Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Jack In The Box

899 Veterans Blvd
Festus, Mo.
http://www.jackinthebox.com

Please take notice of the new and improved images!*

It was my turn to pick a place. I had several in my head, but I just couldn’t seem to wrap my tummy around any of them. So I decided to pay a return visit to a place that I’d liked before, and one that had an outstanding issue. Time to clear this up.
The Place:
Festus, above the interstate, blah, blah, blah, by now you’ll recognize that Festus has dozens of places to eat and most of them are within a small area right along Highway A above I-55.
Once again, hardly anyone there. Strange.
I’d been seeing commercials on TV for an ‘All-American Burger.' I decided to go with that before we even got there.
We stepped in and I noticed an improvement right away. In my last couple of reviews of this place I’d made note of the littered floors and tables and that how a place that wasn’t anywhere near really busy should be able to manage that basic function better. I’d even sent a note to management and they responded that they’d look into it.
It was spotless, the floor anyhow. A couple of the tables were not bussed, but only a couple, it could have been that the people that had used them had only recently left.
We stepped up to the line. Angel and Adam took a few minutes, I just stood there, bored with their sloth.
The Food:
Clean floor!
Angel finally decided, oddly enough, a salad. The Chicken Club salad to be exact, along with two of those nasty tacos that her and the boy like so well. Adam stepped up and ordered the Bacon Ultimate Cheeseburger, which, as if made specifically for him, comes with no onions and no tomatoes. He added curly fries and two of those nasty tacos that he and his mother rave about. I tossed in my order, adding curly fries, and none of the nasty, deep-fried tacos.
We filled our drinks, Adam, root beer, Angel, a Diet Dr Pepper (because regular Dr. Pepper isn’t awful enough) and for a change, I bypassed the tea and poured a Coke. I had noticed the tea was that prefabricated, catered stuff a lot of local restaurants offer, and I knew it wouldn’t be very good. We found a table near the back.
Across from us was a young family, a young father and mother, and four young kids. The father in very good shape, high and tight haircut, strong, well maintained upper body, sleeveless workout shirt and long, baggy shorts. He stood most of the time when he talked, like an ambitious executive in a business meeting. The kids, aged between three and ten, three boys and a girl, sat dutifully. The youngest boy, the comedian, sat dunking his pancakes into his sticky syrup, making faces and odd noises. It’s the curse of being the youngest, you have to go for the slapstick laughs to get attention. The boys all had tight, short haircuts. When the food had first arrived the father stood and led them in a prayer. I was somewhat jealous; I’d never had my family in such obliging control. When I did occasionally take my own young kids out it was indistinguishable from complete chaos.
All-American
Our food took just a few minutes longer than seemed necessary, though we didn’t think much of it at the time. Angel played with her phone, as did Adam, I sat and watched the perfect family, growing angrier and more jealous by the moment. I wanted to punch the guy.
The young man that delivered our tray apologized. “Sorry for the wait, there was an accident in the kitchen.” He said, adding: “Here’s a couple of coupons for free tacos since you had to wait.”
“Oh.” I responded indignantly, as if I knew what he was talking about.
We separated things out, I started peeling back the wrapper on my burger.
Chicken Club Salad
“Weren’t there supposed to be two tacos each?” Adam asked his mother. I looked down, sure enough there were only two of the nasty, flat things on the tray.
“I’ll take care of it!” I stood and took charge, I could handle this, I could take care of my family just like that young father. I hoped he noticed.
The man behind the counter, older and in-charge looking, took my concern seriously and immediately started barking out that he need two more tacos ‘on the fly’ which I took to be Jack-speech for ‘not as part of an order.’
“We’ll get those right out to you sir.” He assured me. I felt in control, commanding, and somewhat manly.
Bacon Ultimate.
We dug in, it was pretty quiet. My burger was exactly what I expected. Excellent meat patties with just the right condiments. The curly fries were seasoned, a little stronger than I’d remembered them. I wished I’d had the regular ones instead.
Everyone grunted and snorted as the food was devoured. Angel broke apart one of the tacos and dispersed it on the  salad, like croutons. "The way to make tacos healthy, put them on a salad!" She said, I couldn't disagree. Well actually I could, I just didn't bother.We avoid a lot of fights by simply ignoring each others' outrageously stupid remarks.  Meanwhile, the perfect family was wrapping up, dad was wiping up spilled pancake syrup around the youngest boy's area. The little tyke was now in his mom’s generous lap making spitting noises at the others, they giggled in delight. They were making me sick.
The missing tacos were delivered, four of them. “Here’s a couple of extra for your inconvenience.” The young man said. Tacos are apparently the goodwill currency at Jack in the Box. Like tickets and tokens at Chuck E Cheese, only of real value within their own doors.
Taco
As the eating slowed down, I polled the family. “Real bacon, lots of tomatoes and cucumbers, and good, crispy chicken.” She said of her salad.
Adam nodded his head.
“Use your words!” I scolded him.
“I like a burger that doesn’t taste like a fast-food burger.” He mumbled, finally. “How was your all American burger?” He asked.
"As promised, not a hint of foreign influences.” I replied. It was indeed a good burger. The curly fries, well, I’ll just get regular fries next time. They were fine, just too flavory for the subtle burger.
Adam added more, surprisingly. “Top rung of the fast food chains.” He said of the overall experience.
Summary:
I’d expected the food to be good, it always is. I was impressed that the floor was near-spotless, but noticed a half-hour in that the table that was messy when we got there had still not been cleaned, arriving customers just avoided it. So there’s still an issue with cleaning the dining area. There was a noticeable improvement, but other chains I like don’t seem to have this problem so consistently.
The bill was twenty one and change, about right for a fast food place, even with the extra/missing tacos.
I’m not sure what the ‘accident’ was, but there were certainly a couple of service errors this visit. I won’t judge that too harshly, as it seems to be typical of fast-food places, sometimes orders get messed up, things are misplaced. I only hope they work harder to cut down on these though, so they really can stand out and above, to maintain the status of ‘top rung’.

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* New, improved photos!
I’ve had it with dimly lit restaurants. Rather, I’ve had it with trying to take photos in dimly lit restaurants with my overpriced/underpowered cell phone. It has no flash and pretty low resolution.
As I jealously scanned other food blogs this past couple of weeks I realized that other people’s blogs had nice, rich, colorful photography, whereas on this site the images were third rate at best. I could do better. I trained as a photographer as far back as in high school and have always prided myself on using good equipment and good technique to make good pictures. Some of my photos are even hanging in the local hospital. Life saving and comforting pictures, I’m capable of that.
Nikon Coolpix L3 with 'advanced'
flash suppression feature.
The problem was this. I have a good camera, a Nikon DSLR. Unfortunately it’s a bit large, expensive and bulky to be packing in and out of dives and fast food chains. Then I remembered my other camera, one I hadn’t used since I got the DSLR. It’s also a Nikon, but it’s a point and shoot, about six years old. I bought it as we were in the process of moving from Maryland to St. Louis. My good digital camera at that time, an awesome Olympus, had broken, suddenly and irreparably.  As luck would have it, as a going away gift, my co-workers in Maryland gave me a gift certificate for Ritz Camera. I used it to buy this little Nikon to serve me during the transition and until I could free up some bigger funds toward a DSLR.
It served well enough, as much as a point and shoot can, the delay between pushing the shutter button and the picture actually snapping was constantly frustrating. Taking action pictures of the dogs was damn near impossible. So when, a couple of years later, I bought the big one, the little Coolpix  unceremoniously went into a drawer. 
I remembered it this weekend. Then it took a while to find it, clean it up and get it going. I took some dimly lit room photos to test out its capability for its new job.
The big, bad D40
A point and shoot is rather middle-of-the-road. It lacks the precision of a more expensive camera. The lenses are smaller and not as crisp. The focus mechanism makes a few broad assumptions, and there are very few manual override capabilities. It’s made for snapshots, not art. The flash is tiny and hot. By hot, I mean it assumes you’re using the flash to take a picture of a room full of people. This is not what I’d be doing. I’d be focusing pretty close-up on a small area.I needed to cool off the flash, to keep it from looking like a full-assault, flash-bang grenade in small, dimly lit restaurants.
This is where old-fashioned, low tech solutions become handy.
If you look at the flash area of the camera, you’ll notice what looks like transparent tape holding a layer or two of white paper towel over the flash. That’s because that is what it is, a low-tech flash diffuser.
I tested various materials and shots, and this was the result. I tried it out for real Saturday night at Jack in the Box. The results were quite pleasing.
My hope is to continue to improve the quality of reporting to you, my loyal fans. Let me know what you think!

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