Tuesday, August 30, 2016

IHOP

110 Kate G Lane 
Fenton, Mo.


It was Angel's first family sit-down meal at a restaurant in nearly six weeks, so she picked the place. 
Oh, haven't I mentioned Angel's situation?   She's been whining for a year or more about aches and pains everywhere from her back, to her hip, to her toes. Constant, shrill whining. Test after expensive test revealed nothing conclusive. Finally she came across a doctor that figured it all out.  Her foot was damaged internally, causing her to sub-conscientiously compensate with other body parts to maintain balance while walking/standing upright. This is why the pain moved from place to place. 
It turns out that she had a ruptured ligament/tendon, a torn ligament/tendon, topped off with some bone shrapnel inflaming a foot joint. 
Wow! Right? I bet that did hurt!
Back in July she went in for surgery. It only took a couple of hours, but she came out with a massive splint/cast. That was replaced a couple of weeks later with a slightly smaller cast. Then finally, last week, she had that one removed and was sent packing with a complicated, but removable  'boot'. 
So for several weeks, she was basically confined to her recliner, or wherever else she could move about on her knee scooter. 
On the day of her cast removal, I took her to a Chinese Buffet on the way home. She was still scooting, I had to fill her plate as she rolled down the line.
By Sunday she was taking a few very slow steps, with and without the use of a standard crutch. She also took her SUV out for a spin earlier in the day. Progress. Slow but, certainly tangible progress.
IHOP it was. Adam happily joined us at Gravois Bluffs in Fenton. Gravois Bluffs is a multi-acre shopping center, surrounded by other shopping centers. Big box, medium box, most every department and discount store you've heard of is located either in or around Gravois Bluffs.  I drove the SUV, Angel wasn't quite ready for a longer drive herself. That booted leg doesn't have a lot of wiggle room under the dashboard, so it gets cramped up in no time.
The Place:
I didn't bother looking at a menu ahead of time, with a name like 'International House of Pancakes', even an idiot could probably surmise the potential offerings.
On the way to the bluffs I asked Angel if he thought IHOP offered hot dogs. She just looked at me with that adoring, down her nose, squinting glare that she uses frequently when I am talking.
Adam was already there. We hobbled into the joint, Adam and I took turns opening the doors for Angel. We're both old school gentlemen that way.
The place, like other 'breakfast' venues, smelled heavily of maple syrup. I find that aroma quite sickening.  It was not overpowering at IHOP, but it was definitely there. My brain responds to the smell of maple syrup much the same way it responds to that of decaying flesh, rotting eggs, or children in general. Revulsion.
The place was certainly bigger than a Waffle House. Tables and booths all over the place, a full sized restaurant. It was neat and clean and appeared to be well staffed. It wasn't crowded either. 
The multi-page laminated menu was all about pancakes, waffles, eggs, toast and powdered sugar.  I don't get that last item. They put it on pancakes, waffles, French toast, crepes, etc. They also seem to push breakfast food as dessert. I don't even add a pinch of sugar to the batter for pancakes, waffles, or French toast when I make them at home.  I prefer savory, not pastry.
I asked the young man for coffee, Angel wanted sweet tea, Adam, of course, wanted a Pepsi. We asked for and were allowed a little more time to make our selections. A lot of it looked good, it was a tough choice narrowing it down.
That extra time lured me into making a rookie mistake.  Idle time conjured up the will to stretch, experiment, order something I would not normally ask for.
The Food:
I scanned the entire menu, sure enough, no hot dogs.  They had burgers and fried chicken but no hot
dogs. 
Angel predictably ordered the Country Fried Steak. The server asked if she wanted gravy on it. . . we laughed and laughed. The young man got the message and smiled. "Would you like some mashed potato on your gravy?" 
I'd thought about ordering the same thing, but the only veggie side option was broccoli. You know about me and broccoli, don't you? I could have asked them to leave the nasty greenery off the plate, but then there would be that void, the place where broccoli would have been, and that's too much like actually being served broccoli.
