Monday, February 2, 2015

Local House Restaurant and Bar

3946 Jeffco Blvd.
Arnold, Mo.
On the Internet
On Facebook

We were discussing the options this week, the subject of fish tacos came up. I was game. Angel mentioned a place we went to a year ago, Cafe Arnold, that she thought made them better than most other places. I loaded up the review we did at the time and saw that the place had at that time, just changed ownership and that we liked it really well.
I also loaded up their online menu and saw that it looked the same. Decision, made.
So for the rest of the week, I decided I would order the fish tacos, something I've never, ever done before. Not that I don't like them, I do like a good one, they just aren't on my pop-up list of cravings.
So we went.
Uh oh.

The sign on the strip mall location had been replaced with a banner. "Now Open! The Local House". It said. We stood and stared at the banner for a few moments, not sure what to do. We saw people coming and going, so we finally decided to give it a  whirl.

The Place:
Pretty much the same as a year ago under the previous name. Nicely decorated, seven TV's on the dining area's walls all tuned to sports, muted. There was overhead music "I've Got Sunshine", "My Girl", "You Really Got a Hold On Me", etc. Back twenty or thirty years ago we called those songs 'Oldies'. I'm not sure what they are called now. I do know it wasn't country, or opera, two song genre's that tempt me to spray paint explicit obscenities on clean walls, so it was fine.  There was a separate bar area where there were even more muted, sports-infested flat screens. The small bar crowd was not too loud or rowdy, so we walked right past it.
We were led to a booth that we remembered as being just one or two booths away from the last time we
were there.
I usually do advance research on a place before we visit. This time I had nothing. So I broke my tradition and actually asked the young lady that was seating us about the apparent change.
Maddie concurred that the place had changed hands again about a month back. It was a quick-turn from the previous owner to the new one, a couple of weeks, which is why it looked exactly the same as before. It was a turn-key deal. New name, new management, new menu and new staff. No redecorating or remodeling.
Okay.
The Food:
The menu had changed completely. One thing that was noticeably missing was. . .  You guessed it, there were no fish tacos listed, anywhere.
There were lots of alternative options though. . . perhaps too many (more on that later).
Pizzas, burgers, sandwiches, pastas, steaks, a LOT of options.
It took me a while to refocus, I'd had fish taco on the brain for several days and was having trouble resetting that.
I didn't want pizza, or a fat burger. . . there, steak, can't go wrong with a steak. Fortunately they had an 8oz. option, a 'hand cut sirloin'. I like steak, but I don't ever want an entire side of beef. Especially if there is a salad and at least one starchy side.
I shouldn't have to explain this to you again, my tummy capacity has shrunk over the last couple of years. I haven't been able to actually finish a typical fat burger or pasta plate since.
Adam and Angel seemed to have decided as well, but like me, Angel would occasionally pick up the menu again and give it another go-over.
Maddie arrived with our drinks, tea, tea and Pepsi. The tea looked clear and fresh. A good start.
Angel and Adam had sort of decided on an appetizer, wings, but had to ask Maddie what a 'Trashed Butter Garlic' sauce was. Satisfied with the detailed explanation, they chose ten of those.
I wasn't too concerned myself, I don't like sports bar wings, anybody's. I don't want to have to pull up the Scoville scale to determine whether the things are going to burn through my innards or not.
Maddie came back quickly with the complimentary bread basket and pointed out the house made honey butter. We gave her our main course orders.
Me: 8oz. 'Hand Cut Sirloin', mashed potatoes and a house salad with the house vinaigrette.
Angel: Tutto Mare (seafood pasta, 'from the sea') with no salad, no side.
Adam: Spicy Chicken Sandwich and fries.
We slathered the creamy honey butter onto the small slices of bread and each agreed that there was no
discernible honey taste or texture. It was good, it just lacked that sweet note the item's name would indicate.
The wings came pretty soon. To be fair and objective, I tried a small pull from one of Angel's wings.
Then an amazing thing happened. I grabbed a small plate and slapped a full wing onto it. It was awesome!
Yeah, I know. But allow me to explain. These were not 'hot wings'. These were just very crispy, very tender and juicy wings soaked in a garlic butter sauce. Completely great! How they achieved and maintained that crispiness and depth of flavor, I have no idea.
I could stop right here and endorse this place just based on those wings alone. A mug of beer, a pile of those wings, I might even endure a sports competition on TV over something like that. (Not really)
Those wings disappeared.
My salad came soon after that.
A pretty salad, huge cucumber slices, large tomato chunks and thickly chopped lettuce with four or five croutons and a fistful of grated white (Provel) cheese.
Those among you that have followed this review site for a while know I have a couple of problems with that description. You know I don't like fussing with/cutting up salad ingredients. Sure, big thick toppings make a salad pretty, but salad bowls are not chopping blocks and the only blunt instrument available before the steak arrives is a butter knife that has the cutting capacity of those plastic kindergarten scissors. There will be spillage.
Not an instant black mark, more of a petty personal preference thing.
 My pimp* took me to a restaurant a couple of weeks back that offered a 'chopped' salad. Everything in it was chopped to the size of coleslaw. Loved it! When I make salads myself I make it somewhere in between, precisely so I don't have to fuss with it at the table.
