Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Penn Station

Fenton, Mo.

http://www.penn-station.com/

Angel has been wanting to go to Penn Station for quite a while. She’d heard good things about it from more than one person, Adam was enthusiastic, I was indifferent, it’s a sandwich place.

The Place:

Penn Station originated in Cincinnati (that’s in Ohio) back in the mid 80’s and has grown to over two hundred locations, mostly in the Midwest. Penn Station grew on the strength of its Philly-style cheese steak sandwich.

Metro St. Louis is as far west as you’ll find one (sorry, Springfield!), and there are none south of Tennessee/South Carolina. Those of you in Maryland (shout out!) will have to go to Richmond, VA. Those of you in Kentucky (shout out!) can find them in Paducah, Louisville or Owensboro, to name a few.

I went online to check the menu, yeah, a sandwich place, with one noticeable exception, fries. Subway doesn’t sell fries they just sell chips. This was a plus in the Penn Station column already. While I was online I also downloaded and printed a buy-one-get-one-free coupon.

Fenton is about twenty five minutes up the road toward STL. I pass it every working day, so the drive was boring. Penn was located in a strip mall, not the big one on the hill, another one in the valley. It sat alongside a Mexican place, a closed Italian place, and a high-end deli/coffee shop/wine shop. There were no customers inside, just a couple of workers were wiping things down, they welcomed us eagerly as we walked in and stepped up to the overhead menu.

I’d noticed on the online menu a few named sandwiches, a club, an Italian, several with chicken, I stopped looking at ‘Philly Cheese steak’. Angel ordered for us as she’s the least shy, and we grabbed our cups and ran toward the drink bar. It was as if the sun was rising above and for the tea decanter. I thought I heard Angels sing (Not ‘Angel singing’, that would be awful, I’m referring to the Herald Angels, the ones that ‘Hark’ every Christmas.)

It was a beautiful sight to behold, there before my innocent, handsome eyes were two thermal decanters of tea. Not just any tea, but sure enough, real Luzianne tea. A sandwich place with fries and Luzianne tea? Awesome! If it was still fresh. I plopped a couple of ice cubes into my medium sized paper cup, then let the clear brown liquid slither in. I dropped in a rather fresh looking lemon wedge and took a sip.

Awesome! Penn Station was already six thousand, forty-three points above every other sandwich shop on the planet.

We made our way to a small table and sat. It was tight, but not too much so. It would have been cumbersome if we were having something that required thrusting elbows, like steak, but for sandwiches, it was fine.

The décor was clean and upscale. Black and gray, faux gray marble tops, chrome, black and gray booths and small bar, a couple of tall bistro tables and chairs up front by the window. The dining area was lit mostly by ceiling mounted spotlights. The only artwork consisted of posters of Penn station meals. There were no TV’s blasting away mindless sports events, the background music was adult rock, safe, no screaming, completely generic and ignorable.

I worshipped the tea, it was perfect. Adam had chosen the ‘sweet’ version… I don’t know why. Angel had their ‘famous’ fresh-squoze lemonade. The food arrived less than five minutes from the time we ordered.

The Food:

I’d ordered the Philly Cheese, with medium fries. Adam had the Pizza sandwich, with medium fries, Angel the chicken Parmesan and small fries. The individual orders were served in baskets lined with paper, the sandwiches were open faced and still sizzling, the cheese bubbling. The bread was not as thick as Subway’s which I appreciated. It was also slightly toasted. Folded up, the sandwich was only about three inches thick and we’d each ordered the six inch-long versions. Eight, ten and twelve were available.

The fries were made on site, fresh to order from real potatoes, skin intact. Dirty fries, awesome. They were well cooked, brown and crispy, the way a frozen fry just can’t be.

The first bite of my steamy sandwich was thoroughly delightful. Cheesy, oniony, beefy. Not too much of anything, simple, and good. The fries were as good as they looked. Angel and Adam swapped bits with each other, I didn’t want to share. Angel had asked for pizza sauce on her Parm chicken, something she said she wouldn’t do the next time. The chicken had a taste of its own, the red sauce overpowering it unnecessarily. Adam graded his: “Tastes as much like a pizza as it can without actually being one.” Overall the family rated the food pretty high. That is, until I got about halfway through my sandwich and I just didn’t want anymore. It had started out great but over the course of time a layer of saltiness had built up on my taste buds. It wasn’t the fries, I had no problem finishing them, it was the beef. Angel said I was too sensitive to salt, and I pondered that.

SALT:

Perhaps it’s true, maybe I am overly sensitive to salt. Growing up we were rather poor and couldn’t afford condiments. If we wanted something saltier we would simply drip sweat onto it. Pepper was a bit tougher. I usually add salt to nothing at home or when we eat out. I can’t recall the last time I’ve used a salt shaker at the table. I will use just a dash if I’m sautéing vegetables, but just a dash. So yeah, maybe I am a little sensitive to the mineral. So bear this in mind in all my reviews, if I complain about the saltiness, which I have frequently, it may well just be a gastronomical anomaly.

Summary:

With the coupon the bill came to twenty-one dollars and change, without the coupon it would have been around twenty six. Not bad for a really good quality sandwich meal. The place was very clean and pretty quiet as no other customers came in while we were there. The staff (I only saw two) was friendly and attentive, stopping by to ask how everything was, and fresh-squoozing more lemonade for Angel. The little things made a huge impact. The lemonade, the fresh-made fries, the Luzianne tea, the not-too-thick bread, the crisp décor, and the quality of the sandwich ingredients were all exceptional, easily surpassing Subway, RolyPoly, and in my mind St. Louis Bread Company. The only drawback is that there isn’t one closer to the house. I can get Subway in Hillsboro, and STL Bread in Festus. Fenton for me, like Richmond or Paducah for you guys might be a little far to go just for a sandwich. But if you happen to already be there, we’d highly recommend it. It’s perhaps the best all-around sandwich chain I’ve come across.

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