Monday, March 25, 2013

Off The Hook

12636 Rt. 21
DeSoto, Mo.

 On our way to Off the Hook, we saw a sign for a new restaurant in DeSoto. We blew past our first choice to check it out, decided we'd try it, but not this week. Angel had her mind set on OTH's corn poppers, once Angel has her mind set on something, that's pretty much it.

The Place:
On the highway between Hillsboro and DeSoto, north of Walmart. The parking lot slants downhill toward the restaurant, a significant slant. One should keep this in mind while ordering a meal, as the climb back up to the car can be quite the struggle if you overeat. Trust me on this.
The lot wasn't too crowded and it didn't take very long to be seated. We were taken to a table along the west wall, near the middle. The din was roaring with the screams and laughter of the many children. A couple of large groups with more kids than anyone really needs surrounded us. I sucked it in and tried to be patient. I may have mentioned this before, I don't like eating around kids. then again, it's not just eating.
We sat at the wood table, laminated with ads for local businesses and a lame, never-changing, same-on-every-table trivia question list.
Corn Poppers
Name the states with four letter names, how many sides does a pentagon have, who was the first female supreme court justice, etc. It occurred to me that the game would be more interesting if it was different questions at every table and the answers were spread out among the other tables. More of a challenge that way and it would force people to interact more.
Kaylee, our waitress for the evening, smiled and asked about drinks. Un-sweet tea for me, with lemon, sweet tea, no ice for Angel and Adam asked for a Pepsi.
When asked by the boy about the no-ice thing, she said she was tired of being cold. I looked out the window and recalled that the weather experts/alarmists were calling for a major snowstorm starting that night. I'd spent a half hour in the warm afternoon sun, sweating as I pre-salted our four hundred foot driveway.
We flipped open the tri-fold menus. Kaylee brought our drinks and asked about an appetizer, Angel rang out about the corn poppers, whole kernel corn battered and deep fried.
The Food:
Catfish Plate
 Although the menu had many, many tempting offerings, for me, OTH is about the catfish. Not the best I've ever had, that honor is reserved for this all-you-can-eat catfish buffet place in Eureka Springs Arkansas, I forget the name, Don's, Ron's, something like that. It could be gone now, or renamed/re-owned. Last time I was there was about fifteen years ago. I still think it was the best catfish anywhere. However OTH's catfish has never disappointed. There is a problem with the meal as offered, but I'll get into that later.
Angel tried something new, baked chicken, Parmesan style, with mashed potatoes, a roll, and green beans. Adam ordered a sure-thing, Chicken fried steak, also with a roll and mashed potatoes, and a side of corn.
My meal came with fries and hush puppies and two sides. I picked slaw and baked beans.
The corn poppers arrived and we divvied them up into our saucers. I agree with Angel, these things are sinfully good. I tried to only have a couple since my meal was going to be large and filling, but I failed. I had five or six.
As we popped the poppers I looked out the window again, a bank of heavy gray clouds was moving in. I could feel the atmospheric changes in my sinuses, which are as accurate about front movements as any multimillion dollar, sophisticated weather equipment.
Baked Chicken Parmesan
The big family group in front of us was starting to grind on my nerves. Two of the little boys, about eight or nine, were on autopilot and sugared up. They ran toward the restroom a dozen times, rudely oblivious to the fact that other people even existed. I said nothing though, I'm polite that way. I was thinking things though.
Their food arrived, family style, chicken, fish, hush puppies, green beans, mashed potatoes. They'd apparently ordered everything OTH offered. The rude boys and the quieter ones as well loaded up their plates with fries. It occurred to me what a plague French fries are to children. Kids and many adults seem to be addicted to the nutritionally useless, but yummy sticks. Child obesity in the U.S. can probably trace straight back to those things, and all washed down with sugary pop. I love fries too, but kids don't do moderation well. However I did get an idea why parents don't keep them away from their kids. As soon as the kids' plates were loaded up with fries, the table got quiet. Deep fried silence inducers. I get it, kicking the obesity can down the road for the sake of temporary peace and quiet.
The plates arrived and I stopped scowling at the kids. My plate was stacked high with four filets of catfish, two hush puppies and a fist full of fries. I splatted a little ketchup on the plate, for the hush puppies.
Country Fried Steak
I broke open one of the filets to let it cool, they were sizzling hot. I tested the beans and slaw, served in separate ramekins. The beans were smokey and not too sweet. The slaw was vinegar based and sweet. I like this okay, but not as much as creamy slaw.
In comparison, Angel and Adam's plates were not near as crowded or piled as high. I knew I wouldn't be finishing my plate, I never do, it's simply too much heavy food. Adam sampled his mother's chicken and didn't care much for the Parmesan treatment of it. His country fried steak though, disappeared quickly. They finished before me, by a long shot. I managed to finish off the beans, a third of the slaw, two filets and both hush puppies, but that was it. I was full. Angel and Adam ordered dessert, I passed.
Angel asked for the dish that I would have chosen has I not been too full to enjoy it, blackberry cobbler. Cobbler is like a lazy man's pie. Fruit filling and some loose bits of crust. Adam went overboard and took the mud cake, a cake/brownie topped with whipped cream and chocolate syrup.
I asked for a box, I had not touched my fries. So I loaded them and the two remaining filets into the white Styrofoam as Angel and Adam finished off their small desserts. For three and a half bucks each the desserts seemed overpriced for the modest serving size.

