Monday, September 29, 2014


106 Main St.
Desoto, Mo.
On the web

A few days ago on a certain social media site, someone in one of the county groups I follow, said they were moving to Desoto and wanted to know about restaurants there that other members could recommend. Lorenzo's jumped into my head immediately, but when I was about to comment, I noticed that several other people already had, more so than any other place.
There are some fine eateries in and around Desoto, but it was this place that I thought of first.
Coincidentally, when Angel came up with a list of two or three places for this outing, I chose Lorenzo's.
The Place:
It sits on Main street, across form the tracks. On the other side of the tracks, sure enough, property values drop.
Main street is old style, mid 20th century, small town brick store fronts. It even still has an old-school movie theater.
Lorenzo's sits adjacent to a vacant spot, where they've set up a patio. They're known to frequently get a projector and show ballgames on the wall of the next building.
It was a nice, some would say perfect, evening for sitting outside, but we didn't. We went in and were led to a booth pretty close to the last booth we sat at.
Charlotte brought us some menus and asked about drinks. Lorenzo's serves many, many beers and wines, so we got unsweet tea, sweet tea and Coke.
I like wine. I'm okay with beer. My problem with beer is that it is too filling to have with a meal. My problem with wine is snobs. If I had wine with my meal I'd have to rate it, and that is very hard to do without it coming to fisticuffs between myself, a simple man with simple tastes, and the snobs. They're a violent bunch and not as dainty as you might imagine.

The Food:
"I don't think I want pizza." Angel had declared. I kind of did. They serve a little nine incher at a very
reasonable price, $6.35 with up to six toppings. That's a lot of toppings. And they have some good ones. The standards, of course, but they also have 'gourmet toppings' including, from their website:
Anchovies, Artichoke Hearts, Basil Pesto, Capicolla Ham, Fresh Mozzarella, Fresh Spinach, Goat Cheese crumbles, Gorgonzola Cheese, Grilled Chicken, Meatball, Minced Garlic, Prosciutto di Parma, Ricotta Cheese, Shrimp, Volpi Salami.
Yeah. . . I know.
They also have a selection of sauces and cheeses.
I designed my own.
Traditional sauce, traditional cheese, topped with onions, bell pepper, Italian sausage, bacon, pepperoni and to spice it up a bit, pickled banana peppers.
Adam bought one off the rack, the so-named 'Sicilian', traditional sauce, mozzarella cheese, Italian sausage, pepperoni, Capicolla Ham and fresh basil.
Angel changed her mind. Her pizza was embarrassing. Garlic butter sauce, St. Louis style (Provel) cheese, black olives, mushrooms, sausage, onions, grilled chicken. To me, this didn't sound like pizza at all. Even less so when she informed us that she almost added artichokes. Seriously, artichoke. . . on a pizza. . . embarrassing.
Of course, the forgone conclusion, for an appetizer we were unanimous in wanting the deep fried cannelloni.
We get this every time. It's Lorenzo's one up of the traditional and generic (in the St. Louis area) fried ravioli. It's better, much better. The appetizer cost more than any of our pizzas, but it was gone in a couple of  minutes. They make their own. . . everything, sauces, sausages, everything there. The blend of meat in these bites is, as I've put it before, buttery in texture and smokey and savory, but not spicy, in taste.
Angel thought they'd been cooked too long, too crispy, Adam and I disagreed, as there is no such thing as too crispy. The signature, house made marinara sauce coated the crispy, buttery bits with a fresh sweetness that you cannot get out of a can.
We waited patiently for the pizzas, they are built to order and should not be rushed. We had our e-devices so we were entertained without actually having to hold conversations with each other. Lorenzo's has wifi, but you have to have the password. I asked for it and was told it was the zip code, which I didn't know, but I do now. So we sat there and privately swiped and tapped. The big-band, Italian-ish crooners filled the room with ambiance. Frank Sinatra, Peggy Lee, Dean Martin, etc.
The pies arrived. None of us has ever been able to eat the whole thing in one sitting, but that's a plus. Two words, 'breakfast pizza'. 
Mine was, by far, the prettiest pie. The bright yellow banana peppers, the green bells, the sauce and the cheese was a delicious looking palette. We all noticed that the pizzas had been sliced in quarters, too large to handle. There were knives along with other cutlery in a Mason jar on the table. Each quarter got sliced in half.
Be prepared though, these things come to you hotter than the surface of Venus (860° F). Do not dive right in, wait for it, wait for it. . .
The crust was thin, not cracker thin, but certainly not thick. It was also very good. Not too yeasty or oregano-y. Just a perfectly simple crust that does not need to be stuffed with anything. I finally did get to bite in and was perfectly satisfied. The banana pepper was a great addition, a new, different taste to the more traditional toppings. The little vinegar-y things were thankfully sparse and thus, did not overwhelm.

Adam's pie was mostly meat, with a sprinkling of
chopped basil to offset the otherwise bland colors. Adam is a pizza professional, capable of making a great pie himself at the place he works. Even though he eschews vegetables, onions, peppers, etc, himself, he respects them, his opinion counted for something. He was quite pleased.
Angel's atrocity was also nice to look at, but wrong, just wrong. No tomato sauce, chunks of chicken, and knowing that it was slathered in Provel 'cheese' rather than mozzarella, as God intended, she bit into it as if it were perfectly normal. Provel, a primary component of St. Louis style, is a blend of cheeses made specifically for the region. I've never cared much for it myself, it comes across as a bit sweet. Sure the texture is great, it doesn't harden as it cools, but for me the taste is one-off. Sure enough, the richness of the cheese had her stop about halfway through. Well, we all stopped about halfway through. The fresh ingredients and sauces
and cheeses make this pizza rich, and very filling.
Charlotte brought us boxes, and the check.
 I told Angel that this would be a very difficult review to write. A good story requires conflict. There was none. Zero. The whole experience was pleasant, efficient, relaxed, tasty and just plain good. Okay, the tea was pretty weak, but that's it. Lorenzo makes seriously good pasta dishes and can also toss out an exceptional pizza, one of the best in the county, if not beyond. The price was more than reasonable, an appetizer and three pizzas for thirty four dollars and change. . . three six-topping pizzas! The staff was efficient, precise and experienced, very, very few slip ups in our many visits. The place itself is cozy and 'warm'. Even the music fits the place perfectly. I not only think Lorenzo's makes one of the best pizzas in the area, but on the whole, I'd go so far as to say that it is among the best restaurants as well.
Highly, highly recommended!

Lorenzo's Italian Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Monday, September 22, 2014

Kettelhut's Smokehouse

1267 N. Truman Blvd.
Crystal City Mo.
On the Interwebs

Kettelhut's Smokehouse finally opened Tuesday. Yeah, just four days before the entire Eat and Critique staff invaded it.
We'd read about this place 'coming soon' a few months back in the local weekly, The Jefferson Leader. I soon noticed a Facebook page, subscribed to it, and started getting periodic updates and finally the 'Now Open' announcement. The early reviews were positive, perhaps a void was filled at last.
The Place:
Located on Truman Blvd, across the road from the Quonset  Lanes, a bowling alley I've never been in, and Poppy's Ristorante, which I have.
This building, for as long as I can recall, housed a Mexican joint named Cinco De Mayo, which translated by my online translation site means "Five The Mayo". We'd seen it but never ate there. I was afraid it would not be very good based entirely on our observation that its parking lot was nearly empty on every Saturday night we went by it. That's never a good sign. If a place that serves Mexican food and alcohol can't at least half fill a parking lot on Saturday night, it has a significant problem. Contrary to popular rumors, I do not seek out bad restaurants just to kick them when they are down. Unless of course, they're a fast food franchise. Those places ought to be sought out and exposed, with prejudice and impunity.
But a local joint? No, I let them be. There was a restaurant with a certain reputation in Hillsboro for the first few years of this endeavor. We deliberately went out of our way to not go there. They finally went out of business, a new place opened up in that location and  I've had the opportunity to eat there and write positive things about it.
Kettelhut's, derives its name from the owner, Jeff Kettelhut, and not from Kettle and/or Hut. Though if he ever wants to open a tea house, he's set.
When we arrived, early we thought, at just before five P.M, the parking lot was surprisingly crowded. We squeezed the family truckster into a tight spot. We opened the door to see nearly every table filled. Even the bar was crowded.
They'd done a pretty good job of cleaning it up and decorating it. The first thing I noticed though was the overhead music. Old school blues. Perfect. On the walls were a few, but not too many relics and artifacts of music, photos of blues musicians mostly, and on the back wall, decorative saxophone and guitar art pieces.
Tasteful. The bar was separated from the dining area by half-wall, half iron work dividers. There were four or five tall bistro tables in the bar area.
The floors were a terracotta (which translates to 'land  surplice' which doesn't make any sense whatsoever) tile, the walls were texture painted a burnt brick red. The ceilings, standard white ceiling tiles.
The dining area had black steel chairs covered in lavender, the tables topped with red and white checked vinyl. Along the back walls, the booths also had those table cloths, but the bench seats were glossy lacquered wood slats.
That's where we were led to a booth in the back under the sax and guitar art.
We were handed menus.
The Food:
A simple, complete menu, filled with exactly what we wanted, smokey meats. We've reviewed several smokehouses and you'll recall that every time we do we compare it to our former favorite, Bandana's in Festus. It, almost ironically, burned down a couple of years ago. They've not rebuilt. There's a few other BBQ's and smokehouses in the area, and they are all pretty good. But there's still that void.
As with the other places, we decided to diversify, to get as many of the offerings between us as we could. This is not difficult because like at most any smokehouse/BBQ, they offered several things we like.
After having our drinks delivered, un-sweet tea with no sugar, sweet tea and Pepsi, we were ready to order. Our server did not have a name tag on her titular tee shirt. (Large cartoon pig on the back wearing old school sunglasses with a toothpick in its mouth, under the words 'Kettelhut's Smokehouse') I'll refer to her as 'Loren'. She looked eager and happy, but a little harried. I understood, there were about a dozen titular tee-shirted ladies scurrying about in the full dining room.
We placed our order. We'd all decided on a 'Pick-Two' plate, two meats, two sides, Texas toast.
I chose brisket and pulled pork with 'Bobbie's Coleslaw' and fried taters and onions. Angel, drumsticks and ribs with cucumber salad and the taters and onions. Adam struggled most, decided on pulled turkey and chicken with baked beans and fries.
A pretty good spread, covering most of the offerings.
I asked Loren if they had mac and cheese. No.
The last BBQ place we visited a few weeks ago said no as well, it was 'out of season' they had said. I didn't believe them since I know a thing or two about food production and I recently discovered that macaroni does not grow from a plant or tree, it is actually nothing more than flour and water. Macaroni does not have a season like peaches, strawberries and hockey. Why Kettelhut's doesn't offer mac and cheese, the absolute perfect side for smokey meats, is beyond my comprehension. Perhaps the instructions on the back of the Kraft box are simply too complicated for the kitchen staff.
Loren scooted off and we waited.
And waited.
And waited.
Did I mention that the place was packed when we got there? By this time there was a line forming out the door. Not a lot of food was being brought out.
Did I also mention that the place had only been open four days?
I didn't mind the wait, I pretty much expected it. The kitchen and staff had only been working live customers for less than a week. This was their first weekend working together. Smokey meat is a slow process, hours and hours go into cooking the stuff. The place was packed, line forming.
In other words, I'm not going to ding the joint for the long lull between ordering and receiving the order. I give a lot of leeway for a brand new place, a lot. Of course there will be mix- ups, mistakes, inconsistencies, etc. We were here to try the food and establish a baseline for a future visit. Make note of those inconsistencies and errors? Sure, but only to see if the kinks are eventually worked out, the flow gets smoother.
Adam and Angel played with their e-devices, I could have, but chose not to. I was watching the people, the staff, the flow. I noticed a street sign on one wall. 'Beale St.' it said. Why a blues-themed smokehouse would have a sign for a side street in tiny (pop. 900) Downs, Kansas, I could not understand.
After about fifteen minutes I heard a server at the table behind us apologize to the family there and explain something about the kitchen staff working as fast as they could. Those people didn't seem to mind either.
Ribs and Drum sticks
A few minutes later Loren stopped by and did the same thing. I told her "Not a problem, you just opened, I understand."
She thanked me for that and smiled.
We saw one couple leave. Impatient I guess. Pretty much everyone else stayed tough.
By my measure, the food arrived in forty five minutes. Yeah, a long time for a casual place that serves pre-prepaired meats and batch sides, but hardly a blink in the cosmic amount of wait time in those those fancy places that I've been to in NYC and L.A, etc. You could check in and can get to your seat on a commercial flight faster than those places can serve a $90 lettuce leaf with an ounce of raw fish on it.
But the food finally did arrive. Adam had to choose something beside pulled turkey, they had run out, so he picked beef. That was okay, smokehouses are going to run out of things on busy days.
Beef and Turkey
They had put the cucumber salad on my plate and the slaw on Angel's, minor gaffe, like I said, expected in a new place. That was as bad as it got though.
The taters were chopped large, maybe too large, most of them had to be cut into two or three pieces. Kind of skimpy on the onions too. I could taste their influence but did not see many.
I started to cut my brisket with my knife then realized I didn't have to. It was as tender a piece of meat as I'd had anywhere. And moist. Bandana's brisket always seemed dry to me, unless you slathered it in sauce.
Kettelhut's had house-made sauces as well, we had tried them and decided which ones we favored. I put a little of the Carolina sauce on my pork and brisket, but not as much as I would have at Bandana's.
Angel tore apart and offered me a a tiny sliver of rib meat. I'm not a big rib guy, but this was pretty tasty.
Brisket and Pulled Pork
The slaw was sweet and creamy, I was happy with it. Some places serve a more vinegar-y version, I prefer sweet.
The toast was thick, but a bit chewy. Probably the bread they use. A little dense for me to accompany a full plate of food.
And they were full plates. The servings were ample.
The smokiness of the meat was more subtle than other places, but it was all moist and tender.
Angel was happy that her rib meat fell off the bone, she likes it that way. That last place we went to, it didn't. Her cucumber salad tasted like bread and butter pickle, except with fresh, not saturated cucumbers. She likes bread and butter pickles, I don't, I rather just have bread and butter. Adam's beef was a little too high in the fat vs. lean ratio about 40/60. He left behind a lot of the fat, I would have too. Meat fat is like porn, a little goes a long way, too much is just gross.
Not bad, not bad at all. What I observed for followup: The long wait. I assume that once the place has been open for a while they'll get this better figured out. No one could have expected an overflowing house the first weekend it was open. Hoped for it? Dreamed for it? Sure.
The place seemed to be well staffed. I saw at least a dozen workers on the floor. They all seemed to be enjoying themselves and treated the customers kindly and attentively. The serving issues, the mixed sides, the too-long between drink refills, that's standard, expected stuff for a new staff.
Overall we were very pleased with the service, Loren was very good.
As for the food.
The potatoes were too thick. Thick fried taters are a little too starchy on the inside. A smaller dice and more onions would be great. They were not too greasy at all.
The meats were good, as I mentioned, the smokiness was there but subtle. I know that the smokey taste varies depending on the type of wood used. Maybe a little different blend? More fruit woods? I'm no expert. I only know what my brother tells me, he's been smoking meat for decades.
The too-fatty beef plate is something to watch out for.
There was nothing that we didn't like at least a little. Nothing really stood out as a signature offering though. Perhaps one will after a while.
The place looked great and the music was awesome. The atmosphere was casual, warm and friendly. The price was a bit on the high side, fifty eight bucks, but that was partially because we all opted for the two-fer plate.
The tea? Not awful... it could use some freshening up though.
The web site is sparse, no menu or detailed information yet. The Facebook page is pretty good, but once again no menu.
Overall a satisfying experience. A few tweaks and this place could hold on to the standing room only experience it had this first Saturday night in operation.
We at Eat and Critique extend to Jeff and his crew good luck and thumbs up!


A shout out to the sisterhood!
 This week I was invited and accepted as the first male member of the Missouri Women Bloggers network.
Stop giggling about 'first male member'.
Seriously, I'm delighted to join the gals in working together, perhaps meeting up with them sometime, to offer support and encouragement in this shared endeavor, to inform and entertain bored people at work when their boss isn't watching.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Concord Grill

11427 Concord Village Ave.
Affton, Mo.
On the Interwebs
On Facebook
The Menu

Earlier in the week Adam suggested we go back. It had been several months. We tried to go there a while back but work issues prevented us.
I decided to give Debbie, the owner, a heads-up. I don't usually do that sort of thing, but Debbie and I have chatted a few times and is someone I like and respect.
Our previous review was quite positive. Unlike most restaurateurs, she replied to it by emailing me a long and sweet thank-you note. I was quite touched and saw in her messages that she genuinely cared what people thought about her establishment. That sort of thing is more rare than you might think.
About that same time, I had 'suggested', via their web site, a new burger. They are renowned for making a great burger, lots of great burgers, from the savory to the quirky.
I can do quirky. So I suggested a Shrimp Alfredo Burger.
Since then it has been kind of a running gag. Speaking of gagging, when I tell people about this that's pretty much the reaction I get most. I seriously thought it might be pretty good. I also checked the Google machine and could not find anyone, anywhere, that offered such a thing.
After I sent her the heads-up, she replied saying that if she heard someone order a Shrimp Alfredo Burger, she would know it was me. She also mentioned that she just happened to have some shrimp on hand.
So, the stage was set.
The Place:
A small joint just as you turn onto Concord Village Ave. off of Lindbergh. You might miss it if you're not looking for it. But not many people miss it. There's overflow parking in the back, it was about half full when we got there.
There's a patio with tables and chairs, but we passed it up, even on this lovely day. Because we're civilized. We prefer eating indoors, like intelligent  humans, not outdoors like squirrels and terrorists.
It feels cozy to walk into. It's not all shiny and modern, but it has older world class to it. I think it feels like a neighborhood pub might feel in Scotland or Ireland.
It was already filling up, lots of locals, couples, families, small groups. Young, old, thick and thin.
The lady that greeted us told us to pick a table, any table. We found one in the far back corner that appealed to our inner introvert.
We were told that 'Jamie' would be with us shortly. She was. A cheerful young lady stopped at the table and introduced herself. She took our drink order, unsweetened tea with no sugar, sweet tea and Pepsi, and dashed off. We also ordered an appetizer, the toasted ravioli, because. . . St. Louis.
I didn't need to look at the menu, but I did anyhow. Best to have a backup plan just in case they couldn't or wouldn't make the Shrimp Alfredo Burger.
I also played with Angel's IPhone. I had forgotten my tablet and I would have to use this dreadful little Apple product to collect the evening's images. It behaved similar to my tablet, just with fewer useful features.
The Food:
Angel and Adam studied and debated the menu offerings. They finally settled.
As if by magic, Jamie arrived to take our order.
I started. She looked at me with a furrowed face. She had never heard of such a thing.
"I'm not sure we. . . " She started.
"Yes you can, I have it on full authority that you have the shrimp and other things on hand."
"I'm not sure if the shrimp. . . " She started again. I could tell she didn't want to tell me 'no', she was trying to find a way to steer me away from this order. I didn't mind that at all, it showed confidence, experience and competence.
I finally smiled. "Tell Debbie that some idiot just ordered a Shrimp Alfredo Burger, she'll know what to do." I reassured her.
"Well, she's my mom, so I can say something to her. . . " She still seemed to struggle, like she was being set up for a prank. ". . . I'll pass it along, now how would you like that burger cooked?"
A real pro.
Slightly embarrassed at this point, Angel ordered the Breakfast Burger, Adam the Chipotle Burger.
They all come with fries.
The Ravioli was delivered, big, puffy round, breaded and fried, meat and cheese filled. We didn't recall these. I scanned back through my notebook and found the March review notes. "Ravioli: traditional." It said, no other comment. This was different. If they were house made on our earlier visit, like these in front of us, I certainly would have made note of it.
I knew they would be hot, so unlike my two dinner-mates, I cut one open with a knife and fork. They each bit in and screamed in searing pain. Raviolis do that, you bite them, and the lava-like filling erupts into your mouth. It always happens, always. It's still funny to watch though.
And they were very, very good. You  can tell house made from frozen, these were definitely house made, fresh. We asked Jamie about it later, sure enough CG started making these a few months ago. Bravo!
The door to the kitchen opened and a different lady, who only slightly older than our young server, peeked out at us, directly at me. "I guess I finally get to meet the owner." I whispered to Angel.
I looked back to the lady I knew to be Debbie, smiled and nodded. I stood as she approached and introduced her to the family. I stood, because I'm a good southern boy, all filled with manners and respect and such.
Even though Debbie and I have communicated a few times, we'd never actually met. This time, ordering a Shrimp Alfredo Burger rang alarm bells in the kitchen. She knew I had arrived. Apparently there's not a big calling for the cheesy surf and turf offering. We chatted for a few minutes until Jamie stopped by. "Told you so." I rubbed it in. She smiled, her mom smiled.
"So, straight up Shrimp Alfredo on a burger eh?" Debbie asked.
I thought about it for a second and said yes.
"Well, let's do this." She replied, and like a trooper on a mission, marched back to the kitchen.
Meanwhile, the bulk of the dinner crowd started showing up. The ladies that run the front of the house scurried about. Orders were being brought out of the kitchen in regular order, I saw no plates go back, no unsatisfied customers.
We chatted among ourselves about evening entertainment options. Saturday nights, once the meal is consumed, we head home and go about our own business until about nine, when we reconvene in the living room and if we've agreed on a movie, we watch it together. Adam was pitching a movie I'd never heard of but it sounded awful. "It's called 'Snowpiercer'. It's about all the remaining living people on earth are on a nuclear powered, eternal train, the earth has frozen from global warming and they live on the train which never stops, it just circles the globe. There's warring inside the train between the privileged people  up front and the poor people in back."
"It sounds terrible, like one of those awful SciFi channel things like Sharknado, or Hippo-cane." I replied. "Or worse, this sounds pretty much like that awful TV series from the '70's
'Supertrain'." Adam was of course too young to remember that nine episode train wreck that nearly bankrupted NBC.(It shows up in most lists of 'Biggest  TV Blunders' alongside 'Manimal')
"It has a Rotten Tomato rating of 95." He said.
"How is that possible?" I asked, I respect the Rotten Tomato.
"It has a Korean director." He answered, knowing I like books and movies with from an Asian perspective. Adam knows how to bring a convincing debate to our table.
Speaking of bringing things to the table, the food arrived.
And there it was. Piles of cheesy shrimp on top of a thick burger.
When Debbie asked me about wanting it straight up without other toppings, I had answered properly. Traditional toppings like ketchup, mustard, pickles, etc. would not work with this. I ate it like you see it. There was plenty of flavor. Between the grade-A beef, perfectly cooked to order and slightly peppery, and the salty, cream, butter and Parmesan cheese sauce,(she even remembered the parsley!) There were not many extra toppings worthy of those tastes. There was enough shrimp to cover the patty and more. A few escaped, but were recaptured. I shared a couple of the jumpers with Angel. Yeah, it was good. It was actually better than I thought it might be.
Between the richness of that burger and the rich, fancy shrimp, I knew I would be hard pressed to
finish the whole thing. I went sparingly on the fries, but it still stretched my limits.
Angel had asked for the egg on her breakfast burger to be over-medium. As she bit into it, it did precisely what she intended, the yolk burst open drenching the whole thing. That's exactly what she wanted it to do. The Breakfast Burger includes bacon, egg and a hash brown patty.  She'd ordered the smaller 5 ounce version of the burger, but it was still a lot of food.
"Very filling." She said between bites. "Maybe less hash browns." She critiqued. "It would be great with country gravy." She concluded, predictably. Gravy is Angel's most sinful food delight. She likes it a lot and doesn't get to have it often, so she orders extra when we're splurging.
Adam's Chipotle Burger was very pretty as well. He opened it up and exposed the orange Chipotle sauce and the pepper cheese. He likes things spicier than his more reasonable and experienced parents. About the only thing he said about it was that it could use just a little more sauce and a little more heat. That means it is probably fine as-is for most consumers.
He came closest to actually finishing his burger. The standard burgers are pretty big. Angel's 5 ounce looked almost as big, but a little thinner. We equally enjoyed them, the fries as well. CG doesn't  skimp on portions, quality or freshness.

This is the place where I usually write 'Summary' and start wrapping things up. Jamie stopped by to gather our plates and made a startling, game changing announcement.
"My mother is going to make you a Twinkie, she wants to know what you think of it."
As one, our eyes popped out of their sockets and our jaws fell to the floor.
The words "I'd like a deep fried Twinkie." Have never, ever passed through my perfectly sized and shaped, masculine lips.
But CG makes several kinds of fried Twinkies. Deb's as proud of and as serious about them as her burgers.
Long time fans will recall that we rarely order dessert. Very rarely. Because we lack self control. We order main courses and then stuff ourselves with them which means we rarely have room or desire for dessert at the end of a meal. We might have something later, we've taken home cheesecakes from a few places, gone home, made some coffee and enjoyed it a couple or more hours after the meal.
We had done that again, stuffed ourselves on the main course. But we didn't have to eat it all, just enough to make a reasonable and professional evaluation.
Jamie pointed to the board where the different varieties were listed. A few of them sounded sane, many of them were obviously the result of a days-long alcohol or controlled substance binge. I can not imagine a sober person coming up with the idea of  'Maple Bacon Twinkies'.
Angel and I were leaning toward the low impact end, maybe strawberries and cream, but Adam would have none of that. We compromised on Peanut Butter and Chocolate. Yeah, a Peanut Butter and Chocolate deep fried Twinkie was a compromise. Definitely a first-world-only dilemma.
I asked Jamie whether this would be sort of like a Reese's Cup.
"As a matter of fact, we use only Reese's Peanut Butter." She beamed.
I justified this as being reasonable since I enjoyed a peanut butter cup once or twice a year. I could just skip the next one.
We were dreading this. I loosened my belt and sat firm, preparing myself for the inevitable shock. I have really, really cut back on my sugar intake the last few years. Heavy doses of sugar tend to throw my body into a staggering buzz. There was no way this nutritional abomination would be any different. But, I am a professional, willing to sacrifice my body for my craft, as is occasionally required by you, the fickle and demanding fans.
Jamie came back a few minutes later with a plate full of what could only be described as a product of satanic design.
We were staring at it in awe, wonder and fear. Unrepeatable words were uttered.
Two crispy edged deep fried Twinkies, slathered with chocolate sauce on a drizzled bed of peanut butter. The heat from the Twinkie was melting the chocolate and peanut butter. For reasons only a deranged pastry chef could possibly understand, they'd even dusted the thing with powdered sugar, I suppose to make sure that it was sweet enough.
This was no subtle dessert. This was a fist-pounding, head banging, heavy metal, HELL YEAH!!  kind of dessert. This offering is an in your face, middle finger extended to the heavens, Kamikaze dish. If you want this, if you eat this, it means that for this rare moment, you are just fed up with caring about anything and everything you're supposed to do, expected to do. This treat is a sin in any language, creed or culture. It is completely unjustified in the food world and in nature itself. It's the right-now, noisy, screaming, crashing, completely pointless excess and wasteful demolition derby of the pastry world.
"Can I get you anything else?" Jamie again, beaming.
"A defibrillator? Paramedics? Cocaine?" What could possibly go with this?
And lo, it was good. Of course it was. The crispy edges, swirling in quality peanut butter and chocolate. The sugars on the outer crust of the Twinkie had caramelized, thus the crunch, thus the amplified sweetness. We each could only handle a few bites. Had we had smaller main courses, we might have made it further into it. We tasted it, tested it. It was good in the carnal way that letting go of your inhibitions and timidity and just unleashing the raw, inner sinner, for a moment, is good.
If you have a weak spot for over the top desserts, this is about as wild and decadent as you're likely to find legally. It rubs against all the edges. Celebrate your existence and recognize your mortality at the same time. And you know what? Why not?
Of course after eating this thing, I felt the overwhelming need to rush home to savagely brush and floss my soul.
Debbie came out of the kitchen and over to the table just as I stuffed a sizable chunk into my mouth. I was embarrassed to say anything since my mouth was full and I was pretty sure my ears were bleeding.
She explained, once my pulse settled back to triple digits, that she just couldn't offer my burger on the menu. "With the price of seafood going up like it is, I'd have to price it at $25."
I understand that. I had tasted a prototype, a one of a kind.
A high powered mutant of some kind never even considered for mass production. Too weird to live, too rare to die .   - (HST)
We chatted a bit more and I decided I liked her even more than before. A true, dedicated and diligent restaurateur and business person. A nice, somewhat timid lady though. At least around us. I pointed out that she looked a bit apprehensive and reserved.
"I'm afraid of what you might write." She answered, a reasonable and measured position. Her business thrives, survives on word of mouth and unfortunately, public reviews by ignorant, arrogant amateurs.  She cares about her food, her restaurant, her employees and her reputation. She has nothing to worry about, with me at least. The Concord Grill, small, busy, a bit dark and cozy, is easily one of my favorite eateries in the whole area. It's the complete package. I'd live there if I could. I probably wouldn't live long, but what a way to go.
The food and service at the Concord Grill is well above the norm. Friendly, comfortable, satisfying and yet also offering the occasional devil-may-care wildness.
I wouldn't change a thing.
Oh yeah, the bill came to forty something bucks, not that it exactly reflected what we actually consumed. She forced that damnable Twinkie on us.
And the tea was great.
Like I said, the whole package.


By the way, the movie 'Snowpiercer' was quite good. Very compelling with an unmistakably refreshing Asian perspective.

Concord Grill on Urbanspoon

Monday, September 8, 2014

Ruby Tuesday

 Well, just look at that calendar, the pages whip by so fast!
Believe it or not, this silly exercise called Eat and Critique began five years ago this month. Nearly 250 reviews written! Whew, that's a lot of mindless, pointless drivel.
For those of you not familiar with the story and too lazy to go back into the archives to check, I'll summarize.
We had settled into a familiar rut. We'd go out to eat once per week, but only to the same four or five places. One of those places was Ruby Tuesday. The food was pretty good, but more expensive than the other joints we settled for.
Not only did we go to the same places, we pretty much ordered the same thing every time.
At RT I would get a steak, mashed potatoes and green beans. Almost always it was good. Then one Saturday in September 2009, it went foul. Almost everything was cold, cooked wrong, and courses served too quickly. Even the tea was bad, old and stale.
I was furious. I had come to count on consistency there, I was certainly paying for it. I swore to never go there again. We decided to try some other places.
Apparently I couldn't shut up about it. I wanted to let somebody know, but whom?
Thus the birth of this site.
A quest to find other places, experience other tastes and locations. To try to objectively articulate what made the experience great, mediocre or terrible.
We've learned a lot in the last five years, learned to expect certain things and manage those expectations for real world situations. We've seen some great places come and go, it's a brutal business. We've also been astounded when genuine, certified crap can outsell and outlast places serving decent, fresh food at the same price.
We don't have all the answers, not at all. We've learned a lot of things though and are looking forward to learning more, experiencing more.
This site has had over 125,000 views. Not bad for a site that doesn't advertise  itself, it's pretty much word of mouth and social networking.
We wish to thank all of our regular readers and even the visitors. We enjoy your feedback, in whatever form.
On behalf of the entire staff and family here at Eat and Critique headquarters, Thank you.

The Place:
Like I said this all started because of one lousy experience at Ruby Tuesday, this very location, off Highway A, overlooking I-55.
It's changed a bit inside since back then, they've gotten rid of all the kitschy sports artifacts that were once popular in places like that. There's still sports on TV at the bar, but not in the dining areas. It is now decorated more modestly, more fashionably, modern art, muted colors.
The hostess met us at the door, there was no wait.
She led us to a booth, very near every booth we get every time we go there.
We were met shortly by a cheerful young lady that did not have a name tag.
"What's your name" I asked as she passed out the menus.
"I was just about to tell you." She laughed. I'd interfered with her process.
"Hi, My name is Angela and I'll be your server. Could I get you something to drink?" She spoke as if it were rehearsed, or the fiftieth time she's said the exact same thing that day.
She was still cheery though.
"Un-sweet tea, no sugar." I responded, her brow furrowed, but she wrote it down.
Angel asked for sweet tea, Adam, some pop.
She looked at me. "You said no  lemon for your tea?"
"I said no such thing."
"Oh, uh, would you like lemon then?"
"Of course!" I smiled
She took it in stride, like a pro. She left us alone to look over the menus. When she brought the drinks, and those marvelous cheesy biscuits, I was happy to see that the tea was bright and clear.
The menu hadn't changed much since our last visit. Not that it mattered, I knew what I wanted.
The Food:
But I blew it. Let me be clear about that, I ordered the wrong thing. I wanted steak, specifically the Petite Sirloin, but I thought it would be even better with a little surf on it. They offered coconut shrimp or lobster tail. I thought about the lobster, but saw how much more it cost, and settled on the shrimp. I added the mashed potatoes and traded in the second side for the salad bar.
Angel was up next, Low Country Shrimp and Grits, pus the salad bar.
Adam asked for the Asiago Peppercorn Sirloin, No salad bar, but I was sure he'd be plucking some of his mom's croutons.
For an appetizer, Adam and his mom asked for the mild hot wings.
We dived toward the most bestest salad bar in the world.
I was methodical, just a little of this, a little of that. Two kinds of lettuce, spinach, peppers, cucumber, onions, mushrooms, cheese, fava beans (makes slurping noise), bacon bits, a little apple salad, a little potato salad. Top that with a dollop of blue cheese and a couple of smears of thousand Island dressing. No croutons.
By 'no croutons' I mean two different things, first, I didn't want any, second there were no croutons.
"They're fixing some now." I heard from a staff member talking to the family in front of us. Angel and Adam would be disappointed. They love RT's dark croutons. Personally I think they taste like tires.

The appetizer showed up soon, I wasn't impressed, not my thing. Angel and Adam like them though. They were certainly orange, fluorescent orange, a hue of orange that does not actually appear anywhere in nature.
Adam said they were fine, Angel said they were a bit spicy. The mild form of this offering is a compromise for Angel and her son. He'd like them a bit hotter, her, a little less so.
My salad was, of course, awesome. I love the salad bar at RT.

Soon enough, but not too soon the main courses arrived. Angela, our server, and another server swept in and delivered the plates. As they sat mine down I instantly recognized the egregious error I had made. Coconut Shrimp is a bold choice for a guy that cannot stand coconut.
More like Coco-NOT!
I tried one anyhow and gagged. The coconut was thick, caramelized and sickly sweet. I handed one to Angel and told her why.
"Peel it off." She said, I hadn't heard her say that in many years, so for a moment I was a little distracted. Then I peeled the coconut coating and tried the actual naked shrimp itself. It tasted like coconut. Feeling bad for me, Angel handed me one of her shrimps, which was delicious.
Angela had insisted I carve the steak in her presence. It was fine. The mashed potatoes as well were very good, creamy and buttery.
Angel's grits plate had a lot of andouille sausage. Andouille is of French origin but showed up in Louisiana by way of German immigrants. It is pork based and usually spicy. It's a favorite in New Orleans
cuisine. I don't care for it much, when it comes to sausage I always prefer the sage-y southern style, whole hog stuff. I'm okay with a Brat once a year or so, but spicy sausages and my metabolism don't often get along very well.
Grits, even though I am allegedly a southern boy, I have never liked, at all. Angel doesn't get this.
"These have lots of cheese though, you might like them covered in cheese!"
I sighed. "I don't care if they are covered with gold and prostitutes, I don't like grits."
To me, grits taste like sand.
Overall she liked her meal, but the spiciness of the sausages and the richness of the cheese soon overwhelmed her.
Adam, of course didn't say much about his, though he seemed to like it just fine. He had a side of broccoli because he's his mother's son and I can't seem to talk  him out of such things.
When he finished his meal, he grabbed a couple of napkins and wrapped up the four remaining cheesy biscuits. Those things are awesome, famously awesome.

