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. 


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