Monday, April 27, 2015

Ruby Tuesday

1120 Shapiro Dr.
Festus, Mo.
On The Net

Earlier in the week I got word from Angel. "We have a Ruby Tuesday coupon."
Hint, taken.
Of all the franchise bar/restaurants, It's about the only one we go to very often. It's never been perfect, but it is only rarely terrible.
It was because of a very bad night at RT that we started looking for other places to eat back in 2009. You could say that Ruby Tuesday is the birthplace of Eat and Critique.
The Place:
It used to have walls lined with junk. Sports junk, iron tools, etc. Much like 'Chotchkies' in the movie 'Office Space'. They got rid of all that 'flair' a few years ago, painted the walls, toned it down a little.
It still has a central bar, but overall it is no longer an open invitation to frat-style rowdiness.
There are booths on the sides, a bar area, and an entry. Separating the bar from the entry is the world's best salad bar. This bar is why Angel likes going here. Meals are chosen to be compatible with a mega-load of salad.
A couple of young ladies greeted at the podium and chatted over charts, finally deciding to put us in pretty much the same booth as we always end up in.
Pretty soon, a young, energetic man stopped by asking for drink orders. We replied with the usual. He skittered away.
The Food:
I scanned the menu, Angel and Adam debated appetizers. I don't usually get involved in appetizer discussions, I only rarely partake. They usually want wings, which I do not care for.
When the young man delivered our drinks and Angel put in the appetizer order. I heard the word 'sampler'. Something must have caught her eye that Adam might not care for. That could be a lot of things.
It didn't take long before the menus were closed. In front of us were some of those luscious cheddar biscuits. I held off, I had a plan.
As we waited I noticed the tea glasses. Or rather mugs, worse, plastic mugs. I don't like drinking out of plastic cups. We have a few at home that I've never had a drink from. I'd rather drink from a Bundt pan than a plastic cup. That is usually not an option at restaurants though. I expect a plastic cup in lower end places. RT is not lower end. Besides, this was a cheaply made, faux beer mug. I'm sure RT has a bunch of actual glass mugs at the bar. . .
Seriously, like the Styrofoam cups at Savannah's Smokehouse last week, this sort of thing is one of those annoying little details that just set up for a 'beneath my price range' mood. I knew going in that this bill would be in the sixty five to seventy five dollar range. Give me an actual glass for Pete's sake!
 No time for that now though. We placed our entree orders:
Me: Top Sirloin, fries, salad bar.
Angel: New Orleans Seafood, Zucchini (blech!) and salad bar.
Adam: Rids and Chicken Tenders, with fries.
The young man almost got trampled in our rush to the salad bar. There's
nothing exotic at the bar, there's just a lot of variety, a whole lot. And lots of types of dressing as well. I loaded my plate up with a few greens, mushrooms, onions, cucumbers, peppers, cheese, bacon bits, egg, etc. Thousand Island dressing this eve'.
The appetizer tray arrived, four selections. Spicy wings as orange as expected. That color of orange is only found in one place in nature, traffic cones and barrels. I've never looked at a construction site and drooled for the flavor of anything that color. In the service, I once painted my office that color. The Inspector General was making the rounds and I'd read a report that said that this color is a people repellent.  It also causes headaches after a day or so.
Also on the tray were some un-spicy wings, miniature cheese logs, or something, and tiny Thai spring rolls.
This is apparently what caught Angel's eye. Adam would never touch one of those. I would though.
So I tried one. Not bad, not bad at all. Pretty darn good as a matter of fact. Angel agreed. That's the only thing I tried. Adam tore into the messy orange wings. They'd asked for the 'mild' version, Angel said it was still too spicy for her. Adam seemed to like it though. Most of the rest of the stuff ended up in a box, bound for Adam's lunch bag. He had to work that night.
