Wednesday, January 27, 2010

La Pachanga

1185 Scenic Drive
Herculaneum, MO 63048-1433

Just off I-55 at the Herculaneum exit, in a small strip mall behind the more visible Cracker Barrel.
'Pachanga' does not translate to anything I can find in online translators.
The Urban Dictionary defines it as follows:
1. Someone who used to be your friend and no longer is.
2. A traitor.
“Comes from the name of Luis Guzman's character in Carlito’s Way. Also a song by Fabolous describing this situation.”
Either that or it’s a Cuban dance, but that doesn’t make sense as this was a Mexican restaurant, not Cuban.
So I really don’t know what it means. We discussed this in the car on the way, and decided that at worst ‘Pachanga’ sounded like something that Dr. Reed from the TV show ‘Scrubs’ would call someone’s private parts.

The Place:
Anchoring one side of a rather new strip mall La Pachanga is larger than the other two or three establishments. The windows were lit up by numerous neon signs advertising Mexican-ish beers. The inside was surprising, they’d put some thought and $$$ into it. The walls were textured to resemble aged adobe. Around the walls and above the bar there were faux roofs made of Spanish style terra cotta tiles giving the impression, or trying to, that you were on a quaint Mexican veranda. This kind of worked since the remaining ceiling was painted glossy back which could be interpreted as a night sky.
The seating and the tables, both in the center tables and the verand-ized booths, were brightly painted in primary colors highlighting the Mexican theme. There was apparently some mariachi music playing, I could occasionally hear a note or two.
We were seated by one of the four or five waiters, all of whom were dressed in black, head to toe. There was a basket of the obligatory thin nacho chips and we were quickly served a carafe of mild, lump-less salsa and individual dipping bowls (which allows for double-dipping). We reminded ourselves to not overdo on the chips, finishing them off merely means more will be brought to you until you eventually explode. This, I suspect, is how the Mexicans intend to ultimately defeat us; endless complimentary nacho chips.
We ordered our drinks, tea, Diet Coke and Pepsi. The menus were laminated tri-folds with lots and lots of selections; fajitas, burritos and enchiladas in various configurations along with a full page dedicated to combinations of all the standards.
Angel ordered a combo, enchilada and tamale,. Adam asked for a taco and the beef enchiladas, I loosened my belt, unsnapped my jeans and went for the ‘Diner Especial’ which was to put it simply, one each of everything. All came with refried beans and Spanish rice.
I had a little trouble ordering my meal, as I didn’t know whether to try to pronounce it as it was printed. I tried that and the waiter looked at me as if I were speaking Klingon. I ended up pointing to it on the menu and he replied “Ah, The Dinner Special!” I apologized adding that my Americanese was a bit rusty.
The tea was unremarkable, but not bitter. The other drinks were universal and mass-produced and not worthy of being rated or mentioned further. Soda pop is an unsophisticated or lazy person’s drink of choice. Sugar (real or fake) and bubbles, nothing more. No class, no craftsmanship, no thinking or discerning palette required. It’s always exactly the same wherever you go; it is certainly evidence that there is still rampant, evil communism lurking just around every corner.
We were well into the second basket of chips when our food arrived. Mine arrived on two large plates. It all looked great with enchilada sauce bleeding all over the rice and beans. I love Mexican style food where everything mixes together in a red, brown and white cheesy puddle.
The tacos were simple and excellent; thin shelled as you find in places that aren’t Taco Bell, probably because of their fragility. These were filled only with beef and cheese, the beef was mildly seasoned, the cheese was coarse shredded white with a sultry, smoky flavor.
The enchiladas were generous though the sauce was a bit timid. The first few bites of everything caused ummm’s all around. That is until Angel let Adam try her tamale.
The tamales (I had one as well) were meat filled, wrapped in very thick corn dough and were the size of an enchilada. Adam tasted it and declared it “Too cornbready”.
I tried mine and agreed there was too much dough, and the innards were very salty. After that discovery we made a few more. Some of the stuff was good, but there was a salt dome building up in our mouths. Angel’s tamales were abandoned, as was mine. The enchiladas were okay, but nothing to write home to Uncle Pedro about. I didn’t come close to finishing my meal, there was just too much that wasn’t great and the saltiness built up fast and weighed heavy.
I mentioned to my beloved family that I had ordered essentially the same platter at Los Portales in Hillsboro earlier on our quest and had no problem finishing it there, even though it required willpower and a certain amount of near-suicidal reckless abandon. Los Portales, I declared, was significantly better. Angel grumbled at the time, but later, in the car she agreed.
At first it was fine, the ambiance was exceptional, the service quick and flawless. The price was in line with similar places coming in at under forty dollars including the tip. The food was the problem. It was at best not bad as for the enchiladas and tacos, but that tamale was nasty.
After we left we made a stop at Wal-Mart to pick up some dog food. It was about then that I detected another foul aftertaste, distinctly metallic, like a mouthful of old pennies. I’m pretty sure it was the enchilada meat seasoning. I tried killing it with a cough drop, then another, but only time and wine finally restored normality.