Everyone was pretty pleased with their meals, no significant complaints. My only gripe was the amount of food I was given, which is hardly a thing one should complain about. I don't understand why they don't offer the fries as one of the side options rather than as a part of the plate. This plate had a LOT of deep fried food on it. I didn't eat my fries even though I like fries, I just knew, once again, that I wasn't going to be able to finish so I picked what I like the most, the fish, and still couldn't even finish that.
The bill came to forty seven dollars and change, not really bad at all, especially considering the amount of food served.
Kaylee was efficient, polite and dutiful, the entire floor staff seemed hard working and professional. OTH is a great place to go for big plates of food, they certainly know how to cook catfish, country fried steak and corn poppers. It's an excellent place to take a big group of people, the staff didn't seem to mind at all scooting four or five tables together. The family style offerings are perfect for such groups, and they pile on enough fries on a plate to keep a whole herd of children pacified.

Off The Hook Incorporated on Urbanspoon

Monday, March 18, 2013


690 S. Truman Blvd.
Festus, Mo.

Yeah, I know, a fast food joint. The reason we decided on this rather than one of the many, many nicer places was simple. Arby’s has been pushing some new sandwiches. We thought we’d give them a try.

The Place:
 Best described as the entrance to the Walmart parking lot in Festus. It’s at the northeast corner of  the termination of Highway A and Truman Blvd. (also known as 61/67)
We’d been noticing their annoying commercials featuring the self-aggrandizing thick,
New-York accented Bo Dietl (Getoutahere!) trying to get to the bottom of the claim that
Waffle fries
Arby’s Reuben is as crave-able as an authentic New York Reuben.
Also, I’d noticed signs around touting their new fish sandwich. I like a good fish sandwich.
The building is nice, not just a box, it offers vaulted ceilings, shiney tables and a large glass block partition. There were tables and booths and a couple of kiosks for drinks and condiments.
We stepped up to the counter, I ordered first.

The Food:
Like I said, I like a good fish sandwich. I also like waffle fries. Angel ordered the Reuben and Adam really went out on the edge and asked for chicken tenders.  They also both got waffle fries.
We paid, filled our drinks, tea, Diet Dr. Pepper (with no ice) and Pepsi. Angel doesn’t like ice in her pop.
We found a booth near the highway and spread out. Adam filled up some condiment cups with ketchup and what I think was mustard. We discussed entertainment options and decided to visit Blockbuster after we finished.
They called our order and Adam fetched it. Shiny wrapped sandwiches and golden brown waffle fries.
Geometrically awkward fish sandwich.
The first thing I noticed about my fish sandwich was how flat and boring it looked. The fish though was not just some square, barely filling the bun, in fact the portion was quite large, sticking out of the bun by a half inch or more on two sides. For some reason the fish was somewhat pie-shaped, a triangle with blunted points, that was too long for the bun on north/south ends and short on the east/west.
Inside the sandwich was a fading beige tartar sauce and a skimpy scattering of lettuce shards. No cheese. That was okay with me, I can go either way as for cheese on a fish sandwich.
I took a bite, there was a wooshing in my brain as I was instantly harked back to a very familiar taste sensation. I had this thing nailed at the first bite.
Back in my more rushed and poorer days I would take two slices of white bread, five frozen fish sticks, nuked,  top the fish with ketchup and call it a meal.
The Reuben
This fish tasted exactly like those long-ago, cheap(est) frozen fish sticks. The breading was thicker than I normally care for, but inside the filet-ish offering was moist and flaky. I couldn’t get that memory of those generic-brand fish sticks out of my  head though.
Don’t get me wrong, I liked those fish stick sandwiches. All I’m saying here is that this is what the sandwich was almost exactly like.
Angel offered me a bite of her Reuben. It was definitely pastrami, perhaps not the best cut I’d ever had, but the peppery taste was definitely pastrami. I didn’t notice the kraut, and most definitely didn’t notice the Swiss cheese. The bread was a little odd looking, it was swirled with a dark marbling. I guess it was supposed to be rye, but a timid one if at all.
Chicken Nuggets
As she ate it Angel tore off large chunks of the bread and tossed them into a pile. The meat was piled high in the center of the sandwich but the outer quarter inch or so all around was just bread. The 'just bread' was what she was discarding. She mentioned that she couldn’t detect the vinegar in the kraut much, and maybe that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. Pastrami is a strong flavor, so is kraut. In this sandwich they emphasized the meat more than fetid cabbage.
My fish, aside from the harking back it was causing was otherwise quite boring. Not bad, just not crave-worthy. I can say the same for the Reuben, not bad, but hardly a must-have. I suspect Bo Dietl sold out. I can’t imagine a card-carrying New Yorker claiming that this was better than those found in the hundred-year-old ethnic family deli’s along the steamy, grimy streets of the Big Apple.
Adam rated his chicken tenders as being better, lighter than DQ’s, but that was about it.
Molten Lava Cake
Upon finishing up Angel and Adam decided to top the meal off with a much, in-the-store touted ‘Molten Lava Cake’
Spoiler alert, much to my disappointment it’s not really made from molten lava.
For two bucks you get what Angel described as a chocolate cupcake that didn’t get baked long enough.
I tasted it, it tasted exactly like generic chocolate cake. It wasn’t even as hot as molten lava, in fact it was barely above room temperature.
The meal, without the molten lava, came in at twenty one dollars. The service, well, it’s a fast food place, the minimum wage staff is hardly motivated to go above and beyond, and here they did not. The place was clean enough, the food and condiments seemed fresh. The offerings were okay, but hardly lived up to the hype. We don’t go to Arby’s very often, and these new sandwiches are probably not going to get us there any more frequently. The waffle fries, offered hardly anywhere else, are pretty good. I still don’t know how they get the potatoes in the waffle iron though, I’ve tried it, and failed miserably. They must know a trick.

Arby's on Urbanspoon

Monday, March 11, 2013


12676 Lamplighter Square
Saint Louis, MO 63128
91 Concord Plaza
Saint Louis, MO 63128

* On a sad note, Bandana's in Crystal City burned down this week. From the news coverage it appears that the fire completely gutted the place. The owner offered the 26 employees jobs at other locations and more than half of them took him up on the offer, the others, mostly students, did not. He plans to reopen in a few months, most likely at another location in the area. In the meantime the place will be missed, Angel slips over there for lunch on occasion.

