Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Road Trip!

This is roughly half of a two part tale. The other half can be found at:
http://dcbentley.blogspot.com/2010/05/road-trip.html

This past week I skipped town for an unofficial reunion of folks that once worked at the now- defunct Litton Advanced Circuitries Division in Springfield, MO. (See other blog for details) I ate at a few different places along the way, and since I can’t seem to NOT critique dining establishments, I took notes.

Lunch, Saturday

Wendy’s

1007 Kingshighway, Rolla, Mo.

I hadn’t eaten at a Wendy’s in years. In St. Louis county, and some of the surrounding areas, the Wendy’s franchisee went bankrupt or corrupt, or something. Most, if not all the Wendy’s are boarded up and have been for several years. I’m not a huge fan of their burgers, but they do offer something I often crave, the chili.

I fell in love with Wendy’s Chili back in the early 90’s. I often volunteered to judge high school debate tournaments, and somebody at the school system knew somebody at the Wendy’s and they provided a big pot of chili. I ate a lot of it. When I moved to Maryland and was flying back and forth for the first few months, I would stop at the Wendy’s in Prince Frederick on the way to the airport.

Rolla is somewhere in between Hillsboro and Springfield, let’s call it half way. I remembered this particular one from the 70’s when I often drove from Ft Leonard Wood, where I was stationed to Scott AFB in Illinois where my boss was stationed. It was still there.

It’s just another Wendy’s if your lucky enough to have one nearby. Staffed by college kids and single moms, sort of clean and never too busy. I ordered, a large bowl with a small order of fries, extra crackers. They had iced tea, it was expectedly forgettable.

I can’t put my finger on exactly what I like about their chili so much more than other places. The stock is not thick, almost clear. There’s plenty of beef and Kidney beans, spicy but not enough to set you on fire. It’s just good. The fries were okay, but only.

If you’ve never had Wendy’s chili I highly recommend it, try it and let me know what you think.

Saturday Night.

Dean and Debbie’s house

Walnut Grove, Mo.

The Place:

Dean and Debbie built this large house on ten acres. They had big visions and they followed through down to the small details. There were stories of snakes, disasters involving sheet rock and at least one trip in an ambulance involved in the building of it. It is fronted by an enormous covered deck on the second floor. (for more details see the other blog)

The food:

My old friend Danny was given the spatula and put in charge of the two grills. He meticulously tended the burgers and franks, they ended up moist and done without charring.

Debbie had spent the previous evening making potato salad and baked beans. Nailed it! The potato salad was cold and fresh and al-dente, the potatoes cooked only to perfection, not one second longer. The mustard/mayo ratio was perfect, I piled it high. The beans were also exceptional, sweet, but not too sweet and cooked with bits of onions and I suspect peppers. I added a small handful of chips to my plate, just enough to cleanse the palette.

The ice tea Debbie made was the best I’ve had anywhere. Seriously. She uses loose leaf and doesn’t keep it in imprisoned in the refrigerator for days on end. Every glass I had, and there were six or seven, was perfect. A new standard has been set. It is even better than my own.

Someone had made up some interesting sweet treats. I didn’t get the details exactly but it involved breaking apart chunks of frosted strawberry cake, then dipping those chunks into almond bark. About the size of a bon-bon, these white/pink nuggets were deadly. There was significant sugar involved but the taste was heavenly. Its effect on a person that doesn’t consume all that much sugar (me) was very much like tossing back two fast swigs of absinthe followed immediately by getting slapped in the ears.

Because of this treat, which I somehow hate (fear?) but still crave (kind of like what crystal meth supposedly does to you), I did not try many of the other offerings at the cook-out. Everything there was good though, including the cream-cheese filled sushi-style rollups.

Sunday A.M.

Jade Dynasty

300 E Battlefield, Springfield, Mo.

The step-kids picked the place.

Springfield Mo, and I’ve pointed this out many times before, is the center of the universe for American Chinese food. ANY Springfield Chinese restaurant, with the possible exception of Master Wong’s (are they still around?) is better than you will find anywhere else in North America, South America, Scandinavia, the Ukraine and even the Benelux countries. Don’t doubt me on this; you’ll just make a fool of yourself.

So I called Tyler and asked him and his lovely wife, Tonya to have a chat with Steph and decide on a place to go for lunch. I was traveling light and alone, they had more coordination to do what with Steph’s two young kids. (read more about them on the other blog)

Across form the Food 4 Less on Battlefield road, just west of the mall, the place is shiny, lots of reds and yellows. Inside it is large and buffet style. Payment takes place as you walk in. We were a party of five adults and two crumb-crunchers. We were shown a large table and were a bit disappointed to see that the buffet was not quite ready. Most of the steamer bins were empty and where there was an offering, there were no tongs or spoons. We were early.

Once the food started being loaded up we went around and grabbed everything we could. The kids, 5 and 3 favored the chicken on a stick and other finger-able foods. Lexie, the 5 year old, had a pile of broccoli which I tried to save her from, she and her mom fought me away. Apparently Steph, who never liked me anyhow decided to twist up her own kids’ brains as well, somehow convincing them that broccoli tastes good. I know! It’s sick isn’t it?

There’s no need for a lot of detail here. Just read all the other reviews of Chinese buffets and add ten points across the board. The one star standout being the fried rice, this is the one thing that everywhere else gets wrong. I don’t know why, it’s not that hard.

Oh well, they did screw up the drink orders, almost completely. The kids got their Sprite, but only four of the five adults got the drink they ordered. They need to fix that if they expect us to return. I don’t like sweet tea, and Pepsi and Diet Pepsi don’t taste exactly like Dr. Pepper in most other places.

The food though, every bit of it, was awesome. I know it’s mostly just fried this and that, maybe somebody sticks his or her finger in the oil in Springfield, I don’t know, but it’s always better.

Once lunch was complete and the kids had their ice cream, I hit the road for my return home. One more stop to make:

Canton Inn

205 West Sunshine Street, Springfield, Mo.

This stop was to pick up a CARE package for Angel and Adam. According to them Canton Inn’s Egg rolls and wontons travel very well and stay crispy even after being nuked. So I stood in line for a take-out order of sixteen wontons and ten egg rolls. They went into the trunk so I couldn’t smell them and therefore wouldn’t eat them all. They are good, very good.

I did make one more food stop. Gas for the car and a little something for me to snack on.

A generic gas station, Rolla MO.

An hour and a half into the three plus hour drive, the withdrawal set in. That strawberry-almond bark narcotic had distorted my system, I needed a sugar rush. I knew I couldn’t get more of those treats so I did the best I could with what was both legal and commercially available; a three pack of frosted Zingers. The Zingers didn’t quite take me to the level of the night before, when I actually believed I could fly, but they at least stopped the gongs in my head. Hopefully I will be able to wean myself off completely in the next few days/weeks.

To top off the weekend, I had a simple bologna sandwich for dinner. Angel and Adam had egg rolls and wontons.

So on your next trip to Springfield make sure to stop in to some of these places, you’ll be glad you did. Of course you might want to let Debbie know ahead of time, I don’t think they cook out every night.

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