Monday, April 28, 2014

Pizza Hut

2090 Rock Road
Desoto, MO
On the Web

There are several aspects to this choice. It was Angel's and I had burdened her with specific criteria. It had to be take out.
I was working all day Saturday on an upgrade for work. I got to work from home, but working from home on an upgrade is still working. Dinner time, by my professional, expert calculations would be crunch time, the time of day when I  had the most manual activities to perform. So early in the week I'd made my demand.
Angel almost immediately suggested Pizza Hut. this surprised me a bit since for us, the great mid-Jefferson County Pizza wars are over. Adam works at perhaps the best pizza place in the area, it's a place we also have to drive right past, for an additional seven or so miles, to get to Pizza Hut. I realized though that we were doing this because of our reviewing task, not because of personal preference. Pizza Hut is where we used to get pizza before Pizza Junction opened. So, sure.
The Place:
Amid a cluster of fast food franchises on the northern edge of Desoto. Domino's is a literal stone's throw from the Hut. Neither place will deliver to our address, I don't think, we don't mind the drive to pick it up. We tried Domino's once since moving here. They didn't measure up. After my review, Domino's corporate sent me an apology for the bad service, adding that there were a couple of coupons for free pizzas waiting for me at the store.We never took them up on that.
As it turned out, the upgrade was a wee bit ahead of schedule and by the time Angel called in the order I was at another 'wait for it' stage that would last an hour or so. I volunteered to go pick up the pies, just to get out of the house and for a change of scenery. Working on an upgrade from home is a little like being in a recovery room at a hospital. You're confined to the proximity of the devices that you are tethered to.
It was a pretty Spring afternoon, so the fifteen minute drive was not unpleasant. I parked and strolled up the ramp to the door.
Inside was dark, like a Pizza place should be, but what was more noticeable than the decor and the lighting was the aroma. Nothing smells as wonderful as a bakery or a seasoned pizza joint. Back in my younger days, I worked as a pizza delivery guy for Garcia's Pizza in a Pan in Rantoul Illinois. It was a part time gig that I took on to earn the $450 I needed to adopt my lovely daughter, Leslye. (She loves this story.)
That period of time was dubbed the worst winter on record for Champaign County Illinois, to that point. Wild, terribly cold winds whipped the snow like a brutal sandstorm. Wind chill factors were distant-planet like. To keep the pizza's warm in my bright yellow Pinto Station wagon, I had a thin metal warming box with four racks and two cans of Sterno.
I had that car for a couple of years after this job, it still always smelled like fresh pizza. I loved that. That's what hit my brain when I walked into the store.
They were pretty busy, mostly with take-outs. I've never actually dined in there.
I announced my name to the young man and he rang it up. I was hoping they got the order right, I wasn't paying attention when Angel called it in.
I got home and Angel and Adam were waiting at the door. I grabbed the boxes and stepped up to the door. I knocked on it. "The pizza guy is here!" Adam announced. Angel asked "Do we have to tip him?"
They didn't.
The Food:
