Thursday, April 30, 2009

Ted Drewes Frozen Custard: There's egg in it.

Another item that, as far as I can tell, is unique to St Louis is the people's love of frozen custard over the more traditional ice cream. Not to say they don't like ice cream or that other places don't like frozen custard. People here just LOVE frozen custard. And although there are other purveyors, Ted Drewes Frozen Custard is the staple down here. St Louisans crave it all winter long it seems. One person after another would close their eyes as they described how awesome this frozeny goodness is. Admittedly skeptical, (I'm a huge ice cream fan) I finally ventured down to the Chippewa stand on a Tuesday night around 8:30 pm.
It was effing packed. And it wasn't even what most would consider warm outside. This brought my hopes up. And then they were dashed. My friend Meg was with me and I asked her for some recommendations. She started shooting off toppings and I began to get the sneaking suspicion that what we're talking about here is a Dairy Queen Blizzard. Yep... Confirmed. The only difference is Blizzard's are made with soft-serve ice cream. Meh. Hopes now officially dashed as I've never been a big fan of Blizzard's, I stepped in line. I looked around at all the peeps in line with me and shook my head a little. I mean, a Blizzard is one of the most lazy frozen desserts out there! It's always just sitting around... being all vanilla and soft... and then, Bam! Add some Butterfingers to that lazy bastard. No matter how you dress it up it's still just vanilla soft-serve with crumbled up whatever mixed in. Get off your lazy ass and stop hanging on other candies coattails, Blizzard! Get some culture for Jezabelle's sake.
Wow. That was rough. I kinda feel bad now, but he had to know. Anyway, I was going down the list of things I could add to my vanilla frozen custard when I stopped at apple pie. I like apple pie, and at least it's a mix of a bunch of different flavors to make one universally recognizable flavor. I ordered it "regular" size which I guess is medium. It looked like a creamier version of a Blizzard just as I had suspected.
The good news? It was delicious! It made for a much tastier treat than a Blizzard ever could although I took issue with the fact that it made my mouth stickier than normal. I have a feeling these frozen custards are possibly worse for you than ice cream. Then again, I'm no scientist. No, really. Do not Google it.
I get it. It's a tradition and I'm a fan of tradition. And truth be told it's pretty good stuff for a Blizzard-like treat. Let's chalk this one up to personal preference. I'd still take a flavored ice cream over it any day. Plus I went to high school with Cold Stone Creamery so I get discounts. I'm so glad it doesn't remember how much I used to pick on it for singing those stupid songs every time someone tipped. Thanks for not singing at me Ted Drewes!

Monday, April 27, 2009

Best South City Breakfast Challenge Contender

Well, I don't know if I'm the only one having awesome food every time I go but Soulard Coffee Garden is slingin' the best breakfast I've ever had. Let me emphasize that. Not just the best breakfast in South St Louis, but the best breakfast I've ever had. Did you notice my italics? Yeah, I decided not to go with bold. Anyway, the reason why this seems strange is that the reviews on Yelp and Yahoo! are lukewarm at best.
Actually, I shouldn't write "lukewarm" because they really are all over the place. Some very good, some abysmal... This is what I know: I've never had such a tasty omelette, and as you know, an omelette is what I often base my opinion of a breakfast place on. I know what you're thinking. I just got lucky. Nope, I've been to the Soulard Coffee Garden dozens of times now. It's right around the corner from my apartment and that's something that history tells us "you can't beat with a stick".
Also, the coffee is great! Not the regular coffee though. Don't get that. Get the Grog. It's butterscotchish/caramely without being very sweet. It's a dark roast too so it still hits that spot you always talk about.
As you'll note in the other reviews, the service has left something to be desired for many. I can't fault the reviewers for that. You never know what you're going to get to be honest. I've been there when it is absolutely packed on a Saturday morning and the service has been superb and the food piping hot. Then I went on a slow Monday morning and the food took 20 minutes and was cold on arrival. I've also sat at a table on a slow late morning and wasn't approached for 15 minutes. And I think I know why. First of all, the place has multiple dining areas and no computerized ordering system. They have a register upstairs, for instance, but they don't order through it. (At least I don't think. If they do, I've somehow totally missed it) This leads to slower service as does the fact that they have to run up and down stairs to get food with no easy "staff only" way to get around. I suspect the food comes out cold during slower times due to a smaller kitchen staff and the fact that the food is freshly prepared. I used to work in restaurants and you have to be very good to get timing down perfectly. On a slower day it would be harder to do multiple orders at once. The same goes for servers. The place has too many areas to sit, and on a slower day with too many people spread out, you waste a lot of time going back and forth. I call this "Slow Day Syndrome". It's a little like Swine Flu but garners you worse Yelp reviews.
I don't want to sound like I'm defending the service. I'm not. There are many ways to fix these problems including closing sections and updating the ordering system. But, there is one thing many of the reviews that I don't really get. The flippant or seemingly uncaring worker bit. I have never experienced anything but the friendliest of service there. I don't want to venture any guesses as to what those reviewers actually saw, but I have a feeling they get that idea at any Starbucks they go to as well. I don't know. I'm no dismissive-server-experience-person mind reader no matter what my Mom claims. She would also adamantly oppose anyone who thinks that last sentence didn't make sense. So watch it!
And there's my take on Soulard Coffee Garden. The other things I've had there that are excellent is the Eggs Benedict and the Cornmeal Blueberry Pancakes. Those right there are some of the best pancakes I've ever had the pleasure of hating myself for eating. And I don't even like pancakes. Wait, I just totally misused bold there. Damn you bold!!!!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Venice Cafe + Bottoms Up Blues = Accidentally Awesome

