Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Memorial Weekend

Fooled you! We didn’t eat out at all this past weekend. Which is not to say we didn’t eat well. I fired up the grill. New to us last year the charcoal burner is a Kingsford Model CBC1030W, 395 square inch, 23 burger capacity, with an adjustable charcoal grid. It cost me about $70 and has proven quite reliable and durable.

The Place:

The bottom of a four hundred foot paved driveway, just outside the attached garage of our modest and comfortable home a few miles from Hillsboro. From this spot I can watch the dogs in the back yard while listening to all things being considered on the old garage/workshop radio.


Using a steel brush, scrape the crusty, carcinogenic muck off the grill mesh.

Using the wide paintbrush, sweep the ashes from the last session into the removable ash receptacle.

Slide out the ash container and toss the ashes into the woods (check wind direction first)

Replace the ash can. (important step!)

Drop the charcoal grid back on to the mechanism.

Cover the grid with a two-deep layer of Kingsford Charcoal. Do not use generic or store-brand charcoal.

Douse thoroughly with about a quart of lighter fluid.

Close the lid and step away for five to ten minutes. This will reduce evaporation and allow the fluid to soak in well, avoiding spectacular, fiery explosions.

Let it burn off completely, the charcoal should be mostly white, ash covered.

Put the grill mesh back on, let it heat thoroughly to cook off any other stuck-on grease and food bits.

Within a few minutes the grill is ready for the food. If you are cooking corn, baked beans, onions, etc. in foil pouches they go on first, on the upper shelf.

The Food:

Friday: Chicken thighs

Saturday: Burgers and Brat patties

Sunday: Hot dogs!

All of this takes a little preparation.

Chicken thighs:

For the chicken, several hours prior to cooking: Thaw the thighs. Meanwhile slowly sauté chopped onions, garlic, bell peppers, and a few bits of jalapeno in a very small amount of olive oil. Once the onions have softened, add a cup of margarine or butter into the pan, let It melt but not burn. As soon as it has all melted add a couple of drops of lime juice and a half cup of your favorite boxed chardonnay. Let it simmer, but not boil out.

Put the thighs into a one-gallon freezer bag, then pour the mixture over the thighs. Seal up the bag (remove air first) and knead the package until all the parts are well coated. Drop it into the refrigerator until ready to grill. Don’t worry about the amount of peppers/onions/butter, the flavor transfer is minimal, and most of the fattiness will cook off, this is a subtle taste method. Mostly what you get is moist chicken with a mild, yet sweet and smoky taste. This chicken is rarely dry, even when slightly over-cooked, I think it’s because of the butter/margarine coating.

On the side: Whole kernel corn, drained and folded up in foil with a Tbsp of butter/ margarine. Also good with grilled toast.

As I managed the grill, Angel whipped up some mashed potatoes, right out of the box, just like mom used to make.

The family loves this chicken, it’s even great cold, right out of the leftover plate.

Burgers/Brat patties:

I’d never cooked bratwurst patties, never even heard of them in fact, but what the heck. Angel found them at the store and picked some up along with some Angus patties.


Several hours before grilling, cut off the corner of the plastic covering the brat patties, and insert one bottle of beer. Twist-tie the plastic back up and squeeze the beer around to be sure that all the patties are drowning in the stuff. I picked up a sixer of Sam Adams specifically for this task. Bonus, We got to drink the other five bottles with our grilled meals.

Grilling time:

Just before the grilling, chop up some onions, bell peppers and whatever other toppings you like. Create a foil pouch and add a tsp. of olive oil, seal and put on the grill early. Also, lightly butter up your buns.

I also loaded up two more foil pouches with baked beans, one pouch with onions and peppers and one without, for Adam.

Angel started deep frying some frozen crinkle fries, I didn’t start the grilling process until she was ready to start that, thin meats don’t take long to cook, and our deep-frying pan is small.

The top shelf of the grill is ideal for the buns, but keep an eye on them anyhow. There’s only about a thirty second window between ‘browned’ and ‘cremated’.

The brat patties crusted and darkened nicely, the low-fat Angus patties cooked quickly. I gave the brats a bit more time as they were twice as thick. It only took ten or fifteen minutes for everything to be done, the only thing I added to the patties was a little salt and pepper.

Awesome good! I found the brats a bit fatty, but that’s just their nature. Angel and Adam really enjoyed them though.

Hot dogs!:

Okay this was weird. On Sunday night we were sitting in the living room watching TV. We had earlier been discussing whether or not to eat out for our last day of the 3-day weekend. For some reason I chimed in: “You know what I’d like?”

There was no response, so I added anyhow: “Hot dogs and potato salad.”

They looked at me as if I had grossly disappointed them yet again.

“Seriously, it’s been months, maybe years since I had a hot dog. And I love me some potato salad!”

