Monday, March 24, 2014

Cafe Arnold

3946 Jeffco Blvd
Arnold, Mo.
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There was an article in the county weekly paper that said that Cafe Arnold was reopening this week with new ownership. We'd not been there under the previous ownership, so we thought we'd give the new owners a fresh perspective. I know, I've told you countless times that I don't like going to Arnold, too busy, wind-y roads, traffic lights, lots and lots of traffic. I looked this address up though and found out it was on the southern edge of Arnold, out of the way of all that mess.
The Place:
In a shopping center that also holds a Chinese restaurant, a nutrition store, and across the parking lot, a McDonalds. Sort of hard to see from the road, the sign is large, but it is sort of hidden amongst several others.
We went in and were immediately greeted by two or three staff members at the reception counter. They asked whether we wanted bar side or dining side. Dining. They led us to a booth in the back.
The place was dimly lit, dark carpets, dark wainscoting and subdued wall colors. This was not slapped together cheaply, it looked substantial and like it had been around for a while. Not grimy, at all, just lived in.
In the dining area there were seven flat screen TV's all muted and showing basketball. Some sort of tournament of some kind, I think I saw a NCAAP logo or something like that. No one was watching it though, not  even in the bar area. A box was playing music, 90's stuff, Angel said that back in the day it would have been called 'Alternative'. As she was saying this I was trying to wrap my head around the notion of the 90's being 'back in the day'.  It was loud enough to hear the lyrics, but not enough to drown out conversation. Plus, I kind of liked most of it. Beck, Cake, etc.
Amanda, a young, friendly and energetic pony-tailed girl (lady) introduced herself, handed out menus and asked about drinks. Tea, Diet Coke (no ice) and root beer. "We serve root beer in a bottle, is that okay?" She asked Adam. Of course it was okay.
Amanda listed off a couple of specials, neither of which appealed to me, I'd done some research ahead of time and knew pretty much what I wanted.
Angel asked for the toasted ravioli as an appetizer. We're sort of comparing them with other places apparently, since everyone offers them.
The Food:
The menu was several pages, but not too complicated. It was mostly (more later), well arranged. I glanced over it knowing that the on-line menu I had seen, I think from the previous ownership, would be different than the new one in front of me.
On the online menu I had seen a 'slider' plate. Four mini sandwiches, barbecue pork, ground sirloin, chicken, etc. I looked on the 'Sandwiches' page on my menu, couldn't find them. Well, I knew there would be changes. Hey, a BLT!
Sounded pretty good. I love BLT's. Unfortunately it is very hard to review a restaurant based on that. Bacon, lettuce tomato, mayo, bread. The problem is that the restaurant adds no flavors to this, nor is much technique involved. Some places use thick bacon, some thin, a lot of bacon, or just a little, but it is really hard to screw up a BLT.(though it has been done)
Angel leaned over to me and asked if I was going to get the sliders as I had said I would. "I didn't see them." I told her. She shoved her menu in front of me, the 'sides' page I believe it was. There they were. Hmm, odd. Whatever, sounds good. Three kinds, mix or match.
Amanda brought our drinks, the tea looked dark and clear, always a good sign. It wasn't strong on flavor, but definitely better than most places serve up We'll call it a +3 or +4.
We'd all  made up our minds, Angel surprised me.
"Fish Tacos." She said, adding some some sick side dish of cauliflower and broccoli (blech!).
I couldn't recall Angel ever ordering fish tacos, ever. I knew I hadn't, this seems to be a rather recent offering, at least to the places we frequent. I've heard lots of people talk about them for quite a while, it just was never something I craved. Loyal fans will recall that I am pretty picky about fish, just see last week's O'Charley's review. I have several specific preferences for fish and 'taco' has just never appealed to me. No, I have never tried one. If you think this is finally, absolute proof that I am closed-minded, you haven't been reading this journal very long. I know I am, I've never tried to hide that fact. So yes indeed, like every child ever created, I can dislike something just fine without ever having tried it.
