Monday, April 6, 2015


(HoneyBaked Ham)
6936 S. Lindbergh
St. Louis, Mo.
On the Web

First, I wish to be very upfront and clear about this.
I was invited and paid, up front, to try this place out, by one of HoneyBaked's PR firms.
Things like this happen occasionally. Via this page's 'Email Me' button, which marks incoming emails as coming from there, I get invitations to try restaurants, bars, etc. Most of the places are too far away to be of any interest to me, others, I simply forget. And this is not the first time I've been offered free food. A couple of years back I posted a scathing review of Domino's Pizza and a few days later I got an email from their corporate headquarters apologizing for the poor service and  telling me there were a couple of coupons, essentially a reimbursement, waiting for me at the local store. I suppose they are still there, I wouldn't know.
Anyway Erin Peacock from Peacock Public Relations in Orange County, California, hit the button and offered a $50 gift card to ". . . add Honeybaked to your table."
She never said anything about me writing anything about it, but since she found me on Eat and Critique, the implication was pretty clear.
I mentioned it to Angel, she thought it sounded pretty good. So I responded to Ms. Peacock. Within moments I received a reply asking for my mailing address. I'd already checked out the firm, so I gave it to her. By the end of that week, UPS delivered.
The email said something about Easter and ham, but since we don't do Easter, I didn't feel especially rushed.
I do have journalistic integrity though. I will give an honest assessment. That integrity was drilled into me by my two years, one as Editor in Chief, for the 'Trigg Times' (High School Paper) and five more years of watching 'Lou Grant'.
Though Lou, Joe and Billie would never take money up front to write a story, I will, since I make my own journalistic rules here. I do promise to be honest though. Peacock never said anything about what they wanted me to say. If they don't like what I say, that's on them. Besides, $50 is well below my actual bribe rate.
The Place:
 South (St. Louis) County, in a very busy stretch of overt capitalistic endeavors, big box stores, auto dealers, a mall, shopping centers and adjacent to a traffic ticket fixing joint.
I'd not seen these before moving to the area. If you get a ticket you can pay them a certain amount to get the charge reduced and save your precious 'points'. I've only had one ticket since I moved here and have never bothered learning more about those businesses though.
I don't like this area, too busy, too many lanes, too many intersections, too many distracted drivers.
First I stopped at the mall, something I haven't done since 2006. I usually have no interest or need for malls and all those people there. That's why God created, so people like me don't have to go to crowded stores to pick through clothing, cell phones and sunglasses.
Angel and Adam were in Springfield celebrating her paternal grandmother's 100th birthday. We had discussed HoneyBaked before she left though, we had a plan.
I drove up there before noon on Saturday. I wanted to get it over with.
The parking was tight, a lot of people getting tickets fixed, I guessed. The store entry was a bit confusing, I ended up going in through the exit door by mistake. The lady at a little table giving away cheese samples looked at me funny, but said nothing.
It was a cattle line.
A literal maze, like at an amusement park, with ribbon suspended by move-able chrome poles guided people from the entry door, made two u-turns and fed out to the counter. It was manned by three or four cashiers. There were about eight people ahead of me so I tried to read the overhead menus. I need new glasses. I couldn't make out a thing until the last turn.
I had looked at products online ahead of time, but only generally, not specifically.
I did some calculations in my head and figured up an order. I stepped up as ' . . . next person in line, please.'  Steph stood confidently at her station, smiling. Not a big, ugly, fake smile like real estate people have, but a nice, genuine, relaxed smile.  I thought about asking her to marry me. She could do worse.
She obviously had more confidence than me. I was already rattled from the traffic and the uncertainty of my order. I wanted to spend at least the entire $50. I would even be willing to go over, since we're budgeted to eat out every weekend anyhow, as long as I got out of there with a wide sampling of HoneyBaked's offerings.
We could have blown the entire amount on a big ham or a whole turkey, but then we'd have to make something to go with it.
The Food.
They offer the big meats, it's what they are known for, but they also serve smaller 'sliced' one pound portions. The sides were the wild card.
I ended up ordering one pound each of smoked turkey and ham. I added potato salad, and asked about bacon. Yep, Steph assured me, they had that. I did some math in my head and realized I was short of the $50 minimum. I saw a poster for sides and saw mac and cheese, I added that and was still short. So I saw another poster and asked for cinnamon  rolls.
I still came up about a buck and a half short of the target, but made the decision that enough was enough.
She ran my gift cards, one of them seem to be problematic, but she persisted and apologized graciously for the problem. She couldn't know that it really didn't matter to me, I could afford to actually pay for the whole amount on my own. The cards just got me in the door.
