Saturday, December 31, 2011

Gus’ Pretzels

1820 Arsenal
St. Louis Mo.

Friday night, December 30, Angel asked me what kind of snacks I’d like for New Year’s Eve.  Snacking, grazing, is what we do to celebrate the event. No meal, no party, no fireworks (unless weather allows) we don’t even stay up till midnight, settling instead to celebrate with the east coast. (we used to live there so it’s not cheating)
She’d been to the grocery that day and stocked up on the usual. Baby carrots, chips, dip, cheeses, little weenies and barbecue sauce. I didn’t think much of it at the time, what she already had sounded sufficient.
Later that evening I was struck by a craving. Soft pretzels, I hadn’t had one in years. Saturday morning, recalling the notion, I tried to figure out where I could get some. There are always the frozen varieties in of grocery stores, that would do, I first thought. I then shifted to fresh, like at Auntie Annie’s at the malls. I like those just fine, but they are at the mall, a place I normally only visit under threat of certain and severe torture. Then I started to recall the last soft pretzel  I’d had.   
I was working downtown at that large beer company, whose name I shall not mention. My boss, Tom, and sometimes Wings or Art, and maybe a few others would stop at Gus’ Pretzels on the way in to work and buy a big bag of soft, hot pretzels and pass them around.  I refuse a lot of food at work, I can walk right past massive piles of donuts or bagels, but those pretzels…mmmmm….
I looked them up on the web, thirty six miles from my humble rural compound. A seventy two mile round trip.  The more I thought of it though, the more it seemed worth it.
As luck would have it though Angel was getting ready to make a run into the city to drop off a dog and deliver a blanket for another one. Bennie had stayed with us for a few days but inadvertently left his favorite blanket behind when he was picked up. The blanket portion of the trip would put her a mere five miles from 1820 Arsenal. I showed her the web site, the hours of operation, and directions. She was interested but not infinitely so, the best I could get from her was a tacit, “I’ll see what I can do.”
With fingers crossed and plans B, C, and D being mulled over, I sat back and tended to the needs of the remaining dogs and household while she was out. (Actually I just watched part of the Marx brothers classic ‘A day at the Races’ on TV)
The Place:
Gus’ is ‘in the shadow’ of that brewery I mentioned, so if you’re in St. Louis and taking the tour of the brewery ( I can still recommend that) You’re only a few steps away.
It’s not really surprising for pretzels to be a part of the landscape here. The same Germans that immigrated to the area and started brewing beer also created a market, and brought the requisite skills to create other Germanic institutions, such as pretzels.  And what goes better with beer, than pretzels? Gus’ has been in the same location since first opening in 1920. Three generations of pretzel twisters have managed the shop for nearly a hundred years. It’s not at all surprising that they are quite good at it. They’ve expanded some over the years, and their following has grown with them.  Angel reported, through a mouth full of ‘endz’,  that the place was packed, the parking lot full. People were inside ordering up big batches, twenty, fifty or more to adorn their own party snack tables. Apparently word had gotten around quickly after I first thought it up. We may have created a new tradition here.
The Food:
It’s soft, hot pretzels, just like ‘mutter und vater’ used to make. If you had an old country set of Teutonic parents anyhow.
They offer twists and sticks, and ‘Endz’ as well as pretzel sandwiches, dips and fancy ‘party pretzels’ See the menu for pics and prices.
And those prices!  Unbeatable! Fresh soft pretzels for fifty five cents or less, if you grab a big ol’ bag full. And why wouldn’t you?  Angel brought back a dozen twists, a bag of endz, and some dip, for pretty much less than a single meal at any of our usual eateries would cost, less than $15.
I recommend cheddar cheese for dipping, but that’s not your only option. Sometime I just spread some yellow mustard on them.
They were as good as I remembered, soft, buttery, salty. (I don’t mind pretzels being salty, it seems natural)
Fifteen seconds in the microwave reheats them nicely, the cheese gets all gooey. I love ‘em, Blue and Bailey loved what little I offered them, and Angel and Adam have seen the light as well.
Though not a complete meal, these things are an excellent, low-fat snack or breakfast. The fact that these are freshly made, though frozen are available in local grocery stores, make them a real treat. I highly recommend you make the trip even if you have no other reason to visit downtown St. Louis. You’ll be glad you did.
Frohes neues Jahr!  (Happy new year, in German)

Gus' Pretzels on Urbanspoon

Friday, December 23, 2011

Trainwreck Saloon

314 Westport Plaza
St. Louis Mo.

Workday lunch edition.

Rob and I left behind an all-day pot-luck buffet at work. We were to join several folks we used to work with at that really large beer company (whose name I shall not speak). We do this from time to time. A few of our buddies were given the ‘opportunity’ to retire right after the company’s merger (sellout) with that other beer company (whose name I also shall not speak.) so they have lots of spare time. Most of the old bunch, like Rob and me, left the company for better pastures. That old company was very family like even though I spent only a little more than three years there. I made lifelong friends who like to stay in touch, frequently. At first the reunions were all downtown. That’s a long lunch commute for those of us that work out in the western suburbs. So recently the ringleaders have started staggering the lunches, one downtown, one out west, and Rob and I are able to at least attend the latter.
As much as I’d love, love, love to go to Chili Mac’s (I hear the ladies miss me) It’s a twenty-five minute drive each way, street-luck parking, and cramped seating. When we do go Rob and I are usually late and end up just sitting with each other, entirely missing most of the point of going. That’s why we don’t do that much anymore. The other downtown place they regularly meet, Hodak’s is much bigger, but I really don’t care for the food that much, even though most of the guys rave about it. I find Hodak’s chicken bland and greasy, a verdict that could potentially get me kicked out of St. Louis. I’ve tried other menu items there and was never really impressed.
So this time we were on the west side, at a place I’ve been to a half dozen or more times.
The Place:
Located in Westport Plaza just across the sprawling Page Avenue from where I work, five minutes max. It was dreary, breezy, a bit rainy. We parked in the underground lot to avoid a long walk in the unpleasant weather. The garage opens to the interior hotel/mall. We walked right past the restaurant named for a now-ex St. Louis Cardinal, a great first baseman, former National League MVP and two-time world series slugging star (whose name I shall not speak.*) Rob and I arrived at the Trainwreck to find a small clutch of three or four others waiting at the front. The organizer of the meet, Wings, was not there yet, but emailed us earlier and he’d said he’d made reservations since we were a large party. ‘Wings’ is his nickname, self-assigned since his consonant-heavy, quadrisyllabic, German last name is almost always mispronounced and misspelled.
As our numbers grew we checked and found out there was indeed a reservation, so we elbowed ahead of several other people and found our spot. The Trainwreck is popular and usually quite busy, this day was no exception.
Wings arrived after a short while as did others including Art and his lovely wife Linda. There were ten of us in all. I sat by Art, once the proper table challenges were solved by the staff. Art is one of my favorite people on this particular planet. He and Linda are both retired, Art after forty years at that very beer company. He started there after high school, never worked anywhere else. He’s a classy gentleman by appearance and demeanor, until you get to know him better. Great stories about the old days, and some great jokes that occasionally verge on embarrassingly disgusting.
The interior was decorated modestly for the holidays. The all-wood walls held fake Christmas packages, from the ceilings were suspended large ornaments. The overhead train was not running (drat!).  The place goes for a 1800’s saloon theme, though it’s really more like a dark wooden barn. When I think Saloon, I think wild-west. It takes more than dark wood to evoke that feeling, maybe some ‘pardners’ with six guns, wearing chaps, spurs and ten-gallon hats, spitting big brown globs of tobaccy juice into brass cuspidors. Okay, now that I think about it, I don’t really want to see that at all. In other words if it isn’t as depicted on the cover of a ‘Pure Prairie League’ album, I just don’t see ‘saloon’.
The Food:
The burgers at Trainwreck are excellent. I already had a favorite, the cheddar-bacon. That’s what I ordered, along with the seasoned fries. Others around me got the Reuben or a salad and one guy opted for the bison. Further downstream on the table I couldn’t quite make out what was being ordered. Art decided on the Chili.
A few of us opted for just water, a few went a little stronger.
Service time was slow. The place was busy and the fact that we were in a party of ten would naturally slow us down. This place likes to serve a full table at a time, so we were going to all be waiting for the slowest dish. Which was okay, we had catching up to do. Mostly this group’s catching up has to do with who’s gone to work where, and the status of a few lawsuits against former companies. Wings had marched in with a coupon offering a free appetizer. He ordered the Ravioli, St. Louis style, breaded and fried. He generously passed the basket around even though there were only about eight raviolis in it. I was told they were quite good.
The food eventually arrived. Their burgers are half-pounders, not for the timid. I new this going in but had decided I could stop halfway, or get a box. The thing about this burger that I like so much is not the size, I could easily be as pleased with a smaller one, but the cheese. It’s real, sharp cheddar, and there’s lots of it. This is a messy meal, order extra napkins. It was served in a basket filled with fries, leaving virtually no room for a pool of ketchup. I had to restack the fries and bank the burger to hold it all. About halfway through the thing it started to disintegrate, the moisture from the tomato and cheese turning the undersized bun into a pasty mush.  Like I said, it’s messy.
I asked Art about his chili, it looked pretty good. “Good but not spicy.” He said, then quickly adding: “But not nearly as good as Linda makes me at home.” Smart man, they’ve only been married a couple of years, he still publicly compliments his wife.
All around me the meals were disappearing, I lagged a little, as usual, since I was taking notes. Nothing was sent back, I heard no complaints, plates were cleaned. I saw no signs at all of dissatisfaction from anyone, including the dude that ate the bison.
The price was lunch-friendly, my bill came to eight dollars and change. The food is exceptional at Trainwreck. The cheddar-bacon is about my favorite burger in the world. It’s the cheese. Sloppy, too big, but very, very tasty. I’ve never seen anyone disappointed with their meals here. The staff is busy, professional, but overworked.  Drink refills were scarce, too late, or non-existent. Time between order and delivery was slow. Probably because its such a busy, crowded place. It’s like a ‘Who’ concert, if you want peace, quiet, no crowds, and easy, fast in and out, forget it. But the food is simply great. Even though some of it is not quite as good as your wife makes for you at home.


