Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Lorenzo's Italian Kitchen

106 Main St.
DeSoto, Mo
On Facebook

April 18, 2013: DESOTO, MO. (KTVI) – No one in De Soto recalls a flash flood like the one that hit on Thursday.  The city’s fire chief estimates water rose 5 to 6 feet in a matter of 20 to 30 minutes.
An 80-year-old woman died when rising waters swept her car away.  Her body was found inside her car after the waters receded.
First responders made more than a dozen water rescues as heavy rain flooded the Joachim Creek.
The city believes 125 homes were damaged east of the Creek.  Power was shut off to the entire city on Thursday as a precaution to keep first responders safe.

So a little over a week ago the meandering Joachim* Creek stormed over its banks and meted out considerable carnage. The creek defines much of DeSoto's layout and history. There is a very nice park above its banks and small bridges cross over it in several places. It has flooded before, most notably in the 30's and 40's, but this flash and crash was faster and mightier than any such breach the natives could recall.
DeSoto is miles form the big rivers and not routinely accustomed to this force of nature.
As we drove through lower DeSoto a week and half after the flooding, we could still easily make out the wrath of the raging waters. Carpeting, furniture and other ruined materials were piled up in several yards. the pristine park had fences down, walkways undercut and washed away, some climb-on playground equipment crumpled and broken. In many places it looked scorched like a giant power washer had hosed the place down.
Desoto is not a river town. The Joachim is not a navigable waterway. DeSoto is a railroad town, it has been for over a hundred years. Main Street abuts the rails at the lowest altitude of the town. Behind Main Street the neighborhoods and churches climb a steep hill, terraced with small streets. Most of the town is completely safe from anything the creek can possibly muster. Across the tracks though lies the creek, normally a few feet below the banks along those neighborhoods.
DeSoto is a decent sized town, though hardly a city. People know each other and several generations of families have remained rooted there.
The Place:
Along Main Street are the quaint, old storefronts. Aging brick facades fronting restaurants, a single-screen cinema, a bar or two, several flea markets, a few furniture and appliance stores. The street is well maintained and kept modern for safety, yet antique in style. Cobblestone walkways and crosswalks, old style street lamps, trees planted in carved-out spaces on the sidewalk.
It is along this idyllic street that you will find Lorenzo's Italian Kitchen. A small place, about a dozen tables and booths. Inside it is dark and cozy and the aroma is heavenly. Dark carpet, black tables and booths, dark brown wainscoting, the back walls light yellow the sides and front a dark, comfortable rust-red.
A few oil paintings and other objets d'art were scattered sparsely around the dining room. A hostess's podium centered in front of the door. In the back, a large counter separates the diners from the kitchen. The counter was, on this day, covered with gift baskets and various boxes of donated items.
The owners of Lorenzo's were taking up donations, holding raffles and splitting the day's pizza proceeds to raise money for flood damage relief.
I'd read about this on Facebook earlier. They had received lots of odds and ends donated from other local businesses and were an ad hoc collection point for the effort. A noble and kind example of business as good neighbor.
We sat in our booth, ordered tea, sweet tea and a Coke.
The Food:
Fried Cannelloni
Although Lorenzo's serves pasta, many kinds, we were all in the mood for pizza. For $6.25 you can design your own 9 inch pie with a choice of sauces, traditional, barbeque or garlic butter, a choice of cheeses and up to six toppings. The dough is house-made Neapolitan style. For an appetizer we shared fried cannelloni. This is a thumb-your-nose at a  popular St. Louis treat. The big city brags about its breaded and fried ravioli as if it were a discovery on par with hamburgers or ice cream or a cure for cancer. Actually it is pretty good. It's jusy ravioli, breaded and fried then dipped in a red sauce. Crunchy, meaty, a great appetizer. Lorenzo's steps it up a notch by using cannelloni, a large pasta tube filled with about twice as much filling as a ravioli can hold. It tastes pretty much the same, just the filling to pasta ratio is greater. For dipping they offered up their own house made marinara, sweet and herb-y. The sausage in the filling was house-made as well, rich and spicy.
It took us a few minutes to finalize our pizza designs. I had a list in my head then noticed that they offered one called a Deluxe that was pretty much the same as what I'd constructed on my own. So that's what I ordered. Traditional sauce, mozzarella cheese, hamburger, sausage, pepperoni, peppers, onions and mushrooms.
Angel went way in the other direction.She chose provel, that St. Louis favorite cheese blend, garlic butter sauce, onion, spinach, artichoke garlic and bacon. I shuddered, she ignored me. It was like she'd never actually had a real pizza before.
Adam went basic and simple. Traditional sauce, mozzarella cheese, pepperoni, black olives and bacon.
We were offered salads but refused. This was no time to be thinking about nutrition, we were after rich, heavy pizza.
People came and went, some sat down and studied the menus, others dropped in to pick up a raffle prize. Everyone seemed to know each other or at least knew someone the other person knew. I saw a couple of gift baskets go out, a box containing a shop light and stand. Pictures were taken to be posted later on Lorenzo's Facebook page.
You have to wait a bit for custom made pizzas, but the place was lively, friendly and busy enough that the wait didn't seem long at all.
Mine, the 'Deluxe'
The pizzas arrived. They looked bigger than nine inches. The crust was toasty, and was neither cracker thin nor Chicago thick. The pies were topped very well, not leaving too much bare crust at the edges. The ingredients looked fresh, the aroma was, as I said earlier, heavenly. They were also insanely hot. Cut into quarters there were gooey bridges of cheese that would not let go of the adjacent slice. I knew better than to bite right in, I let it cool for a minute or two. The four slices all looked too big to me so I cut a couple of them in half again. Even after the cutting and the waiting the cheese seared my tongue and clung to it like napalm, tasty, rich and creamy smooth napalm.
There wasn't a lot of discussion between us as we dived in. This was serious feasting. We ate like famished laborers.
Adam's minimalist pie
The cheese was rich and velvety, not your industrial mozzarella. The sauce was sweet and herb-y, with a taste that had to be house made, this was definitely not Ragu. Sure enough the peppers and onions still had bite to them, the sausage was spicy and even the pepperoni tasted better than one finds in a typical pizza.
Adam and Angel each finished three of their four slices, I only managed two. I've been working on my lousy eating habits, trying to stop eating when sated rather than until the plate is empty. There would be boxes though, and Sunday brunch.

I asked the table what they thouught. "Very good." was the typical answer. To put a scale to it I asked a follow up question. "Better than Pizza Hut?"
We like Pizza Hut just fine. I've never had any complaints about the chain. Of all the pizza chains it is our favorite.
We're known to have the occasional frozen pizza, usually the less than cheapest ones, and they are fine for what they are. When we want a decent pizza we got to Pizza Hut.
When I asked this question though Adam's  answer was "That's not fair."
What he meant was that there was simply no comparison, they are not in the same class. It's like comparing Mom's apple pie with those frozen, industrial pocket-pies sold at fast food chains. It's simply not comparable.
The price is amazing. A full, generous nine inch pie, custom made to order with up to six toppings for $6.25. Roughly the price of a burger and fries at the fast food chains.
What you get is a tasty, rich and completely filling portion of house-made food and deep, fresh flavors. The entire bill came to thirty two dollars and change, much less than a meal at Ruby Tuesday's. Price-wise more in line with a fast food meal.
The ambiance and staff were relaxed, friendly and inviting. The fact that Lorenzo's directly invests back into the town is a not-too-small bonus. I have absolutely nothing negative to say about the food or the experience. If anything I want to extend my thanks to a place that not only respects their food, but also their customers and community as well.

* Joachim: Contracted form of JEHOIACHIN or JEHOIAKIM. According to the apocryphal Gospel of James, Saint Joachim was the husband of Saint Anne and the father of the Virgin Mary. Due to his popularity in the Middle Ages, the name came into general use in Christian Europe (though it was never common in England).  (http://www.behindthename.com/name/joachim)

Good luck pronouncing it. It is a common name  in several languages but pronounced differently in all of them.
I called Faye Adams, a fellow writer, though only of poetry, and more importantly for this discussion a long-time member of the DeSoto Historical Society. I asked her to pronounce the name of the creek that recently flooded. Without pause she said 'Joe-ACK-um.' She added that this was the way she'd always heard it pronounced but was unsure if it was actually correct. I told her what I'd found out that various languages pronounce it variously and that whatever the locals here said was as correct as any other version. Thanks Faye, for the assist.

Lorenzo's Italian Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Cerulean Springs Market and Restaurant

Cerulean Ky.