I can’t say that I’d recommend La Pachanga. It wasn’t entirely awful and some more precise selection rather than a shotgun platter would probably make it okay, but only okay. I’ll give it an eighty five. Next time we want Mexican though we’ll just go to Los Portales in Hillsboro. Sure there’s no fake adobe or tiled faux verandas, but the food is just that much better

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Trattoria Giuseppe

5442 Old Hwy 21
Imperial MO
Jan16 2009 5:00 PM
The Place:
We made our reservation a day ahead. We printed out a Google map with directions; Angel’s Tom-Tom couldn’t locate it. According to its proper mailing address this place is in Imperial, though actually it’s in or very near Otto, five miles west of downtown Imperial. Most easily it can be described as near the intersection of Highway M and old Route 21 in Jefferson County.
We almost passed it as it is not a free-standing establishment. It shares strip-mall walls, parking and signage with a tavern, a pizza shop and a body shop supply store.

I was at first baffled. Being as we needed reservations I assumed a bit of high-falutin airs and snootiness, I’d even put on a button down shirt and tucked it into my jeans. Now here we were in a parking lot across the street from a towing service, miles form anything resembling a town.
We entered and found ourselves in a brightly painted green and red entryway. We were greeted and taken directly to our table in the less flashy dining area. There, subdued vertical striped wallpaper, stained wood chair rails and subtle prints of Italian themes adorned the walls. One the prints I didn’t care for and I have never liked. It’s a small poster/ad for the opera ‘Pagliacci’ I believe, depicting a really sad, singing circus clown. I’ve seen the print before and it always depresses me since: A. I don’t like opera, B. I don’t really like clowns, and C. The idea of a sad clown singing opera reminds me of abject depression and possibly insanity and that’s just a little too close to home.
Along one wall was a large mural of a mountainous coastline. I assume it is Italy or Sicily though since I’ve never been there I can’t be sure. It was a nice mural though.
The tables were quaint and covered with a deep green vinyl cloth. The carpet was well worn and a mix of colors that made it virtually unnoticeable. The dining area could hold around fifty people at the most.
Our server, Heather, introduced herself. She, like the ten or fifteen other visible employees was smartly dressed in black slacks, white shirt and black necktie. She took our drink orders, tea, tea, Coke and returned promptly. The tea was crisp and fresh. We were off to a good start.

