Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Saucy's Pizzeria


10859 Old 21
Hillsboro, Mo.

On the Web.
On Facebook.

Latitude: 38; 13; 28
Longitude 90; 34; 23
Altitude 204
(Yeah I've been playing with the 'location' settings on my smartphone)

Happy Holidays everyone!
Around the house, as we do most Christmas Eves, we visited  a friendly KFC and grabbed a big bucket and a pile of sides. We do the all-out food feast on Thanksgiving and usually have not quite recovered from that. Plus, no dishes to wash.
By Monday afternoon, we were down to one piece of chicken, the one that had been passed over all weekend. I'm not even sure which part it was, it didn't look anatomically accurate for a chicken.
We had options, we do keep food and ingredients in the house, but I had an idea.
"That new pizza place is open."
Angel quickly agreed. Neither of us wanted to fuss over the stove anyhow, we have the rest of our lives for that.
I'd discovered this place on social media, because I have an eye on the community through that lens. Whenever a new place announces there I like the page so I'll know when it is open. As it happened Saucy's opened up on the Thursday before Christmas. It would still have that new pizza place smell.
The Place:
This is the third eatery I've reviewed at this address. First it was Bobby Munzerts, then Pizza Junction, then a place that was only open for a month or two (a lease issue of some kind) that I never got around to going to. You may recall Pizza Junction, Adam worked there for about a year. It was okay, at first, but in my opinion declined in quality and service after a management change and just never won me back. I liked Munzert's as well, a pretty darn good steak, close to home.
It's near the intersection of Old Highway 21, the main drag in Hillsboro, and Highway B, across B from the Hillsboro Mall (Dollar General). The location abuts a U-Haul rental store, so just look for those trailers.
I had a couple of things to do, including a stop at the mall (Dollar General). Just before I went in to the store I called in my order. Angel had chosen the pizza and a side from the online menu.
They said it would take twenty minutes, that was just about right.
I finished my shopping and checked the clock, fifteen minutes had passed, good enough.
I made the short jump to the pizzeria with time to spare.
I went in and noticed that the place had barely changed at all from the Pizza Junction days. There were arcade games in the entrance and I believe, the same bar, tables and chairs. Which wasn't a bad thing, they were all very functional and not at all shoddy.There was hardly anyone else there, but it was only four thirty. Also, they offer delivery and that's a pretty good chunk of any decent pizza place's business.
There were three or four young ladies behind the bar, at least a couple of them welcomed me. They seemed friendly and not frightened by my appearance.  I told them my name.They brought out a generic pizza box and a plastic bag containing a Styrofoam take-out box. I handed them my magical money card, they started to run it, but there seemed to be some confusion. They asked for my name again.
It turns out that someone had paid the wrong $27 tab. Mine, in essence was technically paid for. It took some time to straighten that out, I did indeed pay my fair share. This did not bother me too much. The place had only been open for a few days and those POS (point of sale) systems take some getting used to.
The Food:
One 14 inch deluxe pizza (pepperoni, pork sausage, onions, green peppers, mushrooms) and a side of
wings. I was forced to make a choice of chicken sauces. This worried me since I don't usually partake of the wings. The young lady rattled off a short list, including an option referred to as 'dragons breath'. Angel called me that once and not while she was cooing with pleasure. So I went with the only one that I thought to be digestible, garlic parmesan.
I made the short trek home. I whipped up some fresh ice tea, Angel tore into the boxes immediately. She was pretty hungry. Unlike me, she had actually burned some calories working that day. She's a dog trainer and boarder and dogs don't let you take days off.
I'd picked up some potato chips at the mall. I like having something crunchy to go with pizza. I don't know why, but I do.
Opening the box we were both pleased with the appearance of the big pie. The topping chunks were
big and plentiful. The crust and cheese had been cooked to golden, caramelized crispiness. It was somewhat irregularly sliced, which I don't mind. Angel was already halfway into a wing by the time my tea was done. She recognized the garlic parmesan coating and was quite pleased with it, I think she even cooed with pleasure. "The wings are large." she pointed out. She was right, they didn't look like the scrawny wings you find at most places, these were from some more curvy chickens.
The pizza stood up to its claims. Pretty darn decent. The cooking time and temp were spot on, the distribution of the toppings, excellent. The fresh-made original sauce recipe was not too over-thought or complicated. It carried well without overpowering or drowning the other flavors. The pizza even held up well being reheated for breakfast and lunch the next day.
Followers will recall that we currently favor Pizza Hut for take-out pizza. We gave up on Domino's and never cared at all for Imo's.  From our location, when we just want to run out and get a reliably good pizza, the big PH has been the default. I can honestly say now, that may have just changed. This pizza and the wings were at least just as good, probably better, than we usually get from the big franchise. And Saucy's has the distinct advantage of being half the distance. By far the best pizza in Hillsboro.
I wish Tom and Shannon the best with their expansion into our humble community. I hope it finds success and continues to be an option for the entire area.
Well worth the trip!

Monday, December 5, 2016

Concord Grill

11427 Concord Village Ave.
St. Louis, Mo.

On The Web

This was Angel's choice and she's all in on this 'no more crap' idea. If you get the hankerin' for a burger, drive past 20 or so fast food and franchise places and stop here instead.
Debbie at CG even custom made me a burger once, a Shrimp Alfredo burger, which is exactly what it sounds like. It was very good, but a bit above the price point to be on the regular menu. So make sure you ask for this when you go in. Have everyone at the table ask for one. They'll just ask you to make another choice, then you can get the one you wanted anyhow. Help me out on this.
Concord Grill offers a lot of different burgers, a LOT of burgers. The standard size is nine ounces, but for a dollar less, you can downsize to six ounces, which is what Angel and I do. Nine ounces is over a half pound (pre-cooked weight) and for lesser sized people with sloth-like metabolisms, that is a LOT of meat. Adam was able to join us for this burger run, I don't think he downsized his.
The Place:
Near Lindbergh and Baptist Church road in the southern part in St. Louis County.  Plug the address in to your car's fancy talking map machine, or you cellular telephone. They'll get you there.
It's an older building, post-war style and construction, I understand it has been a few other things before it became the Concord Grill.
It has a large deck outdoors, but on this trip it was hovering near the freezing mark all day, so no one was outside, even though the inside was all but busting at the seams. It's always crowded. Noisy, busy, crowded, yet we still go there. That should tell you a lot. I don't even like elevators with more than one other person in it. We just usually don't do noisy, busy or crowded.
We were seated right in front of the door, not a prime spot, but once again, for this place we didn't mind.
There's a nine foot flat screen on one wall, a few other human-sized ones scattered around the others. All seemed to be playing sports games of one kind or another. One I noted was a football game, Duke vs. Maine, two universities I have absolutely no interest in playing a sport I have even less interest in. Later, all three TV's that I could see were tuned to the same channel for a hometown favorite, the St. Louis Blues, which is a hockey team, I am told. Not a big hockey fan either.
Let's just get to it.
The Food:
Pimento Burger
We all got burgers.
Me: Pimento-Bacon Burger with fries.
Angel: Ultimate Shroom Burger, fries
Adam: Breakfast Burger, fries.
I had un-sweet tea, Angel had sugared-up tea, a Pepsi for Adam.
There was about a fifteen minute wait, not really long for as busy as they were.
The pimento was not on the regular 'Burger Tour' menu, it was a special. I had asked the cheery young lady that took our order about it. "Burger, bacon, topped with pimento cheese." Simple, straight forward, tasty sounding.
I grew up liking pimento cheese (the caviar of the south), all by itself on bread. As I recall we had it a lot, it might have been cheaper than real food. Which begs the question, "Just what the heck is a pimento anyhow?"
Well fans, I looked it up. It is a form of red chili pepper, in fact the word 'pimento' is derived from the Portuguese words for 'bell pepper'. BTW, there are more Portuguese speakers in Brazil than there are in Portugal. I'm not even sure Portugal even exists anymore. I'll look that up next week, maybe. Remind me.
So the red pimento slivers in pimento cheese and crawling out the pit-hole of green olives, is little more than a bell pepper cousin. It is slightly sweeter than common red bell peppers.
Breakfast Burger
There's actually a machine in olive factories that 'pits' the olive and inserts the pimento in one quick movement.
So how is pimento cheese on a burger?
Actually, it's a pretty good fit. The thing tasted just like a good burger topped with pimento cheese, which is mostly just cheese and mayo anyhow. It was a little messy, little blobs of the cheese spread fell out during the meal, but messiness is just part of the burger experience.
Adam's breakfast themed burger included hash browns, egg, bacon and American cheese. We decided that it does not really qualify as a 'breakfast' burger unless it also included Lucky Charms or Cocoa Puffs. Now you're talking!
He quietly wolfed it all down in no time.
Angel's, the Ultimate Shroom, was topped with extra mushrooms and horseradish sauce. I don't care for horseradish in any amount. Angel said her burger could have included even more. (I looked this up too, no, horseradish is not made from actual horses.)
Angel's biggest beef. . . get it? Beef? LOL. Angel's strongest comment wasn't about the flavors, she
Ultimate Shroom Burger
was quite please with the taste. It was the bun/burger size ratio.  Our miniaturized burgers contained one third less beef than the regular burger. The bun though, was the same. Thus, her burger had about a half inch of bread edge all around it. Perhaps, she mused, if they flattened the smaller ones out a little more it would have been a better fit.
We were all quite pleased with our meals. I still couldn't finish my entire plate, but that does not mean I did not thoroughly enjoy it.
I asked the family about the fries. I'd noticed that they were sprinkled with pepper. To a person, yes, that was quite a nice touch. I tend to forget to put salt on fries, I can't say it ever occurred to me to pepper them as well. I may start doing that.
This place is just plain great. Debbie and her crew are true pros. The wait staff I observed were not just professional and competent, they were not just friendly, they were actually, genuinely cheerful, as if they were enjoying themselves. Very helpful, always smiling and all over the floor taking care of this and that.
Yes it was busy, yes it was noisy, but it was a happy place. The customers were all laughing and joking with each other.
The food is exceptional. Occasionally they offer fish or fried chicken, I've heard that it is just as good as the burgers, I don't doubt it. Debbie has created a nearly magical combination of great staff, great food and fantastic, intelligent and very, very handsome patrons.
The Concord Grill deserves every one of the many, many accolades that have been heaped on it.