This was true. Though we always have wieners in the chill box, they are usually fed mostly to the dogs. (they are a great and cheap training treat when chopped up and are ideal for delivering doggie medications. Bailey gets her heavy and large arthritis medication and the occasional anti-depressant in a ‘magic wienie’)

I usually skip over them as a lunch or snack, too fatty. (watching my numbers)

But this was a summer-ish holiday and I wanted potato salad, and hot dogs go good with that.

We were getting ready to watch Iron Chef just as I brought this up.

What? You’ve never heard of . . .

Iron Chef:

Several years ago when the Food Network was just starting up, they aired a Japanese import. ‘Iron Chef’ pitted one of five or six proclaimed master chefs against a challenger. With much color, pomp and drama the show’s host ‘The Chairman’ would introduce the challenger, have him select which Iron Chef he would like to compete against, then announce the nights ‘secret ingredient’ which would serve as the foundation of five dishes each. A panel of celebrity judges (MP’s, singers, fortune tellers) would watch from above ‘Kitchen Stadium’ and at the end sample and judge the food on the basis of originality, plating and taste. Sometimes the challenger would win, but most often not. The show was lots of fun to watch because it was crudely dubbed into English and the secret ingredients were often things completely foreign to the western palette. Fish guts, fish heads, eels, insects, parts of chickens, cattle and pigs that in the U.S. be tossed away or ground into pet food were prepared, in one hour in absolutely beautiful presentations. The judges would fawn (dubbed) over the intricacies of each dish

After the show was cancelled in Japan, and Food Network had shown all the episodes, the show’s cult-like following (which was largely responsible for the early success of the network) wanted more. They got “Iron Chef America”. Same concept, same layout, only with American Iron Chefs including Bobby Flay, Mario Batali, and the almost-certain-loser ‘Cat’ Cora’ among others.

The ‘Chairman’ was by storyline the nephew of the original Japanese overlord, in this new venue played by a guy mostly known for his work in Kung Fu movies.

The ‘secret ingredient’ was more familiar fare but often included high end proteins and rather exotic produce. Not as funny as the original show, but still fun to watch.

At our house we often try to guess or suggest a good secret ingredient, in the past we’ve decided that a real challenge would be something familiar and single note in depth, like lime Jello, Corn Flakes, Spam, crickets, beef jerky, Tootsie Rolls, etc.

It was just before we started watching this night’s episode that Adam tied the two things together. “Hot dogs would be a great secret ingredient.” He flatly stated just as the chairman was hovering over the covered table.

The Chairman: “Today’s Secret ingredient is. . . !” pause, dramatic music, laser lights flickering and sweeping. The steel cover is winched up in a cloud of evaporating dry ice. “Hot Dogs!”

We froze in time and place. In ten years of watching this show we’d never even come close to naming/guessing an actual secret ingredient. It was cosmic, metaphysical. Our jaws as one, dropped to the floor. (as did the jaws of the chefs on TV). Of course the TV dogs were the old fashioned hand-twisted kind. Ours are usually the eighty nine cent per package variety.

Anyway, it was unavoidable, Monday would be hot dogs and potato salad. You just don’t ignore an omen like that.


Potato salad is pretty simple, especially with Adam in the house since he doesn’t care for most reasonable ingredients.

Peel a pile of potatoes, lots of them. Potato salad is fantastic leftover food. Chop up into half-inch or bigger cubes. Boil them until they are just starting to get tender. Not too long or you’ll end up with mush.

Drain, let cool, but not completely. Add mayonnaise (Miracle Whip) and a little mustard and fold/toss, be gentle. Add in some relish and a few tsp’s of pickle juice. This is Adam-friendly as it is. Normal households would add chopped onions, chopped boiled eggs, or other stuff at this point.

Make this far enough ahead that it will be nearly ice-cold by serving time.


Hot dogs don’t need a lot of time/heat on a grill. I only used a single layer of charcoal.

Open, but do not separate the buns. Butter lightly, then when ready to start the hot dogs, butterfly the buns on the upper tier of the grill.

Watch the dogs carefully. Too much heat will scorch the skin before the insides are cooked. Roll them around a bit, it’ll only take a few minutes. Everything else should be set out by the time the dogs go down on the fire.

Toppings: Cheese, mustard, relish, ketchup, bean-less chili, chopped onions, etc.

Great with cold beer (Sam Adams) or Luzianne Ice tea.

This all made for a fantastic gastronomic weekend, better food than we expect mere restaurants to serve up. Fresh, hot off the grill, sides we pick ourselves, all made to order.

