Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Canton Inn

205 W Sunshine St
Springfield, Mo.

I don’t often offer a review of a restaurant that I’ve not recently been to, but this place merits a distinct exception. First some background for those of you NOT from/in/around Springfield Mo.
I lived in Springfield from 1985 through 2001. Most of my adult life in fact, for nearly as long as I lived in my original home town in Kentucky. So perhaps I’m a bit biased. Springfield, if not uniquely famous for anything else, is at least very well known for Chinese restaurants. Don’t believe me? Well, the New York Times does.
There are lots of Chinese joints in the Queen City of the Ozarks, noticeably so. Even non-Chinese places serve Springfield style cashew chicken there.
Many of the places come and go, change locations, ownership and names. Several have been around for a long time. Some are great, some are merely so-so. At any rate, Springfield has more Chinese restaurants, per capita, than any other city in the U.S.
I’m not a huge fan of Cashew Chicken itself, though I’ve had a lot of it. I prefer sweet and sour. But that’s not the point.
According to Angel, Canton Inn, near the corner of Sunshine and South Campbell, has the best eggrolls in the city, which equates to the best anywhere in the world. I can’t disagree. It’s also pretty cheap as you can see here.
So when she announced that her and Adam were heading down to see the new grandbaby, of course I asked for take-out. We do this whenever anyone heads down that way.
Sure enough when she got home she was packing a grocery-sized bag full of wontons, eggrolls and crab Rangoons.
The Chinese places in Jefferson and south St. Louis county areas don’t often offer wontons, and none of them make a great eggroll. Canton Inn’s offerings are not only very good, they travel well. She’d also brought a sweet and sour chicken meal in a box. I had that for dinner on Sunday, but wasn’t too impressed. The sauce had congealed and even the microwave would not cure that. The rice was, well, rice.
On Monday I decided to go nuts. I took the remaining wontons, rangoons and eggroll, laid them out on a cookie sheet, and stuck them into the oven, which was set to about 225 degrees. I then thawed and chopped up some chicken breasts and thighs. I also started the rice cooker.
I make rice and chicken a lot. Much tougher and messier is the other stuff, the deep-fried sides.
I breaded the chicken chunks in my usual blend of flour, corn meal, garlic powder and pepper. I filled the big skillet with a little oil, about an eighth of an inch or so, and set the thermometer in it to keep a consistent temperature range. The chunks are small so they have to be watched very closely. Over-cooking or too-high temperature will ruin them.  I made two skillets full, some I flash-glazed in bottled sweet and sour sauce, the rest I left plain. These bowls were also set into the oven. Angel has her own Springfield style cashew sauce recipe and would make some once everything else was done.
I filled up one bowl of plain rice for Adam and set it in the oven as well.
To finish up the rest of the rice I added chopped bell peppers, onions, celery, slivers of carrot, a chopped fried egg and some shreds of leftover turkey (dark meat preferred). Stir that together with a couple dashes of soy sauce and you end up with a pretty decent pile of un-fried rice.
I also steamed up some frozen pot stickers. Angel likes them, I think they’re okay. I can make a decent gyoza (pot-sticker favored in Japan) myself, but it takes a lot of time and is also pretty messy.
By the time all this was done, the eggroll, wontons and rangoons were hot and ready to serve.  Dinner time.
The wontons were crispy and filled with just a little meat, the rangoons, also still crispy were packed with what appeared to be actual crab  meat and a dollop of sweet cream cheese. With the Canton Inn sides the whole meal was dreamy.
As I said before, there are a lot of Chinese dining choices in Springfield. Some big and fancy sit-down and tablecloth places, many are small, hole-in-the-wall affairs. Canton Inn is small, old, and hardly sparkly. There is inside dining, less than ten tables, so it’s cramped, and it’s always busy. The service is fast, the staff is always bustling, and there are typically lines waiting at the counter for take-out. It’s not the biggest, the shiniest, nor is it necessarily the best. It’s not even a buffet, but it is certainly very good and very much representative of Springfield-style Chinese. The sides travel very well and are always top-notch.
Springfield Missouri gave us a Wild Bill Hickok shootout, Bob Barker, Brad Pitt, Bass Pro Shops, Route 66, The Ozark Jubilee, and many other reasonably memorable and significant other things. It is home to the largest public school district in the state and to Missouri State University.
Without a doubt though, the most important item to ever emerge from my first adopted home town is the Chinese style food. In my reasoned, expert opinion, it is better than anywhere else I’ve been, including San Francisco, Japan and Korea, and most definitely markedly better than any you’ll find in Maryland, D.C., Florida, Texas, Illinois and Kentucky. (other places I’ve lived).
If you ever go through there, or know someone that will be heading that way, I strongly advise you to try it out, and Canton Inn is as good a place to start as any.

Canton Inn on Urbanspoon

1 comment:

  1. Love Canton Inn! Probably the best place in Springfield to get cashew chicken. :)