170 Gravois Bluffs Circle
On the Web
Before we start though, I need to apologize for the poor quality of a couple of the photos. My trusty tablet died, I took over another one that Angel bought but rarely used since she got her newest smartphone. This was the first time I'd had the new/old tablet on a critique run and the built-in camera has different sensitivities from the one that died.
McAlister's is a medium sized chain headquartered in Oxford, Mississippi. It's higher end than fast food joints, but still with the overhead menu, the order counter and relatively quick service.
I impressed Angel with this factoid since she's actually been to Oxford Mississippi and I haven't. About ten years ago, a few weeks after hurricane Katrina, Angel and a group of volunteers, mostly from or associated with the Humane Society of Calvert County, Maryland, loaded up an RV and a big, flat trailer loaded down with animal crates and made a fast run to the stricken area to help rescue dogs. One stop they made was in Oxford, the hometown of one of the volunteers.
Gravois Bluffs (pronounced 'Gravy' by Angel) is a very large retail complex just across the St. Louis county line. The main parking lot itself is several acres and along the front there is a line of 20 or more, mostly franchise, eateries. McAlister's among them.
I don't like going there, especially on hot July afternoons. All that concrete and asphalt does nothing to stifle the sweltering heat.
Angel announced this place earlier in the week, I poled my two nearest work-mates and got two thumbs up. Well, Tim gave a thumbs up, I'm optimistically assuming that what Doug showed me was also a thumb. Tim even had a couple of recommendations, which Angel based her selection on.
The place had a stylish, modern, but relaxed feel to it. The overhead music was contemporary pop, not the worst kind of overhead sound. I was pleased and impressed with the many large black and white photos of long ago Fenton. I'm a sucker for historical photos of local places.
We went up to the counter and took our time.
By the time someone behind the counter said 'Next', we were ready.
Angel: Big Nasty with mac and cheese and sweet tea.
Me: Half French Dip and chili with un-sweet tea,
Adam: Chipotle Chicken Grill, Broccoli Cheddar soup and Root Beer (Barq's)
We found a table and waited. We had our drinks. I was seriously impressed by my tea, probably the best restaurant tea I've had anywhere. McAlister's is quite proud of their tea, often having tea-based promotions. They've earned that pride, this was a great glass of tea.
Eventually, the food arrived. The plates were sorted out and placed. I opened my sandwich and was .
. . underwhelmed. There just wasn't a lot of meat on the bun. The chili cup was sloppy, there was even a large wad of chili spillage on the plate.
As I was photographing the plates, Adam announced that there were no napkins. I walked around the joint and couldn't find any napkin dispensers and had to stand in line at the counter again to ask for some. These minor things started piling up in my mind. I was hoping to breeze through a positive review for this highly recommended place.
The chili was lousy. First, it didn't have beans. I know some people like this sort of thing, but I don't. I consider bean-less chili to be a hot dog topping, a meat sauce, little more. Also, other than the meat and the broth, I could see nothing else. No onion, peppers, nothing. It may as well have been canned hot dog chili. It also was rather tepid. Served a little too cool.
The meat, Black Angus, on the sandwich was quite good. There just was not very much of it, at all. Angel and Adam even commented on my meager portions.
Angel's 'Big Nasty' is what Tim had recommended. I'd read up on it. It's an open faced roast beef
sandwich slathered in brown gravy. I knew this would be right up her alley. She did not regret her choice. She wanted to try the mac and cheese as well, no disappointment there either. She left a lot of bread behind. We've both been cutting down on the starches and just can't handle a lot of nature's packing material anymore. Often we've found and My puny-meated sandwich is a good example, that sandwich places are not picking up on this national trend of cutting back on excessive carbs. Subway certainly hasn't got the memo. You don't need a mega-bun to just hold some meat and toppings together.
I tried a bit of her gravy'd meat. It was pretty good. Not spectacular, but quite okay. The mac and cheese seemed a little on the cold side. She let me have her pickle, which was nice since I only had about a tablespoon of meat and and about four tablespoons of the chili.
At the time, Angel said everything was good, though later she said that in hindsight, the gravy might have been a little salty.
Adam had finished first, his sandwich was also a bit sparse. He was disappointed that he ordered a sandwich and soup plate and didn't think he needed to specifically add chips or something, claiming that at Cool Beans in Hillsboro the soup and sandwich choice comes with a side. I agreed, I was happy to have a third note, Angel's pickle. I wondered why Angel and Adam got a pickle but I didn't.
Well, as you can see I had a few issues. I went in with high hopes and left with a less than 'two thumbs up' opinion. Some of these things were obviously minor, easily correctable errors. If I've said it once, I've said it forty seven times. A pile of minor, easily correctable errors are indistinguishable from one huge infraction. It is indicative of weak management, either in the store or on the corporate level. I appreciate places that want to elevate above 'fast food', I really do, but with that higher price tag, we expect better than fast food service.
There's some really good things about what McAlister's is trying to do, but it is no time to take their eye off the road. I'd love to love this place. The ingredients are all there. But at this point I just can't recommend it to someone I wanted to impress.