Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Gordon’s Stoplight Drive In

500 Bailey Road
Crystal City MO

This past weekend we faced a dilemma. Angel was out of town to attend her grandmother’s 350th birthday party. She would be having Chinese food at the Mecca of Chinese food, Springfield MO. Adam and I were stuck at home tending the dogs Bailey, Blue and George, (Deedee went with Angel.) Brady, the incontinent long-term foster, and Duke and Dixie, a fun pair of weimaraners in for boarding for the weekend.
We were also on our own for dining. We considered skipping reviewable places and just grabbing something quick and messy, but our sense of obligation to you, the readers simply would not allow it. We did decide to keep it simple.
The Place:
Located at a busy corner on Highway 61/67 I’ve driven by it hundreds of times and always planned to stop sometime. It’s been around since 1948 despite several floods and the passing of the eponymous Gordon Heddell (2007). It’s a small place there are no booths or tables, just a long counter with about twenty round stools. The building is all windows on three sides offering an ample, almost scary view of the very nearby traffic. On this evening there was a staff of four, two young men at the grill and two ladies tending the front. All wore titular tee shirts and seemed confident, content and capable.
One of the ladies asked for our drink order, tea and Coke. Adam and I scanned the overhead menu and eventually made our choices.
The Food:
Nothing fancy here, it’s an old-style burger joint. Several kinds and combinations of burgers, a couple of listed sandwiches, coneys and chili… That’s pretty much it. Alongside the posted menu was a hand made sign offering a ‘Monster Deal’ a ‘Quadzilla’, fries and soda for $7.77. I assumed a four-patty burger. That seemed like a lot of burger so I stepped my order down to the ‘Big Burger’ and fries, Adam opted for the ‘Double’ and fries, essentially the same thing.
The patties were thin and rough formed, which is my favorite style. Cooked right in front of everyone, the fries were also thin, almost shoestring also the way I like them. Nothing fancy about the buns either, just like you’d bring home form the grocery. The process starts with a real ceramic plate with a pile of five or six dill pickle slices. The burger is built right on the plate; nothing sits in a warmer or trough. The food is still sizzling when you get it. Ketchup and mustard, salt and pepper are available every third booth or so, so everyone can easily reach them.
That’s pretty much it, simple, quick, and by the way, Delicious! Thin but not overcooked patties with a simple, comfortable taste and texture, the fries crispy and firm, all of it completely satisfying. Go ahead and get the double or larger they’re not as big as you might think. I did notice that they put a little mayo on my burger though not enough to alter the simple flavor much, I didn’t notice it at all until I was nearly done.

No sesame seed buns, no secret sauce, nothing fancy or complicated. Personalized service, a cheery, casual, comfortable atmosphere, excellent staff and all at a price that feels like you’re cheating someone. Our meal came in at under fifteen bucks. The place stayed busy, families especially, the youngsters already decided on their choices by the time they sat down, usually including cheese fries. The place has a LOT of regulars, and on many nights, especially around high school sports seasons is packed and lined around the outside.
Compared to Steak and Shake, Gordon’s is far superior. Though the offerings and prices are essentially the same, the atmosphere at Gordon’s just can’t be beat. Steak and Shake feels like a fast food joint, Gordon’s Stoplight feels like an old-fashioned family diner. We’re Definitely going back, definitely recommended, the sooner the better. I’m thinking next time I’ll try the chili, I’ve heard it is excellent. I’ll give it a solid ninety nine for being very close to perfect in terms of quality, service and fulfilling expectations.
By the way, make sure to take cash, though you won’t need a lot. There was a sign on the door saying they are unable to process ATM and credit cards. There was a third party ATM machine inside, but those things sting you with fees.

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