She fetched the stuff, and even opened up the foil covered ham to show me that it was indeed ham, not asbestos or heroin, and offered to do the same for the turkey. "That's okay, I've actually seen turkey before." I assured her. Actually I trusted her, heck, we were practically engaged. If you can't trust your potential fiance to serve you the food you asked for, what good are they?
I fought the traffic and the intersections and the lanes and finally made it home. I was in charge of the dogs, so I put everything away and took care of them.
When everyone had been cycled I looked over the cinnamon rolls and the mac and cheese. Steph had gently pointed out that these items would need to be heated. "I have an oven and I'm prepared to use it." I had assured her. She seemed to be impressed that her future husband knew his way around a kitchen.
Not bad, thirty minutes so at 350. She hadn't said anything about cooking the bacon, but I'm not a complete idiot.
As dinnertime approached, I started the prep work. I decided to heat up only half the rolls, there were a dozen of them and I didn't think we could finish them all in the remaining weekend, even after they got back.
I followed the instructions, peeling back a corner of the plastic seal on the mac, and foil-tented the half dozen rolls. I let them finish completely before I started anything else.
One small skillet, one slice of bacon, halved. I find that bacon cooks better if you make it smaller.
Once the bacon was done to crispy, I tore off some turkey and ham and threw it in the same skillet for a couple of minutes, just to heat up. No need wasting good bacon grease.
This all only took about ten-fifteen minutes. I plated everything, opened a fresh bottle of Dasani and let Rudy watch me eat. He loves watching people eat. He really, really loves watching people eat, closely.
The bacon was crisp, thick and smoky, exactly like bacon should be, nothing more. The turkey and ham were also fresh and flavorful, not too much monkeying with herbs and spices. I decided the meats would make for a really tasty sandwich. I didn't make a sandwich myself since there were already a lot of starches being served up. Besides, I wanted to taste the product commando-style to get at the bare essence of the stuff.
If anything There weren't any real veggies in the meal. But that's on me. If you recall I hadn't really thought this through. Green beans, corn, maybe even lima beans or peas would have cut up the flavor profile a little. It was definitely a brown meal.
Except for the mac and cheese, of course. Speaking of which, I was quite pleased with the creaminess and cheesiness of it. As good as any I've had anywhere. The potato salad was of a style. If I were to chose some or make some, it would be stronger in the mustard department. I like canary-yellow potato salad. Interestingly the potato salad had shredded cheese in it. It wasn't bad, just a style, well executed, that I only like, not love. But that's a preference thing. I certainly didn't dislike it. In a buffet, family get-together, or catered event, I'd certainly have some.
The cinnamon rolls were thankfully small. Even though I'm a rural American, I don't like or need huge portions of things. Those calorie bombs that you find at bakeries and coffee shops are just too big for me.
I saved mine for after-dinner coffee. And it was pretty good that way. Small, simple, a basic and comfortable cinnamon roll.
The really nice thing about having turkey and ham in the fridge is the sheer versatility. Both meats are great in a breakfast scramble, a quick lunch sandwich, even on a salad. Sunday morning I did make that scramble, and instead of sprinkling the bacon, turkey, ham and eggs with shredded cheese, I added some of the HoneyBaked  mac and cheese.
After Angel and Adam got back, bringing some of Springfield's famous Chinese food with them, they each tried the HoneyBaked selections.
Both liked the meats, Adam preferred the turkey over the ham, and also thoroughly liked the mac and cheese. Angel really liked the potato salad, the mac and cheese, not as much. "Too noodly" I think she said, whatever that means.
Quite good! Certainly better quality meat and sides that you find most places. I could very easily see HoneBaked as a top tier candidate for laying out a table for a medium to large gathering, family, coworkers, etc. There's no too-strong flavors, it's all good ol' American comfort food, well made and satisfying to a wide range of palates.
As for the store, well, had I been paying more attention to this Easter thing, I should have expected HBH to be really busy the day before. The line did move fairly quickly though.
The price, for you, not for me this time, is not unreasonable for quality product. Sure, you could get a less expensive deli tray at a discount big-box store or grocery, but HoneyBaked is about quality, consistency and freshness. Maybe your poker buddies wouldn't care, but more upscale events require something a bit better than off-the-rack, generic meats and sides.
I heard from a former HBH employee, my stepson Tyler. He said he had a genuinely positive experience running the ham spiraling machine* down in Springfield when he was younger. Happy employees, that's always a good sign .
As far as the staff for this visit, Steph was more than just a cashier, she actually engaged, paid attention and worked efficiently. All the time with that knowing, confident smile. Maybe we'll get our wedding reception catered by HoneyBaked.

