Jun 162012

Dagwood’s will surprise you. Everything about the place leads one to expect substandard food — drab interior, haggard clientele, typical menu — but it’s frankly a step above the average diner. It has almost none of the physical character of a “classic” greasy spoon. The decor consists of faux-vintage Coca-Cola advertisements and hangable flea market witticisms. While clean, the place shows its age and isn’t particularly comfortable or pleasant to look at.

Located in the Rosedale neighborhood at Southwest Boulevard and I-35, Dagwood’s is easily accessible from most parts of the metro, but seems to cater to a mostly local patronage. If you want to see working class KCK in all of its glory, it delivers the goods. While you encounter the occasional brunching hipster, the typical clientele comprises auto mechanics, teenage mothers, extremely hungover young people and impossibly cute old men in trucker caps. There are more unfortunate tattoos on display here than any place outside of Rockfest. Dagwood’s used to enjoy the dubious reputation of being the area’s smokiest restaurant, but in these heady days of personal fitness and concern for public health, it manages to conduct a brisk morning and weekend business in a smoke-free fashion.


Please don’t attach any value judgment to my characterization of the people who eat at Dagwood’s. I am simply providing an adequate description for potential diners who are more accustomed to brunching at Chez Elle and think that eating from a food truck is “slumming.”

But I’ll be damned if I’m not impressed nearly every time I eat at Dagwood’s. They make a very good burger – it’s thin and griddled to a crisp but is wide enough to feed an average adult human.


And here’s the Texas Burger, which comes on grilled sandwich bread with sauteed onions, bacon and a handful of canned jalepeƱo slices.


Can you tell I like the onion rings? I doubt they are hand-breaded but you never know at a place like this. Regardless they are a tasty take on the cracker crumb-breaded style and a nice change of pace from boring old french fries.

The lunch selection pales in comparison to the breakfast fare, which is offered all day. As I mentioned previously, I don’t eat breakfast at lunch time, but if that’s your thing, Dagwood’s does a nice job on bacon, eggs, toast, omelets and the like. I’ve even written about breakfast at Dagwood’s before. The biscuits and gravy are nothing to sneeze at and the Dagwood sandwich is one of the best breakfast sandwiches in town.

The Dagwood sandwich

Biscuits and gravy


The service is generally very good, but the servers can get harried when it’s busy because only one person handles each dining room. Just walk in and take a seat, it might take a minute for someone to greet you and deliver a menu. At the end of your meal, pay at the counter register. I think this used to be a cash-only establishment, but these days they do indeed take cards. Also, keep in mind that Dagwood’s is a breakfast and lunch place only, so they close around 2pm every day.

It’s not the most creative menu or prettiest dining room, but Dagwood’s is a solid option for American diner classics.

Dagwood's Cafe on Urbanspoon

El Camino Real: 903 N 7th St (KCK)

 Posted by at 6:30 pm
Sep 132009

This is going to be short, because El Camino Real has received no small amount of praise and attention recently from the likes of Charles Ferruzza in the Pitch and the Gina Kauffman Walt Bodine show and from Meesha who, in my opinion offers the definitive analysis, complete with video. Read Meesha’s post for the substance, I’m just filling in some gaps.

I went there and sampled four kinds of tacos along with their rice and beans. The tacos were uniformly excellent. The meat benefits from being thrown back on the grill before serving where it develops glorious little crusty bits. The tortillas are small and corny yet soft and pliant. Each taco comes with two tortillas as they almost always do in proper Mexican spots. El Camino Real really piles on the meat too, more so than I thought they would for the $1.50 price tag.


Everything here is a tad greasy, even the tortillas. But it’s a good kind of greasy.

It is all the essence of simplicity. Dining in you will receive bowls of chopped white onions, cilantro and limes for your tacos. The pico de gallo is fresh, dry and lively with spice. The thinner, chile-based sauce likewise carries some heat and is very good drizzled on a carne asada taco.

El Camino Real

The rice didn’t impress me–a little too tomatoey and sweet, reminiscent of boxed rice. The refried beans were somewhat smokey, a flavor I haven’t encountered in beans before. A chipotle pepper perhaps?

Each item costs 1.99 so save yourself the effort and just get more tacos.

Vegetarians rejoice! That hot little number on the left is a rajas taco. It’s a cheese filled poblano in a creamy sauce with onions, similar to a chile relleno. Though your tortilla will grace the meat-laden surface of the grill, there is otherwise no animal flesh in sight.

This is a no frills place with a basic dining room, one waitress and two cooks. They run the place pretty efficiently and everyone is quite friendly.

I know Kansas City, Kansas can seem like end of the earth if you live in Johnson County or South KC. Or even if you live a mile away. But this place really is worth the trip. Located near 7th Avenue Parkway and Minnesota, it’s not that far, only 5 minutes from downtown. Get off I-70 at Minnesota and circle the block since you can’t turn left on 7th. It’s right there.

El Camino Real on Urbanspoon

May 102009

It is incredibly annoying how much people like this place. Yelp and other sites abound with people proclaiming this the best BBQ in Kansas City and often the best BBQ in the world. I don’t have a lot of use for those kinds of assertions unless they come from people I know personally and trust. Nonetheless, Oklahoma Joe’s stellar reputation is pretty much well-deserved. They make all the BBQ standards really well (at least all that I’ve had), and I haven’t encountered the shortcomings or weaknesses that you see at other establishments around the metro.

Pulled pork? Excellent. Ribs? Excellent. Chicken? Excellent. Brisket? Very good. Sausage? Meh.

BBQ chicken

Where I will differ with the vast majority of folks in Kansas City is in my assessment of the french fries. While well cooked and pleasingly crunchy in texture, they are vastly over seasoned. They are so salty that I rarely come close to finishing them.

The baked beans on the other hand, pretty much rule. Cole slaw is solid but typical.

This is a quintessential lunch spot in a lot of ways, particularly because I think the midday meal is their bread and butter. Anyone who has been around town for any length of time knows that there is a line out the door by 11:30 when doors open. The wait during lunch rush can approach 45 minutes. This is good food, but I can’t see waiting that long for it, especially if I have somewhere to be (like, oh I don’t know, WORK?). So this is a special occasion lunch place and also a perfectly good joint for dinner and odd hour meals.

And yeah, there is the gas station thing. Oklahoma Joe’s, for those who don’t know, is located in the back of a gas station convenience store at the corner of 47th and Mission Road. I won’t go into the history of this odd placement but at the very least it is amusing and makes for a great story when introducing out of towners to KC barbecue. Despite the humble surroundings, Oklahoma Joe’s has a comforting menu which is larger than many and designed to appeal to mass palates.

The line goes from right to left, which seems backwards but probably creates extra space when it gets too long. It gets a little annoying to squeeze between all the folks in line after paying with your tray full of hot meat, a wobbly plastic cup of beer and a bag of fries. Then you get your drink and have to navigate around the line again to get to your table. But folks are accommodating and friendly so it’s not a huge ordeal. I just know that someday I’m gonna drop my pale ale in someone’s purse.

A lot of people swear by their fabled Z-man sandwich, basically a bun piled with smoked brisket, cheese and a couple of onion rings. The carolina sandwiches are also popular and include your choice of meat, topped with cole slaw on a bun. Frankly I’m not a big fan of these kinds of “specialty sandwiches.” All I require is white bread and meat a la Arthur Bryant’s but those at OK Joe’s have an undeniable appeal. And if you want meat on bread at Joe’s you can get that.

Texas platter

I’m not going to debate what is or isn’t the best barbecue in Kansas City. For my money it is and always will be Bryant’s, but I can respect those who prefer Joe’s, Danny Edwards or even Jack Stack. Joe’s began as a competition barbecue team, tearing up the regional circuit in the 1990’s and early 2000’s. The restaurant has been going strong for about a dozen years, and in that relatively short time, Oklahoma Joe’s has inserted itself firmly into the pantheon of fabulous, local barbecue establishments.

Part of that is certainly its Kansas locale. Their clientele leans toward white and middle class and some of them undoubtedly like to think of themselves as slumming because they are eating in a gas station. All I can say is that the first time I went to LC’s, there were a couple guys being arrested up against cop cars in the parking lot. THAT is slumming it people. OK Joe’s is not so much a neighborhood joint as a destination spot anyway whereas Bryant’s still is a neighborhood place in a lot of ways. And the gas station isn’t remotely dingy or intimidating. It might as well be a Wendy’s with a line.

It is hard to get out of here for less than 10 bucks and a meal here often runs you much more because you want to try multiple items. That’s ok though, it is a destination meal and you should splurge a little. Get a beer and an unneeded side of beans; it won’t kill you.

I’d be a fool not to recommend Oklahoma Joe’s to anyone, just keep in mind that the line is long at the lunch hour. That means no whining. The wait is generally worth it if you have the time to spare. Service is very fast and despite how crowded it can be, I’ve never had a hard time finding a place to sit. So don’t try to save a table while your friend is ordering, because that’s just bad form.


Oklahoma Joe's Barbecue on Urbanspoon

Mar 172009

matador8Tacos El Matador is not much to look at from the outside, situated as it is on a particularly drab stretch of Merriam Lane. It lies just west of Earl Quick’s and the Boulevard Drive-In, separated from the street by a large expanse of crumbling parking lot. The sign out by the road is easy to miss but the building itself is a nice shade of pink, so it should be relatively easy to spot.

I heard about this place via email from Matt, a KC Lunch Spots reader who characterized the place as “very deserving of one of your reviews.” Boy was he right on the money. He also indicated that it is popular with folks who work first shift since you can get lunch food at a breakfast hour. This is a very interesting observation as I imagine it must be extremely difficult to get a burrito at 9am anywhere. Hell, you can’t even get a cheeseburger at McDonald’s during breakfast time.

El Matador is a delightful little joint on the inside, a situation which completely belies its locale and outward appearance. The interior features colorful booths, lots of light, a number of fresh plants and even some matador-themed artwork, including a couple of velvet paintings that I truly covet.


They do a fair amount of take-out business here, so I was unsure whether or not to order from the counter. After some pleasant but linguistically confusing back and forth with the waitress I realized that I could sit down and get waited on. Excellent.

The menu at El Matador is all over the place. The wall above the service counter is covered with signage advertising everything from menudo to pork tenderloin sandwiches. Perusing the full menu I found it likewise all-encompassing. Lunch specials include various taco plates and tamales in addition to cheeseburgers and chicken sandwiches, complete with french fries. This had me a tad worried but I went ahead and ordered some tacos. If “taco” is in the name of the restaurant, I order them.

While waiting I was brought a basket of chips and two squeeze bottles of salsa. The red salsa here is proper–thin, hot, with good tomato and chili flavor. The salsa verde was veritably exploding with vinegar, lime, cilantro and hot chilies. It was also quite salty which proved to be a little too much for me in combination with the other flavors. While the chips themselves were nothing special, they were warm and crunchy.

I enjoyed my chips with a cold bottle of Jarritos tamarindo soda pop. Jarritos, long available in Mexican markets and urban corner stores is much more common than it used to be. I encourage those who haven’t tried it to do so next time you are out for Mexican grub. There are typically a number of bold fruit flavors to choose from such as lime, mandarin, strawberry and the aforementioned tamarind.


Within minutes, the tacos arrived and I was not disappointed. The carne asada tacos consisted of lean, tender, marinated piles of chopped steak on two small corn tortillas with a healthy topping of onions and cilantro. The carnitas tacos are prepared the same way; the shredded pork is not tossed in any kind of sauce which you tend to see a lot at other places. The consistency of the carnitas was virtually identical to good pulled pork. Both meats were free of excess fat and gristle which is a common problem.

I haven’t been everywhere, but these are the best tacos I’ve had thus far in Kansas City.


Everything was right about them. No yellow cheese, no chipotle marinades, no shredded iceberg lettuce. Just tortilla, meat, onion, cilantro, salsa. The street tacos at Cancun Fiesta Fresh and a few other places are very good, but cannot compete with EL MATADOR!

I also enjoyed a side of refried beans. Nothing fancy, but I think Mexican-style refried beans are among the best comfort foods around. I wish I could have tried their rice, but alas, even my stomach has limits. The whole lunch set me back about 9 bucks and it was worth every penny.

All in all I loved this place. The experience actually makes me curious about their Americanized menu items like the tenderloin and the burgers. If they can do a taco this well, I wonder what the other stuff is like?

Tacos El Matador on Urbanspoon

Dec 262008

I like this place. It’s bustling, unpretentious, friendly and the food is very good though I’ve only had a couple things. Quick’s is located practically next door to the glorious Boulevard Drive-in, making it a perfect joint to grab some take-out to bring to a summer double feature.


From what I’ve read, this establishment is not to be confused with Quick’s 7th Street which by all accounts is vastly inferior, though located nearby.

This is yet another BBQ joint with table service, but the interior is very casual. There is a counter up front as you walk in where you can sit if you don’t want to deal with servers. I sat up there once and got to see the kitchen in action, the copious number of people coming in for take out, and the waitress smack-talk. As this was just before Thanksgiving, the owner was talking about making smoked turkeys for people to pick up on Wednesday. This service wasn’t advertised anywhere, but Quick’s seems to have enough regular customers that everyone is pretty well in the know.


