Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Ginny’s Kitchen and Custards

7022 Highway 61 / 67
Barnhart, MO

It was my week to choose, I’d done some homework. I focused on and printed out addresses and menus for three or four places in the Barnhart/Imperial area. We don’t get out that way often. I printed out more than one because I knew nothing about any of them. The potential was quite high that one or more could be biker bars in disguise, we don’t do biker bars. Not that there’s anything wrong with bikers, or the seedy, dirty, violent bars that cater primarily to them, just different strokes. The ambience of most of them is just not comfortable to us. We’re introverts. Biker bars cater to extroverts; big, loud, drunken extroverts prone to breaking out into multiple felonies at the drop of a hat. I’m actually glad these folks have places to go to have a good time and we would not want to water down that party for them.
Sure enough, a couple of the places I’d printed out had more giant Harley’s parked out front than the local dealership. No Japanese crotch-rockets or two-wheeled RV’s (Gold Wings), just loud, greasy, extroverted Harley’s. I naturally assumed the bikes and their riders were concealing weapons; knives, broken bottles or shivs fashioned from introvert femurs.
One place looked a little seedy, but advertised itself as a wine and beer garden, so we went in, even though there was a Harley parked out front. Inside it was dark, smoky and there were two or three large, loud people playing pool and swigging cheap beer. We were greeted by a big, reluctant, tattooed man in a sleeveless shirt and were told that the fine dining facilities weren’t actually completed yet. Good luck with that conversion, pal.
Fortunately the last place was a little different. Instead of thuggish motorcycles, in front of Ginny’s was an enormous ice cream cone at the top of a twenty foot pole. There was no way gangs of big, ugly brutes would ever assemble there.

The Place:

Right on 61/67 in Barnhart. This road predates and runs almost parallel to I-55 in this area and serves as a main drag for several towns in eastern Jefferson County. Festus, Crystal City, Imperial, Barnhart, Herky (Herculaneum), on in to Arnold, the county’s largest town. Once it crosses into St. Louis County it is is also known as Lemay Ferry Road, then it joins with Highway 50 and is more widely known as  known as Lindbergh Blvd.
Ginny’s is a free-standing building, modern, yet reminiscent of places my dad used to refer to as Dairy-Dips. An outdoor, walk-up ordering counter, picnic tables. There used to be a place like this, though not so well maintained, on the road between our humble abode and Kentucky Lake. I recall looking forward to stopping there and getting a burger, or ice cream cone. I also recall my horrible sister getting more scoops than me. She was (still is) my dad’s favorite. To be fair, she’s much, much older now and a little less annoying.
Stepping in, I was quite happy to see how bright and clean the place was. The walls were glossy white, the booths were bright blue. The counter was spotless and the kitchen was cluttered, but organized and busy. The posted menu was expansive, burgers, sandwiches and 43 flavors of ice cream/custard in various formats. Music played from overhead speakers, decent music, a bit eclectic. At first I thought it was all 70’s pop, then came U2, a song from the Joshua Tree Album. It eventually reminded me even more of the old Dairy Dip in that this was not Muzak, it was an actual radio station. Who does that anymore?

The Food:
Offered were three simple meal combinations, ‘specials’; a double burger with a drink and fries, a double burger with a shake and fries and shrimp, shake and fries. I was suddenly in the mood for a burger. We all ordered #1’s with tea for me, Sierra Mist* for Angel, and Pepsi for the boy.
We paid up and found an empty booth. The place was squeaky clean, no puddles on the floor, no crumbs or sticky spots on the table. An ad on the radio finished up and a familiar song started up. Warning buzzers went off in my head. I like the J. Geils Band as much as the next fellow, but this particular song simply infuriates Angel. “My Angel is a Centerfold” is the name of it, it’s about a guy who’s ‘Angel’ poses naked for a magazine, for money. Why she doesn’t like this song, I’m not quite sure.
Fortunately this song was followed by Journey’s front-man Steve Perry, whipping out his “Just a small town girl. . .” Which has almost the completely opposite effect on Angel than the previous song.
They called our number from the counter, we sent Adam to pick up the trays.
The fries were shoestring style, thin, crispy and generous. The burgers were grilled, home-style. Unlike McD’s or BK the meat was not pre-formed into perfect, even discs. It had been balled up and flattened with a spatula, leaving the edges loose and ragged. This made it more cozy, more like the old place back home. We had chosen different cheeses, Swiss for me, Pepper Jack for Adam and ‘processed American cheese-like product’ for Angel. Adam and I struggled for a bit to determine which was the Pepper Jack and which was the Swiss. They’d tomato and onion’ed the wrong one, so he disassembled them and put them back together properly.
They were delicious. Two imperfect beef patties, fresh onions and tomatoes, the fries were crisp and salted just right. The tea was okay, not bitter or cloudy.
The portions were just right, not too filling. This meant that Angel and Adam would have room for an Ice Cream treat. I abstained since I’m lactose ambivalent. Angel handed the boy some cash and sent him to the counter. He brought back two sundaes, small bowls of vanilla ice cream covered in hot fudge sauce and sprinkled with a deal-killer, nuts. She ordered this knowing for sure I would not ask for any since even though I’ve been known to have ice cream and nuts (separately), I can’t stand nuts as an ingredient in anything other than certain candy bars and peanut butter itself.
They seemed to enjoy their treats and finished them quickly.

I left the place feeling full, and happy. Ginny’s had actually improved my mood. That doesn’t happen in most places. The price was fair, twenty bucks for the burger combos, less than five for the two treats.
We will be back, Angel even decided to bring a dog with her on a nice day since you can order and eat outside. Adam said it was very much like a non-Dairy Queen, Dairy Queen, more personal, less commercial.
Why this place made me smile, I can’t be sure. . . Maybe it was the harking back to pleasant childhood memories, maybe it was the simplicity of the offerings, maybe it was the atmosphere. Perhaps it was the clean brightness of the place, or the upbeat nature of the patrons and staff. Maybe it was all of that, or maybe the place is just magical.


* Sierra Mist is a faux, lemon-lime Pepsico product and boasts ‘only five ingredients’ Those ingredients are (I looked it up):
Carbonated water, fructose (sugar),citric acid, ‘natural flavor’ and potassium citrate.
Potassium citrate by itself is widely used to treat urinary calculi (kidney stones). I suppose that makes it a health drink.

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