Adam was also predictable, chicken and waffles. Adam only eats like seven or eight things, those are two of them.
Now to mix it up.
Two eggs, over medium, crispy bacon, hash-browns and French toast.  
The shock and gasps were palpable.  My family knows I like French toast, the way I make it anyhow, but that I can recall, I've never ordered it at a restaurant.
The reason is quite simple. Go to one of these places. Order French toast without further description. What you'll probably get is barely battered toast, glopped with cinnamon, powdered sugar and maybe even syrup.
I thought I'd be clever though. "Is the French toast sweet?" I asked the dashing young man.
"I don't think so." He replied. Here's my mistake. I assumed that meant it wouldn't be coated in a cloud of powdered sugar.
But it was. Sure I thumped most of it off, but by the time it hit the table, the golf ball sized butter ball was already melting and acting as contact adhesive to the dusty stuff.  I spent a few minutes knocking off as much as I could. Then I re-piled the stack and dived in. The first bite was even more disappointing. There was indeed a residual sweetness, but the real abomination was the cinnamon. Almost enough to qualify as a sticky bun. I don't mind a little, but the sugar and the spice had turned the thing into a thing just short of a bear claw.
This was not IHOP's error, it was entirely my own. 
When I make French toast at home, a thing I learned to do as a kid, I use exactly three ingredients, bread, egg, milk, and not very much of the latter. Then I top it off with. . .  nothing. If I want a sweet pastry, I'll make donuts. Yeah I can do that too. I hardly ever make donuts, I hardly ever eat cake.  I'm just not a big sweet pastry guy. I'd make a lousy cop I guess. I can walk right past a sheet cake or pile of free donuts at work with no more temptation than if they were a golf course, fabric store, or fitness center. 
What I want when I want French toast is simply egg drenched bread, fried in butter. I've even taken the resulting toast and made grilled cheese sandwiches with it.  Boy howdy, that's good eats!
But that's just me.
The origin of French toast is a little murky. There are versions of the egg-soaked bread going back to the days of the Roman Empire, which, as I recall, was a very long time ago, perhaps dozens of years. What we do know for sure is that it did not originate in France. We are also pretty sure that extravagances like cinnamon, sugar and maple syrup were not part of the original design. "Pain perdu", or 'lost bread' is what the French call it. Named so since the idea was that it was a way to rehydrate and thus extend the lifespan of leftover bread that was a day away from being tossed out. The British call it 'eggy bread' since they lack imagination, they also tend to top it with ketchup since they, as a culture, also have no discernible food dignity.  A 14th century German recipe calls it 'Arme Ritter' or 'poor knights' because. . . well, who the hell knows why the Germans do anything the way they do.
The bottom line is, as far as French toast goes, IHOP made it their way, not my way. I knew better. I cannot criticize them for this.
As far as the rest of the meal, the two eggs, over medium were cooked perfectly, the bacon was indeed crispy and the hash browns, as they are supposed to be, crispy golden on the edges. No complaints, at all. 
Adam ate all his chicken and waffles, he must have really liked them a lot since when asked about it he replied "Fine". 
It was Angel that proved to be the chief complainant this time. I looked down on her plate when we were finished. Remarkably there was still a third of the CFS remaining. Her fork was down. "Too salty." she said. "Except for the broccoli, I had to add salt to that."
Ouch.
Summary.
Discounting my mistake in ordering, I'd have to say I was quite satisfied with my food. Adam's cryptic, one word response was a little less clear. Angel was a slight thumbs down.
In other words, 'Meh'. 
We can get just as good at a couple of places closer than Fenton. Waffle House, Huddle Hut, etc. So for us there's no wow factor at IHOP. Nothing pulling at us to go back very often. Of course it specializes not in fancy food, but comfort food. People don't go there to be wowed, they go to get good breakfast type meals. Simple, predictable, cozy comfort food.
It's a fine place for what it is, with a deeper menu than Waffle House. So go ahead, enjoy!


IHOP Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato 

Friday, July 22, 2016

Penn Station

68 Fenton Plaza
Fenton, MO 63026
On the web.

Date night, dinner and a movie. Angel was scheduled for foot surgery the following Tuesday, some anxiety was starting to build. I decided to help her release some tension by doing something I almost never do, with or without her. Go to a movie theater.
I will only go to movie theaters in extreme circumstances, like a new 'Star Trek' movie. I've probably only been to a theater two - four times in the last ten years.
Why?
What part of 'introvert' do you not understand? They are crowded, noisy, I have no control over the movie itself, and the place is crawling with strangers. I'd rather go to a bar with friends than go to a movie.  (I also rarely ever go to bars with friends).
So this was special. The movie, one that I knew Angel wanted to see, was "The Secret Life of Pets" I should not have to explain to you why that one. A cartoon, we ended up about the only people there without a gaggle of sticky, smelly, shrieking children in tow. Somehow, I survived.
So based on the theater location we explored nearby options. We've been eating rather light in this heat wave, so nothing heavy. Angel heard that Penn Station was serving something special this month.
The Place:
Across from Gravois Bluffs in a smaller shopping center. Fenton has just about every discount, big box and department store in a tight configuration around Highways 141 and 30. Convenient for shopping, lousy for driving through during the holidays.
We'd been here before, quite a while back. We'd liked it just fine, so why not give her another go?
Penn Station was started in the 80's and now boasts 300 locations, mostly in the South and Midwest, because nowhere else really matters.
Inside looks like an upgraded Subway. Dimmer lighting, tables and chairs, nicer decor. There is a sandwich line, similar to Subway, with a couple of notable differences. PS also has a deep fryer and a mountain of fresh potatoes.
We stepped up to the counter already knowing what we wanted.
The Food:
BLT, small (freshly hand-cut) fries and small freshly squeezed lemonade.
Yeah, we ordered the same thing. Date night you know.
I  love a good BLT. It's hard to find a bad BLT. Some places try to cram an entire pork belly's worth
of bacon on a super thick roll.
Wrong!
Bacon has a very pronounced taste. More doesn't necessarily equal better.  And of course you've probably seen some of my reviews where I claim that the bread is too big. It's a 'watching my carb intake' thing.
We found a dark, quiet table and stared lovingly into our respective electronic devices.
The order only took a few minutes, about the time require to slice and cook a small portion of fries.
I was really concerned about the roll, I didn't know what to expect. I was pleased to see that it was only slightly larger than a standard hot dog bun.
The bacon, three thick slices, lay buried under fresh, crisp lettuce and three juicy tomato slices. The fries were 'dirty', peel left on. I love them that way.
And everything was awesome. I usually don't have sweet drinks with a meal (or any other time, really) but PS's lemonade is spectacular.
The thick bacon was very smoky with a slight hint of maple. Better bacon I do not recall.
For the first time in many meals out, I finished the entire meal. It was not too filling or heavy, just simple, satisfying and delicious.
Summary:
'Nuff said. I really, really like Penn Station. Not just for the dirty fries and the lemonade, but also for the extra good sandwiches they make. I've had a few different ones, they are all top quality.
The price was twenty and change for the two of us, making the Station quite affordable as well.
Well worth a try!


Penn Station East Coast Subs Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Off the Hook