*J. Hoenselaar, the founder of HBH in 1957, was also the inventor of the spiral slicing machine first used in his business.

Honeybaked Ham on Urbanspoon

Monday, March 30, 2015

Off The Hook

12636 Highway 21
DeSoto, Mo.
On the Interwebs
On Facebook

My choice, last minute. 
We were planning to pick some stuff up from HoneyBaked Ham. Then we found out they close at six and we hadn't even figured out what we wanted late in the day. We'll try again in the near future. Why?
Earlier in the week I got an email via the 'Email Me' button on this page. It goes to a specific account so I can keep track of how someone finds me.
The email was from Erin Peacock. (I looked him up, he's a PR guy.) He invited me to try HoneyBaked and asked if I'd like a $50 gift card. I forwarded the email to Angel
and received a "Why yes, yes I would." reply.
There were no strings, he never mentioned why he wanted me to try it or what he wanted in return. Which is good,  since I won't write a positive review just for $50. My bribe minimum is closer to $100 since I'm a professional. But he asked for nothing, so sure, why not? I can't recall a HoneyBaked meal, though I'm sure I've had one or two somewhere along the line. The card(s) arrived Friday via UPS.
This was part of a Easter promotional thing, even though we don't do Easter stuff.
So, upon hearing the news that they closed at six, I scrambled for an alternative. I scanned through the blog archives to at least pick something we haven't had recently. It's hard to keep track of that sort of thing. I came across OTH. Mmmmm, catfish.
The Place:
An open ceiling, barn-type structure, cluttered with a kitschy but tidy fish/fishing/boat motif. In the middle of the floor, behind the counter is a huge aquarium with several large fish. The kids love this. Several of them planted their greasy, sticky, germ-laden mitts on the glass. The tables are ample and spaced pretty well. We were led to a four-top by a window. The tables are wood, laminated with ads for local businesses along with a list of common trivia questions. The answers are spread out around the ads. Clever. We'd already cracked this game though, they haven't changed out the tables in several years. It was about half full on a sunny, yet chilly Saturday evening. There was just enough crowd chatter to drown out the awful country music. The steel guitar, Satan and Hitler's favorite instrument, pierced the din occasionally. Had the music been any louder, I would have busted up the joint.
Menus were dropped off and drink order taken by . . .  I forgot to take down the young lady's name. Too bad, she turned out to be great and I'd love to tell her so.
Tea, sweet tea, Pepsi. 
I already knew what I was going to get, it's pretty much the reason I picked the place. In fact, when I'd told Angel earlier, "I feel like catfish." She replied "Oh, Off the Hook then." Her and Adam browsed though the menu and seemed to decide on things pretty quickly as well. 
The Food:
When the delightful young lady came back, we ordered. Angel started. Catfish, salad, green beans and mashed potatoes. The server asked if she wanted four fillets or two. "They're pretty good sized aren't they?" Angel asked rhetorically. "That's why we offer the choice." the server said, then added: "We call the two piece choice the Senior Meal." She immediately blushed. "I didn't mean to imply you're old. . . " Angel just laughed it off, she knows she's old. Then she asked for the four piece.
"I'll have the senior." I piped up. "I'm not ashamed of my slowing metabolism and declining appetite." 
I added the salad as well. Seniors only get one side. Of course I knew it would be plenty, the fish came with fries and hush puppies. It's pretty filling.
Adam asked for chicken and dumplings. I don't personally care for such a thing, but I knew he did. 
Since our last visit, when I complained a little about the salad they served, I'd noticed they had opened up a salad bar/boat. Kitschy, I told you so.
