Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Off the Hook

12636 State Route 21
De Soto, MO
Jan. 30


I go to Desoto at least once per week, that is I almost go to Desoto. I actually go to the Walmart that is on the northern tip of the town; I don’t actually drive in to the main part of the town very often at all. Between my house and this Walmart is a restaurant that I’ve intended to try for the past three and a half years but just never got around to it. Angel and Adam had lunch there once, during a workday when her parents drove through from Springfield (MO) for a quick visit.
We arrived Saturday evening a little later than we usually go out since we had to wait for a dog owner to pick up his dog. We got a call from him around six saying he was still fighting bad roads near Sikeston. This gave us easily a couple of hours so we made tracks. We’d received three or more inches ourselves, but since it was Saturday I had spent the better part of the day clearing our driveway, the maintenance crews had done a cracker-jack job of clearing the roads, including the country road we live on.
The parking lot was near full, Angel didn’t even bother circling the entire lot six or seven times looking for a spot an inch or two closer to the door like she normally does. The first thing I noticed is that the vast majority of vehicles in the lot were trucks, big full-sized pickup trucks of all makes and models. To us this meant only that we had found the locals, Angel’s full size SUV was not out of place.
As we entered we noticed a couple of couples standing inside, there was going to be a wait. A cheerful lady in jeans and a titular tee shirt* approached and informed us that it would be about ten minutes. We found a bench that fit two; I stood and pretended to read the bulletin board. Angel saw me doing this and tacked up her own business card alongside one for the rescue operation she works with (C.A.R.E.).
In about ten minutes we were led back to our table where we fought over seating arrangements. To be honest it wasn’t a fight it was a jumbled, clumsy and confused discussion. As I am the word and description guy for this blog thingy, I like to sit where I can best see around the establishment. This isn’t always the most logical or practical arrangement, sometimes I sit beside Adam, sometimes beside Angel. As our table was somewhat in the middle of the floor here, it took a moment for me to decide.
The Place:
The restaurant was smaller inside than I had imagined it would be. It may have just seemed that way since it was packed to the rafters. It was nothing fancy, wainscoted and flat white walls up to a white ceiling, dark unremarkable industrial carpet. It did appear clean and well tended. The tables and chairs were wood, the tabletops bore local advertisements laminated to the surface with thick, shiny epoxy. It was quite colorful and a more interesting read than the year-of-the-animal placemats that you find at many Chinese joints. Angel noted a stack of yellow cards next to the condiments that announced they were going to have new tables made and were looking for advertisers. I mentioned that I’d like one of the old ones. I’m sure Angel is on the phone right now trying to procure one, because she loves me that much.
The d├ęcor was heavily fish themed. Fish, fishing poles, tackle, bait signs, pictures of fish, poles and bait signs, etc. Directly in the middle, beside our table was a handsomely framed in aquarium, one hundred plus gallons. It was bright, well maintained and filled with medium sized tropical fish; including some of the largest tetras I can recall seeing.
The place was noisy, but a good noisy. Talk, laughter, the clinks and clanks of dinnerware, the occasional baby squealing (yes they apparently still allow small children in restaurants, there ought to be a law) The noise reminded me a big family meal, well, not necessarily my own family’s meals which are generally small and pretty quiet. I refer to those big family meals you see on TV and read about in books where everyone is in good cheer and enjoying each other’s company. I’m sure they actually occur somewhere.
The menus were delivered, the drinks were ordered; tea, Diet Pepsi, Pepsi. Angel prefers Coke, but apparently this was not an option. Angel groaned a little which was picked up by our waitress (also wearing a titular tee shirt) and she made note that she favored Coke products as well. I found this entire discussion beneath me because if you’re a regular reader you already know my opinion of soda pop.
The food, part one:
We did something we rarely ever do, ever rarer than order dessert. We ordered appetizers. Probably because of the later hour we were pretty hungry, and I’d been shoveling all day meaning I had actually burned off some food for once. We couldn’t decide on one that we all liked so we asked for two; crab rangoons for Angel and I, and popcorn chicken for the very picky Adam. The waitress pointed out that it was just as cheap to order three appetizers as two since they had a special price for a ‘treble’. We were powerless to debate it, and went ahead and asked for the fried corn nuggets.
That’s right food fans, they take a small wad of whole kernel and some cream corn, bread it and deep fry it, in this case each was the size of somewhere between an aggie** and a golf ball.
The drinks came in thick plastic tumblers, Adam notice that mine, the tea, was emblazoned with a Pepsi logo, whereas Angel and Adam’s containing actual Pepsi products were not. He’s pretty good at noticing irony, I like that about him. I assume the Pepsi’s were fizzy, bubbly and sweet (or fake sweet), but the tea was virtually tasteless. It may as well have been ice water.
We made it through most of our drinks before the appetizers arrived, but when they did it was a feeding frenzy. The rangoons were on the slightly sweet side with a definite chunk of some sort of sea creature. Adam’s popcorn chicken went pretty quickly, and we all swooned over the fried corn balls. They were simply superb. If you’ve ever had corn/cornbread casserole, that’s pretty close to these little delights.

The Food, part two:
Angel ordered one of the daily specials, a French dip beef sandwich with ‘home chips’ and slaw. Adam went for the chicken fired steak sandwich with home chips. I ordered what I’d known I would since I first saw this place; catfish. I love catfish. The catfish dinner included fries and gave me a choice of two sides. I chose slaw and baked beans, because that’s what SHOULD go with catfish.
Fortunately it took a while for the main courses to arrive. We of little willpower had gorged ourselves on the treble appetizers and needed the break. When it did arrive we were not disappointed. One look at my plate and I knew I would be asking for a box later. There were four medium sized fillets and about six to eight cubic inches of fries. The slaw and beans were served in rather small ramekins.
I tried the sides first. The slaw was of the non-milky type. It was sweet and sour like a home made sweet pickle. I actually prefer a buttermilk based slaw, like KFC used to serve, not so vinegary, but this was very fresh and bright. The beans were pretty decent, made form scratch and not overly flavored; sweet and a little smoky with a just a hint of heat.
Angel and Adam’s home chips were pretty good. They were not too thick but not quite as thin as commercial potato chips and cooked to brown. My fries were okay, but only that, perhaps only when compared to the catfish which was absolutely perfect. Moist, flaky and only lightly breaded with corn meal, I wanted more even before I finished the first bite. They didn’t offer a lemon to squeeze on them, which would have them even a little better. I only just now realized that so that’s how good the fish was.
Adam’s CFS sandwich lacked gravy, otherwise excellent. Angel’s French dip beef was terrific, the meat fell apart and melted away on contact.

We did indeed get a box, I only managed to finish two of the fillets and about two and a half cubic inches of the fries. Angel only managed half her sandwich and between us there were a few chips left. The fish didn’t make it past lunchtime on Sunday, it made an exceptional wrap. It was moist enough that even reheating it didn’t dry it out. The leftover fries were flaccid and unremarkable.
It was a truly happy place, the atmosphere, even though crowded and loud was fun, maybe comfortable is the proper word. Two birthdays occurred while we were there, and sure enough the aforementioned tee-shirted staff did the generic clappy and singy birthday song, delivering a cup of ice cream with a candle to those claiming to celebrate their special day. Normally this bugs the tar out of me, but not so much this time. It was like harking back to a simpler, warm, comfortable and happy time that I really don’t think I actually ever experienced for myself, you know like the fifties, The Waltons, or My Three Sons.
All in all I’ll give this experience a high ninety something.. Not ninety nine, maybe a ninety six. What made it all the better was the price. I let Angel handle the tab again, she’s much better at sophisticated financial matters than I am, she reported that the entire bill came in under forty nine dollars. That included a generous tip (she liked the titular tee-shirted wait staff as well) and recall, we had three appetizers! Without the tip and the yummy starters the bill would have been around twenty dollars less… and we still would have all eaten to our fill.
Recommended, we'll be back!

* ‘Titular tee shirt.’ I could have said ‘Tee shirt emblazoned with the restaurant’s logo.’ but that doesn’t make the twelve year old boy in me giggle near as much. The word 'titular' is defined as (second or third definition) : “From the title or derived from the title.” In “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” Huck is the titular character, as is the white whale in “Moby Dick”. (giggling again) The tee shirts worn by the staff of ‘Off the Hook’ all bore the restaurant’s name.

** Aggie. You had to look this up? It’s a marble, the kind kids used to play with before video games and G.I Joes were invented (and led to the inevitable downfall of civilization). Way back when parents actually encouraged kids to play in the dirt. At least my parents encouraged me to play in the dirt; come to think of it though they also told me to ward off an attack I should punch grizzly bears in the face. This, thanks to the Discovery Channel, has led to the start of some general trust issues. But I digress.

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