Monday, July 29, 2013

Pizza Junction

 Hillsboro. Mo
 On Facebook

* Very important disclaimer at the end of this post!

This choice was obvious. It's a brand new place in Hillsboro that we'd been been eagerly awaiting to open.
Before we start though, I'd like to give a shout out to a new friend, Suzi. She sent a nice email this past week and called Eat and Critique ". . .one of the highlights of my week". I of course, suggested she seek immediate counseling from a certified get-a-life coach. Anyway, she was very sweet and funny, and I always appreciate hearing form you, my loyal fans, as long as you're not one of those freaky nut jobs I occasionally hear from, or a Russian spammer... what is it with those guys anyhow?
Suzi also said "You go to some horrible restaurants. . ."  I couldn't completely disagree, but I can assure you this, I may indeed go to some horrible eateries, but this particular place is not one of them, at all.

The Place:
 A few months ago Bobby Munzert's closed its doors. A nice building at the northwest corner of the intersection of Highways 21 and B. Across from the mall (Dollar General).
A few weeks ago we noticed that the Munzert's sign had finally been taken down, but we also noticed a busyness around the place. Then signs and ads started popping up indicating that the spot was about to become Pizza Junction.
Hillsboro doesn't have a pizza joint, unless you count Imo's, which I don't. I was happy to hear that someone would be giving it a shot.
We arrived for lunch on Saturday for reasons I'll explain later*. Angela and I went, Adam was at work.*
The place had not been gutted, there would have been no reason  for that, it wasn't in bad shape before. As we entered the foyer we noticed that to the right, which had been the non-smoking dining area, was now an area that could be reserved for parties. In the foyer itself some large arcade machines had been installed. The  area on the left, which had been the bar/smoking area was now a bar/dining area. It had been filled in with nice booths, several of them. The motif was brown and black, the walls a neutral cream. Several overhead fans spun quickly. The lighting was muted, but more brightly than Munzert's had been. It smelled much better that I had remembered it, it now carried the narcotic aroma of yeast and garlic.
    It wasn't very busy when we arrived so we were told to sit wherever we liked. Two or three wall mounted TV's were on, muted, and I breathed a sigh of relief when I noticed they were not tuned to sports, but rather, the Discovery Channel. Finally, a bar/pizza joint that didn't assume that their patrons need a 24/7 sports fix.
On the back wall was a new-style jukebox, wall mounted, playing something contemporary. I'm not in to the music the kids are into these days, at least it wasn't too loud or offensive.
We sat back against the wall, I turned sideways and took up the entire bench. Sydney brought us the menus.
We snickered. The plain paper menus had been glued to a part of a pizza box lid. Cute.
We ordered our drinks, tea and sweet tea.
The menu was three pages, one for pizza the others dedicated to sandwiches, salads, etc.
I was tempted by the lighter salads, and sandwiches... yeah, right...PIZZA!
The Food:
There were a few pre-defined pizzas and they looked okay. But the interesting choice of toppings for a free-style was too good to pass up.
I made up my mind on a nine inch, traditional crust, with crab meat, pepperoni, Italian sausage, green peppers and onions. Yeah, Crab meat!
Angel picked a niner as well, thin crust, because she doesn't understand pizza. She topped it with shrimp, Italian sausage, black olives and mushrooms.
I was tempted to add another interesting option, sauerkraut. I know! Long time fans will realize the karmic irony of this from this review.
We assumed Adam would want some when he got home from work, so we also asked for a twelve inch  traditional 'Junction', to-go from the pre-defined list. It contained mostly meats. A twleve incher so we could all share it with him and not have to prepare any meals for the rest of the weekend. Mmmm, breakfast pizza.
While we waited I glanced around, taking in the changes. I liked it. It opens at eleven most days, and offers wi-fi. We wondered aloud about how Adam was doing at his new job. He'd only started the previous weekend, part time, but he seemed to like it.
12" 'Junction'
The aroma reminded me of the pizza places I'd worked at. Garcia's Pizza in a Pan in Rantoul, Illinois, (home of the Flying Tomato Brothers.) They had customized delivery cars, AMC Pacers, decorated with green plastic stems on their tops, you know, so it looked like a tomato.
I also worked at one in Springfield, I don't recall the name. I was officially a delivery driver at both, used my own car to get the mileage reimbursement. I also worked the back and learned a few tips and techniques of the business. The delivery bit also permanently odored my cars with that same delicious smell that I swooned over when I first stepped in this place, yeast and garlic. Lovely, simply lovely.
We watched the muted TV's, closed captioning was enabled. As best we could tell this was one of the newer reality shows devoted to documenting the stupid things rural hicks are willing to do to sustain a reality show.
In this episode the silly hillbillies were picking through a landfill for fortune and fame and then went out at night, hunting for mythological creatures. I didn't actually see any laying around, but I assumed copious amounts of alcohol were involved.
The pizzas arrived soon enough. They looked great. I knew I'd like mine, I'd already had a sample of one of the Junction's pizza's the weekend before*.
Sure enough it was thick, gooey, generously topped,  and very, very cheesy.
It looked bigger than nine inches, but I'm a guy and can't estimate sizes like that very accurately. The toppings and cheese extended all the way to the edges, no cutting of corners here. It seemed massive, I knew I wouldn't be able to finish the whole thing. That's what they make boxes for though.
The tea was okay, it wasn't too old or bitter.(insert wife joke here if you like, I won't. Angel occasionally reads these things.)
Angel and I savored our pies. These were really, really good. She mentioned what I just did, that the toppings were generous and filled out to the edges. The crust was perfect, charred a little at the edges for some crispiness, not too thick to be too filling, perfect. The sauce, which I knew to be made in-house*, was great, once again nothing flashy, but good, fresh and generous. I came across the lumps of crab, I'd never had crab on a pizza before, I  can't recall it even having ever been an option. It was subtle, compared to the sausage, and I might have not even noticed it had I not been looking for it. But that's the nature of crab. The peppers and onions were finely chopped, I prefer larger pieces but that was a minor point.
 Most St. Louis Style shops and pies default to provel, that regionally popular, sweeter cheese blend. It's offered as an option at the junction though. Ours had a more 'traditional' provolone and mozzarella blend.  They also have different sauces, but I highly recommend the house sauce.
 Sure enough, I only made it halfway through. Angel, probably because of her wafer-thin crust, finished all but one square. We had absolutely nothing to complain about, this was seriously good pizza.
Yeah, that good, better than all the local franchises, by far. There was obvious attention to quality and flavors.
The service was pretty good. I'm going to give them a break on the few minor serving errors. They've only been open a week and they hired the staff less than two weeks ago. The fact that Sydney came back to our table twice to confirm some details about our order I actually appreciated. She seemed to be working hard to get our order right, not just get it over with. She'll work out fine.
One more minor thing, easily fixable. There were no napkins on the tables. This was a problem as pizza, a hand-food, is messy. Especially if it is made well, and this was. We had to ask for napkin refills, but like I said, easily fixable. Angel pointed out that they also didn't offer silverware/plates like some of the snootier pizza joints did. I didn't see it as a problem and frankly, it didn't seem to slow Angel down much.
The bill for the two customized pies and the big take-home standard came to forty seven dollars and change. that sounds like a lot, but remember, breakfast pizza, mmmmmm! We ordered thirty combined inches (9+9+12)of pizza, that comes down to a little more than a buck an inch. Don't make me do the math for you.
I wish I could get  there for lunch during the week, they offer a pizza and salad buffet for a very reasonable price.
I highly recommend Pizza Junction. I'm always excited when a new place opens up in my adopted hometown, especially when it works hard to serve quality food at a good price. Pizza Junction succeeds at this, even in their first week.

