Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Gigi’s Fresh Cafe

1727 Catlin Drive
Barnhart, Mo.

The Place:
  Just off highway M,  west of I-55 in Barnhart. It anchors / is attached to the U-Gas station. U-Gas offers "GiGi’s Fresh Express" food at all its 18 St. Louis area  locations, but the only sit-down cafe is the one in Barnhart. The stacked stone arched entrance and large tower-like facade indicates that the owners invested quite a bit in quality materials and made a big, expensive effort to make it look like a unique, quality place.
Inside, the walls were brick, the floors hardwood, the ceilings open to the roof with exposed vents. Nice, green vinyl booth seating and chairs lined the walls and partition. The counter had scattered menus overhead making hopping between the unfamiliar options quite a chore. Noticing our new-ness to the place the lady behind the counter offered up printed menus. This helped a lot. They have a lot to offer, maybe too much. But that’s not necessarily a crime if you can manage it.

Supreme Pizza
The Food:
 Angel wanted to try their St. Louis style pizza, advertised as being prepared in a wood-burning oven. The smallest they had was 14”, too big for her alone, we would take the leftover home for Sunday breakfast. She also split an order of 12 mild hot-wings with Adam. I wasn’t in a mood for pizza ,especially St. Louis style, which I’ve found to usually be too sweet (it’s the provel cheese). I told her I’d like to try a bite though. Adam ordered a chipotle-chicken panini  and fries. I asked for the BLT and fries. They offer a choice of breads and bread options, so be prepared. This was a  pretty big order, more than we could possibly eat in one sitting. Sometimes that’s just part of the plan, especially when there’s pizza.
We were handed  our plastic tumblers and headed for the drink fountain. I got tea, Angel tested the sweet tea, tasted a little before committing, then filled up with it. Adam was impressed with the options, they offered both Coke and Pepsi, a rarity in restaurants.
We found a booth and settled in. Angel and Adam were furiously tapping on their telephones, trying to find a decent movie to rent for later, without much luck. She tried to get me interested in one that she claimed had Nazi zombies at the center of the earth. I just couldn’t get sufficiently aroused. I like a good anti-Nazi movie as much as any guy, but this whole faddish zombie thing just doesn’t work for me.(don't even get me started on vampires)
The wait was about normal for a place making made-to-order pizzas. All our food came at the same time, all fresh and hot, none of it had set around for long. A sign of quality that.
The food along with the extra plates and the pile of napkins filled the table. We looked like a poster for the sin of gluttony. But like I said, all part of the plan.
It's a bit risky putting 'fresh' in the name of your eatery. Gigi's wasn't kidding though, the food was all bright and pretty, you only get that with fresh ingredients. The cut on my BLT was lopsided, a minor flaw, but they had crammed six full slices of bacon, smoky, crisp, perfectly cooked. The lettuce and tomato were fresh and crispy as well. The mayo seemed to have a slight hint of flavoring, maybe a bit of chipotle. It wasn't too strong though, in fact it was quite good. Six slices of bacon is a lot. Not as much as the famed St. Louis eatery 'Crown Candy Kitchen'. Their 'Heart Stopping BLT' boasts fourteen slices and has been recently featured on The Travel Channel.
I thought about taking some of the bacon off, but I couldn't, it's bacon. Frankly, two or three slices is plenty, bacon has a nice strong flavor, you really don't need a lot to be fully satisfied. I will admit to feeling the effects later, groggy and sluggish, slightly nearer death, but man it was good.
The pizza was generously topped, it was their 'supreme' model. Angel and Adam pinched off small slices. Adam picked offending toppings off, Angel devoured hers and grabbed another. "Good, better than Dominos and not as sweet as Imo's." She said. This was a positive assessment, I tried a little. Sure enough, it was pretty good. In my mind perhaps the best St. Louis style I've had. They didn't over-use the sweet provel cheese, instead letting the other toppings speak mostly for themselves.
Though I'm not a fan of anyone's hot-wings, the report from Angel and Adam was unanimous, the wings were very good as well. Though they kind of swam in a pool of sauce, the chicken was still quite crunchy. The spiciness for this plate, ordered as 'mild' was about dead-on. It cleared Angel's sinuses, made her sweat a little bit and Adam said he preferred a slightly spicier version. So that means it was just about right.
Adam's sandwich was reported as being 'good', crispy and spicy.
The staff checked on us several times, removing empty plates, asking if all was well.   
We pooled our thoughts and could not come up with anything bad to say. The food was all very good. The service was attentive and dutiful. The tab came to a misleading  forty seven and change, but remember we deliberately over-ordered. We boxed up about half the wings and more than half of the pizza. Then the sweet lady that brought us the box started aggressively up-selling desserts. They have quite a variety, including sno-cones, ice creams, etc. We explained that we'd completely overdone it already, but would be back sometime just for a dessert and some coffee maybe.
If I had any real complaint, it would be that Gigi's online menu is not at all the same as the in-store listings. That's easily fixable though, there are a lot of things offered there that simply don't show up online.
This place was quite surprising. The food was excellent, fresh, tasty, well prepared. Not what you think of when you look at it's location as one corner of a convenience store. Quick-stops make me think of wrinkly, day-old hot dogs and dubious, pre-packaged sandwiches. This was completely different. This was very, very good.
Highly recommended, very highly. Why this place hasn't branched out to more locations I have no idea. They did it right, they've got a real winner. 

Gigi's Fresh Cafe on Urbanspoon

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Zia's on the Hill (Food Truck)

(314) 776-0020

This truck, according to my delightful, witty, intelligent and handsome boss, Larry (not his real name), is the best of the bunch. He recommended a dish and apologized for not being available for this visit. He claimed he had a ‘business meeting’ which in management terminology could mean just about anything.
The Truck:
Brightly colored, like other contemporary trucks. This one had the rear door open, to ventilate I imagine, it was a rather hot day. They've been rolling for a little less than a year now. They're an extension of a well established and popular place downtown. Inside the truck was dark, the two men manning it busy and sweaty. The smell was heavenly. Garlic, oil, mmmmmm….  A line formed quickly.
I spotted two ladies from work, Loretta and Lee, whose names I was asked not to mention, so I won’t. They had been to the truck before and seemed rather positive about it. A few minutes later Doug and Rob showed up.
The posted menus were clear and to the point, everything under ten dollars. Also clearly noted was ‘cash only’. I was prepared for this, I’d done some research. Photos of the truck on the interwebs showed this. I know ATM/Credit cards are somewhat of a hassle, but even my wife takes cards. She has a “Square” device for her smartphone, the same device 'Completely Sauced' used. It only takes a moment. Sure there’s a cut to the bank and a tiny one to Square, but the fact that lots of people don’t carry around much cash anymore makes it worth it in volume. Just sayin’. Yes there's an ATM in one of our buildings, so I'm told, it's just a matter of who you want to pass off the inconvenience/cost to.
The Food:
Larry had recommended the portabella mushroom ravioli. I decided to test his judgment. Zia’s truck offered salads, sandwiches and a couple other pastas. Loretta, (I’m sorry, I meant to say ‘one lady I talked to’.) said she’d had the ravioli before and was pleased with it but was going to try the penne primavera this time. Lee (ooops! ‘another lady’)  said she wanted the Chicago sandwich.
I stuck to my plan, not always a good idea, and charged ahead. The line moved quickly, orders and names were taken and those who were waiting formed a small group under a tree. The wait was not bad, five minutes or so.
The lidded plastic, earth-killing plate was very hot, the proprietor had warned me about it though. I headed alone back upstairs to my lovely and comfortable cubicle. Doug and Rob were still  in line.
I took off the lid. It was very, very pretty. The large raviolis, five of them were rather dull in color, but the sautéed tomatoes and asparagus made the serving pop with bright, fresh color. There was also some melted cheese and a layer of garlic-laden oil. The cheese was fine, and though the oil tasted good, made it taste Mediterranean. . . well, more on this later.
Rob and Doug came in a few minutes into my meal. Doug went through his cannelloni like a chainsaw through a kitten. He said that while pretty good, with a slightly sweet filling, the serving box was a problem. The steep sides kept him from being able to cut the big noodles very easily. He added that he was tempted just to eat the box. I didn't doubt this.
Rob had ordered the penne primavera as well. He said his was spicier than expected, but very good. There were no significant complaints from either of them.
I finished mine up, pushing aside most of the asparagus. It wasn’t bad, but I just don’t see the fuss about this particular veggie. It has very little taste, less so than a green bean, but top TV chef’s use it like it’s something spectacular. For me, it’s like artichoke, I just don’t get the ‘wow’ factor. I have to say though, the asparagus and tomatoes were sautéed perfectly. The asparagus still had some snap and the tomatoes had sweetened without turning to mush.  The ravioli was plenty-stuffed and perfectly cooked. The portabella shined, but didn’t overpower. 
I headed over to the nearby area of cubes to visit those ladies I mentioned earlier. I know them, but not very well, so I approached with caution and timidly announced my intentions. They seemed pleased, maybe even flattered, but I may have read it wrong, they may actually have been disgusted and angry, I don’t read people very well.
Though Loretta one of the ladies, the one who likes dogs, was slowly picking at her pasta dish, she said she was quite pleased with it. “It could use some more veggies though.”
Lee The other lady liked her sandwich except for the fact that the sauce had completely saturated the bottom side, turning it into a fork-food.
I asked the lady who likes dogs if she was bothered by the puddle of oil forming in the gutter of her plate.
I asked her this because mine had done the same thing.
“I think maybe that’s just an Italian food thing.” She replied. The other lady jumped in to praise the side salad, with its sweet and sour dressing.
They had no harsh remarks, pretty much just nice comments. I on the other hand was struggling to be positive. My meal had tasted fine. If anything it was a bit garlic-heavy, something I didn’t actually notice immediately. My real problem was the amount of oil. I had tilted my plate after finishing and a puddle of one or more tablespoons of oil formed quickly. I know the garlic oil sauce was supposed to add flavor, and it certainly did, but unfortunately as the oil cooled, which it always does and rather quickly in a flimsy plastic dish, it thickened and took on a filmy, greasy texture. Even a few hours later I was feeling oiliness in my mouth and oddly enough, my whole body. About that same time the garlic started becoming prevalent as an aftertaste.
I had mentioned this to Doug. Later, he reported back that Doreen, another lady whose  name I did not exactly get permission to use, said she’d noticed the same thing.
I’m no low-brow, canned spaghetti-eating, Italian food n00b*, I’ve been around. I’ve had lots of great Italian food. I don’t recall an overdose of oil being an issue anywhere else. I love olive oil and garlic, I fry my eggs in the stuff. But even Florence Henderson could cook an entire skillet full of chicken with only a tablespoon of oil.

Filling, satisfying, and relatively cheap, my dish only cost seven bucks. Nothing they had was over ten, unless you added sides. (They offered fries, oddly enough.)
The comment from the lady who likes dogs got me thinking. There's quite a buzz among food reviewers when it comes to the subject of authenticity. I don't mind 'authentic' food, as long as it's good. If it isn't good, I don't give a rolling rip if it is authentic. 'Authentic' pizza, a Greek invention, would not satisfy the palate of most people who currently eat pizza. I could take you down south and hunt down several fine burgoos, all of them 'authentic' but no two the same. I've been to New Orleans, tried several Jambalaya's there, guess what? They're all authentic, yet all different. Some I liked, some I didn't. So maybe Italian food is supposed to drip oil like the Exxon Valdez, and maybe lots of people like it that way, but I don't. The fact that this may be a thing, an 'authentic' version, simply doesn't impress me.
When Larry got back from his so-called 'meeting' he asked my opinion. I told him about the oil, he laughed. "Am I the only one that tips the plate back to drink the oil like kids do with cereal-milk?" I'm pretty sure he was kidding. Maybe not.

