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.
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 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.