I don’t claim to be a master at the grill, but these meals are so simple that even a knuckle dragging non-cook could make this stuff. Just pay attention, take your time, and don’t play with the flames.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Casa Gallardo

1092 Old Des Peres Road
St. Louis


  For over a year a couple of buddies from work and I would cross the road and have lunch at the Westport Plaza location of Casa Gallardo each Friday. We did it so often that the staff eventually recognized us and just let us head back to our usual seats, they’d bring us our chips, salsas and tea without even asking. The same waitress would stop by and confirm our orders, which seldom varied.
I’d always get a combination plate, one chicken enchilada and one chicken taquito, refried beans, rice and a corn cake. Of course this was only after the three of us slaughtered a couple of baskets of chips and salsa. They offered three kinds of salsa, normal, hotter and ‘oh my god!’ Each of us had our favorite, mine being the wimpier stuff. I stopped doing this a few months back as one of the three amigos left for another job.
It was always quite good, not that I really measured it against anything else. During the week I don’t eat anything before lunch so I’m not very picky when I do eat something.
During our visit to Ponderosa last week I noticed a Casa Gallardo across the street. So this past weekend I decided to take the family there and impress them.
What a difference a few miles can make.
The Place:
Across from / near the South County Mall, a free standing building, fairly large. Inside the décor worked really, really hard to make it appear like a courtyard in old Mexico, adobe/mission style facade, paved terra cotta floor, colorful red, white and green bunting, etc. There were three levels of seating and the place was busy and loud.
The menu didn’t look familiar, though it had been over a year since I needed a menu at the Westport location, I couldn’t say for sure if they were the same.
The young redhead asked us about drinks, Angel went for sweet tea, Adam a Pepsi, I decided, since I wouldn’t be driving, to go for beer again. She spat out the names of several Anheuser Busch products, I passed. I asked about Sam Adams, nope. She then went through a list of ‘Mexican’ beers. I stopped her at Dos Equis. All I knew about the brand was that the 'most interesting man in the world' enjoys it, at least according to the commercials.
The chips, one bowl of red salsa and the drinks arrived. The salsa was a little hotter than what I expected but not too bad. Angel said yes to the offer of chile con queso cheese dip, it was brought out quickly, about the time that we’d decided on meals.
The Food:
I didn’t see any taquitos listed anywhere, so I went for the Tres Enchiladas. (Three enchiladas) One beef, one chicken and one shrimp. I thought it was served with beans and rice, I was wrong. It was served with rice but instead of creamy beans, they plopped a pile of sautéed veggies, onions, carrot shreds and broccoli. Yeah, broccoli. (blech)
Adam ordered the Ultimate Combo #2, a ground beef enchilada, chicken burrito and a taco, without tomato, Angel ordered the Trio Favoritos, a Steak taco, enchilada and a mini-chim.
We crunched on chips and salsa but after a taste or two abandoned the cheese dip. Though it had floaters, a few pepper chunks, it tasted like heated Cheez-Whiz. Too American-Cheesy, no punch.
The plates arrived after a drink refill or two. I spent the time being thoroughly annoyed by the constantly talking and moving family across from us. My beer was served in the bottle with a lime stuck in it. I squeezed a little into the beer and then Angel grabbed it away and took a sip. She seemed unimpressed, as was I when I did the same. No body, no texture, just another typical light beer. Nor did I feel more interesting for having tried it.
My enchiladas looked limp and puny. There was barely any sauce on any of them. When I took knife to them they resisted in a rubbery way. The tortilla wrapping was as thin as paper and had the slimy appearance and texture of overcooked calamari. Inside the first one there was only four shrimp, and nothing else. If there was sauce on it, it had no distinct flavor. The shrimps themselves were dry, overcooked, though fairly spicy. The second one, shredded beef was coated with a red sauce that turned out to be more barbecue sauce than enchilada. The beef was tough and not shredded quite enough. The last hope was the chicken, strike three. The chicken was blackened and cubed, the sauce was once again, tasteless and nearly non-existent. I ended up plucking the meat out of the slimy wraps, only the shrimp got eaten completely. The rice was too dry, but not nasty. The veggies were under-cooked and there was broccoli on my plate.
Adam and Angel’s experience wasn’t much better.
Her taco was spicy and quite good, but the enchilada was too salty. Her beans were not very creamy, she too said the rice was dry. Inside the chimi, the vegetables were undercooked and tough.
Adam liked the rice, but said the chicken was skimpy. His tortillas as well were without taste or texture.
After the meal he said that he’d always heard that the nicer a Mexican restaurant looked the worse the food. This of course was a tip of the hat to our favorite Mexican place, Los Portales in Hillsboro, which by nearly every description is a run down, worn out, non-pretentious dive, but man-o’-man the food is good.
We agreed that at best this location was a family restaurant pretending to be Mexican.
Being as none of us actually finished our meals, we decided to order dessert, the choices were fried ice cream or flan.
Flan is a custard, this one covered in a brown caramel (burnt sugar) and a dab of whipped cream. They arrived quickly, large portions, too large. The texture was spot-on, but the taste was very rich and overwhelmingly eggy. Washing it down with beer was just weird. Angel said that it might have been better with coffee. None of us finished our desserts either. The redhead offered take away boxes, we all declined.
Very, very disappointed. There was nothing actually very good among the meals. As a whole it was unanimously thumbs down. I noticed that other folks seemed to not be making a fuss about the food, maybe this was the best they’d had. I feel sorry for them if that was true. It doesn’t take a lot to make a good Mexican meal, it’s simple, only a few ingredients and the cooking process is not difficult. Los Portales, admittedly run by a Mexican family, has this stuff nailed, for a lot less money.
The tab came to sixty plus dollars, partially excused by the extras, the flans and the cheese dip, but even with that the food really wasn’t worth the price.
I’ll be going back to the Westport location sometime soon I’m sure. I’m curious if this bad experience is simply location-based or if the chain has really stepped back that much.
Casa Gallardo Mexican on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Ponderosa / Steak and Shake

