Jan 292012
 

I avoided Friends Sushi for years because of its reputation as “the cheap sushi place” featuring sub-$10 lunch boxes and $1 sushi on Mondays. Having been an early and enthusiastic recipient of Anthony Bourdain’s culinary wisdom nearly a dozen years ago via Kitchen Confidential, I know that Monday fish specials are bad news. I still haven’t visited Friends on sushi Monday, but have to grudgingly admit that this place is pretty good.

And it is cheap. Do you know why? Smaller nigiri for starters. What would be a two-bite affair at Edokko or other area sushi restaurants is a small mouthful at Friends. For years I have correlated the size of sushi pieces with the quality of the restaurant, but I’m starting to re-evaluate. Sometimes bigger is better, sometimes it’s not and sometimes it doesn’t make a damn bit of difference. Let’s just say that the motion of the ocean is quite vigorous at Friends.

I’m starting to prefer the smaller pieces. I just find it more manageable to eat small nigiri in a single bite rather than awkwardly stuffing a giant hunk of fish into my mouth. Worse yet, attempts at eating nigiri in two bites are almost always disastrous. Once a piece of sushi falls from your chopsticks and is disassembled into it its component parts, it loses any magic it might have had.

The sushi bento box lunch special gets a lot of attention, and rightly so. For $8.95 you can get two nigiri, one maki roll, soup, a mini-egg roll, salad and crab rangoon (which they hilariously and accurately call a “cheese cracker”). Eating sushi at most places in the United States isn’t going to be a genuine experience of Japanese culinary culture and I suspect that Friends’ bento box lunches are a prime example of that. There are many options for the bento apart from sushi, but I’m not getting anything else if I go to a sushi restuarant.

So I’m not saying that this is the best food in the world; I’ll leave that to every other food blog in town. But I am saying that this is a well-sized, affordable lunch special that arrives quickly and tastes good.

If money isn’t an issue, by all means order sushi a la carte. I’ve done it and it’s really quite good and still won’t set you back a fortune.

Sushi

And the sushi isn’t sketchy. I’ve never had anything that seemed less than fresh or anything that was cut or prepared oddly. I even tolerated the likely presence of mayonnaise in the spicy crunchy salmon roll and enjoyed it immensely.

Friends is the most laid back sushi restaurant I have been to in Kansas City. Due to sushi’s elevated price point, most places tend to be slightly fancier affairs. The style of food lends itself well to casual but hip fine dining and semi-douchey night club-esque implementations. Friends is more like the Japanese Succotash with colorful walls (each painted a different bright color), utilitarian furniture and crude design accents like bamboo branches attached to the walls of the dining room.

What differentiates it from Succotash is the very good service. There are always plenty of servers available to tend to the dining room as well as a host/ess seating prospective diners. This place is really quite small but fortunately the primary dining room is separated from the entryway, sushi bar and waiting area. It does mean that servers often spend downtime wrapping silverware or doing other sidework at the sushi bar, particularly during lunch. It doesn’t bother me much but it’s a little awkward to have servers performing work other than serving when in full view of customers.

That’s all I have to say, not having been eaten there more than a few times. But I thought it was worth saying that Friends isn’t scary, sketchy or gross. Rather it’s quite good sushi for a good price. Maybe someday I’ll foray farther into the menu.

Friends Sushi & Bento Place on Urbanspoon

Anna’s Oven: 1809 W. 39th St

 Posted by at 6:26 am
Jan 192012
 

Anna’s Oven, a strange combo of tasteful cafe, comfort food emporium and charitable endeavor may have good food but I’ll probably never find out. It’s not the menu or the concept that rubs me the wrong way, but the execution is simply substandard due to an apparent lack of good management and oversight.

Rear exterior

The space has been attractively renovated and is barely recognizable from its days as Matchstick BBQ, a short-lived but fairly solid breakfast and smoked meat joint on 39th Street West. Given the name and the interior vibe, I would assume that Anna’s Oven specialized in fancy salads, vegetarian fare and overpriced soups, but the menu trends toward updated versions of American classics: meatloaf, roasted chicken, macaroni and cheese and desserts like cobbler and bownies.

Interior

Menu Board

They open up at 11am and I strolled in about 11:40, eager to try the meatloaf, which Mr. Ferruzza enjoyed on one of his visits. Alas, they were out of meatloaf, which I assume meant that it hadn’t been made yet, given that they had recently opened and there was only one table occupied. The woman at the counter also warned me that they did not have chicken pot pie, which had been prominently advertised on the sandwich board out on the sidewalk. So I opted for chicken and noodles ($7) since it is a relative rarity on local menus and they advertise that the noodles are house-made.

The woman from the counter ran the front of the house by herself on my visit and spent a lot of time talking up the charitable aspect of Anna’s Oven with the few customers that strolled in. The business apparently gives a percentage of sales to the Friends of St. Anne, an organization that supports the work of a girls school in Kenya. Being a curmudgeonly old cynic I don’t pay much mind to this sort of thing. After all, what an odd choice of charity. It may have personal importance to the investors of Anna’s Oven, but I have no assurance that a religious school in Africa is more worthy of funds than Harvester’s, Big Brothers/Sisters, Amnesty International or the Heifer Project. Let’s be clear: I think charitable business ventures are an excellent idea, but this one seems too specific. I don’t want to research the charity before spending my money there. And it certainly doesn’t give them a pass to be a crappy restaurant.

Anyhow all this chatting about St. Anne’s really cut into the time the server was spending with other customers as more people slowly drifted in. She was supposed to bring out a bottled beverage to my table that took longer than the 25 seconds it should have taken. When she wasn’t with customers she was mincing garlic on a cutting board behind the counter and ignoring everyone. Basically you can forget about getting any attention once you leave the counter.

We must have waited 30 minutes for our food, so long that it almost became funny. While we waited I witnessed the wrong order being delivered to another table in the joint, and the wrong order given to a person waiting for takeout. Food was returned to the kitchen and fixed or remade apparently. This didn’t bode well. At least I had a bottle of Boulevard Wheat to keep me company.

Imagine my lack of surprise when the chicken and noodles arrived and the waitress explained that these were “not the usual noodles” because “they didn’t leave us any from last night.” What I received was a bowl of store-bought rotini with bits of chicken distributed throughout and maybe a 1/4 cup of watery broth hiding underneath. It was certainly not “yummy thick broth.” There was not even any garnish. Wanna see it?

Chicken and Noodles

This should really be obvious, but if you advertise house-made noodles in your dish and intend to substitute dried pasta, you should inform the diner first.

Where's the broth?

The dish was completely substandard and highly disappointing. It reminded me of something you make at home when you’re drunk and only have pasta and a leftover chicken carcass. I was annoyed, which you can probably discern from the general tone of this post. But there was no manager to speak to, just an unavailable server and a guy in the kitchen.

Menu | Anna's Oven 2012-01-17 22-37-27

But hey the salad was good.

Chef Salad

That little bowl in the background is the standard order of regular mac and cheese. Yep, the same store-bought noodles with a thin, slightly sour cheese sauce, and no garnish. This food is literally beige, would it kill them to put a parsley sprig somewhere? The mac didn’t taste all that bad, but was severely underseasoned and didn’t exhibit the best qualities of homestyle mac and cheese: cheesiness, salt. And where was the buttered bread crumb topping as promised on the menu? It certainly didn’t make me want to order the $68 party portion.

What am I getting at other than to complain? For starters, it’s clear that Anna’s Oven suffers from a lack of proper oversight and training. Why were there no processes in place to ensure that meatloaf, pot pie and homemade noodles are available every day when they open? Why did the cook and/or server not feel obliged to inform me that they were serving me something different than was advertised? Why was this place so goddamn slow? Other than providing a forum to feel good about charitable endeavors, are the owners invested in the success of Anna’s Oven? Does this place have a manager? After being there so long, my lunch felt like an obligation, like being at a timeshare presentation or worse, a bad community theater production against my will.