Angela, our server was a real trooper. She seemed to handle a well intentioned ass-hat, me, like a pro. She didn't stumble, got everything right and stayed cheery and attentive throughout the meal. As did Jessica, or Stephanie, I forget which, handling the tables in my view, cheery helpful, almost like they were instructed and trained to maintain an upbeat demeanor. I was quite happy with the service. The shrimp was my mistake. The price, more than many places we go, was a reasonable sixty bucks (we had a coupon). Reasonable for the quality of the food. All the food was properly and professionally prepared, cooked to order.
The only ding RT's gets this round is the crouton shortage.
So, for our fifth anniversary,  at the place that angered me enough to take on this trek originally, we were well pleased.
Once again, thanks to all our readers for making this journey fun and interesting.

Ruby Tuesday on Urbanspoon

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Hardee's Balogna and Velveeta Special!

In our weekly local paper, we found a coupon. Angel giggled with glee showing it to us. It described a new breakfast menu item, one that harked me back to my innocent and threadbare, hardscrabble youth.
Fried bologna, Velveeta 'cheese' on one of their signature biscuits.
Angel didn't actually want one, neither did Adam.
I had to know.
So early on Saturday (9:30 A.M.), I ventured out, I needed to go to the post office anyhow.
We had bologna quite often. We didn't call it that so it feels weird spelling it with a 'g' and ending it with an 'a'. So I am going to revert at this point to the colloquial, more familiar 'baloney'.
We had baloney quite often. My great uncle, O.C. Dyer* ran a store across from my grandmother's house. We lived with her for most of my first twelve or thirteen years.
Whenever we needed something Mom would send one of us to the store for it. Uncle O.C. had a huge ledger on the counter where he entered names and amounts, you could run a tab there. So all we had to to was to grab what we needed, or a pop, (soft drink) or occasionally a candy bar and take it up to the counter and he'd just write the amount down in the big book. I suppose he billed the folks later.
It was an old style store, two gas pumps out front, a big cooler for pop, a few isles of produce ad canned goods. There was even a hardware section, nails, screws, nuts and bolts, etc. There was a revolving toy rack and a candy section. The latter two is where I spent much of my time and meager allowance.
Off to the left was a full deli counter. A huge, shiny meat slicer and a widowed cooler that held all kinds of meats in cheeses in bulk form.
When we got baloney, it wasn't in a package, it was sliced to our desired thickness.
And lo, it was good.
Dad would fry some occasionally, cutting four long slits so it wouldn't concave so much as it cooked, then just plop it on a plate, usually with a fried egg alongside. I don't recall ever making a sandwich with fried baloney.
As for cheese, I don't have distinct memories. I believe we had American singles, but I don't recall a brand.
We had cold baloney sandwiches fairly often. Baloney sandwiches were cheap and easy to prepare, my mom's favored form of meal.
In the store itself, on any given workday, local laborers from the nearby sawmill would go to O.C.'s store for lunch. Baloney on a saltine was quite common, with a drizzle of hot sauce.
So yeah, I'm quite familiar with baloney. Even today, with all my wealth and class, having long escaped the thin times of my youth, I still enjoy a simple baloney sandwich. White bread, Miracle Whip, a sliced tomato a couple of slices (because it is so thinly sliced these days) of baloney and a slice of American cheese.
That's lunch on any day.
As for Velveeta, I certainly knew about it when I was young, I even liked it. But we could rarely afford such extravagances. Back then, name brands like Oscar Mayer and Velveeta were pretty much as unattainable as Rolex and Ferrari, and Oreo.
The Place:
In Hillsboro,  Hardee's is the anchor for all other eateries. It's been there longer than most and sits on a prime location, visible  from all directions, right beside one of the county seat's few traffic lights.
It's a popular place in the mornings, a favorite of many elderly groups. They congregate and read a paper or just talk and laugh among themselves over a cup of senior discount coffee.
I used to go there quite often on Saturday mornings myself. My book, some coffee and a sausage and egg biscuit with a side of tots.
Then I started this whole 'eat better' regimen a year or more back and my tastes and tolerances changed. The stuff there started to leave me queasy and irritable. It no longer tasted good like it once did. Now when I go out and have breakfast it is at a place that uses real eggs, real bacon, real hash browns. I can stomach that. Something fast food places use or do always leaves me with a bad taste in my mouth and a distinct and unpleasant series of noises from my tummy.
But, I knew I had to give this new offering a try, for the sake of educating you, my loyal fans.
The Food:
I had the coupon, I offered it up to the young lady with the headset. She punched eleventy-three buttons,
scanned the coupon and handed it back
"For here, coffee, and you better throw a sausage and egg biscuit on there as well." I shouted quietly.
The extra biscuit was in case the baloney and cheese proved to be awful.
I waited, holding my book. September is 'Translated Japanese Crime Novel' month for me.
I went ahead and sat down after a while at a table beside a window and positioned my plastic number, 56, pointed toward the counter. Hardee's delivers to your table if you make them.
It arrived pretty soon, the thin young lady seemed pleased with her gift to me. "Can I get you anything else?" She pleasantly offered.
I declined further services, plucked a napkin out of the dispenser and started unwrapping things.
Sure enough the baloney was thin, wafer thin and there was only one slice. Well okay. The Velveeta looked like it had been put on the biscuit with a backhoe. It was piled high, gloppy, dripping out the sides.
I studied it, analyzed it, and bit in. Yep, baloney and Velveeta. Nothing wrong with that.
Then it hit me. That metallic, greasy taste in my mouth.
"Eureka! It's the biscuit!" I shouted in my mind.
I had two more bites to make sure I could recall it later. I then shoved it aside and unwrapped the spare biscuit. It was better, but still I could taste it, a sickly bitter taste. Two bites, maybe three, then I pushed it aside as well.
At least I had the tots and coffee.
The coffee was as old and bitter as my sister.
At least I had tots.
So I tossed them back one at a time as I read. Most of them. A strange noise emanated from my belly.
"Eureka! It's the tots!" I shouted in my mind.
I couldn't sit there any more, I was no longer enjoying this quiet round of Dennis time. I closed my book, gathered my trash, dumped it and left.
Awful, simply awful. By the time I got home I was full-on nauseous. I just can't eat this fast food crap anymore.
But at least it was good to reminisce.


*I only ever knew him as O.C. that's what everybody called him. It stood for 'Ovit Crawley'.

Hardee's on Urbanspoon

Monday, September 1, 2014

Company B Bar-B-Que

4583 Hunter Lane
House Springs, Mo.

Earlier in the week we'd discussed grilling some food for the three day weekend. This put Angel in the mind of barbecue, slow smoked meat. I don't do that, I'm a burgers and chicken thigh guy on the grill.
So we lamented again the loss a couple of years back of our nearest favorite barbecue place, Bandanna's. It burned down, not slowly.
There are other barbecue places, some pretty good ones, then Angel recalled one that we'd intended to go to a few times, but never made it.
Thus, Company B.
One of the reasons we never made it is because it sits right beside one of our favorite Mexican Places, Cinco De Mayo. (translated, ' a Fifth of Mayo') So we decided to head over to Highway 30 and since we'd had Mexican two or three times this month already, not fearing we'd detour yet again.
The Place:
It's kind of small. This is a sure sign of a good barbecue joint though.
The place is definitely locally owned and they don't waste a lot of money on interior decorators or contractors. Not that it wasn't nice enough, just a little kitschy. Corrugated sheet metal covered the walls, rough wooden shelves decorated with wash basins, wash boards, rough wooden objects. Mismatched paper towel racks hung above each table. On one of those racks was a twelve inch nutcracker. . . which didn't make any sense at all until Angel pointed out the nut cracker was wearing a bib apron and holding grilling tools. I don't have one of those.
The tables were covered with vinyl checkered (easy to clean) cloths accompanied by simple wooden chairs.
There was a erasable marker board with a note to patrons to take a seat. We did, but only after two or three ladies greeted us warmly.
There were menus at the table, we passed them around. It looked good, it all looked good. Once again we decided to try to get a variety. We're cooperative.
The Food:
Angel had mentioned the macaroni and cheese, which gets some buzz on the internet, even though Company B  doesn't itself have very much of an internet or social media presence. I like mac and cheese. Not the crappy boxed powdered cheese stuff, no, it has to be thick, really thick and creamy. Angel and I recalled some of our favorites, chief among them the stuff they made many, many years ago in the cafeteria at the  Litton plant in Springfield, Mo. that her and I both worked at. We also agreed that KFC makes a pretty good batch.
As for meats though, she pointed out to me the 'loaded potato', which is exactly what it sounds like. The meats listed were pork, chicken, turkey, beef brisket and ribs. I knew Angel would grab the ribs, she did. I decided that a baked potato with smoked turkey would hit the spot. Adam decided on a 2-platter of chicken and pork.
When Brian,(not her actual name) the lady that waited on us stopped by for our order, she dropped a confounding bomb. "Macaroni and cheese is seasonal."  Not available till October. I still can't quite wrap my head around what would make M&C seasonal, but, whatever. Oh, and no brisket either. They'd run out.
This was okay, we understood that. Wanting meat that is slow cooked in bulk for six or more hours means that a small place like this might just run out of a thing or two as a day goes by. It's not like they can just throw another quarter-cow into the microwave.
So we worked around the unavailable options.
It didn't take long. Since everything is already cooked, serving time is fast. My big potato was covered in cheese and green onion, I had to dig a little to find the turkey, but it was there. The potato itself was perfectly cooked, the butter, sour cream, smokey turkey blended together to deliver a smooth taste profile. I didn't eat all of the potato, spuds are so filling that I concentrated on the meat and cheese.

Angel's Rib platter was a feast for a queen. Thick, meaty ribs, a big ball of potato salad and a fistful of slaw, along with some nicely grilled thick, buttery toast. She tore away at the meat. It wasn't quite sliding off the bone, but she seemed to be enjoying it nonetheless. She shared some meat, pretty good, not as greasy as I tend to find ribs at most places. That's my problem with ribs, they seem greasy to me. The slaw was sweet, good, the potato salad was also sweet. Maybe too sweet together. I declined her offer of a slab of toast, because, potato. Adam took it though.
Adam's two meats were as good as one can expect. Slow cooked chicken and pork doused in one of the three sauces on the table, sweet and smoky. The tin bucket of chips was delightful. I  tried one, quickly decided that I could not eat just one, so I grabbed a few more. They were house-made and dark. Like those delicious 'overcooked' chips you find in a bag once in a while if you are lucky. I loved them, he did too. They disappeared.
His beans were of the vinegar style, none of us are fans of that style. We understand that many people like that, just not us.

The food was fantastic. Fresh, same day fare. The people at the smoking equipment know what they are doing. All the meat was exceptional, simple, perfectly cooked. Of the sides, the chips were the clear winner, though none were bad. The price was very reasonable at just above forty bucks, more than a Mexican or Asian place, but . . . slow cooked meat. . .
We were disappointed that the mac and cheese was not available. Earlier in the week I'd answered a Food Network Facebook query "What's your favorite pasta dish?" I responded just as you  think I did. 'Mac and Cheese'.  I doubt that this was what Food Network was going for.
Brian delivered the check and earned her name. At the top of it was the name 'Brian'. in the spot where the
server's name usually goes.
I asked her about it at the counter. "What? Oh, no, Brian's the owner."
About the drinks, unsweetened tea with no sugar for me, sweet tea for the lovely bride, and Pepsi for the boy. Nothing remarkable, at least it wasn't nasty.
We highly recommend the place, even without the mac and cheese. We'll probably go back 'in season' though.
BTW When I grilled chicken this weekend, we made a run to KFC for a tub of mac and cheese. We haven't figured out how to make it right ourselves.

Company B BBQ on Urbanspoon