I gulped down most of my gloppy salad, too much dressing again. It sure was good though.
Soon, too soon, the entrees arrived. This has been one of my complaints in the past. Badly timed courses. It doesn't happen every time, just often enough to be frustrating, leaving the table with too many plates and having to choose between abandoning or finishing the salad and appetizers while the entrees slid toward room temperature.
I pushed the salad plate aside. Steak trumps all.
I carved a sliver off the left side. The juices started flooding, threatening to drench the fries. I didn't care, the fries were an afterthought. I wanted steak. Besides, the fries weren't all that special anyhow, maybe an afterthought for the kitchen crew as well. Too much salt.
The steak did not cut easily. This worried me. I recalled having a problem like this at RT before. So I sawed through it with the finesse of a hyena. I was right, the steak was perfect, buttery, not tough to chew at all. For some reason, I doubt if it was concern for my safety, the steak knife was better suited for clubbing than slicing.
The steak itself though, was excellent. Not topped or sauced, just bare, naked, charred and bloody meat on my tongue. A little salt, a little pepper, a bit of butter and a flame. All a good cut of beef ever really needs. I saved a little though, to go with the cheddar biscuits. Sunday breakfast with steak, eggs and some of those little red potatoes I'd picked up at a produce stand earlier in the day.
Angel likes seafood. But I repeat myself. Her plate was packed with zucchini (blech!) and a tilapia filet coated in 'Parmesan cream sauce'  and drizzled with some shrimp. Mostly zucchini (blech!) though. Later in the meal I noticed the fish barely looked touched. "The sauce is too salty." She reported. Fortunately, the zucchini was good. I told her I sincerely doubted that. Zucchini, to me, is like Pleather. It's fake food. You use zucchini when there's nothing else available, or if you are trying to replace something on your plate with a more healthy, if not more disgusting, alternative.
"I'll order something less daring next time." She summarized.
I shared a sliver of steak with her. Yeah, it was good.
Adam, not surprisingly, didn't say much about his plate. He inherited a
double dose of introvert. Or is it introvert squared? Anyway, he doesn't say much about anything. For example, when asked if his messy batch of ribs was good, he answered: "It's ribs." He also finally said that he was not impressed with the fries. He struggled mightily and messily breaking down the ribs. He must have had an even duller knife than I did. They did provide extra napkins though, which was good since with him going after those ribs with a blunt instrument there was splatter, not unlike the front row at a Gallagher show, during the trademark sledge hammer  vs. watermelon bit.
I suppose the chicken was fine, he said nothing about that, but it did end up in his takeout box.
No dessert, thanks.
If it sounds like a mixed review, well that's kind of typical for Ruby Tuesday. Some things are great, some, just not quite right. The bill came in under sixty five dollars, after a ten dollar appetizer coupon. I tipped the difference. The young man was most satisfactory, he kept the drinks refilled and was attentive to our desires, such as actually leaving out the ice when Angel asked for more tea 'without ice'. No complaints about Ryan S. (That's what the receipt says.)
Angel pointed out that the busing crew was MIA, a table beside ours hadn't been cleared the whole time we were there.
Details, those annoying little details.
And that's the thing. These issues are 100% laziness or mismanaged priorities. The awful plastic
mugs, the mis-timed serving, the lackluster fries and overly salty fish, nothing that required any actual recipe really popped. The steak was excellent, but that was 90% cut quality and only 10% skill. Details, details . . . at a price I don't really think worthy of such annoying details.
We'll go back, salad bar, and the steak is pretty good. But other offerings? We're still searching for go-to alternatives.

Ruby Tuesday on Urbanspoon

Monday, April 20, 2015

Savannah's Smokehouse

122 S. Main
Desoto, Mo.
On Facebook
On the web

We'd been eagerly awaiting the opening of this place. I'd been 'following' it on social media for several months. They often posted pics of the meat prep and testing, it looked awesome.
They've been open a couple of weeks, so they get the 'newbe' treatment. I can overlook a few things when a place first opens, I'll make note of it, for comparison purposes, for the next visit.
The Place:
Main Street Desoto, pretty much across the tracks from the big Arlington House B&B. (You can even see the Inn's's reflection under the 'N' in the picture of the storefront window.) I love Main Street, they do a very good job of keeping this historic and quaint, track sided street in good shape.
Savannah's occupies one of the old storefronts. There are several nice eateries along this street, as well as free standing, single screen movie theater.
The place looked nice on the inside, freshly painted walls, nice, oaky floors.
The tables were topped with red and white checkered tablecloths. Each table was stocked with rolls of paper towels and several squeeze bottles of barbecue sauce.
There was no one working the front, so we took the hint and went to the counter in the back.
Sure enough, it's a 'take your order' deal.
There were several guys working behind the counter, stripping and boxing and plating meat and sides. I'd been looking at the menu online since they first posted  it, I did not struggle with what to order.
The Food:
Pulled pork, mac and cheese and baked beans for me.
Angel asked for a half chicken with coleslaw and macaroni. Adam, bold and daring as he is, took the brisket and the same sides as me.
A pretty good sampling, we've done this before.
We were handed Styrofoam cups, like the kind you get at a church dinner. Not my favorite drink media. We paid up and set out for the drink dispensary. A simple multi spigot + ice repository for sodas and a big thermos container with buttons to select from three kinds of tea, sweet, unsweet and for some odd reason, raspberry. I chose the un-sweet. Angel got tea as well, though I didn't notice which kind, certainly not raspberry, I'd divorce her for an atrocity like that.
There were free tables all around, standard sized in the middle of the floor and high, bistro style tables along the wall. We chose bistro. Yeah, we can be hipsters too at times.
Behind me was a wall mounted speaker throwing out some righteous REO Speedwagon. That was pretty much the last of the tolerable music though, it turned out to be a radio station that soon switched to some harder hitting dance beats. Dance beats are fine if you are dancing, but a bit too pounding for quiet dining.
It wasn't long before our order was called, Adam and I grabbed the trays.
Well it looked pretty good. The meat, especially. Angel's half bird was the most impressive in appearance, dark, very dark dry rub completely covered the expired chickens flesh.
My pork and Adam's brisket looked exactly like it should. The taste would tell.
First things first though, try the sauces. There were several available, Classic, Carolina, 'Sassy' and Chocolate Chili. . . wait, what?
I'm not one of those so-called TV food experts. I don't think everything is better with chocolate, or chili peppers. . . the thought of those things together then doused over smoky meat, well my mental impression told me that it would taste a lot like 'Nope'.
BBQ Sauce Analysis:
Classic: Yup, just as expected.
Carolina: heavier on the vinegar, but not bad.
Sassy: It tasted like they peppered it up as well, not bad, just not really my thing.
Choco-Chili: Nope, didn't try it.
I ended up sloshing some classic over my pile of meat.
Adam came back with tableware.
The Styrofoam cup should have served as an omen. Bargain basement disposable items. The forks were small and flimsy, not even as stout as you'd find at a church social. More like you'd pick up at the $ store and pass out at a kids fourth birthday party. If we were having sheet cake it would probably be fine, but we would be ripping through flesh and muscle.
As for the meat. We all shared a little with each other, without anyone prompting to do so, like I said, we've been doing this for a while.
Before I rattle off a few more minor 'observations' let me say this, boldly and loudly. This is the
headline: The meat, every bit of it was very near to, or absolutely perfect. Nailed it!
The chicken was tender, moist and smoky. The pork was hearty and moist. The brisket was some of the finest I've had in a while. I could easily see what had been the main focus of this new place.
So keep that in mind as I must now deal with some more minor issues.
The mac and cheese was disappointing. The taste was good, but the cheese sauce had hardened. Half a dozen rigidly connected elbows came up in every flimsy fork full. I even had to cut some fork fulls to fit into my dainty, but handsome mouth. Not a petty task with a fork that could barely stand up under its own piddling weight. This can be fixed, they've got the taste right. Angel picked up on the problem with the macaroni as well, without my even mentioning it.
The beans were as good as any good canned baked bean. That's neither good or bad unto itself, I like a good canned baked bean. In my mind though, this is a smokehouse. Expectations for the baked beans are going to be a little higher.
The slaw was exceptionally good though, Nailed that as well. Angel pronounced it, I concurred. Creamy, fresh, not thin and sour.
See, that wasn't so bad. . . Oh, then there's the toast. Though to call it toast is a stretch. You know the dial on a toaster? The one with the color strip that goes from beige to yellow to dark orange? Well, they might want to turn it up, quite a bit. There was hardly any crunch on the thick bread. But that can be easily fixed too.
So we ate away, very happy with the meats, less so with the lackluster sides.
The meat portion was excellent. We took a little chicken and pork home, but not much. Breakfast for me would be pork and eggs. . . Mmm. I might even bite open a can of baked beans, jack them up a little with bell pepper and onion, maybe a few crumbles of bacon or breakfast sausage. . . Getting the idea?
Maybe the customers will be okay with pale toast, generic beans, clumpy macaroni, Styrofoam cups
and wafer-thin forks. Maybe, but I really think they'd like a little better.
But the meat. Oh, that meat was exceptional! Unfortunately the sides sort of knocked some wind out of it, as a whole meal.
The bill came in just under forty five dollars. Not bad for first class smoky meat. A tad high for forks and cups that aren't even as good quality as Taco Bell hands out. It's a new place, so I'm going to assume that so much time, effort and $$$ went in to opening up the place that some things were sacrificed. I really hope so. With really minor changes like that, this place could soar.
Go for the meat. Seriously, it's very good.

