Monday, September 22, 2014

Kettelhut's Smokehouse

1267 N. Truman Blvd.
Crystal City Mo.
On the Interwebs
Facebook

Kettelhut's Smokehouse finally opened Tuesday. Yeah, just four days before the entire Eat and Critique staff invaded it.
We'd read about this place 'coming soon' a few months back in the local weekly, The Jefferson Leader. I soon noticed a Facebook page, subscribed to it, and started getting periodic updates and finally the 'Now Open' announcement. The early reviews were positive, perhaps a void was filled at last.
The Place:
Located on Truman Blvd, across the road from the Quonset  Lanes, a bowling alley I've never been in, and Poppy's Ristorante, which I have.
This building, for as long as I can recall, housed a Mexican joint named Cinco De Mayo, which translated by my online translation site means "Five The Mayo". We'd seen it but never ate there. I was afraid it would not be very good based entirely on our observation that its parking lot was nearly empty on every Saturday night we went by it. That's never a good sign. If a place that serves Mexican food and alcohol can't at least half fill a parking lot on Saturday night, it has a significant problem. Contrary to popular rumors, I do not seek out bad restaurants just to kick them when they are down. Unless of course, they're a fast food franchise. Those places ought to be sought out and exposed, with prejudice and impunity.
But a local joint? No, I let them be. There was a restaurant with a certain reputation in Hillsboro for the first few years of this endeavor. We deliberately went out of our way to not go there. They finally went out of business, a new place opened up in that location and  I've had the opportunity to eat there and write positive things about it.
Kettelhut's, derives its name from the owner, Jeff Kettelhut, and not from Kettle and/or Hut. Though if he ever wants to open a tea house, he's set.
When we arrived, early we thought, at just before five P.M, the parking lot was surprisingly crowded. We squeezed the family truckster into a tight spot. We opened the door to see nearly every table filled. Even the bar was crowded.
They'd done a pretty good job of cleaning it up and decorating it. The first thing I noticed though was the overhead music. Old school blues. Perfect. On the walls were a few, but not too many relics and artifacts of music, photos of blues musicians mostly, and on the back wall, decorative saxophone and guitar art pieces.
Tasteful. The bar was separated from the dining area by half-wall, half iron work dividers. There were four or five tall bistro tables in the bar area.
The floors were a terracotta (which translates to 'land  surplice' which doesn't make any sense whatsoever) tile, the walls were texture painted a burnt brick red. The ceilings, standard white ceiling tiles.
The dining area had black steel chairs covered in lavender, the tables topped with red and white checked vinyl. Along the back walls, the booths also had those table cloths, but the bench seats were glossy lacquered wood slats.
That's where we were led to a booth in the back under the sax and guitar art.
We were handed menus.
The Food:
A simple, complete menu, filled with exactly what we wanted, smokey meats. We've reviewed several smokehouses and you'll recall that every time we do we compare it to our former favorite, Bandana's in Festus. It, almost ironically, burned down a couple of years ago. They've not rebuilt. There's a few other BBQ's and smokehouses in the area, and they are all pretty good. But there's still that void.
As with the other places, we decided to diversify, to get as many of the offerings between us as we could. This is not difficult because like at most any smokehouse/BBQ, they offered several things we like.
After having our drinks delivered, un-sweet tea with no sugar, sweet tea and Pepsi, we were ready to order. Our server did not have a name tag on her titular tee shirt. (Large cartoon pig on the back wearing old school sunglasses with a toothpick in its mouth, under the words 'Kettelhut's Smokehouse') I'll refer to her as 'Loren'. She looked eager and happy, but a little harried. I understood, there were about a dozen titular tee-shirted ladies scurrying about in the full dining room.
We placed our order. We'd all decided on a 'Pick-Two' plate, two meats, two sides, Texas toast.
I chose brisket and pulled pork with 'Bobbie's Coleslaw' and fried taters and onions. Angel, drumsticks and ribs with cucumber salad and the taters and onions. Adam struggled most, decided on pulled turkey and chicken with baked beans and fries.
A pretty good spread, covering most of the offerings.
I asked Loren if they had mac and cheese. No.
The last BBQ place we visited a few weeks ago said no as well, it was 'out of season' they had said. I didn't believe them since I know a thing or two about food production and I recently discovered that macaroni does not grow from a plant or tree, it is actually nothing more than flour and water. Macaroni does not have a season like peaches, strawberries and hockey. Why Kettelhut's doesn't offer mac and cheese, the absolute perfect side for smokey meats, is beyond my comprehension. Perhaps the instructions on the back of the Kraft box are simply too complicated for the kitchen staff.
Loren scooted off and we waited.
And waited.
And waited.
Did I mention that the place was packed when we got there? By this time there was a line forming out the door. Not a lot of food was being brought out.
Did I also mention that the place had only been open four days?
I didn't mind the wait, I pretty much expected it. The kitchen and staff had only been working live customers for less than a week. This was their first weekend working together. Smokey meat is a slow process, hours and hours go into cooking the stuff. The place was packed, line forming.