Cerulean Springs is the old name for this small, very small village in west Kentucky. It is the second largest town in Trigg County, which is still quite small.
Cerulean, by definition a soft shade of blue, had a mineral spring once, back at the earliest years of the twentieth century. Above the smelly, heavy pool of mineral rich ground water a hotel of regional notoriety was constructed. During the decade or so long heyday, which roughly coincided with the bigger, better known spas in Battle Creek Michigan, among others, people flocked to such healing springs for relief from every ailment imaginable.
Mom and Dad's house.
Though such pools and streams were not uncommon geologically, Cerulean Springs boasted an asset that even the county seat of Cadiz itself could not. Cerulean was on a major rail line.
This put it in reach, long before automobiles, buses and airlines, for thousands of people per year. They could spend relaxing and refreshing days alongside the pool, beneath large shady trees, in a quiet, remote part of a quiet and remote state.
My parents bought a house in Cerulean in the seventies. I lived there with them for my last two years of high school. The old Victorian giant was originally built by the town's doctor, by all measure the finest house in town. It was built just a few hundred yards away from the hotel, in the same era.
Since the time of the fires that burned down the various iterations of the resort hotel, Cerulean has long settled into a shadow of it's vaunted past. In my lifetime the town was mainly known for burning down, several old buildings at a time. I recall being at a basketball game in Cadiz once and hearing an announcement over the PA system. "Attention everyone, can I have your attention please. Cerulean is on fire. . ."
The railroad is gone now as well; the tracks were pulled up sometime in the 80's.
No major or even minor road goes through town, Cerulean is a spur of a place, no need to go through it at all unless it is your actual destination. There are several better ways to get to and from anywhere else.
There is a post office and a store, though the store is only erratically open and only ever carried very little of anything a person actually might need. It doesn't even sell gas. In fact, there are no gas stations for probably ten miles in any direction.
There's a couple of churches, attended mostly by an aging membership of long-time locals.
Down the road about a mile or two an Amish community has taken over and rejuvenated several family farms.
On a Saturday night, you can, as I did this past weekend, sit on the front porch for an hour or two and count on one hand the cars going by. By eight o'clock or so the whole community is settled in for the night. Since there is no nearby city, there are plenty of stars to see, and the only noises are the occasional barking and baying of dogs and the squawking of wildlife in the distance.
Most of the population of the area are one of two demographics, middle to lower middle income families and then the less financially successful families whose houses tend to be in one state of decline or another.This is not a wealthy area. There are many retirees, mostly from farm and farm-related endeavors.
Serious crime is all but non-existent, though throughout its history it has not completely escaped trouble.
Mostly the population is older, more or less at peace with the world, just wanting to live  quietly and distantly.
Adam and I were in Cerulean to celebrate my father's eighty sixth birthday. My sister was also there and from time to time my younger, but bigger brother, Jeff would drop in. He lives in Cerulean, about a block away from the folks. 
The Place:
A while back, a year or so, a new restaurant opened just three houses down from my parents' house.
Hardly a fancy place, it is a simple, rectangular metal building, which makes it stand out against the nearly ancient homes around it.
Adam and I walked the distance while my spoiled and pretentious sister Kathy drove dad and mom. Dad's not able to get around much anymore, though he has good intentions to do better.
We arrived well before they did, dad doesn't move very quickly.
We went in together and found a couple of tables abutted in a configuration that fit us all,
Cerulean Springs Market and Restaurant