Adam ordered the sliders as well, one of each, pork, beef, chicken. I asked for two pork, one beef, we both asked for fries with that.
Amanda had also brought the ravioli along with three saucers and a big pile of paper napkins.  The marinara looked thick and chunky, almost salsa-like. I dipped one, turned it ninety degrees and dipped it again, a method I invented to avoid the need for double-dipping a two bite treat. The sauce was indeed flavorful. The pasta was thick-filled, the filling was pretty good, meaty and cheesy. The pasta itself was a little doughy, but overall I liked it. Angel and Adam disagreed about it, Angel liking it, Adam, less so.   I'll call it a draw. Not the best in every way, but better than some, not as good as others. Mostly, the sauce was the best component.
Amanda took off, we all pulled out our electronic devices. This is something we do, because we live in the 21st century. We finished off the ravioli rather quickly, Amanda stopped by and interrupted our e-stares. "Can I take that away for you?" she asked, pointing to the empty dish.
"Can't you see we're busy?" I scolded. Fortunately she laughed, as Angel thrust her elbow into my side.
The place was starting to fill up, I mean, really fill up. I looked up and saw that all the tables were occupied. I overheard a waitress explaining to some other diners some of the 'different' menu choices, meaning these were people that were regulars during the previous ownership.
Angel looked up as well. "Oh, my. I guess 'dining side' also means senior citizen side." I looked around. Sure enough of the twenty or more tables, we were nearly the youngest group there.
"I think that has more to do with the time of day than anything else." I told her. We do eat out early, starting around five P.M. further perpetuating stereotype that older people eat dinner earlier than youngsters. We do it, not because we're old, it's because of the rigid dog schedule. The dogs dine at 4:30, and while they are sleeping off their meal, we sneak out.
Soon enough the plates arrived. My eyes popped open when I saw Angel's. There were four, count 'em four big thick tacos, served on a metal taco rack. (yes, there apparently is such a thing)
In comparison our sliders and fries looked quite small. Not too small, for my appetite, just about right. In fact I had been pleased that there were only three, not four sliders. The portion of fries was also, pleasantly smaller than expected.
I opened up my sliders. I was a little disappointed. There was not enough pork to cover the small, toasted buns. The same with the beef. It was thick, like made from a ball of beef then flattened a little, but it too was
smaller than the small bun. You can see this in the picture.
However, the taste of both kinds of slider was very, very good. the toasted buns were excellent as well. I just wish they'd filled the buns a little more.
Angel asked Adam about his fries.
"Look!" he said, holding one up horizontally. This was in reference to last week's O'Charley's meal, where the fries were limp. These were able to support their own weight, crisp, as fries should be. Adam really, really didn't like O'Charley's. "Boring and manufactured" He had exclaimed at the time. This reference came up again a couple of times during this meal. "It tastes like they actually made it here." He said of his sliders, instead of the 'manufactured' O'Charley's food.
Angel tore off a juicy chunk of one of her tacos and handed it to me. I tried it.
It was awesome.
Yeah, I mean it, Awesome!  The tortilla was cloud-soft, the fish, and there was plenty of it, was flaky, tender, and delicious. It was perfectly cooked. The sauce and veggies were delightful as well.
Angel pointed out that the fish wasn't breaded and deep fried. "I've seen some of these that looked like fried frozen fish sticks broken up." I had to admit that I had always assumed that's what it was supposed to be. But this, this was something I would actually order. This was something I could look forward to. So yes, Cafe Arnold has changed my life!
However, as I had secretly predicted, Angel could not finish even the third taco, much less the fourth. So she asked Amanda for a box.
Warning: I'm going to go a little long here.
  If you are in a hurry, suffice it to say, for the most part, we loved it. Definitely an A+ for a first week opening.
The bill came in at a very respectable forty six dollars and change. Almost exactly what we paid for a very sub-par meal at O'Charley's the week before.
Since Cafe Arnold is a place we'd never been to, and since it is under new ownership, I'm going to treat Cafe Arnold like a brand new place. I do not know about the history, whatever it was or was not before, to me, is moot.
Loyal fans to this site, yes there are a couple, will know that I tend to give new places a little latitude. I understand that there's a new menu, new staff, new policies and procedures. It also means that we'll visit again in a few weeks/months to see how many of those start-up 'infractions' have been worked through.
Firstly though, the tastes were great. The pork and beef sliders and the fish tacos were simply quite tasty. The service, Amanda especially, was excellent. Well, the service was great throughout the meal.... the end of it, not so much. The wait for the bill and the wait for the receipt were way too long. But like I said, I understand new staff, policies and procedures. The place was very well staffed. I saw at least a dozen staff members just from my vantage point. None were standing around or idle. They all seemed to know what they were doing.
Coverage in the dining area seemed a bit light. Part of the delay at the end was because Amanda was covering a couple of, at least, larger groups. I watched as she patiently explained menu items, etc. to various diners. She was doing her job and doing it quite well. Perhaps spread a little thin though.
Our perspective of her was excellent. She knew the menu, answered our questions, cleared our table, refilled the drinks, all without a problem. I suggest she be given an enormous raise, she was working very, very hard and was not getting noticeably flustered.
The food, as I said, was quite tasty indeed. There were a couple of issues though that could be fairly easily corrected, in my opinion.
1. Fill up the sliders. The meat is not that expensive, the buns are small. The slider plate cost as much as the enormous fish taco plate. There was plenty of meat in those.
2. The menu was a little confusing about the sliders:
"Fresh mini toasted hamburger buns with your choice of cheese, lettuce . . . pickle and French Fries."
I recommend re-writing that part. It sounded to me like the fries were considered a topping instead of a side.
Maybe the sliders are considered a side or an appetizer, I suppose that's possible, but maybe they should be also offered as a 'sandwich' option. That's where I was looking for them, maybe, that's just me. They tasted great though.
3. Enormous taco plate. I'm curious, maybe it's just us, but how many tacos get 'boxed'? That sure was a lot of food. They were very, very good. Angel reheated the fourth one on Sunday afternoon, she said it was still really good.
4. You might likely disagree, but here's another thing I'd really, really like to see. From my seat I could see six of the seven TV's. The only one I couldn't see clearly was the one directly over my head. Could you please, please tune one or two of them to something other than sports?
I understand that sports is/are quite popular. But nobody in the senior citizen's, er, I mean, dining side of the restaurant even looked up at the games very often. I heard no one talking about them. Maybe things were different amongst the younger, hipper, bar side of the house. I understand there are eight TV's in there, but on our side, no one was particularly interested in the games. We probably would be if the Cards were in the pennant race, sure, but Texas vs. Michigan basketball (or whoever it was)? Not so much. How about HGTV, or the Weather Channel, or whatever that channel is that runs those 'How It's Made' marathons on weekends. Have you  ever watched that? The other day I got trapped in my recliner watching them assemble diesel locomotives, followed by a detailed accounting of  producing bronze cabinet door handles. It's simply mesmerizing.
Anyway, I'll  understand if you don't, but I sure would like it if somebody offered alternative options like that.
5. I mentioned this earlier. The meal service was fine, excellent in fact, but the staff seemed to be deployed a little lopsided. I'm pretty sure this will clear up as things become more familiar, but excessive waiting for the bill/receipt can be frustrating.
We really, really liked the food. "Better than expected" is what Angel said, then added "I'm not sure exactly what I was expecting, but it was better than that."
Well, I warned you that this would run long. I'm trying to be constructive though, not harsh and pointlessly critical. If we didn't like the place, we wouldn't bother with so much detail.
Good job, new owners, good job!

Cafe Arnold on Urbanspoon

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