Yeah, they built a small salad bar into a Jon boat. Trailer, outboard motor and all. Cute. 
We also ordered, as I already knew we would, the corn poppers as an appetizer. Those tiny dough balls of delight arrived first.
We fell in love with these little taste bombs from the first time we tried
them, several years ago. The dough is not heavy or greasy and they use the sweetest whole kernel corn I've ever had.We have to be careful with these things, they will spoil your appetite if you don't stop eating them at some point. Also, they are always delivered fresh out of the deep fryer, piping hot on the inside. "Ow, ow, ow." Angel muttered as she ignored common sense and bit right into one as soon as they were delivered. Seriously, I'd take a mouth burn or two myself for these things.
We all maintained self control and did not finish off the generous supply.
Then the salad plates were delivered. "One trip only." We were warned politely. 
No problem. It wasn't that robust a salad bar. Don't get me wrong, it had the basics covered. Just not as wide a variety of items that you can find at Ruby Tuesday's. 
It was all very fresh looking though. Iceberg lettuce, spinach, red onions, green pepper, boiled eggs, chopped tomatoes, shredded cheese and about a dozen different salad dressings. I piled it on pretty high. I topped mine with a little 1000 Island and a 'Sweet Onion' dressing. I often mix two or more dressings, just a little of each, even at home. You ought to try it. It gives a simple salad a few extra flavor notes. The bar/boat was a little harder to work with than a traditional salad bar, the counter between the food and the edge of the boat was wider than at a normal bar.
Everything was clean, fresh and bright about the salad itself though.
After that, it wasn't very long before the main courses arrived.
Still sizzling, golden brown fish fillets.  The hush puppies were there too, I love those things. The fries? Meh. 
On our last visit, I'd asked to forgo the fries. I just forgot to do that this time. Not that I don't like fries, but look at that plate. Deep fried starches. That's a lot of high-carb bloating food. Angel had replaced hers with mashed potatoes and gravy, hardly an improvement, but her job requires a lot of getting out and moving around. I sit hunched over a computer all day and get safety briefings asking us to get up and move around occasionally. Then I'm in the car for nearly three hours a day. Hardly a high energy lifestyle. I have to watch my intake rather closely to maintain my adorably girlish figure. I had a few fries, but only a few. I gorged myself on the awesome, crunchy and yet moist and flaky fish and pups.
The server had delivered four condiment containers of tartar sauce in their own little green basket. It was pretty good as far as taste, but packaged for storage and server convenience more so than for than for the diner's ease of use.
The fish was indeed incredible, it too served fresh from the fryer. I broke it open first to allow some of the internal steam to escape. Crispy on the outside, moist, flaky, tasty on the inside. The hush puppies were good as well, just right. I've said it before, the crew that OTH has on the deep fryer are absolute masters of the method.
If my plate looked hefty, Angel's looked positively deadly. Twice the fish, enough mashed potatoes and gravy to satisfy a work crew.
Angel loves her gravy.
There was no way she'd finish it all, that was part of her plan. Take-home is always an option. OTH catfish reheats nicely and makes a superb Sunday lunch sandwich.
"The fish was wonderful." She said. I agreed. It's not the best I've ever had, but it is more than adequate.  The best ever was at a buffet outside Eureka Springs Arkansas. that was twenty years ago, I'm not even sure of what it was called or if it is even open anymore. All you can eat, biscuits, catfish, hush puppies, etc.
From Adam's first bite of his chicken and dumplings, I could tell something was amiss. he made an odd face, then cocked his head like a curious spaniel.