I’ve heard of places like Quick’s, Rosedale and Woodyard referred to as “hillbilly barbecue” (as opposed to African American barbecue, presumably) and sure, the label fits. People were talking about pickup trucks after all. But just like Bryant’s or Gates on a busy day, you will see people of all stripes and persuasions mowing down on ribs and brisket.

And they know what they are doing here. I received confirmation of this when I overheard the owner say that he has no oven in the place. Yeah–no oven, just a smoker, a fryer, and maybe a grill. Maybe. That’s hardcore, because anyone who makes barbecue knows that finishing stuff in the oven is mighty tempting. But it’s also cheating.

The brisket and the ribs are both very good, expertly cooked and smoky. You can get sandwiches ($4.49) on white, wheat, rye or a bun, although I can’t imagine pulled pork on rye. Smoked turkey on rye? Perhaps I can get behind that. Like other barbecue joints, Quick’s offers sauces in sweet and hot varieties, and both have a nice balance of flavor and a good amount of tang (not the beverage). The fries weren’t my favorite, although not bad by any stretch of the imagination. They were potato wedges, lightly battered and fried. Something about battered fries bothers me unless I’m at Arby’s.

Quick’s really warrants several more trips because the menu ventures into a strange and wonderful realm with offerings like deep fried bologna and a glorious mess called “The Big Chili Dog:” a half-pound spiral cut, deep fried hot dog with chili, cheese, and onion. Oh. Yeah. I haven’t seen one (although Mr. Ferruzza has eaten one) but it sounds epic.


There are a number of of other specials as well. Quick’s is definitely going on The DLC’s BBQ rotation. But I don’t hit up this part of Kansas City, Kansas very often it’s unlikely I’ll be a regular. But for those of you who live or work nearby, check it out for some good BBQ, great service and good prices. While not the best BBQ in KC, Quick’s is definitely the real deal.

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Quick's Bar-B-Q on Urbanspoon


Jul 232008

Well, the tamales here blow the lid off any I’ve had anywhere else in Kansas City. It’s clear just from driving through this small stretch of Kansas City, Kansas that this is the area to go for the real deal.

I’ve always known that, but I just never got off my ass and went to KCK explicitly to eat Mexican food. This will change as of today.

An esteemed colleague of mine introduced me to Ninfa’s under the assumption that everyone knew about the place and their fantastic homemade flour tortillas.

“Where?” I asked, “Ninja’s? Who eats flour tortillas at a Mexican place?”

This widespread ignorance among my coworkers and me was soon rectified with a departmental outing to Ninfa’s under the tutelage of this wise, wise man.

Ninfa’s is small and simply decorated. Bright orange walls, large ceramic tile, a semi-open kitchen at one end and some decent-sized windows looking on to the street create a homey atmosphere that offsets the small size and relative cacophony of the dining area.

I hesitate to call Ninfa’s a “dive” because the word is vaguely insulting unless

1. You are referring to a bar, in which case it is a badge of honor.
2. It’s really, undeniably true.

“Dive” is not a word to be thrown around lightly. Some jackass on Yelp or somewhere referred to Oklahoma Joe’s as a dive. Right…the gas station thing, I get it. You know they have Subways and Pizza Huts and other places in gas stations nowadays too? Ever been to, I don’t know, a REST AREA? Seriously OK Joe’s looks like a Mall food court with really delicious food and a lot of white people.

Anyway, Ninfa’s is shacky but delightful. The menu is pretty large, but not the usual multipage tome you see at other Mexican places of dubious quality. This place is all about their homemade tortillas. Before your meal, a container of freshly made flour tortillas are brought to the table. Apparently that is what the bright blue bottle of squeezable Parkay is on the table for. This makes sense; in Chicago Mexican street vendors would put margarine on corn they sold from carts. That or mayonnaise (I think I just vomited a little, sorry).

These tortillas bear little resemblance to the dry, flaky discs that come in the Old El Paso package at the Price Chopper. Ninfa’s tortillas are moist, a little chewy and warm. I like the margarine option well enough, but a squirt or two of their salsa seems to be the better option.

A lot of menu items at Ninfa’s are fried. This isn’t unusual for Kansas City, but here it’s a much different affair. The meats are tender, flavorful and well-seasoned. Most of the food appears to be on the greasy side, but don’t let that stop you from ordering up a fried corn taco plate or whatever grabs your fancy. I opted for tamales spread, which was covered with cheese and stewed pork.

It was porktacular in the best possible way.

The flavor was not subtle but also not pedestrian in any way. You can tell a lot of care went into the preparation of these delights. Do yourself a favor and get a dozen to-go sometime, a bargain at $14.

The rice was odd–very short grain, and mixed with a tomato-y sauce. This gave it a somewhat mushy texture but I didn’t mind the flavor. I do prefer a simply, nuttier Mexican rice.

The service is great, Ninfa’s has the appearance of being a family-run business though I don’t know if it actually is. To add to the home-spun mystique, there is a truly charming, friendly and vaguely unintelligible older woman (Abuela Ninfa?) who seats people, gets drink refills, wipes down tables, cracks jokes; Basically she makes the place work. Our waitress was a 14-ish year old girl who, despite her age was nonetheless quite adept.

Apart from a couple places on Southwest Boulevard, this is my first foray into Mexican food in KCK proper. It won;t be my last. Ninfa’s is truly unique for cranking out those really good fresh tortillas everyday. It really raises the quality and fun of the food and the experience.

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Ninfa's Tortillas & Taqueria on Urbanspoon


Jul 182008

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

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

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

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

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

Bad toppings situation

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

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

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

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

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

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

yes I did say burritos.

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

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

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Burger Joint on Urbanspoon


Jun 022008

After parking, walking up and inside the Woodyard BBQ I was ready to declare it the King of all Kansas City Lunch Spots. I had heard about this place for a long time, but only recently figured out what the actual name was and where it was located. Well, it turns out to be right down Merriam Lane a bit from Grandstand in that interesting semi-industrial area where Wyandotte and Johnson Counties run together.

Basically the Woodyard is a humble barbecue operation run out of the bottom floor of a semi-dilapidated house on the South side of Merriam Lane. The place doubles as a literal woodyard, and the parking lot is basically a big gravel pit surrounded by piles of various kinds of chopped wood. The owner waved at us as we drove in. People were parked every which way, redneck style.

As we walked up the steps to a good sized wooden deck we were greeted by the owner who was fiddling around with some wood or something. We were also greeted by a gigantic brick smoker, puffing out great clouds of deliciosity right there next to the seating, which is on the deck. There is a small room with a counter through the front door. That’s where the ordering and condimenting happens. There is a cooler where you can grab the beverage of your choice and a small selection of cheap domestic beers (and corona) available cheaply. My meal came with my choice of drink, and apparently, that includes beer. Gotta love that. The prices are excellent, two of us got out for less than $18 and the portions are large.

The staff brings out your food to you on the deck or wherever you happen to be. The lady at the counter told us we could wander around, hang out, sit wherever and they would find us. There is a separate large pavilion with seating a stone’s throw away from the deck proper, complete with a roof and ceiling fans but it was empty at the time I visited. The Woodyard could throw a serious party with a lot of people if they were so inclined.

Woodyard patio

So there we were, with our car parked awkwardly in a gravel lot, drinking budweiser from a can, sitting on a deck watching a dude who looks like an ex-con flip ribs on the smoker. In other words, it’s a lot like how I spend the rest of my free time. No really, it was like going to a friends summer BBQ, or more like the summer BBQ of someone who you don’t really know that well. There was a even a set of horseshoes sitting on top of the trash can–I was tempted to set up shop there all afternoon.

On to the food:

Let’s get this out of the way first. Woodyard is NOT the best barbecue in Kansas City. It just ain’t. I’ve read and heard glowing things about it all over the place but the truth is that it does not compare favorably to Oklahoma Joe’s, Bryant’s, Jack Stack or (insert your fave bbq place here). But the food is prepared well and the experience is thoroughly enjoyable.

Burnt Ends

Beans were very good but almost certainly dressed up canned beans. The potato salad was run of the mill. The cole slaw was average. The pulled pork, however, was extremely interesting. It lacked the bite that hickory smoked woods give to meat, and was most likely cooked with some sort of fruit wood. But it had an amazing, buttery consistency and very good flavor. The ribs were similarly smoked but a little fatty for my taste. I think they could have used another hour on the smoker, because the texture of the meat was a little too…real. not that I didn’t eat them all. I liked the brisket but it was shaved so thin that it dried out quickly. Plus, I just like a thicker slice of beef, akin to that at Bryants or LC’s.

But I have to say, these are some of the most friendly and easygoing people I have ever encountered in a lunch spot. And the atmosphere is quite compelling. This is a very special place to have in KC and would be really fun to hang out at for a long while with friends. But as a lunch spot? I don’t know if it works. It seems like a place much better savored over a long time than quickly before your 1:30 meeting. It’s a destination place, and everyone should try it.

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