Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Bandana’s Bar-B-Q

103 Truman Blvd
Crystal City, MO


The Place:
Bandana’s is a regional chain headquartered in St. Louis with locations in Missouri, Illinois, Iowa, Indiana and Kansas. The one we visited is in Crystal City*, near the K-Mart. The first thing you notice when you get out of the car is the delightful aroma. They keep their smokers running 24/7 and it smells absolutely wonderful. (If heaven smelled like this I’d clean up my act.)
The second thing I noticed was the music being pumped from a cheap outdoor speaker. It was country music, I could tell from the two step beat and twang, but lyrics, voices and instruments were impossible to discern. The speaker, like one you’d find on a boat, had a bandwidth too narrow to make any music enjoyable; it was like listening to an ice cream truck.
Inside the music was audible but once again they had gone cheap on the overhead speakers. If there were any bass clef notes in any of the songs they played you couldn’t tell. The only good part about the background music is that the volume was kept very low, so it soon blended in to the background.
The décor was cheap and country-kitschy. The wallpaper on the soffits pretended to be exposed logs, over the kitchen area, brick. This wallpaper wouldn’t fool anyone. The booths were clean, well maintained and comfortable. The paper towel holder was constructed from iron pipe pieces, the overhead lamps had wash basins for shades. They were obviously going for a down-home country motif, and achieved a down-home country motif infused with a touch of either bad taste or abject poverty.
We were seated immediately and handed our menus. We asked for tea, tea, and to Adam’s delight Pepsi. (He has a definite preference it turns out) The menus were laminated two-sided cards about eleven by fourteen inches. The choices were simple. If you wanted fish, burgers, fried chicken, club sandwiches or Caesar Salad you were in the wrong place. This was a barbecue joint from one end to the other.
On the table, alongside the paper towels (always a good idea for barbeque/ribs) were five bottles of various sauces. Original, Sweet and Smoky, Sweet and Spicy, KC Masterpiece, and Chicago style. Adam tried a spot of them all from his wrist.
The menu had boasted ‘Fresh Brewed Tea’ and I was going to hold them to that. It was indeed fresh and delivered quickly but it was not Luzianne.

We placed our orders. I opted for the beef and pork platter with a baked potato and barbecue baked beans. (two sides included with the platters). Angel ordered the smoked chicken, with corn and baked potato. Adam ordered a sandwich called the “Wet Bandana” with Chicken and Turkey (beef and pork were also options) with fries.

The Food:
Delivery was pretty quick. Our plates arrived exactly as ordered. The disposable plates were set in tin pie pans and lined with butcher paper. The piles of meat were smoky and smelled great. The baked potatoes were wrapped in foil, the beans/corn served in a small bowl in the center of the plate. Topping it all were two generous slices of their garlic toast. This thick, French-bread toast was buttered, spiced then grilled. The meat portions were generous, I had two piles, pork and beef, Angel had a full half chicken. Adam’s sandwich was piled high and the fries were, as he put it, “perfectly made”.
I dabbed a little of each of the five sauces onto the rim of my plate and dragged small bits of meat through each of them. The meat was very well made and did not require sauce to make it good. I chose The Sweet & Smoky and the Chicago as my favorites. Adam agreed. (usually he prefers KC Masterpiece, this indicates that he found two sauces here that he liked even better)
Angel let me try a chunk of her chicken, it was heavenly; Moist, smoky and tender. I let her have a couple of chunks of my pork and beef. We decided that any of them would have been a good choice.
The pulled pork was absolutely perfect. The beef was a bit dry, as smoked beef tends to be, but with a dab of sauce it quickly became awesome good. The toast was simply outstanding. The potato was done perfectly and the butter and sour cream portions generous. The real surprise was the baked beans. These were absolutely the best baked/barbecue beans I had ever had. Obviously slow cooked with some meat added, the bean broth was thick and creamy. I could not get enough of these beans. Angel said that her corn was equally good, fresh, sweet and firm.
I can tell you how good this meal was in another way. I did not finish my potato. As I delighted on the bread, the beans and the barbecue, I found myself getting full. I was not going to be able to finish it all, something would be left behind. Don’t get me wrong, there was nothing at all wrong with that potato, it was just that something had to be sacrificed and the potato lost. For me to leave potato behind is unheard of. I am a potato addict. I would rather have a potato, cooked almost any way, than most other foods. In most burger or sandwich places I’ll finish the fries and leave sandwich behind, but not here. That’s how good the food was.
Adam spoke often and highly about his meal throughout the evening. This is quite rare and says quite a bit by itself and in fact, he lobbied for a perfect score. I had to remind him that the tea was NOT Luzianne so a perfect score was simply not possible. However, should they ever decide to make and serve a hearty burgoo** as good as their other food, they might just have THE wining combination.