One large Super-Supreme, for Angel and I. One large, two topping (pepperoni and black olives) for Adam, plus one box of 16 hot wings, with Ranch dressing on the side. That was for Angel and Adam, I don't care for anyone's hot wings. Not eve Hooter's famous wings. I rarely go to Hooter's but when I do it's to gawk at the young, scantily clad babes, not for the food. I'm just being honest here. My daughter knows this as well. She grew up and became one of Springfield Mo.'s first Hooter's girls. I'm so very proud.
The Super-Supreme we were up-sold on. Angel had originally ordered the standard Supreme, but they said they were running a deal on the Super, more of everything. I grabbed a plate, picked out two slices, made some tea, and sat at the table with my book. I downed the slices pretty quickly, I hadn't eaten since breakfast, so I grabbed one more.
To be honest I didn't give the pizza much thought at the time.  Angel and Adam didn't say much either. My mind was on work, trying to anticipate how many things could still go wrong and really, really screw up the rest of my weekend. It wasn't until later, after I was done with the upgrade and settled into my recliner for the evening, that we even talked about the meal.
"I don't think it was any supreme-ier than the regular supreme." Angel said.
I could only say it was okay, I was preoccupied at the time though. Had it been hideous, I would have remembered. Had it been wonderful, I think I'd remember that too.
That's the thing about franchise pizza though. Like franchise burgers, the best among them is only a manner of a few degrees. Franchises work with tried and tested, rigid recipes and procedures.   A franchise pizza or burger place is no place for an artisan.The goal of franchises is consistency. Go into a Pizza Hut or Burger King in Little Rock, it'll taste pretty much the same as it does in White Plains, NY.
That consistency comes at a price though, lack of creativity. Locally owned places can tweak and tune and try new things every day. Places like Pizza Junction and The Concord Grill know this and capitalize on that originality.
That being said though, there's something a little comfortable about familiarity. Having done some travelling, it was often very, very comfortable to go to a franchise place, you knew exactly what to expect.
Unless the chains get lazy. My review of Domono's is an example of franchise laziness. The folks making the pies assembled them hurriedly and without basic quality control checks. It was as if those pies came off an un-tuned assembly line. This night's Pizza Hut pies showed a little of that as well. There was a lot of dry crust around the edges, more than an inch in many places. That's a lot of real estate on a big pizza that tends to just get tossed. We appreciated the generous amount of toppings, which we actually paid for, but leaving that much of the pie un-topped made us feel a little cheated.
The taste was fine, but not great. Timid sauce, uninteresting cheese. The crust tasted good, toasty, but there was simply too much naked crust.
Angel said the wings, the mild version were good, I'll take her word on that.
Forty bucks was the price for this okay pizza meal. That's not bad since there was easily enough for more than one meal. The tea was fantastic, because I made it. So no chart this week.
Pizza Hut, on a good day, is still better tasting and more consistent than Domino's. That's not really that high of a hurdle though, both of these franchises beat anything that you pull out of your freezer. However, Pizza Hut, my favorite franchise brand, is not nearly as good as Pizza Junction or those my younger brother labors over. These people care about the quality of every single pie. Given the choice here in Hillsboro, I'l stay closer to home next time.

