Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Kim's Cafe

DeSoto, Mo

In celebration of TWO YEARS of Eat and Critique (nearly 100 posts!) , Please stick around for a  special guest-post at the end of this review!

Facebook, the ever-changing social media tool that everyone loves to use and complain about, delivered an upsetting message to my ‘wall’
“Kim posted on your Wall:
"Hello to my favorite critic! Just wanted to let you know that I have put the cafe up for sale. Hope to see you and your family one more time before it sells."

I haven’t learned the reason for Kim’s selling the place, but I certainly am aware of the millions of reasons that any sane person would want to get out of the business.
A while back I read Anthony Bourdain’s book “Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbellyand while the book was about upscale Big City restaurants rather than diners in DeSoto Mo., the pains and pitfalls of running an eatery are pretty much universal. That a single-owner or family-owned restaurant can survive very long anywhere is pretty remarkable. Customers are incredibly fickle, food prices surge, hours are always long, and profit margins are threadbare. Fast food franchises often offer cheaper meals, though not as fresh and varied, but especially in value-demanding times and places the bottom line reigns supreme.
I do know that Kim works incredibly long hours on her feet, in a hot and quite dangerous environment, hot stoves, knives, raw meat, cramped spaces.
A restaurant/café/diner is about the last place I would want to invest in or operate, though I love them and greatly respect and admire those that manage to make a go of it.
As it turned out, Adam and I were going to be alone this weekend and when left alone to put our heads together are lousy at making decisions. Angel is our family's rudder, though she would never admit to it. What we didn’t want to do was to try some new place without her, so a repeat was called for. Kim’s announcement made the choice obvious.
I replied back to the FB comment indicating that Adam and I would be there on Saturday. She answered back: “Sounds great. All u can eat fried chicken on saturdays.”
That made it especially easy, I’d never tried her fried chicken.

The Place:
Main street, DeSoto, next to a recently closed bank, in a strip mall that is only about half occupied. I was driving my newer little car as Angel had taken the family truckster to Iowa to attend an annual seminar for E-collar dog trainers. She’d left us with only four rather sedate dogs, all ours, to tend to. Adam had them walked and fed by the time I got up from my mandatory nap and was ready to go. “I get to ride in your new car!” he exclaimed.

“Whoop-dee-doo” I replied, underwhelmed. Not that there’s anything specifically wrong with the little Chevy, it did a fine job of getting me to and from work in its first week of ownership. It’s just not an impressive vehicle. When people at work ask me what I got, the reaction after I tell them is generally; “Oh.”
The unimpressive car at Kim's
It has a four cylinder engine that I am still trying to get used to. It sounds different, and of course has less raw horsepower than my past few vehicles, all which sported six cylinders. As we left the driveway and took on the back roads that lead to highway 21, it seemed as though the little machine was begging, pleading its way up the rolling hills.
On 21 the road flattened out. Unlike the slave-to-indigenous-terrain farm roads, the steeper hills on 21 had been professionally flattened out, crushed, blasted away. There are still hills but the road was cut to scrape them down to longer, less severe obstacles. On this road, as well as I-270, where I spend the vast majority of my driving time, the little car doesn’t even break a sweat, cruising along quietly and easily. The car was picked out for precisely this type of mileage, not to sate my inherent, flash-and-roar machismo.
We turned into the lot, parked right in front of the door, got out, groaned, then got back into the car. A sign on Kim’s door announced that their card reader was inoperable, cash only. I don’t carry much cash, ten or twenty dollars is about the most a mugger would ever get out of me. I have been assimilated by the plastic-Borg and live off my ATM card. The closed bank in the parking lot used to be my own bank which would have been convenient. As it was though we had to drive a half mile further to the town’s one remaining branch. I could have used the machine at another brand of bank but there’s always a fee involved and I’m a renowned cheapskate.
We got the cash and returned. We were the only customers.
We sat at our usual booth and were greeted by a young and charming blonde lady. She offered menus and asked about drinks. Adam looked at me and grinned. I mildly panicked. There’s a hand written sign on the tea dispenser that reads “Fresh brewed tea.” Kim and I have gone back and forth on this very issue before as I have regularly reported that her tea was woefully bland or at best, unremarkable. I’d even avoided ordering it the last couple of visits so as to not find fault with it. But on this day I’d already had a soda (or ‘pop’ for you unsophisticated southerners) earlier in the day and was still sugared up and bloated from it. I took a chance, threw caution and better judgment to the wind and went with the tea. “Ooooo.” Remarked Adam. The little blonde looked confused. “Can I get lemon with that?” I asked. “Sure.” She answered. I mentally crossed my fingers.
The menu was familiar with a couple of exceptions, a few options were crossed out, most notably the ribs, which Angel had once thoroughly enjoyed.
She brought the drinks, Adam had chosen Pepsi. The tea looked different, it was surprisingly clear and bright. I dunked the sizable lemon slice and took a sip. Remarkably it wasn’t at all bad. (still a little weak though, sorry Kim)
The Food:
My mind was already made up. “The all-you-can-eat chicken, please.” I announced. “Okay, but that’ll take about twenty-five minutes.” She answered.
“Twenty-five minutes?” I barked rudely.
“We make it fresh to order, we don’t cook it ahead of time to dry out under a heat lamp.” She explained. Color me impressed. Take that KFC!
I assumed Adam was going to get the same thing, he didn’t. He’s always throwing me a curveball. He instead ordered the chicken strips. I conceded to the default sides, mashed potatoes, gravy, green beans and a biscuit. His was ordered with fries (crinkly) and macaroni and cheese, it also came with toast.
I looked at my watch, he pulled out his phone gadget. I marked the time, he started browsing or playing a game or whatever it is that young men do with their fancy mobile telephones these days. A thought occurred to me while his face was buried in the tiny screen. I got up, went to the car and retrieved my book, a real book, not one of those fake electronic books. (I own an E-book but I’m having trouble adjusting to it. I’m definitely perched on the brink of fogey-ism.)
We sat quietly, not talking, engaged and immersed into our individual amusements. I was briefly taken from the pleasant DeSoto diner to the ugly desert in the Middle East, following young, arrogant and thuggish Brits from ‘the Regiment’ into the dangerous and clandestine infiltration of a remote WMD factory. The time passed quickly, the lads had barely started amassing a decent day’s body count when our food arrived. We dropped our devices and absorbed the sizzling aroma.
‘All you can eat’ would be more appropriately called “More than a normal guy could possibly eat in one sitting.” A drumstick, thigh, an enormous breast and a wing, expertly lightly breaded and golden brown filled the plate, nudging out the small bowl of gravy-laden mashed potatoes and the bowl of slow cooked green beans. I estimated about twenty pounds of food, expanding to thirty if I actually ate it all. I realized that my desires and eyes were much bigger than my handsome tummy. Just looking at it made me feel full.
I pulled the skin off the thick end of the drumstick. Steam poured out of the fried-flour casement. My fingers seared quickly and I dropped it back on the plate. Adam giggled. “Hot?” he joked. “The lava flow from Mount Pinatubo was hot, this is an entirely new level of temperature extreme!” I answered, dunking my oily, reddened fingers into the icy tea. He laughed because I was in severe pain. I was exaggerating only a little though, I should have paid more heed to the sizzle.
I used my fork to break open the drumstick and the thigh in several places to cool. I let the wing and enormous breast continue to bask in their own internal infernos. I buttered (margarine-d) my thick biscuit and took a tour of the sides. The gravy was thick, white and deliciously infested with chunks of real pork sausage. The potatoes were thick and piled high. The green beans had obviously been simmered low and slow alongside some pork fat, just like grandma used to lovingly clog our young arteries with. I enjoyed thoroughly, but cautiously. There was a lot of chicken to plow through.
Chicken Strips
Adam’s strips were similarly perfectly cooked and he tore into them with the gusto of a young man having a tasty, casual meal. The strips were breaded and fried in the same manner as my chicken, actual chicken slabs, not reprocessed bits, pieces, odds and ends.  Our drinks were dutifully refreshed, I made it sloppily through the leg and thigh, clawing my way up the luscious chicken one limb at a time, enjoying every finger-sucking, moist and tender bite, every crunch of golden brown skin. I skipped over the enormous breast, it was too enormous. It was the kind of enormous breast that can completely intimidate a short, timid, middle aged man with modest appetites and full awareness of his own limitations. This breast was about the size of a catcher's mitt, definitely more than a handful, certainly larger than I'd ever had laid out before me. Perhaps it just appeared enormous, cut or deliberately dressed to visually entice. Flustered and intimidated, I eventually skipped ahead and disassembled the wing instead. I was filling up fast.
“Would you like us to start making you some more?” asked the blonde. I had forgotten that I could have all I could eat, she wasn’t aware that I was already well-past that point. “No thanks, this’ll be just about enough.” I kindly understated, barely suppressing a heavy, lumpy belch. I could barely imagine any standard human being able to take on more than one serving of this large, but tasty feast. Adam was no help, he’d surrendered in his battle with an entire strip remaining. We sat back for a moment groaning and swelling.
There was absolutely nothing bad or wanting about this meal. Kim’s crew can sure cook the standards. The chicken was about as good as any fried chicken I’ve had in this life, much better than that served by the much-celebrated Hodak's in St. Louis (Where chicken lovers come to roost!). Home-style, tender, juicy, crunchy. Not heavily seasoned, they let the chicken itself do the talking. (Of course I am aware that chickens don't really talk, especially those that are dead and have been chopped up and deep-fried. I'm speaking metaphorically.) The bill came to twenty seven dollars and change, only that high because they wisely hedge their bets for any ‘all-you-can-eat’ offering.
I’m truly sorry that Kim’s selling the place. I can’t imagine it will be any better under new ownership. Kim cares, Kim cares a lot. Her food is always good, she stresses over the details and always maintains high quality at a low price. I will miss her. She’s a sweet, hard-working and pleasant person, a patient and generous hostess and an awesome cook, with the most enormous breasts I’ve ever seen.

