Monday, October 20, 2014

Fountain City Grille

302 N. Main
DeSoto, Mo
On the interwebs

Joining us this week was Adam's friend, Anthony, whom I call 'Larry' for no particular reason. He stayed with us for a couple of weeks a few months ago. A nice, quiet young man, a lot like Adam that way. This time the stay will likely be longer. He's packed up his belongings and left Tennessee in his rear view mirror. He'll be looking for gainful employment here and once he and Adam save a little and have steady incomes, they plan to find a place of their own.
They get along well and aren't trouble makers, so it is no real inconvenience. We'll throw some chores at them, they've already moved some furniture around for us.
How this will affect future staffing at Eat and Critique HQ, we're not real sure.
I'd been able to find out some of the foods he does and doesn't like, so I picked a place that I knew he could find something he would eat. We're used to that, Adam is a pretty picky eater as well.
The Place:
It had moved since we last visited. There was some sort of difficulty between FCG and the old Arlington Inn where they used to be. They worked most of the first half of this year setting up new digs on Main Street, just a few blocks away.
I love Main Street. This town has done an admirable job of maintaining it. It still has several blocks of old style brick buildings, most of them occupied. The street itself is nestled between the railroad tracks and a steep hill with winding streets and many, many old houses and churches. Charming, is the best way to describe it. The town's nick name is 'The Fountain City' due to a large amount of the unique water dribblers spread out all around the neighborhoods, none of which I've ever actually seen.
In the Arlington, FCG had a strict black and white motif, one they brought with them to the new location. It took us a while to get there though. As we entered town we noticed that Main Street had been blocked off with orange cones. There were no signs indicating why they were doing this. We had to drive around on back streets and alleys to get to a parking spot within a few blocks. I assumed that a rail car had exploded and was spewing toxic gases and sparking epic explosions. No such luck though, all was quiet on the street.
I asked our server about it. She replied that there was some sort of breast awareness walk or run going on. I wish I'd known that earlier, I'm pretty breast-aware already, but breasts are something I like to support as often as possible, hands-on.*
We walked in and noticed the very attractive, yet comfortable black and white. They'd done a very, very good job of decorating. They even brought the poster-sized black and white photos of many of the city's fountains.
The tables and chairs were also simple, painted black. Only the oak stained wood floor did not carry the binary color scheme.
We were told to sit anywhere, it was early in the dinner service day, only a couple of other tables were occupied. Across the room from us was a bit of artwork depicting a tuxedo'd man playing a grand piano. I liked the jazzy theme.
In the back was a long serving bar with stools. This was not a drinking bar, I'd observed on a preview of the menu that they only served four kinds of beer. So there were no colorful bottles of brandy, whiskey or Scotch on display. I didn't mind, I don't drink and dine. Above the bar were two TV's one loudly blasting a college football game, the other, a nearly muted 'Ghost Hunters' episode.
We settled in and pretty soon a red-headed spark plug named Jessica brought menus and a big, welcoming smile. She asked about drinks and since I'd previewed the menu, I ordered. "I'd like some of your fresh brewed Ice tea, un-sweet, please."  She laughed, Angel blushed. "She knows what I'm talking about." I scolded and pointed out that right there on the front of the menu, under 'Beverages', it clearly stated 'Fresh Brewed Tea.' A challenge, accepted. If you are going to say 'fresh brewed' you better mean it. I know ice tea.
When she came back Angel ordered the requisite appetizer, the regionally ubiquitous Toasted Ravioli. We asked Larry if he'd ever had it before, we were ready to teach him a thing or two about local cuisine. "Yes, I have." He answered, which pretty much shut down that conversation. He joined the family tradition of pulling out his own e-device, latching on to an open WiFi connection. I was doing research, they were just playing games, I think.
The Food:
Jessica took our order, with flair and aplomb. When Angel spat out her choice, Seafood Fettuccine,  I vented. "That's what I was going to order!"
Jessica jumped in. "We can handle more than one order of it, we're quite good." She quipped. To spite her I ordered the grilled pork chop. She seemed impressed.
"Did that impress you, the way I chose the pork chop?" I said.
"It's a good choice."  She answered. I could have let it go at that, but that's just what she wanted me to do.
"Oh, I see, pork chops are a good choice, could you point out the bad choices available?"
She only paused a second. "Everything here is very good." she replied, weaseling out of our debate.
"Good answer." I relented.
For a side I asked for the green beans. No potato, I didn't feel like bulking up. Both Angel and I added a house salad topped with another St. Louis traditional, Mayfair dressing.
This dressing was first created at the very upscale Mayfair Hotel in 1935. It contains, traditionally, anchovies, champagne, a whole egg and oil base with garlic, mustard or horseradish, celery, peppercorn and onion. It is thick, like Ranch or Thousand Island, just not as sweet. More like a 'Cream of Caesar' dressing.
She marched off and tended other tables, it was starting to fill up.
We dug into the ravioli, which was served the same time as a basket of soft, pale rolls. I saved mine for the entree round.
Toasted Ravioli can go either way. At many bars they take a bag of frozen rav's and bread and fry them then serve  them up with some canned pasta sauce, or at least that's the impression you get. A few places go out of their way to make sure they are fresh, cooked right and served with a tasty house-made sauce. I'd say these little demons were the latter. Everyone, including Larry, agreed. As far as toasted ravioli goes, these were pretty good. They were gone pretty quickly. Our salads were served about the same time. Small, simple, but very pretty.
Greens, a couple of small croutons, a couple of purple onion rings topped with a thick, creamy sauce. Underneath the dressingI found some diced tomato and some cheese shreds.
I had to cut up some of the greens and the onions, but it was small, so not a big problem. It was all fresh. We could instantly tell that this dressing was made with anchovies. A good job of it though, not too fishy, just distinct. There was a little too much dressing for the modest amount of salad. The last few bites were mostly dressing, the thick stuff was rather clingy. The taste was excellent, just a bit too much of it.The entrees arrived after just a while. Very, very pretty plates.I won't rate 'plating' as important as taste, but it certainly has a role. I notice it when it is done well.
My pork chop presentation impressed me. A glaze-y dark brown sauce had been drizzled over the chop and extended to an artsy pattern on the plate. The green beans were still firm, just starting to soften up. The chop was about a half inch thick, thicker than those you find at a common grocery store. A problem with pork is that it has to be cooked through. That means it can easily be very dry. The thickness would help, but only if it wasn't overcooked. It's almost impossible to make a thin chop that isn't dry as a retread, but that's what they invented gravy for.
The sauce I knew to be balsamic based, also risky. Too much balsamic can be very vinegary. This was not, it had been sweetened up a bit and some had caramelized onto the pork. The chop was perfectly cooked, not at all dry. It cut easily and tasted marvelous. I don't eat pork chops often in restaurants, but this was about the best I'd had anywhere. I ate the whole thing. All of the beans too, perfect.
Angel's pasta dish was described as containing shrimp, which was obvious, crab and lobster bits, less obvious. It came with two big slabs of toasted, buttery bread, which made my roll seem. . . pale in comparison. I'm not sure I get serving bread with pasta dishes though. Pasta is flour and water, so is bread. That's a lot of starch, a lot of delicious starch on one plate. I dipped my roll into the sauce, it too was sea-foody, probably made with a shrimp stock, very tasty. Though she finished it completely, Angel said it was starting to get a little salty near the end.
Adam had ordered grilled chicken and garlic mashed potatoes. He too , ate it all. He mentioned that it was good, but a little shallow in the depth department, a sauce of some kind would have been nice. As you can see in the photo, it does look a bit Spartan. He added that the chicken was  well seasoned, but maybe with a little more salt than he likes.
Larry was well spoken about his order, a bacon cheeseburger made to his specifications, without anything other than bacon, cheese and burger, no veggies please.

