Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Hibachi Grill and Supreme Buffet

1950 E. Kearney St.
Springfield, Mo.

We rushed down to Springfield on Saturday to celebrate an early Christmas with Angel’s parents and kids and of course, the babies. We stayed at her parent’s house where the festivities were to take place. In attendance was Angel’s daughter and her three kids, Angel’s son Tyler, his wife Tonya and their new baby. (Tyler designed the Eat and Critique logo used on this page.)
Also, Angel’s brother, along with his two daughters and the six kids they have between them. Yeah, me amongst a herd of sticky, screaming kids. It was a hoot. But I put my inner Grinch aside for the time, it was after all, mostly about them.
I hadn’t seen most of them in three or more years since Angel and I, because of the dog population can rarely go out of town together, or at the same time. This short weekend run  though was possible in large part by Diana, Angel’s part-time trainer, friend and up and coming photographer. We gave her a house key and a schedule.
Angel drove, she knew the way better than me.
The drive was pretty uneventful, traffic on I-44 was thick, but not too bad.
The town hadn’t changed that much, then again it had been so long since I was last there that it might have changed a lot and I just couldn’t recall what it used to look like. There were many parts of it though that looked completely familiar. It should, I lived there as long, nearly eighteen years, as I did in my original hometown in Kentucky.
The old houses and streets brought back many memories, some good, some sad. We didn’t have much time to sight-see though. We arrived at the folks’ house about an hour before everyone else started showing up.
Ham, baked beans, corn, chips. A pretty simple but delicious layout. I made a ham sandwich and was quite pleased with it. The kids ran around and yelled and played, the young parents were tired but in constant control. Tyler and Tonya’s baby stared at me through her little round, sticky and slobbery face and smiled.
Once the paper tearing and hollering ended, everyone went their separate ways and we sat with Angel’s folks until bedtime.
Sunday, noon, Angel’s kids and their gaggle of babies would meet up for a traditional lunch.
Traditional for a visit to Springfield that is, not for any particular holiday. Springfield Mo. Is home to some of the best (Americanized) Chinese food on this planet. You may not agree, but your argument is invalid.
The Place:
On Kearney Street across from the enormous Walmart complex. Back when I lived in town that complex was called the North Town Mall, or as the kids called it, the  'non-mall' due to its near constant and complete vacancies. I can’t recall more than a couple of stores open at a time. Then Walmart moved in anchoring it, and at some point grew like a vigorous cancer to consume the entire mall.
We parked and found the kids waiting in their cars. We rallied them together and invaded the restaurant. There were seven adults and four rug rats. The babies were all dressed up and cute as buttons.
I’d demanded a buffet. Apparently my favorite buffet in Springfield was no longer in business. We tasked the kids for picking a spot, with me adding how very disappointed I would be if they chose poorly.  No pressure.
     The eleven of us trod in and were greeted immediately. Overhead, Asian zither music played pleasingly twangy Asian music. The mostly Asian staff were wearing Santa hats, the dining area was about half full. They pushed three tables together and arranged the chairs quickly. We found seats, grouped by family, and gave our drink orders. Moms stayed behind as dads went through the line first, once they returned the moms got their turn. I sat across from the youngest grandbaby, the sweet, quiet, always smiling little girl I’ll call K. She’d been sick recently and still looked a little woozy.  The smile shined through though. I made the requisite faces and she cooed her approval. This visit was my first opportunity to see her in person though there was nothing unfamiliar about her, her doting and proud parents post a picture or three nearly every day it seems.
The Food:
The buffet area was enormous. There was a hibachi line where you could pick out ingredients, put them in a bowl and they would cook it for you. I considered it, but decided to go traditional buffet. The selection was huge.
They not only offered nearly every known (Americanized) Chinese dish, but also a wide variety of American food, pizza, chicken, macaroni, beef, etc. There would not be a person I have ever known that could not find plenty to eat.
I stuck with the usual, various chickens, rice, noodles, rangoons, stir-fry stuff. Angel’s plate wasn’t much different, but she added an egg roll. I don’t usually get egg rolls at a buffet since they are big and filling. I like a buffet so I can have a dozen or more different things in small portions.
Angel also tried some sushi and black bean clams,. Clams, very good, sushi, not so much. My own plate was quite pleasing, with no real disappointments. There were a few less than favorable comments, mostly about the octopus, too spicy, the pepper chicken too peppery, and the cashew chicken chunks and the chicken on a stick  was overcooked and dry.
The pot stickers received wide approval, the rice I had was good, it was just too yellow. There’s no need for it to be yellow in my mind, just not necessary. Whatever it is that makes it that color doesn’t really add anything to the taste.
K wore a lot of her food, small bits of chicken broken up for her along with some rice. She had a healthy appetite and ate nearly everything put in front of her. From the far end of the table the family, Angel’s daughter’s three kids were busy trashing the place. They ate and seemed to enjoy, but man they were messy. No messier than any other kids, but more than I am used to.
Angel’s granddaughter, a precocious eight year old, said the pudding tasted like an overcooked brownie, though she ate it all. Maybe she likes overcooked brownies. Later she added that she liked the crawdads. I did too. I had two plates, making sure to try the bananas and red sauce.
This Hibachi Grill is very much like the one we went to in St. Louis, the theme, the colors the layout, the size and offerings. Even the quality of food/service was very similar. I researched this and every indication is that this is not a franchise operation, each store is independently owned and operated.
It was certainly no the best Chinese buffet I’ve been to, but since it is a buffet and most of the food was well made and plenty in availability, it’s hard to complain too much. I asked a few folks near me if there was anything there that would bring them back, a thing that this place did better than other places. No. Tyler indicated that he loved the frog legs (blech) but other than that no, there was nothing special.
Springfield has scores of Asian restaurants, some of them are quite good, some of them are little better than fast food. It’s a ferocious market in that city, places open and close regularly. The places I recall as being quite good are all gone now, so I really can’t say which place I like better. I’m at the mercy of those that point us toward a joint. Still almost every place in Springfield is superior to just about any other place I’ve ever been. As absurd as it may seem, Springfield Mo. Is the Queen City of (Americanized) Chinese food.
The bill came to a jaw dropping $93, I relaxed a bit when I did the rudimentary math and realized we’d fed seven adults and four children, all they could eat, for that sum. Not bad at all really.
All in all its pretty good, a safe choice. Not the best in my mind, nor is it quaint like some of the re-purposed gas stations that often host these restaurants. Most of the food was pretty good, there was plenty of seating and it was clean and professionally and efficiently operated.
You’ll find something you like, and it will probably be good.

