Monday, December 30, 2013

Taco Bell

10255 Business Highway 21
Hillsboro, Mo

You should be. I wasn't.
Angel's pick, and I knew exactly why. I've been bad mouthing the Bell for several years, but in all that time I've not actually set foot in one. I used to go occasionally, but I finally got tired of the lack of variety and the mediocre, at best, flavors. Every time it's Adam's turn to pick a place, his mom suggests to him that if he's having trouble deciding he should just pick Taco Bell. They go frequently for lunches, when I'm not around.
"But dad doesn't want to go there." He would reply.
When Angel told me this, I told her "Does the boy not understand the purpose of these meals? It doesn't matter if I have a preconceived notion or not, it's about going to places and gathering data then publicly declaring my official dislike."
So she picked it.
The Place:
On a hilltop north of downtown Hillsboro, next to McD's. I can't recall ever going into the place. It's been a long, long time since I've been to a Bell, anywhere.
The place was actually fairly attractive inside, browns and oranges, darkly painted ceiling tiles. There were some bistro tables and some half-booths (bench on one side, chairs on the other). It didn't look nearly as fast food-y as I recalled it. It had the look of a Panerea or Crazy Bowls.
The Food:
We stepped up to the counter and were greeted by a petite, almost elfin, young lady wearing the name 'Jennifer' on her name tag. Long brown hair pulled back into a quick ponytail, big, dark bright eyes, and a huge but sincere looking smile. Angel stepped up first and ordered like a pro. It occurred to me that she might have been there even more often that I was aware of. I'd looked at the menu online earlier in the day and had pretty much decided, but took a couple of minutes to scan the overhead to see if there was anything else that might pop out. There wasn't. Angel asked for two shredded chicken burritos and a steak taco. I took the plunge and went with my original, purposeful, strategic choice, a steak gordita and a soft shredded chicken taco. Jennifer said something in her tiny, happy voice that I didn't hear, so she repeated it. "Would you like a drink?"
Of course this offered up a comedic opportunity. "Yes, yes I would."
She smiled even bigger, didn't skip a beat. "Would you like our one dollar medium drink?" She asked. I had nowhere to take that, my shallow comedy tool box now empty. "Yes, that will be fine." was my reply. She'd won that round.
Steak Gordita
Adam stepped through, more deliberate and purposeful, still seeming a little unsure, though I knew he visited often. "Two shredded chicken tacos and a five layer beef burrito." He also asked for the one dollar drink. Copycat.
Angel was already picking out condiments at the condiment bar, packets of mild sauce and napkins. I filled my one dollar cup with unsweetened ice tea, Adam dispensed Dr. Pepper. Angel was not dispensing anything, she'd gone for the secret (in that I wasn't aware of it) drink menu and asked for a cherry limeade, which was assembled/brewed/distilled behind the counter.
Soft Chicken Taco
We found us a regular sized table. The place wasn't very crowded, and hot adult contemporary music played overhead. I don't know exactly what constitutes hot adult contemporary music, but that's how radio station KYKY in St. Louis describes what they play. I didn't recognize any of it, nor the artists names when they were mentioned, but it wasn't country or Christmas music, so I didn't hate it.
It wasn't very long before someone called Angel's name and the trays arrived. Adam sorted it all out and kept the tray for himself. I examined my gordita.
Chicken  Soft Taco, exposed
In Mexico if you order a gordita you will get what we might consider a sheppard's pie, stew served with a thick crust. Taco Bell has decided to screw all that authenticity malarkey, there it's just a soft pita taco. Taco Bell has tried twice to enter the food market in Mexico, both attempts failed, even when they offered Americanized things like fries. I don't know that it was the food that caused it to fail, I think it had to do with their slogan "Make a run for the border" which suffers an entirely different context in Mexico.
The pita bread wrapper was only slightly thicker than the regular soft taco's wrap. My strategy had been to test a gordita, not knowing what it was, and go with steak, since I didn't recall that being offered back in the 80's or 90's or whenever I'd last been to a Bell. I decided on the chicken for the same reason, and to test the soft shell.
I still had the taste in my mouth of the old hard-shelled ground 'beef' (in air quotes) that were so common back in the day. I steered far away from that terrible, greasy, bitter, salty memory.
Chicken Burrito
The steak in the steak taco looked like steak. It was cubed, charred and juicy looking. It had a good mix of toppings on it, cheese, tomato, lettuce and the wrap itself was indeed soft. The meat looked a little suspicious, and to the bite was very, very tender, uniformly so, no gristle or tough spots whatsoever. Too tender to be straight off a cow. I decided that the only way it could be that uniform and tender, other than the beast having been hand massaged and lived a life of leisure in Japan, was if it was beef, broken down and rebuilt like tofu is made from soy beans, highly processed, reconstituted, like their current 'taco meat filling' which can be, by law with that moniker, only 15-20% protein according to many accounts. (The Bell insists that it is at least 88% 'meat', but is struggling with official food labels and some lawsuits.) All  I'm saying is that beef, that smooth, uniform and consistent does not come straight from the cow that way.
Steak Taco,  Cherry lime-ade
The fact of the matter is that whatever it actually is, it did taste pretty good. I finished the gordita and  bit into the chicken taco. It took a couple of bites to find the chicken, which was also the last bite. That same ghastly salty and greasy taste was back. I was done. My feelings were mixed.
Oozing Cheese
Meanwhile, Angel was disassembling her burrito. It was like a pound of potatoes in a ten pound sack. She tore off large chunks of the tortilla and shoved them aside, revealing only a small smattering of actual ingredients, mostly rice. As for actual chicken there was maybe a heaping tablespoon of it, about the same as in the chicken tacos.  She didn't eat most of it, since most of it was the tortilla and the rice, which she said she didn't care for. The steak taco was different though, basically the same as my gordita, but with a slightly thinner tortilla. She had no complaints about that. She added that she loved the limeade at the Bell.
Chicken Burrito, exposed
Adam had no complaints about his, "Pretty good" he said adding that this was college kid food, lots of empty carbs, calories and grease to fuel the fast-burning, raging maturation metabolism. He said this as his burrito developed a leakage, cheese started oozing out a small tear in the tortilla, like thick yellow pus out of a punctured boil. (You're welcome)
Oh, and the tea. I was surprised, it was actually pretty good. Clear, fairly fresh and strong enough to actually taste. Believe it or not The Bell gets a +3.

The place was prettied up, the service at the counter was outstanding, the price, at twenty three dollars and change, very, very cheap.
Several dead trees.
The food was "Not awful".
This is the Bell's forte, the low price. With that price though, there comes a, er,  price, though. The food is made of the cheapest ingredients possible. These ingredients will not properly sustain a mature, slow burning metabolism. All those carbs and fats together will build up as excess sugars and fat in your system (don't even get me started on the sodium) unless you are super-active, or addicted to meth. I shouldn't have to tell a responsible, reasonable adult that this food, if eaten very regularly will make you and your kids fat. Of course this is true of burgers and pizza as well, it's all pretty much the same thing, bread, greasy, fatty meat and a few token veggie toppings with some kind of sauce. Taco Bell gets a lot of grief over their ingredients, but they are really not that much different than most plasticized, high-volume, low cost  fast food offerings.
That being said if you just need a quick and dirty calorie load, then go for it. They are fast and certainly cheap.
My biggest concern though after this trek, was what I noticed at the end of the meal. Look at that pile of refuse. I'm certainly not the greenest, tree-huggiest person around, but crimeny, that was a lot of trash. Some places present to-go orders and inside orders differently, not here. The paper wrappers sort of make sense for a bundle of food being taken elsewhere, but in-store it seems a bit much. The excess paper travels only twenty feet and fifteen minutes from initial deployment to trash bin. That seems to be very, very wasteful and inefficient to me.
So will I go back? Well frankly, I can't think of a reason to. Though the steak gordita was tasty, it was not as tasty as a good burger or a slice of pizza (especially Pizza Junction Pizza!)* and no more nutritious, just cheaper and faster. Hardees is just up the road and has pretty good burgers, as well as decent coffee and WiFi. There's nothing at the bell that really calls to me. I'd just as soon stay home and make a sandwich. I will say this though, The Bell seems to be trying to improve its image. They're just stuck in a price point problem. To keep the college kids stopping in they are forced to use faked, excuse me, processed and enhanced meat and lots and lots of cheap corn and wheat filler material.
You get what you pay for.

