El Pulgarcito: 5921 Merriam Dr.

 Posted by at 6:52 pm
Jun 272008
 

Exterior

First of all, a big shout out to reader JH, who suggested I try this place out a month or two back. I truly appreciate all the great suggestions I get, and just wish that I could hit them all in a reasonable time frame. The life of an insatiable glutton is never complete.

Merriam Drive is turning into the best restaurant road on the wrong side of 39th street, what with Grandstand Burgers, Coyoacan, Woodyard BBQ, and now El Pulgarcito, which could be my favorite of the lot.

I haven’t done any research on the place, I didn’t check Yelp or Chowhound or other websites of dubious value to get a sense of what to expect. I have only been to one other Salvadoran restaurant before (now closed) and was pretty impressed at the combination of earthy, spicy, and tangy flavors.

Salvadoran food is analogous to Mexican cuisine, and even features some of the same names: tacos, tamales, burritos, etc. But it ain’t Mexican food, certainly not the type we have come to expect in Kansas City. For one Salvadoran dishes make judicious use of cheese, not the overabundance much Tex-Mex fare has made us accustomed to. Many items incorporate a simple combination of starch (tortilla, dough, bread), meat and spice.

Again, don’t forget I’m no expert on Salvadoran food, these are just my impressions. Is there a Salvadoran in the house?!

With that in mind I’ll go on to say that the pupusa is probably the hallmark of Salvadoran cuisine. El Pulgarcito has a damn good pupusa. It’s basically a flat dough pocket filled with your delicious choice of meat or cheese or whatever. On each table, the restaurant places a large canister of spicy cole-slaw type stuff, known as curtido. Unlike cole slaw, this mixture is vinegary and a little spicy with no sweet undertones.

Curtido

Combined with some mysterious red sauce in a squirt bottle, this was the perfect match for a rich, earthy pupusa (did I just write “rich, earthy pupusa”? ew, yes I did). The pork inside was some seriously delicious stuff, with a deep red color and shredded finely. Ahhh, God it was good.

Pupusas

Pupusas

I also ordered a pork tamale, which had excellent flavor but I found the consistency of the masa to be a tad gritty and not firm enough. Basically it was a little mushy. Did I eat the whole thing? you bet your ass I did.

Tamal

Rice and beans were both great–homemade and well seasoned. The rice was a tad overcooked, but it had probably been sitting in a pot for a while so I’ll give them a break on this one.

What about the atmosphere you ask?

Interior

Well, it’s charming, not because they try to be charming, but it’s just a humble, divey, honest little place. It has windows and booths on three sides with a counter in the center of the room. The whole joint is run by one waitress and one cook. The waitress is very good at her job, much more talkative with Spanish-speaking customers but I think this is just a language comfort thing. I was in and out in less than 1/2 hour. When I left about 1:30, the smallish restaurant was mostly full.

As for clientele, it varies widely inasmuch as a room full of latinos can vary widely. There was a hard-looking guy with a bimbette having a hangover brunch, a young dad and his 3 kids, a single businessman on his lunch break, a middle aged well dressed woman, some guys with repair shop uniforms…you get the idea.

I wish a had a newspaper or something to read while I was there but it was really no big deal. Hell of a lot better than having a television there. Actually, the lack of a TV vastly improves my impression of the place now that I think about it. I’m not a TV nazi, but 99% of the time, if someone else picks the channel, I lose.

Anyhow, El Pulgarcito gets the DLC stamp of approval, for what that’s worth. There is a lot more on the menu that I need to try, namely the whole fried fish I saw coming out of the kitchen to several tables. I overheard a conversation in Spanish between a guy who ate this fish and the waitress. Now, I don’t understand much Spanish but I’m pretty sure he was saying, “I’d like to put that delicious fish all over my private parts.” Yeah it looked and smelled quite spectacular. I’m not big on soup but there were several varieties on the menu and the soup looked homemade, authentic and smelled great.