* Disclaimer.
Yeah, now for all those asterisks. 
If I've said it once, I've said it a thousand times, I am not a professional journalist. I'm a writer, a clown, and a very emotionally fragile and needy, yet undeniably handsome man. I do have ethics though, so I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that Adam's new job is at this very place, Pizza Junction. That's how I'd known it was good pizza, he'd brought some home after the soft-opening the previous weekend. He was in the back on this very day, and probably helped prepare our pies. We never saw him while we were there and we didn't want to skew the experience or interfere with his work, so we did not introduce ourselves. He pretty much guessed it though, six ingredients each on a pair of nine inch pies caught his attention, especially the shrimp and crab toppings. Not their typical orders. The sauerkraut would have nailed it.
So am I biased in my review? Maybe? No, not at all. I decided ahead of time that if it was bad, or worse, awful, that I'd recuse myself from reviewing it.
I did enjoy it though, I highly recommend it, whether Adam works there or not. It's a local place in a small town and I'm bound to have some sort of connection through family/friends at any locally owned place.
But I figured I better be up front with you about the familial connection.
Seriously, try it.

Pizza Junction on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Outback Steakhouse

5240 S. Lindbergh Blvd.
South County
St. Louis Mo.

We're back. We've eaten out since early July, but not together... Family emergency, all is better now, thanks for asking.
Angel chose this place. She'd seen commercials. One word: 'Snow Crabs.'
Okay, that's actually two words.
She saw some commercials featuring the sea bugs and thought she'd like some, so we went. We've been to Outback before, but not recently. I scanned ahead at the menu online and decided on my choice rather quickly. Two words: Snow Crabs.
The Place:
On the way, we discussed Outback. I mentioned that there is absolutely nothing 'Australian'  about the franchise. The companies that started and own the chain are based out of Florida, which according to Wikipedia, is not in Australia, nor has it ever been. In fact There are only five Outback steakhouses in Australia, which may sound like a lot, but not if you compare that to Korea where there are about thirty, Japan, has five or six, and Saudi Arabia has three. Yeah, Saudi Arabia. That's in the middle east, atop Africa.
"G'day, mate!" In Arabic is pronounced يوم جيد، ورفيقة
In Japan it's 良い一日、仲間
And in Korean 좋은 날, 친구
I teach, it's what I do.
The whole Aussie theme is contrived, made up. However the franchise does go out of its way to make each location look and feel just like I imagine Australia looks and feels. By that I mean that Australia must be a lot like Ruby Tuesday's or TGI Friday's because that's what the place is like on the inside.
Dark, very dark, lots of TV's playing sports. Not those sissy Australian sports like sheep carving, crocodile whittling and boomerang ducking, no, this place showed real rough and tumble American baseball.
We were seated at a booth near the noisy bar. There weren't really many people at the bar, the noise was coming from a dot-matrix printer. Remember those? It sounded like a Dremel rotary tool cutting through small sheets of thick plastic. I can only think of a few more annoying noises, children laughing or poetry, for example.
We were greeted by Mike, a jocular middle aged man who seemed to really like his job. He told us where the menus were and that he'd be with us shortly.
I scanned the menu to see if it held any delights other than that I'd seen online. It didn't. I was satisfied with my original choice.
Adam and Angel debated appetizers. Angel said she was craving a blooming onion, a trademark item at the Australian-themed joint. Adam won't eat onions, so that meant the one-pound onion, breaded and deep fried just like Australians probably never actually made, would be split between her and I. This frightened me. I wanted steak and crab and feared that the carb-load offered up by the onion would fill me up prematurely. Also I had a memory of the last time I'd had the treat, it was at a local fair where they apparently cooked them a day or two ahead off time. Maybe not, but the thing got soggy and greasy really fast and tasted sort of like cotton candy or funnel cake. That taste memory sort of made my face wrinkle up.
"Too big." I said.
"Yeah, you're right" Angel said to me, for the first time, ever.
So they decided on the wings, medium  heat. I'm not a hot-wings guy, so I said I didn't care.
Mike brought our drinks, tea, tea, and Coke. There was something odd about the tea, I could see right through it. Even in the dimly lit place it seemed transparent. Angel noticed too and tasted it. "It tastes like lemon water." I agreed. This was absolutely the weakest tea I'd ever been served. When Mike stopped by again I did something I've never actually done before. I sent my tea back. He said he'd try to find a pitcher of darker stuff. He eventually did, and it was indeed darker, but not by much. I'll howl more about this later.
He also brought us a small loaf of bread on a wooden platter, along with a knife that was big enough to whittle a crocodile. It wasn't very sharp though, so it sort of ripped the bread into pieces more so than actually slicing it..