* Gratuitous plug for the place my son works.

Taco Bell on Urbanspoon

Monday, December 23, 2013


82 McNutt St.
Herculaneum, Mo.

 Saturday, it was my birthday. We don't make a big deal out of these things, a simple gift, a card and a meal. My choice was to have steamed shrimp at home, as is usually my birthday choice. So we decided to do that on Sunday, which left the Saturday going-out meal to Adam. His birthday was Sunday. We gave him free voice, choose any place you like. He struggled with this decision through late Saturday afternoon, then, somewhat surprisingly announced we were heading to Herky. He's turning out to be a pretty cheap date.
I knew that Wendy's had been trying new types of buns, other than that, I thought I might have the chili.
So we piled into the family truckster and made the cold, wet drive. I played with the GPS, asked Angel why it showed our car but none of the others. She said that would be cool, I posited that most of the tech exists for that and there would also be no reason that our own cars couldn't present themselves as animated avatars instead of the wretched heaps most of us actually drive. I though the Flintstone family car, or maybe the Batmobile, or Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, or one of those monstrosities from Mad Max.
It takes a while to get to Herky, we have to get on I-55 and go north for a while. This is the closest Wendy's though.
The Place:
It was still cold and wet when we got there, even so, there were lots of people out and about, probably ignorant shoppers. By 'ignorant' I mean those that haven't figured out how to do the vast majority of their holiday shopping online.
I indeed decided to have the chili, but I also wanted to try the new buns, so I ordered a 'Single' with cheese and medium fries and some tea to go with it.
Angel asked for the Bacon Portabella Melt on Brioche, fries and lemonade. Adam got a small burger, a 'Son of Baconator' as well, with some of the spicy chicken nuggets, fries and a Coke.
There were some guys working on the serve-yourself liquid dispenser, one standing on a small ladder, the other handing him pitchers of steamy water. One of the condenser lines must have frozen up. As one would expect when non-professionals and professionals alike are doing this, there was water all over the floor, along with a couple of the ubiquitous, OSHA approved, bright yellow 'Piso Mojado' signs.
 The Food:
Angel paid up then headed out to pull some condiments and claim a table, Adam and I waited for the food.
Portabella Bacon Melt on Brioche
They were having to fill the drinks behind the counter so the service was a little busier than you normally might see.
Our order all fit on two trays. We each grabbed one and joined Angel. She had forgotten straws, but other than that she did an acceptable job, ketchup cups for everyone.
Her sandwich looked good and sloppy. The brioche bun looked substantial and pretty. Brioche is  a pastry made like bread, sugar and brandy optional, with a lot more butter than you'd put in standard bread dough, a 2 to 1 flour to butter ratio in most cases. That's a lot of butter. Wendy's probably doesn't use brandy in their buns, I'm just guessing.
Single, Chili, Fries
My own bun was also substantial looking with a pleasing golden brown cleavage. It was more dense that a grocery store bun, which wasn't a bad idea. It held together just fine through the last juicy bite.
The burgers are served with ketchup, mayo and mustard. Wendy's says the mustard is always applied in the shape of a 'W', though it's nearly impossible to tell for sure since once the top bun is pushed on the three sauces smush together. The fries were fresh cut, you could tell, some were left a little dirty (exposed skin). They were much better than the frozen, reprocessed carb-strips that McDonald's and many other fast food places serve.
The burger itself was pretty good, not great, but for a FF chain, not bad.
Adam's spicy chicken strips were a suspicious orange, the shade of orange you find in hot-wing restaurants, never in nature. He liked them fine though. Not too hot.
Spicy Chicken Nuggets
Angel raved about her sandwich, she said that it was a good thing the bun was denser than normal, the mushrooms were really, really juicy.
My tea wasn't as bad as I expected. It wasn't great, but it wasn't three days old either. I'd give it a +1 on the PJTea scale.
The chili was just as I'd hoped, as good as it was about twenty years ago when I first tried. it. I like different chili's, my own, especially, but for restaurant chili Wendy's has always been a favorite. It's not real spicy, a little on the sweet side, but it will clear your sinuses after a while. Which, it did for me.
Quick, simple, satisfying. The repair team continued throughout our visit working on that machine, mops came out a couple of times the mojado was taking on a lot of steamy piso.
Twenty six and a half bucks took care of all of the meals, about standard. The food is better than most of the competition. The burgers are about as good as you could ever expect from a FF chain, the fries, better than most, the chicken as well. Angel is an ardent fan of the lemonade there.
If there were one closer to home, we'd probably go more often. There just aren't as many Wendy's in the area as the other chains, which is a shame. If there were one on my daily route I'd probably stop by for chili to go quite often.
So as a birthday bash it was kind of un-interesting, but it is what the kid wanted. And isn't that what it's all really about?
I indeed had steamed shrimp Sunday night. We've been celebrating this way for several years. We just lay down some newspaper, make a simple salad, put the steamer pot on a cork coaster, melt some butter with garlic and tear in. The skins and tails pile up and when we're done they go in a bag and into the freezer. Mmmmm, future shrimp stock.

Wendy's Old Fashioned Hamburgers on Urbanspoon

Monday, December 9, 2013

Huddle House

13002 Highway 21
Desoto, Mo
On the Wide World of Web

Angel's choice, Adam shrugged his shoulders at the suggestion, I grinned.
I like Huddle House, I even stop in occasionally when I have weekend business in the Fountain City.
Like I did that very morning. Sometimes it's just coffee, that morning I went full plate, 2 eggs, hash browns, bacon and toast. I even took my book in with me and enjoyed a brief respite from the arctic air blast our area had been under for a couple of days.

I'd done quite a bit of shivering and shoveling since then though, I didn't mind going back at all. besides, HH has stuff other than breakfast fare.
The Place:
It wasn't very crowded, the ample, red-shirted staff was bustling, the half dozen, family filled tables were chowing down, everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves.
We were told to seat ourselves and we did, sort of in the middle of things at a table. The massive menus were in their place at the side. I passed them around while our server asked about drinks, tea, sweet tea and Pepsi. She offered to serve our tea with lemon, we said sure.
I looked at the non-breakfast items but the sandwiches sounded too bread-y, and other than the chicken fried steak, nothing jumped out at me. In the end I decided on the Philly Cheese Steak omelette. Kind of breakfasty, kind of not.
Our drinks were delivered and the server asked if we needed another minute to decide, I said "Yeah give us a couple of minutes."
She stepped away and disappeared for over ten minutes. Behind the counter seven or eight staff members chatted and chuckled, they indeed seemed to be enjoying themselves not serving us.
In the meantime we'd all decided and were waiting patiently. I noticed the Christmas tree, a cheap, modest thing, but tasteful. Under it were two Piso Mojado (Wet Floor) signs, the big yellow ones you see in restrooms. Somebody was going to be a little disappointed on Christmas morning.
Finally our server showed up and immediately apologized, she said she been pull aside. More on this later.
We placed our orders.
Me: Phiily Cheese Steak Omelette, hash browns(with cheddar cheese) and wheat toast.
Angel: Prime Rib Tip Stuffed Hash Browns, withe a side of gravy and raisin toast.
Adam: French Toast Platter with bacon and two scrambled eggs.
As we waited Adam and Angel played mahjong on her smart-ass phone. I listened to the music. Country Music. I've said before that I don't care for country music, but I knew what the alternative would be, Christmas music. If there is one thing I dislike more than country music it's that. So I sighed in futility and resigned myself to the brutal aural assault.
The Food:
It was delivered in good time. It was quite pretty, as pretty as the pictures in the menu.
Philly Cheese Steak Omelette
The only problem I could see was the cheese on the hash browns. I could tell it had melted, then hardened, turning the browns into a singular entity. I could tell the browns were well made though, golden brown charred ends meant they'd been allowed to become crispy. The omelette was fresh, bright and fluffy. The toast was. . .  toast.
Our server was pleased to see me snapping the pictures, she even said she was. "I like it when people take pictures of our food, it usually means they like what they see."
I carved up the hash brown brick before it hardened any more. I also carved up half the omelette, juicy thin meat, peppers and onions spilled out. Mmmm, it looked good. The table went quiet as we devoured.
Stuffed Hash Browns
Angel handed me a chunk of her rib tip, it too was juicy and tender. Adam offered up some of his French toast, but he'd already put syrup on it, ruining it for me.It was very pretty though.
French Toast
There were absolutely no complaints from around the table. Well, I had one, but it wasn't worth making a big deal out of. It was, of course, the tea. Cloudy, weak, almost bitter. A minus three if I were to be generous. They make a very good cup of coffee, but somehow the advanced chemistry required to make ice tea was too much for them. A common problem.
Very good food, simple, fresh, well prepared. None of it was especially complicated but it was all very good. The service.
Ah, the service.
If you are a regular reader then you know I've ranted a few times about service issues. I've been reading some books by Anthony Bourdain and feel emboldened pointing this stuff out.
I can make breakfast stuff. Omelettes, hash browns, bacon, eggs, even a pretty mean waffle. I don't need to go to HH or the Waffle House, or anywhere else, to enjoy a good breakfast any time of day. When I go out to eat I want to be fed good food, that's a given, but I also want it served. The food industry is, after all, a service industry.
That our server was pulled aside was a little troubling. More so since I knew what she was doing instead of taking our order. She was washing dishes. I saw her. If what she said was true, that she'd been pulled aside to do that while active tables awaited, then we have a problem. There were a lot of staff people there, there were not that many customers. I assume it was the manager that pulled her aside, so it makes me wonder what he/she was thinking.
To pull someone out of the front to help out is certainly normal business, but while they've got active tables in progress?  There was no hand-off, no notice, she'd simply disappeared from our perspective.
It's a small thing but a telling thing. If this was a management call, it was fumbled. Nobody died, nobody got rushed to the hospital, but the obvious message was that we were less important to the business than that stack of dirty dishes.
Like I said though I like HH. The servers are always friendly and polite and eager to please. I only ask that management think about this particular incident and evaluate its priorities.
The bill came to a modest twenty nine dollars, less than ten bucks per meal. Certainly  reasonable for very good, well made food.
I'll definitely go back, I really like this place.

Note to loyal fans:
Next weekend Angel is heading down to Springfield for an early holiday celebration with her family. Also, I'm on call that weekend. What that means is that I'm not sure there will be a review next week, so don't call 9-1-1 if nothing posts.

Huddle House on Urbanspoon

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Thanksgiving 2013

What? Are you kidding? Do you really think we went out to eat on the weekend after Thanksgiving?
Here it is, Sunday afternoon and my refrigerator still looks like this!

So why would we go out when there's enough calories in the chill box to make every skinny girl in Southern California look like they're from Wisconsin?
That you are here though, I guess you're really bored, or maybe you are just starving for advice on where to go, what to eat . . .
Well okay...

1. Open your fridge.
2. Grab something foil covered.
3. Put it on a slice of bread.
4. Eat it.
5. Repeat until you're completely full.
6. Grab one more deviled egg, seriously, you can hold one more, they're small.

You'd be challenged to find anything anywhere as good as that. It's cheap (now that it's a leftover) convenient, and you don't even need your spouse/partner to put on some pants and find their shoes.
I'm still bloated, stuffed, feeling a bit ill from the massive intake of high quality, delicious home cooking. If you aren't then you should immediately re-examine some of your life choices.
If you honestly don't have any leftovers, just go door to door. I promise, somebody will beg you to take a plateful.

Happy Holiday Everyone!