Oh by the way, prices are good, but not as cheap as your typical Mexican joint. I spent $10 with tip. Of course that included a delicious tamarind drink so you cheapskates can stick with water.

Read more:

Yelp

El Pulgarcito on Urbanspoon

KC Grill & Kabob: 8611 Hauser Ct.

 Posted by at 8:20 pm
Jun 162008
 

KC Grill & Kabob is a nice little Middle Eastern lunch spot situated in the back of a shopping center off 87th Parkway in Lenexa. Despite its unassuming locale, it manages to create a friendly, bustling ambiance with a small sea of tables, some fresh plants in the window and a small buffet at the back of the place. On nice days, the door is propped open allowing a nice breeze to filter through. There are also a couple tables outside on the sidewalk. Inside there were two TVs quietly showing a DVD called “Belly Dancing Divas.” This certainly set the mood, but I found the mild titillation somewhat distracting.

It seems to be a buffet-only affair at lunchtime. Buffets are weird because you walk in and aren’t sure whether to hit to food line, sit down and wait, wait to be seated…whatever. These are details that irk insecure Midwestern diners. There is only one waitress working the place, and she seems to be hustling quite a bit even though there are no orders to take, and no food to deliver. But between seating people, taking drink orders, refilling glasses and busing tables she keeps busy. This is not really an issue until you need your check.

But I’m happy to report that the food here is generally quite good within certain boundaries. Basically, it’s good to experiment with the authentic items on the buffet, which most of them are. Some of the staples of Middles Eastern food are lacking (no hummus?) but there are some interesting things with names that I’ve forgotten, like an interesting lentil and tomato dish, some kind of sauce reminiscent of tzatsiki, and a small, flat, vegetable patty that tastes like an Indian pakorah.

I thought I overheard from the owner that this place reflects an Afghan perspective on middle Eastern food, but I have since learned that it is Persian. The first time I visited, a big round table was occupied by some native Iraqis who expressed great pleasure in the food. The owner tends to wander around the place, joking with people, checking up on whether they like the food. So you tend to overhear lots of things. Since I had not dined there before, the owner instructed the waitress to show me the buffet and explain what all the items were. A nice touch, but a tad awkward. The owner is quite a character, though. He was constantly making jokes I only half understood, and constantly talks to the assortment of regulars that eat there. The restaurant business attracts very colorful people. That’s my way of saying that you’d have to be crazy to open a restaurant, much less a Persian place in a Lenexa strip mall.

I’m happy to report that KC Grill & Kabob attracts a very nice lunch crowd and I’m not worried for its immediate future. Basically I like the place because the buffet makes it fast, it has a local owner who’s kind of a nutter, and some of the food is very good. I did have a couple of disappointing things on one visit. One chicken dish was basically cooked with cheap BBQ sauce and another with something reminiscent of Frank’s Red hot. It was probably Frank’s Red hot.

My advice? Stick with the kabobs and rice dishes (of which there are several). The cabbage rice in particular is excellent, something I’ve never had before. They always have grilled tomatoes, too which are a nice accompaniment to cooked meats. The Baba ghanoush is quite tasty, too but the pita (if that’s what it is) is thin and kind of cracker-like.

If it looks authentic, eat it. If it looks like BBQ chicken, don’t.

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KC Grill & Kabob on Urbanspoon

Yelp

May 282008
 

First spotted by Pomegranate, This place is now closed and has been replaced by “Pollo Loco.”

I have a problem with tamales.

Every Mexican joint I visit, I have order at least one. There is something about the texture of the masa, aroma of the leaf wrapper and the succulent meat filling that is unparalleled when done correctly.

It’s typically the old people who get together and make them, usually for special occasions. It’s a multi-hour process wherein kids can play with dough, grandmas can talk trash about their good for nothing kids, and lazy men can drink beer and watch sports. Like pierogies to the Polish, dumplings to the Chinese, and cucumber sandwiches to the WASPS, tamales are a simple but classic aspect of Mexican (and incidentally other Latin) cuisine.

And I’ve tried to make them a few times before. It wasn’t pretty, although one time they turned out well. It’s really best done with some help, cold Mexican beer, and serious humility because the whole thing can take hours and still utterly fail. Too much cold Mexican beer will do that.

At a delightful lunch a few weeks back with some fellow bloggers someone (Waldo?) brought up some kind of tamale place on Merriam drive. We discussed it for a minute or two then I sort of forgot about it.

Until the hankering hit me. I decided to find it, having never seen it, not knowing the name or even really where Merriam Drive was.

Turns out that this was a bad move. I’m not a JoCo boy, I only work out there, and Jesus it’s easy to get lost. There’s a perfectly good grid in place that gets ruined by streets like Merriam, Santa Fe, Shawnee Mission Parkway not to mention I-35. I’m also kind of an idiot, it turns out.

So by the time I found Coyoacan nestled in what I discovered was “downtown” Merriam, I had to get my meal to go due to time restrictions. Some of us work you know. Anyhow, Coyoacan has two business enterprises going on here, a small and very cute looking dine-in establishment that shares a kitchen with a glorified take-out window next door. The carryout side has a sign that reads “Tamales To Go” so it almost seems like a different place altogether. It’s not.

I expected a simple menu, but it actually is a full, standard looking Mexican assortment: tacos, enchiladas, burritos, the whole nine yards. But I saw the “tamale dinner” for 6.95 and decided it was mine. After shouting my order to a nice couple preparing food behind the counter, I waited for approximately 3 minutes before a styrofoam container full of deliciousness was delivered into my hot little hands.

I’m not gonna say that this is the best Mexican food in town because it ain’t. But this place is pretty special. Nothing disappointed me, particularly the tamales which were not covered in cheese sauce, ground beef or any other gross variation I’ve seen at other KC establishments. Yes there was a small amount of red ranchero sauce, tomato-y and subtle. The rice was well-cooked but fairly bland. The refried beans were very good, not too thick and certainly made from scratch.

The tamales themselves were small, which most authentic tamales are in fact. They were perfectly cooked but also not overly seasoned, but the filling of shredded pork was very nicely flavored, albeit subdued. Maybe my taste buds were having an off day. My brain does that some days too. In general I was very happy with the tamales, though it is disappointing (but much more convenient) not to unwrap them yourself.

Anyway, I really want to go back and dine-in. It looks small, but cutely decorated. Kind of like your Mexican grandma’s living room. Don’t have a Mexican grandma? Neither do I, and I regret it every day because she’d make way better tamales than I do.

Coyoacan on Urbanspoon

May 232008
 

We got a no-frills little Korean diner here that is the perfect joint for an informal lunch whilst running soulless, horrible shopping errands in the JoCo. Rainbow is located in that rambling and not particularly well-aging series of strip malls at Metcalf around 103rd. Directly across from the Sprawl-Mart. The restaurant itself is tucked back off the street in a smaller strip that includes a florist, liquor store, and a Jose Pepper’s Border grill and cantina.

For the record, I have never been, nor do i plan to ever eat at Jose Pepper’s Border grill and cantina. There is kind of a funny bio of the mythical Mr. Pepper on the front page of their website. But it only goes to prove that this place is about as Mexican as Chili’s. But they are local, which I didn’t realize. I’m thinking it’s like Taco John’s with beer. But believe me, I would LOVE to hear impassioned defenses of Jose Pepper’s on this blog. Why?

  1. Because I love when people love crappy places, it makes me me laugh. at them.
  2. Being unapologetic and self-deprecating about one’s tastes are attractive traits, and indeed are the hallmark of my generation.
  3. Sometimes I’m actually convinced.

Back to the matter at hand: a really drab, tiny little Korean lunch spot that sits down the walkway from Pepper’s. While the white people are down there eating deep fried tortillas filled with crap and covered in queso sauce, there are usually one or two tables of Korean folks enjoying a meal at Rainbow. Unfortunately for Mr. Rainbow, that’s usually about it. I’ve never seen the place even remotely crowded and I’ve been about 3 or 4 times.