Ponderosa Steakhouse

6516 S Lindberg Blvd.
St. Louis, MO 63123


Saturday, cool, misty, icky all day. We’d all held out for a big meal.

The Place:

South county, on Lindberg, near I-55.

Dan Blocker (‘Hoss’ of ‘Bonanza’ fame) opened up the Bonanza Steakhouse chain in 1963. In 1997 that chain joined up with the similar Ponderosa chain. The latter also derived its name from that same old TV series. Since the merger the parent companies, which also owned Bennigan’s and Steak and Ale have struggled to stay afloat. Bennigans and S&A are gone now, except for a few that have been reopened under completely new management. The remaining steakhouses parent companies have been in and out of bankruptcy protection.

I think I know why, more on this later.

You order as you walk in, as if it were a fast food place. If you haven’t been before, or in quite a while, it can be a bit daunting and rushed. I knew they had an all-you-can-eat buffet, which was what we all ordered.

This was a mistake. At other steakhouse/buffets, the buffet is enormous. (Ryan’s for example) At Ponderosa, not so much. We should have ordered steak.

We were shown our seats and sat our drink-laden (T,T,C)tray on the booth table. We headed immediately to the buffet line. It was a little underwhelming.

The Food:

The hot food section was no bigger than the salad section, not a lot of choices.

Among the three of us, we sampled: (along with overall comments)

Tea Not bad, not bad at all.

Mashed potatoes/gravy. Good

Macaroni/cheese. Very good, creamy, thick.

Chili. Pretty good.

Catfish. Salty/greasy

Chicken Thighs, Not Adam’s favorite part of the bird.

Green beans. Yawn.

Potatoes Au Gratin WAAAAAY too peppery.

Dinner rolls Nice, pretty good.

Ice Cream with Gummy bears (Angel’s choice) Seriously?

Boiled Cabbage (Angel’s choice) Very good! (LOL, blech..)

What you see in this list unfortunately is pretty much eighty or ninety percent of what they offered. Kind of skimpy. There was no roast, turkey, or ham, or other meats. We got the impression that the buffet was available primarily as a side offering / afterthought. Next time we’ll get steak.


Aside from the limited offerings and a couple of noted exceptions, the overall impression was okay to good. The service was very good, friendly, quick and attentive. A couple of little gripes though.

There was no silverware at the buffet line so I had to go all the way back to the initial order line to get one for my chili. Also the plates were almost too small to hold a substantial amount of food.

The dessert selection was minimal, no pie.

The bill came in at around thirty seven dollars, not too bad, but similar places offer more choices for that amount. Ponderosa could be better, it lacks originality and uniqueness, and seems to be without direction and drive. They offer nothing outstanding, and what they do serve is only average. It’s not bad, it just doesn’t jump out in my mind when I’m hungry.

Sunday, still raining, all day.

We’d spent the day cursing the infernal, unending misty rain. I’d taken a couple of days off work to try to catch up on some yard work and other projects, but the rain was so dreary that I ended up napping a lot instead. By evening we realized that we hadn’t thawed anything out and were too depressed to whip something up, so we headed for:

Steak and Shake

Angel had told me a while back that S&S offered chili. This was my goal for this trip.

The Place:

On a hill above I-55 in Festus, next to that awful Fazoli’s. As we got there we looked into the nasty pasta place and scratched our heads as to why so many people were eating there. It’s like they looked around at the five other eating joints within walking distance and said “Sure all that looks great, but what I’m really hungry for is some under or over cooked, doughy pasta dish with timid, canned marinara sauce! Just like Mom used to thaw out!”

We really liked S&S the last time we went, simple, tasty food for a good price. This time we decided to stray form the classics and try different stuff. The place was packed and bustling, a line was forming. Unlike at Ponderosa we were seated and offered menus. The nice Italian-ish lady was friendly and efficient. She took our drink orders, tea, sweet tea and root beer.

There was a lot to choose from on the menu. Even though I knew I wanted to try the chili, I decided I’d better hedge my bet and get a little something on the side.

Me: Chili Deluxe (Onions and cheese), an A1 ‘Shooter’ (small, slider-sized burger) and onion rings.

