Tuesday, April 26, 2011


Herculaneum, Mo.

Friday, Good Friday to be exact, except in retrospect it really wasn’t all that good. It started out with a gully washer early, about five A.M. By the time I got out of bed around seven the rain had stopped but the sky was gray and heavy. I had the day off and had made no specific plans. I had a few things that I wanted to do over the three day weekend, but on this drippy, drafty, cool morning I wasn’t exactly motivated to jump in to any of them at full speed.

I did make a morning run to Walmart to pick up some essentials, that’s when the problems began. The car behaved badly. The engine would over-rev then slam into each gear. I shrugged it off at first thinking the driving rain had gotten into something. The problem didn’t clear though and the ‘check engine’ light popped on. As I looked at it I noticed the speedometer was sitting on zero even though I was easily doing thirty-five mph or more.

I picked up what I needed at Wally-World and the car behaved the same on the way home. I found my little scanner that reads the engine codes, I bought it a few years back. The mighty Alero is eleven years old and has over a hundred fifty thousand miles on it. I don’t know / completely trust the local mechanics so I always pre-scan before taking the car in, to keep them honest. This code told me that the speed sensor circuit was 'low'. A cross-check revealed that the speed sensor talks to both the speedometer and the transmission. It made sense, so I thumped all the way to Festus to get it looked at. An hour later I was told the bad news. Squirrels had eaten the wiring harness and spark plug wires.

Six hundred dollars worth. No more slowing down for the little beasts.

This effort took up most of the afternoon. By the time dinner time rolled around we decided to keep it simple.

The Place:

There are not many Wendy’s in the St. Louis area. The area’s largest franchise owner was, at last check, still in court fighting for bankruptcy. This one in Herculaneum is apparently owned by someone else. It sits in a shared parking lot alongside a large gas station.

Nothing fancy or unique about it, just a Wendy’s.

The Food:

I wanted Chili. I love Wendy’s chili and have for twenty or more years. Back in the early 90’s I’d occasionally volunteer some weekends to judge high school debate tournaments in Springfield. Local establishments were guilt-tripped into donating food for the all-day events. Wendy’s was always generous with a couple of large pots of chili. I kept going to these things even after I became jaded and frustrated with the declining quality of debates these kids were presenting. We'll build a giant dome over the country to guard against missile attacks and we'll pay for it by eliminating government waste! Yeah, that bad. I loved the chili though.

I didn’t want just chili though, so I ordered a small bowl along with something I’d never had from Wendy’s before, the fish sandwich. I’m a big fan of Burger King’s fish, and don’t care at all for McD’s. I also ordered fries (small) and tea.

Angel had the chicken nugget combo along with a small chili, she wanted to see what all the fuss was about. Adam ordered the spicy chicken sandwich combo. We ordered, Angel waited at the counter while I found a table and filled up some tiny paper cups with ketchup. When she finally brought the tray it was laden with a pile of saltines as well, two per packet.

I slammed into the chili first. Beef, two kinds of beans, peppers, onions with a light tomato stock, just as I’d remembered it. Angel enjoyed it as well, though she wasn’t quite as happy with her chicken nuggets. She found them dry and bland. She gave most of them to Adam who had quickly chewed through his sandwich like a table-saw through a kitten.

The fish was pretty good. It had more breading than BK’s and it wasn’t overcooked. The tartar sauce was light and not too spicy. The fries were made in a newer style than Wendy’s original method. They were okay but not quite as good as BK or McD’s (I genuinely despise McD’s but still have to acknowledge their superior fries.)

We chatted for a few minutes, Angel and Adam had finished well before I did. Angel excused herself and left, saying she was going to fuel up the gas-hungry truckster.


Not bad. The Chili makes up for a lot of other weaknesses. Other than that we were only mildly impressed, but not totally dissatisfied. The three combos plus sides cost twenty two dollars and change.

After we got home there was an incident with the dogs. Deedee and Pip have always been a little aggressive toward each other. That’s not been a big problem as our home and lifestyle revolve around letting dogs in, out and around in small groups according to compatibility. Well, this night the sliding door between the living room and the deck wasn’t completely closed. When Deedee, who was outside, saw Pip go by inside she lunged, Pip reciprocated and the door popped open and it was game-on. It took about five minutes, one bucket of water, several sprays of Fabreze up snouts and finally a mop handle to pry the dogs apart. There was blood, but no serious damage. Angel treated them and initiated strict no-princess polices for both the girls for a while. Angel’s suspicion is that these two are trying to proclaim mastery of the house. Angel will now spend some time showing them both who it is that actually runs the place. It’s very clear to Adam and me, and shortly will be to them as well. No violence, just no privileges, no unsupervised activity or free run of the place.