The house vinaigrette was fine, a basic oil and vinegar dressing, nothing fancy or special.
Maddie came by a few times, each time engaging in conversation. I liked her. She was smart, friendly, and she certainly knew her menu.
Finally the entrees arrived with a few surprises, mostly in the portion size department.
My steak looked great, beautifully seared. The mashed potatoes were cooked dirty style, which I like, but there was a lot of them. Adam looked at the bowl and said that it looked like a serving for the entire family. Well, it could be worse, it could be too small. They tasted great though. I've had problems with a lot of places over-salting mashed potatoes. Not here though, the taste and texture of these were perfect. They'd offered gravy, which I'd refused. Angel, I'm sure, was thinking that turning down gravy was tantamount to high blasphemy.
The steak tasted great. I have to say though, it was tougher than I'd expected. Not shoe leather tough, just not top quality cut tender. I've had tougher steak, heck, I've cooked tougher steaks, but still, I have to mention it.
Angel's pasta dish was enormous. We've come to expect this. We're not sure why this occurs, pasta is very,
very filling. It's basically all starch so it bloats a person quickly. When we make pasta at home we use it sparingly. Pasta all tastes exactly the same, which isn't a lot, until you put sauce on it. The sauce and the sauce's ingredients are what make a satisfying dish. Too much pasta, like too much bread on a sandwich, actually detracts from the experience. According to Angel, the pasta was very dense as well. She really appreciated the chopped asparagus bits though. Some of the seafood nuggets, though quite tasty and plentiful, were chopped fine and hard to extract individually.
Adam's sandwich was obviously enormous. The chicken slab was bigger than the bun and most small animals we've maintained over the years. The taste, he pointed out, was "quite good", just too big, and the fries. . .too many to finish.
Hmmm, Spotting a trend here?
Summary:
I learned that the new managers/owners came form Joey B's in St. Louis. That's certainly not a rookie enterprise. Joey B's is an acclaimed and well known chain of restaurants in metro St. Louis. To have come up through there is a pretty good culinary pedigree.
Maddie was absolutely great, she came up from a popular St. Louis food truck herself, (The Cheese Shack) having started with them at the age of thirteen. She knew her stuff, answered all questions, was engaging and completely knowledgeable. She kept us refilled and the courses were delivered in perfect timing. She even tried to sell us on dessert, not knowing us well enough to know we don't usually leave room for dessert. She recommended the new 'Killer Bread Pudding'. Three  words I've never thought of putting together in the same sentence. We declined politely.
As for the food, well, the wings were simply outstanding. Everything else was quite tasty. We were not disappointed at all with the flavors.
The price was spot on for an appetizer and three big entrees, $65, about what you'd pay at a franchise sports bar.
But.
Adam nailed it, portion proportion.
The mashed potatoes were the worst offender. I've never seen any single individual eat that much mashed potatoes in a single day. The amount of pasta on Angel's plate was enough to feed a small village in Asia or Italy or wherever pasta comes from. Adam's chicken slab was enormous. None of us finished our meals. In other words, we paid for a lot of food we didn't actually eat.
As we were packing up, Maddie asked about take-home boxes. Angel and Adam said sure, then she looked at me and asked if I wanted a box for the mashed potatoes. . . . uh, no.
How much food goes out in take-out boxes?
I'll say it again, the food tasted just fine, they've got the recipes pretty much nailed.
A lot of recipes. A whole lot of recipes.
I was a little concerned about the sheer amount of diverse offerings. I'm no restaurateur, but I do watch a bunch of them on TV. I know that a place that has a big and wildly diverse menu selection often has a problem with inventory. Ingredients, if they are any good, have a very short shelf life. If you are going to offer pizza, burgers, sandwiches, seafood, pasta and other entrees, you have to have all the ingredients on hand, all day, every day. That's a big upfront cost. Some of it, if not most of it will get frozen or tossed. Freezing is a texture killer. Almost every thing, once frozen will even taste different when served. It doesn't take academy trained taste buds to discriminate between fresh anything and the frozen version.
I'm not saying that Local House has this problem, but it is a concern since so many other places with similar menu diversity have gone under either from the higher than average upfront food costs, or the quality degradation from the kitchen being stretched too thin.  I didn't really notice any problems like that this visit, so they may have really, really good controls in place. Time will tell.
And we will be back. They did just open a month or so ago, so as always with a new place, my remarks and rebukes are annotated with an asterisk. They're new, but we have a list of things to check on when we do go back.
You've got to try those wings, even if they don't have fish tacos.
Oh yeah, as also is my custom, I'll ask: Local House, Can you please, please have at least one of those 15 TV's tuned to another channel?




*Pimp. That's what we contractors affectionately call our consulting company representatives, also lovingly referred to as headhunters. They pitch our 'talents' to prospective clients and pocket a sizable fee up front. It's not meant disparagingly.


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