Archive for the ‘kansas city’ Category

Free Beer Tonight! And You Can Judge Me . . .

Wednesday, August 26th, 2009

Tonight is the first round of the 75th Street Homebrew Contest; they’ll be narrowing the field to 5 choices tonight. Customers will get the opportunity to taste the submissions and cast their votes. I have 5 submissions, so get out and vote for one of them (or whichever beer you think is best, even if it’s not one of mine).

Here’s what I submitted:

“‘Round Midnight” – a schwarzbier. It’s dark but smooth and easy-drinking. Just a touch of roasted malts and german hops in a smooth German lager. It’s my favorite of the beers I submitted.

“Jim’s Milk Stout” – a sweet stout based on Left Hand Brewery’s version. No real milk is put into the beer, but it gets a dose of lactose, the natural dairy sugar. The lactose adds body and just a touch of sweetness. This one is very easy to drink.

“Not my Brother” – a Hefewezen. Get it? The name is a play on “he’s not heavy (hefe), he’s my brother”? Oh, never mind . . . This is the beer I wrote about brewing in this post, and that proved more popular than the milk stout in this post. Hefeweizens are funky beers, but people love them.

“Power Porter” – a Robust Porter. It’s pretty tasty, but there’s probably not enough left to make it through the contest, so don’t waste a vote on it. But take a sample, anyhow, and let me know what you think.

“NOLA Voodoo” – a Dark American Lager. I brewed this beer more for the challenge than for enjoyment. It’s based upon normal American mega-beer, with added darkness and just a touch of added flavor. It’s the only beer I’ve ever brewed that included corn and rice, just like the big breweries do. The beer itself is pretty flavorless, which is a virtue for this style, and a bit of a challenge to accomplish as a brewer. Obviously, I’m not a huge fan of the beer, but it might appeal to some people, and, by submitting it to the contest, I hope I get rid of enough that I can use the keg for something I enjoy more!

I don’t know what else got submitted, or how many other beers will be available for tasting. But I’m certain there will be some great beers there for the free sampling, so come out and vote for your favorites.

Hamburger Helper

Monday, August 24th, 2009

I want your advice.

What kind of burger should be the special at Blanc Burgers + Bottles? In the relatively near future, I get to meet with Chef Josh Eans to design a new burger which will then be put on special for the weekend.

The pressure is on to come up with something amazing. After all, the Inside Out Burger (bleu cheese stuffed burger, applewood smoked bacon, onion ring, home-made catsup, mustard, butter lettuce on an onion brioche bun) is thought by many to be the best burger in the world. My personal favorite is the Au Poivre (pepper-crusted burger, creamy green peppercorn sauce, grilled onions, watercress, salt and pepper brioche bun).

If my name is going to be attached to something that I want people to choose over those two platters of heaven, I need to come up with something world-changing.

Right now, I’m thinking maybe a variation on the Aspen Burger, a regional favorite from upstate New York featuring sour cream and sauteed mushrooms. Perhaps if we jazzed it up a little by using creme fraiche and some gourmet mushrooms, we could bring a bit of Schenectady to Kansas City.

Or we could go to the opposite corner of the United States for some inspiration. How about a green chile and sharp cheddar burger? Maybe serve it with some sort of mole sauce?

I LOVE Blanc Burgers + Bottles. The first time I went there, I returned 5 times over the next two weeks. Their Au Poivre burger may be tied for “Best Sandwich in Kansas City” with “#1 (spicy)” ordered at the counter from Bella Napoli.

I need to bring my “A game” to this assignment. Any advice?

Princess Garden: BEST Chinese Restaurant in Kansas City

Friday, August 21st, 2009

The presumption encompassed in that title is staggering. Here I am, a middle-aged guy who’s lived most of his life in Kansas City, has never set foot in Asia, much less China, and never studied Chinese cuisine.

The absurdity is heightened by the very title I want to award. Best Chinese Restaurant?? Is there a best American restaurant? Is it a cajun seafood steakhouse with Philly cheese-steaks and funnel cakes? We can’t even agree on a best Kansas City-style barbecue restaurant, but I’m blithely going to choose one restaurant to represent the cuisine of a billion-plus people in 8 Great Traditions?

You betcha! The significance of a writer’s proclamations lies in the eyes of the beholder. It’s not whether you agree or disagree with me – it’s whether you read it and give it a second thought.

All that philosophizing aside, the indisputable winner (even though I’ve only visited probably a dozen or so of the options here in KC) is Princess Garden on Wornall.

Princess Garden is a classic of the genre. Carved Chinese marble lions greet you from the parking lot at 8906 Wornall, and the decor of red and gold looks exactly like a typical restaurant in Beijing, Shanghai or Xi’an – at least to me it does. The carpet, the paintings, even the darkened, empty bar off to the right of the pay stand all scream real China, at least as imagined by Kansas Citians.

The drink menu is a hoot. Fresh from the early 70s, it features My Tais, Fog Cutters and a wide range of elaborate concoctions, with a page titled “Strong, for those who enjoy drinking.” The alcoholic fantasyland is heightened by descriptions like “Shark’s Tooth – the bite of this drink is so sharp and quick that you won’t feel a thing” and “Princess Garden Express – You will feel the hit by this extraordinary drink – try it and experience yourself.” Alas, I’m a beer drinker, so I haven’t experienced myself yet.

But the food is the attraction, and the food is great. In our most recent trip (when the kids were in town – this is a nostalgic favorite for them, even though Sam gets to eat in NYC’s Chinatown), we had the crab rangoon and the steamed dumplings. Both are exactly what you would expect from a good Chinese restaurant – nothing super fancy, nothing to elevate the genre to a whole new level with challenging and intriguing tastes and textures – simply solid, competent examples of what you would expect.

As always, we got the Crunchy Beef as an entree. I haven’t seen this on other menus, but it is pieces of beef the size of shoe-string potatoes, fried to a crispy exterior and served with mu shu pancakes in a sticky sauce. Rich, decadent and wonderful.

We also had a dish with an impossibly long title, including words such as “sizzling”, “yellow noodles” and “double faced” – it was spectacular. The noodles are both tender and crispy, depending on how soaked they are in the light sauce, and covered with chicken, shrimp and vegetables.

As I hope I made clear in the first paragraphs, I have no business offering superlatives about Chinese restaurants. And I can say with legitimacy and integrity is that Princess Garden is a family favorite, with food that satisfies and always meets or exceeds our midwestern expectations. The staff is friendly, and the service is good. I don’t know if it is authentic or not. I just know that our family has had many, many happy meals there, and I recommend it to anyone who is wants food that is as far from chic as it is from Beijing.

Strangers on the Internet – Let’s Be Careful Out There

Tuesday, August 18th, 2009

I talked with a few people involved in politics recently, and confirmed what I had personally noticed. There seems to be an uptick in the number of new “acquaintances” on the internet eager to share dirt and rumors, or to seek information or opinions about local figures. I had one stranger recently share some outlandish lies about a few women involved in state and local politics.

We’re a year away from elections, and the lying and elaborate deceptions are already starting up.

Personally, I’m glad to be on the sidelines these days. If you’re in the thick of it, though, please be aware and don’t take candy from strangers. Or give it, either.

Like Twitter, Only Less Irksome, and for a Good Cause

Wednesday, August 12th, 2009

I don’t understand the fundamentals of the local Twestival currently going on in Kansas City, like where the money comes from or why they want your (or my) input, but it’s an easy way to help direct some money to a local charity. I just cast my 3 free votes at the local Twestival and it was easy as pie – no registering or entering information about myself. Two of my votes went to Wayside Waifs, since they have done a great job of spreading the word, and one went to one of the other 4 great charities represented.

Out of the Kitchen

Sunday, August 9th, 2009

It’s been a month now since I’ve done a political post. Friends have wondered what the heck is going on. In a nutshell, the kitchen got hot enough that I couldn’t stand the heat. More importantly, I don’t want to keep adding to the heat.

I’m focusing on things less hateful.

Kansas City Mystery – "The Dead Man", by Joel Goldman

Tuesday, August 4th, 2009

Last time I read a Joel Goldman mystery, I was more than mildly negative – “Really, this book is awful – execrable dialog with an implausible plot, and minority characters who are so shallow I would accuse the author of racism if he had demonstrated he could write believable characters of any ethnicity.” So I was surprised to receive a free review copy of his newest effort, “The Dead Man“, starring the same main character and also set in Kansas City.

Deja vu? Thank goodness, deja nope.

“The Dead Man” is a striking success. An alert reader stays one step ahead of Jack Davis most of the way through the book, and an alert Kansas Citian recognizes a few local characters along with the landmarks. I saw through the mystery early in the book, but the novel’s pleasure was watching the whole thing play out.

Without spilling any spoilers, the novel focuses on a string of deaths connected to The Harper Institute of the Mind, a fictional and repurposed version of the Stowers Insitute, with a CEO focused on Alzheimer’s instead of cancer. Jack Davis, a former FBI agent who retired under suspicious circumstances after his daughter escaped with $5 million and who suffers from a mysterious neurological disorder, gets hired to look into the deaths before the Institute gets sued.

This book excels in its use of flawed characters. Jack Davis is spastic, and his sidekick is a former cop who went crooked. It seems everyone connected to by the Institute carries more baggage than an overhead bin on a weekend flight to Vegas, and the FBI agents are single-minded dimwits. At the end, we have an octogenarian, a crooked cop and an incapacitated hero going to confront the villain. Sherlock Holmes and Miss Jane Marple would be appalled, but it’s a likable and believable outcome.

The problems I had with the first book are largely avoided in this one. He mostly sticks with educated, majority characters, so he (thank goodness) avoids presenting a suburbanite’s understanding of what a poor black kid must feel. His dialogue is still clipped and terse, but Goldman has either learned to control his tendency toward ludicrous quips, or a wise editor out there spared us from some of the cringe-worthy exchanges that deflated “Shake Down”. One last quibble – toward the end of the novel, a journalist claims she will be doing follow-up stories in 5 years, and asserts, “I’m not going anywhere.” Mr. Goldman obviously failed to check on the career confidence of print journalists.

That said, this is simply a darned fun read. It’s exciting, engaging, and well-crafted. The Kansas City references enliven the book for a local reader, but the book is not dependent on them. I came to this book expecting to find material to mock, but I wound up staying up late last night, turning pages and promising myself to quit after just one more chapter. When I turned the last page, I knew that Joel Goldman had written a fine example of the genre.

Happy Birthday, Libraries

Wednesday, July 1st, 2009

Ben Franklin started up the first lending library on this date back in 1731. The concept, initially based on subscriptions, caught on, and now we are blessed with an amazing network of knowledge that can bring all kinds of intellectual property to your door.

Most of us just use the library as a quiet place to go browse and pick up a book or CD that we don’t feel like purchasing. That’s a huge enough service, but if you look around even a typical branch, you’ll notice a lot more going on. Computers are waiting to help bridge the digital divide. Meeting rooms are hosting community organizations. Posters are advertising a series of free lectures on all kinds of topics. One local library is a nationally known center for genealogy. You can get audiobooks for your iPod. If you talk to a librarian, you’ll see that their profession is obsessed with coming up with new ways to help meet informational needs you never knew you had.

Have you ever tried inter-library loan? It’s incredible – if a book exists out there, but it’s too obscure to find a home in the local libraries, the library will hunt it down and get it to you, still for free. I recently wanted a couple books on a topic I was researching, and within a couple weeks, they were waiting for me at my neighborhood branch.

When I was a kid, I used to haunt the stacks at the Natural Bridge branch of the St. Louis County Library (which I learned moments ago has relocated). Throughout my life, libraries have always been a welcoming place to hang out, read, study, or just browse. We’re all fortunate that Benjamin Franklin, nearly 300 years ago, had a brainstorm about how he and a group of his friends could get access to the books they wanted to settle their arguments.

Downtown Indianapolis

Friday, June 19th, 2009

Just got back from a few work days in Indianapolis. Their downtown was impressive – lots of people and night life, without the phony, dress-coded corporate feel of a Cordish strip mall. There was a great blend of local restaurants and bars along side the expected chains, and most were located in genuine old buildings. It was great.