Not long ago, I found a hair in a dish that I ordered from a local restaurant. For many people such an occurrence is a dealbreaker, but after noticing it, I simply removed the hair and proceeded to eat my lunch. The restaurant is a place that I have enjoyed multiple times without incident and I trust them and know that they take pride in their food. But when that trust has yet to be developed, when owners’ work ethic is undetermined and their purpose unclear, missteps turn into grave errors.

Almost certainly, I caught Anna’s Oven on an especially bad day. I’m reasonable, I normally would go back to try more dishes and give them a chance to shine before writing this up. After all plenty of people in town seem to like it. But given this one experience I just can’t justify returning. It may not be fair, but there are too many other deserving lunch spots to try. That being said, I would love to hear others’ experiences at Anna’s Oven, mostly to see if I’m insane for being so turned off.

Anna's Oven on Urbanspoon

Oct 212009
 

FAT CITY REPORTS THAT MATCHSTICK HAS CLOSED AS OF DEC.3

The circumstances surrounding my visit to Matchstick BBQ are not ideal for blog posting, but I’m going to chime in anyway. You see, I swung by after a lengthy physical examination at KU Med for which I had to fast. I ate nothing all day until about 12:30 when I staggered into Matchstick looking for a big sloppy pulled pork sandwich and some fries.

This dining area is very small but very pleasant, holding six tables, three booths as well as some seating at a small bar.

matchstick_bar

The place is punctuated by some interesting items of decor such as a scythe, an old wooden tabletop pinball game, the ubiquitous cow skull and an apparently real English telephone booth. And gentlemen, while you pee, you can consider what is either genuine advertisement or a questionable piece of fine art.

matchstick_bathroomThis is a sit-down joint, which wasn’t immediately clear when I entered. The waitress greeted me and told me to have a seat. She was in the middle of taking orders from another table and didn’t get me a menu for about 10 minutes.

Matchstick is clearly much more than a simple BBQ place. The menu contains a variety of meat-tastic offerings such as the ‘Jamestown Hero:’

Pulled Pork and smoked bacon topped with our famous creamy and crispy cole slaw on a bun. $6.99

Here’s a pic of the Jamestown hero from their facebook page.

When my server finally got to me I opted for the very reasonable lunch special: pulled pork and side for 5.99. It’s hard to beat that at a BBQ spot. Interestingly the waitress offered me a choice of bread: hoagie roll, bun or texas toast. I opted for the texas toast since it’s the closest thing I can think of to plain white bread which is my preference. I got some fries with it, but could have opted for beans, potato salad, cole slaw or cheesy corn bake. The waitress forgot to put the order in to the kitchen for a few more minutes so this whole thing took a little longer than it should have, especially since I was one of two tables by the time I got my food.

But that’s where the complaints stop. The sandwich came out looking pretty good.

matchstick_plate

The texas toast was buttered and grilled which I should have expected. I found it to be a little too greasy but still pleasant. As you can see this pork is pretty finely shredded which is not my normal preference, but this was very tasty. It had a distinctly mild smoke flavor which undoubtedly comes from their advertised use of fruit woods (as opposed to hickory which is quite a bit more pungent.)

But I would eat shoe leather if it came with Matchstick’s sauce.

The sauce does not have that distinctive twang of Gates but it a bit spicier. The heat dances around your mouth like tiny, delicious angels of flavorocity. It has sweetness, but without the cloying syrupyness that plagues others. Maybe it was just my extreme hunger, but I was ready to declare it my favorite sauce in the city.

Alright virgins obsessive barbecue enthusiasts, this is where you proceed to berate the shit out of me.

I have only been to Matchstick once and there is more than enough to bring me back. Breakfast for starters, looks very promising, as do the sandwiches. They also have onion rings for $5.99 so they must be the best damn rings in town.

It bears mentioning that there are no ribs here (at least not that I could find on the menu), just beef, ham, turkey, sausage and pulled pork. They are also without a liquor license for the moment; a full bar should be in place by Halloween. 39th street is not known for its barbecue, so I think this place fills a niche. Once they get booze and can stay open late (they are promising live entertainment) I can see this becoming a cozy little hangout. Let’s just hope, with all the restaurant competition and the poor economy, that it doesn’t get lost in the shuffle.

Matchstick BBQ on Urbanspoon

D’Bronx: 3904 Bell & 7070 W 105th

 Posted by at 2:45 am
Oct 012009
 

D'BronxI’m not sure what the history of D’Bronx is in Kansas City, but the 39th Street and Bell location has all the hallmarks of a local institution. Occupying a couple storefront spaces, the interior is bustling and little crusty. It features well-worn hardwood floors, utilitarian seating, a chalkboard menu and lots of graffiti on the stone walls.

It always seems fairly crowded and boisterous. You walk through the dining area to place your order at the front counter. After paying, collecting napkins and silverware and procuring a beverage you find a seat in one of the little dining areas and wait for your food to come out. And wait. And wait.

Yes, it takes a while to get even a slice here, and I assume that’s because they put everything together to order, not to mention the fact that they do a high volume. Pizza is one of those foods that you should expect to wait for unless you’re getting it from under a heat lamp.

D'Bronx

But it actually tastes very good, despite looking a little haphazard. The toppings are applied in great quantity but don’t really melt into the slice; they kind of rest there in a little mound.

D'Bronx

The relatively thin crust manages to stay quite crispy and is a very pleasant texture. In short, this is good pizza. The “D’Bronx Special” is a veritable shit-ton of ingredients. A slice will cost you $5, but it is a huge meal, easily worth the money.

D'Bronx Slice

The Overland Park location of D’Bronx gets kind of a bad rap because the atmosphere is so completely different (i.e. lamer) than the original. It is located in a strip mall at 105th and Metcalf, the same complex that houses the serviceable Korean spot, Choga. Despite what you may have heard, this location serves up the same delicious slices and sandwiches as its KC counterpart.

D'Bronx

I’d even venture to say that the service is better in JoCo; there are a number of folks running food and clearing tables. On each of my visits, the owners or managers were there fetching refills for people. Moreover, the food runners don’t shriek at the same annoying, earsplitting volumes, undoubtedly because it is much quieter. Of course, the atmosphere really is terribly boring compared to the 39th street original, and the clientele is distinctly more douchesque.

Corned beef and swiss sub

Always a fan of the Reuben I tried the version at the Overland Park D’Bronx and while it was tasty, I can’t say it’s close to the best I’ve had. While they should be lauded for not falling into the dreaded Marble Rye trap, their rye bread is barely recognizable as such. It is a well-prepared, grilled sandwich with plenty of melted cheese but in my mind a reuben should be a gigantic sandwich, overflowing with corned beef. The reuben at D’bronx is good but not great.

D'Bronx

All in all, I’m a fan of this place. I know opinions differ as to the quality of their pizza, but I personally find it quite pleasing. The crust remains crisp despite the preponderance of toppings. While I don’t always approve of pizza that requires a fork, this is good stuff, though not quite the New York style that their name implies.

D’Bronx has a whole host of sandwiches, salads and soups as well, including matzoh ball soup which is a rarity in this area. My impression is that everything on the menu is of high quality and well-prepared. The 39th street location is far superior in terms of ambience but both outposts will do when it comes to food.

D'Bronx Deli & Pizzeria (Overland Park) on Urbanspoon
D'Bronx Deli & Pizzeria (Westport) on Urbanspoon