Monday, April 6, 2015


(HoneyBaked Ham)
6936 S. Lindbergh
St. Louis, Mo.
On the Web

First, I wish to be very upfront and clear about this.
I was invited and paid, up front, to try this place out, by one of HoneyBaked's PR firms.
Things like this happen occasionally. Via this page's 'Email Me' button, which marks incoming emails as coming from there, I get invitations to try restaurants, bars, etc. Most of the places are too far away to be of any interest to me, others, I simply forget. And this is not the first time I've been offered free food. A couple of years back I posted a scathing review of Domino's Pizza and a few days later I got an email from their corporate headquarters apologizing for the poor service and  telling me there were a couple of coupons, essentially a reimbursement, waiting for me at the local store. I suppose they are still there, I wouldn't know.
Anyway Erin Peacock from Peacock Public Relations in Orange County, California, hit the button and offered a $50 gift card to ". . . add Honeybaked to your table."
She never said anything about me writing anything about it, but since she found me on Eat and Critique, the implication was pretty clear.
I mentioned it to Angel, she thought it sounded pretty good. So I responded to Ms. Peacock. Within moments I received a reply asking for my mailing address. I'd already checked out the firm, so I gave it to her. By the end of that week, UPS delivered.
The email said something about Easter and ham, but since we don't do Easter, I didn't feel especially rushed.
I do have journalistic integrity though. I will give an honest assessment. That integrity was drilled into me by my two years, one as Editor in Chief, for the 'Trigg Times' (High School Paper) and five more years of watching 'Lou Grant'.
Though Lou, Joe and Billie would never take money up front to write a story, I will, since I make my own journalistic rules here. I do promise to be honest though. Peacock never said anything about what they wanted me to say. If they don't like what I say, that's on them. Besides, $50 is well below my actual bribe rate.
The Place:
 South (St. Louis) County, in a very busy stretch of overt capitalistic endeavors, big box stores, auto dealers, a mall, shopping centers and adjacent to a traffic ticket fixing joint.
I'd not seen these before moving to the area. If you get a ticket you can pay them a certain amount to get the charge reduced and save your precious 'points'. I've only had one ticket since I moved here and have never bothered learning more about those businesses though.
I don't like this area, too busy, too many lanes, too many intersections, too many distracted drivers.
First I stopped at the mall, something I haven't done since 2006. I usually have no interest or need for malls and all those people there. That's why God created, so people like me don't have to go to crowded stores to pick through clothing, cell phones and sunglasses.
Angel and Adam were in Springfield celebrating her paternal grandmother's 100th birthday. We had discussed HoneyBaked before she left though, we had a plan.
I drove up there before noon on Saturday. I wanted to get it over with.
The parking was tight, a lot of people getting tickets fixed, I guessed. The store entry was a bit confusing, I ended up going in through the exit door by mistake. The lady at a little table giving away cheese samples looked at me funny, but said nothing.
It was a cattle line.
A literal maze, like at an amusement park, with ribbon suspended by move-able chrome poles guided people from the entry door, made two u-turns and fed out to the counter. It was manned by three or four cashiers. There were about eight people ahead of me so I tried to read the overhead menus. I need new glasses. I couldn't make out a thing until the last turn.
I had looked at products online ahead of time, but only generally, not specifically.
I did some calculations in my head and figured up an order. I stepped up as ' . . . next person in line, please.'  Steph stood confidently at her station, smiling. Not a big, ugly, fake smile like real estate people have, but a nice, genuine, relaxed smile.  I thought about asking her to marry me. She could do worse.
She obviously had more confidence than me. I was already rattled from the traffic and the uncertainty of my order. I wanted to spend at least the entire $50. I would even be willing to go over, since we're budgeted to eat out every weekend anyhow, as long as I got out of there with a wide sampling of HoneyBaked's offerings.
We could have blown the entire amount on a big ham or a whole turkey, but then we'd have to make something to go with it.
The Food.
They offer the big meats, it's what they are known for, but they also serve smaller 'sliced' one pound portions. The sides were the wild card.
I ended up ordering one pound each of smoked turkey and ham. I added potato salad, and asked about bacon. Yep, Steph assured me, they had that. I did some math in my head and realized I was short of the $50 minimum. I saw a poster for sides and saw mac and cheese, I added that and was still short. So I saw another poster and asked for cinnamon  rolls.
I still came up about a buck and a half short of the target, but made the decision that enough was enough.
She ran my gift cards, one of them seem to be problematic, but she persisted and apologized graciously for the problem. She couldn't know that it really didn't matter to me, I could afford to actually pay for the whole amount on my own. The cards just got me in the door.
