Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Thanksgiving Special

Welcome to the annual Thanksgiving edition of Eat and Critique! No restaurants, no menus or tipping, just simple family fare.
Over the River, etc. :
On Thursday, Thanksgiving Day, I got my butt out of bed around seven-thirty. I walked a dog, packed an overnight bag, guzzled down some orange/grapefruit juice and a sausage biscuit and hit the road. It takes four hours and a few minutes to get to my parent’s house in Cerulean KY. With the drizzle it was probably going to take longer. I stopped at the Circle-K to fill up the tank, grab some dark roast coffee and put a little air in the left front tire. By eight-thirty I was on the interstate, heading south. Two hours on I-55, then a half hour on I57/Highway 60 east and over the tall skinny bridges crossing the Mississippi and Ohio rivers. From there a 2-lane curvy half hour up 60 to Paducah, then to I-24. Less than an hour later off on the highway 139 exit, then to 276/128 through Wallonia, to Highway 124 and a couple of miles into Cerulean. All was drizzly but speedy on I-55 till I hit Cape Girardeau, Mo. There the gods let loose with an unseasonal but intense thunderstorm. I lost about twenty minutes slowing down to thirty MPH and dodging lightening and fools trying to outrun it. As I hit the flats near the river the wind was intense shoving the mighty Alero all over the wet road. By the time I reached I-57, the rain had all but stopped and things picked back up. The rest of the drive was dreary but otherwise uneventful. I made it to Cerulean about twelve-forty-five.
My dear, sweet, elderly sister was there, her husband Jack was puny and did not make it. My younger brother Jeff and his adorable and powerful wife Dina were there, Jeff was putting the finishing touches on the grand meal. He’d cooked everything from scratch. My saintly and elderly parents were in high spirits, teasing and prodding Jeff unmercifully. I said my hello’s, hugged my parents, then stood in the kitchen and called the cat in a slow, loud baritone. “Here kitty, kitty, kitty!” This shocked the entire family since we all knew the long-suffering cat had died a month or so before (see blog entry). The shock wore off as they all remembered what an insensitive ass I can be and that such rude and cruel things like this were simply par for the course. It took Jeff about a half-hour to finish everything; the rolls took longer than they should have. They of course were made from scratch as well. Nothing fancy, turkey, rolls, dressing, mashed potatoes, corn (locally grown) and gravy. We filled our plates buffet-style and sat at somewhat-appointed places at the big table in the back room. The turkey was exceptional, moist and smoky, the rolls were perfect, the potatoes pleasantly buttery and lumpy. The dressing was the talk of the table. It was smooth and savory, Jeff had made the bread and cornbread from scratch days before, and had spiced it all perfectly. Jeff can cook, loves to cook, and is proud to show off his skills. My folks are teetotalers, always have been, but dad can make a bowl of punch that will make your ears buzz. I make a version as well, more on that later. Jeff had also made dessert, from scratch. A coconut cream cake and a pumpkin pie. Since I don’t care for either I skipped those and opted for seconds on the turkey. The meal was scarfed down, Dina left for work. Kathy eyed the sky and became concerned about the weather. She had good reason, the storm I had hit in Cape G had followed me east and according to the folks’ weather alert radio was about to cross the county. She decided to wait it out rather than attempt the hour-long drive to her humble, elderly home in Murray. Jeff split up the leftovers, not leaving much, and skedaddled. Even though he lives only a block away in Cerulean, I knew he was gone for the day. He spends a lot of time helping out the folks and did not need to stay long when there was a perfectly nap waiting for him across the street. The main force of the storm passed to the north which seemed to concern my dad, who kept insisting that Kathy lived to the north, which of course, she does not. But once dad gets something into his head that makes those around him chuckle, regardless of how wrong it is, it sticks for at least the entire day. This qualifies as and defines the core of his sense of humor. By three, Kathy was gone and the house was empty except for my parents and myself. The day was turning into a dreary, drippy and rapidly cooling November day. Perfect for sitting around and reminiscing about things I don’t recall ever happening and about people I’m pretty sure I’d never actually met, which was okay since dad seldom remembered their names correctly anyhow. We talked a bit about my older brother, Steve, and how he spends every thanksgiving with his lovely wife Donna in their condo in Destin, Florida. Earlier as part of the blessing Kathy, Jeff and I had mumbled that we hoped the coming storm would turn into a blizzard in the Florida panhandle, just this once. Dad and I settled in to a marathon of early 60’s westerns, his daily dose of TV drama. He said he follows “Have Gun, Will Travel”, “Cheyenne” and “Gunsmoke” like they were a woman’s soap operas.(his words ladies, not mine) He likes them especially since there’s no swearing or actual blood when bullets hit, and the good guys only ever get rapidly healing flesh wounds anyhow. Later I joined mom in the other room for her Wheel of Fortune fix. She’s pretty good at it but admits, like me, that it would be completely different in front of the TV cameras rather than just sitting on a cozy couch. They insisted I was still hungry around six or seven, I hadn’t overdone it at the big meal, so I went in search of leftovers. I couldn’t find any, Mom said that Jeff took everything since they already had plenty of food in the house. Which they did, if by that you understand that my folks are pretty simple eaters and that a pound of fresh, thick-sliced bologna is ‘plenty of food’. To be fair the local store, which is only open when the owner feels like opening it, has the best bologna on the planet. This isn’t pre-packaged lard-laden animal ugly–bits, this is hand sliced, fresh, lard-laden animal ugly-bits. It really is that much better. A little Miracle Whip, two slices of white bread, and a couple of dill pickle slices, and you have an excellent thanksgiving post-meal snack. We finished off the evening lazily, watching TV and occasionally drifting into small conversations. “Do you know how to skip stones across a pond?” My mom asked at one point after a commercial that had shown a kid doing that very thing., I assured her, like a proud son, that yes indeed I did, and not only that, I had actually passed the skill down to some of my own children. Friday morning I woke up before seven, they were already up and about. There was a dusting of snow, about a half inch on the ground. The sky was clearing though and the sun came out for the first time in a few days. Mom whipped up some breakfast, a pretty good one. A can of biscuits, a sliced banana, mashed-potato pancakes, and fried bologna. It’s actually a LOT better than it probably sounds. We sat and talked for a bit, I had fixed mom’s Facebook account so she busied herself replying to the dozen or so backed-up messages. Dad caught me up on all his recent medical experiences, and there were many. At about nine I gathered my stuff and bid farewell. Hugs were exchanged, promises to return soon were made, and I drove into the morning brightness and cold air back the way I came, stopping only once to fuel up.
Angel and Adam had stayed at home, Adam’s new job in retail demanded his presence, Angel was boarding five dogs. We often have to split our fa
mily visits because of these things. Our boarders this time included Niebuhr, a timid, small brown mutt and frequent guest., Gus, a new client and a very friendly and active Great Dane. Then there were the three brothers, Otis the curly haired and constantly curious labradoodle (Lab/Poodle), Chachi, an energetic cattle dog, and Mr. Foo, a chunky, attitude-filled, self-absorbed Pug. They had all graduated Angel’s puppy course during the summer. The owner had decided his family was ready for dogs, they decided on the kinds they wanted and came up with these three, in some cases driving a few hundred miles to pick up one of them. They’re immensely fun to watch, three totally different dog types, all unaware of that fact. They are simply close-knit brothers that don’t look much alike. During breaks in the doggy-action on Thursday, Angel cooked a twenty two pound turkey, made the traditional stuffing and pre-prepared a few other favorites. We as a family would not be having our big sit-down meal until Saturday lunchtime due to my absence and Adam’s work schedule. She deliberately made a lot of everything so we could graze on leftovers for a week or more. She started dining on pre-leftovers on Thursday, and I did the same once I got home on Friday. This worked out exceptionally well, the Saturday feast was not at all diminished by the fact that we’d been already been eating turkey sandwiches for a couple of days beforehand. Saturday morning Angel tended to the livestock, the yard and pens were muddy, and some of the dogs were super-absorbent. I offered to finish up the final touches for the big meal. I boiled about two pounds of peeled and chopped potatoes, opened four cans of Green Giant brand ‘Niblets’ corn (we only splurge on name brand veggies on very special occasions), set the oven to medium to reheat some of the stuffing and turkey. The dinner rolls fell right out of the bag and onto the pizza pan, the last thing to be prepared. I finished off the mashed potatoes with a quarter pound of butter, a pinch of salt and beat in the milk until they were creamy and light, the way Adam prefers them. I cranked up the oven to 400, and let the meat/stuffing sizzle, popped in the dinner rolls and watched them carefully as Angel boiled some dumpling-noodle chunks in broth (blech), reheated her asparagus casserole (yuck) and made some giblet gravy. Once the rolls were done we announced and Adam came out of his room, still in his fashionable pajamas. I had made a supply run earlier and made the punch.
Bentley Punch:
There’s a story behind this concoction, I’ll get to that later. ½ Gallon pineapple juice 2 liter bottle of Diet Sprite Grape Juice (for depth) Grapefruit Juice Lemon Juice (for tartness) Orange Juice (somewhere in between) 2 packets of Strawberry Kool-Aid (because I can’t find strawberry juice) 1 lime, sliced. (or whatever citrus you have on hand, this is mainly for looks) Start by pouring almost all of the pop and pineapple juice into your punch bowl. This sets the sweet standard. Add some grape juice and orange juice, a cup or so, the Kool-Aid, then taste. It’ll be very sweet. Start adding the tarts, grapefruit and lemon juice, stir, taste. At the point where your cheeks buckle inward and your ears start buzzing back off and pour the rest of the pop and pineapple juice in. The stuff should be deep lavender in color and sweet, but with a definite tart kick to the face. Throw in a tray of ice cubes and the lime slices, let simmer for the entire day as you frequently, addictively, dip into it. My dad started making this with some minor variations a few decades ago. He was diagnosed with controlled-by-diet diabetes very early on, he could have no sugar. This punch recipe reflects that fact and makes it child-friendly and guilt-free. There is no processed sugar, whatsoever. It’s all fruit juices with a little diet pop to add a slight fizz. A few glasses worth will make any sores in your mouth light up, and the healthy-stuff kick will actually give you a buzz. I hear from very reliable sources that sinners enjoy adding a small amount of vodka, for medicinal purposes. This punch, by itself, will clear your complexion and make your nap-dreams very vivid.
The Big Meal:
With everything complete we served ourselves buffet style, then we did something we only occasionally do, we sat at the dining room table together and treated it like a family meal, like those you sometimes see on TV. We actually chatted some. Angel complained that the rolls weren’t done, I took exception. She added that her mom always burned the bottoms, and I hadn’t. I promised to try harder next time. The stuffing was made with large, dried chunks of a baguette, an entire bottle of sage and a few other spices along with turkey broth and a few bird-chunks, and cooked until almost dry. I actually prefer this more traditional stuffing over Jeff’s but only because my taste buds are not very sophisticated. Jeff’s was very good, almost as good as Stove-Top brand stuffing. The Turkey was already carved up, I chose chunks of both dark and white, I prefer dark. The gravy was smooth, yet chunky, the corn, to which I had added a half-stick of butter, was sweet and firm. The mashed potatoes were creamy and worked well as glue to hold together the corn and other small chunks of food. I held off stuffing myself completely, because Angel had pleased me greatly by pre-baking some name-brand pies. Apple for me, pumpkin for them. Pre-baking is essential as I like my pie cold, refrigerator cold, no ice cream. I cannot recommend having punch with the pie, you can actually overdose on vitamins. Cleanup was a cinch since most of the stuff was pre-made. The refrigerator was stuffed with leftovers of everything. There would be no prepared or planned meals for the next several days.
Angel likes turkey cooked into her scrambled eggs, I like to glaze turkey with onions in barbecue sauce. I also made up a batch of turkey-fried rice, as well as some of my own turkey, stuffing, corn and mashed potato pancakes:

