Archive for the ‘local restaurants’ Category

The Daily Meal’s 101 Best Restaurants – KC BBQ Carries the Local Load

Tuesday, March 1st, 2011

The Daily Meal has come out with its list of the 101 Best Restaurants in America, and local greats such as Bluestem, Justus Drug Store and the American failed to make the grade. Instead, Kansas City cuisine is represented by Oklahoma Joe’s (#97) and Arthur Bryant’s (#18).

Is it coastal condescension that turns up its nose at Kansas City’s many fine dining restaurants while embracing our more rustic offerings? Or is it simply true that you can find better fine dining elsewhere, but Kansas City does barbecue better than anywhere else?

I don’t see any St. Louis restaurants on the list; has the Hill been flattened? Would the critics view Kansas City to be merely another fly-over city like our undistinguished cousin to the east if not for smoked meat?

Tipping Quandary – Happy Hour

Wednesday, October 27th, 2010

I consider myself a good tipper. I usually go a little over 20% of the entire bill, and I can’t remember the last time I was appalled enough by service to stick at 15%. When I’m part of a large party that gets a tip added to a bill, I always tack on a little more. I even tip fairly generously on carry-outs. The difference between being a jerk and being a good guy is only a few bucks, so I invest in the karma.

A few weeks ago, though, I was severely tempted to treat a very good server to a minimal tip. Let me explain the circumstances.

We visited La Bodega with a group of friends. The weather was nice enough to sit outside and listen to the traffic sounds and bridge clanking of the I-35 overpass (I’m not sure I understand the appeal, but it was important to some in our crew). We had a delightful time enjoying the fantastic tapas specials and drinks, and a free-spending good time was had by all. The waiter was friendly and reasonably attentive.

Most of our purchases were off the half-price happy hour menu, which makes for an inexpensive high-quality feast. It’s a deal not to be missed.

The difficulty arose, though, when the bill came. Not only did it include the price of what we had purchased; it also included, in bright blue ink, large letters and a circle, the amount we would have paid for our feast if we had not bought them at happy hour prices. The implication was clear – we should be tipping as if we were non-happy hour high rollers. (There was also a coupon involved, so he also – quite appropriately and helpfully, showed the price pre-coupon.)

When push came to shove, we went ahead and gave him his 20% of the full price, but that was more a function of a bunch of guys not wanting to be the “cheap one” than a group consensus that his expectation was a fair one.

So, what do you think? When you go to a restaurant at happy hour, or for some other special, do you tip as if you were less price-sensitive? From the server’s perspective, I can kind of understand that there’s no less work involved in serving half-price plates, but, from the customer’s perspective, I came in precisely because of the happy hour bargains. If it weren’t for the happy hour specials, I might not have chosen to come to their restaurant in the first place, and I certainly wouldn’t have ordered that second plate of Albóndigas Caseras (meatballs in a spicy garlic cream sauce).

Left to my own devices, I would have tipped generously off the happy hour prices – probably around 25% – but I would have ignored the full-price number as pushy over-reaching by a waiter who ought to argue with management if he doesn’t like the prices they’re charging.

Beer – It’s What’s for Dinner

Wednesday, May 12th, 2010

For years, choosing beer to go with food meant getting some cold Budweiser to go with pizza or bratwurst.  With the explosion of varieties and brands over the past 20 years, though, the opportunities to choose a beer that enhances the pleasure of the meal have grown far beyond what was even imaginable 20 years ago.

One great way to explore the possibilities is to attend one of the “beer meals” offered by restaurants and breweries.  Boulevard Brewery hosts a series of Beer Lunches with some of the top chefs in the region.  (I may never forgive myself for missing the Blue Stem lunch.)  Old Chicago is hosting a dinner on May 18 featuring this impressive menu (make reservations by May 17 by calling 913-764-9850)

First Course Boulevard Pilsner
Food Pairing Fruit and cheese plate, a mixed plate with smoked and spicy cheese paired with grapes, apples and pears.

Second Course Boulevard Tank 7
Food Pairing Tank 7 marinated chicken brochettes with lemon aioli

Third Course Boulevard Unfiltered Wheat
Food Pairing Blackened shrimp with Thai slaw on smoked gouda croutons.

Fourth Course Boulevard Bully Porter
Food Pairing Roasted pork loin with bully porter jus, served with jalapeno corn cakes with apple chutney

Fifth Course Boulevard Smokestack Long Strange Tripel
Food Pairing Tripel Mousse with Banana Bread

That same night, in honor of American Craft Brew Week, 75th Street Brewery is hosting an amazing lineup of food and beers for $45 – call 816.523.4677 to make reservations.  Here’s their menu for the evening:

My only hesitation in talking about these sophisticated beer dinners is the intimidation factor.  You do NOT need to be a beer expert to pair food with beer.  The key is quality – great beer will always match perfectly with great food.  Once you get those two together, the rest is just playing around with the possibilities.  If you’re not sure where to start, get yourself some Odell 90 Shilling – it goes with everything.

5 Honorary Meat Dishes

Wednesday, April 21st, 2010

I’m a shameless carnivore, happy to be perched near the top of a providentially-designed food chain. I enjoy chunks of animal protein, I always have, and I always will. On this point, I share common ground with the Sage from Wasilla – “If God had not intended for us to eat animals, how come He made them out of meat?“.

But even I find myself having meatless meals from time to time. Sometimes, my appetite strays from its carnivorous tendencies, and I find myself realizing after a tasty meal that there wasn’t any meat involved in a perfectly satisfying entree. Those entrees never are fussy messes of too-sharp onion, mesclun that looks and tastes like lawn clippings, or tofu. Instead, they are classic meals that transcend the need for meat.

I propose that the following 5 entrees be considered honorary meat dishes, and henceforth be recognized as unifying meals that can cause vegetarians and meat-lovers to sit down together without compromising satisfaction or principle.

1. Pizza Margherita: Dough, tomatoes, cheese and basil baked together in a pie that satisfies. Inspired by royalty, the classic Pizza Margherita’s ingredients achieve a purity that can only be sullied by pepperoni or italian sausage.

2. Macaroni and Cheese: Many of us lived on boxed versions of this during college years of relative poverty, and sumptuous new takes on the recipe often include lobster or pancetta. They’re all good, but the good old classic, with bread crumbs on top, deserves a spot in the pantheon of great meals.

3. Falafel: I was in college when a friend introduced me to fried globs of ground up chickpeas in pita bread; he told me it was the “Big Mac” of Israel. Falafel has been among my favorite foods ever since – a great one has flavors and textures that can blow you away.

4. Welsh Rabbit (or rarebit): It seems too simple to be satisfying, and too small to be filling. But the toasted english muffin with a savory, rich cheddar sauce described in The Vegetarian Epicure cookbook caught our attention back during the Reagan administration, and its simple satisfaction has remained a favorite. Served with a hearty ale, it’s a warming meal.

5. Pierogies: I may be a bit ahead of the curve on this one, in that pierogies are not as universally known or appreciated as pizza or mac cheese, but, trust me, these over-sized mutant ravioli are Polish soul food. Locally, Pieroguys are soon to open a cafe in the River Market, and their frozen offerings are found in a few grocery stores. Closer to home, you can make my mother’s version by following my narrative recipe.

What else belongs on this list? Eggplant parmesan, grilled cheese sandwiches, spaghetti with marinara sauce, portabella sandwiches?

Why Should Domestic = Cheap? A Call for Legislation

Wednesday, February 17th, 2010

What is a “domestic” beer?

According to most restaurants and bars, a domestic beer is an American style light lager produced at a factory miles away by a foreign corporation.

On the flip side, a beer brewed within walking distance at a brewery built by people who live in our community – that’s not domestic.

It’s all about money, of course, with a dash of history tossed in.

First, the history. When I was a teenager and disco was alive, the beer world could be divided into two types – cheap, bland, flavor-stripped lagers brewed here in the United States, and expensive, strange beers brewed in foreign countries, ranging from Moosehead to Guinness. Back then, good beers pretty much all came from other countries, and America pretty much only produced Bud, Miller, Schlitz, Coors, Pabst and a few others of the same ilk. (It’s true that there were a few good beers made in America at the time, like Anchor Steam and a few other rarities, but they were very few, and not common enough to add any exoticism to the word “domestic”.)

So, if you wanted a domestic beer, you wanted something cheap and cold. If you wanted something else, you wanted an expensive import (which weren’t always better, by the way, but that’s another story). This is the era that gave rise to the splendor that was “Import Night” at various bars. Now, times have changed.

Let’s talk about the money now. American craft brewers are making most of the best beers in the world. Because of the scale and ingredients, these beers are more expensive than the factory beers, and the prices are all over the board. A bottle of beer from the Midwest can easily cost more than a bottle of beer from Munich or Newcastle.

So, now, when a bar or restaurant wants to tell you that they’ll sell you a cheap beer really, really cheap, they’ll post a sign that says “Domestic draws, $1″ or “$4 Pitchers, All domestics”. “Domestic” is shorthand for Bud, Miller or Coors, even though they’re brewed by foreign corporations. If you want to get a Boulevard Pale Ale, or a Goose Island Honker’s Ale, or a Magic Hat #9, you’re going to pay a lot more than the “domestic” price.

At first blush, this doesn’t seem to be a big problem. I’m happy to pay the going rate for good beer, and I don’t expect a bar to sell expensive beer to me at a loss. And I certainly don’t begrudge anyone a plastic cup of “domestic” if that’s what they want.

But I don’t want it called “domestic” any more. It’s inaccurate, it’s insulting to real American brewers, and it siphons money to foreign corporations. SABMiller and AB-InBev are NOT domestic corporations. There are thousands of true “domestics” crafting great beer, and the American beer scene deserves to be recognized as a point of national pride. When you claim that Miller Lite and Budweiser are the “domestics”, you are saying that Boulevard and Schlafly are somehow less American. It’s just not right.

Here’s what I suggest: Pass a state law that any retailer advertising special pricing for “domestic” beers be required to sell any and all American-produced beers that it carries at the advertised price. My intent is not to harm bars and restaurants; I only want them to start using truth in advertising. If they want to advertise “$1 Bud draws” or “$4 Miller pitchers”, that’s fine.

But they ought to catch up with the times. “Domestic” beers are no longer limited to corporate factory brewers. America is now a great brewing nation, and our retailers should not advertise that Budweiser is the pinnacle of American brewing.

(Hat tip to John over at the KC Beer Blog for sparking this rant with a comment to this post.)

Beer World – Good News and Bad News from Waldo Pizza

Tuesday, February 2nd, 2010

Waldo Pizza makes one of the best pies in the city, and I would go there if their best beer was Diet Coke. What makes the place incredible, though, is their beer selection. From the beginning, they have always had an intelligent and varied beer list, light-years ahead of most restaurants.

First, the good news – they are now offering beer flights.
For the ridiculously low price of $5, you can get 4 pours of 5 ounces each from their taps. When you consider that their taps include treasures like the fabled Bell’s Hopslam, Schlafly’s Barrel Aged Imperial Stout, Goose Island’s Bourbon County Stout and Unibroue’s Trois Pistoles, that amounts to a tour of some of the world’s most amazing beers for $5. That’s an insanely wonderful bargain. The 5 ounce pours are enough to give you a legitimate taste of the beers, and you might still have room for a pint after tasting the 4. (I opted for a bottle of Founder’s Double Trouble IPA, which compares nicely with Hopslam.)

Now, the bad news.

Elliott Beier, Waldo’s Cicerone (think beer sommelier), my favorite beer adviser and all-around nice guy, is leaving our town for Chicago at the end of the month. He’ll be at the restaurant till the end of the month – I recommend swinging by and bidding your farewell, and if you haven’t met him yet, taking the time to ask his advice about the beers on his fabulous list.

(Those who may worry about Waldo sinking into beer mediocrity after his departure may rest assured that they had a great beer list before Elliott’s arrival, and I expect they will continue the tradition. But Elliott’s excellent taste will be missed, I am sure.)

Around the BLOCK Puts Food Review in Context

Thursday, December 31st, 2009

Not long ago, I stumbled upon Around the BLOCK, a nicely done local food blog. The author presents thoughtful reviews of well-chosen restaurants, and excels at providing vivid descriptions without lapsing into strident superlatives of praise or denunciation. Intelligence and grace abound.

In the temptingly positive review she posted yesterday about 1924 Main, one paragraph stands out as a must-read for those of us who believe that a thriving restaurant culture is an important and reliable sign of a city’s vibrancy:

At 2 courses for $20 or 3 for $25 (all dishes are also offered a la carte), it’s hard to beat the price for an upscale, quality experience. All restaurants are struggling to survive in the sluggish economy, and owner Rob Dalzell has responded by making dinner more affordable without taking away the glamour of dining out. And, he is one of Kansas City’s independent restaurateurs, all of whom should be supported. If we don’t patronize these local treasures, they will not survive and we will be forced to spend our money in chain operations, which typically are less creative, more cookie-cutter, and don’t utilize local farmers. And what fun would that be?

Where will you spend your restaurant dollars in 2010?

The Time When Tips Die

Thursday, November 19th, 2009

The time that passes from when I finish my meal to when I receive my tab is the time that good tips die. It’s a time when good waiters show their attentiveness and earn rewards, and bad waiters cost themselves money I would have been happy to give.

I’m a patient diner and a generous tipper. Where else in your economic life can an adjustment of a couple dollars either way have a direct impact on the happiness level of a hard-working person? On a $15 bill, I can be an ass for $2, a decent human being for $3, a good guy for $4 and a working class hero if I don’t insist on getting a measly buck back from my $20. Most days, I’ll invest in some good karma.

I don’t blame waiters for mediocre food, I don’t blame them for long preparation times, and I’m not fussy about whether my water glass is refilled every time I take a sip. I get annoyed with them for not having a clue about their beer list, but the problem is so widespread I assume there must be some union rule forbidding them from knowing what malted beverages are available, so I grudgingly forgive even that incompetence. Unless I see them hanging around chatting with coworkers, I assume they’re working hard and doing their best.

But my patience lasts only until my plate is empty, or moved to the side. At that time, I expect the waiter to notice, ask whether I want dessert or another beverage, and begin preparing the tab. That is the time period that most impacts the size of my tip.

A couple weekends ago, we had pizza for Saturday lunch at an “upscale” pizzeria in Brookside. The food was better than I had been led to expect (including some inventive salads), and their beer list included Magic Hat #9, so the stage was set for a generous tip. But we became invisible to the waitress when the pizza was shoved to the side. With laser-like focus, she swooped in to seat take orders from tables near us, without even a sideways glance at the table she had already served.

To me, that is like serving a dessert with a roach in it after a fine meal. It ruins what has come before. A pleasant 35-40 minute lunch has been capped off with a 10 minute annoyance of trying to pay for it. Her tip reflected my annoyance, and she probably figured she had gotten stuck with a lousy tipper. 10 minutes earlier, she would have been pleasantly surprised.

Has the Plaza Lost its Charm?

Wednesday, November 18th, 2009

I remember my first visits to the Plaza, back in the early 80s. My wife and I would drive up from Columbia and stay with my brother and sister-in-law in an apartment near the Plaza, and we would walk down Main to the most glamorous shopping district I had yet visited.

It was different then.

You couldn’t help but be impressed that Kansas City hosted a Saks – one of the snootiest retailers in the world – and that locally-owned Halls seemed just as elegant but twice as friendly. Saks has disappeared, with luxury-priced lawyers now serving as inventory in its former space. At the time, the retail felt like a piece of New York or London, right on the concrete shores of a trickle-sized Brush Creek.

Dining was different, too. Before Starbucks infiltrated the universe, Emile’s was a German deli serving perfectly crafted sandwiches with a pickle wedge. Ubiquity overcame uniqueness.

Downstairs in Seville Square was The Longbranch Saloon. (Can you even go downstairs in Seville Square anymore, except in Urban Outfitters?) Longbranch was a classic bar partially owned by Lou Piniella that was a landmark for celebrity sighting and ice-cold American beer. They had handwritten signs all over the walls with wry humor.

Upstairs in Seville Square was a group of small shops pushing trinkets, imports and jewelry. Not very high-class, but a lot of personality.

And that’s what’s changed more than anything. The Plaza has lost its Kansas City personality, and become a typical suburban mall without a roof. Even the tennis courts on the East side of the Plaza have become a “tennis complex”, and the Winsteads a block further East has drive-though instead of carhop service.

I miss the old Function Junction, and the chipwich cart at Seville Plaza. I miss Anne’s Santa Fe. Heck, I even miss the old traffic layout, when Main Street went straight through as a street, instead of part of that monstrous parking lot with traffic lights. I miss Fred P. Ott’s, even though I know it’s still there, serving great burgers all by itself on the lonely south eastern corner of the Plaza. I miss the adventure of intersections without stop signs or stop lights.

There was a time when the Plaza was the crown jewel of Kansas City spending. If you wanted to buy something or eat a fancy meal, you headed to the Plaza. If you wanted to show an out-of-town visitor something wonderful about Kansas City, you would drive them down Ward Parkway and wind up on the Plaza, and they were always impressed.

By all means, it’s still a great place to go. Some things are better – Classic Cup is an upgrade over the coffee house that preceded it, and sitting on the roof deck at O’Dowd’s is a joy unrivaled in Cupcake Land. Next week, the lights will come on and it will be a sparkly gem at night. It will be beautiful, and I look forward to going down there for at least one “Oh my gosh, Christmas is next week” visit. I still love the Plaza, but the charm has faded since it was at its peak.

Missing Meals – What Kansas City has Lost

Tuesday, November 3rd, 2009

Kansas City is a great restaurant town, and I think it’s even getting better. We are blessed with more creative chefs than I can count, and they keep moving us forward. But, every now and then, my thoughts will trip back to restaurants that have disappeared, and I’d like to step back in time for a couple hours. Here are a few places I would visit, in no particular order:

1. Leonard’s, for biscuits and gravy. Leonard’s was a previous occupant of what is now Governor Stumpy’s, and they put out the best biscuits and gravy I’ve ever had. The gravy was peppery, with lots of tasty sausage, and the biscuits were soft with a crisp crust.

2. La Mediterranee for lunch. On the east side of the Plaza, a quiet, elegant French restaurant used to serve top-notch fare on fine china with white tablecloths for around $5.

3. Al Roubaie’s (sp?) for lobster. Up the hill on Main from the Plaza, back when Main went straight over the creek, was a spotty little restaurant with a great lobster special. If I recall correctly, you got lobster and sides for $15, and it was a feast.

4. Thirsty’s Cantina for lunch. I don’t know how they packed so much flavor into a simple chicken sandwich, but it was wonderful. There used to be a great bar in the space now occupied by Panerra in Westport. They also served a burrito thing I can’t remember the name of (chicken cantina?), but it was filled with chicken in a creamy, cheesy sauce with just enough jalapeno to make it shine. All that, plus chips and salsa.

5. TJ Cinnamon’s. I know that the name lives on as a corporate asset of the Arby’s chain, but, if you weren’t around to experience it, you have no idea how mouth-watering a walk through Ward Parkway mall could be back in the mid-80s. The aromas of butter and cinnamon wafted through the then-active halls of commerce. The rolls were warm and soft – the size of softballs – and they were individual treasures, not boxed products.

This trip down memory lane has not truly been a lament. I think we have more, better restaurants today than we did 20 years ago. I wouldn’t even trade the dependable neighborhood friendliness of Governor Stumpy’s for the breakfast of Leonard’s. Things change and they sometimes get better. But these are some fond food memories I have of Kansas City . . .