The Food:
I ordered the Cannelloni, Angel the ‘Tutto Mare’ and Adam the ‘Chicken Muddiga’.
Each came with a house salad. I didn’t think much about it at the time because I’ve become accustomed to house salads and had limited expectations.
The salads were delivered, lettuce topped with a vinaigrette with a nice sweetness unlike I’d ever had. Also included were a couple of rich olives, not the kind you get in a can, these were dark and full of flavor. There was also a pepper of some sort, a grape tomato and a chunk of artichoke.
I’ve never liked artichoke, so I’ve never actually tried it. I find it pointless to try something I know I won’t like and artichoke is just too strange. It’s been showing up on the Food Network a lot though and I recalled how much work it actually takes to dig out and prepare the sparse edible bits. It reminded me of a crab shack experience in Maryland where they gave us a big bucket of blue crabs, a hammer, some pliers and a ream of napkins and bibs. An eight ounce crab actually only yields about .001 ounces of edible meat. It, like artichoke is a whole lot of work for a tiny morsel. I decided (with Angel glaring at me) to try it. The vinaigrette was so spectacular I figured whatever it touched would have at least that going for it. I have to say I was surprised, it wasn’t disgusting. It wasn’t all that great either. It had the consistency and texture of well prepared calamari, which I don’t care for either. It had no strong distinct taste of its own that I could discern. I seriously can’t figure out what the fuss is about.
The olives were outstanding; Angel and I took Adam’s.
The bread was perfect; crunchy crust and light, moist innards. I dipped mine in light olive oil and pepper and later on the marinara sauce. We cleaned out one basket full and asked for more. By the end of the meal we had a few slices left over which we boxed and took with us. The next morning I turned it into some of the best French toast I’ve ever made.
There was a wait for the main course. If this had been a fast-food place or a chain restaurant I would have been annoyed, but here, where I could tell the food was made to order rather than in batches, it was not bad at all. (See ‘Ambiance’ below).
All the tables were filled with casual couples and families and the ample wait staff scurried around with orders, baskets of bread and drink refills. My tea glass never dropped below half full the entire evening. We watched orders being delivered and realized that we were in a real live, fine dining establishment. Everything looked good, smelled good and felt good.
The main courses arrived. My cannelloni came, two inch-round tubes of pasta injected with a seasoned Italian beef puree covered in cheese and a unique and bright marinara. There was nothing about it to dislike. The pasta was done to perfection. (I appreciate how hard it is to get large pasta consistently done from one end to the other.) The beef filling was subtle, yet savory, the sauce and cheese so delightful I wanted to strip to my knickers and go swimming in it.
Angel’s Tutto Mare contained no horse meat as I had assumed it would. It turns out that ‘Tutto Mare’ translates to ‘All Sea’. It was a bed of linguini covered with shrimp, mussels, clams, mushrooms, tomatoes and covered with a cream sauce. The smell was luscious though I didn’t actually try it because it contained mussels and clams. Angel picked all the sea-bits out occasionally sucking down a heavy noodle or two. There were no sea creatures left by the end of the meal, but there was a fair pile of pasta left, we took that home as well.
Adam’s Chicken Muddiga was more than he had imagined. The chicken was prepared well enough, Mudigga style (breaded) and covered with the promised prosciutto bits (a sort of thin ham resembling bacon) and melted cheese. What he did not expect were the mushrooms. That pretty much took away his appetite for it. He did some scrapping and examined every subsequent morsel for errant mushroom debris. I tasted it and can say with some authority that there were a few too many mushrooms for my taste as well. Other than that it was pretty and otherwise quite tasty.
We were more than quite satisfied with the meal, that is until Heather brought the dessert tray around. We looked at each other and succumbed to temptation. Cheesecake is terribly hard to resist.

The Ambiance:
Then an odd thing happened; a young man in a nice suit walked in with a music stand. He sat it on the floor at the entrance to the dining room and unveiled a violin and bow. He then tucked the instrument under his chin and made music with it. He played softly and pleasantly, the tune we barely made out was not a classical piece, nor was it Italian as we expected it would be when he started. We finally figured out what it was and we had to laugh. He was playing Phil Collins’ “Against All Odds”. Okay, interesting choice, but still quite pleasing.
By this time we had become accustomed to the pleasantly unexpected.
Somewhere between the salad and the main course a man stepped out of the kitchen and went from table to table. When he came to ours he introduced himself as Giuseppe, the owner and chef. A very pleasant, modest, yet confident man, he smiled easily and seemed to enjoy the conversations as much as the patrons did. When I asked him about the sweetness in the salad dressing he simply smiled broadly and answered, in a distinct accent, “That is my recipe. I get it from my mother.” I didn’t drill him on it any further. He seemed genuinely delighted that I liked it and that was enough for me.
As we finished desert, our bellies full to the point of aching, we did not want to leave. This has rarely if ever happened in a restaurant. Usually we’re not lingerers at all. Eat, get the check and go, that’s us. But we were really, really enjoying this place unlike any other we have ever, ever, and I mean this, ever been. The warmth, the friendliness, the hum of a house full of satisfied diners, magnificent food, a personal greeting by the proprietor / chef, and his wife, and did I mention a guy playing soft pop on a freaking violin!

