Monday, June 30, 2014

Ginny's Kitchen & Custards

7022 Highway 61/67
Barnhart, Mo.
On Facebook

Why this place? This is why:

Yeah Sloppy Joes, at a restaurant. It sounded good. I've never had a Sloppy Joe anywhere but at home and back in grade school, the cafeteria would offer it up as 'Barbecue Beef on Bun'   It might have been a trademark thing.
According to the real world, user-contributed encyclopedia that very closely resembles Douglas Adams' "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy", Wikipedia:
"Marilyn Brown, Director of the Consumer Test Kitchen at H.K. Heinz in Pittsburgh says their research at the Carnegie Library suggests that the Sloppy Joe began in a Sioux City, Iowa, cafe as a "loose meat sandwich" in 1930, the creation of a cook named Joe."
Before that time 'Sloppy Joe' was what people called diners that served cheap, low grade food, quickly. You know, like McDonalds.
I wanted to try a Joe that someone, a professional, had made. Would it be just like the canned stuff I'm most familiar with?
The Place:
 On the main drag that runs North/South between I-55 and the river. The address says Barnhart, but there's a bunch of towns on that run, pretty much end to end, all the way from Festus to Arnold. So it's along there. Just drive until you see a big ice cream cone on a pole.
It has a walk-up window, convenient if you are that incredibly lazy, or if you want to dine outside with your pooch. They offer doggy treats as well. Inside it is bright and happy. A very wide menu is overhead, they offer much more than you would think an ice cream parlor would.
We'd had their burgers before, liked them pretty well. We stepped up to the counter and were greeted by a cheery young blonde girl. She wasn't wearing a name tag, which surprised me. I thought there was a state law or something that required minimum wage food service workers to wear name tags. I guess not. Her bright yellow t-shirt did say 'Ginny's' on it, so that might have been her name, I'm not sure.
As Adam and Angel read the overhead, I got Ginny's attention. "Do you serve Sloppy Joes?" I asked, with authority.
"Only on Tuesday." She answered.
"Only on Tuesday. The guy that makes them only works on Tuesday." She added.
This seemed odd to me. Not only did they serve Sloppy Joes, but they were made by a specialist. Obviously an artisan, probably very particular about his craft. Those must be some pretty special Sloppy Joes.
"You can get one on Tuesday." She assured me.
"That is not at all helpful." I scolded. I can't go there on Tuesday. I work during the week and don't get home in time. Barnhart is to the east and north of home, work is well to the north and slightly west. Too far to go after one has already gone so far. . .
So, no Sloppy Joe. Very disappointing.
But the burgers are good.
The Food:
Angel ordered first, a double combo with cheese, tomato, lettuce, onion, ketchup and mustard. That sounded pretty good, so I asked for the same thing. The combo comes with fries and a drink, Angel chose orange soda.....  I don't know why....   I asked for unsweetened tea.
Adam stepped up and asked about the Monster Chicken Sandwich, it seemed to satisfy his needs, so he went for that, with a Pepsi.
We slid into a booth near the front. I was still grumbling about the Sloppy Joe. "Why do they only have one guy that can make it?" Adam asked.
"Obviously he has specific, special skills." I rebuffed.
"He can open a can?"
Adam doesn't like Sloppy Joes, he would never understand.
We fiddled with our E-devices while we waited. I was pleased to notice that Ginny's had hassle-free WiFi.
They also had overhead music. Country Music. I then understood why there was a 'No Weapons Allowed' policy. I might have taken all those speakers out if I were armed. At least it wasn't very loud. It still sounded to me like a dozen cats with accordions jumping up and down on a trampoline though.
The place was neat as a pin, it always is. The ample staff took pretty good care of cleanup duties between orders. On the front wall were several trophies and a couple dozen framed certificates. Ginny's gets lots of awards.
It wasn't long before our number, 34, was called. Adam took the walk. What he brought back was exactly as expected. Thin rough spatu-mashed patties, the way I love 'em. Tomato, onion and lettuce portions were fresh, and right-sized. Why they put it all on the bottom, I'm not sure, but they did.
The fries were predictably thin and crispy. And not too salty. Adam said they weren't salty enough, but I'm right on this.
His sandwich, though the word 'monster' might be a stretch, was indeed substantial. Two breasts, not deconstructed and rebuilt like chicken nuggets. Real chicken breast. I always prefer full, all natural breasts to those that have been artificially enhanced, ask anyone, I'm always saying something to that effect. They don't have to be large, but they do have to be the real thing. I won't touch a nugget.
My only problem with breast in general  is that it they can be a bit dry. According to Adam, this may have been the case here. He said they were a little on the bland side. It's why I rarely have a chicken breast sandwich. They tend to be dry or bland.
Our burgers were perfect though. Simple, fresh, tasty.
I like Ginny's very much. But Adam made a good point.  A couple of miles nearer or farther in any direction will get you just as good a burger. The Stoplight in Festus, 5-guys, Steak and Shake, all have as good burgers. But Ginny's is about more than burgers, recall, they do shakes and sundaes and ice-creamy things. I am sure they are quite exceptional. I just can't be the judge of that, a bit out of my field of expertise.
But the tea wasn't too bad.
I bet the Sloppy Joes are awesome as well. I may never know. I can't do Tuesdays.
The bill came to twenty-something, Angel forgot the receipt. It's so hard to find good help.
Adam was not impressed at all, that's why he brought up the other places with equally good burgers. Angel and I thoroughly enjoyed ours, and except for the abysmal soundtrack, and the lack of available Sloppy Joes, we thought very well of the place. For us, it is a bit of a long drive. But if you happen to be cruising down 61/67, go ahead, park it under the big ice cream cone, grab your mutt, and enjoy a perfectly satisfying meal.


