Monday, May 4, 2015

Huddle House

13012 MO 21
De Soto, MO

The quest was for a satisfying Chicken Fried Steak. I don't recall exactly why. We discussed different restaurant options, you can find the traditional southern dish lots of places. Somehow we decided to try Huddle House. They were in my head since I'd just received another coupon via email. Not because I'm a food blogger, but because I joined their little fan club. The coupon seemed interesting, a free 'bacon waffle' with the purchase of something else.
The Place:
On Highway 21, just past Veteran's Blvd. Locals will know where that is. It's only been open a year or two. I used to go on Saturday mornings, with a book, to get out on my own for a while. I don't do that much anymore, no reason.
It's kind of small, like Waffle House and that kind of place. HH serves dinners and burgers, but they're more famous for breakfast feasts. Inside, it has that sweet maple smell that WH has as well. We headed to the only cleared and unclaimed table big enough, a five top to the left of the door. I positioned myself for maximum viewage, of the staff as well as the other patrons.
As is typical for these places, the menus are huge, shiny and colorful. More like an oversized tri-fold catalog than a list of options.
'Katie Bug' (according to her name tag) Asked us about drinks, tea, tea and pop. She told us our server, Katie, would be with us shortly. I assumed she was referring to herself in the third person. I respect that, Dennis does the same thing. It's a sign of quiet intelligence.
But no, another young lady, tagged only with 'Katie' came by a few moments later. Dennis was disappointed he'd misjudged Katie Bug. The new Katie seemed to be confident and friendly. Until I picked my toast option, when I said 'brown.' She looked baffled. Angel muttered something like 'all toast is brown.' because she's a smarty pants. Katie eventually figured out that I wanted wheat bread, which to me, seemed a silly thing to call it since all bread offered was made from wheat. The only thing that significantly differentiated the first two choices was the color of the bread, white and brown. Who makes these illogical rules anyhow?
By the time she came back with the drinks, we were all ready to order.
In the time between ordering and eating, I noticed that there were three or four TV's, muted, each one tuned to a different station. Soccer on one, closed-captioned news on another, and the nearest one had a bunch of guys digging for something. It took us a while to figure out what though, At first I  assumed they were gold diggers. Not Dean Martin's singers and dancers, the other kind, husky dirty guys with picks and shovels.
Then I noticed the overhead music. Thank the gods the volume was pretty low else I would have had to destroy the place. Country. Ugh.
The Food.
True to the quest, Angel and I both ordered the CFS. There were two versions of it, a breakfast meal with two eggs, hash browns and toast, and the dinner version with two sides, mostly potatoes with only one veggie option, the unnamed vegetable of the day. We both opted for the breakfast version, since we knew that's what this place was pretty good at.
Angel wanted her eggs scrambled. She also went for the third bread option, also made from wheat, raisin toast.
I asked for over-medium eggs since I like to stir the hash browns into the gloppy yolk.
Adam did us a favor, asking for the thing we had a coupon for, a bacon waffle with chicken tenders. Too bad we'd not printed out the coupon.
The wait for the food was longer than I expected, but not excessive. I watched the guys dig. They finally ID'd the show 'Prospectors Unearthed' They search for rare gems, mostly they looked like random rocks and pebbles.
