Monday, March 30, 2015

Off The Hook

12636 Highway 21
DeSoto, Mo.
On the Interwebs
On Facebook

My choice, last minute. 
We were planning to pick some stuff up from HoneyBaked Ham. Then we found out they close at six and we hadn't even figured out what we wanted late in the day. We'll try again in the near future. Why?
Earlier in the week I got an email via the 'Email Me' button on this page. It goes to a specific account so I can keep track of how someone finds me.
The email was from Erin Peacock. (I looked him up, he's a PR guy.) He invited me to try HoneyBaked and asked if I'd like a $50 gift card. I forwarded the email to Angel
and received a "Why yes, yes I would." reply.
There were no strings, he never mentioned why he wanted me to try it or what he wanted in return. Which is good,  since I won't write a positive review just for $50. My bribe minimum is closer to $100 since I'm a professional. But he asked for nothing, so sure, why not? I can't recall a HoneyBaked meal, though I'm sure I've had one or two somewhere along the line. The card(s) arrived Friday via UPS.
This was part of a Easter promotional thing, even though we don't do Easter stuff.
So, upon hearing the news that they closed at six, I scrambled for an alternative. I scanned through the blog archives to at least pick something we haven't had recently. It's hard to keep track of that sort of thing. I came across OTH. Mmmmm, catfish.
The Place:
An open ceiling, barn-type structure, cluttered with a kitschy but tidy fish/fishing/boat motif. In the middle of the floor, behind the counter is a huge aquarium with several large fish. The kids love this. Several of them planted their greasy, sticky, germ-laden mitts on the glass. The tables are ample and spaced pretty well. We were led to a four-top by a window. The tables are wood, laminated with ads for local businesses along with a list of common trivia questions. The answers are spread out around the ads. Clever. We'd already cracked this game though, they haven't changed out the tables in several years. It was about half full on a sunny, yet chilly Saturday evening. There was just enough crowd chatter to drown out the awful country music. The steel guitar, Satan and Hitler's favorite instrument, pierced the din occasionally. Had the music been any louder, I would have busted up the joint.
Menus were dropped off and drink order taken by . . .  I forgot to take down the young lady's name. Too bad, she turned out to be great and I'd love to tell her so.
Tea, sweet tea, Pepsi. 
I already knew what I was going to get, it's pretty much the reason I picked the place. In fact, when I'd told Angel earlier, "I feel like catfish." She replied "Oh, Off the Hook then." Her and Adam browsed though the menu and seemed to decide on things pretty quickly as well. 
The Food:
When the delightful young lady came back, we ordered. Angel started. Catfish, salad, green beans and mashed potatoes. The server asked if she wanted four fillets or two. "They're pretty good sized aren't they?" Angel asked rhetorically. "That's why we offer the choice." the server said, then added: "We call the two piece choice the Senior Meal." She immediately blushed. "I didn't mean to imply you're old. . . " Angel just laughed it off, she knows she's old. Then she asked for the four piece.
"I'll have the senior." I piped up. "I'm not ashamed of my slowing metabolism and declining appetite." 
I added the salad as well. Seniors only get one side. Of course I knew it would be plenty, the fish came with fries and hush puppies. It's pretty filling.
Adam asked for chicken and dumplings. I don't personally care for such a thing, but I knew he did. 
Since our last visit, when I complained a little about the salad they served, I'd noticed they had opened up a salad bar/boat. Kitschy, I told you so.
Yeah, they built a small salad bar into a Jon boat. Trailer, outboard motor and all. Cute. 
We also ordered, as I already knew we would, the corn poppers as an appetizer. Those tiny dough balls of delight arrived first.
We fell in love with these little taste bombs from the first time we tried
them, several years ago. The dough is not heavy or greasy and they use the sweetest whole kernel corn I've ever had.We have to be careful with these things, they will spoil your appetite if you don't stop eating them at some point. Also, they are always delivered fresh out of the deep fryer, piping hot on the inside. "Ow, ow, ow." Angel muttered as she ignored common sense and bit right into one as soon as they were delivered. Seriously, I'd take a mouth burn or two myself for these things.
We all maintained self control and did not finish off the generous supply.
Then the salad plates were delivered. "One trip only." We were warned politely. 
No problem. It wasn't that robust a salad bar. Don't get me wrong, it had the basics covered. Just not as wide a variety of items that you can find at Ruby Tuesday's. 
It was all very fresh looking though. Iceberg lettuce, spinach, red onions, green pepper, boiled eggs, chopped tomatoes, shredded cheese and about a dozen different salad dressings. I piled it on pretty high. I topped mine with a little 1000 Island and a 'Sweet Onion' dressing. I often mix two or more dressings, just a little of each, even at home. You ought to try it. It gives a simple salad a few extra flavor notes. The bar/boat was a little harder to work with than a traditional salad bar, the counter between the food and the edge of the boat was wider than at a normal bar.
Everything was clean, fresh and bright about the salad itself though.
After that, it wasn't very long before the main courses arrived.
Still sizzling, golden brown fish fillets.  The hush puppies were there too, I love those things. The fries? Meh. 
On our last visit, I'd asked to forgo the fries. I just forgot to do that this time. Not that I don't like fries, but look at that plate. Deep fried starches. That's a lot of high-carb bloating food. Angel had replaced hers with mashed potatoes and gravy, hardly an improvement, but her job requires a lot of getting out and moving around. I sit hunched over a computer all day and get safety briefings asking us to get up and move around occasionally. Then I'm in the car for nearly three hours a day. Hardly a high energy lifestyle. I have to watch my intake rather closely to maintain my adorably girlish figure. I had a few fries, but only a few. I gorged myself on the awesome, crunchy and yet moist and flaky fish and pups.
The server had delivered four condiment containers of tartar sauce in their own little green basket. It was pretty good as far as taste, but packaged for storage and server convenience more so than for than for the diner's ease of use.
The fish was indeed incredible, it too served fresh from the fryer. I broke it open first to allow some of the internal steam to escape. Crispy on the outside, moist, flaky, tasty on the inside. The hush puppies were good as well, just right. I've said it before, the crew that OTH has on the deep fryer are absolute masters of the method.
If my plate looked hefty, Angel's looked positively deadly. Twice the fish, enough mashed potatoes and gravy to satisfy a work crew.
Angel loves her gravy.
There was no way she'd finish it all, that was part of her plan. Take-home is always an option. OTH catfish reheats nicely and makes a superb Sunday lunch sandwich.
"The fish was wonderful." She said. I agreed. It's not the best I've ever had, but it is more than adequate.  The best ever was at a buffet outside Eureka Springs Arkansas. that was twenty years ago, I'm not even sure of what it was called or if it is even open anymore. All you can eat, biscuits, catfish, hush puppies, etc.
From Adam's first bite of his chicken and dumplings, I could tell something was amiss. he made an odd face, then cocked his head like a curious spaniel.

"Something wrong?" I asked.
"It's weird, I can't quite say what it is. It's not bad, just not what I was expecting."
He plopped some onto his mother's plate. She sampled it. "Sue Bees canned Chicken and Dumplings." She said. We looked up this memory later, she probably meant Sweet Sue. At any rate, she compared OTH's chicken and dumplings to a canned version. That's not really a ringing endorsement. Adam only ate about a third of it. He didn't mention the corn, but it looked a little pale and overdone to me.
True to prediction, Angel only managed two of the four fillets, we asked for a box.
Well, we eventually asked for a box. Once again the back end of the service at OTH was slow. Our server, who had done a splendid job all the way through the meal, was now working a table of ten or twelve adults on the other side of the floor. I don't blame her, she was obviously doing a fine job, answering questions pointing at things on the menu and scribbling down the orders. We waited and waited. We finally waved down a passing server. She brought the box quickly enough.
We boxed up the fish and the remaining corn poppers and took our leave. At the counter, the bill came in at just under forty dollars. I padded the tab with a few bucks for a tip. 
All in all the meal and the service was pretty good. Sure, Adam didn't care for the dumplings, but he admitted that it wasn't bad, just not what he had expected. A taste thing. Our fish was superb, as were the hush puppies. The new salad bar was excellent if not especially large. Our server, I really wish I'd gotten her name, was very good. Polite, sharp, attentive and ready with the refills. 
OTH could probably work on some of their recipes, the corn, the dumplings, etc just didn't seem fresh. Otherwise, you can get a very good meal there, at reasonable prices. Still the best place in the area for catfish.

Off the Hook on Urbanspoon

Monday, March 23, 2015

Fountain City Grill

302 N. Main Street
Desoto, Mo.
On the web

One of our favorite places. Angel suggested it, no debate occurred.
A pretty early Spring day, I'd had a chance to do my first cemetery visit this season. It was a bit sad though, this was a county paupers cemetery. Only one headstone among scores of unmarked, budget-friendly graves, buried by county maintenance crews, cardboard coffins, no attempt to pretty up the place. It looked more like an abandoned construction site than a cemetery.
But the sun was out, the birds were in full voiced lust since early morning.
The drive into Desoto was pretty quiet. No particular reason for that, just that the three of us are quite comfortable with prolonged periods of silence.
The Place:
There was only one other table occupied when we arrived, it wasn't quite 5 P.M. though. It would fill up in no time.
The place is absolutely classy looking. This wasn't decorated and designed by somebody's in-laws as a favor, this was professionally done. A modest jazz theme, black on white decor and furnishings, on a polished oak floor.
We were told to sit anywhere, so we did. Angel found us a four top in the back, by the bar.
Above the bar, two TV's were mounted, one with volume up, though not too loud, CNN, some lady pundit whining about something or the other. The other was muted and showing, of all things, basketball. Who would imagine that you could find a college basketball game on TV in March?
We were immediately greeted by a cheerful looking Jenna.
She dropped off menus and a basket of rolls, wrapped in a fluffy black hand towel. We quietly shouted our drink request, I asked for fresh brewed tea, unsweet. Angel looked at me oddly, I pointed to the front page of the menu where it listed, right there in black and white, 'Fresh Brewed Tea',
She then ordered the sweet version, Adam asked for pop.
The Food:
I had studied ahead of time, I was going to do something a bit different.
Last time, about six months ago I had an awesome grilled pork chop. I'd had the steak there before as well.
Angel pointed to the appetizer section, noting the 'Duck Spring Rolls'. We've been trying to find duck served somewhere, this sounded like a good start. Adam would have nothing to do with duck, so we asked for toasted ravioli as well.
The tea came quickly, Jenna was on her toes. Well, mostly. She turned around after taking our order and ran smack in to another table. "That table is never there!" She explained, while Chef Tremayne stood there and laughed out loud.
We'd met the chef on previous visits. A class act, a real pro. A seriously good kitchen master and friendly and easy to laugh as well.
Jenna bounced back in no time though. The appetizers came out in just a few minutes.
Beautiful little spring rolls, served with two sauces. One a sweet and spicy, the other one spicier and more Asian in seasoning and flavor. I stuck with the sweet and spicy. There was a distinct crispiness to them, no greasiness at all. As a good spring roll should be, it was light. The duck was ground and blended with mild seasoning and herbs. It definitely wasn't chicken or pork, but since we don't know what duck is supposed to taste like, we just agreed we liked them. We left the ravioli for Adam, we already knew they were good, we'd reviewed them before.
We ordered our entrees.
Me: Bacon cheeseburger and fries.
Angel: Sirloin steak, garlic mashed potatoes, house salad.
Adam ordered the Blazin' Burger, described as: Fresh ground beef mixed with a fiery blend of seasonings, topped with grilled onions, jalapenos and pepperjack cheese. "No onions or peppers, please." Adam told Jenna. Adam likes spicy, but not over the top spicy.
Yeah, a burger. Since I'd had more exercise that day than I'd had in several months, I had an afternoon snack. I wasn't ready for a steak or a big pasta dish. I knew the burgers at FCG were thin, so I could probably handle that.
Angel's steak order was a little unexpected. I surmised she was in full carnivore mode this day. It happens.
As we waited, the same musical duet that had come in and set up at our previous visit came in and started setting up. Two guitars, a big set of bongos. "Sugar Moon", they call themselves. We'd be gone before they started, just like the last time.
We finished off our spring rolls, sat back and just relaxed.
Then the food came.
Just as expected, pretty. Square white, pristine plates, no sprigs of greens or glitter or swooshes of sauce. Even the burgers looked a little uptown served like that. Angel's steak and potatoes looked sparse and tidy.

FCG, by default, slathers mayo on hamburgers. When Jenna told me this I made a righteously offended face and grunting noise. "No mayo then?" She asked.
"I'm an American, don't you have mustard?"
"I could bring you some."
I let it go at that. Good enough, but seriously, do I look Canadian?
The burger was piled high with a lettuce I didn't recognize, it looked smaller and rougher edged than iceberg.It was also remarkably fresh and crisp. the tomato was a bit pale, understandable, off season. The two rings of red onion would be just about the perfect portion. The burgers are balled then smashed on the grill. You can always tell. The thinner edges get crispy and delicious that way. I put good ol' American yellow
mustard on it, smashed it closed, then cut it in half. It was bigger, for the lettuce, tomato, etc, than I had anticipated. The fries were thick and cooked just to the point of getting crispy. This meant they would have a soft inner texture, yet stand up when held. They were also searing hot.
Adam's burger was similar in appearance. He got rid of the tomato. The cheese on his was pepper-jack. As for the 'blazing' aspect, he said it was more Cajun tasting than anything else. This is not a bad thing for Adam.
We didn't hear much from Angel during the meal. She indeed was in full-carnivore mode. That steak was gone before I finished half my burger. Sure it was just an 8oz. sirloin, but it was thick. She'd ordered it medium rare and that is what it was. She made pleased grunting sounds the whole time. When she finished it, her plate looked like that place on the highway after the deer carcass has been recently hauled away. Knife still in her hand, I did not say anything to her about what I'd just witnessed her do to that steak and the peculiar vicious glimmer still in her eyes.
When she started using her words a few minutes later, she described the steak."Very tender, perfectly cooked."
I knew she liked it. When Jenna offered her steak sauce, Angel declined with a grunt. That's how you know when a steak is good, when you don't need to put any sauce on it.
Jenna stopped by, asked if we needed a third or fourth tea refill, we said no. She asked about dessert, we also said no thanks. Looking at my remaining half burger, she offered a box, that received an affirmative response. Indeed that afternoon snack had zapped my appetite.
As I said at the start, Fountain City Grill is among our favorite places. That did not change with this visit. As I was boxing up the leftovers, Chef Tremayne stopped at each table and greeted everyone. I like this man. He's nothing like those hot headed chefs you see on TV. During our meal he even personally served one table their entrees, the growing crowd had started to tax Jenna, the only server on the floor.
The tab came to fifty seven bucks. Sports bar pricing, perfectly acceptable considering the quality of the food at FCG makes Applebees look like McDonalds in comparison.
Everything, except maybe the mayo on the burger, is exactly right about FCG. The service, the food, the offerings, the attention to detail and freshness, the casual, friendly service, all of it works beautifully.
As we left and were approaching the car We heard a voice from behind, calling us.
"You forgot your box, sir!" It was Chef Tremayne, running to hand me my leftovers.
Told you, a real class act.

Fountain City Grille on Urbanspoon

Monday, March 16, 2015

Trattoria Giuseppe

5436 Hwy 21
Imperial, Mo.

On Facebook
On the web

By now, we shouldn't need to explain why we decided to go to Trattoria Giuseppe. It is our favorite place to eat in Jefferson County, it has been since we first went there several years ago. It's a little more expensive than most places we go, but it is worth it.
On the way we struck up a conversation about a very unusual occurrence in our lives. The previous evening while watching 'Glee' (don't judge me) one of the new kids performed a song that I recognized.*
"Oh, I love this song!!" I said.
"I don't know this song." Angel replied.
That struck me as very odd. You know by now that I do not listen to contemporary music often, so it was strange that I would have ever had the opportunity to recognize a popular song that she'd not already known about. So I struggled to figure out where I could possibly have heard it. I figured it out eventually.
On the drive to the restaurant Angel asked Adam if he knew it, giving him the name of the song and mangling the artist's name.
"Doesn't ring a bell." He answered. This made me giddy.
So Angel handed me her smart cellular telephone and talked me through the icons to get to a browser.
I dialed up the Youtube and played it.
After a minute or so, Adam replied that no, he'd never heard it before either.
"How is it possible that you've heard a song before we did?" He added.
Well, actually because of St. Louis Public Radio, not on it. The previous week had been rattle-the-tin-cup week for the public station. At least half of every hour is devoted to begging, cajoling, and guilt-tripping. I can't stand it. I know they have to do this, but because I have options, I don't have to listen to it for the nearly three hours a day I spend in the car. So on button 2 on my VW's  radio, I have a local station that also is mostly talk and news, though with a decidedly and sometimes wildly, more conservative perspective. It's not so much that I disagree with many or most conservative positions, it's more the tone and tactics that usually repulse me from most conservative talk shows. In the afternoons on this station there's a local guy who is at least more realistic and less pompous than some of the nationally known pundits and often he talks about movies and other things.
After I pondered for quite a while, it dawned on me that the local show was  using this song as the bumper music after the news break. I'd never heard the whole song, but I definitely knew the chorus.
Angel has already ordered a CD, she really liked it too. Adam was less impressed.
The Place:
TG is oddly, out in the middle of nowhere. It's not in Imperial, just the post office designation for this
particular area is in Imperial's coverage zone. It's on old highway 21, off of M.
It's an old, single story building, an early strip mall configuration.
Inside the place is rustic, but clean.
Its low ceilings and three dining rooms make it feel cozy and homey. We were greeted by a mature lady and handed over to Ashley, the young, pony-tailed hostess. We had forgotten to make reservations so we were fortunate that it was early. She led us to a four top next to the window in the 'space available' section near the front. I called it this because it seemed that the three or four tables in this area were separate from the bigger dining areas and it felt like we were in 'coach' for this flight.
Which didn't concern us too much, even a less than desirable location inside TG's is better than most other places' places. The service has always been exceptional and the food always well above par.
Within a minute or two, Tony, a handsome young man stopped, introduced himself and set a basket of bread in front of us. He then recited the special, some kind of cheesed and sauced steak that sounded good, but very, very rich and heavy.
We asked for drinks, Tea, tea, Pepsi.
After only a moment, Angel set her menu aside. She poured olive oil into a saucer to dip her bread. I did as well, but I also dashed it with some black pepper. The bread was fresh, soft and tasty.
I finally narrowed it down to two dishes, one pasta, one steak and left it at that until I actually told Tony what I wanted.

