Jun 162012
 

Dagwood’s will surprise you. Everything about the place leads one to expect substandard food — drab interior, haggard clientele, typical menu — but it’s frankly a step above the average diner. It has almost none of the physical character of a “classic” greasy spoon. The decor consists of faux-vintage Coca-Cola advertisements and hangable flea market witticisms. While clean, the place shows its age and isn’t particularly comfortable or pleasant to look at.

Located in the Rosedale neighborhood at Southwest Boulevard and I-35, Dagwood’s is easily accessible from most parts of the metro, but seems to cater to a mostly local patronage. If you want to see working class KCK in all of its glory, it delivers the goods. While you encounter the occasional brunching hipster, the typical clientele comprises auto mechanics, teenage mothers, extremely hungover young people and impossibly cute old men in trucker caps. There are more unfortunate tattoos on display here than any place outside of Rockfest. Dagwood’s used to enjoy the dubious reputation of being the area’s smokiest restaurant, but in these heady days of personal fitness and concern for public health, it manages to conduct a brisk morning and weekend business in a smoke-free fashion.

Dagwood's

Please don’t attach any value judgment to my characterization of the people who eat at Dagwood’s. I am simply providing an adequate description for potential diners who are more accustomed to brunching at Chez Elle and think that eating from a food truck is “slumming.”

But I’ll be damned if I’m not impressed nearly every time I eat at Dagwood’s. They make a very good burger – it’s thin and griddled to a crisp but is wide enough to feed an average adult human.

Cheeseburger

And here’s the Texas Burger, which comes on grilled sandwich bread with sauteed onions, bacon and a handful of canned jalepeƱo slices.

Dagwood's

Can you tell I like the onion rings? I doubt they are hand-breaded but you never know at a place like this. Regardless they are a tasty take on the cracker crumb-breaded style and a nice change of pace from boring old french fries.

The lunch selection pales in comparison to the breakfast fare, which is offered all day. As I mentioned previously, I don’t eat breakfast at lunch time, but if that’s your thing, Dagwood’s does a nice job on bacon, eggs, toast, omelets and the like. I’ve even written about breakfast at Dagwood’s before. The biscuits and gravy are nothing to sneeze at and the Dagwood sandwich is one of the best breakfast sandwiches in town.

The Dagwood sandwich

Biscuits and gravy

breakfast

The service is generally very good, but the servers can get harried when it’s busy because only one person handles each dining room. Just walk in and take a seat, it might take a minute for someone to greet you and deliver a menu. At the end of your meal, pay at the counter register. I think this used to be a cash-only establishment, but these days they do indeed take cards. Also, keep in mind that Dagwood’s is a breakfast and lunch place only, so they close around 2pm every day.

It’s not the most creative menu or prettiest dining room, but Dagwood’s is a solid option for American diner classics.

Dagwood's Cafe on Urbanspoon

Jun 082012
 

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You don’t visit a restaurant like The Big Biscuit because you are a healthy, reasonable human being. You go because you crave only the most traditional, American, brown-colored foods in existence. You go because familiarity assuages the feelings of encroaching culinary strangeness that increasingly ebb out of the television and radio without warning. You go because you want to know what you are talking about when you open the menu, or because your mom wants a “regular” breakfast, or because you are very, very old.

Yes they have a regular breakfast all day here at the Big Biscuit. However, this is a lunch blog, and while people will tell you that it’s OK to eat pancakes and eggs for any meal of the day, I simply don’t agree. If I go out for lunch, I want lunch — sandwiches, soups, entree salads, burgers, sausages, pizza slices, tacos — all the delicious foods that hold a unique and important position in the lunch pantheon and really nowhere else. You go ahead and order breakfast at the Big Biscuit if you want, just don’t expect me to talk about it here.

How about chicken fried steak? That’s a lunch dish. As is a pork tenderloin sandwich. They prepare both of these items with a fair amount of skill and very little inspiration at the Big Biscuit. The meat is tender, the breading is salty and the accoutrements come from a Sysco truck. And really that’s fine.

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I suspect that the bacon-laden green beans come from a can but I can’t really tell. They are cooked so thoroughly into submission as to bear almost no resemblance to the storied legume in its natural state. The mashed potatoes taste faintly of margarine which severely tempered my enthusiasm for them.

One afternoon I ordered an open-face hot beef sandwich and was somewhat alarmed by the color and consistency of the gravy. I think it’s fair to say that they aren’t roasting bones for a dark and hearty veal stock back in the kitchen of this strip-mall joint, which leads me to believe this gravy is concocted using less than traditional methods.

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However I ate it, and I ate it all. It was alright. The beef was sliced deli meat and the bread was spongy, enriched Texas-toast style white bread. Someone without teeth could have handled it pretty well.

Here’s the thing: don’t go to the Big Biscuit if you are a gastronomic enthusiast. Go because you are stuck in Shawnee, Kansas and feel like eating patty melt. It’s fine to stop by a place like this once in a while to get a fix, and you will probably enjoy it somewhat.

The decor matches the food perfectly. It’s boring, clean, uninteresting and somewhat comfortable.

The staff is exceedingly well-trained and the service is quite swift and efficient for the lunch hour. I’ve heard that this place gets busy during prime weekend brunching hours and that service can suffer as a result. Here’s an idea: don’t go out to eat when the free world of eating amateurs is also going out to eat. Brunch is a silly meal. If you would like to start “Kansas City Brunch Spots” feel free, I don’t have any plans.

Anyhow, the biscuits are actually pretty good here, which is to say, they chose their name wisely. If only other restaurants similarly advertised what they do best.

New Arby's Logo

The Big Biscuit on Urbanspoon

Kitty’s Cafe: 810 E. 31st St

 Posted by at 7:08 pm
May 312010
 

Kitty's Cafe

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

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

Menu board

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

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

Kitty's

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

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

Pork Loin sandwich

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

Catfish sandwich

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

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

Kitty's cafe on Urbanspoon

Further reading:

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

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

Dec 282007
 

Poco’s closed to the public on March 16 but has since reopened. This review reflects my experience at the first incarnation.

Everyone wants to love this place, and it’s easy to see why. The owner works in the kitchen, the staff is very friendly. The space is cute, and the location is off-kilter enough to make it interesting. It’s hard to argue with all that.

I visited during lunch hour and found the place nearly devoid of customers, but I think Poco’s does a better breakfast trade anyway. It’s interesting to see such a combination of American and Latin cuisine, but not in the same dishes, just on the same menu. The menu features both American classics and gussied-up Mexican fare. For instance, at breakfast you can get huevos rancheros or pancakes with sausage. For lunch you can have fish tacos or a cheeseburger. Great, something for everyone, right? But as I sat there with my menu, I found myself wondering: Do I really want a reuben from a Mexican restaurant? Do I really want tacos at an American restaurant?

I want to know what they do best, and that’s my responsibility as a diner and a lackadaisical blogger. I figured, let’s go with the mole. Mole is pure Mexico, and not every Mexican place has it on the menu. Not unlike barbeque sauce or marinara, there are different types and techniques with everyone claiming to have to best version of this revered sauce. And it is notoriously difficult to make from scratch. Now I’ve had mole in various incarnations at many Mexican restaurants. I have even foolishly attempted to make mole in my own home–the kitchen looked like a crime scene when it was all over. Alas the mole at Poco’s had all the indications of being made from a commonly available paste, and I can’t really blame them. Tasty, but pedestrian. It came atop chunks of poached chicken breast-certainly not a traditional implementation. It was satisfying but underwhelming. With decent corn tortillas, refried beans and excellent rice, it was nonetheless worth 7.95.

Due to this, I think I might just try breakfast fare next time. It doesn’t seem like they are trying too hard with that and other people’s food looked tasty. Poco’s does offer a nice selection of beer to take the edge off a morning’s hard work. The place has windows all around the perimeter which invites great natural light and a vista of industrial KCK in all its glory. As a lunch spot, you can probably do better for Mexican on the Boulevard. But if you have a hankering for breakfast food, or just want a friendly change of pace, it’s a bit of allright.

Don’t want to take my word for it? here are some other reviews from

Poco's on the Boulevard on Urbanspoon

Cooking in KC

The Pitch

and Noodletown