Haus: 3044 Gillham Road – CLOSED

 Posted by at 8:06 pm
Mar 022013
 

Excitement was pretty high before this place opened. Haus planned to focus on good beer served in appropriate glasses, artisan sausages from the Local Pig and Belgian style fritten with dipping sauces. That didn’t sound like the typical Martini Corner establishment. Indeed businesses at 31st and Gilham trade in happy hour and late night drinks for young, corporate types and college buddies who enjoy pretty people and a nice setting.

Well it turns out that Haus is pretty much exactly that. While a fine place to grab lunch and a beer, it’s not necessarily a place that caters to gourmands or craft beer enthusiasts despite its offerings. It is also a great place to accidentally spend 25 dollars on lunch.

Haus experimented with counter service when they first opened, but every time I’ve been back they have offered table service which is much better suited to the space. The waitstaff is comprised almost entirely of young women who wear Haus t-shirts that read something like “I love sausage” on the back, an attempt at humor worthy of Spencer Gifts or the average Morning Zoo radio program. The young men who cook and bus table were not similarly adorned, though I imagine their bros might get a laugh out of it if they were.

I doubt the servers are lifers in the service industry and you can tell. Everyone is friendly and gets the job done, but lacks that tacit awareness of when a customer needs attention. Even when when I sit at the bar, the bartenders have a habit of wandering off, talking to customers and taking lengthy orders from outside tables. Call me old-fashioned but I feel that bartenders should at least stay in the same room as the bar. Drinking is serious business after all.

The beer list is pretty extensive with an emphasis on Belgian and German brews with a fair number of American craft options as well. I don’t drink a ton of beer at restaurants but the prices seem higher than average. This isn’t a beer blog, however, so I’m going to shut up now.

Haus essentially serves sausages, beer and fries. There are a few other things but basically nothing else.

Haus

The use of the term fritten gives the impression that these french fried potatoes are classier than your average fries. They are not. They are hand-cut, well-prepared fries but fail to elicit any sort of extra-special feelings from the nether regions. They are presented in a pile within a fairly cute little crock that somehow doesn’t manage to appeal to the eye as much as a paper cone, metal milkshake cup, or Blanc’s adorable little shopping carts. The cut is rather uneven, with an inordinate number of fries coming in around the one-inch length.

Places that offer an array of dipping sauces make me nervous; it just seems like a gimmick. At Haus, the options are largely adequate if uninspired. Each order of fries comes with your choice of sides: ranch, sun-dried tomato ketchup, sriracha aioli, cucumber yogurt and curry sour cream. Sure, these sound fine but I’d settle for a single choice of great homemade ketchup. Probably the worst aspect is how the sauces are pre-portioned into plastic soufflee cup, plucked ice cold from the refrigerator and dumped unceremoniously at your table as if it were a fast food joint. I assume this is an attempt at portion control and I’m not sure why Haus is so protective. Indeed they offer a few kinds of mustard in large squirt bottles for sausage adorning purposes.

Haus

At any rate, with a little more focus and rebranding, the fritten could become a side dish worthy of acclaim. It doesn’t help that the fries are basically the only side available. Normally I have no issue with simplicity but I do find myself wishing for another option or two, particularly when I’m in a more health-conscious frame of mind.  Since fries are all they offer, it seems like they are worthy of some extra scrutiny.

The main event here is the sausage menu. You can choose from about a dozen interesting selections, prepared by The Local Pig, which range in price from $5.99 to $7.99 apiece. The sausages themselves are quite good and generally achieve really excellent texture and flavor. I’ve had most of the options on the menu and found that I really like the traditional bratwurst and the chicken jalepeño pineapple. You should experiment, I don’t think you can make a bad choice.

Similar to the fritten, the wurst come with your choice of two toppings. Again, I’m not sure what the thinking is here. I’d prefer a selection of specialty sausages with the toppings pre-selected to fully complement the meat flavors or a whole host of more interesting choices. The options for toppings include jalapenos, sauerkraut, caramelized onions, hot peppers and sweet peppers. They are all somewhat lacking as accompaniments to unusually fine sausages and seem to have been conceived in isolation from the variety of wieners available. The sauerkraut is really more of a quick-pickled, shredded cabbage with none of the briny, fermented qualities of traditional kraut. The onions come in various stages of caramelization each time you order them, but generally should be called “sauteed onions.” After sampling all of the options, I would prefer to eat these sausages without toppings other than the mighty mustard.

I’m going on record as not liking the Farm to Market pretzel bun. It’s entirely too substantial and dense for these sausages.