The Food:
Angel asked for spaghetti and meatballs, with the house salad.
Adam went next with a peppered sirloin steak, baked potato and house salad.
I opened my mouth and asked for New York strip, house salad and baked potato.
We'd not had S&M at TG's before. I should have thought of it, I've tried that dish at a few places just to see how the places hold up with a fairly simple, old standard.
    The wait for the salads was not long. Guiseppe makes a salad good enough to write to your mom about. That may seem a little over the top, but trust me, it's not. Iceberg lettuce, cherry tomatoes, red onion, artichoke heart, dark olives and a small pepper. He tosses this with a house made vinaigrette. That vinaigrette is what sets the salad as a standout. Not too sweet, oily or vinegary. The taste is difficult to pin down. It is not strongly one thing or another. Rather than a single note taste, like Ranch, French and most of the others, this is a perfectly harmonic blend of flavors and spices where there is no single dominant flavor, it's like a chord on a multi-stringed instrument. You hear all the individual notes, but yet didn't.
Adam plucked the tomatoes, olives and onions off of his. I took the tomatoes and scooted my olives and artichoke over to Angel.
As we ate, I noticed the overhead music, not too loud, big bands and Italian-ish crooners mostly. I can live with that. I've made a few CD's for Angel from my own big band collection. She says the dogs like it better than most other music.
I also noticed a framed movie poster over my right shoulder. Fellini's 'La Dolce Vita.' Translated, that means 'The Sweet Life'. Not that the translation matters, only 'Fellini' matters to movie snobs. It's supposed to be one of the ten best movies ever made. I don't know why, there are  no shootouts or gratuitous explosions. About the only interesting thing about the film is that one character, Paparazzo a news photographer, is the source of the word Paparazzi, the word used in many countries to label intrusive photographers.
The salads, finished off and set aside, we waited. Not too long of a wait, just a fancy restaurant wait. Tony kept an eye on us though, our drinks were never allowed to get more than halfway drained before the next refill showed up.
When the food finally arrived, we were more than ready for it. A foil wrapped potato and a thick, charred steak covered with about a quart of garlic butter. Three condiment packs of butter and one of sour cream lay beside the wrapped spud. I peeled away the foil and the tops off of the condiments and inverted them on top of the steamy potato. Once it had softened up I carved up the potato and folded in the creaminess. With almost religious reverence I carved my first chunk of the steak. Oh yeah, dreamy. Butter tender, perfectly pink, and meaty and juicy. As always, the potato was perfect.
Adam plowed through his smaller sirloin rather quickly. I could tell by the fact that he didn't say a word from start to finish that his was heavenly as well.
   He was able to finish his, I stopped about two thirds in. Not a problem, you're probably thinking the same thought. 'Sunday breakfast.' Oh yeah.
Every bite of the meat was divine. It's not that hard to cook a thick steak, but the quality of the cut is critical. This was not your dad's backyard grilled shoe leather.
Angel's spaghetti pile was, as is typical in many Italian places, enormous. More in her platter than I usually make at home for the whole family. However, unlike many other places, there was enough sauce to cover it so that there would be some for all the pasta. You know what this means. Sunday breakfast.
She shaved off a corner of one of the golf sized meat balls and laid it on my plate. Man oh man, that was a tender, tasty meatball. A beautiful blend of meats, not dry or gritty at all. Beautifully assembled and cooked. The sauce was amazing. If I didn't know better I'd say that the tomatoes for the sauce as well as the herbs had only been picked that day. The ingredients screamed 'fresh' and bright. But my God, there was a lot of it. Too much really. As I write this, even after Angel's Sunday breakfast, there's still quite a bit left. This is, of course a silly criticism, but it really was too much for any single human. Half this much would have been more than generous.
As my only criticism, I suppose that's not so bad.

Yeah, it's a bit pricey. The steaks were over twenty bucks each, the S&M about thirteen. With just the three dishes and tea/Pepsi, the tab came in at just under seventy five dollars. That's pretty much more than we spend anywhere else, so we can't afford to go there as often as we like, but every time we do, it seems well worth the price.
Giuseppe has a great thing here. He not only knows his food, but he knows how to run a restaurant. The staff is always professional, sharp and competent. Rarely does something go wrong.
He's also a gentleman and a professional in his own right. We've never been there when he didn't come out and go table to table to personally thank the diners. You can see the pride on his face. He has every right and reason to be proud. He's brought and maintained a high level of dining to the rural Jefferson County hills.
Trattoria Giuseppe, still number one in  my book.

* "Take me to Church"
Hozier version.
Glee version.

