Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Bandana's again... sort of.

We take a HUGE aside this week. We had planned to dine at the Texas Roadhouse in Arnold. As we arrived a little past five P.M on Saturday we immediately realized there was going to be a problem. The parking lot was completely packed on all four sides, and there was not only a line at the door, there were two lines at the door, one going down each direction of the sidewalk.
Another thing we noticed, many but not all of the folks in line were in suits and nice dresses, which I thought was odd for a steak house. Actually we didn’t really notice it so much there until we decided to skip the Roadhouse and just pop in to the nearby Super Chinese Buffet. Which was also crowded, a long line poured outside, and once again many, but not all of the patrons were better dressed than one usually sees at such venues.
We started driving around the area and came across a place we hadn’t heard of, 54th Avenue Grill and Bar. It looked big and decent, so we pulled in and found yet another packed house with a long line. Once again, several nicely dressed people. The same was observed at a nearby Applebee’s as we drove past it.
It was near six PM by then and we were starting to get frustrated and hungry. So we extended our search down the road a mile or two and pulled in to the half-full Bandana’s Barbeque.
We’ve already reviewed Bandana’s, the one in Herculaneum, so it does not seem right to re-hash that which has already been discussed.
This location looked exactly like the other, the aroma was wonderful and the food quite good. The only recognizable difference in quality was the long wait times between ordering and delivery of the meals. I attributed this to the fact that shortly after arrival the place started filling up with people, many dressed rather nicely. By the time we were done the waiting line was about twenty people deep. The wait staff and management were scurrying about trying to keep up with demand.
The three of us switched up on our orders. I had my notebook with me and found the notes from the original trip to Bandana’s and (yes I carry a small notebook and write in it as we dine. No one has questioned it yet.) was able to recount what each of us had before.
I opted for pork and turkey with a baked potato and baked beans, Angel went for beef and pork, and Adam took on the chicken and the turkey. Adam went for fries and Angel the baked potato, both asked for the corn. And oh yeah, Pepsi, Diet Pepsi and tea. (Ho-hum)
Since we were hungry we ordered an appetizer, something different and something none of us had ever tried; boiled peanuts.
That’s right folks, goober peas.

Sitting by the roadside on a summer's day
Chatting with my mess-mates, passing time away
Lying in the shadows underneath the trees
Goodness, how delicious, eating goober peas.
Peas, peas, peas, peas
Eating goober peas
Goodness, how delicious,
Eating goober peas.

(As I recall it was to the tune of the old Hymn 'Bringing in the Sheaves')

A celebrated old southern folk song, quite popular around the time of the Civil War, or as many of my southern brethren still refer to it, “The War of Northern Aggression.”

I first heard this song in a multimedia presentation* at the visitors center at Ft. Donelson National Battlefield in northwest Tennessee**, not too far from my birthplace and hometown in Kentucky. It was a school trip I’m pretty sure, though I don’t recall what grade I was in at the time. I recall paying attention to the presentation, so I was certainly younger than twelve. (From the age of twelve on I was singularly obsessed with girls and paid little attention to trivial historical matters.)
Anyway, though I heard the song and it stuck in my head I had no earthly idea what a goober pea was. We in Kentucky are considered by many as southerners, but we are at the northern tip of the south and not all deep-south traditions traveled up quite that far. Nor did very many nearby farms grow very many peanuts. Most peanuts I had as a youth were roasted, salted, shelled, professionally packaged, and could be bought for five cents per bag. (Half those would get poured into a fresh, ice cold bottle of RC Cola, or maybe a NuGrape, yummy!)
I like Peanuts, all three of us do. Angel brings home a few bags of the unshelled variety each trip to the market and they are a very common snack around our house. Angel also insists that they are quite messy when Adam and I have them, though I can’t say that I’ve ever noticed that.
We also usually have peanut butter in the house. I like it crunchy-style on off-brand round Ritz-like crackers. (I’m also kind of cheap) If Angel brings home the RIGHT graham crackers (no cinnamon thank you) I really, really like it on those. I like it so much that I’ve asked Angel to NOT bring home the non-cinnamon style of graham crackers because of my limited willpower.
We also like peanut oil, and would use it more often if it didn’t sell for OPEC – like prices. Deep frying anything in peanut oil is far better than canola or corn oil.
So why NOT try boiled peanuts?
They were served hot, very hot, as they should be. My research has turned up that properly prepared, small raw, preferably green peanuts are boiled in the shell for several hours in a heavy salt brine. This softens both the shell and the peas themselves. Additionally this process draws antioxidants from the shell into the pea making it nutritionally superior to other forms of preparation. Once served the shells peel right away with virtually no effort. The peas (peanuts are not nuts, they are legumes) are very, very soft which makes this method favorable to people with significant dental issues such as many of those that populated the deep south in the late nineteenth century.
Seven hours of boiling a green peanut gives you a pea that is nearly as tender as its boiled pea/bean cousins.