Simply unbelievable. This is the full package. In an unexpected place, in a light industrial area five miles from the closest town or interstate on-ramp, nowhere near a Walmart, bank, or big box store. Not even a convenience store or gas station in sight. There stands in an inconspicuous strip mall on a road used pretty much only by the locals, the single best all around dining experience I can imagine. The price? Sixty five dollars plus tip.
That is sixty five dollars including dessert. Frequent readers and fans of this site will recall that we spent that much at Ruby Tuesday’s last week, without dessert, without meeting the chef, without having such exceptional food and service and without a guy playing 80’s hits on a real live violin. There’s a long list of places that you can spend sixty five dollars for three adults, but no place I know where you get this much pleasure for anywhere near that amount.
We will go back, definitely, we are already recommending it to everyone that will listen.

About Imperial, MO.
“Imperial, MO, contains one of the most important archaeological sites in Missouri - the site where archaeologists first discovered a stone weapon with the bones of American mastodons. This was the first solid evidence of the coexistence of humans and mastodons in eastern North America.”

Trattoria Giuseppe on Urbanspoon

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Ruby Tuesday's

I’ve mentioned before that this whole exercise, to find different places to eat came about after experiences at Ruby Tuesday’s. Our first meal there was phenomenal, but three attempts to recapture that excellence each ended in frustration.
On Saturday we had planned to try an Italian place a client of Angel’s had recommended, not only did he offer a recommendation; he backed it up with a gift certificate. The accompanying card advised to call ahead for reservations. When Angel did so on Saturday afternoon, she was told that the place was not taking reservations for the times we requested five to six PM. They suggested either four PM (too early) or seven PM (too late).
This left us blank, none of us could come up with an alternative. So we did what we had done so many times in the past, we defaulted to an old familiar. This is one of the problems with a household made up completely of introverts.* This is how we ended up at RT’s.

The Place:
Between Lowes and Intestate 55 in Festus, the large parking lot on this very chilly evening** was nearly but not completely full. We were ushered immediately to a table, past the very item that Angel likes the most about this place, the salad bar. I have to admit it’s a pretty darn good one.
We were seated and handed our menus in a booth along the drafty windows. We were directly beneath a speaker that was belting out just a little too loudly seventies and eighties mild rock. Some of the songs were okay, some were Disco. At a distance there was a professional football game playing on TV screens but not close enough to maintain an interest or cause frustration or distress.
Along the walls were Sports-Americana items, oars, skates, sleds, framed jerseys and posters and photos of sports-related people. The lighting was provided by suspended lamps with dim bulbs hanging over the tables.
The Food:

The menus had changed a little in the months since we last ventured there. We noted the addition of lobster in various configurations. This was very tempting, we lunged at it.
Angel and I both ordered the sirloin and lobster with the salad bar of course. We also asked for the creamy mashed potatoes and the sautéed green beans with onion straws.
The disappointment began exactly at this point. We were informed that they no longer served the sautéed green beans with onion straws, a side I absolutely loved. This sent our faces back into the menu where Angel came out first calling out ‘snap peas’. In my mind they were the same color as green beans generally the same shape so I too requested them.
Adam ordered the buffalo chicken mini sandwiches with fries, no salad bar.
Of course tea, tea and Coke. The tea was fresh, bright and excellent. I suspect it is something other that Lipton, though I do not know for sure.
The salad bar as I said is among the best I’ve come across anywhere. The selection is all fresh and plentiful. There is some iceberg lettuce but it is just one form of leafy green among many. I chose the other stuff; I don’t know what it’s called, romaine etc. and plenty of spinach. As for toppings there are many. I tonged up about twenty grape tomatoes, bacon chunks, cucumbers, bell peppers, mushrooms, two types of shredded cheese, a spoonful each of dirty potato salad and apple salad. This was topped by a small dose my favorite two-dressing combo, Thousand Island and Bleu Cheese.
Angel timidly picked through her preferences then went nasty on the croutons. Her and Adam rave about the croutons there, I don’t care for them. They are very dark and to me seem to have the consistency of small chunks of a radial tire. She doubled, tripled up on those since she knew Adam would pluck most of them. She insists the croutons are the best anywhere, I recognize and respect her inalienable right to be completely wrong about certain things.
I tried to not eat my entire salad, saving room for the steak and lobster, but I failed miserably. Everything was so fresh and so good that it was not possible to leave much on the plate. As predicted Adam took about half of the croutons off Angel’s salad.
The wait for our meals was longer than usual. The music slid unmercifully into a meandering, mind bruising Whitney Houston ballad followed by an equally grating, sappy love song from Peter Cetera.
When the main courses finally arrived the salad was a barely remembered thing of the past. The first thing I did after checking for the rareness of my steak was to try the peas. They were in a word, awful. Green peas are potentially overpowering among more subtle flavors. It only takes a few in a stir fry or stew to completely take over the dish. Here on my plate, still in the pods were a big pile of them, and there they stayed. Too sweet, too strong and the texture was that of parboiled slugs.
The creamy mashed potatoes at RT’s are the absolute best I recall having anywhere; very smooth and creamy, slightly, only slightly herbed, simply dreamy. Had they taken them off the menu I would have stormed out and burned the place down.
The steak was cooked perfectly; unfortunately the beef itself was quite less than first rate. I’ve had worse to be sure (Cracker Barrel), but this one was just a little too tough; not enough marbling, the obvious sign of significantly less than grade AAA beef. It was far from awful though.
The lobster was surprising in more than one way. First there were three lobster tails in shells. Don’t be alarmed, they were tiny; only about three to four inches long and only about a half inch in diameter. I’ve had crawdads this size. The other surprise was that they were fantastic! Perfectly cooked, subtly seasoned and generously buttered. They complemented the so-so steak exactly as some high god or another intended the notion of surf and turf to do.
Angel’s delight and surprise was the same as mine. We wolfed it all down rather quickly leaving behind entire portions of the peas and desperate fingernail and tooth marks on the tiny lobster shells. Adam left nothing behind; the small spicy chicken sandwiches suited him just fine.

All in all it was a pretty good meal; less so for the price. This is among the pricier of the chain restaurants/sports bars. Ruby Tuesday’s is currently under an up-scaling mission reaching out to the upper-upper middle class a little more. In my mind they are pennies away from pricing themselves out of the local market. With tip the meal for three totaled nearly seventy dollars. At that price range, the steaks need to be better quality and the lobster needs to be closer to actual size. The salad bar is beyond compare though, even with the Goodyear croutons.
I will score this experience, primarily against itself. I have had a perfect meal at RT’s, once. This visit would rate at best an eighty five. The snap peas, the lesser quality of the meat and the overall expense weighed heavily.
We will probably go back, the salad bar calls to us. As for recommending to others, yeah, sure, maybe. By that I mean that if someone were to suggest taking me there, I’d accept.

* Introverts: Based on Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) assessment tests.

