Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Country Café

2561 U.S. 67
Festus, MO
This place came recommended from a couple of different people. I like these people, so I won’t mention their names here. One of them, I’ll call her Ann, said this was her husband’s favorite place, but added that it could be because it is a favorite among ROMEO’s. She explained this to mean ‘Retired Old Men Eating Out’. I looked up the place, it did not have a web site but there was a map. This was good since it is not actually in Festus, but several miles south, a direction I don’t travel often. I took note of the hours of operation. It is only open for dinner (till 8 PM) on Fridays and Saturdays, otherwise it closes at 3 PM. It’s a breakfast-lunch place primarily.
The Journey:
As we left Angel asked me if I knew where it was, I said yes, and repeated the address. She then asked me several questions about whether it was north or south of this or that, which I did not know, so I just repeated the address. “Have you ever been there?” she asked in apparent and inexplicable frustration. “I’ve been by it, I’m sure.” I answered, but it did not seem to relax her mood any. “But you don’t know where it is?” she repeated, I, once again gave her the address. She sighed and got in the car.
She then uncoiled the power cord from around ‘mommy’s little helper’.
Since she drives around a lot and has dog duties all over the area, a couple years ago we got her a GPS device for the car. I don’t have one since I don’t go to many new places, and I still prefer the old fashioned way, printing out directions from Mapquest.
She had Adam program in the address as she headed out, I couldn’t even find the ‘on’ button. He programmed in the name of the café, and it knew exactly where to go. She clipped it into the Tom-Tom bracket on her dash and gave it a look. “Oh, Okay, I’ve got it.” She said. I stared at the display. It showed a car, ours I assumed, traveling down a road. It indicated we had 2.5 miles to go before a turn. A curve appeared ahead on the display, and sure enough I looked out the windshield and there was a curve. New roads popped up on the display just about the time we passed the intersections in real life. I was glad to not have one of these as my focus was on the device, not the road ahead. Eventually a thin, gravely voice said to turn left in one-half mile. Had I been driving, and focusing on the display, I would have plowed us into a concrete barrier. The countdown to the turn was off by about thirty feet. This didn’t seem to bother Angel though, she relied on reality, not technology, she’s such a girl that way. I was conjuring up a hefty lawsuit, she’s looking out the window.
Tom-Tom got us there without incident, though it didn’t seem to know how to get us into the parking lot. Once again Angel figured it out by herself, by looking out the windshield. “How come it only shows our car?” I asked, staring at the display. Adam sighed, Angel ignored me.

The Place:
A small strip mall, sharing the building with a gun store, across the busy highway from a large mobile home sales lot. The parking lot was half full though inside did not look overly busy. The door displayed a sign proudly and brightly proclaiming “We wash our lemons!” I was relieved. That kind of detail indicated a high level of concern for health and hygiene. That or maybe it was the result of a lawsuit or code violation. As we entered we were all immediately struck by the fact that except for one pre-teen child, we were about the youngest people in the place. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, just an observation. Another sign told us to seat ourselves, which we did, directly across from the cash register. Cheap black tables and chairs stood on cream-colored ceramic tiles. The walls were painted an olive green which shifted to a Dijon-mustard brownish yellow near the compact fluorescent lights. All the lights in the place were CFL’s, every one of them. I’d not seen that before. My chair faced the glass cabinet full of tall meringue’d pies. Behind the register arose a sweet, sickly stink, scented candles. A shelf held thirty or forty sealed in mason jars and according to a small hand-calligraphed sign, available for purchase. For a mere sixteen dollars and fifty cents, you too can make your own house smell like a Mayberry-RFD brothel.
A middle aged man in jeans and sneakers arrived with menus and took our drink order. Angel and Adam messed with me, Adam ordered a sweet tea and Angel a Diet Coke. I had to scratch out my forecast from my little notebook.
The Food:
We scanned the menus, typical country diner fare with a little shrimp thrown in for a cosmopolitan twist. Somewhere on the net I’d read someone’s comment “Best Fried Chicken in Jefferson County!” A claim like that demands testing. I was happy to hear that Angel wanted the chicken, I wasn’t really in the mood. As we waited the gentleman brought out our drinks and a basket of warm, puffy rolls. Also in the basket were rock-hard frozen condiment tubs of ‘butter’ and a slightly larger tub of what looked like apple butter. Nice touch.
I ordered the roast beef with brown gravy, green beans and coleslaw. After the past couple of weeks' experiences with slaw I wanted to see if everyone had forgotten how to make it. Angel asked for the fried half-chicken. Adam asked what that meant, I explained to him that it was a half of a chicken, either the front or the back, though a choice is seldom offered. Angel swiftly corrected me, once again sucking all the fun out of the room. She added corn and mashed potatoes to her order. I was glad since I wanted mashed potatoes as well, but when I said it, it came out ‘green beans’. Adam asked for the chicken BLT, without the T, and fries.
The wait for the food was quite long. The place was busy and getting busier, and our server seemed to be stretched pretty thin. Food was moving around, but there were just a lot of people.
We were well into our second basket of rolls and a second drink refill before the food arrived. It looked just like it should. The chicken looked crispy and golden brown, the thin slices of roast beef peeked out from under the steamy brown gravy. Adam’s looked exactly like a sandwich.
I almost gagged with my first bite of slaw, not from what I’d just put in my mouth, but from the memory of that nasty blue cheese slaw at Ruby T’s a few weeks back. I chewed it up, recovering, and realized I’d forgotten to actually taste it. So I took a second bite and lo and behold, I could barely tell I had anything in my mouth. It looked crisp and creamy, fresh, but there was only the slightest hint of a taste at all. At least it wasn’t disgusting.
The beef was thinly sliced and a bit tough. The gravy was okay, but not remarkable. The green beans were not like canned green beans at all. I say that to try to put a positive spin on it. The texture was okay, maybe a little limp, but there was virtually no taste whatsoever. Typically cooked with bacon or bacon fat, green beans by themselves, unseasoned and unsalted taste like, well like they have no taste at all. I asked Angel to confirm. She took a bite and screwed up her face. “There’s no taste!”
I then uttered a phrase that no one in my precious family, including myself, the grand patriarch, could remember ever coming out of my mouth. “Please pass the salt.” Angel did, Adam stared. I panicked. (Why is there a ‘k’ in ‘panicked?’*) I don’t add salt to food at the table, ever. I realized I had no idea how much to apply to the beans. I started with a little, it didn’t seem to make much difference. I tried more, still not much better. Then I just pushed them aside, I’d wanted mashed potatoes anyhow.
Angel offered up some chicken, the crispy bits were indeed crispy. I analyzed the taste and determined that the batter was strictly flour and water, maybe milk, but other than that, not extremely flavorful. She added that the potatoes were also somewhat tasteless.
A pattern was developing. The food was plentiful, cooked to proper doneness, but otherwise bland and lifeless. Really bland. We discussed this and compared that information with the fact that this place was jumpin’ with patrons. They were talking, laughing and chowing down like this was their first meal in a week. All the other patrons, all the elderly patrons were enjoying themselves thoroughly. This place had been highly recommended by two different people. Two different people that happen to be in their 70’s. Oh.
I’ve been struggling with this bit. I have lots of friends that are very senior to my not-so-young age. There are generational differences, there are stereotypes, that I simply cannot avoid mentioning. Some people, especially those, it seems to me, that are twenty or more years older than myself, seem to like food that is what some of us young-uns might consider flat, bland and tasteless. There’s nothing wrong with that. Some of these seasoned citizens lived through that depression thing, and rationed during whatever war that it was when they rationed things. (I think the North won.) So maybe spices and condiments like pepper and salt were simply foreign to them, or at least an unnecessary luxury. I don’t know, it’s just a difference in culture, generation, region and/or taste. It’s not a bad thing. They did raise the rest of us though, and a dammed fine job they did. They built factories, schools, and highways and invented the wheel, and beer. We owe them a great debt of gratitude. The fact that generationally we prefer different flavors means nothing bad toward them, or us. It just is what it is. It doesn’t explain that thing about eating dinner at four P.M. and being in bed before sunset, but that’s for another day. (Caves and wigwams didn’t have those new-fangled electric lights)
It’s a fine place, very popular, and highly praised. I cannot say anything bad about it except that we really didn’t care for the food that much. It wasn’t bad, foul or nasty, it just lacked depth, soul and flavor. The price was good, our tab came in at under thirty two dollars, and there was a lot of food, so much so that neither angel nor I managed to finish our meals. (Yeah, there was too much food, that was the problem.)
If you like your food a bit on the tame side and the nursing home cafeteria isn’t open, then by all means try this place. You might figure out that I’m really just a pretentious, picky blowhard of a young whippersnapper that should just get off your lawn and mind his own P’s and Q’s.

* Panicked. The spell checker flagged my attempt at leaving out the ‘k’. I didn’t think it was necessary. I tried past-tensing ‘picnic’ next, to prove a point. It also gets a ‘k’. What’s up with this stupid language anyhow?

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