So there they were a large bowl of steamy, soggy peanuts. Angel tried one, Adam tried one. They didn’t say anything. I was timid about it and also preoccupied at not staring at the family of little people two tables down. (They were talking about their pet Rottweiler.)
I finally did try one.
The shell fell away very easily, the peas crumbled. The shell had the consistency of intestines; warm, slightly slimy, unappetizing. I scraped the pea bits out and certainly tasted the brine, but not much else. Maybe it was a dud, I thought and I tried another.
In my mouth the pea broke down further, but not completely. It was gritty like a chicken gizzard or coarse corn meal. The taste was brine, not peanut. I didn’t hate the taste; I just could not discern it completely. The texture was wholly off-putting though. I did try a third one and the results were exactly the same. Angel and Adam tried a couple more apiece, but then that was it. The rest of the mushy, tepid peanuts just sat. The final verdict was Angel’s statement “At least we tried them.” This is about as damning a gastronomic obituary as Angel would ever put on a food item that she herself had suggested.
The main courses finally arrived and we gorged ourselves with the meat, the sides and of course the best Texas toast this side of Wichita Falls.*** We did note that the beef tended to be on the dry side but the five sauces that were provided overcame that.
We were stuffed but anticipating future desires so we ordered dessert, to go. Angel and Adam split a batch of donut holes, I asked for and was pleasantly surprised to find out that unlike our experience a few weeks ago (it was in my notes), THIS Bandana’s indeed served apple pie. In fact the waitress mentioned that they had recently dropped all other pie choices. (Perhaps because of my scathing online rebuke?)****
I never did find out why so many people were so dressed up on Saturday evening in Arnold. Maybe some of my local fans can shed some light? A Lent thing perhaps? A festival of some sort?
We’ll get back on track this coming weekend. We’ve now established a policy of having at least one backup place in mind so we don’t get shut out like this again. And unless this hordes-of-dressed-up-people mystery is solved, we may just avoid Arnold altogether.

* Multimedia Presentation, circa late 1960’s. A filmstrip automatically advanced by hidden tones on a narration/music playback soundtrack. I can explain it in great technical detail as I am college educated in audio/visual techniques of that period. For that matter I am also certified to teach vacuum tube theory. Man I’m old.

** Ft. Donnelson. Now that I think about it might have been at Wilson’s Creek Battlefield in Springfield MO, some twenty years later. Help me out fans, does anyone else recall hearing this song played at either of those places?

*** Wichita Falls Texas is home to Sheppard Air Force Base, where I first learned vacuum tube theory and subsequently taught it. See how it all ties together?

**** Apple pie rebuke. You’ll have to open up the original Bandana’s review. I could copy/paste it here for you, but frankly I do, and I do, and I do for you people and what do I get in return? Nada… so open it yourselves… you could probably use the exercise anyhow.

***** Why is it that ‘shelled’ peanuts have no shells but ‘unshelled’ peanuts do? Is someone deliberately making our language more complicated than necessary? It’s like dressing a chicken means to take away it’s feathers, which is certainly more like un-dressing it… Who’s in charge of this stuff?

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