I was heading home from an LCMS church's "going out of business" giveaway with a trunkload of antique books and a piece of Jesus kitsch to hang above my piano, when I spotted a nice-looking restaurant I had never noticed before. It's called the Plaza Cafe and Grill, and it's situated on Morganford about three blocks south of Tower Grove Park.
It has its own parking lot, a lot of big windows, and a nice-looking, roomy dining area where, at the stroke of noon on a brutally hot Saturday, you can choose either lunch or breakfast. The waitress also lets you choose where you want to sit. I picked a booth with a nice view of the street-side windows, which in turn provide a pleasant vista of the entire street corner. So far, so good.
My drink order was raspberry iced tea. It was refreshingly cold and came in a very big plastic tumbler with a faded "Pepsi-Cola" logo on it. Although I quickly found out that the drink was too sweet for my palate, and that it tasted like neither raspberries nor tea, I quickly drained it to the bottom because I was that thirsty. I gladly accepted an offer of a refill on the condition that it was just plain, iced tea. This turned out to be a huge improvement. I sucked down about three tumblers of that stuff by the end of lunch.
I had a good deal of time to contemplate my neighboring diners, my view of the street-corner outside, and the faded Pepsi logo on my tumbler before my soup arrived. Actually it was a cup of red chili, liberally topped with stringily melted shredded cheese. This was also good, as midwestern cups of chili go, though I was a little surprised that a packet of crackers didn't come with it. I've never known a waitress to omit that small courtesy before, but I thought I would let it pass in hope of better things to come.
Unfortunately, what came was not better but worse. I had ordered a regular hamburger, cooked medium-well, with fries. After another very long wait (which I can't explain, because the joint wasn't very busy and there were more than enough waitresses to serve everyone), my plate arrived. The only good thing on it was the bun. I'll give credit where due. The bread part of the burger was excellent, convincingly like a freshly-made roll and toasted just so. But the meat on the bun was the size, shape, texture, and flavor of a charcoal briquette. I was as hungry as I had been thirsty, so I forced it down with the lubricating assistance of ketchup, but I can't say I thought much of the chef's idea of "medium-well." It looked pretty sad on the bun, too, with all that space around the edges and nothing on it--NOTHING--not even a pickle!
The plate was garnished with a big, limp, wilted lettuce leaf that I wasn't about to eat. Apart from that, I was served a large mound of the nastiest french fries I have ever encountered. EVER. They weren't just disappointing; they were loathesome. They had the color of french fries that had been allowed to cook too long, and the texture of french fries that had been refrigerated overnight and reheated the next day. They were flaccid, spongy, clammy things that not even ketchup could help. I ate about two and a half of them (because, by golly, I was paying for them), but in this case I couldn't finish them. Besides, by the time I gagged down the last of my cinderburger, I frankly wasn't hungry enough to bother.
The waitress asked me in passing if everything was OK. I shook my head, but she ignored me and kept going. Later, when she noticed that I wasn't eating my fries, she asked me a more pointed question and I admitted that I thought they were no good. She offered me something else. I opted for my check. I gave her a decent tip, though perhaps not one extravagant enough to remember me by. Unless she moonlights at a place that serves decent food, it'll be the last tip she gets from me. So I guess I owed it to her to make it a nice one.