He was quite happy with the burger. It was thin, smashed with a spatula and had dark edges. He said it was well seasoned and he really liked the crispy edges. I noticed he didn't finish his fries though. He seemed reluctant to explain why. "They were a little over-salted." he said, almost embarrassed to say it.
While we were finishing up, I watched as a sharply dressed, middle aged couple casually set up microphones, cords, instrument stands and bongos. . . yes, bongos, the tall ones. I asked Jessica about this. "Sugar Moon" She replied, which I took as a compliment. Then she explained
that they were a jazz duet that went by that name.
It was a quarter until six P.M. as I signed the check, the posted start time for the show. We had to get back to the dogs though, so, somewhat disappointingly, we left before they even started warming up.

The criticisms I have pointed out are barely significant. It's like scolding your A+ kid for the 99% on their test paper instead of 100%. The 'saltiness' and the 'too much dressing' observations were not egregious errors, more of a personal preference thing. Long time fans will recognize that I often complain about saltiness and I've pointed out on many occasions that I may be overly sensitive about the mineral. I just don't use much salt myself. I've known many people who enjoy a higher level of the stuff. My old friend 'Wings' (his real last name was one of those Germanic tongue twisters, common in this area.) used to sit down to a plate of salty french fries and shake another half pound of table salt on them before he even tasted one. Lot's wife contained less salt than the amount he sprinkled on his food each meal. So it very well could just be us.
Jessica was a pleasure to have serve us. Witty, personable, pretty quick with the refills and not at all bothersome. She seemed to be enjoying herself. Everything we had was served exactly as ordered and sure enough, the tea, both the original pour and the refills were fresh brewed, dark and tasty.
On the way out we were greeted by Chef Tremayne. A proud and friendly man dressed in crisp kitchen whites. We complimented him on his food and the restaurant itself, he beamed. This man works hard and cares about the restaurant and the food. I could tell that from the confidence on his face and the tight grip of his handshake. The bill came in at a very reasonable sixty seven bucks, that's for four full meals and an appetizer. I tipped Jessica a bit more than is my usual, she certainly earned it.
I can see going back fairly regularly, the food is simple but very well made, the service is friendly and efficient and maybe next time there won't be a football game on and maybe we can stay for some live music.

* I am aware that lots of people are walking and running to raise awareness of and money for, breast cancer. I too have immediate family members that have had or will have breast and other cancers. I am not making light of the cause, I'm just here to entertain, while I still can.

Fountain City Grille on Urbanspoon

Monday, October 13, 2014

Pizza Hut

201 - 203 S. Truman Blvd
Crystal City, MO
On the Interwebs.

It had been longer than we could remember since we'd had a Pizza Hut pizza. It was probably takeout. It used to be our go-to place until the Pizza Junction opened up here, closer, in Hillsboro.
We could have gone to the PH in Desoto, it's closer, but we headed to Crystal City/Festus anyhow. We knew they had moved recently, from one building in a shopping center to another. I'm pretty sure we hadn't been to either.
I asked Angel during the drive an interview-like question:
"So what is your level of expectation for Pizza Hut?"
"You mean like on a scale of one to five?"
"No, no, of course not... One to seven."
She thought for  a bit, then finally: "Four."
I thought this was an interesting answer, so I dug in.
She explained that back in the day, BPJ (before Pizza Junction) she'd always been quite satisfied with PH. "So my actual expectation is probably a bit higher than that." She amended.
It was a beautiful Autumn day, cool but not cold, bright blue October sky.
There weren't many people there.
The Place:
We were seated and then greeted by a young lady with 'Amber' on her name tag. I assumed that was her name. She handed us menus, simple, legal sized laminated cards.
"Would you like something to drink?" She asked politely.
"Why yes, yes we would." I replied and returned to casually scanning the menu.
Angel finally nudged me (poked me in the ribs with her elbow) and I looked up at Amber, she was looking at me, almost frustrated. I've recently discovered that people don't always ask the question they think they are asking and when you answer the question they actually ask, they look at you funny. Like that's my fault.
We barked out our drink demands, tea, unsweetened with no sugar, sweet tea and Pepsi.
I looked around.  The place did indeed look new.
They went with a sports theme, several big screens, thankfully muted and playing sports games. . .football, I think. On the walls were framed, full size sports shirts of game players that I'd mostly never heard of. Somebody once told me sports shirts were called 'Jerseys' which just made no sense. The garment long known as a Jersey originated on the Island of Jersey, a Crown Dependency of the United Kingdom. These knitted wool garments were the rugged and heavy predecessor of what we call a sweater. Modern sports shirts seem to be made from some sort of space age polymer and would hardly keep a man warm on the damp, wind swept island.
The tables and booths were all new and the carpet was barely worn. A nice place, if you like sports and misnamed articles of sports clothing.
The Food:
We had all decided to have pizza. Which was good since they don't really serve much else at Pizza Hut. We had also decided to get three individual pizzas. We all have favorite things on and styles of pizza, that do not sync up well. To build a 'compromise' pizza would leave at least two out of three of us less than satisfied.
So we all scanned the full range of options.

Angel likes thin crust, Adam and I prefer hand-tossed. Angel and I like the 'Supreme' Adam doesn't like veggies on his pie. Thus, three different pizzas.
As the drinks were delivered Angel and Adam had decided to get some wings, like Angel needs more wings. I rarely eat wings because they tend to spice them with acid, or whatever it is that makes a hot wing a hot wing. I've never found any I care for, at all. So they didn't even consult me. After some debate they eventually decided on  Bone-Out Asian style. Sure, fine. Just stop saying 'bone-out'
After a few minutes Amber brought some small plates, some bundled silverware and some napkins along with the wings. The wings looked like Chinese style, breaded balls, fried golden brown, with a distinct sugary smell.
Adam noticed it too. "They smell Asian." he said. I shut him down immediately. "Don't be such a racist." I scolded him. I know lots of people from Asia, they don't smell any worse than most Americans I know. How embarrassing.
I decided to go ahead and try one of the wings . .  .maybe it would be like Chinese. It sort of was, then the pepper spray element hit. Two bites, that was it. Angel and Adam seemed to like them though.
The thing with a pizza place is that there will always be a wait. We were prepared, we had devices, PH had WiFi.
Linoleum Thin Crust Supreme
Soon enough the pizzas arrived. Well, sort of. Amber led the delivery with an apology. "We made them all thin crust, we're making two more for you with the right crust, but here are the ones we made."
Well, color me impressed. Back when I worked in a pizza place we counted on botched orders, they became 'house pies' for the staff. It looks like managers finally figured that little scam out.
Yes it was a mistake, but the fact that she came out ahead of it rather than concocting some sort of cover story instantly made it not so bad.
I had one slice of the thin crust. Of course, the ingredients were all the same, so I sat and picked at them. I don't hate thin crust, I just prefer something a little more substantial, with a flavor and texture less like linoleum.
Hand Tossed Supreme

A while later Amber returned with drink refills and a question. "Would you like the hand tossed pizzas in a box?"

"No, we'd prefer these two in a box." I answered, pointing to mine and Adam's, which were mostly intact.
She brought a couple of boxes, followed shortly by our original choice pizzas. Angel was about a third of the way through hers.
I goofed up because I was hungry. I broke off one slice and stuck it into my face. The four hundred degree sticky cheese stuck to my tongue and sent shock waves through my system. Stupid, stupid, stupid.
I let the next one cool, I drank a little more of my stale and weak tea. Finally I was able to eat the thing.
Hand Tossed Pepperoni Lover's
It was kind of sloppy looking, hurried. It looked as though the kitchen might have rushed it through since it was to make up for a mistake. The toppings looked as though they were arranged with help from a hand grenade. Though the crust did have the signature poofy spots, which I love, the bottom of the crust wasn't faring well. It was  turning soggy and was disintegrating. I noticed that this pie had bigger, deeper puddles of grease, a little off-putting. By the third small piece, I was basically scooping the hot mess off the plate with my fingers, it was coming apart. I didn't get halfway through it before I slid the remains into my box. Adam did likewise. Angel had one slice left, we added it. We ended up taking away nearly three full pizzas.
Angel liked it though, she really likes, and I share this sentiment, the large, chunky peppers, mushrooms and onions. We also liked the sausage.
We always order too much pizza, that's because we all like breakfast pizza.
The bill came to forty six bucks, not bad for five pizzas and eight chicken nuggets, I suppose, but we weren't paying for five pizzas, just three. This seemed a bit pricy for industrial pizzas.
By industrial, I mean 'franchise'.
If you can't make it yourself, you get somebody to make pizza for you. If you are going to buy a pizza,
there's a hierarchy. 1. Privately owned and operated places. 2. Franchises, 3. Frozen.
Private individuals that operate pizza places care about their food first and foremost. You can usually taste that passion. Franchises are businesses bought up by business people. They want to make as much money with as little expense as is possible. Some may be passionate about the pies, but not usually. In most cases the recipes are not even their own.
Frozen is what you eat when no one's watching. It's not really that much cheaper for a brand name frozen pizza than at a pizzeria, but you can eat it when you are alone and too lazy to actually prepare food.
All in all, for a franchise pizza, this was pretty good. Not nearly as good as Pizza Junction, or dozens of other places around the area, but if you want a fast, simple, satisfying pizza, this is a good place.
Amber did an exemplary job of handling a tough problem. I liked that. Mistakes are going to happen. Places get into more trouble when they try to cover it up. She kept the drinks refilled, the bill came quick. Excellent service.
We'll probably go back sometime, but probably not for a while. There's just too many great pizzerias in the area to settle for his very often.

Pizza Hut on Urbanspoon