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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Aixois: 251 E. 55th Street

 Posted by at 10:04 pm
Mar 242008
 

This is a pretty high profile joint, located in the Crestwood shops at 55th and Brookside Blvd. I think that most people who live in KC proper know about Aixois, or have been there a time or two because its reputation is pretty airtight. Well, it’s a well-deserved reputation because even though the clientele and the atmosphere don’t do much for me, I keep going back.

The menu is a nice assortment of classically french entrees, salads, soups, sandwiches and desserts with several contemporary American flavors for good measure. You can get a traditional french meal of mussels and pomme frittes (that’s french fries for you simple folk) which is just about the prefect lunch, assuming you have nowhere to be. It’s nice to linger a while with some company and one more glass of wine than is advisable. I’m also a huge fan of the trout, well-priced at $12 and the steak dishes are always first rate. Because of its Frenchtacular nature, there is always something interesting like frog legs or veal liver for the more adventurous diners. Basically everything I’ve had there has been well-prepared, simple in flavor and nicely presented. They have specials every day to complement the regular menu, so there is a lot of choice.

For lunch there are plenty of less expensive options–a few sandwiches, a couple good salads as well as a soup of the day. The cheese plate pretty much rules. It is not as skimpy as those at other restaurants and never fails to make me slap my palm on the table with delight. Salad and a cheese plate = tasty lunch.

The service borders on over-attentive. The waitstaff really milks the whole fake-friendliness schtick, and the rich brookside geezers eat it up with a spoon. Not my scene but they butt out when they need to. The wine list is extensive and the servers know their stuff. By the glass is not cheap (most glasses are $9 or so) but generally they have a house bottle for $20.

Aixois has 2 dining rooms, one in the front and one in the back. The one in the front has a more intimate feel while the main room is a little noisier. It seems like they seat the old people in the front and the families with kids in the main room. Seriously, Aixois is chock full of old people. But strangely it is also kid-friendly and I always see families in there. Normally I far prefer old people over children, but the front dining room is a little stuffy for my taste. Best of all, there is a sizable outdoor patio that offers a view of sweaty yuppies and old folks puffing along the trolley track trail.

So if you want to reward yourself for a job well-done or whatever and are ready to spend some cash, Aixois is not to be missed. I can attest to the fact that the more you go, the more you like it. And the dude who owns it is actually French which has to count for something.


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Jan 012008
 

Believe me, I really want to dislike this place. I really do. No it’s not the best sandwich you will ever eat, but it’s a really solid lunch spot with super friendly staff and a casual coffee shop atmosphere. In the summer they have a great little patio and proximity to the park. The lunch menu is small but covers all your bases: deli sandwiches, a selection of salads, a couple of homemade soups, desserts, a full run of espresso drinks and so forth.

Sometimes you just want a sandwich. No bullshit like paninis or subs or foccacia bread. And never, ever “wraps.” Talk about the worst trend in the world. I don’t think KC has received the message that wraps went out in 1999. Anyway I want some good meat, some good bread, some good cheese, lettuce, tomato and the condiment of your choice. Somehow Subway can’t manage to create bread without it being full of air or overly seasoned or just plain wrong. And I’m sure they put artificial aromas in the stuff to fill the failing mall food court with the fictitious odor of baking bread a la Cinnabon or whatever that place is that sells cinnamon rolls the size of basketballs. And people wonder why we’re fat. Well personally my weight is the result of absolutely zero excercise, but I’ve made peace with that.

Anyway Farm to Market is known for their bread which appears in grocery stores all over the metro. While not the best bread around, it is generally the best bread you can get at the local store rather than visiting a bakery itself. They offer the option to grill any sandwich which is great, but generally I pass because the bread is good in its original state.

The staff is quite friendly and helpful, almost to a creepy degree. They have this smiley, almost cultish kind of service ethic. Generally I respect gruffness and efficiency more, but far be it from me to complain. All was explained when I noticed some books for sale in the front window, written by a co-owner of the business. Basically these books look like religious psycho-babble about how running a business brings you closer to God. The author is trying to establish herself as some kind of expert in “faith formation” whatever that is. It seems like a term developed to keep well-educated people interested in church.

Normally out of principle I shirk businesses that espouse overly religious and/or right wing ideals, such as Hobby Lobby, Coors brewing or Chick Fil-A, Forgive my rant here, but we need to realize that decisions we make — like eating lunch — have implications beyond our taste buds. If I go into a restaurant and see a photo of the owner with his arm around Ronald Reagan, I’m gonna think twice about going back. You do what you want. Farm to Market is an exception for the time being. As far as I can tell, my occasional sandwich isn’t supporting an agenda of gay-bashing, religious intolerance or woman-hating. Plus it’s a local business with limited ability to support offending organizations with oversized political contributions.

So I’ll continue to revisit F to M cafe, mostly because I had a cup of sweet potato bisque that was really damn good and I want more. Prices are relatively good–soup and half sandwich for 7.95. With a drink you’ll easily spend 10 bucks which is sort of my unofficial cutoff for a reasonable lunch these days.

It’s downtown Overland Park location is pretty charming. I really like downtown OP as a physical environs and was surprised to see as many empty storefronts as there are. I suppose most of the money and development has moved to the southern end of the county, leaving some of these first suburbs to struggle a little more. A taste of their own historical medicine I suppose. The business that are on that stretch of Santa Fe seem to be doing well, however, and the street is far from deserted in the midday. Mostly retirees and joco homemakers, from the looks of it, but I have seen the occasional lunch break dude eating at F to M. Anyhow, even a heathen like me gives this place a thumbs-up. Until I can find a good reason to actually hate it. Happy eating!

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