The food arrived via two servers. They'd split the adult meals into three plates apiece for some reason. The CFS had its own plate, as did the toast. the eggs and hash browns shared a slightly larger one. We thought this was a bit of a waste when it would all have fit nicely on a single, regular sized plate.
Angel and I did the same thing, transferred the steak over to the egg plate and shoved the empty plates out of the way.
They had provided a steak knife, though it was hardly necessary. CFS is pounded tender, and HH had done a good job of that. I did notice that the steak knife was considerably sharper then those they pass out at Ruby Tuesday, where they serve actual, un-pounded steak. The CFS was the first thing Angel and I tried. She nodded and said that she liked a crispy chicken fried steak.
And yes, it was indeed crispy. Inside the breading, the meat was moist and tender. Not over salted or over peppered, just right. It satisfied my craving perfectly. Even the gravy was spot-on. Thick and not over spiced.
The eggs were, of course, perfectly cooked. I've never had a disappointing egg at HH. Angel and I agreed that the hash browns could have been a little crispier, but they tasted good, especially swirled in egg yolk and occasionally a little spillover gravy. My brown toast was fine, I did notice it was lazily buttered. A splat in the middle of two facing slices and not spread. I wasn't too bothered, it's just toast. I wouldn't have ordered it had it not come as standard equipment on the meal.
Adam seemed to enjoy his waffle and tenders. A bacon waffle is really just a waffle with crumbled
bacon on it, not in it. I make sausage waffles at home. I crumble the sausage and mix it into the batter. Adam assumed they would do a similar thing here, nope, just sprinkled some crispy bacon crumbs on a standard waffle. Not a terrible thing, since it is, after all, bacon and waffles.
Pretty satisfying. Simple stuff prepared traditionally leaves little room for surprises. A fair price too, $32.40 for everything, about half the cost of the previous week's less than great meal at Ruby Tuesday, with sharper knives as well. You could not eat here often and maintain your girlish figure, it's better suited for carb loading and the occasional comfort food fix. No fruit, nearly no veggies, mostly starchy, buttery and fatty. But for a busy day or a long day on the road, a real pleaser.
I've noticed on social media that this chain gets a lot of criticism. I've never had a bad experience. The place was clean, the food was well prepared, and the service, the two Katies, were friendly, efficient and professional.
As I looked around, everyone seemed to be at least satisfied, even the skinny red headed young man with the scraggly red beard, foot long ponytail and three foot chrome chain clipped to his belt loop at one end and billfold at the other. I did notice several patrons that spanned more than one generation, kids with grandparents. I suppose it's a good place for that, lots of things that both kids and mature adults can enjoy.
I recently went to a diner in Hillsboro, the name of which, I won't mention. I had breakfast, a waffle two eggs, hash browns and bacon. It was awful. The hash browns were greasy and bland, the eggs overcooked and the waffle was delivered with a generous sprinkling of powdered sugar. For me, the sugar ruined the waffle. It wasn't listed on the menu. That's twice that place has served a very disappointing simple breakfast. I don't think I'll go back. Huddle House, on the other hand, has never disappoints. It's that simple. Get the standards right, customers will come back. Huddle House delivers. Dennis approves.