Hibachi Grill & Supreme Buffet on Urbanspoon

Monday, December 17, 2012

Texas Tater N' More

144 7th Street
Hillsboro, Mo

The new burger chart
I’d been meaning to go back to this place sooner, and more often. The ladies that own Texas Taters were really supportive of the local Library effort and deserve more patronage.
The day had started out drab, gray and drippy but had cleared up and warmed up quite nicely, in the 50’s by dinner time. I was ready for some food and mildly excited by the fact that Texas Taters were now offering burgers according to their Facebook page. I saw this as wonderful news for those families that are not unanimous in their desire for a baked potato. 

The Place:
Cavernous interior
 On 7th street… which I think is a joke since I really don’t think Hillsboro has seven actual streets. I just know that it’s visible from Main Street, north of BB. It’s above an auto parts store and has a drive-up window.
This building was probably something else before it was a restaurant/diner and its not the ideal building for what could be a cozy little eatery. Inside it is almost cavernous, high ceilings and about twice as much floor space as it needs. They keep it very shiny and clean though. The white tile floors and bright blue walls cheer it up, the Mocha painted wall in the back tones the brightness down a bit. In the background a radio station was playing, Christmas music, which I was already pretty sick of. At work they’ve been playing it endlessly for about three weeks, enough already.
We stepped up to the menu poster on the wall by the counter and studied our options.
The Food:
Angel wasn’t with us the only other time we’d been in. She studied the menu like it was a college final. Angel likes baked potatoes though, I mean who doesn’t?
I’d decided to get a burger since it was a new offering. I queried the ladies on the sides, the size of the burger, toppings, which they had listed as LTPO, which took me a moment to figure out that it stood for  lettuce, tomatoes, pickles and onions. I also asked about their ‘sauce’ listing. It turns out that they were referring to ketchup, mustard, mayo, etc. I went for a classic burger though they offered more exotic southwestern configurations. I asked for mustard and ketchup as the 'sauce'. When I couldn’t decide on the side, crinkle fries or wedges, the lady offered to serve a little of both. Very accommodating.
Classic Burger with plenty of PLTO
Sure enough Angel built herself a baked potato with gravy, grilled chicken and then threw a wrench at rational thinking and added broccoli. Adam also got a potato, one of the standards, a ‘Cowboy’ which was topped with barbecue pork, but traded out the onion straws for more bacon. Adam likes bacon, because he’s a good, honest, patriotic American. As for drinks, we stayed on script, Tea, Diet Coke and root beer. I had noticed in the back decanters for Luzianne. These ladies are not just nice, they’re smart and classy.
We sat at a booth admiring the colorful Texas-themed table coverings. We sat at the ‘boots’ booth.
We sat for a moment chatting and slurping our drinks out of the 24 ounce Styrofoam cups, which I do not particularly care for.
 Angel had taken Rudy, our foster dog of multiple breeds, through her morning training class and was quite proud of his progress. He came to us very, very skittish but has warmed up a lot since we’ve started socializing him and letting him stay upstairs. That way he spends the entire day around noises, comings and goings and in close proximity to other dogs. Rudy has adopted Adam as his daddy. Adam is a softie for Rudy as well.
A gentleman brought our baskets to us in short order.
Grilled Chicken ad (blech) broccoli.
The potatoes are huge, Texas-sized. The burger wasn’t quite as big as I thought it would be from the description I was given and this was a good thing. I hate wasting food. It was certainly big enough and sided with a very generous portion of mixed crinkle fries and skin-on wedges. The crinkle fries were nice and crispy, the wedges might have been crispier had they been left in the fryer a bit longer, or pre-cooked a little. They were not bad at all, just not as crispy as they could have been.
Angel and Adam dug in and I didn’t hear much from them for several minutes.
“I wonder if you can get a baked potato with a side of fries?” She asked. Of course you can, this is America!
The burger was pretty good, grill-fried, medium rare, thin and tender. There was plenty of LTPO, all fresh. The Texas-branded bun was quite good, and a clever touch.
Cowboy, with extra bacon
 I polled the family as they finished up, rather as they stopped eating. These potatoes are huge, and as the lady pointed out to us she’s never been taken up on her offer to serve up seconds to anyone. 
“The chicken was good, fresh and seasoned well, the broccoli was cooked perfectly and the portions were generous.” Is sort of what she said, my note-taking skills don't allow for verbatim comments. “Really good.” She added.
Adam had only a few words, all of them positive. “The pork got to be a little sweet after a while” was as bad a comment as he could muster. Both of them left topping-less carcasses of baked potato skin. Angel added that it would be nice if they offered up a tub of butter or margarine for the last bit of the potato since once the toppings are gone, the remainder is a bit dry.

I like this place, I really do. We will go back. I’m not crazy about the building, but there’s not much that can be done about that. There are not many available buildings in the tiny shire of Hillsboro, so short of building from scratch; you have to settle for what’s available. I love, love, love! the idea of a baked potato place. The ladies that run it are very nice and accommodating.  They really seemed to care what we thought and were quite proud of their offerings.
The bill came to a mere twenty three dollars and change, which is pretty cheap for three full meals.
Aside from the potatoes and now, burgers, the place offers several sandwiches and a good variety of ice cream and frozen treats. I’m not sure how anyone has room for dessert when they finish one of these huge taters, but it’s there if you can handle it.
Highly recommended! They also cater and deliver.

Texas Taters N More on Urbanspoon

Monday, December 10, 2012


343 North Creek Drive
Festus, Mo.

 Sometime during the week I’d decided that this would be a great idea. We hadn’t been there in a while and we all like it. Without dissent we headed out Saturday evening. The day had been dark and dreary, December showing its true nature. Birthdays and holidays encroaching too quickly, associated stresses were building. I’d slept in and was late to my writers club Christmas party and arrived in an inexplicable and unforgivable asocial mood. Not harsh and rude or anti-social, just a-social, quiet and sulky. I get these moods once in a while and usually just have to wait them out.
I busied myself later by making my weekly run to Wal-Mart and engaging in a couple of other banal chores.
By Saturday evening the mood had subsided and I was coasting along in neutral. I looked forward to a pleasant meal at a nice place.
The Place:
The parking lot was pretty full but there were several good tables still available. I was pleased to see that Taytro’s hadn’t gone nuts decorating for the over-hyped holiday season. A single string of small lights entwined with a grapevine above the bar, I wasn’t even certain that it was holiday related.
We were led to a table in the front corner, a table that was too close to the occupied one next to it. We asked and were allowed to pull the table away. We sat and were told that Heather would be serving us.
The place, even near the window, was dimly lit, which is usually a good thing. Then we were handed the menus. There was a problem. The menus were black and lettered with small white type. Very classy, but nearly impossible for two middle-aged, bifocal-prescribed patrons. Angel and I struggled to read the thing. Adam helped translate, though his inherited eyesight wasn’t a lot better.
The offerings had changed a little since we were last there, maybe, some things seemed to be missing, though we could not recall exactly what.
There were specials being added to the chalkboard as we arrived. Fish and Chips and Chicken Picatta stir fry.
Taytro’s makes po’ boys, a great, simple sandwich. The  more I thought about it though, the more the fish and chips sounded pretty good.
The Food:
  Angel’s choice was hardly surprising. Crawfish Etouffee. Adam chose the Buffalo Chicken Po’boy with chips, I ordered the fish and chips with fries instead of chips which is what fish and chips actually means. In Great Britain, which is somewhere between England and the United Kingdom, ‘fish and chips’ is peasant food, street food, meant to be eaten on the go, like a hoot dog.  This is an important characteristic of the offering that I will get back to later.  Anyway the first fish and chip shop opened in London in 1860. This fact surprised me since I thought Long John Silver's had invented fish and chips sometime in the 1970’s, that's where I first heard of it anyhow.
For some stupid reason, the British call French fries ‘chips’. This is not really surprising however since the British are quite happy to butcher the language for no good reason. What we, God-fearing, freedom loving Americans call ‘chips’ are stubbornly referred to as crisps’ in the UK, even though the word ‘crisps’ sounds silly and is quite cumbersome to pronounce. An ‘s’ followed by a hard ‘p’ and then another ‘s’. It’s just much more oral calisthenics that is necessary. Go ahead, say the word. It’s a lot of work.
Angel got a salad with her meal, I did not. Too bad, Taytro’s salads are quite tasty, the house poppy seed dressing is rather sweet, though the salad is not drowned by it.
They also decided on fried ravioli, that St. Louis area staple, as an appetizer. I like it okay, but I’m not nuts for it. I had three.
To make them you take or make meaty, cheesy ravioli and boil it like you normally would. Then you let it dry a little, bread  and deep fry. Why deep fry? Because, like I said, this is America! They turn out as crispy finger food. Traditionally they are served with a marinara sauce for dipping.
Buffalo Chicken Po' Boy
Our drinks arrived before the appetizers and salads, as they should. Tea for me, Diet Coke for the lady, and root beer for the boy. The tea was actually quite good, a rare occurrence in the area.
Overhead the flat screens played sports, real sports, women’s volleyball. This was a college match and was taking place on a hard surface indoors. That of course takes a little something away from the purest form of the game, namely the skimpy bikinis that are worn by the beach-version contenders. It was still far better than football, baseball, basketball or that bewilderingly popular non-sport NASCAR.
The appetizers and salad came and went quickly. Quite good.
The place continued to fill at a regular pace. It was good to see a locally owned and operated joint doing so well.
The plates finally arrived. Angel’s etouffee was just as expected. Two bright red crawdads sitting atop a brown, saucy stew and two dollops of rice. Adam’s sandwich and chips looked good, he’d ordered his without onion and they complied.
Crawfish Etouffee
 My fish and chips looked. . . off… somehow. Small chunks of cod lightly breaded, fried and mixed among a plateful of fries, a small metal ramekin of sauce on the side. 
I’m used to fish, when served as fish and chips, to be thin filets, heavy-battered, fried crisp with the thick fried batter holding the flaky fish together, like at Long John Silver’s and every other place I’ve ever had fish and chips.
Then things started falling apart, literally. I picked up the first chunk of fish and the breading slipped right off, like knickers off a trollop . The cod flaked off and fell into the dipping sauce. I ended up using a fork to get it all out. The rest of the nuggets proved to be just as much a struggle.
Fish and Chips
The taste of the fish itself was bland. Not bad, in fact the amount of cooking was perfect, the fish moist and flaky but it had no flavor and the light breading offered up. . .nothing. The dipping sauce was wrong, all wrong. It was not tartar sauce, it was something else. Not sweet, sort of savory and maybe made with chipotle.  The taste of the sauce, the texture and frail mechanics of the fish made for a disappointing meal for me.
Angel and Adam though were quite pleased. Angel disassembled the crawdads and slurped down the luscious meaty bits. “Good as always.” She sighed. Adam’s only remark was about the amount of bread on his sandwich: “Too bread-y.”
We really like this place. Most everything they serve is excellent. The service is great, the atmosphere is cozy and friendly, and Taytro’s offers dishes that no one else around does. The bill came to a reasonable $46.59.
My gripes about the fish and chips are serious, but not bad enough to keep me from going back. They offer many things I like quite well, I just thought I’d mix it up on this visit. I cannot recommend the fish and chips, it simply doesn’t work as served. Perhaps a more traditional approach would be better, and there’s really nothing wrong with plain tartar sauce.

Taytro's Bar and Bistro on Urbanspoon

Monday, December 3, 2012


10857 Business 21
Hillsboro, Mo

We wanted a good, solid meal. We chose Munzert’s.
The Place:
Awful tea.
Across Highway B from the Hillsboro Mall (Dollar General). The parking lot was filling in, but not quite full. We stepped in and noticed something odd. Munzert’s has a bar area to the left and a dining area to the right. The dining area was empty and blocked by an impenetrable barrier consisting of two high chairs. Apparently someone had rented out the entire main dining room.We were led to the left, around a pool table, several large video game, a crowded bar and to a booth in the back. The place was packed. It was also stuffy, and very loud. This is also Munzert’s smoking allowed section, and it reeked. A half dozen ceiling fans were spinning at full speed, to no avail, the foul air just moved in swirls from one place to another. We decided to tough it out anyhow. For all those that claim ambiance doesn’t really matter that much I’d love to have had you along for this fiasco.
“I prefer the other side.” Posited Adam in a very rare display of unsolicited commentary.
After we were seated and handed our menus by the hostess, another lady took our drink orders. I regretted my decision almost immediately, un-sweet tea with lemon. Angel asked for a Diet Coke and Adam a regular Coke. I recalled that Munzert’s tea was not very good in the past and had no reason to expect it to be any better this time.
The Food:
Dinner Salad
Angel announced earlier that she was after the fried chicken. I was unsure at first. I looked over the steaks, I always get steaks at this place, they’re very good. I also looked at the burgers but they all seemed too big. I then noticed that below Angel’s favorite half-chicken plate they offered a two-piece chicken plate with two sides, so I decided on that. I knew I wanted the German fried potatoes, I also opted for a dinner salad. German fried potatoes are thick potato slices fried with lots and lots of onions. In the fried potato war, I choose German over French without hesitation.
As expected, Angel ordered the half-chicken saying she'd happily be taking half of it home in a box. She really likes the chicken. She added a Caesar salad and German fries.
Half Chicken + German fries
Adam surprised me by choosing a chicken and penne pasta plate, mashed potatoes on the side, with gravy. Yeah, pasta with a side of mashed potatoes.
The salads were somewhat slow to arrive, but they were quite good; fresh and crisp and not too large. Adam stole his mom’s crackers and maybe a crouton or two. In the meantime the noise grew louder and the stench stronger. Adam was covering his face.
The wait for the main course was even longer. The wait staff seemed disorganized and off-kilter. Drinks were refilled in a timely manner, for what it was worth, the tea was simply awful. Water next time.
2 piece Chicken + German fries
By the time the plates arrived we were ready, ready to leave. The noise and the smell were getting to us. I’d like to say the food made up for it all, but it didn’t. By the time the meals arrived our senses were clogged, saturated. The food was good as long as I concentrated on tasting it. The potatoes were crisp and onion-y, the chicken, lightly breaded, crispy and moist. The chicken was also very, very hot, I had to cut it open and let it cool off before I could start tearing away at it.  When the plates were delivered we were told that the rolls would be there soon, they’d had to make some. That was the last we heard of the rolls, we never saw any.
Chicken/bacon penne
We asked how Adam liked his pasta. Actually we shouted the question. “It has bacon!” he smiled. No wonder he ordered that particular dish. Sure enough mixed in to the creamy sauce and penne noodles were luscious bacon bits.
If you can’t say something nice, at least keep it short and to the point. Is my philosophy. Well, for the sake of this review anyhow.
I usually like Munzert’s I really do, but if this had been my first experience I would almost certainly never have gone back.
The waitress seemed to sense our discomfort and displeasure and offered an apology about the service. By then of course, it was too late. I rushed her through the process of payment by asking for the check then having my card ready when she brought it. Another lady brought us two take-out boxes. Angel and Adam spared no time scraping their extra food into them. We got out of there as soon as we could, relishing in the quiet and fresh air outside.
I had a headache from the noise. Angel and Adam were suffering for air.
We have decided that if this is the only option on subsequent visits to this or any other bar/grill then we will just go elsewhere. Not that we believe our health was in immediate danger, the jury’s still out on that for non-asthmatic folks, but because the smell permeated everything, including our taste buds.
    The price was very reasonable. A steak, which I usually get  is kind of pricy here, but with two chicken dinners and a pasta dish the bill came in at a very reasonable $33. I didn't tip very much though. On this night the service was far less than ideal and there were no rolls. To fail to deliver a twice-promised component of the meal, even something as simple as bread, is a serious error.

Soapbox Time:
There have been many communities in the area, as well as all over the country, passing ordinances to ban smoking in restaurants and in some cases, bars. I’ve never really supported that. I always thought that owners should be able to make the smoking/non-smoking choice for themselves, customers could vote with their feet and purses. I still feel that way. I could have easily turned around and left and dined somewhere else.
As for the employees, well, my thought on that is this. I don’t like watercraft and I am at best, a lousy swimmer, therefore I have never sought out a job on a cruise ship or merchant vessel. I don’t like confined spaces, especially underground, so I am not a miner.  There are many restaurants, even in our little area, that do not allow smoking indoors. If you want to, or have to wait tables, you still have options. If you are bothered by smoke, you may seriously want to reconsider seeking employment in a sports bar in rural Missouri.

Bobby Munzert's on Urbanspoon

Monday, November 26, 2012


Gravois Bluffs
Fenton, Mo

So where do you go after three full days of turkey and trimmings and the leftovers? “IHOP.” Angel declared. “I want some breakfast-y food.”
This was fine with me even though unlike her, I was not tired of the leftovers.
The IHOP in Fenton was chosen due to logistics. Maya, a sweet and charismatic Bull Terrier (not a pit bull) needed to be taken home to Valley Park Saturday evening, about the same time that we normally go out. So we’d known ahead of time that we needed to pick something in that general direction. There were many other dining options of course, but Angel’s craving was pretty specific.
So we loaded up Maya, who travels well, and headed out. We delivered her to her delightfully Swedish family and headed back to Fenton.
Gravois Bluffs also played well into another craving, the craving to do at least a little shopping. Gravy Bluffs is also home to Target, and a new H.H. Gregg Electronics and Appliance store. None of us had even left the homestead since the day before Thanksgiving. We’re not ‘Black Friday’ people.
The Place:
Gravois bluff is a large shopping area perched, as the name implies, on a high bluff overlooking Highway 141. Across the highway is a smaller, but just as busy shopping area. I only go there a couple of times a year, being shopping-center-reluctant as I am. I even buy my shoes, shirts and underpants online.
IHOP is one of many restaurants, all lined up at the front edge of the vast shopping center. Red Robin and Olive Garden are literally a stone’s throw away.
The IHOP was generally busy, but not as busy as some of the other places. Inside the bright store we were greeted and seated immediately. The aroma of breakfast, coffee and syrup (blech) wafted through the air as aromas tend to do.
Brian was there immediately to hand us menus and take our drink orders. I’d pre-decided on coffee, which meant I’d pre-decided on a breakfast-type meal of some kind. The tea at IHOP is bland, at least according to memory, but their coffee is pretty good. This meant I would have trouble going to sleep on time, but I wasn’t exactly lacking sleep after three days off from work.
The menus were colorful and picturesque. Everything looked good. There was a separate menu of new offerings. One meal stood out.
The Food:
Country sausage and potatoes. Country fried potatoes with chopped country sausage, cheese and gravy, served with two eggs and two pancakes. Add two strips of bacon for a buck and my meal still only cost 7.99.
Angel decided on the country fried steak with ‘extra’ gravy. Her plate also came with hash browns, eggs and pancakes.
Adam chose the chicken strip plate with mashed potatoes and (blech) broccoli. I don’t know what it is with this kid and broccoli.
As Brian took our order and I filled up my cup with coffee I first noticed the music. ‘Take On Me’ by A-Ha. An eighties favorite of mine. The music that followed was not eighties, but a mix of upbeat songs from several periods and artists. Not bland, but not edgy either.
Country Sausage Potatoes
Adam sipped his Pepsi, Angel tasted her sweet tea, I bathed in the steamy, aromatic pleasure of better than average coffee. I excused myself to go to the restroom, something I don’t normally do. However I’d been imbibing, heavily, the holiday punch, a wicked brew of citrus juices, mixed with red Kool-Aid packets and sugar-free lemon lime soda. It’s a family blend, we made it when I was growing up. It took it’s distinctive characteristic from dad’s strict no-sugar diet. No sugar at all, but with the right blend of juices, pineapple and orange, the stuff is plenty sweet and given a tart bite with grapefruit and lemon juice. When I make it I tend to become instantly addicted to it, which also means many more than the usual trips to the restroom.
The restroom was bright white tiles with a few red ones thrown in to give it some contrast. It wasn’t the cleanest restroom but it was far from the worst I'd seen.
The food arrived soon after I returned to the table. I was famished, having only had a turkey sandwich much earlier in the day.
The pile of food in front of me looked just as advertised, heavenly. Well, there did seem to be a whole lot of cheese. The butter balls on the pancake stack weren’t melting very quickly, the butter was rock hard so first things first, I chopped up the balls and spread them around. Since I don’t ever, ever put syrup (blech) on pancakes, the butter needs to coat them evenly.
Country Fried Steak with 'extra' gravy
We dug in. I was quite pleased with everything until about halfway in, that’s when I noticed the ratio was all wrong. There were lots of sausage chunks, and lots and lots of cheese and gravy, but not so many potatoes. When I make a similar dish it’s mostly potatoes, with only a sprinkling of cheese and only a small amount, if any, of gravy. The potatoes were all but gone, there were twice as many sausage chunks, and I was pulling globs of melted cheese and making a pile on the side of the plate. What was there was all quite good, the potatoes could have been crispier, but they weren’t bad. It was the ratio that was all wrong. My last few bites were mostly gravy and sausage and cheese, very, very unnecessarily rich. A dish like this is a certain artery clogger to begin with, I was OD’ing on it. Fortunately the pancakes provided a semblance of balance. IHOP certainly knows how to make pancakes.
Angel, when I asked her about hers simply said “Yum!” I pressed her and got a little more. “The meat was too big, it didn’t even fit on the plate.” 
“Perhaps they should use bigger plates.” I offered.
“No the meat was too big.”
She continued: “The hash browns need to be crispier, sometimes they are, sometimes they’re not. Crispy is better. And the syrups are all really, really sweet.”
Chicken Strips
She’d put boysenberry on her stack.
“It’s syrup” I replied. “Syrup, by definition is going to be really, really sweet.”
She dismissed my comment as she does most of them.
Adam summed his up after a lot of thought: “No complaints.” I noted that he’d cleaned his plate quickly and helped himself to his mother’s second, non-syrup’d pancake.

I will not choose the same dish next time, too rich, too cheesy. It probably suits some people fine though.  Better to stick with the controllable classics, and mix them together myself.
Brian, our server did a bang-up job. Friendly, dutiful and mostly attentive. He did fail on a promise to refill Adam’s Pepsi, but caught the error later and offered to let him have some to-go.
The empty plates were taken away quickly and Brian twice came by just to see how we were doing. Not overbearing, just friendly.
I could have sat there another hour or so, sipping on my coffee, but we were on a schedule. To get in a run through Target and Gregg’s we needed to rush a little, there were dogs at home that would be getting anxious soon.
All in all we were quite pleased. It was cheap at thirty six dollars and change, there was plenty of food for everyone, and for the most part it was all prepared well.
IHOP is quickly becoming a favorite of mine. They have a great variety of offerings and the price is right.

IHOP on Urbanspoon

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Ruby Tuesday

1120 Shapiro Dr.
Festus, Mo
It’s been three weeks since the last review. I was sick, busy, busier, and Angel was out of town last week. We’re all back now and ready to inform you, our loyal fans.
I was tired of burgers, I’ve had more than usual the last couple of weeks. Quick, easy, tasty, but ultimately, after a while, boring and heavy.
No one was in the mood to pick a place, so I just threw this out there.
The Place:
Once again, below Lowe’s parking lot on a hill above I-55. It seemed pretty busy, it was. We were greeted at the door by a young lady with cleavage. Not that that is a bad thing, nor do I admit to actually noticing it or leering. I’m just mentioning it to be thorough. The cleavage did not motivate me to order any more food or drinks than I would have normally, nor did I leave a larger tip than usual.
Those awesome biscuits
We were seated near the bustling bar. The booths are smaller in this area, and overhead are TV’s playing sports. Angel and I got a football game, Missouri vs. Syracuse, and Adam got a NASCAR race. NASCAR is curiously considered a sport in some places.
I didn’t mind the football, especially college games. A trend among university teams is to have brightly colored and highly stylized uniforms and helmets. If you take off your glasses and sit at a distance the action looks like a swirling 60’s LSD flashback.
We were handed menus, a plate of garlic-cheesy biscuits and gave the waitress our drink order, tea, sweet tea and Coke.
By the time our drinks came around we were all ready to order.
The Food:
The perfect salad
I found nothing really new on the menu, so I went with a favorite; Petite Sirloin, mashed potatoes and the awesome salad bar. The petite is a small nine-ounce cut, perfect for the taste of steak without the heft of a full sized serving, I was counting on the salad to be the bulk of the meal.  Angel went for the dry-rub Memphis ribs, asparagus and mashed potatoes, and of course, the salad bar. Adam took on the Prime Bacon Cheddar Burger, with fries and broccoli. Yeah, a burger and broccoli, go figure. The young man is disgusted by onions and tomatoes, but sides a burger with limp, slimy, disgusting broccoli. I blame his mother.
There was a long line at the salad bar, no surprise. Whatever else I might say about Ruby, she’s got the best salad bar in the entire tri-state area.
Angel's topped with pumpernickel croutons.
The plates seemed smaller than I remembered, Angel doubted it. My appetite was certainly larger than the plates though. Greens, all crispy and fresh, cucumbers, peppers, mushrooms, red onions, bright green lima beans, real bacon bits, boiled egg, cheeses,  thin sliced tomatoes, apple salad, potato salad, this time covered in a thin layer of Thousand Island dressing (my choice of dressing varies).  Angel had a slight variation, the main theme was those dark, heavy pumpernickel croutons that Adam would be swiping later.
Petite Sirloin
My plate was piled high, I dug in with the passion of a hungry guy with an awesome hand-crafted salad in front of him. “These biscuits mean we never need to go to Red Lobster again.” Adam chimed in. He was right, Ruby’s biscuits are to die for.
   Then they did it again. About halfway through the salad a mere few minutes in, the main courses arrived. Too soon, too soon!
Memphis Ribs
The table was too small to make room for everything and keep it all in reach. Ruby’s done this before, and pardon my Italian, it really pisses me off. What’s the big hurry? I can’t afford to take my family here very often, why rush us through like some cheap fast food joint? The salad bar is the draw to this place, why rush our rare pleasure? I made the salad, I wanted the salad, but you interrupted with a medium rare steak that loses freshness fast. I had to shove aside one third of the awesome salad to be able to savor the steak at its best.
I’ve griped about it before, I’ll complain about it again if they keep doing this.
This food itself was quite good. Though the plating was sparse and plain, the food was delicious. The steak was cooked perfectly to order, topped with butter and pepper. The mashed potatoes were fluffy and cheesy and only a little too salty.
Prime Cheddar Bacon Burger..with broccoli
“That’s a very pretty burger.” Adam said shortly before it disappeared.
I tried a bit of Angel’s ribs, and gave her a sliver of steak. She loved the spiciness of the steak, I was less impressed with the rib meat. It wasn’t bad, I’m just not much of a rib-guy, or a big dry rub fan. Angel in fact later said that the rib-rub could have been spicier. She said that however, over a plateful  of bare, gnawed bones. “The meat just fell off the bones.” She said, while smacking her lips.
I enjoyed my steak and potatoes, finished them off. Angel and Adam wanted dessert, to go, I didn’t. “You’re passing up the chance for cheesecake?” She was puzzled. “I already have a snack planned.” I responded, thinking of the graham crackers and fresh jar of peanut butter at home, the result of a recent craving. They each ordered a slice of pumpkin pie cheesecake. I don’t care for pumpkin anyhow.
The wait staff was exceptional, they kept us refilled and cleared away. The only bad thing about the meal, and it’s not a minor thing in my book, was the rushed main course delivery.
Pumpkin Cheesecake
The tea was clear and fresh as it most often is at Ruby’s. Even Angel commented on it. The price for the meal and the two desserts came to just over sixty two dollars. Kind of pricy if you eat there a lot, but for a once every other month or so thing, probably not too bad. The food was, as it usually is, of high quality and prepared well. The most telling fact is that we keep going back. Ruby gets it mostly right most of the time. It’s dependable and predictable.
Another minor point though, The booths in the area around the bar are too small, stiff and lumpy.
By far the main draw for us is here the salad bar. It’s always well stocked with a huge variety of fresh produce. Next time I might just make a meal of the salad and the biscuits. That would avoid the recurring problem of being interrupted by a too-quick main course.

Ruby Tuesday on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Oriental Buffet

 774 S. Truman Blvd.
Festus/Crystal City Mo.

We've been her before, have even reviewed it a couple of times. But we were craving Chinese and that's a powerful thing. not to be trifled with. We considered Lam's but we wanted variety. At Lam's you order a meal and you get that offering. I didn't just want pepper steak or General Chicken, I wanted it all.

The Place:
In Festus/Crystal City's large strip mall south of town(s). The twin sities are more like conjoined twin cities, I can never tell one from the other at the edges. I am satisfied now that it is actually in Crystal City though. A simple test confirmed this for me. If a crime occurs, which cops show up?
Yeah there was a crime. Shortly after we arrived two cruisers and four officers from the Crystal City Police showed up. They gathered around the entrance and talked to an animated young man for quite a while, then to other employees. Since I don't know much about Asian culture other than what I see in movies and on television,*  I assumed that something incredibly dire was amiss since Chinese communities tend to self-police and seldom talk to local authorities for fear of retribution from the community elders and their Kung-Fu trained, black robed Ninja assassins.
I do not know all the details of the crime other than what I overheard and what I filled in with my own imagination. It was apparent that the perps a male and a female tried to get away without paying their bill, there seems to have been a physical altercation in the parking lot as they made their getaway, a young lady worker was a bit bruised. I do not know if throwing stars or curve-bladed swords were deployed, nor did I hear of any physics-defying somersaults. If this melee was anything like the one in the acclaimed documentary 'Kung-Fu-Hustle' I'm sorry I missed it.
An ambulance showed up and they talked to the young lady, she seemed to not need their care other than for the official report. She probably eschews western medicine anyhow favoring herbal brews and acupuncture if the movies indeed accurately depict Chinese American life.
Still even with the kerfuffle, people came and went undeterred. Like I said a craving for Chinese food is hard to ignore.
We were seated by a thin young Asian lady with a thick accent. I do not know if she was one of the defenders in the battle.
A place like this you don't even sit down when shown your table, you just recite your drink order and waddle to the buffet line.
I notice that the place was nearly spotless, bright, clean, modestly decorated as it has been since it opened. They're apparently doing very well.

The Food:
My first round
I bypassed  completely the pretty, offerings at the sushi line. I'm sure that people who like that sort of thing would have something nice to say about it, it all looked fresh and expertly and artistically crafted. As is my nature, I pulled up small helpings of several things. What yo find on my plate is rice, noodles, General Chicken, Black pepper chicken, pepper steak, honey chicken, a pot sticker, and a crab rangoon. That sound like a  lot, but notice the picture, there's only a little bit of each.
Adam's plate.
Adam chose the white rice since fried rice has onions in it, he also got some sweet/sour chicken and broccoli.
Angel goes on and on about the sauteed green beans and mushroom offerings, she also added a baked seafood sampling and chicken on a stick, topping it off with a heavy egg roll.
Meanwhile, the cops were scribbling notes and talking to a couple of customers, perhaps witnesses. No hoses or nightsticks were deployed during the interviews, thus nothing was likely learned.
the food was quite enjoyable. I hadn't really gone beyond familiar fare. I bypassed the frog legs, the fish and a few other things that probably weren't too bad if you like those sorts of things more than the chicken selections.
The oriental music was soft and lilting, a flute-type instrument was prominent. It didn't exactly fit the soundtrack of police vs. Chinatown interaction, but it was pleasant enough though slightly distorted.
My second and final round
When I polled the family about the food it was obvious that there were no surprises. the food was all as good as expected. My pepper steak stuck out in my mind for its tenderness, and Angel applauded the improvement in the rangoons, now  crispier than she recalled than on previous visits.
"Good, as usual." was the unanimous verdict.
My second plate contained more shrimp, a little more of my favorites the noodles, the pepper chicken and a rangoon, and of course the traditional Chinese delicacy of bananas in red sauces, this time alongside traditional banana pudding.
All very good, well priced and quite filling. The service was efficient and  polite, the buffet lines were promptly refreshed as were our drinks.  Even with the 'ChinaTown'-esque drama going down in the front, the atmosphere was nice and friendly. The tab came to a very reasonable thirty bucks. (actually $29.29).
Why anyone would skip out on a tab that small I cannot imagine, two people, twenty bucks.  Low self esteem perhaps. There's a lot of places in the area that are more expensive, if you're going to risk legal troubles, and these jerks certainly will since now there's a possible assault issue now as well, sheesh, all that for a twenty dollar tab?  Plus there's the possibility of 'personal' retribution involving Ninjas. It's just not worth it.
* Okay, okay, I do have more knowledge about Asia than what I get from movies and TV, having lived there for three years (Japan/Korea). I am poking fun at TV and movie depictions of the mysterious and mystical/magical Asian cultures as secretive, clandestine, violent and dangerous people.