This is not the same one we'd been to before. Apparently the more convenient (on my way home) Lamplighter Square location, across Highway 21 from St. Anthony's Hospital is now a place called Pad Thai, which I assume to be a Thai restaurant.
We were on a quest to try Quiznos' much advertised Lobster Salad Sandwich.
Very disappointed. Also, very lost as what to do. We just drove to the old location and it wasn't there. This was a planned-ahead meal, we wanted Quiznos  and when we found it gone, we were left in a quandary.
So we checked the GPS and the interwebs on Angel's Angry Bird machine, but the GPS was lying to us again and the browser kept timing out on the smartphone. 
So we punted. The Mehlville/Concord  area is home to hundreds of other restaurants, so we decided to drive around until we saw something that appealed to us as much as the anticipated, yet frustrated lust for a lobster sandwich. 
Angel suggested Golden Corral. a big, popular buffet, I reluctantly conceded, sure, why not.
We got to the Corral, parked in the crowded lot and saw a line at the door, extending twenty people deep on the sidewalk. 
"No." I declared, and we turned on our heels and got back into the family truckster.  
So we headed north, arbitrarily, on Lindbergh.
After a mere  mile or so we passed the thirtieth strip mall and Adam shouted out "There's a Quiznos" with the style and enthusiasm of a young sailor atop a tall ship's mast spotting his first breaching whale.  
Angel abruptly pulled into the next parking lot, sped the truckster to an exit south of the spotted target, and dived across four lanes to get to the  place.
Parking space in front of the store looked tight  so we parked in the larger lot uphill from it and walked past the jewelry store, where a dozen or so young, obviously high maintenance women were ogling shiny rocks, as their suitors looked on, the financial wear and tear showing on their faces. I bet some of them actually bought in to that three-month-salary myth. Poor, ignorant saps.
Inside the small place was colorful, the walls were painted purple, green and orange. The front of the counter was loaded up with racks of chips, a pretty wide selection. A young man and a young woman, late teens to early twenties, manned the line. We were greeted and asked our order by the woman, the man pulled on clear, plastic gloves, preparing to dive in.
The Food:
We already knew what we wanted, but we still had decisions to make, the first being the type of bread.
 They offered white, wheat, foccacia and... something. We stopped at foccacia, a white bread baked with herbs and / or cheese in the crust. Angel went first.
Toasted bread.
An eight inch lobster salad sandwich which she topped with yellow onions, olives and a little mayo. I did the  same but without the olives.
The young lady pulled out a cutting board, notched with the different sizes offered. She lined up the bread and slid the big knife down and through the guide slots, thus guarantying uniform sized sandwiches.
She then sliced through the middle, opening it up for the ingredients, and sat the halves  face up on the toaster grill's conveyor. Out the other side came perfectly toasted bread, a little char on the edges.
The young man scooped on the seafood salad, and lettuce. This is the basic offered version. He added the onions, olives and mayo on Angel's and the onions and mayo on mine.
In the mean time Adam's Mesquite Chicken sub went through similar assembly, no tomatoes and no onions please.
We each selected a bag of chips, BBQ for me, BBQ kettle-style for Angel, and Adam picked out his usual Sun Chips.
The sandwiches were wrapped and set into plastic, skillet-like baskets. Our bill was tallied up and we were handed cups.
Across from the counter were the drink dispensers. I got unsweetened black tea, Angel picked out raspberry lemonade, Adam poured a Pepsi.  
The first bite reminded me why I like Quiznos better than Subway, the crunch of the thin bread. Subway will toast your bread, but only if you remember to ask, and Subway's bread is much thicker.
The foccacia had a mild herby taste. The Lobster salad itself was a bit timid. Though it boasted a butter sauce, it was barely noticeable. There was definitely lobster, not just krab.
Krab, like you find in grocery stores is actually a seafood blend consisting of fish, maybe some shrimp, maybe some crab, maybe just some flotsam and jetsam, I'm not  sure. It has a slight sea-foody taste and makes for pretty good soups, dips and seafood salads on the cheap. I had read ahead and found a claim that Quiznos lobster salad was 51% lobster and 49% etc., which I assumed to be krab.
Like I said, there was definitely some lobster.
Sitting at our tight tall table, I tried to analyze the lobster salad. It wasn't bad, at all, but the texture seemed odd. Then a small ball, about a half inch in diameter fell out of the side, bounced off my shirt and silently ker-splatted on the tile floor. It kept its basic ball shape.
I ate half my sandwich and half my chips, wrapped up the rest. I was full.
Actually I was bloaty. I'd had a salad around noon using up some produce etc. nearing the end of its edible shelf life. The tuna salad I topped the salad with may have been a little older than I'd thought and I spent the day felling a little odd, not nauseous, just suffering a mild disturbance in the force.
Adam and Angel finished theirs up without delay.
Seafood Ball
Most comments by the family trio were about the superb-ness of the bread. The lobster salad received no negative comments, but there were mentions of not enough butter taste, and the overall taste being a bit light.
When we got home I dissected the rest of my sandwich to investigate the ball-nature of the seafood.
I discovered that in fact the lobster salad was all-balls. 
Unlike other seafood salads I've had the seafood was not shredded, it actually was formed into little sturdy balls. This probably seemed like a great idea, easier to portion out equally, but in actual practice, it created a texture issue. It was tasty, indeed, but the little balls just felt wrong in the mouth. Not having a strong taste, this texture was very noticeable.
The Lobster salad sandwich is the priciest item on the Quiznos menu, at about eight bucks for a regular. And it is no lightweight either, nutritionally speaking. A regular, eight inch sandwich boasts 760 calories, nearly half of that in fat with 110 grams of cholesterol. So this is not a diet delight, though it's not nearly as bad as a greasy half pound burger.
Thick, splendid chili
Our total bill came to twenty eight dollars and change, a reasonable fast food price. There was plenty of food, nobody left hungry.
On our way out I picked up Sunday lunch/dinner. Two large bowls of chili. I like their chili a lot, it's thick and not too spicy, not too tame.*
On the drive home we discussed it further and decided that we might have the sandwich again, but no more likely than any of their other sandwiches. It was fine, pretty good in fact, but hardly something worth the extra price and all the ballyhoo.
Location for us is an issue. This store is apparently the closest one to our house, more than thirty minutes away in good traffic. It's out of my way as a stopping point on the way from work, so it's not likely we'll make it there very often. This is a shame considering that there's a Subway and Cool Beans Java Cafe in Hillsboro, much, much closer.  Cool Beans makes killer sandwiches, Subway is fast, easy and convenient.
I still think Quiznos overall is much better than Subway, just too far away.

*  This chili was not what I expected. Unlike the chili from the Lamplighter location, this stuff tasted like it was fresh from a can. Angel noticed that it looked completely different too. I will not be having this again.

Quiznos on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Trattoria Giuseppe

5442 Highway 21
Imperial, Mo

Birthday Feast!
Angel’s birthday is March 4. For years we have celebrated, if at all, any such event on the weekend before, due to our work schedules. So Saturday night was her choice, I offered to take her anywhere in the world she wanted. I felt fairly safe because she is burdened with the same sense of responsibility and frugality as I am, so she wasn’t going to say “Gallagher’s in NYC” or even better, the Captain’s Table in Solomons Maryland. (We have celebrated there before. Highly recommended!) She instead chose Trattoria Giuseppe, perhaps the finest all-around eatery in Jefferson County, Mo.
We don’t get to go very often since it is kind of pricey compared to other places. Not NYC expensive, but for this area kind of hard to justify more than infrequently.
Which makes a celebration there even more of a celebration.
Angel had not wanted much of a fuss over her day, even less so than usual. Neither of us are big on such things anyhow, but this one represented one of those really ugly round numbered birthdays and she’s been fighting the aging process tooth and nail. Not with surgery and harsh diets, but with abject denial. Not me, I long for the day when I will be dismissed as just another dirty old man.
I've promised not to mention her birthday to anyone, so keep it to your yourself, please.
I did not argue her restaurant choice, in fact I wasn’t at all surprised.
The Place:
About the least likely setting for the finest eatery in a county of 220,000 souls. It’s on old highway 21 amidst auto repair shops and junk yards. The signage is minimal, the bar next door could easily host a fleet of big motorcycles and their fat, bearded and leather and denim clad owners. The place is not really in Imperial, which is a relatively small town to begin with, it’s just the nearest post office. It is best described as just north of highway M on old 21. That will help the locals, but only a little.
The place is understated in appearance, inside and out.
There were outdoor tables in front, empty due to the winter chill. Music played though, Dean Martin crooning an Italian ballad.
Angel had made reservations, even at the early Five P.M. hour and that proved to be a wise thing, the place was all but full when we got there and filled completely by the time we left. This place is quite popular.
There’s no need to dress up, the vast majority of patrons were like us, clad in jeans. There were no suits, tuxes or slinky, shiny dresses anywhere.
The ample wait staff, all dressed in white cotton shirts and black slacks, dashed around efficiently and professionally. Inside the doorway the host verified the reservation and Giuseppe himself stepped over and greeted us. He does this at every serving. Every time we’ve been there he makes the rounds, everyone gets personally greeted. He’s classically Italian in appearance, not very tall, jet black hair except for a few gray streaks, loose fitting loud-print chef pants and a chef’s tunic. There’s no mistaking him. A genteel and proud man and rightfully so.
We were led to our table. They seated us near the back of the dining area, near the curtain-doored restroom area. I thought about complaining but there were not many other tables available and  Angel said she liked being back against the wall. After I sat down I agreed, it gave us a full view of the whole dining area.
We were offered a basket of sliced French-style bread, handed menus and asked about drinks. Tea, tea and Coke.
Everything on the menu looked good. This problem was further complicated since we’d tried several things and knew that everything we’d had was indeed very good.
When our drinks were delivered, Kelly, our server, told us about the special. ‘Surf and Turf, a filet with three jumbo shrimp.
I laid down my menu, so did Angel. Kelly stepped away for a moment and soon Adam set his menu aside as well.
Me: Surf and turf, an 8oz filet, medium rare, three grilled shrimp and a baked potato, a salad with the house dressing.
Angel: Surf and turf, filet, medium, asparagus and the same salad.
Adam: Pepper loin filet, cream pasta, and instead of salad, the day’s bacon potato soup.
Kelly wrote it all down, questioning us about options, making note of the details. I poured some olive oil into the little saucer, dashed on some pepper and Parmesan, and broke off and dipped a chunk of the bread. A simple delight, it also lubes the gullet for the feast to come.
Shortly the soup and salads arrived. I pulled out my camera, Adam sighed, and my little Nikon groaned and objected telling me I’d forgotten to feed it fresh batteries. It blinked out and the thing hummed itself into a nap. Normally I carry extra batteries, not this time. Adam didn’t seem to be too disappointed.
My camera was dead, so instead
of pictures of food, here's a photo
of my dog wearing a silly hat.
The salad at Giuseppe’s is wonderful. Simple lettuce, with a single cherry tomato, two dark, rough olives, a pepper pod, a chunk of artichoke heart, a couple of rings of red onion. All coated in a slightly sweet, yet light vinaigrette dressing with just enough pepper. I offered my artichoke and olives to Angel, I just don’t care for them as much as she does.
Angel dipped her teaspoon into Adam’s thick soup, sipped it and moaned approval. Adam nodded. That soup disappeared rather quickly. Although he said it may have been salty, that didn’t seem to slow him down. I sort of expect bacon soup to be salty.
Against my better judgment I dipped another slice of bread with my salad.
After the salads were done and the plates carted off, we glanced around at the growing crowd. The whole time we were there no more than one or two tables opened up at a time, and they were filled pretty quickly.
At one table there was an older group that shared a bottle of wine served in a silver ice stand. Another table was lined with Budweiser bottles. The mood was calm yet happy. Even the children were pretty well behaved.
The plates arrived, three steaks, still sizzling.
I unwrapped my potato from its space suit-like foil and shoved in the butter and sour cream.
I sliced into the perfectly grilled steak, sopped up a little of the steak butter that had been drizzled on it, and savored perfection. There was a slight char on the edge of the steak, the inside was moist and very tender, it melted on my ecstatic taste buds.
The table was quiet as we soaked in the food. Every detail was excellent. Angel applauded the asparagus, I marveled at the precision of the taste and texture of the potato and steak.
A little steak butter spilled into the potato and I was certain that this was exactly what heaven should taste like.
I couldn’t quite finish, that second slice of bread had been a little too much, but I had no regrets.
I asked the family about their meals, which I didn’t need to do, I saw it on their faces.
Angel summed it up when telling me about her steak. “It’s like a fluffy cloud of meat.”
Everything about Giuseppe’s is very good.
The staff is always professional and efficient. The food cannot be topped, the ambiance is casual, easy, yet classy. The place is run as professionally and expert as any place I’ve been in the area.
Of course there’s a price to pay for this.
The meal came to eighty eight dollars before the tip. That’s a lot for a meal for three in this area. But trust me on this, it’s worth every penny.
We passed on dessert, we were full. However we did stop on the way home at Dairy Queen and picked up an ice cream birthday cake for later.

Trattoria Giuseppe on Urbanspoon