Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Gordon's Stoplight

500 Bailey Rd
Crystal City, Mo

Last time we went to this little place, Angel was out of town. This weekend, Angel was out of town, so we decided to go back. We're a family of ad-hoc traditions.
Gordon's has been serving the best hamburgers in the world since 1948, it says so right on the menu. That's an awful long time to hold a record like that.
The Place:
It's right on the corner, you can't miss it. It's a diner, like the old style diners that only have stools at a counter and the griddle and fryers are right there in front of you. There was only one other customer there when we arrived so we had the run of the joint. There was no prepared food stacked up, it's a make-to-order place.
The menu is right on the wall above the grill. Not a lot of variety, but variety isn't why you come to this place. It's a burger joint, not fancy burgers either, just simple, American burgers. They have chili as well. Mostly though it's about the burgers.
One third of the staff approached us. A twenty-something lady with confident eyes and like her two co-workers, wearing a Gordon's tee shirt. You can buy one for your self there, the tee shirt, not the twenty-something lady. Actually I just assumed this, I didn't ask.
She leaned over the counter and asked "Can I bring you something to drink?"
I answered "Yes."
Then she stared at me for a while as if she didn't speak English.
Finally it dawned on me that even though I had answered the question I was asked, she was waiting for more information. Why can't people just say what they mean?
Adam broke the building tension by saying 'Pepsi please." He didn't make that sentence up, it's actually a tag line from old Pepsi ads and commercials, some things just stick with you.
She looked back at me and I said "Tea please." Which isn't a tag line from an old ad, but maybe it should be. Simple, memorable, catchy. Maybe I should suggest it to Big Tea's advertising people.
She formed her next question more carefully: "You guys need a few minutes before you order?"
I answered this question exactly like I'd answered her previous one, "Yes." though it seemed sufficient this time.
The Food:
It didn't take long, I knew the burgers were thin, so a double would be in order. Cheese, yep, cheese. And onion rings, which are battered and fried rings of onions.
When she came back with our drinks she looked us over and sized us up. I wanted to tell her that I was married in case she was getting any wrong ideas. Two hot guys out looking for action, it happens to us a lot when Adam and I are out alone. Instead, she asked us if we were ready. I said "Yes." again, her mood darkened, I could see it on her face. Once again Adam intervened and called out his order, a double Jumbo, no onions. A jumbo burger comes topped with coleslaw and barbecue sauce. He asked for  fries with that.
Rather then get into an ugly semantic argument I just told her what I wanted. A double, with cheese and onion rings. She asked if I wanted anything else on it. I said yes. Adam cleared his throat the way his mother does when I'm on the verge of embarrassing her. So I conceded and asked her a question. "What are my options?"
Lettuce, grilled onions, tomato, and mayonnaise.  I laughed off the mayonnaise option because this isn't Canada, this is America.
We watched as the cooking staff, two young men, attacked the order with practiced professionalism. The griddle master had just scraped down his hot top, and the fry chief dropped a handful if rings into fry basket. While the fryer was doing its thing and the griddle man was poking and prodding the patties, the fry guy assembled the buns and extras onto ceramic plates. The young lady took care of a couple of walk-ups. There's a walk-up window at the side for people that are too bashful or under-dressed to go through the front door.
I looked around noticing the ATM. One of those third party machines that charge an arm and a leg. Gordon's doesn't take plastic. We knew this and were prepared, we'd stopped at the bank on the way.
The griddle made quick work of the burgers, they're thin and hand smashed giving them a rough and rugged appearance. You're not going to get a perfectly pressed and perfectly round burger here. I like them better this way.
Soon enough the lady brought us our meals. She asked if there was something else we'd like. Adam told her "No thank you" before I could answer.
All went quiet. The crew of three wandered off to the far side of the kitchen area and started talking among themselves. No open orders at the moment, they caught a break. Adam and I munched away. I tried a couple of his fries, nice and thin and crispy. My onion rings were crisp as well, there just wasn't very many of them.
The no-frills buns started to deteriorate near the end, but that was okay, they provided free napkins right there where we were sitting.
The patties were surprisingly moist considering how thin they were. I'd added mustard and a little ketchup to mine.
I asked Adam how his was and was quite surprised at his answer. "Excellent" is what he said. Long time fans will realize how rare and odd this is. Quite a rousing endorsement from a guy whose entire college career was summed up as 'fine'.
In fact it was pretty good. After all it is the best hamburger in the world and has been since the Truman administration.
My only complaint was with the amount of onion rings. They were indeed very good, but if you compare a standard order of fries (Adam's plate) and a standard order of rings (my plate) well, one of these things is not like the other. Adam mentioned that the barbecue sauce was very good, he'd noticed that it was made especially for Gordon's. They'll sell you some of that too.
The bill came to sixteen bucks and change, I slipped the lady a fresh twenty and instructed her to keep the change. That, she seemed to understand without further explanation.

