Monday, December 15, 2014

Poppy's Ristorante

2000 N. Truman Blvd.
Festus, Mo.
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Somehow, it seems we end up at Poppy's in the winter. Not by any master plan, mind you. We here  at Eat and Critique World Headquarters have never had a master plan, or even a minor plan.
But Poppy's makes me think of the holiday season.
Maybe it's the heavy oak decor that frames garlands perfectly.
The Place:
It is a beautiful restaurant. Oak floors, thick, carved oak booths and bar, stained glass and Tiffany lamps, tasteful, soft framed artwork, modest chandeliers.
You really do forget that you are next door to a bowling alley.
It has a very upscale feel to it. The secret though is that price-wise it is very reasonable.
We entered and saw that it was busy. A group of tables had been lined up to accommodate a party of fourteen senior citizens. They were nicely dressed, most wore bright red sweaters which looked very jolly alongside the quaffed silver hair of the ladies.
We were led to a nearby booth at the front, near the bar. The scurrying staff were sharply dressed in all black.
Lindsay was to be our server. Yes, I am spelling that correctly, she insisted when she saw me writing it down.
She offered drinks, we responded with tea, tea and Pepsi. She handed us menus. I'd looked it over earlier in the day online, Angel and Adam had not. We had all agreed to try something other the the usual thing we got there. I usually get the cannelloni. I was really going to mix it up this visit.
Our tea and a basket of rolls arrived. I noticed the tea, it looked, perfect, so I sipped it. It was. One big point for Poppy's and we hadn't even ordered yet
Overhead a familiar tune played just over the din of the party of 14. "Pachelbel?" Angel asked. "Yes." I proudly answered. I didn't add that Pachelbel was merely the composer's name and that the name of the tune was, casually, Canon in D Major, formally, Canon and Gigue for 3 violins and basso continuo, and in original German, Kanon und Gigue für 3 Violinen mit Generalba. Knowing things like this are not license to actually mention them in casual conversation, some people think that sort of thing is snooty. I first heard it and fell in love with it back in the early 80's after Carl Sagan used it and several other lesser know classical pieces in his landmark series 'Cosmos'. That now used-to-death-at-weddings song was followed up by a series of classic Christmas songs. Normally when shrouded by a marathon of these songs I tense up and start swearing. Not that I have anything in particular against most of the songs individually, it's the month long deluge of them that raises my hackles. Fortunately it wasn't very loud, so I managed to tune it out for the most part by eavesdropping on the party of fourteen. I didn't learn much from them. It turns out they weren't really very interesting people.

The Food:
We had the usual appetizer, toasted ravioli. Poppy's version is pretty good, crispy, meaty, with a chunky marinara. They came with an overabundant amount of the sauce. This would be an ominous portent of things to come. . .
The rolls were simply excellent. Nothing fancy, just a basic dinner roll, but warm and tender. The basket they came in also had some condiment packets of both butter and 'spread'.
We ordered.
Me: Spaghetti and Meatballs, and a 'Combination Salad' with the house dressing. Yes, spaghetti. I rarely order spaghetti at Italian restaurants, but it is the standard that all Italian eateries should be able to master. I had a mediocre spaghetti plate at the recently opened and reviewed Pasta House, and I skewered them for only having a mediocre version. I can make spaghetti, it's my go to Sunday dinner at home. I make it better than mediocre and can expect no less from an Italian Restaurant.
Angel:Tortellini Alla Panna (Tortellini with Cream) and a shrimp salad. Lindsay replied by saying they didn't have a shrimp salad. "No, no I meant spinach, not shrimp." She laughed at herself. Angel laughs at herself fairly often. It's part of her charm, she never ceases to amuse herself. I sometimes wish I could pleasure myself so completely. I tend to self abuse a lot.
Adam: One of the 'Specialty' pastas, Lemon Basil Rigatoni and a Caesar side salad.
Lindsay trotted off. I started taking notes and when it came to their orders I asked Angel which salad  she had asked for. Predictably she again said 'shrimp'. We laughed and laughed.
Meanwhile I noticed that of the six occupied tables I could see, our server seemed to be responsible for two, ours and the party of fourteen. Not a great plan. Large parties like that, and even more so by parties of successful senior citizens, are rather high maintenance. I first noticed this a few months back at an Olive Garden in Paducah, Ky. Our server there was worn out and frequently out of sight taking care of a large table full. Though we sympathized, we also find it a weak excuse. Surely these places know how much work a large party is, surely they should free up the server(s) of those tables from also having to take care of an additional, less demanding couple or trio.
Lindsay handled it well though. More on that later.
The salads came on small plates. The greens on mine were fresh, though the little tomatoes looked a day or two past prime. When I tried to cut the rough torn lettuce, quite a bit fell off the saucer. There was not enough saucer for the pile of salad in front of me. I could barely move the stuff around
without losing some overboard. The salad was very good, especially the sweet house dressing. The portion was too large though, for the plate and the meal.
Angel's was prettier than mine. Piled high shrimp . . . just kidding, spinach, sliced mushrooms and egg, crumbled bacon and large croutons. Hers too was more than ample. Too big really, for a 'side' salad, and falling off the plate. Adam started his by picking the mushrooms off his Caesar. He hadn't noticed the ingredient when he ordered it. Who puts mushrooms on a Caesar salad? He didn't have much of it, he said the dressing tasted a bit different from what he was accustomed to.
None of us finished our salads, we started them cautiously since pasta is very, very filling and we'd all ordered pasta as a main course. When we go to Ruby Tuesday's which has the best salad bar in the world, we order small meals since we know we are going to mega-load at the salad bar. As I said, mine was quite good, just too much.
The main courses arrived in a timely manner. The plates were more like serving bowls than dinner
Lemon Basil Rigatoni
plates. Mine had three or four large meatballs and was generously coated with a red meat sauce with noticeable tomato pulp. I like it like that. I cut open one of the meatballs and tried it first. Excellent, a blend of meats, definitely pork and probably some beef. The menu didn't describe it, so I'm going by what my highly skilled mouth tells me. The sauce tasted very good. Maybe not the best I've had, but certainly better than the generic, short-cut-laden stuff Pasta House served up.
Adam ate his with a puzzled look on his face. "For Lemon Basil pasta, I taste neither lemon nor basil." He reported. Mostly he tasted the white wine and olive oil.
Angel dived into hers. She didn't say anything about it for a while. We all noted that there was way more on our plates than we'd ever finish. When she did say something it was not especially positive. "Sort of dry in the middle, maybe it's the cheese."
I was full. I looked down at my plate and it looked like I hadn't even started. I felt embarrassed that I ate so relatively little of it. I just couldn't eat anymore though. I shoved it around to try to make it look like I'd had more than I did, like I did as a kid when given something I didn't like. The effort was futile though. I dug around into the vast depths of the bowl and realized I was served more spaghetti than I usually make for an entire family meal and even then there's some left over.
Well, I guess you can see where this is going.
We in flyover country are often stereotyped, and not completely inaccurately, as being among other things, fat. Our meals typically consist of laboring family fare, meat, potatoes, bread, gravy. Big portions of everything, the starchier the better. The problem is that not very many of us get up in the morning and work the fields for fourteen hours per day any more. We were a little slow in adapting our meals to fit a far less active life style. But here's the news. We get it. We may have been a bit late to the party, but in droves we're noticing what we're putting into ourselves. More important than what, is how much of what.
Just ask the burger chains. Even the king of those beasts, McDonald's, is starting to struggle with
Finish point
declining numbers. They're rushing to adapt menus to a new paradigm. People are just no longer slavishly stuffing themselves with the calorie bombs that served them so well for decades. People are eating there less. Big Mc is actually considering offering fresher, healthier food. This time they may actually mean it.
My thoughts on this are not limited or unique to Poppy's, at all. As far as taste goes, they were better than most. But the serving size was simply staggering. I asked around, my sources close to the local industry tell me that Poppy's keeps a LOT of takeaway boxes on hand. That itself should tell them something.
When I opened up the box for my late lunch/early dinner on Sunday, I heated up my typical amount for a home spaghetti meal. There was still more than half of the original serving left in the box.
Isn't too much food a good thing?
No. I found it embarrassing, intimidating and more importantly, wasteful. Prepared pasta dishes don't keep or reheat well at home. Chances are very good that more than half of what we ordered will be thrown away.
There's just no need for that. Sure it's pretty cheap to make, but I would have been satisfied to pay the same amount for one third to one fourth the serving size.
Enough of that for now.
The tab was very, very reasonable, especially if you compare it to the tonnage of food. Even if appropriately sized, the price would have been decent, Sixty three bucks for three entrees, side salads, drinks and an appetizer. Also, we had a $5 coupon thanks to being on their mailing list.
Lindsay did an amazing job, especially considering she was being throttled by that party of 14 boring people.
The comments I made about the food we did get should be filtered against an earlier comment. We all deliberately ordered things we'd not had there before. My spag was fine, but I like my usual, the  cannelloni better, etc. So this was partially a matter of us being bold and experimental.
Poppy's is very nice and quite good. A little better floor management and some adjusting of portion sizes would do them well. Please, offer different sizes of the pasta dishes. Some of us are actually trying to tone it down some. Let those that want a full box of pasta for themselves pay a higher price for the privilege. Nine bucks for a standard sized plate of tasty pasta is about right. A serving platter that could feed four should cost more.  More is not better.
Other than that, Poppy's is a fine place to go, above average in quality. It makes Pasta House look like Fazolis. Well, maybe not that bad.

*Monday. Sure enough the three boxes, still weighing several pounds cumulatively, are now in the dumpster. Angel tried reheating some, but it stuck together, as things like that (flour+water=paste) are apt to do. I'd scraped all the meat sauce out of mine to coat the one reheat I did yesterday, Adam wasn't real happy with the recipe on his to begin with. Bigger just does not equal better, sometimes super sizing is compensation for lack of quality.

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