Here's to you Kim, may love, fortune and joy follow you down whatever path you take!

Kim's Cafe on Urbanspoon

Guest Post!

A tangent from a larger blog post by my dear friend, Annette. See the entire story at her blog site:  http://annettecrey.wordpress.com

A Licking Meal
Eaten by Annette Rey

On a rainy day inside a building made of pine over 100 years old, I ate an unusual meal. Licking, a rural town in Texas County, Missouri, held their 'Licking Mill Festival' on Saturday, September 17, 2011. The event was not your run-of-the-mill (so to speak) festival.

It offered unique entertainment to the area and other refreshingly different offerings. Instead of the usual and boring hamburger or hot dog fare, I was treated to a bowl of ham and beans; sweet, warm, juicy and cooked to perfection. Inserted into the bowl were as many long, darkest green, crispest green onions I wanted and I have ever eaten – picked fresh that day from the vendor’s gardens! The meal came with a square of corn bread – no, not Jiffy Mix (I know that is the favorite of some people). This bread was probably made without sugar as it slightly resembled corn pone, but was not hard. It was tender, crumbled a bit and was whitish in color. Included with the meal was a “dessert” – a choice of an individually wrapped Twinkie or a Hostess Cupcake (I chose the chocolate) and the drink – coffee or hot chocolate – again, I chose the chocolate.

The meal was filling, tasty – loved those onions. It was enjoyable, too, because it was a nice surprise – like I said, not the average offering of hamburger/hot dog.

And now the best part – all of that, drink, dessert and all, cost me a meager $4.00.

Despite the rain, it was a great day! Visit Licking for some of their future events and experience something new in a pleasant, unassuming small town. 


Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Main Street BBQ

1620 Highway Z
Pevely, Mo.

Earlier this year Main Street BBQ in Imperial, Mo. merged with Bobby Tom’s BBQ and moved into its Pevely location.  It’s located just east of the Pevely exit  off interstate 55. A tidy, modern and busy place. I’d heard about it a while back and came across it on the interwebs recently while researching another place. We had our doubts. We are big ‘Bandana’s’ fans and have found few places that compare. On the theory that barbecue, like sex, cheesecake and Glee episodes are even at their worst better than most alternative offerings, we decided to give it a try. 
   We met there, Angel and Adam drove in from home, I from a nearby car dealership where I’d spent the day unloading the Mighty Alero and picking up its reluctant and lackluster replacement.  My mind was still abuzz with interest rates, extended warranties, and family stories from the two very nice sales ladies (one very pregnant with her first child. I LOL'd)  and the lot’s business manager, a very nice, chatty man with several adopted kids and a few rescued dogs. (Yes I gave him one of Angel’s business cards.) Usually I don’t do a lot worth thinking about on Saturday afternoons, but on this busy, anxious day I hadn’t thought much about eating or critiquing, so this review may lack some detail and depth. I’m a single tasker. If my mind’s a-whirring on something it takes a bit of time and effort to shift it into another gear. This isn’t usually a problem really, it just means that I’m generally very, very focused on whatever task may be in front of me. I’ve been known to lose track of time and a few other dimensions as well. People have had entire conversations right in front of me of which I missed completely.  I’ve also missed several of Angel’s hair styles and colorations due to this intense, focused, un-awareness of my surroundings.
Anyway, we met there and stepped in after Angel and Adam gave the new(er) little car a quick glance. It’s the same general shape, color and size as the old one so there really wasn’t much to look at.  We stepped in and found ourselves at the ordering counter. Large boards on the front of the counter listed the offerings, and a pile of glossy, colorful menu sheets were stacked on top of it. I grabbed a couple and we stepped back and pondered.  In pretty short time we stepped up and placed our orders. Angel paid up and we took our plastic tumblers to the tea dispensers, then found ourselves a table in the large seating area. We chatted a bit about the car, the car transaction really, since I rarely do something that big and important without Angel along. She keeps the books for us and is much more in tune with petty little things like budgets, cash on hand, insurance and the name of our bank. It’s a tribute to her really. She does such a good and thorough job with our finances that I simply don’t have to think about them much. I’ve said it before, I won the wife lottery.

The Food:

We sat with our tea, tea and sweet tea.  I was a bit panicked that I didn’t have my trusty little notebook with me.  I ended up making notes on the menu instead, using an ink pen that Angel re-assembled from parts dug out from the distant and dark basement area of her voluminous purse. We didn’t have to wait long, typical of barbecue places almost everything is already cooked before you even get there.
I’d ordered the Main Street Special, a pulled pork sandwich, along with red potato salad and baked beans. Angel’s ½ chicken surprised me, I ‘d assumed (hoped) she'd get the back half of the chicken, that would have been hilarious, instead they’d sliced it lengthwise, so she  ended up with a leg, thigh, wing and breast instead of just its ass-end. For sides she had corn on the cob and coleslaw and they even threw in a couple of half-slices of toast, which had also been cut lengthwise.
Adam’s was called a ‘Bird of Paradise’ sandwich, implying fowl, in his case chicken, though turkey was also available. His was served on a toasted croissant along with bits-o-bacon and cheddar cheese.  It was accompanied by a bag of kettle chips and baked beans. My sandwich was on a hoagie roll and topped with a little slaw and a couple of dill pickle slices. The meat was all sweet and juicy with the house sauce. Angel’s chicken fell off the bone, slow and perfectly cooked. My pork was also tender and smoky, delicious, though the hoagie was a little thicker and heavier than I would have liked.  Adam’s croissant-bun held together nicely and didn’t look near as heavy.
We exchanged slivers of sides and meats and tasted pretty much everything everyone had ordered.
The red potato salad was creamy and piled high. Not too sweet, not too mustard-y, about as good a potato salad as you’ll find anywhere other than by your own gifted hand.  Angel’s coleslaw was light on vinegar and a little sweeter than KFC coleslaw. In her rating system, KFC is the coleslaw gold-standard.  The baked beans were sweet as well, but that’s the way I like them. They were as good as KFC, or ‘Off the Hook’, and much better than most other places. Adam discovered a shard of onion in his and abandoned them, even when I pointed out the many bacon bits. Angel handed him her slaw, the chicken, corn and toast were filling her up.
A young family entered and took the table next to ours. Among them was a young lad about two or three feet tall and however old boys of that height are, maybe three or four. I caught him staring at me so I broke character and acknowledged his existence.  As soon as I did he started rambling on in a slobbery lisp about something completely incomprehensible, but whatever it was , it seemed very exciting and important to him. About all I got out of it were a couple of words which I could not squeeze into a coherent sentence or paragraph. His parents seemed amused at the rambling speech and my dutiful, yet confused attention to it. I decided to repeat back to the tyke, in the form of a question, as much as I thought I understood. “So you ate your horsey?”
He laughed for a mere second, then looked frightened and turned away, I think I made him cry. This is never my intent but it is the most common result of my interactions with children, bank on it, most often someone’s gonna scream or cry.
I only finished half my sandwich since the high stress of a major financial transaction and the separation anxiety that accompanies the abandoning of a well-used vehicle tends to shrink up my belly. I knew they had boxes though. I was the only one that needed one.  Angel’s former chicken half was bare bones, Adam’s croissant-ed sandwich a mere memory.
The bill came to only twenty seven bucks and change, this similarity and subsequent comparisons to Bandana’s were natural. We debated it for a while, Adam couldn’t decide which was better, so that should tell you something. Angel commented that Main Street’s meats were moister than Bandana’s, I agreed. The pork at B’s is certainly smoky, tender and tasty, but it is served dry and must be lubed up with a considerable amount of sauce to make it swallow-able after the first few bites.  Main Street’s default sauce is at least as good as any of Bandana’s varieties, the sides were basically the same in both places. So which one is better? I’d have to say neither. They are a bit different, but they are both very, very good.  If you like barbecue and live in or around Jefferson County, stop in and certainly give Main Street a try, you won’t be disappointed.

I didn’t take any poor-quality photos this trip, Main Street’s web site has several good ones though: http://www.bbqonmain.com/photos.html

Main Street BBQ on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Bistro at the Square

48 Jefferson Square
DeSoto, Mo.

We were looking for one place we’d found a listing for online, but couldn’t find it. Not knowing how old the listing was and considering the volatile nature of the retail food business, we assumed it was now defunct. We were in the general area though of a place we’d tried, liked, and had not revisited in quite a while. So it was settled, Bistro at the Square.
The Place:
Inside a shopping center/hotel ‘Jefferson Square’ just north of DeSoto on Highway 21. The serving area is split between a small dining area, a large banquet room and in between, in the enclosed courtyard, the ‘atrium’. White linen cloths covered the tables, green paper placemats in place, an unlit candle on each table. We were greeted and seated in the empty atrium, the standard dining area held a dozen or so patrons. Ahead of us a middle-age gentleman was setting up racks of amplifiers, mixers, effects boxes and speakers. All the cables ran to another stand, where sat an expensive and rather large electronic keyboard. Live music was certain to ensue this night. Behind the equipment and facing the tables was a banner board boasting ‘Dave Blum.’ I recognized the name from a visit to Taytro’s in Festus, he was to play there once as well. We dine too early for the shows, blame it on the dogs and their peculiar schedule. Someday I’d actually like to hear Dave perform, we seem to frequent the same places.
The menus were delivered, the drinks ordered, Tea, Diet Dr. Pepper, and Pepsi. Why Angel likes Dr. P, I’m not sure, in my mind the only thing worse in this class of soft drink than Dr. Pepper, is Diet Dr. Pepper. But perhaps I shouldn’t worry too much about Angel’s odd choices and likes.
There was a lot to choose from, not too much, nothing odd or fussy, just a simple menu with simple offerings. The appetizers were a little tempting, but also a little pricey.
The Food:
We didn’t take long to pick. I ordered the Catfish Filet and ‘Cowboy Potatoes’ Though I had to ask what they were. Angel went for a heavy breakfast, country fried steak, eggs and hash browns. Adam decided on the Buffalo Chicken sandwich and standard fries. Within moments the bread basket arrived with warm, soft bread along with a basket of condiment-cup butters. Or rather butter-ish condiments. Mostly Country Crock, but one or two actually contained actual butter. Packets of mostly grape and strawberry jelly were also provided.
The bread was soft. In my mind maybe a bit too rubbery, but Adam and Angel didn’t think so. The butter-ish stuff wasn’t hard-frozen, but almost. It took friction and effort to get it to melt.
The man setting up the equipment, perhaps Dave himself, tested the sound with a CD, or IPod, or some other form of music device. Kenny G. swooned through with a saucy, oozing sound. “Bring on the porn music!” Adam called out. How he knows about porn music I have no idea, I mean I’ve only read about it myself. I wouldn’t know porn music if a giggly, blond, cleavage-intense and flirtatious French maid sat in my lap and sang it to me. It may be time for Adam and I to have that little talk.
         The food arrived soon enough. It was everything it was advertised to be. My filet was large, crispy on the outside and tender and moist on the inside. The potatoes were, on first test and taste, delightful. Cowboy fries are nothing more than quarter-inch thick potato slices, pan fried with onions and pepper. Some of the diced onion and/or pepper was burnt, I didn’t mind that though. A few charred ashes among tender chunks gives depth to the flavor.
I reported to the family that I was quite pleased. They applauded that as my personal satisfaction is uppermost on their list of priorities in life. They even offered up opinions on their own choices. “The steak is really good, crispy on the outside, moist and tender on the inside.” Barked Angel, in her soft, soothing voice.
“The chicken is good.” Adam added. “Crispy on the outside and . . .”  In unison we finished the sentence for him:  “. . . tender on the inside!” He also boastingly showed us the inside of the toasted and buttered bun which in itself was crispy on the outside, etc.
Okay, so we like a certain type of food preparation. I never claimed that we were complicated.
All would have been well had it not been for my sensitivity to that earthen mineral, the only rock fit for human consumption, salt. The potatoes had just a smidgen too much. It was not immediately noticeable but it built up  over time. Once I realized it I stopped eating them, about halfway through.
Except for the saltiness of my potatoes, the meal was exceptional. Simple, well prepared, crispy on the outside. . .
The bill only came to thirty two dollars and change, much better than the sports bars and suburban chains. The atmosphere was quiet, cool and relaxing, the wait staff dressed in crisp white shirts and black pants and aprons were polite, dutiful and timely. The young blonde that waited on us got flustered at first when I accused her if rushing me, but like any good young blond, she soon figured me out for the sorry old fart that I am and started joking back.
On the way home, after a short trip through Orscheln’s, the attached farm and home supply store, we chatted up the Bistro and decided it was now one of our favorite places. So we will go back, and we can highly recommend it. Casual, neat, affordable, simple, yet a little classy. It’s great place for a serious date or business lunch, or just for a nice meal for the whole family, even with the alleged porn music.
Bon Appetit! 

Bistro At The Square on Urbanspoon