Overall the food tasted good, better than a fast food burger, better than some local restaurants. Will I go back? Probably, but I'll order something else. The consensus was, among my co-workers, that it was pretty good.

A special thanks to all my friends at work who contributed to this review, willingly or not.  Note: All quotes contained herein are approximated. I do take notes but my handwriting is horrific. 


*n00b: (Urban Dictionary) An inexperienced and/or ignorant or unskilled person.

Zia's on the Hill on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Hibachi Supreme Grill & Buffet

8925 Watson Rd  
Webster Groves, MO 63126

Reviewing a buffet is kind of like judging a live music competition. Perfection is rare so you have to judge the overall performance. Regardless, some notes have to be spot-on, there’s a minimum standard.
In a Chinese buffet there must be decent starches, rice and noodles, and there must be more than one tasty chicken and seafood offering, as well as a well-prepared wrapped and fried item.
It’s not important that every offering satisfy completely, that’s the perfection that is simply beyond reasonable reach.
It also helps if there is a wide variety, as well as something for the kids besides ice cream and cookies.
A really good buffet is one that offers one or more stand-out dish. There are a lot of Chinese buffets out there; the winner often becomes the one that is closest to somewhere you want to be or the one that has something special worth the extra time or mileage.
The closest to our needs is in Festus. It’s pretty good. This one is in Webster Groves, Angel discovered it on her way to pick up/drop off a client dog.
As it turned out she needed to make just such a pickup in the area on Saturday, so we decided to give this newer place a try.
The Place:
A very large stand-alone on Watson Road. I never get out this way, but Angel does quite frequently. It’s not close to home.
The building is larger than most of the strip-mall buffets we frequent. It was built for a large flow of people. It was also built to please the eye. No industrial, generic furnishings. The chairs were all Asian-styled heavy wood, stained reddish. The table tops were all a swirly orange-sherbet, faux-marble look. The carpet was dark based and brightly patterned, more swirls.
Partitions separating the booths and tables were also heavy, carved, red stained wood with painted glass trim.
The entrance/foyer was large and nearly over-decorated. Large Asian items were set up museum-style. The ceilings were high and painted sky-blue, which made the space feel open to nature, a Zen-thing I suppose.
As with many buffets we were immediately shown our table and asked for drinks without even sitting down. Tea, sweet tea and Coke/Pepsi. (Coke)
There were more buffet islands than I’d ever seen in one place. Added to that there was the hibachi area, where you could load up a bowl with raw ingredients and hand it to a chef for grilling, Mongolian grill-style. There was also a sushi bar with more variety than I am accustomed to seeing at the places we frequent. The piped in music was Chinese-styled, though a bit modern sounding. I’m no expert, but the music, those perky Chinese banjo ( ruan or 阮 ) ballads* fit the place nicely.

The Food:
As is my custom, I loaded up my first plate with small portions of as many things as I thought I might like. There were a dozen or more kinds of chicken, rice, noodles, rangoons, eggrolls, shrimp in several styles, crawfish, something creamy looking in a clam shell, several soups.
The American food section was also very generous. Potatoes, mac and cheese, pizza, pulled pork and/or beef, fried chicken, fish, green beans, etc.
I started with various chickens and shrimps, a rangoon, a crawdad (whole) and some fried rice and some noodles. I also grabbed a steamed dumpling.  My small plate was full with about a dozen items.
Angel’s plate wasn’t too different, though she added more veggies and she’d grabbed one of the clam-shells. Adam was pretty straight-forward chicken and white rice. He doesn’t like fried rice because of all the vegetable bits it contains.
The rice bothered me a little, it didn’t look right. It had a distinct orange hue to it. It didn’t taste bad, or orange, but it was rather bland. The noodles were much better. The chickens were fine, none overly spicy. The best for me was the sesame version.
The bright red crawdad on my plate yielded better photo-ops than it did flavor. It wasn’t bad, but furnished  with only a fork, I had no good way to bust it open. Crawdads look like small lobsters but taste more like crab. Mine was slightly overcooked, a bit rubbery. Not worth the amount of work it took to get into it.
The dumpling (pot sticker) was not too bad, they hadn’t been too heavy-handed with the ginger.
Angel reported that the beef-broccoli was spicier than she was accustomed to, but that it was really quite good. I’m not a fan of broccoli so I once again took her at her word.
The clam-shell thing was surprisingly quite good. It was creamy and reminded me of a high-end spinach dip. If there was actual mollusk in it I couldn’t detect it. I’m not a fan of mollusks either.
Adam’s second trip was pretty much all dessert. There were a lot of options. Cakes, puddings, ice cream, lots of toppings.
Angel’s second included a stuffed shrimp, a trip to the sushi bar and a large slab of really fresh and perfectly ripe watermelon.
 One of Angel's selections was a peach-something-pastry. It was round like a small peach, but was actually layers of dough, varying in color. It had no actual taste. The white dough tasted just like the dark brown center, and that taste was not sweet, just light and dough-y.
My second plate included one Rangoon, a few more noodles and a couple of chunks of sesame chicken, along with the ubiquitous bananas with red sauce and some pretty good banana pudding.
Dinner buffets cost $9.99 and drinks are $1.49, making this a pretty cheap dinner, $37.99 in total, especially as an all-you-can-eat place. None of the food was bad. The place appeared to be very clean and very well-staffed. The buffets never went empty or stale, emptied plates disappeared quickly. The décor and ambiance were better than we are accustomed to seeing for such inexpensive fare.
I have no idea what the deal was with the orange rice, but since the noodles were very good, it balanced out. Some of the chicken offerings were a bit bland, one referred to as Japan-style was rather dry, but some were quite good. There was nothing terrible or disgusting. Unfortunately there were no smash hits either.
If you live reasonably close to Webster Groves, this place should be on your must-try list. If you live further out, like thirty-something miles out like we do, well, there’s just not anything special enough to make that extra time and mileage worth it.
It was a pretty decent place, with a huge variety. Just nothing that much better than other places.


* To be fair, the music was most likely from a gugin ( 古琴 ) rather than a ruan. A ruan is a round, four-stringed lute-like instrument, whereas the gugin is a seven stringed zither-like instrument. I just thought 'Chinese banjo' was funnier.

