Monday, November 25, 2013

Steak and Shake

999 Veterans Blvd.
Festus, Mo.
On the Interwebs

        I wanted something quick and simple. (and cheaper than last week’s $98 feast) I was fresh out of ideas. I’d been hoping the new Chinese buffet would be open by this weekend, it wasn’t.
So I thought about it for about five minutes throughout the day and came up with this place.
My last burger at Gordon’s Stoplight Grill got rave reviews from the entire family. I knew S&S served a similar style burger, thin and smashed and thought it a good idea to compare privately owned vs. franchise. 

 The Place:
On a hill sharing acreage with a dozen other franchise eateries, above highway A, near the interstate.
There was a big banner touting “Kids eat free all weekend!” that I didn’t pay much attention to when we approached. I did at the time say “Hey, Adam gets to eat free!” as a joke of course, but he’s old enough to vote, drink, and die in a war, even though he’s never done any of that. He does live with us and he’s on our medical insurance,(Thanks Obama) so I thought it would only be fair to still enjoy or at least partake in some of the few benefits of parenting. But no.
Inside, the place was humming with busyness. There were only about five or six tables/booths open, but three of those had not been bused yet. We were instructed by a sign to wait to be seated, so we did. So did three other groups behind us for the next five to seven minutes.
At one point a mature, manager looking man, wearing a blood-pink long sleeve dress shirt behind the counter told us that somebody would be with us soon. He did so without even looking up from whatever he was working on. Several servers squeezed by us on their way with refills and trays.
Finally when there were about ten people total waiting they seated us at a table in the back, behind the un-bused three tables that had been scooted together for a large group. It looked like the beginnings of a landfill. It was another ten minutes or more before three staff members banded together and hurriedly cleaned it up.
There were still people waiting to be seated.
At more than half the tables/booths there were small children, really small, six months to maybe three years old. Immediately next to us was a young couple with the six month old who didn’t fuss much. Three pre-schoolers at another adjacent table were not so restrained. This struck me as odd at first, that many tiny, sticky, slimy kids at a burger joint, but then I recalled the ‘Kids eat free’ banner. Note to self. . .
Our unnamed (you know what that means) server approached and queried us about drinks.
I decided to go out on a limb again. Tea, unsweetened. Angel went sweet, Adam pulled out all the stops and ordered a Hershey’s Special Dark Chocolate Shake. My gag reflex kicked in. I’ve cut back on sweets a great deal the last year or so, way back, and anymore the idea of something that sweetly decadent sets off a physical reaction. When you cut back as much as I have, you get very sensitive to sugar.  I suppose it’s like cocaine that way. Not that I’ve ever cut back on cocaine. . . wait, that’s not right. . . I’ve never actually given up on cocaine since I’ve never (to my knowledge) tried the substance. Cocaine could be like moonshine though. I didn’t think I’d ever tasted that either until someone reminded me that they served me some once but had told me it was American Corn Vodka, so I had actually tried it, I just didn’t know it at the time nor did I 
even recall it. So that’s exactly like never trying it isn’t it? So sugar is like just cocaine and moonshine, only legal.(and cheaper, so I hear)
What were we talking about?
The place was shiny and brightly lit. The tiles and walls were black, white and red all over. It tries to mimic a fifties diner, but only succeeds in looking like a kitschy, over the top, idealistic reproduction.
There was plenty of staff on hand, all smartly dressed in white shirts and black pants. More on this later.

The Food: 
The teas and a glass of water arrived pretty quick, we were ready to order.
Bacon Frisco Melt
Me: Wisconsin Buttery Double and fries, Angel asked for The Prince Royale (a single served with a fried egg), fries and a cup of chili. Adam predictably ordered the Bacon Frisco Melt, because . . . bacon. That came with fries as well.
The babies kept arriving, the littered table still remained littered. I took stock of the large number of workers behind the counter and in the kitchen, more people certainly than you'd see at a McDonald's since S&S has servers, but it still seemed like a lot, especially  considering the line of people waiting to be seated and the unkempt tables.
Adam's shake eventually arrived, dark, chocolaty, thick. His face caved in with his first attempt at drawing some up the narrow straw. "Too thick?" I asked. "It's a problem that will take care of itself." He smart-assedly responded. Several bustling minutes passed and finally our plates arrived. Real plates, not paper or Styrofoam*.
The fries were thin, almost petite in girth, shoestring style.

I grabbed the ketchup and squeezed, the bottle farted and red sauce splattered. I shook it and tried again, same thing, the bottle was nearly empty. I squeezed out seven or eight or nine more ketchup farts and passed the bottle. It sat amid our own fledgling debris pile, napkins, straws, straw wrappers, the check. No one else grabbed it right away. Our server stopped by and asked if everything was okay, I told him about the ketchup. Normally I'd
Buttery Wisconsin Double
just grab one off another table, but except for the burgeoning landfill in front of us, and I didn't want to dig through that mess, all the other tables were occupied. The server brought it back in a couple of minutes, and set it, not in the un-populated space beside Adam, but right back in the pile of litter. It wobbled when he let go of it, as it had come to rest on a straw. This baffled me.  Why would he add it to a growing pile rather than set it in the three or four square feet of empty table space? Maybe it was my blinking camera and my notebook. I make no attempt to hide them and they are clearly logo'd. So maybe the server was worried, scared of being being evaluated. I let this awesome power go to my head for a few hours.
The burgers were thin and smashed, not industrially preformed. This made them comparable to the Stoplight Grill's burgers. My bun was buttered, as promised. There were no toppings other than a healthy dose of cheddar cheese and a dollop of caramelized onions. I'd farted just a little ketchup on the bun, there was no mustard on the table. In the first bite, I noticed something, well a couple of things actually. The burger, like the fries were not very hot. If I were to guess I'd say they'd been cooked then left to sit for several minutes. Angel and Adam did not say anything similar about theirs. The burger was good, though the onions might have been a little over-caramelized, just shy of burnt, and I'd left them in a small pile in the middle of the patty, they would have been better spread out a little more.
Prince Royale
The cheese wasn't as pronounced as I thought it would be, but it was there. The meat itself was lacking something though. "It was a poorer quality meat than Stoplight." Angel said of it later, "But still better than fast food burgers." I agreed with her assessment.  It was better than almost any other chain-burger. She'd finished her chili first, I'd tried it before and thought it was pretty good. I even bought a canned version of the stuff, not bad, but the in-store was, unsurprisingly, better. I'd thought about ordering some myself but I'd had chili twice during the week, and wasn't very  motivated.
By the time I got to the last couple of burger bites, the thing was pretty much at room temperature. STILL better than McDonald's, BK, Wendy's, etc. though.

 The tea was a great deal better than I'd expected. A +4 on the PJTea scale. The food ranged from Adam's 'Good' to Angel's  'better than . . .' comment mentioned earlier. They did not share my observation about tepidness, so maybe mine was first off the grill and it had to wait for Angel's egg or something. (she'd added that the egg would have been a little better if it were cooked 'over medium', still a little runny.) The price was satisfying, the bill totaled just under twenty five bucks, Adam observed that this was cheaper than any of the three of our dishes at Terrazza grill the week before. Sure, it wasn't steak or lobster ravioli, but the price was about the same as one would spend at the less tasty chains.
Spoiler Alert: If you see this,
you are being reviewed.
As far as the service though, Angel had noticed the same things as me. There were a lot of people working there, but the crew seem troublingly inefficient. There seemed to be a lack of coordination, organization and training. It was taking too long to seat people and too long to clear tables. Even the manager's comment about being seated soon was, not exactly rude, but dismissive. The server's fumble, the fact that it took three staff members working together to finally bus that one table and the fact that Angel said there were a few occasions  that she observed several of the workers just standing together talking are indicative of less-than perfect floor management.
"They were pretty busy." Adam defended. I agreed, they were busy. Then I said something that will probably be repeated by the great chefs of the Food Network, the guys that go in and fix troubled restaurants. But let it be known, I said it first: "When it comes to poor service, success is no excuse."
Can't you just hear Gordon Ramsey screaming that at some broken down, weeping waitress? (He'd drop a few f-bombs in with it, I don't need to though since, unlike the chef, I know more than twenty three words.)
Seriously though, it is true. The only reason to go out for a burger is to enjoy

someone else doing the work. I can make a better burger, for even cheaper than this, burgers are easy. We buy them at places like this only because we want to be served. We're buying labor and service not just food. Besides there are dozens of other places in very easy reach that make decent burgers. A bad or even lackluster experience or two is bound to eventually demotivate customers. Just because you are serving a full house does not give you license to be sloppy. I've certainly had worse service, a lot worse, but I'm trying to call this thing before it gets out of hand, while it is still easily fixable.
So Steak and Shake, take my criticisms herein seriously, but not too dramatically.  It was far from a walking out the door deal. I'm simply pointing out a slightly troubling set of symptoms. Like when your kid gets the sniffles, you may not need to rush the toddler to the emergency room, but you should certainly keep your eyes and ears open. This was all small stuff though.
Overall, in spite of the negative comments, this wasn't a bad meal at all, they didn't quite earn a place on my Raven List ("Nevermore!") And yes, there is such a list.


* Styrofoam is a trademarked brand, owned by Dow Chemical Company, and thus, should be capitalized, like Kleenex, Xerox and Toad the Wet Sprocket

Steak 'n Shake on Urbanspoon

No comments:

Post a Comment