Thursday, October 8, 2009

Jeff City Braunschweiger Report #2: Zesto Drive-In South

If you grew up in Central Missouri, chances are, you know Zesto. Although today both Zestos are in Jefferson City, Zesto has also had a presence in Columbia—remember the 1970s, on the Business Loop? Where “Payday and Car Title Loans” is now?

Even within Jeff, the business has moved a few times. But it’s still the same good ol’ soft-serve and sandwiches. Same funky neon signs. And same lines of apple-cheeked kids and their folks on hot summer evenings when the baseball games are over. . . . Warm memories.

There are two Zesto locations in Jeff City, under two different owners (as I understand it). There’s the one on the expressway, at the Broadway intersection, and there the one at 1730 Jefferson Street. Today, I’m going to focus on the latter, called “Zesto Drive-In South.”

This is one of many Jeff City lunch spots that sell braunschweiger sandwiches. But before we look at their Brunswick sausage, a description of the entire place.

First, the food is really inexpensive here. The portions aren’t enormous, but then do you really need such a big pile of food? Probably not. And anyway, you want to save room for dessert, right?

Sandwiches range from about $2.50 to $4.50 and include hot dogs, polish sausage, turkey club, sloppy joes, egg salad, rueben [sic], torpedo, BBQ beef, and grilled Cajun chicken. You can also have a tamale with chili, a bowl of soup or stew, plus nachos and a concoction called “Frito Pie,” which I personally find disturbing, but whatever (different strokes, you know).

Sides include potato salad, pasta salad, coleslaw, chips, plus hardboiled eggs and corn muffins. Check the ordering window for special sides; last time we were there, they also had mac and cheese, cheesy potatoes, and baked beans.

Then, a relatively new addition has been a substantial line of barbecue items, and Zesto is seriously proud of having won “over 200 national and regional awards” for it. Beef brisket, pulled chicken and pork, spicy links, pork steak, ribs, and half chickens—the BBQ is available as sandwiches, “super value meals,” or in larger quantities for carryout.

And yes, there’s a drive-through window.

The ice cream is all your usual soft-serve stuff: cones, sundaes, shakes, avalanches, banana splits, and more, with a good selection of toppings and such.

The ambience? Well, it’s a soft-serve an’ sandwich place. There are booths and tables pretty much like any other fast-food restaurant; you order at a little window from (most likely) a teenager in an official Zesto’s tee shirt. The color scheme is blue, white, and yellow.

There are picnic tables out front painted bright blue (though I wish they would hose them off more often). Up on that hill, there’s a nice view of town, and there can be good breezes there on a hot evening.

I encourage you to visit Zesto during the off-season (cool weather), too. They have decent chili and soup, and their hot sandwiches can be mighty satisfying, considering the price.

So here’s the Braunschweiger Report. The braunschweiger sandwich costs $2.69, and condiments available for all sandwiches include mustard, ketchup, mayo, hot mustard, pickle relish, onion, dill pickle, cheese (American, Swiss, cheddar, provolone), lettuce, sauerkraut, tomato, and peppers. Take your pick. You also get a choice of breads: white, wheat, or rye. (Possibly more; my notes falter at this point.) (I recommend the rye.)

It’s served on a regular plastic tray, wrapped in paper and tucked into a delicate little paper sack.

If you order it as a “super value meal,” the braunschweiger sandwich is $5.59. You get a medium drink and a choice of one side item (mentioned above).

How is it? They were pretty generous with the meat. The lettuce was green leaf instead of iceberg, and that’s a plus. The onions were chopped so they could do double-duty as a chilidog topping, which was curious but not particularly bad. But honestly, I’ve had better: I’ve had fresher bread, and I’ve certainly had riper tomatoes, particularly at this time of year.

But for the price, it was still a good deal. And then there’s that whole “local-color,” and locally owned, small business thing. Please consider eating here before you go to McDonald’s for lunch.

Zesto Trivia!

The longtime owner of Zesto, who perhaps(?) still runs the South location in Jeff, is Harold Brown Jr., a.k.a. “Brownie”; he is locally famous as a “model” for the spectacular Thomas Hart Benton murals in the House Lounge in the Missouri State Capitol. At that time, Brown was only a babe. In this historically controversial part of the painting, Benton depicted a scene of “real life” of Missourians by showing a mother wiping a baby’s bottom in a diaper-change process.

Yep, that’s Brownie! Immortalized in High Art. Pretty cool, huh? (For more, see here and here.)

Zesto South on Urbanspoon

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