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
 

190

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.

182

494

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.

206

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

Jun 292011
 

I made a weekend jaunt out to Philos Grill recently with high hopes. The admittedly scant information I dug up about it indicated that this place dished out tasty, Greek-inspired diner food from a counter. Located on the city’s east side on the once-great thoroughfare of Truman Road, I expected an old school joint and I got it.

Exterior

The place is a classic urban pit stop, featuring a huge menu and a confoundingly schizophrenic interior.

Interior

Interior

The walls are covered with a combination of handwritten signs, promotional materials straight from food vendors, cheap European tchotkes, and faux nostalgic elements including a huge mural featuring Marilyn Monroe, James Dean, Humphrey Bogart and a crazed Elvis in a sort of re-imagining of Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks.

Interior

Mural

Adjacent to the counter is a small area with condiments, a small tabletop ice machine and the cheapest plastic utensils known to humankind. There is no beverage fountain, just a cooler of Coca-Cola and a few random off-brand sodas. There are also several arcade games, at least one of which was out of order on my visit.

The gentleman at the counter, who I can only assume was the owner, was a surly sort, not one to make small talk or sell you on anything from the extensive menu. And boy what a menu. It offers everything you’d expect like gyros, Greek salads, burgers, and chicken wings but also strays into dubious territory with offerings like spaghetti, steak dinners and pulled pork. My take on Philos Grill is that the owner falls for every new product that his Sysco sales rep pitches to him. I saw slick posters for a ton of menu items that are likely purchased already made, frozen, bagged or cryo-vacced, and heated up to order. There is no way the Grumpy Greek is smoking meat or aging steaks. To me, this was a warning sign that I was going to get mass-produced, premade food.

So I ordered a gyro, seeing the skewered Kronos gyros meat cone behind the counter. Some salad, some hummus rounded out the meal. Once it arrived, delivered after a perplexing 15 or 20 minutes in flimsy styrofoam containers I was admittedly disappointed. I recognized not just the meat, but the pita as being a packaged, frozen product. I’ll bet the tzatziki sauce came from a jar too. The Greek salad was comprised of iceberg lettuce (perhaps prewashed, from a bag) topped with a mushy stuffed grape leaf, a couple of black olives and some onions and stuff. The gyros and the salads were both dusted with smoked paprika, a bitter and offputting element to say the least. The paprika, mixed with the brownish dressing created the appearance of eating a salad well-past its prime, despite the fact that the lettuce was sufficiently crunchy and fresh-tasting.

Greek salad

Gyros

The restaurant was also pretty dirty, not something I normally like to complain about. But the owner had at least two guys there on the payroll to buss tables and stock the condiment area. The floor and half the tables in the joint had food detritus on them. A couple of ancient televisions rounded out the ambiance, playing an infomercial through a staticky haze.

Philos Grill is old-school for sure, but it represents a class of restaurant that we would just as soon forget. There is ample opportunity for a reasonably priced counter service diner in this neighborhood, and Philos may in fact be doing very well, but they can do a lot better.

Philos Grill on Urbanspoon

Jerry’s Cafe: 1209 West 103rd St.

 Posted by at 2:24 am
Feb 242011
 

I consider it a personal failure never to have visited Jasper’s or its lowbrow sister, Marco Polo down at 103rd and State Line road. This is a part of town with a number of nearby office buildings, medical facilities and a major metropolitan highway. Yet lunch options are a little thinner than one would expect. Certainly Marco Polo, Gates, Fritz’s Sausage and Guadalajara come to mind, but little else beside chains and a few nondescript sports grills and Chinese places serve to sate the presumed hordes of corporate lunchers.

So I set my sites on lunch at Marco Polo, but was quickly distracted by a sign for Jerry’s Cafe virtually next door. My lunch plans quickly changed.

Exterior

Charles Ferruzza wrote a piece for the Pitch back in November about this plain little diner owned by the former proprietor of the Woodswether Cafe, a seriously interesting joint with great diner food. It had almost slipped my mind, despite being thrilled that Jerry had found another culinary outlet.

The dining area is small, plain and pretty boring except for a stupefying Pulp Fiction-themed mural along one wall which depicts Jules and Vincent holding a burger and fries, respectively. It’s been long enough since I’ve seen the film that I can’t recall of this is a reference to a specific scene or just a curious general homage.

Interior

Two signboards rest in the front window advertising daily specials. The specials were identical on each of my visits so I suspect they are more or less permanent options.

Specials

As you can see, prices are pretty reasonable, especially considering the size of the portions. I ate a reuben ($6.99) that was so a large and sloppy that I had a hard time finishing it. I did eat it all, ultimately, instead opting to leave quite a few fries on my plate. While hand cut and freshly fried they were entirely too waxy, dense and limp for my tastes. I suspect they were not fried twice, which can be fine as my friends at the Snak Shack tell me, but it requires a specific cooking method. At any rate, the fries at Jerry’s were disappointing.

Frozen fries are so prevalent because good, hand-cut french fries are not easy to prepare. As more and more restaurants serve the real deal we are bound to encounter some less than stellar versions of the glorious fried potato.

Reuben and fries

On my next visit I ordered onion rings which were great, although I couldn’t tell if they were hand-dipped or not. Jerry uses the cracker-style coating which I normally don’t prefer but these were tasty rings.

Oh did I mention I had a Chicago style hot dog? Hell yeah, it’s damn near authentic and may be the best one in town. Someone tell KC Napkins guy!

Chicago dog

This dog is no shrinking violet, it’s of sufficient size to make you blush, extending an inch or so from either end of the bun. It’s an all beef Vienna dog with most of the requisite toppings: neon green relish, tomato slices, sport peppers, onions and mustard. The only thing missing was the celery salt which I often forego anyway.

Chicago dog

Before my dog came out, Jerry visited my table to make sure I knew how hot the sport peppers were. Yes, I know, I assured him. Later as I was eating, he came back out to make sure I was doing ok with the sport peppers and all. I take it he gets a lot of diners who don’t like spicy food. At any rate, Jerry seemed like a nice guy and the hot dog was awesome — worth every penny of the $3.99 it set me back.

While Ferruzza had some mild complaints about the service and the table set-up, I experienced no such foibles. My servers were all very quick to the table and quick to deliver the check. Refills came without prompting. They do use flimsy napkins which is silly considering how sloppy the food can be. Make sure you get some extra ones for your meal. Also the kitchen is fast enough that you could get out of there in a half hour if you time it right.

In summary, get yourself to Jerry’s for breakfast or lunch. The joint is open Tuesday – Sunday until 3pm. No dinner here. The food is miles beyond what you will get at your average diner anywhere in the KC metro. Ignore the strip mall and enjoy your meal.

Jerry’s Cafe
1209 W. 103rd (at State Line, southeast corner)
Tues-Sunday: 6am-3pm

Jerry's Cafe on Urbanspoon

Cozy’s Cafe: 6740 W. 75th St

 Posted by at 3:45 am
Feb 162010
 

Cozy’s is an interesting little joint that recently set up shop on 75th near Metcalf across from Fritz’s Chili.

Cozy's Cafe

While the signage on the building itself is prominent, there is nothing by the street to indicate a restaurant is there, so it may be easy to miss unless you happen to notice it. Look for the Roth Jeweler sign; Cozy’s is right next door. The most recent inhabitant of the building was a Kwik-E-Mart type of place but I think it lay vacant a little while before Cozy’s moved in.

To get the complaints out of the way, the atmosphere is probably the worst part of this place. It is certainly new and clean-looking, as it has undoubtedly been significantly rehabbed. But newness works against the implied…uh, coziness of the joint. Institutional carpeting, drop ceilings and generic restaurant furniture create an environment that feels like lunching in the lobby of a doctor’s office.

Cozy's Cafe

Of course, your doctor doesn’t have food like this. While I cannot vouch for everything on the menu, I will say that the specials are often pretty intriguing. I think the owner puts a lot of care into them since there are several every day and everything I’ve had has been good. The lasagna I sampled on my last visit was a huge slab of the stuff, filled with creamy ricotta and spinach. It was obviously homemade and very delicious. This dish wasn’t dressed up with fancy ingredients, rather it was a very fine take on a traditional dish.

Lasagna

Other specials that day included ravioli with sausage, pork kebabs, and a tuna salad sandwich. So it is clear that Cozy’s is not your typical greasy spoon. The culinary repertoire here is pretty varied, though the menu itself is not vast in size.

There are standards like ham and cheese sandwiches and hamburgers ($2.39 for a single) but also offerings with a variety of culinary influences. You can order several different panini grilled sandwiches ($5.49-7.69) including a muffaletta, essentially an sub of Italian meats and olive tapenade. Being the ever health-conscious consumer, I have not tried it, but plan to do so at some point. I have eaten the so-called “European Sandwich” which consists of cheese, butter, tomato, basil and honey. Yeah, that’s not very healthy either, is it? But I enjoyed it as a change of pace from ubiquitous meat pockets, and a vegetarian one at that.

Cozy's Cafe

That soup you see above is a homemade chicken, rice and vegetable soup. The owner instructed me to use salt since she does not like to over-season her soups. I can’t tell you what a rare and delightful trait this is. At a more highbrow place, I would feel differently, but at Cozy’s I preferred the light touch. And yes, I did put a pinch of salt in the soup.

Cozy’s makes a solid burger too, although the Sysco frozen fries aren’t doing them any favors.

Cozy's Cafe

This food is simple but well-prepared. It may not win any culinary awards but I’ll wager you will never be disappointed with what you order.

The place appears to be popular with older folks who admittedly are over-represented in this part of the county. Typically the owner waits tables and otherwise runs the show in the front of the house. She is quite friendly and good with people. She recognized me from a previous visit, even remembering the day of the week I was there. Those are what one calls “people-skills.” One time a guy sitting behind me didn’t eat all of his soup and she practically insisted on bringing him a salad instead (which he insistently declined). Nonetheless little touches like these build loyal customers.

Strangely enough, Cozy’s has a jukebox over in the corner. I haven’t perused its offerings but once every 10 minutes or so it springs to life with a country tune or so. I heard “The Ballad of Jed Clampett” there one time, followed by someone I can only assume was Michael Buble. On my last visit, the juke was on continuously which vastly improved the sedate ambiance. I hope they keep it up.

Cozy’s fills a niche in this corner of Overland Park as an affordable lunch spot (though it is open for all 3 meals), with food that isn’t boring and nice people running the show. I love how it feels like a neighborhood joint in one of the most offputtingly suburban intersections in the metropolitan area.

Learn more:

Charles Ferruzza reviews Cozy’s in the Pitch

Cozy's Cafe 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

Jul 182008
 


It’s getting to the point where I am seriously considering finding an apartment somewhere along this delectable strip of Merriam Lane. Fortunately, I think I’ve been to nearly every restaurant this humble culinary hotspot has to offer.

The latest installment was brought to my attention by lunch enthusiast and blog commenter Hazrdus last week. I’d noticed the cute little diner establishment on previous trips but kept forgetting about it because my mind was on the restaurant at hand. Thanks to Mr. Hazrdus however, I made a trip and thoroughly enjoyed it.

As the name promises, The Burger Joint features delectable hamburgers at a good price with few frills. You can get a single or a double, cheese or no cheese, bacon or whatever you want (as long as it’s not a vegetable).

I ordered a single (3.50), since I’m trying to preserve my dainty figure. Also I saw a double coming out of the kitchen as i sat down, and there was no way that thing was going anywhere near my colon.

Anyhow, the single turned out to be quite substantial, easily 1/2 lb or more. The patty was about 3/4 inch thick, that magical dreamspace between thick and thin. It was also perfectly flat. I do not like “humps” in my burgers or burgers the size and shape of tennis balls. It leads to a condiment/toppings problem that I just cannot abide.

Bad toppings situation

The menu at the burger joint promises that they use only black angus, Iowa beef that is never frozen. In seeming confirmation of this I saw a cook in the back forming patties from a fresh 20lb log of delicious beef wrapped in clear plastic. No Sysco frozen patties here folks.