The bread was very dark, like rye, or burnt toast. Alongside the bread was a generous doovalacky (Australian for do-hickey) of butter. I slathered up a shard and tasted it. My tongue expected rye-grainy-darkness, but it wasn't. It tasted like light, sweet white bread.
The Food:
I ordered my six-ounce sirloin ( I couldn't justify the extra ten bucks for a Victoria filet) and snow crabs. I asked for a side of garlic mashed potatoes.
"That's a problem." Mike said. "We're not able to serve mashed potatoes this evening."
I assumed it was due to a local zoning ordinance or something since I couldn't imagine why baked potatoes were plentiful and mashed ones were not. Mike didn't offer further explanation. Perhaps the mashed potato chef was down with a case of the wobbly boot (drunk), or worse, on an extended walkabout.
Angel changed her mind, again, and instead of getting what she came for, she ordered the Great Barrier Trio, a dish containing Ahi tuna, coconut shrimp and an avocado and crab meat dip-thing. Adam asked for the Diablo Steak, a sirloin coated in a hot-ish pepper sauce, and Aussie fries.
They also asked for the appetizer. Mike said the wings would take about ten minutes. Mike did this a lot, telling us how long the next thing would be. I liked that.
I was a bit worried at this point though, they already epic-failed the simple task of making ice tea, and they couldn't remember how to make mashed potatoes. Outback's kitchen was not impressing me so far.
The wings arrived and they looked different. They had not been dipped into neon orange Tabasco like other places. They looked like fried chicken wings. I tried some, they were hot, but temperature-wise, not pepper-spice wise. They were spicy, but not overly so. I had an entire wing and regretted having had three rips of bread. I wanted my steak and crab, so I was being careful not to gorge on the precursors. I sipped some more on my tea-like drink. The refill was just a little darker, but you could still read through it, in the dark.
The food arrived shortly after the wings were all but gone.
 My steak looked tiny, but it was thick. There were only a couple of crab legs and that was fine with me. The baked potato looked pretty good, so I mashed it up with my fork. I was careful to not let the staff see me perform that bit of dark magic, fearing they would kidnap me and make me make mashed potatoes for everyone.
Angel's Great Barrier Trio didn't appeal to me much. Part of the tuna was drenched in a yellow-green sauce. I tasted a chunk of tuna but could only taste the sauce, which tasted a lot like a house dressing you might find in a high school cafeteria. I tasted no tuna, nothing fishy or meaty at all. There was a doovalacky of some kind of marmalade in the middle of her platter. She tasted it with a dip of her finger, wrinkled up her nose, then gagged. I don't recall her fingers tasting all that bad so it must have been the marmalade.
"I never want that stuff on my plate, ever again." She said.
Adam said nothing about his steak, or Aussie fries, which oddly enough, looked exactly like French fries. I suggested he mash them up with a fork. He gave me a funny look.
Angel ate one of the shrimp. She put on another peculiar look. The next two shrimp she ate only after she de-nuded them by peeling off the coconut. This of course turned the dish from 'coconut shrimp', to 'shrimp'.
On my plate was a shiny, mechanical, plier-like device that I assumed was originally intended to castrate sheep. Australians love to castrate sheep, I'm not sure why unless it has to do with jealousy. I hoped the device had been thoroughly cleaned, I sniffed it and could not detect any sheep-crotch scent. I also discovered it was quite handy for cracking open the crab legs. I did not have a whole crab, just the legs, so I couldn't tell if the tool could also be used to castrate crabs.
The steak was fine, though the pansy-edged knifed tended once again to rip rather than slice. The crab was fine but of course there was much more exoskeleton than meat. My 'mashed' potato was excellent.
Angel said she liked the avocado-crab dip stuff better than the tuna and shrimp. Adam said "Good." When I asked him about his meal.
I managed to finish the steak, and the crab and about half the potato.
Outback is a lot like Ruby Tuesday's in ambiance, price and food choice, just not as good. In fact there was nothing they did especially well that would make them stand out. I was really, really bothered about the tea. How hard can it be to make, then quality check, a simple batch of tea? Serving tea like this would be like making a Mai-tai but leaving out the troublesome rum.
No mashed potatoes? Really? What does this say about a place that features mashed potatoes as a default side on dozens of meals? Not only did they not have any for me, but Mike had said they wouldn't be available for the entire evening. What is that?
 The meal cost us fifty five bucks, which isn't terrible, but the offerings just really didn't quite rise up to that level. Some of the food was fine, but only that.
Mike was exceptional, he took care of everything quickly and let us know how long things would take. I really liked that.
Angel later agreed, there simply wasn't a draw, a signature, or singularly good item that would pull us back. We can get basically the same food at Ruby Tuesday's and they have that awesome salad bar.
Sorry Outback, we just weren't impressed.