I started to ask around about how it all happened – what kind of tax breaks were given to whom to spark such a vibrant downtown? Unfortunately, I don’t have the answers yet, and, even more unfortunately, I realized I don’t really care that much. Kansas City’s ship has sailed. We have what we have, and we’re never going to have what Indianapolis has.

Indianapolis has downtown Indianapolis. We have Kansas City/Daytona/4th Street/Philly/Power Plant/Woodbine Live!, thanks to the “leadership” of our prior Mayor and council.

Most of Us "Just Don’t Understand"

Monday, June 8th, 2009

Of course this is the way it goes, every single time. I’ve read about DJ Jazzy Jeff getting kicked off the stage at the P&L District, and I’m concluding from the competing stories that truth favors the District’s side, and the DJ side is spin, misunderstanding, or a gambit for some publicity. It just doesn’t make sense to me that the District would hire him for a Saturday night and then shut him down in front of all his fans for performing his music unless he was in danger of damaging the sound equipment.

And with that simple analysis I can ignore everything important I could learn from this snafu. Instead of gaining any understanding, I manage to retrench myself into the “us” position in an “us vs. them” world.

My ability (?) to coolly analyze the facts presented shields and protects me from having to face more challenging truths. How shocking is it that the conclusion I’m reaching favors the power structure?

First off, I wasn’t there. I stayed home Saturday night and watched a movie on TV. I like to think it’s cool that I live in the city, but the truth is that Saturday night I lived the life of someone living in the furthest reaches of suburbia. I may live a few blocks from Troost, but my geographical proximity means little in comparison to a lifestyle that more closely resembles Blue Springs.

Second, I wasn’t there. I’m relying on statements from others who were, and I am internally making judgments on credibility based on my prejudices. Even though the leaders of the P&L District have lied to us at every step of this tax-advantaged boondoggle, from opening dates to free parking, I continue to give them credibility. Why? Because the people on the ground are the corporate and middle-management types I live among. I need to believe that the spokespeople for the P&L District are trying to be truthful, because if I don’t, I’m undermining the aura of trust and respectability that I need to feel comfortable in my zone.

Third, I wasn’t there. I have no idea what the decibels were. The decibel level is a fact – an important part of objective information that could help determine who is at fault for the situation. The P&L people say it was too high, and the Jazzy Jeff people say it wasn’t. Here in my living room on a quiet Monday morning, how am I to know? Was the decibel level actually measured by the P&L people? Wouldn’t a taxpayer-financed sound system have dampers built into it to protect it from getting loud enough to hurt itself? Isn’t it possible that somehow the hip hop of Saturday night seemed a little louder than music more in the comfort zone of the decision-makers.

Fourth, I wasn’t there. I don’t know who said what to whom, and neither do you. Like a game of “pass the secret”, it’s entirely possible that somebody said “Shut it down because of the volume” and, by the time the word got to the stage, the message had morphed into “Stop the hip-hop”. Both sides may be telling the truth here, but it makes it easier for me to choose one side or the other to believe. “Us vs. them”, and I’m on the “Us” team again. Huh.

Fifth, finally, and in a deeper sense, I wasn’t there. I’ve never been there as a black man. I’ve never seen the second level of scrutiny directed my way when I walk toward the entrance of the P&L District. I’ve never had the officials at the P&L District target a dress code at the things I like to wear. I walk in there, and I feel all kinds of welcome. So, if the District shut down a concert by a group preferred by people like me, I would have no real reason to suspect there was an ulterior motive. But if they made it known to me that I wasn’t really welcome, and this was not really my turf, I might feel like there was more to the story than decibel levels.

It’s easy to sit here on Monday morning, read conflicting spins, and decide to believe the P&L District’s version of things. That version has the irresistible virtue of NOT including racism as a factor in what happens in our society every day. And, frankly, that’s the version I prefer, because racism is ugly and disturbing, so I’d prefer to pretend that it’s rare, okay? Okay?