El Camino Real: 903 N 7th St (KCK)

 Posted by at 6:30 pm
Sep 132009
 

This is going to be short, because El Camino Real has received no small amount of praise and attention recently from the likes of Charles Ferruzza in the Pitch and the Gina Kauffman Walt Bodine show and from Meesha who, in my opinion offers the definitive analysis, complete with video. Read Meesha’s post for the substance, I’m just filling in some gaps.

I went there and sampled four kinds of tacos along with their rice and beans. The tacos were uniformly excellent. The meat benefits from being thrown back on the grill before serving where it develops glorious little crusty bits. The tortillas are small and corny yet soft and pliant. Each taco comes with two tortillas as they almost always do in proper Mexican spots. El Camino Real really piles on the meat too, more so than I thought they would for the $1.50 price tag.

Tacos

Everything here is a tad greasy, even the tortillas. But it’s a good kind of greasy.

It is all the essence of simplicity. Dining in you will receive bowls of chopped white onions, cilantro and limes for your tacos. The pico de gallo is fresh, dry and lively with spice. The thinner, chile-based sauce likewise carries some heat and is very good drizzled on a carne asada taco.

El Camino Real

The rice didn’t impress me–a little too tomatoey and sweet, reminiscent of boxed rice. The refried beans were somewhat smokey, a flavor I haven’t encountered in beans before. A chipotle pepper perhaps?

Each item costs 1.99 so save yourself the effort and just get more tacos.

Vegetarians rejoice! That hot little number on the left is a rajas taco. It’s a cheese filled poblano in a creamy sauce with onions, similar to a chile relleno. Though your tortilla will grace the meat-laden surface of the grill, there is otherwise no animal flesh in sight.

This is a no frills place with a basic dining room, one waitress and two cooks. They run the place pretty efficiently and everyone is quite friendly.

I know Kansas City, Kansas can seem like end of the earth if you live in Johnson County or South KC. Or even if you live a mile away. But this place really is worth the trip. Located near 7th Avenue Parkway and Minnesota, it’s not that far, only 5 minutes from downtown. Get off I-70 at Minnesota and circle the block since you can’t turn left on 7th. It’s right there.

El Camino Real on Urbanspoon

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

Jun 182009
 

George’s Pizza has closed.
As if the world really needed another style of pizza, I started to hear about the St. Louis variety upon moving to Missouri three years ago. I don’t get really excited about specific pizza styles, probably because of my experience with the Chicago deep-dish stuff. Seriously, I think it’s rather gross, like an overpriced cheese brick. And it’s not even as prevalent as Chicagoans and television shows would lead you to believe; the vast majority of neighborhood pizza places serve really lame, standard fare. In fact, I would venture to say that Chicago overall is a lousy pizza town.

Anyhow, who knew St. Louis had its own style? And that it is so incredibly weird? People who read this blog probably know more about St. Louis pizza than I do, but for those who don’t, here’s an overview:

It has a thin, crackery crust, sparse use of sauce, and is topped with something called provel cheese–a creamy, processed mixture of provolone, swiss, and cheddar, kind of like a white velveeta. It is often cut into squares rather than triangles.

George's Pizza

One of the most loyal and helpful commenters to this blog is JH, and he (I’m assuming it’s a “he”) recommended Georges Pizza to me not once, but twice. I dutifully visited a couple months back and ordered the lunch special with his recommended mix of provel and mozzarella. It’s a nice deal at $6.95. The special came with a tepid little salad accompanied by these weird homemade croutons.

George's Pizza

What is it about pizza parlour salads? Do they not understand fresh vegetables?

George's

Seriously, it’s like these places try to make the salad as much like a pizza as possible. This one, as you can see, has cheese, pepperoni and black olives.

George’s is interesting because it is owned and operated entirely by Asians. And the place has a locomotive theme. Train memorabilia decorates the joint and a track runs along the perimeter of the ceiling, though I saw no little train car up there.

George's

I was not crazy about Georges pizza to be honest. I can’t find the photo I took at the time but it was a 10″ little pie with lots of cheese and a few chunks of sausage. The dry, thin crust reminded me of those cheap Totino’s frozen pizzas that cost $1.09 at Price Chopper. The sauce was essentially nonexistent and the provel was mildly off-putting. It smells odd and has a sharp undertone to its flavor. Like JH, I liked the sausage quite a bit, but there was so little of it on the pizza that it didn’t really make up for the overall weirdness. In all fairness, JH did indicate that the larger pies were better.

But sorry JH, I put off writing about this place because you like it so much and hesitate to piss you off. However it turns out that there’s probably nothing wrong with George’s, I just don’t like St. Louis pizza that much.

George's St Louis Style Pizza on Urbanspoon

You see I paid a little visit to Johnny C’s recently, which is another St. Louis pizza parlour at 75th and Nieman. I did this at the urging of local blogger and food lover Goofy Girl. Indeed, she was the first to really explain St. Louis pizza to me comprehensively. Johny C’s seemed like the kind of place that, love it or leave it, I had to try.

Johnny C'S

Johnny C’s is a classic pizza parlour in a lot of ways, with a bar, pool table, video games and those traditional hanging lamps you used to see at old pizza huts.

Johnny C'S

Their lunch special involves your choice of two of the following: a pizza slice, salad, half sandwich, toasted ravioli or garlic bread (there may be other choices I’m forgetting). I opted for the slice and a salad to make a proper comparison to George’s. I got the full provel treatment, and it was pretty strange.

Johnny C'S

The odor of this cheese is just a little intense for me, and I’m no shrinking violet. The salad was almost exactly like Georges: shredded cheese, a pale tomato wedge and a couple pepperoni slices. It was topped with a couple of odd, dusty crackers.

Johnny C'S

Service at both George’s and Johnny C’s was excellent. At both places you order from the counter and wait for your food at a table. Value is likewise very good: you can’t beat a $5 lunch special which is what you get at Johnny C’s but George’s gives you more food for the money since there is a whole little pie. The ambiance at both places is pretty unique and cool, far exceeding that of chain pizza restaurants around the metro.

In general I preferred the pizza at Johnny C’s, mostly because of the crust which tasted more substantial and homemade than George’s. Both had excellent Italian sausage. I think both places warrant repeat visits, but I probably won’t get the full-on St. Louis pizza experience next time. Indeed Johnny C’s advertised an Italian beef lunch special that I’m eager to try. You all know how much I love Italian beef.

I probably should have done more research on the St. Louis pizza phenomenon but it was hard to muster the motivation. I just don’t like it that much. I’d love to hear from you all about your opinion of St. Louis style pizza and your favorite places to get it.

UPDATE: I located the George’s pizza photo. Here is is.

Pizza

Johnny C's Pizza & Fmly on Urbanspoon

Jun 062009
 

amigos 005

No one can easily remember the name of this place or exactly where it is located, probably because it seems so generic. I mean “Two Amigos?” That’s not the most catchy name.

Moreover the restaurant is situated in an old Taco Bell building, not exactly the connection you would want potential customers to make, even though the building is kind of cool. Two Amigos also features this less than progressive logo of two lazy Mexicans sleeping under a tree a la Speedy Gonzales cartoons.

amigos 024

For these reasons Two Amigos has been hidden in plain sight for a couple years.

Have you ever been to the Red Balloon, perhaps the greatest karaoke bar in the Kansas City metropolitan area? Sometimes on the weekends, it gets quite crowded and the parking lot fills up. But it’s not a big deal since there is a parking lot just next door. You just have to step up a little embankment and boom, you are right at the bar. That parking lot next door? That’s Two Amigos. I had parked there several times before realizing that this was the Mexican place people had mentioned to me.

As you can see this place advertises “Real Mexican food,” and having visited a couple times, I think they deliver the goods.

Walk right in and take a gander at the huge menu above the counter. Everything is there: classics like enchiladas, tacos and burritos, hearty soups like menudo and posole, full entree plates, seafood cocktails, three kinds of tamales and a refrigerator full of jarritos, half-liter bottles of Coca-Cola and several kinds of Mexican beer. The menu board runs the length of the counter; items are punctuated with taped-on pieces of paper or handwritten translations. Some items are highlighted with signs taped up by the register.

amigos 010

I have had a bunch of tacos here which allowed me to try a lot of their meats. I sampled the carnitas, carne asada, lengua (tongue), cabeza (cow head meat), fish and the chicken. Only the lengua rubbed me the wrong way (hehe), mostly because of its spongy texture, but that’s just my personal preferences at work. The cabeza was much as I expected, hearty, fatty and delicious with a pot-roast like consistency. The fish tacos do not receive the cabbage slaw treatment that they do at other places. In other words they are prepared much like the other tacos with onions, cilantro and a touch of shredded iceberg lettuce, the latter topping being the only differentiation between the fish tacos and other kinds.

The tamales are very simply prepared as, I would argue, they should be. I prefer them handed to me in a corn husk unadorned by any superfluous sauces, cheeses or toppings.

amigos 004

With judicious use of a good salsa, this tamale is just about perfect the way it is. These did not disappoint, though the filling was a little on the dry side.

What puts Two Amigos head and shoulders above other Mexican establishments are their salsas. They offer five kinds: blazing hot habanero, a hot salsa verde (green tomatillo), a medium-spicy red salsa made from guajillo chiles, a medium tomato-chipotle salsa and a thin, pureed avocado sauce. But of course quality always trumps quantity and Two Amigos sauces represent both.

Salsas

My favorite is the red chile salsa but I found that the avocado stuff really rounded out the fish tacos nicely. Their huaraches are excellent as well, though a little smaller than I’ve seen elsewhere. They are only available as a platter: 2 huaraches, rice and beans for $11, which is a tad pricey for Mexican, but probably fair.

Huaraches

There is also a little condiment station with iced cucumber slices, whole radishes, limes and roasted jalapenos. After a bite of a habanero salsa-adorned taco, I immediately understood the appeal of the cold cucumber.

There is a huge Quick Trip next door to Two Amigos, so it must get quite a bit of exposure and traffic. Unfortunately it never seems to be very busy. For instance I found it somewhat depressing to see two guys cutting across the Two Amigos parking lot carrying QT sandwiches and bags of Doritos. I just can’t fathom making that choice.

amigos 016

The interior is almost unchanged from its days as a Taco Bell. I’m pretty sure that the booths, the counter, the trash areas and even the orange cafeteria trays are left over from that period. It’s funny to realize how much smaller fast food restaurants used to be. A couple of old televisions are mounted in each corner, usually only one is turned on, playing Spanish language programming loud enough for the owner to hear at the counter.

They even still operate the drive-through, made evident by a couple of yard signs in front of the building. One time I actually saw the owner wearing a headset over her black knitted hairnet.

The prices here are fair, and comparable to other similar restaurants. Plan on spending six or seven bucks, and more if you want to sample a lot of items. And bottled soda will set you back more than fountain pop. Tacos are all about 1.85 each, and the combination plates are in the neighborhood of $7.50, depending on what you get.

amigos 019

For the cost conscious, the burritos cost $4.95 and approach infant-like proportions.

amigos 018

So I encourage everyone to check out Two Amigos. If you aren’t sure what to order, try something new. They will happily put together any combination you desire. I for one will be visiting Two Amigos with regularity from now on. There is just too much on the menu that I have to try.

Two Amigos on Urbanspoon

Don Chilitos: 7017 Johnson Drive

 Posted by at 11:00 pm
Apr 302009
 

Don Chilitos

Don Chilitos 1 is not so much a Mexican restaurant as an American idea of what a Mexican restaurant is. An old idea.

Mexican food in America has so many incarnations and varieties that it’s nearly impossible to quantify them. Don Chilitos is a type of Mexican place that your grandma can get behind, an establishment that embodies the 1970s and 80s, when many ethnic and national cuisines achieved mainstream status by mainstreaming their flavor palates, using conventional ingredients and catering to the ravenous gullets of their clientele.

These days things are a little different. Mexican-American food is often prepared and served by real life actual Mexican people. You see more fresh cilantro, moles, corn tortillas, and green salsa on menus than you used to. They may even dress it up a bit to make it look nice. There are often menu options that approach a degree of authenticity. I’m thinking of places like Fronteras, Dos Reales and Mi Ranchito.

Despite these improvements, 1990s era Mexican food doesn’t get a lot of love from the food-savvy but remains extremely popular with the masses of regular people who just want to get full for $6.95 before resuming the mindless drudgery that is the work week. 2 And like I said, the food isn’t bad.

I take this uncharacteristically generous approach in order to make a point. Having been to Don Chilitos a couple times recently, I think it is useful to illustrate just how far we’ve come. You see, Don Chilitos is super old school. It has been around since the middle 1970s before most people cared about authenticity or healthiness or frills. And it displays an almost admirable resistance to any restaurant trend or development over the last 35 years.

This place looks every bit its age. The decor is an assemblage of aging ceramic tile on the walls, painted lattice, creaky wooden booths, childlike murals, stained glass and neon beer signs. There are a few rooms that each have a slightly different vibe but it’s all sort of a mess. This is the best photo I could get without shoving my phone in someone’s face:

Interior

Did I mention that this place is a cafeteria? Seriously. You walk in and are faced with a long stainless steel cafeteria line. Grab a tray, some silverware and some napkins and you are ready to place your order.

There is a ton of stuff on the menu and most of it involves your choice of sauce. You can top that burrito off with orange queso sauce which they call “CCQ”3), red sauce or chili con carne. I went nuts and ordered one “Chilito Style” which is red sauce, sour cream, black olives and cheese.

Burrito

In case a cup of melted cheese sauce isn’t enough, you can get a “Big Top” which is double the topping for an extra buck or so. Can’t decide on sauces? No problem! Get two sauces for 85 cents! Chili con carne with CCQ anyone?

You can also get the sauces on their chimichangas (essentially a deep-fried burrito) or this beauty, the seafood empanada:

Seafood Empanada: A deep-fried pastry shell filled with zesty seafood rangoon and topped with your choice of Red Sauce, CCQ or Chilito style topping.

They had me at “zesty seafood rangoon.”

If Chimpotle orders and eats the seafood empanada with CCQ from Don Chilitos I will pay for his meal, including the alcoholic beverage of his choice.

Anyhow, just when you thought this place couldn’t get weirder it turns out they heat up burritos and other things in microwave ovens. I’m not sure if the burritos are pre-made or thrown together on the spot, but they are warmed just enough to take the chill off and subsequently covered with piping hot sauce. Yes, a microwaved burrito.

But seriously if you’re not an idiot, you can get out of here without dying. I have had the tacos and they are actually pretty good. Yes, they are the hard taco shells with ground beef, shredded yellow cheese and iceberg lettuce, but Don Chilitos makes them about as well as you can. And they are made to order and never touch a microwave oven.

Tacos

The burritos are only ok. I’m not a fan of the super tiny ground beef they use although they season it well. Mine was definitely not hot enough. The red sauce is just not that good, probably because its primary ingredient comes from a can.

And then there are the salsas.

Salsas

Not too appetizing is it? But they are serviceable as taco flavor-enhancing agents. The hot salsa is actually a tad spicy, which surprised me frankly. The real craziness is right next door: a veritable shit-ton of tortilla chips in a steamtable bin.

Bin o' Chips

That’s lot of chips! It strikes me as crazy that they go through this many in a day, much less a single lunch rush, but apparently it works for them. It also serves to keep the chips slightly warm. This is the aspect of Don Chilitos that convinces me that people with big appetites love this restaurant. I can’t fathom choking down a beef burrito Chilito style, following it with a basket of chips and then downing half a dozen sopapillas for dessert.

Which reminds me: ALL YOU CAN EAT SOPAPILLAS! Everyone who likes Don Chilitos freaks out about these little deep fried sugary nuggets.

Sopapillas

In my opinion, the sopapillas at Don Chilitos are terrible. They are far too dense and quickly get chewy and dry. I’ll wager they dump them by the Sysco bag-full into the deep fryers. But what the hell, you can eat 20 of them if you want. And I’m sure some people do.

To sum up, this place is crazy. But as hard as it tries, Don Chilitos won’t kill you.

Yelp

Don Chilito's Mexican on Urbanspoon

1. A big, DLC-sized shout out to my co-worker who suggested this place and

Mar 172009
 

matador8Tacos El Matador is not much to look at from the outside, situated as it is on a particularly drab stretch of Merriam Lane. It lies just west of Earl Quick’s and the Boulevard Drive-In, separated from the street by a large expanse of crumbling parking lot. The sign out by the road is easy to miss but the building itself is a nice shade of pink, so it should be relatively easy to spot.

I heard about this place via email from Matt, a KC Lunch Spots reader who characterized the place as “very deserving of one of your reviews.” Boy was he right on the money. He also indicated that it is popular with folks who work first shift since you can get lunch food at a breakfast hour. This is a very interesting observation as I imagine it must be extremely difficult to get a burrito at 9am anywhere. Hell, you can’t even get a cheeseburger at McDonald’s during breakfast time.

El Matador is a delightful little joint on the inside, a situation which completely belies its locale and outward appearance. The interior features colorful booths, lots of light, a number of fresh plants and even some matador-themed artwork, including a couple of velvet paintings that I truly covet.

matador11

They do a fair amount of take-out business here, so I was unsure whether or not to order from the counter. After some pleasant but linguistically confusing back and forth with the waitress I realized that I could sit down and get waited on. Excellent.

The menu at El Matador is all over the place. The wall above the service counter is covered with signage advertising everything from menudo to pork tenderloin sandwiches. Perusing the full menu I found it likewise all-encompassing. Lunch specials include various taco plates and tamales in addition to cheeseburgers and chicken sandwiches, complete with french fries. This had me a tad worried but I went ahead and ordered some tacos. If “taco” is in the name of the restaurant, I order them.

While waiting I was brought a basket of chips and two squeeze bottles of salsa. The red salsa here is proper–thin, hot, with good tomato and chili flavor. The salsa verde was veritably exploding with vinegar, lime, cilantro and hot chilies. It was also quite salty which proved to be a little too much for me in combination with the other flavors. While the chips themselves were nothing special, they were warm and crunchy.

I enjoyed my chips with a cold bottle of Jarritos tamarindo soda pop. Jarritos, long available in Mexican markets and urban corner stores is much more common than it used to be. I encourage those who haven’t tried it to do so next time you are out for Mexican grub. There are typically a number of bold fruit flavors to choose from such as lime, mandarin, strawberry and the aforementioned tamarind.

matador2

Within minutes, the tacos arrived and I was not disappointed. The carne asada tacos consisted of lean, tender, marinated piles of chopped steak on two small corn tortillas with a healthy topping of onions and cilantro. The carnitas tacos are prepared the same way; the shredded pork is not tossed in any kind of sauce which you tend to see a lot at other places. The consistency of the carnitas was virtually identical to good pulled pork. Both meats were free of excess fat and gristle which is a common problem.

I haven’t been everywhere, but these are the best tacos I’ve had thus far in Kansas City.

matador6

Everything was right about them. No yellow cheese, no chipotle marinades, no shredded iceberg lettuce. Just tortilla, meat, onion, cilantro, salsa. The street tacos at Cancun Fiesta Fresh and a few other places are very good, but cannot compete with EL MATADOR!

I also enjoyed a side of refried beans. Nothing fancy, but I think Mexican-style refried beans are among the best comfort foods around. I wish I could have tried their rice, but alas, even my stomach has limits. The whole lunch set me back about 9 bucks and it was worth every penny.

All in all I loved this place. The experience actually makes me curious about their Americanized menu items like the tenderloin and the burgers. If they can do a taco this well, I wonder what the other stuff is like?

Tacos El Matador on Urbanspoon

Mar 092009
 

Daniel’s BBQ closed up almost as soon as it opened, the space is currently oc

Daniel's BBQWell, here’s some good news for my friends and avid readers out in Shawnee: Margarita’s on Johnson Drive near Quivira has recently turned into Daniels Bar-B-Q, a highly respectable joint that, based on one visit by yours truly, seems like a winner for either lunch or dinner.

I first heard about this place via Fat City a month or so ago. Then I forgot about it and was happy to “discover” it last week having no recollection that Owen beat me to the punch by a long shot.

Daniel’s sits in a strange little strip mall, occupying the weirdest space in the building. When I opened the front door, I did NOT expect to see a rather sizable staircase extending down in front of me. While other stores in the strip lie at street level, Daniel’s is down in the basement. Well, sort of. Once you enter you realize that the slope of the land outside actually puts a good portion of the place above ground, windows and everything.

This is a place with at least 3 or 4 levels. There is a sunken dining area, a raised bar, and the aforementioned south dining room which sits halfway up the stairs. With all the steps, this place would be a nightmare for wheelchair users and stumbly, drunk people.

All in all, it’s kind of a cool room, just the right mix of dingy and comfortable. The funniest aspects are the remnants of its life as a Mexican restaurant. A faux-road sign attached the wall at one end of the bar reads “Corona Street.” And one end of the dining area is decorated with this stunning, southwestern mural:

Daniel's BBQ

This is a table service joint and despite the odd entry, I was greeted immediately and given a choice of where to sit. After I sat down and received my Pepsi, the waitress took the calculated risk of informing me that I had a sizable piece of the straw wrapper stuck to the bridge of my nose. This, I very much appreciated.

They have the usual BBQ offerings with the addition of bar food staples like wings and burgers. But the place smelled enough of smoked meat that I opted for one of their “long bun” sandwiches with fries–a good deal at $5.99. They offer three sauces: Regular, Hot and Competition sauce.

The regular sauce, as is often the case, is the best of the lot. It’s a little sweet but has a nice tang and is hotter than one would expect. This is one of the better traditional sauces around. The competition sauce is a molasses-laden, dark, sweet sauce which I did not care for at all.

Daniel's BBQ
The pulled pork had excellent smoke flavor and a dry rub that really came through after cooking. The texture was a little dry, but fans of burnt ends will enjoy it. The beef was also very good, but was sliced way too thinly for my taste. My major problem was with the little sub rolls they serve the sandwiches on. I would much prefer white bread or even a nice soft bun. These long rolls are more conducive to Italian sandwiches at the airport. The fries are typical crinkle cut taters, not likely homemade. They did cook them nice and crispy which is all too rare.

Daniel's BBQ

Daniel’s website also advertises that they are accommodating to gluten-free diets. If you know anyone with celiac disease or just a general intolerance to gluten, you know that this is a major selling point. The meat, sauces, fries and beans are guaranteed gluten free, but more importantly they plan to offer gluten free beer and baked goods.

The service was simply outstanding. I never felt lacking for anything. My server brought my check over just as I was finishing up. “I know you are probably on lunch,” she said. Yes, someone who gets it. Likewise she refilled my drink without me having to ask. In general she was genuine, pleasant and really goods at her job.

The closest BBQ joint to Daniel’s is probably Bates City Shawnee BBQ on Quivira. RJ’s is not too far away either. I think Daniel’s can roll with either one of them. The beef is better than Bates, and the pork may very well be if you like the drier texture (I do). The original sauce is far better than RJ’s odd, sweet concoction, though the atmosphere can’t really compete with the little roadhouse ambiance.

All in all, this is a welcome addition to the suburban KC barbecue landscape.

Read more:

Daniel's Bar-B-Q and Catering on Urbanspooncupied by Char House

Mar 052009
 

UPDATE: As of Feb. 11, 2010 Blanc’s Westport location has moved to the Country Club Plaza, 4710 Jefferson St.

BlancBlanc is essentially an upscale burger joint, a nice marriage of a classic diner and a fine restaurant. The folks from the Drop who themselves have decent food, are responsible for Blanc, opening it in mid-2008 at Westport Road near Broadway. Blanc has received a fair amount of good press and has apparently been successful enough warrant a satellite location in Leawood’s Mission Farms development, which is quickly becoming the hippest mixed use residential/commercial urban lifestyle center in all of Johnson County, Kansas!

Oh yes, Blanc has a website. Go ahead, click it. Be sure to turn your speakers up nice and loud first.

Anyhow, people love Blanc and it is often crowded. They do a very brisk lunch trade during the week and the weekend evenings are pretty hopping as well because it stays open until 11pm. So I opted to pop in for lunch at a non-standard time: Sunday afternoon.

The space is quite pretty and not as sterile as I remember from my first visit. Sure, there is a lot of white furniture, blond wood and mid-century inspired decorative accents but don’t worry, it’s not like eating in an operating room. After walking in, we were led through the front room toward the back of the restaurant which is a brighter, more casual area with lots of sunlight and fewer tables.

Unfortunately the host stopped in the narrow space between the east wall and the kitchen, seating us at a dark, 2-person table right across from the kitchen door. Not only that but we had a chatty couple about four feet away on one side and the server station on the other. From my seat I could see at least two open tables, roomy and bathed in sunlight, in the back room. Sure they were four-tops, but the place wasn’t full, and it was 2pm. To add insult to injury, I noticed 2 servers wrapping silverware and counting tips back there. So they were apparently good enough for a four-top but we weren’t. To summarize, we had the single worst table in the place. No I didn’t complain and ask to move because if I’m forced to act like a dick it ruins my meal, even if I’m entirely justified. Hosts should just know this stuff, their friggin’ job is seating people.

So the long and short of it is that I got to spend my lunch hour with waitresses inadvertently brushing by my chair on their way to punch orders into the computer and print out checks about one foot away from my hamburger. The chatty couple on the other side was fully in the throes of appetizers and drinks when we sat down. Being able to see and smell the food was tortuous and their lip-smacking exclamations didn’t help much. So yeah, things were not really off on the right foot.

But they quickly got better, beginning with the monstrous beer list. I know it’s kind of a gimmick, but I like being able to try beers I am unfamiliar with, even though I lack the refined palate of others in the local food blogging scene. I ordered an Odell 90 Shilling Ale, which I had never heard of, and it was delicious. So I had two.

Our waitress, who was otherwise excellent, neglected to tell us that they could not make the burger I wanted, so I chose the “Inside Out Burger” on a whim. It came stuffed with blue cheese and topped with bacon, mustard, ketchup, bib lettuce and one large onion ring. The presentation honestly wasn’t much to write home about. Half the topppings had slid off the bun, and the paltry amount of bacon would have made Chimpotle weep.

Blanc

All anxiety ceased when I took my first two bites. I got the most insane endorphin rush because it was so salty, delicious and full of intense flavor. As I ate further I found that the blue cheese overwhelmed everything else, but I didn’t really care by then; I just wanted to eat more, eat it all.

My cohort had the mahi-mahi which was absolutely fantastic. It reminded me of some seaside places I’ve been to in Florida who do really nice, fresh grilled fish sandwiches. And that’s the beauty of Blanc–you know that they aren’t going to screw up the food. Somebody thought about each sandwich, tried it out, perfected it, searched for the right bread, the right condiments and messed with it until it was right.

SQUEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!

The side dishes here are all good: the onion rings, the truffle fries (!!), and even the sweet potato fries are perfectly executed. And yes they come in widdy bitty shopping carts. They are insanely cute and I’m terrified that if I ever get drunk at Blanc I’m gonna try to walk out with one under my coat.

Oh yeah, so here’s the condiment situation:

Blanc

Aw, it’s sooooo tiny and lonely! This is an attractive little tray of homemade condiments: ketchup, mustard and some kind of chipotle aioli that I didn’t eat because, well, it’s just not for me. Inevitably I use all the ketchup and have to ask for more. The waitress, undoubtedly used to people eating all the ketchup asked if she could bring us some more before it was gone. So she brought out a souffle cup with about five times as much as the original amount. So in the end, we ended up wasting more ketchup than if we had received a normal portion to begin with.

Recently the good folks at Hot Blog on a Stick asked what type of condiment goes with sweet potato fries. I can honestly say that those at Blanc are so good as to require no condiments whatsoever. Seriously.

So I’ve written a lot of words here, and it may still be unclear what my overall opinion of Blanc is. Let me say it now: I’m just a giant smartass and I really like this place. The food pretty much rules although it is very rich, very filling and on the salty side. The service has always been good and although the clientele can be sort of douchey, the waitstaff are pretty laid back. And their lunch special is surprisingly affordable: any burger and any side for $8.

Read more:

Blanc Burgers + Bottles on Urbanspoon

Yelp

Dec 262008
 

I like this place. It’s bustling, unpretentious, friendly and the food is very good though I’ve only had a couple things. Quick’s is located practically next door to the glorious Boulevard Drive-in, making it a perfect joint to grab some take-out to bring to a summer double feature.

Exterior

From what I’ve read, this establishment is not to be confused with Quick’s 7th Street which by all accounts is vastly inferior, though located nearby.


This is yet another BBQ joint with table service, but the interior is very casual. There is a counter up front as you walk in where you can sit if you don’t want to deal with servers. I sat up there once and got to see the kitchen in action, the copious number of people coming in for take out, and the waitress smack-talk. As this was just before Thanksgiving, the owner was talking about making smoked turkeys for people to pick up on Wednesday. This service wasn’t advertised anywhere, but Quick’s seems to have enough regular customers that everyone is pretty well in the know.

Interior

I’ve heard of places like Quick’s, Rosedale and Woodyard referred to as “hillbilly barbecue” (as opposed to African American barbecue, presumably) and sure, the label fits. People were talking about pickup trucks after all. But just like Bryant’s or Gates on a busy day, you will see people of all stripes and persuasions mowing down on ribs and brisket.

And they know what they are doing here. I received confirmation of this when I overheard the owner say that he has no oven in the place. Yeah–no oven, just a smoker, a fryer, and maybe a grill. Maybe. That’s hardcore, because anyone who makes barbecue knows that finishing stuff in the oven is mighty tempting. But it’s also cheating.

The brisket and the ribs are both very good, expertly cooked and smoky. You can get sandwiches ($4.49) on white, wheat, rye or a bun, although I can’t imagine pulled pork on rye. Smoked turkey on rye? Perhaps I can get behind that. Like other barbecue joints, Quick’s offers sauces in sweet and hot varieties, and both have a nice balance of flavor and a good amount of tang (not the beverage). The fries weren’t my favorite, although not bad by any stretch of the imagination. They were potato wedges, lightly battered and fried. Something about battered fries bothers me unless I’m at Arby’s.

quicks
Quick’s really warrants several more trips because the menu ventures into a strange and wonderful realm with offerings like deep fried bologna and a glorious mess called “The Big Chili Dog:” a half-pound spiral cut, deep fried hot dog with chili, cheese, and onion. Oh. Yeah. I haven’t seen one (although Mr. Ferruzza has eaten one) but it sounds epic.

photo

There are a number of of other specials as well. Quick’s is definitely going on The DLC’s BBQ rotation. But I don’t hit up this part of Kansas City, Kansas very often it’s unlikely I’ll be a regular. But for those of you who live or work nearby, check it out for some good BBQ, great service and good prices. While not the best BBQ in KC, Quick’s is definitely the real deal.

Read more:

Quick's Bar-B-Q on Urbanspoon

Yelp


Nov 132008
 

browne's deli 002

Browne’s is a crusty but delightful little Irish themed deli and store just east of the hustle and bustle of Broadway in what feels like another world. I had heard of Browne’s before but it fell off my radar until the “Top 10 Kansas City Foods to Eat Before you Die” meme got started. One of my favorite reads, Another Kansas City Blog had a list that I think was my favorite, and included the Reuben sandwich from Browne’s Deli. Y’all remember how much I love the Reuben dontcha?

Along with the Monte Cristo, the French Dip and the Grilled Cheese, the glorious Reuben holds a hallowed place in the pantheon of classic grilled lunchtime sandwiches. So I was excited to try the Browne’s variety.

First things first, Browne’s is a very small shop on the corner of 33rd and Pennsylvania, and is a real slice of KC’s past. It is an example of the kinds of corner shops that use to riddle midwestern neighborhood corners, whether they were drug stores, taverns or hotels. The building is old, and it shows on the inside. It’s just a very cool old space with a ton of character. The business has been located on that corner and owned by the same family since 1901.

browne's deli 001

They do things very casually here and it’s a tad odd. You order at the back counter, but they don’t care if you pay first or after you eat. There are plenty of well-worn shelves with Irish jewelry, clothing and foodstuffs aplenty. So if you are looking for a Shamrock-in-a-heart lawn ornament, this is the place to go. While I’m not crazy about commodified, Americanized Irishness, the merchandise does give you something to look at while you are waiting for Drunky McSwilligans to make your sandwich. It was unclear whether they typically bring stuff out to you or if you are supposed to wait. There was hardly anyone there when I went, but I’d hate to see Browne’s on a busy day.

The menu is printed out on a piece of paper and taped to the deli case. There are some other Irish items advertised behind the side counter: meat pies, bangers, rashers, black pudding, white pudding, and other funny limey delicacies that I couldn’t identify if they were placed in front of me.

The also have several kinds of homemade soup, and today I opted for the lobster bisque. They also had potato soup and…uh, some other kind. The side counter offers an assortment of homemade cookies which Browne’s advertises as “the best in Kansas City.”

They’re not.

But the reuben is damn good, but much smaller than those at other establishments. No triple deckers or oversized bread slices, just a normal sized sandwich on normal sized bread (with a choice of light, dark or marble rye). I actually love the modest portion size, and one could easily down a whole sandwich and bowl of soup. The corned beef was well-trimmed, tender and delicious. The lobster bisque was insanely rich and astonishingly flavorful. It was delicious and well-made, but I couldn’t finish it all.

Browne’s ain’t fancy, everything comes on disposable plates and even the can of Guinness was accompanied by a plastic cup.

browne's deli 004

Yes they have beer, their authenticity is assured.

Prices are decent but not great. I think the half sandwich and soup combos are about $7. A few bucks more with drink and a modest tip. 10 or 11 bucks might be a bit much for a place with counter service and plastic forks, but it won’t stop me from going back, and it shouldn’t stop you from trying it.

Read more:

Browne's Irish Market on Urbanspoon

Yelp