 Hibatchi Grill and Buffet on Urbanspoon

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Completely Sauced

I finally caved to considerable pressure. Pressure from my lovely wife Angel, and oddly enough, my boss, who I will refer to as ‘Larry’.
A few months back fliers started showing up on the doors at work for food trucks. About once per week a different rolling kitchen would park in front of our office complex and serve out meals. The fliers usually listed the limited menu as well as the prices. One of the trucks I’d recognized as being a competitor on Food Network’s “Food Truck Wars” a show I was quite fond of.  It was a competition between modern, upscale food trucks. They’d load up, drive across the country and see who could make the most money in two or three days in cities unfamiliar to them. Each week one truck would get eliminated and would be sent home.
That was my first real schooling on this new wave of food truckery. My only previous experiences with rolling food vendors were the old 'roach coaches', mostly loud, greasy rattletraps serving out nasty burgers, stale sandwiches and dubious tacos. They also served horrific, burnt and probably slightly dieseled coffee. In other words I had no romantic notions of food trucks. This show altered my perspective. Clean, fresh ingredients, upscale offerings, reasonably priced.
I mentioned the fliers to Angel one night, she asked if I was going to try them and perhaps review them. I said I would, but I kept forgetting about them on the days they were there. Though I go outside everyday at lunchtime, I’m not usually thinking of food. Also the trucks tend to park in front of the main building, not our leased annex to the side, so I wouldn’t casually see them and suddenly remember.
"So what do you do at lunch if you're not thinking about food when you go out?” you’re asking. I can hear it.
I go to the gym and work out, lift weights, treadmill a bit.. then punch the heavy bag for a while. In my mind anyhow. Actually I go to my car and read. I am exercising, just a different organ. In my car I keep a stash of cheese nabs* and little boxes of raisins. That’s lunch. I don’t have to think about food at lunchtime since the car’s already loaded with enough to get me by.
You sit alone in your car for an hour, read and wolf down cheap snacks?
Yeah I do. I’m an asocial introvert (socially diseased?) and an avid  reader, you should know this already.
Anyway, Larry asked me about the food trucks a few weeks ago, if I've ever reviewed them. I answered no, I keep forgetting. I knew that he was aware of my blog though this was the first time I recall him ever mentioning it. We're professionals, we try to keep our work and our enjoyable pursuits completely separate.
He mentioned it a couple more times over the next few weeks, same answer.
Then on Wednesday he tasked me. He tells me about the one coming in on Thursday and practically insists that I try it and write it up. I say okay, insisting that he and  Doug, also in earshot, go along and offer their opinions.
Larry, to my surprise says “Okay.” Then I offer the disclaimer.
“This will happen on our free, non-billable, personal time. Anything I write up, or anything we say will be considered social, not professional. Any mammal I may compare you to in my written review reflects my observations of you as a private person, not a professional or co-worker.”
He looked confused. Doug piped up. “I’m a star-nosed mole!” which apparently required more explanation. “The fastest eating mammal in the world!” He added, extending two, large, mole-like thumbs-up.  Larry looked at me. “From the time a star nosed mole comes in contact with an object till he decides it is edible and is actually consuming it is around 150 milliseconds. Doug eats just about as fast, it’s kind of disgusting, but also rather fascinating.” I explain.
Doug isn’t ashamed or upset by this.
The Place.
It’s a food truck, in our parking lot. Professionally painted, in rather good shape. 'Completely Sauced' has been rolling for just a few months, since April I believe. I don’t know for sure where the name comes from and in my humble (but usually correct) opinion, it doesn't really reflect the truck’s menu which boasts mostly Cajun/Creole fare. Maybe there’s a culinary connection I’m just not aware of. When I think of Cajun/Creole I tend to think of spices, not sauces. Maybe I’m missing something.