You may have noticed that there wasn't a review last week. We were sick, summer colds. Sure, we ate, but everything tasted like phone book pages sauteed in zit-pus. We had burgers, but they may as well have been the Sunday paper for all we could tell. I thought at the time that we should go to White Castle, that taste would have been an improvement for that vile place.

Ginny's Kitchen & Custards on Urbanspoon

Sunday, June 15, 2014


1671 Clarkson Rd.
Chesterfield, MO
On the  Web

First, to answer the big question. Why go all the way to Chesterfield for a franchise burger?
I'm glad you asked. I was on assignment.
Earlier in the week I received an email, via the 'Email Me' pushbutton on this page, from a gentleman by the name of Brad Garoon, from New York City:
I found your blog while searching for food lovers in St. Louis. On Burger Weekly I periodically run a series of Smashburger reviews from all over the country, as each state has at least one unique burger on the menu. I typically pull reviews by other burger (or general food) bloggers, and have them plug their blogs and twitter feeds, etc in the review. Would you be interested in doing a review of the St. Louis Burger at Smashburger in Chesterfield or St. Charles, Missouri? You'd be able to plug your blog in the review, and I'd shout you out on all of BW's social medias.
It's all about the networking.
New York City!?!?
Yeah, Brad's blog, Burger Weekly is kind of a big deal in the eatery review world. Apparently there are a lot of burger joints in the Big Apple, and Brad is determined to try them all. Sure, he's probably nuts, but his reviews are succinct, informative and his reach is comprehensive.
Why he has expanded to reaching out to others for assistance for a place I'd never even heard of, I'm not sure.
This weekend was fortuitous for such an effort though.
Chesterfield is well outside of our preferred range for these reviews as it takes, in light traffic, forty five minutes to get there from the house. This weekend though I would be going alone. Angel was completely booked with dogs, Adam had been off work all week and this was his first day back, so I decided that I'd just get up on Saturday morning, dope myself up with bad coffee and trek on up to Chesterfield, the closer of the two St. Louis options. So that's what I did.