"Something wrong?" I asked.
"It's weird, I can't quite say what it is. It's not bad, just not what I was expecting."
He plopped some onto his mother's plate. She sampled it. "Sue Bees canned Chicken and Dumplings." She said. We looked up this memory later, she probably meant Sweet Sue. At any rate, she compared OTH's chicken and dumplings to a canned version. That's not really a ringing endorsement. Adam only ate about a third of it. He didn't mention the corn, but it looked a little pale and overdone to me.
True to prediction, Angel only managed two of the four fillets, we asked for a box.
Well, we eventually asked for a box. Once again the back end of the service at OTH was slow. Our server, who had done a splendid job all the way through the meal, was now working a table of ten or twelve adults on the other side of the floor. I don't blame her, she was obviously doing a fine job, answering questions pointing at things on the menu and scribbling down the orders. We waited and waited. We finally waved down a passing server. She brought the box quickly enough.
We boxed up the fish and the remaining corn poppers and took our leave. At the counter, the bill came in at just under forty dollars. I padded the tab with a few bucks for a tip. 
All in all the meal and the service was pretty good. Sure, Adam didn't care for the dumplings, but he admitted that it wasn't bad, just not what he had expected. A taste thing. Our fish was superb, as were the hush puppies. The new salad bar was excellent if not especially large. Our server, I really wish I'd gotten her name, was very good. Polite, sharp, attentive and ready with the refills. 
OTH could probably work on some of their recipes, the corn, the dumplings, etc just didn't seem fresh. Otherwise, you can get a very good meal there, at reasonable prices. Still the best place in the area for catfish.

Off the Hook on Urbanspoon

Monday, March 23, 2015

Fountain City Grill

302 N. Main Street
Desoto, Mo.
On the web

One of our favorite places. Angel suggested it, no debate occurred.
A pretty early Spring day, I'd had a chance to do my first cemetery visit this season. It was a bit sad though, this was a county paupers cemetery. Only one headstone among scores of unmarked, budget-friendly graves, buried by county maintenance crews, cardboard coffins, no attempt to pretty up the place. It looked more like an abandoned construction site than a cemetery.
But the sun was out, the birds were in full voiced lust since early morning.
The drive into Desoto was pretty quiet. No particular reason for that, just that the three of us are quite comfortable with prolonged periods of silence.
The Place:
There was only one other table occupied when we arrived, it wasn't quite 5 P.M. though. It would fill up in no time.
The place is absolutely classy looking. This wasn't decorated and designed by somebody's in-laws as a favor, this was professionally done. A modest jazz theme, black on white decor and furnishings, on a polished oak floor.
We were told to sit anywhere, so we did. Angel found us a four top in the back, by the bar.
Above the bar, two TV's were mounted, one with volume up, though not too loud, CNN, some lady pundit whining about something or the other. The other was muted and showing, of all things, basketball. Who would imagine that you could find a college basketball game on TV in March?
We were immediately greeted by a cheerful looking Jenna.
She dropped off menus and a basket of rolls, wrapped in a fluffy black hand towel. We quietly shouted our drink request, I asked for fresh brewed tea, unsweet. Angel looked at me oddly, I pointed to the front page of the menu where it listed, right there in black and white, 'Fresh Brewed Tea',
She then ordered the sweet version, Adam asked for pop.
The Food:
I had studied ahead of time, I was going to do something a bit different.
Last time, about six months ago I had an awesome grilled pork chop. I'd had the steak there before as well.
Angel pointed to the appetizer section, noting the 'Duck Spring Rolls'. We've been trying to find duck served somewhere, this sounded like a good start. Adam would have nothing to do with duck, so we asked for toasted ravioli as well.
The tea came quickly, Jenna was on her toes. Well, mostly. She turned around after taking our order and ran smack in to another table. "That table is never there!" She explained, while Chef Tremayne stood there and laughed out loud.
We'd met the chef on previous visits. A class act, a real pro. A seriously good kitchen master and friendly and easy to laugh as well.
Jenna bounced back in no time though. The appetizers came out in just a few minutes.
Beautiful little spring rolls, served with two sauces. One a sweet and spicy, the other one spicier and more Asian in seasoning and flavor. I stuck with the sweet and spicy. There was a distinct crispiness to them, no greasiness at all. As a good spring roll should be, it was light. The duck was ground and blended with mild seasoning and herbs. It definitely wasn't chicken or pork, but since we don't know what duck is supposed to taste like, we just agreed we liked them. We left the ravioli for Adam, we already knew they were good, we'd reviewed them before.
We ordered our entrees.
Me: Bacon cheeseburger and fries.
Angel: Sirloin steak, garlic mashed potatoes, house salad.
Adam ordered the Blazin' Burger, described as: Fresh ground beef mixed with a fiery blend of seasonings, topped with grilled onions, jalapenos and pepperjack cheese. "No onions or peppers, please." Adam told Jenna. Adam likes spicy, but not over the top spicy.
Yeah, a burger. Since I'd had more exercise that day than I'd had in several months, I had an afternoon snack. I wasn't ready for a steak or a big pasta dish. I knew the burgers at FCG were thin, so I could probably handle that.
Angel's steak order was a little unexpected. I surmised she was in full carnivore mode this day. It happens.
As we waited, the same musical duet that had come in and set up at our previous visit came in and started setting up. Two guitars, a big set of bongos. "Sugar Moon", they call themselves. We'd be gone before they started, just like the last time.
We finished off our spring rolls, sat back and just relaxed.
Then the food came.
Just as expected, pretty. Square white, pristine plates, no sprigs of greens or glitter or swooshes of sauce. Even the burgers looked a little uptown served like that. Angel's steak and potatoes looked sparse and tidy.