There comes a moment in every unplanned Friday night when you're faced with the inevitable question of, "What do you want to do?" At which point the person you ask usually answers with, "I don't know, what do you want to do?" Next time, instead of cleverly answering "I think I want to Shoop" [skip to 3:15], try suggesting to go to the Venice Cafe in Benton Park.
I had heard of Venice Cafe from a co-worker but she had only mentioned hitting it up in the Summer for some live Reggae action. I had no idea what to expect on a cold Spring night but it I knew when I walked up to the front door that it was going to cost me some bucks to get in. A band called The Bottoms Up Blues Gang was playing and I wasn't sure I was up for live music and was for sure apprehensive about paying for it. I asked the bouncer, "What are they like?", referring to the band. He answered, "They're like this..." and did a little kermit arms thing. Sold.

You can tell the place is eclectic from the outside but you have no idea just how eclectic until you step in the door. It's colorful and well decorated, but most of all it's comfortable. The Bottoms Up Blues Gang hadn't started so I headed up to the second floor to check the place out. If you can imagine a perfectly lit bar, this is it. Wait... If you can imagine what a perfectly lit bar in my head would be, then this is it. I suppose it's a bit relative. Anyway, I was just finishing my Boulevard Wheat (Yes! They have it!) when the music started.
Within the first two minutes of the first song I was hooked. The first thing you notice is the lead singer of course. But this woman caught you off guard with her singing. She was fantastic. She bursts with energy and enthusiasm and it's very obvious she's comfortable in front of crowds. The acoustic guitarist was equally well studied in music. He took a seat, lowered is head and just killed it. They also had two older gentlemen in the band. Not old in real life, just old comparatively. Well, a little old in real life... One played the harmonica like an old pro and the other played a kettle drum of some sort. I enjoy the simplicity of just one drum and it fit the stripped down blues feeling of this band. I watched them for them next two hours and had to be dragged out to leave before it was over. They really were mesmerizing.
At the moment it looks like they are on a bit of a regional tour, but they'll be back in St Louis at BB's on May 12th. You should totally check them out. But I think I'm going to wait for the June 12th show at Venice again. Any takers? Keep in mind it's awesome when making your decision. Also note that they aren't a real "Gang" in case you were worried. I'm fairly sure they are referencing the classical definition. Please don't come wearing your Gang colors. If you aren't sure what those are, simply reference one of my favorite Yahoo Answers.

Friday, April 17, 2009

A Cold Day In 9th Inning Hell

It's been officially meteorological Spring since March but who counts that? No, my (and your's dammit) first day of Spring coincides with MLB's Opening Day. Even if you're not a baseball fan you have to admit there's a certain allure to the first day of baseball. Whether it's simply the excitement of those around you who do like baseball, or just that March 23rd never feels that warm, there is definitely something to it. I for one think Opening Day should be an official sports holiday. That, along with the Superbowl and the first rounds of March Madness. Keep in mind that I also refuse to swim in large bodies of water. Why? Because there's dead bodies in there, that's why. I'm pretty sure every large body of water in the world has a dead body in it at every moment of the day. I refuse to swim in dead body juice. This irrational belief tends to sully my other seemingly sane ideas so if you could keep this just between us that'd be great.
Woah... What happened here? Baseball, Baseball...
I'm very fortunate to have gotten tickets to the Cardinals Opening Day. It's a highly sought after ticket here in the Lou. I saw tickets going for over a $100 a piece for just okay tickets at best. I bought mine with my half season ticket package. They weren't my regular seats but they were face value and only 15 rows behind them. It didn't matter to me where they were I just wanted to experience the magic of it all. And then Mother Nature finally decided to pay me back for all those times I cleverly wondered aloud if she hit menopause whenever it went from cold to hot overnight. Hot flashes! Get it? Ha? Okay, so maybe I deserved it.
38 degrees... A high of 38 degrees. It was far from ideal but I layered up and headed to the game. I arrived at the game a little later than originally planned. Mostly because I had planned for 65 degrees and bikini-clad section mates. In fact, it was too cold to watch the opening ceremonies. So cold, that I didn't feel like I missed anything. I sat down right as the first pitches were thrown. After and inning or two it was time for a new beer and I headed off to the only place Bouly Wheat is available in the entire stadium, the Casino Queen section. I had brought my good friend Dave and he knew some folks who had some great seats down by third base. We decided to go say hi to them and, wouldn't you know it, there were a few seats open right next to them. We ended up sitting there for the rest of the game. I know... Awesome. Awesome indeed.
The game was great for the most part. We were up going into the ninth. 4 runs allowed later and the game was over. Blown save number 1 this season. Too bad too because I think the cold weather would have been much more forgivable with a Cards win. Meh.
Still, I don't want to downplay how excited I am for this season. I just hope game 7 of the World Series is super nice in October. I don't want to have too many layers on when I'm doing fake cartwheels in the streets. You owe me Mother Nature. You've been so moody lately. I wonder why...

Monday, April 13, 2009

See? Chicago Hearts You St Louis

A friend of mine from Chicago tipped me on this love letter to St Louis appearing in the mother of all Midwest newspapers no matter how cumbersome it is to handle on the train... The gigantic in so many ways... Chicago Tribune.
Yeah, it's an Associated Press article and a bit heavy on the PR side, but it is what it is; A late Valentine's Day card to you dear St Louisans. See? Us Chicagoans aren't so bad! We run random articles in our travel section about other cities. At least I think it's random. Truth be told I barely did any research at all on this post. Holiday weekends in which the Cards sweep the Astros totally wear me out. Now I'm off to go get my free Big Mac for Albert's ridic Home Run into Big Mac Land. Right after I go check out Cheryl Wittenauer's other work. Oooh... How To Pack A Healthy Lunch... Maybe I won't get that Big Mac after all. Thanks Cheryl!
And oh my god... While mulling around Google looking for a clever picture for this post I found this article about Obama and St Louis pizza!!! Say it isn't so Barack... Say it isn't so.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

I Don't Know What a Billiken is But I Love It's Club

Awesome show alert!! Too late though. You missed it. In all actuality you could probably care less because you likely have no idea who The Rural Alberta Advantage (The RAA) and The Spinto Band are. And I'm not here to really let you know. I'll just say The RAA is a completely awesome Indie band and The Spinto Band are just okay. They do have one decent song so they aren't completely a waste of time. Either way, I can't imagine anyone is here to read about these bands so I'll leave it at that. What I want to talk about is the venue.
From The Bar
The Billiken Club is free. That's all I need to say. Okay, maybe one other thing... FREE! The only problem you might have is that most of the bands playing there you probably haven't heard of. But trust me, these bands are awesome.
The actual feel of the venue is something I've never experienced before. It's in the basement of a Saint Louis University student center very much like the Gargoyle at Wash U except this one is much newer and nicer. There are pool tables, ping pong, a bar, and... wait for it... a Mexican fast food joint. The "room" where you watch the band is curtained off by thick black drapes and inside you can find tables and chairs as well as a few booths over in the corner. That's where I sat as I waited for the show to start.
Real Mexican Fast Food!
The Rural Alberta Advantage
I got there later than I had planned and was concerned as to whether I'd be able to get in but nothing prepared me for what I saw when I walked in. No one. There were like 10 people milling about and I think most of them were band members. I checked my watch. Yep, only a half hour till the show starts. By the time The RAA started only a few folks had trickled in and I doubt most were there for them. But by the time they were into their second song they had developed a well deserved crowd right up at the stage. They were winning people over. Count me as an even bigger fan. FYI, the sound is impressive at the Billiken Club. Proof? Check out this video I took with my regular camera of all things.
As it grew closer to the time The Spinto Band was to start a larger crowd had assembled but not one that one would consider impressive. The Spinto Band went on and did their hurky-jurky stage moves but I was still buzzing from The RAA. As I left a held in my hand maybe the coolest part about the Billiken Club except the fact that it was free. They must bring in artists to make their posters for the shows and they print the designs on heavy weight board and use an actual printing press it seems. And they give these out! Yes, you can take one with you. And these aren't just some cheap poster. They are fully framable. It makes it almost worth going to see a band you've never heard of.
Speaking of... I highly recommend this Junior Boys show coming up there. You should go. I mean, it's free and all.
P.S. Amy Cole from The RAA looks ridiculously similar to Liz Lemon. Proof:

Friday, April 3, 2009

Talked Off The Ledge and the Best South City Breakfast Challenge!

Through the efforts of two very smart anonymous readers I've decided to forego any scheduled feature. I've decided to let this continue to become what it has organically become naturally. What that is, I don't specifically know, but I know it's doing something. And thanks for all the suggestion emails! Everyone had really good ideas. A few of those I maybe will have to do sometime in the future. In the meantime...
A mini-feature! What's the best breakfast in South City St Louis? There are no rules or limitations save that it must be breakfast and somewhere near my place in Soulard. (15 minute drive distance is cool) I'm going to try to keep these assertions loose and not too detailed. Let's see if I can keep these down to one paragraph...
First up? Benton Park Cafe and Coffee House.
Coffee House section
You can find these guys on the corner of Lemp and Arsenal in... guess where... Benton Park. I'd like to preface all this by noting that they have two sections of the building. Near the back of the building on the Lemp side is more of the sitdown restauranty part. I sat in the coffee house section so I can only assume everything is the same.
I'm a sucker for omelets that are super-food rich so if I'm trying a new place I tend to go for those first. I'm so predictable. One omelette with spinach and tomatoes, please... No potatoes. Fresh fruit instead. Oh yeah... And gallons of coffee. I'll just get right to it, the omelette was pretty good. Not great by any means, but I was certainly satisfied. I'm not sure what the issue was either. Maybe the veggies? Frozen perhaps? I don't want to go into conjecture here. What was great was the coffee! Huge mugs, first of all, which is much appreciated. And secondly a nice deep flavor. Not too strong at all. A nice medium roast is my guess. Good for any time. There are a few things on the menu that looked pretty good as well but that'll have to wait for another time. I found the atmosphere to be cool and what you would expect at a coffee house. Music selection was definitely a highlight and I recognized many of the Indie bands played. The highlight of the dining experience? A slice of cucumber on the rim of the water glass. What an awesome touch! It smelled great and somehow made the water seem crisper. Well done on the specifics, Benton Park Cafe and Coffee House. By the way, there is some awesome space in that building that looks like it's about done being renovated. My guess is either apartments or offices. Looks very cool. Anyway...
Note the Cucumber
You'll find that I'm not giving grades or thumbs up or down for that matter. And I don't know how long it will take but one day I will declare a winner and it will only be based on which I want to go back to first. Maybe I'll cap the restaurants at 10 or something. Let's play it by ear.
In the meantime, send me your recommendations on breakfast! Which is your fave and what should I order? Next time... Somewhere else.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Decidedly un-Botanical Gardens

Yeah, I went to the Missouri Botanical Gardens in March. No, nothing was really growing. Yes, I am going back.
In the meantime they had this cool Orchid exhibit. Plus this impressive TERRORDOME!
Oh the atrocities witnessed inside.
But seriously, I will be going back because this place will be beautiful once Spring officially decides to rear it's head. Which I'm pretty sure is supposed to be Opening Day of baseball.
Not so, according to all forecasts. As of today they are predicting a high of 38 this monday for Cardinals Opening Day. 38! I'm going to watch the game in the TERRORDOME.
Look for a much more robust post on this soon. PS - Is it weird that as the self-proclaimed Arch Observer I've never been to the Arch? I may never go now because of the delicious irony.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Best Radio Station Award Goes To...

I feel so late in the game on this one but last week I discovered KDHX 88.1 FM. Consider me blown away. In only a week's time it has become one of my favorite stations EV-er.
Just to give you a little taste of the musical kaleidoscope I've been enjoying, consider this... Saturday night they played just Reggae for at least an hour. On my way home from work the other day - Bluegrass. Almost any other time I've been listening - Indie Rock. But there are other programs I just haven't caught yet. Keep in mind this isn't just random crappy stuff. Almost everything I've heard has been a gem. Wait... Here maybe I can visualize this with this handy graph.
It's public radio at it's finest. The DJ's bring their own music in and can play whatever they want. No musical taste goes unnurtured. I now desperately want to DJ at this station. Who's up for an hour straight of bands that feature the Bass Clarinet? I know I am!
In the meantime I'm seriously considering volunteering for them. They are looking for a video editor and guess who graduated from film school with a concentration in editing? Nope, it's me! I thought it seemed obvious but in all fairness I wouldn't have guessed me either.
I know it's early, but I'm almost ready to declare KDHX the best FM station I've ever heard. Screw it. I just made it official. Best station ever. Just listen...