12636 State Route 21
DeSoto, Mo
On the Web


This was my choice. Well, not exactly. My first choice was to go to Fountain City Grill, a nice little place that we wish we went to more often. Angel invited Adam, he said he'd love to tag along but Saturday would be tough because of his work schedule. We agreed to delay a day and go Sunday. Adam visits pretty often, at least every other week. We have a secret weapon to get him here frequently, a washer and dryer. He's been to laundromats, he'd rather drive for a half hour or so each way and visit with us than go back to a soul-sucking laundromat.
So Sunday afternoon, while I was doing important cemetery stuff on the computer I had a thought. Is the Fountain City Grill even open on Sunday? Yes, most of my thoughts are indeed italicized, I don't know why.
Answer: No.
Crap.
Well, how about Bistro on the Square? Pretty nice, decent food. 
Nope.
So what IS open?
The Place:
Off the Hook (OTH) is sometimes billed as a seafood joint.
Not exactly.
This is Missouri, almost as far away from an ocean as you can get in the continental U.S. Sure there are some places in the city that probably fly in the catch of the day, but this is not one of those places.
Inside, the walls and shelves are stuffed to the gills (pun intended) with boat and fishing geegaws and gadgets. From small wooden sailing ships to a real live Jon boat in a trailer that has been converted to a salad/soup bar.
There's a large, occupied aquarium behind the counter, nets, fishing poles, etc, etc, etc.
It's a bit much really.
The place is spacious though, especially if it is only one third occupied as it was this evening.
The young lady at the counter told us to find a table and a server would be by shortly. Sure, why not. We picked a table by a window on the west side. We ordered drinks, I ordered tea, knowing immediately that this was a mistake. I had rememberies of the tea at OTH.
We scanned the menu, not that I needed to. There's only one entree that drags me to this place,
The Food:
You simply must start with an appetizer, specifically the corn poppers. These are battered, deep fried balls of whole kernel sweet corn. It is an absolute requirement. You won't be disappointed.
Angel ordered a chicken or country fried steak. I am aware that there is a difference, but it is a difference without a significant distinction in my book. So there, Clarkson Wells!
(One, country, is flour battered with brown gravy, the other is egg battered with a creamy gravy)
She ordered some sides, I forget what exactly, but there's a reason for that.
Adam ordered grilled chicken, blackened, also with some forgettable sides. Me, the reason I go to this place?
Catfish. Corn meal breaded, deep fried catfish. Mmmmm, that's good Mississippi River seafood.
OTH boasts that their's is All American, red, white and blue, USA farm raised only. I'll take their word for it. USA! USA! USA!
Corn Popper
I like catfish. Certainly more than I like cod or tilapia or salmon. Even though I often mention that I was raised near the swamps in southwestern Kentucky, I did not eat catfish when I was young. Sure I caught a few with a cane pole and earthworm bait, but I would certainly never eat the slimy, sting-y bottom feeders. I don't recall when I first started eating, then loving catfish, but I have loved it for at least a couple of decades. I like catfish more than those other, more commonly served fish types for the same reason I prefer the dark meat of poultry more than the white meat. Because catfish and dark meat have actual flavor. I'm not a breast guy, ask anyone, ask Angel. Chicken/turkey breast is dull, dry and tasteless. No, give me some of that dark, muscled thigh, I'll gladly sink  my teeth into that, all day long. Mmmmm, dark meat.
I had another remembery and mentioned to the lady, "No fries please." By default the fish comes with
Catfish
two hush puppies and a pound and a half of fries. I like fries, sure, but my memory also served me to recall that there would be four breaded fillets, two hush puppies. . . there's no way I could ever finish this plate of food with that many starchy things on it, it will never happen.
I wanted the fish, that's all that mattered. I asked for white beans, slaw and corn. (since I nixed the fries I was offered a superfluous third side as part of the meal.)
She took our order and we waited, which means like a normal family we turned on and stared at our personal electronic devices.
The poppers were wonderful, seriously good, but be careful, they are hot, hot hot!
The place wasn't filling up, spotting a crew member was rare, very rare. In fact we noticed that there were some un-bussed tables just sitting there, un-bussed (and they stayed that way). At a few points
CF Steak
during the meal there was no staff presence in the front at all. One gentleman, behind us, spotted a server way across the big room and chased her down, asking to be waited on. A couple a minutes later a young lady appeared and rushed to apologize to the table.
I assumed that a couple of the staff had called in puny, such  a pretty day and all.
The entrees arrived, we dug in. The catfish was as good as I hoped, crunchy, flaky, moist, savory. Not at all gamy or fishy, just better than cod.
The sides, well, the white beans were better than I expected, the mild seasoning they were hosting blended in with the creamy, dare I say mushy, beans. The veggies all appeared to be canned or frozen, seasoned with something, bacon, onions, maybe, and very overcooked. Southern style over cooked, just like Grandma used to make. She slaw was the vinegary
Grilled chicken
type as opposed to sweet and creamy. It's okay, but after a while the vinegar wins.
There were indeed, four large fish fillets. An entire school of fillets. Much, much more than a man my size should, could or would ever eat, even without a pound and a half of fries.
The sides were pretty much all a fail.
Angel thoroughly enjoyed her steak, "It's small, but in a good way." She pondered for a moment and added: "If it were any bigger the saltiness of the gravy would have been overwhelming."
Adam didn't have much good to say about his chicken breast. "Peppered, but not much flavor, and it was tough (dry)"
In the end I finished two fillets, most of the white beans, both (overcooked) hush puppies, and not much else. I did not ask for a box, fried catfish does not reheat well.
Summary:
I love the catfish, none of the other stuff really mattered that much to me at this meal. It's hard to find good fish in this area, especially a good catfish.
I've had the same complaints about OTH nearly every time. 1. The tea is simply awful, too weak, too old. 2. The portions on some of the meals are simply twice as large as they need to be. I imagine a great deal of food gets tossed or taken out. I would have happily paid the same price for two fillets as I did for four, less guilt about wastefulness as well. Offering a sedentary, middle aged midwesterner a plate of four breaded and fried fish fillets, two hush puppies (deep fried cornbread) and a pile of fries, plus add two more sides, you are not just a restaurant, you are an accessory to suicide.
3. Please, please find some fresh veggies for sides and stop boiling the life, color and flavor out of them.
As for the staffing issues and there were several, I'm going to play nice and give them the benefit of the doubt. It could have been a shortage day, a couple of people called in puny or cars broke down, though a couple of more times with that many disappearances could indicate significant staffing and management issues. I thought about this particular problem again as I stood at the counter waiting a few minutes for a staff member to appear and take my money, fifty dollars and change.


Off The Hook Incorporated Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato