Dave

Nov 272010
 

I’ve received multiple reports that this location has closed. This seems to be the case as it is no longer listed on the locations page of their website.

I had heard a little bit about this outdoor-themed family restaurant but still did not know exactly what to expect when I took the trip up north to I-35 and NE Antioch road. From the outside, Jumpin’ Catfish looks like a pure chain restaurant.

Exterior

The large, faux-log cabin structure sits back from the street just off the exit ramp, with a large wooden deck and an unremarkable light-up sign adorning the front of the cupola. I almost changed my mind and left but thought it might at least be entertaining to have a meal there after all.

The wacky interior, littered with taxidermied animals, photos of hunters and their prey, wood paneling and glassed-in displays of animals in their natural habitats create a novel if somewhat cheesy ambiance, likely to appeal to outdoorsmen and others easily persuaded by decorative extremism.

Interior

Interior

Salad bar

While Jumpin’ Catfish is a locally owned establishment with only three locations, it has all the visual appeal of a well-conceived national chain restaurant of previous decades. The carpet is a dull 90’s plaid and the booths, despite a subtle outdoor theme, would be at home in any Shoney’s or lowbrow fishing resort restaurant.

Interior

Servers here are compelled to wear fishing vests and khaki shorts which is kind of lame, but I understand the thematic aspect. Televisions are sprinkled throughout the place but thankfully have the sound turned off. Instead, a local radio station plays overhead which was only slightly better, considering everyone in the joint has to listen to the obnoxious commercials.

On to the food. The gimmick at Jumpin’ Catfish is the side dishes which are immediately brought to your table in medium sized bowls–even before your drink order is taken: freshly fried hushpuppies, creamy chopped cole slaw and white beans with ham. Presumably diners should jump right in and start eating but I would have preferred the sides to come out with my entree. I guess it was nice to have something to much on right away.

side dishes

The menu is huge, offering a variety of catfish preparations, including cajun, creamy parmesan and lemon pepper treatments. You can also order boiled shrimp, fried chicken, fried oysters and a number of game selections like quail and elk steaks. The lunch menu includes smaller portions most items. Prices vary, but you can count on spending about 9 bucks for your food.

So how is the food? Pretty bad actually. My cajun-style catfish was overcooked, lending it a rubbery consistency. Whatever spice blend they used was burnt and tasted that way. The art of “blackening” is not a technique that can be applied to all spice mixtures and this was a major failure. The fried catfish was not overcooked but was exceedingly bland and very, very greasy.

Cajun catfish

Fried catfish

Speaking of bland the side dishes have no business being this place’s claim to fame. I was excited for the white beans with ham but found the dish had virtually no seasoning. The bowl contained about 4 cubes of deli-style ham, a choice that caused virtually no ham flavor to be imparted to the beans. A liberal application of salt and pepper at the table improved the dish dramatically. The hush puppies were dense and dry, even right out of the fryer. They also had an odd, bitter aftertaste which may have been the leavening agents or old cooking oil. The cole slaw was a very good, classic variety: cold, tangy, creamy and a little sweet.

The potato wedges are probably the best option for a side dish, despite the fact that they come without salt or any seasoning. The mashed potatoes are seemingly a mixture of real taters and reconstituted flakes. Both flavors were present and that’s the only conclusion I can reach about them.

Really the best part of the visit was the service, about which I have zero complaints. Our server checked on us at the appropriate times, delivered quick and copious refills, got the check out in a timely fashion and generally did her job well.

I sort of understand the appeal of this place for the many people who have nothing in common with me. But I’ll take good food over decor any day.

Jumpin Catfish on Urbanspoon

Make it Stop

 Posted by at 12:10 pm
Oct 282010
 

Checking my email yesterday I was greeted by a cryptic message with the subject line, “2010 Restaurant Rankings” and a link to a Blogspot domain. I’m used to unsolicited email and this was clearly sent to food bloggers and writers who publicize their contact information as I do. Some of you may have received the same message.

The post appears on a blog called “Kansas City Gazette,” which perhaps seeks to be an online news outlet. The restaurant post itself just is a long list of local establishments and their “star” ratings compiled by someone who refers to himself as “KC Food Critic.” According to this list we have no 5 star restaurants and one 4-star restaurant. That’s fine; Michelin and other rating systems are very prestigious and rarely give out the highest ratings. This guy makes things clear at the top of the post:

“It is difficult to make star list, so even a 1-star ranking is prestigious.”

Ah, okay. So who is this anonymous restaurant critic who deigns to assert himself as the king of the local culinary world?

“KC Food Critic has a graduate degree from a top tier school and has lived and worked in Europe for numerous years.”

Jesus, I’ve seen more convincing credentials in spam emails for penis enlargement pills. After perusing the list for a short while, I determined that KC Food Critic has no idea what he is talking about. Go ahead, take a look at the post.

If you don’t feel like clicking though (I don’t blame you) here is the comment I left on the post. Click to enlarge.

Why does this make me sort of upset? Some of us around the blogosphere like Meesha, Bull E. Vard, Chimpotle, KC Napkins guy, Robert Bishop, Aaron Deacon and many others are forthright about our biases, (lack of) qualifications and subjectivity in our food writing. We never claimed to be fancy food critics. But, we have all done the hard work, through many years of eating, writing, and publicizing to develop a little audience of readers who trust what we have to say. We have earned a little bit of credibility and it feels good.

What has this KC Food Critic done? If he came out and said “these are my favorite restaurants,” that would be great. Less informed people than him do that all the time. What irks me is the assertion of authority where clearly none is present. What irks me is the fake Michelin exclusivity. I am taking a hard line on this because I’m frankly sick of everyone trying to be food critics. I am not a food critic. It’s very hard work to be an authority. People like Charles Ferruzza and Jill Wendholt Silva may not be perfect but they get the job done, with occasional moments of brilliance. I want KC Food Critic to go away. I want everyone who wants to be an authority on restaurants without doing the work to go away. Make it stop. This so-called Kansas City Gazette has just this one post so far. Let’s hope it stays that way.

Ricos Tacos Lupe: 802 Southwest Blvd

 Posted by at 10:19 pm
Oct 172010
 

I’m not sure how long this place has been in operation near the corner of Summit and Southwest Boulevard, but I’m really glad it’s there.

Exterior

Too often the Boulevard feels like an overly long stretch of Mexican mediocrity; no place really delivers the goods when it comes to authenticity. El Huarache further east is a recent step in the right direction, culinarily speaking. But I like Ricos Tacos Lupe a whole hell of a lot, maybe better than any place in the vicinity.

They serve awesome, piping hot little tacos with a somewhat typical variety of meats: carne asada, al pastor, carnitas, chicken, buche, cabeza, tripe and chorizo. I haven’t had the tripe (but I will) and the pastor is somewhat lackluster but everything else is great. While chorizo–at least for me–is not a common choice of taco filling, do yourself a favor and order a couple of these if you decide to visit. It’s a salty, spicy, slightly crunchy treat.

Tacos

The tacos, like those at El Matador, are slightly smaller than average. Fortunately, they are cheaper than average, at $1.50 each. Tacos are $1 on Tuesdays as well.

And hey, they have huaraches, sopes and tortas too. Unlike El Huarache, Lupe’s seems to fry the masa base of their huaraches which lends them a delicate crunch. They are extraordinarily light and easy to cut with a fork. They will cost you $4.95 and are large enough to fill the average person.

Hurache and chorizo taco

The sopes are a steal at $2. Basically a sope is a small, round base of thick masa dough, spread with beans and topped with meat, lettuce, tomato, onion and cilantro. A sope is essentially the same thing as a huarache, differentiated only by its size and shape.

Sope

The salsas here are a revelation. The green salsa is pure tomatillo goodness, pulverized into a frothy concoction that is fresh-tasting and a bit spicy. The red salsa is more spicy but equally as good. It has a little smokiness which may indicate a chipotle but it was more subtle than I normally see. Regardless there are certainly some toasted chiles in the mix. The plain, red salsa served in a larger container with the chips strangely does nothing for me. It tastes like it is made with canned tomato sauce. Stick with the squeeze bottles of the other stuff.

Ricos Tacos Lupe is not a fancy joint. It’s not even a particularly nice joint inside. A pungent shade of bright orange paint adorns every wall. They need another coat since the first seems to have been hastily applied. A row of non-working deli cases line one side of the dining room and serve to hold cases of Jarritos and Coca-Cola. A grab bag of knick-knacks sit on top of the cases. The other wall has some interesting postcards of Mexican destinations and some cool portraits of old boxers. In general the interior is well-worn and pretty rough around the edges.

While many of the dishes are prepped in the kitchen at the rear of the restaurant, they are griddled and assembled on a mobile taco cart which sits inside the restaurant at the front. This allows the owner to also serve people outside on the sidewalk who can order through a window.

The cart

I’m not convinced of the street-worthiness of the cart, but it tickles me that this is how they prepare things here. The thing is powered by a propane tank sitting inside the front door.

Powering the cart

Surprisingly, Lupe’s is a table service joint. Not one, but two pregnant women take orders and run food while a guy mans the cart up front. These folks are really friendly and good at their jobs too. You will feel welcomes at Lupe’s.

UPDATE: I forgot to mention that this place is cash-only.I’m an idiot, this place takes credit cards, although you typically have to pay at the register and might not get a check delivered to the table.

Ricos Tacos Lupe on Urbanspoon

Sep 192010
 

LC’s closed in early 2011 and the building is for sale.

Exterior

After several years in Kansas City, the northland is still pretty much a mystery to me. I am trying to get my head wrapped around it because, despite what many folks say, there are some good-looking lunch spots up there. Back in the early days of this blog, I wrote a post about burgers which is where I first heard about LC’s (thanks Jason, ShawnF and whoever else!). There are actually two locations, an original spot on NW Prairie View road that has indoor seating and this place which is strictly a drive-through with a little outdoor seating.

Exterior

After eating a meal there, I’m tempted to recommend that you forego the outdoor eating experience. Even on a nice day, the picnic tables are uncomfortable and the view is depressing. Sure you can feel superior by eating at a locally owned joint while looking down your nose at people at the Sonic next door, but the bustle of North Oak Trafficway has little to recommend it.

I suspect that this building started life as a Checkers or Rally’s if you can recall those pseudo-retro fast food burger joints that proliferated in the early 1990s. As a result the physical experience of LC’s is entirely without charm. You order your food from a window that faces the street, and a somewhat grumpy cashier takes your money and gives you a number. I waited at least 15 minutes to get burgers and tots for two people. Your number gets announced at the side window facing the picnic tables where you go to pick up your paper bag. If you want ketchup, ask the dude at the window for some packets.

Ketchup packets are not my favorite way to enjoy a condiment that already on the threshhold of disgust for me. There’s nothing like being hungry and trying to eat a burger and fries from a paper sack and having to open literally ten packets by the time you finish. Put a goddamn squeeze bottle up at the window or something, but leave the packets to Mickey D’s.

Speaking of which, I found the whole experience very reminiscent of fast food–the paper bag, the styrofoam containers, little baggies for the onion rings and even the food itself which, while tasting eons better than fast food, did have its appearance.

Burgers and sides

If you can keep your napkins and paper bags from blowing away in the wind, you might get around to tasting your food which is pretty good. I liked the burger quite a bit- it was greasy, salty and came on a lightly toasted bun with pre-applied condiments and grilled onions.

Under the hood

Both the tater tots and onion rings did not disappoint but aren’t among the best you will have. Tater tots pretty much taste the same wherever you go, unless someone really screws up the frying or dumps cheese on them or something.

I guess the overall impression I got from this LC’s was that it is comparable to a high-quality fast food place. I don’t want to eat here very often, mostly because the location doesn’t work for me and the eating situation is a little uncomfortable, but also because it seems like food you should feel guilty about consuming.

LC's Hamburgers, Etc on Urbanspoon

Jul 222010
 

Mad Jack's on Troost

I have lived withing spitting distance of Mad Jack’s for a few years but never had much desire to check it out. Yes, it looks a little seedy from the outside but God knows that has never stopped me before. Indeed I checked out a similar fish-oriented place across the intersection last year. People say good things about the Mad Jack’s in KCK but I’ve never hear people say much of anything about the Troost outpost.

Mad Jack's on Troost

The place is setup like a fast food restaurant: menu on the wall, order and pay at the counter. The young woman at the register could not have been more friendly, she immediately greeted me when I came in (as she did every other visitor) and heartily recommended the day’s lunch special. The “Po Jack” is basically a large catfish filet served on white bread with lettuce, tomato, onion and cheese at a cost of $5.99. As I ordered her father, who appears to be the owners was joking around and generally lightening the mood of the whole place. He also recommended the “peachy tea” to me which I found uncomfortably reminiscent of baby aspirin.

On to lunch. Curiously enough, the toppings for the Po Jack sandwich come on the side in a styrofoam box.

Po Jack

That little french fry bag contains the lettuce, tomato, onion and cheese. The condiments are simply packets of tarter sauce and mayonnaise. A little soufflé cup of hot sauce rounds out the meal. I found this kind of weird, I would much rather have them put the sandwich together for me but I dutifully plopped the toppings out and doused the sandwich with hot sauce.

Po Jack

It was looking good except for one thing: the American cheese was still in its individual plastic wrapping. I understand the desire to streamline restaurant workflow by pre-making these topping bags, but this was just a little too transparent. It was dumping the work squarely on to my shoulders. Plus the cheese didn’t get the chance to deliciously melt over the catfish filet.

But the catfish is damn good. It was a nice, sizable portion of highly seasoned, cornmeal breaded fish. And much like barbecue, I found that I really preferred the white bread over the dense buns you see everywhere else. Fried fish with hot sauce is really a great combination. As a hater of mayonnaise and by extension, tarter sauce, I find that hot sauce cuts through the other flavors without making the breading soggy like lemon juice or vinegar tend to do.

I had ordered a little side of mac and cheese, but found it rather lackluster. I mean, I like it and it was only 89 cents, but it was only a step above easy mac.

The interior space is charmingly odd, with a corrugated metal wall behind the counter, three different menu boards, a mounted TV and a small DVD collection on a shelf. Also there are signs and flyers hung up everywhere. It feels like a heavily and amateurishly refurbished fast food restaurant, which is probably exactly what it is.

Mad Jack's on Troost

Pull your pants up

All in all, I would definitely go back and opt for one of the boxed fish meals which are just fried filets with bread, hot sauce and sides. I don’t want to go through the sandwich assembly rigmarole again.

Mad Jack's on Troost on Urbanspoon

Jun 272010
 

This little stretch of Metcalf in Overland Park is home to a handful of businesses that anchored the small downtown area in the late 1950’s and 60’s. Villa Capri and John’s Space Age Donuts share a building on the west side of the street, Mac’s service station and the White Haven Motor Lodge across the way complete a sketchy picture of what Overland Park was like in those heady days of early suburbanization. Metcalf Avenue grew of course, but was largely spared the crass overbuilding of blocks south, with the notable exception of a huge Turtle Wax Car Wash which nearly obliterates Villa Capri and John’s from the vision of passing motorists.


View Larger Map

In the intervening decades, all these businesses have held on due to a steady trickle of old-timers, regulars and nostalgia enthusiasts, but sadly seem destined to fade away. Indeed, last week word came down that the White Haven had closed and would be auctioning its contents piecemeal. John’s Space Age still does quite well, as last month’s visit demonstrated to me but Dunkin’ Donuts seems poised for a full-fledged assault as they creep into the metro.

I did not plan on liking the food at Villa Capri. Most things I read online and heard from people prepared me for cheap ingredients, bad sauce and crazy old people. Well, here’s the thing: the food is pretty decent.

Don’t come to Villa Capri expecting the world. But for less than the price of a Quizno’s sub you can get a home-cooked plate of lasagna with a giant homemade meatball. What can you get for $4.95 any more that isn’t fast food?

Lasagne

The salads are rather dismal affairs with not much going on apart from iceberg lettuce.

