Monday, November 26, 2012


Gravois Bluffs
Fenton, Mo

So where do you go after three full days of turkey and trimmings and the leftovers? “IHOP.” Angel declared. “I want some breakfast-y food.”
This was fine with me even though unlike her, I was not tired of the leftovers.
The IHOP in Fenton was chosen due to logistics. Maya, a sweet and charismatic Bull Terrier (not a pit bull) needed to be taken home to Valley Park Saturday evening, about the same time that we normally go out. So we’d known ahead of time that we needed to pick something in that general direction. There were many other dining options of course, but Angel’s craving was pretty specific.
So we loaded up Maya, who travels well, and headed out. We delivered her to her delightfully Swedish family and headed back to Fenton.
Gravois Bluffs also played well into another craving, the craving to do at least a little shopping. Gravy Bluffs is also home to Target, and a new H.H. Gregg Electronics and Appliance store. None of us had even left the homestead since the day before Thanksgiving. We’re not ‘Black Friday’ people.
The Place:
Gravois bluff is a large shopping area perched, as the name implies, on a high bluff overlooking Highway 141. Across the highway is a smaller, but just as busy shopping area. I only go there a couple of times a year, being shopping-center-reluctant as I am. I even buy my shoes, shirts and underpants online.
IHOP is one of many restaurants, all lined up at the front edge of the vast shopping center. Red Robin and Olive Garden are literally a stone’s throw away.
The IHOP was generally busy, but not as busy as some of the other places. Inside the bright store we were greeted and seated immediately. The aroma of breakfast, coffee and syrup (blech) wafted through the air as aromas tend to do.
Brian was there immediately to hand us menus and take our drink orders. I’d pre-decided on coffee, which meant I’d pre-decided on a breakfast-type meal of some kind. The tea at IHOP is bland, at least according to memory, but their coffee is pretty good. This meant I would have trouble going to sleep on time, but I wasn’t exactly lacking sleep after three days off from work.
The menus were colorful and picturesque. Everything looked good. There was a separate menu of new offerings. One meal stood out.
The Food:
Country sausage and potatoes. Country fried potatoes with chopped country sausage, cheese and gravy, served with two eggs and two pancakes. Add two strips of bacon for a buck and my meal still only cost 7.99.
Angel decided on the country fried steak with ‘extra’ gravy. Her plate also came with hash browns, eggs and pancakes.
Adam chose the chicken strip plate with mashed potatoes and (blech) broccoli. I don’t know what it is with this kid and broccoli.
As Brian took our order and I filled up my cup with coffee I first noticed the music. ‘Take On Me’ by A-Ha. An eighties favorite of mine. The music that followed was not eighties, but a mix of upbeat songs from several periods and artists. Not bland, but not edgy either.
Country Sausage Potatoes
Adam sipped his Pepsi, Angel tasted her sweet tea, I bathed in the steamy, aromatic pleasure of better than average coffee. I excused myself to go to the restroom, something I don’t normally do. However I’d been imbibing, heavily, the holiday punch, a wicked brew of citrus juices, mixed with red Kool-Aid packets and sugar-free lemon lime soda. It’s a family blend, we made it when I was growing up. It took it’s distinctive characteristic from dad’s strict no-sugar diet. No sugar at all, but with the right blend of juices, pineapple and orange, the stuff is plenty sweet and given a tart bite with grapefruit and lemon juice. When I make it I tend to become instantly addicted to it, which also means many more than the usual trips to the restroom.
The restroom was bright white tiles with a few red ones thrown in to give it some contrast. It wasn’t the cleanest restroom but it was far from the worst I'd seen.
The food arrived soon after I returned to the table. I was famished, having only had a turkey sandwich much earlier in the day.
The pile of food in front of me looked just as advertised, heavenly. Well, there did seem to be a whole lot of cheese. The butter balls on the pancake stack weren’t melting very quickly, the butter was rock hard so first things first, I chopped up the balls and spread them around. Since I don’t ever, ever put syrup (blech) on pancakes, the butter needs to coat them evenly.
Country Fried Steak with 'extra' gravy
We dug in. I was quite pleased with everything until about halfway in, that’s when I noticed the ratio was all wrong. There were lots of sausage chunks, and lots and lots of cheese and gravy, but not so many potatoes. When I make a similar dish it’s mostly potatoes, with only a sprinkling of cheese and only a small amount, if any, of gravy. The potatoes were all but gone, there were twice as many sausage chunks, and I was pulling globs of melted cheese and making a pile on the side of the plate. What was there was all quite good, the potatoes could have been crispier, but they weren’t bad. It was the ratio that was all wrong. My last few bites were mostly gravy and sausage and cheese, very, very unnecessarily rich. A dish like this is a certain artery clogger to begin with, I was OD’ing on it. Fortunately the pancakes provided a semblance of balance. IHOP certainly knows how to make pancakes.
Angel, when I asked her about hers simply said “Yum!” I pressed her and got a little more. “The meat was too big, it didn’t even fit on the plate.” 
“Perhaps they should use bigger plates.” I offered.
“No the meat was too big.”
She continued: “The hash browns need to be crispier, sometimes they are, sometimes they’re not. Crispy is better. And the syrups are all really, really sweet.”
Chicken Strips
She’d put boysenberry on her stack.
“It’s syrup” I replied. “Syrup, by definition is going to be really, really sweet.”
She dismissed my comment as she does most of them.
Adam summed his up after a lot of thought: “No complaints.” I noted that he’d cleaned his plate quickly and helped himself to his mother’s second, non-syrup’d pancake.

I will not choose the same dish next time, too rich, too cheesy. It probably suits some people fine though.  Better to stick with the controllable classics, and mix them together myself.
Brian, our server did a bang-up job. Friendly, dutiful and mostly attentive. He did fail on a promise to refill Adam’s Pepsi, but caught the error later and offered to let him have some to-go.
The empty plates were taken away quickly and Brian twice came by just to see how we were doing. Not overbearing, just friendly.
I could have sat there another hour or so, sipping on my coffee, but we were on a schedule. To get in a run through Target and Gregg’s we needed to rush a little, there were dogs at home that would be getting anxious soon.
All in all we were quite pleased. It was cheap at thirty six dollars and change, there was plenty of food for everyone, and for the most part it was all prepared well.
IHOP is quickly becoming a favorite of mine. They have a great variety of offerings and the price is right.

IHOP on Urbanspoon

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Ruby Tuesday

1120 Shapiro Dr.
Festus, Mo
It’s been three weeks since the last review. I was sick, busy, busier, and Angel was out of town last week. We’re all back now and ready to inform you, our loyal fans.
I was tired of burgers, I’ve had more than usual the last couple of weeks. Quick, easy, tasty, but ultimately, after a while, boring and heavy.
No one was in the mood to pick a place, so I just threw this out there.
The Place:
Once again, below Lowe’s parking lot on a hill above I-55. It seemed pretty busy, it was. We were greeted at the door by a young lady with cleavage. Not that that is a bad thing, nor do I admit to actually noticing it or leering. I’m just mentioning it to be thorough. The cleavage did not motivate me to order any more food or drinks than I would have normally, nor did I leave a larger tip than usual.
Those awesome biscuits
We were seated near the bustling bar. The booths are smaller in this area, and overhead are TV’s playing sports. Angel and I got a football game, Missouri vs. Syracuse, and Adam got a NASCAR race. NASCAR is curiously considered a sport in some places.
I didn’t mind the football, especially college games. A trend among university teams is to have brightly colored and highly stylized uniforms and helmets. If you take off your glasses and sit at a distance the action looks like a swirling 60’s LSD flashback.
We were handed menus, a plate of garlic-cheesy biscuits and gave the waitress our drink order, tea, sweet tea and Coke.
By the time our drinks came around we were all ready to order.
The Food:
The perfect salad
I found nothing really new on the menu, so I went with a favorite; Petite Sirloin, mashed potatoes and the awesome salad bar. The petite is a small nine-ounce cut, perfect for the taste of steak without the heft of a full sized serving, I was counting on the salad to be the bulk of the meal.  Angel went for the dry-rub Memphis ribs, asparagus and mashed potatoes, and of course, the salad bar. Adam took on the Prime Bacon Cheddar Burger, with fries and broccoli. Yeah, a burger and broccoli, go figure. The young man is disgusted by onions and tomatoes, but sides a burger with limp, slimy, disgusting broccoli. I blame his mother.
There was a long line at the salad bar, no surprise. Whatever else I might say about Ruby, she’s got the best salad bar in the entire tri-state area.
Angel's topped with pumpernickel croutons.
The plates seemed smaller than I remembered, Angel doubted it. My appetite was certainly larger than the plates though. Greens, all crispy and fresh, cucumbers, peppers, mushrooms, red onions, bright green lima beans, real bacon bits, boiled egg, cheeses,  thin sliced tomatoes, apple salad, potato salad, this time covered in a thin layer of Thousand Island dressing (my choice of dressing varies).  Angel had a slight variation, the main theme was those dark, heavy pumpernickel croutons that Adam would be swiping later.
Petite Sirloin
My plate was piled high, I dug in with the passion of a hungry guy with an awesome hand-crafted salad in front of him. “These biscuits mean we never need to go to Red Lobster again.” Adam chimed in. He was right, Ruby’s biscuits are to die for.
   Then they did it again. About halfway through the salad a mere few minutes in, the main courses arrived. Too soon, too soon!
Memphis Ribs
The table was too small to make room for everything and keep it all in reach. Ruby’s done this before, and pardon my Italian, it really pisses me off. What’s the big hurry? I can’t afford to take my family here very often, why rush us through like some cheap fast food joint? The salad bar is the draw to this place, why rush our rare pleasure? I made the salad, I wanted the salad, but you interrupted with a medium rare steak that loses freshness fast. I had to shove aside one third of the awesome salad to be able to savor the steak at its best.
I’ve griped about it before, I’ll complain about it again if they keep doing this.
This food itself was quite good. Though the plating was sparse and plain, the food was delicious. The steak was cooked perfectly to order, topped with butter and pepper. The mashed potatoes were fluffy and cheesy and only a little too salty.
Prime Cheddar Bacon Burger..with broccoli
“That’s a very pretty burger.” Adam said shortly before it disappeared.
I tried a bit of Angel’s ribs, and gave her a sliver of steak. She loved the spiciness of the steak, I was less impressed with the rib meat. It wasn’t bad, I’m just not much of a rib-guy, or a big dry rub fan. Angel in fact later said that the rib-rub could have been spicier. She said that however, over a plateful  of bare, gnawed bones. “The meat just fell off the bones.” She said, while smacking her lips.
I enjoyed my steak and potatoes, finished them off. Angel and Adam wanted dessert, to go, I didn’t. “You’re passing up the chance for cheesecake?” She was puzzled. “I already have a snack planned.” I responded, thinking of the graham crackers and fresh jar of peanut butter at home, the result of a recent craving. They each ordered a slice of pumpkin pie cheesecake. I don’t care for pumpkin anyhow.
The wait staff was exceptional, they kept us refilled and cleared away. The only bad thing about the meal, and it’s not a minor thing in my book, was the rushed main course delivery.
Pumpkin Cheesecake
The tea was clear and fresh as it most often is at Ruby’s. Even Angel commented on it. The price for the meal and the two desserts came to just over sixty two dollars. Kind of pricy if you eat there a lot, but for a once every other month or so thing, probably not too bad. The food was, as it usually is, of high quality and prepared well. The most telling fact is that we keep going back. Ruby gets it mostly right most of the time. It’s dependable and predictable.
Another minor point though, The booths in the area around the bar are too small, stiff and lumpy.
By far the main draw for us is here the salad bar. It’s always well stocked with a huge variety of fresh produce. Next time I might just make a meal of the salad and the biscuits. That would avoid the recurring problem of being interrupted by a too-quick main course.

Ruby Tuesday on Urbanspoon