Haus

The buns are awkwardly split through the top, leaving wide slabs of bread on either side of the sausage. There is not much room for that little wiener to breathe and it subsequently squirts around a lot. The bun is an impediment. If this upsets you as a Farm to Market enthusiast, go read the 50,000 Yelp reviews that gush over the goddamn pretzel bun to get your fix.

Haus

The interior is nice but a little schizophrenic. It desperately tries to combine rustic and modern design sensibilities and only moderately succeeds. The bamboo encircled beer garden is very nice though.

Haus

Haus

So Haus is fine. Check it out, or don’t. If you haven’t tried a Local Pig sausage it may be worth a trip. In fact, despite this complainy review, I’ve eaten there, like, a million times.

Haus
3044 Gilham Rd
Kansas City, MO
http://hauskc.com/

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 232011
 

Across the road from the illustrious Hi-Boy burger joint in Independence lies “the other burger place:” Lobito’s Steakburgers, fellow possessor of a kickass vintage sign.

Sign

Seriously, how great is it that this business chose to keep the original sign rather than tearing it down or covering it up with a modern one? It may have been purely a matter of cost, but it was also a good business decision because I will always stop at a lunch spot with a good old fashioned sign.

Exterior

By the way, Lobito’s isn’t really a burger joint, despite the name. It’s a Mexican Restaurant, and a pretty good one at that. Certainly there are burgers on the menu, but my guess is that this is a move to placate diners attracted by the sign. I’ve heard the burgers are actually worth trying, but I couldn’t bring myself to pull the trigger.

This place was extensively decorated for Halloween when I visited, with fanciful little jack o’ lanterns and skeletons adorning nearly most of the wall space. There are also a number of wolf-themed drawings and photographs; “lobito” means “little wolf” in Spanish. I was also struck by how impeccably clean every surface was. Clearly some sort of re-purposed fast food joint, Lobito’s takes advantage of all the wipe clean surfaces by wiping them clean every chance they get. Seriously, it’s one of the more spotless places I’ve ever been to.

Interior

Service is quite friendly too. You will be greeted at the door, checked up on by the owner, and thanked as you leave. That will do as much to endear me to a place as good food. Speaking of food, the menu is a gigantic, confusing affair, complete with specials, combo platters, a la carte items, burgers, an extensive breakfast menu and a dessert selection that includes flan and sweet tamales, a relative rarity in these parts.

The Mexican fare tends toward Tex-Mex but offers more authentic variations such as Mexican style soft tacos alongside the ground beef and deep fried varieties. The “Lobito’s Plate” features your choice of meat with rice, beans, guacamole, sour cream, some shredded lettuce and a tomato slice. The chicken is a marinated, pounded and grilled breast that tastes simply of lime and salt and is extremely juicy. The rice and beans are passable but nothing special.

Lobito's Plate w/ Chicken

Trio

What sets Lobito’s apart is the big selection of salsas available at a little salsa bar in the front of the restaurant. I appreciated having a number of them to try because the food took a longer to come out than one would expect. Normally this kind of gimmick doesn’t do much for me, but I really enjoyed the mild, tomatoey salsa that came with the basket of chips at the table, but also the smoky and spicy chipotle and the sublime salsa verde, accented liberally by black pepper. I also tried a really strange roasted red pepper salsa which I wouldn’t recommend on anything but the pico de gallo and avocado puree are both very good.

Salsas

Located close to the Sports Complex, Lobito’s is a perfectly good choice for food coming to or from a game. If Dixon’s and Hi-Boy are too busy or tired give it a try. You can get a beer and can even play pool while you enjoy some very good Mexican fare.

Lobito's Steakburger & Mexican Food on Urbanspoon

Apr 282011
 

I know, this isn’t Oklahoma Lunch Spots, and the farther reaches of rural Johnson County can damn well feel like our esteemed neighbor to the south, but K & M Bar-B-Q is probably worth mentioning as a destination lunch joint for folks in most of the metro area.

K & M Bar-B-Q

I have only made one recent visit and frankly am unlikely to make another any time soon. Even Gardner felt like a sizable jaunt from Spring Hill, and that’s saying something. Normally I like to feel a restaurant out for 2,3 or 4 meals before taking the time to write a blog post, but I’ll forego that here and offer a brief recap of my meal.

It was excellent. K & M offers some of the best burnt ends I’ve eaten in Kansas City, and the portion size was nothing to sneeze at either.