FCG, by default, slathers mayo on hamburgers. When Jenna told me this I made a righteously offended face and grunting noise. "No mayo then?" She asked.
"I'm an American, don't you have mustard?"
"I could bring you some."
I let it go at that. Good enough, but seriously, do I look Canadian?
The burger was piled high with a lettuce I didn't recognize, it looked smaller and rougher edged than iceberg.It was also remarkably fresh and crisp. the tomato was a bit pale, understandable, off season. The two rings of red onion would be just about the perfect portion. The burgers are balled then smashed on the grill. You can always tell. The thinner edges get crispy and delicious that way. I put good ol' American yellow
mustard on it, smashed it closed, then cut it in half. It was bigger, for the lettuce, tomato, etc, than I had anticipated. The fries were thick and cooked just to the point of getting crispy. This meant they would have a soft inner texture, yet stand up when held. They were also searing hot.
Adam's burger was similar in appearance. He got rid of the tomato. The cheese on his was pepper-jack. As for the 'blazing' aspect, he said it was more Cajun tasting than anything else. This is not a bad thing for Adam.
We didn't hear much from Angel during the meal. She indeed was in full-carnivore mode. That steak was gone before I finished half my burger. Sure it was just an 8oz. sirloin, but it was thick. She'd ordered it medium rare and that is what it was. She made pleased grunting sounds the whole time. When she finished it, her plate looked like that place on the highway after the deer carcass has been recently hauled away. Knife still in her hand, I did not say anything to her about what I'd just witnessed her do to that steak and the peculiar vicious glimmer still in her eyes.
When she started using her words a few minutes later, she described the steak."Very tender, perfectly cooked."
I knew she liked it. When Jenna offered her steak sauce, Angel declined with a grunt. That's how you know when a steak is good, when you don't need to put any sauce on it.
Jenna stopped by, asked if we needed a third or fourth tea refill, we said no. She asked about dessert, we also said no thanks. Looking at my remaining half burger, she offered a box, that received an affirmative response. Indeed that afternoon snack had zapped my appetite.
As I said at the start, Fountain City Grill is among our favorite places. That did not change with this visit. As I was boxing up the leftovers, Chef Tremayne stopped at each table and greeted everyone. I like this man. He's nothing like those hot headed chefs you see on TV. During our meal he even personally served one table their entrees, the growing crowd had started to tax Jenna, the only server on the floor.
The tab came to fifty seven bucks. Sports bar pricing, perfectly acceptable considering the quality of the food at FCG makes Applebees look like McDonalds in comparison.
Everything, except maybe the mayo on the burger, is exactly right about FCG. The service, the food, the offerings, the attention to detail and freshness, the casual, friendly service, all of it works beautifully.
As we left and were approaching the car We heard a voice from behind, calling us.
"You forgot your box, sir!" It was Chef Tremayne, running to hand me my leftovers.
Told you, a real class act.

Fountain City Grille on Urbanspoon