Trattoria Giuseppe on Urbanspoon

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Old Standard

1621 Tower Grove Ave.
St. Louis, Mo.

The Story:
I was supposed to meet up with a clutch of ladies from the Missouri Women Bloggers group.
Supposed to.
About five or six of us had RSVP'd the invite.
I mapped the destination into my VW's hand-me-down Tom-Tom GPS machine. It got me there just fine. Too early. I spotted the eatery at 6 P.M.
I had an hour to kill. No problem I had a bottle of water, a good book and there was the vast and tidy Tower Grove Park, just a few blocks away. This day was the first real Spring-like day of the year, with the temperature finally hovering around sixty eight degrees.
In the park there were cyclists cycling, proud parents pushing strollers, runners running, dog walkers walking, the dogs stressing the leashes, eager to frolic. I Found an out of the way bench near a bright red and white striped-roof pavilion. The pavilions in the park date back, along with the many tall columns and statues, as far back as the 1870's, when the park first opened. It truly is a grand thing.
At about 6:20 my personal cellular flip phone started stirring and fidgeting in my pocket. The message, apparently sent to others in the group as well, asked if we were headed to the restaurant. I replied with a 'yup' and went back to my book. (A translated Norwegian crime thriller) My plan was to arrive at the restaurant about fifteen minutes early.
As the time approached I closed the book and drove the few short blocks back to the eatery.
I found a tight parking spot in the back, peeked into the open front of the building and saw no one that I knew. Not unusual. I'd only met the ladies once before and I have about the worlds worst facial recognition software in my brain. Yeah, I'm one of those people that simply cannot remember faces well. Probably due to my highly introvert-ish lifestyle, which includes as a major component, avoidance of eye contact.
A young lady blocked my entrance to the building. Someone in authority, obviously. "May I help you sir?" She asked.
I said I was there to join a group of ladies, which didn't seem to narrow it down much for her. I mentioned our meet-up coordinator's name. That seemed to help.
She stepped aside and pointed near the back, to a lone lady, who looked vaguely familiar, at a table space large enough to hold five or six people.
I walked toward her, hoping she would look up and show some sign of recognition. She did.
We sat and exchanged trite pleasantries. Then she said "I've ordered my meal to go."
I was confused, were we going on a picnic? 
"I got here just before six and waited, no one else ever showed up." She added. I looked at my watch, confused again, it was not quite seven.
She must have noticed my befuddlement, which meant she was much better at facial stuff than I've ever been.
"It was supposed to start at six." She said.
I felt pretty silly. I explained that I'd spent quite awhile making sure I could find the place, but had not revisited the initial invite itself and somehow had just solidly assumed that it was to start at seven.
She seemed okay with that, more frustrated that no one else had even replied to her message.
A server stopped by, I asked for tea. We explained that we weren't sure if the others would be joining us.
Her food sack arrived, She apologized and left, she'd already told her husband that she'd be bringing some home.
I was alone at a big table with a nice glass of tea and a menu in front of me. What to do.
Impromptu review. It was the obvious thing.
I'd brought my electronic tablet with me, along with some paper and a pen, I was ready.
The Place:
As pointed out earlier, this is a part of town that dates back to the mid-1800's, if not earlier. Many of the old
buildings have been maintained and re-purposed. There's a lot of old brick shotgun houses and storefronts. Old Standard's building was originally a stable for carriage horses. If I heard the waiter explain it to the couple at the next table correctly, it had also been a service station, a machine shop, etc. It'd had many lives.
The front bar area had the exposed slightly arching rafters you'd expect in an urban stable. The back dining area was more squared off. The stable section was exposed and white-washed brick, the dining area identically painted concrete block. The floor throughout was bare, unpainted concrete.
All the tables were wood, not painted to look retro-rustic. Rather than give it an antique appearance though, it looked a bit hipster.
The small space was pretty full and because of the acoustic nature of bare concrete, brick and high ceilings, it was also pretty loud. 
Sort of a cool, quirky place. Not bad at all.
In the back dining area, longer than wide, there was bench seating along the divider wall and wooden chairs opposite in the aisle. It was a tight fit for a large number of patrons, not a lot of elbow room. Cozy.
I was left there at the large table feeling even more awkward than I usually do. 
So when the waiter apologized profusely as he asked me if I would mind moving to a smaller table so they could accommodate a walk-in group, I was not put off by it, I was actually relieved. He moved me to a two
top in the very back. I bumped my head twice on the suspended light bulb hanging from the ceiling.
It was back there, next to the kitchen entry, that I encountered my first displeasure.
An aroma swept through the room, just for a moment, but it curled my gut. I should have known or expected it, they were cooking down some greens. Though the aroma eventually passed through, an essence of it remained in my smell-memory. A few more times during the evening I be assaulted again by the preparation of a new order of the vile stuff.
I grew up in the south, I am quite familiar with southern comfort food. I love fried chicken, mashed potatoes, green beans, black eyed peas, blackberry cobbler, apple pie, barbecue and even burgoo (look it up).
I grew up sharing meals with my ancient grandmother, one of the worst cooks to ever come out of the proud southern tradition. There was not a dish that she did not over-boil or scorch. Aromas, more correctly, odors, wafted through our small shared house nearly every day. Gagging, putrid smells would linger for hours, forcing us to play outdoors routinely, where the air was only fouled with rotting roadkill and untidy outhouses.
Grandma would grab a small knife, go back behind the sagging garage and chop whatever wild 'green' was growing there, then chop it up and boil it down to its molecular framework on her stove. How did it taste, you ask? 
Ha! I have no idea! I could never stand to get close enough to it to put any of the sloppy, slimy stuff in my mouth.
So greens are not a great smell-memory for me. I do not equate that odor with any sort of 'comfort'.
The Food:
This was the easy part. They pretty much only make fried chicken and sides. The only decision was which sides and how many and which chicken parts. Unlike at many chicken places, you can specify exactly which parts you prefer. If you know me, you already know I prefer dark meat.
You would also know I'm not a breast man. Angel certainly knows this. I'm a leg and thigh man. I like the lower parts, more muscle matter, more natural taste.
The reason so many things in the universe 'taste like chicken' is that refers to the the dull chicken breast, which is almost devoid of any definable or unique flavor. A generic meat taste and texture, similar to tofu, that works best only when soaked or dipped in something. Wings have a bit more muscle tissue, but not much since we've bred poultry for bigger breasts making their already weak wings pretty much unused. Plus, wings are a lot of trouble for the paltry amount of meat they hold.
So give me the thighs and legs.
I ordered one thigh, one leg and a side of slaw. That order, the '$10 Deal' came with a biscuit. Or so the menu said.
It lied.