** “Very chilly” is an understatement. At the time of this outing the area had been suffering through more than a week of brutal, soul-sucking cold temperatures. Only once in the previous six to eight days had the thermometer ventured near twenty degrees and on that day it was blustery and it dropped more than three inches of dry thin snow, the consistency of shredded ice. Most days topped out in the low teens. At these temperatures even a mild breeze turns the air into razorblades. The draftiness of the windows mentioned later in the review was more a result of the extreme outside temperature than the quality of windows.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Cracker Barrel

This week, we’re going to bend the rules for a special case. We went to a place that we’ve been before, not here in the Jefferson County, St. Louis area, but still we’ve been many times before.
Over the holiday period we traveled to Cadiz, Kentucky where I was born and raised. My parents still live just up the road in an even smaller town, Cerulean. We stayed overnight at a hotel in Cadiz since Angel has cat allergies and my parents have cat. We were there the weekend before Christmas to celebrate their sixtieth anniversary and a renewal of their vows.
Arriving late in Cadiz after dropping Adam off to spend the night with his aunt in Murray, Angel and I were hungry. Fortunately the hotel alongside the interstate also shared a parking lot with a Cracker Barrel. We had eaten there before as it is well known as my parents’ favorite restaurant. Just about any time we are in the area we get a meal at this very place. We ordered, ate and were quite satisfied.
The next day after the ceremonies the Bentley family met up in Cerulean in the big, drafty 110 year old house and exchanged gifts. Among them was a gift bag from my parents that held a few small items including a big bag of shelled pecans, always a favorite, and a gift card, you guessed it, for Cracker Barrel.
We did not go while we were in Kentucky, we decided to save it for another day.
That other day popped up New Year’s Day. We had burned out on the snacks and cheeses and veggies and dips we had fixed the night before. Those things were just fine but left a hole in our food wheel. We craved a full meal. We went to Cracker Barrel.

Just off I-55
Herculaneum MO.

The Place:
Herky, as it is quaintly called by the locals is just four miles north of Festus. The town has quite a history which I’ll try to touch on later.*
It seems that all Cracker Barrels are exactly alike; rustic large timbered structures built to look homey and cozy and country house-like. Inside the timbers are all exposed and a large fire crackles in a huge fireplace. The smoky warmth wafted over us as we entered.
The entry is into a store area. To get to the dining area one must first meander a bit through aisles and shelves loaded with rural and colloquial items, sweaters, toy tractors, candles, cards, figurines, and retro candies (Chick-O-Stick!!).
Angel remarked how this location was laid out and stocked EXACTLY like the one in Cadiz. I had noticed the same thing, including the front porch load of ‘Military Rocking Chairs’.
We wandered toward the restaurant area and were quickly seated. Just like in Cadiz, the place was packed. Just like in Cadiz, the hostess and waitress were local and sweet. I insisted that we had the same waitress as we did in Cadiz, Angel disagreed. The seats were rustic, the din was pleasant and the patrons were generally well behaved. They were also, as in Cadiz mostly around or past retirement age. Along the walls were the requisite comfortable rural trinkets and artwork; seed advertisements, sleds, farm tools, jugs and jars, motor oil and gas station signage. I took my seat beneath a large print of Woodrow Wilson which seemed out of place. Wilson was an upper crust New Jersey academic/intellectual progressive, not exactly in place among hardscrabble and Hooterville-style accoutrement. But he was above retirement age in the picture, close enough I suppose.
Adam and Angel played with the golf-tees-in-holes game, which I found too silly, trivial and utterly beneath me to mess with. (meaning, I can’t figure it out) I have decided that the puzzle is in fact impossible to be understood by any sane person, like a Rubik’s cube, poetry, or women in general. (For a discussion and alleged solutions to this little puzzle, you can visit: )
I am pretty sure that any actual solution involves a step requiring everyone else to look away for a moment.

The Food:
In Cadiz I’d had the catfish and loved it with one exception, it was in filet form. I prefer nuggets. I let Angel try some of mine then and she was not so particular. This is what she decided to get in Herky. I debated and finally decided to take a chance on the sirloin. After I ordered, Angel placed hers, and they offered her the choice between filet and nuggets. I swore at the waitress under my breath, but not far enough under as Angel frowned at me in that way she quite often does when I embarrass her publicly.
Adam chose the gravy laden chicken fried steak simply because he is his mother’s son.
When given the choice of cornbread vs. biscuits, we all chose biscuits this time. In Cadiz I’d asked for the cornbread and was pretty disappointed. It was dry and bland. “Home-style” is how it was billed. I just didn’t care for it. Maybe I’m spoiled but it would have been better with a couple more Tbsp’s of sugar, or something.
For sides I chose a house salad and baked potato.
Oh yeah, tea, tea and Coke. Fresh but not Luzianne.
My salad arrived very quickly, it was cold. I don’t mean uncooked, I mean cold, as in nearly frozen. It looked great and was in fact quite attractive with tomato chunks in a ring around iceberg lettuce which encircled shredded cheese, bacon bits and red onion slivers. It had obviously been prepared well ahead of time and placed literally on ice for a few hours. Sure it stayed fresh, but it was like eating produce ice cream, complete with brain freeze. Once it finally slid closer toward room temperature, it was much, much better, though the Italian dressing was salty, too much garlic.
Shortly our meals arrived. The steak looked good, the potato was perfect. It was a large, slow-baked potato slightly crispy on the outside, swimming in enough butter and sour cream to drain a dairy.
Speaking of butter. The biscuits arrived with the promised ‘real butter.’ The butter came in teaspoon sized disposable peel-back packets. The butter, like the salad had been on ice. The biscuits were served warm, not hot, and there was simply not enough residual heat in them to completely soften the rock-hard butter cubes. It was un-spreadable and therefore sat in one spot on the biscuit for quite some time before it finally softened enough to spread around. There is no need for this. Keep the butter below freezing and it will last just as long, but will be more usable after it is served.
The steak was a bit dry and unremarkable, doused with A-1 resolved the issue but if you have to put A-1 on a steak to make it edible, it’s not really a good steak. I probably won’t order it again.
The fish and the chicken fried steak were wolfed down; the spare biscuits were slipped into my coat pocket.

I love Cracker Barrel. We will go back and I heartily recommend it. I can’t recommend the steak or the cornbread, but other than that most of the offerings are simply awesome. The meat loaf, roast, catfish, chicken fried steak are always excellent. The hush puppies are delightful, and most of the sides are near perfect. I went out on a limb with the steak, I won’t do that again, but as for everything else, top notch. The price makes it even better. Our three meals cost less than forty dollars and they were all full meals with multiple sides and complimentary biscuits/cornbread. There is a good reason these places are always near full.
I will not be grading this visit as I have done others. It simply wouldn’t be fair. I knew mostly what to order and what to avoid, something I don’t know in the first-time places. What I can say is this; of the two ‘Barrels’ I ate at in a two week span, though separated by nearly two hundred miles, one was exactly the same as the other in décor, layout and food selection and quality.


“Herculaneum was laid out by Moses Austin and Sameul Hammond in 1808, and named after the ancient Roman town of Herculaneum, destroyed by the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius. Austin is said to have chosen the name because the limestone ledges overlooking the Mississippi River resembled a Roman amphitheatre. Lead cannonballs from Herculaneum were used in the War of 1812. Lead smelting is still the major industry in this town.”

It is impossible to describe this small town without eventually mentioning the phrase ‘lead smelter’. The five hundred fifty foot tall stacks from the enormous Doe Run operation are visible from miles away.
This smelter is the only primary lead smelter remaining in the U.S. If you have a lead-acid battery in your American car, there is about an 80% chance that it contains lead that was produced from this one facility.
In the pre-robot days this smelter employed most of the town. It provided prosperity for decades as lead ore from the many nearby mines was trucked in, processed, and shipped back out.
As you can imagine this also became a problem. Sure, NOW we know what lead can do to a child’s brain. As a one company town however, this was not really made an issue until the plant had already been in operation for over a hundred years. Doe Run has been taken to task, and in turn they have spent several years buying up property and digging up topsoil. The town is littered with official air quality measuring equipment and the company, as well as we the taxpayers have been spending tens of millions to clean up the century-old mess.
But don’t let this scare you off. Herculaneum is a charming town with delightful people. A lengthy visit, even with the smelter running full-out will infect you with less lead than you would get in a single afternoon of squeezing sinkers onto fishing lines.