In other words, I'm not going to ding the joint for the long lull between ordering and receiving the order. I give a lot of leeway for a brand new place, a lot. Of course there will be mix- ups, mistakes, inconsistencies, etc. We were here to try the food and establish a baseline for a future visit. Make note of those inconsistencies and errors? Sure, but only to see if the kinks are eventually worked out, the flow gets smoother.
Adam and Angel played with their e-devices, I could have, but chose not to. I was watching the people, the staff, the flow. I noticed a street sign on one wall. 'Beale St.' it said. Why a blues-themed smokehouse would have a sign for a side street in tiny (pop. 900) Downs, Kansas, I could not understand.
After about fifteen minutes I heard a server at the table behind us apologize to the family there and explain something about the kitchen staff working as fast as they could. Those people didn't seem to mind either.
Ribs and Drum sticks
A few minutes later Loren stopped by and did the same thing. I told her "Not a problem, you just opened, I understand."
She thanked me for that and smiled.
We saw one couple leave. Impatient I guess. Pretty much everyone else stayed tough.
By my measure, the food arrived in forty five minutes. Yeah, a long time for a casual place that serves pre-prepaired meats and batch sides, but hardly a blink in the cosmic amount of wait time in those those fancy places that I've been to in NYC and L.A, etc. You could check in and can get to your seat on a commercial flight faster than those places can serve a $90 lettuce leaf with an ounce of raw fish on it.
But the food finally did arrive. Adam had to choose something beside pulled turkey, they had run out, so he picked beef. That was okay, smokehouses are going to run out of things on busy days.
Beef and Turkey
They had put the cucumber salad on my plate and the slaw on Angel's, minor gaffe, like I said, expected in a new place. That was as bad as it got though.
The taters were chopped large, maybe too large, most of them had to be cut into two or three pieces. Kind of skimpy on the onions too. I could taste their influence but did not see many.
I started to cut my brisket with my knife then realized I didn't have to. It was as tender a piece of meat as I'd had anywhere. And moist. Bandana's brisket always seemed dry to me, unless you slathered it in sauce.
Kettelhut's had house-made sauces as well, we had tried them and decided which ones we favored. I put a little of the Carolina sauce on my pork and brisket, but not as much as I would have at Bandana's.
Angel tore apart and offered me a a tiny sliver of rib meat. I'm not a big rib guy, but this was pretty tasty.
Brisket and Pulled Pork
The slaw was sweet and creamy, I was happy with it. Some places serve a more vinegar-y version, I prefer sweet.
The toast was thick, but a bit chewy. Probably the bread they use. A little dense for me to accompany a full plate of food.
And they were full plates. The servings were ample.
The smokiness of the meat was more subtle than other places, but it was all moist and tender.
Angel was happy that her rib meat fell off the bone, she likes it that way. That last place we went to, it didn't. Her cucumber salad tasted like bread and butter pickle, except with fresh, not saturated cucumbers. She likes bread and butter pickles, I don't, I rather just have bread and butter. Adam's beef was a little too high in the fat vs. lean ratio about 40/60. He left behind a lot of the fat, I would have too. Meat fat is like porn, a little goes a long way, too much is just gross.
Summary:
Not bad, not bad at all. What I observed for followup: The long wait. I assume that once the place has been open for a while they'll get this better figured out. No one could have expected an overflowing house the first weekend it was open. Hoped for it? Dreamed for it? Sure.
The place seemed to be well staffed. I saw at least a dozen workers on the floor. They all seemed to be enjoying themselves and treated the customers kindly and attentively. The serving issues, the mixed sides, the too-long between drink refills, that's standard, expected stuff for a new staff.
Overall we were very pleased with the service, Loren was very good.
As for the food.
The potatoes were too thick. Thick fried taters are a little too starchy on the inside. A smaller dice and more onions would be great. They were not too greasy at all.
The meats were good, as I mentioned, the smokiness was there but subtle. I know that the smokey taste varies depending on the type of wood used. Maybe a little different blend? More fruit woods? I'm no expert. I only know what my brother tells me, he's been smoking meat for decades.
The too-fatty beef plate is something to watch out for.
There was nothing that we didn't like at least a little. Nothing really stood out as a signature offering though. Perhaps one will after a while.
The place looked great and the music was awesome. The atmosphere was casual, warm and friendly. The price was a bit on the high side, fifty eight bucks, but that was partially because we all opted for the two-fer plate.
The tea? Not awful... it could use some freshening up though.
The web site is sparse, no menu or detailed information yet. The Facebook page is pretty good, but once again no menu.
Overall a satisfying experience. A few tweaks and this place could hold on to the standing room only experience it had this first Saturday night in operation.
We at Eat and Critique extend to Jeff and his crew good luck and thumbs up!
Recommended!

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A shout out to the sisterhood!
 This week I was invited and accepted as the first male member of the Missouri Women Bloggers network.
Stop giggling about 'first male member'.
Seriously, I'm delighted to join the gals in working together, perhaps meeting up with them sometime, to offer support and encouragement in this shared endeavor, to inform and entertain bored people at work when their boss isn't watching.