2595 Us Highway 61
I first heard about Laddie Boys II a couple of weeks back. A friend had informed me that another friend, Marty Ray, was going to be performing there. I Knew Marty could play guitar/harmonica and sing, but I did not know he’d taken his act on the road. As it was, I could not attend that day. Good news though, Marty’’s group, ‘CT and the Retirees’ played there every other week. So on Saturday afternoon, I headed out, not for the food, but for the music and a brush with fame.
Laddie Boys is a bit off the beaten path. It has a Festus address, but is a good five-seven miles outside of the city, on a road, highway 61, that has been largely bypassed by I-55 and is generally used only by locals. It sits conveniently beside a convenience store and was probably a big deal before the Interstate was installed. When I got there around 1:00 P.M.I was surprised. The music was to have started at 12:30. My reckoning was that this would be after the lunch rush, if there was indeed a lunch rush.
What I saw was a large, free-standing building, those of you familiar with the ‘Stuckey’s’ chain would recognize the style and period of the building. Nothing surprising about the building itself, those are scattered and repurposed all around the Midwest. What tossed me as odd was the parking lot. It was full, overflowing. I ended up parking in the outer area of the convenience store lot. As I approached the door I ran into Annette, the friend that had originally recommended it.
|(Photo Courtesy of Annette Rey)|
“We got lucky and got a table, somebody cancelled a reservation at the last minute.” She told me as we headed in. She dragged me back to a table where already seated were Verna and her daughter, and Ann and her husband. When I sat there were only two empty seats left in the room, at the end of our table. At the entrance was a line of folks waiting for someone to leave so they could take their place. That never happened. The place was standing room only.
|(Photo, Courtesy of Annette Rey)|
The band was playing mostly old style country music. Not the hideous new, rock-sounding anthems, but old school stuff mixed with some blues and a gospel song or two. There were four or five guitars, a dobro and an electric bass, no banjos or mandolins, and thankfully, no steel sliders*. One lady had the voice of a Carter Family member and delivered the old songs with respect and justice. Marty switched between his guitar and a haunting, sometimes howling harmonica. He coaxed the mouth-harp into perfect, lonesome, train whistle sounds as the band sang “I hear that train a-comin’” and tore through “Orange Blossom Special”, like it was written for them.
I ordered tea, even though Ann’s husband advised me against it. He’s a fan of these posts and knows my thoughts on ice tea. I also ordered a blackberry cobbler. The others had ordered full, late lunches, I’d already had a big meal.
|(Photo, Courtesy of Annette Rey)|
At 2:30 or so the band took a break, Marty disappeared. In about fifteen minutes he returned. No longer in his jeans and band tee shirt, he’d switched into a one-piece bejeweled, white, bell-bottomed jump suit, donned a raven-black toupee folded into a pompadour, sporting oversized gold-framed sunglasses and packing a different guitar. On the face of it shimmering decal letters were applied that simply said “Elvis”.
Yeah he did, and a damned fine job of it too.
I got home around four, Angel was getting ready for doggy-supper. She feeds everyone at 4:30, every day. Adam had cleaned up and was waiting patiently. I freshened up a little and by five we left, heading straight back to Laddie Boys ***. It was my week to choose.
As described earlier the place was probably originally a stand alone restaurant of the Stuckey’s type. Inside were dark paneled arched vaulted ceiling probably thirty feet at the peak. Old suspended country-style chandeliers cast a soft, incandescent yellow light. The crowd had thinned considerably, the only folks seated were CT and the Retirees, resting up after a great gig. I left them alone. We found a large, dark toned booth near the back. Without the crowd, the place echoed like a church on Saturday.
A waitress approached. Instead of a standard greeting she called out “Hey we’ve got ourselves a movie star!” Naturally I assumed she was referring to me as I am constantly being confused with the dashing actor Monte Blue. But it turns out she was referring to Adam. He was sporting a beret, which he wears backwards over his longish, wavy hair, a-la Sam Kinison. We couldn’t decide if it was indeed Kinison she was thinking of and the name Jack Black also whizzed by. Bottom line, she thought he looked like a really famous person, she just couldn’t recall which one.
"People tell me all the time that I look just like Elizabeth Taylor.” She added.
I replied: “I really don’t see that at all.” Which was the truth, but according to Angel, it was one of those times that the truth simply did not need to be brought up. Not that the waitress was unattractive at all, I was just never especially enamored with Elizabeth Taylor, who I always thought of as pompous, rude and arrogant. The waitress was none of these.
She took our drink orders tea, sweet tea and Coke/Pepsi. (which is how Adam now orders his drinks because rare is the case a place has both.)
When she delivered our drinks, she took our food order. The tea was fresh, but a bit weak.
The menu was uncomplicated, but full of great-sounding, home-style offerings.
I went with the catfish plate served with fries and slaw, they offered three options, one filet, two, or three. I’d just recently had some cobbler (quite good) so I went for the single. Angel decided on the roast beef with gravy and a salad. Adam chose the country fried steak. **
A few more people trickled in, though it was obvious that the state of being packed earlier had more to do with the band/Elvis then it did the food itself. CT and the Retirees disassembled, Marty saw me, looked surprised and stopped by. “We were just talking about you.” he said. Which surprised me since I’m always surprised when I hear that someone is talking about me, I mean really, get a life already.
“I told them that at that table of writers that were there for the show was one guy who I never thought would show up, yet there you were! I know how much you hate country music.” He said.
“Generally I do hate country music, unless it’s local, acoustic and mostly the older stuff. I can almost stomach the music you guys were playing.” I answered.
“Well I’ll pass that along.” He responded, somewhat sarcastically.
“I can tolerate some of it Marty, but if you’ll recall I’m from Kentucky and your band was at least one Banjo short of being great.”
He left after saying kind words to Angel and Adam. Marty’s a really decent guy and one heck of an Elvis Tribute Artist and this is the opinion of a guy who can’t stand any of the Elvis impersonators he’d heard up till that date.
Angel’s salad arrived quickly, Adam dived for the croutons, turned out there weren’t any. He whined about that for at least an hour. It was a simple salad of iceberg lettuce, onions and tomato chunks. It appeared crisp and fresh.
The meals came a few minutes later, simply plated, no garnish or fanfare. My single fillet coated in browned cornmeal was large, the portion of fries was small, and the slaw, served in a separate bowl, was creamy and crisp looking. Angel’s roast beef was steaming and swimming in brown gravy, Adam’s pounded, breaded and pan-fried steak was covered in thick white gravy.
I asked for Ketchup and tarter sauce, Liz Taylor rustled some up very quickly. The meals were all hot and perfectly cooked, fresh, homey and heavy.
|(Photo, courtesy of my stupid, low-res cell phone.)|
We made the food disappear without a lot of comment. My slaw was indeed sweet and creamy, not watery and vinegar-heavy. My fish was flaky, moist and tender, as good as I’ve been able to find anywhere. Angel added salt to her beef and beans. We’d noticed that the patrons that were trickling in were of the more senior variety. I’m reluctant to call them ‘old’ but that’s really exactly what I’m trying to say. I should also mention that at the show earlier, someone remarked that I was apparently the third youngest person in the joint, and that was only true because some lady dragged her two grandkids along with her. Which led Angel to remark that a place that caters to seniors may hold back on salt in prep and cooking as many of the greatest generation may not care for saltiness as much as younger whippersnappers. Angel and I have decided that this was fine. “It’s pretty easy to add salt to something that’s been cooked a bit bland, but just about impossible to take it out if it’s been over-salted.” She said. I agreed. I hadn’t noticed any saltiness in my food, which if you regularly follow these reviews is something noteworthy. It may define to which generation I actually belong.
A very good meal. Sure, those who like a lot of salt may need to add some, but that was about the only concern anyone had other than that Adam said his corn could have been sweeter, a sign of being over-cooked. The food was simple and near-perfectly prepared, the wait staff was dutiful and attentive, the place was clean, friendly and comfortable. The bill only came to twenty eight dollars, a very reasonable price for good, fresh home-style food. Nothing fancy, but in ambience and quality, better than anybody’s Cracker Barrel.
To learn more about Laddie Boys II, CT and the Retirees, and Marty Ray: Click Here.
*Steel Slide Guitar. The country-music instrument that screams like a dying sow. It screams “Dennis is going to hate this whiny, nasal song!” Buck Owens pretty much ruined country music for me.
**Country fried steak vs Chicken fried steak: I was told earlier in the day that Laddie's 'country fried steak' was actually 'chicken fried steak.' I did some research on this and came to conclusion that the distinction between the two terms is somewhat regional and highly flexible. The jury is still out. In most places the terms are interchangeable.
*** Laddie Boys is NOT named after President Grover Cleveland's dog (1920-1929). I was hoping it was, as I could have delved into the significance of that history. This Restaurant, according to Liz Taylor, our waitress, was named for the nickname of the son of one of the former owners of the place. Of course HE could have been given that named based on the famous dog, who was immortalized in bronze (paid for by voluntary donations, mostly pennies from school children) and donated to the Smithsonian Institute, where it is still housed yet not on display.