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.
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.
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.
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 . . .