Previous visit:

Stop Light Drive In on Urbanspoon

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Oriental Buffet

774 Truman Blvd.
Crystal City, Mo.

The Place, The Food, Summary:
Sometimes the weekend sneaks up on us and we find ourselves unprepared. This past weekend was that exactly. None of us had given the task much thought. This is a bad situation in our house since between the three of us, there are no type-A decision makers. Or type B, or maybe even C or D. Getting any of us to come up with something on our own that we confidently think will appeal to everyone else is nothing short of miraculous.
There are a couple of places that require no thought at all and will usually be agreed upon quickly. Oriental Buffet is one of those places.
We've been there several times, so I'll keep this short.
It has two things going for it right out of the gate. First it's a buffet, everybody gets something they like. Secondly, it's nearby. There are bigger and/or better buffets, but none anywhere near as close.
So we drove there, went in, ordered our drinks, tea, Diet Coke and Coke, and headed for the lines.
I didn't have to sample things, I know what is good and not so good here. So I plopped down some noodles, a couple of the chickens, General Tsao and black pepper style, some pepper beef, a rangoon,  some shrimp and a pot sticker.
Angel had some seafood, an egg roll and some mushrooms, rice and some kind of chicken. Adam went for the standard, white rice and sweet/sour chicken.
Two fails in front of me. The tea, probably the worst in town and the pot sticker. This is not a news flash, I'm pretty sure I've mentioned this before. This time the dumplings were rubbery, like ill-prepared calamari.
Most of the rest of the stuff was pretty good. Not great, fantastic or phenomenal, just pretty good.
We all finished round one about the same time,  I thought about seconds, didn't want much, so I decided just to hit the dessert line. I got what I usually get, the bananas and red sauce over some banana pudding. It was fine, though since I've backed off sugar consumption lately it tasted good but it unsettled my tummy and my general outlook on life, which probably reflects in the darker - ho-hum tone of this review . Not the food's fault per se, it's my stupid changing (deliberately) metabolism that is growing increasingly intolerant of sugar and a few other things. So it's not really a bad thing either.
'Or-Buff' is fine. Since it is a buffet it's hard to complain since everybody tailors their own plates and portions. Something doesn't win you over, you just skip it and get something else. This makes buffets very hard to rate against other places, so I can only compare it to other buffets. Of all the buffets in the greater St. Louis Metro region, Oriental Buffet in Crystal City is certainly one of them.
Thirty four dollars and change, for those of you keeping score.

Oriental Buffet on Urbanspoon

Monday, August 12, 2013

Coyol Mexican Restaurant

12967 Rt 21
DeSoto, Mo
On Facebook

 The Place:
In the location that was formerly called 'Senor Nacho'. Next to the KFC. As Senor Nacho, we didn't care for it very much. As we recall, it has changed ownership and name at least once, we think maybe more since we were last there.
Of course, we need to discuss the name. 'Coyol' is the name of a palm tree (acrocomia aculeata) common in Southern Mexico all the way down into Argentina. It produces a small coconut-like fruit which is really hard to break open and there's not much inside it when you get there. So it is not at all common to find the fruit many places other than where it falls on the ground. Why would you name a restaurant in DeSoto after a palm fruit no one around here will likely ever see or taste? Well, I'm not done yet. You see the trees are good for something else. Cut one down, drain the sap, let that sap ferment and man, you've got a potent beverage. One that not only can get you face-down wasted because of the alcohol, but bonus: the enzymes in that drink react with your body chemistry, intensifying the drunkenness considerably when you step out into sunlight for a while.
Since the restaurant's sign has on it a palm tree, I'm pretty sure the name is based on the tree, not the nut nor the sap wine derived from it, though I'm not real sure.
One of the table tops
We went in the already busy place and were led to a booth in the back. The walls were painted in a rough textured, adobe-colored paint, with faux exposed brink painted on in various places. Murals depicting simple, traditional Mexican themes were also painted in. The table tops were thickly laminated with more Mexican-style art, some quite striking.
There were several tables and booths filled, families, couples. Some of the adults were drinking a variety of adult beverages. One man across from us was drinking a Dos Equis, though oddly enough he didn't really seem all that interesting.
Our waiter brought menus and asked about drinks. He was a handsome man, tall, lean, forty-ish, with pronounced Spanish features. He was dressed in jeans and a white cotton shirt and reminded me of the type of man that could handle himself quite well in harsh dry climates as well as the rugged lands of his European ancestry. His accent was thick, and made every syllable sound important. We ordered tea, Diet Coke and Dr. Pepper.
The menus were about six pages, laminated and included labeled photos of many of the dishes. All of which looked very good. I wanted an enchilada, or a chimichanga, but I also wanted rice and beans. I picked my meal because it included all of that. Angel wanted a steak, and Adam wanted a taco.
We took a while to ultimately choose, Angel and I changing our minds several times before finally settling. In the mean time the chips and salsa arrived and quickly disappeared.
On the wall above our heads, were several sombreros. There were Polaroids  taped to the wall of the entrance of customers wearing these sombreros having a great time. I assume alcohol was involved.
The Food:
For me it was chimichangas, fried chicken burritos, which included beans, rice, guacamole, sour cream and a lettuce and tomato salad. Angel chose the Steak Jalisco, which she mispronounced but was repeated perfectly and precisely by the waiter.(Jalisco is a south western Mexican state, the capital of which is Guadalajara, and includes the popular port city of  Puerto Vallarta.)
The Steak Jalisco was offered as being covered in mushroom and shrimp. Adam indeed ordered one of the many combo plates, one burrito, one taco, rice on the side.
As we waited and munched on chips I listened to the rich, passionate Mexican music, enjoying it thoroughly even though I didn't understand a word of it. True passion translates perfectly though, even without words. I mentioned to Angel and Adam that one of his co-workers at Pizza Junction had left a comment on the review I'd written a couple of weeks prior. I said she'd said some very nice things about him. This alarmed him and he demanded to know who it was. I asked his mother to dial the blog up on her smart-ass-phone and she did.
Steak Jalisco
"Adam is a great worker and a funny guy!" it said. It was written by someone named 'Dawn'. "That's my manager's wife" He said. "Awesome!" I replied. I also thought how nice it would be to get a public compliment from my manager's wife, or even my manager. Must be nice to be appreciated.
The plates arrived, luscious looking, steaming, my plate was still almost too hot to touch. Angel's steak sizzled, as hot as a summer day in Guadalajara. Adam's plate came next and the table went quiet for the next ten minutes. I ate and ate, savoring every bite. The chicken was moist, the pinnacle test for quality preparation. The lettuce was crisp, the guacamole was fresh and bright, the beans cheesy and the rice, not overly tomato-ey. they'd nailed it.
Angel made satisfied grunting noises as she ate, carved the steak and dipped the shrimp. "Tender" She said of the steak between bites, once again quite an accomplishment for such a thin cut. Another bowl of chips arrived, drink refills were timely. The waiter maintained his professionalism even as he swept out the crumbs from underneath a table recently vacated by a family. Pride in his work was obvious.
None of us could finish our meals, we tried, but the stuff was delicious and at the same time quite filling. It didn't look like much at the start, but it took quite and effort to whittle it down. At one drink refill I turned to Angel and asked; "Do you consider the waiter to be quite handsome?" She looked at me flustered and flushed. She stammered. "I didn't know we were here to judge." Adam laughed, I did to, because judging is precisely what we do at these places.
     We were quite impressed, to put it mildly. We didn't care for Senor Nacho, but in its present incarnation as Coyol, all the things that the previous place was lacking are fixed. The food was fresh, tasty and perfectly prepared. The service was excellent, timely and professional. Around the table there was not a single complaint. In the car Angel did admit that the cheese sauce got a little salty after a while, but not terribly so. That was all we could come up with. Otherwise the atmosphere, the food and the experience was fantastic.
The price as well was reasonable at about forty bucks. A lot of quality, a lot of food, for a very good price.

Coyol Mexican Grill on Urbanspoon