Jan 162012
 

I have eaten at El Salvadoreño a number of times since it opened up across from the Overland Park farmer’s market a few short months ago, and as much as I relish complaining, I don’t really have anything bad to say about it.

Exterior

The cuisine is every bit as authentic and tasty as Johnson County’s other Salvadoran outlet, El Pulgarcito and is dished out in a much tidier and slicker environment. El Pulgarcito seems to attract a more working class Latino clientèle while El Salvadoreño tends toward curious white people off the street, which makes sense given its location at the heart of a small but viable middle class shopping district. However I will not ruminate farther on this matter because it doesn’t really matter. Both restaurants have unique qualities and enough distance between them that I hope they can co-exist comfortably because they are both assets to their communities. El Salvadoreño’s Facebook page proudly declares, “Real Central American Food Made By Real Central American People” – and that’s what is really important isn’t it?

El Salvadoreño offers the familiar assortment of pupusas: cheese, pork, loroco, beans and the glorious mix of pork, beans and cheese, sometimes referred to as revueltas. The pupusas arrive fresh of the grill, not too greasy, and have excellent texture and a nicely griddled crust. On one visit I did receive a pupusa that was a tad less griddled than I prefer but to complain would be splitting hairs.

Salsa

Pupusas arrive with the requisite jar of curtido, a slightly spicy shredded coleslaw accompaniment and red sauce which does not have a strong flavor but does provide much needed moisture to this starch-heavy cuisine.

A particularly delicious starch is the fried yuca which comes topped with chunks of fried pork, curtido and sauce.

Yuca Frita

The yuca wedges are expertly fried and incredibly crispy on the outside. At $6.50, yuca frita is one of the cheaper options for lunch if you’re crazy you don’t feel like having pupusas.

One item that I have not seen at other Salvadoran outlets is the pan relleno ($7.50) which bears the distinction of being somewhat of a preposterous novelty sandwich while not being all that unhealthy.*

Pan Relleno

While the menu describes the filling as “roasted, marinated chicken” with a “spoonful of chicken broth” the soft texture and flavor implied that it was poached or stewed, then shredded into a mild, chile-based sauce. This is conjecture as I am completely ignorant of the actual cooking method. A soft French roll serves as the delivery system, along with a few crisp vegetable slices. The pan relleno is also supposed to come with mayonnaise on it, feel free to ruin the sandwich yourself by acquiescing. It is nearly impossible to eat with a knife and fork and even harder to manage with your hands. Like most things wet and sloppy in the world however, this sandwich is worth the effort invested. Spring for the escabeche ($1.50) which is a mix of pickled carrots, onions, cauliflower and cucumbers, pointedly spiced with oregano. It makes a splendid crunchy accompaniment to the mild, softness of the pan relleno.

Escabeche

I’d be remiss not to mention El Salvadoreño’s superb tamales. The masa has perfect texture: wet but firm, almost like custard. The pork filling is both a humble and decadent option, offering the characteristic tenderness of slow-cooked meats the world over. They have chicken tamales too.

Tamal

The little deep fried pasteles are great too. The ground beef version lacks the flavor punch of the vegetarian pastel but the tomato-cilantro puree that accompanies both makes them equally enjoyable.

The service is quite friendly. El Salvadoreño seems to be a family run business and it’s apparent that each person in the kitchen and on the floor have a stake in its success. While small, it’s the kind of dining room that would prove challenging for one server when it fills up. Fortunately there are almost always two people minding the front of the house, something its southerly neighbor, Elsa’s, should pay heed to.

The storefront space is quite modern with high ceilings, bright colors, hard surfaces and metal accents. Interestingly the front wall of the place doubles as a garage door that can be opened in warmer months. This can only be a good thing when the farmer’s market kicks into full gear and the area is crushed with hungry consumers. I admit that part of me prefers the run-down comfort of El Pulgarcito when it comes to this kind of food but there’s no reason to pass it by when you want a good meal in downtown Overland Park.

El Salvadoreño
7926 Santa Fe Dr
Overland Park, KS
(913) 871-6165
9 a.m. – 9 p.m. Sunday – Thursday
9 a.m. – 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday

El Salvadoreno on Urbanspoon

*For native Salvadorans,the pan relleno is not a novelty but rather a hallmark of their traditional cuisine. To others, the dish may across as a little nuts.

Oct 062011
 

Not too long ago, Blue Nile in the City Market was the only game in town in terms of Ethiopian food and I do like the place. Recent years have seen a welcome expansion of Ethiopian restaurants: Marathon (now Mesob Pikliz), a second Blue Nile in Johnson County and midtown’s, Duo. Add Elsa’s, a small somewhat tucked away new Ethiopian restaurant in downtown Overland Park, to the mix and Kansas City has a nice, geographically distributed availability of Ethiopian restaurants. In general I like Elsa’s and the people are just preposterously friendly but I worry that they may have turned some people off early in the game due to disorganized service.

You see, after my first Visit to Elsa’s, I was prepared to never return. Elsa’s offers pretty good food, but absolutely clueless service. My workday lunch took over an hour and a half, most of it spent waiting for food, bread, the bill, the corrected bill, the change, and at the end of it all they reported to us that they “couldn’t find” any change.

Elsa's

I wasn’t angry, just dumbfounded and almost amused by what a mess the management of this place appeared to be. I’m not someone who demands that servers at international restaurants have a firm grasp of English, but they should be able to communicate in some manner by pointing, gesticulating or something. The young woman who waited on me had a pleasant demeanor but just looked lost and was generally unresponsive. She clearly understood so little of what I said that she didn’t know how to react. I felt terrible for her; it must be incredibly difficult to interact with people all day and not know the language.

There are at least two other women and one man involved in the operation of Elsa’s, all of whom speak excellent English. I found it odd that they wouldn’t make themselves more available in the dining room to make sure service was going smoothly. Our server made herself rather scarce when not taking orders or delivering food. I wonder if she was simply avoiding the discomfort of communicating with English speakers.

Well my second visit found the whole operation noticeably improved, though not without notable kinks. I’m happy to report that the menu is well-constructed and the prices are affordable. Meat and vegetarian specials allow for one primary dish and two side-dishes for eight or nine bucks. Accompanied by an overflowing plate of injera, the spongy bread that doubles as utensil, these specials offer more than enough food for a midday meal.

I have eaten plenty of Ethiopian food over the years but have remained pretty ignorant of variances in spicing and preparation. My second time at Elsa’s I ordered the shiro wat, a dish of stewed chick peas but instead received the miser wat, a creamy red lentil item with a very nice spiciness. Despite the mix-up, I willingly ate it and found it delicious and surprisingly rich, no doubt due to the finish of a berbere- based sauce. My favorite item is the kik alicha, a basic but deeply satisfying yellow lentil assemblage. The gomen (chopped collard greens) is not as soft as I typically see it, but has a nice, fresh quality that is missing from most Ethiopian cuisine.

Veggie combo

Gomen and Kik Alicha

Elsa's

Basically the only thing I’ve had that I didn’t care for was a meat dish, the name of which escapes me due to bad notetaking and worse short-term memory. Basically it involved tough chunks of beef that were cooked to death but not enough to soften the flesh into anything pleasantly chewable.

Elsa's

The service on the second visit, while problematic, did not get in the way of me enjoying the experience. This was a different server and she also struggled mightily with English. But her consistent smile and pleasant demeanor put me somewhat at ease. Of course I did receive the wrong entree and waited a long time for my check but this meal was enough to keep me from writing off Elsa’s entirely.

I can only assume that my first, disappointing visit went south because the restaurant was fairly busy. I saw many problems that first time: wrong orders, errors in timing, MIA waitstaff but the second visit had me eating with only one other table in the place and my food came out quickly. I appreciate that the owner came around to check on me a couple of times; she is a very friendly person and I hope that her restaurant succeeds. At this point in time however, I’ll only visit Elsa’s when I have a lot of time to kill and am dining with patient people.

Elsa's Ethiopian on Urbanspoon

Aug 242011
 

The folks at Original Pizza know what they are doing. The guys who work behind the counter have exactly the demeanor to handle the significant lunchtime rush at this spot near Corporate Woods in Overland Park–jokey, effusive and quick-witted. The ordering process works well enough, although it can be hard to fully process the range of pizza slices available behind the counter when there is a line behind you.

Counter

Those who order salads step aside to the front of the counter where you can choose from among a dozen or so toppings for the tepid pile of iceberg and romaine lettuce. Not a great salad, but at least there is choice involved.

When original Pizza is firing on all cylinders, it’s hard to beat their slices. This is thin-crust pizza served in large-ish New York style triangles.

Pizza

Pizza

Despite looking somewhat undercooked on the top, the slices in the photo above have crispy, scorched crusts. You can order thick-crust (Sicilian-style) pieces but they are not nearly as delicious.

Sicilian style

All pies are premade and stored in the deli case. Upon ordering, slices are put into the oven for a minute or two to crisp up. This is not only a common practice among pizzerias, but one that effectively balances freshness with quickness. If there is a small line, your slices will probably be ready by the time you pay and help yourself to a fountain drink. My preference is to order the slices well-done, which can take a couple minutes longer. The guys here have a tendency to pull slices out of the oven too quickly which can deprive diners of the joy of a fully crispy bottom crust. So I recommend asking them to keep it in the oven a few more minutes.

But this pizza evokes the classic New York style unlike any other I’ve had in Kansas City. Order a plain cheese and see if you don’t agree. Interestingly Original Pizza has a location in the Oak Park Mall which is highly regarded by some. I actually ate there once and couldn’t get past the utter drudgery of eating in a food court. I also remember the plain, premade salad and the undercooked pizza being inferior to the flagship location.

Original Pizza

Original Pizza has a number of other Italian menu offerings but in limited varieties: sausage stromboli, ham and cheese calzone, and a very good meatball sandwich on excellent crusty bread. The sub is hard to eat, but worth ordering. While not perfect, Original Pizza is a highly worthy lunch spot in the heart of Overland Park, perhaps better suited than any other to satisfy a pizza craving.

Original Pizza & Pasta on Urbanspoon

Dec 192010
 

Exterior

I can’t say the name of this restaurant without whispering it faux-sexily, in the manner of commercials for douchey local strip clubs.

Intentions…

Intentions opened up last year in the downtown Overland Park space previously occupied by a club called Revolver, which I had never visited. It had the outward appearance of a dance club straight out of the 90s but closed down several years ago and stood vacant for some time. The concept behind Intentions is an odd hybrid of semi-upscale Asian food and live music.

While sushi is the heart of the menu, they offer everything from wraps to chicken fingers to steak. The food is pretty tasty and prepared with care but I never know what to order for lunch. Do I really want a burger from a sushi place? Is this even a sushi place? Many menu items have been sufficiently “enhanced” as to be inspired by sushi and not necessarily the real thing.

The specialty maki (rolls) run between 10 and 13 bucks each and are probably large enough to fill most diners, but not everyone. Smartly, Intentions typically offers a few specials which the chef will be more than happy to tell you about in great detail. Great detail.

There is typically a daily special of one of the simpler rolls (California, avocado, cucumber) and a side salad for 4.95. That sounds cheap but it isn’t much food, at least not for this fatass. One day I tried the “lollipops,” on special which are basically a tempura-fried roll, topped with raw salmon and surrounded by rice. They are presented on toothpicks thusly:

Lollipops

They tasted good, but were exceedingly difficult to eat, falling off the toothpicks and eluding chopsticks. They were not particularly filling or worth the $11 I paid for them. At any rate I prefer a simpler, more traditional sushi experience and I’m happy to say that Intentions can provide it.

Sushi

The nigiri are larger than most and fresh in taste and appearance. The side salads are very good, with a homemade asian-inspired dressing. Alas they add way too much, which overwhelms it.

Salad

A large space in the rear of the restaurant provides a stage, bar and lots of seating for the nighttime crowd. For lunch I prefer to sit up front where some windows provide some natural light. There is a decent lunchtime group but seemingly not enough to warrant the presence of 5 or 6 employees who are always milling around.

Unfortunately there is also a flat screen TV blasting 80s metal videos in the front room. It was sufficiently loud one one visit that I had a very difficult time hearing the chef describe the specials from 10 feet away behind the bar. Apparently, the focus here is on being a club that serves food rather than a true restaurant that can stand on its own. Similarly the servers get the job done but seem like they would be more comfortable dishing drinks to drunk chicks and working the door. On a side note, one server referred to me variously as “partner,” “chief” and “boss” during a single visit.

Nonetheless Intentions is a fine choice for lunch in the area, and more or less fits the middle of the road, white person nightlife vibe provided by other nearby businesses like Taste, Maloney’s and the Other Place. I hesitated to post about this place because I assumed it would be out of business in short order. So kudos to Intentions for getting over the initial hump. While not really my style of vibe, food or decor, they must be doing something right.

Intentions on Urbanspoon

Jun 272010
 

This little stretch of Metcalf in Overland Park is home to a handful of businesses that anchored the small downtown area in the late 1950’s and 60’s. Villa Capri and John’s Space Age Donuts share a building on the west side of the street, Mac’s service station and the White Haven Motor Lodge across the way complete a sketchy picture of what Overland Park was like in those heady days of early suburbanization. Metcalf Avenue grew of course, but was largely spared the crass overbuilding of blocks south, with the notable exception of a huge Turtle Wax Car Wash which nearly obliterates Villa Capri and John’s from the vision of passing motorists.


View Larger Map

In the intervening decades, all these businesses have held on due to a steady trickle of old-timers, regulars and nostalgia enthusiasts, but sadly seem destined to fade away. Indeed, last week word came down that the White Haven had closed and would be auctioning its contents piecemeal. John’s Space Age still does quite well, as last month’s visit demonstrated to me but Dunkin’ Donuts seems poised for a full-fledged assault as they creep into the metro.

I did not plan on liking the food at Villa Capri. Most things I read online and heard from people prepared me for cheap ingredients, bad sauce and crazy old people. Well, here’s the thing: the food is pretty decent.

Don’t come to Villa Capri expecting the world. But for less than the price of a Quizno’s sub you can get a home-cooked plate of lasagna with a giant homemade meatball. What can you get for $4.95 any more that isn’t fast food?

Lasagne

The salads are rather dismal affairs with not much going on apart from iceberg lettuce.

Salad

But the salad dressing is very tasty, despite the fact that it is too sweet. It is clearly homemade since you can see the herbs and pieces of shallot sprinkled liberally throughout.

I’ve also eaten a highly serviceable chicken parmesan sandwich ($6.85) there. It was made with a hand-breaded chicken breast but came on a roll that was a little too fluffy and chewy. I like a little more crust on my bread.

Chicken Parm

The potato chips that come with sandwiches are familiar to me. They come from the generic, food service bulk bags and are the absolute cheapest available. They are greasy, mealy and awful. The pickle was also terrible and cheap. It is very interesting how a restaurant can take the time to prepare homemade salad dressing but skimp on details like these. It speaks volumes about the way restaurants have been run in previous years. Thankfully we have come to be properly wary of packaged and processed foods, and restaurants by and large have taken notice.

Have I mentioned the decor? Behold Villa Capri in all its glory:

Interior

Interior

Interior

This is the point at which we can stop taking Villa Capri seriously and venture bravely into the world of kitsch. And this is true kitsch because the owners obviously think that Christmas lights, murals, plastic grapevines and cheesy checked tablecloths are genuinely nice atmospheric elements for the interior of a restaurant. And thank god they do because I find it a delightful ambiance in which to enjoy lunch. While many Italian restaurants focus on intimate, dark interior spaces, Villa Capri is more like a happy carnival. And the place really gets very nice light as well. Some picky people seem to mistake the decor for uncleanliness but I have to say that it did not strike me that way at all. Just because the interior hasn’t changed in 50 years doesn’t mean the place hasn’t been cleaned.

The people who run this joint are nice enough, but they are not ass-kissers. Anyone who runs a place like Villa Capri really doesn’t care what you think about the food or the service, they get by on knowing pretty much everyone who eats there. When not actively waiting on tables, the waitress visits with people, occasionally even sitting down at a table with someone for a chat. This is both charming and irritating. I like some semblance of professionalism and it fees strangely like I’m interrupting when I walk in to find the staff sitting down and chatting. But they have been operating for better than 50 years and have a right to rest on their laurels. I like that Villa Capri holds special memories for people who grew up in Overland Park and serves as a kind of social center for Overland Parkers to catch up.

No, this is not great Italian food, but it is fairly priced and tastes good.

Tony's Villa Capri on Urbanspoon

Taco Via: 8615 W 95th St

 Posted by at 10:48 am
Apr 282010
 

I think this place kind of sucks, but then again, I didn’t grow up in Kansas City. When people talk about Taco Via, they talk about growing up in the 80s and the appeal of a more naive and happy time. Nostalgia is so completely powerful that I cannot argue with these people. Read this meditation on Taco Via and the heyday of fast food taco shops and see if you don’t agree. Sure, the phenomenon resulted in my least favorite chain restaurant of all time, Taco Bell, but we had some laughs along the way.

Taco Via

There are no fewer than four Taco Via groups on Facebook. The Wall posts are exclamation point-ridden nuggets of pure yearning for childhood and blind allegiance to a geographic region through its own quirky local business.

I would guess that this is a family operated spot. Two grumpy middle aged white women run the registers, a middle aged white guy and a teenage white boy put the food together and an old white lady with a limp buses tables. No attractive people work or eat here. Of course there is nothing Mexican about Taco Via. I suspect that among its enthusiasts, this is part of the charm.

Order at the counter. The menu is a little crazy, I can’t really process it every time I eat there because it is so large, varied and full of colorful pictures that compete for your attention. There is a taco burger, which you would have to pay me to eat. Of course burritos, tacos and the like abound. They also have an ongoing lunch special: a taco, sancho and nacho for 6.95, which includes a drink. What’s a sancho, you ask?

Taco Via

Yeah, it’s pretty much indistinguishable from Taco Bell’s “soft taco” except that it is about 3 times as large. It also tastes like nothing. The taco meat is mushy and finely ground, with only the subtlest of seasoning. Add some iceberg lettuce, underripe tomatoes and shredded yellow cheese and you are in business. Tacos get the same treatment but are much more palatable than the dreaded sancho.

Taco Via

Apply the taco sauce, available from a pump container on the counter, very liberally. The sauce helps foster a sensation somewhat similar to “flavor,” but not quite as pleasant.

The nachos are funny little things, not nachos as we have come to know them. At Taco Via a nacho is essentially a single tostada shell with melted cheese and a little taco sauce on it. If you like, they will add some chopped canned jalapeño peppers which make a world of difference, in a good way.

Taco Via

You get your drink with your food, not before. I can only assume that they are trying to prevent free refills by controlling the flow of beverages, but I really don’t know why. During the lunch rush you can wait a few minutes for your food to arrive so I would appreciate being able to sip a drink.

There are many more things on the menu, but I think it’s safe to say that they are all variations on a theme. Also, I really don’t feel like making multiple visits in order to sample all the wacky offerings. I’m getting old and my colorectal health is a concern.

There used to be many more Taco Via locations in the metro, but now there are only three: this Overland Park location, one in Lee’s Summit and one in Olathe. I heard from a reliable source that the owners of the chain required franchisees to pipe Christian music throughout their restaurants, close on Sundays and otherwise subscribe to a religious point of view in their business operations. A short-lived Gardner location is reputed to have used tray-liners with the 10 Commandments printed on them.

Take a look at the founders. Do you have a hard time believing that these people were hyper-religious nutjobs?

A few years back, several locations abruptly left the Taco Via family and changed names. This was the case at the old 75th and Metcalf location (where a KFC is now) and the still-operating Taco Uno in Shawnee. A 2006 article from the Shawnee Dispatch only cites “differences of opinion” as the reason for Taco Uno leaving the Via franchise, so I’d love to hear if this uber-Christian story is true. There is no such discernible activity at the 95th street Taco Via. In fact the location is not even listed on the Taco Via website.

Taco Via on Urbanspoon

Cozy’s Cafe: 6740 W. 75th St

 Posted by at 3:45 am
Feb 162010
 

Cozy’s is an interesting little joint that recently set up shop on 75th near Metcalf across from Fritz’s Chili.

Cozy's Cafe

While the signage on the building itself is prominent, there is nothing by the street to indicate a restaurant is there, so it may be easy to miss unless you happen to notice it. Look for the Roth Jeweler sign; Cozy’s is right next door. The most recent inhabitant of the building was a Kwik-E-Mart type of place but I think it lay vacant a little while before Cozy’s moved in.

To get the complaints out of the way, the atmosphere is probably the worst part of this place. It is certainly new and clean-looking, as it has undoubtedly been significantly rehabbed. But newness works against the implied…uh, coziness of the joint. Institutional carpeting, drop ceilings and generic restaurant furniture create an environment that feels like lunching in the lobby of a doctor’s office.

Cozy's Cafe

Of course, your doctor doesn’t have food like this. While I cannot vouch for everything on the menu, I will say that the specials are often pretty intriguing. I think the owner puts a lot of care into them since there are several every day and everything I’ve had has been good. The lasagna I sampled on my last visit was a huge slab of the stuff, filled with creamy ricotta and spinach. It was obviously homemade and very delicious. This dish wasn’t dressed up with fancy ingredients, rather it was a very fine take on a traditional dish.

Lasagna

Other specials that day included ravioli with sausage, pork kebabs, and a tuna salad sandwich. So it is clear that Cozy’s is not your typical greasy spoon. The culinary repertoire here is pretty varied, though the menu itself is not vast in size.

There are standards like ham and cheese sandwiches and hamburgers ($2.39 for a single) but also offerings with a variety of culinary influences. You can order several different panini grilled sandwiches ($5.49-7.69) including a muffaletta, essentially an sub of Italian meats and olive tapenade. Being the ever health-conscious consumer, I have not tried it, but plan to do so at some point. I have eaten the so-called “European Sandwich” which consists of cheese, butter, tomato, basil and honey. Yeah, that’s not very healthy either, is it? But I enjoyed it as a change of pace from ubiquitous meat pockets, and a vegetarian one at that.

Cozy's Cafe

That soup you see above is a homemade chicken, rice and vegetable soup. The owner instructed me to use salt since she does not like to over-season her soups. I can’t tell you what a rare and delightful trait this is. At a more highbrow place, I would feel differently, but at Cozy’s I preferred the light touch. And yes, I did put a pinch of salt in the soup.

Cozy’s makes a solid burger too, although the Sysco frozen fries aren’t doing them any favors.

Cozy's Cafe

This food is simple but well-prepared. It may not win any culinary awards but I’ll wager you will never be disappointed with what you order.

The place appears to be popular with older folks who admittedly are over-represented in this part of the county. Typically the owner waits tables and otherwise runs the show in the front of the house. She is quite friendly and good with people. She recognized me from a previous visit, even remembering the day of the week I was there. Those are what one calls “people-skills.” One time a guy sitting behind me didn’t eat all of his soup and she practically insisted on bringing him a salad instead (which he insistently declined). Nonetheless little touches like these build loyal customers.

Strangely enough, Cozy’s has a jukebox over in the corner. I haven’t perused its offerings but once every 10 minutes or so it springs to life with a country tune or so. I heard “The Ballad of Jed Clampett” there one time, followed by someone I can only assume was Michael Buble. On my last visit, the juke was on continuously which vastly improved the sedate ambiance. I hope they keep it up.

Cozy’s fills a niche in this corner of Overland Park as an affordable lunch spot (though it is open for all 3 meals), with food that isn’t boring and nice people running the show. I love how it feels like a neighborhood joint in one of the most offputtingly suburban intersections in the metropolitan area.

Learn more:

Charles Ferruzza reviews Cozy’s in the Pitch

Cozy's Cafe on Urbanspoon

Dec 042009
 

Red Bench has closed and is now Great Day Cafe.

This pleasant little lunch spot occupies the space that recently housed the popular Farm to Market Cafe in downtown Overland Park which I reviewed two years ago ago on this blog. Earlier this summer, signs at the Cafe indicated that the owners were retiring and selling the business. Before long, the place had received a slight makeover and reopened with a very similar menu and new ownership.

Red Bench Cafe

It kept the name “Farm to Market” all summer and the menu was more or less intact but differences were immediately apparent. For starters, the produce in the garden salads was superb: homegrown lettuces, cherry tomatoes and cucumbers created a simple yet superb example of how fresh ingredients can transform mundane items into things of beauty.

Farm to Market Cafe

The sandwiches remained serviceable, with notable improvement in the quality of deli meat used. They continued to use Farm to Market Bread which makes no small amount of difference compared to mass produced product available other places.

Red Bench Cafe

Several weeks ago, the restaurant changed again, dubbing itself “Red Bench Cafe.” I’m not sure, but the staff seems to have changed somewhat as well. What was previously seemingly an entirely woman-run operation seems to have a gentleman at the helm now who hovers behind the counter and out in the dining room crunching numbers on a laptop. A few of the decorative changes have been scaled back, such as the flimsy cheesecloth that lined the walls after its first change.

Currently Red Bench is a fairly good quality lunch spot offering a small breakfast menu in addition to a selection of sandwiches, soups and salads. They have a decent lentil soup every day in addition to a rotating soup. I had the lentil soup and was surprised to see that it contained whole lentils in a gentle, slightly sweet broth. I am used to lentil soups being blended to created a thicker texture. It was good, but I eventually tired of the mouthfuls of whole lentils.

Red Bench Cafe

The minestrone soup was a considerably greater success with hearty, rich tomato broth, pasta and kidney beans. Unfortunately both soups were not hot enough when delivered to me. To me, this is a relatively serious infraction. Yes, soup can be heated up with little adverse effect, but holding foodstuffs at a lukewarm temperature is conducive to bacterial growth which can cause foodborne illness. I’m not a crackpot, I just take food safety very seriously. Let’s hope these folks start getting their soups nice and hot before serving them to people in the future.

Red Bench Cafe

You can get a whole sandwich or a soup/salad and half sandwich combo which is much the same as what Farm to Market offered. There is a Black Forest Ham, Turkey Havarti and an interesting chicken breast with artichoke sauce sandwich. All are passably good but won’t blow your mind. They are sandwiches after all. I have some slight concerns about the prices here. For almost $10 I got half a grilled ham sandwich and a cup of soup.

Red Bench Cafe

I’m not convinced that this is a good deal, considering that even my relatively modest appetite was barely sated after eating it.

Nonetheless I am firmly convinced that Red Bench Cafe is an improvement over its previous incarnation as Farm to Market Cafe which I had become increasingly disappointed in up until its sale. I believe that the ingredients are now of higher quality and that there is more thought put into preparation. I am honestly not sure what has happened to this place in the last 6 months in terms of ownership, but these folks are making a strong effort to surpass the effort made by Farm to Market. Downtown OP needs a decent sandwich/soup spot and right now they have it.

Red Bench Cafe on Urbanspoon

D’Bronx: 3904 Bell & 7070 W 105th

 Posted by at 2:45 am
Oct 012009
 

D'BronxI’m not sure what the history of D’Bronx is in Kansas City, but the 39th Street and Bell location has all the hallmarks of a local institution. Occupying a couple storefront spaces, the interior is bustling and little crusty. It features well-worn hardwood floors, utilitarian seating, a chalkboard menu and lots of graffiti on the stone walls.

It always seems fairly crowded and boisterous. You walk through the dining area to place your order at the front counter. After paying, collecting napkins and silverware and procuring a beverage you find a seat in one of the little dining areas and wait for your food to come out. And wait. And wait.

Yes, it takes a while to get even a slice here, and I assume that’s because they put everything together to order, not to mention the fact that they do a high volume. Pizza is one of those foods that you should expect to wait for unless you’re getting it from under a heat lamp.

D'Bronx

But it actually tastes very good, despite looking a little haphazard. The toppings are applied in great quantity but don’t really melt into the slice; they kind of rest there in a little mound.

D'Bronx

The relatively thin crust manages to stay quite crispy and is a very pleasant texture. In short, this is good pizza. The “D’Bronx Special” is a veritable shit-ton of ingredients. A slice will cost you $5, but it is a huge meal, easily worth the money.

D'Bronx Slice

The Overland Park location of D’Bronx gets kind of a bad rap because the atmosphere is so completely different (i.e. lamer) than the original. It is located in a strip mall at 105th and Metcalf, the same complex that houses the serviceable Korean spot, Choga. Despite what you may have heard, this location serves up the same delicious slices and sandwiches as its KC counterpart.