* I frankly am not angry at Albert Pujols for leaving the Cardinals. He's at his peak and had the opportunity to grab an even shinier brass (platinum) ring. Good for him.

Trainwreck Saloon on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Bandana’s Bar-B-Q

103 Truman Blvd
Crystal City, MO
To celebrate Adam’s upcoming birthday* we let him choose a place. I know, it was probably his turn anyhow, but it’s the thought that counts, right? We did tell him there was no pressure to find a new place, he didn’t need to consider the review at all, even if it was a place we’d been to recently. Free choice without pressure or repercussions, that’s the greatest gift of all.
I was a little surprised when he chose Bandana’s but only a little. I knew he liked it, but not that it was at the top of his list.
I had been shopping earlier in the day, mostly finished but a little frustrated. None of the stores I went to had those big cans of popcorn, the ones with three kinds, cheddar, plain and caramel. Granted, I’d only gone to two stores, but for me that’s an ambitious shopping trip.
The evening was simply gorgeous. The setting sun enflamed the few wispy clouds, the temperature was nearly perfect, high fifty’s or low sixty’s. The drive was uneventful and rather quiet. On arrival I was expecting the outdoor loudspeaker to be blasting that awful country music. I was pleased to note they’d turned it down considerably from the hideous shouting level it had been set to on our previous trips. Inside it was pleasantly, barely audible at all.
The Place:
It was only half full, or maybe less. Not bustling, a very relaxed pace. The place was only modestly decorated, felt red stockings hung from above the opening to the kitchen, each with a name written on it, maybe one per crew member. A small tree sat in a corner and that was pretty much it.
A few families were spread around the long aisles, the black-clad crew scurried about clearing tables, sweeping the floor, carrying orders.
We were shown a booth near the back and situated ourselves. The menus were dropped off, drinks ordered (tea, sweet tea and Pepsi) and the server drifted off and left us to consider options.
The birthday boy, and my tea.
Our drinks arrived quickly, we weren’t quite ready to order yet. It took another five minutes or so before we finally decided. After much internal debate, I chose the turkey sandwich and fries. Angel, the chicken and pork plate with ‘fried corn’ and fried okra. Adam went for the beef and chicken plate with fries and coleslaw.
While we waited, in what has become a sort of ritual, Angel pulled out her new-fangled smartphone, checked her Facebook and email, then browsed through some online comics. Adam didn’t. Instead he occupied himself tearing the straw wrappers into tiny little shreds, then rolling the shreds up into tiny little balls.
Angel then showed Adam one of the comic strips, he seemed only slightly amused. “Comics are for old people.” He said, which caused his mother to get all red-faced and defensive. “I didn’t mean old like you, I mean old-old.” He defended himself, though it didn’t really help.
I think he was just trying to get a rise from her. He does that a lot, something he inherited from his mother. She’s always trying to rile me up, pointing out petty infractions and forgetfulness, just trying to ring my buzzer; I don’t take the bait though.
The Food:
Turkey Sandwich, pre-sauce
The food arrived quickly, just as advertised. There are no surprises at Bandana’s, just tasty smoked meats.
The meat is served dry allowing one to sauce it up to individually desired levels. They provide four different sauces at each table, I think there used to be more.  I’d tasted them all before and went with my favorite, Chicago Sweet, and plenty of it. This doesn’t mask the smokiness of the meat, it’s chopped into thick chunks, it merely perfects it. My bun was toasted and buttered, the fries were  just right.
Angel’s fried corn turned out to be corn on the cob, cooked, then grill-fried until most of the individual kernels were a light brown. It was diapered on the plate in what looked like an oblong coffee filter. We debated this, and decided that it might not actually have been a coffee filter since we couldn’t figure out how or why a coffee maker would require an oblong filter. On subsequent research, and playing off a brilliant hunch, I looked up 'restaurant supplies' and ‘hot dog wrappers’ and sure enough, voila! You can see them here.
Fried corn on the cob.
The corn itself was very good. I know this because Angel said it was almost as good as Jeff’s. Jeff is my younger, but bigger brother. He smokes meats himself but unfortunately he lives a couple of hundred miles away in the sprawling metropolis of Cerulean Ky. When he prepares a meal he puts his heart and soul into it. Lots of planning, hand chosen wood, days of preparation. His corn is indeed awesome. For Bandana’s to come even close by comparison is quite a commendation.
Her okra looked just like it tastes, like breaded and deep-fried cow snot.
Adam tried his coleslaw then never touched it again. I asked him about that. “It’s not their fault, I’m just really, really picky about coleslaw.” He responded without further explanation. He is indeed rather picky about certain foods, another unfortunate trait he gets from his mother.
Adam asked me about the tea. “Flat, tasteless, but I knew it would be.”
“Then why did you order it?” he asked as if the answer wasn’t obvious.
“I had to see if they bothered to improve it, they haven’t.”
He doesn’t seem to understand the harsh sacrifices that are required to become a professional, highly rated and respected restaurant critic.
The food was, as I’ve said, very good. Adam didn’t like the coleslaw, but even he properly blamed that on flawed genetics rather than a failed effort by Bandana’s. The tab was a bit high, forty six dollars before the tip, but good food is good food, and really good comestibles** are worth a few extra farthings.
After we finished we hopped over to Big Lot’s to see if they had the tins of popcorn. Nope. The next day, on a tip form Angel, I found some at K-Mart. Mission accomplished.


* Birthday.  Adam’s is the day after mine but we agreed to split the celebrations. He would choose a place to eat, I’d choose a movie to go to. None of these celebrations would actually occur on our actual birthdays. We’ll be going to see “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” on Friday.

**Comestibles. An established author and Facebook friend Nicola Griffith used this word in a post last week. I had to look it up since I’ll admit that there are a still a few (a couple of dozen at most) pretentious English words missing from my otherwise vast arsenal. I thanked her for the generous gift and assured her that I would try to use it in the near future. This almost-superfluous usage was an intentional means of increasing my word power (it pays). As for ‘farthings’, I only need to mention that this same friend is British by birth.