There were, as best as I could tell, two people in the truck, one large, fetching woman at the window and a garrulous, energetic young man assembling the food. Both seemed to know what they were doing and were quick, attentive, upbeat and professional. No complaints whatsoever with the personnel. From the middle of the line I flashed my magic debit card as if to ask if they would take it. She caught the subtle gesture and nodded, without skipping a beat as she was taking another person’s order.
There was a sandwich board on the ground in front of the truck. Doug, Larry and I studied our options.
The Food.
Red beans and rice
My strikingly handsome, highly intelligent boss ordered the red beans and rice. A bit bland I thought, but he’s much smarter and better looking than me**  so I didn't openly question his choice. Doug ordered the jambalaya. These items were dipped up out of a warming vat and served almost immediately. Doug added Tabasco sauce before he even tasted it. Doug, besides eating really, really fast also hot-sauces up nearly everything he eats. I imagine that he’s in a constant state of searing acid reflux, which would help explain his occasionally-volatile temperament.
My order, a shrimp po’ boy, house-style, dressed with remoulade and slaw, (referred to on the menu as an 'Oxymoron' (Jumbo-shrimp, get it?) would take a few minutes I was told, since they don’t pre-cook the shrimp. This impressed me. The old roach coaches would precook everything, sometimes several weeks in advance. The wait was not terribly long, I snapped photos of Doug and Larry’s food while I waited. I had to get to Doug’s plate pretty quickly.  I think I might actually need a faster camera, one of those high speed jobs that you can photograph a bullet in mid flight with. Doug eats fast.
They called my order, we headed back to the office as there was no seating anywhere near the truck.
I found an empty cubicle and sat my plate down. Larry and Doug had been sampling theirs, Doug’s was all gone before we even got inside the building. His face was red and sweaty from the spicy heat.
I sat at the cube and Larry hovered over me.
I examined the sandwich. Red and green cabbage in the simple slaw, a dollop of sauce, just a dollop, and five grilled jumbo shrimp. The bread was very pretty. Fresh, crunchy crust, soft, fluffy and snow white on the inside. The shrimp was spiced, at first I thought a bit too heavily, but it turned out to be pretty good. It made me sweat a little, but not enough to cause pain or abdominal discomfort. The slaw was not strong, frankly, it might as well have just been shredded cabbage. It may have had flavor, but if it did it was stifled by the shrimp spice and the remoulade.  It wasn’t bad at all, just lacked its own distinct personality. It didn’t make the sandwich less tasty though. The bed of potato chips underneath was fine, nothing fancy.
Shrimp po' boy
Larry had said he didn’t like spicy food very much, and his choice bore that out. Red beans and rice are neither very strong by themselves in any way, you have to add heavy spices to make them tasty at all. He said that the beans were indeed a bit bland, not a rousing compliment from someone who openly claims to not like spicy food.
Doug says his was pretty spicy, but not too much, and that even with the additional Tabasco sauce it wasn’t too hot for him. I actually think Doug has a culinary death wish.
Overall, Larry didn’t seem terribly impressed,  I’m quite familiar with him being not terribly impressed, I’ve worked for him for three years. I asked him if given the choice between this meal and a fast-food burger which he would choose. “It depends on which fast food burger we’re talking about.”  Ouch.
Doug claimed to be pleased and even considered stepping out and grabbing a po’ boy like mine.  I don’t recall if he actually did or not, I might not have seen it anyhow since I blinked.
I was quite happy with my sandwich. The price was good, eight bucks. The Jambalaya and red beans were only seven. I would certainly rather have that po’ boy than any fast-food burger. The food was good, the price was reasonable, the service, exceptional.


* Cheese nabs. It's a southern term. Snack crackers, usually bright orange in color, filled with peanut butter or fake cheese. You know what I'm talking about.

** Yes you are correct, this is absolutely and un-apologetically, gratuitous sucking up. My boss will probably read this, but he's used to it.

Competely Sauced Mobile Food Truck on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Waffle House

1304 Veterans Blvd
Festus Mo.

According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Waffle House is one of the top four corporations, along with Wal-Mart, The Home Depot and Lowe's, for disaster response. “The ability of a Waffle House to remain open after a severe storm, possibly with a limited menu, is used by FEMA as a measure of disaster recovery known as the Waffle House Index.” (Wall Street Journal)

The Place:
 Over 1600 locations, almost all of them, from what I can tell, on interstate on-ramps. Waffle House is, in the south, as common as ticks on a seasoned coonhound. (For you urbanites out there, this merely means quite common.)
This much is predictable, what you get in any Waffle House in the U.S. will be just as good as the last time. The menu is simple though not limited to just breakfast fare, and the entire meal prep takes place right in front of you.
Small, efficient, friendly, one could say intimate and cozy. A bar with stools or the few small booths, you’re part of the whole affair form the moment you walk in. It smells like breakfast; syrup, bacon, sausage, coffee.
Some of the stores have toyed with taking special party reservations, setting up candles, etc. I don’t need that.
My precious princess daughter, Leslye, worked at a WH in Springfield Mo. her senior year in high school. I really enjoyed those nights that she needed me to pick her up from work. I’d get there early and enjoy letting her wait on me, pouring me coffee, bringing me some bacon… After she left WH she got a job at the new Hooters. I never stopped in while she was working there, that just seemed… awkward.
When Angel asked her about working at Hooters, Les replied: “It’s nice to finally work at a place that appreciates big-breasted women.” She was young and perhaps a little naïve at the time. She made a ton in tips though. A valuable life lesson to be sure.

