Monday, September 28, 2015

Steve's Hot Dog's

3457 Magnolia
St. Louis, Mo.
On the web

I've been hearing about this place for a few years. Angel's son Tyler (the guy who designed our logo) raves about it and tries to go there at least once on every trip into the St. Louis area.
Steve's has two locations, one on 'The Hill' and another, the one we decided to go to, alongside Tower Grove park. Either is a little further into the city than we like to go, since, with city traffic, it can eat up a lot of our limited together-time window.
But Angel was wanting to go to Whole Foods as well this weekend, so we doubled up. She'd gone with her son to Steve's once, but for me, it was a first.
Hot dogs are rarely, if ever, a destination meal for me. They're fast and easy to grill at home, so I'll occasionally do that, but frankly, (pun intended) I don't have them very often, I couldn't recall the last time I'd slapped a wiener on a bun.
The Place:
Tower Grove is a nice area. The park is very large and well taken care of. An old-school park, mostly
trees, sidewalks and several very well constructed pavilions. If you plan a trip to the city, you should put this area near the end of a day. Relax in the park and enjoy any of the fine eateries and shops surrounding it.
Steve's is in a small building it shares wit the Tic Toc Tavern. It has picnic tables under umbrellas in the front, for the nicer days. Inside, music played loudly. I was to learn that we were listening to 'The Urge', a band fronted by Steve Ewing, the owner and the 'Steve' in 'Steve's dogs'.
I don't listen to music much and don't keep up with styles or genres. I admit I don't know 'The Urge' from 'Toad the Wet Sprocket'. I hear they did alright for themselves though.
The giant chalkboard covering most of the left wall tells you pretty much everything you need to know. Hot dogs, mac and cheese, that's it.
We stared at the board for a while, then stepped up to place our order.
Me: Steve's Famous Chili-Cheese Dog. grilled onions please.
Angel: Same, with raw onions.
Adam: Gorilla Mac & Cheese Dog.
We went combo, which adds a drink and a bag of chips.
For drinks, there's a glass-front cooler, get your own. I assumed water, but changed my mind in a sudden burst of nostalgia. Fitz's Premium Grape Pop. Fitz's is a local brand. In 1993 they bought an old bank building on the Delmar Loop and brought in a 1940's bottling line they found in Wisconsin. I've been to Fitz's. You can watch the bottling line from your table. Their flagship is their root beer, which is pretty darn good. So this pop wasn't available in my youth, but it did remind me of the venerable old Nehi brand. I had a lot of Nehi Grape when I was a kid. I do not recall having one since.
Adam grabbed the root beer, Angel, a Diet Dr Pepper. I also plucked some Lay's Potato Chips off the rack, Angel, Doritos and I think Adam went for the Lay's as well.
We found an empty plastic picnic table and stumbled into our seats. It's been a long time since I sat at a picnic table, I kept forgetting that you have to step over the seat.  We twisted our tops and boy was I pleased. The candy sweet grape flavor, the tickling burn of the carbonation. . man that was good. I hadn't had a soda pop of any kind in a year or more. . . a diet thing, but this hit the sweet and burn spot perfectly.
We sat waiting for a few minutes, people came and went, lots of pickups and take-outs. I looked around and noticed a lot of Star Wars themed toys on the shelves. . . I don't know why, but it did seem to be an underlying decor theme.
The Food:
They brought out our diner-style baskets. The dogs at Steve's are 1/4 pound Nathan's Franks.
Nathan's opened its first store in 1916 on Coney Island. So Nathan's Hot dogs are the real deal, unlike in nearly every way to the cheap, flaccid ten-pack dogs you get at the supermarket. Nathan's have that distinctive 'snap' when you bite into them, natural casings. I had trouble seeing my weenie though. It was completely covered in chili and cheese. the bun was not a standard grocery store bun either, it seemed more dense. That would keep it from disintegrating  under the wetness of the chili, but to think you could pick this up and eat it would be foolishness. You'd end up wearing most of it. Plastic knives and forks were thankfully provided. I pinched off a piece of the bun, indeed it was denser, and stretchier that a standard bun. It was also, in front of me, completely pointless. A bun, to me is a delivery vessel. I couldn't pick this thing up, so there was no need for the stretchy, dense and admittedly tasty roll. I used my knife and fork to locate the frank. I cut slices, then halved
those. A 1/4 pound wiener is pretty thick. But lordy, it was good. The chili, with beans, was quite good as well, for what it was. I prefer a more tomato-y chili, which is never really suitable for topping a hot dog, since it tends to be more moist and thin than this more traditional chili style. I like that it had beans though.
Adam's Gorilla had no chili, but it was just as smothered with creamy mac and cheese and bacon. The mac and cheese had intrigued me, though putting it on a dog seemed too much. I have trouble putting pasta on bread. . . it just seems redundant. Instead we ordered a half pint side of it, no toppings, just for Angel and I to try. Oh yeah, they got it right. A perfect blend of creaminess and cheesiness. Comfort food nirvana. We ended up finishing off that
half-pint. All of Adam's tray was gone pretty quick, Angel had made the same tactical decision I did to pretty much ignore the bun and just have the dog, chili and macaroni.
Really good hot dogs and mac and cheese. Angel mentioned she really wanted the Brat and kraut, but they had sold out, according to the note on the chalk board.
As I mentioned at the start, hot dogs are not really a destination meal for me. I rarely crave one. But as far as dogs go, these were very good. I might not get the chili next time, maybe just the 'Madeline' which is listed as 'For the purest of the pure. . . . plain, with or without bun'. I'd certainly add a side of that awesome mac and cheese though. Some of the mac and cheese bowls looked pretty good as well. Adam said he'd like to try the Hawaii 5-0 dog. . .
I really liked the place, despite the long drive. Both Adam and Angel agreed, these were some good dogs. . . and Angel knows a thing or two about dogs. . .
The price was very friendly three meals and a side for twenty seven and change. I can't think of any reason to not highly recommend this joint. By far my favorite dog shop in town.