Angel: Grilled Chicken Sandwich, with a side of chili. (with fries)

Adam: Chipotle Chicken sandwich, (hold just about everything) and fries.

Angel asked for her chili to be served ahead of the meal, I opted for everything at the same time.

The Food:

Her chili came shortly after our drinks, about three bites in she curled her cute little nose and said “Uh oh.”

I looked at her, she had an expression on her face that could only indicate extreme disappointment. But then again that’s usually the only expression I ever see on her face when she’s talking to me.

“It’s too salty.” She finally fess’ed up.

This was bad news. For HER to admit something was too salty was really saying something. Of all the times I’ve remarked (whined) about this sort of thing she rarely agrees, calling me too sensitive, too picky, along with a host of other disrespectful things, too mean spirited and cruel to mention here.

My plates arrived, the bowl was wide and shallow. Too shallow. Alongside it were two packets of saltines. I asked for more. (duh!)

The chili was not too salty. I stated as much and Angel seemed relieved. We blamed it on her crackers. She’d added tiny oyster crackers, I used the proper saltines.

I like to dip my chili for a while, loading a cracker up half way then double dipping to keep anyone else form wanting any of it, I’m a prolific drooler. This technique proved to be problematic. The bowl was about eight inches wide, but only an inch deep. Pushing the saltine through the thick broth merely pushed the chili over the rim of the bowl. It was like soup on a plate. Once I stopped trying and used my spoon, it got a little better. However as far as chili goes, this was single-note stuff. There were plenty of beans, which I like, but the overall taste was the same overall. There was no depth of flavor. I prefer chili, like that from Wendy’s that has little nuggets of veggies that still maintain their own individual tastes. The peppers taste like peppers, onions like onions. At S&S everything in the bowl tasted like the chili broth itself. It wasn’t bad at all, but it just didn’t sparkle.

The onion rings were very good, the little burger was quite tasty, maybe a little too much A1 sauce, but not enough to make it bad. Adam and Angel considered the chicken sandwiches a little skimpy, but otherwise quite good. On the waitress’ last check on our happiness Angel asked for a Hershey’s Dark Chocolate Shake to go. Adam chimed in excitedly and ordered one as well. I of course did not since I’m lactose ambivalent (I neither hate it or love it) and besides, I had a package of Nutter Butter Crème Patties waiting for me (hidden) at home.*


The service was very good. The Italian-ish woman stayed on top of the drinks and the empty dishes, and a manager inquired about the meal as well. It was like a fast food place, but with the service of an uptown sit-down restaurant.

Of course there were too many kids. It was quite noisy, but that probably couldn’t be helped under current law. Once I become supreme dictator, restaurants other than McDonalds will be off limits to anyone under twenty five.

The bill came in at thirty-two bucks and change, not bad for the variety of stuff we ordered. I really, really like this place.

Once home I quaffed down a half bag of the cookies.

Helpful Medical Hint:

If you are going to have chili, onion rings and tiny burgers for dinner, then shove down a half bag of cookies, I recommend NOT adding a big glass of orange juice at bedtime to the mix! It was not pretty.


* Nutter Butter Crème Patties: I was celebrating once again, my mini-vacation and a successful presentation at the Writer’s Society meeting: ‘Internet Platforms for Writers’.

Ponderosa Steakhouse on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

That’sa Nice’a Pizza

2000 Richardson Rd.

Arnold, Mo.


It had been a busy day, mine started early as I had read about a cemetery cleanup in Hillsboro. Yeah, I was actually excited about this. The local paper had said they were looking for volunteers to show up between eight and noon. I had slept in a little and didn’t get there until after nine. By then it was all pretty much done. There was still one gentleman picking up fallen branches, so I grabbed a few and added them to his pile. Another gentleman was tossing bright yellow trash bags into the back of a large pickup truck. Down the hill there was a young lady with a notebook and pen stopping at the occasional grave and writing something down. I grabbed my camera and my official ‘Find-A-Grave’ cap and headed down to see her. She wasn’t a big talker, and my mere presence didn’t seem to impress her much. I did gather that she was identifying veterans’ graves.

The man tossing the trash bags came down and told the lady that he was going to take the trash away but would be back. I asked him if there was anything else I could do to help. No, even with the early showers and a small crew they’d pretty much got done what they needed to do. We chatted for a while, exchanged knowledge, I logged him as a useful resource. It also turned out that he was my insurance agent, Matt Woods. I’d never actually met him before, as Angel handles most of the administrative tasks.

I went on to Walmart to take care of personal items then went home to catch up on emails, Facebook, etc. The Classic movie channel had run an evening of cheesy Mike Hammer (Mickey Spillane) movies made in the 50’s and early 60’s. I had recorded them since coincidentally I had been reading Spillane for the past three or so weeks. Between one of those and an obligatory nap, it was soon time for dinner.

Adam had chosen this week, a place not too far from where he matriculates. (ITT Tech)

The Place:

A small strip mall on a hill above I-55. Adam had spent the day in Arnold with a friend and met us there. As we waited for him we grabbed the menu… Yeah THE menu, there only appeared to be one, and looked it over. I made several observations at this point.

Even though the words ‘Eat In’ appear on the window, they are kidding themselves. Inside the place there was a dining area of about twenty feet by eight feet, half of which was taken up by two video games, one an old fashioned table-style Ms. Pacman, the other had a flat screen and a steering wheel. That left room for only two tables, each with four chairs. There was a baby-toting couple at one table, the other was empty but would be a pain to sit at since two of the four chairs didn’t even have room to pull out all the way.

Also, something I noticed when we first drove up, the front door was propped open. When we stepped in to get the menu, we stepped out to read it over as the heat inside the place was near stifling. There was a ceiling fan churning away at medium speed, but it offered no actual comfort. The entire staff was dripping with sweat as was the baby-laden couple and the baby itself.

Angel and I agreed that we’d take the order ‘to-go’ and find a park somewhere to eat.

The Food:

Adam showed up and looked over the menu. We made our choices, ordered and passed on the drinks. They only offered Coke, Diet Coke and Sprite as drinks, all in cans. Angel and Adam drove across the street to a Circle K (a convenience store chain) and grabbed fountain drinks for themselves and a bottle of water for me. As they were gone one of the young, female workers found me on the sidewalk.

Angel had ordered pizza, one called the ‘Pride of the House’; Salsiccia (Italian Sausage), Mushroom, Ham and Onion. She also shared an appetizer, teriyaki chicken wings. Adam had ordered the Buffalo Chicken Sandwich. I enjoy diversity and wanted to put this dive through its paces. I ordered spaghetti and meatballs, with a side of garlic bread.

When the young lady found me on the sidewalk, she looked distressed. A manger-type stepped out behind her.

“I’m sorry sir we seem to be out of spaghetti pasta.”

Really? I was stunned. Pasta is about the cheapest, most available and storable ingredients on the planet, and they had none. They said that they did have fettuccini, I said fine, just make it with that.

Angel and Adam got back and sat in the car until the food was ready. Angel suggested we head to Kimmswick, a little town down the road. I agreed since I know a bit about that little town and its history and current status is infinitely more interesting than Arnold’s. As it turned out, Kimmswick, which sits right on the edge of the Mississippi River was a little squishy, and the tourist area had not yet opened for the season. Nobody was there and there were no public picnic tables anywhere on dry ground.

By this time we knew the food was cooling, so we decided to just head home.

Sure enough, the spaghetti had congealed to a single red sauce, meatball, cheese and pasta mass. A couple of minutes in the microwave softened it back up, but as you know, nuked pasta is never as good as fresh. I tore a off a small piece of Angel’s pizza, pinched off some teriyaki flesh, and dumped the wad of pasta out of it’s Styrofoam box and on to a standard plate.

The meatballs were large, about golf ball size. They cost ninety nine cents each; I had splurged and ordered three. Like many large meatballs, they weren’t that good, kind of dry and bland, like a wad of unseasoned, slightly overcooked ground beef. The pasta was thick and heavy, the marinara was nothing to write home about. It wasn’t really bad, but it was no better than the stuff we keep a couple of jars of in the pantry. The bread, because of travel time, had gone a little stale. It was okay, but would have been much nicer fresh out of the oven.

The teriyaki chicken was pretty good, the pizza was above average. The pizza was served St. Louis style, thin crust, cut into squares. Angel had opted for mozzarella rather than the traditional St. Louis style provel cheese. She considers provel a little too sweet.

I struggled through my pasta, it was weighing me down fast. I managed to barely make a dent in it and two of the meatballs before I called it quits. I put the rest in the fridge, but had pretty much already decided that I wouldn’t be revisiting it. We had better, more satisfying leftovers already in the chill box. (I ended up dumping it the next evening) As far as pasta goes, this stuff was certainly better than Chef Boyardee and infinitely better than that swill at Fazoli’s, but that’s about it. It was not even close to that which I can make at home. It might have been better had it been fresh, but as I said, dining in is really not a realistic option at this place.


That’sa Nice’a Pizza should be taken for what it is (or should be). It’s a pizza joint best suited only for delivery or pickup. The interior of the place is not suited for dining at all, hot, tiny, noisy, completely lacking in basic comfort and ambience (no restrooms). On the wall above the counter someone had written, in large-lettered pencil: “Join our Mail Club!” with a crude penciled arrow pointing to a stack of sign-up cards. Tacky, and not even chic or cool-tacky, just cheap and lazy.

The pizza, as I said was pretty darn good, better than Pizza Hut, Imo's, Cecil Whitakers, or just about every other St. Louis style pizza we’ve come across. Part of that may be in Angel’s choice of toppings, but they did seem to be good, fresh ingredients prepared well. The only problem is that Arnold is a long way from our compound outside of Hillsboro, and there’s no way to get a fresh pizza from them in a timely manner, so returning there is not really a viable option for us.

