Saturday, December 31, 2011

Gus’ Pretzels

1820 Arsenal
St. Louis Mo.

Friday night, December 30, Angel asked me what kind of snacks I’d like for New Year’s Eve.  Snacking, grazing, is what we do to celebrate the event. No meal, no party, no fireworks (unless weather allows) we don’t even stay up till midnight, settling instead to celebrate with the east coast. (we used to live there so it’s not cheating)
She’d been to the grocery that day and stocked up on the usual. Baby carrots, chips, dip, cheeses, little weenies and barbecue sauce. I didn’t think much of it at the time, what she already had sounded sufficient.
Later that evening I was struck by a craving. Soft pretzels, I hadn’t had one in years. Saturday morning, recalling the notion, I tried to figure out where I could get some. There are always the frozen varieties in of grocery stores, that would do, I first thought. I then shifted to fresh, like at Auntie Annie’s at the malls. I like those just fine, but they are at the mall, a place I normally only visit under threat of certain and severe torture. Then I started to recall the last soft pretzel  I’d had.   
I was working downtown at that large beer company, whose name I shall not mention. My boss, Tom, and sometimes Wings or Art, and maybe a few others would stop at Gus’ Pretzels on the way in to work and buy a big bag of soft, hot pretzels and pass them around.  I refuse a lot of food at work, I can walk right past massive piles of donuts or bagels, but those pretzels…mmmmm….
I looked them up on the web, thirty six miles from my humble rural compound. A seventy two mile round trip.  The more I thought of it though, the more it seemed worth it.
As luck would have it though Angel was getting ready to make a run into the city to drop off a dog and deliver a blanket for another one. Bennie had stayed with us for a few days but inadvertently left his favorite blanket behind when he was picked up. The blanket portion of the trip would put her a mere five miles from 1820 Arsenal. I showed her the web site, the hours of operation, and directions. She was interested but not infinitely so, the best I could get from her was a tacit, “I’ll see what I can do.”
With fingers crossed and plans B, C, and D being mulled over, I sat back and tended to the needs of the remaining dogs and household while she was out. (Actually I just watched part of the Marx brothers classic ‘A day at the Races’ on TV)
The Place:
Gus’ is ‘in the shadow’ of that brewery I mentioned, so if you’re in St. Louis and taking the tour of the brewery ( I can still recommend that) You’re only a few steps away.
It’s not really surprising for pretzels to be a part of the landscape here. The same Germans that immigrated to the area and started brewing beer also created a market, and brought the requisite skills to create other Germanic institutions, such as pretzels.  And what goes better with beer, than pretzels? Gus’ has been in the same location since first opening in 1920. Three generations of pretzel twisters have managed the shop for nearly a hundred years. It’s not at all surprising that they are quite good at it. They’ve expanded some over the years, and their following has grown with them.  Angel reported, through a mouth full of ‘endz’,  that the place was packed, the parking lot full. People were inside ordering up big batches, twenty, fifty or more to adorn their own party snack tables. Apparently word had gotten around quickly after I first thought it up. We may have created a new tradition here.
The Food:
It’s soft, hot pretzels, just like ‘mutter und vater’ used to make. If you had an old country set of Teutonic parents anyhow.
They offer twists and sticks, and ‘Endz’ as well as pretzel sandwiches, dips and fancy ‘party pretzels’ See the menu for pics and prices.
And those prices!  Unbeatable! Fresh soft pretzels for fifty five cents or less, if you grab a big ol’ bag full. And why wouldn’t you?  Angel brought back a dozen twists, a bag of endz, and some dip, for pretty much less than a single meal at any of our usual eateries would cost, less than $15.
I recommend cheddar cheese for dipping, but that’s not your only option. Sometime I just spread some yellow mustard on them.
They were as good as I remembered, soft, buttery, salty. (I don’t mind pretzels being salty, it seems natural)
Fifteen seconds in the microwave reheats them nicely, the cheese gets all gooey. I love ‘em, Blue and Bailey loved what little I offered them, and Angel and Adam have seen the light as well.
Though not a complete meal, these things are an excellent, low-fat snack or breakfast. The fact that these are freshly made, though frozen are available in local grocery stores, make them a real treat. I highly recommend you make the trip even if you have no other reason to visit downtown St. Louis. You’ll be glad you did.
Frohes neues Jahr!  (Happy new year, in German)

Gus' Pretzels on Urbanspoon

Friday, December 23, 2011

Trainwreck Saloon

314 Westport Plaza
St. Louis Mo.

Workday lunch edition.

Rob and I left behind an all-day pot-luck buffet at work. We were to join several folks we used to work with at that really large beer company (whose name I shall not speak). We do this from time to time. A few of our buddies were given the ‘opportunity’ to retire right after the company’s merger (sellout) with that other beer company (whose name I also shall not speak.) so they have lots of spare time. Most of the old bunch, like Rob and me, left the company for better pastures. That old company was very family like even though I spent only a little more than three years there. I made lifelong friends who like to stay in touch, frequently. At first the reunions were all downtown. That’s a long lunch commute for those of us that work out in the western suburbs. So recently the ringleaders have started staggering the lunches, one downtown, one out west, and Rob and I are able to at least attend the latter.
As much as I’d love, love, love to go to Chili Mac’s (I hear the ladies miss me) It’s a twenty-five minute drive each way, street-luck parking, and cramped seating. When we do go Rob and I are usually late and end up just sitting with each other, entirely missing most of the point of going. That’s why we don’t do that much anymore. The other downtown place they regularly meet, Hodak’s is much bigger, but I really don’t care for the food that much, even though most of the guys rave about it. I find Hodak’s chicken bland and greasy, a verdict that could potentially get me kicked out of St. Louis. I’ve tried other menu items there and was never really impressed.
So this time we were on the west side, at a place I’ve been to a half dozen or more times.
The Place:
Located in Westport Plaza just across the sprawling Page Avenue from where I work, five minutes max. It was dreary, breezy, a bit rainy. We parked in the underground lot to avoid a long walk in the unpleasant weather. The garage opens to the interior hotel/mall. We walked right past the restaurant named for a now-ex St. Louis Cardinal, a great first baseman, former National League MVP and two-time world series slugging star (whose name I shall not speak.*) Rob and I arrived at the Trainwreck to find a small clutch of three or four others waiting at the front. The organizer of the meet, Wings, was not there yet, but emailed us earlier and he’d said he’d made reservations since we were a large party. ‘Wings’ is his nickname, self-assigned since his consonant-heavy, quadrisyllabic, German last name is almost always mispronounced and misspelled.
As our numbers grew we checked and found out there was indeed a reservation, so we elbowed ahead of several other people and found our spot. The Trainwreck is popular and usually quite busy, this day was no exception.
Wings arrived after a short while as did others including Art and his lovely wife Linda. There were ten of us in all. I sat by Art, once the proper table challenges were solved by the staff. Art is one of my favorite people on this particular planet. He and Linda are both retired, Art after forty years at that very beer company. He started there after high school, never worked anywhere else. He’s a classy gentleman by appearance and demeanor, until you get to know him better. Great stories about the old days, and some great jokes that occasionally verge on embarrassingly disgusting.
The interior was decorated modestly for the holidays. The all-wood walls held fake Christmas packages, from the ceilings were suspended large ornaments. The overhead train was not running (drat!).  The place goes for a 1800’s saloon theme, though it’s really more like a dark wooden barn. When I think Saloon, I think wild-west. It takes more than dark wood to evoke that feeling, maybe some ‘pardners’ with six guns, wearing chaps, spurs and ten-gallon hats, spitting big brown globs of tobaccy juice into brass cuspidors. Okay, now that I think about it, I don’t really want to see that at all. In other words if it isn’t as depicted on the cover of a ‘Pure Prairie League’ album, I just don’t see ‘saloon’.
The Food:
The burgers at Trainwreck are excellent. I already had a favorite, the cheddar-bacon. That’s what I ordered, along with the seasoned fries. Others around me got the Reuben or a salad and one guy opted for the bison. Further downstream on the table I couldn’t quite make out what was being ordered. Art decided on the Chili.
A few of us opted for just water, a few went a little stronger.
Service time was slow. The place was busy and the fact that we were in a party of ten would naturally slow us down. This place likes to serve a full table at a time, so we were going to all be waiting for the slowest dish. Which was okay, we had catching up to do. Mostly this group’s catching up has to do with who’s gone to work where, and the status of a few lawsuits against former companies. Wings had marched in with a coupon offering a free appetizer. He ordered the Ravioli, St. Louis style, breaded and fried. He generously passed the basket around even though there were only about eight raviolis in it. I was told they were quite good.
The food eventually arrived. Their burgers are half-pounders, not for the timid. I new this going in but had decided I could stop halfway, or get a box. The thing about this burger that I like so much is not the size, I could easily be as pleased with a smaller one, but the cheese. It’s real, sharp cheddar, and there’s lots of it. This is a messy meal, order extra napkins. It was served in a basket filled with fries, leaving virtually no room for a pool of ketchup. I had to restack the fries and bank the burger to hold it all. About halfway through the thing it started to disintegrate, the moisture from the tomato and cheese turning the undersized bun into a pasty mush.  Like I said, it’s messy.
I asked Art about his chili, it looked pretty good. “Good but not spicy.” He said, then quickly adding: “But not nearly as good as Linda makes me at home.” Smart man, they’ve only been married a couple of years, he still publicly compliments his wife.
All around me the meals were disappearing, I lagged a little, as usual, since I was taking notes. Nothing was sent back, I heard no complaints, plates were cleaned. I saw no signs at all of dissatisfaction from anyone, including the dude that ate the bison.
The price was lunch-friendly, my bill came to eight dollars and change. The food is exceptional at Trainwreck. The cheddar-bacon is about my favorite burger in the world. It’s the cheese. Sloppy, too big, but very, very tasty. I’ve never seen anyone disappointed with their meals here. The staff is busy, professional, but overworked.  Drink refills were scarce, too late, or non-existent. Time between order and delivery was slow. Probably because its such a busy, crowded place. It’s like a ‘Who’ concert, if you want peace, quiet, no crowds, and easy, fast in and out, forget it. But the food is simply great. Even though some of it is not quite as good as your wife makes for you at home.


* I frankly am not angry at Albert Pujols for leaving the Cardinals. He's at his peak and had the opportunity to grab an even shinier brass (platinum) ring. Good for him.

Trainwreck Saloon on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Bandana’s Bar-B-Q

103 Truman Blvd
Crystal City, MO
To celebrate Adam’s upcoming birthday* we let him choose a place. I know, it was probably his turn anyhow, but it’s the thought that counts, right? We did tell him there was no pressure to find a new place, he didn’t need to consider the review at all, even if it was a place we’d been to recently. Free choice without pressure or repercussions, that’s the greatest gift of all.
I was a little surprised when he chose Bandana’s but only a little. I knew he liked it, but not that it was at the top of his list.
I had been shopping earlier in the day, mostly finished but a little frustrated. None of the stores I went to had those big cans of popcorn, the ones with three kinds, cheddar, plain and caramel. Granted, I’d only gone to two stores, but for me that’s an ambitious shopping trip.
The evening was simply gorgeous. The setting sun enflamed the few wispy clouds, the temperature was nearly perfect, high fifty’s or low sixty’s. The drive was uneventful and rather quiet. On arrival I was expecting the outdoor loudspeaker to be blasting that awful country music. I was pleased to note they’d turned it down considerably from the hideous shouting level it had been set to on our previous trips. Inside it was pleasantly, barely audible at all.
The Place:
It was only half full, or maybe less. Not bustling, a very relaxed pace. The place was only modestly decorated, felt red stockings hung from above the opening to the kitchen, each with a name written on it, maybe one per crew member. A small tree sat in a corner and that was pretty much it.
A few families were spread around the long aisles, the black-clad crew scurried about clearing tables, sweeping the floor, carrying orders.
We were shown a booth near the back and situated ourselves. The menus were dropped off, drinks ordered (tea, sweet tea and Pepsi) and the server drifted off and left us to consider options.
The birthday boy, and my tea.
Our drinks arrived quickly, we weren’t quite ready to order yet. It took another five minutes or so before we finally decided. After much internal debate, I chose the turkey sandwich and fries. Angel, the chicken and pork plate with ‘fried corn’ and fried okra. Adam went for the beef and chicken plate with fries and coleslaw.
While we waited, in what has become a sort of ritual, Angel pulled out her new-fangled smartphone, checked her Facebook and email, then browsed through some online comics. Adam didn’t. Instead he occupied himself tearing the straw wrappers into tiny little shreds, then rolling the shreds up into tiny little balls.
Angel then showed Adam one of the comic strips, he seemed only slightly amused. “Comics are for old people.” He said, which caused his mother to get all red-faced and defensive. “I didn’t mean old like you, I mean old-old.” He defended himself, though it didn’t really help.
I think he was just trying to get a rise from her. He does that a lot, something he inherited from his mother. She’s always trying to rile me up, pointing out petty infractions and forgetfulness, just trying to ring my buzzer; I don’t take the bait though.
The Food:
Turkey Sandwich, pre-sauce
The food arrived quickly, just as advertised. There are no surprises at Bandana’s, just tasty smoked meats.
The meat is served dry allowing one to sauce it up to individually desired levels. They provide four different sauces at each table, I think there used to be more.  I’d tasted them all before and went with my favorite, Chicago Sweet, and plenty of it. This doesn’t mask the smokiness of the meat, it’s chopped into thick chunks, it merely perfects it. My bun was toasted and buttered, the fries were  just right.
Angel’s fried corn turned out to be corn on the cob, cooked, then grill-fried until most of the individual kernels were a light brown. It was diapered on the plate in what looked like an oblong coffee filter. We debated this, and decided that it might not actually have been a coffee filter since we couldn’t figure out how or why a coffee maker would require an oblong filter. On subsequent research, and playing off a brilliant hunch, I looked up 'restaurant supplies' and ‘hot dog wrappers’ and sure enough, voila! You can see them here.
Fried corn on the cob.
The corn itself was very good. I know this because Angel said it was almost as good as Jeff’s. Jeff is my younger, but bigger brother. He smokes meats himself but unfortunately he lives a couple of hundred miles away in the sprawling metropolis of Cerulean Ky. When he prepares a meal he puts his heart and soul into it. Lots of planning, hand chosen wood, days of preparation. His corn is indeed awesome. For Bandana’s to come even close by comparison is quite a commendation.
Her okra looked just like it tastes, like breaded and deep-fried cow snot.
Adam tried his coleslaw then never touched it again. I asked him about that. “It’s not their fault, I’m just really, really picky about coleslaw.” He responded without further explanation. He is indeed rather picky about certain foods, another unfortunate trait he gets from his mother.
Adam asked me about the tea. “Flat, tasteless, but I knew it would be.”
“Then why did you order it?” he asked as if the answer wasn’t obvious.
“I had to see if they bothered to improve it, they haven’t.”
He doesn’t seem to understand the harsh sacrifices that are required to become a professional, highly rated and respected restaurant critic.
The food was, as I’ve said, very good. Adam didn’t like the coleslaw, but even he properly blamed that on flawed genetics rather than a failed effort by Bandana’s. The tab was a bit high, forty six dollars before the tip, but good food is good food, and really good comestibles** are worth a few extra farthings.
After we finished we hopped over to Big Lot’s to see if they had the tins of popcorn. Nope. The next day, on a tip form Angel, I found some at K-Mart. Mission accomplished.


* Birthday.  Adam’s is the day after mine but we agreed to split the celebrations. He would choose a place to eat, I’d choose a movie to go to. None of these celebrations would actually occur on our actual birthdays. We’ll be going to see “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” on Friday.

**Comestibles. An established author and Facebook friend Nicola Griffith used this word in a post last week. I had to look it up since I’ll admit that there are a still a few (a couple of dozen at most) pretentious English words missing from my otherwise vast arsenal. I thanked her for the generous gift and assured her that I would try to use it in the near future. This almost-superfluous usage was an intentional means of increasing my word power (it pays). As for ‘farthings’, I only need to mention that this same friend is British by birth.

Bandana's Bar-B-Q on Urbanspoon

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Thai Kitchen

2031 Dorsett Village
Maryland HeightsMO

Another workday lunch adventure.

The crew: Myself, Doug, Lilian and Keith.
Lilian put this trip together, adamantly suggesting the destination. We’d all been there a time or two before. I was less than ecstatic, but I need to spread my social wings once in awhile. Not that I don’t like the Thai Kitchen it’s just that. . . Well, I’ll explain later.

The Place:
Next to, and sharing the same building with, Maryland Yards. It’s not obvious driving by, it does not face the road. But like I’d said, we’ve all been there before and didn’t have any problems finding it. Parking was trickier. Between Maryland Yards and the Thai Kitchen, the lot was nearly full. Maryland Yards is a rightfully popular sports bar/grill which I will certainly be reviewing in the future.
What we were not expecting was the popularity of the TK. There was a five or six person line at the door.  We stepped up to it, stopped and immediately Doug, Keith and I started discussing the notion that Maryland Yards was bigger and perhaps not as crowded. Lilian though was undeterred. Something you need to know about Lilian, she is tenacious. Everyone that has worked with her will tell you this. Once her mind is pointed at something, she will dog it till it yields, or it runs away. It makes her very effective at work when there’s an issue that needs to be resolved, or a project that’s mired down. This was no different, she pushed her small but determined frame into the restaurant ahead of us. We stayed outside. In a few minutes, while we were still indecisively contemplating or options, she squeezed back out and told us to follow her, she’d secured us a table. Like I said, she’s tenacious.
We shoved everyone aside and sure enough were led to a table in the back, one that was just then being bussed.
“They very, very busy, not enough staff” She told us, pointing to the gentleman and lady clearing the table. “They are brother and sister, from Shanghai.”
I immediately recognized the significance of this, Lilian is also from Shanghai, She’s only been in the U.S. for about nine years, Lilian is her American name for herself. If you go to the restaurant’s web site you’ll see a picture of the proprietors, ‘Angie’  and her brother. I’m betting Angie wasn’t her given name either.
The place was indeed packed, with people like us, by that I mean cubicle workers. Maryland Heights is very business-y, lots of office buildings, and thus lots of people like us looking for a decent, reasonably priced lunch. There’s a good picture of the inside of the place on their web site as well. Dark yellow walls, wood wainscoting, with a score or so framed, black and white photos of people and places in Thailand. On the prominent counter were tall stacks of Styrofoam take out boxes.
The tables were small, which made them modular, different sized parties would get an appropriate number of tables pushed together, we required two.
Above us on the back wall was a large flat screen TV showing the Headline News Channel. There was no sound, close-captioning was turned on. Something radioactive in Russia, another riot in Palestine.
The Food:
  The menu (available online as well.) Was broken down into groups,soups, salads, curry, rice and noodles, and house specials. I had a pretty good idea of what I would get going in, the choice being based on the spiciness, or in my case, the lack of spiciness. I knew of two possibilities, the fried rice (pick your meat) and the slightly more adventurous Pad Thai.(noodles)
Doug would go spicier, he always does, it’s quite fun to watch. They arrived to take our orders, Lilian and the waiter started yammering away in a high speed conversation in their complex but almost musical native tongue, the rest of us just stared at each other. We finally ordered, Keith copied my rice order, He’s a native Jefferson Countian which may explain our simpler, milder tastes.  Lilian went for the spicy seafood rice, Doug opted for the spicy basil chicken and asked for the spice tray as well. The spice tray is a condiment tray with several vials of pepper-laden liquids and powders, all the way from ‘too hot to eat’ to ‘caustic weapon of torture.’  I won’t touch the vicious stuff. We all chose water, it’s a working lunch thing, common among the thrifty cubicle dwellers. Lilian asked for a lemon for hers, naturally they brought her two. Her new friends took pretty good care of us.
Keith got Lilian’s attention at one point and asked what they were talking about. She answered back several details which impressed Keith. I explained to him that Lilian and the manager were from the same village. This made Lilian laugh, she knew I was making a joke since Shanghai is not a ‘village’ in any language, it’s a sprawling mega-city of around fifteen million people. Lilian and I have had several conversations about her hometown and country. I’ve only been as far as Japan and Korea myself, but I’ve read extensively about China.
The food arrived rather quickly, single plates with a big pile of rice. Doug’s rice was plain, the chicken and spicy bits in a separate pile to be blended together as seen fit by the consumer. He ladled on some of the reddish, oily spices from the spice tray, just a little though, it doesn’t take a lot of that stuff to set off fire alarms or induce a coma.
My rice was savory and well blended with the un-breaded chicken chunks, onions and egg bits, and tomatoes. Yeah tomatoes, in fried rice.
Within a few bites Doug was sweating, but not slowing down. Had he not been eating spicy food one would think he was getting ready to stroke out. His face was red, his eyes fully dilated, and he was breathing heavy. This didn’t interfere with his enjoyment though, Doug likes to eat and has a healthy metabolism.
Lilian insisted that I try her spicy seafood rice, she said it didn’t seem very spicy at all. I took some, choked, spat and called her a liar. It wasn’t the spiciest thing I’d ever had, but it still invoked searing and gagging. I really, really can’t handle spicy foods. Lilian shook her head and laughed a little. She’s got a great, if not sometimes cruel, sense of humor.
Everyone seemed to enjoy their meals, Keith was bothered by me stopping occasionally to write something down. Doug knew what I was doing, but I kept Keith and Lilian in the dark about the review I was taking notes for. Keith was starting to get self conscious since I would often jot something down right after he’d said something.
“You’re not writing that down are you?” He asked for the fifth time.
“Yeah, yeah I am.”
You’re writing that down as well aren’t you” Doug asked
Late into the meal Keith pointed toward the distant-most table and said “Hey isn’t that Swami?”
We all looked, but it was hard to tell in the busy, always-in-motion room.
“I’ll find out.” Doug said, pulling out his phone.
Swami works with us, but wasn’t available to go out with us since he was having lunch with his wife. This was exciting. Swami spent the entire month of November back in his native India getting married. One of those big, blow-out, thousands of guests and dozens of parties and rituals affairs, not unlike those that are usually an integral part of Bollywood movies. 
None of us had met his wife before, we’d only seen pictures. She arrived in the states for the first time around the first of December, just a couple of weeks back. A real life changer, getting married moving abroad, we all felt sympathetic.
Sure enough, the view cleared just as Swami answered his phone. Doug insisted that he bring his wife over to meet us.
He did. She was a small, absolutely gorgeous young woman, already Americanized in her clothing, stylish jeans, blouse and boots, a drop-dead knockout. Swami’s a very handsome specimen himself, I’ve always said so. Together they were about the cutest young couple imaginable. Introductions were made, chit-chat followed, we found out that her biggest adjustment so far had been the weather. It’s been a bit chilly in St. Louis the past few weeks, colder than the ‘village’ in India she came from ever got.
We finished up, I was the only one that didn’t clear the plate. I was full.
The food is good, maybe even great. My only problem was cultural/style/preference rather than gastronomic. Restaurants like this serve single-note meals. American ‘Chinese’ places either are buffets or multi-food plates. Wontons, rangoons, egg rolls, chicken chunks, several things on a plate. Here, and in other places, you order rice, you get rice.  Personally I prefer the variety. But my rice itself was very, very good. Okay I don’t care for tomatoes in my rice, but they were sparse and pretty easy to just push aside. I poled the others, aside form Lilian’s not being spicy enough for her tastes, everyone had nothing but good things to say. Even the red-faced, sweaty and pinched-voice Doug was quite pleased.
The price was work-lunch friendly, less than ten bucks per meal. A drink other than water would have tipped it over that watermark, part of the reason water is prevalent at lunch amongst us cubicle rats.
I highly recommend the Thai Kitchen, especially if you like Thai food. I admit to being a bit wimp-ish about the spicier stuff, but that’s just me.

Thai Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Poppy’s Ristorante

2000 N. Truman Rd.
Crystal City, Mo

We’re back!
Thanksgiving weekend we didn’t go out, no need to, we’re crazy for turkey leftovers. Last week Angel and Adam were in Springfield, Mo. to attend a baby shower for her son and daughter-in-law’s fairly soon to arrive daughter. I stayed at the compound and attended to the needs of the seven or nine dogs, subsisting on home-made Chinese, rice, sweet/sour chicken and turkey-scrap wontons. Angel and Adam would be having the real deal, as is tradition whenever any of us go to Springfield . She would be bringing some back, which is mandatory, and I wanted to compare my rice to the Queen City’s best effort.
Earlier in the week I received an email from Poppy’s, a free pasta dish coupon on account of my upcoming birthday. I’d filled out a card last time we were there. I even entered my actual birthday on it. Sometimes I am less than honest when filling out those things. Usually I also put a phone number that is less than completely accurate. The number is in my name, it’s just that it’s only connected to a fax machine that Angel uses for her business. It’s usually turned off anyhow. And the email address I give out goes to an account that I only check once per week or so. I don’t know why I go to such great strides to mask my true identity, just habit I guess. Oh yeah, and because I don’t like junk-mail and solicitor phone calls. The fake birthday thing I can’t really explain though.
So with the coupon, I figured this was a sign from above that we should go to Poppy’s. Actually it’s more a technical feature of Poppy’s marketing strategy than divine behavior, but still, it solved the problem of where to go. I’ll probably get more of these things over the next few months from other restaurants as my many fake birthdays approach.
The Place:
The place is gorgeous, charming, warm and welcoming. Hard to imagine from the inside that it’s next door to a bowling alley. Go to the place’s web site to see some pictures if you haven’t already. Wood, lots of wood. The centerpiece, a thick German-looking stag-adorned mirrored hutch is prominent. The artwork is classy and well thought out.
It was about half-full when we got there, which was a bit later than usual. Angel needed to make a quick stop on the way to pick up some medicine for one of the dogs. Poor Deedee was suffering from a bug and exploding from all ends earlier in the day and Angel’s friend and comrade from CARE had just the dope she needed.  Unfortunately, since CARE’s shelter is well south of DeSoto in Washington County, this meant it was not really ‘on the way’ at all, it was in fact about an hour and a half from the time we left the house till we got to Crystal City. For those of you in Kentucky, it would be like driving to Hopkinsville by way of Mayfield, or in southern Maryland, like going to Annapolis via D.C.
Poppy’s is beautiful though, and they make awesome food.
As could be expected, there was Christmas music playing softly throughout, not a bad mix altogether although when ‘Santa Baby’ came on I wanted to throw a chair at something.*
The Food:
I wanted something different, so I scanned back in my top-secret notebook to see what I’d had the last time. Cannelloni, loved it. Adam asked for what he’d ordered as well, and recalled it fondly.
Scanning the menu anew I was rather indecisive. We ordered our tea, tea and Coke and shortly they arrived along with a basket of rolls and faux-butter packets. The rolls were near baseball sized and not too fluffy. They were not heavy at all but they were more substantial than the flour clouds that some places serve. I finally decided on the Shrimp Fettuccine, the waitress returned to take our orders. I let Angel order first, since I’m a proper gentleman, and as she spoke I looked down at the menu once again. The description of the Fettuccine popped up at me: Shrimp, mushroom, garlic, broccoli in a light cream sauce with provel cheese. I panicked. It was my turn to order having just discovered that my chosen dish was contaminated with broccoli! 
“And for you sir?” The young lady asked.
“Uh, the uh, Cannelloni.”
That’s right, I once again crumpled under the enormous pressure.
Angel looked at me, baffled, after I finished my order.
“I thought you were going to get something different.” She scolded.
“I’m fine.” I replied confidently.
Greek Salad
Angel and I had ordered the Greek Salad as a side, Adam the cheese, potato and bacon soup. Angel and Adam’s meal allowed for two sides, they each chose the day’s vegetable, broccoli.
The salads and soup arrived in good time, while waiting Angel and Adam played with their phone apps again, leaving me to scan the room and quietly absorb the ambiance. My phone doesn’t have apps, or a data plan, it may as well have a rotary dial and hopelessly tangled cord.
The bread was awesome, the salad delightful, with just one problem. The crisp and attractive salad was served on a saucer and was piled too high. Cutting the red pepper ring could not be done without considerable spillage.  It was quite tasty, almost as good as Trattoria Giuseppe’s, but the presentation, though cute, was a fail due to the messy top-heaviness of it.
The main courses arrived shortly after the salad and soup dishes were pushed aside. I had asked Adam about his soup.
“It was potato, cheese and bacon, what could possibly be wrong?”  Was his snarky answer. He gets his snarkiness from his mother.
The cannelloni is a tube pasta, filled with beef, veal and chicken, covered in a red sauce and melted provel cheese. Provel is a St. Louis area specialty, you won’t find it many other places. It is not made around here, it’s just a blend of cheddar, Swiss and provolone that is made for the region due to the local differently-sophisticated tastes. It’s a hallmark of St. Louis style pizza. I’m not a huge fan of it, though it isn’t disgusting. I just find it a bit rich and overpowering. I’m no cheese snob though, I grew up on the stuff labeled ‘Individually wrapped, processed American cheese product’ which also means ‘not really cheese’.
Chicken Terazzini
Angel had ordered the Chicken Terazzini, Lightly breaded, fried , on a bed of spaghetti and a white cream sauce with fresh sea clams. Adam got the Chicken Alfredo, charbroiled  or lightly breaded, fried, topped with a blend of cheese and cream sauce on a bed of spaghetti. (He chose ‘fried’)
My portions were deceptively sized, they seemed small, but the sweetness and richness of the sauces filled me up in no time. It might have had something to do with the bowl of chili I’d had a few hours earlier. I couldn’t finish, and the heaviness was starting to make my cardio system ache, but there was it was actually very, very good.
Adam seemed to suffer a similar issue. “Heavy, a bit too cheesy, I should have gone for grilled.” He said as he pushed the not-quite-cleaned plate aside. Angel was still going gangbusters though, even dipping her disgusting broccoli into the creamy pasta sauce.
Poppy’s is very, very good. It is also very, very rich. Do not go there if you’ve already had something heavy that day. Save it for the rich, creamy, heavy main course. The tastes are multi-dimensional and consistent. It’s a beautiful, classy yet casual place, staffed well. The price is not out of whack, especially if it’s your birthday. The original ticket said forty-seven dollars, but the final, discounted price was thirty-six. The food is top shelf, the menu is not cluttered. Highly recommended, we would happily take guests there.
BTW Last weekend Angel brought back some rice from Springfield, I compared, I liked mine better.


*’Santa Baby’: I’ve always hated this song, I didn’t know why until a couple of years ago after I spent some time trying to figure out why this one, more so than even ‘Grandma got run over by a reindeer’ made me clench my fists. I think it has to do with the fake, cheap, lazy use of the word ‘tonight.’  It’s at the end of every verse. It doesn’t rhyme with anything else in the song. It’s used as a replacement, a fake rhyme in place of a rhyming word because the writers, J. Javits and P. Springer, just  weren’t very good at writing songs. I’ve noticed this sort of lazy fakery in other songs too, just not as prevalent. It’s as grating to me as listening to a teenager improperly use the word ‘like’ more than five times per sentence. “And I was like ‘whatever’, and he was like ‘sure thing’, and I was like ‘I know!’. . .”

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Monday, December 5, 2011


The Delmar Loop
6605 Delmar Blvd
St Louis, MO

A workday review.
The Delmar Loop is an upscale and quite popular area of the St. Louis metro area, located only a couple of miles from Forest Park, where can be found the St. Louis zoo, Botanical gardens, art museum, etc. The loop is actually in one of St. Louis’s many, many neighboring suburbs called University City, named so as it is home to world renowned Washington University.
It is called the loop because it once was home to the looping turn-around area for the streetcar lines. The streetcars and loop itself have been gone for quite a while though the name stuck. There is word of a possible trolley system in the future. Anyway it’s a really nice area, lots of stately homes, fashionable shops and eateries, theatres and performance halls. The sidewalks are home to plaques and statues of famous folks from St. Louis. Fitz’s has near its front door a bronze statue of Chuck Berry. Other folks commemorated on the loop are Nellie, Tina Turner, Ella Fitzgerald, Miles Davis, John Goodman and sexologists Masters and Johnson.  I’m not making that up. M&J started their filthy, sinful sex-work at Wash U.
Fitz’s itself is a brewer/bottler of Root Beer, first produced in 1947. The current old building it occupies was originally a bank, the bottling operation operates where the vault once stood.
We left work for lunch to meet up with a former co-worker who was in town for a spell. I’d never met him, he left the company before I started my current employ. There were four of us, Doug, Rob (with whom I’ve written about before) and Brenda, a very talented and often useful database administrator.

The Place.

None of us had been there before, so we had maps, three of them, each slightly different. They got us there without too much trouble. Street parking is a known issue in this area, but we lucked out that Fitz’s had a lot behind the building. There was construction netting up around the outside, workers were busy re-cobbling the patio areas. The place was busy but not packed, we told the lady that met us that we were meeting a party, she pointed us up the stairs. I appreciated this as kids are allowed downstairs, but not upstairs. It’s a kid-friendly place I’m told, with cardboard car-shaped serving baskets to utterly delight the sticky little tykes.
We met the guy, a handsome thirty-ish man with no hair on his head. That’s a look I’ve often thought about sporting, but Angel insists I look fine just the way I am. He turned out to be a nice, intelligent man despite his lack of hair. Brenda asked him where he worked, he replied ‘Avon’. She looked baffled. “You sell Avon?” she asked.
”No, I work at Avon’s HQ in White Plains New York, still admin’ing IT systems, like I did when we worked together.”
“Oh. That makes more sense.”
The place was trying to look 1950’s-ish, retro stuff here and there, the walls were exposed brick, the ceiling open with exposed large, shiny vent pipes. Upstairs and down were booths and tables. A long bar lined the entire back wall. We were greeted and seated by a nice young lady with a very unfortunately located water stain on the front of her jeans. I tried not to stare.
There were three large flat screen TV’s flashing various sports shows, hockey, football highlights, etc. The sound was thankfully muted. We sat directly under a loudspeaker, a pretty loud loudspeaker playing a form of music that I can only equate to Velvet Underground style glam (imagine Andy Warhol influenced rock). It may not have been that at all, but it wasn’t too bad.

The Food:
We glanced over the menus, mostly burgers and sandwiches. They didn’t list a BLT, though they did offer a B.L.A.S.T which was a wrap with Bacon Lettuce, Avocado, Sauce (spicy), and Turkey.  I don’t do Avocado.  Rob apparently does though. I wasn’t in the mood for a burger either, Angel got lazy the evening before and picked up burgers from McDonalds instead of feeding me properly as a good wife should.
I did find a winner though, beer-battered fish and chips. ‘Chips’ is what the British call French fries, I don’t know why, maybe they’re just stupid. We aren’t in Brittany anyhow, it should really be called fish and fries, what’s so wrong with that?
By default I was going to order tea, but the three folks that ordered ahead of me all asked for the root beer. I thought for a moment and decided to do likewise since this place was a brewer and bottler of the stuff. To do otherwise would be like going to Steak and Shake and not ordering a shake. Come to think of it though, I have been to Steak and Shake and not had a shake. I’m not proud of that, I just don’t like cold, milky sweet drinks. Root beer, A&W specifically, like they sell at fairs and Demolition Derby’s always seem too sweet. I was afraid this might be the case, but because of my sense of obligation to you, my loyal fans, I went ahead and did my duty.
We were soon delivered frosty mugs, seriously frosty, like a windshield in January frosty. Cute, but it came at a price. The frost melted almost immediately when the root beer was poured into them, leaving large puddles on the table. It might also explain the waitress’ pants stain. The root beer itself though was pretty good, earthy, not hyper sweet. I’m not a big carbonated beverage guy, they tend to make me feel bloatey but in this case I refilled twice.
The food was delivered, the three fish portions looked like eggrolls. There was enough tartar sauce to overcome subjugation by the Mongols.* The slaw was generous, way too generous since it was completely bland. I had maybe two bites of it. The fish itself was quite good. The fries were fine, but nothing to write home about.
Rob said his BLAST was okay, but it was a little light on the turkey. I asked the others about their burgers, Brenda said “They’re like real burgers” Which I assumed to mean not like fast food burgers. Everyone but me finished everything off, I was left with a bowl of tartar sauce and a bowl of bland coleslaw.
The root beer was the star of the meal though, without a doubt. In all the food was okay, but not excellent or outstanding. It was overpriced for the quality presented, meal came to $14.20 before tip. That’s not excessive, but I can certainly do better elsewhere, like at Hodges’ Chili Mac, Casa Gallardo or Maryland Yards.  Fitz’s may indeed have standout dishes, I might just have missed them. Let me know if there’s something they’ve got that’s good enough to motivate me to go there again.

* Subjugation by the Mongols:  The Tartars (or Tatars) are a Turkish speaking ethnic group in a wide area in Russia and the many ‘stans’ around the region. In the 13th century Genghis Khan was pillaging and looting the area, enslaving a lot of defeated peoples, the Tartars included. They’ve been subjugated a lot. Tartar sauce is thought to be called such as the tartars were by legend very rough people, and as an adjective, ‘tartar’ was possibly once used to mean ‘rough’, as is the texture of the stuff.

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