Concord Grill Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Tuesday, November 15, 2016


2021 Main St.

Cadiz Ky.
On Facebook

I’ve known about Ferrell’s since I was a kid. There was only one nearby at the time, in Hopkinsville, about 20 miles east of Cadiz. We ventured to Hoptown a few times per year, it had more and bigger stores, even a mall. It even had a McDonald's, which was pretty popular among the younger set. Cadiz had its own local greasy burger hut, it was okay, but it wasn’t a McDonald's.
Long before McDonald's came to Hoptown, there was Ferrell’s, (first open in Owensboro in 1929, Hopkinsville in 1936.)  I knew of it in my youth, but I don’t recall ever going there. We didn’t eat out much back then.
A few years back Ferrell’s expanded into Cadiz. I knew about it, but since most of my visits to that part of the world were to celebrate one thing or another with family, I never needed to eat out.
This time was different. I’d be alone, with an ample amount of time and no family fridge to graze out of. I posted my plan on a social media page and asked locals if it was still renowned as a great place for a burger. Even my first-born, who currently lives in Tempe ,chimed in that it was his favorite place to eat while in the area. As far as I know, I am the only Trigg Countian, current, or former, that had never had a Ferrell’s burger.
The Place:
Right along 68 (which is Main Street downtown) in an area once known as East Cadiz.
It’s small and tight. There are only stools and counters, one along the windowed wall, one in front of the griddle. It was about half occupied with locals. There seemed to be three crew members behind the counter. One obviously the chief flipper. He was yammering away with one of the customers while scraping the goo off the heavy steel cooking surface.
It was then that I had a Gestalt moment, that sudden awareness that sneaks up on you and awakens you to a different, larger perspective of time and place.
The accent. 
I probably once talked this way myself, nearly everyone in the area does, even a couple of my siblings that live nearby. It is, as one would expect, a bit southern, with a noticeably slower tempo. Not quite Larghissimo, but definitely not Vivacissimo.
It is not as sweet and song-like as say a refined Atlanta accent, but not as crude as one might find on a swampy, backwoods banjo-infested porch.
If I stay more than a week at a time, I can catch myself slipping towards it a little. For me it is soothing, comfy, invoking the feel of having yourself pulled into the ample bosom of an aunt or grandmother’s soft cotton dress.
I found a stool at the counter. No need to look at the overhead menu, it only boasted a few things anyhow, burgers and breakfast. One of the nice things about Ferrell’s, especially if you are on the long haul or frequently imbibe, is that it is open 24 hours. The only place I know of to do that in whole of Trigg County.
The Food:
Keep it simple. Double Cheeseburger, lettuce, tomato, ketchup and mustard. Add a side of fries and an unsweetened tea.
They offer a bacon cheeseburger too, but I wanted to taste the burger itself, I already know what bacon tastes like.
I fiddled with my cellular smart phone. There are many places in Trigg County where there just is no cell service, fortunately I was in the county seat. At the old house in Cerulean, on visits, we siblings would have to stand in the middle of the road and hold the phones up in the air to get a connection. If we wanted to look at an email or social media, we’d have to drive down that road about five miles, which we actually did a couple of times on one of the last visits.
It didn’t take too long, thin burgers cook fast, fries, not so much. The flat top wasn’t very large and it had only a 2 basket deep fryer on one end. This limited the output. I was in no hurry though, I had a couple of hours and only four miles to drive to get to the house I was going to visit later.
No plates, silverware, baskets or anything here. The burger and fries were handed to me wrapped in green and white checkered paper, the tea came in a Styrofoam cup. The burger looked perfect, made the way I like them best. A ball of beef, spatula flattened, wafer thin, on the flat top. Not a perfectly round uniformly pressed, robot patty. The un-smooth edges were just shy of crispy. I love burgers this way.
The fries were thick, but not too thick, the tea was forgettable. The burger was a little messy, but since it wasn’t huge, the mess was manageable. I came away with nary a condiment or grease stain on my shirt.
It didn't take long to eat either. I listened to the conversations around me, all in that comforting lilt. Good people, hard working, proud and wise people. I assume they were wise simply because they'd come in to the best burger joint in town.
I was amused by a TV mounted on the wall above the counter. It was showing ads for local businesses and on one side, permanently displayed, it said “Now accepting cards”. Yeah, they just recently started taking credit/debit cards. Whenever I talk to my younger brother, who lives near mom’s ex-house, he’ll say something about Trigg County being a little behind the times or how entering the county is like stepping back in time itself. In many respects, from this city-kid’s perspective at least, it’s true. But that’s not a bad thing. Many’s the time I wish things would just slow down a little, a tad less immediacy maybe. It’s nice to be in a place where there are few, if any jammed roads, fewer cookie-cutter chain stores and eateries. But that’s just myopic nostalgia talking, I guess.
The burger was very good and just what I expected and wanted. The fries were not bad, but they did have that chalky starchiness on the inside indicating they had been frozen. . . but that’s the only thing that I think would I would improve for this experience. I left quite satisfied. I made plans to stop in for breakfast on Saturday morning.
Highly recommended!

Ferrell's Hamburgers Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato 

Saturday, October 22, 2016


810 North New Ballas Court
Creve Coeur, MO.

On the web.

