Tuesday, August 31, 2010


Festus MO
We weren’t planning to eat out on Saturday. Demolition derby returned to Hillsboro and this we would not miss, gates open at 5:00 PM, normal dining time. So all day Saturday we assumed that we would be eating out on Sunday instead.
I had a sausage/egg/cheese sandwich for breakfast and made Angel one as well. I went out and made a cemetery run, got my oil changed and stopped by Wally-World to pick up my weekly HBA’s (health and beauty aids, we do not ask each other to do this for us.)
I got home around noon and fixed up some of the leftover chili Angel had made the night before. I added flavor and texture in the form of garlic and peppers. Not a large helping, but it would see me through till a late burger after the derby.
After walking a few dogs, checking my Facebook and updating the findagrave site with my day’s discoveries, I took a short nap, I woke up around 4:00. Something guided my hand and I looked up the Demo Derby’s website and discovered that though the gates would open at 5:00, the derby didn’t actually start until 7:00.
I broke the news to Angel and Adam, our schedule was shot. The dogs were already fed and bedded, prepared for us to be out for a while.
So we decided to go ahead and go to Fazoli’s.
The Place:
We had been avoiding Fazoli’s for nearly a year. We had always assumed that it was of low quality, fast and cheap. I pronounced that being as we had such low expectations, based on no actual information, that surely we could or would be proven wrong. We drove to Festus, there it was waiting for us as it has since we moved to Jefferson County. Up on the hill above the interstate, alongside Steak and Shake and McDonalds.
The parking lot was ample and uncluttered, the outside of the restaurant looked very much like the outside of a billion other fast food joints. Inside all was shiny and clean, a few families sat at tables and booths.
There was only one menu, posted above the head of an eager clerk. It took a few minutes as I had not pre-checked online.
Music droned from overhead speakers, faux-Italian, mixed with standards performed by people perhaps with Italian names, but not necessarily Italian songs. If someone named Betty Risotto sang “Xanadu” I think it would qualify as Italian music here.
I chose and we placed our orders one at a time.
The Food:
For myself, combo #8, the pasta sampler with a salad and red wine vinaigrette dressing. Angel picked #3, the twice baked lasagna also with a salad and Caesar salad dressing. Adam went for #2, fettuccine Alfredo with a side slice of pizza. The clerk tallied it up, took our money and handed us three cups and a number (23) on a stick so they could find us.
I led us to a table, that’s right a table not a booth, and positioned myself so I could see the place at work.
Angel and Adam poured themselves some pop, I tinkered with the tea machine, it defaulted to ‘sweet tea’ but with some poking and swearing I got it to change to ‘unsweet’, as God intended iced tea to be.
The tea was cloudy, and unremarkable. I yanked half a dozen napkins from the single bulk napkin dispenser and grabbed three each of the thin, cheap, metal silverware. The table was adequately wiped down, though not completely crumb-free.
The food came pretty quick, all at one time. The salads were better than expected, crisp lettuce, tomatoes, red cabbage carrots delivered with a chilled condiment packet of the aforementioned salad dressing.
My main course was three piles, lasagna, fettuccine Alfredo and spaghetti with meat sauce. Also included on our plates was a light, warm breadstick.
Adam’s pizza slice looked almost like a photograph of a pizza slice. The pepperoni was perfectly arranged and whole as if this slice was prepared and cooked as an individual entity, not part of a larger pie.
The lasagna was a gamble for me, I’m not a huge fan anyhow. The cheese they used was not to my liking, I gave it a couple of bites and let it go. The spaghetti was okay, predictable, nothing wild or crazy. I would have liked a bit more sauce as most of my noodles were naked after just a few bites. The fettuccine was also okay and predictable; it could have been anyone’s Alfredo. The fettuccine noodles themselves were a bit undercooked, nearly raw in the center.
Adam seemed to enjoy it but spent most of his interest on the pizza slice. Angel enjoyed the salad and the lasagna until she ran aground. The bottom layer and up through the next pasta layer in one large corner were rock-hard. She peeled up that corner to reveal that the bottom was burnt as black as overdone toast. Twice baked, once burnt.
No one made it more than halfway through, not entirely because of the quality of the food. Recall that we had not planned to be eating out.
“I shouldn’t have had that chili at one thirty” Angel said. “I shouldn’t have had that chili at 2:30” Adam added. “I had the chili at noon, I regret nothing” I concluded.
So we left. There was a sign that read “No need to tip”, I remarked “Not a problem.”
The food was not awful, even considering the burnt lasagna. But then again, it wasn’t really very good.
We tried comparisons, Trattoria Giuseppe’s? Not even the same planet. Pizza Hut? Not quite as good. Chef Boyardee? Getting closer. Bertolli, Lean Cuisine? Yeah that’s it. The food at Fazoli’s including the pizza was at least as good/bad as a frozen dinner, but not by much. It was uninteresting, predictable, manufactured, industrialized. Fazoli’s is to Italian what Mrs. Pauls is to seafood.
Discussing it afterward, we tried to imagine a scenario where we would want to go to Fazoli’s. We came up blank. We’ve all from time to time craved KFC, Burger King, Pizza Hut, Taco Bell, Subway and even White Castle (though not for very long) and could not, now having tasted the food imagine a time in the past or future where Fazoli’s would be the answer to a craving. I can make better spaghetti or fettuccine at home with basic ingredients, even canned that is far and above better than this place with a minimum of effort and time.
There was no service to speak of, the price was not terrible coming in at twenty eight bucks, but for the quality of food, not appealing. We can feast on fresh Mexican fare at Las Portales for that price or take home a family bucket from KFC.
I doubt we will ever go back, I just can’t imagine when it would be what I wanted.
Sure it’s Italian, but it’s certainly no Olive Garden (which I also don’t care for).

Fazoli's on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Petit Paree

228 E. Main Street
Festus Mo.

And now for something new. Angel picked the place, made the reservations and scouted the location ahead of time. We’d heard about it, it had been recommended by a couple of people. Both said the same thing, “It’s a bit pricey”
The Place:
Main Street in Festus still holds nostalgic main street charm. Old brick two and three story buildings side by side with tiny alleys between. There are many shops and offices, and foot traffic is quite common. The road is partially cobbled and the street lamps hark back to the early twentieth century.
Petit Paree claims to have been around for 45 years according to its website, I wasn’t in the area 45 years ago so I’ll just take their word.
The name invokes thoughts of frou-frou French fare, however they apparently recognized early on that this was Festus Mo., (a town originally built in the mid 1800’s to provide alcohol and other sins for the adjoining dry company town of Crystal City) and would likely not support a fancy frou-frou place serving only delicate tidbits and pastries.
So they have steak, and lobster and catfish as well as snails and baby frog legs, and of course, toasted (fried) ravioli.
The place doesn’t open till 4:30, our reservations were for5:00 because of the dog schedule (the dog schedule is how our lives are dictated). It was nearly empty as we entered. We parked on the street against a curb that Angel would bounce over later.
Inside it was dark, high ceiling, large old style ceiling fans, exposed ducting. There was a bar, but it was being used to hold tablecloths, plates and table settings. There was a wall between two halves of the inside, the other side had more tables and a properly appointed bar, our side just had tables.
They were mostly small, four seaters, some round, some square all covered with crisp white linen tablecloths and set with matching silverware and Origami-like folded linen napkins at each setting. Each table was surrounded by old, simple wooden chairs painted black. At each table there were two chairs with armrests, two without. The carpet was dark lavender and swirled with an old European design, like something you’d see in a nice banquet room on the Titanic. This effect was highlighted by the three crystal chandeliers.
The hostess handed us over to a waitress who took our drink orders, tea, tea and Pepsi, and handed us menus. Simple, few pages, not very garrulous (wordy). It really didn’t over-describe any item, nor did it need to.
The walls were decorated with an abundance of French-like posters and paintings, extending high into the ceiling. There were small, wall mounted slanting light fixtures above the tables, not providing a lot of light, but just enough. On each table were lit candles and vases with faux red flowers. The music was pronounced, but inoffensive, Lionel Ritchie, Sting, Carol King, Sade, smooth, adult contemporary.
We were soon served a basket full of croutons, toasted and buttered bread let to go stale. Each crouton was about 1½ square. Adam was elated. I’ve mentioned before how he likes croutons. These were more my style though, light and crunchy, not dark and rubbery.
The Food:
I decided on the Petit Special steak: “heart of the tenderloin - toast wedge” I was not sure what a toast wedge was in terms of a steak. I added the twice baked potato and a salad. When queried about dressing I asked what was available. “The house dressing is a Mayfair. . .” I stopped her right there. “That’s what I want!” I’ll explain later.
Angel had earlier mentioned that she wanted the Prime Rib. Instead she ordered the Filet Mignon. She also asked for the twice baked potato but instead of salad she ordered something stupid, the Cucumber-Zucchini bisque.
Adam asked for the Bacon-wrapped Ground Tenderloin, since it had bacon in the title. The offering mentioned fresh mushrooms in wine sauce, he asked for them to skip the mushrooms. He smartly chose the twice baked potato and then asked for slaw. It turns out they didn’t have any slaw so he ended up with the house salad as well.
We munched on croutons, discussing the Escargot and legless baby frogs, though none of us even considered trying them. We pondered over whether slugs were merely homeless snails and if so should we criticize them so much.
As it turns out, evolution (as if there was such a thing) has led to some formerly shelled snails to lose their shells and convert it into a useless internal organ. These are slugs. The mucus trail they leave behind serves multiple purposes, it helps them cling to vertical surfaces and it helps potential mates find them. I personally cannot recommend leaving a mucus trail to help attract mates. Just let me say that it doesn’t work as well with humans as it does with slugs. Most slugs are in fact hermaphrodites, which I assume makes their day go by quicker.
To keep slugs out of your garden, beer traps have proven somewhat successful. Beer doesn’t actually kill the slugs, it just puts them in a mood to watch football and NASCAR and make passes at ugly slugs instead of pillaging your greens. I’m not sure what beer does to the mucus trailing though, surely it doesn’t help.