The wait was longer than I had anticipated or wanted. I was a long way from home, alone, with only my tablet and the eatery's waitress-obtained WiFi password with which to fill the time. Not much going on in social media, no new emails, nothing popped to mind to browse and I don't have any games on the tablet. I'd purged those a long time ago. So I took photos of the tea, the menu, the dangling light bulb which was still swaying from its last smack of my forehead.
I hadn't tracked the time, fifteen, twenty minutes, maybe more. I had assumed they had a bunch of chicken piled up in a steamer tray in the back and slaw certainly wasn't made to order.
I finally decided that they had taken my order and only then started the frying process. Nothing else I could fathom, short of criminal sloth, could fill that gap. During that time, two or three more vile, nasal assaults took place.
The food finally arrived on some rustic tray. Immediately I worried about the bird gams. Very, very dark breading. 
Old Standard double dredges and then pressure-fries their 'famous' chicken, not unlike how the Colonel makes his. This is a tricky way to do things. When you pan-fry chicken, it takes longer, but you know when to stop cooking it. In a pressure pot you have to seal up the whole deal to maintain the 15 PSI of searing steam generated. You can't see it until you stop cooking it, gradually reduce the pressure, during which the chicken continues to cook, then finally and carefully open the lid. This is fine for a roast or other naked meat, but with more fragile and fickle bread crumb coatings, difficult too maintain consistency from batch to batch. A lot of variables at play that don't really apply to a tong-equipped mom standing over an open skillet. Thus, overcooking is a real risk.
Hopefully the outer shell will have protected the inner meat. And I do mean shell. The crust was the color of overcooked toast and pretty dried out.
The cornbread substitution surprised me, pleasantly. Cornbread is about my all time favorite bread. My dad made it the way his mother, my other grandmother, had shown him. Usually it was pan fried and pancake shaped. No need for fancy pans, just a skillet, some grease (his mom used lard) some batter and a skillet.
Southern style cornbread is not very sweet, its more earthy, relying on the very mild sweetness of the corn meal itself. City folks and big restaurant chins usually add sugar, or honey, or something, to sweeten it up considerably. I usually don't mind it though. This would be a good test of what statement Old Standard was trying to make. Was it going for a traditional plate or were they trying to impress the more upscale locals.
The slaw answered the question before I even had a bite of anything on my tongue.
This was not either of my  grandmas' coleslaw. Finely shredded cabbage swirls, a sprinkling of whole kernel corn and something curly and orange, not carrots, that firmness could not curl that tight. Peppers maybe? There was also no mayo in the mix. This was going to be a vinegar based offering. The stuff looked moist, but shiny, not creamy or milky.
I prefer the creamy kind. They were not traditionalists here. They were definitely fishing for a more
'sophisticated' palate. 
I went ahead and tried the slaw. Yup, vinegar. The little orange curls were more pickled. Pickled peppers? Who does that? I wouldn't be finishing it.
I had noticed when the food was served that though there was cornbread, there was no butter offered to fix it up properly. The server responded to my mention and returned to the table with a condiment-wrappered packet containing enough butter to grease a while pig. I needed about a teaspoon but was given ten times that.
She did show off the two unmarked squeeze bottles of house made sauce, one sauce white and creamy, the other the color of highway safety cones. She explained the white one, using the words 'honey', 'yogurt', then something else. I had stopped listening at 'yogurt' "It's great on the chicken." She claimed. I would taste it and see for myself, expectations, low. I knew what the bright orange stuff was, hot wing sauce. No thanks.
I scooped out some of the soft butter and split open the disappointingly cold cornbread wedge. Good thing the butter was soft because there certainly no BTU's left in the bread to melt it. Optimistically I tried it ahead of nearly everything else. I knew the chicken needed a minute to cool since I'd cracked open the crust on both pieces. Tightly sealed fried chicken holds in all that searing steam for a while.
Well, hell. Sweet. Too sweet, sweeter than Jiffy Muffin mix sweet. Almost dessert-sweet. No earthy, subtle cornmeal taste to be detected. Disappointing. 
Time for the real test. How badly was the breading overcooked?
It wasn't awful. There was a crispiness there, not quite the texture of old linoleum. Harder than the Colonel's, to be sure. It had a slight, but not over-powering burnt toast taste. I peeled off most of the breading and pushed it aside. 
The chicken thigh and leg meat was cooked perfectly. Still very moist, cooked through, but not too much. The outer shell had sealed in some seasoning, the pressure pot squeezed it into the meat. Not a strong or distinct seasoning, no single note rang out, but better than non-seasoned meat.
I finished all of the meat, a little of the breading, most of the too-sweet bread and barely any of the slaw.
Ten dollars and thirty seven cents was the tally. I couldn't tell if they'd intended to charge separately for the tea, which was quite good, but all I saw was the amount on the bill. I fished fourteen dollars out of my dusty billfold and just handed it to the lady. I'd been there long enough, I was ready to hit the long road home, I didn't want to bother with another waiting period to process a card.
The servers were nice enough, I guess. They were pretty busy and appeared somewhat harried. They didn't chat or up-sell, nor did they even seem especially outgoing. They were not crass or insulting though. They got the order right, by that I mean the plate delivered was pretty close to the one ordered. The time lag was in the kitchen A tea refill offer came only after the pointlessly narrow glass was near empty, no other was ever offered. I felt no connection to the servers though. Between the guy and the lady I didn't get the impression that either of them were too concerned about a lone, middle aged guy at a two top.
The food was quite a bit less than I had hoped for. They were trying to upscale a fairly basic meal. I'm sure I was not their target demographic, they just weren't cooking for my tastes. There's nothing wrong with that. As I get older I notice lots and lots of things offered up that I'm just not the target for. Movies, TV shows, clothes, cars. . . It's not just food. I know there's a crowd hungry for what they offer, the place was really busy. They don't need my vote.
Back when I worked at that Big Beer company, the people I worked with would regularly line up for lunch at another, much larger and well regarded, chicken house. They loved it. They still invite me to tag along occasionally.
Big plates, lots of starchy sides, enough to nearly fill some of the biggest boys I worked with. The few times I went, I found the chicken to be unnecessarily greasy, generally lacking in flavor, the potatoes over-mashed and the veggies over-boiled. But they raved about it. 
I get it, different people like different things. I've taken a similar hit whenever I bring up St. Louis style pizza. I just don't get that either.
So my criticism about the food is based on a recognition that tastes are widely varied. I hope I've described it well enough for you to decide on your own whether you might like it or not.
I'm at a point where I enjoy tried and true old favorites, un-tweaked, simple, basic, rather than replaced by or jacked up with whatever is newer, trendier, more modern. . . Which also explains why I keep Angel around.

