Oak 63: 408 E 63rd St

 Posted by at 2:03 am
Apr 152009
 

oak63_3 This place was inhabited by Cafe Maison until recently. It was a nice, if somewhat granny-ish lunch and dinner spot just far enough away from Brookside proper to fail. But I liked Cafe Maison and was glad to see another restaurant open in its place. Oak 63 has been in operation for months now and seems to be doing decent business.

For some reason I imagined this as more of a dinner joint, so I was surprised to see it open one day recently and decided to stop in for lunch. This was a good decision for the food is quite tasty, slightly upscale but not stuffy, and can satisfy unadventurous carnivores, dainty Brookside ladies, and pompous food douches alike.

Charles Ferruzza was right: these guys have a damn good reuben. And now that New York Bakery and Delicatessen has been closed by the Health department until it can clean the place up, it may very well be the best in town.

Reuben at Oak 63

oak63_2

The salmon BLT was likewise delicious, served with bacon, avocado (do you even need the rest?), tomato and arugula.

oak63_4

The menu is small but features fresh, seasonal ingredients and doesn’t suffer from pretentiousness like other restaurants of its ilk. Yes, you can get seared duck breast on arugula salad, but you can also get mac & cheese, or the delicious sounding hand-chopped chuck burger. This is a perfectly good place to have a casual meal, or a work lunch with clients.

The dining room is pleasant and casual–doesn’t seem too different than its previous incarnation. That being said, I really like old storefront restaurants like this. There are nice windows, occasional foot traffic, and the place isn’t too sprawling.

oak63_6

The service on my visit was a tad strange. The place was virtually deserted but the staff was furiously talking, listening to music and doing dishes in the back room. I use the term “room” lightly because the back of the house is barely separated from the dining room by a wall that does not stretch to the ceiling. Diners can hear everything that goes on back there, and this may not be a good thing for the management of Oak 63. The server was very friendly but seemed to be involved in other things.

Nonetheless, this is a very good option if you want a slightly fancier midday meal. Items are fairly priced between 8 and 12 bucks. Moreover you get to eat like a grown-up with a tablecloth and real china instead of a plastic basket and a paper cup.

Read more:

Yelp

Oak 63 on Urbanspoon

Apr 102009
 

Phil’s has closed.
Phil'sYou all will know this as the old Max’s Autodiner on 63rd street near Rockhill road. This is one of the more interesting and fun restaurant buildings in the city; it was a bank, then a drive-in restaurant, then a greasy spoon that featured some of the best griddle fried hamburgers in town.

Currently it is a bizarre little restaurant known as Phil’s Coffee Shoppe and Grill. While I’m happy to see this spot back in action, I’m not sure if Kansas City will fall in love with it.

Bear with me here.

The ordering experience is awkward. The new owners have pushed the kitchen back farther into the space, creating more seating and storage in the center of the room. They installed a small counter with 2 or 3 stools perpendicular to the cash register toward the back. This space is strangely arranged as to put customers almost inside the kitchen when ordering and paying. The “counter” is really just a resting place for keys, half-empty cups, papers and packs of cigarettes for the staff; I can’t imagine sitting there and eating.

Phils 008

There is, as rumored previously on this blog, a huge safe built into the wall behind the counter. Pretty cool, but I didn’t get a chance to snap a photo.

The decor of the whole place is a mixture of fanciful, homemade, and just plain bad taste. The booths are straight out of a 30 year old Bennigan’s Shoney’s restaurant and framed by stainless steel dividers that are actually kind of interesting. The booth I sat in had little fairy and butterfly cut-outs plastered to the wall.

Phils 007

The owner must be a film buff because there are several cinema-related design features such as film reels, little tabletop clapperboards and classic movie posters on the wall, like those you saw at huge student union poster sales in college.

Phils 003

A couple of truly regrettable oil paintings adorn the space as well. There are jauntily hand-lettered signs above the ice bin, the trash can and condiment bar.

Yes, there is a damn condiment bar. Perhaps you recall my previous expression of disappointment with regard to these questionable restaurant features. As soon as you get your burger and are wanting to take a bite, you realize that you immediately have to get up and put ketchup and mustard on the thing at the tiny condiment bar that smells overpoweringly of raw onions. They have a fair number of toppings to choose from and little paper cups to put condiments in like those at Wendy’s, only 1/3 the size. Seriously, the smallest condiment cups I have ever seen. You can barely get a french fry in there much less an onion ring.

Condiments obtained, you sit down again and realize there are no napkins on the table. You see, those are on the condiment bar. No salt and pepper except for little packets on the condiment bar. Maybe it’s not a very big deal, but I personally think these bars are an inconvenience, not a ‘nice touch.’ Hell, next time maybe I’ll just eat standing up with my elbows on the goddamn condiment bar. I mean, all the stuff I need is already there.

Oh yeah, once I went to Phil’s for an early lunch and the pickle chips were frozen as a solid block into their container. You know what that says to me? The contents of the condiment bar are not removed and the containers are not cleaned at night. Some of the other containers were half-full, 20 minutes after opening and no one else in the joint. I don;t know if this practice is against food safety code, but it sure as hell ain’t appetizing.

The cooks already put lettuce and tomato on the burgers, so it’s absurd that they can’t put anything else we want on it. Then they could keep the ketchup and other stuff on the table. You know, like every other restaurant does.

Let’s get one thing straight, they know how to make a burger here. Let’s get another thing straight, they don’t know how to make fries here. Yes, that’s a problem. The burger is huge, comes on a soft sesame bun and tastes like a million bucks. I’ll bet anything that they have the same old flat top grill from the Autodiner. But both the sweet potato and regular fries are simply sliced fresh potatoes thrown in the deep fryer.

Unfortunately making good french fries is more complicated than that–this is why frozen varieties exist. Tasty fries are almost always fried twice to lend them the exterior crunch and interior softness that are their hallmarks. The ones at Phil’s are likely fried once. Whatever, they just taste like muddy, limp and undercooked russets.

Phils 002

You can get a burger and side for $5.95 here, with two-for-one combos on Saturdays. There are a few other things on the menu like hot dogs and chicken fingers, so it’s not for the feint of heart. The onion rings are a decent choice here. I wouldn’t try the cole slaw, but maybe that’s just me. The soft drinks are only available in 20 oz plastic bottles. This place screams out for fountain soda, and I was rather disappointed not to get it.

They have a full coffee bar selection here and I was pleased to enjoy a very nice cappuccino that only took 15 minutes to get. The regular coffee is Starbucks-level strong.

While I certainly have many complaints about Phil’s, I am also fascinated by it. I can’t figure out the aesthetic, the personalities or the concept of the place, but it’s rather fun to conjecture. I admire the DIY conviction that was responsible for getting the place up and running. I want to get inside the mind that chose pea green paint for the exterior. I want to fathom the problem-solving faculties of the person who uses a pile of roof shingles as a walkway from the parking lot to the entrance.

My prediction? You will either love it or hate it. It is simply too strange an atmosphere for me to give it my unqualified recommendation, but it sure as hell isn’t boring. Have you been there? I would LOVE to know what you think.

Thanks to Doc from Will Not Be Televised for some of the photos in this post.

Phil's Coffee Shoppe and Grill<br /><div class=


on Urbanspoon” />

Avenues Bistro: 338 West 63rd St.

 Posted by at 5:49 pm
Oct 262008
 

Avenues Bistro is a classy neighborhood establishment on the high rent corner of 63rd and Wornall, one of my least favorite intersections to walk or drive through in the entire city. There’s nothing quite like impatient, entitled white people trying to avoid the indignity of waiting for anyone to do anything before barreling their Honda Pilot right on through. Anyhow, those very same white people often end up at Avenues Bistro for lunch. The other day, I was one of those people.
Avenues Bistro
This is a really nice looking restaurant. There is a bar/lounge area up front that gets a little sun, and is a tad more laid back than the dining room proper. If you go to Avenues for lunch, I would opt for the bar. Something about lunch makes me crave sunlight and noise. The dining room looks perfect for dinner: no windows, comfy chairs, a soothing color scheme.

Looking at the menu I became very excited. There were a lot of things I wanted to eat. Avenues offers a ton of fresh entree salads, sandwiches, soup and entrees. The menu is combination of old fashioned bar and grill fare and more contemporary light dishes. The whole affair is heavy on seafoods and chicken which is actually a welcome sight. But of course you can still get a meatloaf sandwich, hamburger and the now ubiquitous “Cuban” sandwich. Here’s the full lunch menu from their website (PDF).

The wine list is pretty interesting too. It’s very conversational in tone, with lots of exclamation points in the descriptions, and some of the most unfunny puns I’ve ever read.
cheesy wine list
The cheapest glass of wine you’re gonna get here is a $7 grenache, but damn it’s good. I’m not very knowledgeable about wine, but I feel like these sommeliers know their stuff. There are four people here responsible for the wine list. Four!

Back to eats, here’s what I ordered: “PROSCIUTTO, BRIE AND PEAR: Thinly Sliced Italian Prosciutto, Imported Brie Cheese, Fresh Pear Slices, Baby Greens and Sweet Peppadews on Grilled Brioche Bread. (9.95)”

Doesn’t that sound awesome? You want to see what it looked like?
Avenues Bistro
That’s right, it looks like a grilled ham and cheese from Denny’s! Seriously, this sandwich was not well-executed. Brioche bread=texas toast. Needs a baguette. Pears should always, always be ripe before you slice them and put them on someone’s sandwich. Ick. This sandwich should not have been grilled. Prosciutto loses most of its delicious power when moderately heated. Then it turns into toothsome, greasy glorified ham. And yes, I’m an idiot for ordering it, but it sounded so good!