Pizza Hut on Urbanspoon

Monday, April 21, 2014

Five Guys

2255 Michigan Ave
Arnold, Mo

It had been two years since we last took on the Five Guys Burgers and Fries. It was Adam's choice, no argument. I reread the previous post and saw a reminder to myself to order the 'Little' version of the burger. Good advice.
Five Guys was started by, get this, five guys, in Arlington Virginia in 1986. They now boast over a thousand locations in 47 states and 6 Canadian provinces.  A Canadian Province is like a state, just bigger, colder and more polite.
Unique among burger franchises, they serve nothing that has ever been frozen. They don't have freezers. They hand carve their own French fries from whole potatoes. They even post the farm that the day's potatoes are from. They only use peanut oil.
They had a firm plan, a strict set of requirements and standards, and they are incredibly successful.
The Place:
Arnold, in a shopping center that hosts an 'Orange Leaf Frozen Yogurt' store and across the street from a Walmart and a Pay-less shoe store. There's lots and lots of shopping venues in Arnold.
They offer outside seating with umbrella capped tables, but we opted to go inside, because we're civilized.
Bright red, bright white, that describes almost everything about the place. Only the ceiling breaks from this theme, it's black. Bright, shiny tiles accentuate the sparkly cleanness of the place.
You walk in, step up to the counter, glance at the overhead menu, place your order, pay for it, then find a seat.
This process doesn't take very long, they only offer burgers, hot dogs and four other sandwiches. That's it, that's all they offer.
The Food:
This won't take long.
I ordered the Little Bacon Cheeseburger, so did Angel, Adam ordered the regular version of the same thing.
We decided to split on large order of fries. Five Guys, apparently aware of my reputation, doesn't serve ice tea. Soda pop, water... that's all.
I asked for a water, the happy lady at the counter pointed to a #6 wash basin on the counter filled with ice and Dasani bottles and said "Help yourself."
"I'd prefer to be served." I replied.
We all chuckled. Then she whispered, "We're not allowed to touch the tops of the bottles since that's where people drink from."
I was pleasantly surprised to hear this. So I grabbed one, twisted open the top and took a swig. "Tastes funny, like somebody's hand."
Angel and Adam made their way around the pile of potato sacks and back to the soda dispenser. Angel got Mr. Pibb, Adam a Barq's Root Beer. I scooped up some of the complimentary shelled peanuts and found a table.  There were no condiments on the table. If you want mustard and ketchup, you say as much when you order your burger, along with the many other toppings, mostly traditional, at no extra charge. I'd asked for lettuce, tomatoes, pickles, grilled onions, mustard and ketchup. Angel and Adam asked for mayo on theirs. I think they are closet Canadians.
We munched on a few peanuts, I took note that today's potatoes came form Hanks Farm in St. Anthony Idaho. Hanks Farm is owned by Peggy and Douglas Hanks and received $52, 642 in federal subsidies between 2005 and 2012. Mr. Hanks was elected VP of Environmental Affairs for the  National Potato Council in 2010. (Don't you love the internet?)
Idaho is an otherwise worthless and inhospitable state in this country's mountainous northwest. It abuts the Canadian Province of Alberta at its northernmost point. There are only 19 people per square mile in Idaho, only slightly more densely populated than the surface of the moon.
Idaho is famous for its potatoes because by the time it attained statehood in 1890, all the cool things to be famous for were already taken. The state bird, dance and flower of Idaho is also the potato.(Some of this may be incorrect, I got bored in a few short minutes just reading about that awful state.)
Our number was called, Adam jumped up and fetched the tray, or maybe it was Angel, I don't actually remember, but somebody other than me picked up the food.
The burgers were foil wrapped, the fries came stuffed in and protruding from a large disposable cup. We each tore into the foil and grabbed a handful of fries. The burgers were stuffed to the rafters with our chosen toppings, unlike the burgers at McD's and the like, which tend to treat lettuce, tomatoes and pickles like cash down the drain. On my burger they were generously applied. It wasn't even that big of a burger. I squeezed mine to make it all stay in place, juices shot out of all sides, luscious, ooey, gooey, delicious juices. Even the thick meat was juicy.
The fries were not juicy, they were fried to a perfect dark golden brown, firm and  fresh. Biting into these spud sticks confirmed that these were indeed, hand cut from fresh potatoes, there's no mistaking that taste and texture. Hat's off to Doug and Peggy Hanks, these were some delicious potatoes.
We all started stuffing ourselves with the burgers and fries. Overhead, a ubiquitous 'Journey' song blasted, followed by something quirky by Beck. My only complaint about the place was that the music was too loud.
The burgers and fries were, to put it mildly, awesome. These burgers are several steps above any other franchise burgers. Perhaps not as good as The Concord Grill in Affton, or a handful of other non-franchise places, but for a 1000+ location chain, really, really good. The attention to freshness, simplicity and quality stand out. The staff was very friendly and accommodating, the lady behind the counter came around and chatted a couple of times, cleaning off tables between customers.The price was very reasonable, thirty five dollars for all the burgers, fries and peanuts we could hold. Five Guys smartly keeps prices down by limiting the menu. Like I said, if you want something other than a burger or a kosher hot dog, you're in the wrong place. I also wish there were more convenient locations, I hate having to go all the way to Arnold. That's the only reason why we haven't been back in two years.

Five Guys Burgers and Fries on Urbanspoon

Monday, April 14, 2014


6441 South Lindbergh
St. Louis, Mo.
On the Web
On Facebook

Oddly enough, we hadn't been to Denny's in three years. This surprised me a little when I looked it up. It seemed more familiar. But some places are like that. Denny's has been around since 1953, originally as Danny's Donuts, changing its name to Denny's in 1959.Their 'Grand Slam' breakfast has been on the menu since 1977. Not many non-fast food franchises carry a menu item that long.
Maybe that's why it seems familiar, they've changed a little over time, but they are also still very much the same.
Of course they offer much, much more than their famous breakfasts, but I usually associate it with bacon, eggs, sausage, etc. I looked on the menu and found a 'Fish and Chips' plate, but I knew better. It might actually be good, but why risk it?
Angel had picked it because she was jonesing for French Toast and hash browns. Adam and I did not argue.
The Place:
At a very busy section of south Lindbergh, just across from a huge mall. Lots of shoppers whizzing by. This section of road is near the I-270 and I-255 junctions and thus, is twisted, wide, busy and a bit confusing. Angel was second guessing her exit immediately. Not that there's a wrong way to turn, you're never very far off, but with so many major routes intersecting, one could easily find themselves in an infinite loop.
I would have just gone up Highway 21/Tesson Ferry, then south on Lindbergh, I'm a right-angle kind of guy. Angel wanted to trim the corners. She was never lost, but did end up in the wrong lanes a couple of times.
It's a typical Interstate-like Denny's, the tall, familiar sign makes it easy to spot. Inside it is subdued, darker carpets and walls. Lots of tables and booths, the kitchen line open to public viewing. We were seated in a booth near the food line.
Sheree greeted us and asked about drinks and handed out the menus. Since I'd read my earlier review of the place, I ordered coffee rather than tea.
Angel ordered something called Caramel Coffee, which sounded sickening to me. Adam asked for an iced coffee, also awful sounding.
The Food:
The menus are very large, very colorful and have pictures of just about everything. This makes the menus unwieldy, but it is iconic. You get these massive billboard menus at Denny's, its always been that way.
I considered several things but always came back to the breakfast page. The aroma of the place is of smoky breakfast meats and syrup. I don't care for the syrup stench, you can tell this by the fact that I just referred to it as a stench. It's a long story, one you can find here, under the section 'I Digress'.
Sheree came back and set three glasses on the table. "Don't get excited, it's just the water." She said. I took that as a cue. "Oh boy, the water's here, the water's here!" I shouted.
Sheree gave me a matronly glare. So did Angel.
I had sized up Sheree immediately. She's been serving tables a long, long time, I could tell just by seeing her fly from table to table, multi-tasking with a seasoned pro's efficiency and demeanor. I knew she'd been fielding smart-ass attitude for her entire career. I also knew she could handle it. These were our roles. The seasoned waitress versus the snarky, less-funny-than-he-thinks, middle aged guy. It's a play as old as diners themselves.
She took off again, promising to return.
Caramel Coffee
She was very busy. Several times I heard the younger, less experienced crew members call her name for advice or guidance. I knew we were in good hands.
She came back with our drinks and flipped open her order pad.
Angel started with Chicken Fired Steak, 2 eggs, hash browns and plain white toast.

I struggled because I  couldn't find the combination I was wanting. "Can I get French toast with a Grand Slam?" I asked. Sheree wrinkled her face. "There's a French toast menu that you can add sides to." She said. I flipped to the full page 'Build your own French Toast' plate page. I let out a frustrated sigh. "That's really complicated. How about I tell you what I really want and you can tell me what it is that I want to order."
She frowned a little, in that matronly way.
"Two eggs, bacon, hash browns and French toast." I told her.
"I can do that." she said confidently. She scribbled something down.
Adam asked for a 'Grand Slamwich', breakfast on bread, with some hash browns.
Iced Coffee
As she was folding her book, Angel spoke up. "Oh, and we'd like some of the Pancake Poppers too!"
"The Pancake Puppies?" Sheree replied. "Yeah, that's it."
These are what they sound like, golf ball sized and shaped pancakes, deep fried. Like pancake Hush puppies, thus, 'Pancake Puppies.'
The place was quite busy, I knew it would be several minutes before the food arrived. I spent the time productively though, using the free WiFi to download another version of Angry Birds on my tablet. Angel and Adam goofed off with their devices too. We had to, otherwise conversation might have taken place. Nothing good ever comes from casual conversation amongst family members.
In the meantime, someone refilled my coffee, Sheree, maybe, I wasn't really paying attention.
The food did arrive and it looked great, even better than the pictures.
Mine arrived on three plates, which I quickly reduced  to two by scraping the hash browns onto the egg and bacon plate. I was a little concerned about the French toast, I'd neglected to tell Sheree to hold the powdered sugar. There wasn't a whole lot, but as I've said a thousand times before on these hallowed pages, I've weakened my tolerance of sugar over the past couple of years. I can usually handle it as a fractional part of something, like in baked beans, barbecue sauce, sesame chicken, but as a frivolous condiment, not so much. I flipped the Texas-style toast over and tapped most of it off. The resulting pile made up about a teaspoon and there was still a little left on the bread, but it was better than nothing.
Staring at the little pile of powder,  I formed a rock-solid comedic idea. Using my butter knife, I scooted the powder into a straight line, unwrapped my straw, but before I could even get the straw to my nose, Adam figured it out. "Stop it, just don't." He chided. He doesn't appreciate true comic genius.
Grand Slamwich
His Slamwich looked huge. Huge and delicious! Two eggs, and a generous variety of breakfast meat on toasted and buttered potato bread. Yeah, a 1320 calorie sandwich. Add the hash browns and you have 1500+ luscious, delicious calories.
No one ever said this stuff was 'health food'.
Angel's CF Steak came with her requested add-on, extra gravy. To Angel, gravy is it's own elite food group. She doesn't have it very often, honestly, but when she does, she likes a lot of it.
CF Steak, extra gravy.
She also likes her eggs scrambled. I do sometimes, but not when I go to a place with a mastery of egg-making. I prefer mine over-medium. Places like Denny's, Huddle House, Waffle House, and IHOP pride themselves on their egg-making. I rarely get a bad egg at any of these.
She glopped her gravy onto her plate, swirling everything into it. The toast, she said, was a bit too dry, but everything else was great. White toast, dry? (insert 'DUH!' here')
Pancake Poppers, er, Puppies.
Something was missing though. "Where's the pancake poppers?" She asked us. Sure enough they hadn't been delivered. Sheree came by after a few minutes and we mentioned it. She sighed and frowned. "I'll check." She said and dashed off as if on a Holy mission. I had the feeling someone was about to face-plant the grill. She came back and apologized, then a few minutes later brought out the plate, they were fresh out of the fryer. She also delivered two ramekins of syrup and sat one down right in front of me.
She apparently hadn't seen the memo. Seeing my eyes bug out, Angel snatched up the little bowl and stuck it on the far side of the table, saving the entire joint the ravages of a violent and noisy panic fit.
You think I'm exaggerating. I'm not (much). The smell of syrup touches off the exact same gag reflex in me as a rotting, split-open skunk on a hot day.  I'm told this is not a common reaction, though I do not understand that. I suppose It's a good thing I'm not Canadian.
The food was mostly very, very good. There was Angel's dry toast, and Adam said his sandwich was great, but a bit too big. The biggest, and only real 'fail'' was the Pancake Puppies. I recognized it immediately. I only had one, but could tell there was something not quite right. It tasted, familiar, not pancake familiar but something else. Then it occurred to me what my mind was telling me I was eating.  "Funnel Cake!" I shouted quietly and without passion. "That's it exactly." Adam replied.
Not that there's anything wrong with funnel cake, as long as you're at a county fair where you expect to go home with a queasy, greasy feeling in your gullet. This happens when you inexplicably yet consciously order something you know has been cooked in thrice burnt, five day old oil by vagabonds, hobos, thieves and one-armed scalawags.  Angel agreed. The taste was exactly that of deep fried sugar in old grease.
Everything else though, was exceptional. My toast was grilled well and soft  in the middle. It still managed to sop up its share of egg yolk. The hash browns, we all agreed, were the crispiest we've ever had, perfect. And the service? Sheree was a real peach. Professional, efficient and solid. Sure the Puppies were late, but they weren't really very good, I'm not sure any of that was on Sheree though. She took very good care of us and didn't react rudely or violently at my poking at her. She had a good sense of humor and plenty of patience. She should of course, be granted an immediate and generous raise, as well as a good parking spot.
The tab came in at around thirty three bucks, not bad for a delicious, sating meal.
On the way home we were discussing the meal.
"I wish the Pancake Poppers had been better." Angel told us.
"Puppies, Pancake Puppies." Adam corrected her.
"I don't know why I can't remember that." She replied.
"Let's see, you are a dog trainer, boarder and rescuer. Yet somehow, the word 'puppies' eludes you." I commented.
"That is weird." Adam added.
"It has to be Freudian, or maybe even Pavlovian." I summarized.

Denny's on Urbanspoon