Yeah, 'Zoup!'. Sounds like. . . and that's what it is. If I had to compare it to  a place you've heard of, I'd say it has a menu similar to Panera/St. Louis Bread Company, with not as much bread.
Yes, you can get a bread  bowl for your zoup!, if that is what you are into. I didn't since it sounded like a soup sandwich and my head spun from the mental image of that.
I don't usually go to lunch with the folks at work, I've mentioned that before. My weekday lunch regimen is a bit non-conventional. Fruits and nuts. That's all, fruits and nuts and not really a lot of that.
I eat just enough in the morning to sustain me through lunchtime. Then the fruit and nuts not only kick me into a higher gear, they fill me up. This odd diet allows me to easily avoid whatever temptations might be available, cakes, bagels, leftover pizza, a vending machine full of salty and sweet snacks.
Thursday morning though, the lite breakfast wasn't doing its normal job. By ten my tummy was growling, I was actually looking forward to the chimpanzee meal around noon.
One of my co-workers, one whose name I will not reveal (OWNIWNR) stopped by my desk-kingdom and asked if I'd like to try a new place he'd found. "A little soup and sandwich place I see on my way to work." He'd never been there, neither had another co-worker, who I'll refer to, once again, as 'Tim'.
I heard my tummy gurgle again and surprised myself a little by saying "Sure."
We rode over in OWNIWNR's relatively new car, outfitted with more on-board computers and displays than could be found at NASA during the Apollo program.
I worried a little about what I might order, but decided the worst case scenario would only mean one minor, reversible, backslide for the week.
The drive to Zoup! was not long, seven or eight minutes. During the run I distracted OWNIWNR by mentioning the Cleveland Indians heading to the World Series. He likes sports, he claims his family bleeds Cardinals Red. Indeed he once showed me a paving brick at Busch Stadium with his name on it. At the time I offered to take him to the downtown bus station where, for reasons I cannot at all explain, he could see my name and phone number on a wall. (no one ever seems to call though).
I'd heard about the Indians earlier on my drive in to work. It was about the only sports news presented on NPR, between the sad and increasingly pathetic fund raising pleas on this the last day of the autumn drive.
I remembered it because I'd not heard anything about the Cleveland Indians since the movie 'Major League' came out on DVD. In fact, all I really know about that team is from that movie. "Is Charlie Sheen still pitching?" I asked him.
The Place:
Zoup! is on one side of a busy shopping center. Which one, I don't recall. I don't really explore much
around the workplace, the traffic is thick and restless in that area during the day.
We walked in timidly, like the first-timers we were. The serving line was in the back. The front had window counter seating allowing patrons (Zoupers!?) the intoxicating vistas of a shopping center parking lot. Between the window and the line were nice, but fairly standard tables and chairs.
The place seemed clean and well tended.
There was a line, but not an insurmountable one. That's a nice aspect of limited menu places. Since they only offer so many things, the line moves quickly.
We stepped up.
The menu was on the wall behind the line. Wow, lots of zoups! The place boasts a rotating zoup! menu, which means not the same choices everyday. I like that idea. I could see the big vats steaming. There were about three that I figured I could be happy with. A turkey chili, a zoup! called chicken Potpie and a 'Seafood Chowder'
I would have preferred a bit more specificity than 'Seafood'. That could mean a lot of things. I like some, shrimp, scallops, crab, lobster, but don't want anything to do with oysters or clams. (snotfish)
But no worries first-timers, they offer free samples!
Just about everyone in line was asking for a sample or two. It gave me a chance to check out the seafood. Tim was tasting the Potato Cheddar, I'd ask him about it later. This is the same guy that recommended One19 last week so I sort of trust his food judgement a little.

The Food:
The salad selection looked more than adequate, with a Cob, a house and a few other specialty salads. They also had a reasonably good sized sandwich menu, which I ignored. If I have a sandwich, any sandwich, for lunch, I'm bloat-y and snoozing by 2 P.M.
I couldn't hear what OWNIWNR ordered, it turned out to be zoup! and a sandwich.
The zoup! comes in various sizes. 'Side', cup and bowl. After evaluating a sample, I decided that the seafood chowder was the way to go.
Apparently a chunk of bread comes with the zoup! order, I declined. Just the soup and a small drink please.
The serving line was filled with perfectly friendly and helpful people. Even the checkout lady didn't yell at me.
The price knocked me back a step. Ten bucks and change for a bowl of soup and a small drink, period. Not that I can't afford that, but it did seem a bit pricey for a small lunch. Heck, my own version of lunch costs me about seventy five cents per day.
It occurred to me why I was hungrier than usual. During the week, dinner, or supper, is my largest meal of the day. Even that is not really all that big. I usually pile on the whole meal in one of the smaller plates in a set. If you eat the right things you don't need as much. Also, my job doesn't exactly burn off a lot of calories, that's why I have to limit and regulate myself so closely if I want to maintain my girlish, but strikingly handsome figure.
However the evening prior to the gurgling tummy, I'd only had a thin lunch meat sandwich and a tennis ball-sized apple. Nothing else the whole evening.
Hopefully the chowder would do the trick.
We were rung up and handed receipts, mine was #97.
It doesn't take a long time to prepare an order at a soup place, so I had barely enough time to sit down and take a sip of the surprisingly fresh tea when they screamed out my order number.
A tray, a paper bowl and a plastic spoon. Sort of Spartan, but the bowl actually looked to me like way too much.
The sample I'd had didn't seem to contain any of the detestable snotfish I'd feared. Stirring around the semi-thick, creamy and buttery chowder I spied chopped shrimp, crab and fish. If it had snotfish in it, it was ground to a pulp and was undetectable.
It was not so thick that it would hold a spoon upright, but definitely thicker than Campbell's Cream of Celery, which is my go-to soup base at home.
The tastes were fantastic. I could indeed taste the crab and the shrimp. It was not nearly as heavy as some chowders I've had, which was a good thing.
The conversation was sporadic, we'd exhausted my sports knowledge with the bit about the Indians and OWNIWNR knew that Tim and I don't really follow sports. Tim enjoys playing with science fiction action figures and reading and collecting Archie comics, if I remember correctly. He's also teaching his young twin offspring how to play vintage Dungeons and Dragons. Yeah, he's one of those, I think.
So we talked about pension plans, IRA's and limited retirement options. Had the lunch lasted longer we would surely have started swirling into talking about aging issues, diseases and surgeries and the like. It always happens when you hang for long with a few gents of a certain age range.
As a meal, it was very tasty, quite satisfying and held up nicely throughout the afternoon. I did have to take a 2 P.M. anti-snooze walk, but that's not uncommon.
A nice little place, convenient to work, quick enough to feed you with a little time to spare to get back to the cubes before managers start yelling. The staff was very pleasant, I saw no service infractions, no back-ups or mishaps. The price was a bit higher than I had assumed, but be advised, not all the zoups! are priced the same. Seafood was about the priciest on the list. OWNIWNR's two-fer, Potpie zoup! and Chicken Toscana  sandwich, ended up costing him over fourteen dollars since he'd up-sized from a 'side' zoup! to a bowl. But it was "Very good" and certainly worth going back for. He added "With a few minor tweaks it would bee a serious contender with Panera." The zoup! was, all around the table, very good. Tim's potato cheddar was according to him, "Awesome." Yeah, he talks like that.
Though higher priced than I'd expected, that would only be a real problem if I ate there frequently. But alas, I'll mostly stick to my own berries, twigs and seeds most of the time.
So if you're looking for a quick, great quality meal and you are in the general area, be sure to give it a shot!

Zoup! Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

One 19 North

119 North Kirkwood Rd.
Kirkwood, Mo.

On the web

A co-worker, who I will refer to in this entry as 'Tim' suggested this place. His alleged family had stumbled into it while out doing alleged family things and found it quite interesting.
Of course, I also gave him the standard disclaimer that everyone who recommends a place to me gets:
1. Our tastes and preferences may be different.
2. Since you like the place and recommend it to me, knowing that I will publicly review it, I am also, in essence, judging you.

I was pretty much out of ideas and motivation. It seemed to me to be almost a chore to try to find something different, as in something with quality. I've been griping for quite a while about my taste buds succumbing to the effects of being constantly nuked by fast food. Everything was starting to taste like everything else.
Tim's suggestion sort of face slapped me out of my coma. Of course, there are millions of places that don't make fast food! Why don't we try something different?
I emailed Angel a link to the place, she replied within minutes, pointing out the same item om the online menu I had seen, fish tacos.
Sure, we'd had fish tacos before and either liked them, or not, nothing to get really excited about.
Kirkwood is a bit farther away than we normally stray, but still within our territory. Adam had even agreed to meet us there.
Through absolutely no fault of my own, when the time came to leave on Sunday, I was still tromping through the woods with some History Club buddies, taking stock of a long-abandoned cemetery. Historians, it turns out, generally have a lousy sense of real-time, we're always later than we say we will be. Angel called and snapped me back into the present.
Kirkwood is a very interesting St. Louis suburb. It has an Amtrak station and next to that a pleasant and prosperous restaurant and shoppe area that caters to more up-scale foot traffic. By my count we passed or could see thousands of store front eateries between the public parking lot and the place we were going. Every sort of cuisine and style from an old-school diner to chic, club-style, minimalist, organic, vegan, free range cucumber and mango joints.
Our place was not difficult to find, especially since it named itself after its own street address.
The Place:
As with most places like this, there was a menu posted outside. This I knew, was a city thing. It caters to the foot traffickers, those out and about groups wandering shoppe to shoppe and deciding that it's time for nourishment, and looking for something new. We waited to go in as a couple of ladies were hunched over the posted menu. Finally, a black-clad gentleman from the floor staff pushed the door open for them, inviting them in. We followed.
The interior was dark, almost cavern dark. If I had to guess, I'd say the entire room was using nearly 3 watts of lighting. It presented the sensation of being candle lit. This is not really a bad thing, we introverts don't like bright lights in public places. My only concern was that it was going to make photographing the food difficult. This is why the accompanying photos are a bit dim and fuzzy.
Not a large place, but there weren't a lot of people there. There was overhead music, not intrusive or pounding. The first song I heard was 'Werewolves of London', that shifted later to Pat Benatar. This would be just fine.
The wall alongside the bar was painted to look like some sort of sandstone, the opposite wall was outfitted with rough, distressed wood. The kind of planks you pull from an early 20th century barn. The ceiling tiles were painted black, adding to the darkness.
On the table were two large, shiny wine glasses. I like wine but it distorts my perspective on the world around me. Most of the time that's a good thing, but not when I'm reviewing a new place. Cloth napkins. You don't see that in most places we eat. Classy.
There was one patron hugging the bar, a regular I presumed, since the bartender and a couple of the other floor crew were engaged in lively conversation with him.
Our server arrived and asked about drinks. I asked her if they had tea, she replied that they did. "Is it any good?" I asked, which seemed to me to be a fair question. I was somewhat surprised by her candid answer. She sort of wrinkled up her nose like she was about to apologize for something. "It's just Lipton."
I asked for it anyhow. It was fine.
Angel decided that the provided water was good enough, Adam ordered a Coke. The server, somewhat disappointed, snatched up the two wine glasses.
Places like this make a lot more money off of wine than the food, I get that. Sorry. Maybe next time.
We had all reviewed the menu online, but still took a few minutes to consider options.
The Food.
* See menu descriptions below.
Whenever Adam is with us, he and Angel conspire about appetizers. Quite often they order wings, which are usually of the Buffalo style and toxic to my delicate tongue. They decided on the wings anyhow, but they weren't billed as being hot and orange.
This is a Tapas joint. This means things are appetizer style, not one fixed plate per person. I like this idea, it means you can order something you know and try things you don't without anyone doing without. We decided on three. Fish Tacos, of course, also the pork tacos which promised to have a light kick. Adam wanted to find out what 'Bacon Jam' was, so he voted for the flatbread. Flatbread can mean several things, from pizza to a tortilla to the Indian 'naan' (which I favor). Almost every culture has a version of flatbread.
More people started wandering in, the place got a bit busier. The cluster of staff around the bar didn't move much, it appeared that the floor was being mostly covered by two or three ladies. I was concerned that the group at the bar was a little too involved in their conversation for a little too long. Many restaurants, especially classier ones, frown on the staff chatting it up on the floor. Or maybe its none of my business.
The wings arrived with a ramekin of white dipping fluid in the center. I assumed Ranch, since everyone serves Ranch dressing with lots of things. I don't particularly care for Ranch. Since I was here to review though, I dipped the tip of my fork in it and tried it. Not really Ranch-y at all (the buttermilk had tamed the beast that is Ranch). I asked Angel and Adam if the chicken was hot. "The temperature yes, the spice, no, not at all." I decided to go all in and try an entire wing.I was barely into the first steaming bit when the tacos arrived. We shoved things around and made more room. The other tacos arrived soon after that. Four each on attractive and probably single-tasker taco trays. Shortly after that the flatbread arrived. We made more room and went all family style.
The chicken, I decided, was really very good. In fact I had two wings, a rare thing for me to do.
The pork taco was closest, so I tried it first. Nice, light soft tortillas, filled with more than I had expected. The pork chunks were quite delicious, but maybe a little tough. It didn't quite bite in two so a large portion came out all at once. The Pico de Gallo (salsa) was certainly fresh and bright tasting, not at all like canned salsa form New York City. It had a harmony of tastes, all of them good. There was some heat on the backside, but not an overpowering amount.
The fish version did not have this heat, but the slaw worked beautifully, also fresh, bright and multi-dimensional. The stick-like fish was perhaps a bit overcooked, but not too much so. Because of the slaw, it was indeed about the best fish taco I recall having.
Adam's bacon jam flat bread led to prolonged analysis. "It's weird." he said, but not in a derogatory way. "I can't really describe it." Angel and I split a wedge. Indeed it was very hard to describe. There was a smokiness, but also an unusual sweetness. It defied comparison to anything I could explain.
I don't like food that baffles me, even if it isn't really bad. I could not explain this taste, therefore I was unable to eat any more.
Not a problem though, Adam cleaned up the whole thing. 
I had one pork and one fish taco, plus the two wings. None of this was large or heavy. Angel and Adam agreed, we had room for dessert.
We asked the server about their offerings. There were two. The first, Tres Leche, I believe, was a milk cake. That didn't ring any bells of delight. The second though seemed perfect. A brownie with a little caramel sauce and a scoop of ice cream on the side. Simple.
Things got a little confusing then. I can't offer up exact quotes but the conversation with the server seemed to be a little unconventional. Angel said she wanted the brownie and the server agreed and turned to walk away. Adam declared that he'd like it too. She did it again. I stopped her and said I'd like a brownie as well. She squinted and said something to the effect of "So you want another brownie?" I hesitated, had she misunderstood?
Two brownies arrived, were dropped off without another word. I had to flag down a wandering server to correct the problem. I chalk this up mostly to miscommunication, not necessarily bad service. The brownies weren't big enough to share. 
Any frustrations I had vanished quickly as Angel and Adam tried a little piece of the brownie and both expressed the same, completely reflexive "Wow!"
When mine arrived I did the same, I didn't want to, but there was simply no avoiding it. Dark, not too sweet, very very chocolate-y, rich and creamy. My taste buds lit up with a spontaneous standing ovation. Things were said. Reverent things, worship-y things. The table got very quiet as we each celebrated this holy moment in our own way. A new religion could be based on this particular delicacy.
Yes, it was that good. I'm not a dessert guy, you know that. I can walk right by cakes and pastries all day. I don't eschew them completely, they just don't tempt me. But this, this thing of infinite beauty ripped my brain in half.
Oh, and the accompanying ice cream was good too.  
It was so good, Adam used actual words. ". . . probably one of the best places we've been to. At the very least, the best brownie we've all had."
There was the mix-up with the brownies, there was the huddle of crew members near the bar, but those are hardly serious condemnations. The food, for the most part was absolutely wonderful. The atmosphere, though a bit too dark for my general tastes, was relaxed and cozy. No high pressure, no being stalked by the pepper guy, drinks were refilled regularly, all good.
Tim was right, it was pretty good. He did well recommending this place (He sweat this review all weekend, he tells me.)