The whole diverse meal came in at just over forty two dollars, not too bad considering we ordered from all over the map. Adam’s sandwich, the teriyaki chicken and the pizza were quite good. I wouldn’t waste money on much else though.

That'sa Nice'a Pizza on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, May 3, 2011


190 Gravois Bluff Circle
Fenton, MO


The Party:

I can’t jump in on the main meal for this weekend without mention of the more significant event on Saturday.

Verna Sims, one of the liveliest and most talented writers in the Writers Society of Jefferson County (WSJC) had a birthday last week. To celebrate we threw her a party at Ann Wells’ large home.

Verna turned 90.

The turnout was large and included many members of her family as well as a good many of our writer’s group. It was strictly a cake, ice cream and finger snack event. Annette Ray, WSJC’s current president provided party hats. But not just any hats. Verna fancies visors, like the ones you see on tourists in sunny places. So Annette found/made colorful, some even glittery, visors for everyone. They were adorned with dangling curled ribbons, a touch guarantied to make a fool out of just about everyone that put them on. And we all did. Rather than traditional gifts, Verna had requested (insisted really, she’s feisty that way) that we each provide her with something we had written so she could include it in a 3-ring binder as a keepsake. I do know that more than one of us put in some extra hours of effort to come up with something suitable.

As for my gift, I printed out the rough working draft of the first two chapters of a project I’ve been working on quietly for a couple of years now, a novel based on the county poor farm, set in the late 1800’s. Verna has shown a continued interest in that effort and has provided a lot of inspiration and encouragement.

Verna’s own writing revolves around her early years, growing up in almost constant financial struggle, making do without luxuries, yet thriving in a strong family. Her stories paint broad, vivid pictures of things and times that I can only imagine. She does it so well that imagining them is not difficult at all.

Verna only started writing when she was in her 80’s, I think she was kind of busy before that. Her work has been published in the local papers many, many times, she’s one of our most prolifically published writers.

Anyway, as it is tritely said, a good time was had by all even though there was no conga line, strippers, karaoke, booze, gambling, 'adult' games or naughty gifts (that I am aware of). At the end of the party everyone wrote a small sentiment on their visors and gave them to Verna.

Plans are to hold a similar party for her in ten years.

What’s this have to do with food you ask?

Because of the cakes.

There was a traditional frosted birthday cake, chocolate with sugary white frosting, and then there was the ‘Texas Sheet Cake’ made by Elaine B. Elaine often bakes little cakes for our regular meetings and does quite well keeping them tame, but tasty. This monster she made for the party though was quite something else. As I understand it this sheet cake, is made with butter, two kinds of chocolate, butter and butter, sprinkled with sugar and maybe some more butter.

The taste was awesome, for the first few bites. After that I felt it wise, considering the average age of the attendees, to have at least one ambulance standing by. My ears buzzed, my face flushed and I suffered the desperate urge to run, skip, and turn somersaults.

And then there was Ann's bold move. She made tea.

Those of you familiar with my reviews may have picked up on the fact that I am somewhat picky about iced tea. Ann certainly knows this. I overheard a couple of people go up to her and say: “You knew Dennis was coming and you made tea anyhow?”

But Ann wasn’t afraid, she has been paying attention. It was fresh, and it was Luzianne. I had two glasses of it and congratulated her. She took the accolades in stride.

The cakes and the tea I had mid-afternoon set the stage for my choices at:

The Place:

O’Charley’s is a chain of 200+ restaurants in the midwest and south. It was started in 1969 in Nashville, Tennessee across from Vanderbilt University, one of the many places my saintly mother has a degree from. It’s a chain not unlike Ruby Tuesday’s, Chili’s or Outback in style, price and fare. We’ had been avoiding O’Charley’s up till now since the last time we ate there, right before we started the Eat and Critique quest, we were bitterly disappointed. I didn’t write anything down at the time, but I recall that the steak was very tough and rubbery. We returned this night to see if maybe that last encounter was a fluke.

The large restaurant was crowded and the din was that of a lively sports bar without the actual sports. There may have been a ballgame on a TV somewhere, but I didn’t notice it. What I did notice was the large table next to the booth at which we were seated. Seven or eight couples all decked out in formal attire, like that you would see at a prom. The young ladies were perm’d and tightly squeezed into ridiculously shiny, billowy and flowing gowns. Their dates wore starched shirts and ties and probably jackets. We suspected a prom but questioned that later as the boys/men were all sipping beers and it appeared that the ladies were holding fruity, colorful mixed drinks. I’m sure O’Charley’s does not ever overtly sell booze to minors, so it may not have been a prom, though I can’t imagine any other venue where those dresses would be appropriate.

The menus were typical of the bigger chains, steak, seafood, pasta and appetizer sections. Angel wanted a steak, I didn’t, still buzzing and queasy from the party cakes. Nor did I want tea, Ann had already set the bar too high for that.

We ordered our drinks and for the first time that I can recall, no one got tea. Angel had pink lemonade, Adam got his Pepsi, I went for beer.

Yes, Beer. Budweiser Select, to be specific. Not because I worked at AB for three + years, or was a card carrying member of the ‘Royal and Ancient Order of Elbow Benders’ while working there. No, I ordered Select since they were running a special on it and Bud Select is not as disgusting as some other big-beer choices.

The Food.

I didn’t want steak, so I opted for fish and chips, batter-fried cod and fries. Angel jumped in and asked for the steak and shrimp scampi, with Caesar salad and a baked potato. Adam ordered the chicken tenders and fries. I was a bit concerned as the waiter, a big, happy guy confidently took our order without writing it down. I guess we are supposed to be impressed by this little trick, but it’s only really impressive if they get it right. That sort of talent is quite rare though. Frankly I’d rather have the order delivered correctly rather then by memory. I’m not really distracted by the whole writing-it-down process.

We watched the party table as we waited. A fairly sedate group, most of the ladies fussed and fidgeted with their cumbersome and scratchy gowns, the gentlemen were each on their second or third beer and seemed rather calm.

We were served bread, wide, flat rolls (advertised as 'unsliceably soft') that were about 99% air. Just picking one up crushed them. They were fresh and warm and when buttered, though cutting them open to butter them almost destroyed them completely, they were however, quite tasty. The waiter asked if we wanted more, we said no, but he brought some anyhow and they are now sitting in a dumpster or landfill somewhere. (strike one?)

Adam was giddy that the drinks had been served with bendy-straws, in his view one of the 20th Century’s greatest inventions. I didn’t have a straw, I had beer.

I’m not a big beer drinker. Since I left AB two years ago I’ve only had maybe three or four beers. It’s not my favorite drink, nor my poison of choice. I have nothing against beer, but it can be quite filling and if I’m going to lay out serious change for a big meal I don’t want to fill up on anything fizzy and heavy that would prevent me from eating as much as possible.

I’d had a Sam Adams the week before at a restaurant we didn’t write up, and enjoyed it thoroughly. The Bud Select was not nearly as good.

Angel’s salad arrived, sort of. The waiter delivered it with a question mark. “You wanted ranch dressing right?” Angel had to think, I didn’t, I’d written it down because I always write down what we have so I won’t forget those details. “She ordered the Caesar." I chided. “I did ?” Angel asked. “Oh, we’ll bring that right out…" He looked at me, "Sir would you like a Ranch salad, on the house?” He asked, trying to patch up the error. “No, thank you.” Adam also passed it up. If I’m not mistaken he offered the salad to two or three other tables. (Strike two)

The proper salad finally came, topped with croutons, exactly four of them. This disappointed Angel and Adam. At self-serve salad bars, those two have been known to completely bury the greens in croutons, Adam always steals half from of them from his patient and loving mother. A mere four croutons was a real let-down.

The meals arrived shortly afterward. We dug in immediately, ignoring each other as is our style. My fish was flaky and moist under the light breading. My only complaint was that one of the nuggets was too thick, almost an inch. In my own expert opinion, fish served this style should be small and thin. The tartar sauce was rather bland and unremarkable. The fries were a bit limp, but not disgusting. Long John Silver does a better job with fish and chips.

Angel Really liked the steak, which means our experience of a couple years back may have been just a fluke.

Adam really, really liked the breading on his chicken and did not even make a fuss when not served the dipping sauce he’d ordered. (strike three?)


All in all, not a bad meal. The food was better than I had anticipated and my complaints about it are mostly petty. The bill came to about forty bucks, not too bad. The service was not excellent, based mostly on the pointless party trick of memorizing orders rather than writing them down. Details, details, details. Food service is all about the details. Has anyone ever complained anywhere because the wait staff wrote down the orders? If you’re going to try this you darned well better be able to pull it off flawlessly every time. Sure it’s not a huge deal, but our orders were not complicated at all, pretty much straight off the menu. The result of flawed memory games will be reflected in the tip as well as the motivation to return. If I want a simple order botched up I’ll just go to the drive-through at Hardees, it’s a lot cheaper and closer to home.

Other than those, rather minor issues the food was quite good, the atmosphere pretty good (there were screaming children) and the wait staff at least tried to correct their errors. I’ll give the place a B minus though, they could do better.


I’d had beer. I’m a relative lightweight when it comes to alcohol, therefore some comments and recollections reflected herein may be clouded or completely erroneous due to the fact that I was a bit tipsy near the end of the meal. Most of my handwriting in my notes after about the halfway point in the meal is even more indecipherable than it usually is. i.e.: “Fsh Bredng: Not to thich”