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