1220 Big Bill Rd.Arnold, Mo. (Map)
On the Wide World of Web.
My pen-pal, Suzi will probably huff at this choice. She knows I don't get up to Arnold much and there are lots of restaurants there that she would probably rather me try. But this wasn't my choice, it was Angel's. The dear wife wanted Bandana's, regardless of where it was. The one in Festus burned down a year or so ago.
The reason I don't go to Arnold much is because it is more like a busy suburb than the smaller towns further south in Jefferson County. It is always bustling and busy, lots of stoplights, lots of traffic, and places we've headed to there in the past have typically had lines at the door. We don't do 'wait' well.
We like the food at Bandana's though, a lot. They smoke meat.
Just off one of the many very busy streets, next to one of the many shopping centers, within sight of an Applebees. The parking lot wasn't completely full, but only because it was quite a large lot.
When we went in there were some people waiting, but fortunately for us they were waiting for a large table. Our needs weren't quite so demanding. The young, petite, yet capable hostess sent us to a booth, one of very few empty ones, that was still moist from being wiped down.
Bandana's is fairly large, I didn't get get a square footage estimate, but certainly bigger than a Waffle House. More like a Cracker Barrel.
Speaking of Cracker Barrel, that's what Bandana's smells like. Cracker Barrels usually have a big fireplace and in certain weather keep a fire roaring. Bandana's keeps their smokers burning 24 hours a day. It's a very nice, cozy, comfy, mouth watering aroma.
Bandana's has locations in Missouri, Illinois and Iowa.They also have one in Indiana, in Evansville. Mostly though this is a Missouri chain, the first one, built in 1986, was in Arnold.
We sat at our booth, the din of the filled place drowned out any overhead music, if there was any.
Missy brought our menus and asked about drinks. Tea for me, sweet tea, no ice, for Angel, Adam opted for Pepsi.
The menus are simple. They don't have a ton of different food, If you want seafood, pasta, burgers, you're in the wrong place. Pork, beef, chicken, turkey, ribs and smoked sausage is what they serve, platters or sandwiches. They also have a fair, but uncomplicated list of sides and starters, including some sleepers, things you might not have guessed. Boiled peanuts, fried corn on the cob, breaded and fried green beans and what Angel says is pretty good, Bar-B-Q chicken nachos.
So the decision is which meat would you like, and yes, you can mix and match. It's all pretty good. Some will find smoked meat tasty, but a little dry, don't worry though, each table has the full compliment of Bandana's own sauces, six of them.
For those of you pretending to be watching your weight, I noticed that under each menu item listed was the calorie count for that dish. They are not ashamed of their food, at all, this place is for carnivores.
I finally decided, as did Angel and Adam. Missy brought our drinks and started writing.
Me: Pulled pork sandwich with baked beans.
Angel: Chicken platter plus one rib ($2.00 option) fried corn on the cob and, wanting to try something new, fried green beans.
Adam: 'Pick 2', chicken and beef with fries and corn.
Missy scribbled it all down without comment, then turned away and left us alone. Out came the electronic devices. Adam played a game, Angel looked up something or another, I played with my tablet's two cameras.
The wait grew, people came and went. The evening went south. A family was seated in the both behind us, their small boy spotted them and ran towards them squealing loudly all the way. Like in that old classic movie, '39 Steps' where a cleaning lady discovers a body, opens her mouth to scream, then an immediate cutaway to a high speed steam locomotive tearing down the track with a heavy hand on the shrill, angry whistle. He roared past us, the hair on my neck spiked up like the fur on the arched back of a hissing cat.
He jumped into the bench seat behind us and started rocking, bucking us from behind with every bounce. Angel didn't say anything at the time, but she had to know that this would be a certain mood changer for me. It was, I soured. He finally settled, but the problem with that group did not go away. The patriarch of the family had a deep, booming voice, like a seasoned Baptist minister and from it came knowledge of all things. He never asked a question, he already knew everything about everything and was sure to confirm this on every subject. The man talked loudly and confidently for the full course of their stay.
This was not Bandana's fault, it won't affect my review other than to point out that this is a problem in larger populated, really busy places. There's bound to be a bloviating ass and/or a shrill, undisciplined child in the mix at any given time.
The food took a while which I thought odd. The main course, the meats, are prepared constantly and well ahead of time in big batches and there weren't that many sides offered. Why it took so long, I'm not sure.
But the food did arrive. It was gorgeous. My sandwich was served in a plastic basket on paper, the beans were separated in a shallow ramekin. The sandwich was topped with fresh coleslaw. I grabbed a bottle of Chicago sauce, my favorite, flipped the sandwich over and slathered on a generous portion.
The beans were sweet, sweeter than you might be accustomed to, but very good. This was no one's canned baked beans.
Angel's plate looked massive. A spice rubbed thigh, breast and leg. A handsome rib also looked pretty good as well. The fried green beans were breaded and deep fried. The corn, still on the cob, had scorch marks. The garlic bread looked beautiful. Golden, bright, like the pigtails of a country girl on a sunny day. Adam's corn was more conventional, the fries looked like fries. On his plate you could see the 'stick to the basics' style of Bandana's. Just lovely, simple smoked meat. No fancy garnishes or toppings. If you want sauce, it's on the table.
Also on the table, every table, is a roll of paper towels. They are not just there for the ribs.
Pulled meat usually means shredded. Not necessarily so here. There were sizable chunks on my bun that when bitten, came out fully intact. A couple of these were big enough that the next couple of bites came out with only slaw and bun. Of course, this also meant splatter and spillage. The flimsy napkin that was wrapped around the bargain basement silverware didn't last halfway through the meal.
I strongly advise not wearing your best Sunday-go-to-meetings to Bandana's. The chances of splatter and drip is quite high. So mechanically my sandwich was a bit messy, but that's not a criticism. The taste, oh the wonderful taste, more than made up for that.
My meal was smaller than my family's so I finished first. I picked at a couple of Angel's green beans. They were pretty good, though very heavy for a bean.
Angel tore through her corn like an industrial shredding machine. She left the chicken skin on the plate but the meat had disappeared, the bones appeared acid soaked so devoid of meat they had been rendered.
Missy came by and checked on us, a single takeout box please. Angel was saving the bread. We've always loved the bread, even though Angel said "I think it's probably my changing tastes, but the bread seemed a little oily." This did not stop her from putting it into the box for later though.
"Good, as usual." Adam said. That about says it. The food is good. it is of much better quality than many places, simply, but expertly prepared. Bandana's has been around for nearly thirty years, the recipes and techniques have not changed. They don't need to. This is not reprocessed, cookie cutter, industrial food. It's the real thing.
Busy as it was, except for the longer than expected wait time, the service was professional and solid. Missy didn't chat us up unnecessarily, but she was attentive, patient and thorough.
The price was good, but not dirt cheap, $49.01
The tea? Sorry, but not very good. It was fresh, not cloudy and bitter, but it was pretty weak. I'll give it a minus two and a half. It worked okay to wash the meat down, but tasted only mildly stronger than water.
Will we be back? Not for a while. Location, location, location. Should they build anew in Festus/Crystal City though, you bet. But I simply hate navigating the traffic and crowds in Arnold.