Monday, July 28, 2014

The Farmer's Kitchen

4660 Yeager Rd.
Hillsboro, Mo.
On Facebook

Angel was out of town, her and Deede went to Fort Wayne for a dog training seminar of some kind.
Adam and I struggled with a choice. By default we would go to Gordon's Stoplight Drive in in Festus, where we usually go when she's out of town. But neither of us was pumped for that. So we struggled, up to the  moment we walked out the door.
I'd had breakfast at Farmer's Kitchen, I've even remarked that this place made the best waffles, ever. But I'd never been there for a grownup meal.
It made sense for us since Adam and I couldn't even decide what kind of food we were in the mood for. At least FK had a variety of offerings. I wanted catfish, one of their reputed specialties. I also knew they pulled a smoker up to the front on weekends and cranked out some quality barbecue.
So we piled into Das Coche Negro, (my black VW Jetta, German engineered, but built in Mexico) and made the seven minute drive. The weather had been pretty mild for a July, except for this day, it was balmy, sticky, humid and hot.
We chatted on the way, his day at work was 'fine'. I gathered.
The Place:
It's been open for less than a year by the current owners, Karen and Rick Lindwedel. It's located on the road to the Post Office, Just north of Queens Market.  Those are legitimate Hillsboro directions, if you need more than that, then get your fancy self one of those highfalutin GPS machines.
They cleaned the place up and decorated it in the style of a farmer's man cave. Framed feed sacks, antique wood tools, hand carved cows, etc.
There was only one other couple there when we walked in, (it turned out they weren't a couple at all in the Biblical sense, just a man and a woman that happened to be there at the same time.) We were early since we didn't have to wait for Angel.
I led us to an empty table off to the side, near the door. A lady behind the counter saw us, but was talking on the phone. We waited.
She brought us menus pretty soon though and asked about drinks. Tea and Pepsi.
The menus were simple, colorful, laminated, single sheets. There were fewer offerings than I expected. I located catfish, and barbecue. I also made note of the chalkboard by the counter that touted the day's specials. Still plenty to choose from. When she returned with Adam's drink, she apologized, saying that  they were almost done brewing a fresh batch of tea, my drink would be a few minutes "If you don't mind waiting." She said. Mind? Me mind waiting for a fresh batch of tea? It was obvious at this point that she did not know me. Or maybe she did.
The Food:
I asked Adam if he was ready, he said sure. So I asked about the catfish. "Oh, sorry, we're out, we had an unexpected run on it last night and haven't restocked." She did offer a couple of fish alternatives, Tilapia, and another white fish I'd never heard of, but I told her they were a bit too un-fishy, I liked catfish precisely because it had actual taste. So I asked her about the barbecue.
"Oh, we didn't smoke today." came her apologetic answer. Oh well.
"I'll just have the sirloin and shrimp special then." I was a little disappointed, but how disappointed are you really if your fall-back option is a sirloin steak with shrimp? I had to choose two sides. I went for the baked potato and grudgingly, green beans.
Adam asked for the Chicken Fried steak, fries and corn, off the cob please.
I was concerned about the green beans. In 'country' restaurants, you usually end up with overcooked, flat, either tasteless or too salty, mush.
We waited. The non couple split up and went their separate ways. I learned later that the man was actually Rick, the co-owner. We were being served by Karen.
We waited long enough for me to get sick of the music. The cheap, plastic boom box by the door was tuned to J-98 (The Boot) out of Farmington, a town that makes Hillsboro seem like Gotham City. It was whiny, nasally country music. Lots of steel guitars, lots of drunk guys regaling about their lost loves and pickup trucks, arrrrgggghh...
But, it is 'Farmer's Kitchen', alas.
Then the food arrived. Alongside a juicy, thick looking sirloin and a split open and tender baked potato, were a couple of thick slices of grilled toast. Grilled, beautifully browned and buttered on one side only.
The shrimp basket held a lot of breaded and fried sea creatures, a lot of them. My carb alarm went off just looking at the meal. Bread, breaded shrimp, a fat baked potato. I'd have to eat strategically, no way would I be able to eat all that filler. Concentrate on the steak, nibble on the rest.
Adam's CF Steak looked traditional, just like it is supposed to look. They gave him a choice of gravy, white or brown, he went old school. The corn looked traditional as well, I do not know whether it was fresh off the cob or canned. The fries looked like they could use another minute in the deep fryer, but other than that it looked just fine.
I noticed that something was missing though. Karen was asking how it looked, if we needed anything else, steak sauce, etc.
"The green beans?" I asked. I almost didn't, country style green beans are at best a mediocre item, but I did pay for them.
Karen sighed in disgust with herself. ""I can't believe I forgot your green beans." She said, sincerely upset with her error. I wanted to tell her to never mind since it wasn't that big of a deal for me, but I let it go.
She trotted off and we set in. I buttered and creamed the tater, then sliced an edge off the steak. Perfectly cooked to order. Pink, tender and moist. The taste was exceptional. The char and pepper on the steak was exactly correct. The taste was euphoric, orgasmic, it melted on my tongue. Nothing else in the world mattered at that moment.
I had been worried. There was a big banner at the counter touting "Jefferson County Cattlemen, Best Beef in the state." That to me, looked like a challenge. If you're going to make a claim like that in big, bold letters, you better deliver.
And they did. This was as fine a cut of meat, precisely cooked, as I've had anywhere. The potato was also precise, tender, not burnt, excellent consistency.  The shrimp, well the shrimp was breaded and deep fried. that's the easiest way to overcook shrimp. It was fine, but I actually prefer grilled or steamed shrimp, the breading is too much of a distraction. As far as breaded shrimp goes though, no worse or much better than anywhere else.
Karen brought the beans. I was shocked, amazed, confused.
These were not the flat, dull, mushy beans I was expecting. these were sauteed. Bright green, shiny with oil and littered with bits of onion and garlic. Someone's not quite the quaint, country style cook I'd thought. These were fresh (I think) and still had tooth to them. The garlic, onion and oil gave them the look and taste like you find at more cosmopolitan restaurants. I actually wanted to eat them. Bravo Farmer's Kitchen!
Adam went through his plate pretty quickly, I was still dawdling, agog over the beans and the luscious steak. As planned, I only had one of the toast slices, it was quite excellent prepared that way, about half the shrimp, 90% of the steak, and 1/3, or less, of the potato. I liked it all, but starches bloat me up almost immediately. I got all I wanted, all I could hold, no complaints.
Adam couldn't work up a highly positive adjective to summarize his meal, but he did explain it. "It's chicken fried steak and corn." He said. I understood. It's a mild, almost bland plate at its best.
Karen took very good care of us. Near the end of the meal the evening shift showed up and a delightful and friendly, beshorted young lady took care of busing our plates and bowls. Another couple, elderly, had wandered in, they were being taken care of quite well too.
Adam and I headed up to the counter, the young lady met us. This is when I confirmed that our earlier server had been Karen.
As if she knew we were talking about her, she stepped out from the kitchen. I told her the food was quite good. She mentioned that Rick, her husband, was a farmer. "I'm sorry." I told her, then added "That explains why you have to work." She laughed. Farmers in this area are not your ten-thousand acre industrial farms, they are mostly small, traditional, family farms, 120-500 acres. They require a lot of work, for little profit.
Jefferson County was never an agricultural powerhouse. People mostly settled the are because of the mining. Lots of metals, lots of mines.
I did not introduce myself as a food critic, no need making her worry unnecessarily about what I already decided was going to be a pretty good review.
The price was more than reasonable, twenty one bucks and pocket change. You read that right. A mighty good steak, heaps of shrimp, fresh tea, country fried steak, a big baked potato, a generous portion of fries, and some outstanding veggies, for twenty one dollars. Of course, there were only two meals rather than our usual three. I guess we could get by cheaper on this mission just by leaving out Angel. I'll suggest that to her when she gets back.
I was a little disappointed I didn't get catfish, or barbecue, but a small business just can't have everything on hand all the time, a lot would go to waste if they did. Besides, the steak was exceptional.
We've got a real jewel here. I knew they put out pretty good breakfast fare, but they've proven themselves equally competent on the more challenging meals. I will go back, mainly to try the catfish and probably for that occasional Saturday morning coffee and waffle.

Farmer's Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Monday, July 21, 2014

Waffle House

Festus, Mo.

You know where it is, just off the Interstate.
The one in Festus, overlooking I-55 is pretty much just like the other 2100 locations in 25, mostly southern, states.
The Place:
There's something quite laudable about consistency, simplicity and efficiency. Also, another Boy Scout-like quality, preparedness.
"The ability of a Waffle House to remain open after a severe storm, possibly with a limited menu, is used by FEMA as a measure of disaster recovery known as the Waffle House Index."
Yeah, they're ready for it. Portable generators, a stockpile of food, and a healthy Disaster Preparedness plan.
The same can be said about the food, simple, clean, unfettered by sparkles and bling.
Open 24/7/365, fair weather or foul, they've got what you want, when you want it.
The place is small, cozy, friendly. The diner-like layout encourages interaction with the crew, and the crews I've come across are always willing to chat, a little or a lot.
Angel had a craving, a hankering for hash browns this week. I don't try to understand or explain these things, I just go along for the ride. I can enjoy breakfast for dinner, lunch, or even breakfast, just about any time.
It wasn't very busy this warm but pleasant Saturday night. Someone said that everyone was at the fair, the Jefferson County Fair, in Hillsboro.
The fair was exactly why we decided to not go to a place in Hillsboro. Whenever and wherever a throng of people are gathering, we can be found going the other way.
I was of limited mind. For two nights in a row my ankle collar, rather, my work phone, had interrupted my precious nights' sleep multiple times. Functional, but listing off task quite a bit.
We stepped in and picked from several open booths.
The Food.
The menus were two sides of a legal-paper sized, colorful, laminated card. Limited options, sure, but everything you need. A young lady name-tagged 'Rebequa' stopped by and asked about drinks. Coffee, sweet tea and Coke. We flipped the menus several times, as if we didn't know what we wanted.
Actually, I was taking a risk. I was not going to order two eggs, over medium, bacon, hash browns (with onions) and toast, which is my normal order for places like this. I decided to go off the map. I knew they could whip together a good breakfast, time to push the envelope, live on the edge.
I finally picked the 'Texas Bacon Cheesesteak Melt, a sandwich. It came with hashbrowns, I 'smothered' mine, onions.
Angel asked 'Rebequa' about the portion sizes of the hash brown meals. She pulled out the stops. She went for the large, adding onions, ham and sausage gravy (smothered, chunked and country.) She added two scrambled eggs on the side, said no thanks to toast because that just seemed excessive.
Adam picked his go-to plate, the two egg (scrambled) All-Star special, toast, hash browns (plain), bacon and a waffle.
Smothered, Chunked, Country.
I announced my choice and got stares from the family.
'Becca' as her crew members called her, scurried off. I was going to ask her about the spelling of her name, but decided against it, that's exactly what she wanted people to do.
The food came pretty fast, I'd only made it through one Angry Bird level. Angel and Adam had not made it very far into whatever they were e-devicing either. No complaints though.
The plates came out and looked perfect. The scrambled eggs were all bright and moist, not overcooked. The hash browns looked crunchy. As her plate appeared before her, Angel moaned, the moan of a woman about to be perfectly satisfied.
Adam's took more than one plate, three to be exact, the waffle and the bacon each got their own. I personally don't care too much for WH's waffles, too cake-y and sweet. Adam immediately blasphemed and covered his with syrup (blech!).
Why so many pickles?
My sandwich looked simple. Not over stuffed, not pouring out of the edges. Many places go overboard with sandwiches, I prefer that they don't. I was worried about it a little though. In my mind I had accepted the fact that the steak would be tough and dry. I didn't know where that premonition came from, but it was a risk I was willing to take. It was accompanied by a squeeze pouch of 'real mayonnaise' and more pickles than were necessary. I shoved a few into the sammich though, squeezed in a little mayo.
Adam sorted his all out, keeping it all on separate plates. I would have
mushed everything together, but he's his own man.
Across from us, sitting at the counter, a husky, middle aged man continued bantering with the crew. He seemed familiar to them, calling them each by name. Then they started discussing schedules, covering shifts and I got the impression that we might be in the presence of the owner/manager.
They were discussing how light the traffic flow in the diner had been, he chalked it up to the fair.
"But they'll come here when afterwards won't they?" One of the young ladies asked him.
"Nah, they'll be too hot and tired and filled with deep fried carnival food." He answered.
"What about the drunks?" Another asked.
"They'll go to White Castle." He chuckled.
At another point they were discussing being nice to difficult customers. He had wisdom for that as well. "If they want bad service they can go to Huddle House." Everyone laughed at that as well. I liked this guy.
My sandwich surprised me. I was all ready  to be harsh, but it turned out to be pretty good! The steak was thin and moist, tender and tasty. It was no original Philly cheese steak, but for a local hash house, not bad, not bad at all.
The food disappeared rather quickly. Angel's moan turned into soft grunts and occasional single word essays. "Crunchy". "Gravy.", "Mmm." and "Perfect"
Rebequa laid the check down ($28.52) on our table as we were wrapping up. She took the empty plates away. I noticed she'd written her name on the check, not Rebequa, but rather Rebecca. Actually she spelled it out ReBecca. A real identity crisis going on with this one. I couldn't tell whether when the crew talked to her they were saying Becca or Bequa. Maybe she's on the run from the cops.
She was good though. Kept us refilled and cleaned off, got the orders exactly right. It was a fun meal, Waffle House is a happy place, even with all the drunks going to White Castle instead. I'd have to be very liquored up myself to ever step foot into that disgusting place.
The food was, as expected, fast and quite good, even the off-the-norm sandwich.
As I said at the top, there's something to be said for simplicity, quality and consistency. It is as dependable a place as you'll find. No fake pink meat slop, no added flavorings or preservatives, just good, hearty food, cooked quite well.

Waffle House on Urbanspoon

Monday, July 14, 2014

Los Portales

201 2nd Street, Hillsboro, MO
Hillsboro, Mo.

I was again wearing my work leash, my turn in the on-call barrel. Automatic monitoring systems woke me up three times in two hours in the wee hours of the morning. I spent the rest of the day in a diminished mental state. The engine was running, but none of the gears seemed to want to catch.
Fortunately I'd already announced the weekend choice, our favorite Mexican hole in the wall. It's close, about ten minutes from the house, fast and inexpensive.
The Place:
In Hillsboro, that's all you need to know. If you find yourself in Hillsboro, it's right there. An old, remodeled single story joint. There's a patio area, no one was in it. Too hot.
Inside was busy, busier that I'm accustomed to seeing it so early. It's quite a popular watering hole for locals, most nights it's jumping.
The man at the bar, who seemed to be in charge, handed us menus and told us to find a seat, he'd be there shortly. I trusted this man. Over his head the flat screen was showing Brazil getting trounced by the Dutch. Just not Brazil's year.
Yes, I've been keeping an eye on the World Cup. But not for sports reasons.
You see, the systems I manage are mostly for our global users. There's another team that takes care of North America. My customers are in Russia, Mexico, Ukraine, Brazil, Argentina, etc. So the World Cup matters. I have working relationships with people in nearly all the countries playing in this month-long snooze fest. On the days that Brazil, especially, played, usage of my systems dipped noticeably, dramatically, lightening the load, so to speak.
I don't think I have users in the Netherlands, but I'm friends with a guy from there that I met nearly twenty years ago. I haven't heard from him lately, but he was a really neat guy. He once told me, in perfect English, that "Dutch is not a language, it's a throat disease."
Pedro, a Brazilian native that currently lives in  New York, IM'd me at the early stages of the games.
"Dennis, you excited about the World Cup?"
Me:   "(yawn)"
Pedro: "You don't like Soccer?"
Me: "I don't even care for or follow American football, why would I care one hoot about some second rate, foreign knock-off?"
It's okay, I talk to Pedro several times per week, he knows not to take me too seriously. On the day Brazil got pummeled by Germany, I IM'd him.
"Hey Pedro, how's that big soccer thing going?"
He didn't seem to be in a very good mood that day.
So I refused to root for either side this game. I didn't want to start an international incident amongst colleagues.
We took a booth by a big window.
Like I said, it was busier than usual. No one was watching the game though, because they were all Americans.
A couple of teen-twenty-something girls came in and sat nearby, I only noticed this because one of them was quite obviously OD'ing on eye makeup. She looked like she might be attractive without the clown mask, it was kind of like touching up a perfectly good, old masterpiece with glitter.
The Food:
We sat and true to his word, the man stopped by within a couple of minutes, loaded down with chips and salsa.
We asked for our drinks, tea, Diet Coke and Coke and dived into the chips. I almost immediately recalled that I had planned to have beer with the meal, but forgot. It's a problem I have, I'm always forgetting beer.
The menu was comprehensive, and in a few places, funny."Sure I'll have the Beer Taco as long as it truly is 'friend crisp!'"
I thought about ordering something new, something different, but I didn't. I like the enchiladas too much to go out on a limb. So once again, I asked for #1. Two enchiladas with re-fried beans and rice.
Adam asked for his tacos. One each, chicken and beef. Pretty much his standard order as well. Angel did not disappoint for once, she went with her perennial favorite as well, Enchiladas Del Mar, shrimp enchiladas. She did throw in a new variant though, more on that later.
We chomped through the chips, Angel and Adam e-deviced for a while. I leaned back and took in the ambiance. Mexican music played in the background, at once both happy, upbeat and forlorn. With a distinct rhythm and meter. I like Mexican music, It makes me feel.
The next best thing about LP is that it is fast. Angel had to leave to pick up a new client dog, so we were sort of pressed for time, another reason that this choice made sense.
At another table, a middle aged foursome was growing louder and happier as the nearly empty fruity drink goblets stacked up around them. One of the men was wearing a sleeveless tee shirt with a logo and enough correctly spelled words that I could make out that he was apparently a member of a gang called 'The Christian Motorcyclists Association'.  The slogan was 'Riding for the Son'. I thought this a bit odd, but, okay. Whatever it takes, I guess. I looked them up, they do charitable events, so that's not so bad.
The food came quickly. Melty, steamy, aromatic. My plate looked simply luscious.The cheese melting into the beans, the sauce kissing all the edges of the enchiladas, the rice, tanned and hot.
I chopped it all up and shoved it all together, that's just the way I roll. Every bite a combination of savory, spicy, cheesy delight.
Angel toyed with the extra 'side' she ordered, a roasted, sauced and cheese-laden poblano pepper.
She pronounced it quite good. I gave it a shot. Not bad at all. Not as spicy hot as I had imagined. It did taste like a roasted bell pepper, only slightly hotter, and the sauce and cheese were a great match for it. Near the end of the meal though, after she'd devoured the shrimp enchiladas, she said that after a while the pepper started tasting a little green 'grassy' as she called it. All in all she liked it, but didn't think it would stand up as well as a main course. "I absolutely love the shrimp enchiladas." She said a half dozen or so times.
About his tacos, which he finished off completely and very quickly, Adam merely said "Very Good, as usual."
Enchiladas del Mar

We were all filled and satisfied. The bill came to a modest $34.35. Overall I was feeling a little salty by the end of mine, but not nearly as bad as many places. The tea was quite good this time, a fresher batch that I usually encounter. The waiter/manager was quite helpful as well as efficient and attentive. Angel had some questions before ordering the poblano, he didn't seem to mind at all explaining to her the difference between that and a similar dish. I noticed he did the same for other people as well, they would point at an item and he'd kindly, proudly smile and tell them about it.
He also kept the foursome liquored up. LP has quite the local reputation for some of its enormous fruity drinks.
At other tables, some extended families with small kids, all local, seemed to be enjoying themselves as well.
Alas the poor creature that laments about hunger in a most famous Mexican corrido would not be so downtrodden here.
Ya se van los carrancistas,
ya se van por el alambre,
porque dicen los villistas,
que se estarĂ¡n muriendo de hambre.
No, no dying of hunger at Los Portales. the food is great, inexpensive and quick.

Los Portales‎ on Urbanspoon