Here’s where I fess up: I don’t know a hell of a lot about Korean food so I usually just guess at what sounds good. One time I went for something adventurous and wound up with a seafood stir fry in a black sauce made from what I can only assume was squid ink. Seriously. It was actually decently prepared but just not my personal taste or texture preference.

Yesterday I went safe and ordered bulgogi which is one of the more famous Korean dishes, along with Bi Bim Bop (which is great hangover food by the way).

Bulgogi is basically a beef and onion stir fry. Mine was really quite delicious and was accompanied by some steamed rice, and of course bok choy and daikon kim chi varieties. Korean food is really distinguished by its used of these pickled delicacies and really can’t be appreciated unless you partake. Korean dishes also have an affinity for the raw or lightly cooked egg which is another really great feature.

The atmosphere at Rainbow is…well…a little depressing. The booths came straight from an auction at a failed early 90’s Shoney’s restaurant and the decor is basically nonexistent.

However there is one highly entertaining and exciting exception: DORAEMON SAUCE BOTTLES! Who the hell is Doraemon? Shit I had no idea, but that’s what Google is for, unless you are some kind of creepy Japan-o-phile manga loving freak with a furry costume and some ilicit polaroids secreted in your mom’s basement. Anyhow, Doraemon is an insanely popular Japanese animated character who appeared in a series of 60’s-70’s cartoons. His charm and jaunty spriti quickly spread like wildfire across parts of Asia.

So every single table of the restaurant has a Doraemon-themed soy sauce bottle, rice vinegar bottle and matching tray. They are very informative as to who this Doraemon character is. The bottles read:

Doraemon the cat-like robot. he measures 129.3 cm around the belly. he was born on 3rd September 2112. He has many fantastic tools

Ok that explains it right? Well, check out the Doraemon episodes on Youtube, they are very inventive and funny. And he does have some crazy-ass tools.

Not sure if his birth in 2112 is related in any way to the most hilarious multi-part epic suite Canadian wackoids Rush ever made, but I’d be willing to guess that it is not. Doraemon would have a tool to destroy the Priests of Syrinx.

Back to lunch spots. Service here was extremely friendly and efficient. Kim Chi and water came out immediately, the food emerged lightening fast out of the kitchen and the bill was delivered as soonas I put the chopsticks down.

This is the only Korean place I’ve tried in the metro and I know there are others, so let’s hear about em.

Oh, and sorry for all the tangents, but you realize that rather than a restaurant blog, this is only a joke/humor blog, right?

Further reading: an more informed, discriminating and knowledgeable review over at Yelp

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Chung's Rainbow on Urbanspoon

Yelp

Cafe Song: 7425 Quivira – CLOSED

 Posted by at 5:02 pm
May 052008
 

Cafe Song is now closed


Cafe Song is another entry in a rather impressive cadre of quality Vietnamese restaurants in the KC metro. I will say, however, that it is not my favorite among them.

Located near Quivira and 75th in a strip mall, it can be somewhat difficult to locate from the road. But it is a fairly sizable space with attractive, modern, but casual decor. I’ve been two times now and the place has been frighteningly empty on both occasions. The whole shebang appears to be staffed by two people: a youngish waiter with a pony tail (bad move dude) and a Vietnamese woman who does the cooking.

The menu attempts to be a little classier and more interesting than more traditional Vietnamese spots. There are at least 5 kinds of Ban Mih (basically a sandwich), but only a couple kinds of Pho (noodle soup) and Bun (cold noodle salad). They also feature wacky offering like meatball subs and hamburgers, and no, this is not the kids menu I’m talking about. The food is good here, but I’m not touching their meatball sandwich with a ten foot pole.

The food is good enough, but presentation and portions are a tad lacking. Pho comes with a whole assortment of fresh herbs, bean sprouts, lime wedges, etc. which is pretty typical. But the Bun dishes, usually accompanied by lovely piles of ground peanuts, shredded carrots, bean sprouts, meat, mint/cilantro, is merely a bowl of noodles with some shredded carrots and meat. Oh yeah, there is also some dried garlic sprinkled throughout which is actually an excellent addition.

So basically, it looks more like $5 meal than a $9 one.

For my money, Vietnam Cafe, Sung Son and Hien Vong are all better options. But for Johnson County, are there other Vietnamese gems out there?

So, basically underwhelming. I’ve put off reviewing this one for a while because there’s just not a lot to say either negatively or positively. I’m not one of those people who has something great to say about every meal I eat, not something bad to say for that matter. Cafe Song is nice, but I just don’t get real jazzed up about the prospect of going back often. It is not a good space to be a lone diner because it is so quiet and there’s nothing to look at except people walking into Starbucks and Planet Sub across the street. But maybe with a small group it would be more interesting.

All this being said, I’m really happy to see how many Vietnamese places there are, even in the reaches of Johnson County. I don’t think I’ve come close to visiting them all, but I will try.

Read more:

Cafe Song on Urbanspoon

Apr 252008
 

International Grocery/Taste of Russia has closed


This was an interesting lunch. I was driving east on 79th just beyond downtown Overland Park, heading god knows where when I saw this little spot I had not noticed before. There is a sign that reads “Taste of Russia.” Next to that is a sign that says “International Grocery.” In front of the door was a placard advertising $3.99 lunch specials with a free drink. A double-take and a u-turn later there I was. Here’s the story of how I went in pursuit of borscht and wound up with middle eastern food…

This place is absolutely nuts, and I loved it. A sign on the door in rambling, verbage described how they would honor any competitor’s coupons and would not be taken by scams or other unscrupulous business practices and so forth. Only the sign said it much less eloquently than that.

Inside was a small grocery full of all sorts of imported foodstuffs, vegetables in the sunset of their years, and items which can only be described as “knick knacks.” Very gaudy knick knacks. Anyhow, there was also a deli counter full of salamis, sausages, dried and pickled whole fish, and various other delights. But I wasn’t really getting a Russian vibe, mostly because the woman behind the counter was wearing an Islamic headscarf.

While waiting for the woman in front of me to remove 6 dozen coins from her handbag, count them, drop them, hand them over, take them back and hand them back again, I noticed that there were two tables by the front window with menus on them.

That’s right, just two tables.

I read the menu while the change-lady–who sure as hell isn’t Russian either–finally paid up. The menu was only barely making sense. “What’s good?” I ask the proprietess. “Kabobs” she replies.

Kabobs? I thought this was “Taste of Russia?” I mean, there was even a photo of Supreme Overlord Russian President Vladimir Putin behind the cash register. I asked about Russian food, and she indicated the “Salami, bologna kielbasas–stuff like that” is the Russian food. She didn’t sound too excited about it so I didn’t push my luck. I don’t want scary Russian bologna unless its prepared with love.

I ordered the kabobs.

She then told me it would take 15-20 minutes for her to prepare the meal. She disappeared behind a curtain for a long time. Someone came in the shop, looked at the menu and left. Someone else came in and talked (yelled) with the owner while she shopped. This was just too weird. I looked around the market while I waited and…hey wait, didn’t meesha post about Russian candy yesterday? Just went back and read the post and not surprisingly, he mentions Taste of Russia at the end. Is this like some kind of weird harmonic convergence? Anyhow, KC’s favorite Russian Jew is correct, there are a million kinds of candy at this place, easily 1/3 of their entire stock. I also discovered a hilarious soft drink called “Cockta” that I wanted to try but there was no bottle opener and the proprietor was hiding behind the magic curtain making my Russian kabobs or whatever. I was pretty much convinced this meal was going to be a disaster.

Jesus Christ that was a long wait, but finally the food arrived, steaming hot in a styrofoam container. And let me tell you, it was good, really good. If you had an Egyptian grandmother who was married to a Russian, this is what her food would taste like.

The kabob was very similar to the kind I had at Holyland Cafe, but came atop the most delicious rice dish I have ever had. The rice was cooked perfectly, and tasted simple and humble, complemented with nutty grains that looked like little brown squiggles, like…well, you ever seen fish poop? Anyway, there was also some chunky hummus which was surprisingly good and obviously made from dried garbanzo beans. The pita triangles were even toasted for my pleasure.

After I ate, I talked with the woman for a few minutes. She is indeed Egyptian and I couldn’t get a straight answer why there was a sign that said ‘Taste of Russia.’ outside. I asked about all the Russian foodstuffs, but she simply said “this is the international grocery, we have everything.”

This is definitely an odd experience, and I could go on and on, but I have rambled too much already. Basically, it’s a great little ethnic market that has a lot of stuff you won’t find anywhere else. I’m going to try the kielbasa next time, but I can’t imagine this will be a regular stop for me, just because the awkward atmosphere. But I’m very glad I went and think everyone should pop in when they are in the neighborhood. Buy some candy.

Read more:

Yelp

Apr 182008
 

Well people, I made it. I don’t know what the hell I’m doing when it comes to places in Johnson County these days, but I seem to be really making the rounds out there lately. I’m still gunning for the third district spots, believe me, I just can’t really do it during the work week.

In a nutshell, Grandstand makes me a little jealous of Johnson County. And just to get things straight, the stretch of road that houses this humble little burger shack is not cupcakeland. It is total blue collar all the way. What amounts to “downtown” Merriam is little more than some auto repair shops, a lumber yard, a place that sells pavers and so forth, and a little hole in the wall that sells one of the best burgers in the metro.

Yes, I’ll admit that the mystique of the place contributes a lot to its appeal. You can fit approximately 5 people inside the place before you have to start exchanging phone numbers. Most people eat out on picnic tables, with a plastic bottle of ketchup and a handful of overly skimpy napkins. And this place cranks out the burgers. I was there about 1pm yesterday and they were doing a stiff business, half of which was carryout.

Ok, down to brass tacks. The bun is grilled. Condiments come on the sandwich and include lettuce, tomato, ketchup, mustard, pickle, onion, and mayo. I always forego mayo because I think it is disgusting. I will never smooch anyone who likes mayonnaise. The cheese is American and prominent in the flavor symphony of the burger. The patty itself is clearly hand-formed and is the perfect size. Personally I don’t like thick “restaurant-style” burgers. I like them thin, and these are fairly thin but really a good size compared to places like Max’s and Town Topic. They offer double and even triple cheeseburgers as well. Wanna see the whole menu?

I ate my cheeseburger in, like, 38 seconds. I just couldn’t stop myself.

I do have a (minor) quibble with the fries. The are cheap, out of the bag, crinkle-cut fries. They cook them as well as you can possibly cook them, by which I mean they don’t undercook them, which everyone seems to do in this town.

No one likes a flaccid potato.

They just seem like cheap fries somehow. I mean Chefburger also uses frozen fries, but you get the feeling that they tried a lot of varieties and chose the best one. I think Grandstand just went for the cheapest that Sysco had to offer. The cheapness comes through in other ways too. For instance, I’m pretty sure that they are rockin’ the generic ketchup in those red bottles. I can just tell. Anyhow, next time I go for the tater tots.

You know elsewhere in the country it is rare to see tater tots on a restaurant menu. No shit. I came to KC a couple years back and all these goddamn places had tater tots–that totally kick ass. Does anyone know why? Does anyone recognize this for the cute little local culinary identifier that it is? Is this a nationwide trend that I only noticed just now?

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Grandstand Burgers on Urbanspoon

Yelp

Apr 132008
 

In the food world Chicago is mostly known for this

But my favorite part of living (and eating) there was this monstrosity:

Italian Beef

Italian Beef

A big shout-out here to a reader and ex-Chicagoan who turned me on to Pizza Man and its truly delicious Italian Beef!

Just up the road a touch from Lenexa’s hilariously named Stonewall Inn, lies an unpretentious lunch spot that serves up some of the best humble lunch classics in true Chicago fashion and its beef is good enough to sate those unmistakable meat cravings associated with this glorious nugget of beefosity.

For the uninitiated, an italian beef is a sandwich consisting of shaved roast beef that has been cooked with italian spices. It is invariably accompanied by a thin, beefy jus infused with oregano, and topped with sauteed peppers and/or onions and/or giardiniera. Giardiniera itself is worthy of its own post, no-its own blog, but suffice it to say that it consists of pickled peppers and other vegetables. It can be hot or mild and often contains oddballs like cauliflower, carrots, green olives, capers…really anything.

Giardinera_9_1
photo Bella Baita B&B View on Flickr.

An italian beef can be served dry or wet (topped with a ladleful of jus) or dipped (dipped in the jus). Pizza Man serves the gravy on the side which works just fine for me. I know, wet bread? Sounds gross, but lemme tell ya people, it isn’t. It’s really really good. A lot of that has to do with the dense, spongy roll that is the carrier of all this deliciousness. It just works.

Pizza Man is a cool little place too. You order at the counter and Mr. Crusty at the counter (who really really really likes KU basketball) brings it out to you. The place was only a little busy but my beef did take a while to come out. And I got mine before the dude who was in front of me in line. Whatever, they got italian beef, man, they could tell me to fuck off and I’d still go back.

Anyway, there are a few arcade games in the joint too which you just don’t see enough of anymore. Oh, did I mention they sell beer? yeah I’m thinking about knocking back a few, eating italian beefs and playing galaga all weekend.

So Pizza Man gets a big thumbs up from me. And the menu is very sizable–lots of pizza as you can imagine, and chicago style hot dogs to boot. They also have meatball sandwiches and some other heart clogging cravables.

Meatball Sandwich

If you are hankering for more check out this web page of italian beef photos!

Or the Wikipedia Entry

More:

Pizza Man on Urbanspoon

Yelp

Apr 082008
 

Holy Land Cafe is probably the best middle eastern food you’ll find out in this part of Johnson County. Actually I have no idea if that’s true since this is the only middle eastern place in JoCo I’ve eaten. But, I’m sticking by my declaration!

Exterior

HLC is a fairly interesting spot in an unremarkable strip mall at 87th and Monrovia. You can’t see it from the road because there is a Taco Bell in the way. From my red vinyl padded booth in this veritably empty restaurant I could see the Taco Bell drive-thru. They were cranking out hot cheesy beef melts and chalupas like crazy. The poor bastards at Holy Land Cafe can’t be making a decent living unless they are running stolen goods out the back door or something. Which I wouldn’t rule out.

Their website describes the place thusly: “Eastern aroma of mystery creates a calm quiet setting which includes classic and ethnic music.” Wow, I couldn’t have said it better myself. Yeah it was totally like a harem in there, what with all the hotel art, formica and vinyl. As for the music, I don’t even remember what it was, but the dude in the kitchen was definitely watching some highly colorful “classic and ethnic” television.

Walking in the front door, it looks like this would be counter service, but you actually sit down and get waited on.

Interior

The guys who run the place are…well, moderately creepy is the only phrase for it. One dude who waits tables is definitely not rude, maybe just incredibly shy. I gave him my order and he kind of stood there until I gave him the menu. Then I said “that’s all I need, thanks” which is what gave him the cue to walk away. Yes, there was a Norman Bates quality to him.


Can I take your order sir?

But hey, the food is pretty good. I had a delicious kefta kabob pita, which came with a nice salad and a scoop of rice for good measure. Kefta kabobs are basically a delightful mixture of ground lamb and spices which are formed into balls and grilled. They were quite good and a nice change of pace from middle eastern staples like falafel. The menu featured all the usual suspects: shawarma, falafel, hummus, tabouleh, as well as some other lunch specials for six bucks and change. As with most restaurants of this kind, you’ll find some options for vegetarians as well.

Menu

The “Combo #1” is a shawarma plate, but the meat (steak and chicken) comes loose on the plate rather than in a sandwich. It’s accompanied by what is loosely called a Greek salad, a scoop of hummus, a dab of hot sauce, some soft pita triangles and a cup of tzaziki. This is a very tasty and satisfying plate that manages to be a good lunch portion without overfilling.

Shawarma combo

There is tons of other stuff on the menu, and I’ll most likely be back when I’m out in that neck of the woods. Holyland cafe is situated right next door to a pretty sizable and good looking halal market. It’s a like a little touch of Persia right in a strip mall in Lenexa.

read more:

Holyland Cafe on Urbanspoon

Yelp

Blue Koi: Leawood Edition

 Posted by at 4:40 pm
Mar 012008
 

Mission road in Leawood is becoming 39th street west.

Part of the fun of Blue Koi is its 39th Street location. It gets busy as hell on weekends. I enjoy putting my name in, giving them my cell number and hopping across the way to DB Cooper’s for a half hour of cigarettes, PBR and burn-out psychodrama. After some dumpling and noodles at Blue Koi you can stroll over to Fric n Frac or some other little joint and have a cocktail or coffee or whatever. It almost feels like a real city for a minute. But wait, I’m supposed to be talking about lunch.

Now Blue Koi has a Leawood location, just south of 103rd on Mission road. Like its older sibling, it is very popular for lunch. Don’t know about dinner. It is located in one of these weird semi-occupied mixed use developments. I think it is called “Mission Farms,” probably because it used to be a farm before they sent the old guy away with a million dollar check for his land. Anyhow it’s like storefronts with condos on the upper floors. But it basically feels like you are driving into a condo development, complete with a sign welcoming you to Mission Farms. And several of the storefronts seem like they have yet to be leased. Apart from the restaurant, it is eerily quiet in the parking lot. You know, because everyone who lives there is at work trying to pay for these places. Whoever developed this area probably had big ideas about dwelling and retail coexisting, complete with platitudes about vibrant pedestrian orientated living. But basically, you live in a condo in the suburbs above an overpriced chinese restaurant and a no-count hair salon. I’d be surprised if Mission Road has an uninterrupted sidewalk down to the new Room 39, another transplant from 39th street.

Back to basics: Blue Koi is very good at what they do. The menu at the Leawood location is pretty much identical to 39th street and the quality is similarly top-notch.

For the uninitiated, Blue Koi is a noodle and dumpling house that focuses on quality ingredients and fresh, homemade preparation. For most menu items you can choose whether you want them in a noodle soup, or just with noodles (sans broth) or with rice. It’s a nice way to offer choice without going crazy. I think that it’s pretty safe to do anything on the menu, whatever you choose won’t ruin the experience.

As I said the food is very good in both locations, but the Leawood version is super business-lunch oriented in terms of clientele. The service at Leawood was also excellent. Just like 39th street, you can also sit at the bar and watch the chefs at work. While this would drive me crazy if I was one of the chefs, it’s kind of cool for diners. It’s like a people zoo.

I think this location is kind of a destination spot for JoCo corporate types who wouldn’t venture to 39th street to begin with. It’s very interesting when KC places duplicates their efforts in Johnson County, I’m not sure how I feel about it. I understand the need to expand, but it feeds into the whole mentality that Kansans are unwilling to head over to this side of the border. While many rant about it, I’m not sure it’s completely true. If there wasn’t a Blue Koi or a Bo Lings or a Room 39 in JoCo — if people were forced to come to KC to appreciate good food, would they come? I honestly don’t know, but I do know that I head over to Kansas frequently to eat food. Think Oklahoma Joe’s or Il Trullo or whatever floats your friggin boat.

Anyhow, Blue Koi is great, everyone should eat there. Get the Chinese Pot Roast–it’s subtle, delicately textured and delicious with noodles. Ants on a Tree is also delicious and very popular. The dumplings? also first-rate. But to be perfectly honest, I don’t want to hang out in a Leawood condo development, even for lunch.

Read more:

Blue Koi on Urbanspoon

Yelp