Swagger: 8431 Wornall Rd – CLOSED

 Posted by at 10:47 am
Aug 112009
 

Swagger has inhabited a nondescript little storefront on South Wornall Road for about a year but I had no idea it was there until it started to get a little media coverage around town. Swagger sits at the northernmost end of the strip mall across from Price Chopper that houses Mike’s liquors. The narrow stretch of asphalt between the entrance and Wornall appears designed for parking, but it’s used as a frontage road, sidewalk and idling area all at once. Since it’s a little awkward, you may opt to cruise down the alley and park in back. Swagger has a well marked rear entrance (insert joke here).

Let’s get one thing straight: Swagger is a bar. I popped in early one afternoon to find a typical crowd of middle aged singles and good-natured drunks. There was a small group playing pool and a few folks nursing post lunch beers at the bar. Despite the warmth and brightness of the day, it was dark inside. A video jukebox played tired tributes to classic rock artists like Eric Clapton and Three Dog Night. At any given time, half the bar is out back smoking cigarettes.

With that caveat out of the way let’s get another thing straight: Swagger is much more than a bar. It features 42 beers on tap, seven of them boulevard beers including the lovely Tank 7. Check out the whole list here.

The menu is really something to behold. I’m gaining weight just thinking about it. It appeals to bright and bold flavor palates with higher concept versions of burgers, chicken sandwiches, wings and barbecue staples. It’s the kind of food that appeals to a grittier, down to earth crowd with adventurous sensibilities. Take the Dead Texan:

Two texas toast grilled cheese sandwiches with a 1/3 lb burger, 1 egg, 3 bacon, lettuce, tomato, onion, jalepenos and peppercorn mayo in between

This is fine dining for bikers and metalheads and they do it well. The ingredients are high quality and treated with care. For instance they cut their own steaks, hand-bread their onion rings and use only freshly ground beef for their burgers. I wanted to try their hand cut and pounded pork tenderloin when I visited but they were out of it that day. So I opted for the Suribachi burger, a concept so absurd that I had to try it.

The process goes thusly: First they take a sizable angus beef patty and cook it. Then they dip it in tempura batter and deep fry it. It is then placed on a bun topped with pepperjack chese, spicy Asian mustard, wasabi cole slaw and hot chili sauce. It looks a little something like this:

Swagger

The photo doesn’t do justice to the size of the thing. Everyone at the bar gasped when it came out, joking that I’d never be able to get my mouth around the thing. I made a valiant effort with the eyes of the bar upon me and succeeded in getting a respectable bite of the burger.

And it was fantastic. I would have liked the beef to have been more rare–this would have catapulted it into the pantheon of fabulous local sandwiches–but the overall effect was tremendous, and quite unlike a typical burger. The tempura batter is an absolutely inspired choice. It was super crispy and light, adding an explosively salty crunch that knocked my socks off. Yes it was spicy, but not as much as I could have handled. The wasabi cut through more than the other ingredients but I really like the cole slaw as a topping.

The onion rings were simply perfect. I ate them all.

Other places masquerade as dive bars in order to promote some popular idea about their menu (the Foundry). Either that or it’s an owner’s lame attempt to recapture the excitement of a misspent youth now that he has a wife and kids. Swagger is the real deal. I don’t think they care that the core clientele (for the time being anyway) is made up of bud light swilling bar patrons. They are really doing their own thing when conventional wisdom would have them completely change the tenor of the business from its days as a simple neighborhood bar.

I’m not sure if they have table service (though I would assume so) since I sat at the bar, but I’m sure you won’t experience the typical hostess/server/bartender division of labor. As a result, I’m not sure it’s a great place to take granny to Sunday dinner but it is a good option for those looking for an excellent meal and a few drinks any night of the week.

Swagger on Urbanspoon

Mike’s Tavern: 5424 Troost

 Posted by at 9:24 pm
Jan 252009
 

The incarnation of Mike’s Tavern described below closed in mid-2009 but has since re-opened under new management. The interior, menu and staff have changed completely. I wrote a little piece for KC Free Press about the changes.


It’s not really fair to even write about this place. It’s not a lunch spot, it’s a bar. And frankly we should hold bars to different standards. There are no waiters, just bartenders. There are no proper cooks, just college kids who make food for extra money. There are no bouncers, just drunks who push a mop across the floor once in a while for free beer. Nonetheless I have a soft spot for Mike’s Tavern because it has been around a while (since 1965 I believe), it is one of the few decent places near UMKC/Rockhurst to get a beer, and it is really trying hard to make a go of it.

The menu is a heart attack waiting to happen: Bratwurst, Italian sausage sandwich, Cheeseburger, Philly cheese steaks and hilarious salads. Hilarious because they are basically sandwiches in disguise. Hence the Fried Chicken Bacon salad, Philly Cheese steak salad and the Italian Sausage salad.

Menu

I like the food at Mike’s well enough but the place totally fails in being able to provide a fast, efficient lunch in a consistent manner. These people don’t even realize if they have table service or not. Sure you can sit down and the bartender will bring you a menu, but you may have to go to the bar to place your order because he’s ignoring you. He’ll run a tab but you will have no idea what cost what–but it doesn’t matter because it will always cost less than it should. Rule of thumb? If you eat lunch at Mike’s just sit at the damn bar. Things will be quick and easy. And yes, there should be plenty of room for you because the lunch rush at Mike’s consists of five regulars. If you have a group, go ahead and sit at a table but don’t expect to get out of there in less than an hour.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t say that Mike’s is perhaps the most depressing, dank, and lonely place of all time to eat lunch. Seriously it is dark, veritably empty at the height of lunch hour and it still smells vaguely of pre-ban era Basic Lights. Or maybe it’s the old guy smoking at the bar, I don’t know.

Despite all these things, Mike’s actually has pretty damn good bar food. I was a little scared when the crusty dude with the bad goatee and the limp got up from the bar to make our food, but it turned out very well. The tenderloin was well fried and put together with some degree of care. Mike’s burgers are particularly good as well. I wanted to try the bratwurst but they were out of sausage on the day I visited.

Tenderloin

You can get tots, onion rings, or fries with your sandwich, which I appreciate. What I did not appreciate, however, was the shameless flaunting of generic condiments.

Condiments

This place really should be more popular given all the students in the neighborhood, not to mention the staff of UMKC and Rockhurst. About a year ago, Mike’s underwent some renovation to both the interior and exterior which was much needed. The exterior is very nice with the addition of lamps, a park bench and some plants in the warmer months. Inside, they have removed a wall and replaced most of the tables. The men’s room is among the worst in KC but there are paper towels, soap and hot water which is all I’m looking for where food is served. The decor consists of a lot of Rockhurst gear, in addition to the usual stuff you find in bars, like beer signs and stuffed moose heads.

Bar

Check out these sweet short-shorts!

Short shorts

The staff and the owner are super friendly people. This is kind of a dive, but not a place anyone should be wary of, even at night. They will make you feel welcome without kissing your ass in the process. For a bar, that’s really all you can ask for.

This is not a place to go eat lunch when the weather is nice. But if it’s dreary and you’re stumbling down Troost looking for a beer and a cheeseburger, it gets the job done.

Read more:

Yelp

Nov 252008
 

This is so far west in Lenexa, it might as well be De Soto. That means it’s in the middle of nowhere as far as I’m concerned. But good food is worth traveling for so when I noticed Shorthorn’s BBQ just off K-7 (I think) on 83rd Street, I decided to give it a shot.

Well, this is basically a large bar that serves food. Frankly I was hoping for a little more of a unique atmosphere, and maybe a little local color, but there is really none to be found. The restaurant is riddled with cheesy throwaway sports/beer/babe decor and features a million television sets to boot.

The lunch time trade is slight but significant; there were maybe 20 people in the place. I sat at the bar and enjoyed very good service along with a truly mediocre beef brisket sandwich and some good onion rings. The menu has all sorts of other items, from chicken strips to meatball sandwiches to mini-corndogs (!). I like that sandwiches come with choice of Fries, Onion Rings, Baked Beans, Cole Slaw, Potato Salad, Cottage Cheese or Tater Tots all at the same price. Although I would not want cottage cheese with my BBQ. They also have steaks, pasta and salmon filet entrees if you want to throw away some more money.

There seems to be a crowd of regulars here. I overheard some of them talking about their drunk weekend shenanigans, which probably also took place at Shorthorns. The bartendress was very quick and friendly despite her tendency to shoot the shit with all the dudes handing around the bar.

Basically this is the kind of bland bar and grill I always wind up at when I’m at a conference by myself in a strange town and desperately want a meal and three beers. Sure Shorthorn’s is locally owned and maybe a little rough and tumble when the farmers get their drink on, but I’m sure it succeeds because people just want a close place to eat, drink and chat up a divorcee.

There is really very little to eat out this far west, so Shorthorn’s does the trick if you need to grab a quick lunch. But I would not go out of my way to eat here.

Feb 132008
 

Exterior

Pretty much everyone loves this place, there are accolades all over the web, extolling the virtues of its ambience, uniqueness and mostly its hamburgers. Without question, the Flea Market is one of Kansas City’s most interesting lunch spots, and well worth a visit for those who have not been there. It’s also a decent place for happy hour, dinner and late nite carousing.

But it’s not perfect, people.

For first-timers, the following is an important aspect of the dining experience to be aware of. While the tables have menus on them and there are plenty of waitresses about, food must be ordered from the register at the end of the bar. Unless you happen to arrive at a slow time, you’ll see the line. You pay for your food at the register, and pick it up from a window when they call your name over the annoying loudspeaker. Waitresses operate only to serve drinks, and these must be paid for in cash on the spot, like any self-respecting bar. The beer selection in excellent, and they offer upwards of 20 on tap if I’m not mistaken. It is basically a bar that allows an external vendor to sell its wares within the confines. In fact, I think that is exactly the situation. The wait for food can be lengthy but not unreasonable for a lunch spot. The menu (pdf) has lots of stuff to offer, but it’s the burgers that are their bread and butter.

Anyone who says the flea market offers the “best burger ever” is just fooling himself, and probably doesn’t get out of town a whole hell of a lot.

Let’s talk burgers for a moment. Burgers are about the whole package–the glorious assemblage of perfect meat, bun, toppings and condiments. There is also the very important notion of how it is cooked. Burgers can be grilled, fried, steamed, barbequed, oven-roasted, submerged in boiling oil, poached, oven-roasted and baked. Well, maybe not poached, that’s gross. Anyhow, this is just to say that even the simplest of foods carries a lot of complicated decisions about ingredients and preparation. Anyone who watches the goddamn food network with any regularity knows that, in order to create the “perfect” anything, you need to consider every last detail. And in the end, the overly perky host always chalks it up to something hokey like “heart,” “love,” or the ubiquitous “it’s in his blood.”

While the burgers at WFM are excellent and I crave them periodically, they lack the complete package. The meat is excellent, freshly ground from McGonigles and has a texture and a flavor that is hard to parallel. But condiments and toppings are a do it yourself affair; the Flea Market has a fixins bar with the usual assortment of toppings: tomatoes, lettuce, onions, pickles, etc. But the bar pretty much sucks in terms of quality. It features shredded iceberg lettuce (ever try keeping that on a bun?), and the lamest pale, thin-cut tomato slices ever. The whole bar is vaguely unappetizing, with the contents of the tomato container veritably disintegrating into a mass of disjointed, flaccid flesh. Thick cut, yellow onion slices don’t really do it for me either. I usually just get some pickles and make my way back to the table. Likewise the bun is unremarkable, slightly undersized and doesn;t seem up to the task of delivering this wonderful meat slab into your mouth.
The ‘flea market burger’ is quite large, and difficult to finish even for someone of my appetite and ever-increasing girth. I typically go with the mini-burger and some onion rings. The rings are excellent, not overly breaded, very crispy and taste like they didn;t come frozen out of a brown paper bag. The curly fries are what they are. Kind of boring, but with all the hallmarks of being homemade. Definitely try the deep fried pickles–the best I’ve had.

Oh, did I mention that there is a flea market? yeah, and quite a sizable one at that. I don’t know the history of the place, but it definitely is incredibly original as a concept. It’s neat to have a few beers and a burger, then walk around the stalls looking at old stuff for a while. Also a great way to kill time while yer food is cooking. Like most flea markets, the booths are slightly overpriced, and the proprietors seem lacking in most social graces, but it’s fun nonetheless.

A few years ago, the Westport Flea Market was in danger of going away, subsumed by the onslaught of westport gentrification. But apparently some kind gent bought the place and pledged to keep it going in the same vein as before. By all accounts, this effort has been successful. So even if the burger isn’t perfect, it’s still damn good and worthy of your discerning little mouths.

Read more:

Westport Flea Market on Urbanspoon

Yelp

May 292007
 

Summer time is here, and so is people’s seemingly undying lust for outdoor seating. Enter Harry’s Country Club, an apparently beloved River Market area institution that features a large patio in addition to a decent sized dining/bar area. Because of this I was happy to see that Harry’s is indeed open for lunch. I’m not sure that this has always been the case, since I have a vague memory of standing outside looking forlorn last summer. But that happens a lot, and could have been elsewhere.

Anyway, the menu at Harry’s features all sorts of glorified bar food, and pretty darn good food at that. Really my only complaint is that there is virtually nothing healthy on the menu, except for salads. Let’s see Reuben, Burgers, Fish & chips, Fried Bologna, Patty Melt, Nachos–you see what I mean. That being said, you should just suck it up and get the glorious Reuben, because they do justice to this classic sandwich like few other establishments, in KC or anywhere. I’ve eaten a hell of a lot of Reubens (and have the LDL to prove it), and this, while not implemented in the uber-traditional fashion, is very taste-a-riffic. Their menu is online at http://www.kansascitymenus.com/harryscountryclub/menu.pdf

Harry’s does a nice lunch trade too, though most people, as expected, clamor for the outdoor seating. This is only problematic on sunny days, since there are far fewer umbrellas than tables. You can’t always count on being in the shade, which is pretty important for the fair skinned, the bald, and the generally weak-natured. The patio manages to be a nice place to eat, for it could easily feel like you’re eating in a parking lot. Or a monkey cage.

The food will take a bit longer than a 1/2 hour lunch break allows for so keep that in mind–or at least prepare a decent excuse for your lateness before you leave. Prices are about what you would expect from a place like this: A drink and a sandwich will set you back about $10-12 with tip. For the wildly irresponsible among us, Harry’s also offers a full bar and permits smoking. But even inside the place never struck me as particularly smoky during the lunch hour.

And best of all, Baby Cakes is right next door so after lunch you can grab some dessert to enjoy on the walk back to work.

Read more:

Harry's Country Club on Urbanspoon

Yelp