Aug 062011
 

Pretty much any town in the United States has a serviceable Chinese restaurant or two. Hell, even bad Chinese places can cook up frozen egg rolls and pre-made lo mein with inoffensive results. But buffets turn me off, particularly when it comes to Chinese food which is best eaten quickly after cooking. In Kansas City Bo Ling’s has a stranglehold on the sit-down casual Chinese market, but there are other decent places out there, some of them offering a much quicker and cheaper lunch experience, without a lunch buffet.

Out in Lenexa, Rice House does a steady business of takeout from a tiny building on W. 87th street near Lackman road. They do have four tables and five small booths for in-house diners, and surprisingly have table service for those patrons.

Update: It appears that Rice House has caved in to the allure of the lunch buffet. I haven’t had it.

Interior

The lunch specials are very cheap, a number of them go for $4.95, and come with soup and spring roll or crab rangoon. The hot and sour soup at Rice House is among the best I’ve had, with chunks of pork, ribbons of egg and a very rich broth. It was not overly sour which frankly I prefer. The chicken with garlic sauce I ordered came out very quickly and despite the presence of loathsome baby corn, was quite satisfying. Part of the appeal of Chinese food is that it typically hits your mouth within one minute of leaving the hot wok.

Hot & sour soup

Chicken with garlic sauce

Rice House on Urbanspoon

Just east of Rice House lies Babo Teriyaki, an Asian joint that serves Japanese, Vietnamese and Thai inspired dishes in addition to a very typical Chinese menu. But I haven’t had any Chinese food here. Babo sits right next door to Callahan’s and must be a welcome respite from pizza, burgers and chicken wings for those who work nearby.

Exterior

I had to try a Vietnamese dish since this cuisine is hard to find in that part of the metro after Cafe Song’s demise a couple years ago.

Alas the noodle bowl I had there was not quite right, although it looked beautiful.

Bun Thit Nuong

Containing a tougher cut of beef with a minerally undertone and bad texture, the bowl was pretty disappointing. The nước chấm, poured over the top of the dish, was too sour and tasted like the subpar versions I’ve created at home. There was a lot of liquid at the bottom of the bowl too. In general, not a great choice.

The spicy pork teriyaki I ordered on the other hand, was excellent and attractively presented, as was the yakiudon with chicken. My advice? Stick with the Japanese menu items.

Spicy pork loin teriyaki

Babo Teriyaki on Urbanspoon

Fortune Palace, just west of Quivira, is by far the nicest-looking of these three spots, and it has the best food too. A dramatically-lit bar area and recessed chandelier make this restaurant veritably suitable for date-night. Everything I’ve tried here has been prepared well and tasted good. The General Tso’s chicken, a very guilty pleasure for me, is fantastic, lightly breaded, crunchy and doused in an incredibly rich, spicy and sweet sauce. The twice cooked pork may be even better.

General Tso's Chicken

Twice Cooked Roast Pork

Lunch specials include the area’s best egg drop soup or very good hot and sour, and your choice of crab rangoon or egg roll for $6.95.

Egg Drop Soup

And the service is very attentive and friendly. I’m hoping this place stays around a long while. Located steps from Flavors of India and Cafe Augusta, this aging strip mall is a solid lunchtime destination.

Fortune

Fortune Palace on Urbanspoon

Chinese options on 87th street, a bustling Johnson County thoroughfare at lunch hour, are generally very good. I didn’t even mention the illustrious Lucky Wok which is notable for its Chinese menu, not the substandard buffet. There may even be another joint I’m forgetting or have yet to visit. Feel free to comment and let me know what those may be, or if you have other Chinese places without buffets that you like, shout it out.

Apr 282011
 

I know, this isn’t Oklahoma Lunch Spots, and the farther reaches of rural Johnson County can damn well feel like our esteemed neighbor to the south, but K & M Bar-B-Q is probably worth mentioning as a destination lunch joint for folks in most of the metro area.

K & M Bar-B-Q

I have only made one recent visit and frankly am unlikely to make another any time soon. Even Gardner felt like a sizable jaunt from Spring Hill, and that’s saying something. Normally I like to feel a restaurant out for 2,3 or 4 meals before taking the time to write a blog post, but I’ll forego that here and offer a brief recap of my meal.

It was excellent. K & M offers some of the best burnt ends I’ve eaten in Kansas City, and the portion size was nothing to sneeze at either.

Burnt ends and rings

Burnt ends and rings

Burnt ends are typically only available on weekends as a dinner plate, but my visit luckily coincided with them being offered as a special, which included any side dish and drink for 7.80. Considering that burnt ends at LC’s cost $8.95 for the sandwich alone (admittedly much larger), this is a great lunch deal.

Yes, these are real burnt ends and not random chunks of meat covered in sauce that some places try to pass off as KC’s signature dish. The meat itself was fork-tender and the fat was properly rendered and not overabundant. I could have used a little more crunch on them but they did have a ton of prevalent bark that gave them a nice smokiness.

K & M has a nicely flavored sauce, a little less forward than a Gates or Bryant’s, and somewhat thinner. As is typical of local BBQ joints, the spicy sauce is virtually identical to the regular sauce with the modest addition of (probably) hot sauce. This is a rather lazy way to create a hot BBQ sauce but I can’t complain about the flavor.

The onion rings had the crackery coating which was actually nice accompaniment to the smoked meat. I can’t say with any certainty that they weren’t from a Sysco bag, but I sure as hell didn’t mind.

The interior of K & M is decorated in a strong western motif with cowboy hats, steer horns and old-timey prints adorning the wood-paneled walls. While this place gets pretty darn busy during lunch, the interior is huge, featuring at least two distinct dining areas. It was hopping but not even close to full at the noon hour.

Interior

The service was excellent. I had my drink and food order taken quickly and food delivered within 5 minutes. They deliver the check to your table but take all payment at the front counter which significantly expedites things.

Who knows what circumstances might leads you to Spring Hill, Kansas in the future? While it seems doubtful for many folks who live in KC proper or the older suburbs, this is a manageable drive from southern Overland Park, Gardner or Olathe. Regardless, eating in small towns can be challenging if you are unfamiliar with the options. K & M may be one of the only places to eat in Spring Hill but from all indications it serves barbecue as well as they do anywhere else.

K & M Bar-B-Q 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

Waid’s: 6920 Mission Rd

 Posted by at 5:04 am
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

Adrian’s Cafe: 9940 College Blvd.

 Posted by at 6:24 am
Feb 202009
 

Be careful when visiting Adrian’s, you don’t want to get lost in those creeeepy Corporate Woods. Apparently when it was built, Corporate Woods was a big deal in the world of suburban office parks. Nestled in the natural landscape of multi-lane College blvd. between 69 Highway and Antioch in Overland Park, it consists of a series of office buildings and shops insulated by a few trees, and lots and lots of land. As the website says:

A perfect environment made even better by your presence. Thank you to the tenant’s of Corporate Woods®

Nothing says professionalism like a misused apostrophe and a trademark symbol.

Adrian's Cafe

Anyway, the Corporate Woods shopping center caters to the lunching needs of local woodland denizens with several pretty good restaurants. The site is home to Garozzo’s, Rosati’s, Chipotle, and First Watch, but the noblest lunch spot of them all is Adrian’s Cafe.

They don’t mess around here; the menu consists of sandwiches, salads and soups. That, my friends, is the essence of lunch.

This is all about counter service. One employee at the beginning of the line takes your order and makes your sandwich. He or she slices the bread for each sandwich by hand from a seemingly fresh baked loaf. Bread slices are a good inch and a half thick, and are nicely crusty with a surprisingly light and fluffy interior. Most importantly, they have a quality rye that tastes like caraway.

You can get half a sandwich for about $4.25 which sounds like a lot but they are pretty large. A whole sandwich is about $6.50, depending on what you get. I typically order a half sandwich and salad, which you can have for 6.50 as well. Incidentally the side salads all seem very good, though most are prepared ahead of time and available in plastic containers on the deli counter. I’m a fan of the potato salad in particular. They also have three or four homemade soups each day. Recently I tried the chicken noodle and was favorably impressed with the homemade noodles and fresh vegetables but found the temperature to be far below what must be required. Please folks get that temp up before the busybodies good people of the Johnson County Health Department come calling. Oh, and don’t forget a cookie on your way down the counter. They are seriously good.

The corned beef here is really tasty too. The sandwich guy looked at me a little funny once when I asked for corned beef on rye with Swiss cheese, mustard and nothing else. I’m not interested in lettuce, tomato or onions on my corned beef sandwich. Hell I almost passed on the cheese. But the sandwich stood up to the test with flying colors.

photo.jpg

The standout here is the service, which has been reliably friendly in my several visits to Adrian’s. Last time my bill was $8.81. The guy at the register said, “tell me the truth sir, do you like pennies?”

I replied, “why no, I do not care for pennies one whit.”

He gave me an enthusiastic cheer and forked over 20 cents in shiny silver coinage. He probably uses that joke multiple times a day but I really do appreciate both the sentiment and the obvious joy he takes in the work.

While the food is good, the main thing I like about Adrian’s is the concept. It is simple, quick and enjoyable. It also is the closest thing to a normal deli we have in the KC area.

Read more:

Adrian's Cafe on Urbanspoon

Yelp

Masalas: 7301 W 91st St

 Posted by at 4:27 am
Jan 102009
 

Don’t even try to go here on a Sunday afternoon unless you have time. The place is packed with whatever the Hindu equivalent of the “after church crowd” is. I’m telling you, it’s stuffed to the gills with Indian families hitting the buffet en masse. During the week it’s a somewhat different affair, though still largely patronized by Indians. It doesn’t take a genius to know that this is a very, very good sign.

Johnson County is full of good Indian restaurants. I’m not going to venture a guess as to why JoCo seems to have better Indian grub than the city proper, but rest assured it is true. KC has Taj Mahal on Wornall, Korma Sutra in Westport and that place on 39th street that no one I know has ever been to (any place I’m missing?). JoCo has Paradise India, India Palace, Ruchi, Touch of Asia (!), Kabob & Curry and now Masalas, which could be the nicest of them all. This is not a low-brow Indian buffet, but rather a very classy looking establishment with decor that knocks the socks off any other place in the vicinity.

Masalas

For those who haven’t seen it, Masalas is located in the old Ohana Grill building right in front of Whole Foods. It takes up half the building; the other half is clearly under renovation. Since Masalas’ windows are tinted, I wouldn’t blame you if you thought it wasn’t open yet. You can’t see inside at all, so when you approach the doorway and draw aside the heavy curtains it is like entering a secret little world. A secret world that everyone knows about, because this place is doing very good business so far.

The buffet is tucked away in the corner. Dishes are presented in fancy, shiny silver chafing dishes. Several cooks work behind a counter curiously labeled “Masala Factory.” I don’t think the choice here is much larger than any other buffet, but it does seem like there are more vegetarian options. The usual suspects appear: Tandoori chicken, pakorahs, Dal Makhani, Aloo Ghobi, Chicken Tikka Masala, a couple soups, the usual chutneys, two kinds of rice, fruit and other desserts. There was a strange chicken dish that looked just like a Chinese stir-fry that I didn’t even try. No samosas that day either.

IMG_0561

One odd omission on the buffet was Naan, the delicious fluffy bread that is a staple of Indian cuisine. I went back to my table and the server immediately brought out a large basket of freshly baked naan. They do this at Taj Mahal too, and it really makes a huge difference to have it freshly baked.

IMG_0563

I tried a number of dishes and I’ll try to remember what was what. The tandoori chicken was excellent-the only comparable tandoori appears on the India Palace buffet. Chana masala, a delicious chick pea dish was actually surprisingly spicy. I had two helpings. The sweet corn and spinach was also excellent. The ubiquitous butter chicken was way too rich for my taste, and I couldn’t finish it. I had some chicken dish (can’t recall the name) where the meat was all hacked and shredded to hell. Naturally I had high hopes, but it wasn’t all that flavorful. I remember some of the food being a tad on the sweet side. Undoubtedly the high point of the meal was the goat curry. Mind you there is a little gristle and bone to content with, but it is worth the effort to experience the slightly spicy, tangy gravy with a touch of anise flavor.

In general, this is a very good lunch buffet. The service was excellent too. When I came back from a second trip to the buffet, my dirty plate had been cleared, and I had a re-fill and a new napkin. The buffet will set you back $10, a drink another $2, but I really think it is worth the price. If the lunchtime crowds persist, it may become a slight annoyance given the availability of other quality Indian buffets in the area. But anyone who likes Indian food should try Masalas.

Read more:

Masalas Authentic Indian Diner on Urbanspoon

Yelp

Torreador: 7926 Floyd St (OPKS)

 Posted by at 7:36 pm
Nov 182008
 

Don’t ask me why I thought this place would be good.


It is literally steps away from Mi Ranchito at 80th and Metcalf, which is a perfectly fine (but overrated) local Tex-Mex chain. Mi Ranchito is well-priced, very consistent, and has generous portions. Whatever.

When it comes to Mexican food, that’s not good enough for me. Unfortunately I don’t work very close to any good Mexican lunch spots. I’d love to hit up the Boulevard or downtown KCK on a regular basis, but I can’t swing it. So I was having lunch at Mi Ranchito one time and noticed another little Mexican place across Floyd street that I had never noticed: Torreador.

Welcome to my thought process. It’s small, a little ratty looking, I’ve never heard of it, and it’s right by another successful Mexican restaurant. Gee, I think I’ll give it a try.

I pulled up in the parking lot and saw a skeezy looking dude and a middle aged waitress smoking cigarettes by the front door. The dude looked like a more down and out version of Mark Borchardt. Turns out he was one of the “cooks” in the kitchen. One side of the entrance door had a high chair sitting on the stoop in front of it. This apparently works better than a “please use other door” sign.

I walked into a space that is essentially a decent little darkly lit bar, with tables on one side and a lounge area on the other. My waitress was sitting at a front table chatting with a couple of ladies who were having margaritas.

I took a look at the menu and was not overly impressed. There were only 2 lunch specials, one of which was Taco Salad.

Torreador

So I ordered the “Special platter” and began to have the feeling that yellow cheese and ground beef was in my future. There was a little table top display advertising something called “Southwest Egg Rolls.” I didn’t have the cojones to try them.

While I waited, my waitress brought out some chips and a little dish half full of salsa. She laid them down saying, “I’ll be right back to fill up the salsa, I have to open a new one.”

“That’s fine, I don’t need any more,” I replied.

“It’s no problem, I don’t want you to think I’m trying to cheat you.”

Torreador

So she comes back with a plastic bar pitcher full of this salsa and pours it into the dish.

By this time I had eaten two chips already and had decided not to have any more. Good move.

Then my food arrived! Hey, do you remember those Old El Paso Taco kits? I’m sure some of you still use them, especially those of you with children. I used to make taco dinners for my family when I was a kid using those kits. You just brown some ground beef, add the seasoning packet, and serve them in the taco shells with the packet of “hot sauce” that came in the box. Do you see what I’m getting at here?

Torreador

Torreador has, without a doubt, the worst Mexican food in the Kansas City metropolitan area.

Yeah, not good. They havn’t even figured out the trick I learned when I was 10, which is to bake the taco shells a few minutes before using to make them crunchier and more delicious. The enchiladas were made with flour tortillas and were covered in the same sauce that the chips came with. And the rice? Here are my thoughts on the rice:

Everything comes from a can, a box or a bag, and you can tell. The thing is, people who eat at Torreador probably think it tastes good because that is what they are used to. Why else would anyone go there? And really, who am I to argue; I’m just another white guy with a blog.

The server was actually extremely friendly, and I have no complaints about her demeanor or skill. The owner or manager person checked on me a couple times, then made sure I got my check and my change quickly.

