Jan 302011
 

To most folks outside of Kansas City, the Stonewall Inn refers to the landmark New York City nightclub that saw a 1969 riot by its gay patrons during a police raid. The Stonewall riot is often heralded as the event that put gay rights into the public consciousness. Out in Lenexa, Kansas, The Stonewall Inn refers to a supremely old school restaurant serving up traditional homestyle American cooking without flash or pretension. I imagine homosexuality plays very little part in what they are serving up and its name is just a happy accident.

Stonewall Inn

While I have not eaten at the Stonewall’s main restaurant, a smaller old home sits just south of the original restaurant at Pflumm and 103rd and houses Stonewall Pizza. This is a smaller, more affordable joint with a limited menu. While the big restaurant is open for lunch, Stonewall Pizza makes a little more sense for a quick midday bite so that’s what I’ll focus on here.

I have been to Stonewall Pizza many times over the course of three years, having first been introduced to it by local blogger Goofy Girl. As I said, it lacks pretension but I’ve found that the pizza is really quite good.

Slices

Slices

Stonewall Inn

You order at a counter just inside the front door. The menu offers slices, whole pies and a few sandwiches. The best bet for lunch is the special: a 3-topping slice, side salad and fountain drink for $6.48. I have opted for the two-slice lunch but found it to be too much food and slightly too expensive, approaching 10 bucks with drink. As each slice is made to order, it can take 10 minutes or so to get your food.

These are large slices with a fairly thin crust that remains delightfully crispy on the bottom and edges. While slightly more rustic in appearance, the pizza slices at Stonewall remind me of those at D’Bronx, and are a little bit cheaper.

The salads are typical unremarkable pizza parlour offerings with iceberg and romaine lettuce, a handful of shredded mozzarella cheese and a couple of pepperoni slices. I’ve never understood why pizza places love putting odd pizza toppings on salads. It’s not like they don’t have a a whole slew of fresh vegetables on hand, so why put pepperoni and cheese on the salad? Yet another truism for you: shredded cheese never belongs on a salad.

Stonewall Inn

Stonewall Pizza is not a restaurant for people who like to keep to themselves. You see, this is perhaps the friendliest place I have ever eaten. It’s friendly to a fault. If you want to show up, order food and mind your own business, you may be disappointed since the staff will talk to you continuously throughout your stay. Not a minute into my last visit, I knew the name of the woman at the counter and the name of the owner who was sitting at one of the tables in the empty dining area. Throughout the meal, each staff person referred to me by my first name, frequently checking up on me to make sure everything was okay and making small talk. One woman even asked me if it was alright to change the music, which played from a portable stereo by the front window.

I don’t have a lump of coal for a heart, so I appreciate the hands-on treatment at Stonewall Pizza, but it’s not everyone’s cup of tea.

Interior

The interior is small and a little wonky but it’s an interesting space to have lunch. There is a back dining room that is typically closed or empty and a sizable patio out front that is nice in warmer climes.

All in all, Stonewall Pizza is a decent spot to put on the lunch rotation if you live or work in that part of Johnson County. It took me a while to warm up to the place but the good crust occasionally calls my name, which put it over the top for me. Stiff competition from Pizza Man which sits right next door may make this a less appealing option. But since Pizza Man recently started pre-making Chicago Dogs and Italian Beefs for lunch service, you may want to give Stonewall Pizza a try one of these days.

Stonewall Pizza
10244 Pflumm Road Lenexa, Kan. [Map it >]

Stonewall Inn on Urbanspoon

Edokko: 8615 Hauser Ct. Lenexa

 Posted by at 9:58 pm
Apr 252010
 

The restaurant critics gave a nice shout-out to Edokko on KCUR’s Walt Bodine show a few weeks ago. I was glad this place was on their radar because I had eaten there back in March and found it to serve among the best sushi in town.

Edokko Sushi

Edokko is situated in a small strip mall on Hauser Ct. just off 87th street in Lenexa. It sits next door to KC Grill & Kabob which itself offers a very fine Middle Eastern lunch buffet. Inside the entrance is a little lobby with some large bamboo and a delightful fish pond. The little speaker on top issues a barely audible greeting when you walk in or out.

Edokko

Edokko

Sushi is a great option for lunchers venturing out on their own. You can always count on the presence of a sushi bar where you can join other solo diners. The bar also offers the opportunity to watch the sushi chef practice his craft; some chefs (the gentleman at Jun’s comes to mind) are veritably chatty fellows who are more than happy to discuss the finer points of sushi-making.

Edokko is very tastefully decorated, anchored by an 18-seat granite sushi bar with stone accents.
Sushi bar

A series of elevated wooden booths run along two walls above the central dining area. The booths are sleek and modern with appealing earth-toned cushions.

Booths

Like most better sushi places, prices run a little higher than the average lunch excursion. The sushi special runs $10.95 and includes 6 pieces, a California roll and miso soup.

Sushi lunch

Miso soup

This is definitely a crowd-pleasing special as there are no “weird” choices, and a California roll is about as safe as you can get. But this was great sushi, absolutely creamy, fresh tasting and delightful. The nigiri were on the large side as well.

I went back recently and wanted to check out something else from their lunch menu (PDF). I opted for Yaki Udon, a dish of thick noodles mixed with chicken, snap peas, egg, lettuce, carrots, mushrooms and topped with sesame seeds and slivers of dried seaweed. Delicious. I strongly suspect that they make they own udon noodles but I haven’t eaten them a lot. I just have a hard time believing that a dried noodle could taste this tender and fresh. I asked the server but she had no idea how they were prepared, and indeed seemed clueless as to what the cooks did back there. That’s some serious division of labor.

Yaki Udon

Nonetheless, I appreciated the otherwise great service both at a booth and at the sushi bar during each visit. When I visited shortly after they opened, the owner chatted with me briefly, asking how I heard about Edokko, whether I liked the food and encouraging me to come back. She seemed like a nice lady and I felt good about patronizing the place. You will too, assuming you want to eat in Lenexa.

Oh, and I’m pretty sure they have karaoke.

Edokko Japanese Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Apr 092010
 

Cafe Augusta closed in late 2011

I have been to Cafe Augusta probably half an dozen times since it opened last summer. Why haven’t I posted about it? Well, there isn’t a ton to say really. The JoCo populace seems genuinely happy with this moderately classy little cafe and its selection of sandwiches, soup, salads and European-inspired entrees. When it opened it was often crowded at noon, but I’ve noticed lately that business has dropped off a tad. Let’s just call that the Ferruzza bubble. The Pitch’s reputable critic gave it a somewhat positive review that had me there for lunch the same week. Perhaps some of the luster has worn off.

I was moderately pleased with my Cobb Salad on that first visit, though surprised to see that the $8.95 dish did not come with chicken, as most Cobbs do. While the typical bacon, blue cheese, tomato, avocado, etc. came standard, chicken would have been a $3 upcharge, bringing the total to a fairly hefty $11.95, not including beverage or tip. If I’m ordering from a counter, I expect a little more for my money, or just slightly lower prices. Also the avocado was underripe.

While I had become accustomed to ordering at the counter and having my food delivered, my most recent visit saw the unexpected development of table service. This was a nice touch and I found the server to be quite friendly and well-trained. I tried the half sandwich and soup combo ($8.50) with a currry squash soup that was attractively presented.

Cafe Augusta

The server had described the soup as “not spicy” but it was actually fairly hot. This was a-ok by me, but other may have been miffed at the false advertising. The smoked turkey and brie sandwich was tasty, though I grow very tired of the ubiquity of ciabatta bread. A crusty baguette would have been perfect. The combo is a decent value for the money, though I find it does not hold up favorably portion or taste-wise against the similar offering at 75 Cafe.

Folks rave about the unconventional take on the tuna melt at Cafe Augusta. It arrives open faced on four smallish slices of multigrain bread.

Tuna Melt

The flavor of fresh ginger is prevalent in the tuna mixture, which also contained grapes and nuts. Overall I liked the sandwich but the sweetness and overabundance of grapes kind of overwhelmed the inherent flavor of the tuna fish. The unusual presentation made it easy to eat though the bread was a little soggy on the bottom. This leads me to believe that the tuna melt is broiled in the oven rather than grilled.

The house dressing on their salads is superb, though the lettuce looked a little past its prime on one of my visits.

The atmosphere is somewhat nicer than 75 and many other local joints. While the European landscape prints did little for my aesthetic sensibilities, I appreciated nice touches like the oversized, interestingly shaped white china and sprigs of fresh herbs in small vases on the tables. The music is tasteful and runs toward classical (far superior to the “smooth jazz” blaring at 75 Cafe).

Cafe Augusta

There is certainly more to the menu than I have discussed. For instance Augusta offers German food on Mondays and a series of dinner specials throughout the week. In the end, Cafe Augusta is not bad, but certainly not my first choice for lunch in an area that actually features some very good lunch spots. The decor and menu seem perfect for business lunches or any other sort of semi-upscale meal in which you don’t want to fret about the personal tastes of the attendees.

Cafe Augusta on Urbanspoon

Nov 252008
 

This is so far west in Lenexa, it might as well be De Soto. That means it’s in the middle of nowhere as far as I’m concerned. But good food is worth traveling for so when I noticed Shorthorn’s BBQ just off K-7 (I think) on 83rd Street, I decided to give it a shot.

Well, this is basically a large bar that serves food. Frankly I was hoping for a little more of a unique atmosphere, and maybe a little local color, but there is really none to be found. The restaurant is riddled with cheesy throwaway sports/beer/babe decor and features a million television sets to boot.

The lunch time trade is slight but significant; there were maybe 20 people in the place. I sat at the bar and enjoyed very good service along with a truly mediocre beef brisket sandwich and some good onion rings. The menu has all sorts of other items, from chicken strips to meatball sandwiches to mini-corndogs (!). I like that sandwiches come with choice of Fries, Onion Rings, Baked Beans, Cole Slaw, Potato Salad, Cottage Cheese or Tater Tots all at the same price. Although I would not want cottage cheese with my BBQ. They also have steaks, pasta and salmon filet entrees if you want to throw away some more money.

There seems to be a crowd of regulars here. I overheard some of them talking about their drunk weekend shenanigans, which probably also took place at Shorthorns. The bartendress was very quick and friendly despite her tendency to shoot the shit with all the dudes handing around the bar.

Basically this is the kind of bland bar and grill I always wind up at when I’m at a conference by myself in a strange town and desperately want a meal and three beers. Sure Shorthorn’s is locally owned and maybe a little rough and tumble when the farmers get their drink on, but I’m sure it succeeds because people just want a close place to eat, drink and chat up a divorcee.

There is really very little to eat out this far west, so Shorthorn’s does the trick if you need to grab a quick lunch. But I would not go out of my way to eat here.

Lucky Wok: 15129 W 87th St.

 Posted by at 2:46 am
Sep 112008
 

This visit lay to rest one of the rumors I’ve heard my entire adult life, but somehow never quite believed. It goes something like this:

Chinese restaurants cater so much to their American clientele such that they dumb down the food on their menu. But, unbeknownst to non-Chinese, there is always a Chinese version of the menu that contains more authentic (and delicious) dishes intended for a more refined Chinese palate. Certainly I’ve been to these restaurants before and seen platters of completely unfamiliar and sometimes odd food being delivered to Chinese patrons. An alternate version of the theory proposes that native Chinese can just order “whole fish” or merely ask for what’s good that day and get treated to a custom made feast.

I tended to disbelieve these rumors because misconceptions about Chinese persons and their food run rampant. I can’t tell you how many reviews I’ve read that insist that such and such restaurant serves dog or cat, or they practice highly unsanitary food handling, or they skimp on quality because they think Caucasian diners won’t notice. The “secret menu” idea just seemed like a paranoid white person’s way of saying “they only serve the good stuff to the Chinese.”

Well, I’m happy to say that Chinese menus are indeed real. Real credit for turning me on to this revelation goes to commenter Tze Yuin who encouraged me to try Lucky Wok, and the ever-respectable, eloquent and refined Ulterior Epicure who has an absolutely essential post on great, authentic Chinese dining in Kansas City. In fact, skip the rest of this post and just read his. He is much more knowledgeable than I am, though far less likely to bring up Knight Rider, Schlitz Malt Liquor, or Englebert Humperdink than me.

So yeah, I walk inside Lucky Wok only to be greeted by the most pedestrian Chinese buffet I have ever seen. The usual assortment of beige, deep fried nuggets are on display accompanied by the requisite orange and red sauces that could double as dessert toppings. I realize these things have their appeal, but so does port wine cheese spread. The woman at the counter seated me, assuming I wanted the buffet. I asked to see a menu and she handed me a tome that offered the typical Amero-Chinese delights: Egg Foo-Yung, Sweet and Sour everything, Lo Mein, and various other things that are synonymous with “deep fried pieces of meat with sweet technicolor sauce.”

Then I asked if I could see the Chinese menu. She didn’t bat an eye and immediately handed over an only slightly smaller booklet which offered a completely different set of dishes. Seriously I cannot overstate the disconnect between the regular menu and the Chinese menu. This was stuff that looked delicious, stuff I found vaguely disturbing, stuff I couldn’t understand and most importantly, stuff I had never heard of.

The menu was split into categories: soups, noodles, Hong Kong style dishes, seafood, beef, pork, chicken–possibly a couple others. I ordered Hot & Spicy bean curd and Double Delight Soup.

The soup ($2.25) was beautiful to behold and pleasing to the taste buds. Two varieties of ground fish cake floating in a mild chicken broth. It was delicious, though a tad on the fish-tastic side for most Western tastes I’ll warrant. The broth was pleasantly greasy and not overpowering–clearly house made.

The tofu dish ($6.95) was a little more run of the mill than I expected. I could have been more adventurous in my choice of dishes for sure. This was basically a stir fry with tofu, green peppers, pork, hot peppers and straw mushrooms. Yes, there was pork in the tofu dish, no one ever claimed it was vegetarian.

So it wasn’t an overwhelmingly unfamiliar flavor at all, just a simple stir fry with good, fresh ingredients (well, the mushrooms were likely canned) and I couldn’t stop eating it. So sorry, no bizarre flavors here folks. In fact, many of the dishes on the Chinese menu seemed like they would appeal to many gringos. I say these restaurants should publicize these menus more and expand their client base. Or not. Personally I like the feeling of eating something really special while fat guys with mustaches are eating egg rolls from a Sysco bag and sweet & sour sauce squeezed out of a pouch. The portion was outstanding, easily enough to have leftovers the next day.

The service was truly wonderful. It was absolutely no trouble to order from the menu during lunch buffet hours and didn’t mind when I asked for the Chinese version. The food came out quickly and was so freaking hot that I could hardly eat for 5 minutes.

The decor is pretty typical and unremarkable. Red vinyl booths, some gold-accentuated artwork. Nothing fancy, nothing particularly tasteful as far as I’m concerned, but this is a lunch joint. The taste needs to be on the plate, not on the wall.

So overall, an outstanding experience. I can’t thank Tze Yuin enough for his her recommendation and encouragement to move into uncharted territory for me. Seriously, from now on, I’m asking for Chinese menus at Chinese restaurants. I don’t care if I risk looking like a pompous douche or a creepy asiaphile. It really makes all the difference.

Read more:

Lucky Wok Chinese on Urbanspoon

Yelp

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.

Read more:

KC Grill & Kabob 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

Nov 132007
 

This is a fast food, railroad-themed, johnson county cheesesteak emporium. Thanks to commenter JH for bringing this local chain to my attention. Apparently chartreuse is a particularly obnoxious variety of the color green. I’m happy to report that the large model train featured at the Lenexa location opts for a more understated green than true chartreuse. One also hopes that the misspelling “chartroose” was an intentional gesture to facilitate visual rhyming with “caboose” in that gimmicky, commercial signage kind of way.

The Lenexa Caboose is located in a strip mall west of I-35, a truly uninspiring but typical placement for establishments in this part of the metro. The place was entirely filled with dudes–overgrown frat boys on lunch break, college students, random jobless yahoos. Not sure why, but cheesesteak doesn’t seem to be popular with the ladies.

The food at this place is fine, mostly because i can’t really think of another fast food place that specializes in cheesesteaks. As discussed previously, Grinders has a damn good one, but lots of places just phone it in, resulting in highly perplexing and uninspired varieties of this delicacy. The cheesesteak was good, but not awe-inspiring. Shockingly, it really needed more cheese. I’m thinking Cheez Whiz. I mean, it’s called a cheesesteak for chrissake, what’s the deal here? They have other things on the menu but I wasn;t going to order anything else if they consider this the specialty. The prices are cheap–I got outta there for 6 bucks all said.

The decor of course is pretty terrible–formica tables, too much light, hotel-grade artwork with a locomotive theme. They can’t decide whether this is a fast food joint or or a hangout. There is a small video game room and a train track that runs along the circumference of the wall. One can only imagine that the model train takes periodic trips around the confines but I did not witness this. They also serve beer which, along with these other things indicates to me that the Caboose wants to be a dinner destination for families. My advice, quit trying to hard and be a lunch spot.

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Chartroose Caboose on Urbanspoon