And I can barely talk about the fruit salad. Take a look at the photo. I think it may have been ordered already prepared, or frozen. I really don’t want to talk about it.

My dining companion opted for the shrimp nicoise salad which looked very pretty, tasted good but was generally uninspired. The shrimp was overcooked and moreover seemed as if it had been prepared earlier in the day, not grilled to order. Excusable at some places, but not here.
Salad
But I’m saving the worst culinary offense for last, the so-called pommes frites. I’m not going to get into pissing matches with people about the difference between pommes frites and regular french fries, but suffice it to say that there are rules you follow for the luxury of charging me $5 for potatoes.

1. Use fresh potatoes
2. Slice thinly
3. offer interesting dipping sauce(s)
You get bonus points for serving them in a cone.

If you break any of the above rules, these taters better be goddamned good.

Well, they got the dipping sauces right.
"Pomme Frite"
Now, call me crazy, but doesn’t that seem like a pile of run of the mill US Food Service frozen french fries that this place has the audacity to call “pommes frites?!” I know this is only Kansas City, but this borders on shenanigans.

I was ready to love this place. The menu is pretty well thought-out and nearly every item was appealingly described. But decisions like crappy fruit salad as “fresh fruit,” frozen french fries as “pommes frites,” and white bread as “brioche” come from the top. It’s not even worth complaining about our server who told everyone she waited on that he had made “an excellent choice.” Annoying, but not uncommon at nice restaurants. Somebody is just plain cynical if they think they can get away with these other hijinks in the restaurant business.

This place isn’t going anywhere because people clearly like the food and the atmosphere. And I’m willing to believe that some other menu items are good. But if I want European style bistro fare, I’m going to Aixois a mere 8 blocks away.

Don’t take my word for it, read more:

Avenues Bistro Brookside on Urbanspoon

Yelp

Bella Napoli: 6229 Brookside Blvd.

 Posted by at 7:27 pm
Jul 142008
 

Bella Napoli is a nice little Italian market and deli located near the black hole of death also known as Brookside Boulevard and 63rd Street. Like most places in Brookside, Bella Napoli is very good, but not nearly as good as everyone tells you. But that’s just overcompensation for the Midwestern inferiority complex (“no, I swear! Waldo pizza is better than anyplace else in the entire world!”)

Bella Napoli proper is the center storefront in a row of three allied business. On the north side is an attached pizza and pasta place, with table service and a faux finish inside which gives the impression that, rather than painted drywall, you are looking at 300 year old Italian stucco. It’s called ‘La Cucini di Mama’ or something that I assume means “Mama’s Kitchen.” Is that anything like “Mama’s Family?” I love it when restaurant owners try to immortalize their mothers with half-baked business ventures. In memory of my mother I’m gonna open a restaurant featuring fried spam, corned beef hash out of a can, and syrup made of brown sugar melted in butter.

On the south side of Bella Napoli is an attached espresso bar and a few tables.

The market and deli is obviously the oldest of these three establishments, and obviously the most interesting. There is a small but nice selection of foodstuffs and beverages for sale, as well as at least 6 varieties of olives in wooden barrels, and a mouth-watering assortment of Italian meats and cheeses behind the counter.

They offer seven kinds of sandwiches. I’m not gonna list them, go look at the damn website (I’d link directly to the menu but all those fools who build restaurant websites don’t realize that they foil me by building every damn thing in flash. Really. Sure, building a site where you can’t copy and paste text or link to any subpage is a great idea. Go look at the site–any reason it should be all Flash? Just wonderin’).

These are the best kind of Italian sandwiches. A small portion of highly seasoned meat, some fresh cheese, olive oil, maybe some roasted peppers or giardinera. Contrary to popular belief an Italian sub should not be piled high with three inches of salami (joke? anyone?), much less ham or mustard or *gag* mayonnaise. Bella Napoli does a nice job with the sandwiches, these fresh mozzarella is perfect, the olive oil is good, and the meats are high quality. I enjoyed a sub with prosciutto, fresh mozz, roasted red peppers and fresh basil.

My only quibble is the bread, which lacks the definitive crust that I’ve come to expect from good Italians. Italian bread should hurt the roof of your mouth a little when you bite into it. The bread at Cupini’s is better, but their sandwiches–while also good–are a tad less authentic than Bella Napoli.

You don’t really need side dishes with your sandwich, but chips are available. Drinks can be procured at the register. Sandwiches cost between 6 and 7 dollars so you’ll get out for less than 10 bucks all told. As for seating there are half a dozen tables scattered throughout the place and a few outside.

In terms of a quick lunch, I’m not sure you can do much better in Brookside than Bella Napoli.

Read more:

Bella Napoli on Urbanspoon

Yelp