Old Standard Fried Chicken on Urbanspoon

Monday, March 9, 2015

Lucky China

4038 Butler Hill Rd.
St. Louis, Mo.

This was no accident. In fact you could say we went our of our way for it. A long way.
We'd planned this event a couple of months back. Angel's birthday was earlier in the week, we were celebrating it this weekend. We made reservations in a large suburb and the state's ninth largest city, St. Charles.
St. Chuck was the home of Missouri's first capitol from 1821 to 1826.  North and west of St. Louis on the Missouri River, it was considered the last 'civilized' stop for Lewis and Clark's westward exploration in 1804.
It was originally founded decades earlier by French Canadian fur traders. Fur trading used  to be a big thing, almost a common form of currency. That is, until PETA wiped out the fur business.
Those of you that know the St. Louis area are looking at the above address for the Lucky China and scratching your heads at this point. The place is nowhere near St. Charles, no matter where you start.
It's located in what is known as 'South County' (St. Louis County) across the Meramec River from Arnold. It's not only in South County, it's near the southernmost point of South County.
So our drive from Hillsboro first went north, then east, then we headed north and west for around forty five more minutes.
Yes there are lots of places to eat closer to, along the way and in St. Charles. There are lots of Chinese places along that more direct route as well.
But it was her birthday. You don't argue with that.
The plan was simple. Grab some Chinese takeout, go to the hotel, plug in the portable DVD player and start binge watching, in this case season 8 of '24'.
Then pop open the food and lay it out, buffet style and tada! You have a party.
Angel loves her job as a dog trainer and boarder. She runs the business out of our property so she never really gets to leave work. She's usually busy from seven in the morning until around nine at night, seven days a week.  So these getaways allow her to really relax and get away from it for a while. Her assistant and Adam manage the dogs at home and are fully capable of handling things. We've done this before, we'll do it again.
The Place:
We came across this place on a previous getaway, back in December, for my birthday. It was near where we were staying then. It was that good.
By appearance it is a typical Chinese takeout place in a shopping center. Even when you step inside, it's about the same. Above the counter, large photos of various dishes, behind the counter a young Chinese man and at one of the tables a lone Chinese school-aged girl sat coloring or playing with a toy pulled from a nearby laundry basket full of stuffed animals. It was apparently a first-generation Chinese-American family establishment. Various animated conversations in Chinese poured out from the kitchen.
The Food:
The plan was to order a couple of entrees, some fried rice, a couple of egg rolls and two orders of
crab Rangoons.  This time we went with the sesame chicken and the beef with peppers. We asked the young man what kind of rice was standard issue, he replied white. We asked for an upgrade to fried. "That'll cost more." He said. He didn't know that this was Angel's birthday getaway, we pulled out all the stops.
We waited for a while, long enough to get the impression that this was made to order, not pre-made and sitting in a steamer in the back. It was a beautiful day though, one of the first nice days of the year. I didn't even need a jacket outside. I wandered around the parking lot and watched a brother and tall, lanky sister bounce a basketball to each other in front of a shoe store.
When I went back in Angel was sitting at a table with her new smartphone, swiping through an app of some kind.
The young man called our order and we hit the road for the long trek north.
When we do this we get a specific room type. Sort of high end that not every place offers. The room is usually on the first floor, with a large TV, a king bed, a microwave and small fridge. Sure lots of places have those things, but not many have an in-room Jacuzzi. Yeah, I spoil my lady! On this occasion it was the Country Inn on old Main street in Historic St. Charles.
Main Street is made up of cobblestone/brick streets and many of the restored and maintained buildings dating back to the early 1800's. A beautiful area, but we weren't there to sight-see this time. Once Angel got into the room, I don't think she left it until we departed on Sunday morning. I ventured out for coffee at the reception area and muffins and bacon from the complimentary breakfast bar.
We got to the room, plugged in the portable DVD player, fired up some Jack Bauer. "Everybody down!!!" 
We laid out the food, picked and chose.
The Rangoons, the star of the meal, were once again, perfect. Crispy all over, not doughy on the bottom. Slightly sweet, but light and tasty. Actual krab chunks were evident. We'd asked for two orders of these, some for the meal, some for snack/dessert.
 The rice was perfectly cooked, not too salty. The entrees were an instant hit. Sesame chicken is often very sweet, Lucky's a little less so. Small chicken nuggets, still moist and also crispy. The veggies in the steak and peppers were also perfectly cooked, and large. The beef was tender, unlike at a lot of places where it can have the consistency of a bicycle tire.
The egg rolls were smaller than some places, but the flavors inside them was very well balanced.
We gorged ourselves in no time, Jack's body count was barely even in the low teens by that point.
We revisited the Rangoons a few times, once, with evening coffee.
We brought the leftovers home, Lunch.
For some reason, several reasons probably, this unassuming and generic looking little Chinese take-out place is a cut or two above the rest. Yes, it is that good. There is quality of the food, the prep and even the presentation. Yes, it was worth adding about an hour of driving to our little weekend getaway. The price is what you might expect from a place like this, thirty something dollars for our two-meal-plus feast. A real bargain.
Our anniversary is coming up in June and if not before then, we will be going back. Highly recommended!