D'Bronx

I’d even venture to say that the service is better in JoCo; there are a number of folks running food and clearing tables. On each of my visits, the owners or managers were there fetching refills for people. Moreover, the food runners don’t shriek at the same annoying, earsplitting volumes, undoubtedly because it is much quieter. Of course, the atmosphere really is terribly boring compared to the 39th street original, and the clientele is distinctly more douchesque.

Corned beef and swiss sub

Always a fan of the Reuben I tried the version at the Overland Park D’Bronx and while it was tasty, I can’t say it’s close to the best I’ve had. While they should be lauded for not falling into the dreaded Marble Rye trap, their rye bread is barely recognizable as such. It is a well-prepared, grilled sandwich with plenty of melted cheese but in my mind a reuben should be a gigantic sandwich, overflowing with corned beef. The reuben at D’bronx is good but not great.

D'Bronx

All in all, I’m a fan of this place. I know opinions differ as to the quality of their pizza, but I personally find it quite pleasing. The crust remains crisp despite the preponderance of toppings. While I don’t always approve of pizza that requires a fork, this is good stuff, though not quite the New York style that their name implies.

D’Bronx has a whole host of sandwiches, salads and soups as well, including matzoh ball soup which is a rarity in this area. My impression is that everything on the menu is of high quality and well-prepared. The 39th street location is far superior in terms of ambience but both outposts will do when it comes to food.

D'Bronx Deli & Pizzeria (Overland Park) on Urbanspoon
D'Bronx Deli & Pizzeria (Westport) on Urbanspoon

South OP in brief: Two Asian spots

 Posted by at 6:29 am
Feb 262009
 

Not long ago I had occasion to spend a few days in southern Overland Park, a locale that I am largely unfamiliar with in terms of lunching options. Fortunately I was able to eat at two very serviceable Asian restaurants, both of them small, informal, locally owned and pretty tasty.

One-Bite Japanese Grill is located on 135th in a little strip shopping center near Antioch. For those who reside in the area, it’s behind the Babies R’ Us. Aaaah, suburbia. This little spot turns out to be a very suavely decorated casual Japanese restaurant. As the name indicates, they feature a number of smaller plates, particularly Okonomi-Yaki–an omelet-type concoction cooked with the meat of your choice and topped with cabbage and mayonnaise. One-Bite’s “Grill Lunch” however, is essentially a box, similar to those you see at other Asian spots around town. I had the Tonkatsu, a simple preparation of lightly breaded pork, served with rice, salad and dumplings The real standout here were the dumplings–delicate, piping hot and delicious.

If it weren’t for the odd location I would visit more often. It looks perfect for lunch with essentially an updated classic diner layout: a row of booths along one side with a lunch counter overlooking the gleaming stainless steel kitchen on the other side. The rest of the place is colorful despite minimal artwork. I wish I had brought my camera.

There is a characteristically excellent Pitch review if you want more info.

OR

One Bite Japanese Grill on Urbanspoon

****

I also stopped by Fusion Chinese at 135th and Switzer one afternoon. This is a popular spot for Chinese take out in the area. Upon enetering I was surprised at how small the space was, but dine-in customers are not an afterthought as they are at many take-out oriented places. The place appears to be family owned and the servers are super friendly and attentive. Despite its size, it is a good place to bring kids.

As the name suggests, there is more going on here than at your typical Chinese takeout joint. They dedicate a fair amount of verbiage on the menu to their health conscious preparation techniques, including steaming, grilling, wok-frying and other methods that do not rely on much oil. They also offer brown rice with every entree which is a HUGE bonus for me, unless I am craving traditional sticky white rice. Regardless, both kinds are available. In general Fusion touts itself as a “healthy alternative to traditional Chinese food” and delivers on that promise with very good food.

Both Fusion and One-Bite are deserving of their own full fledged reviews, but I wasn’t planning on posting about them when I visited. I’d love to hear others’ experiences with these restaurants in preparation for a more substantive visit in the future.

Fusion Chinese on Urbanspoon