Monday, January 26, 2015

Bandana's Bar-B-Q

1220 Big Bill Rd.
Arnold, Mo.
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We are eagerly awaiting the opening of four or five places around Jefferson County. One, is Savannah's Smokehouse in Desoto. I was in the Fountain City Saturday morning taking pictures of some of the interesting sights around town. While on Main Street I peeked inside the window to see how it was progressing. They've still got some work to do, but soon, maybe soon.
In the meantime, we still have to come up with places to eat. This was Adam's week and as is his custom, he didn't announce until about an hour before dinner time. Adam is not very experimental in this family venture. he picks places that he likes. So Bandana's was no surprise.
There used to be a Bandana's in Festus, but it ironically burned down a couple of years ago, there has been no apparent effort to replace it. So, we were off to Arnold.
The Place:
I've said it before, I don't like going to Arnold. It is about the northernmost city in Jefferson County, which makes it more of just another suburb of St. Louis than anything else. The roads are always busy, it is littered with acute-angled, confounding multi-lane, multi-choice intersections. The business area has every conceivable big box store, franchise restaurant, bank, strip mall you can imagine. There are a couple of restaurants in Arnold that we've tried to go to, but the lines around the buildings were just too intimidating. Bandana's though is usually not nearly as busy. The lot was less than half full. We got out, I closed the car door, then checked it again, then
once more before We went in. Last week my car door was left open the entire time we were dining.
As we approached the entrance, something on their door caught my eye. Mixed messages on the door. I love irony.
We went in and were led back to a booth. Bandana's is wider than it is deep. Most of the booths are in three straight long rows. I imagine staff movement, serving and clearing are more efficient this way, not bending around haphazardly arraigned tables and diners.
Our server, name-tagged 'Kayla', a young, happy and energetic lady, opened up her order pad. "Can I start you off with some tea or Pepsi Products?" She asked of me.
"Why yes, yes you can." I answered and returned to scanning the menu. That never gets old.
I looked up again and saw her smiling. Points! "I'm afraid you'll have to be a bit more specific than that."
Angel jumped in for the rescue. "Sweet tea, and can I get that with no ice?"
Of course she can. I ordered unsweet tea with no sugar, which never gets old either, Adam went for a Pepsi.
She scurried off and we began the selection process. After I decided I looked around and checked out the familiar layout. Mostly brick and tile, lights over the tables were re-purposed tin washtubs. Somewhere in the background there was music, country maybe, but fortunately it was so low in volume that I couldn't even make out the tunes.
Kayla returned in a few minutes with our drinks, we were ready to order.