Bandana's Bar-B-Q on Urbanspoon

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Thai Kitchen

2031 Dorsett Village
Maryland HeightsMO

Another workday lunch adventure.

The crew: Myself, Doug, Lilian and Keith.
Lilian put this trip together, adamantly suggesting the destination. We’d all been there a time or two before. I was less than ecstatic, but I need to spread my social wings once in awhile. Not that I don’t like the Thai Kitchen it’s just that. . . Well, I’ll explain later.

The Place:
Next to, and sharing the same building with, Maryland Yards. It’s not obvious driving by, it does not face the road. But like I’d said, we’ve all been there before and didn’t have any problems finding it. Parking was trickier. Between Maryland Yards and the Thai Kitchen, the lot was nearly full. Maryland Yards is a rightfully popular sports bar/grill which I will certainly be reviewing in the future.
What we were not expecting was the popularity of the TK. There was a five or six person line at the door.  We stepped up to it, stopped and immediately Doug, Keith and I started discussing the notion that Maryland Yards was bigger and perhaps not as crowded. Lilian though was undeterred. Something you need to know about Lilian, she is tenacious. Everyone that has worked with her will tell you this. Once her mind is pointed at something, she will dog it till it yields, or it runs away. It makes her very effective at work when there’s an issue that needs to be resolved, or a project that’s mired down. This was no different, she pushed her small but determined frame into the restaurant ahead of us. We stayed outside. In a few minutes, while we were still indecisively contemplating or options, she squeezed back out and told us to follow her, she’d secured us a table. Like I said, she’s tenacious.
We shoved everyone aside and sure enough were led to a table in the back, one that was just then being bussed.
“They very, very busy, not enough staff” She told us, pointing to the gentleman and lady clearing the table. “They are brother and sister, from Shanghai.”
I immediately recognized the significance of this, Lilian is also from Shanghai, She’s only been in the U.S. for about nine years, Lilian is her American name for herself. If you go to the restaurant’s web site you’ll see a picture of the proprietors, ‘Angie’  and her brother. I’m betting Angie wasn’t her given name either.
The place was indeed packed, with people like us, by that I mean cubicle workers. Maryland Heights is very business-y, lots of office buildings, and thus lots of people like us looking for a decent, reasonably priced lunch. There’s a good picture of the inside of the place on their web site as well. Dark yellow walls, wood wainscoting, with a score or so framed, black and white photos of people and places in Thailand. On the prominent counter were tall stacks of Styrofoam take out boxes.
The tables were small, which made them modular, different sized parties would get an appropriate number of tables pushed together, we required two.
Above us on the back wall was a large flat screen TV showing the Headline News Channel. There was no sound, close-captioning was turned on. Something radioactive in Russia, another riot in Palestine.
The Food:
  The menu (available online as well.) Was broken down into groups,soups, salads, curry, rice and noodles, and house specials. I had a pretty good idea of what I would get going in, the choice being based on the spiciness, or in my case, the lack of spiciness. I knew of two possibilities, the fried rice (pick your meat) and the slightly more adventurous Pad Thai.(noodles)
Doug would go spicier, he always does, it’s quite fun to watch. They arrived to take our orders, Lilian and the waiter started yammering away in a high speed conversation in their complex but almost musical native tongue, the rest of us just stared at each other. We finally ordered, Keith copied my rice order, He’s a native Jefferson Countian which may explain our simpler, milder tastes.  Lilian went for the spicy seafood rice, Doug opted for the spicy basil chicken and asked for the spice tray as well. The spice tray is a condiment tray with several vials of pepper-laden liquids and powders, all the way from ‘too hot to eat’ to ‘caustic weapon of torture.’  I won’t touch the vicious stuff. We all chose water, it’s a working lunch thing, common among the thrifty cubicle dwellers. Lilian asked for a lemon for hers, naturally they brought her two. Her new friends took pretty good care of us.
Keith got Lilian’s attention at one point and asked what they were talking about. She answered back several details which impressed Keith. I explained to him that Lilian and the manager were from the same village. This made Lilian laugh, she knew I was making a joke since Shanghai is not a ‘village’ in any language, it’s a sprawling mega-city of around fifteen million people. Lilian and I have had several conversations about her hometown and country. I’ve only been as far as Japan and Korea myself, but I’ve read extensively about China.
The food arrived rather quickly, single plates with a big pile of rice. Doug’s rice was plain, the chicken and spicy bits in a separate pile to be blended together as seen fit by the consumer. He ladled on some of the reddish, oily spices from the spice tray, just a little though, it doesn’t take a lot of that stuff to set off fire alarms or induce a coma.
My rice was savory and well blended with the un-breaded chicken chunks, onions and egg bits, and tomatoes. Yeah tomatoes, in fried rice.
Within a few bites Doug was sweating, but not slowing down. Had he not been eating spicy food one would think he was getting ready to stroke out. His face was red, his eyes fully dilated, and he was breathing heavy. This didn’t interfere with his enjoyment though, Doug likes to eat and has a healthy metabolism.
Lilian insisted that I try her spicy seafood rice, she said it didn’t seem very spicy at all. I took some, choked, spat and called her a liar. It wasn’t the spiciest thing I’d ever had, but it still invoked searing and gagging. I really, really can’t handle spicy foods. Lilian shook her head and laughed a little. She’s got a great, if not sometimes cruel, sense of humor.
Everyone seemed to enjoy their meals, Keith was bothered by me stopping occasionally to write something down. Doug knew what I was doing, but I kept Keith and Lilian in the dark about the review I was taking notes for. Keith was starting to get self conscious since I would often jot something down right after he’d said something.
“You’re not writing that down are you?” He asked for the fifth time.
“Yeah, yeah I am.”
You’re writing that down as well aren’t you” Doug asked
Late into the meal Keith pointed toward the distant-most table and said “Hey isn’t that Swami?”
We all looked, but it was hard to tell in the busy, always-in-motion room.
“I’ll find out.” Doug said, pulling out his phone.
Swami works with us, but wasn’t available to go out with us since he was having lunch with his wife. This was exciting. Swami spent the entire month of November back in his native India getting married. One of those big, blow-out, thousands of guests and dozens of parties and rituals affairs, not unlike those that are usually an integral part of Bollywood movies. 
None of us had met his wife before, we’d only seen pictures. She arrived in the states for the first time around the first of December, just a couple of weeks back. A real life changer, getting married moving abroad, we all felt sympathetic.
Sure enough, the view cleared just as Swami answered his phone. Doug insisted that he bring his wife over to meet us.
He did. She was a small, absolutely gorgeous young woman, already Americanized in her clothing, stylish jeans, blouse and boots, a drop-dead knockout. Swami’s a very handsome specimen himself, I’ve always said so. Together they were about the cutest young couple imaginable. Introductions were made, chit-chat followed, we found out that her biggest adjustment so far had been the weather. It’s been a bit chilly in St. Louis the past few weeks, colder than the ‘village’ in India she came from ever got.
We finished up, I was the only one that didn’t clear the plate. I was full.
The food is good, maybe even great. My only problem was cultural/style/preference rather than gastronomic. Restaurants like this serve single-note meals. American ‘Chinese’ places either are buffets or multi-food plates. Wontons, rangoons, egg rolls, chicken chunks, several things on a plate. Here, and in other places, you order rice, you get rice.  Personally I prefer the variety. But my rice itself was very, very good. Okay I don’t care for tomatoes in my rice, but they were sparse and pretty easy to just push aside. I poled the others, aside form Lilian’s not being spicy enough for her tastes, everyone had nothing but good things to say. Even the red-faced, sweaty and pinched-voice Doug was quite pleased.
The price was work-lunch friendly, less than ten bucks per meal. A drink other than water would have tipped it over that watermark, part of the reason water is prevalent at lunch amongst us cubicle rats.
I highly recommend the Thai Kitchen, especially if you like Thai food. I admit to being a bit wimp-ish about the spicier stuff, but that’s just me.