Steve's Hot Dogs Tower Grove Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Ruby Tuesday

1120 Shapiro Drive
Festus, Mo.
On the Web

September 2015 marks this prestigious journal's sixth anniversary! Nearly three hundred highly
researched, sane and articulate posts, highlighting and occasionally skewering eateries in our limited universe.
Once again, I feel obligated to regale you, the fans, with the story of the birth of Eat and Critique.
By September, 2009, we'd lived in Jefferson County for a little over three years. We continued a tradition, an appointment of going out to eat on Saturday evenings. It was a way to interrupt our very busy lifestyles and spend some quality 'us' time.
Choosing a place to go was always a chore. Three years in, we'd pretty much settled into a rut of a handful of places. One of those places was Ruby Tuesday.
If we were celebrating something, a new job, a new client,, etc. This is where we would go, since it was the pricier of the rut-places. I usually got the same thing, yeah the rut was that deep. Steak, mashed potatoes and sauteed green beans. This particular meal, everything went wrong. The steak was overcooked, the tea was bitter, the potatoes over salted, the service was lousy, the courses were terribly timed, the check took forever, our waiter disappeared, twice. . .
I was livid. I complained about it for hours, maybe days. I was threatening to write a terse letter to the corporation. Somewhere in all that righteous indignation, I declared that we would absolutely, positively, drag ourselves out of that rut and find new places.
That's is how all of this started. My frustration with a lousy meal at Ruby Tuesday.
So, in honor of that bad meal, we decided to go there on this, our sixth anniversary.

The Place:
It's a Ruby Tuesday, one of the many mid-level chains of 'sports bars' like TGI Friday, Chili's, Outback, etc. Like the one parodied in the movie 'Office Space'. I can't usually tell them apart on the inside. They used to have more sports junk on the walls, but that went away in a small, infrequent, but refreshing display of good taste.
As you step in, you come face to face for the only real reason we ever go there, the salad bar.
We were greeted and seated in an area to the left of the bar, pretty much the same place we always get seated. Katy introduced herself and handed out menus. Not that we really needed menus, traditionally we always get pretty much the same thing.
The Food:
 The main thing at RT is the salad bar. We pick our meals based on how hungry we will be after we have our big salads.
Due to fairly recent conversations, punctuated with a lot of finger wagging, with my doctor, I have drastically altered my lifestyle. I won't bore you with details, but the alterations have worked, all my 'numbers' are back where they should be. Bottom line, I can't eat as much at a single sitting as I used to. That terrible meal I had six years ago has even been paired back. Instead of the salad bar and a full sized steak, potatoes and beans, sometimes followed by dessert, I order the Petite Sirloin and mashed potatoes to supplement the salad. I don't often even finish that.
This is what I went with again. Angel surprised us by going off script and getting the crab cakes. Adam put us back on course, choosing the chicken tenders. He doesn't do the salad bar. No appetizer this day.
Katy took our order and was nearly washed away by the slipstream we left in our rush to the salad bar. We have salads at home frequently, but keeping everything fresh is a problem. We rarely have everything we want at the same time as we want it. This is what makes RT's bar perfect. it has everything and it is all fresh. We don't have to buy heads of lettuce, pounds of mushrooms, etc. just to let them mostly spoil in or chill box.
What did I pick for my salad this time? Well, 'everything' is probably the best way to sum it up. I topped it with two dressings, blue cheese and Italian. I should point out that the photo makes it look massive, but that is not a full sized plate. Besides, this was the main course, the meat and potatoes were just side dishes.
We finished off our salads as well as the complimentary cheesy biscuits. Had we stopped then and
there this would be a completely positive review.
Katy brought the main courses a few minutes after we were finishing the salads, perfect timing. The plates looked rather sparse, nothing on them other than precisely what we ordered.
Right away I wished I had stopped with the salad. The steak was overcooked. I don't send things back, it takes too long. I ate about half of it, but was fortunately already sated by the voluptuous salad. I didn't finish the potatoes either, they were too salty. The steak also seemed too salty, something I was hard pressed to explain. It's a steak, you don't need more than a pinch of anything added to it. To over-salt steak is nothing short of criminal.
When I mentioned this to the family, Angel chimed in. "Well I wasn't going to say anything, but the crab cakes were too salty. I thought it might just be me."
No dear, it wasn't. The chef was heavy handed, we've seen it before. Jilly's has been serving food laden with an oceans' worth of the mineral for several years.
Adam said his meal was "good". That's all. He doesn't talk a lot.
Adam and Angel decided to order some dessert to take home. RT was pushing a Pumpkin Spice Cheesecake. That's what they both went with. To me, pumpkin is an Autumn decoration, not a flavor. I don't eat or drink anything with the word 'pumpkin' in it. Besides, my tolerance for sugar is way down, so I rarely have a full dessert anymore.
We were not really disappointed, the salad bar was great and our expectations for the other stuff was not very high. It is a shame that they managed to ruin a perfectly good cut of meat though, again. Katy did a spectacular job, her timing and attentiveness were excellent, no complaints there. Since we lived in Maryland for five years, our expectations for a crab cake anywhere else are considerably lowered. Nobody out here gets them right.
The real sore point with Ruby Tuesday is that we only occasionally get it all right, yet it still costs more than most other places we go, the tab this time was over sixty dollars. That's a lot to pay for a salad and small, incorrectly cooked sides.
Yeah, we'll go back, for the salad, but maybe only the salad.

Ruby Tuesday Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato