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

Jul 222010
 

Mad Jack's on Troost

I have lived withing spitting distance of Mad Jack’s for a few years but never had much desire to check it out. Yes, it looks a little seedy from the outside but God knows that has never stopped me before. Indeed I checked out a similar fish-oriented place across the intersection last year. People say good things about the Mad Jack’s in KCK but I’ve never hear people say much of anything about the Troost outpost.

Mad Jack's on Troost

The place is setup like a fast food restaurant: menu on the wall, order and pay at the counter. The young woman at the register could not have been more friendly, she immediately greeted me when I came in (as she did every other visitor) and heartily recommended the day’s lunch special. The “Po Jack” is basically a large catfish filet served on white bread with lettuce, tomato, onion and cheese at a cost of $5.99. As I ordered her father, who appears to be the owners was joking around and generally lightening the mood of the whole place. He also recommended the “peachy tea” to me which I found uncomfortably reminiscent of baby aspirin.

On to lunch. Curiously enough, the toppings for the Po Jack sandwich come on the side in a styrofoam box.

Po Jack

That little french fry bag contains the lettuce, tomato, onion and cheese. The condiments are simply packets of tarter sauce and mayonnaise. A little soufflé cup of hot sauce rounds out the meal. I found this kind of weird, I would much rather have them put the sandwich together for me but I dutifully plopped the toppings out and doused the sandwich with hot sauce.

Po Jack

It was looking good except for one thing: the American cheese was still in its individual plastic wrapping. I understand the desire to streamline restaurant workflow by pre-making these topping bags, but this was just a little too transparent. It was dumping the work squarely on to my shoulders. Plus the cheese didn’t get the chance to deliciously melt over the catfish filet.

But the catfish is damn good. It was a nice, sizable portion of highly seasoned, cornmeal breaded fish. And much like barbecue, I found that I really preferred the white bread over the dense buns you see everywhere else. Fried fish with hot sauce is really a great combination. As a hater of mayonnaise and by extension, tarter sauce, I find that hot sauce cuts through the other flavors without making the breading soggy like lemon juice or vinegar tend to do.

I had ordered a little side of mac and cheese, but found it rather lackluster. I mean, I like it and it was only 89 cents, but it was only a step above easy mac.

The interior space is charmingly odd, with a corrugated metal wall behind the counter, three different menu boards, a mounted TV and a small DVD collection on a shelf. Also there are signs and flyers hung up everywhere. It feels like a heavily and amateurishly refurbished fast food restaurant, which is probably exactly what it is.

Mad Jack's on Troost

Pull your pants up

All in all, I would definitely go back and opt for one of the boxed fish meals which are just fried filets with bread, hot sauce and sides. I don’t want to go through the sandwich assembly rigmarole again.

Mad Jack's on Troost on Urbanspoon

Kitty’s Cafe: 810 E. 31st St

 Posted by at 7:08 pm
May 312010
 

Kitty's Cafe

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

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

Menu board

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

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

Kitty's

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

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

Pork Loin sandwich

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

Catfish sandwich

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

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

Kitty's cafe on Urbanspoon

Further reading:

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

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

Oct 182009
 

Lutfi’s has moved several times, most recently to 31st and Main St.

NOTE: Lutfi’s has moved to 3360 Troost as of March 2010.

****

Until recently, Lutfi’s operated out of a small shop near 35th and Prospect. I was never able to try it, but I have been hearing good reviews of the place for a few years now. Honestly I don’t get over to 35th and Prospect that often, a truth that I’m not necessarily proud of, but the realities of blogging dictate that I often eat according to the vicious whims of convenience and utility. As a result, places that are close to my home or work are more likely to be reviewed here.

Well guess what? Lutfi’s has relocated considerably closer to my residence, at the Landing Mall at Meyer Boulevard and Troost.

lutfi_exterior

While you can enter some shops from the outside, you will want to go to the easternmost mall entrance to access Lutfi’s. The place is really hidden and can’t be seen from the street. In fact I had been looking for it while driving by for some time and could never find it. However a Twitter friend recently tipped me off as to the exact location and I was able to find it with no difficulty this past weekend.

Yes, I visited Lutfi’s on a Saturday afternoon, so I can’t tell you what the typical lunchtime trade is like, but it was deserted when I went. This is a spacious room that can seat a lot of people (not good with estimates) and I was one of three occupied tables.

When you enter the restaurant, there is a register where you either pay for the buffet or order one of the dinners from the kitchen. Fried fish does not hold up exceedingly well on a buffet, and since Lutfi’s was empty, I decided to order a catfish dinner rather than take my chance with buffet items that were old. I also wanted to see the best of what they could offer.

I got a number for my order and sat down. Meanwhile a waitress came over to take my drink order. I was also informed that my dinner price included a “small salad” from the salad bar, which turned out to be quite limited, but extremely clean and stocked with fresh ingredients. The salad was fine, but not particularly notable. After a brief wait I was ready for the star of the show: fried catfish.

Seriously, this place takes the relatively subtle art of frying fish and more or less perfects it. They offer catfish, orange roughy and whiting with two sides for 10.99 a pound and 6.99 a 1/2 pound. This is fish in the southern style with crunchy cornmeal breading, and not a leavened batter like English fish and chips would have. Essentially we are talking soul food. The sides include stewed green beans, spaghetti mixed with marinara, macaroni and cheese, red beans & rice and fried okra that is good enough to knock your socks off.

Yes I really said that.

Some people are not crazy about okra, but for fans of the venerable and oft-lauded fruit, those at Lutfi’s will quickly become an obsession.

lutfis_fullplate

The macaroni and cheese is different from the dense, baked, homey version you see popping up at whitey joints all over town. Lutfi’s is smooth and creamy, with no crust and what tastes like a healthy portion of velveeta. It reminds me of the mac at Peachtree buffet actually. Not my preferred preparation but hell, I ate every last bit of it.

Back to the catfish: it is not greasy in the slightest. There is no fishy undertone that you sometimes get with catfish. The crust is heavily flecked with black pepper and the flesh is moist and perfectly cooked. It is easy to overcook fish, particularly when frying it. These folks are professionals.

The big drawback to my experience is the fact that I don’t like mayonnaise and thus could not stomach the thought of tartar sauce. I asked for lemon and they had none. So I settled for healthy drops of hot sauce and was more or less satisfied. The whole affair was a little dry because of all the breading but I still enjoyed it.

lutfis_interior

There is also a buffet at Lutfi’s, which is the main thing that differentiates it from previous incarnations of the restaurant, of which there have been a few. I did not have the chance to get a snapshot of the buffet, but it is a small affair that is nonetheless packed with flavors. In addition to fish and all the sides you can get meatloaf, fried chicken and the salad bar.

But for 6.99 I got four pieces of fried fish, fried okra, mac & cheese and a salad. I couldn’t fathom having eaten more than that on the buffet.

The atmosphere here is definitely a little strange. This space was certainly another restaurant previously and, while clean and well-maintained, is not even remotely stylish. There are a few big photos that adorn the front of the place and some mock street signs out in the dining area, but it needs a little more character.

Maybe if people start showing up to Lutfi’s, and they stay in one place a while, they will get it.

Lutfi's Fried Fish on Urbanspoon