Thai Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Poppy’s Ristorante

2000 N. Truman Rd.
Crystal City, Mo

We’re back!
Thanksgiving weekend we didn’t go out, no need to, we’re crazy for turkey leftovers. Last week Angel and Adam were in Springfield, Mo. to attend a baby shower for her son and daughter-in-law’s fairly soon to arrive daughter. I stayed at the compound and attended to the needs of the seven or nine dogs, subsisting on home-made Chinese, rice, sweet/sour chicken and turkey-scrap wontons. Angel and Adam would be having the real deal, as is tradition whenever any of us go to Springfield . She would be bringing some back, which is mandatory, and I wanted to compare my rice to the Queen City’s best effort.
Earlier in the week I received an email from Poppy’s, a free pasta dish coupon on account of my upcoming birthday. I’d filled out a card last time we were there. I even entered my actual birthday on it. Sometimes I am less than honest when filling out those things. Usually I also put a phone number that is less than completely accurate. The number is in my name, it’s just that it’s only connected to a fax machine that Angel uses for her business. It’s usually turned off anyhow. And the email address I give out goes to an account that I only check once per week or so. I don’t know why I go to such great strides to mask my true identity, just habit I guess. Oh yeah, and because I don’t like junk-mail and solicitor phone calls. The fake birthday thing I can’t really explain though.
So with the coupon, I figured this was a sign from above that we should go to Poppy’s. Actually it’s more a technical feature of Poppy’s marketing strategy than divine behavior, but still, it solved the problem of where to go. I’ll probably get more of these things over the next few months from other restaurants as my many fake birthdays approach.
The Place:
The place is gorgeous, charming, warm and welcoming. Hard to imagine from the inside that it’s next door to a bowling alley. Go to the place’s web site to see some pictures if you haven’t already. Wood, lots of wood. The centerpiece, a thick German-looking stag-adorned mirrored hutch is prominent. The artwork is classy and well thought out.
It was about half-full when we got there, which was a bit later than usual. Angel needed to make a quick stop on the way to pick up some medicine for one of the dogs. Poor Deedee was suffering from a bug and exploding from all ends earlier in the day and Angel’s friend and comrade from CARE had just the dope she needed.  Unfortunately, since CARE’s shelter is well south of DeSoto in Washington County, this meant it was not really ‘on the way’ at all, it was in fact about an hour and a half from the time we left the house till we got to Crystal City. For those of you in Kentucky, it would be like driving to Hopkinsville by way of Mayfield, or in southern Maryland, like going to Annapolis via D.C.
Poppy’s is beautiful though, and they make awesome food.
As could be expected, there was Christmas music playing softly throughout, not a bad mix altogether although when ‘Santa Baby’ came on I wanted to throw a chair at something.*
The Food:
I wanted something different, so I scanned back in my top-secret notebook to see what I’d had the last time. Cannelloni, loved it. Adam asked for what he’d ordered as well, and recalled it fondly.
Scanning the menu anew I was rather indecisive. We ordered our tea, tea and Coke and shortly they arrived along with a basket of rolls and faux-butter packets. The rolls were near baseball sized and not too fluffy. They were not heavy at all but they were more substantial than the flour clouds that some places serve. I finally decided on the Shrimp Fettuccine, the waitress returned to take our orders. I let Angel order first, since I’m a proper gentleman, and as she spoke I looked down at the menu once again. The description of the Fettuccine popped up at me: Shrimp, mushroom, garlic, broccoli in a light cream sauce with provel cheese. I panicked. It was my turn to order having just discovered that my chosen dish was contaminated with broccoli! 
“And for you sir?” The young lady asked.
“Uh, the uh, Cannelloni.”
That’s right, I once again crumpled under the enormous pressure.
Angel looked at me, baffled, after I finished my order.
“I thought you were going to get something different.” She scolded.
“I’m fine.” I replied confidently.
Greek Salad
Angel and I had ordered the Greek Salad as a side, Adam the cheese, potato and bacon soup. Angel and Adam’s meal allowed for two sides, they each chose the day’s vegetable, broccoli.
The salads and soup arrived in good time, while waiting Angel and Adam played with their phone apps again, leaving me to scan the room and quietly absorb the ambiance. My phone doesn’t have apps, or a data plan, it may as well have a rotary dial and hopelessly tangled cord.
The bread was awesome, the salad delightful, with just one problem. The crisp and attractive salad was served on a saucer and was piled too high. Cutting the red pepper ring could not be done without considerable spillage.  It was quite tasty, almost as good as Trattoria Giuseppe’s, but the presentation, though cute, was a fail due to the messy top-heaviness of it.
The main courses arrived shortly after the salad and soup dishes were pushed aside. I had asked Adam about his soup.
“It was potato, cheese and bacon, what could possibly be wrong?”  Was his snarky answer. He gets his snarkiness from his mother.
The cannelloni is a tube pasta, filled with beef, veal and chicken, covered in a red sauce and melted provel cheese. Provel is a St. Louis area specialty, you won’t find it many other places. It is not made around here, it’s just a blend of cheddar, Swiss and provolone that is made for the region due to the local differently-sophisticated tastes. It’s a hallmark of St. Louis style pizza. I’m not a huge fan of it, though it isn’t disgusting. I just find it a bit rich and overpowering. I’m no cheese snob though, I grew up on the stuff labeled ‘Individually wrapped, processed American cheese product’ which also means ‘not really cheese’.
Chicken Terazzini
Angel had ordered the Chicken Terazzini, Lightly breaded, fried , on a bed of spaghetti and a white cream sauce with fresh sea clams. Adam got the Chicken Alfredo, charbroiled  or lightly breaded, fried, topped with a blend of cheese and cream sauce on a bed of spaghetti. (He chose ‘fried’)
My portions were deceptively sized, they seemed small, but the sweetness and richness of the sauces filled me up in no time. It might have had something to do with the bowl of chili I’d had a few hours earlier. I couldn’t finish, and the heaviness was starting to make my cardio system ache, but there was it was actually very, very good.
Adam seemed to suffer a similar issue. “Heavy, a bit too cheesy, I should have gone for grilled.” He said as he pushed the not-quite-cleaned plate aside. Angel was still going gangbusters though, even dipping her disgusting broccoli into the creamy pasta sauce.
Poppy’s is very, very good. It is also very, very rich. Do not go there if you’ve already had something heavy that day. Save it for the rich, creamy, heavy main course. The tastes are multi-dimensional and consistent. It’s a beautiful, classy yet casual place, staffed well. The price is not out of whack, especially if it’s your birthday. The original ticket said forty-seven dollars, but the final, discounted price was thirty-six. The food is top shelf, the menu is not cluttered. Highly recommended, we would happily take guests there.
BTW Last weekend Angel brought back some rice from Springfield, I compared, I liked mine better.


*’Santa Baby’: I’ve always hated this song, I didn’t know why until a couple of years ago after I spent some time trying to figure out why this one, more so than even ‘Grandma got run over by a reindeer’ made me clench my fists. I think it has to do with the fake, cheap, lazy use of the word ‘tonight.’  It’s at the end of every verse. It doesn’t rhyme with anything else in the song. It’s used as a replacement, a fake rhyme in place of a rhyming word because the writers, J. Javits and P. Springer, just  weren’t very good at writing songs. I’ve noticed this sort of lazy fakery in other songs too, just not as prevalent. It’s as grating to me as listening to a teenager improperly use the word ‘like’ more than five times per sentence. “And I was like ‘whatever’, and he was like ‘sure thing’, and I was like ‘I know!’. . .”

Poppy's on Urbanspoon

Monday, December 5, 2011


The Delmar Loop
6605 Delmar Blvd
St Louis, MO

A workday review.
The Delmar Loop is an upscale and quite popular area of the St. Louis metro area, located only a couple of miles from Forest Park, where can be found the St. Louis zoo, Botanical gardens, art museum, etc. The loop is actually in one of St. Louis’s many, many neighboring suburbs called University City, named so as it is home to world renowned Washington University.
It is called the loop because it once was home to the looping turn-around area for the streetcar lines. The streetcars and loop itself have been gone for quite a while though the name stuck. There is word of a possible trolley system in the future. Anyway it’s a really nice area, lots of stately homes, fashionable shops and eateries, theatres and performance halls. The sidewalks are home to plaques and statues of famous folks from St. Louis. Fitz’s has near its front door a bronze statue of Chuck Berry. Other folks commemorated on the loop are Nellie, Tina Turner, Ella Fitzgerald, Miles Davis, John Goodman and sexologists Masters and Johnson.  I’m not making that up. M&J started their filthy, sinful sex-work at Wash U.
Fitz’s itself is a brewer/bottler of Root Beer, first produced in 1947. The current old building it occupies was originally a bank, the bottling operation operates where the vault once stood.
We left work for lunch to meet up with a former co-worker who was in town for a spell. I’d never met him, he left the company before I started my current employ. There were four of us, Doug, Rob (with whom I’ve written about before) and Brenda, a very talented and often useful database administrator.

The Place.

None of us had been there before, so we had maps, three of them, each slightly different. They got us there without too much trouble. Street parking is a known issue in this area, but we lucked out that Fitz’s had a lot behind the building. There was construction netting up around the outside, workers were busy re-cobbling the patio areas. The place was busy but not packed, we told the lady that met us that we were meeting a party, she pointed us up the stairs. I appreciated this as kids are allowed downstairs, but not upstairs. It’s a kid-friendly place I’m told, with cardboard car-shaped serving baskets to utterly delight the sticky little tykes.
We met the guy, a handsome thirty-ish man with no hair on his head. That’s a look I’ve often thought about sporting, but Angel insists I look fine just the way I am. He turned out to be a nice, intelligent man despite his lack of hair. Brenda asked him where he worked, he replied ‘Avon’. She looked baffled. “You sell Avon?” she asked.
”No, I work at Avon’s HQ in White Plains New York, still admin’ing IT systems, like I did when we worked together.”
“Oh. That makes more sense.”
The place was trying to look 1950’s-ish, retro stuff here and there, the walls were exposed brick, the ceiling open with exposed large, shiny vent pipes. Upstairs and down were booths and tables. A long bar lined the entire back wall. We were greeted and seated by a nice young lady with a very unfortunately located water stain on the front of her jeans. I tried not to stare.
There were three large flat screen TV’s flashing various sports shows, hockey, football highlights, etc. The sound was thankfully muted. We sat directly under a loudspeaker, a pretty loud loudspeaker playing a form of music that I can only equate to Velvet Underground style glam (imagine Andy Warhol influenced rock). It may not have been that at all, but it wasn’t too bad.

The Food:
We glanced over the menus, mostly burgers and sandwiches. They didn’t list a BLT, though they did offer a B.L.A.S.T which was a wrap with Bacon Lettuce, Avocado, Sauce (spicy), and Turkey.  I don’t do Avocado.  Rob apparently does though. I wasn’t in the mood for a burger either, Angel got lazy the evening before and picked up burgers from McDonalds instead of feeding me properly as a good wife should.
I did find a winner though, beer-battered fish and chips. ‘Chips’ is what the British call French fries, I don’t know why, maybe they’re just stupid. We aren’t in Brittany anyhow, it should really be called fish and fries, what’s so wrong with that?
By default I was going to order tea, but the three folks that ordered ahead of me all asked for the root beer. I thought for a moment and decided to do likewise since this place was a brewer and bottler of the stuff. To do otherwise would be like going to Steak and Shake and not ordering a shake. Come to think of it though, I have been to Steak and Shake and not had a shake. I’m not proud of that, I just don’t like cold, milky sweet drinks. Root beer, A&W specifically, like they sell at fairs and Demolition Derby’s always seem too sweet. I was afraid this might be the case, but because of my sense of obligation to you, my loyal fans, I went ahead and did my duty.
We were soon delivered frosty mugs, seriously frosty, like a windshield in January frosty. Cute, but it came at a price. The frost melted almost immediately when the root beer was poured into them, leaving large puddles on the table. It might also explain the waitress’ pants stain. The root beer itself though was pretty good, earthy, not hyper sweet. I’m not a big carbonated beverage guy, they tend to make me feel bloatey but in this case I refilled twice.
The food was delivered, the three fish portions looked like eggrolls. There was enough tartar sauce to overcome subjugation by the Mongols.* The slaw was generous, way too generous since it was completely bland. I had maybe two bites of it. The fish itself was quite good. The fries were fine, but nothing to write home about.
Rob said his BLAST was okay, but it was a little light on the turkey. I asked the others about their burgers, Brenda said “They’re like real burgers” Which I assumed to mean not like fast food burgers. Everyone but me finished everything off, I was left with a bowl of tartar sauce and a bowl of bland coleslaw.
The root beer was the star of the meal though, without a doubt. In all the food was okay, but not excellent or outstanding. It was overpriced for the quality presented, meal came to $14.20 before tip. That’s not excessive, but I can certainly do better elsewhere, like at Hodges’ Chili Mac, Casa Gallardo or Maryland Yards.  Fitz’s may indeed have standout dishes, I might just have missed them. Let me know if there’s something they’ve got that’s good enough to motivate me to go there again.

* Subjugation by the Mongols:  The Tartars (or Tatars) are a Turkish speaking ethnic group in a wide area in Russia and the many ‘stans’ around the region. In the 13th century Genghis Khan was pillaging and looting the area, enslaving a lot of defeated peoples, the Tartars included. They’ve been subjugated a lot. Tartar sauce is thought to be called such as the tartars were by legend very rough people, and as an adjective, ‘tartar’ was possibly once used to mean ‘rough’, as is the texture of the stuff.

Fitz's on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, November 22, 2011


Fenton, Mo.
Culver’s is a predominately Midwestern chain. It started as a single restaurant in Sauk City Wisconsin in the mid-80’s. It’s expansion was slow at first, but it now claims over 400 locations reaching to Texas and Arizona. Sorry Maryland, there’s no plan to head that direction anytime soon, you're stuck with your puny crab shacks.
The Place:
It’s a burger/sandwich/ice cream affair similar in offerings, but bigger and a tiny bit more upscale than Ginny’s and Rich’s (recently reviewed).
This was Angel’s choice. She was certain we, or at least she, had been there before, I certainly couldn’t recall it. At least not this location, I seldom go past Gravois Bluffs on Highway 141, there’s just no need to. This place was almost in Valley Park, a neighboring town which I only hear about from news reports about spring flooding. Nearly every Fenton restaurant we’ve reviewed is located in or around the enormous (1.5 million square feet) shopping area. 
The first thing I noticed as we pulled into the parking lot was that it was right next door to a Burger King. The second thing I noticed was that the drive-thru and lot for the BK was nearly empty, whereas Culvers was packed. Nearly every space was taken, and inside the tables were at least 90% occupied.
I’d previewed the menu and didn’t need a lot of time to make up my mind. When I told Adam what I was going to get, he exclaimed ‘aww, shoot!’ in reply, meaning he had initially chosen the same thing. In the spirit of accommodating you, the fans, he decided on something else instead so we wouldn’t be reporting on just a single offering.
The overhead menu was expansive, it also sported the chain’s iconic blue and white theme. Most of the stores are white with a blue roof and the walls inside are white with blue trim. There were a few posters and signs used for modest decoration on the walls, mostly touting Wisconsin in one way or another. Even when Wisconsin does blow it’s horn, it’s really not all that loud.

The Food:
 I ordered the Bacon Deluxe Butter Burger combo, with crinkle fries. Adam opted for the Buffalo Chicken Wings and fries, and Angel went for the Prime Rib Dip sandwich plus fries. We were handed our plastic number tag and drink cups. We filled ‘em with tea, sweet tea and Pepsi. Next to the tea dispenser was a covered condiment tub containing lemon wedges, I partook, but only because it was covered. I’ve heard somewhere that exposed lemons in eateries are magnets for diseases and bacteria, maybe even deadly ones. Why take a chance?
We found a booth and settled in. The place was crawling, but mostly with families. Unlike the more famous burger chains, there were not any loose bands of teenagers milling about, the patronage here was more mature and responsible. This was punctuated by the single flat screen TV tuned to CNN.
One non-Vietnamese lady struggled to find room to situate her brood of kids, five preteen Vietnamese girls. Non-Vietnamese dad helped as well by staying out of the way,  in the shadows, until they were all situated. I don't blame him, getting involved with any of that would be like pushing the first domino in a crying, squealing chain.
A young man in company colors weaved carefully and respectfully between the tables, bussing and sweeping dutifully as he went. Abandoned tables turned over pretty quickly due to his efforts.
I sipped my lemon’d tea, I knew the tea would be fresh since the dispenser was replaced just before I got to it. Fresh indeed, but not all that flavorful.
Bacon Deluxe Burger
The food arrived in just a few minutes. Served in ‘baskets’. Actually they were served in cardboard trays folded to mimic the plastic baskets used in other burger places. The meals were complete and quite tasty looking. We dealt them out and dug in.
I know the trick of a ‘Buttery Burger’, it’s the bun. I do the same thing when I grill burgers at home. I butter the buns and toast them on the grill. It’s amazing how much better this make a simple burger. Oh yeah, we pronounce it ‘butt-ree’, ‘not butter-y’ because butt-ree sounds funnier.