Burnt ends and rings

Burnt ends and rings

Burnt ends are typically only available on weekends as a dinner plate, but my visit luckily coincided with them being offered as a special, which included any side dish and drink for 7.80. Considering that burnt ends at LC’s cost $8.95 for the sandwich alone (admittedly much larger), this is a great lunch deal.

Yes, these are real burnt ends and not random chunks of meat covered in sauce that some places try to pass off as KC’s signature dish. The meat itself was fork-tender and the fat was properly rendered and not overabundant. I could have used a little more crunch on them but they did have a ton of prevalent bark that gave them a nice smokiness.

K & M has a nicely flavored sauce, a little less forward than a Gates or Bryant’s, and somewhat thinner. As is typical of local BBQ joints, the spicy sauce is virtually identical to the regular sauce with the modest addition of (probably) hot sauce. This is a rather lazy way to create a hot BBQ sauce but I can’t complain about the flavor.

The onion rings had the crackery coating which was actually nice accompaniment to the smoked meat. I can’t say with any certainty that they weren’t from a Sysco bag, but I sure as hell didn’t mind.

The interior of K & M is decorated in a strong western motif with cowboy hats, steer horns and old-timey prints adorning the wood-paneled walls. While this place gets pretty darn busy during lunch, the interior is huge, featuring at least two distinct dining areas. It was hopping but not even close to full at the noon hour.

Interior

The service was excellent. I had my drink and food order taken quickly and food delivered within 5 minutes. They deliver the check to your table but take all payment at the front counter which significantly expedites things.

Who knows what circumstances might leads you to Spring Hill, Kansas in the future? While it seems doubtful for many folks who live in KC proper or the older suburbs, this is a manageable drive from southern Overland Park, Gardner or Olathe. Regardless, eating in small towns can be challenging if you are unfamiliar with the options. K & M may be one of the only places to eat in Spring Hill but from all indications it serves barbecue as well as they do anywhere else.

K & M Bar-B-Q on Urbanspoon

Feb 282011
 

Exterior

Danny Edward’s BBQ began life as a little shack in heart of downtown Kansas City, known for cranking out delicious barbecue to lunch breakers, mostly on a “to-go” basis due to its small capacity. It was also known as “Lil Jake’s Eat it an’ Beat it,” a reference to Danny’s nickname as a kid. Danny’s father, Jake, was a well-regarded local purveyor of smoked meats in his own right for more than 40 years.

Danny Edward's BBQ, Downtown KC

I moved here in 2006 when Lil Jake’s/Danny Edward’s was still very much alive downtown but increasingly dwarfed by the scope of construction at the new Power & Light District which, if you recall, made that part of downtown virtually un-navigable. Apparently, the area didn’t have much to recommend it before the arrival of P&L, but by all accounts Lil Jake’s was not part of the problem. Nonetheless it was inevitably forced to yield under the duress of eminent domain, for the “public good” of a tax-subsidized entertainment district. In with Famous Dave’s, out with Danny Edward’s, a tenant of more than a quarter century.

It is the greatest regret of my culinary life not to have eaten at Danny Edward’s downtown location before it closed and moved to Southwest Boulevard. When I started this blog on January 1, 2007 I worked at the downtown library, a 10-minute walk from the little BBQ shack, but somehow I let the construction and the potential annoyance of a small, busy restaurant keep me away. Within a year it was gone, only later to reappear on the city’s west side.

To their great credit, Kansas City barbecue enthusiasts proved more than willing to make the short car-ride out to the Boulevard and the new Danny Edwards has succeeded mightily in newer, larger, more modern digs. While the whole relocation story makes me a little sad, I’m nonetheless thrilled that this place not only does brisk business, but serves great barbecue on top of it.

Indeed the food at Danny Edwards is practically as good as the esteemed Oklahoma Joe’s, without the attendant enthusiasm of people who deluge Twitter and Facebook with uninformed assertions about BBQ sandwiches with cheese on them (click at your own risk). And while I am not immune to the appeal of Joe’s excellent barbecue, I can’t recommend it in my capacity as a lunch blogger because the wait is simply too long during the noon hour.

I’m also much more excited about eating at a place with the Edwards pedigree. Danny’s father was slinging ‘cue on the right side of the state line five decades before Joe’s set up shop in a KCK gas station.

The hand-cut fries at Edwards are similar to those at Joe’s, right down to the salty and unnecessary seasoning powder applied at the end. You can request them without seasoning and I recommend doing just that. Better yet, forego the fries entirely in favor of some of the best onion rings in town.

Beef sandwich

The brisket is hard to ignore. Once you enjoy the thick-cut, tender chucks of smoky beef, you’ll be hard-pressed to order anything else. Sure, I prefer a thinner slice such as that at Gates or LC’s and the Edwards’ brisket has all the marks of having been steamed in foil to achieve extra softness. But any complaints I have are purely related to personal preference rather than any failing on the restaurant’s part. The flavor and texture are truly sublime.

Beef and Ham

Beef and Ham

Edwards does a nice job with their burnt ends too. Their predilection for buttery, grilled kaiser buns adds an element of decadent richness, but certainly doesn’t hurt anything. Edwards has excellent baked beans with understated sweetness and good bean flavor accentuated by many tender chunks of pork. Their sweet potato fries aren’t bad either.

Ol' Smoky (Burnt Ends)

Southern Style

I’ve eaten here a number of times but have yet to try the ribs, which look excellent. But I can vouch for the beef, pulled pork and ham. What I can say is that Danny Edwards has the best, friendliest service of any BBQ joint in town. This is a table service place and you will never want for a a refill, to-go box or check when you need it. These people are pros and they will get you out in a hurry if that’s what you want. While places like Gates pay lip service to friendliness with their calculated “How may I help you” training regimen, Danny Edwards is service in action. Pay a visit and see if you don’t agree.

Danny Edwards is used to regulars and it is possible to order before your seat is warm. Get your check at the table and pay at the counter, where, more often than not, the restaurant’s namesake and his wife are running the show. Don’t let the modern building fool you, this is old school Kansas City barbecue at its best.

Danny Edwards Boulevard Barbecue on Urbanspoon

Danny Edwards Boulevard BBQ
2900 Southwest Blvd
Mon-Sat 11 a.m. – 3 p.m.

Jan 302011
 

To most folks outside of Kansas City, the Stonewall Inn refers to the landmark New York City nightclub that saw a 1969 riot by its gay patrons during a police raid. The Stonewall riot is often heralded as the event that put gay rights into the public consciousness. Out in Lenexa, Kansas, The Stonewall Inn refers to a supremely old school restaurant serving up traditional homestyle American cooking without flash or pretension. I imagine homosexuality plays very little part in what they are serving up and its name is just a happy accident.

Stonewall Inn

While I have not eaten at the Stonewall’s main restaurant, a smaller old home sits just south of the original restaurant at Pflumm and 103rd and houses Stonewall Pizza. This is a smaller, more affordable joint with a limited menu. While the big restaurant is open for lunch, Stonewall Pizza makes a little more sense for a quick midday bite so that’s what I’ll focus on here.

I have been to Stonewall Pizza many times over the course of three years, having first been introduced to it by local blogger Goofy Girl. As I said, it lacks pretension but I’ve found that the pizza is really quite good.

Slices

Slices

Stonewall Inn

You order at a counter just inside the front door. The menu offers slices, whole pies and a few sandwiches. The best bet for lunch is the special: a 3-topping slice, side salad and fountain drink for $6.48. I have opted for the two-slice lunch but found it to be too much food and slightly too expensive, approaching 10 bucks with drink. As each slice is made to order, it can take 10 minutes or so to get your food.

These are large slices with a fairly thin crust that remains delightfully crispy on the bottom and edges. While slightly more rustic in appearance, the pizza slices at Stonewall remind me of those at D’Bronx, and are a little bit cheaper.

The salads are typical unremarkable pizza parlour offerings with iceberg and romaine lettuce, a handful of shredded mozzarella cheese and a couple of pepperoni slices. I’ve never understood why pizza places love putting odd pizza toppings on salads. It’s not like they don’t have a a whole slew of fresh vegetables on hand, so why put pepperoni and cheese on the salad? Yet another truism for you: shredded cheese never belongs on a salad.

Stonewall Inn

Stonewall Pizza is not a restaurant for people who like to keep to themselves. You see, this is perhaps the friendliest place I have ever eaten. It’s friendly to a fault. If you want to show up, order food and mind your own business, you may be disappointed since the staff will talk to you continuously throughout your stay. Not a minute into my last visit, I knew the name of the woman at the counter and the name of the owner who was sitting at one of the tables in the empty dining area. Throughout the meal, each staff person referred to me by my first name, frequently checking up on me to make sure everything was okay and making small talk. One woman even asked me if it was alright to change the music, which played from a portable stereo by the front window.

I don’t have a lump of coal for a heart, so I appreciate the hands-on treatment at Stonewall Pizza, but it’s not everyone’s cup of tea.

Interior

The interior is small and a little wonky but it’s an interesting space to have lunch. There is a back dining room that is typically closed or empty and a sizable patio out front that is nice in warmer climes.

All in all, Stonewall Pizza is a decent spot to put on the lunch rotation if you live or work in that part of Johnson County. It took me a while to warm up to the place but the good crust occasionally calls my name, which put it over the top for me. Stiff competition from Pizza Man which sits right next door may make this a less appealing option. But since Pizza Man recently started pre-making Chicago Dogs and Italian Beefs for lunch service, you may want to give Stonewall Pizza a try one of these days.

Stonewall Pizza
10244 Pflumm Road Lenexa, Kan. [Map it >]

Stonewall Inn on Urbanspoon

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

Feb 132010
 

I’ll tread lightly here; God knows I don’t want to stir up the legions of opinionated white guys who staunchly argue about barbecue in various public forums around town. Regardless, Gates seems to have a lot of lovers and haters. I think people genuinely appreciate how long it has been around and how much Ollie Gates does in the community, but like so much else in Kansas City the place doesn’t hold up under harsh scrutiny.

Gates

Like most barbecue joints, Gates does some things better than others. People swear by the burnt ends and they are widely considered a close second to LC’s in terms of taste. I found the burnt ends to be incredibly disappointing. I don’t think they were cooked properly because the taste of raw fat globules permeated the sandwich, rather than the delightful rendered fat flavor of LC’s burnt ends. With the recent news that LC’s has been shut down by the health department, we can only hope it comes back even better than before, sans rodents.

Burnt ends

Burnt ends

Compare the admittedly crappy photos above to these uploaded on flickr two years ago. It’s not even close. A lack of consistency plagues both Gates and Bryant’s in recent years, which may account for the meteoric rise in esteem for Oklahoma Joe’s and Jack Stack, which are extremely reliable.

I am a huge fan of the beef at Gates. Again, I think that LC’s has the slight edge here but it’s still tender, smoky and full of rich beefy goodness. It is well-accompanied by that glorious Gates original barbecue sauce. Like many of the world’s best food, Gates beef brisket tastes even better cold the next day. That’s why I often get the large sandwich, which is pretty tough for most folks to put away in one sitting.

Beef sandwich

At lunch, Gates offers a pretty good deal: a small-ish sandwich on a bun with fries for something like $6.50. You just order the meat of your choice “on bun” and the fries are assumed. You can also get it on loaf bread if you want, you will just have to utter the preposterous order “beef on bun on bread.” The sandwich is an appropriate size for lunch though I found the sliced pork too dry. I heartily recommend Arthur Bryant’s for all of your sliced pork needs.

Pork on bun

People love Gates’ fries. They actually have pleasing crunch and a decent potato flavor but are a little too processed tasting for my palate. A big plate of fries will also cost you something like $3.75 which seems a little steep.

I think Gates’ sauce is the best in town, an assertion I’m relatively confident in, despite the fact that I have not been to every single BBQ joint in the metro. They have something like 4 different kinds but I like the original the best. Most of them taste very similar in my humble opinion. An employee working the dining rooms recommended the sweet and mild sauce for french fries.

I also like the ribs a great deal, though I haven’t had them in a couple years. They don’t overcook their ribs like many places in town do. The meat does not fall of the bone in stringy clumps which I, for one, appreciate. Like bacon, ribs should not be cooked to death.

This particular Gates location is the newest I believe, and is kind of a flagship location due to its proximity to the business headquarters across the intersection. I’ll never fully understand the aesthetic of the Gates brand. The man with the cane depicted on Gates’ signs calls to mind some sort of turn of the century dandy, or Louis Armstrong’s “Struttin’ with some Barbecue.”

This location is laid out like an old-timey train station which sounds cool in theory but is kind of offputting. Rather than one large dining area, it is split into two small-ish, dark rooms with little fancy entrance doors and old photos on the wall.

Dining area

Dining area

While attractive enough a space, it sort of looks like someone’s well-heeled grandmother decorated it. The center of the train station is a little island fashioned after a ticket window. It is perpetually un-staffed but it is theoretically where one obtains cocktails. But I have never seen anyone having mixed drinks at Gates.

The ordering process is a disaster. Shrieks of “Hi may I help you?” are ostensibly an invitation for you to place your order verbally but there is no guarantee that anyone is actually listening. Indeed they holler it out whether they are facing you or not, often in the middle of a conversation with another diner. It doesn’t really matter, because by the time you get to the end of the line to pay, they won’t remember what you ordered anyway.

Counter

I have been here a lot, and never once has my food been waiting for me at the register. Not once. The ladies behind the line who all are trained to adopt the creepy affectation of referring to each other as “Miss Jones” or ” Miss Fredericks” or whatever, are constantly chattering among themselves and the worn down looking guys in back who actually assemble the food. If I was a betting man, I’d wager most of Gates service problems relate to the cooks not paying any goddamn attention, but that’s just a theory. As you wait to pay, another woman asks you if you want “drinks, sides, fries or pies.” I think this is the lowest person on the employee totem pole but they are usually the most efficient.

At lunch it is not unusual to spend 10 or 15 minutes in line. You will spend that time experiencing a rich mixture of mild annoyance, uneasiness and excitement, but you won’t be bored. Just make sure you get what you ordered. If they screw something up, they will get it right and run it out to your table.

A lot of people mistake the service shenanigans as unfriendliness or rudeness.Nothing could be farther from the truth. When interacting with individual employees at Gates I have found them uniformly helpful, open and even funny. If they seem exasperated, just remember that you don’t have to work in that crazy house of a kitchen. Chill out and wait for your barbecue.
Now it’s time for you all to disagree with me.
Gates Barbecue on Urbanspoon

Spin Neapolitan Pizza: 4950 Main

 Posted by at 4:25 am
Dec 022009
 

Spin has operated three metropolitan locations for several years now, but they only recently moved into the urban core with the development of the shops and living quarters along Oak and Main that cater to UMKC students. This fourth location fills out the little burgeoning restaurant area south of the Plaza, strangely complemented by a few other Italian/Pizza joints like Minksy’s, Il Centro, Pizza 51, and Accurso’s which moved into the new strip mall away from its homey (demolished) location a block or so south.

Spin Pizza

Interestingly enough, Spin appears to be competing well with these other pizza places in the area. They all have a slightly different niche after all. Spin is decidedly more upscale than Minksy’s or Pizza 51, specializing in wood fired, hand tossed gourmet pizzas with interesting flavor combinations and a crisp, urbane atmosphere. It couldn’t differ more from the low-brow comfort of Minsky’s wooden booths and plastic beer mugs. There is no Taco Pizza at Spin.

For lunch, there is really one option, the so-called “Pizza Mia” which gets you one of their signature pies in 6-inch form along with any side salad or cup of soup (8.25). Personally pizza and soup seems like a mighty curious combination so I have always opted for pizza and salad which is a mighty fine pairing.

The service workflow is weird. You walk in and place your order with one of the eager young cashiers who take your money and give you a wooden number placard. Upon sitting down, a server brings out a glass of water and the beverage you ordered. If you ordered a beer, he will even pour it for you.

Spin Pizza

After a few moments, an entirely different server will bring your food. He will introduce himself, give you his name, ask if there is anything else you need. Hell, he will even clean up your empty plates after you finish. So basically, Spin is a full service restaurant except that you don’t order from the waiter. But the waiter does everything else. You know what this means: give the goddamn waiter a tip.

The staff has clearly been trained to be uber-professional and chatty, not my favorite service aesthetic. But these folks are pretty much all college students and they do a nice job, despite being told to pucker up and kiss ass profusely.

The pizzas are mighty fine but not earth shattering despite what enthusiastic yuppies will tell you on Yelp and Urbanspoon. The crust is a little dense and doesn’t cook well enough into the center to create a crunchy surface for the sauce and toppings. The toppings are certainly of good quality although I found the chicken sausage to be entirely too smoky and firm, kind of like a hickory farms summer sausage.

Spin Pizza

Salads are uniformly delightful and topped with high-quality ingredients if somewhat overdressed with pungent dressings. I haven’t tried the soup or paninis, but I expect that they are similarly well-prepared and accompanied by forgivable flaws.

The space is clean and classy, featuring a cool false ceiling of wooden beams over the bar and a neat cinder block appliqué on the west wall.

Spin Pizza

Spin gets pretty darn busy at the height of lunch hour, but the ordering system makes the process run pretty smoothly: no waiting for drink orders to be filled at the counter. There is plenty of seating at the bar or long tables for the solo diner.

All in all I have to say I’m pleased with Spin. It spits out uniformly good food that may not challenge your taste buds, but rarely disappoints. You can get a decently priced beer or bottle of wine with your meal, making it a viable option for that lesser but necessary meal, dinner, as well.

SPIN! Neapolitan Pizza on Urbanspoon