Huddle House on Urbanspoon

Monday, April 27, 2015

Ruby Tuesday

1120 Shapiro Dr.
Festus, Mo.
On The Net

Earlier in the week I got word from Angel. "We have a Ruby Tuesday coupon."
Hint, taken.
Of all the franchise bar/restaurants, It's about the only one we go to very often. It's never been perfect, but it is only rarely terrible.
It was because of a very bad night at RT that we started looking for other places to eat back in 2009. You could say that Ruby Tuesday is the birthplace of Eat and Critique.
The Place:
It used to have walls lined with junk. Sports junk, iron tools, etc. Much like 'Chotchkies' in the movie 'Office Space'. They got rid of all that 'flair' a few years ago, painted the walls, toned it down a little.
It still has a central bar, but overall it is no longer an open invitation to frat-style rowdiness.
There are booths on the sides, a bar area, and an entry. Separating the bar from the entry is the world's best salad bar. This bar is why Angel likes going here. Meals are chosen to be compatible with a mega-load of salad.
A couple of young ladies greeted at the podium and chatted over charts, finally deciding to put us in pretty much the same booth as we always end up in.
Pretty soon, a young, energetic man stopped by asking for drink orders. We replied with the usual. He skittered away.
The Food:
I scanned the menu, Angel and Adam debated appetizers. I don't usually get involved in appetizer discussions, I only rarely partake. They usually want wings, which I do not care for.
When the young man delivered our drinks and Angel put in the appetizer order. I heard the word 'sampler'. Something must have caught her eye that Adam might not care for. That could be a lot of things.
It didn't take long before the menus were closed. In front of us were some of those luscious cheddar biscuits. I held off, I had a plan.
As we waited I noticed the tea glasses. Or rather mugs, worse, plastic mugs. I don't like drinking out of plastic cups. We have a few at home that I've never had a drink from. I'd rather drink from a Bundt pan than a plastic cup. That is usually not an option at restaurants though. I expect a plastic cup in lower end places. RT is not lower end. Besides, this was a cheaply made, faux beer mug. I'm sure RT has a bunch of actual glass mugs at the bar. . .
Seriously, like the Styrofoam cups at Savannah's Smokehouse last week, this sort of thing is one of those annoying little details that just set up for a 'beneath my price range' mood. I knew going in that this bill would be in the sixty five to seventy five dollar range. Give me an actual glass for Pete's sake!
 No time for that now though. We placed our entree orders:
Me: Top Sirloin, fries, salad bar.
Angel: New Orleans Seafood, Zucchini (blech!) and salad bar.
Adam: Rids and Chicken Tenders, with fries.
The young man almost got trampled in our rush to the salad bar. There's
nothing exotic at the bar, there's just a lot of variety, a whole lot. And lots of types of dressing as well. I loaded my plate up with a few greens, mushrooms, onions, cucumbers, peppers, cheese, bacon bits, egg, etc. Thousand Island dressing this eve'.
The appetizer tray arrived, four selections. Spicy wings as orange as expected. That color of orange is only found in one place in nature, traffic cones and barrels. I've never looked at a construction site and drooled for the flavor of anything that color. In the service, I once painted my office that color. The Inspector General was making the rounds and I'd read a report that said that this color is a people repellent.  It also causes headaches after a day or so.
Also on the tray were some un-spicy wings, miniature cheese logs, or something, and tiny Thai spring rolls.
This is apparently what caught Angel's eye. Adam would never touch one of those. I would though.
So I tried one. Not bad, not bad at all. Pretty darn good as a matter of fact. Angel agreed. That's the only thing I tried. Adam tore into the messy orange wings. They'd asked for the 'mild' version, Angel said it was still too spicy for her. Adam seemed to like it though. Most of the rest of the stuff ended up in a box, bound for Adam's lunch bag. He had to work that night.