 The cheese on mine was real cheddar, as advertised, Culver’s (from Wisconsin) is proud of their cheeses.
The crinkle fries were about a minute of frying short of where I would have taken them, but they at least weren’t starchy. I would have preferred more crunch. The burger included lettuce, tomato and red onion, and was constructed with a satisfying amount of each.
Adam looked baffled at his chicken nuggets. “That doesn’t look like buffalo.” He remarked. Indeed they didn’t. We first assumed that he had been given the standard chicken nuggets rather than the buffalo since buffalo chicken usually has a caramelized sticky sauce, these did not, just breading. He didn’t want to make a fuss so he said it didn’t really matter and started eating them. He did say later in that the breading was a little spicy, though not quite to the expected level. (Afterward I checked and found this on Culver’s web site: “The secret to our spicy Buffalo Chicken Tenders is in the seasoned breading”)
Prime Rib Dip
So if you are expecting Hooter’s-style messy chicken, you’ll probably be a little disappointed.
I asked Angel how she liked her Prime-dip, all I got was ‘Yum’ as she tore into it. Later she added that the meat was more flavorful than the Au Jus (gesundheit!) provided. "Saltier than a burger." She added. I tried a scrap, I agreed. It would have been too salty for me.
In all we were quite satisfied. Was it better than the neighboring Burger King? I’m not sure. Burger to burger, both are quite good. Culver’s has a significant upper hand though with the ice cream selections. Adam and Angel indulged, She ordered a root beer float, he, a ‘concrete mixer’ a thick shake infused with brownie or cookie crumbs. They seemed quite pleased with their choices.
Maybe I was expecting more, but that isn’t to say I didn’t enjoy the meal. The burger was quite good, the fries could have used a little more attention. Adam was a bit disappointed with the lack of heat on his chicken. But there was nothing bad about any of it. The price was slightly higher, in all about four more bucks, than very similar fare at Ginny’s. The whole deal was still under $30. BK may have been a bit cheaper, but the ice cream offerings simply are not available there. This place was much, much more crowded and busy than the neighboring BK, so that should tell you something. Given the choice I’d certainly pick Culver’s between the two, but next to a Ginny’s? I’m not so sure.

Comments from some of my Facebook friends:

Tyler wrote: "The last time I went years ago they had a really good pork tenderloin sandwich."

 Michele wrote: "my favorite fast food!"

Kathy wrote: "Love their burgers, and fries, and onion rings....Jack likes their ice cream!"

Angel wrote: "You can be such an idiot!"

From the staff and management of Eat and Critique, Happy Thanksgiving Everyone!

Culver's on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Golden Corral

6110 S Lindbergh Blvd
St Louis, MO
Angel was hungry. She’d recently had a disappointing chicken meal at a McDonalds and was furious that her taste buds have become more refined over the last two years, since we started this quest. It used to be she’d just order something at McDonalds, eat it and not think much about it. No more. Now she actually tastes the slop and finds it wanting. It was Adam’s week to choose, Angel had hinted (which is allowed) Golden Corral, he went with it. So at the appointed time we saddled up (get it? Golden Corral - saddled up?) and made the drive to Lindbergh Ave. What with the stupid, recent time change it was still early, about 5:15 PM when we got there, but already dark. 
The Place:
This place is large and usually crowded. This night was no exception. Available parking was sporadic and limited, very, very busy.
We went in and stood in line behind a large group for several minutes before they told us they weren’t actually in line, they were still waiting for more people. So we went around, ordered our drinks, Tea, Diet Pepsi and something called ‘Pepsi Max’*, and paid $42.87 for the three buffets. There were actually two lines, each one about ten people deep, and at the end of the lines were poles with entry ropes keeping us from going into the hectic dining area. At the end of our line was a husky, purple-shirted lady with a 2-way radio. She called in on it what was needed, party of three or eight, etc. and eventually got a call back. She would then open up the rope and send the appropriate matching party through.
It reminded me of those Sci-Fi movies where the earth is being evacuated and the scared and tense families lean into the ropes waiting for their names to be called for the last escape pod out. One wrong move and you’ll end up with a stampede.
Also on hand was an off-duty deputy, just standing by. Yeah it was that busy, like an arena event.
It actually didn’t take very long. The floor crew seemed adept at turning over tables quickly. We were shuffled to a four-seater in the back. I opted for the side that looked toward the buffet line, which had the disadvantage of sitting partially in the aisle. Angel and Adam sat opposite. They got a punier view but more legroom without the risk of being tripped over. We didn’t sit, we just put down our tray and credentials and dived into the mass of trough grazers.
The Food:
I was not as hungry as Angel. I’d had a pulled pork sandwich and some cheese crackers for a rather late lunch. But that’s one of the nice things about a buffet, you can eat a little or a lot, same price. I decided to small-sample a wide variety. My first round I sampled, about a tablespoon each, meat loaf, fried shrimp, mashed potatoes, 1 sesame chicken chunk, three small strips of Bourbon St. Chicken, macaroni, linguine with scampi sauce, a fist-sized yeast roll, a cheese and garlic biscuit, a teaspoon of stuffing, and lo and behold, Italian Sausage and sauerkraut. Yes fans, finally some sauerkraut!
I had to struggle with the linguine, knowing almost immediately that I was going to have an issue with it. Pasta is simple, but fickle. It doesn’t sit very long very well. I could tell from the exercise of trying to fork out only a small portion that this batch was sticky, rubbery and had been left out too long. I headed back to the table with noodles dangling from my plate.
Angel and Adam were already digging in. Angel had waited in line for a medium steak. It was apparently worth the wait, she shared a piece with Adam. He agreed that it was really good. Her plate also contained more vegetables than mine. I don’t know why.
I tested the linguine, just as I had suspected, it was cold and reverting back to its natural, hard, rubbery state. That was too bad since I hadn’t been able to separate it much and it covered a significant portion of my plate. I piled it aside as best I could. The sesame chicken was sweet, but had a bit more heat than I was ready for. Okay, but only in small amounts. The Bourbon St. chicken was a hit. It had a subtle, smoky flavor and was charred on the edges, not too dry. The mashed potatoes were fine, but not very lumpy, the stuffing was pretty good, the shrimp was shrimp, the meat loaf was fine at first. The biscuit was too hard, the roll too soft.
“My mom loves the rolls here.” Angel said. I did not reply since I’ve never had a lot of success saying anything about her mom. She always takes it wrong.  In this case I would have, could have, said something about her mom being a truly wonderful lady, but not necessarily a reliable source of information as to what constitutes good food. I couldn’t think of a way to say that without it sounding like criticism. So I said nothing. I may have made a facial expression or a grunting noise, but not voluntarily. I got the harsh glare anyhow.
 The meatloaf was, as I said, good at first. When I got down to the bottom of it, I ran into a wall. A wall of burnt meat. Since I had plenty more to eat I just pushed the charred loaf into the growing landfill along with the pasta.
The kraut was fine, just like mom used to open a can and boil. They seemed to know the trick of drizzling a little sugar on it as well.
Adam and Angel finished quickly and made their second round. I poked through the little I had left and took notice of another family. Mom, dad, teenage daughter, and two younger girls, grade-school age. There was nothing unusual or freakish about the family itself, it was their food that grabbed my attention. The teen was pulling pink strands from a full stick of cotton candy. I shuddered at the thought of that much sugar.
I didn’t know how long they’d been there, how many nutritious rounds there may have been, but all I saw on the table were desserts. The little girls were sucking on chocolate ice cream cones, the dad was sitting behind a plated tart of some kind. Mom returned to the table with a plate full of strawberries, all chocolate covered from the Corral's much ballyhooed 'Chocolate Wonderfall' fountain. She passed those around to her flock of princesses. Dad seemed amused, I suppose since the dentist’s bill hadn’t arrived yet.
Over the course of the next half hour the girls had even more ice cream, more strawberries and a second round of cotton candy. Angel told me to stop judging them. Too late.
My first plate was about half full of tried and rejected samples, I really hadn’t eaten all that much. My second round consisted only of a small baked potato with toppings, and some more bourbon street chicken. Adam had picked up some of the sesame chicken, tasted it, thought about it and said “I think they used orange zest.” Which shocked Angel because she thought he'd said “I think it’s possessed.” After we finally straightened her out we settled into dessert choices. After watching the sugared up family I knew I didn’t want something that severe. Angel told me again to stop staring at them. The teen girl was picking her teeth with one of the strawberry’s skewers. How can you not watch that?
Between us we had brownies, fudge (not my choice) and primarily, for me, banana pudding. I had to mine for the pudding, there was so much whipped cream on it that I had to tunnel under it to get to the pudding part. I don’t care for whipped cream on food, though I hear, just hear mind you, that it’s not so bad on strippers.
The fudge was decent, but way too rich. The brownies, not bad at all.

          Sure, there were things that weren’t perfect, or even particularly well made. Don’t get the wrong idea though. The major selling point of a good buffet is that you can create your own meal. If tonight’s meatloaf wasn’t ideal, then just go for something else. If you get a bad meal at Golden Corral it’s ultimately your own fault. There’s plenty there to choose from, as big a variety as you’ll find anywhere on the planet. Angel couldn’t say enough about the steak, Adam loves the place in general, and I’ve never left hungry. On this night I deliberately sampled more than I was actually desired due to my ongoing effort to better inform you, the fans.  I strongly recommend that you sample first, then go in for the kill. Also be certain to overeat. It’s a buffet, there’s no reward or discount for being gastronomically frugal.  It is also possible to construct a balanced, nutritional meal that does not exceed whatever diet plan you may subscribe to. Yes, you theoretically can have a balanced meal there, not that there is any actual evidence that this has ever been attempted.
Strongly recommended!


*Pepsi Max. A Pepsi product that contains no sugar but contains twice the caffeine of regular Pepsi. When you just want a sodium-fueled, pulse-blasting buzz, but not the calories.

Golden Corral Restaurant and Buffet on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Rich’s Frozen Custard & Diner

144 7th St
Hillsboro, MO 63050

My choice, we should have gone sooner being as it is one of the few eateries in Hillsboro. For most of that time I wasn’t aware of it at all, then, seeing the bold signage, assumed it was an ice cream joint. I only recently discovered that it was more. Much like Ginny’s from a few weeks ago, it serves frozen treats AND it makes burgers and sandwiches. 
It was a surprise to note that it was located on 7th street, I wasn’t aware that Hillsboro had that many streets, I’m still not convinced. I could see it from highway 21 though, so it didn’t really matter which street it was actually on.
The Place:
We think it used to be a hardware store. The building has two levels, the lower of which houses an auto parts place. We entered the upper level, and found ourselves in a bright, clean, high ceilinged dining area. There was much more room than the dozen or so tables took up, and with the high ceiling made it feel a little odd, like those enormous handicap-accessible stalls in public restrooms. It was very echo-y. On the walls were canvases with patterned paintings, a style with which I wasn’t familiar. The walls were painted, a blue and orange sherbet theme. The tile floor was white and the place lit up pretty bright.

The tables and chairs were mostly wood, in two or more styles and shades. There was one larger table surrounded by low-end metal chairs.
All the extra space in the room took away any notion of coziness, it felt more like a church basement than an eatery.
A large menu hung on the wall, two actually. One listed the frozen treats, the other, the meal offerings.  Behind the counter stood various ice cream machines and dispensers, out of sight was the grill. We read over the offerings and stepped up to order.  I called mine out first as Angel, ahead of me at the counter, had stalled out and was apparently changing her mind.
The Food:
I asked for the bacon-cheddar double burger, with fries and tea. Behind the lady at the counter was a tall dispenser bearing the name ‘Luzianne’. I was optimistic about this place already. Angel finally sorted herself out and asked for the special, a cod sandwich with fries and a Diet Coke. Adam chose the crispy chicken sandwich, fries, and a Coke. Our drinks were served in Styrofoam cups, I took this to mean that Rich’s was not a friend of the planet.
We took seats among the half dozen or so other patrons. Angel and Adam pulled out their cell phones. Angel was banking or checking emails and Adam was playing some sort of game. I took out my phone and slid my finger across the screen a few times, Adam told me to stop it.
You see I don’t have a touch screen on my phone, or any entertainment apps, or a data plan, it’s a telephone. I can and do take lousy pictures with it, but I’m not interested or heavily invested in mobile technology. I don’t even like talking on a phone.
The wait for the food was a bit longer than seemed necessary, though I didn’t actually time it. The tea was quite good though.
They finally brought it out, everything served in plastic baskets. The fries were crinkle-style, more points for that. There was no lettuce, tomato or onion on my burger, just the meat and melted cheese. I couldn’t recall if LTO were even an option. Standard mustard and ketchup bottles were already on the table. I shook up the mustard to avoid the musquirt. (That clear-ish liquid that comes out ahead of the mustard from a squeeze bottle. ‘Musquirt’ is an official sniglet.)  I did the same with the ketchup, even though there is no name for that.
The burger was rough edged, like at Ginny’s, indicative of having once been in a ball then flattened on the grill with a spatula. Angel’s cod turned out to be a standard-issue fish patty, square and slightly smaller than the bun. She assembled everything and finally bit in, I was getting anxious to deliver the comedy I’d been working on.
She seemed satisfied, so I asked her how it was. “Pretty good.” She said. I was ready, I made sure Adam was listening as well. In family comedy, timing is everything.

“So, can I have a taste of your cod-piece?” I delivered in a professional deadpan. Adam choked a snicker, she just looked at me like she does when she thinks I’ve said something hilarious and clever, though it’s the same look she gives me when I gravely disappoint her.
The fries were good, the burger was too, but a little on the dry side. A tomato slice would have made it better.
The buns became a matter of discussion. They were more dense and heavier than store-bought generic buns, I didn’t mind it at all but Angel wasn’t real happy about it. Part of the problem being that the bun was bigger than the fish. She even went so far as to blaspheme: “I prefer McDonalds’ fish sandwich.”
As for Adam’s Chicken: “It was good.”  I didn’t have a crowbar handy to pry out more detail, so that’s all he offered about the meal.
It didn’t take long to eat everything, at least for Angel and Adam. They were not encumbered with the task of taking notes, pictures and creating top-notch comedy on the fly. The meals were not heavy, so I knew they would be getting ice cream.
At least Angel did, Adam wasn’t in the mood.
She ordered a 'JL Werner'. Vanilla Ice cream, a banana, chocolate syrup and whipped cream. I asked her to find out who ‘J.L. Werner' was.  She was reluctant at first, she doesn’t like striking up casual conversations with strangers any more than I do. I heard her ask though, hard to miss since the acoustics of the place are like those of an empty gymnasium. The lady behind the counter said she had no idea. Poor staff training. For all I know, J.L. Werner is a serial thug of some kind. I wouldn’t want to eat something named after a creep or felon.
She ate her treat out of the Styrofoam, earth-hating bowl, and seemed to enjoy it, even though the inevitable desperate chill set in about halfway through.  Angel's a bit of a reptile when it comes to body temperature regulation..

Well, it was okay. It certainly wasn’t bad. It was however, a bit lacking. The ambiance was off, as I’ve mentioned. That big, wide, near-empty space made it a bit uninviting and public. The food was okay, but lacked zing. The buns were perhaps a bit too heavy, at least for the small fish portion, and the burger was on the dry side. The bill came to twenty five and change  and a couple bucks more for the ice cream, comparable to Ginny’s.
A couple of things will make me go back though. Primarily location, location, location. That and fact that Rich’s offers free Wi-Fi. That means if on a Saturday I need to download something large, I can just pop in there, eat me a burger and have some tea without having to go to Festus, or the McDonalds in Hillsboro.  At home, our internet comes from outer space via satellite technology and is limited to a puny amount of megabytes per day with a significant penalty for going over that limit. So occasionally, for software updates and actual interesting media downloads, I usually take my netbook to a library. Libraries don’t serve burgers, even slightly dry ones, or Luzianne tea.
I like everything at Ginny’s better, but it’s about fifteen more miles or so up the road, and I’m not even sure Ginny has Wi-Fi.

Afterward we drove over to the NEW Dollar General location. The biggest department store in Hillsboro just got bigger. We stopped in an bought some snacks and a small Christmas tree. One of those new-fangled ones that already has lights on it. Angel wouldn't let me buy a karaoke machine though.

Rich's Frozen Custard on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

China Buffet

3833 Lemay Ferry Rd.
St. Louis Mo.

 Angel’s choice, you just don’t dare get between Angel and her occasional, well documented hankering for Chinese. The Festus buffet joint is fine, but only that. There’s a couple of better places up the road. One stands out, the China Buffet on Lemay Ferry Road in South County. (South County refers to South St. Louis County, just across the Merrimac River from Jefferson County)
‘Lemay Ferry’ obviously refers to a water crossing, in this case a very old one. In the early - middle bits of the 19th century Jean Baptiste Gamache ran a ferry across the Merrimac in an area known as Flamm City, (I’m not making this up) and later sold it to Jacque LeMais, also an industrious fellow of French ancestry. There’s a lot of French names in the area. Jacque moved the ferry up the river a bit and renamed it to an Americanized version of his own name, Lemay. (Similarly there are several familes in the region that started as Courtouise or Courtois and ended up as Courtway.)
The Place:

An unremarkable strip mall building in an unremarkable strip mall, this one anchored by a large K-Mart store.  Parking aplenty, even on a Saturday evening, because K-Mart just isn’t the big draw it once was.
The inside wasn’t fancy, just a lot of tables and serving lines fronted by a modest, utilitarian counter. Most, if not all the staff appeared to be Asian, probably Chinese, though not necessarily. A hostess approached us immediately and asked the only things she needed to for the entire evening, “How many?” and “to drink?” This was asked and answered before we even made it to the table, “Three, tea, tea, Pepsi.” No need to even sit down, beeline to the buffet lines.
The buffet lines were bigger and better stocked than most of the other local Chinese buffets. In the past Angel had noted that the offerings at CB were fresher than the others as well. One thing is for certain, there’s plenty of variety. Six or seven kinds of chicken, three or four of pork, as well as a few beef. Then there’s also fish, shrimp and mussels (snot on the half shell). Also the expected pot stickers, egg rolls and rangoons. There’s also an American section, macaroni, fried chicken, potatoes, etc.  A treat here is the egg foo yung (literally ‘lotus egg’). It’s like an omelette, eggs fried with ingredients, meat and veggies, in any combination that suits the cook. I’m not sure what exactly CB puts in theirs, but it’s good. The chicken is mostly strips or chunks, fried then glazed with sauces. The names are not always helpful, Mandarin, garlic, spicy, sesame, etc. So you take a couple of chunks of each to find the one that works. In this case, they were all good, only the ‘spicy’ had noticeable pepper-heat, and even it was not overpowering. The sesame was good, but it is so sweet that it can saturate the taste buds. On my first plate I had the chickens, some noodles, and some fried rice. I like my own fried rice better, but this wasn’t too bad. I also grabbed four ‘garlic shrimp’ non-breaded, steamed.
Angel’s plate looked different, it had green things on it. Green beans and broccoli. She praised the chicken on a stick, proclaiming it to be very tender. Our experience is that chick on a stick tends to be dry and chewy, too long over the heat. On my second trip I grabbed some and had to agree, this was quite good. Angel also claimed that the beef and broccoli was very good, though I couldn’t agree at all since it had broccoli in it. Adam’s plate was less diverse, chicken, plain white rice mostly, but he seemed quite pleased. Angel had an egg roll, I find eggrolls too filling for a buffet, so I didn’t have one. The rangoons were crispy and not too heavy. I’m reluctant to call them crab rangoons, since I could not actually detect any crab, or even krab. I don’t mind this. Often when I make rangoons at home it’s cream-cheese only and they are quite satisfying.
On the negative side, CB didn’t offer any wontons. Lots of places don’t, I don’t know why. Also the shrimp, though well cooked and seasoned, were not shelled properly and I spent a few minutes behind a napkin, digging shrimp-carcass-shrapnel out of my teeth. Another gripe, though a very common offense; The sweet and sour chicken. All the other chicken types are chunks or strips, only lightly breaded and then fried and glazed with a sauce. The  S/S is different. It is heavily breaded in a pancake-like batter so the result is what looks like miniature corn dogs. The S/S sauce is not that different from the other sauces, but is served separately. Maybe it’s a please-the-kids thing. When I make S/S I use the same method for breading (if at all) the chicken as I do for cashew-style, teriyaki or even barbecue. The chicken’s the same, only the sauce varies. If the meat is tender and the sauces are tasty, there’s simply no need to burden it with a heavy breading. (end of rant)
Our second plates were all modest, doubled up with the famous Chinese dessert, bananas in red sauce.
Upon sitting down with round two, the neighboring table was offered to two ladies in Halloween costumes (I assumed) One was dressed as a French maid, the other in an unwieldy bumblebee suit. Immediately The  Blind Melon song ‘No Rain’, in particular, the video for the song, popped into my head. (Things popped into my head for the French maid outfit as well, but prudence demands that I not elaborate.)
The bee-girl in the  Blind Melon video has nothing to do with the song really, it’s just a chubby young girl twirling around and tap dancing in a bumblebee suit for no particular reason.
Partial lyrics:
All I can say is that my life is pretty plain
I like watching the puddles gather rain

And all I can do is just pour some tea for two
And speak my point of view
But it's not sane, it's not sane.

In the 1992 video, the bee is played by Heather Deloach, who is now, at 28, pursuing an acting career and has appeared in bit parts on ‘ER’, ‘Reno 911’, and in the movie ‘Balls of Fury’.
I mentioned this to Angel and Adam, as the evening’s culture lesson, adding the bittersweet recollection about the first time I heard the song.  I really liked it, so I looked up the band on the interwebs and found out the lead singer, Shannon Hoon, had died of an overdose not long after (1995) the song and video became a hit.
No, I’m not a big music fan, you know this, but the music I do like I tend to know a lot about. Ask me about ABBA sometime, you’ll be mighty impressed.
As we wrapped up, a small male child leaned over the half-wall that separated our table from a row of others. I found this very rude in itself but then he exacerbated the interruption with spitty gun noises, then he started stomping and yelping. I can’t blame the restaurant for this, but it was very off-putting.
The staff was prompt, courteous and efficient. Our drinks were always filled in time, the old plates were whisked away quickly, the check and fortune cookies delivered promptly. The food, with only the meager exceptions I mentioned, was all quite good; fresh ingredients, well prepared and plentiful. The bill came in under thirty-three dollars, about average for a Chinese buffet.
I can only compare CB to other area buffets. The best Chinese food in the universe, by far, is to be found in Springfield Mo.  Do not try to debate me on this. The best buffets in the greater St. Louis area (and it gets even worse the further east you go. Hear that Southern Maryland?) pale in comparison to the average place in Springfield. However Springfield is nearly two hundred miles away from our humble abode and is not exactly convenient. Angel grew up there, I spent seventeen years of handsome adulthood there, and we know a thing or two about Chinese food as it should be prepared.
But for what it is, China Buffet is about as good as it gets here at the home of the 2011 World Series Champion St. Louis Cardinals. (Go Cards!)

China Buffet St Louis on Urbanspoon