She fetched the stuff, and even opened up the foil covered ham to show me that it was indeed ham, not asbestos or heroin, and offered to do the same for the turkey. "That's okay, I've actually seen turkey before." I assured her. Actually I trusted her, heck, we were practically engaged. If you can't trust your potential fiance to serve you the food you asked for, what good are they?
I fought the traffic and the intersections and the lanes and finally made it home. I was in charge of the dogs, so I put everything away and took care of them.
When everyone had been cycled I looked over the cinnamon rolls and the mac and cheese. Steph had gently pointed out that these items would need to be heated. "I have an oven and I'm prepared to use it." I had assured her. She seemed to be impressed that her future husband knew his way around a kitchen.
Not bad, thirty minutes so at 350. She hadn't said anything about cooking the bacon, but I'm not a complete idiot.
As dinnertime approached, I started the prep work. I decided to heat up only half the rolls, there were a dozen of them and I didn't think we could finish them all in the remaining weekend, even after they got back.
I followed the instructions, peeling back a corner of the plastic seal on the mac, and foil-tented the half dozen rolls. I let them finish completely before I started anything else.
One small skillet, one slice of bacon, halved. I find that bacon cooks better if you make it smaller.
Once the bacon was done to crispy, I tore off some turkey and ham and threw it in the same skillet for a couple of minutes, just to heat up. No need wasting good bacon grease.
This all only took about ten-fifteen minutes. I plated everything, opened a fresh bottle of Dasani and let Rudy watch me eat. He loves watching people eat. He really, really loves watching people eat, closely.
The bacon was crisp, thick and smoky, exactly like bacon should be, nothing more. The turkey and ham were also fresh and flavorful, not too much monkeying with herbs and spices. I decided the meats would make for a really tasty sandwich. I didn't make a sandwich myself since there were already a lot of starches being served up. Besides, I wanted to taste the product commando-style to get at the bare essence of the stuff.
If anything There weren't any real veggies in the meal. But that's on me. If you recall I hadn't really thought this through. Green beans, corn, maybe even lima beans or peas would have cut up the flavor profile a little. It was definitely a brown meal.
Except for the mac and cheese, of course. Speaking of which, I was quite pleased with the creaminess and cheesiness of it. As good as any I've had anywhere. The potato salad was of a style. If I were to chose some or make some, it would be stronger in the mustard department. I like canary-yellow potato salad. Interestingly the potato salad had shredded cheese in it. It wasn't bad, just a style, well executed, that I only like, not love. But that's a preference thing. I certainly didn't dislike it. In a buffet, family get-together, or catered event, I'd certainly have some.
The cinnamon rolls were thankfully small. Even though I'm a rural American, I don't like or need huge portions of things. Those calorie bombs that you find at bakeries and coffee shops are just too big for me.
I saved mine for after-dinner coffee. And it was pretty good that way. Small, simple, a basic and comfortable cinnamon roll.
The really nice thing about having turkey and ham in the fridge is the sheer versatility. Both meats are great in a breakfast scramble, a quick lunch sandwich, even on a salad. Sunday morning I did make that scramble, and instead of sprinkling the bacon, turkey, ham and eggs with shredded cheese, I added some of the HoneyBaked  mac and cheese.
After Angel and Adam got back, bringing some of Springfield's famous Chinese food with them, they each tried the HoneyBaked selections.
Both liked the meats, Adam preferred the turkey over the ham, and also thoroughly liked the mac and cheese. Angel really liked the potato salad, the mac and cheese, not as much. "Too noodly" I think she said, whatever that means.
Quite good! Certainly better quality meat and sides that you find most places. I could very easily see HoneBaked as a top tier candidate for laying out a table for a medium to large gathering, family, coworkers, etc. There's no too-strong flavors, it's all good ol' American comfort food, well made and satisfying to a wide range of palates.
As for the store, well, had I been paying more attention to this Easter thing, I should have expected HBH to be really busy the day before. The line did move fairly quickly though.
The price, for you, not for me this time, is not unreasonable for quality product. Sure, you could get a less expensive deli tray at a discount big-box store or grocery, but HoneyBaked is about quality, consistency and freshness. Maybe your poker buddies wouldn't care, but more upscale events require something a bit better than off-the-rack, generic meats and sides.
I heard from a former HBH employee, my stepson Tyler. He said he had a genuinely positive experience running the ham spiraling machine* down in Springfield when he was younger. Happy employees, that's always a good sign .
As far as the staff for this visit, Steph was more than just a cashier, she actually engaged, paid attention and worked efficiently. All the time with that knowing, confident smile. Maybe we'll get our wedding reception catered by HoneyBaked.

*J. Hoenselaar, the founder of HBH in 1957, was also the inventor of the spiral slicing machine first used in his business.

Honeybaked Ham on Urbanspoon