I gulped down most of my gloppy salad, too much dressing again. It sure was good though.
Soon, too soon, the entrees arrived. This has been one of my complaints in the past. Badly timed courses. It doesn't happen every time, just often enough to be frustrating, leaving the table with too many plates and having to choose between abandoning or finishing the salad and appetizers while the entrees slid toward room temperature.
I pushed the salad plate aside. Steak trumps all.
I carved a sliver off the left side. The juices started flooding, threatening to drench the fries. I didn't care, the fries were an afterthought. I wanted steak. Besides, the fries weren't all that special anyhow, maybe an afterthought for the kitchen crew as well. Too much salt.
The steak did not cut easily. This worried me. I recalled having a problem like this at RT before. So I sawed through it with the finesse of a hyena. I was right, the steak was perfect, buttery, not tough to chew at all. For some reason, I doubt if it was concern for my safety, the steak knife was better suited for clubbing than slicing.
The steak itself though, was excellent. Not topped or sauced, just bare, naked, charred and bloody meat on my tongue. A little salt, a little pepper, a bit of butter and a flame. All a good cut of beef ever really needs. I saved a little though, to go with the cheddar biscuits. Sunday breakfast with steak, eggs and some of those little red potatoes I'd picked up at a produce stand earlier in the day.
Angel likes seafood. But I repeat myself. Her plate was packed with zucchini (blech!) and a tilapia filet coated in 'Parmesan cream sauce'  and drizzled with some shrimp. Mostly zucchini (blech!) though. Later in the meal I noticed the fish barely looked touched. "The sauce is too salty." She reported. Fortunately, the zucchini was good. I told her I sincerely doubted that. Zucchini, to me, is like Pleather. It's fake food. You use zucchini when there's nothing else available, or if you are trying to replace something on your plate with a more healthy, if not more disgusting, alternative.
"I'll order something less daring next time." She summarized.
I shared a sliver of steak with her. Yeah, it was good.
Adam, not surprisingly, didn't say much about his plate. He inherited a
double dose of introvert. Or is it introvert squared? Anyway, he doesn't say much about anything. For example, when asked if his messy batch of ribs was good, he answered: "It's ribs." He also finally said that he was not impressed with the fries. He struggled mightily and messily breaking down the ribs. He must have had an even duller knife than I did. They did provide extra napkins though, which was good since with him going after those ribs with a blunt instrument there was splatter, not unlike the front row at a Gallagher show, during the trademark sledge hammer  vs. watermelon bit.
I suppose the chicken was fine, he said nothing about that, but it did end up in his takeout box.
No dessert, thanks.
If it sounds like a mixed review, well that's kind of typical for Ruby Tuesday. Some things are great, some, just not quite right. The bill came in under sixty five dollars, after a ten dollar appetizer coupon. I tipped the difference. The young man was most satisfactory, he kept the drinks refilled and was attentive to our desires, such as actually leaving out the ice when Angel asked for more tea 'without ice'. No complaints about Ryan S. (That's what the receipt says.)
Angel pointed out that the busing crew was MIA, a table beside ours hadn't been cleared the whole time we were there.
Details, those annoying little details.
And that's the thing. These issues are 100% laziness or mismanaged priorities. The awful plastic
mugs, the mis-timed serving, the lackluster fries and overly salty fish, nothing that required any actual recipe really popped. The steak was excellent, but that was 90% cut quality and only 10% skill. Details, details . . . at a price I don't really think worthy of such annoying details.
We'll go back, salad bar, and the steak is pretty good. But other offerings? We're still searching for go-to alternatives.

Ruby Tuesday on Urbanspoon

Monday, April 20, 2015

Savannah's Smokehouse

122 S. Main
Desoto, Mo.
On Facebook
On the web

We'd been eagerly awaiting the opening of this place. I'd been 'following' it on social media for several months. They often posted pics of the meat prep and testing, it looked awesome.
They've been open a couple of weeks, so they get the 'newbe' treatment. I can overlook a few things when a place first opens, I'll make note of it, for comparison purposes, for the next visit.
The Place:
Main Street Desoto, pretty much across the tracks from the big Arlington House B&B. (You can even see the Inn's's reflection under the 'N' in the picture of the storefront window.) I love Main Street, they do a very good job of keeping this historic and quaint, track sided street in good shape.
Savannah's occupies one of the old storefronts. There are several nice eateries along this street, as well as free standing, single screen movie theater.
The place looked nice on the inside, freshly painted walls, nice, oaky floors.
The tables were topped with red and white checkered tablecloths. Each table was stocked with rolls of paper towels and several squeeze bottles of barbecue sauce.
There was no one working the front, so we took the hint and went to the counter in the back.
Sure enough, it's a 'take your order' deal.
There were several guys working behind the counter, stripping and boxing and plating meat and sides. I'd been looking at the menu online since they first posted  it, I did not struggle with what to order.
The Food:
Pulled pork, mac and cheese and baked beans for me.
Angel asked for a half chicken with coleslaw and macaroni. Adam, bold and daring as he is, took the brisket and the same sides as me.
A pretty good sampling, we've done this before.
We were handed Styrofoam cups, like the kind you get at a church dinner. Not my favorite drink media. We paid up and set out for the drink dispensary. A simple multi spigot + ice repository for sodas and a big thermos container with buttons to select from three kinds of tea, sweet, unsweet and for some odd reason, raspberry. I chose the un-sweet. Angel got tea as well, though I didn't notice which kind, certainly not raspberry, I'd divorce her for an atrocity like that.
There were free tables all around, standard sized in the middle of the floor and high, bistro style tables along the wall. We chose bistro. Yeah, we can be hipsters too at times.
Behind me was a wall mounted speaker throwing out some righteous REO Speedwagon. That was pretty much the last of the tolerable music though, it turned out to be a radio station that soon switched to some harder hitting dance beats. Dance beats are fine if you are dancing, but a bit too pounding for quiet dining.
It wasn't long before our order was called, Adam and I grabbed the trays.
Well it looked pretty good. The meat, especially. Angel's half bird was the most impressive in appearance, dark, very dark dry rub completely covered the expired chickens flesh.
My pork and Adam's brisket looked exactly like it should. The taste would tell.
First things first though, try the sauces. There were several available, Classic, Carolina, 'Sassy' and Chocolate Chili. . . wait, what?
I'm not one of those so-called TV food experts. I don't think everything is better with chocolate, or chili peppers. . . the thought of those things together then doused over smoky meat, well my mental impression told me that it would taste a lot like 'Nope'.
BBQ Sauce Analysis:
Classic: Yup, just as expected.
Carolina: heavier on the vinegar, but not bad.
Sassy: It tasted like they peppered it up as well, not bad, just not really my thing.
Choco-Chili: Nope, didn't try it.
I ended up sloshing some classic over my pile of meat.
Adam came back with tableware.
The Styrofoam cup should have served as an omen. Bargain basement disposable items. The forks were small and flimsy, not even as stout as you'd find at a church social. More like you'd pick up at the $ store and pass out at a kids fourth birthday party. If we were having sheet cake it would probably be fine, but we would be ripping through flesh and muscle.
As for the meat. We all shared a little with each other, without anyone prompting to do so, like I said, we've been doing this for a while.
Before I rattle off a few more minor 'observations' let me say this, boldly and loudly. This is the
headline: The meat, every bit of it was very near to, or absolutely perfect. Nailed it!
The chicken was tender, moist and smoky. The pork was hearty and moist. The brisket was some of the finest I've had in a while. I could easily see what had been the main focus of this new place.
So keep that in mind as I must now deal with some more minor issues.
The mac and cheese was disappointing. The taste was good, but the cheese sauce had hardened. Half a dozen rigidly connected elbows came up in every flimsy fork full. I even had to cut some fork fulls to fit into my dainty, but handsome mouth. Not a petty task with a fork that could barely stand up under its own piddling weight. This can be fixed, they've got the taste right. Angel picked up on the problem with the macaroni as well, without my even mentioning it.
The beans were as good as any good canned baked bean. That's neither good or bad unto itself, I like a good canned baked bean. In my mind though, this is a smokehouse. Expectations for the baked beans are going to be a little higher.
The slaw was exceptionally good though, Nailed that as well. Angel pronounced it, I concurred. Creamy, fresh, not thin and sour.
See, that wasn't so bad. . . Oh, then there's the toast. Though to call it toast is a stretch. You know the dial on a toaster? The one with the color strip that goes from beige to yellow to dark orange? Well, they might want to turn it up, quite a bit. There was hardly any crunch on the thick bread. But that can be easily fixed too.
So we ate away, very happy with the meats, less so with the lackluster sides.
The meat portion was excellent. We took a little chicken and pork home, but not much. Breakfast for me would be pork and eggs. . . Mmm. I might even bite open a can of baked beans, jack them up a little with bell pepper and onion, maybe a few crumbles of bacon or breakfast sausage. . . Getting the idea?
Maybe the customers will be okay with pale toast, generic beans, clumpy macaroni, Styrofoam cups
and wafer-thin forks. Maybe, but I really think they'd like a little better.
But the meat. Oh, that meat was exceptional! Unfortunately the sides sort of knocked some wind out of it, as a whole meal.
The bill came in just under forty five dollars. Not bad for first class smoky meat. A tad high for forks and cups that aren't even as good quality as Taco Bell hands out. It's a new place, so I'm going to assume that so much time, effort and $$$ went in to opening up the place that some things were sacrificed. I really hope so. With really minor changes like that, this place could soar.
Go for the meat. Seriously, it's very good.