Outback Steakhouse on Urbanspoon

Monday, July 8, 2013

Bistro at the Square

48 Jefferson Square Plaza
DeSoto, Mo.

Today's lesson kids, is about mistakes. Not big ones like invading a country based on bad intelligence, or leaving a loaded gun unsecured when the grandkids drop by, or forgetting an anniversary. No we're going to talk about the more costly ones, the compounded little ones, the completely avoidable ones. The kind of mistakes that are so small, that they are only really of concern if they are repeated or piled up among other small mistakes.
Like forgetting to take extra batteries for your camera. Rookie mistake. I've done it before, I did it this time, again. Thus we have one picture and only one picture and it is of the appetizer.
Sorry. I am a professional, I should really know better.
Then there are other professionals that with a little more attention to the simple things could easily turn a pretty bad review into one more deserving of the place being reviewed. Case in point:

The Place:
Inside the main building on Jefferson Square. It's not obvious, the signage is modest. Jefferson Square may have once been a mini mall, it now contains a couple of offices, the restaurant and the Jefferson Inn. The Bistro includes a bar area, an atrium that fills out a corner of the open main floor, and a large banquet room.
We always sit in the atrium, non-smoking. A summer squall was building over Hillsboro as we headed south. It rained on us in spurts, we went into the Bistro ahead of whatever was building. The bulk of the storm stayed north. DeSoto was sunny, but being on the edge of the squall, we watched the sunshine-backlit rain from our seats in the atrium for the entire meal.
There was only one other table filled in the atrium, a middle aged potato-shaped couple. The female seemed bitter about almost everything. We were seated by a well dressed and clean cut young man. He barely  mumbled and rarely in complete sentences. He handed us the menus and asked about drinks. Tea, tea and Pepsi/Coke.
Angel and Adam decided to get the requisite appetizer, the locally ubiquitous fried ravioli. I'd skip it and save room for the meal.
The tables were all nicely arranged, white linen tablecloths with hunter green place mats and paper tape around the silverware. Each table had a small vase with a tasteful arrangement of fake flowers. Music emanated from a boom box by the Bistro's entrance, I couldn't quite make it out, the lyrics seemed Italian, but the accompaniment was more mariachi. It could have been Mexican ballads, or bad Italian music. At one point it sounded Hawaiian, though Hawaian as being by four guys in sombreros playing giant guitars.
The Food:
Most things on the menu looked pretty good, pasta, steak, fish, salads and soups. Though called a bistro, the fare was not uniquely Italian, not even close. But it all looked pretty good. It also looked large. I think I've mentioned this before, my appetite ain't what it used to be.
Angel decided almost immediately, Adam shortly afterward. I sent the waiter away twice before deciding. Like I said, it all looked pretty good. I just wanted to get the most satisfying bang for the buck for my one weekly 'go-for-it' meal. It's like a kid with five bucks trying to decide which of the twenty things he wants that each cost five bucks, would be the most fulfilling.
I finally decided and  ordered the pork chops. The only reason I had hesitated had been because there were two chops in the order. I knew I wouldn't be able to eat both. So I thought ahead to scrambled eggs and chopped pork chop for Sunday breakfast. That sounded pretty good. I asked for the baked potato and corn on the side.
Angel had fallen for the catfish special, two big filets, along with fries, slaw and baked beans. Adam surprised no one on the planet by asking for the Buffalo chicken sandwich.
We ordered, the ravioli arrived shortly, I took the first and last picture of the evening.  The ravioli looked extra crispy to me, not the good kind of extra crispy like KFC serves, rather as in over-fried-crispy. Angel confirmed this suspicion after having a couple.
When I'd ordered my meal, 'Sparkles', as I internally named him with a huge measure of irony, asked me if I'd like butter and sour cream with the baked potato. My first inclination was to ask him if anyone ever said no to that, but I let it go. I know better than to mock the staff before the food arrives. This is important for later.
The ravioli disappeared except for the crispiest bits. I watched the rain outside as Angel and Adam played some form of shape arranging game on her cellular telephone.Another phone rang loudly, full volume, the annoying default tune.
The sour, potato shaped lady took the call on the third or fourth verse of the hideous tune. It was her mom. Yes they were at the restaurant out of the storm and she didn't know why they brought her a baked potatos and that tomato crap when she didn't order it. She'd clearly told them when they wouldn't allow substitutes to just skip that other crap. But no, they brought it to her anyhow. Oh the humanity!
Fortunately it wasn't a long conversation, just an angry and loud one. I jotted down the parts I'd heard thinking how rude it was  to complain about a restaurant publicly like that. Then I noticed the irony of my indignation, as I wrote down more notes to build a public, on-line and potentially scathing review.
'Potentially scathing' because I was already getting frustrated with Sparkles. He'd stopped by a couple of times, first to ask if we wanted saucers for our appetizers instead of dripping marinara all over our laps, and again when he came by to clear the plates and ask about refills, he called me 'Bud', twice.
I was raised in the south and then immediately spent the next nine years in the military. Ma'am and sir rolls off my tongue as easily as saliva. I wasn't sure why 'Bud' bothered me, but it did. I expect to hear it in a locker room among long-time pals whilst snapping towels at each others glistening sweaty bodies. . . Sorry about that unfortunate imagery, but it seemed a little too familiar and casual for a nice place with white linen table cloths. Also the mumbled and exasperated questions, still not phrased in complete sentences. 'Take these plates away Bud?", "Refill on that tea Bud?".
When the meals did arrive, they looked pretty good. Two large, thick chops, a foil wrapped, medium sized potato and a wilting kale leaf. To the side a small bowl of fading, soggy looking corn, not near as bright and perky as what you see on a can of Nibblets.
I tried the corn as he placed Angel and Adam's meals. Yeah, as I'd suspected, this corn was long past prime. I scooted it aside. "Bring your roll in a sec, Bud, need anything?"
"Butter and sour cream?"
"Oh yeah, k."
He fetched the missing items quickly enough. I squeezed the roll, it was cold. Not just not warm, it felt refrigerated. The butter packets were about the same temperature. This is fine for butter, but it meant that the roll would not even begin to melt it. I passed on it. I'd spend my 'allowance' on the potato, which seemed perfectly hot and well cooked.
The chops were thick and thoroughly cooked. They were slathered with a brown sauce, which I tasted and decided was simple woostershire. . .worchestershire. . .westchestershore. . . you know what I mean. It wasn't bad, but hardly interesting. The Bistro's saucier must have had the day off.
I shredded the potato, folding in the butter (margarine) and sour cream. It was a decent size, which meant too big to finish so I ate mostly the tasty skin and a little of the meaty parts. I love baked potato skin.
Angel lopped off a  corner of her fish and slipped it onto my plate. It was nice and flaky, perfectly cooked but the breading seemed a bit salty. She liked it okay.
Adam wouldn't give an appraisal of his sandwich, only much later did he give it his two-thumbs-sideways: "It was okay."
At forty three bucks the Bistro is appropriately priced for a nice restaurant in DeSoto. Add to that the incredibly small tip I tacked on, it was quite affordable. The food was pretty good for the most part, but not great. As with the service, a few little things could have made a big difference. Warm rolls, fresher veggies, a more interesting sauce, little things.
The service was bad. Not just my words, Angel agreed. Earlier we had been discussing Adam's upcoming job interview and I had made a point that he should put on his 'customer face'.  We are introverts and not just a little bit. It is actually a struggle, an aerobic exercise to look into another person's eyes and cheerfully engage them. Seriously, it's hard.
I told Adam that I had developed a 'customer face' when dealing with my customers, those for whom I provide service. I told him that it is not always easy to do, in fact sometimes it's very hard, but it is absolutely mandatory to be successful in any form of service industry. You have to set aside the lousy day, the foul mood, even completely justified ambivalence or apathy, just set them aside. Be polite and respectful always, even if it's just an act. Reign in the sarcasm and snarky comments. All that dour wit will not be appreciated by near strangers that just want you to do your job.
Sparkles can fix this. He needs to put on his customer face when serving the public. Even if it hurts. Cheer up, be respectful, speak up, articulate in complete sentences. Most of all he needs to keep his mind on the task at hand. This is vital. Serving diners is a skill, it's much more than just showing up and pushing plates on a table. A few minutes a day, just put on your customer face, buck up and do the job like there are a hundred people lined up to take it from you.
 We don't expect much, we don't need astute advice about wines or silver capped serving dishes, just the basics. Fast food places mostly get this part right. I can prove it, just step into a Waffle House sometime, anytime. You are greeted and seated with cheerful politeness and respect, it's almost as if they are happy that you picked their humble establishment to have a meal. Even McDonalds and Burger King usually emphasize respect and cordiality from their minimum-wage staff. That's all we ask, just simple courtesy.
This dining experience was not awful, but it was certainly below our expectations. But it was all simple, easily fixable stuff.

Bistro At The Square on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Golden Corral

6110 S Lindbergh Blvd
Saint Louis, MO 63123

 We had to head up to Webster Groves to pick up some dogs. Since we were going to be in the burbs anyhow we thought we'd compare One American style buffet to another. A few weeks ago we ate at Ryan's in Festus and had very little nice to say about it. Well, someone at Ryan's corporate office must have read that review, or maybe there were business reasons that have nothing to do at all with my lackluster remarks, but last week They closed the Ryan's in Festus as well as the one further south in Farmington. No reason was actually given in the newspaper account we saw.
So off we headed to the outer rim of St. Louis, on South Lindbergh near the big mall. This area is a big deal for shoppers. All the big box stores are there alongside the mall and that is surrounded by dozens of car lots. There are many restaurants nearby as well. This particular Golden Corral is enormous. It is also always busy. We've passed it up in the past due to the line of people waiting to get in. Angel said we had plenty of time to wait. I almost doubted her though as right ahead of us a school bus was spitting out teenagers by the dozens. I noticed the bus was from Madison County Kentucky.
Cool, I thought, I'm from Kentucky too! Of course Kentucky has one hundred and twenty counties, many of them I have no idea where are without a map. This was one of those.
Kentucky is diverse, there are in my mind at least three completely distinct and identifiable regions, as different from each other as can be in a single state. There's the Appalachian region in the east, this is where Kentucky's hillbillies and feuding families are and where everyone seems to think of when I tell them I'm from the commonwealth. I'm not from there. Then there's the Lexington/Louisville/Frankfort/Covington (South Cincinnati) region which is also where all of the horse activity is, the bluegrass area in the northern and central part of the hump. I'm not from there either.
Then there's the unheard-of nether regions, well south and west of the mountains and coal mines, way southwest of the urban areas and pristine horse ranches. The skinnier western part of Kentucky is famous for pretty much nothing. That is where I'm from, Trigg County. Madison County is up near Lexington. This means I actually know very little about it. Growing up where I did, Louisville/Lexington were several hours away, whereas Nashville was a little over an hour to the south. Most of our big city needs were managed down there rather than to the distant northeast. I only recall going to Louisville a couple of times, and Lexington once or twice in  my whole childhood. Our TV was from Nashville, the big hospitals were there as well.
Madison County, as it turns out is the county where Daniel Boone built his famous fort/town. I'd never been there. In southern Madison county, near Berea, is a community called Farristown. This is where the busload of kids was from, here for an an archery competition. (I asked one of the weary chaperones). They'd not heard of Trigg County either.
The Place:
We were in line behind them. All of them. They were easy to pick out, all wearing gray event tee shirts. None of them looked anything like Katniss Everdeen, but they weren't toothless, banjo-pickin' hillbillies either.
We indeed waited but not for as long as I feared we might. Golden Corral operates like a bustling, well oiled assembly line. The front staff carried two-way radios and were constantly checking and clearing the tables as people left.
You order your drinks and pay at the front. Then soon thereafter a floor person ushers you to a table about a quarter mile away. No need to sit first, just  set the drinks down and start the carnage.
The Food:
My first round.