The Food:
I ordered a Southern Pulled Pork Sandwich and a side of potato salad. I heard someone else order that side as we were being led back to our seats and the notion stuck. I hadn't had potato salad in a long time. Angel went for her usual, a Choose Two combo of chicken and ribs with fried okra (Blech!) and French fries. Adam went simple, Buffalo Chicken Sandwich and fries.
Bandana's has lots of smoky meats to choose from, beef, turkey, chicken, sausages, pork, etc. There's also a very god selection of sides to choose from.
I'd not had the pulled pork before, usually I get a Choose Two myself. I was hoping the pulled pork would be just a little wetter and in strips rather than half inch chunks. Those tend to be a little chewy and dry unless you slather them in sauce. Bandana's has an excellent selection of sauces to choose from at every table, so it's not that big of a deal, I'm just lazy.
I discovered they had free Wifi available, so Like Angel and Adam, spent the next few minutes browsing the web or whatever it is they do on their 'smart' cellular telephones. I had my tablet, both phones I carry are flip-style, for making phone calls, like phones are supposed to do.
When I did look up again I started watching the staff, especially the hot ones. (just kidding!) I noticed the front staff was entirely female and the only people I could see in the kitchen were male. I'm not accusing anyone of anything here, just an observation. Many would argue that women don't belong in the kitchen, I boldly and vehemently disagree. I will speak out loudly to put women back into the kitchen, because I'm all for women's rights.
You're welcome, ladies.
As if on cue, Kayla brought me my sandwich.
The sandwiches were presented in baskets, diner style. Angel's combo came on a plate. My potato salad was in a little bowl in the basket, Adam's fries were just dumped in alongside his sandwich. The meat on mine was piled high. So was the potato salad. There was going to be more than enough food. I pulled a chunk, there were chunks, not threads, of meat and tasted it. Smoky, sure, but as I feared, a little dry. Pass the sauce please!
I injected about a quarter cup of Sweet and Smoky into the pile of meat, made more complicated by the slaw on the top. The bun seemed kind of flimsy, I doubted it would hold up for long. Once sauced up the meat was very good. A bit chunky for a 'pulled' pork sandwich, but not too bad. The potato salad was a sweet version, with chunks of boiled egg and slivers of something, perhaps potato skins. As far as potato salad goes, pretty darn good.
Angel's plate came with two enormous slices of Texas toast. I'd forgotten that luscious treat. They apparently bathe the
toast in butter, there's not a dry spot on it anywhere. Thick, buttery, toasted, Mmmmm. She handed me half a slice. I love her. Looking at her plate though was troubling. Two starchy fried sides and a pound of toast.
The actual meats took up less than half the plate. I tasted one of her fries, not bad. Angel pours ketchup over the fries, I'm a dipper myself. It's a miracle we're still together given that stark difference.
It was only a small portion of ribs, and there's not much meat on ribs anyhow. Angel said they were very good, just not a lot there. Bandana's are about her favorite ribs anywhere. The chicken was a little dry, she said. Tasty, but dry.
As for the okra (Blech!) she said they were nothing special, probably frozen.
Adam's sandwich and fries were gone in a hurry. He was quite pleased. He didn't say much about it, but the speed and the 100% completion spoke volumes.
Currently our favorite smoky meat place. We sure miss the one in Festus, Arnold is a pain to get to.
The price was quite reasonable, forty two bucks. Kayla took very good care of us, happy, efficient and patient the whole time.
The tea was better than most places, but still almost an afterthought.
I'll have to admit that Adam and Angel are bigger fans of smoky meats than I am. I don't dislike them at all, but it's not a high ranking, go-to thing in my head. As far as they go though, I have to admit that this is about as good as it gets.
The whole operation is well run, efficient, on time, they get the orders right and the food is definitely fresh cooked.
If only they'd rebuild in Festus. . .

Bandana's Bar-B-Q on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Oriental Buffet vs. Hibachi Grill

Sometimes comparisons are inevitable.
About a year ago, Hibachi Grill in Festus opened, a mere mile from the Oriental Buffet. We'd been going to the latter for several years, it was small, but they seemed to get the things we like best about right.
When the Hibachi Grill opened, I was worried for the smaller place.
The many Hibachi Grills around the region look the same, large and imposing, with similar interiors styles and offerings, but they are not a franchise outfit. It's more of a shared business model. Each one is independently owned and operated. If there is collusion between them, it apparently happens behind closed doors. All the four or five HG's I'v been to looked, tasted and seemed the same.
OB is, by all appearances also independently owned and operated. It is at the end of a modest strip mall. HG took over a failed Ryan's Steakhouse. A massive free standing building.
HG's have bigger, much bigger, buffet lines. They not only offer Americanized (breaded and fried) Chinese food, which is after all, what we want when we want Chinese, but it also serves a lot of American American things like pizza slices, macaroni, etc. Strip away the non-Chinese serving lines at HG and you'll discover they serve pretty much the same stuff as OB.
HG also caters to big crowds, OB is a bit more intimate, more sit down restaurant like.
So this three day weekend we decided to do a side by side comparison. Was OB holding up despite the Goliath on the nearby hill? Was Hibachi sacrificing quality for quantity?
Let's find out.

Oriental Buffet
774 Truman Blvd
Festus, Mo.

The Place:
At the end of a strip mall Just South of  Highway A. A few years old, but holding up well. The strip mall is anchored by an always busy Aldi's on one end, along with hair places, a big $1 store, the usual stuff.
I noticed walking in that it had not changed much in the year or so since my previous visit. Well lit, nicely decorated, clean and neat. There were the requisite gaudy red, gold and jade objects sitting around, not cluttered though. There were about a dozen tables occupied, maybe 1/3 capacity. This is pretty much the level of occupancy I recall from earlier visits.
We were greeted by a young lady who happily led us to a booth and took our drink orders while we were walking. This proved very efficient since by the time we got to the booth we didn't even bother to sit, we just dropped of our jackets and went straight to the line. I admired the table tops, a large piece of traditional art and calligraphy.
As before, there were a half dozen young people dressed in black pants and white shirts scurrying around the floor, bussing tables, reloading the serving line, refreshing drinks. To my ear they all treated English as very much a second language.
Overhead though, the music was different. It was very low volume, so I couldn't quite put my finger on it. It was definitely a western hemisphere key though. Not the exotic Asian key and instruments that I recalled from a previous visit.
The Food:
We pretty much always get the same things at Chinese buffets, to each of us, our own favorites. I spread it out, just a couple of nuggets each of General Tsao and other chickens, Black Pepper, Teriyaki, etc. Some Beef from the broccoli and beef, and some pepper steak, a few standard shrimp, then some noodles and fried rice, and finally a must-have, a Crab Rangoon.
Angel 's plate had some of those things, but also included an egg roll,
chicken on a stick and green beans.
I like those things too, but the egg roll and stick chicken, were, compared to the other things I had, quite large. Adam's plate looked paler. Broccoli, plain rice, and a Chinese doughnut along with his General Tsao's. Adam doesn't care for fried rice because of the little vegetable chunks they put in it.
There was nothing scary or new on my plate, like I said, we all get pretty much the same thing every time. This was going to be a test of quality, taste and freshness of things we knew well, not an experiment. We would very likely be getting very similar things at HG.
I picked an poked around my variety, tore open the rangoon and let the innards melt on my tongue. It was sweeter than at some places, but not bad, barely any crab taste  at all. The wrapper was crispy on the top and sides, but suffered a little under the liquid load on the bottom. The only place we've found that can prevent their bottoms from getting soggy, was at Lucky China in Arnold. Those at Lucky were the best tasting we'd ever had as well. But these were quite acceptable.
Angel immediately remarked on the freshness of the stick chicken. I asked her if it was dry, as they often tend to be and she said that it was actually moist. Then she pointed to the green beans and said they too were fresh and perfectly cooked. I began to notice the same thing. All the meats were tender and moist. None seemed overcooked or suffered from sitting too long in a steamer tray. That's a problem common in many buffets, food that is kept warm often tends to continue cooking and toughen or dry up. This did not seem like that at all. Even the beef strips fell apart with a gentle pull. The only disappointment for me, and it wasn't a big one, was that the noodles were a bit overcooked, but they were tasty. Nothing was too spicy, or too bland or too sweet, the recipes and preparation at OB was solid. For my second round, unlike what I used to do before my stomach shrank, which was to go back and get two or three of my favorite things, I went straight for the dessert round. The desserts I like at Chinese buffets are hardly traditional, I like the bananas in red sauce topped with banana pudding. I noticed they also had Fig Newtons, another thing I'm rather fond of, so I grabbed one of those as well. Angel grabbed a couple more chicken chunks and some more green beans, some shrimp and added a couple of the rangoons. "Rangoons are kind of like dessert." She said. I nodded, they were kind of sweet at OB.
Overall we were quite pleased. A little surprised too, that the quality had not suffered since our last visit, and in fact seemed to be improving. The freshness was notable, but also indicative of a well run, successful restaurant, the dining area was very neat, meticulously cleaned and the staff was plentiful and on the job. Empty plates were taken away and tables were bussed, cleaned and prepped very quickly.
The place never really filled up, but those that were there seemed happy and content. The bill came to a modest and predictable thirty four dollars and change.
Not bad, not bad at all.

Hibachi Grill
331 North Creek Dr.
Festus, Mo.

The Place:
Hibachi Grill took over the former Ryan's Buffet about a year ago. It's big place, easily three times bigger than Oriental Buffet. Hibachi Grills are designed and operated to feed a lot of people. Saturday nights the place is usually packed. On those nights it seems almost industrial, like a busy cafeteria.
It too has the gold and red bric-a-brac on shelves. It also has large statues, reminiscent of the famed Terracotta Army. We were greeted by a young man lady who took us back to a booth/table. He too asked about drinks on the way. Once again we didn't even sit, we went straight to the lines. The decor is a bit loud and gaudy, only on a larger scale. The carpet was very dark, worn and industrial, it robbed from the ambiance, making it seem less polished and clean. The tables were not nearly as ornate, plain faux-marble laminate. The Music overhead was more talk than music. It was a radio station pushed by industrial speakers into an acoustically challenged space. Static, poorly equalized noise. The sound bounced around the high ceiling so much that I couldn't make out the actual words very often. Bad idea.
There were, as promised, more serving lines. Hibachi Grill has one thing that OB doesn't, a Mongolian Barbecue station. I've taken advantage of that before, picking my own combination of meats, veg, noodles and sauce. It's hard to go wrong when you pick your own ingredients. I skipped it this visit.
The Food:
Sure enough, even though there were a lot more buffet lines, all three of us picked out pretty much the same
things. I added a thing or two, like a stuffed crab and 'butter shrimp' just to try them, but other than that, some fried rice, noodles, a couple each of several beefs and chickens and a crab rangoon. The rangoons were noticeably smaller, more like won tons. That's not a bad thing, just a style thing. I like them both ways, the big fat ones can be kind of messy. The meats I got were very close to the same selections from OB. General Tsao, pepper, etc. Also the pepper steak and a slug of thin meat from the broccoli and beef.
Angel and Adam pretty much did the same, even though I had not prompted them to do so. Angel had the egg roll, the chicken on a stick, green beans. Along with that she added some cheesy crab dish and some stuffed mushrooms.
Adam had the chicken, the plain rice, the doughnut, and broccoli.
Selection was where the similarities ended.
My fried rice was, for lack of a better word, mushy. Too wet, it doughed up in my mouth. I can't really comment on the taste since the texture was too off-putting to notice. The noodles were better cooked than at OB but there wasn't any real flavor to them. The chickens, as I had feared, seemed tough and dry, the beef chewy. The rangoon wrapper was not crisp, but not soggy either, sort of stale, very much like chewing on a business card. Once again the texture was enough of a deficit that I can't really speak to the taste.
The extras, the stuffed crab was inedible. The taste was weird, I can't put my finger on it, but once again it was the texture that really killed it. It was gritty, like they sprinkled about a tablespoon of fine sand in with the stuffing. The butter shrimp was neither buttery or shrimp-y. It looked
like salad shrimp with a crust of some kind, but it came out more greasy breading than anything. The green peppers in the sauces all looked pale and seemed a bit tough. the General's chicken was the only thing, other than the real shrimp, that I finished on this plate.
Angel commented the the stick chicken was dry and tough. She admitted that things didn't seem as fresh. Adam shrugged his shoulders.
They were confused. They had eaten there just a week before, without me since I worked that weekend, and said that meal was just fine, much better than this. It wasn't just one or two things, she said.
I made a second run, mostly because I hadn't wanted to eat most of what was on my first plate. I saw some chicken I'd missed before, something called 'Hibachi Chicken' with a green pepper and sauce topping. I also grabbed anther Rangoon to see if the previous one had just been a dud. I hadn't asked Angel about the cheesy crab, so I got a little of that. Then I went ahead and stepped up to the dessert line and plopped down some bananas in . . . . wait a minute, is that sauce . . . orange? Oh well, I topped it with some banana pudding. Just like before.
Angel picked up a few things too, including a stuffed shrimp and some chocolate pudding.
The cheesy crab was awful. It tasted fishy, and not in that good way. The chicken was pretty good though, a little fresher and more tender than the others. Still, the peppers were pale and tough. Overall the best chicken offering that evening. The previous rangoon had not been a fluke, this one too was stale. The red/orange sauce was a little odd, but not terrible, the good news is that the banana pudding was very good, more like the old fashioned kind mom used to make before instant pudding was invented. More vanilla wafers, layered, as well. Angel commented that her pudding was better here as well.
The bill came in at a slightly higher thirty nine dollars vs. thirty four, not really enough to squirm about. The service was at least as efficient, plates disappeared quickly. The tea was old, like OB's so no winner there. It should be pretty plain from this review, the whole ordeal was a bit disappointing.

Well it probably seems clear at this point, and in fact it was unanimous consent, that Oriental Buffet was the winner of this round, by a large margin.
I said 'this round' though. Adam and Angel truly seemed baffled about the fact that they could not believe the difference between the two week-apart meals they'd had at Hibachi. Thinking about it, I had a hunch. We went to Oriental Buffet on a Saturday. Hibachi Grill on a Monday. As I mentioned earlier, on Saturday nights the place is usually packed. On this visit, there was no competition with crowds, a lot of empty tables between diners. HG's food was not being turned as quickly and was sitting much longer than on a Saturday. Hibachi has a lot more food offerings, though a great deal of it is American food, meat loaf, pizza, grilled steak, macaroni and cheese, etc. the kitchen has a lot more work to do to turn out that big variety. Whereas OB concentrates on a much smaller range of food and can tend to that and make more frequent and smaller batches.
So the moral of the story is that if you want to go to Hibachi Grill, go there when it is really busy. Oriental Buffet on the other hand is more consistent exactly because it serves fewer things to fewer people.

After the meal on Saturday, we had to stop on the way home to give witness statements to the Festus Police and the Highway Patrol. We had stopped at an intersection yielding to oncoming traffic, unlike the guy in the Jeep in front of us. He got slammed by a big pickup going full on through his solid green light. The poor kid in the pickup told me after I called 911 and checked on the drivers, that this was his dad's truck as his own had been stolen earlier in the week. (sad) No one was injured, just two vehicles totaled and a mess of fluids, glass and plastic bits all over the roadway.
On Monday as we got to the Hibachi Grill, as I usually do, I stepped out of the car to take a photo of the signage. I took two as the first one was a bit distant. After we had our disappointing meal we stepped back out to the vast, but mostly empty parking lot to see that the SUV's passenger door, my door, was standing open. Yeah, I'd been so eager about the photo that I forgot to close the door. Nothing was stolen or damaged, just a little embarrassing. I only mention it at all because Angel said I had to mention it or she'd sue me or something. She mumbled something about all the previous times I'd pointed out silly and embarrassing things she's done, though  I don't recall ever doing that.

Oriental Buffet on Urbanspoon

Hibachi Buffet on Urbanspoon

Monday, January 12, 2015


12693 Lamplighter Square
St. Louis, Mo.

Yeah, I know, I said I was going to stop eating at and reviewing fast food chains. But there's a story here, granted not much of one, but if I didn't report on this meal there wouldn't be anything this week, because . . . work.
I had to go in to work Saturday afternoon for what was predicted to be an all-nighter and extended to a seventeen hour shift. I try to get ahead of these events when I can, so my Saturday morning would involve sleeping as late as possible, running out to take care of a couple of chores, try to sneak in a nap, then head to work. Sure there's something a little odd about setting an alarm for 3:00 P.M. but that's just the way it is. If you want a career in IT support, you just better be prepared for occasional to frequent weekends, holidays and all-nighters.
All went to plan, I slept until I just couldn't anymore, about 8:30, had some breakfast, checked my social media and email, lounged around for a bit, showered and headed to the Post Office, etc. When I got home I hung around for a bit then went in for my nap. I was up by 2:30.
It was then I realized something was not on my checklist. Work would start at 4:30. The heaviest lifting would be the first few hours. Better get something to eat.
Well, I was headed into the burbs anyhow, I had time to stop somewhere and get something.
I wasn't really hungry for anything specific. I didn't have time for a full, sit down affair, so I just replayed my route in my head and thought about what was on the way.
Heading in, at the first suburb, there are some traffic lights. One, if not all the others, is usually red when I get to it. I recalled the outdoor blinking LED sign, 'Two Fish Sandwiches, $5.' it has been flashing that for several weeks or months now.
I like fish sandwiches. I didn't need two, but I was pretty sure I'd never had a fish sandwich from Arby's before.
The Place:
It's a fast food franchise, they all pretty much look and smell the same. Plastic, pre-fab, nothing original, everything 'safe'. There was hardly anyone else in the joint at 3:30 P.M. on a Saturday. No line, straight to the counter. They took my order, one fish sandwich, curly fries and a medium drink and told me they were a couple of minutes away from having curly fries ready.
So I filled up my cup with tea and a little ice, pumped some ketchup into little paper cups, ripped out a couple of napkins and found a seat where the late afternoon sun wouldn't be on my face or neck. I waited for the order, only a couple of minutes, as promised. It was then I noticed the music. Odd choice, all 70's and 80's top ten. America's 'You can do Magic', Feetwood Mac's 'Everywhere', there was even a little ELO action. (look it up for yourself youngsters). This is the music that was the background noise for my coming of age, teen's through twenties. The problem with that is, and the youngsters won't know this, is that there weren't a lot of music options back then, before cable TV and the interwebs. You pretty much discovered a new song or group over the radio. Most towns had at least one radio station that played popular music at least occasionally, and when they did it was usually Top Ten. At night when the local stations went quiet, the big city flame throwers, like WLS in Chicago, jacked up the voltage and blasted doped up DJ's for hundreds of miles into the wilderness.
Of course, they too played pretty much the same top ten. If you were lucky enough to live in a big city or had a progressive university station nearby, you could sometimes hear more obscure stuff, but otherwise it was the same few songs, day after day.
So by the end of my coming of age period, I was already sick of all these songs.
Being as I was pretty much the only customer, there was no din to help mask the sound. At least it wasn't country. I don't know, maybe this is considered elevator music these days. At least they didn't whip out 'Afternoon Delight' (Starland Vocal Band) or 'Honey' (Bobby Goldsboro). There's a couple of ear worms for you.
The Food:
I like a good fish sandwich. I used to prefer those at Burger King, but they changed the formula a couple of
years back and I haven't had one since. I don't care for the crap at McDonald's at all. If you ever see my car parked at or queued up in the drive through at a McDonald's, go ahead and call the cops. It's either stolen or I've been abducted am am probably in the trunk..
So why not give Arby's a try?
A few years back we ran a comparison review between Arby's and a local chain 'Lion's Choice'.  It is to date, our most read and most controversial review, ever. Mostly because it infuriated the locals that we preferred the national chain over the local favorite for objective and well reasoned criteria. Still, local pride got vicious.
The curly fries were a last minute, impulse decision. They offer waffle fries too, but I recalled that the consistency of done-ness of waffle fries at fast food places is sometimes a bit iffy.
The fish looked good, golden brown and crispy. I hoped they didn't try to season it too much.
The curly fries looked well cooked, also a dark, golden brown. There were a few all tangled up and stuck together, one of the things I don't like about curly fries. That and the fact that they sometimes don't dip-fit into those tiny ketchup cups, make them, for me, more trouble than they are worth. They tasted pretty good though, not too salty.
The fish sammich was on a toasted sesame seed bun, topped with tartar sauce and a pointless, limp leaf of iceberg lettuce. At least they don't put cheese on it like McD's. 
I grew up loving fish sandwiches made at home, with fish sticks (five sticks, four side by side, the fifth one laid perpendicular along the tips of the first four), white bread and ketchup. Mmmmm. . . yummy.  Nobody seems to make them that way anymore. I like tartar sauce better than ketchup on fish, but back in the day it was simply not something we kept on hand at home. Nowadays, I can make a reasonable tartar sauce substitute  with mayo and sweet relish, things we do have on hand for some reason. My arrangement of five fish sticks fit the white bread perfectly, side to side, end to end. This big filet was more triangular in shape so the sides didn't reach the edge and the ends stuck out a little. I bit off some of the exposed fish first. Not bad. 
The breading was a little heavier than it needed to be. The fish was fresh, moist and flaky, the breading crisp, about all you can ask for. The curly fries tasted okay as well, despite having to pause and untangle or break apart a few of them.
The tea was about what I come to expect at most chains, a bit old and unremarkable.
As far as fast food fish sandwiches go, it was pretty good. One national review site lists the Arby's offering as the best among its competitors. I tend to agree. It wasn't great, but certainly noticeably better than any other franchise fish sandwich I've had recently.
The service was fine, I liked the fact that they told me at purchase time that the fries would be a little while, that's a nice touch. The place was respectably clean, no litter or noticeable crumbs on or around the many empty tables. At least once during my short visit one of the crew was out on the floor with a broom. The crew didn't make a lot of noise as young crews tend to do at some fast food places. They did hoot it up a little when one of the young counter lady's husband (assumption) stopped in with their two young kids. She got to take a break and hug them for a few minutes. Sometimes I wish I had young kids stop into the workplace to grab some midday hugs.
I don't go to fast food places much anymore since they all tend to make me a bit queasy afterward. This was no exception. My tummy noisily complained most of the evening in the quiet office. So much so that I felt it necessary to tell the other two guys about it, apologetically. 
A quick meal for six bucks is pretty decent. Sure it sours the stomach later, but it certainly was filling. Around seven, the other guys said they were making up an order for some takeout, I declined. I was seriously not hungry, even though, uncharacteristically, someone else was picking up the tab. I ate nothing the rest of the night.
If I ever do yearn for a franchise fish sandwich, Arby's will be the top choice, though that only happens about once or twice a year, tops.
My only other complaint about this Arby's, or all of them, I don't know which, did not have Wifi. . . I thought all the chains had Wifi. Most of the time I do go to one of these places I'll order a coffee and maybe an apple pie, just to be able to do some downloads. 
So, not bad, better than others, but the whole fast food bar is pretty low.

Arby's on Urbanspoon

Monday, January 5, 2015


1630 Gravois Rd.
High Ridge, Mo.
On the Web
On Facebook

It was nearing the end of the four days off from work for the New Year holiday. We're not partiers, so we had no plans for celebration other than snack-type munchies, veggies, dips, chips, those 'Little Smokies' in barbecue sauce... some of us didn't even manage to make it to midnight. At that magic time I was watching TV, I don't recall what, maybe Mythbusters, probably Mythbusters, I saw a lot of that over the four days. They were running and end to end series marathon.
The weather was mostly chilly and cloudy, I took advantage of the lack of goings-on and dark, dreary weather to luxuriate in a glorious languor.
I insisted that Angel should pick us a place to go to on Saturday. I can be a jackass like that at times, especially if I'm wallowing in a long period of downtime and too lazy to think about, or plan things much.
She surprised me when after a couple of hours she came back with "Jilly's."
"You mean the Salt Palace?" I responded.
That's what jumped to mind immediately when she said it. The two times we've reviewed the place, we came away feeling salt-licked.
If we were going to do this right, we'd have to keep our minds open, besides, we hadn't been there in nearly five years.
The Place:
High Ridge is actually quite a distance from our compound outside Hillsboro. There's no good way to bet there.Choice 'A' is barely-shouldered, narrow and curvy/hilly Highway BB, over to Highway 30, then half the county north.
Choice 'B' is more drivable, 21 to M then up 30, for not nearly as far. To get there we took Choice B. It seemed to take forever. The restaurant sits on a hill amongst and behind other shops, so you have to look for the signs. It was all lit up this post holiday time, the patio and gazebo held tasteful, not wasteful simple white lights.Overhead the blue neon sign read "illy's". Which by definition means the sign wasn't filled with neon, which is orange, more likely mercury gas.
The place can hold a lot of people, so it didn't concern us too much to see that the lot was about 2/3 full. We just marched in like we owned the place. The main dining area has booths along the perimeter. The center of the space is lower than the perimeter, sort of a ballroom configuration. In the center area there was a group of forty or so besuited middle aged people that appeared to all be part of a single group. A reception of some kind. They were already being served their main courses.
We were shown to a booth in the back, pretty much the same booth we've gotten twice before.

The decor is classy. By that I mean classic. Dark wood paneled walls, 60's style booths and tables, the artwork depicting martini's and Manhattans in cocktail glasses. Almost like you wouldn't be surprised to see a half sloshed Don Draper sitting at one of them with his hand sliding up some buxom blonde's skirt.
Overhead, old style blues rang out, one of my favorite restaurant music types.
Yeah, a steakhouse/blues club/cocktail bar. A bit of odd fusion, but certainly unique. Nothing Diner/Drive-in/Dive about it.
The Food:
I pretty much knew I'd be getting steak. I hadn't had one in quite a while. So I scanned the menu as the server asked about drinks (tea, tea, Pepsi). I heard Angel ask for an appetizer, cannelloni bites. They are prepared similar to the regionally ubiquitous toasted ravioli, by that I mean breaded and deep fried.
I struggled with the steak selections, I was looking for a small steak. I wanted a baked potato as well, no need to waste a big, pricey slab of meat that I wouldn't be able to finish. The only small one (6 oz.) they had was a Petite Flat Iron. I didn't know what that was, but it was a steak and it was the right size. So after our drinks arrived I asked for it, the potato and green beans.
Angel asked for 'The Ribs' with Spinach Salad and Baked Potato. Adam a Grilled Chicken Club Sandwich with House Chips.
Pretty soon the cannelloni arrived, twelve of them, more than you get as an appetizer in other places, with a tiny ramekin of marinara dipping sauce sprinkled with Parmesan cheese.
I dipped a cannelloni into the sauce too soon, it was blistering hot. I let half of it rest and cool before trying it again.
We agreed that we liked cannelloni better than ravioli, more meaty filling, less noodle. The treats and the sauce were pretty darn good. The cannelloni was crunchy, meaty, savory. The sauce was not too sweet, but maybe a little too much Parm.
There, I said it, without really saying it. Parmesan cheese comes across a bit salty. I was on my guard looking for too salty tastes, the very thing we'd dinged Jilly's about in the past. There are several things besides salt itself that can come across salty, Parm is among them.
I had reviewed the previous write-ups before we went out. I recalled the saltiness  so I tried, deliberately to avoid things that might be victims of a heavy hand. Notice no one asked for mashed potatoes? A baked potato is safer, They aren't seasoned on the inside. The mashed potatoes was definitely something I'd pegged before as being over-'seasoned'.
Angel's Spinach Salad showed up pretty soon. A fresh, healthy looking thing, all green and crispy. She'd asked for the house 'Mayfair' dressing on it. I wouldn't have. Mayfair is also a St. Louis creation, anchovies, oil, egg, champagne, garlic, mustard. . .  see where i'm going here? Considering the venue and our past experiences, I would have chosen a sweeter dressing to cut back on the salty potential of everything else.
But I didn't get a salad. Sure enough, Angel didn't really care for the dressing.
The cannelloni disappeared, the salad made it about halfway, the 'rib towel' arrived. A mango and peach disposable wipe in a plastic tube. I guessed that Angel and her ribs were about to get messy. I don't care for ribs myself, a little too fatty, too much of a hassle, too messy. Angel's a big fan though, of beef ribs anyhow. The menu didn't say which animal the ribs came from. Could have been a horse for all we knew. She had assumed beef. . . Guess what?
The third person to wait on us this far delivered the main courses. Hefty, nicely plated offerings. Angel's pile of meat and bones looked as though it weighed twenty pounds or so.

My strategically ordered 'petite' steak was smaller than the potato. Adam's sandwich and chips filled his plate.
We dug in. My steak cut like butter. The potato was piping hot and soft inside, it took the sour cream and butter perfectly. Yeah, I pretty much turned it into mashed potatoes, but I controlled the seasoning. A little pepper was all it took.
The green beans were firm and surrounded by a generous portion of cooked onions. I like onions, a lot.
Petite Flat Iron Steak
The steak was topped with a dollop of 'Cabernet Butter' Something Jilly's puts on most of their steaks. It didn't coat the whole thing though, so I was a bit confused when I bit in too a piece from the edge. It tasted. . . off. It didn't really taste much like steak. The texture was perfect, the done-ness, spot on, but the taste was weird. That's the best I can describe it. It just didn't taste like my taste buds were wanting it to taste. It wasn't awful, but it really was off-putting. I didn't finish it, or my beans for that matter. . . there was a taste to them from the onions, or some seasoning that just didn't motivate me to finish them. My tummy was happy though, potato.
Angel piped in somewhere that the ribs were not what she was expecting, they had a taste and texture that didn't match her expectations either. She said it might be from the wrong animal, but we had no way of knowing without asking.
There was also a lot of meat there. She had to get a box to take about half of it home. The ribs had been served with two ramekins of sauce, one was decidedly barbecue, the other was up for debate. Both Angel and Adam tried it, but they couldn't agree. Angel's final word was that it might be a form of Buffalo sauce, but in the end it didn't really matter because it went unused.
Adam's response about his sandwich was a fairly tepid 'pretty good'. Of course being a chicken sandwich, there's not a lot to either screw up or make sparkle. The bacon helped, the tomato and lettuce discarded, so it was basically just a grilled chicken breast, some bacon, some mild provolone and chilpotle sauce.
I know you're dying to know, the tea was . . . blah. Not bitter really, but definitely on the south side of fresh.
Though I can't say that the main complaint this time was saltiness, we'd effectively dodged that bullet, but the consensus was that though not really bad, it was a bit disappointing in that nothing really stood out as being really all that good. With my steak, it could have been the cut, but I don't think that would have made so much of a difference. The ribs were not falling off the bone tender, but that's not always a bad thing. It was the taste and texture, and the lack of knowing what animal it came from that will keep Angel from ordering it again. Discussions later concluded that there just wasn't any real pull for the place, nothing that would motivate us to drive that far to take visitors to.
It seems to be busy and successful though, so maybe we're just ordering the wrong things. I'd love to hear from someone that found something there that they find really good.
As I mentioned, we were served by no less than three different people. All of them were nice enough, friendly and professional, but at the end of the meal I wasn't clear who I would be tipping.
So, bottom line, it was okay, but it might be another four and a half years before it occurs to me to try it again.

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