Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Hillbilly’s Bar and Grill

Pevely, MO.
Pevely is a town of less than four thousand residents between Festus and Herculaneum on the eastern side of the county. It’s claim to fame was the establishment of Pevely Farms back in the late 1800’s. The farm produced milk and butter and peddled the stuff in St. Louis. Between trains the dairy products were kept cool in the nearby springs. At one time Pevely was touted as the best place in the country to get fresh dairy products. The farm has been converted to a grand golf course and Pevely Dairy which thrived for over a hundred years in St. Louis was bought out by Prairie Farms, then a few years ago the last of the Pevely Dairies were shuttered in favor of more modern facilities. Pevely still boasts the largest flea market in the Mid-West, though I’ve been to it and wasn’t all that impressed. Size isn’t everything.
Nowadays Pevely still has a couple of quarries and other rock/mineral related industries but is mostly a bedroom community like many other Jefferson County towns.

The Place:
On Main Street, which frankly doesn’t seem all that ‘main’. I’d been able to guide us there without problem. I’d looked it up on Mapquest earlier in the week, remembering it to be south of Highway Z and east of the interstate. I assumed that Main Street would be marked, it was, and just within eyeshot of an intersection. I proved myself as useful as Angel’s Tom-Tom, yet again. It was located behind the large Western Auto and across the street from the railroad tracks. It’s a squat, unassuming place with only a small sign to announce itself. We parked in the ubiquitous slush and entered through a plain wooden door. We were in the large bar. A few patrons watched the TV screens and threw back bottles of beer. There was no music and all the TV’s were muted. We stopped and glanced around until someone invited us to the back. There we found the low ceilinged, dark, smoky dining area. A couple of small families were seated at tables, most of the place’s patrons never made it past the bar. It was dark with only sparse recessed lighting, a few neon beer signs to light the room. There was a small stage in one corner, unoccupied for the time being. We were hoping to be done and gone long before the advertised Karaoke event started up.
Against one wall were some large flat screens displays showing bright and crisp video game screens. A Keno screen was mounted overhead.
We were seated by a casually dressed young lady and asked about drinks; tea, tea and coke. She plopped down the menus, thick, heavily laminated things, about six pages deep.
The menu was overwhelming. Not typical bar food, they offered full breakfasts, pizza, sandwiches, burgers, seafood, pastas, and regular dinners. This concerned me at first, a tell-tale indication of a place trying to offer too much, and mastering none.
The tables, chairs and booths were solid, but not at all ornate. The carpet was generic print and worn, the walls were adorned with some flea market’s catch of the day, airplane propellers, raccoon hides, mounted ducks, a metal tractor seat, etc. It was less ‘hillbilly’ and more junk store.
Our drinks arrived in tall heavy glasses, very much like my favorite tea glasses at home. They’re available at the Dollar General for a buck. I could tell that this was an early swing and miss the tea was cloudy. We took a while to choose our dinners since there was so much to choose from.
The Food:
I finally chose the Fish and Chip Feast. It sounded huge. Two different fish fillets, fries, hush puppies, coleslaw, clam strips, and three jumbo shrimp. Angel ordered the Pigs at Sea. Shrimp, breaded, wrapped in bacon. She added a Caesar salad and a baked potato. Adam decided on the Chicken Fried Chicken fillet with mashed potatoes and broccoli soup. The waitress advised against the soup saying that the last people that ordered it said it tasted burnt and they decided not to serve anymore. He switched to the chicken dumpling soup instead.
Looking around I noticed that the condiments on the tables were stuffed into a quaint bathtub-shaped tin bucket. I also noticed that there was a ceiling mounted security camera pointed straight at us. I waved to it though I couldn’t imagine anyone was actually monitoring it. More patrons oozed in, the bar was filling up. This appeared to be a very popular local watering hole, most of the people seemed familiar to each other.
Angel’s salad arrived first. As it passed in front of me I grabbed some of the lettuce, Adam swiped a crouton. It was pretty good. They didn’t use iceberg lettuce, they actually used the greener, denser, fancy stuff. Angel lit into it and said that it was surprisingly good for a neighborhood bar.
The dinners arrived after a few minutes, Angel’s first, six or eight fat shrimp diapered in bacon and spice-blackened and a pretty large foil wrapped potato. Adam’s plate was generous as well, just enough brown gravy and plenty of chicken and mashed potatoes. The soup was overtopped by thick, swollen dumplings. Then my plate arrived, it weighed about seventeen pounds. Not a clear spot on the plate, even the coleslaw (which was the best I’d had in quite a while), served on a sheet of that fancy lettuce overhung the edge of the plate. The three by six inch fillets were stacked one on top of each other, the shrimp and hushpuppies fought for territory together against the overwhelming pile of fries. There was no way I’d be able to finish this in one sitting.
There was also no way this food should have been as good as it was. The kitchen had to be rather small, the staff not exactly overflowing, but everything was in fact excellent. Angel got overwhelmed by the spicy bacon, eight strips as it turned out, and unwrapped the shrimp, doling out the bacon to Adam and me. In turn I turned my entire pile of clam strips, mostly hiding under the fries, over to her, because I do not care for snotfish. She tried to get Adam to try one, but her argument that they were like deep fried rubber bands really wasn’t as convincing as I think she thought it might be. I insisted that they tasted like cauliflower, which she disagreed with but I told her that most things I don’t like tasted like cauliflower or broccoli.
The food was all hot, fresh, crispy and well spiced. Nothing overwhelmed except for the sheer volume. Adam cleaned his plate quickly, Angel almost finished but stopped just short of exploding. I surrendered about halfway through. We asked for a big box and the check.
Surprisingly good, surprisingly so for the variety of offerings. The quality and even the plating were outstanding, the staff was efficient and familial. The atmosphere was definitely bar-like, but not in a loud, obnoxious way. It was all in all, quite good. The bill came it under fifty bucks, more than a diner but considerably cheaper than a chain. Quite a good value overall. I’d recommend it with only one caveat. Jefferson County hasn’t passed smoking bans in restaurants (yet), and this place was kind of heavy with the stench. If you are sensitive to smoke and ex-smoke, you might not enjoy it so much.

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