Sep 252011
 

Johnny’s is a place that has been around forever (since 1977) but hadn’t received much attention or respect, at least in my circles. That may have changed a little when His Doucheness Guy Fieri dropped by a while back on his “Kansas City Barbecue Tour” for Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.  This place came across very well on the program and the food looked great on TV, but everyone I know who had been there said Johnny’s just wasn’t very good.

Apparently not everyone feels that way, because when I stopped by recently, this fairly spacious BBQ joint on Broadmoor was full of people at the lunch hour. There is nothing to alarm the discerning barbecue diner upon entering. You order at a counter, jauntily accented with an old school menu board and a display of barbecue sauces that is dizzying in its comprehensiveness.

The staff persons are very friendly and helpful, particularly the owner who is typically present behind the counter expediting orders or out in the dining room delivering food. Simpler dishes like sliced meat sandwiches are presented right at the counter soon after ordering. Others are delivered to you out at your table.

Menu

The highly touted barbecued chicken is probably one of the better versions around town. As seen in the DDD video, it is smoked and then deep-fried to give the bird a relatively crisp crust. As a result, the chicken is much moister and has a pleasantly crunchy skin, unlike chickens I’ve had at other BBQ joints such as Zarda, who recently served me a dry-ish, flabby chicken that looked better but tasted worse than this one.

That being said, poultry is one of the most forgiving meats to smoke and I was hoping for more wood flavor from Johnny’s bird. While not among the best barbecue I’ve tasted, Johnny’s chicken had a hypnotizing effect on me, and I found myself stripping every piece of meat and gnawing on the bones. The portion is good too-a half chicken seems like a lot but really is only a pound and a half of meat which is rounded out perfectly by Johny’s decent baked beans which are cooked in the smoker but come across as a very traditional, molasses-flavored Boston-style baked bean.

Half chicken

beans

I suspect that the sauce turns a lot of barbecue purists off. It is extremely red, more pronounced than the color of ketchup and is applied liberally to most dishes unless you request that it be left off. While not particularly assertive, it has a distinctive tanginess that complements lighter meats better than beef or ribs. Some diners assume that the sauce is inferior because of its color while I find it acceptable, certainly better than the oddly sweet stuff at the otherwise superior RJ’s up the road.

The fries are nothing special: crinkle-cut frozen numbers that get the job done but really should be better considering the competition from other barbecue joints like Arthur Bryant’s and Oklahoma Joe’s who dish out superb, hand-cut fries.

The burnt ends are prepared well but lack the smoky punch that I expect from the best barbecue. The sandwich comes on a soft hoagie roll, topped with red onions and pickle slices, all of which are utterly unnecessary and ridiculous. At my core I feel that barbecue should be meat, sauce and white bread.

Burnt Ends

The decor is alas, drab as hell, reminiscent of a chain diner like Waid’s. The walls are sadly devoid of much artwork and the furniture is pure, cheap commercial dreck: Formica tables, vinyl booths, industrial carpeting.

Interior

The service is great here all around. The owner is very active in the daily operations and is typically out on the floor delivering food and making sure people are happy. At the risk of being indelicate, I should point out that Johnny’s employs a couple of developmentally disabled bus-people, a practice that I whole-heartedly endorse and appreciate. Those who have worked with such people (as I have have) or have them in your family (which I do) realize that providing a source of income is extremely important in contributing to their quality of life and promoting independence and self-sufficiency. One of the bus-women noticed that my paper towels had run out and chatted with me while replacing them with a fresh roll. I’ve never had a bus-person introduce herself to me before, but she did, and I found it a delightful exchange. Johnny’s gets big kudos for giving an opportunity to people who are often overlooked.

In general, this place is a lot better than I was led to believe, but not among the brightest lights of KC barbecue. I think Johnny’s is legitimate and probably unworthy of ridicule. It’s certainly worth a visit for those who want to familiarize themselves with the range of barbecue available in the area.

Johnny’s hickory House Bar-B-Que
5959 Broadmoor St
Shawnee Mission, KS 66202
www.johnnysbbqkc.com
(913) 432-0777

Johnny's Hickory House Bar-B-Q on Urbanspoon

Aug 202011
 

Sobahn on Shawnee Mission Parkway west of Metcalf is probably the best of the five or so Korean restaurants the Kansas City metro has to offer. Cho-sun, Choga, Rainbow and Kokoro Maki House are the only other places that offer decent Korean dishes in town, but I think Sobahn surpasses them all.

I was privvy to an off-menu private dinner at Sobahn earlier this year which enabled me to experience the full extent of their skill, but rest assured the regular offerings present a number of enticing options for casual lunch diners. As is the case for most Korean restaurants, lunch at Sobahn will cost a few dollars more than your average lunch spot, and it may take a little longer to get in and out.

Fans of meat will find plenty of pleasing items on the lunch menu including the region’s most delicious beef bulgogi, pork (jaeyukk bokkeum) and short ribs (tong galbi) which arrive on sizzling cast iron trays, accompanied by rice and banchan, the traditional side dishes that typically include kimchi among other pickled or fermented foodstuffs. Banchan are never quite the same on each visit, and recently I’ve found them a little less pungent and spicy than I prefer. Sobahn does prepare delicious Korean pancakes which can be stuffed with any number of items, including kimchi, and is usually served with a thin, tangy sauce.

Jaeyuk Bokkeum

Banchan

Service can be hit or miss at Sobahn. On my last visit, I had to wait a full ten minutes before being seated, and a good fifteen minutes to get my check after plates had been cleared. I was also charged dinner prices during lunch hour, which was hard to argue with since I received the large portion due to a misunderstanding and ate it all. Regardless the server was eager to please that day, and talked to me at some length about the food and my personal tastes with regard to Korean cuisine. Perhaps I’m not the average diner, I don’t know, but most ethnic restaurants would do well not to assume the worst about their white American patrons. In general, Sobahn does well in this respect.

While I’ve eaten a fair amount of Korean food over the years and tried a number of items at Sobahn, this strikes me as a menu that contains many pleasures for the uninitiated diner.

Korean Restaurant Sobahn on Urbanspoon

Don Chilitos: 7017 Johnson Drive

 Posted by at 11:00 pm
Apr 302009
 

Don Chilitos

Don Chilitos 1 is not so much a Mexican restaurant as an American idea of what a Mexican restaurant is. An old idea.

Mexican food in America has so many incarnations and varieties that it’s nearly impossible to quantify them. Don Chilitos is a type of Mexican place that your grandma can get behind, an establishment that embodies the 1970s and 80s, when many ethnic and national cuisines achieved mainstream status by mainstreaming their flavor palates, using conventional ingredients and catering to the ravenous gullets of their clientele.

These days things are a little different. Mexican-American food is often prepared and served by real life actual Mexican people. You see more fresh cilantro, moles, corn tortillas, and green salsa on menus than you used to. They may even dress it up a bit to make it look nice. There are often menu options that approach a degree of authenticity. I’m thinking of places like Fronteras, Dos Reales and Mi Ranchito.

Despite these improvements, 1990s era Mexican food doesn’t get a lot of love from the food-savvy but remains extremely popular with the masses of regular people who just want to get full for $6.95 before resuming the mindless drudgery that is the work week. 2 And like I said, the food isn’t bad.

I take this uncharacteristically generous approach in order to make a point. Having been to Don Chilitos a couple times recently, I think it is useful to illustrate just how far we’ve come. You see, Don Chilitos is super old school. It has been around since the middle 1970s before most people cared about authenticity or healthiness or frills. And it displays an almost admirable resistance to any restaurant trend or development over the last 35 years.

This place looks every bit its age. The decor is an assemblage of aging ceramic tile on the walls, painted lattice, creaky wooden booths, childlike murals, stained glass and neon beer signs. There are a few rooms that each have a slightly different vibe but it’s all sort of a mess. This is the best photo I could get without shoving my phone in someone’s face:

Interior

Did I mention that this place is a cafeteria? Seriously. You walk in and are faced with a long stainless steel cafeteria line. Grab a tray, some silverware and some napkins and you are ready to place your order.

There is a ton of stuff on the menu and most of it involves your choice of sauce. You can top that burrito off with orange queso sauce which they call “CCQ”3), red sauce or chili con carne. I went nuts and ordered one “Chilito Style” which is red sauce, sour cream, black olives and cheese.

Burrito

In case a cup of melted cheese sauce isn’t enough, you can get a “Big Top” which is double the topping for an extra buck or so. Can’t decide on sauces? No problem! Get two sauces for 85 cents! Chili con carne with CCQ anyone?

You can also get the sauces on their chimichangas (essentially a deep-fried burrito) or this beauty, the seafood empanada:

Seafood Empanada: A deep-fried pastry shell filled with zesty seafood rangoon and topped with your choice of Red Sauce, CCQ or Chilito style topping.

They had me at “zesty seafood rangoon.”

If Chimpotle orders and eats the seafood empanada with CCQ from Don Chilitos I will pay for his meal, including the alcoholic beverage of his choice.

Anyhow, just when you thought this place couldn’t get weirder it turns out they heat up burritos and other things in microwave ovens. I’m not sure if the burritos are pre-made or thrown together on the spot, but they are warmed just enough to take the chill off and subsequently covered with piping hot sauce. Yes, a microwaved burrito.

But seriously if you’re not an idiot, you can get out of here without dying. I have had the tacos and they are actually pretty good. Yes, they are the hard taco shells with ground beef, shredded yellow cheese and iceberg lettuce, but Don Chilitos makes them about as well as you can. And they are made to order and never touch a microwave oven.

Tacos

The burritos are only ok. I’m not a fan of the super tiny ground beef they use although they season it well. Mine was definitely not hot enough. The red sauce is just not that good, probably because its primary ingredient comes from a can.

And then there are the salsas.

Salsas

Not too appetizing is it? But they are serviceable as taco flavor-enhancing agents. The hot salsa is actually a tad spicy, which surprised me frankly. The real craziness is right next door: a veritable shit-ton of tortilla chips in a steamtable bin.

Bin o' Chips

That’s lot of chips! It strikes me as crazy that they go through this many in a day, much less a single lunch rush, but apparently it works for them. It also serves to keep the chips slightly warm. This is the aspect of Don Chilitos that convinces me that people with big appetites love this restaurant. I can’t fathom choking down a beef burrito Chilito style, following it with a basket of chips and then downing half a dozen sopapillas for dessert.

Which reminds me: ALL YOU CAN EAT SOPAPILLAS! Everyone who likes Don Chilitos freaks out about these little deep fried sugary nuggets.

Sopapillas

In my opinion, the sopapillas at Don Chilitos are terrible. They are far too dense and quickly get chewy and dry. I’ll wager they dump them by the Sysco bag-full into the deep fryers. But what the hell, you can eat 20 of them if you want. And I’m sure some people do.

To sum up, this place is crazy. But as hard as it tries, Don Chilitos won’t kill you.

Yelp

Don Chilito's Mexican on Urbanspoon

1. A big, DLC-sized shout out to my co-worker who suggested this place and

Apr 042009
 

italian delight 3

Avelluto’s Italian Delight is a semi-cafeteria style restaurant that offers simple versions of pretty much any Italian-American dish you could ever want. Based on what I had heard, I expected someplace a little more dingy, but it is actually quite nice inside and, despite what the photo below shows, is really hopping at the height of lunch hour.

italian delight 1

All food is ordered from a register at the end of a large series of deli counters as you walk in. There is so much to choose from that I found it very difficult to make a decision. Pizza, pasta, stromboli, calzones, Italian sandwiches, they have the whole 9 yards here. Side dishes are a little lacking. The side salad is a tepid affair, featuring iceberg lettuce, cheese and a pretty good, traditional Italian dressing. But it is a far cry from satisfying a true vegetable craving. They do offer sides of spinach and broccoli but at more than $3, they are really prohibitive as side dishes. I’ve had the pasta salad which is a solid bow tie noodle dish with diced peppers and fresh basil. Good, but not as good as I make at home.

Italian delight

italian delight 5

The meatballs here are pretty good: light fluffy and full of flavor. But the overall effect of the meatball sub was less than ideal. The sauce was overly sweet and tasted canned. The bread was too soft, lacking the definitive crust of a good Italian bread.

italian delight 4

Similarly the pizza is fine and the toppings are good, but the dough has none of the qualities of exceptional crust. It bakes up rather chewy and soft, and is slightly undercooked if anything. The slice is vaguely reminiscent of square cafeteria pizza.

Italian delight

I have never eaten anything bad here, but I do find it underwhelming. In the immediate area there are few lunch spots that can compare. If the Mission Twittical pub crawl taught me anything, it’s that Mission has really terrible food. Avelluto’s does handle a high volume lunch crowd very efficiently. I’ve never waited very long to get my food after ordering. If you order multiple items, be aware that they will bring out faster things like salads more quickly.

I can see Italian Delight being perfectly good for folks who want to pick up a pizza or carryout some lasagna or chicken Parmesan to heat up for dinner. I would go again if I had a craving for pasta (which never happens) or Italian deli meats(more likely). But don’t expect to be blown away.

Check out their menu here.

Read more:

Yelp

Avelluto's Italian Delight on Urbanspoon