Salad

But the salad dressing is very tasty, despite the fact that it is too sweet. It is clearly homemade since you can see the herbs and pieces of shallot sprinkled liberally throughout.

I’ve also eaten a highly serviceable chicken parmesan sandwich ($6.85) there. It was made with a hand-breaded chicken breast but came on a roll that was a little too fluffy and chewy. I like a little more crust on my bread.

Chicken Parm

The potato chips that come with sandwiches are familiar to me. They come from the generic, food service bulk bags and are the absolute cheapest available. They are greasy, mealy and awful. The pickle was also terrible and cheap. It is very interesting how a restaurant can take the time to prepare homemade salad dressing but skimp on details like these. It speaks volumes about the way restaurants have been run in previous years. Thankfully we have come to be properly wary of packaged and processed foods, and restaurants by and large have taken notice.

Have I mentioned the decor? Behold Villa Capri in all its glory:

Interior

Interior

Interior

This is the point at which we can stop taking Villa Capri seriously and venture bravely into the world of kitsch. And this is true kitsch because the owners obviously think that Christmas lights, murals, plastic grapevines and cheesy checked tablecloths are genuinely nice atmospheric elements for the interior of a restaurant. And thank god they do because I find it a delightful ambiance in which to enjoy lunch. While many Italian restaurants focus on intimate, dark interior spaces, Villa Capri is more like a happy carnival. And the place really gets very nice light as well. Some picky people seem to mistake the decor for uncleanliness but I have to say that it did not strike me that way at all. Just because the interior hasn’t changed in 50 years doesn’t mean the place hasn’t been cleaned.

The people who run this joint are nice enough, but they are not ass-kissers. Anyone who runs a place like Villa Capri really doesn’t care what you think about the food or the service, they get by on knowing pretty much everyone who eats there. When not actively waiting on tables, the waitress visits with people, occasionally even sitting down at a table with someone for a chat. This is both charming and irritating. I like some semblance of professionalism and it fees strangely like I’m interrupting when I walk in to find the staff sitting down and chatting. But they have been operating for better than 50 years and have a right to rest on their laurels. I like that Villa Capri holds special memories for people who grew up in Overland Park and serves as a kind of social center for Overland Parkers to catch up.

No, this is not great Italian food, but it is fairly priced and tastes good.

Tony's Villa Capri on Urbanspoon

Jun 032010
 

Four years in Kansas City, writing about restaurants for most of them, and I never knew this place existed until I saw it while driving around house-hunting a couple months ago. More recently it received a shout-out from no less than the New York Times in the article 36 Hours in Kansas City. Unlike most national coverage of our fair town, this article got most things right, so I knew that a trip to Ortega’s was in the cards.


View Larger Map

Tucked away in an area known as the Westside South between Southwest boulevard and I-35, Ortega’s is not really on the way to or from anywhere and was even overlooked by Google streetview. But it would make for a very worthy digression from the usual Mexican haunts on the Boulevard proper. It certainly has one of the more unusual dining areas in the city and pretty good food from what I can tell.

Ortega interior

Anything you read about Ortega’s (and there isn’t much) will mention breakfast and rightly so. The place is pretty well-known for its menudo, a classic, hangover-curing Mexican stew made with tripe. Apparently there are long lines on Sunday mornings as neighborhood families stumble out of church in search of the stuff. While menudo is certainly the appeal, so are the huevos rancheros and other egg dishes which attract the requisite number of hipsters and urban core whities.

I don’t do breakfast on this blog however, so I’m happy to report that Ortega’s serves up mighty fine lunch fare. At $6.75, the “Dinners” are a great deal as they include a pile of meat, a stack of tortillas, rice and beans. The carne asada platter inexplicably came with some lovely little vegetable matter too.

Carne Asada platter

Al pastor platter

I found the al pastor to be a tad dry with a consistency similar to burnt ends but without the moistening benefits of BBQ sauce. It still had good flavor, though I wish I had some onions and cilantro to top it off with. The carne asada was tender and had clearly been heavily marinated since it had a deep, dark brown color. Both meats were roughly chopped and presented on a platter without fanfare; it felt like eating at someone’s house. The corn tortillas are fantastic, but I have no idea if they are homemade or not. It really doesn’t matter, they are very fresh, supple and fragrant.

The chips and salsa situation is decent if not overwhelming. The pico de gallo appeared a little less than fresh but it still tasted great. The hot salsa carries a serious kick and was a perfect addition to tacos. The chips were probably homemade but seemed a little stale. I still ate them all.

Salsa and pico de gallo

Chips & Salsa

The retail operation at Ortega’s is situated at the front of the place and is restricted to a few coolers and shelves. Most of the building is taken up by a series of well-worn red vinyl booths where you sit to eat. A woman who I can only assume is the owner takes orders, expedites the food and rings up your tab at the front counter when you are finished. While not the most effusive of hosts, she is knowledgeable, efficient and helpful.

Drinks are a self-service affair; grab something out of the cooler up front to enjoy with your meal, otherwise you will be drinking water, and only if you ask for it.

This place is deserving of several more visits. I really want to try the posole, tamales and particularly the mole, which they were out of when I visited. I’ll warrant everything in this joint is made from scratch and I want to eat more of it. One important thing to know is that Ortega’s does not accept credit cards. Yes places like this still exist. If you are in a pinch she will take a personal check but I wouldn’t count on it.

I’d love to hear what others have to say about this place. I have the feeling that there is something very special going on here and I’m eager to work my way through the menu.

Ortega's Mexican Foods on Urbanspoon

Kitty’s Cafe: 810 E. 31st St

 Posted by at 7:08 pm
May 312010
 

Kitty's Cafe

This place has been on my to-do list ever since I started this blog and was periodically suggested by faithful commenters (thanks Schweis and Mr. Jayhok). When I drove up and got a good look at Kitty’s in all its humble glory I immediately wondered why it had taken me so damn long. After all, their pork tenderloin sandwich has a reputation as lofty as any foodstuff in town.

Founded by Paul and Kitty Kawakami, a Japanese-American couple who were interned out west during World War II and summarily shipped against their will to Kansas City afterwards, Kitty’s has been in business since 1951 which, given its small size and location is pretty incredible. Located east of Martini Corner on 31st street in a somewhat run-down stretch of road full of abandoned storefronts Kitty’s still does a nice business serving cheap eats to working folks, neighborhood characters and destination diners.

Menu board

The gentleman who was behind the counter on my recent visit managed to joke and chat with customers, take money, and prepare all the food by himself. There probably isn’t room for more than a couple people back there anyway. The restaurant’s namesake retired in the late 1980s and died in 2003 but apparently her batter recipe is what keeps the delicious fried menu items so popular.

Kitty’s isn’t much to look at on the inside, a small lunch counter and a handful of stools around a shelf are all the seating available.

Kitty's

You should be fine during off-hours but I’d plan on getting lunch to-go. You can certainly call ahead with an order as well. A couple of Buddha statues and good-fortune cats reflect the Cafe’s continuing management by Asians but the menu is sheer Americana: Burgers, Catfish, Grilled Cheese, Egg sandwiches and of course the vaunted pork loin ($4.90).

As opposed to the pork tenderloin’s typical preparation, the one at Kitty’s is comprised of three small breaded cutlets stacked on a rather unremarkable hamburger bun with lettuce, tomato, pickles and a glorious spicy red sauce.

Pork Loin sandwich

This is a darn near perfect sandwich–spicy, easy to eat, a good value, and fantastically crunchy. I can see what the fuss is about because this is some seriously good batter, reminiscent of tempura. Perhaps a greater revelation was the catfish sandwich ($5.30), which gets the same treatment and may in fact be superior to the pork loin because the fish flavor is a little more prominent.

Catfish sandwich

The fries and tator tots are typical frozen food service variety but still make a nice complement to their sandwiches. Kitty’s also has eggs, bacon, toast and sausage for those seeking that lesser meal, breakfast.

What Kitty’s lacks in class in makes up for in history. I love the fact that it has been around for nearly 60 years in a rather unassuming part of town. It’s survival is no doubt due to the great pork loin sandwich which the owner will proudly tell you was mentioned in the New York Times in 1987. Next time you are tooling around midtown, visiting Costco or hitting up Martini Corner pay Kitty’s a visit.

