Monday, September 24, 2012


852 McNutt St.
Herculaneum, Mo.

The Place:
Why Wendy’s?
Well, a couple of weeks ago we created a list of fast food burger chains. Our favorites, from most to least were: 
Jack in the Box
Dairy Queen
Burger King
Almost anything else actually somewhat edible including road kill, tree bark and rotting algae.
White Castle
This got us thinking, well, actually it got Angel thinking. The one we’d had the least actual memories of was Wendy’s. Angel couldn’t remember the fries. To her this is important, a game changer. One of the reasons she doesn’t have DQ much is their fries. They’re wimpy, limp, soft, almost mushy. Angel does not appreciate, at all, that sort of thing. But she could not recall Wendy’s fries. Since the two places were next to each other in the list, it seemed only fair to give them another shot. There was no argument.
A beautiful fall-like day, crisp, barely warm, the daylight receding several minutes earlier each day. Angel had spent the morning in Kirkwood, some pet parade of some kind. I’d spent the day between painting the bookshelves I’d built for the man-cave and researching/writing an entry about my three grandmothers for my ‘Family’ blog that required a lot of tedious amateur-genealogical research. Adam had helped with the dogs, keeping them on schedule. None of us had a big breakfast or lunch, we were all pretty hungry.
This particular Wendy’s is the closest one to our compound. Too far to be a casual stop-in, Festus is closer by several miles and Festus has just about every other chain joint there is, but not a Wendy’s
St. Louis area Wendy’s are still relatively rare. The franchise owners for the area got into some trouble a few years back and nearly all of them are, or were for a lengthy period, closed.
This one abuts a gas station at a busy intersection.
The Food:
I wanted chili but We were here to review the classic burger and fries. So I decided to ask for a large chili, to go. It would be my Sunday brunch. I don’t have to review Wendy’s chili. It is my favorite, by far, fast-food chili. It has been for over twenty years. Some people wouldn’t consider it chili at all since it lacks the fireball-hot seasoning. I don’t care what those people think, I like it.
Though I was hungry, I decided to keep it simple. A ¼ lb Single Cheesburger. Above all I wanted to see, since the photo and the name didn’t indicate ‘bacon’, if there would still be bacon on it. (See Dairy Queen review for explanation)
 Angel and Adam both ordered the ‘Son of Baconator’ which clearly would have bacon, plus two ¼ pound square, "fresh, never frozen" patties. We all got fries, medium sized.
Single Cheeseburger
We were handed our cups and while I waited at the counter for the order, Angel and Adam tried to figure out the space-age, overly complicated, robotic drink dispenser. When it came my turn to pour a drink I simplified the matter by just pouring unsweetened tea from a simple, separate dispenser.
The burgers didn’t appear terribly large, the fries did. Not the size of the fries but rather the amount. We ordered ‘medium’ but the packaging would rival anyone else’s ‘large’.
Angel and Adam were still complaining about the beverage robot. For all its fancy screens and menus, it was still out of Diet Dr. Pepper, Angel’s go-to soda. She’d had to pour regular Dr. Pepper instead. Adam had opted for root beer, but was frustrated with the stupid machine constantly returning to the home menu before completing his pour.
I opened up my small burger and confirmed my suspicions, no bacon. Angel and Adam pried theirs open and found. . . bacon.  See Dairy Queen? That’s not so complicated is it?
Adam had dispensed plenty of ketchup into little paper containers. We unwrapped everything and dug in.
Son of Baconator
“The fries may be my new number two.” Angel soon declared. This is no small thing. Her number one for fries, by a long shot, is McDonalds, a place I simply cannot tolerate, but must agree with her assessment of their fries.
These fries were indeed pretty good. Crispy, not oily or mushy.
“The burger’s okay but the bun tastes old.” Angel added.
“The bacon is crispy, better than at other places” Adam chimed in.
I agreed the fries were very good, the burger, though not spectacular was not bad at all.

As I am writing this on Sunday afternoon, it has been just a couple of hours since I ate the chili. I was, as always, quite pleased with it. Meaty, not too spicy, just right. But this trip was about the burgers. The bill came to an unsurprising, just under twenty four bucks, including the to-go chili. A price consistent with other fast food burger joints.
Personally, I do NOT openly welcome
our new drink dispenser overlords
There’s a little disagreement still about McDonald’s position on the list. We decided that we’d agree to disagree, by that I mean I wouldn’t yell at them for being completely wrong. I have McD’s  pretty far down the list, perhaps even with Burger King, or because of the fries, just above it. What we did agree on was that Wendy’s, once again because of the fries, moved up, perhaps above DQ.  So the list didn’t change dramatically, we were  quite satisfied with Wendy’s except for Angel’s dislike of the bun and both of them yammering on and on about the drink robot.
There’s simply no reason for a drink dispenser to be that complicated and high-tech. Plus the fact that there was only one nozzle on it, it will create a bottleneck in the dining experience, as was perfectly obvious when a busload of young women pulled up as we were preparing to leave. A line formed at the drink robot, each lady had to figure out the menus and process. This is just what the robots want.

Wendy's Old Fashioned Hamburgers on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Trattoria Toscana

11686 Gravois Rd.
St. Louis Mo.

The Event:
Rarely do we have other people along for these reviews, it’s not a rule, we just don’t socialize a lot. However I’d been talking to Doug, my co-worker a lot about these things and he’s a big fan of the blog, even more so when I mention his name and toss a light-hearted insult at him. Somehow we agreed to meet up one Saturday evening and let our families get better acquainted. I suggested he find a place near his home in South County that he liked or had heard about. When he suggested this place he didn’t even remember its name, just that it had changed recently. So the deal was made, we found a day when neither of us were on call.  

The Place:
It used to be Frankie and Johnnies, then it was something else that didn’t last very long, now it is a new location for Trattoria Toscana, an established restaurant formerly in Affton.
So while the location was new, the staff and menu was not. I pre-screened the menu, gave the family a heads up and they did the same.
It’s located on Gravois, just north of the Lindbergh intersection, an area I was familiar with since I've passed right by it most days of my working life in suburban St. Louis.
We arrived promptly at six (maybe a couple of minutes late), the time we had made our reservations (recommended). Doug and his ladies, his wife Edith and twenty-something year old daughter Meredith were already there after having to drive a grueling three minutes from his home. Doug was finishing a Seven and Seven at the bar. He later commented that the drink was a bit on the weak side, more ‘seven’ than Seven and Seven. We were immediately shown our table in the back of the crowded and somewhat cramped dining area, next to a fireplace mantel. The room was very dark, the candle-lit tables were covered with starched white linen. The table had already been set up with napkins, silverware, baskets of bread, ice water in goblets and a shallow bowl of peppered olive oil for the bread. There were handsome black covered menus at each setting. I sat facing inward with Doug to my left and Angel to my right. Adam was on the other side of his mother, next to Meredith and then her mother.
Within a few moments a young lady with a delightful and somewhat exotic eastern European accent asked us about drinks. Angel and I ordered tea, Doug a diet Coke, Adam a regular Coke and the remaining ladies stuck with just water.
There was a wine list. I like wine but have learned that it is best not to get snockered while  reviewing a restaurant, and also aware that places like this charge premium prices for their wine, so I didn’t even bother opening it.
Opening conversation was a bit spotty. Id’ met Doug’s wife before at a cookout at his house, and felt quite comfortable around her. They, on the other hand, had never met Angel or Adam, so I was happy when Doug asked Angel about the dogs. Angel, Adam and I are all quite socially-ill-at-ease, but bring up a subject we are passionate about and we can get downright chatty.
The walls were painted a muted pink or pinkish hue, it was hard to be sure in the ambient darkness. The walls were decorated with a few simple paintings. Doug and I had noticed one especially, it was of the famous leaning tower in Pisa. It was noticeable because it presented a problem. Hung correctly the painting constantly looks like it needs to be straightened. 
Eventually we were asked for our orders. Easy for me since I’d checked out the menu earlier in the day. Angel and Adam had as well, I thought I knew what Angel would be ordering.
The place was indeed crowded, we’d struggle to find a parking spot, and now nearly all the tables were occupied. White shirts and black trousers were the uniform of the busy and ample staff.
The Food:
Me: Lobster Ravioli
Angel: Linguine Tuttomare
Adam: Filet Mignon
Doug: Chicken Marsala
Edith: Linguine alla Amy
Meredith: Cannelloni

Linguine Tuttomare
It was a diverse order. I’d picked the ravioli since it was comparatively light and had lobster. I’d assumed Angel would pick the tuttomare since it had shrimp, mussels, clams, calamari and other disgusting forms of  sea slug. She orders this at Trattoria Giuseppe quite often.
The conversation sped up a little, the salads were delivered. We discussed Meredith’s job, she’s an overnight obstetrics nurse at a downtown hospital. I’m always fascinated by people who can reach inside other people for a living, it makes my job seem just that much nicer. Meredith is a striking, tall and confident young lady, much better looking than at least half her parents. On this evening she was soft spoken, polite and quite pleasant. She might be a hellion in her personal life for all I know, but here, with her parents present she was quite genteel. Her mother is a very Irish looking, fiery redhead, quick to laugh, with a mischievous gleam in her eyes and able to put Doug in his place with just a glance. She’s a third grade teacher’s aide, and quite a good one I imagine. She’s certified to teach but is quite happy with her current role of being the aide.
I knew the family to be close knit and you could see it with the interaction between this sampling. Doug has four more kids, all college age or slightly more, three still in college, spread out between Cape Girardeau, Warrensburg and Springfield Mo.
The salads were a little less than I expected. The other trattorias we’ve reviewed add things like olives and a sweet dressing to their house salads. This one was simple lettuce, onion and tomato with grated cheese and dressed with a subtle vinaigrette. There was nothing wrong with it, it was just a little less than I'd expected.
The bread was okay, simple thin sliced French bread. Adam didn’t care for it much. We did manage to go through quite a bit of it though.
Lobster Ravioli
The wait for the main courses was not long, or maybe it just seemed to go quickly because we were chatting. When we’re by ourselves the conversation dwindles between courses and the wait time can seem much longer than it really is.
It all  arrived at the same time, and the table went pretty quiet for a while. The pepper/grated cheese specialist came around and topped the plates to order.
My ravioli was perfect. I could taste the lobster in nearly every bite, the pasta was perfectly tender. The sauce looked a little funky orange, but tasted quite nice.
Adam shared some of his steak with his mother and me; it was quite tender and nicely cooked. They are very proud of their steaks here if the price is any indicator.
Angel said that unlike Giuseppe’s, Toscana used a red sauce for their tuttomare. Not that it was a bad thing, just different. She loved the fact that there was more seafood bits than in other places, and rated it as good or better than that at Giuseppe's.
Doug was quite satisfied with his chicken, he even made a point of eating at near-human speed, unlike the lunches where he saws through his food at star-nosed-mole rates of speed. Edith said that their son Charlie eats even faster. I remarked that I doubted it since certain laws of physics simply wouldn’t allow for that.
Edith also said her Linguine alla Amy, which included beef tips, sun dried tomatoes, mushrooms and spinach was fine, but would probably order something else the next time, maybe some chicken. I had a feeling she was holding back on saying anything really negative since I was overtly writing down what she was telling me. She’s very sweet that way, but being nice just doesn’t get your blog shared around the interwebs.
Meredith said she loved the salad the best, and had nothing at all bad to say about the cannelloni. She may have been just being nice herself.
To my surprise and delight, the tea was very, very good. Angel disagreed saying it had too much ice in it. I didn't know how to respond to that. I hadn't noticed the ice problem, so I stuck with my own assessment that it was quite good, even the refills maintained the freshness.
 No one had any significant gripes. The service was great, the ambiance was nice, the crowded dining area made for a steady buzz, but it was not noticeably too noisy.  The price, well that's another thing. This is no a pizzeria or a fast food joint. Doug grabbed the bill before I even knew it was headed our way. I felt bad about this since I hadn't really considered the price of what we ordered since we sort of budget for these things. Now I feel indebted, deeply indebted to Doug and either must reciprocate in kind, or start buying his lunches at work for the next several months. I added up the entrees alone and for the group of six, based on the pricing available online, that came in at about $116. This didn't include the drinks or a tip. For the three of us, we were more than half of that total, so let's just say we ate nearly seventy bucks worth of steak, clams and lobster with pasta.
Which puts it about even with Trattoria Giuseppe. Which means this is a pretty good place to eat, just not very often. The quality of the food was on par with Giuseppe, the service was as efficient also. The atmosphere, not so much. I smile at Giuseppe's simply because of its location and the old building it's in. Toscana has a newer, straighter building in a much higher trafficked area. So the differences are minor. Giuseppe comes out at every serving and greets each table. For little reasons like this, and not much more, I prefer Giuseppe over Toscana, but not by a very wide margin.

Trattoria Toscana on Urbanspoon

Monday, September 10, 2012

Dairy Queen

101 South Truman Boulevard
Crystal City Mo.

Starting in 1957, DQ’s that served burgers added the word ‘brazier’ to their signage. The word referred to a machine developed by one of their franchisees that allowed standard cooking temperatures and times for all stores. The word is largely no longer used, considered outdated back in the 80’s and 90’s. It is not known to this reporter whether the braziers themselves were discarded, whether or not all the stores are now brazier-less. Perhaps they were burned in a symbolic gesture of rebellion. No one really knows for sure. I’m confident that the real story of the brazier, were it actually known, would be uplifting though. (I deliberately avoided prolonging  this silly shtick by not saying anything about how hard it was to remove the braziers, you know, in the dark, with one hand, etc. You can thank me later.) 
The real burning question in your mind must be though: “Why did you go to the DQ in Festus/Crystal City since there’s one in Hillsboro that you have to actually drive right past to get to Festus/Crystal City?”
Fair question. Angel (in charge of this expedition) explained it this way. “We’re going to Blockbuster anyhow and also, I want to see if the DQ fries in the Twin Cities are any better than the DQ fries in Hillsboro.”
Good enough for me. 
The Place:
Located near Lam’s Chinese in downtown Festus/Crystal City. I can barely tell where Festus leaves off and Crystal City begins. They are often referred to as the 'Twin Cities' but since the borders are indistinguishable without complex surveying equipment and archaic plot maps, in my mind the two towns are more like 'Conjoined Twin Cities'.
From the outside it looks exactly like a Dairy Queen. An outdoor patio with a tropical setting, palm tree, umbrellas, etc. Inside I was quite surprised to see a large stonework mantel and fireplace. I'm not sure why, but it was attractive. Above the mantel was mounted a large flat-screen TV playing a sports channel. On the mantel itself were some plaques and awards, none of which I bothered to examine. They might have been insurance policies and restraining orders as far as I know.
We placed our order, I'd made a conscious decision to get a burger without bacon since I always get a burger with bacon and thought I'd mix it up a bit. Angel and Adam ordered their picks and we poured our drinks and found a seat. I tasted the tea and choked on the bitterness of it so I filled my cup with Pepsi instead. Adam brought paper cups filled with ketchup. As we sat Adam made the observation that there were bottles of ketchup and mustard already at the table. "They don't have ketchup at the table at Hillsboro." Angel said. This would be the start of the inevitable comparison between the two stores. I asked and Angel told me that Hillsboro doesn't have a fireplace either.
In the meantime, several packs of large motorcycles roared by the nearby intersection. Sure it was a nice weekend, but large packs of large men on large motorcycles is quite audibly intrusive. We weren't even outside but still had to talk loudly to each other to overcome the immature and needless roar of the massive bikes. There is no technical reason a large Harley has to be louder than a mid-sized automobile. They are deliberately loud. Why, I am not quite sure. Some would call it compensation, others would cite an adrenalin rush. All I get from it though is immature and self-administered testosterone fulfillment. For people (bikers) who (stereo)typically claim they want freedom, liberty and to be simply left alone, their sheer intrusive and overt and unnecessary loudness belies their concern for those same rights and privileges for others around them. (gratuitous soap-boxing)
The Food:
Mine: Grillburger with cheese.
As I said, I'd ordered a Grillburger with cheese, and for a whopping fifty nine cents replaced the fries with onion rings. Angel took the Bacon Cheese Grillburger and fries, Adam, always the daring and adventurous rebel, asked for the Flamethrower Chicken sandwich, fried, with fries.
It didn't take long at all for the food to arrive, it was delivered to us within about five minutes of sitting down.
Angel's: Bacon Cheese Grillburger
I unwrapped mine, took the photos, then peeled back the bun on mine to see if it needed a condiment. Then a funny thing happened. I found bacon on my burger. I looked over at Angel's, hers had bacon as well. The only difference I could see between the two was that Angel's bacon was protruding from the side of the bun, mine wasn't.  I was a little disappointed, they'd got my order wrong. However, if you are going to get an order wrong, adding bacon where none was asked for is certainly the better direction to go. As you, my loyal fans know, I am not bacon-averse at all. So I did not report the egregious infraction, I just chalked it up to fate.
Later I did some research. On the DQ website I found that I had NOT been given the wrong burger. Compare the actual descriptions and photos from the DQ site:

(Photos and descriptions below are taken directly from

Grillburger with cheese
One ¼ lb.* 100% beef burger topped with melted cheese, crispy bacon, thick-cut tomato, fresh green leaf lettuce, pickles, onions, ketchup and mayo served on a warm toasted bun.

Bacon Cheese Grillburger
One ¼ lb.* 100% beef burger topped with melted cheese, crispy bacon, thick-cut tomato, fresh green leaf lettuce, pickles, onions, ketchup and mayo served on a warm toasted bun.

This seemed bizarre to me. Why was there bacon on a burger that didn't mention bacon in its name and also did not show it in the official photo of the burger?
So, risking going all Woodward and Bernstein, I felt I needed to investigate this curiosity. So I called DQ headquarters and was told by a pleasant sounding machine that I was calling outside normal business hours. The machine did give me a toll-free number to call. So I did.
'Nick' answered and I told him that I was curious about the difference between the two burgers. He put me on hold while he consulted his 'knowledge base'. Apparently my call was very important to them, they even said so.
"The only difference is the bacon." he said.
"Not according to the descriptions listed on the web site." I replied, backing him into a corner.
A long pause. "Hmmm., I see." He answered.
"There's bacon on both." I accused.
"That may vary according to franchise." He tried.
"But it's on the DQ corporate web site." I countered.
"I don't know why that is." Nick sounded frustrated.
I let him off the hook telling him I had no actual complaint, that I was simply curious. I could tell I had all the information he could give me without management involvement. I'll send a corporate query later.
Digging further into the posted nutrition information I noticed that the 'bacon' named burger actually had more calories, more calories from fat, etc, as one might expect form a bacon burger not so named. But not by much. I came to the conclusion that the actual difference was only the amount of bacon.

Flamethrower Chicken
Back to the meal.
I  was a little disappointed with the number of onion rings, it seemed kind of stingy. I hadn't super-sized though, if such a thing even exists at DQ, so once again I just let it go. Adam's Flamethrower looked exactly like a chicken patty sandwich, though he said it indeed had some heat. "One of my favorite fast-food chicken sandwiches." He said. He'd had them before.
This started a discussion of fast food burger joints, and we came up with a list that we all pretty much agreed with. Our favorites, from most to least are:
Jack in the Box
Dairy Queen
Burger King
Almost anything else actually somewhat edible including road kill, tree bark and rotting algae.
White Castle

Personally, I'd put Hardees as number one, their Frisco burger is my all time favorite among the listed chains and their breakfast biscuits are awesome. I'd also drop McD's below DQ and Wendy's, simply because I dislike McD's for philosophical, moral and ethical reasons. Angel pointed out that their fries are superior, I couldn't disagree.
But we all agreed that Dairy Queen was not among the top favorites on anyone's list.
I thought about it and concluded that DQ's burgers NEED bacon to give them flavor, the blend of beef by itself is flat, and tasteless.
I didn't quite finish my burger, more because of the bloating nature of the Pepsi than anything else. However it still wasn't anything to write home about. If you compare the 'official' photos to the 'actual' you will see that the firm, bright and perky official photo hardly resembles the real deal. In fact the burger I got was rather flaccid, damp and puny. Angel did like the fries at this place better than those in Hillsboro though, speaking of flaccid. She and Adam had lunched there earlier in the week, another reason for driving ten extra miles this trip, and had already mentioned her ongoing disappointment  with Hillsboro's under-cooked fries.
The tab came to pocket change over twenty dollars. The store was quite clean, we even witnessed a young lady sweeping the floors twice while we were there.
All in all, not a really bad experience and DQ is rightfully famous for its ice cream treats, not its burgers, but if they want to compete with the others in that arena, they are going to have to up their game quite a bit.
As for the bacon thing, I'll do some more investigating. There's something going on here and I will not sleep until I get to the bottom of it.

Dairy Queen on Urbanspoon