The bisque/salads arrived. The salad was simple, mostly iceberg lettuce topped with one baby celery stalk, one carrot sliver, and roughly half of a cherry tomato. The dressing was quite good. We’d first sampled Mayfair, and only sampled it, at Jilly’s back in July. It seemed quite salty there but it had possibilities. (almost everything at Jilly’s was too salty). Petit Paree’s version was very, very good. Mayfair dressing is egg based with oil and anchovies, reminiscent of a Caesar dressing. Even Adam liked it, though he didn’t love it. I was quite pleased especially since Adam gave me his half tomato.
Angel’s bisque was served cold, more like a gazpacho than a bisque, it was only slightly creamy and ice cold. Angel loved it, I tried it and decided it may as well have been a light ranch dressing with dill added. It wasn’t awful.
The tea girl never let any of us get below the halfway point in our drinks. The waitress stopped by and chatted for a while, explaining that it was very, very quiet, which went without saying since we were still the only patrons and we don’t talk much or very loudly.
Above us a loud Avon-ish doorbell sounded. She perked up and said “Your food must be ready.” And took off toward the kitchen.
The food was delivered, simple, quaint and tasty looking. Each of the steaks had been char-blackened slightly. Adam’s was essentially a high quality hamburger swimming in a wine enhanced au jus. (gesundheit!) My steak was sitting on two wedges of toast, simple buttered white-bread toast cut in diagonals. There were two more wedges at the sides. The twice baked potato was actually a twice baked half potato, with cheese and butter mixed in to the scrambled and re-installed entrails of the potato. I cut into the steak and determined it was slightly over done. I’d asked for pink, but in the yellowish dim light could barely see any pink at all. It ended up being a little dry, not terribly so, but a little drier than had been hoped for. Angel’s was melt-in-your-mouth perfect, far pinker than mine. Adam’s fell apart at the touch of a fork. These were high quality meats. The potato was excellent. It was however only a potato so it’s hard to get all gushy talking about it. We were served a basket of rolls, which angel found to be a little chewy. I didn’t have one since I’d had croutons earlier and now was staring at two entire slices of toast.
Near the end of my steak I siphoned off some of Adam’s wine au jus (gesundheit!) which improved it considerably. Adam didn’t care much for the sauce though he didn’t spit it out, and I agreed they’d slathered on too much for the portion size.
None of us was overstuffed, by design. This was a French-like restaurant, we wanted dessert.
We were shown the offerings, all cheesecakes. Angel opted for the double nuclear fudge thing, I took the old fashioned, which was plain and topped with bar strawberries, Adam had a caramel crusted cheesecake, to go.
We asked for coffee, but I was a bit concerned. From my chair I had a clear view of a coffee pot, one pot only, and it had been sitting there since we arrived about forty five minutes earlier. Coffee usually doesn’t age well sitting on a burner for that long. I was hoping that there was another, more recent pot somewhere else.
But no, we were served what I was sure to be acrid sludge from that one pot.
I sniffed, not too bad, sipped, hey not bad at all! I was pleasantly surprised. If I hadn’t known it had been sitting there for an hour or more I would have assumed it was fresh. I inquired and was informed that this was Cain’s coffee and yes it does hold up well.
Angel surrendered to her cake about halfway through, I found extra space and shoved down all mine. Adam sat with his Styrofoam box, smiling. There was nothing remarkable about the desserts, it is said they are home made, but not that I could tell. Not bad, just nothing to get all gooey about.
Then the check arrived.
Yeah… a hundred bucks.
Then a debate broke out amongst us. I expected as much since I’d been warned that this place was pricey. Angel insisted that it was a really nice place and the food was quite good. We countered with the Trattoria Giuseppe defense, which is that TG is simply awesome and we’d never quite spent a hundred bucks there.
She conceded that point but countered that Petit Paree would be a place to take someone to impress them, I asked if she was referring to ‘dating’. She said yeah, people who were courting or getting engaged or impressing the in-laws.
So it came down to the fact that it was quite good, not as good as TG, but it wasn’t completely Italian like TG, and had some interesting food choices that we would never actually try. The atmosphere was exceptional, the service was professional and dutiful. The food was very good, but not really very, very good.
Will we go back? Sure if we ever start dating again. I don’t need to spend a hundred bucks to impress my in-laws. Otherwise it’s just a little too pricey for the quality.
We liked the place a lot, it was cozy, friendly, tasty and pleasant. The only real ding was the price.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Los Portales II

Hillsboro, Mo.

Saturday was oppressively hot. I’d slept in very late due to the heat wave that had robbed me of sleep all week. Most of the day Saturday was an empty fog of heat and mental numbness, sweat-lag. Then I took a nap. You'd think that would have helped.

I woke up just in time to go to dinner, still foggy. Adam had chosen the place, a repeat, but a good one. It’s the closest food outlet to our home, on the corner across from the courthouse in Hillsboro.

“How was your day?” Angel asked as we got in the car. She’d been busy with dogs and dog people all day. I pondered for a few seconds, maybe a minute as I tried to comprehend the question. “What?” I finally asked, Adam snickered.

“Did you do anything today?” She sort of repeated, changing it up just enough to make me re-think it.

“Oh, yeah.” I answered and went back to the soothing, languorous hum in my head.

“Well?” She prodded.

“Oh, yeah. I went to the post office, and mailed those three books, I told the lady to send them first class or media mail, whichever was cheaper. She weighed them and stuck labels on them then asked me if I wanted any stamps or insurance or stuff. I said no thanks. Then she said it would be six dollars and sixty three cents, I handed her a ten and she gave me change and a receipt. Then I left.” I explained.
A silent moment went by, she stared at me. “I was expecting a punch line or something, is that it? That’s the whole story?”

“I went to the bank too, want to hear about that?”

“No, I just wanted to know how your day was.” She seemed disappointed.

“Well, that was pretty much it I’m afraid. Sorry it wasn’t more interesting, I’ll try harder next time.” Entertaining people is simply not as easy as it looks. You've just got to turn it off once in a while.

We got to Los Portales in just a few minutes; the SUV hadn’t even cooled down.

“Remind me not to order the Grande Special.” I said to them as we pulled up, I’d really overdone it last time.

“Don’t order the Grand Special.” Adam replied immediately, like a jerk.

The Place:

We stepped in to the old, plain building and were greeted at the small bar by a sharp Hispanic man dressed in nice jeans and a blue polo shirt. He led us to a booth (Angel must have called ahead) and slapped down menus. We ordered our drinks, tea, tea and Coke and in a minute or so were handed a basket of warm nacho chips, a decanter of salsa and a small bowl.

The salsa was red and a little lumpy and had an earthy taste. Some heat but not too much, not too sweet.

The place is old and worn, but clean. The floor sags a little, the tables wobble. The walls are covered to halfway up with vinyl faux-brick and painted white above a thickly-painted green chair rail. On the walls are sombreros, murals, a serape or two and lots of Corona beer signs and pennants.

Pleasant ranchera music played from the walls and ceiling, Men singing in Spanish about, well I don’t know, the songs sounded a little sad yet hopeful, maybe it was about their dogs, their wives/girlfriends or their pickup trucks, whatever slightly mournful yet ultimately optimistic Mexican men like to sing about. It was enjoyable because of the atmosphere, I won’t be ordering the CD.

The menu was well laid out, appetizers, drinks, lunches and dinners all separated nicely. I found the combo page, skipped over the ‘Grande Special’. That thing comes on three heaping plates.

The combo page listed thirty-seven numbered choices and clearly stated, ‘no substitutions’ which is fine because chances are at least one in thirty seven that one of the listed will be what you want.

The Food:

I chose #18, an enchilada, a burrito, beans and rice. Angel chose #4, one taco (beef), two enchiladas(1 beef, 1 chicken) and rice. Adam took the Nachos Supreme, without tomatoes.

We plowed through the chips. The food came quickly, in less than five minutes. Mine was just as I wanted it, an oozing flow of lumpy refried beans and cheese mixing with a thin red pool of spicy enchilada sauce.

The rice was well cooked and not as tomatoey as it is often the case. The beans were not completely mashed which is the best way to have them. I carved everything up and let it all run together in a chunky brown-red puddle of Mexican splendor.

We dug in, it was all excellent. We shared a little, Angel decided next time that more chicken and less beef would have been a little better. I discarded some of the burrito housing, didn’t need it. Adam nearly cleaned his plate which is very, very rare. Our entrees came as specified, the tacos had only beef and a little cheese, my enchilada and burrito contained only meat and a little cheese, no tomatoes or lettuce or anything Taco Bell-ish about them. This was working mans’ food, no frills, just texture, flavor and substance.


There was nothing to complain about, nothing at all. If this place just had high speed internet I’d move in. The price? You’ll love this. We were filled to the gills, satisfied completely, for under twenty five bucks. You can barely get a prostitute in Hillsboro for under twenty five bucks, yet this meal for three delivered much more delight (and slightly less guilt). The service was sharp and attentive, the food prepared and delivered perfectly.

We have returned, we have recommended it, we’ve even taken family there (Angel did, I was out of town). It is by far the best restaurant in Hillsboro, and to date the best Mexican food in Jefferson or South St. Louis County.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Outback Steakhouse

South County

Maybe you’ve heard of this place, maybe not. There are over 900 locations worldwide, including over 100 in South Korea. I don’t know why. There are even a few in Australia which sounds really silly. The whole theme is ‘Australian as imagined by Americans.’ The company is in fact based in Florida and the Australian guy in the commercials is actually from New Zealand. I imagine they couldn’t find any Australians that appeared Australian enough to convey their message to us geographically ignorant Americans. Paul Hogan (Crocodile Dundee) is 70 now and not looking nearly so rugged and carefree anymore.

The Place:

The one we visited is situated next to a floor and carpet outlet, near Baptist Church Road and Lindbergh Ave. There’s plenty of parking and around the corner you can see a movie or get your license plates renewed. The inside of the restaurant was very dark, heavy wood and black ceiling. It was pretty much bar-dark. The music was adult rock (70’s – 80’s), tame, and too loud. We didn’t have to wait to be seated. We’d arrived early, around 5:30. Had we been much later and we would have been given one of those awful flashing beeper thingies.

Once my eyes adjusted to the darkness I noticed Australian themed artwork and bric-a-brac on the walls. Australian themed art is made up almost entirely of pictures and paintings of rugged men shearing rugged sheep.

We were led to a booth (we were not offered a preference this time so I can’t blame Angel.) and handed menus. On the table were cloth napkins, classy. Unfurling them revealed two heavy forks and a substantial steak knife. No spoons, as no self respecting outback Aussie would ever get caught using a girly utensil like a spoon. We ordered our drinks, tea, tea and Coke and were told that the bread would be out soon.

Mounted above our heads were a boomerang, an aboriginal shield and a couple of pairs of old iron sheep scissors. The scissors, or ‘shears’ were pointy, rough and downright scary looking. I explained to the family that they were used to cut off sheep testicles which grow back each year in Australian sheep, or so I’ve been told. Angel tried to correct me by saying they were just used to remove the wool, I didn’t think that sounded rugged enough, especially for such a vicious looking tool. We agreed to disagree.

The menus were compact and not overflowing. The menu was limited and did not even include vegemite sandwiches. Vegemite is a mixture of vegetables and dynamite (or termites), a disgusting treat favored by rugged Australians but virtually unheard of in civilized countries for obvious reasons.

It took us a while to make our choices, there were so many things that looked tempting. In the meantime the bread arrived. It was a small loaf, very dark, and served on a wood paddle with a substantial steak knife stuck in its side, as if they’d just hunted it down and harpooned it.

I was worried though, dark bread usually means heavy bread and I don’t like heavy bread. They did serve it with actual butter (kangaroo or koala butter maybe?) so I gave it a try and was pleasantly surprised. It tasted like a good dark whole wheat bread and was no heavier than that. The tea was fresh, dark and tasty, served with a lemon in a glass made out of actual glass.

The Food:

We were tempted by the appetizers, Angel assumed I would ask for the Blooming Onion, I did not though. I like breaded and deep fried onions as much as the next guy, but the monsters (one pound) they serve at Outback contain up to 1500 deep fried calories and bloat me up like a dead possum. I wanted steak. The onion would be simply too heavy.

Most meals offered included a side dish or two. The list of sides was only five items deep, four of those were potatoes. I ordered steak and shrimp with a baked potato, Angel asked for the prime rib and added scallops, a Caesar salad, and a baked potato, Adam asked for the pork tenderloin, green beans and garlic mashed potatoes.

We sucked down the loaf of bread and they soon brought another. It was also served on a knife.

Angel got her salad, and Adam immediately grabbed a crouton. He loves croutons, he even snacks on them at home. He didn’t really care for these though, too light and crispy, he prefers stale, tough and leathery. I also grabbed one and agreed with Angel that the dressing was a bit strong, a little too peppery.

While waiting for our main courses a Doobie Brothers tune blared around us. Angel asked why they didn’t play Australian music, I reminded her that it was probably because there are only three Australian songs in existence: “Tie me Kangaroo Down, Sport”, “Waltzing Matilda” and “Land Down Under”. I added that songs by the BeeGees and Olivia Newton John didn’t count since although they were Australians, their music never actually played well in Australia. I knew this for a fact since I think I once did some research. In the late 70’s-early 80’s when the aforementioned were hot in the U.S., the number one group in Australia, by a wide margin was ABBA. I also added that any song that involved the use of a didgeridoo obviously didn’t count as music. A didgeridoo is little more than a long stick with a hole through it and it makes a sound like a tenor-mosquito. Think of it as a four foot long kazoo. The modern, improved version of the didgeridoo is the South African vuvuzela made famous at the recent soccer matches. That’s right the vuvuzela is an improvement. The Swiss have similar horns used in the Alps by lederhosen-clad sheep herders, I think its called a Ricola horn.

The food arrived and it looked awesome. My steak was cooked perfectly to order, the seven-spice rub was apparent but not overwhelming. There was a problem with the shrimp though, there were only three of them. They tasted great. They were served on a bed of basil and sautéed cherry tomatoes. The baked potato was perfectly cooked and contained nearly six pounds of butter and sour cream, sprinkled with green onions.

The glaze on Adam’s pork tenderloin was sweet and fruity. I tasted it and detected peppers and honey. Adam was tentative at first but quickly learned to really like it. He didn’t care for the mashed potatoes though. I tried them and agreed that they had been overpowered with garlic. His green beans were steamed then sautéed and were perfect.

Angel’s prime rib was bright pink and melt-in-your mouth tender. I never saw the scallops, they were gone too quickly. The prime rib was served with a sauce, I asked Angel what kind it was, she replied “Au jus.”

“What?” I asked as if I didn’t hear her.

“Au jus”

To which Adam replied, as I knew he would: “Bless you”. That’s always funny.

My steak toughened as it cooled, even the hefty and rugged steak knife couldn’t get through it near the end. I wasn’t disappointed though, it just meant I would have room for dessert.

Three cheescakes, two coffees. Angel and Adam opted for the chocolate sauce topping, I ordered mine commando. I was right. The chocolate sauce was very rich and almost overwhelming. Mine was perfect without it.

The bill arrived.


The food was well above expectations. The tastes were all balanced and multi-dimensional. Nothing besides the mashed potatoes was too spicy or too salty. The portions were just right and the service timing was spot-on. It was kind of pricey at about seventy two dollars before the timid tip, but like I’ve said a billion times, excellent food is well worth a higher price.

The service was timely as I said, but rather impersonal. Not rude or brusque, just not overly friendly.

All in all it was very, very good, much better than most of the other similar chains. I highly recommend it and we’re already talking about what we’ll order next time. Perhaps we’ll try the lamb, which as it turns out is actually from New Zealand, as most authentic Australian things seem to be.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010


331 North Creek Drive

Festus MO.

Once again we visit a place that was once a regular spot, part of the tiny rotation of three or four places that we ate at for several years. Our palate now cleansed several months into this quest, Angel chose this place to compare to the many, many new spots we’ve tried.

The Place:

On a hilltop above Bank of America, Home Depot, and to the east, Walmart. It is a very large building surrounded by a usually crowded large parking lot. In the entrance is a kids crane game filled with tempting stuffed animals, all begging to be snared by the suspended hook and set free.

Business is conducted up front. You name your drink (Tea, tea and Coke) then pay the tab. It’s a buffet, just under ten bucks a head.

We were handed a table marker and Angel led us to our booth because she thinks we all prefer a booth to a table. (I’m going to keep bringing this up, week after week until she sees it here on this page that I actually prefer a table.) The booth was buried in the back away from the buffet lines. That was strategic on her part, we’ve eaten at several kinds of buffets, there’s no real advantage to sitting close to the food and in a place filled with way too many clumsy, free-ranging children the farther away the better. We plopped down our paperwork and charged the line.

The Food:

It’s a comfort food buffet extravaganza. You’ve already paid for it, you might as well make it count. Eat a little or eat it all, it doesn’t matter at this point. There’s a very large buffet section just for salad stuff. Bright green leafy stuff, tomatoes, cheeses, dressings, cucumbers, onions, peppers, even some fruits. At this line there’s no waiting, it’s virtually unvisited.

Near the front is a grill station, steaks cooked to order. Also ham, roast beef and a few other major meats. The grill pilot was loading up the steaks, small, six ounce medallions, a couple dozen of them sizzled as they hit the hot iron grate. Three or four of us waited to shout in our preference, mostly medium rare. As the steaks cooked the patient and personable grill master carved ham and served heaping knife-loads to even more people lined up for that.

I finally got mine then headed for the main lines. Row after row of every kind of food imaginable. Pasta, chicken, vegetables, shrimp (fried), fish, beans, lots of beans, corn, various gravies, pizza slices, egg rolls, cornbread, rolls, dumplings, chicken, chicken, roast beef, meat loaf, chicken… If you can’t find something you like here then you’re already starving to death.

I started conservatively with the little steak, a small plop of creamy mashed potatoes, seven and a half green beans, sixteen baked beans, a tablespoon of white gravy, a massive white roll already shimmering with a thick butter coating.

Angel skipped the steak and instead opted for the thirteen pound baked chicken quarter, corn on the cob, black eyed peas, cooked cabbage and okra. She also tried the ribs and some roast beef.

Adam dived into the fried chicken, added some plain rice, and some mashed potatoes.

I know this sounds like a lot of food for such a petite family, but the secret was in the portions. None of us had plates that were overflowing, the plates were not large and we just didn’t shovel that much of any one thing.