Kitty's cafe on Urbanspoon

Further reading:

Mary Sanchez, “Cafe’s history tells of struggle Kitty’s restaurant holds memories reflecting owners and their stories.” Kansas City Star Dec. 8, 1997. Link for Johnson County Library users. Link for Kansas City Public Library users.

Jonathan Probber, “Eating in Kansas City: Ultimate Un-Diet.” New York Times. Jan. 14, 1987

May 162010
 

Here it is, the granddaddy of them all.

It’s been a while since I stopped by Kansas City’s most illustrious BBQ joint for lunch. I have found Bryant’s to be a little inconsistent which tempers my enthusiasm for their smoked meats. Sometimes they dish out a less than stellar meal, but when Bryant’s is good, it’s better than anyone else in town.

Unlike Oklahoma Joe’s and Gates, the original Bryant’s location has a natural ambience, one that hasn’t been calculated and cultivated.

Bryant's

Plenty of celebrity photos hang crookedly from the south wall, which doesn’t serve to class the place up so much as give folks something to look at while they wait in line. Yes, during lunch there is often a line to the door, but it moves quite quickly. The size of the lunch crowd pales in comparison to Oklahoma Joe’s.

Like Joe’s, Bryant’s is destination barbecue for many, but still has the hallmarks of a neighborhood joint. It is close enough to downtown to attract business people and also situated close enough to light industry to attract a blue collar crowd. Just a stone’s throw from 18th and Vine, it’s a popular lunch spot to combine with a trip to the Jazz or Negro Leagues museums. As a result, Arthur Bryant’s is perhaps the most racially integrated restaurant in Kansas City. At any given time, the restaurant is half-filled with people from out of town as well.

Counter service

I have never particularly enjoyed the ordering experience at AB’s. As the line moves to the front of the counter, you can pick up a plate and silverware. One of the hangdog gentlemen behind the window will take your order, and the plate as well if he feels like it. Sometimes he will decline the round plate in favor of a longer platter kept behind the counter. Lest you think it’s ok to skip the plate, know that the employee may chastise you for not having one to give.

Menu

Nonetheless, the process works pretty well, despite theoccasional screw-up with your order . This is not nearly the problem that it is at Gates. The folks at the end of the counter will take your money and serve you drinks. Be sure to get plenty of beer for your whole meal because it’s a hassle getting back up there again for more drinks.

Bring your appetite because the portions are huge. For $8.35, you can get a sandwich the size of Jesus. For $9.95 you can get some terrific fries with your sandwich. Unfortunately you may also get some disappointing fries; they are the most inconsistent item on the menu. Sometimes they are undercooked, sometimes cold, sometimes mind-blowingly perfect.

A “combo” costs $9.35, and allows you to sample two meats. This results in a larger order than normal since they basically add half a sandwich to a full size sandwich.

Beef and Ribs

Burnt Ends, Beef and Fries

Order the beef, I think it’s the best in town. It is quite smoky and considerably juicier than other versions. The ribs are a darn near perfect texture, not fatty and supremely flavorful. I’m not a huge fan of the pulled pork which they serve finely shredded and mixed with sauce. The burnt ends are roughly hacked and also mixed with sauce. I don’t think they are the finest in town (LC’s gets that distinction) but I wouldn’t turn my back on them because the beef is just that good. Bryant’s is one of the few places to offer sliced pork, which I have greatly enjoyed in the past. Not having eaten in recently, I recommend it with only the slightest hesitation.

Bryant’s original sauce is perhaps the strangest barbecue sauce I have ever tasted, and many folks will tell you that they do not care for it. Absolutely bitter, thin and riddled with spices, it is certainly a surprise if you are expecting KC’s typical sweet stuff. I find that the original sauce tastes best on ribs. Bryant’s also offers “rich and spicy” and “sweet heat” varieties which are both great.

