Feb 222011
 

Taco Factory set up shop early this year in the old Sweet Guy spot in the heart of Waldo near 75th and Wornall. I was honestly prepared to never set foot in this place. Everything I had heard and read about Taco Factory made it sound like a middle of the road, cheapish whitey taco place that caters to boring people and drunks.

It turns out I was completely right, but I did enjoy my meal to a reasonable degree. The interior is brightly lit and brightly colored. Like a fast food joint, you order at a counter and pick up your order when your number appears on a monitor mounted high in the dining room.

Interior

I haven’t seen the number method deployed in this manner before, and I far prefer it to obnoxious shouting via loudspeaker or food runners shouting people’s names in the dining room.

Interior

The menu is reminiscent of popular fast food chains like Chipotle or Pancheros but I think the quality and flavor are a bit superior at Taco Factory. The shredded beef was succulent and delicious, despite a distinct over-reliance on salt. And the tempura battered fish was great; I would go back just for that.

Unfortunately, there are no corn tortillas to be had, only premade flour ones. They may be softened slightly on a grill, but are a little dense and chewy by the time you take the first bite. Each taco is attractively, if inauthentically adorned with shredded lettuce, red cabbage, feta cheese crumbles, some pale tomato and a generous handful of some tepid “Mexican shredded cheese mix” – probably Monterey Jack and Cheddar.

Tacos

Don’t bother with the rice and beans. The rice is over-seasoned and has the consistency of minute-rice. The beans are too salty and seem to come from a can.

The entree salads are large and attractively presented in metal bowls with multi-colored fried tortilla strips. The finely shredded chicken was likely cooked in-house and was well-seasoned and pleasant in texture. The salad dressing has the appearance of having come from a Sysco gallon jug, but you may prefer the judicious use of salsa instead. You have the choice of hot or mild salsa but I was unable to detect any heat whatsoever in either one.

Salad

Receipt

A highly publicized Happy Hour from 3-5pm advertises $1 Bud Lite draws and $2 margaritas. The signage is sponsored by none other than Pepe Lopez tequila which, along with the bottles of Hiram Walker triple sec I saw behind the counter probably creates a hell of a cheap-ass wallop in a margarita. By the way, what’s up with happy hours that end at 5pm? Happy Hour used to be a way to compete for after-work business, hasn’t this gotten a little out of hand?

Basically, Taco Factory is a fast food restaurant well-poised to succeed in Waldo, home to some of the city’s oldest and most mediocre restaurants. It is also aptly-named, since every ingredient in the place probably came out of a factory of some sort. It will appeal to college students, people who can’t get in to Waldo Pizza, and drunk people (it’s open very late at night). I’d love to tell you more about their hours and their menu choices, but Taco Factory doesn’t have a website.

Taco Factory on Urbanspoon

Nov 272010
 

I’ve received multiple reports that this location has closed. This seems to be the case as it is no longer listed on the locations page of their website.

I had heard a little bit about this outdoor-themed family restaurant but still did not know exactly what to expect when I took the trip up north to I-35 and NE Antioch road. From the outside, Jumpin’ Catfish looks like a pure chain restaurant.

Exterior

The large, faux-log cabin structure sits back from the street just off the exit ramp, with a large wooden deck and an unremarkable light-up sign adorning the front of the cupola. I almost changed my mind and left but thought it might at least be entertaining to have a meal there after all.

The wacky interior, littered with taxidermied animals, photos of hunters and their prey, wood paneling and glassed-in displays of animals in their natural habitats create a novel if somewhat cheesy ambiance, likely to appeal to outdoorsmen and others easily persuaded by decorative extremism.

Interior

Interior

Salad bar

While Jumpin’ Catfish is a locally owned establishment with only three locations, it has all the visual appeal of a well-conceived national chain restaurant of previous decades. The carpet is a dull 90’s plaid and the booths, despite a subtle outdoor theme, would be at home in any Shoney’s or lowbrow fishing resort restaurant.

Interior

Servers here are compelled to wear fishing vests and khaki shorts which is kind of lame, but I understand the thematic aspect. Televisions are sprinkled throughout the place but thankfully have the sound turned off. Instead, a local radio station plays overhead which was only slightly better, considering everyone in the joint has to listen to the obnoxious commercials.

On to the food. The gimmick at Jumpin’ Catfish is the side dishes which are immediately brought to your table in medium sized bowls–even before your drink order is taken: freshly fried hushpuppies, creamy chopped cole slaw and white beans with ham. Presumably diners should jump right in and start eating but I would have preferred the sides to come out with my entree. I guess it was nice to have something to much on right away.

side dishes

The menu is huge, offering a variety of catfish preparations, including cajun, creamy parmesan and lemon pepper treatments. You can also order boiled shrimp, fried chicken, fried oysters and a number of game selections like quail and elk steaks. The lunch menu includes smaller portions most items. Prices vary, but you can count on spending about 9 bucks for your food.

So how is the food? Pretty bad actually. My cajun-style catfish was overcooked, lending it a rubbery consistency. Whatever spice blend they used was burnt and tasted that way. The art of “blackening” is not a technique that can be applied to all spice mixtures and this was a major failure. The fried catfish was not overcooked but was exceedingly bland and very, very greasy.

Cajun catfish

Fried catfish

Speaking of bland the side dishes have no business being this place’s claim to fame. I was excited for the white beans with ham but found the dish had virtually no seasoning. The bowl contained about 4 cubes of deli-style ham, a choice that caused virtually no ham flavor to be imparted to the beans. A liberal application of salt and pepper at the table improved the dish dramatically. The hush puppies were dense and dry, even right out of the fryer. They also had an odd, bitter aftertaste which may have been the leavening agents or old cooking oil. The cole slaw was a very good, classic variety: cold, tangy, creamy and a little sweet.

The potato wedges are probably the best option for a side dish, despite the fact that they come without salt or any seasoning. The mashed potatoes are seemingly a mixture of real taters and reconstituted flakes. Both flavors were present and that’s the only conclusion I can reach about them.

Really the best part of the visit was the service, about which I have zero complaints. Our server checked on us at the appropriate times, delivered quick and copious refills, got the check out in a timely fashion and generally did her job well.

I sort of understand the appeal of this place for the many people who have nothing in common with me. But I’ll take good food over decor any day.

Jumpin Catfish on Urbanspoon

Sep 192010
 

LC’s closed in early 2011 and the building is for sale.

Exterior

After several years in Kansas City, the northland is still pretty much a mystery to me. I am trying to get my head wrapped around it because, despite what many folks say, there are some good-looking lunch spots up there. Back in the early days of this blog, I wrote a post about burgers which is where I first heard about LC’s (thanks Jason, ShawnF and whoever else!). There are actually two locations, an original spot on NW Prairie View road that has indoor seating and this place which is strictly a drive-through with a little outdoor seating.

Exterior

After eating a meal there, I’m tempted to recommend that you forego the outdoor eating experience. Even on a nice day, the picnic tables are uncomfortable and the view is depressing. Sure you can feel superior by eating at a locally owned joint while looking down your nose at people at the Sonic next door, but the bustle of North Oak Trafficway has little to recommend it.

I suspect that this building started life as a Checkers or Rally’s if you can recall those pseudo-retro fast food burger joints that proliferated in the early 1990s. As a result the physical experience of LC’s is entirely without charm. You order your food from a window that faces the street, and a somewhat grumpy cashier takes your money and gives you a number. I waited at least 15 minutes to get burgers and tots for two people. Your number gets announced at the side window facing the picnic tables where you go to pick up your paper bag. If you want ketchup, ask the dude at the window for some packets.

Ketchup packets are not my favorite way to enjoy a condiment that already on the threshhold of disgust for me. There’s nothing like being hungry and trying to eat a burger and fries from a paper sack and having to open literally ten packets by the time you finish. Put a goddamn squeeze bottle up at the window or something, but leave the packets to Mickey D’s.

Speaking of which, I found the whole experience very reminiscent of fast food–the paper bag, the styrofoam containers, little baggies for the onion rings and even the food itself which, while tasting eons better than fast food, did have its appearance.

Burgers and sides

If you can keep your napkins and paper bags from blowing away in the wind, you might get around to tasting your food which is pretty good. I liked the burger quite a bit- it was greasy, salty and came on a lightly toasted bun with pre-applied condiments and grilled onions.

Under the hood

Both the tater tots and onion rings did not disappoint but aren’t among the best you will have. Tater tots pretty much taste the same wherever you go, unless someone really screws up the frying or dumps cheese on them or something.

I guess the overall impression I got from this LC’s was that it is comparable to a high-quality fast food place. I don’t want to eat here very often, mostly because the location doesn’t work for me and the eating situation is a little uncomfortable, but also because it seems like food you should feel guilty about consuming.

LC's Hamburgers, Etc on Urbanspoon

Apr 092010
 

Cafe Augusta closed in late 2011

I have been to Cafe Augusta probably half an dozen times since it opened last summer. Why haven’t I posted about it? Well, there isn’t a ton to say really. The JoCo populace seems genuinely happy with this moderately classy little cafe and its selection of sandwiches, soup, salads and European-inspired entrees. When it opened it was often crowded at noon, but I’ve noticed lately that business has dropped off a tad. Let’s just call that the Ferruzza bubble. The Pitch’s reputable critic gave it a somewhat positive review that had me there for lunch the same week. Perhaps some of the luster has worn off.

I was moderately pleased with my Cobb Salad on that first visit, though surprised to see that the $8.95 dish did not come with chicken, as most Cobbs do. While the typical bacon, blue cheese, tomato, avocado, etc. came standard, chicken would have been a $3 upcharge, bringing the total to a fairly hefty $11.95, not including beverage or tip. If I’m ordering from a counter, I expect a little more for my money, or just slightly lower prices. Also the avocado was underripe.

While I had become accustomed to ordering at the counter and having my food delivered, my most recent visit saw the unexpected development of table service. This was a nice touch and I found the server to be quite friendly and well-trained. I tried the half sandwich and soup combo ($8.50) with a currry squash soup that was attractively presented.

Cafe Augusta

The server had described the soup as “not spicy” but it was actually fairly hot. This was a-ok by me, but other may have been miffed at the false advertising. The smoked turkey and brie sandwich was tasty, though I grow very tired of the ubiquity of ciabatta bread. A crusty baguette would have been perfect. The combo is a decent value for the money, though I find it does not hold up favorably portion or taste-wise against the similar offering at 75 Cafe.

Folks rave about the unconventional take on the tuna melt at Cafe Augusta. It arrives open faced on four smallish slices of multigrain bread.

Tuna Melt

The flavor of fresh ginger is prevalent in the tuna mixture, which also contained grapes and nuts. Overall I liked the sandwich but the sweetness and overabundance of grapes kind of overwhelmed the inherent flavor of the tuna fish. The unusual presentation made it easy to eat though the bread was a little soggy on the bottom. This leads me to believe that the tuna melt is broiled in the oven rather than grilled.

The house dressing on their salads is superb, though the lettuce looked a little past its prime on one of my visits.

The atmosphere is somewhat nicer than 75 and many other local joints. While the European landscape prints did little for my aesthetic sensibilities, I appreciated nice touches like the oversized, interestingly shaped white china and sprigs of fresh herbs in small vases on the tables. The music is tasteful and runs toward classical (far superior to the “smooth jazz” blaring at 75 Cafe).

Cafe Augusta

There is certainly more to the menu than I have discussed. For instance Augusta offers German food on Mondays and a series of dinner specials throughout the week. In the end, Cafe Augusta is not bad, but certainly not my first choice for lunch in an area that actually features some very good lunch spots. The decor and menu seem perfect for business lunches or any other sort of semi-upscale meal in which you don’t want to fret about the personal tastes of the attendees.

Cafe Augusta on Urbanspoon

Mar 112010
 

The State of Kansas seized the assets of Paleteria Chihuahua in March 2011 due to non-payment of taxes. Read more ยป (PDF)

This is a cool little place, one that I expect to become a tad more popular as the warmer weather rolls in.

La Chihuahua

Up at 77th and Quivira in Shawnee lies a fairly sizable strip mall that houses several Mexican-oriented businesses. If memory serves, there is Fronteras Restaurant, a meat market (carniceria), a place where you wire money to/from Mexico, and this little tucked away ice cream and lunch spot called La Chihuahua. It is also known as “Paleteria Chihuahua” due to its focus on frozen fruit bars known as paletas. A quick Web search indicates that there is another location in KCK which I have never visited.

But I wouldn’t be writing about La Chihuahua if it wasn’t also a genuine lunch spot. A big thanks to JH and Teague for mentioning it on the Suggestions post and pointing out the presence of darn good Mexican food in addition to frozen desserts.

La Chihuahua is a far cry from divey, semi-sanitary holes in the wall you may be familiar with among the better taco joints. The place is well-lit, colorful and extremely clean.

La Chihuahua

A large menu board behind the register features photos of many of their menu items, but the real lunch action appears in the menus on each table. There you will see offerings like tacos, burritos, menudo, tamales, flautas, soups, and even shrimp cocktail.

La Chihuahua

La Chihuahua

The torta (a Mexican sandwich in simplistic terms) is featured pretty prominently. You can get your choice of meats on a regular torta for $6.50 or opt for one of the specialties for $7.50. I couldn’t pass up El Cubano which promised four kinds of meat — carne asada, carnitas, pastor, and ham (jamon) topped with avocado, tomato and shredded lettuce. It came out looking mighty tasty.

La Chihuahua

But there was one ingredient I hadn’t anticipated: Mayonnaise.

NNooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooO!

La Chihuahua

After some hyperventilating and a few calming, psychological excercises, I scraped most of it off with one of those weird, puffed corn thingies on my plate and got on with my lunch.

Surprisingly, El Cubano doesn’t taste like a heart attack. I have never been a fan of tortas; I far prefer corn tortillas as a Mexican meat delivery system. But this bread was soft, with a decent crust and did not become overly mushy like other tortas I’ve had. This is a large sandwich and should satisfies the piggiest appetites among us without making you feel like dying.

Despite the torta-focus, I really like the tacos at La Chihuahua. You can get any number of meat preparations: carne asada (grilled steak), al pastor (marinated pork), barbacoa (slow-cooked beef), pollo (chicken), buche (apparently pig’s esophagus?), lengua (tongue), deshebrada (shredded beef) and carnitas (slow-cooked pork in lard). My favorite was the deshebrada which is a stringy, pot-roast-like style of beef–highly flavorful and moist. I found the asada somewhat gristly in parts but it was not tough and had a nice, salty flavor.

La Chihuahua

As you can see, the tacos are small and come served on steamed corn tortillas with a topping of finely chopped cabbage, scallions, white onion and cilantro. A portion of four will set you back $6. These are not life-changing tacos but quite delicious nonetheless. It is highly doubtful you can do any better in the area.

I did sample one of their aguas fresca–basically an uncarbonated fruit or otherwise flavored drink. Flavors include pineapple, lime, tamarind, mango, horchata (rice) and strawberry, which I sampled and enjoyed on one visit.

Customers of La Chihuahua, as you might expect are largely Mexican but not exclusively so. They don’t do a high volume business even at the height of the lunch hour. Order your food at the counter and they will bring it out to you at your table. Don’t expect the staff to know much English. There are a couple of women who understand it well and a couple who don’t. Nonetheless, it’s not rocket science to order your lunch; you are all adults here.

I am very glad that AWESOME DLC TIPSTERS turned me on to La Chihuahua. I look forward to trying more items on the menu and have utmost confidence that they will be well-prepared and tasty.

Paleteria Chihuahua on Urbanspoon

Dec 042009
 

Red Bench has closed and is now Great Day Cafe.

This pleasant little lunch spot occupies the space that recently housed the popular Farm to Market Cafe in downtown Overland Park which I reviewed two years ago ago on this blog. Earlier this summer, signs at the Cafe indicated that the owners were retiring and selling the business. Before long, the place had received a slight makeover and reopened with a very similar menu and new ownership.

Red Bench Cafe

It kept the name “Farm to Market” all summer and the menu was more or less intact but differences were immediately apparent. For starters, the produce in the garden salads was superb: homegrown lettuces, cherry tomatoes and cucumbers created a simple yet superb example of how fresh ingredients can transform mundane items into things of beauty.

Farm to Market Cafe

The sandwiches remained serviceable, with notable improvement in the quality of deli meat used. They continued to use Farm to Market Bread which makes no small amount of difference compared to mass produced product available other places.

Red Bench Cafe

Several weeks ago, the restaurant changed again, dubbing itself “Red Bench Cafe.” I’m not sure, but the staff seems to have changed somewhat as well. What was previously seemingly an entirely woman-run operation seems to have a gentleman at the helm now who hovers behind the counter and out in the dining room crunching numbers on a laptop. A few of the decorative changes have been scaled back, such as the flimsy cheesecloth that lined the walls after its first change.

Currently Red Bench is a fairly good quality lunch spot offering a small breakfast menu in addition to a selection of sandwiches, soups and salads. They have a decent lentil soup every day in addition to a rotating soup. I had the lentil soup and was surprised to see that it contained whole lentils in a gentle, slightly sweet broth. I am used to lentil soups being blended to created a thicker texture. It was good, but I eventually tired of the mouthfuls of whole lentils.

