably for that occasional Saturday morning coffee and waffle.




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