The building's interior was dimly lit and completely open. The poured concrete floor was textured and unpainted; the walls were rough pine panels, not even stained or painted. Every thing else was shiny, corrugated steel on fresh, unfinished yellow pine, the ceiling, the counter fronts and the partition between the 'market' and the dining area.
The market consisted of little more than a couple of glass fronted coolers full of pop, and a few shelves along one wall with candy, cigarettes and prepackaged pastries.
Though the county finally went wet a couple of years back, the availability of beer, wine and whiskey has not arrived in Cerulean yet. As with gasoline, if you want booze you have to drive a dozen miles to get your fix.
There were a few people there leisurely sipping coffee and enjoying some pie. The openness and the raw material construction created echoes for every sound. One doesn't have to shout in this place, like the small town itself everyone around is aware of you.
The Food:
We were presented menus and asked about drinks. Mom, dad and Kathy asked for water, Adam for sweet tea, and myself, unsweetened tea. Mom helped dad figure out what to order, it was steak night and the waitress had rattled off a litany of available steaks, and ended the spiel with what also fits in the steak family in this hog-rich area, pork chops.
Mom, Kathy and dad finally settled for the chops, a plate that came with Texas toast, a baked potato, and a salad.
Kathy refused all dressing choices, as did mom. For dad she asked for some dressing on the side. I assumed mom declined dressing because of some dietary requirement, she had serious surgery recently, I wasn’t sure about Kathy’s decision though.
I decided to go a little lighter, a BLT and the onion rings which Kathy told me were quite good. Adam picked the chicken strip plate with fries.
Pretty soon the three salads were delivered in bowls. Nothing fancy, iceberg lettuce, cucumber slices and a wedge of tomato. The waitress said that since the bowls were a bit crowded that they could bring out plates for anyone that wanted one. Mom and dad accepted the offer. I asked if I could have my BLT in a bowl instead of a plate to test the limits of their willingness to accommodate. Unfortunately the waitress had already left the table.
Kathy pulled the lemon wedge off the edge of her large tumbler of water and squeezed it over her salad.
"That's it?" Adam asked her. "No dressing, just a squeeze of lemon?"
She looked at us like we were annoying inferiors that had just entered the room.
"I don't like dressing, any dressing, the very sight and smell of it sickens me."
This was among the first of many peculiar culinary declarations, delivered with the surety and confidence of superiority that could only be described as pontificating.
"I don't put sour cream on my baked potato or anything else!" She later decreed, as if sour cream was offal or innards, fit only for meager peasants.
Kathy is considered by many people as a sweet, pleasant person. I know better. I lived under her tyrannical reign when I was a small child. She can be cold, cruel and vicious. She has a very high sense of self importance and issues orders and edicts to those around her as though they were mere livestock who should consider themselves fortunate that she has allowed them to escape the cruel industrial slaughter for one more day.
I was polite though, no need to make a scene in front of the parents, they’d just take her side anyhow, that’s partially how she got that way in the first place.
I insisted timidly that she at least pass the pepper shaker over her salad so it wouldn't look so much like raw lawn rakings.
She plucked the cucumbers out and passed them around to mom and Adam.
"I like the smell of cucumbers, but not the taste." She said, as if that were a perfectly normal and natural position.
The plates arrived at roughly the same time. Their pork chops looked quite good. Juicy, char marks, still sizzling. The baked potatoes were foil wrapped. The Texas toast was only slightly thicker than store bought sliced white bread. I am accustomed to much thicker bread when it comes under the moniker ‘Texas toast’. This qualified more as Oklahoma toast maybe, same, exact same makeup, just not as big.
They busied themselves carving the large slabs of pork. I forked a chunk off Kathy's plate and tasted it. I was quite impressed, it was smoky and juicy. It's very easy to overcook a chop, they're thin and they dry out very quickly. This place had figured it out though, it was beautifully cooked, tender and juicy.
My little sandwich was dwarfed by the thick onion rings. The BlT (notice the lower case 'L', there wasn't very much lettuce.) was constructed on plain white bread with a few, maybe four slices of bacon. It was excellent quality bacon though, cooked crisp but not burnt.
A BLT can be easily over-thought. Many places around St. Louis brag about how much bacon they can put between two slices of bread. In my mind that's like bragging about how many gallons of paint you have on your fancy sports car. It's not really about the quantity at all, it's about the quality. Ten extra gallons of red paint on a Camaro doesn't make it redder or sportier than a much thinner, quality driven amount. A little bacon goes a long way, you simply don't need a lot.
It wasn't a very big sandwich but it was quite a good sandwich. The onion rings were indeed good and searing hot. The first bite burned my lips and sprayed lava-hot juices. I let the rest cool down a bit.
Mom, Kathy and dad struggled with their chops, not with the eating of them but with the carving. Mom and dad are in their eighties and are not as physically strong as they once were, Kathy is just a delicate, fragile weakling since she’s never had to actually do anything. Dad was determined though, he finished his chop completely.
 In the distance I saw a hand drawn sign. Much of it was illegible from that far away, but one thing stood out: Chess Pie. (It’s a southern thing.) I wanted it.
Mom and Kathy told about how they always shared a slice of coconut cream pie, I was thrilled with that, since that meant I could safely ask for the Chess.  Chess pie, for those not familiar with it, is a custard pie, not very much unlike what is known in the St. Louis area as Gooey Butter Cake . Eggs, sugar, eggs, eggs, sugar and eggs. It’s dense and very rich.
I asked for coffee with mine. Dad did not get any pie since he has to tightly monitor his sugary input.
The coffee was dark and fresh, the pie insanely sweet and custard-y. Adam tried a little piece and didn’t seem to care for it and went back to his chocolate cream pie. He’s never really been in close touch with his southern ancestral heritage.
We sat back for a few minutes, glowing in the satisfaction and comfort of a good meal.
Cerulean Springs Market and Restaurant is the most expensive eatery in town. It is at the same time, the cheapest, it's the only game in town.  Mom showed me the ticket, but it hadn’t been summed up yet and though I can normally do simple math in my head I was at the time quite jittery from the pie and coffee double-jolt. Looking at the menu though, the entrees were all under ten bucks, the sandwiches five or less, even the ‘Larry Dale Special’ (a hamburger with a fried hotdog on top) was not unreasonable. Mom grumbled a bit about it being expensive but she doesn’t get out into the real world very often.
The food we had was all pretty good and in my opinion reasonably priced. The wait staff was dutiful, attentive and accommodating. Mom said that occasionally she and dad will call in their order ahead of time and it will be ready to set on the table by the time they get there.
Since mom and dad don’t get around very well, and cooking has always been a ‘chore’ for mom, this is quite a bonus. It’s about three hundred feet short of a food delivery service.
The place is primarily for the locals.The menu is fairly sparse and they appear to serve certain things only on certain days,  Friday fish, etc. That's pretty  smart if you ask me. A restaurant's perishable inventory must be managed carefully. A small place like this in a small town like Cerulean is a very risky endeavor, anything that can be done to mitigate waste is a must.
On most days though you'll find burgers, hot sandwiches, cold cut sandwiches even a fried bologna sandwich (only $2.00!) that will live up to your appetite and tastes and fill you up just fine. I doubt that CSM&R will ever be featured in a fancy food magazine, or on TV, or be the gastronomic destination of choice for Western Kentucky, but it is fine at what it is, a small, inexpensive local eatery that lives up to and in some cases exceeds the needs and expectations of the local population.
If you do happen to dine there,  please try the Larry Dale Special and let me know how it is. I'm dying to know.

* My brother Jeff made breakfast and lunch on Sunday. Ridiculously fluffy and tasty pancakes in the morning and ham, potato casserole, green beans and the best homemade rolls I've ever had for the midday meal.
This was followed up with a 'Dina Cake', named for his lovely, tall and powerful wife. Basically a made-from-scratch chocolate cake baked in a bundt cake pan, then topped with a rich and thick cream cheese frosting. When served there is no hole in the middle of the cake. Dina fills the entire bundt-hole with even more frosting, a lot of frosting. Don't give me that look, you know you want some.
As we headed back to 'civilization', we stopped at a convenience store to fill up the gas tank. I went inside for drinks and a small snack for the tedious four hour drive.
Back in the car I twisted the cap off of my RC Cola and poured in a handful of the salted peanuts.
"What are you doing?" Adam asked.
"You wouldn't understand." Is all I said. 

CeruleanSprings Market and Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Monday, April 15, 2013

Lam's Garden: Take-out

510 Bailey Rd.
Crystal City, Mo

Pizza Hut Supreme
Those of you that pay attention to such things might have noticed that there was not an update last week. That is due entirely to the fact that this blogging thing does not pay as well as you might think, which means I have a day job. That job occasionally requires me to work weekends, and this is why for this week, and last week, I was not able to go out with my family.
I was able to work from home, but I had appointed tasks during the dinner hours, so I had to stay put.
Pizza Hut Hot wings
Last week we picked up a couple of pizzas from Pizza Hut in Desoto. We picked up two large pizzas, a Supreme for Angel and I and a black olive and pepperoni for Adam. He doesn't like most ingredients. They also picked up some hot wings.
As I worked I munched on a couple of slices and enjoyed it thoroughly. Even better was Sunday brunch, leftover pizza, reheated.
I didn't try the wings, no  point really since the whole hot-wing thing is wasted on me. I've tried several and just have yet to see what the fuss is about. They're incredibly messy, too spicy, and there's not a lot of meat for the mess. Angel and Adam both said they were excellent though.
The pizza was very good. Plenty of toppings, spread out nicely, crust browned and just starting to crisp. There may be better pizzas around, but for taste, texture, price and location, Pizza Hut is our go-to.
This weekend was a little trickier. I suggested we have Chinese take out.
The Place:
Lam's Garden is behind Dairy Queen in Crystal city. We've gone there a few times, you can see the reviews in the archives.
The Food:
Tsao's (left) and Chicken peppersteak
My only real problem with Lam's is that I prefer a buffet when it comes to Chinese food, and Lam's is not a buffet. I like lots of different things Chinese, but strongly prefer to have a little of several things as opposed to a lot of only one thing.
There is a way around this though, take-out-family style.
Sesame Chicken
Adam ordered what he wanted most, the sesame chicken, Angel ordered what she likes best, the cashew chicken (Springfield style) They also ordered the beef broccoli to share.  I asked for two different things. I like the chicken pepper steak and I like the General Tsao. I didn't care for a lot of either, I prefer a little of one and a little of the other for balance. The pepper steak style is served with a beef-stock like sauce, like gravy, and the Tsao is sweet and spicy. They balance nicely.
Each of the orders came with rice and egg rolls or rangoons.
Angel and Adam fetched the food and brought it home. By the time they arrived I was done with my work, so I got to enjoy it at a leisurely pace. We popped open the boxes, all different stuff and voila! Instant buffet.
Cashew Chicken (pre-sauce)
We each loaded a plate with combinations of stuff, just like at a real buffet.
Most of Lam's offerings are better than their local buffet equivalent. So not only was it a buffet, it was like a premium buffet.
I plopped some rangoons, half an egg roll three styles of chicken, sesame, Tsao's and the pepper steak, then a generous portion of rice. To make it even better I used one of my Japanese plates I bought off of Ebay a few years back.
Beef Broccoli
The chickens were all excellent. The Tsao's was spicy but not too much so. The pepper steak was savory and had large scrumptious portions of peppers and onions that mixed well with the rice. The rice itself was a little bland, it lacked brightness. There were veggies mixed in, but their taste was indistinguishable from the rice itself. Shoving the pepper steak veggies into the pile fixed that problem. The rangoons were thickly loaded but in transport had lost a little crispness. The egg roll was better than many places, but not outstanding. Like the rice, the filling in the roll tasted only one flavor deep. The sesame chicken was pretty sweet, but since I only had a little it also balanced well. Usually in one-item Chinese restaurants I avoid sesame chicken to avoid the sugar high a full plate of the stuff will induce, this amount was perfect.
As I filled up on mine, I heard grunts and groans of pleasure from the others. We all agreed that this was pretty darn good.
The result, my pretty plate!
 Lam's makes very good food and serves generous portions. Every dish is a little better than you'll find at most typical buffets, at least locally.
We ordered a lot of food and certainly paid a little more than we would have at a buffet. HOWEVER! We got about two meals each for that price, (Sunday brunch again) buffet's don't allow you to take home leftovers.
The price wasn't really all that bad, all that food for under forty dollars.
I wish their rice and egg rolls were a little better, a little fresher. I'm sure they know how to do that, but I imagine they make big batches rather than to-order. That's what it seems like in taste anyhow. We've certainly figured out how to do this though. The home-buffet was perfect, plenty of choices, of good quality Chinese fare.
I love Lam's now that I know I don't have to actually go there. 

Lam's Garden Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Monday, April 1, 2013

Huddle House

13002 Hwy 21
Desoto Mo.

The Place:
 On highway 21, just south of Rock Road. You can't miss it, the building is bright and crowded, and  open 24 hours. It's been open for about five months according to Emily, our server, who has been working there since it opened. If every new restaurant drew as many people as were there when we arrived, five months in, there would be a lot of very happy restauranteurs.  I'd heard of Huddle House, never actually been to one. We found it last week heading toward 'Off The Hook'. There was a sign that we hadn't noticed before.
Advance research indicated a Denny's like menu. Primary focus on breakfast anytime, but also offering sandwiches and dinner platters as well.
All week I salivated at the prospect, hoping that it was not a lame wannabe. The first thing we noticed was that it looked kind of small. Inside though it seemed to be much larger. Though it was very busy, we still had our choice among several booths and tables.
It was cozy, the aroma was that of breakfast, the walls were muted colors, burgundy and brown. The tiles sort of adobe color. The ceilings were high and the kitchen area was framed by stamped chrome, diner-style. Hanging from the ceiling was a large flat-screen tuned to a muted, but closed captioned, Fox News. the music was country and there were framed jerseys and photos representing local high school sports teams.
I was not surprised by the country music and Fox News, it simply meant that HH knew its locals.
Desoto is almost too far south for a daily commute into St. Louis, most people in and around  the railroad town are locals, many rural. It is a conservative, God-fearing town for the most part. Nothing wrong with appealing to the locals.
We were greeted by Emily and started drooling on the menus. We started with drinks, coffee for me, sweet tea and Pepsi for Angel and Adam.
The Food:
Stuffed Hash Browns
The problem with a place like this is that everything looks good. It's all comfort food.Nothing fancy, nothing pushing the envelope. I'd scanned the online menu ahead of time and had prepared myself for the meal I wanted.
After much deliberation and after Emily delivered our drinks, we ordered.
Stuffed hash browns for me. Yeah, you read that right. A layer of crispy hash browns, topped with scrambled eggs, sausage patties and crumbled bacon, then another layer of hash browns topped with some cheese sauce and sausage gravy, with a side of toast. Wow.
Angel and Adam finally decided on the country fried steak platter. Slight variations though. Adam wanted to replace the toast with a waffle, and Angel wanted extra gravy since Angel always wants extra gravy.
The CF steak platters came with toast, scrambled eggs and hash browns.
Around us, people were casually dining on similar fare. We sipped our drinks and occasionally looked up at the TV. Adam played a game on his mother's smart-ass phone, I people-watched. Salt of the earth locals, families, and a young couple that looked like they had recently been strung out on meth. That's an opinion only, I have no actual knowledge that the non-blinking wan and pale couple had ever used illicit home-made drugs.
I sipped my steaming Joe out of the fire-engine red mug. It was fresh, earthy and hot. Angel said the sweet tea was pretty good as well.
The wait for the food was a little longer than I expected, but not really too long. Then the plates arrived.
Country fried steak, with sides
"That looks like a heart attack on a plate." Adam said about my piled-high platter. Lots of gravy, enough to completely conceal everything else. Their CF steaks were also thickly coated.The scrambled eggs were bright yellow, the hash browns looked very crunchy, the way we like them.
We dug in.
My platter was everything I wanted and optimistically expected. Adam's comment bothered me a little. I am a man of a certain age with certain typical medical conditions, treated, common for the type. I try to watch my fats and cholesterol, yet here I was throwing caution to the wind. I thought deep thoughts as I shoveled the wonderful flavors and textures into my face.Yeah, this could kill me eventually. I thought, so could about a million other things though. I travel two and a half hours per day to get to and from work, I have a history of smoking and generally not watching my diet. I have an often-stressful job, frequently work long hours, don't get a lot of exercise, and have a family history of certain scary things involving advanced age. Lots of things could be pointed to as what eventually kills me, but frankly, if it is the occasional intake of food like this that eventually does me in, well, there are certainly much worse things.
Honestly though, we pretty much only eat like this when we eat out. At home there are lots of salads  and light meals, fruit, veggies and ground turkey instead of beef whenever possible. You guys only hear about these heavy, rich meals because my regular meals are usually quite light, tame and boring. I don't usually eat breakfast, my lunches at work consists of a few snack crackers, a small box of raisins and a banana. Snacks are more likely nuts than anything else, so get off my case.
I tried one of the pointy, spill-over-bits of Adam's waffle, it was a sweet recipe, I'm okay with that, but it's not my favorite form.
I asked Angel about her steak. She wrinkled up her face and said that part of it was overcooked, so it was a little dry, but crispy. Adam agreed. Both finished their meals though without further comment. I couldn't finish mine, there was simply too much. "It beat you!" Angel cried when I pushed the plate away. "Yes, yes it did." I was however completely satisfied.
The secret to places like this is to keep it simple. The spice racks are not overloaded with exotic herbs, recipes contain only a line or two. Think about it. You choose a good quality sausage and fry it in a pan. You scramble an egg, shred and grill potatoes. Then you mix flour, sausage drippings until smooth for the gravy. A little salt a little pepper and you're done. There are no complicated or complex recipes at all. Keep your grill clean and at the right temperature and keep an eye on the done-ness and you've got it nailed.Waffle House, IHOP, Denny's, they are all similar and all very good for this one exact reason.
The staff, Emily in particular was dutiful and always available refilling our drinks. She smiled a lot and seemed warm and friendly, as did the other servers. All in all a very nice, inviting, comfortable experience.
 The price was right as well, all that luscious food for only twenty eight bucks, less than ten dollars per person. A guy could really get used to this sort of thing, if only it wasn't trying to kill him.

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