The steak was cooked perfectly, just as ordered. It was also as tough as a saddle, just a really poor quality cut of meat. All the steaks grilled there are made from this same tough animal, there were no variety options. Fortunately it was small so it didn’t fill me up. The mashed potatoes Adam agreed were very good, creamy, and made from actual potatoes. The green beans were limp and overcooked; the macaroni was sinfully cheesy, so much so that the cheese was as thick as and almost indistinguishable from the overcooked macaroni. The roll was to die for; it was nearly the size of a baseball and weighed less than helium. It was coated in butter and I stuffed more into its middle for ballast.

Adam said that his chicken was very good, but the rice was a bit bland. This from a guy who doesn’t like anything in his rice, he eats boil-in-bag straight, but this rice he considered bland.

Angel loved the chicken but didn’t finish it entirely since she wanted to sample other things as well, like the ribs, which she said were simply way too tough. I can’t trust her opinion though; she said that her cooked cabbage and fried okra were great. Any one that says cooked cabbage and / or okra are ever great is simply a dirty-dog liar and should not be trusted around innocent children, farm animals or machinery, much less allowed to be quoted about the quality of any food anywhere.

I had overlooked the black eyed peas so she offered me some of hers. As she violently thrust the fork toward my face a couple of the peas jumped ship and ended up in my lap. Thanks to her clumsiness I suffered through the rest of the evening with a prominent pea stain on my pants. Fortunately the other patrons were even more ‘casually’ dressed than I, their clothes (mostly sweat pants and gaudy oversized tee shirts) in some cases showing stains that surely originated during the Carter administration. I say ‘casual’, but the dress theme seemed to be more along the lines of ‘threadbare and very loose-fitting’ than just casual. These folks were buffet veterans, they all knew you’ve got to have room to expand.

I reloaded my plate with a few bits and bites of other meats and veggies. I did seconds on the baked beans as they were better than the other choices even though they were pretty dried up. The meat loaf was ketchup-y but a bit on the dry side as well, the roast was juicy but bland.

We all made another run after critiquing our main courses, dessert. Adam wanted carrot cake for reasons I don’t quite understand, Angel had small portions of banana pudding, double chocolate cake and a tiny Rice Crispy treat (very stale), along with a spoonful of warm peach cobbler. I had banana pudding alongside some of the most disappointing apple pie I’ve had since my grandmother stopped cooking. There was also a dollop of something that tasted like cheesecake. I spruced up my pudding with sprinkles, not those namby-pamby little sugar balls, I used candy corn. Why they had a bowl of candy corn laid out I’m not sure, but I’m glad they did. They’re lousy on ice cream, though Lord knows I’ve tried, they just get too hard, but on slightly chilled banana pudding they ratchet up a perfectly tasty treat to a near coma-inducing ultra-sweet delight. Candy corn is by far my favorite vegetable after lima beans.

I asked Adam how his (blech) carrot cake was, he answered “It was carrot cake.” Which is about as high a compliment as he’s ever really offered on any food.

After finishing up desert and having our tea glasses refilled for the third time, (the tea is apparently made in the proportion of one teabag per bathtub full of water) we just got up and waddled out.


You’re probably under the wrong impression at this point. In review it appears that I had very little good to say about anything. But the thing is that there was so much variety, so many choices and possible combinations that anyone that goes there will probably find something to satisfy their appetite.

No, this is definitely not a five star experience. This is an inexpensive comfort food buffet where it’s more about quantity than quality. You pay ten bucks per head and then are allowed to pick and choose from over a hundred items in any quantity you like. How can that be a bad thing? Sure, none of the food was outstanding and even my mom could make some of it a little better (and that’s saying something), but you will not be hungry when you leave. There’s nothing gourmet or chef-y about it, it’s meat and potatoes cooked just the way you’d find it at any given church dinner. It’s the perfect place to take a crowd, like visiting family or any other large group of people (or especially a group of large people) who have limited expectations and a ravenous appetite. Even kids love this place as they get to run amok and sugar up at will. Face it, they’re not going to eat their veggies here either.

I’ve often said that I don’t mind paying well for good food. I also don’t mind mediocre food in vast quantities for a really low price. Don’t be ashamed, there’s times when you want to dive into the trough and gorge yourself, this is the place to do just that. Just don’t forget to wear the really stretchy pants, pea-stained or not.

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