Arthur Bryant’s was the first restaurant I visited in Kansas City. I was expecting a tourist trap, and instead found an honest, humble gem of a place, deserving of all the accolades it has received. This place is proof that tourist attractions are darn near impossible to manufacture. Readers of this blog occasionally ask me what my favorite barbecue restaurant in KC is, and I usually have a diplomatic response along the lines of “well, it depends.” But now, I can comfortably and whole-heartedly endorse Bryant’s as my favorite of them all. While not without its problems, their meats are just head and shoulders above the rest.

Arthur Bryant's Barbeque on Urbanspoon

Taco Via: 8615 W 95th St

 Posted by at 10:48 am
Apr 282010
 

I think this place kind of sucks, but then again, I didn’t grow up in Kansas City. When people talk about Taco Via, they talk about growing up in the 80s and the appeal of a more naive and happy time. Nostalgia is so completely powerful that I cannot argue with these people. Read this meditation on Taco Via and the heyday of fast food taco shops and see if you don’t agree. Sure, the phenomenon resulted in my least favorite chain restaurant of all time, Taco Bell, but we had some laughs along the way.

Taco Via

There are no fewer than four Taco Via groups on Facebook. The Wall posts are exclamation point-ridden nuggets of pure yearning for childhood and blind allegiance to a geographic region through its own quirky local business.

I would guess that this is a family operated spot. Two grumpy middle aged white women run the registers, a middle aged white guy and a teenage white boy put the food together and an old white lady with a limp buses tables. No attractive people work or eat here. Of course there is nothing Mexican about Taco Via. I suspect that among its enthusiasts, this is part of the charm.

Order at the counter. The menu is a little crazy, I can’t really process it every time I eat there because it is so large, varied and full of colorful pictures that compete for your attention. There is a taco burger, which you would have to pay me to eat. Of course burritos, tacos and the like abound. They also have an ongoing lunch special: a taco, sancho and nacho for 6.95, which includes a drink. What’s a sancho, you ask?

Taco Via

Yeah, it’s pretty much indistinguishable from Taco Bell’s “soft taco” except that it is about 3 times as large. It also tastes like nothing. The taco meat is mushy and finely ground, with only the subtlest of seasoning. Add some iceberg lettuce, underripe tomatoes and shredded yellow cheese and you are in business. Tacos get the same treatment but are much more palatable than the dreaded sancho.

Taco Via

Apply the taco sauce, available from a pump container on the counter, very liberally. The sauce helps foster a sensation somewhat similar to “flavor,” but not quite as pleasant.

The nachos are funny little things, not nachos as we have come to know them. At Taco Via a nacho is essentially a single tostada shell with melted cheese and a little taco sauce on it. If you like, they will add some chopped canned jalapeño peppers which make a world of difference, in a good way.

Taco Via

You get your drink with your food, not before. I can only assume that they are trying to prevent free refills by controlling the flow of beverages, but I really don’t know why. During the lunch rush you can wait a few minutes for your food to arrive so I would appreciate being able to sip a drink.

There are many more things on the menu, but I think it’s safe to say that they are all variations on a theme. Also, I really don’t feel like making multiple visits in order to sample all the wacky offerings. I’m getting old and my colorectal health is a concern.

There used to be many more Taco Via locations in the metro, but now there are only three: this Overland Park location, one in Lee’s Summit and one in Olathe. I heard from a reliable source that the owners of the chain required franchisees to pipe Christian music throughout their restaurants, close on Sundays and otherwise subscribe to a religious point of view in their business operations. A short-lived Gardner location is reputed to have used tray-liners with the 10 Commandments printed on them.

Take a look at the founders. Do you have a hard time believing that these people were hyper-religious nutjobs?

A few years back, several locations abruptly left the Taco Via family and changed names. This was the case at the old 75th and Metcalf location (where a KFC is now) and the still-operating Taco Uno in Shawnee. A 2006 article from the Shawnee Dispatch only cites “differences of opinion” as the reason for Taco Uno leaving the Via franchise, so I’d love to hear if this uber-Christian story is true. There is no such discernible activity at the 95th street Taco Via. In fact the location is not even listed on the Taco Via website.

Taco Via on Urbanspoon