About this time is when the TV reported tornado warnings for St. Louis County.

We sat nearly speechless during the next two hours’ reports as the storms moved east along the I-70 corridor and straight into the airport. As for us, about thirty-five miles south, nothing. It didn’t rain (until much later) no high winds. There was lightening off to the northeast, but we could just barely hear the thunder. It was surreal watching footage of very serious damage so close to us, yet if we didn’t just happen to be watching a local channel at the time, we would probably not have even noticed.

So it wasn’t such a good Friday at all. But the chili was excellent. Gotta go, I think I see a squirrel heading towards the car.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011


6441 S Lindberg Blvd

St. Louis, MO


Yeah, Denny’s.

Saturday arrived, cold, damp, windy. The kind of day where you’d just as soon nap as otherwise participate. After our routine chores and duties in the morning, Angel headed to PetSmart with Pointy (the min-pin mix). I stayed at the house and took care of the other dogs, which consisted mostly of me napping.

By the time I woke up Angel was home, Pointy wasn’t. She’d found a home at last. In her place was Checkers, another female. Checkers has lived her whole life in a kennel and thus lacks social skills. That doesn’t mean she’s aggressive, she just doesn’t know how to behave around other dogs, people and houses. Angel will fix that soon enough.

We piled into the family truckster and hit the road. Angel was in charge of driving and picking the destination. As we got there both Adam and I dropped behind Angel as we approached the door. “Why do I always have to go in first?” She asked snippily. (she’d been a bit snippy and snarky the whole trip.) “Because you say “Three” better than we do.” I answered, she looked at me quizzically. As we stepped in the door the hostess looked at her and as if on cue asked “How many please?” Adam snickered I smirked, Angel responded “Three”.

“Told you so.” I nudged Angel. Adam added “Good job mom!”

The Place:

Denny’s has been around since the 50’s. They’ve got fifteen hundred locations world-wide, including New Zealand, Qatar and Japan. This one happened to be across from the mall. Not exactly an exotic location, but it was considerably closer than the one in Auckland (8074 miles). The restaurant was clean, lightly crowded and well staffed. We were seated at a table and asked for drinks. The shiny, colorful menus were dropped in front of us by a young lady with a genuine smile.

The carpet was dark, ubiquitous, there was waist-high, light wood paneling on some of the walls. Above the paneling in the main dining area the walls were painted a comfortable hunter green. The walls sported dozens of various framed prints without an obvious underlying theme. Our table was not too near any children so it was a comfortable location.

The menu came in two pieces, the old familiar wall-to-wall one and a second card celebrating “Baconalia!” a celebration of bacon. It was impossible to not drool on this laminated menu. Bacon Meatloaf, Triple Bacon Sampler, Bacon Flapjacks, Ultimate Bacon Breakfast, a BBBLT, and to top it off, the Maple Bacon Sundae. Yeah, Ice cream with real bacon chunks and maple syrup. I was only surprised that they didn’t offer Fargginay’s ‘Bacōn’ a pricey bacon-scented cologne I'd heard about recently.

The Food:Link

None of us took the bait, we stuck to the regular menu. There was quite enough to choose from there. I was still in the mood for pancakes so I settled for a ‘build your own’ grand slam. Two eggs, hash browns, two slices of bacon and two buttermilk pancakes*. Adam chose the ‘Grand Slamwich’, scrambled eggs, bacon, ham, sausage and cheese on potato bread, with hash browns on the side. Angel had said she was very hungry after a full day of doggy duties, so she went for it full throttle, country fried steak with green beans and mashed potatoes, and “could I have some extra gravy with that?” which also came with garlic toast.

We waited, mostly discussing important stuff, like was 'Law and Order UK' going to be on later. If you haven’t seen this incarnation of the popular franchise TV show, you should try very hard to do so. It’s as tough and gritty as the original, but with thicker accents and in the courtroom the lawyers and judges wear white wigs. We remembered after a bit that the season finale had been on the week before, so we’d be relegated to reruns at best.

The food arrived, Angel got two slabs of CF steak, and a soup bowl full of more gravy. Adam’s came all on one plate, mine on two. Pancakes on one, everything else on the other.

Then the waitress, sweet and friendly as she was, offended me. Right in front of my nose she set down a ramekin filled with maple syrup. I gagged, wretched and made the customary, indecipherable choking noises. “Would you like some syrup?” She asked after she had set it down. Angel giggled in sympathy. I shook my head as if it were on fire or covered with cockroaches. The waitress looked confused and in her own ignorance even more so as I pushed the vile stuff toward her with one finger like it contained toxic waste. “You want me to take it away?” She sheepishly asked, still pretending to not understand. I nodded violently. She complied and I waited for the sickening stench to clear.**

We dug in and thoroughly enjoyed. Even the usually opinion-lacking Adam spoke highly of the hash browns. I pushed the culinary edge and smeared some strawberry jelly on my slightly dry pancakes. I chopped up the two over-easy eggs and stirred them together with the crispy hash browns, using the bacon as the spatula. Angel stuck a straw in her gravy and snorted it like cocaine off a stripper's belly…. Okay, I’m lying. She just poured the gravy over everything. If I were covered in gravy she might like me more. It's not like I haven't entertained the notion.

I took a couple of sips of the tea, or ‘swill’ as it closely resembled. During one of the waitress’ walk-bys I flagged her down for coffee, Angel made the switch as well.

Overall the food was very good. The tea was awful, and Angel didn’t care for her garlic toast. It looked like an afterthought and was covered with a significant dusting of black grill-ash. I couldn’t get all happy about the pancakes. They were not terrible, but they obviously had a dose of sugar in the recipe, something I don’t really care for. I like my pancakes to be more savory, not pastry-like. I put the jelly on them partially to mask the raw sugar taste. The bacon was okay, but just that. The best bacon I’ve found is at Kim’s Café in Desoto. (see previous review) Hers is light, fragile and crispy. Denny’s was thicker and flat and a little leathery. But even mediocre bacon is still better than most other foods.


The bill came in at thirty two + bucks, not too bad. The place was clean, the staff was great (except for the syrup snafu, which Angel says doesn’t count since they might not have known about my chronic dislike for the stuff). The food was better than many places for what it was. Since the passage of the recent smoking ban, places like this are starting to smell different. Instead of the underside of an old ashtray this particular location was starting to smell more like bacon, and syrup. If the syrup stench eventually wins out, I may never go back.


* For those of you who recall that I am ‘watching my numbers’, relax. I’d been a good boy all week, very little fatty meet, checking labels, switching my weekday lunches and evening snacks to a whole-grain oat (plain Cheerios) fruit, nut and raisin ‘trail mix’. I’ve added fruits and veggies to nearly every meal, etc. I haven’t given up the bad stuff completely, and don’t plan to. I was raised in the rural south, you may as well take the oxygen out of the air. I have though cut down, a lot. Angel even prides herself on making ‘Dennis-friendly’ meals.

** Maple Syrup

Those of you who have been long time fans of this blog are well aware of my aversion to maple syrup. Those of you who are not should check the full story here where I discuss it in full, glorious detail.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Kim's Cafe IV

DeSoto, Mo.

Angel, Adam and Deedee (one of the dogs) were off to Springfield. Angel’s grandmother’s 96th birthday and an impromptu baby shower for her rude and insufferable daughter Stephanie. I got to stay home and tend to the six dogs she left behind. Not a huge problem, four of them are ours, well trained and rather laid back, plus Pointy (a min-pin mix) and Eva (looks like Deedee, but with an un-cropped tail) who were in for foster care and basic training. I kept them fed and made sure everyone got to go out to play at least every couple of hours. The weather cooperated and the whole chore was amusing, but uneventful. Blue pined for his mother’s return, George was both oblivious and grouchy, and poor, elderly Bailey who’s recently lost most, if not all of her hearing, moped around quite pleased with the quiet. Pip, my own dog, sat with me in my recliner and followed me around when she wasn’t out playing with the foster girls.

Around dinnertime I debated whether to eat out or not. I was only mildly hungry, but finally my obligation to my growing circle of fans overcame my own personal preference.

I could have just grabbed a quick burger, but my doctor says my ‘numbers’ are a bit too high to be casually gorging myself on fatty meats and deep fried this or that. I’d decided to at least moderate, if not back off the stuff entirely.

The Place:

Kim’s is a personal favorite. Pretty much small-town diner style in décor and offerings. A small place in a strip mall on Main Street in Desoto, across from the tracks. I walked in to see three ladies tending the front, two young and underfed, one as old or older than me. Kim was nowhere in sight, but I could hear her voice in the back, barking orders and instructions, running the place as calmly and capably as a seasoned battlefield commander.

A few tables were occupied, one by an older guy, one of those older guys, chatty, flirtatious (with the staff, not me) and a small family or two. I picked a booth closer to the family in order to avoid striking up a banal conversation with the old dude. The child in the family’s possession had an entire Thomas the Train set, locomotive three or for cars and a caboose, in front of him. You’d think this would have shut him up, but it didn’t. He was just as whiney and demanding as all kids that age are. His parents were dutiful and attentive though and spurts and outbursts were kept to a minimum. I personally believe there should be a ‘No Kids’ section requirement in eating establishments, about three or four blocks away from the slimy, sticky, shrill beasts. But that’s just me.

At some point Kim peeked out form the back, smiled and waved at me. I scanned the menu, not having pre-decided on anything.

The Food:

Well, okay I had decided to try the chili again. I’d had a slinger/slammer there a few months back but I couldn’t recall the chili exactly. I didn’t want just chili though since I’d had some of my own home-brew for breakfast/lunch. Fortunately Kim offered a ‘cup’ for a buck ninety-nine, that would do. Now, what to have with it. The ‘Special’ sounded good, a NY strip with shrimp scampi, baked potato and a salad, but whoa.. that’s a whole lot of food. They also headlined ribs and pork steak… also too heavy. I eventually decided on a light sandwich instead. A BLT. I know, I know, bacon…. But sheesh, I could atone for this little sin later, during the work week.

I ordered, the BLT would come with potato chips and the chili with crackers… but compared to other outings and possibilities, a fairly light meal.

While I waited the café remained abuzz. Kim offers delivery and pick-ups and a lot of the busyness was tending to just that.

My coffee arrived almost immediately. I only ordered that because Kim gets upset with me for always referring to her tea as ‘unremarkable’. Having coffee instead would be a sure way for her not to get dinged for that yet again. The coffee was dark, deep and quite good, but not excellent.

In less than five minutes after I ordered my meal, it was on my table. A simple BLT, standard toasted white bread, a single fresh leaf of lettuce and three or four wide and perfectly cooked strips of bacon over a fresh slice of tomato. The chips were standard potato chips, which was fine since I really didn’t need them anyhow. The small bowl of chili was thick and steaming, beans floating to the top like coffins after a flood. Alongside my plate was placed a basket full of saltines, two per cellophane packet. I don’t mind this as unwrapping these packets can be counted as ‘exercise’ and helps burn off calories and build muscle tone.

I tried the chili first. Savory style, and not bad at all. At home our chili tends to be sweeter, more tomato-y, but I don’t mind the earthy style if it is done well and this version was. I intended only to get a taste, instead I ate more than half of it. The BLT was simple and perfect, not even a half-note out of tune. I only had to apply the packet of ‘Real Mayonnaise’ and it was just as good as I’d ever had. The pickle spear was crisp and substantial and went better with the sandwich than the chili.


A very good meal experience. The food was delicious and satisfying, the service was spot-on. The atmosphere was that of a small town diner, the real kind, not the fake kind that Country Kitchen, Denny’s and Bob Evan’s try to pass off.

The price was another pleaser. My whole meal came in at eight bucks and change. As I settled up I whipped out my tired and abused ATM card and handed it over.

“We’re supposed to ask if you’d like to add a tip to the card.” the young lady with the bright blue streak in her otherwise black hair shyly said.

“But of course fair maiden, of course!” I replied “What sort of ignorant, boorish heathen would leave this fine establishment without dropping a few shillings for the lovely winches!”

“She looked at me a little funny, so I repeated myself. “Yeah, I’d like to add a tip.”

She prepared to tap in a number. “How much?” She asked.

“What was the total on the bill?” I asked.

“Eight dollars and seventy nine cents.”

“Make it ten then.” I responded.

“Make the total out to ten dollars?”

“No, add a ten dollar tip to the bill.” I smiled.

“Are you sure?”

“Certainly, just make sure to let Kim know.”

“Oh, I will.” She smiled as she pulled the receipt out of the little printer.

I didn’t mention that we accidentally short-tipped Kim the last time we were there. So what if the girl remembers me as ‘Mr. Spendy’, it can’t hurt.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Los Portales III

Hillsboro, Mo.

Once again our combined indecisiveness ruled the day. No one had really thought ahead. It was Adam’s turn to choose, we assured him it didn’t really matter much to us as we had no clue where to go either. So we headed to Hillsboro.

The Place:

Across the street from the courthouse, an old building that used to be something else. The door leads to an entry room, a couple of video games clumsily take up the space. To the right was the large dark bar. We were greeted by an attractive, well clevaged Hispanic lady who smiled and showed us to a booth in the main dining area. The laminated menus were already in place as we sat down. The only other patrons in the area were two young mothers and their four or five loud, slimy children, all under the age of four or five. There was a growing pile of debris around their table, plates and remnants of unfinished foods littered the table itself. Each of the children protested and screamed at one point or another, the mothers responded slowly and mechanically, it appeared that they were already numbed, exhausted from tending to the nasty little brats.

There was ample Mexican music pouring from the speakers, not blasting but definitely prominent. I don’t speak the language, but the emotions of the mostly male singers were obvious. Someone or something had done them wrong. Adam started shoulder dancing when the inevitable, frequent and lively accordion solos cut in.

We were brought our chips and carafe of salsa, along with a coupe of small bowls. We dug in while scanning the menus. I had mentioned earlier that I was not going to be ordering one of their five-plate everything combos.They're very good, but unless you haven't eaten for a few weeks, there's simply too much food.

The Food:

LP has a wonderful combo selection. One or two of just about every possible combination of delights. On the side of the menu was a glossary of terms which was very helpful. There were thirty-something numbered combos. I opted for number 18, one burrito, one enchilada, rice and beans. Adam went for number 25, a taco, a burrito, rice and beans. Angel was very hungry and went for the enchilada combo, one beef, one chicken and one cheese. The drinks; tea, tea and coke.

We placed the order as I fought to not stare at the ample cleavage directly in front of me. I wish I could stop doing that, noticing things like that. One of these days Angel’s going to catch me and get really, really upset. It's not like I have nefarious intentions, or am on the prowl, it's just that stupid hard-wiring in the more primitive portions of my brain.

The chips were all but gone as the plates arrived. Steamy, melty, aromatic. I chopped mine up and realized that it was all beef, rookie mistake. I prefer chicken, or at least a mix of beef and chicken. The beef (ground) is spicy and not bad, but two food items with just the beef is a little overpowering. I dug in anyhow as the red enchilada sauce was just about perfect. The rice was excellent, not over or under cooked or too spicy. The beans, all mashed up and mixed with a healthy dose of melted white cheese was great as a binder for all the loose burrito and enchilada bits, much the way mashed potatoes help get errant peas on a fork.

We all ate well and thoroughly enjoyed. I filled up fairly quickly. It was early yet so there was discussion about dessert, we decided to stop at Queen’s (the local old-style grocery store) and pick out something for later.


Twenty seven bucks, yeah, really. The food is fresh, authentic, plentiful and well made. The staff is always friendly and never pushy. This is not an upscale joint; it’s more hole-in-the-wall/firetrap. It’s old, the floors are not exactly level, and there’s not even an attempt to make it seem like anything more than it is. Very highly recommended, we’ll go back, we’ll even take guests there.


We stopped at Queens’ on the way home. It’s an older style (50’s-60’s) supermarket that still posts hand-lettered paper signs with specials and sales on the front windows. Its old automatic doors struggle to open and close, the overhead lighting is not quite as bright as modern mega-marts. Fading and cracked linoleum tiles, dated signage and old shelving freeze this place in a former time. It’s not a great place for bargains, we never do a full grocery run there, but for grabbing a carton of eggs, or a loaf of bread here and there it’s much more convenient than Walmart.

We headed first to the Deli/Bakery section in the back. Angel wanted something relatively fresh. Adam found a slice of chocolate cheesecake, Angel finally decided on some cream cheese rolls. I already knew what I wanted. Nutter Butter Creme Patties. I love, love, LOVE these things but only allow myself to

have them on special occasions, because I will eat the whole package in one or two sittings. Which I did.

Next week: I'm on my own.