The clientele seems to be the lower-middle class, upper middle-aged JoCo set. In my mind they are hard drinking secretaries, retail managers, and waitresses. They buy lottery tickets and drive American cars. I’m sure the scream from the Torreador was audible miles away when the Overland Park smoking ban passed. I’ll wager that it gets some business in the evenings from regulars looking for a post-work bottle of beer, and more still from folks wanting to meet friends or watch a game at night. It’s just a local hangout for a certain kind of person. A hangout with terrible food.

In other words, the food probably isn’t the important part. At least it sure doesn’t seem that way. I’m sure the owners are proud of their business, but I simply can’t count it among the spots I will visit again.

Don’t take my word for it, read more:

Torreador Mexican on Urbanspoon

Y


elp

Oct 082008
 

When I posted about the pedestrian but serviceable Rainbow Korean Restaurant earlier this year, a few commenters suggested I try Cho-ga across Metcalf. Not long after, I had lunch there with Meesha, the award-winning, benevolent Czar of the KC blogosphere and his delightful daughter. I think it’s fair to say that we were all pretty happy with the food–even the youngin’. I’ve made a repeat visit or two by my lonesome and have found the food to be quite consistent.

First of all, it’s located at 105th and Metcalf which is pretty much my definition of hell. Yeah I know, all I do is complain about the suburbs while consistently working, eating and spending my money there all the freakin’ time. I’m the worst kind of hypocrite. Anyhow, the shopping center that houses Cho-ga has not aged well (what shopping center does?), it has a drab color and a wan-looking cedar shake roofing. The center is comprised of several “islands” of shops, each surrounding a perfectly charming little courtyard. Some shops have entrances on the outside and some on the courtyard side.

Surprisingly it houses some pretty successful business, notably the OP version of D’Bronx which by most accounts is not as good as its 39th street counterpart. I also stopped by a business called “A Touch of Asia” because I was looking for…well you know, a touch of Asia. To my dismay I found it to be yet another JoCo Indian lunch buffet. I guess I’ll be back when I’m less hot and bothered.

Cho-ga is located at the East edge of the shopping center, and faces north. The interior is nothing special, a virtually undecorated mid-sized room containing a mix of tables and booths. This place get fairly busy at the height of lunch hour and the service is typically pretty mediocre. It took me at least 5 minutes to get seated on one trip, another time the waiter forgot my drink order, another time I waited insanely long to get my check. But of course, commenter Tze Yuin warned me about this so I was prepared. Yes this is the same gentleman woman who insisted I try the Chinese menu at Lucky Wok and I think he she is my new hero.

But the food at Cho-ga is excellent. As I’ve mentioned previously I am not an expert on Korean food, but the value, presentation and taste are all top-notch in my own humble, esteemed, infallible, totally kick-ass opinion.

The menu offers a number of things to choose from: beef, seafood, chicken, pork, soups and more. There is a regular lunch menu and a list of “lunch boxes” on the flip side. Here’s a terrible photo of the regular menu:

Menu

And the boxes…

Menu

I usually get the boxes because they are cute. I have eaten the pork, beef bulgogi and short ribs and they are all very tasty. The short ribs are sliced cross-wise and still attached to little pieces of bone, making them quite challenging to eat with chopsticks. But it’s worth it.

Galbi

In addition to the primary offering, lunch boxes come with steamed rice, two dumplings, a small portion of noodles, salad (mostly lettuce) cabbage kim chee, and a few slices of melon to calm the palate at the end of the affair. That’s a lot of food! Most of them run $8.95 so expect to pay a several dollars more with beverage and an unextravagant tip for subpar service.

Cho ga

So if you’re looking for Korean chow, go pay them a visit. You won’t be alone, you won’t be the only non-Korean there (assuming you know, that you’re not Korean) and the food is well worth it.

PS: Well crap, I just checked out the Pitch for info on Cho-ga and found a typically top-notch Charles Ferruzza review dated TOMORROW (Oct.9 2008). Ferruzza is bending the laws of space and time people! If this is not some mistake, there will be plenty of info about Cho-ga to go around. If only I had published this two months ago when I started it. Anyhow, read his take. I found Cho-ga somewhat less exotic, but I haven’t been for dinner. I don’t blog about dinner.