The Food:
While WH serves sandwiches and steaks, we go there for ‘brinner’ (breakfast for dinner). The waitress warned us that the chef had a light touch tonight, that if you ordered an 'over-easy’ egg that it might resemble ‘raw’.
Angel wanted gravy so she found some stuff that fit nicely under a generous coating of it, two eggs, over medium, hash browns with diced onions, tomato and gravy served with toast. I picked a sausage-egg biscuit, hash browns with diced onions and gravy. Adam went all out. A waffle, two eggs (scrambled) with a side of bacon and toast
They chose Coke products, I had nowhere to be the next day, so I ordered coffee.
 The wait wasn't long, the food arrived, Adam's three plates first, then Angel's then mine. Adam and Angel were given small tubs of jelly for their toast. Adam received grape, Angel, mixed fruit. They had not been offered a preference. This caused a discussion later about whether it was a random, grab-bag deal with the waitress, or, as I suggested the work of a highly trained and specialized, perhaps snobbish and unseen jelly 'sommelier'.
(In a snobbish French accent) For the madame, as there is an emphasis on the white sauce on her entree, I'd normally suggest something red, strawberry perhaps, but noting that her choice of beverage was a diet soda, I immediately modified the selection to account for a uniquely discerning palette. Thus 'mixed fruit', an earthy, subtly balanced blend of the fine fruits from the chilly northeast, is the only possible option.
As for the lad, no white sauce, plain waffle with a heavy application of sickly sweet maple syrup... grape is called for. It's actually not very good but he won't be able to taste it anyhow. He'll like it because it's purple.
Hash browns 'lightly covered' in gravy.
With sausage/egg biscuit.
Not pictured: Extra dose of Lipitor.
My biscuit was large and fluffy. On it sat a standard sausage patty and a full fried egg. The hash browns, lightly covered in gravy were golden brown and crunchy. The gravy was peppery, but not overpowering. The plate also contained a condiment pack of mayo. Why? I don''t know, maybe they thought I looked Canadian. It might as well have been plumber's putty as far as I was concerned.
There was little discussion as the meals disappeared, and they all thoroughly disappeared. The plates so completely  sopped up for every last hint of gravy and egg yolk that even a seasoned CSI with a crate full of fresh swabs and a gallon of luminol wouldn't be able to lift any evidence off those dishes.
The waitress leaned over the counter and removed each plate as it was emptied, mine being the last.
Once it was finished I relaxed with my refreshed coffee and observed one of the overhead signs. It suggested pie. I was pleased. 
We asked the lady about what was available, she had to think about it. "Chocolate and pecan I think."
My pleasure dissipated immediately.
"Aren't you going to have some pie?" Adam asked as I fumbled for my billfold.
"They don't have any pie." I answered angrily.
"Yes they do, chocolate and pecan." He replied ignorantly.
"Your father only recognizes one kind of pie." Angel scolded the boy.
"Oh yeah, apple, cold, no ice cream." He recalled. "But dad, there are other kinds of pie." He tried.
I grabbed the tab and headed for the register.
 The bill came to $24.36. That's roughly eight bucks a head. That's also close to the amount we spent on that inedible slop that White Castle served us a couple of weeks back. That same twenty dollars and change that was exorbitant at the tiny burger place, was a true bargain at Waffle House. There was nothing that was not good here. Not that it was fancy or unique, it was just plainly and simply, good. Were it not for the inexplicable pie problem, it would have been perfect. Pleasant atmosphere, clean tables, expertly made food, bargain prices.
I tipped well and we took our leave. We stopped at Walmart since we were in town. I bought an apple pie, took it home and stuck it in the refrigerator. Was that so hard?

Waffle House on Urbanspoon