The Place:
I'd never been to Chesterfield. Simply no reason to go there. It's west of the city and is mostly fairly new
development. Since St. Louis was settled in the the early 1800's it was known as the starting point for westward expansion. That also describes the history of St. Louis itself. The hub of the city, on the banks of the mighty Mississippi, is not quite what it once was. For nearly two centuries, the population center of St. Louis has been drifting west. Most of the newer, more affluent and growing areas are now well west of the famed Gateway Arch. Chesterfield and St. Charles are both out there. Most of the people I work with settled in towns like this. Newer, less history, less crime.
When you meet someone that says they are from St. Louis, ask them to be more specific. Chances are they aren't from the city itself, but twenty to forty miles outside of it. Like me.
I didn't see a building older than twenty five years old there. Upscale, handsome, skinny people on bicycles, doing smart, ecologically friendly and healthy things. I felt a bit out of my element.
Smashburger was a little hard for me, an outsider, to find. All the shopping centers looked alike, signage was, by ordinance, minimal. I finally found the right place, next to a Trader Joe's.
It was about 10:30 not many people there at all, everyone was still golfing, with the kids at the lacrosse field, or doing whatever busy, socially conscious, upscale people do on Saturday mornings.
I'd read ahead a little. The lady at the counter, whose name I did not get, greeted me and asked if I'd like to see a menu. I said yes, even though I knew what I'd be ordering. I ordered, paid and was told it would be five to seven minutes. In the meantime I found out from the lady that she'd been there since the store opened, three years, and that she'd come from the St. Charles location where she had worked since it opened. A Smashburger lifer, impressive.
As I waited I looked around. Clean, modern, not plastic feeling. Tall ceilings, exposed and painted flat black metal rafters and ducts. the primary color theme was black, red, and off-white. On each table were plenty of napkins and condiments, the basics, mustard and ketchup, name brand, not generic.
Overhead, music played, contemporary pop, Katy Perry, et al. Not exactly my favorite form of music, but infinitely better than Country or Nordic Opera.
Sure enough, in about five minutes the lady brought out my food, on paper, in a metal rack-tray. I'd already poured myself some un-sweet ice tea.
The Food:
Had I just stumbled into the place I would have probably ordered one of the many other burgers offered. But since I was on assignment, I ordered the St. Louis Burger, and Smash Fries.
Smashburger does this, as Brad pointed out. Everywhere they put a restaurant, they develop a regional burger that is only sold in that area. A nice gimmick. Kansas City has one, you guessed it, slathered in barbecue sauce.
In Ohio you'll find the Buckeye Burger, laced, I suppose, with crushed buckeyes. I could look it up, but I'm too lazy. You get the idea.
So what makes a burger a St Louis Burger?
To answer, you'll need to know some local history and about St. Louis style pizza.
The popular regional pizza is thin crust with a sweet tomato sauce, topped with Provel cheese. The trademark 'Provel' is currently held by a subsidiary of Kraft Foods. The recipe was developed more than fifty years ago specifically to top what was to become St. Louis style pizza. You can hardly find the stuff at all outside the region. It is a combination of Swiss, Cheddar and Provelone. It was designed primarily for texture more than distinct taste. When you bite into  it it does not string out like mozzarella and at room temperature it remains soft, not crusty. It has a mild, salty taste.
What Smashburger did was to take that regional cheese product, added green peppers, onions and mushrooms, just like you'd find on a typical local pizza. They put this on top of their standard 'smashed' burger and all that goes on a pretzel bun.
If it was really trying to scream "St. Louis!", it would be on a Gus' soft pretzel, lined with toasted ravioli and with a side of gooey butter cake, personally served by Yadier Molina himself, asking you where you went to high school. Chuck Berry would, of course, be rocking the joint.  (St. Louis folks will get all of those references.)
On the side was the real prize of this franchise, the Smash Fries. Hand tossed with garlic, rosemary and olive oil. Shoestring style, crispy, crunchy and delicious. Darned near addictive little things.
A Smashburger is 100% Angus beef, never frozen, balled up then put on a grill and smashed with a spatula. This makes the burger thin, with rough, crispy edges, my absolute favorite style of burger.
I like a thin burger and this one was pretty tasty. The mushrooms were not overwhelming, the cheese, as specified, was creamy and melty.  On second look though, it appeared to have started breaking down a little. I liked the burger just fine, it was exactly as advertised. And yes, the cheese made it taste like St. Louis. But as I said earlier, I'd probably have ordered something else if it was left up to me. I like a sharp cheddar myself. And bacon.
This was a fine burger. I like Smashburger's style. Thin, smashed burgers, fresh toppings, a choice of cheeses and sauces. The smash fries were the real star of this show though. The tea was surprisingly fresh and tasty, not bitter or weak.
On the way out I ordered two standard Smashburger bacon cheeseburgers for Angel and Adam to have later, it was part of the deal. The fries did not stay crispy, of course, but they both agreed that these were pretty good burgers.
Smashburger is similar to and every bit as good as Five Guy's which is one of my favorite franchise burger places. The unique fries might give Smashburger a slight edge in that two-way race.
Across the parking lot I could see a McDonalds. I could not believe that people were lining up to go to that vile place when this, much, much better burger place was right next to it. Sure it cost a little more, my own feast put me back just over ten bucks, but the quality was far superior than that awful McDonald's place. I will never, ever understand the attraction for that hideous chain.
Was Smashburger the best hamburger in the area then?
No, not at all. By far, my favorite burgers are at Concord Grill. They understand burgers, they understand St. Louis. Then there's Gordon's Stoplight Grill in Festus. No frills, no fancy cheeses, just a good old fashioned diner style burger served perfectly every time.
The staff was friendly, polite, efficient and professional They kept an eye on the customers and made sure to check up on them and ask what they thought.
Oh yeah, bonus, Smashburger serves beer. Take that, Micky D!

Smashburger on Urbanspoon