The service:
Our friendly waitress, Brandy, checked on us frequently and kept our drinks filled. She and a manager both stopped by to inquire if everything was okay. We assured them, talking with our mouths stuffed full, that yes indeed, the food was great.
Brandy, upon sensing that we were finishing up with the main courses offered desserts. Adam picked pumpkin pie, Angel chose pecan. I inquired about the availability of the one and only worthy option, apple.
No. No apple pie.
I was disappointed, but only a little since I was already quite full. I asked her to look around in the back in case someone had squirreled away a slice somewhere. She assured me that no one would do that and that she was quite sure that there was just no apple pie. I muttered “Blasphemer”, or “Infidel”, or something like that. She smiled and once again apologized that there was not any. I asked her to check anyhow. I told her I’d take it even if it had been setting out for a few days or had fallen on the floor.
When she delivered the pies, I looked her up and down and behind her, checking for smuggling or possible surprises. She laughed but again assured me that there was simply no apple pie to be found. “ Away with you then! ” I scoffed. She laughed. (Excellent people skills!)
As Angel and Adam finished up their excellent pies, I picked at the scraps of meat still left on my plate. Once we were all finished I glanced, just glanced toward the kitchen/wait area. Brandy immediately hopped up and arrived at our table with the check.

If you’ve been paying attention, you’ve probably already figured out that we really, really enjoyed this meal. Sure the décor and music were cheap and forgettable, but man, the food was superb! Every bit of it perfectly and painstakingly prepared including the sides and the toast. The sides weren’t just ‘sides’ here, they were treated with every bit as much attention to detail and quality as the meats. This is very, very, very rare.
The service was clean, well staffed and professional. It was not too flirty or overbearing, and was close and available without hovering. In fact it was good enough for me to actually, (and for the first time in this quest) offer the name of our server in a review. Also for the first time I paid more than my customary tip. Okay, not a lot more. I still consider 15% to be a fair and strict standard. I rarely go far above that, but I will, and HAVE gone well below that.
The price was quite reasonable with our platters costing around ten dollars each and the sandwich under seven dollars. The pie, tip and drinks brought the total up to $52.50.
For a comparison, re-read the review of “Buffalo Wild Wings” a few weeks back. It cost more for basically the same meals, yet was all but intolerable and inedible in every way. I happily paid the tab at Bandana’s.
Final score: 97% a solid A+. Highly recommended, I can’t wait to go back!

* Crystal City is an interesting place historically. In the late 1800’s a factory was built to manufacture plate glass from the very high quality silica found in and around Plattin Creek. Plate glass was made by melting silica (sand) in a furnace and pouring it onto tables. Once cooled the glass was originally polished by hand using sand, rouge and emery.
The American Plate Glass Company developed the area around the factory and called the town ‘New Detroit’. A few years later, not being satisfied being compared to Old Detroit, the people renamed the town Crystal City, a likely homage to the new owning company, Crystal Plate Glass. The town was company owned and run for many years. As such the company had certain rules about the morals and behavior of its workers. Alcohol was not allowed in the company town.
It wasn’t very long at all before another town sprang up right on Crystal City’s borders primarily to remedy the rampant sobriety problem. That town, now called Festus, was originally called ‘Tanglefoot’ referring to the tripping and staggering of the many workers/residents leaving the saloons to return to their homes inside the company town.
In 1908 Crystal City Works Nine, as the factory was called, was owned by PPG and was the world’s largest plate glass plant. As other glass technologies emerged the demand for plate glass diminished throughout the early to mid twentieth century. Having manufactured windscreens for aircraft during WWII and auto glass afterwards, the factory finally closed it’s doors for good in 1991.
Driving through the area now it is very hard to determine where Crystal City starts and Festus ends. Several of the old company homes still stand in the old downtown area of Crystal City but the factory and furnaces are long gone. All that remain of the glass company are the Hospital and the Headquarters building, now used for other purposes.
Source : http://www.crystalcitymo.org/history/index.html

** Burgoo: For you non Kentuckians, burgoo is like an Irish stew, sort of, and can often be found amongst smoked/barbecue meat event such as church picnics. There is no one defining recipe but it generally contains one or more smoked meats (squirrel and opossum was once popular) lots of corn, beans and whatever veggies might be available (skip the okra, please!).

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