Read more:

Choga Korean on Urbanspoon

Yelp

Mediterranean Market: 7417 Metcalf

 Posted by at 9:28 pm
Aug 152008
 

A few months ago, I posted about the International Grocery at 80th and Metcalf. In the comments readers Goofy Girl, meesha v. and a blogless gentleman named Leonard mentioned a place nearby called Mediterranean Market. A Twitter shout-out from Bull E. Vard yesterday reminded me, so I was off to check it out.

This is a small, clean market and deli on the East side of Metcalf just north of 75th street. It’s the more spacious and inviting version of International Grocery, for it features at least five tables inside, a well organized series of shelves with various Middle Eastern foodstuffs, and a deli counter with a few meats and cheeses.

The set-up is a little confusing. I ordered my food at the register, but I think I was supposed to go down to the deli counter to place the order. I ordered a chicken shish kebab only to discover that they were out of chicken. Oh well, I went with beef. The guy at the register was possibly the owner, and he was one of the friendliest people I’ve ever encountered in food service. He kept saying “thank you, I hope you like it!”

The menu is small and rather typical: falafel, gyros, kefta, shish kebab, baba ghanoush, hummus, tabouleh, etc. Sure there is a lot to try here but I’m only one man on one day.

After a 10 or 15 minute wait, the sandwich arrived much as you would expect, wrapped in a pita with lettuce, tomato, onion and, well, no sauce. It was a good enough sandwich w/o any sauce because the meat was marinated and fairly well seasoned. The meat was cut into large cubes and then grilled. The cut of beef was a little tough, possibly a sirloin so I wish it was chopped smaller or cooked more rare.

The sandwich came with a generous spoonful of rice. I was really excited because it looked just like the rice pilaf I had at International Grocery which was so good. Alas, the it was simply not up to snuff. It was so salty that I couldn’t finish it (that’s sayin’ somthing) and had been tossed with melted butter. Butter is not bad in and of itself, and can even be nice with rice, but this was far too rich for my taste. I really didn;t want to eat any of it, but unlike that candy-ass Gordon Ramsey I never spit anything out just cuz it ain’t no good.

The plate also had a couple small dill pickle spears and a handful of very good Greek olives, half of which were pitted.

I heard some guys talking about how good the baklava was so I ordered some to take with me. I broke open the container later, veritably thrilled to indulge myself in this delicacy of which I am so fond. As accompaniment, I even splurged on what the machine in the staff room loosely calls a “cafe mocha.” Unfortunately, the substance that they loosely call “hot chocolate-making syrup” had run out and I wound up with a gross, watery coffee.

And a baklava that I did not care for. First, not crunchy. I will give them a break here because I did leave it in a plastic container for a good two hours. The relative heat and humidity probably took its toll. Secondly, it was not even a little sweet. At first, this intrigued me, but the gloppy pistachio filling simply didn’t have any flavor of honey, which is the best thing about baklava. Lastly, it smelled weird, kind of like fried food. I suspect that they brushed it with oil, margarine or some piss-poor approximation of butter.

The best part of my meal was a beverage I had seen but never tried: Vimto. It’s basically a kind of red pop, but a little herbier. M.Toast thinks it tastes like cough syrup and I’ll admit that there is some truth to that. But it didn’t bother me, Vimto lives in that liminal space between medicine and candy much like Luden’s Cherry Cough Drops. I spent my lunch hour thinking about what kind of liquor it would be good with. What did I come up with? Vimto & beer. I’m gonna try it, just you wait.

The real attraction here I’m sure is the selection of imported foods. In addition to canned and boxed goods, they have several kinds of feta cheese for sale by the pound, a whole aisle of cookies and sweets and a nice selection of olive and grapeseed oils.

This was a disappointing visit I’m afraid, but I still like the place. They don’t use bad ingredients or cut corners. I’ve heard very good things about this place, so I suspect that they suffer from inconsistency rather than incompetence. It’s certainly worth a repeat visit to see if they are going on the regular lunch rotation.

