Dear Steak and Shake on Hampton, St. Louis

Dear Steak and Shake,

I remember you with such fondness, old friend.  Once, when I was 17, hung over and hungry, I cleaned my Days Inn housekeeping smock of the weekend’s tips and bought as much food from you as my funds would allow which was, I’m sad to say, a Frisco Melt, no fries and an ice water.  I hadn’t eaten in a day or so and the oily bread, Italian dressing and spectacularly greasy burgers touched a part of my soul that has shaped my fast food experiences ever since. I sometimes think fondly of that afternoon sitting at the Formica table alone at a window eating a fortune’s worth of melty goodness, reveling in my self-sufficiency when I’m tempted to plow through an overpriced piece of chicken in a dimly lit dining room surrounded by people who have not cleaned other people’s body hair from a bathtub drain in hopes of a one dollar tip.

So today, when I took my son to one of your establishments after his successful trip to TWO DMV’s in this our fair city to procure his first driver’s license, I had that long ago taste of salty freedom on my mind and looked forward to celebrating with two seats near a window, the smell of cheese fries in the air.

I walked, head high through those doors and with confident feet, slipped on what appeared to be a evenly distributed film of Lysol residue and trans fats on your floor. Not to worry. I had plenty of time to regain my balance and good cheer before we were seated, and I even nodded a greeting to the man pulling the plastic gloves onto his hands before wiping the grill with that greyish dish towel in the sink.

I’m so glad to report that the ample time we were allowed to peruse your menu facilitated a few quiet moments when we could watch the white man next to us jingle his keys in front of a black middle schooler desperately sucking down a “happy hour” milk shake.  “Gotta walk home if you don’t finish” he sang between desperate attempts at conversation that his Big Brother Big Sister handbook probably described as “nourishing” and “inspiring.”  I did notice in this time that the cottage cheese costs extra, which did disappoint me a little.  Gone are the days when one can get two side items, but times change.  I get it.

I was glad to see that you’re still able to watch your steak burgers sear on the grill as you wait!  I think it’s great that the open kitchen concept encourages your staff to interact and entertain the guests.  One, suggestion – teensy, really – perhaps you could put the staff schedule out more than two days before the shift in question and the cook sees that she not only had to work on Thanksgiving, she indeed has to work on Christmas as well.  Of course, that’s a mere trifle.  I’m sure the cook had the holiday spirit in mind when she loudly called the manager an ignorant bitch and threatened to quit moments before searing another tasty bun sans mayonnaise for the insistent (borderline pesky) middle schooler racing ice cream headache against low blood sugar. True, he did order his sandwich without it, but really the third time his Big Brother flagged down the lone waitress he betrayed a bit of his “of the manner born” attitude when he settled for just a new bun.

I was filled with nostalgia when our real silverware came!  Oh, I remember! We get real plates – not wrappers and trays.  God I loved this place.  And remember those cool, tall. curvy glasses for milkshakes?!  Milkshake!  Yes! Nothing says celebration like a burger and an honest to god milkshake.  Two please!

I was glad to know that our food was prepared just for us.  The thirty minutes we waited were perfect for a little conspiratorial eaves dropping on Big Brother and Little Brother as they played a few hands of cards, but I was a bit disappointed when the middle schooler refused to answer more than three times who exactly, was coming to his house for Christmas and assure us all that, yes, he was indeed excited.

We were all riveted by this conversation so those calls across the restaurant to our waitress (who I’m sorry to say ducked out for a while) by a customer for an order of chili were, thankfully, ignored.  Another small, minuscule suggestion – there seemed to have been a back up on the shake machine and as I waited with baited breath to see if the woman at the “Please Wait to Be Seated” sign would, in fact climb over the counter to get her iced tea or if she would wait like a civilized person as the man who came in after her was seated and served first, my revery was interrupted by a series of sharp requests for the shake maker to please make the snickers shake without peanut butter. It was a small request, but I feel that the waitress was justified in her anger as she scolded the table behind us for getting her in trouble.

I was thrilled when a fresh employee came in the door singing “It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas.”  It seemed that holiday cheer was about to finally win the day – and it did!  The cook didn’t miss her bus after the manager fired her on the spot for asserting that she would like to attend her family’s Christmas dinner. Good riddance, I say! And the manager and festive new employee agreed! They leaned close to one another and looked at the schedule behind the register rejoicing in the shifts that cook would not be working.

Our waitress came back with our shakes.  Sadly the styrofoam cups they were in weren’t as cool as those glasses, but I was undeterred.  We were celebrating!  I sipped on the shake and watched from afar as that bitter woman at the Please Wait to Be Seated sign complained to the festive new employee and manager that she had been waiting for service for quite some time. Thankfully her scrooge like attitude did nothing to deter the obvious love between the manager an festive employee.  She walked away from that bitter woman still singing all the way past our table and winked at us as an infant behind us began to scream. Our waitress did make another appearance to give us the check just before a woman interrupted her to ask her to clean up an unfortunate mess under the baby.

Overall, I give my experience a mixed review. While the approximately 5 french fries I received were hot, I did resort to stealing the salt from a nearby table. My burger was tasty and the company at my table was top notch, but for future reference, the manager’s only answer to an employee’s questions probably shouldn’t be a loud, “Mind your own business.”  And if it is the only answer, perhaps the manager’s business should be elsewhere.

Yours Truly,