The variety at the Corral is spectacular.  Pizza, pasta, steak, a dozen varieties of chicken and beef, fried roasted, spicy, southern-style. There is a soup bar, a salad bar, a Chinese section, and Italian section, a 'bakery' and a dessert bar that includes a chocolate fountain.
I was timid at first, taking very small portions of just a few things since I was looking forward to what might pop up around the corner. The first plate at this place should be a scouting mission as much as a main course.
Angel's protein plate
I sampled some sesame chicken, meatloaf, green bean casserole, mac and cheese, black eyed peas and a fist sized roll. If you look at it the roll looks enormous, it was, but it was very light and fluffy, mostly air. It probably contained no more actual bread than a regular slice of bread. I added a couple of tablespoons of mashed potatoes and a little gravy. Angel and Adam had beaten me to the table. Angel had about thirty kinds of chicken, mostly wings. She was in the mood for meat, that happens occasionally. Adam had chicken, of course and a huge pile of mashed potatoes. He also got one of the warm, fluffy rolls.
Adam's chicken and taters.
 I was quite impressed, everything was pretty good. It all seemed fresh and well prepared. There were no actual disappointments on my plate. I'm not a huge green bean casserole guy, but this stuff was actually pretty good. The taters were fluffy and not over-salted. The meat loaf was cooked perfectly, with just enough caramelized red sauce (ketchup) to taste pretty authentic. The mac and cheese tasted like name-brand mac and cheese, the sauce thick and creamy.
 I was taking longer so the other two got up after a while, uttering nothing but good things about their meals. Angel noted that she liked the casserole as well.
Angel's seafood round.
Her second round was seafood themed. Fried fish and chowder and something called 'okra' which looked and smelled like a slimy mollusk or mussel of some kind, though she insisted it was a vegetable. Sure, whatever.
Adam came back with more chicken, something he was quite happy with. 'Bourbon Chicken' he called it. Angel said she'd liked it as well.
My second round included chili. They had a big steaming, meaty pot of it at the soup bar. I found a bowl and spoon and ladled in just a little bit. I was almost full and didn't want to waste a lot, I just wanted to taste it. I spotted some cheesy garlic biscuits, the bourbon chicken, a small fried chicken leg and apple pie. Just a little of each.
The chili was quite good, a little sweeter than Wendy's but otherwise quite similar. I like Wendy's chili a lot.
My eclectic second (last) round.
The pie was pretty good, but not awesome. The bourbon chicken was smoky and lightly sweet. I agreed with Adam and Angel, pretty darn good. The roll was similar to Red Lobster's but maybe a little heavier. All of the food was quite satisfying. The only disappointment around the table was that the lady guarding the chocolate fountain would not let Angel dunk her gummy bears. We don't know why, it's apparently just some sort of arbitrary fascist policy.
I started this week's review by saying it would be a comparison of the now-closed Ryan's to this place. Though they offered similar fare, there was hardly a comparison other than that. The Corral had more variety and all of the food was prepared just a little better. Often at Ryan's there were throw-always, things that looked good but didn't quite measure up. I had essentially the same food at the Corral that I'd recently had at Ryan's. The winner was clear, it wasn't even close. We paid almost exactly the same, just under forty five dollars, but the quality difference was night and day. Adam spoke highly of the quality and variety as well, that says a lot. I won't miss Ryan's much, the Corral is a slightly longer drive, but not prohibitively so. The archers of Farristown seemed pleased as well, they were still lining up for seconds and thirds as we left.

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