Red Bench Cafe

The minestrone soup was a considerably greater success with hearty, rich tomato broth, pasta and kidney beans. Unfortunately both soups were not hot enough when delivered to me. To me, this is a relatively serious infraction. Yes, soup can be heated up with little adverse effect, but holding foodstuffs at a lukewarm temperature is conducive to bacterial growth which can cause foodborne illness. I’m not a crackpot, I just take food safety very seriously. Let’s hope these folks start getting their soups nice and hot before serving them to people in the future.

Red Bench Cafe

You can get a whole sandwich or a soup/salad and half sandwich combo which is much the same as what Farm to Market offered. There is a Black Forest Ham, Turkey Havarti and an interesting chicken breast with artichoke sauce sandwich. All are passably good but won’t blow your mind. They are sandwiches after all. I have some slight concerns about the prices here. For almost $10 I got half a grilled ham sandwich and a cup of soup.

Red Bench Cafe

I’m not convinced that this is a good deal, considering that even my relatively modest appetite was barely sated after eating it.

Nonetheless I am firmly convinced that Red Bench Cafe is an improvement over its previous incarnation as Farm to Market Cafe which I had become increasingly disappointed in up until its sale. I believe that the ingredients are now of higher quality and that there is more thought put into preparation. I am honestly not sure what has happened to this place in the last 6 months in terms of ownership, but these folks are making a strong effort to surpass the effort made by Farm to Market. Downtown OP needs a decent sandwich/soup spot and right now they have it.

Red Bench Cafe on Urbanspoon

Oct 212009
 

FAT CITY REPORTS THAT MATCHSTICK HAS CLOSED AS OF DEC.3

The circumstances surrounding my visit to Matchstick BBQ are not ideal for blog posting, but I’m going to chime in anyway. You see, I swung by after a lengthy physical examination at KU Med for which I had to fast. I ate nothing all day until about 12:30 when I staggered into Matchstick looking for a big sloppy pulled pork sandwich and some fries.

This dining area is very small but very pleasant, holding six tables, three booths as well as some seating at a small bar.

matchstick_bar

The place is punctuated by some interesting items of decor such as a scythe, an old wooden tabletop pinball game, the ubiquitous cow skull and an apparently real English telephone booth. And gentlemen, while you pee, you can consider what is either genuine advertisement or a questionable piece of fine art.

matchstick_bathroomThis is a sit-down joint, which wasn’t immediately clear when I entered. The waitress greeted me and told me to have a seat. She was in the middle of taking orders from another table and didn’t get me a menu for about 10 minutes.

Matchstick is clearly much more than a simple BBQ place. The menu contains a variety of meat-tastic offerings such as the ‘Jamestown Hero:’

Pulled Pork and smoked bacon topped with our famous creamy and crispy cole slaw on a bun. $6.99

Here’s a pic of the Jamestown hero from their facebook page.

When my server finally got to me I opted for the very reasonable lunch special: pulled pork and side for 5.99. It’s hard to beat that at a BBQ spot. Interestingly the waitress offered me a choice of bread: hoagie roll, bun or texas toast. I opted for the texas toast since it’s the closest thing I can think of to plain white bread which is my preference. I got some fries with it, but could have opted for beans, potato salad, cole slaw or cheesy corn bake. The waitress forgot to put the order in to the kitchen for a few more minutes so this whole thing took a little longer than it should have, especially since I was one of two tables by the time I got my food.

But that’s where the complaints stop. The sandwich came out looking pretty good.

matchstick_plate

The texas toast was buttered and grilled which I should have expected. I found it to be a little too greasy but still pleasant. As you can see this pork is pretty finely shredded which is not my normal preference, but this was very tasty. It had a distinctly mild smoke flavor which undoubtedly comes from their advertised use of fruit woods (as opposed to hickory which is quite a bit more pungent.)

But I would eat shoe leather if it came with Matchstick’s sauce.

The sauce does not have that distinctive twang of Gates but it a bit spicier. The heat dances around your mouth like tiny, delicious angels of flavorocity. It has sweetness, but without the cloying syrupyness that plagues others. Maybe it was just my extreme hunger, but I was ready to declare it my favorite sauce in the city.

Alright virgins obsessive barbecue enthusiasts, this is where you proceed to berate the shit out of me.

I have only been to Matchstick once and there is more than enough to bring me back. Breakfast for starters, looks very promising, as do the sandwiches. They also have onion rings for $5.99 so they must be the best damn rings in town.

It bears mentioning that there are no ribs here (at least not that I could find on the menu), just beef, ham, turkey, sausage and pulled pork. They are also without a liquor license for the moment; a full bar should be in place by Halloween. 39th street is not known for its barbecue, so I think this place fills a niche. Once they get booze and can stay open late (they are promising live entertainment) I can see this becoming a cozy little hangout. Let’s just hope, with all the restaurant competition and the poor economy, that it doesn’t get lost in the shuffle.

Matchstick BBQ 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

May 142009
 

This place is insane.

Waid's

For people who like odd experiences, who like to challenge their notions of comfort, for those who can’t abide the ubiquity of tin ceilings, exposed brick and conical glass lampshades, this place is for you. The strangeness here is rivaled only be the old Nichols Lunch. And as with Nichols, just don’t expect to eat well.

Walking into Waid’s I found myself the object of dozens of octogenarian eyes and suddenly wondered if I had mistakenly walked into the dining room of a cheap retirement home. What in the hell was this place? It was quiet, dark and entirely devoid of any redeeming physical characteristic. I’m sure Waid’s used to be cute and retro, but they didn’t have the good sense to pursue a nostalgic vibe. Indeed the 1980s makeover is all too apparent, made more creepy by all of the seemingly unintentionally depressing details: hotel room art, drop ceilings, industrial carpeting, and the blandest of American diner menus.

If the Prairie Village Waid’s was a movie, David Lynch and John Waters would co-direct. There was the guy coughing and hacking up phlegm, three ladies going over every detail of their check to make sure they hadn’t been swindled and a certifiably crazy woman with papers and change all over her table.

My waitress had the sort of shocking cheeriness reserved for overprescribed mental patients and Maharishi disciples. I’m pegging her for the former. She had this odd way of speaking with incredible gleefulness and vigor while never really making eye contact. As I have implied, the clientele was almost entirely senior citizen–not a bad thing in and of itself, but I did feel odd, almost like an interloper into a world in which I did not belong.

Naturally Waid’s is not the sort of place where one expects great food. Ordering a salad never entered my mind, though they have several on the menu. I took forever deciding on my order because I didn’t want something gross. This was a futile pursuit. I can’t begin to tell you what to order here. You’re on your own.

When asked about the soup of the day, our server told us it was steak soup. “But it’s different than it used to be,” she said, “we used to make it with hamburger and now we use…you know, steak.” I did not order the soup.

I’m sure breakfast is passable at Waid’s, it’s not hard to make eggs, bacon and toast after all. Lunch is a different affair, presenting you with possibilities like chili dogs, tuna melts, fried cod, reubens and burgers. I wound up ordering the chicken fried steak sandwich for god knows what reason. Life is too short to eat one more substandard reuben. My sandwich came to me aptly presented but utterly bland and kind of dry since I opted not to use the cup of mayo they provided.

Mayo

Despite a decent appearance my sandwich tasted like nothing and was cooked to death. The french fries, however, were woefully undercooked.

Chicken fried steak

You know the restaurant that you always have to take your grandma to when you swoop into town for a once a year Sunday lunch to stave off the crippling guilt of not really finding her that interesting? Waid’s is that restaurant. It’s crazy but a lot of older people have a singular ability to overlook the sheer creepiness of a place in favor of comfort and familiarity. They know the waitress, the know what they like to order, they know how much it will cost. They could be eating in a dungeon for all they care.

I, on the other hand couldn’t help but notice the overwhelming sense of drabness: scratched faux-stained glass, ancient institutional carpeting, water-stained ceilings and water glasses that had been through the dishwasher about 800 times too many.

Waid's

Waid’s is a local chain and one that used to be fairly prevalent in the metro area as I understand it. From what I can tell, there are only 2 current locations: Prairie Village and South KC (and maybe Lee’s Summit?). I’m sure a lot of folks who frequent this place have done so for a very long time and don’t really pay much attention to the details anymore. I am not qualified (or old) enough to know if it has become worse over the years. In its present state, it is just another American casual restaurant in the vein of Big Boy or Denny’s. Thus Waid’s is an imitation of something that had no business being imitated.

Waid's Restaurant 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.

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