The burger tastes very good. I don’t think they season their meat at all which I appreciate. A simple application of iceberg lettuce (not shredded!) American (hail freedom!) cheese, and a thick slab of white onion (a la Winstead’s) rounds out the affair very nicely.

The onion rings were passable, well cooked but obviously not handmade. I wouldn’t really expect them to be handmade but they have the darker, crustier breading and not the light, yeasty type of batter (like beer batter) that I far prefer.

The vibe at this place is very friendly and very blue collar (for lack of a better term). There were a number of “working men” with big appetites (and bellies to match) downing those doubles. The woman who takes the orders is great. She makes sure that you enjoy your food and refills your drink before you leave the place. Incidentally she used to help run the Skillet Licker which got the Ferruzza treatment in this week’s Pitch. The owner who does the cooking chatted idly with me for a few minutes as well. He told me about apartment buildings he owns in downtown KCK, where he was on 9/11, and the beautiful women at a Wiccan bar in Strawberry Hill. Unfortunately he has yet to be invited to one of their Wiccan naked-dancing Solstice parties.

It’s an all around good time at the Burger Joint. The place only has 3-4 tables and a small lunch counter. While more or less full, I could still get a chair at the height of lunch hour. It’s a great place for a lone diner which (sob) I am most of the time because people actually talk to you.

The Burger Joint also has daily specials (being Friday it was a fish sandwich), Philly cheesesteaks, burritos and a few other weird items.

yes I did say burritos.

They serve breakfast as well. There is a small menu featuring eggs, omelets, french toast and the like.

This is a perfect place to hit up for a burger almost as good as Grandstand, with a little less hassle, a few more mustaches and a little more hospitality.

Read more:

Burger Joint on Urbanspoon

Yelp

Cascone’s Grill: 20 E. 5th

 Posted by at 7:13 pm
Jun 222007
 

I have been to Cascone’s Grill for breakfast before while visiting the farmer’s market on Saturday. I was moderately impressed, not necessarily because the food was good, but because it seemed somehow to escape the onslaught of dog and baby-toting yuppies and clueless crowd-navigators that populate the area across the street. So anyway I decided to pay a visit for lunch the other day.

As usual, I was on my own so I was really pleased to see a lunch counter that I had not remembered from my first visit. A lunch counter is a great thing: designed for the lone diner because there is plenty to watch in the kitchen, often there is a tv or at least some random newspapers to occupy your time. I decided to conduct the ultimate test of a lunch spot: the classic American Lunch. What would that be? Why of course a cheeseburger, fries and a coke. I’m happy to report that Cascone’s passed the test on all three counts.

There are two different genres of restaurant burgers. You have the “diner-burger” typified by places like Max’s, and Town Topic which are small, thin patties, fried on a flat grill. These are often served, preloaded with lettuce, tomato and condiments inside a cheap wonderbread type bun. Even more often, they are served without vegetable accompaniment at all, simply meat and cheese (and maybe onion). The other type of burger is what we typically call the “restaurant burger.” This is a fancier and more substantial beast, available at most mid-ranged bar and grill places like McCoy’s et al. They are thick, seasoned, and come with a substantial bun, and feature any number of add-ons. I think both of these can be things of beauty, but they are different animals. The fancy restaurant burger runs the risk of being boring and overpriced, while the diner burger runs the risk of being just plain gross.

Fortunately, Cascone’s serves a perfectly good diner burger: smallish, cheap and hot. American cheese is standard, and lettuce and tomato will cost you a quarter extra (it’s worth it for the McDLT effect). The fries are average but fine. And best of all the Coca-Cola comes from a fountain. I look forward to a future rant about the virtues of Fountain Soda versus cans/bottles.

Anyhow, Casone’s has all the earmarks of afamily-run joint and is worth a visit. i should note that the server was excellent and extremely fast. I was out of there in 20 minutes without even trying.

Read more:

Cascone's Grill on Urbanspoon

Yelp