* Menu listings:

House made Chipotle Bacon Jam spread
topped with Mozzarella And Avocado

flash fried Panko Breaded Tilapia w/ a Red
Chili Marinade served with Baja Slaw and
Avocado Salsa Verde

Seared and shredded Pork Shoulder
served with Baja Slaw, Pico de Gallo and
Chimichurri sauce

house made Buttermilk Ranch

One 19 North Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato 

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Chick Fil A

1 Arnold Mall
Arnold, Mo.
On the web

I don't recall the exact moment it happened, but Angel made this choice. It had to be that way, I'd never even think of it.
The elephant in the room.
Not because of that anti gay marriage thing or the being closed on Sunday thing though.
I'm not saying I support or even agree with the owner's position on gay marriage. That's a whole different matter. Positive change takes time, sometimes a lot of time.
No,  the reason I wouldn't ever have thought about Chick Fil A as a meal choice is that I really don't care for chicken sandwiches. Why? Two words: Breast meat. More on that later.

The Place:
During this past week Angel had another round of post-surgical checkups. She's still not able to comfortably drive for long distances, so I took part of the day off to escort her to the medical center in that vague region called 'South County' near Lemay Ferry Road. There may be a named town there, I don't know. St. Louis County has 90 municipalities and 10 unincorporated census designated places. As you travel up and down or back and forth through the county, you hop from one to the other, mostly seamlessly and unnoticed. I suppose if you are from one of those towns or places, you know them apart. I'm not from here though. I'm so not from here that people are very disappointed when I struggle to answer the first question everyone in the area asks each other when they first meet. "Where'd you go to high school?"  I think it's the basis for some sort of local caste system.
During our little trip, we knew we'd be able to grab a lunch while in the area. So a few days ahead of time Angel asked me if I liked Chick Fil A. I answered that I'd never been to one before and told her about the not caring for chicken sandwiches thing.
"They have other stuff." She answered. So I went online and hunted up a menu. They didn't really have other stuff, it was really just chicken as a wrap, in a salad and as nuggets.
Another problem. I have modified my weekday meal regimen to accept very light lunches, just enough to get me through to the next meal. Disrupting this pattern has proven gastronomically disruptive. She suggested the nuggets instead, but I had to also try the waffle fries.
So we headed up the road to Arnold, just this side of the Meramec river from South County. There may have been one in SoCo, but she knew the one in Arnold.
I'd seen these places before, just never been inside. It was apparent that a lot of other people knew about it, it was three quarters full when we stepped in. A real mix. A few lunching contractors, elderly couples and groups, and several moms with sticky, smelly and noisy preschool children. I got that, chicken nuggets are great kid-food.
The Food:
We stepped (actually I stepped, Angel hobbled) up to the counter and were properly greeted. Angel knew the order, so she took charge. I noticed the overhead menu listed the calorie count for each item. So did the kid's menu. You don't see that so prominently posted in other places. Good on them.
Angel ordered the 8 nugget combo, with waffle fries and lemonade for both of us. I'm not sure they even offered tea, nor do I think I would have asked for it anyhow. I've not had a lot of luck with fast food tea. Angel paid up and we found a table. We grabbed some napkins and ketchup on the way.
Pretty soon, our number was up, I fetched the food at the counter. A nice young lady had brought out our lemonades during the wait. Meanwhile, sticky, smelly and noisy preschoolers ran and squealed up and down the aisles. I tried to ignore them. I'm good at ignoring children, just ask my own kids, wherever they are.
It actually looked pretty good. These nuggets weren't the cookie-cutter processed version you find at most fast food places, this was actual, irregular chunks of chicken breast. The golden brown breading was not too thick. The waffle fries looked okay. I would rather they had fried a bit longer, they looked a little pale and not crispy.
The obvious question lies on the near horizon. "What kind of dipping sauces did you get?" I can almost hear you asking.
The thing is, that of all the tasty parts of a dead chicken, the thing that has been the focus, for a very long time, of selective breeding is the breast. That's where the largest part of a chicken is now, so the more one single bird has, the greater the meat-profit it becomes. The downside? It is virtually tasteless. A drumstick, wing or other darker meat parts have their own flavor. Breast meat does not. It's the tofu of the poultry world. If the whole breast is breaded and fried, there's never enough coating taste to carry through to the last several bites. Chicken nuggets, almost always breast meat, (because there's more of it and it is easier to harvest than dark meat) but there's just not enough flavor there to get all worked up over. So nuggets are pretty much always dipped into a sauce of some kind. The lady at the counter had asked which sauce we wanted and rattled of a list. I had her repeat it since I didn't catch anything after 'Ranch'. Not because I like Ranch, quite the opposite. I don't get ranch, on anything. It's almost like a universal sauce, added to everything, hot wings, potato chips, occasionally a salad. I don't hate Ranch, I just think there's too much of it.
The lady opened her litany with 'Chick Fil A sauce'. I asked her what that was. She struggled with a
coherent answer, Angel suggested it was like a barbecue sauce. I nodded, which in my culture signifies 'yes' or  'I agree' or 'I'm pretending to listen' depending on the context. Angel passed that on and also asked for Honey Mustard as a backup. She assumed, wrongly, that I like honey mustard. She so doesn't get me sometimes.
Back at the table we peeled open the sauce packets, not a minor task, neither was opening the  needlessly complicated ketchup packet (pour from this side or peel from the other side to dip.) Way too much effort went getting into these overthought packets. I read the sauce packet to verify the ingredients. It read like 'War and Peace' Sure enough it started with sugar, oil and 'bbq sauce'. After that was a list of spices that pretty much every spice I'd ever heard of. They dragged this bbq sauce through an entire spice rack.
For the first nugget, I went commando, no sauce. I wanted to taste the chicken itself so that you, my fickle fans, don't have to.
It was pretty good by itself. Not quite as pronounced as KFC, but similar in taste, pleasantly peppery.
The next nugget went into the Chick Fil A sauce. Yeah there was a bbq taste, but it had been dragged through an entire spice rack. Most noticeably, unfortunately was the mustard. You remember how I said earlier that I don't care for Honey Mustard? Yeah that's  it. My brain will only properly process the taste of mustard if it is thick, yellow and most often squeezed onto a hot dog or hamburger. I don't even care for Dijon, nope, just the cheap yellow stuff. I did accidentally dip a couple of nuggets into my ketchup, that was probably the best sauce at the table. Go with your own weird taste choices though, don't go by me on this.
The waffle fries were quite good, if not a little under-cooked. I would have liked them just a bit crispier, but I liked them enough to finish them.
It served quite well as a 'light' lunch. Not too much food for a noontime sitting. The chicken was indeed far superior to those dubious sourced cookie-cutter nuggets at most places. Angel enjoyed hers quite well, but we knew that was the case going in. The place was clean, though busy, the staff was cheerful, friendly and competent. All in all, a pleasant experience. Except for all the children, I think Chick Fil A should not allow children. It would make for a much nicer meal for us hard working, tax-paying, non-sticky grownups.

Chick-fil-A Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Sunday, October 2, 2016


"Lights. Seen in the sky above the Arby’s. Not the glowing sign of Arby’s. Something higher, and beyond that. We know the difference. We’ve caught on to their game. We understand the “lights above Arby’s” game.
Invaders from another world.
Ladies and gentlemen, the future is here, and it’s about 100 feet above the Arby’s."
 - 'Welcome to Night Vale:  Episode 1 - Pilot'  -   *

690 Truman Blvd
Festus, Mo.
On the web.

This exercise was the result of a barrage of commercials boasting Arby's 'Smokehouse Pork Belly' sandwich. At first I quivered, then my man-brain started chanting 'big bacon, big bacon . . .'  Angel seemed curious as well. Angel's a very curious person, she likes trying out new things, LOTS of new things, some nice and pleasant, many too physically demanding and weird to repeat, ever, or even discuss openly again.
I was skeptical, but that's what I bring to nearly every party, rampant yet intensely articulate skepticism.
In a case like that, our two minds being of two or more minds, we like to have a backup plan. We discussed this and came up with what I just now mentally invented 'The Chinese Solution'.
Build your own buffet. Order a little of several things, some known, some unknown, bring it home, divide it up, voila! Buffet.
I would make the run, the nearest Arby's to our heavily fortified compound is, of course, in Festus, which is now four or more miles further away than it was a couple of months ago when they finally started to re-construct the crumbling little bridge between us and higher civilization.
I left early to make a couple of utility stops, Lowes for some more succulents (a new, drought resistant, hobby of ours.) and PetSmart for a siphon hose, which they did not have, and three, fourteen cent gold fish. The fish were for our only standing aquarium. (in Maryland we had as many as 28 active aquariums). Our one remaining goldfish, Dowager, has been seeming quite listless since the last of her companions were summoned to Jesus. Even the algae eater that acts as Dowager's housekeeper, seemed to be bored. So we thought an infusion of youth and vigor might be just the kick in the dorsal fin she needs. These three 'comets' were only fourteen cents apiece, as opposed to the two or three buck goldfish at Walmart, because people tend to buy large quantities of these rather simple and plain fish to use as feeders for even larger fish. I told the lady serving them up that I was rescuing these, that they would be free to romp and play for however long they wish, up until the blue, swirling waters of goldfish heaven spirit them away from their mortal coils.
The Place:
At the end of Highway A, at 61/67 in Festus. Too vague?  It's in front of Walmart. There, is that better?
The three new fish swam in a small bag in the passenger seat, not seeming to mind the ride much, but not overly enthused either. I tried to come up with names for them, I tried Huey, Dewey and Louie, but that seemed too dated. Shem, Ham and Japheth popped into my head, but that seemed even more dated, so I abandoned the idea.
The short drive from the pet supply store to Arby's was short and uneventful. I parked, glanced around, took a full pull of cool-ish autumn air, girded my loins (to pull up and tie one's lower garments between one's legs to increase one's mobility) and headed in. Looking above the tall sign, I detected no lights hovering one hundred feet above it. I didn't know what to make of this. Were we not worthy?
Hardly any customers, so I took a head count. There were exactly zero other customers in the place, fewer than I'd originally thought.
I had the order mostly figured out, Angel had crafted a list but I wanted to put my mark on it so she wouldn't think I hadn't given it any thought whatsoever (which is the actual case). Being the sole patron, I took my time. I told the patient lady behind the counter to prepare herself for real work, the order would be complex and full of mind blowing twists and turns.
The Food:
One each:
Smokehouse Pork Belly
Smokehouse Brisket
Roast Beef
Corned Beef
Onion Rings
Potato Cake
Curly Fries

Pork Belly
Angel had told me to make sure to get Horsey Sauce. I'm not sure what exactly Horsey Sauce is, but I was hoping for her sake that it was not made from actual horses.
I spat out my order to the young, patient lady. She reacted like a pro, pushing single function buttons on her POS terminal (for sake of this post, POS stands for 'Point of sale', not the profane phrase I usually employ the acronym for.). She didn't miss a beat, she punched those buttons like George Jetson himself.
The tab came to forty something dollars, as I recall, I wasn't really paying attention. I swiped the POS slot and stepped back to welcome the thanks I so richly deserved. She asked my name, I showed her my passport, birth certificate and Radio Shack 'Battery of the Month' card. My papers were in order, in fact a little too in order, she just wanted to know whom to call when the order was ready. My bad, I get stopped and interrogated a lot, so I'm always prepared.
It didn't take so very long. Being the only customer has that as an advantage. She was bundling up the last item when she stopped, looked into the bag and pulled something out and threw it away. "Fix another Corned Beef Slider Rex!" She called to the back. This made me wonder what exactly can go so wrong with a corned beef slider that renders it completely and immediately unworthy to give to a customer.
While waiting for the new and improved slider, another lady tried bundling the bundles into a slightly undersized plastic bag. It was a clumsy attempt, I feared crushed food. I gently pulled the bag away from her without punching her or calling  her vile names, because I'm a gentleman. I really was afraid she was going to get too frustrated with her task and blow a gasket, or crush my curly fries, which is worse.
The drive home was again, uneventful. This was fine and perfectly fitting, since I'd already decided to try to have an uneventful weekend. On Friday I about lost it when young Tim, a co-worker, said "Have a great weekend!" as I was leaving. "Stop ordering me around!" I screamed back. A 'great' weekend usually involves energy, effort and goals, I wanted absolutely none of that noise.
I handed off the bulging, undersized bag to Angel, she had met me at the door. Meeting me at the door is usually the thing one or more dogs do, but it was Rudy time and he always runs away when anyone comes to the door. Rudy has some comical fear issues. That's why we love him, his weaknesses and fears make us laugh.
She tore open the boxes and bags and lined the food up for the photo shoot. I snapped away, turning and poking and peeling away at the comestibles, to make them a little more photogenic. I reviewed the photos as Angel dutifully pulled out some plates and knives and started slicing everything, small portion, sample size.
Our score card:
Pork Belly. I tried this first while the taste buds were still fresh and dusty. I did not care for what they were awakened to. I had imagined it to be bacon-y or salty, but what I got was a sickly sweet, greasy bite.
The sandwich was billed as having barbecue sauce, but this taste profile was mustard-y and too sweet. I could not really taste the meat itself, just the icky sauce.
Angel didn't mind it as much, but she added that she'd probably not want to eat a whole sandwich of it because of the sweetness.
Brisket. I thought this to be a vast improvement over the pork. Slightly smoky, much less intense, though Angel called it 'smoky, but bland'.
The sliders were all problematic in a specific way. The bread to protein ratio. Both of us started popping them open and plucking the meat. Way too much bread. Angel referred to the chicken version as 'A chicken nugget pasted to a bun' and 'a waste of money'.  It did look like that. The meats, especially the new and improved corned beef were quite okay, but it was really hard to be sure since there was only about a teaspoon of meat on each of the sliders.
The Sides:
The sides.
Angel liked the onion rings. I liked the taste okay, the subtle sweetness of the onion came through, but thought the breading was too thick.
Curly fries are curly fries, neither of us prefer them over normal fries. They tend to clump up in the fryer and have greasy and gooey spots. As far as curly fries go though, they were okay.
The huge fail here was the potato cake. Angel said they were too breakfast-y, as if that were an actual thing, but I got the idea, too much like those hash brown patties you get at fast food drive-in's. I was upset when I discovered there was no frosting or candles on my potato cake. That would have been nostalgic for me. I used to get a potato cake for every birthday. . . hang on, an internal memory error has occurred. . . . . . .  Oh, I remember now, I used to get a potato for my birthday. I was not my parents' favorite child. I'm over it now.  
As I sit here typing away, listening to some smooth jazz  about three hours after that meal, my tummy is still queasy. It's a fried fast food thing with me. This stuff makes me sick. It's a cosmically high price I pay to inform you, my fickle fan base. I'm just not sure you are worth the agony anymore, you don't call, you don't write . . .
The service was good, the place was clean, though I'm still curious as to what went wrong with the original corned beef slider. . .  Maybe I don't want to know.
In a nutshell, I will not be making that trek to Arby's again anytime soon. Nothing, especially the star attraction Pork Belly even rose to a rank of 'pretty good'. Later, we were talking about it again, Angel said the only thing she would go back to Arby's for was the good ol' original roast beef. "They should stick to what they do best."
But you shouldn't take my word for it when it comes to fast food anymore, since it makes me sick and everything. I just can't take it anymore.

"We understand the lights. We understand the lights above the Arby’s. We understand so much.
But the sky behind those lights – mostly void, partially stars? That sky reminds us we don’t understand even more."
 - 'Welcome to Night Vale: Episode 25 - One year later'

* 'Welcome to Night Vale' is a podcast.  I have been reading/listening to it for about a year. As with most things new and interesting I discover, I first heard about it on NPR during my long, dismal commute.
It's certainly not for everyone.
Back when I was working toward a graduate degree in educational psychology with the University of Southern California (true story) one of the professors (a real 80's California Psychologist) offered an evaluation of each of us in the class after several weeks of classwork and discussions. She came to me, I didn't expect much, since in this class, as with almost every 'group' activity I'm ever involved with, I pretty much sat quietly in the back, avoiding eye contact and chit-chat.
"Dennis, you are a divergent thinker."
I politely thanked her, then rushed home to look up the word 'divergent'. It simply means 'different'. Apparently the professional analysis concluded that I don't think the same way other people do. This pleased me greatly. I'm not unique at all, many, many people can also be considered 'divergent thinkers', just not all in the same way.
Things that appeal to me seem to fall above, under or to either side of 'average'. You well know by now that I do not follow sports, any of them, and that I listen to music, hardly at all. So that opens up a little cerebral real estate that is often filled in with anxiety, trivia, anxiety, curiosity and anxiety.
Anyway, wordplay, sentences and phrasing also often delight me, along with a boatload of divergent - style thinking. That's what hooked me on Night Vale.
Night Vale's podcasts are presented as WTNV radio broadcasts. Cecil reads about current events, community groups, disasters, public service announcements, etc.
In a desert town in the southwest where odd matters of time, physics and metaphysics intersect, but are not quite in a way we regular people in the real world understand them.  "Time doesn't work in Night Vale"
No dogs are allowed in the dog park, no people either, you may see hooded figures in the dog park. Tell no one, drink to forget. The Sheriff's Secret Police are watching you, always, everywhere, for your protection and they hardly ever kidnap children.
"All hail the glow cloud!", a giant inexplicable glowing cloud that also is a member of the PTA.
Libraries are dangerous and scary, and only actually contain a couple of books anyhow, one being an autobiography of Helen Hunt.

From Episode 15:
Welcome to Night Vale.
Ladies, gentlemen, you. Today is Street Cleaning Day.
Please remain calm!
Street Cleaners will be upon us quite soon. We have little time to prepare.
Please remain calm!
The City Council has issued a statement in 20-point all-caps type saying:

Probably not everyone's cup of tea, but for totally indecipherable reasons, it appeals to me greatly. I now follow a few NV groups, bought the book, etc. These people think differently.

Arby's Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Thai Rama

907 N. Truman Blvd.
Crystal City, Mo.
On the web

First, The artists, producers, photographers, writers, editors and researchers at Eat and Critique would like to send out a big thank you to you, all of you, for making this epic and cosmically important review blog the unimaginable success it has been.
This week marks seven years, 307 posts and nearly 200,000 views. Wow, right?
Though we may occasionally boast, we are quite humbled on the inside.

Here we go.

Thai? Really?
Yes, I know We've never reviewed a Thai restaurant before. Not because there were none available, or that we were not aware of them, but for cultural reasons. Not the Thai culture, but that of my family.
Angel and I are culinarily, purely Midwestern. Born and bred on meat and potatoes, fried chicken, pot roast, burgers, hot dogs and bologna sandwiches. Our major spices are salt and pepper. Red sauce is ketchup.
We really like (air quotes) 'Chinese food', because what we have at Chinese restaurants is mostly invented or perfected in the USA. Just recently when we went out for Chinese, I inwardly lamented that everything seemed to taste the same, breaded, fried, you know.
We've always known that Thai or Indian would not be that comfortable taste profile. When Adam was going with us regularly, Thai was not even an option. Adam only likes about seven things, and none of them are coated with curry or peanut sauce.
So this was a big deal for us.
I'd had Thai before, maybe three or four times, at lunch with co-workers back when I lunched with co-workers, a thing I only do very rarely now, more for medical reasons than that I can't stand to eat with them. I've even tried a couple of Indian places with actual people from India.  More on that in a future episode.
When I do eat with co-workers I tend to drown in the anxiety of having to socialize with a larger group of people. Yeah, I'm one of those. I don't follow sports or fashion trends or have young kids or vacations like the rest of them and that seems to be what they like to talk about. So stressful is it that I rarely even notice the meal itself.
The Place:
In an unassuming shopping center next door to Twin City Monuments, a headstone operation that I've always wanted to visit. I've got this thing about headstones, I once asked another monument company to let me buy a couple of small 'mistake' stones. You know, just to have around the yard.
We would not be dining in. Angel called it in, I  made the hour long solo trek (extra 15-20 minutes thanks to the bridge work I mentioned last week) to Festus/Crystal City and back. Angel had created and called in the order, all I had to do was go get it. Inside was well staffed, deceptively large and nicely decorated.
When I went in the order was on the counter. There were several folks there, some eating, some waiting. The young man at the counter, as well as the three or four others, were all smiling and friendly, they seemed to be genuinely content. The transaction went straight through, I barely had time to look around. It was definitely clean and orderly, at least out front. Nothing fancy, well, except for the big mural on the wall, but nothing over the top or too kitschy. The aroma of the place was intoxicating, in a good way.
The Food:
We decided to do it 'make-your-own-buffet' style as we do with Chinese take-out. Since neither of us knew what we would like, she studied the menu a day ahead of time to create a buffet of possibilities. I knew Pad Thai with chicken was pretty tame, so she made sure to order that.
Along with:
A2 - Thai Spring Roll - cucumber, carrot, green onion, egg tofu, in rice paper, with a plum sauce.
C5 - Musaman Curry  - Coconut milk, white onion, and potato chunks, beef.
C4 - Panang Curry - milk, bell peppers, basil, and peanut sauce, chicken.
H3 - Gang Quah Shrimp - Panang Curry (above), pineapple, tomatoes, bell peppers, basil.
Yes, curry. Crazy, right?
Curry refers to a blend of spices. The word itself derives from the Tamil (Southeast India) word 'kari' which translates to 'sauce, relish for rice.' Thai Rama's curries are definitely the wet version of curry, sauces to serve over rice or noodles. We had already had noodles in the Pad Thai, so Angel ordered up some plain white rice as well, to host the curries.
In Indian restaurants there is a flat bread, similar to a pita, called naan, that you dip into the various curries.
Rice is good for that too, you just can't really pick it up with your hands.
I was a little worried. One of those times I did go Thai with co-workers, one guy, who I'll refer to as Doug, asked for the full five-alarm spice tray. He's light complected and even with a decades old, built up tolerance to most things, including almost daily 7-11 hot dogs, he turned so bright red that we considered calling 911. In fact, if we liked him more, we probably would have.
Just kidding, Doug is great, even though he curiously thinks Trump is a reasonable candidate, I like him anyhow.
Once home, Angel popped open the lids and posed them for the photo shoot. I learned something about curry during that particular part of the effort, curry is not terribly photogenic. They all looked alike.
I knew the milky, creamy sauces contained hidden secrets though.
We each dished up some rice and distributed each of the three curries around our plates. They still looked very similar, but the meats, especially the shrimp gave up hints. The curry sauce for the shrimp and chicken was the same, though with slightly different veggie chunks.
The spring rolls were fresh, crisp and cool. Fresh chilled veggies in strips wrapped in a very thin, nearly transparent rice wrap. I tried eating one in two bites, but the wrap burst on several sides when I bit into the veggies and was useless for another unified bite. Probably intended for a single thrust.
They were very good, providing a springtime contrast to the heartier rice and milky sauces.
The Pad Thai was a dish I recalled, very tame. If you too are wary about Thai food, Pad Thai is a safe choice. Not very spicy. Noodles, veggies, chicken. . .  I tried it first, about as good as I remembered it, though after eating some of the curries, it seemed quite bland. The tickle of heat in the Panang curry was enough to make the more subtle spices in the noodle dish disappear completely.
And it was just a tickle. I don't like heat for heat's sake. I have no tolerance for pepper spices, even Tabasco. I never use the stuff.
This is that cultural thing I mentioned earlier. There's nothing insane or even rare about hotter spices,
it's just that I was never around it much. My parents never, ever pushed stronger flavors on me, so most of it is their fault anyhow.
The use of tomatoes and pineapple seemed a little weird as well. I love tomatoes, I love pineapple, but I'm just not accustomed to finding them cooked into a creamy, savory sauce. I tried them anyhow. It's something I could get used to, but it will take a while. I didn't find it disgusting, or even bad, it's just my under-trained taste buds were having trouble translating it to my brain.
The curries here, Panang and Musaman are both Thai standards. I'll not go into the specific details here, that's what we built the internet for. Suffice it to say that they have different taste profiles.
We took a poll and we both agreed that the shrimp was our favorite, but only by a little.
And that's what we both noticed. There's a lot going on with the depth and breadth of tastes, all of them. This was not flour, grease and milk gravy, nor was it a basic two-spice tomato sauce. There was a lot going on.
Neither of us are experienced enough to be able to define it better than that. This stuff was very, very different from the mac and cheese and pigs in a blanket styles of food we grew knowing and loving.
It was an awakening, of what, we're not sure. It seemed exotic, foreign, unfamiliar, yet enticing. We felt like explorers.
This buffet cost a little over fifty bucks, but there was a lot of food. When we do this we end up with two or three meals worth of stuff, so prorate it based on that.
We'll definitely go back, to try different things, to expand our vocabulary, to experience some authentic and excellent cuisine, carefully and thoughtfully prepared.

Thai Rama Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Wednesday, September 21, 2016


673 Gravois Bluffs Blvd.
Fenton, Mo.
On the web.

We had options. Gravois Bluffs is a shopping area, I've mentioned it several times before. Along the row in front of the big box stores on the south side of highway 141, is a long line of restaurants, a dozen or more. Most, if not all, chain restaurants you've heard of.
Our actual destination was on the north side of the road, even more stores and restaurants there. We were on a quest. We had decided that we needed new dinnerware. Like many working families, our plates and bowls are mismatched, chipped and diminishing in numbers. Angel had been thinking about it and decided that we should just go ahead and replace the war-weary collection. A store that once had nice dinnerware, Gordman's was on the north side of the highway, in the shadow of the bluffs. Angel recalled that there was an Applebee's in that same shopping center.
She's recovering from foot surgery but can now get around for short periods in her 'boot' without crutches or the now-abandoned knee scooter. Driving long distances is problematic for her since the boot is so bulky that once in place under the dashboard, there's very little wiggle room, her leg and foot stiffen up. So I drove her in her Trailblazer.  I commute in a little VW Jetta. I like my small, reliable, efficient little car. Her SUV feels massive in comparison. I rarely drive it. But I soldiered up and offered to drive. She stretched out on the passenger side, an ideal position to complain about my
overly cautious and timid driving style. She didn't nag, but I could hear the frequent sighs.
The Place:
The shopping center is very busy, but Applebee's didn't seem crowded. I cautiously and timidly parked the battleship near the door. A member of the wait staff opened the door for us as we approached. They seated us in the central dining area, near the bar, at a bistro style table.
Asked for drinks, Angel asked for sweet tea, I grumbled and settled for the un-sweet version.
I'd really like to find something else to drink on these trips, tea is almost always a disappointment at restaurants.
I looked around, typical, ubiquitous, 80's chain sports bar. TV's playing sports on every wall, thankfully muted. The overhead music came through scratchy, distributed (100 volt) institutional ceiling speakers. Those things are fine for low volume 'Muzak' but lousy for contemporary, bass-heavy pop or rock. I could explain why this is, but will spare you for the time being.
The Food:
I'd scanned the online menu earlier in the day so I'd already narrowed it down a short list of possible choices. Angel didn't seem to have any problem deciding either. I sipped on the tea, which was surprisingly good. Clear, bright, fresh. It could have been a little stronger, but for restaurant tea this was quite good.
I'd briefly considered the fish and chips, until I remembered a 'note to self': If fish and chips is not featured prominently on the menu, skip it, just walk away. Nobody seems to get the fish right at all the places I've ordered it in the past. Applebee's had it buried well down in the 'yeah we have this stuff too, if you insist' section.
The gentleman who would be our server asked for our orders, Angel took the lead.
Shrimp 'n Parmesan  Sirloin with grilled veggies and garlic mashed potatoes.
Me: Grilled Onion Sirloin and Stout Gravy with crispy red potatoes. (from the 'Lighter Fare' page)
As we waited I noticed that two of the muted TV's were not showing actual sports, they were instead showing a guy talking. I assume about sports, but for a half hour or more it was just this guy talking, on a muted TV, with no closed captioning. Not surprisingly, I could
find no one watching those 2
TVs. Frankly, it didn't appear that anyone was watching the football game on the other TV's either. I wish these places would tune at least one or two TV's to something else other than sports.
The wait was not especially long, another server brought out our plates.
Mine looked exactly like the photo in the menu. A six ounce steak, which, to me, is the perfect size for a steak, and a generous spread of crispy red potatoes. The 'Stout gravy' was an unknown. It was pretty though, the color of molasses, just not quite as thick, sweet and disgusting.
Angel's steak was a little bigger and topped with shrimp. It looked pretty good. The mixed veggies were off-putting though, one word: squash.
Yes I have tried squash, lots of kinds, lots of ways. No, just no. I cannot un-remember that distinctive, sickening taste. Go ahead and enjoy it if you like, but for me, it's just no.
The server demanded we cut into our steaks to check that the done-ness was as desired. I went medium this night, sometimes I'll go a bit pinker, but was in the mood for just a little more firmness this time around. Neither of us had any complaints. The server asked if we wanted steak sauce, I gave her my standard reply. "Not if you did the steak right."
We didn't need any sauce.
I cautiously dipped a red tater into the dark brown gravy and gave it a shot.
I was not disappointed. I savored it. I could detect meat drippings, au jus, and something, something. . . .oh yeah 'Stout' as in beer. It wasn't all beer-y, it had been cooked down quite a bit. It was heavenly. It had a deep, dare I say manly flavor. Steak drippings and beer on top of steak and potatoes. . . oh yeah.
Angel was going to town on hers as well. Then something quite remarkable happened. We both openly expressed how pleased we were with or meals. Not just a little, but quite pleased indeed!
I almost hated to admit it. We really, really liked the food.
I had managed expectations about Applebee's, it has disappointed before. I can't say much about the service, it could have been a little more attentive  and consistent, but no one was rude, nor did they botch the order.
On the table was a touch pad terminal. I'm not a gadget-guy, so it didn't interest me much. Angel poked on it a little. You could pay to play a game, pay your bill, order stuff, things like that. Of course Angel can play games on her own phone for no charge, no need to fork over $1.69 or whatever it was. The original server brought us the check, but Angel wanted to pay on the terminal. It knew what this table had ordered and it asked if we wanted to split the ticket. I guess that's cool, settle that fight with your co-workers while everyone's still sitting there.
She didn't split our check though, since we're in love and married and stuff. It's how we roll. The bill came to $41.25, a very respectable price for a fantastic meal.

Applebee's Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato