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.
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.
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.
'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.
Well, how about Bistro on the Square? Pretty nice, decent food. 
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
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.
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

Monday, June 27, 2016

Popeye's Louisiana Kitchen

4103 First Missouri Credit Union Dr
St. Louis, MO

Web site

Angel saw a commercial, or something.
Adam said he'd join us since it was not far from his bunker , across the mighty Meramec river in South St. Louis County.
A couple of months ago, during the hunt for a decent fish sandwich, Angel would often bring up Popeye's 'squished fish patty on a bun' commercial comparing (wink, wink) a 'certain' fast food chain's square fish patty (McDonalds) as 'seafood' to Popeye's 'Butterfly Shrimp Tackle Box.'
"I like my squished fish patty on a bun!" she repeated, probably a hundred times.
She was not looking for seafood at Popeye's though, she wanted to try the chicken. I told her I'd take yet another one for the team and get something fishy.
The Place:
South County. I'm not sure that's an actual municipality or whether it refers to the general area that hugs the Mississippi between the Meramec and St. Louis City. The city itself is not in St. Louis  County, it is a county/city entity all its own. The county that surrounds the city is made up of over a hundred municipalities, some distinct, others merely a blur between stop signs.
This location is fairly new. It was clean and sparkly inside, in the way only polished plastic can sparkle. The motif, fast food modern. There was not any attempt to make it look like anything other than fast food.
Angel and I already studied the online menu and were pretty set in our order, Adam was starting from scratch. Finally we ordered, Angel first. My turn came, I was prepared. "Fish and shrimp combo with coleslaw and a small drink."
The young man repeated back. "Fish and shrimp combo?"
"What side with that sir?"
"What size drink would you like with that?"
We filled our drink cups, I found us a shiny plastic covered table.
The Food:
I sipped my tea. I quickly looked around for an alternative drink. The tea was old, metallic and bitter.
Nothing. I don't like sweet drinks, period, other than juices. You didn't know that about me?
We sat waiting, I looked around as I am wont to do during eatery reviews. Six tables occupied, three people waiting for take out / pick up.
After five or eight minutes of note taking and analysis, I looked around again. Six tables occupied, three people waiting for take out / pick up.
None of them had food.
More people came in and ordered and waited.
Something was wrong in the kitchen. Orders were backed up, all of them, no food going out at all, for nearly twenty minutes.
Probably out of cooked chicken, since that seems to be the flagship of the brand.
A twenty minute wait at a sit down, waited on at the table restaurant is no big deal. At a fast food joint, it's an eternity.
Finally we were served.
It was a really brown meal. At first we couldn't tell the orders apart. I figured out mine because of the popcorn shrimp.
Angel: Mild chicken and coleslaw.
Adam: Spicy chicken tenders and mashed potatoes.
We also ordered a couple of the apple pie for later.
All orders come with their 'signature' buttermilk biscuit.
We noticed something immediately. There was no coleslaw.
A lady from the counter stopped and asked about sauces. We mentioned the missing sides, she apologized and disappeared, only to return a moment later with the slaw.
She asked again about sauces. I looked around. "Tarter sauce please."
She asked Adam and Angel as well, they declined.
A couple of moments later, she came back with a couple of condiment packets in her hand. "Which sauce did you ask for again?"
"Tartar sauce please."
She looked at the packets, turned around and walked away.
She soon came back with the right stuff.
I then started sorting through my basket. One thin, scrawny piece of fish, two thin, scrawny pieces of fish. three, THREE thin, scrawny pieces of fish. . . 
That's it. If you look at the photo, you'll see three small, rectangular objects, that's the fish. The fillets were about a quarter inch thick, probably less. Broken apart it would all fit into one cube of an ice tray.
Easily half the portion, if that much, of that pathetic squished fish patty on a bun at that other fast food restaurant.
It was also tough, rubbery and dry. So thin that it overcooked browning the breading. The majority of the real estate in the basket was occupied by popcorn shrimp. Also overcooked and so heavily battered that the shrimp inside was little more than a condiment. I disassembled one to measure the breading vs. shrimp ratio.
Shrimp on the left, breading on the right.
Statistically, I had a basket full of fried flour. Had they been crispy rather than rubbery, I night have eaten more than three of the approximately half cup of fried flour balls.
The biscuit looked right, too right, as if it had been made by a robot. Too round, too flat surfaced on top and bottom. I looked around, all over the place and could find no butter being offered, I decided to go ahead, commando style.
Ah, they had buttered the top. . . not the middle, mind you, the top, then added salt to make it seem like there was more butter than there was. The effect was a dry, too salty biscuit. Even Adam picked up on that butter/salt trick.
About a tiny fillet and a half of fish, three bites of biscuit, and three fried flour nuggets, I tossed the rest away. I had about half the coleslaw, nothing special there, creamy, sweet, with an odd hint of some herb, dill, cilantro, something Angel couldn't quite describe it either, a little off putting, whatever it was.
Adam complained about the mashed potatoes. Apparently Popeye's claims a Louisiana spiced mashed potato. To Adam, this was sacrilege. Mashed potatoes aren't supposed to be spicy. "Mashed potatoes are already southern, why do they have to mess with that?" He screamed.
 Angel rather enjoyed her chicken, it had a touch of spiciness without getting silly.
Here's a photo of what I didn't eat. I'm at an age and station in life that I will just not suffer lousy food. I'm hardly a gourmet or a food snob, but there are certainly standards, limits. My food was not good, none of it. I'd rather waste the six or seven bucks I paid for it than shove it into my face because it was in front of me. I figured I could go home and make a sandwich out of whatever was lying around and be much more satisfied than with this pile of abysmal fried flour coated, rubbery seafood scraps.
I'd rather eat Guy Fieri's lightly seasoned flip flop.
Like I said, Angel liked the chicken okay, the sides, not at all. Adam was at best, 'meh' about his. The consensus was that we could not think of any reason to ever go back. Better stuff is readily available, just about anywhere.

Popeye's Louisiana Kitchen Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato