Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Off the Hook

12636 State Route 21
De Soto, MO


The Place:
Just inside the DeSoto city limits on Highway 21.  Though technically, legally, it is inside the city limits, it appears that those limits are very liberal. You can’t even see downtown from this location. 
It’s a locally owned and operated Midwestern-style restaurant that seems to be doing a pretty good business. We’ve eaten there before, of course, but not often. Inside is a sea/river theme, all things nautical, oars, life preservers, deep sea diving helmet, fishing rods, etc. adorn the walls and overheads. The center of the floor holds a large aquarium with large fresh water fish.
 The tables are unique. Standard wood tables covered with local ads permanently laminated under a thick coat of polyurethane varnish. Along with the ads are twenty or so trivia questions, the answers scattered around the ads. We tried a few of them and found them to be either fairly simple or uninteresting. I suggested that they should be more challenging and thought provoking, like this:
“Who was the only known lesbian U.S First Lady?”*
Adam and Angel looked at me like I was from Mars. I explained the answer to them. Adam responded: “I didn’t ask who it was, I just wanted to know how you possibly know that, what were you actually researching when you came across that?” I couldn’t recall, it was one of those things where I was reading about something, went on a tangent, then another, then voila, the story of America’s only known lesbian First Lady. I pretty much found out the same way that I found out that you cannot drive to South America from Central America because of the Darién Gap. It’s just something I came across and struggle to forget

The Food:
We scanned the menus, the trouble with this place is that there’s lots of good stuff to choose from. I’d had a mid-day snack and was not famished so I looked for something lighter than a steak or hamburger. Angel came across an entry on the salad page that seemed to fit the bill. Shrimp Scampi and salad. We both decided to order it. Adam asked for the BBQ Chicken tender sandwich with home-chips.
The shrimp, ten of them would be served in a creamy garlic sauce, with a baked potato, garlic bread and house salad on the side, we both opted for the poppy seed dressing.  Yeah a salad with a baked potato and bread on the side along with buttery cream sauce on the shrimp. It rendered all of the nutritional benefits of the salad completely moot. Along with the meals we ordered our drinks, tea, sweet tea and Pepsi, as well as two proven appetizers, crab rangoons and corn poppers.
We simply cannot eat at ‘Off the Hook’ without getting the corn nuggets. Wads of deep fried breaded corn. The rangoons are always a treat as well, a little sweet.
As we waited I scanned the room and observed that all three waitresses working the floor were near-clones. The uniform was black jeans and a titular black tee shirt, but the thing that struck me was that all three were similarly built and all had their shoulder length hair pulled back into a pony tail. I did not know if that was mandate or coincidence, but it reminded me of the generic women that used to pretend to play instruments and sway behind Robert Palmer in the 1986 video ‘Addicted to Love’, dressed exactly the same with the same hair and the same distant, detached look on their faces.
The appetizers and drinks were served, and as expected the tea was fresh, but unremarkable, but the poppers and rangoons were splendid. Other places serve corn poppers, but these are the best we’ve found anywhere.
The food came soon, sort of. The lady proudly laid down the plates, oblong ramekins filled with a creamy, soupy broth with the shrimp barely visible. On a separate plate a foil wrapped medium sized potato, a squeeze tube of sour cream. Another small plate held the toast.
“Will there be anything else?” She asked. Angel and I looked at each other as if someone had just performed a poorly timed bodily function. “Excuse me ma’am, but I think there was supposed to be a salad with this?”
She looked down at the ticket, scratched her head and sped off, returning shortly and apologizing.
“It was from the salad page.” Angel whispered to me.
“I know, it does go to confirm my suspicion that the salad in this meal was a facade, pretending to be the center of the dish. People don’t come to places like this to get salad.” I pointed my head to the other patrons, nearly all of them stereotypically pear shaped.
The salad itself was simple and fresh. Greens, red onion, tomato and some shredded carrot. The dressing, sweet and thin, made it a delight, even if the toss of the salad had not been thorough. The carrot shreds were all grouped together near the bottom left hand side of the bowl, the tomato chinks on top on the other side. I had to cut through the onion, which I don’t care for since salad bowls and a soft bed of greens makes chopping onions clumsy.
But it was fresh and the dressing was bright and smooth.
We prepped our potatoes, Angel left the foil on hers, I stripped mine, commando-style. There was just enough sour cream in the packet to make it worth it. The garlic toast was crisp.  The shrimp, once rescued from the murky depths of the cream sauce, was exceptional. Actually the shrimp was shrimp, it was the sauce itself that was so good. Thick, almost like a cream soup or maybe a chowder, buttery and lightly garlic-y. The ten medium shrimp had to be hunted in the bowl, there was  enough sauce to dip the toast and also to dab onto the potato. The taste and texture were perfect.
Adam seemed to like his sandwich, but the chicken was chopped, cubed rather than whole. The home chips were of course excellent. He did say that the ketchup tasted cheap. Angel recently started getting name-brand ketchup at home and we’d become spoiled. Yes there is a difference.
Angel said she liked the meal because it was unexpected. She’d assumed that we’d get catfish or chicken fried steak, but that this was a refreshing bit of variety. “I thought it would be light, it was in the salad section of the menu.” She said. “But that was not light.”
This place is simply put, great. It’s a little like a Cracker Barrel, but better. The price is very reasonable, our bill came in at forty three dollars, that included two appetizers and more food than we could eat. Some of their offerings have been a little less than perfect, but unlike other places, the word ‘disgusting’ just does not apply.

* First Lady: If you really must know it was Rose Cleveland, Grover's sister. For the first two years (1885-1886) of his first term he was a bachelor and Rose was given the title and official duties. Once the President married young Francis Folsom (at 21 the U.S.'s youngest first lady, Grover was 49.) Rose skipped town and eventually moved back in with her long-time 'friend' Evangeline Simpson Whipple. The two exchanged many very graphic romantic letters during their time apart and lived together until Evangeline's death in 1918.

Follow up:  Bob Evans.
You might recall that a couple of weeks ago I was rather severe toward the meatloaf served at Bob Evans. Besides mentioning it in this blog review I also sent a terse ‘contact us’ email to the company. On Saturday I received, via snail mail, a letter from the company apologizing for my disappointment and saying they would send the matter to their quality assurance department. They also included ten dollars in meal discount coupons. I mentioned this on Facebook, and Angel replied saying “Great, bad food = more bad food.” We have yet to decide whether or not to redeem the coupons.

Off The Hook Incorporated on Urbanspoon

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Pizza Hut

2090 Rock Road
Desoto, Mo

I was still recovering from a nasty cold. No big appetite, taste buds clogged up and non-responsive. Wheezing sniffling, snorting, groggy, fuzzy-headed. Enjoying the bliss of self medication. (Thanks Nyquil!)
Angel offered to just go pick something up, I said "Sure, whatever." She picked up two pizzas and some wings.
It hit the spot.
More recovery-napping predicted in my immediate future.

Pizza Hut on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Bob Evans

1003 Veterans Dr.
Festus , MO

Back before we started this great quest, Bob Evans was one of the places we went to often. It served country-style food, a good variety. It was something we could count on even if the food wasn’t exactly great.  
Last time we went we were a bit disappointed. Having tasted good food at so many other places, Bob’s just didn’t seem as good as we remembered it.
This past weekend things were pretty hectic, dogs and dog owners coming and going. By the time dinner time arrived, we realized we were all dressed up with no place to go, we hadn’t discussed where we would be going. Angel exclaimed that she needed something substantial, “American food!” She’d let her quick ramen noodle lunch go cold while tending to the dogs. Usually when Angel wants something substantial, it means something with gravy. So she went with the old default, Bob Evans.
The Place:
Overlooking I-55 in Festus, next to a hotel and a cluster of other eateries. Though themed 'country', it was only lightly so, it could have been a Denny’s. No bales of hay or rusty farm tools, fireplaces or rocking chairs. The place was about half full, the staff was buzzing around busily. A banner at the door had promised ‘Ten meals, six dollars.’ I remarked that this was great, since we only needed three meals, that would mean we could be in and out for about two bucks. Angel corrected me. Was it my fault the sign was poorly worded?
We were shown our tables and asked for drinks. Tea, sweet tea and Coke. We were handed the slick, laminated menus and we started changing our minds back and forth between the many home style selections. I paused for a moment over the biscuit bowl. A large,hollowed out biscuit filled with sausage, scrambled eggs, home fries, topped with cheese, scallions and gravy. It seemed a bit heavy, so I kept looking.
The drinks arrived. The tea looked crisp and fresh, but I knew better. It had virtually no taste.
The Food:
I was still not sure by the time the waitress took our order, so I picked something safe, meatloaf with brown gravy, green beans and mashed potatoes. You can’t go wrong with meatloaf, was my thinking. I opted for the ‘one-piece’ since I was not famished. I’d had a light lunch, rice, but hadn’t really done much to work it off. You’d think heavy napping would burn through calories, but it just doesn’t. It turns out the things I enjoy doing most are almost always less than aerobic. Reading, writing, napping, watching old movies, all the best things in life are pretty much useless when it comes to burning off meals.
Angel asked for the chicken fried steak, naturally, with green beans, mashed potatoes and ‘extra gravy’. She wasn’t even shy about it. It turns out that the things she enjoys doing most DO burn off food; tending to dogs, leading classes, cleaning, vacuuming, nagging at me, all tends to be more physical than my own preferences. Luck of the draw I guess.
Adam opted for the chicken and noodles deep dish. Kind of like soup with less broth.
When asked whether we preferred biscuits or rolls, I recalled that some of us liked rolls better than biscuits so I asked her to split between the two.
Angel then rudely made a phone call to one of her dog friends. Apparently the lady on the other end was amongst her yapping dogs so Angel had trouble hearing her, which also meant she talked louder herself.  I realized that this made Angel one of those people at restaurants that talk too loudly on their phones, so I motioned for her to quiet down. I was hugely embarrassed, but she didn’t seem to care. She can be so rude sometimes.
The breads arrived, I’m a biscuit guy myself, so I slathered a tub of fake butter on a warm one. It seemed  a bit salty, but otherwise it was flaky and good. Angel prefers rolls so we swapped to where she had two rolls and I had two biscuits. Adam likes both so he kept one of each. I only ate one biscuit since they are a bit filling.
The food arrived shortly and I noticed a problem.
What do you think of when you think of meatloaf?
I know the attached photo is not of great quality, but draw your attention to the bowl of green beans. Notice that brown lump? That’s a chunk of the meatloaf. It’s a dull brown lump. It was not meaty looking, it was not capped with ketchup, It looked to me, and there’s no other way I can describe it, like a dog dropping. Dog food is mostly grains or starches. When it goes into the dog it looks not unlike what comes out of the dog later, dull, grayish brown, bready and maybe a little lumpy. That’s exactly what this bit in my beans looked like. Not very appetizing.
I cut through the brown-gravy covered slice on my plate. It came apart unnaturally, not like a meat patty, more like tofu. To the tongue that was the texture as well. The actual taste was hard to discern since the brown gravy was overpowering. It looked like regular brown gravy but it was so strong that I got the impression that it might be made from concentrate and not diluted enough, or if it was rendered down or reduced, it had been reduced too much. It was very, very strong. If the meatloaf itself  actually had flavor, it could not be detected. The combination of the icky texture, the odd appearance and the too-strong gravy turned a simple, home-style staple into something I can only describe as completely disgusting. I had three bites and gave up. I did tunnel into the mashed potatoes, it was covered with the same gravy. That took about four bites. The beans, well, they had their own problems. Overcooked, a bit slimy and greasy, and there was the issue of that small turd sitting in the middle of it. I pushed it all aside. Angel tried a bit of the alleged meatloaf and wrinkled up her nose. “It’s mushy.” She declared, I think she was being generous. I picked at my second biscuit and sipped my tasteless tea.
As for their meals, Angel said:  “Normal, under-spiced food.” She said, her sausage gravy lacked any real flavor. Adam said his noodle bowl could have been more soupy. Not enough broth, a bit dry.
I spent the rest of the meal griping about the meatloaf. Angel knew I was not going to stay quiet about it, but was surprised when I didn’t mention my displeasure to the waitress when she came by and took away my mostly untouched plate.
“It’s not her fault.” I explained. “It’s not even the cooking staff’s fault. This wasn’t a mis-step with the recipe, this was the recipe. It’s an institutional problem, their recipe is simply crap.”
She then knew that there was going to be more than just a light, timid blog entry, and she was right.
When we got home, I fired off a comment to the ‘contact us’ page of the Bob Evans web site. It was strong, yet articulate.
“Your special recipe meat loaf is disgusting. I grew up in the south and I’ve had hundreds of meatloaf meals from all over the country.  Without exception it’s always ground meat, some form of binder, topped with ketchup and baked. It looks and tastes much like a hamburger patty, with ketchup. How hard is that? What’s wrong with that?  When I go into a country-style restaurant and order meatloaf I expect and usually get meatloaf much like it has been prepared everywhere my entire life. I don’t know if this is some sort of cruel and pointless experiment on your part, or if you’re trying (and failing) to outsmart a simple, classic dish, but you have completely ruined it. I don’t go to Bob Evans to try something edgy or daring, I go to Bob Evans to get a good, solid, classic meal. . .”
And so forth. Yes I was upset. It was like going into McDonald’s and ordering a Big Mac and fries and coming out with a eggplant burger with boiled carrot sticks. Am I wrong on this?
The price was fair, just under thirty two dollars. The wait staff was attentive and available, the place was clean and efficient. However, did I mention that the food, at least my meal, was disgusting? I simply can’t get past this point.
I am really curious though. Does anyone out there disagree? Is there something I’m missing or simply don’t understand? Am I being too mean and snooty? Let me know, I won’t strike you, I’m genuinely curious . . .

Bob Evans on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Burger King

802 Lee Ave.
Festus, Mo

Yeah, I know, Burger King. Meh.

But here’s the thing. New fries. A few weeks back BK splashed the news that they were revamping the ubiquitous side dish. This is HUGE! You think it’s easy to come up with a new process for dumping handfuls of sliced potatoes into a deep fryer?
Plus, last time we did BK we tried some of their newer burger offerings so we decided to stick to the flagships this time.
Usually when I go to BK I get the fish sandwich. I have nothing bad to say about that offering at all. I hadn’t been since the new-fries came out though.
The Place:
It’s a Burger King, look at the one nearest you, yeah it’s just like that.
The Food:
Fancy tea dispenser
Angel ordered a Whopper, Adam the ‘tender crisp’ chicken sandwich, I went off plan and asked for the “Chef’s Choice” burger (though it has more meat than a whopper, it’s a leaner meat and actually contains fewer calories.) We all opted for the fries, of course, and tea. Regular for Angel and me, sweet for Adam. The tea was offered up through an electro-mechanical machine that let you choose between three types.
While at the condiment/drink counter Angel filled up six little paper cups with ketchup.
Seating was easy, only a two or three groups of people were there. We sat and placed our plastic ‘55’ tag at one corner and waited.
Ketchup, right before Angel
swore at me for taking her picture

We were prepared for the wait. For Christmas I’d picked up a little card game for Angel’s stocking, a version of “Would You Rather”. The deal is that there are questions on the card and no right or wrong answers. The point is to start pointless conversations.
Would you rather have one slow child and one really-smart child, or two average children?
That one was fun considering we were playing the game with one of our children.
Would you rather live next door to a landfill or a cemetery?
We split on this one. Obviously I like cemeteries and attach no superstition to them, Angel though, hates them. She’d actually live next door to, or in a landfill rather than go anywhere near a cemetery. I knew this already. It’s one of the reasons I picked up the hobby of going to cemeteries and finding/photographing tombstones. I never have to worry about her wanting to tag along.
Chef's Choice and New fries
The food came pretty quickly. I tried the fries first. They were indeed thicker, which meant they retained their heat longer. CAUTION! They retain their heat longer! So I let them cool a bit before biting into the next one. As for taste, my initial reaction was they tasted just like burnt flesh.
The burger looked good. It, like Adam’s chicken, was served on an ‘artisan bun’ which I assumed to mean that it was shaped a little different than a regular bun, it didn’t taste any different, though it is rumored to be made with potatoes. Something did seem different though. The burger initially tasted a little smoky, then a little bitter. I couldn’t figure it out at first. The more of it I ate, the less I liked it. It was the sauce. Not like ‘special sauce’ at McDonald’s, which is really pretty much Thousand Island dressing, this stuff was not at all sweet, it was smoky, faux-smoky. It was also a sickly gray-brown in color, which didn’t help. I researched this sauce later and found that whatever it is, BK’s not giving out the recipe, or even listing the ingredients, other than mayo, onion and garlic. I didn’t even sense those flavors. At the table I asked Angel and Adam to taste it, they couldn’t put a finger on it either. I never finished my burger because of it. In fact I couldn’t get the taste out of my system enough to want to eat anything else. Fortunately I’d consumed most of my fries by this point and can report to you that the new fries are indeed different. They’re definitely thicker, and seem to be crispier than the forgettable old style. I also detected a sweetness to them, probably from whatever exotic oil they cook them in. They had too much taste. Fries are great even if you just cut up a potato and deep fry them in Canola or vegetable oil at home. Whatever this new technique is distorts the flavor further than a basic side dish needs to be messed with. They weren’t bad at all, they just seemed fake.  Angel’s response to them was: “They went for texture over taste, they don’t taste potato-ey”
Tender Crisp Chicken Sandwich
Angel also said her Whopper was disappointing. “It wasn’t as messy and drippy as they used to be.”  She added:  “Nor was it as flame-broiled tasting as I remember them.”
I asked Adam about his chicken sandwich. “It’s fast food.” Was all I got, delivered with a shrug of his shoulders.
Oh and the tea? It had flavor, not bitter or flat, but not a great flavor. Acceptable.
I opened this missive using the neo-word ‘meh’. It’s a word popularized by the cultural phenomenon “The Simpsons” and defined by the online ‘Urban Dictionary’ as: Indifference; to be used when one simply does not care.
And that non-word pretty much sums up the entire BK experience. Which is sad. I’ve always liked BK, Angel and I had our first date at one, many, many, many years ago. I always thought of them as being somehow better than McDonald's, but now I’m not so sure. It is possible to fine-tune something into complete disrepair, and I think this may be the case at BK. Whatever new moves they’re making, for whatever reasons, this reporter is simply not impressed.
The price? Well the Chef’s Choice is a pricier burger than a whopper, so our meal came in at twenty four dollars and change. Not too bad, but a bit higher than most fast-food expectations, and nearly the price of a really good burger almost anywhere else. Jack-in-the-Box and Steak and Shake come to mind, and there’s installations of those shops in the same block as this particular Burger King. So unless my only other choice happens to be McD’s, I’m probably going to be fast-fooding elsewhere in the future.

On a sad note: Kim’s Café in Desoto, is officially closed. Kim notified me the last week of December that it was being shuttered. I knew she’d had the place up for sale, and she reported that since she put up the signs, that an already slow stream of customers had dropped by another seventy-five percent. This is too bad.  I have mentioned on many occasions that I really liked the place except for the tea. I’m wondering now if that was the crux of the problem.

Burger King on Urbanspoon

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Maryland Yards

2033 Dorsett Village Center
Maryland Heights, MO

Doug and Rob invited me to tag along again. Apparently I haven’t offended them too much yet. I was excited to hear Doug suggest Maryland Yards; I’d been wanting to review this place for quite a while. I’d been two or three times in the last few months and liked it every time.
The Place:
Located just a couple of miles from work, it’s a rustic, wood-interior sports bar. The entry is into the bar and the smoking area, in the back is the slightly fresher smelling non-smoking section. Also in the back is a pool table, electronic dart boards and several flat screen TV’s silently playing sports channels. There’s also a modern, digital jukebox-type sound system (TouchTunes) which was, during this visit, somewhat randomly playing songs from the nineties. It wasn’t too loud but it did inhibit mere whispering.
The tables and chairs were rather well-worn wood, of a few different styles. The walls were lined with beer ads and posters. The place wasn’t real busy, about half-full, or slightly less when we got there. Most of the patrons appeared to be like us, khakis and button-down-shirt office workers.
I found a table in the back that allowed me a good view of the whole operation, Doug perched himself across from me, Rob to my left. The tables were big enough to allow plenty of elbow room. The waitress dropped off menus and took our drink orders, tea for Doug and me, water for Rob. She was pleasant and was dressed the same as the rest of the visible staff. Tight jeans, sneakers, and a tight gray, low-cut tee-shirt over a brighter, less lower cut shirt that only showed at the neckline and waist. This was a sports bar which meant there was  a little obligatory exposed and nicely bronzed cleavage; our server also sported a prominent baby bump. After she left we agreed that some women are still attractive even when pregnant. Of course we meant nothing demeaning or chauvinistic by that observation, we’re all proud dads and very happily married men, who just also happen to occasionally appreciate nice things when we see them. Trust me, none of our wives worry too much about us.
The Food:
The handsomely pregnant waitress offered up the daily specials, meat loaf or “a twelve inch chili-dog pizza” the mere thought of which made me nearly barf.
I’d already decided what I wanted, the same thing I’d gotten every time I’d been there. So I ordered the BLT and fries. Rob picked the Philly sandwich with beef, they offer a Philly with chicken as well. I don’t know if chicken is approved by Philadelphia’s sandwich sanctioning organizations or not. It didn’t sound right though. Rob picked fries as well. Doug studied the menu longer, and finally chose the Reuben, with potato salad. He’s done that before, picked an odd side, just to be different I guess.
Our drinks were delivered, I sipped the tea as Rob and Doug sat silently, waiting for my verdict. They were under the impression that tea is important to me. I sniffed it, took a sip and let it swirl in my mouth. I declared it adequate. Not bitter, not cloudy, but not very interesting, or even noticeable.
While we waited we talked about work a bit, mostly the on-call schedule. Rob had recently been tagged by our esteemed boss to manage it and the current posted schedule was about to run out. I mentioned that I just assumed since the current on-call schedule only went to mid-January that there would be no more on-call after that. Kind of like that thing with the Mayan Calendar. Rob informed us otherwise, that he was drawing up a new schedule that would take us all the way to the end of the world, December 21, 2012. I’d been in charge of on-call schedules at a previous job. The first thing I did was to take myself off the rotation. Rob said that that seemed only fair, though he was too chicken to try it himself. On call is a necessary evil in our occupation. IT systems, especially big global ones, occasionally require TLC on holidays, weekends and overnight. Being on call is pretty much a guaranty that you’ll lose some sleep and probably miss some family activities for the period. We always grumble about it, but it’s just part of the job.
I think Rob and Doug discussed sports some, I drifted off and didn’t tune back in until the plates arrived. Simple and ample plating. My BLT was on some big bread, the crispy crinkle fries were stacked high. There was a small ramekin with some form of mayonnaise in it. I tasted it, found it too vinegary and set it aside. There was plenty of bacon, thick and sort of crispy. It wasn’t rubbery, just not brittle. My fries were outstanding.
Doug’s Reuben came with a similar vessel containing Thousand Island dressing. He applied a little, but only a little. He later said he appreciated it that way, letting the diner decide how much to put on. He then tried the potato salad and was not too impressed. He struggled to describe it, what he didn’t like about it, but not being a highly regarded and articulate food critic, he was not able to pinpoint it. I suggested that maybe it was too vinegary, he replied that might be the case.
Star-nosed mole
Rob was pleased with his Philly, “Really tasty.” He said.
Even though Doug wasn’t pleased with the potato salad, that didn’t stop him from completely cleaning his plate by the time Rob and I were only halfway through. Doug eats fast, really fast, he’ll tell you this himself. What he won’t say is that he eats almost as fast as a star-nosed mole.* I asked him if he’d ever been a hostage.
I like this place a lot. I can’t put my finger on why exactly, so it’s probably a combination of things. It’s never been overcrowded, I’ve had slightly better food in other places, the service is good, and the ambiance is comfortable. The price is spot-on, my feast came to $9.20 which is under that unwritten workday lunch rule of $10 maximum. The food was plentiful, but not too-plentiful, and it was all well prepared. Rob was completely content, Doug said he’d pick another side the next time. No fuss, no muss, we were in and out in plenty of time.
I’m not sure about happy hours and evening meals, but for a workday lunch Maryland Yards has everything I like at a reasonable distance and reasonable price. Highly recommended!


* Star-nosed mole. Considered the fastest eating mammal in the animal kingdom. “. . . taking as short as 120 milliseconds (average: 227 milliseconds) to identify and consume individual food items. Its brain decides in the ultra short time of 8 ms if a prey is comestible or not.” (Wikipedia)

Maryland Yards on Urbanspoon