Sautee some onions while mixing together some stuffing, mashed potatoes and corn. Chop up and add some turkey, a handful of shredded cheese, and one or two eggs until batter-like. Throw in the onions and then add some crushed Corn Flakes or Ritz Crackers as a binder. Fry pancake-sized portions, flattened, in a skillet in a small amount of oil until browned on both sides. Goes well with punch and a side of Beanie Weenies.
This stuff will help you find a soul-mate, assuming that you’d consider someone like me a potential soul-mate.

All in all, a wonderful, calm, and low-drama Holiday. Awesome family and food and plenty of time to enjoy them.


Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Bandana’s Bar-B-Q III, or IV

Festus MO

Adam’s choice, lunchtime Saturday. He had class in the morning then work a little later, so we met him in between. As before the place smelled delightful, meat smokers were un-polluting the city air. The lousy, cheap outdoor speakers were blasting country music, which would normally drive me away immediately, but Angel and Adam had their hearts set, so I sucked it up like a proper family man and just silently cursed to myself.

As we approached the door, the very moment I was in direct line with the awful racket-maker, an obnoxious hook-line in the song etched itself into my brain and would not go away. The words were burnt into my frontal lobe as if scorched in with a fat soldering iron from a 60’s era wood burning set.

Like a tumbleweed in a tilt-a-whirl”*

I kid you not.

I didn’t catch any of the rest of the words, so I wasn’t quite sure what the other half of the analogy was, I was too busy trying to scrape the awful noise out of my head. But it stayed. The so-called song was still playing as we were shown to our booth.

We ordered our drinks, tea, tea and Coke.

The problem I had with this lyric was that while I certainly appreciate a good, well constructed and image-producing analogy, I just could not figure out how ‘like a tumbleweed in a tilt-a-whirl’ was a definitive analog of anything other than an actual tumbleweed in a tilt-a-whirl.

I knew immediately that a tilt-a-whirl was a carnival ride, though I was having trouble remembering specifically which ride it was, probably not the teacups or the spinning, bouncing horses. I confess to not being a carnival aficionado, so the analogy kind of broke down right from the start.

An analogy should, by definition clarify something in a timely manner. For example:

“When my sister yells at me it sounds like a cat in a garbage disposal.”

You don’t know my sister but the picture I’ve painted using this simple analogy gives you an accurate, universally understood indication of what she really sounds like.

“I was sweating like a greased kumquat on Arbor day.” This one does you no real good. It makes you think too hard. “I think I know what a kumquat is, maybe. I don’t know how much liquid one excretes when greased, and I can’t really remember when Arbor Day is, or what impact that would have on the amount of moisture excreted by the vegetable, or is it a fruit?”

It’s catchy, colloquial and cute, but it doesn’t really add any usable information to the conversation. Analogies need to be based on certain commonality. The listener needs to know/understand/recognize the things that you are describing.

I saw a tumbleweed once, in person. I was living in Texas at the time and sure enough, just like on “Gunsmoke”,** there went a tumbleweed rolling down the hot, dusty path toward the corral (parking lot). It was a scrawny thing, smaller, sparser than those on TV.

As it turns out tumbleweed is not native to the U.S. It, like macaroni, fireworks, lead-based toys and poison baby formula are originally from Asia, having spread to the U.S. in shipments of agricultural seeds from Asian countries, probably the communist ones. Tumbling tumbleweeds have been disappearing in the arid southwest, their function having been replaced by the more durable and ubiquitous, plastic shopping bag.***

A tumbleweed weighs about as much as helium, and therefore just goes wherever the winds blow it. I can’t for the life of me imagine how it would behave in a twisting, torquing carnival ride. So there, Mr. Twangy Country Music man, your stupid analogy is a dismal failure!

Just another reason country music should be completely eliminated from society.

The Place:

I’ve described it before, friendly, black tee-shirted staff, ample room for booths and tables, a little barn-sh looking with large tin wash basins as lampshades and iron pipes and fittings to hold the necessary paper towel roll. One napkin is never enough here.

The one downside is the music. I suppose it’s okay if you like twangy intellectually-insulting, three-note, two-beat music, but those of us with superior tastes find it unpleasantly distracting, like a wasp in a urinal. (See what a GOOD colloquial analogy can do?)

The Food.

I knew what I was going to order before we even got there. Pulled pork sandwich and fries; I added a side of baked beans. Angel went for a lunch special, a quarter of a chicken with green beans and potato salad. Adam once again ordered the spicy ‘Wet Bandana’ sandwich (chicken + turkey) and fries on the side.

None of this was new, we’ve been to Bandana’s before, a few times, and have found nothing disappointing. The meat is always awesome, they have a wide variety of sauces, and the sides like the beans and the potato salad are made in-house and are all church-picnic awesome.

The meals were served in baskets lined with country-looking paper, my sandwich and fries in one basket, a small bowl of beans in another, yeah, they served me beans, in a bowl, in a basket.

Since Angel had a plate rather than a sandwich, she got two slabs of Texas Toast, the best Texas Toast in the region. Adam and I stared her down and made guttural growling noises like pit bulls in front of a raw steak. In fear for her own life and limbs she tore one of the slabs in two and tossed them cautiously at us. Smart move.

I poured about a cup of the Chicago style sauce on my sandwich, I like it the best since it tastes just like Chicago. The pork was chunky, a little on the dry side as smoked meat is prone to be, so generous portions of sauce were called for. This did not diminish the experience at all. We all ate fast and well. Adam started to succumb to the spiciness after a while, he boxed up the last quarter of his sandwich. My plate (basket) was empty and Angel had reduced her slab of chicken to bare bone and gristle. We refused dessert, for reasons that escape me now. Oh yeah, we were full.


There was never a doubt that this would be an awesome lunch. We’ve never been disappointed at Bandana’s. They do meat just right and don’t cut corners with the sides. The meal came in at just over thirty two dollars, just a little higher than a fast-food place, but the difference in atmosphere (except for the hideous music) and food quality was more than worth it. The wait staff was attentive and friendly, even the manager came out and greeted us, asking if he could bring us anything else. I thought for a moment about answering “Why yes, good sir, we’d like a pony!” But in the end I spared the poor man a savage slash from my rapier wit.


* “Heart Over Head, Over Heels” by Clay Walker. For those of you that just HAVE to know. Listen at your own peril, you’ve been warned.

** Gunsmoke: This is a deliberate shout-out to my good friend Dave M. in Maryland. He’s never lived west of the Blue Ridge Mountains as far as I recall and can be a little east-coast/tidewater snobbish. He writes occasionally to shamelessly mock the fine town of ‘Festus’ equating it to the lovable but quaintly illiterate character (played by the late Ken Curtis) by that name in the old TV series. That character is, I think, how Dave imagines all of us out here to be.

*** Tumbleweed/shopping bag: I made this up.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Bobby Munzert’s II

Hillsboro, Mo.

This is a follow-up. We first visited Munzert’s back in September shortly after it opened. At the time we found the service rather loose and shoddy, but expected as much on the second or third night of being open. This trip was deliberate and fine-tuned to seek out and voice the improvements, or lack thereof.

The Place:

Located at the junction of Highway B and Highway 21, just a few minutes from our humble abode. The inside was still dark, the color scheme was black/rust and the lights were very dim. To the left was the bar and tables designated as the smoking area, to the right the tables and booths that, despite being called non-smoking, smelled otherwise. There was no wall or industrial air purifier to stop the stale stench from the left from intruding on the right.

We were early, about five P.M., and there were no other non-smoking diners. A few uninteresting people hung around the bar. The hostess showed us to a booth, I didn’t mind, and seated us telling us that wait-help would be on its way shortly. She no more than said that when a tall, young gentleman was at the table. We ordered our drinks, tea, tea and Coke.

The music in the background was once again pleasant. Big band hits covered by contemporary artists. The main wall was decorated with large black and white photos of Marilyn Monroe, Natalie Wood and a WWII sailor dipping and kissing a young lady In Times Square, you know the one.

The table setting was still elegant, White linen cloth, Black, stylishly folded linen napkins, a small candle in a frosted votive holder. Once again, this seemed a little uptown for the small (1600 residents) village of Hillsboro*, a town whose largest chain department store is the Dollar General, and has not had a hotel since the 1930’s.

The Food:

The tea, though served in nice, heavy stemmed glasses, was cloudy and bland.

We perused the minimalist menu, though I’d pretty much decided ahead of time. I had steak last time, I wanted to try the burgers.

I ordered the Munzert Burger with a side of German Fries.

Angel asked for the New York Strip, baked potato and a salad. Adam struggled and opted for the Chicken Piccata with mashed potatoes and a salad. Both chose French dressing.

The ‘Munzert Burger’ was defined as a fine grade of steak, ground, grilled and doused with ‘Munzert Sauce’ on a bun, with a choice of cheese, I naturally asked for Cheddar.

Piccata indicates thin, flattened (hammered) meat topped with a sauce of wine/lemon, butter and spices, most often parsley.

I did not order a salad so I got to watch as Angel and Adam ate theirs. I stole a crouton and enjoyed the lightly toasted bread cube with a hint of some pretty nice French dressing. Adam plucked the onions out of his and laid them out on his mother’s plate. I stole one of those as well.

Adam’s Coke was refilled, they chowed down, and I waited patiently. No water or bread was offered. Just as Adam and Angel were finishing up, the meals arrived. Adam’s chicken was buried under a thin, opaque sauce, the potatoes served in a separate bowl. Angel’s steak still sizzled. My burger smelled like fresh grilled steak. The German fries looked appealing. I’d taken a chance on the fries, but the only other option was steak fries, which I occasionally order, but don’t care for as much as other styles. The waiter had described the German version as sliced, spiced fried potatoes on a bed of fried onions. That was good enough for me. They steamed at the side of the plate, the round slices about a quarter inch thick, the onions had fried to a point of nearly being caramelized. My first bite was satisfying. I cut the burger in two, I wasn’t sure I would be able to finish it. It was served simply, just the burger, the cheese and the bun. If there was any Munzert sauce on it, it was invisible. The thick, hand-flattened patty was still pink in the middle, which was perfectly fine by me. No lettuce, tomatoes, onions, pickles, mustard or ketchup was even offered. I did take some of the German onions and stick them inside the bun. The subsequent fries seemed a bit greasy as though the cooking oil temperature might have been a skosh under 350 degrees.

Adam picked at his chicken, scooting the sauce away. He wrinkled his nose at it. His mother tested the sauce and declared that indeed, it was too lemony. He picked at one of the fillets for a while but was obviously not enjoying it. His mashed potatoes were just as disappointing, they were ‘dirty’, peels and all had been mashed, and even the weak brown gravy did not impress or console him. I offered him a half-burger, he declined.

Angel was doing just fine, between burps, grunts and gnashing of flesh she declared: “They do know how to make a steak”

Then the babies showed up. We’d had the place pretty much to ourselves till about halfway through. A family, mom, dad and somewhere between two and seven toddlers popped in and were seated about two tables behind us. The kids were unrelenting screamers. Random, unannounced, unprovoked raspy siren-like squeals chiseled away at the darker places of my soul every few minutes. The parents did not take them outside, shush them or offer them up to passing gypsies as a decent parent would have done. My mood grew darker and darker as the evening progressed. Why a family would want to take a squirming herd of slimy, noisy, uncouth toddlers to a fancy, uptown steakhouse is beyond me. That’s what we have McDonalds for, and also part of the reason you’ll never find me at a McDonalds.

Angel finished most of her steak, I finished off one and a half, half-burgers, Adam’s meal was pretty much as it had started. Our drinks were refreshed once near the end of the meal. The waiter stopped by a couple of times to check on us.


We came to judge the service, but were not properly able to do so. We were the only customers for most of the time we were there, so had they been able to screw that up it would have been an epic abomination. The service we got was in fact efficient, polite, professional and without noticeable error. Had it been crowded we might have been able to better judge.

Adam’s meal was not a problem of the restaurant as much as the outcome of a meal that wasn’t prepared to his tastes. He ordered mashed potatoes without knowing (the menu was not very descriptive of any item) that they would be dirty, and the sauce on the chicken was just not to his liking. My burger was fine, the minimalist wording on the menu was dead on, meat + bun + cheese, not a morsel of conventional toppings or condiments. The cheese was cheddary and plentiful, the meat itself flavorful, like a well-grilled steak.

The entire meal came in at forty six dollars and change before the tip, expensive for Hillsboro, on par with most of the big-name franchises.

Between the franchises and Munzert’s, except for location, I’d say the trophy goes reluctantly toward the chains. Those places often have too many things on the menu, Munzert’s, not enough. I don’t recall a single vegetable being offered aside from the salad. The heavy odor of stale cigarettes knocked the ambiance score down considerably. I suppose I’ve just gotten accustomed to those places that reside in smoking-ban towns.

All in all I’d say it was ‘pretty good’. They can do a steak.



Hillsboro is notable for pretty much only one thing. It was designed to be the county seat and nothing else. In 1839 the county elders decided they needed a more centralized seat, as all the other towns were huddled along the far edges of the county on the Mississippi and Meramec rivers. So they found a plot of land on a hill above a creek in the middle of the county and declared it to be the designated seat. They wanted to name the town Monticello, after all this was Jefferson County, but some other little pissant crossroad had already filed for that name, so they settled for the English translation of 'Monticello', which is 'Hill-town', 'Hill-ville', or the more regal sounding, Hillsboro. Courthouses and other related buildings and supporting shops followed shortly, soon followed by the historically obligatory courthouse fires. The population has never grown much, the town was and still is almost devoid of industry other than light retail and legal/bail bond/title offices. It's kind of interesting that this dumpy, unattractive and virtually unheard-of, little one-horse town of less than two thousand people is the county seat for the fifth most populous county in Missouri. JeffCo is home to nearly a quarter of a million fine, upstanding folks.

In "Goodspeed’s History of Jefferson County" (1888) can be found the following commentary: “Hillsboro has always remained and seems destined to remain, a small village.”
More than a hundred years later, he has proved correct.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Ruby Tuesday’s

Festus, MO

Sure, we’d been there before, but we decided to go and have something different. Usually I get a steak, and they make a pretty good one, but on this day I simply wasn’t in the mood.

First, we were going on Sunday rather than our usual Saturday, Adam’s new job required him to work on our normal night. On Sunday morning I woke up, Angel was already out with the dogs, as usual. I knew she wouldn’t be up for long. I’d been up most of the night myself tending to some work systems to protect them from the switch back from Daylight Savings Time. I was groggy and sluggish but still managed to trek to the Circle K convenience store to get a cup of dark roast coffee. I just can’t seem to get a good cup at home, our water just doesn’t allow for it.

So I sipped my coffee, watched CBS Sunday Morning and wolfed down a microwaved sausage biscuit. Angel took advantage of my being up and headed in for a nap. This is typical of our Sundays, her napping and me babysitting our dogs as they snooze in the warm sunny spots by the sliding door. Bailey, the grand matron of the pack, patrolled the back yard warding off squirrels, motorcycles and some unseen things.

At one point her resonant baritone bark seemed more focused, more determined, I slipped out the door to the deck to see if she’d spotted a deer, rhinoceros, or wandering vagrant. I couldn’t see what had her attention, and she broke off the alert after a few moments and continued her patrol.

The morning was warming up, the fallen leaves rustled in the slight breeze. I was just standing there enjoying the moment, thinking about how long it would be before it would be too cold to just stand out there without a jacket. Into my field of vision came a small bee. It was staggering in flight, showing poor control. It was late in the year for bees to be just flitting about, no pollen bearing plants anywhere around. Just as my mind comprehended that this was a small bee, and how it was odd to see one this late, it clumsily dived and landed directly on my face, just below my left eye. In less time than it took for me to think “Hey, there’s a bee on my face!” The critter buried it’s stinger into my fleshy upper cheek. I believe I yelped since I am prone to do such things. I pulled it away and slammed it into the ground where it disappeared into the leaves and grass, dying a slow agonizing death if there is in fact any cosmic justice in the universe. My face burned fiercely. I was suddenly fully awake.

I powered up my laptop to find out what to do, whether or not to wash/ice/medicate it. I couldn’t recall being allergic to bee stings, but then again allergies sometimes do not start until later in life. I already felt some swelling and I thought I could feel the burning poison seeping deeper and deeper.

I found a site that had pretty specific instructions, so I washed the stung area and applied an ice pack. Actually it was a bag of frozen lima beans. I kept an eye on it and for the next hour it did not seem to be getting much worse, though it had swelled and reddened and had freezer-burned into it the logo from the lima bean bag. The web site mentioned that Benadryl was recommended to stop the swelling. I knew Angel had some but I decided to wait for her to wake up before bothering with it. I also recalled that Benadryl makes her woozy. This I feared greatly. She has a much higher tolerance for over-the-counter drugs than I do. I get dizzy form M&M’s and the stronger stuff, like Ibuprofen and antihistamines, are darned near narcotic to my sensitive yet handsome system. But I had no choice, Dr. Internet said I needed to take some Benadryl.

So the rest of the day, I froze my face with lima beans, suffered the drowsiness and general mental degradation of Benadryl/lack of sleep from the night before, and checked my otherwise beautiful face in the mirror every hour or so.

By the time we were ready to go out, I wasn’t as hungry as I usually am. I was in fact a bit queasy, bitter, and melancholy.

THAT’s why I didn’t want steak. Steak is best when you are feeling good, on top of the world.

The Place:
Just down from Lowes (which sits on top of a family cemetery, but that’s another story) Ruby Tuesday’s is one of our former regular places. It’s a stand-alone and fancies itself a sports bar, though there were not many sports persons there on this day.

We were immediately seated by one of the six young ladies, all clad in black, that were hovering at the door. We were shown to a table, a hybrid, with a booth seat on one side and chairs on the other, this pleased us all. We ordered our drinks, tea, tea and Coke. And our waiter introduced himself in a lilting manner. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

We scanned the menus, I was looking for not-steak. There was plenty to choose from and in quick order I decided. Adam didn’t take long either. Angel struggled enough to send the lilting waiter away for a few more minutes. She finally surrendered to her reluctant choice.

We ordered and were brought a small plate of garlic cheese biscuits, a new item on their menu. Overhead at the bar a sports competition was underway on the ceiling mounted television set. A helmeted team of large men in green jerseys were standing around pulling on various body parts as some referees conferred on a matter of obvious universal importance in the middle of the field. Yikes, what a tedious enterprise. All the other times I looked up at it, there were only commercials for beer and large pickup trucks.

The Food:

I ordered the crabcake dinner, with a baked potato and grilled green beans. Angel asked for the barbecue ribs, baked potato and broccoli (yuk). Adam the Smokehouse burger, sans tomato and onion rings, with a side of fries. We all ordered the salad bar, because RT’s has the best salad bar in the county.

We piled our salads high with four types of greens, five different shredded cheeses, onions, peppers, cucmbers, mushrooms, slaw, apple salad, grapes, bacon, bologna, carrots, tomatoes, and our choices from nine different dressings (of which I drizzle on three, Thousand Island, Bleu Cheese and a vinaigrette.) Adam and Angel LOVE the dark, thick croutons, I don’t. Everything about the salad bar and the individual salads was excellent, fresh and plentiful. Except for the slaw which was very, very bland. We asked for another round of those cheesy biscuits, this could have been the meal in itself, highly recommended!


This was not as easy a choice as it might appear. I was biased. I KNEW the crabcake was not going to be as good as I hoped, it never, ever is. I’ve had the best crabcake in the world. Nothing else has ever been remotely as good. There are those that might disagree with me on this, I do recognize that people have opinions that do not square with mine, I do not for the life of me understand why, and I certainly do not respect it, but I do recognize that such a confounding state exists.

The Captain’s Table, Solomons, Maryland.

It’s a small, old, slightly warped and weather worn restaurant on the shore where the Patuxent River meets the Chesapeake Bay. It’s behind the Day’s Inn, where I spent a couple of months back in 2001 after getting a job with the Navy at the nearby base. Too pricey for casual meals, it was a great place that Angel and I enjoyed on special occasions like birthdays, anniversaries and ‘a desperate craving for cream of crab soup’ during the five years we spent in Maryland.

If it weren’t a thousand miles away from my current residence I’d go there as often as fiscally possible. The crabcakes are perfect, the soup, simply to die for. I don’t even know what else they serve.

Enough about that though, back to reality, present time.

The Food: (cntd.)

We were served, the plates sizzled and the waiter warned us about the hotness of the plates. My crabcake was burger-sized, grilled to a lovely brown. The beans were almost charred and glistened in their coating of oil. The potato was substantial, and topped with butter, real butter and sour cream. There was a dipping sauce for the crabcake, which I tasted and scooted away. Too spicy, I like the subtlety of crabcakes, I don’t want or need to hot-wing them up.

I prepped the potato, which basically means I shredded it, peel and all, to make sure none of the dairy toppings went to waste. I tasted the beans, tender, grilled, very good. The first bite of crabcake was satisfying, not really bad at all. There was definitely crab in it, real crab, not that ‘Krab’ you see in grocery stores in the Midwest, the stuff with the curious orange striping.

Not too much breading, this is where many places absolutely blow it. Crab has a sweet, delicate taste and can be smothered by too much breading or mayonnaise, though it sings beautifully when the proportions are correct.

The next few bites were okay as well. About halfway through though I became bored and frustrated with it. I dared not speak what was on my mind. I offered Angel a bite, then another. She didn’t sense it. I couldn’t say it, but there it was. I was actually preferring the potato over the crabcake, a sin in anyone’s Bible. I’m sorry, the crabcake was too salty. There I’ve said it. The potato, even with all that butter and sour cream was not salty, the beans were not salty, it was the crabcake. I’d swear an oath to it, but I’m not supposed to declare anything too salty. I will say it wasn’t WAAAY too salty, just too salty for my delicate taste buds. It wasn’t awful, just not up to my already lowered expectations.

Angel let me try a chunk of her ribs, which she tossed at me from the end of her fork. I’m not a good judge of ribs, I find them all too greasy. But she was going crazy over them so I told her it was quite good. It’s not beneath me to lie to her (or anyone else) to keep the peace. Adam didn’t finish his burger, but not because it wasn’t good. He’d worked the night before so his sleep/eating schedule was off, and his salad had been enormous. We boxed it up and took it home.


All in all a very good experience, even with my issues with the crabcake. I did finish it. The combination of an exceptional salad bar, those wonderful biscuits and overall high quality more than made up for a single petty weakness.

The tab came in under fifty six dollars before tip, not cheap, but the food was mostly top-drawer. The price is typical of this caliber of chain restaurants, so comparatively not bad at all. We will go back, and of all the chains around this is my personal favorite. Maybe not crabcakes again, but they’ve got plenty of other stuff to choose from.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010


4662 Gravois Rd
House Springs, MO

The slinger, made famous at O.T. Hodge’s Chili Parlor, or Chili Mac’s as it is also known is well known to me. In the two years I worked downtown Hodges was a very popular lunch stop. The slinger itself has been described many ways, one of them: "a hometown culinary invention that might account for St. Louis' high rate of heart disease.” (Eatandcritique ‘Kim’s Café’ 7 Sep 2010)

The Place:

Slingers is a joint we’ve been talking about trying for quite some time. The only reason we hadn’t to date was because it’s in House Springs*, it takes a while to get there because of the skinny, curvy roads.

The place used to be called ‘Eat Rite’ which was probably a bold-faced lie. It’s a diner, a greasy spoon, I don’t think they even offer a salad. It is breakfast and burgers, all day, they even serve what I hear is a pretty good St. Louis style Pizza.

The place is located in a small strip mall adjoining a title loan company, a barber shop, a tattoo parlor, and a little boutique that sells designer handbags… sure it does.

There’s more floor space than a typical diner, it could easily seat a hundred. There’s no banquet room. The floor was industrial tile, well worn and scuffed, not recently polished. The back tables and chairs were low-end metal and faux-wood, the booths were nothing remarkable. Booths lined one wall and the front window, tables in the middle, and a well-worn counter offered a few spinning stools. There were a dozen people or so already there, as well as a man waiting at the counter for his pizza order. A ten year old CRT television was showing the Missouri/Nebraska football game, no one seemed to be watching.

The patrons were, as best could be politely described, as ‘locals’. No fancy dress or airs about them. One lady sat at a table reading a book, sipping some coffee, another table was crowded with some form of rural nuclear family. The lady behind the counter was the only floor staff, acting as waitress, cashier and apologist. (there was something wrong with the man’s pizza order). We seated ourselves at a booth (my choice this time) that afforded us a view of the counter, a little of the kitchen as well as the front door in case terrorists showed up. ( It pays to be vigilant.).

After a few minutes the lady brought us what passed for a menu. It was really just a two-sided printout, cheaply laminated. We ordered our drinks, they were brought out quickly. Tea, Pepsi and Diet Pepsi. The tea was cloudy and bitter.

The selection was simple, calories, cholesterol, served your way. Since the place was called Slingers, I didn’t need to read it thoroughly, it was my destiny to order the eponymous item.
The aroma was a little sickening. The whole place reeked heavily of stale cigarette smoke. It was just that kind of place.

The Food:

The chalkboard showed the daily special, 2 breaded pork chops w/2 sides $5.80. Nah.. too bland, but not a bad price.

I chose the ‘Baby Slinger’ Which was only different form the real thing in that it had one, not two eggs, I’m watching my girlish figure after all. There were choices here that I’d not considered before. I could choose the meat, either a hamburger patty, sausage patties, or bacon. I chose sausage just to try something different. Asked how I wanted my egg, I answered ‘raw’. She wrote it down. Seriously. She gave me an eye, but was apparently perfectly willing to comply with my order. I quickly changed it to 'over-medium'. I could also choose between potatoes, either hash browns or ‘American Fries” (they’re obviously still miffed about that whole French no-fly-zone thing from the 90’s. They hold their grudges proudly in House Springs.) I chose the traditional hash browns. I also had to choose between toast and biscuits, I chose toast. I then had to choose between white or wheat. I was frustrated, one too many choices. I went with white. The waitress/cashier giggled at my frustration so I decided to mock her. “Before you ask, I’d like it served on a plate, not a bowl, and I’d like a fork, not a spoon.” Angel giggled in that completely silent, non-giggling way she has.

Angel ordered the ‘Slammer’ which is the same as a Slinger except instead of Chili, it’s covered in white gravy. Mmmmmmm, gravy! When asked for her litany of choices she went with biscuit, hash browns, scrambled eggs and a beef patty.

Adam decided on Chicken fried steak, two eggs (scrambled), hash browns, white toast, and a side of bacon, not smothered in chili or gravy; commando style.

We didn’t have to wait very long.

Angel and Adam’s meals arrived first, they looked awesome. In a couple of minutes mine arrived as ordered, on a plate.

All I could see was a slice of pasteurized, processed American cheese product slowly melting in the vast pool of chili. I had to dig and poke to find the sausage, potatoes and egg. The chili was pretty good, not too strong. The sausage was a bit salty, though I’m not supposed to say anything is too salty. (See last week’s post about my problem with saltiness.) The hash browns and egg were perfectly prepared. Angel and Adam showed no shame and dug through their meals like Chilean Miners after a significant ordeal. I didn’t eat very quickly. There was nothing wrong with the meal (other than the unmentioned saltiness of the sausage) but I’d had Chili for lunch and was not feeling the heightened passion that Angel and Adam were. I looked at Adam’s naked eggs, taters, bacon and CF steak, it just looked better than mine even though it was essentially the same. Mine tasted like chili. Not a bad thing, but the individual tastes were severely muted. Even Angel’s gravy-soaked fare looked better since gravy is more of a light sauce than a torchy topping.

They finished before I did even after they stopped long enough to search through the packets of jellies and jams to find just the right one. I did stop, finished with nothing left but a glaze of chili and two small lumps of sausage.

We discussed the meal, the place, they unanimously loved it. Angel declared ‘This is the kind of place I like!’ Adam agreed.

We opted against dessert, they had a hand written list of pies and cakes. No apple, but they did offer rhubarb, something you don’t see everywhere.


The meal came in at just under thirty dollars, making it similar to Kim’s Café in fare and price. The food was very good, except for….never mind. No frills, no vague promises of anything other than what it was. The place is a dive, a greasy spoon, and pretends to be nothing else.

I would have liked it to have been cleaner and smell less like a damp ashtray, and the service was thin with only one person doing everything out front. But there was nothing overtly unsanitary about it. The atmosphere was low key and very local. No candles, no froufrou, no crystal chandeliers. My biggest complaint is not really a complaint at all. House Springs is further away than DeSoto or Festus, which makes it less than convenient. Say on a Sunday morning I decided to get up and grab a hearty breakfast and a cup of coffee and to read the paper. I’d have to twist and turn bad roads for twenty five minutes or more to get to Slingers. I can be in downtown DeSoto in about fifteen and get the same fare for the same price.

The lady that was reading the book left before we did. We saw her again at the neighboring Walmart (not a super store). She worked there. THAT’s what I’m talking about! A place like this within walking distance of work? Perfect!

By all means if you are in or near House Springs, this is a great, relaxed, low key, low budget place to get your calories on.


* House Springs:

The community is named after Adam House, who settled there ca. 1796, and for the two large springs there. In the late 18th century Adam House was killed by Osage Indians due to a dispute over stolen horses. Two of House's children escaped; his wife had died the year before of illness. Help from St. Louis arrived too late to aid the family, and House was beheaded. House's cabin was built near the spring about a mile from the Big River. Historical House Springs is located on Main Street off Route MM. ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/House_Springs,_Missouri )

I’ve always been intrigued by this story.

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