Read more:

Yelp

Mediterranean Market on Urbanspoon

Jul 292008
 

I’ve been putting this review off for a couple of days because I’ve been thinking of a creative way to make fun of the name.


photo by Mike Haney

I got nothing.

Yeah, it’s actually a pretty good name isn’t it? I’m pretty sure they picked the name just because the domain name was available. It is fun to say “BIG BAM’S” – even fun to write it in my own inimitable hamhanded style. Kind of like CANCUN FIESTA FRESH! This one’s a little more dangerous since I’m overwhelmed with the urge to execute an unskilled but highly performative karate chop whenever I say it: BIG BAM’S!Moreover the items on the kids menu are called Li’l Bam’s burger and Li’l Bam’s chicken tenders. Preface anything with “Li’l” and it’s guaranteed to be cute.

Of course, if the name in any way refers to Emeril Lagasse, it immediately becomes the worst name of all time.


From the exterior, this place looks a little rough around the edges doesn’t it? The building and bones of the place are pretty low-brow, but they have done a great job sprucing up the place. Walls are painted a subdued purple, the drop ceiling is painted black to lessen the cheap, institutional feel it can lend. There is some artwork on the walls which, despite having no connection to burgers or KC, is better than nothing. The tables and booths are typical formica fast food furniture, but look clean and new and are (if memory serves) a pleasant orange. Yeah, a lot of color going on here no?

It’s a reasonably efficient operation. Order at a counter, your food is made to order, and someone brings it out to you. The menu is posted on the wall above the counter so ordering involves a lot of staring upwards and squinting. It would make more sense to make printed menus available at the counter and leave the staring for the people waiting in line.

On to the burgers. They remind me a little of the Burger Joint. I ordered the “Basic” because this seems like the true test of a place that claims to have great burgers. The Basic came with a single tomato slice, some flaccid leaf lettuce, sliced white onion, and a nice melted piece of American cheese. I have had the “All-American” a number of times and found it to be an excellent, classic burger, topped with American cheese, pickles and onions.

All-American and fries

The burger is cooked well, the beef is very flavorful, the bun is unremarkable but fine as are the toppings. Next time I can rectify the toppings situation–I ordered the Basic, did I expect a can o’ corn on top of my burger? They have several varieties of specialty burgers a few of which sound intriguing. For instance the “Cowboy Up” burger features ham, cheddar cheese and BBQ sauce. Hmmmm, ham. A couple of their burgers come with sour cream as a condiment. I’m not sure how I feel about this but it can’t be worse than mayonnaise. There are some typical permutations like bacon & cheese, grilled onions, chili cheese (!) and sauteed mushrooms.

In addition to burgers, Big Bam’s does a lot with chicken. It’s nice that they don’t offer breaded and fried chicken exclusively–there are a few grilled options. Big Bam’s has a commitment to high quality ingredients–their beef is never frozen and food is made to order. So I wonder if they hand-bread their fried chicken items or pull them out of a paper Sysco bag? This is a serious question, and I intend to order chicken next time I’m there. Or better yet, someone else go there, spend your own money, then tell me how it is. Check out the menu, there is a lot to choose from.

I also had a small but inexpensive side of onion rings that were delicious and perfectly cooked. Doesn’t it drive you crazy when fries cost like 1.50 and onion rings cost 5 bucks? You know why? Because the restaurant is buying them frozen and there is a lot more processing and production that goes into a batter-dipped frozen onion than a bag-o-taters. Breading and onions are not expensive, so personally I find it a good sign that the rings at Big Bam’s are the same price as the fries! Kudos on the rings Big Bam’s!

I did enjoy myself at Big Bam’s and am convinced they do burgers and other things quite well. In terms of taste, this lunch spot is comparable to most of the other competent, humble little burger places in town. I think it could probably use the business more than wacko right wing Jesus-freaks Grandstand, and it is larger and nicer inside than Burger Joint. It’s all about a quick meal here, so I genuinely like the place and will return.

Read more:

Big Bam's Burgers on Urbanspoon

Yelp


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