Lucky China on Urbanspoon

Monday, March 2, 2015

Home Shrimp

Once again, not a restaurant. Once again, winter weather and on-call. But we decided to make it count. Angel's birthday was coming up, this meal is something we've celebrated things like that for many years. Simple, easy, awfully decadent and satisfying.
We'd planned ahead, the only thing I needed to pick up this weekend was the dessert, which we'd just decided on.
I made the meal.
There was a steak on standby for when Adam got home from work, he doesn't like seafood.
The Food:
Shrimp, salad, garlic toast. Simple.
Of course the shrimp was frozen, this is middle America after all. Fortunately freezing shrimp does not change its taste and texture much. We get the de-veined (it's not really a vein) and shell-on. We picked up a big pot with a strainer and steamer basket a few years ago, this is pretty much the only thing we use it for. We'd let the sea bugs thaw in the lower part of the fridge most of the afternoon, it was thawed nicely by dinnertime.
Step one, turn on the oven and start the pot of water. Into the water I added salt and a heaping helping of Old Bay seasoning. While waiting, not watching, the water to boil, I prepped the toast. A loaf of fresh French bread from our local bakery (Walmart). I sliced half of it in about 3/4 inch slices and laid them out on the sheet pan that had been rubbed down with olive oil. This, I recently found, adds a subtle flavor kick to the finished toast. Using my press, I smashed a few cloves of garlic, sliced a stick of butter and set that in the microwave just long enough for the butter to melt completely. I let it set for a bit to soak up the garlic. This garlic/butter mix serves two purposes.
The first is to butter the bread. applied with a basting brush. Not too much, just a shiny sheen's worth.
The water was starting to boil so I set the steamer basket full of shrimp, which I'd salted and Old Bay'd as well, into it and covered it. The seasoning doesn't actually add a lot of flavor to the shell covered shrimp, but man, does it make the house smell good!
Time to prep the salad. 
The salad bar.
We rarely make family salads, rather we make our own mini salad bar. I chopped, sliced, washed and shaved red bell pepper, onion, cucumber, tomato and carrot. The greens, Romaine lettuce and spinach were chopped, washed and spun in our big salad spinner that we picked up at some sort of kitchen outlet store in southeastern Missouri, while on a drive back from Kentucky.
By this time The shrimp was pinking up nicely. I reduced the heat and let the residual steam finish it off.
The toast went into the oven, I spread the newspaper.
Peeling shrimp is messy, let's not pretend otherwise. Sure, we use plates, but the peels go into a pile on laid out newspaper, it's just the way we've always done it.
I made sure Angel would be done with the current round of dog needs and noticed that this snowfall was piling up heavier than I'd thought it would. the boy was on the road by then. Angel had texted him and let him know that the roads and driveway were starting to get covered, He was driving home from Arnold, it would be a while.
Angel came in, removed about five layers of coats, gloves, scarves and hoodies, took off her fur lined boots while I prepared my plate.
I set the whole pot on a big cork coaster on the table, reheated the garlic butter just a bit and assembled my salad.
She followed soon, doing the same. Yeah, I'd made myself some fresh tea, one Luzianne teabag into my one cup coffee maker filled with bottled water (our tap water is highly mineral rich and clogs coffee makers in just a few months). Fill a big glass with ice and pour the hot brew over the top, done. Dark, tasty, fresh. If you don't make your tea this way, you are doing it wrong.
Then the wonderful messy part. The shrimp in the pot was almost too hot to handle, but we were really ready to start eating so we suffered thought peeling a bunch. I dropped my denuded bugs one at a time into the garlic butter. 
If your mouth is not watering heavily at this point then you are just an ignorant America-hater.
I'll admit that the toast had stayed in the oven for maybe a minute longer than it should have, a little crispier than I'd intended. That was Angel's fault though, she took too long coming in from outside.
It was still delicious though. Not drowning in butter or garlic or olive oil, but a pleasant, aromatic blend of the flavors. I'd topped my salad with a slightly sweet poppy seed dressing, to compliment the buttery, savory shrimp and toast.
We absolutely stuffed ourselves. There was certainly some shrimp left, but we could use that in the upcoming meals, on lighter salad days.
The taste, as you can imagine, was heavenly. 
The pile of shells had Rudy's undivided attention. he didn't get any. I do think he got a little steak later when Adam got home. Whenever he's upstairs and we're preparing a meal he can be found underfoot. He's discovered that Angel and I are somewhat clumsy and tend to drop things. He's an opportunist.
I post a lot of pictures of Rudy on the social media. He's quite expressive and comical. People ask me what kind of dog he is. I'm tired of saying 'it's complicated' or 'I don't know'. He's a mutt, a mix of unknown lineage. He doesn't really look like any one breed, which is fine with us since 'breed' is not a scientific term anyhow, it's just a set of standards voted on by kennel clubs so they can be on a register and can be inbred for a high price. But don't get me started on that soap box. I've decided that he's a Kasehund. Which is, roughly, German for 'cheese hound'. Friends and followers of him on social media will get the cheese reference for Rudy. Why German? Because Queso Pero (Spanish) and Fromage Chien (French) just didn't sound right. 
We didn't have dessert with the meal, that would be for later, after another round of dog stuff. I'd
picked up a pre-made New York cheesecake while at the local bakery (Walmart) earlier. I don't have the patience to learn how to make a consistently good cheesecake at home. Plus there's no real reason to. The ingredients cost nearly as much as a pre-made cake. 
For the topping, I'd also picked up a bag of frozen whole blueberries. This I could do. Put a little butter in a small skillet, toss in blueberries, add just a little sugar, let heat, then smash with a spatula. Done. Serve with a fresh cup of coffee. . .Mmm, mmm good! 
There is very little in this world I love more than blueberry cheesecake. Not even Angel rises to this level. It's okay, Angel's always known this. It gives her a goal. A standard to try to live up to. 

Happy Birthday Dear!