Burrito Bros.: City Market

 Posted by at 6:07 am
Mar 032009
 

While I like Burrito Bros., I honestly don’t understand the success of chains like Chipotle, Qdoba, Pancheros and their ilk. It’s like a festival of blandness; the meat never tastes like much, the salsas are always disappointing, and everything comes on a damn flour tortilla. Not to mention the fact that real Mexican restaurants do this stuff way better for the same price. It just seems like a cheap way to deliver a shit-ton of food into your system. Of course, midwesterners love it.

Burritos also have this college studenty, dumbass vibe that I really don’t care for. To be more precise, burritos are like wraps for hippies.

So naturally I put off going to Burrito Bros. for a while even though response around town has been quite positive. I just don’t understand the great appeal of the concept.

Indeed comparisons to Chipotle abound, and it makes sense. The menu at Burrito Bros. is similar in its Mexican-inflected simplicity to the increasingly ubiquitous fast food powerhouse.

Burrito Bros. is located on the west side of the market complex. I’m trying to remember what previously occupied the space? Was it perhaps a weird gift/souvenir shop? Somebody refresh my memory here. Anyhow, the space is pleasant enough with an organge-ish interior and a few tables. Here is a terrible photo of the menu board.

Burrito Bros.

They have burritos, tacos, quesadillas, taco salads and that’s about all. They toss in a nice handful of chips with every order. Everything has good, if not overpowering flavor. The pico cuts through nicely and is highly acidic. I enjoyed the carnitas burrito on my last visit. It was large, easily enough food for one person and then some. I didn’t finish the whole thing, and I am kind of a pig.

Burrito Bros.

So in a word, it’s good. It is exactly what you would expect in terms of food and flavor. If you like Chipotle, you will like this. Moreover it is locally owned and a thousand times more worthy of your business.

Burrito Bros.

This is the epitome of a small, family run joint. These guys are taking the restaurant very seriously, but they are also having a good time. They are planning some more signage for the exterior, and perhaps some outdoor seating for the warmer months. I say “perhaps” because I was eavesropping and didn’t get all the details. Burrito Bros. also has a Twitter account, a nice developing trend; I like knowing that you can connect with the business in that manner if you want. They also shot a video for youtube on their opening day back in October 2008. Unfortunately the shaky cam and overly loud Brazilian(?) soundtrack make it virtually unwatchable, but I appreciate the effort.

However like any small business owners I think you can see a little fear in their eyes. Will this venture work out? Frankly I’d be scared shitless given all the decent local restaurants that have gone out of business recently.

But Burrito Bros. has reason to be hopeful. The menu is small and items share a lot of the same ingredients. That means a smaller world of ingredients to purchase, store and prepare. The hours are limited to lunch time right now. Being open 11-3pm is not ideal for the long term, but it certainly keeps them from having to pay someone to stand there all night without any business. The traffic they get from the market should be substantial when warmer climes come around. They were smart to open early and take a while to figure things out before it’s showtime this summer.

According to their website the owners also use other City Market vendors to procure a lot of their produce and foodstuffs. Considering the number of people who work in the Market, I’m sure they are generating plenty of good will that should result in more burrito sales. Lastly, these are really nice people. They talk to everyone who comes into the place and I genuinely believe that they want to serve good food and make their customers happy.

Oh, and this guy really likes their guacamole:

My only real complaint? Styrofoam cups. It’s amazing how prevalent they are in this day and age, but let’s wait until they start making a buck or two before pressuring them to change to a more environmentally conscious product.

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Sep 212007
 

For some reason I always avoid the places on the east side of walnut. Never been to Vivace, because its name reminds me of 5th grade piano lessons. The owners probably have no idea what it means. Or maybe they do, and just have an inflated sense of how great the place is. Anyhow, nestled close by is a nice little lunch spot called Antonio’s.

Antonio’s has a menu a mile long. I have mixed feelings about this, mostly because it took me 10 minutes to find a freaking sandwich without mayo on it. Mayo is disgusting. All the sandwiches are named after celebrities, which is nice but unnecessarily dates the place about 5-8 years before the present. I mean, who has hear the name ‘Ally McBeal’ since like 1999? As you can imagine the McBeal is a low-cal alternative, which is relatively funny. Anyhow, their sandwiches are really good, made with higher quality meats, cheeses and bread–this already puts it head and shoulders above most other sandwich places downtown. That shouldn’t be the case, but it is.

Prices are decent, about what you would expect. My last visit there I ordered a nice sized turkey sandwich with stuff on it, a bag of chips, a delicious fountain soda, and a cookie for about 8 bucks and change. Normally I would get the sandwich and nothing else which would put me in the 6 dollar range. But I just want good food, I’m not gonna split hairs over three bucks unless it tastes like crap or is served by annoying people.

Antonio’s advertises itself as a pizzeria, but I have not had the pleasure. Pizza is really not a lunch time food unless you’re talking slices. I don’t even know if they are open in the evenings, this really doesn’t seem like a dinner restaurant, but then again, nothing in the river market really does. But I’ll warrant the pizza is good here, just judging from the quality of their ingredients.

In summary, I’m a fan of Antonio’s because the selection is good and the sandwiches are made like the give a shit about what they are doing. That shouldn’t be too much to ask for. in most cities, Antonio’s would be just a good, run of the mill option, but here it outshines the rest of the crappy competition. I plan to go back often.

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Succotash: City Market – MOVED

 Posted by at 4:04 am
Jul 182007
 

FYI: Since my original visit 2 and a half years ago, Succotash has picked up and moved from the CIty Market to 26th and Holmes.

This place gets a lot of kudos from my friends, random strangers and the KC press. I’m happy to report that it is not entirely unwarranted. Most people I think, go to Succotash for weekend breakfast or brunch. Indeed they offer brunch fare all day long, in case you have a crepe craving at 1pm. I typically don;t have a crepe craving ever so this doesn;t matter to me.

Anyway, the lunch menu is not as huge as other places, but everything truly looks good. My Turkey Club was just about perfect–homemade bread, fantastic bacon, mesclun greens, nice cheese. It had the whole package. I’ve had their salads before too, and they do not disappoint.

Moreover, the service is casual, jaunty and quite efficient. It’s a place with nice food that nonetheless does not suffer from pretension. I’m trying desperately to find something negative to say, but honestly it’s hard. The prices are even fair. I did have to sit next to a couple with a restless child. This was not really a big deal, but I did get a kick out of seeing the family drive away with the child strapped in the front seat of an old-school jeep with no doors. Not a car-seat in site. Shades of my 70’s childhood.

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Blue Nile: 20 E 5th

 Posted by at 4:26 am
Jul 172007
 

Ethiopian food is great, but it’s just plain weird for lunch. I’ve always imagined that this place does good business, but instead found it to be almost empty at the height of lunch hour.

They don’t have a menu specifically for lunch, which is a shame. Basically you end up ordering way more food than you want, because otherwise you would order way too little. You see, the waiter told us that one portion was more than enough for one person, but too small for two. I know, Ethiopian food is all about the communal plate, sharing heavily spiced food mounds with several of your closest (and hopefully cleanest) friends. But lunch is a different ballgame–if the food doesn’t translate, than come up with another idea.

With all that being said, the Ethiopian food here was actually quite good. I have no complaints about the flavor or presentation. And it came with entertainment–you see, the waiter spilled a glass of water on my lunch companion. hehe.

Were this blog entitle KC Dinner Spots, I’d find myself tossing out an unmitigated recommendation. But for lunch…I don’t know, the food is pretty rich and heavy. Anyone who has eaten it knows that it’s hard to stop when you’re full too. I think the key is to go to Blue Nile when you are out with a few other people–certainly not by yourself. Half the fun is being able to try several different things and you need a larger group to make that work.

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Jun 282007
 

Dos Hombres closed its doors this week after a 3 1/2 year run. This blurb cites the poor economy as the cause.

I was actually craving some mediocre Mexican food today. Thankfully Kansas City has plenty of that. Enter Dos Hombres, a relatively mundane, whitey-looking Mexican joint in the River Market area. I always see this place when I’m down there, and choose Harry’s CC instead. Anyhow, Dos Hombres features a completely terrible name, but a decent menu of sanitized tex-mex delicasies. The place is really as much a bar as restaurant. I opted to sit at the bar, which proved to be a good call. In fact, it’s always a better option when dining alone: the service is better and you don’t feel like a loser for sitting by yourself.

The staff is a crew of professional servers. What does that mean? Well, these people know what they are doing for sure, but they also exude that air of worldy crustiness that is unique to the service industry. Many restaurants in this town don’t feature what I consider true food service personnel, but Dos Hombres has ’em. These people are used to moving fast, serving drinks, and talking shit with the best of them. No, it’s not rough and tumble or anything, it just seems like these folks are truly making a living being waiters and waitresses and not just pulling extra cash for looking cute or screwing the owner.

Anyhow, the food as I mentioned is not altogether authentic. The lunch menu is decent and affordable however, and I found the pork in particular to be very tasty–likely homemade and not dumped out of a cryo-vac Syco bag. My food did come topped with grated parmesan cheese–undoubtedly an effort to “class up” the entree. But really it was just disconcerting. I mean, freeze-dried cheese out of a shaker is hardly impressive, people. Anyway, I was served very quickly and the bartrendress was quite adept at making idle chatter. I was out of there in less than 1/2 hour, which is quite good for a sit-down joint.

In short, this is a surprisingly good option simply because it is efficient. The food is fine and the portions are large.

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Cascone’s Grill: 20 E. 5th

 Posted by at 7:13 pm
Jun 222007
 

I have been to Cascone’s Grill for breakfast before while visiting the farmer’s market on Saturday. I was moderately impressed, not necessarily because the food was good, but because it seemed somehow to escape the onslaught of dog and baby-toting yuppies and clueless crowd-navigators that populate the area across the street. So anyway I decided to pay a visit for lunch the other day.

As usual, I was on my own so I was really pleased to see a lunch counter that I had not remembered from my first visit. A lunch counter is a great thing: designed for the lone diner because there is plenty to watch in the kitchen, often there is a tv or at least some random newspapers to occupy your time. I decided to conduct the ultimate test of a lunch spot: the classic American Lunch. What would that be? Why of course a cheeseburger, fries and a coke. I’m happy to report that Cascone’s passed the test on all three counts.

There are two different genres of restaurant burgers. You have the “diner-burger” typified by places like Max’s, and Town Topic which are small, thin patties, fried on a flat grill. These are often served, preloaded with lettuce, tomato and condiments inside a cheap wonderbread type bun. Even more often, they are served without vegetable accompaniment at all, simply meat and cheese (and maybe onion). The other type of burger is what we typically call the “restaurant burger.” This is a fancier and more substantial beast, available at most mid-ranged bar and grill places like McCoy’s et al. They are thick, seasoned, and come with a substantial bun, and feature any number of add-ons. I think both of these can be things of beauty, but they are different animals. The fancy restaurant burger runs the risk of being boring and overpriced, while the diner burger runs the risk of being just plain gross.

Fortunately, Cascone’s serves a perfectly good diner burger: smallish, cheap and hot. American cheese is standard, and lettuce and tomato will cost you a quarter extra (it’s worth it for the McDLT effect). The fries are average but fine. And best of all the Coca-Cola comes from a fountain. I look forward to a future rant about the virtues of Fountain Soda versus cans/bottles.

Anyhow, Casone’s has all the earmarks of afamily-run joint and is worth a visit. i should note that the server was excellent and extremely fast. I was out of there in 20 minutes without even trying.

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Hien Vuong Vietnamese Restaurant

 Posted by at 2:34 pm
Jun 192007
 

I came here once a couple years ago before I moved to Kansas City. Let me tell you, having a decent Vietnamese restaurant is a big selling point as far as I’m concerned. KC has at least three that I can think of: Hien Vuong, Saigon 39 and the underrated Sung Son in Westport.

Hien Vuong–I always refer to it as “the Vietnamese place in the city market”–does a very nice mid-week lunch trade in spite of its somewhat drab atmosphere. Basically it feels like you are eating in someone’s garage. Which, face it, you kind of are. The most interesting aspect of eating here is the possibility that the restaurant will be crowded enough for the “hostess” to seat you with complete strangers. Like many old school lunch spots, they have a couple big tables that are meant to be shared. That being said, it’s really no big deal, it’s not like anyone talks to me. In general the Hien Vuong is small enough that you may have to wait for a table to open up if you pop in at noon.

And be advised, the woman who runs the show here has an off-putting demeanor and is not necessarily welcoming in the manner most of us are accustomed. I do not think that she is a grumpy person at heart, but perhaps comes across that way more than she should. She generally does the seating and clearing of tables while another person waits tables. You generally won’t a get a check delivered to your table, just go pay at the counter and the server will handle it.

The food here is humble in appearance but very tasty. The staples of Vietnamese cuisine such as Pho, Bun and the ubiquitous Vietnamese spring rolls are represented and they do not disappoint.

Hien Vuong Restaurant

Hien Vuong Restaurant

Certainly a classier joint like Sung Son takes full advantage of the visual potential of these foods, but Hien Vuoung simply throws the stuff in a bowl and turns you loose.

The menu is enormous and often includes a list of seasonal specials. During the winter you can get interesting dishes like dumpling soup, which I don’t normally associate with Vietnamese cuisine.

Hien Vuong Restaurant

Like most sit-down places, this lunch spot is not geared to the lone diner. For reasons that I will deftly avoid, I find myself eating solo much of the time. If I forget to bring a book or don’t want to bother, hate feeling self-conscious. Basically, I am content just staring into space but some restaurants make me feel uneasy when eating alone, and I’m not sure I can explain why. After all the real genius of the coffee shop is not its role as a social center, but its ability to cater to people on their own. In other words, it’s fine to go get a cup of coffee and read the paper by yourself, but lunch is a different matter. By the way, why do I see no one reading in this town? Other places I’ve lived, a lot of folks read on their lunch hours. Well, I’ll conduct a more thorough investigation before denouncing Kansas City for yet another shortcoming.

KC needs more spots like Hien Vuoung: a place where you get your silverware from a cup on the table, a place where you feel comfortable sitting inside on outdoor furniture, a place where remnants of the previous diner’s meal may be evident when you sit down, a place where you may be seated next to a total stranger. This is the essence of lunch, because the food is good and it’s no bullshit. Actually, I’ve had better Vietnamese cuisine, but you can’t ask for any more from a lunch place.

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Jun 182007
 

Alas, this great little lunch place turned semi-swanky dinner place has gone under. Let’s hope these guys make another go at it.

I didn’t know this place existed for a long time, probably because it is a block or two away from the city market proper. However this is exactly the kind of restaurant that the neighborhood needs: table service, good food, decent prices, and great service. Located at the intersection of 3rd and Delaware just up the road a piece from the market, this is great alternative to the glorified fast food available down there.

The menu is a nice mix of high brow and low brow food. There are a few great salads, including my personal favorite, the Cobb. Whoever invented the glorious combination (Mr. Cobb?) of avocado, blue cheese and bacon is a culinary God. That’s like something I would invent if I came home drunk and hungry and happened to have such delicacies readily available. Anyhow, the Cobb is good at Delaware, with the notable exception of the vinaigrette — it was disturbingly thick and may have come from a gallon-sized plastic container. This makes me reluctant to try another kind. They need a simple but delicious homemade dressing, especially if you are paying ten bucks for a freaking salad.

The Fries are surprisingly good here–very lightly battered potato wedges. I know what you are thinking and let me assure you that these fries bear no similarity to battered fries you may have experienced elsewhere, delicious though they may be. Arby’s curly fries they are not. (remember that stupid idiotic oven mitt character?). Anyhow they have good soup as well and the sandwiches I’ve had were well above average. Speaking of which, this is not fast food and you will likely end up paying $15 bucks for lunch if you get a drink and leave a tip like the goodhearted person you are.

The Delaware takes up two storefronts, so they have plenty of space, even when it is hopping in the throes of lunch hour. There is also a nice patio on the north side of the building, but there was way too much sun out there last time I went. Like Harry’s, they need an umbrella at nearly every table.

In general, the Delaware is a good lunch spot, but you can’t get there late, since I think they close at 2pm. That’s actually a shame because they really should serve cocktails and stay open for dinner. They have a perfect set up for lounge-on-one side, dining-on-the other-side thing. Anyway, the real reason I like this place is because real cities have restaurants like this. It’s a locally owned, professionally run establishment that manages to avoid completely screwing things up and has a little bit of neighborhood character. That puts them pretty well ahead of the pack.

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May 292007
 

Summer time is here, and so is people’s seemingly undying lust for outdoor seating. Enter Harry’s Country Club, an apparently beloved River Market area institution that features a large patio in addition to a decent sized dining/bar area. Because of this I was happy to see that Harry’s is indeed open for lunch. I’m not sure that this has always been the case, since I have a vague memory of standing outside looking forlorn last summer. But that happens a lot, and could have been elsewhere.

Anyway, the menu at Harry’s features all sorts of glorified bar food, and pretty darn good food at that. Really my only complaint is that there is virtually nothing healthy on the menu, except for salads. Let’s see Reuben, Burgers, Fish & chips, Fried Bologna, Patty Melt, Nachos–you see what I mean. That being said, you should just suck it up and get the glorious Reuben, because they do justice to this classic sandwich like few other establishments, in KC or anywhere. I’ve eaten a hell of a lot of Reubens (and have the LDL to prove it), and this, while not implemented in the uber-traditional fashion, is very taste-a-riffic. Their menu is online at http://www.kansascitymenus.com/harryscountryclub/menu.pdf

Harry’s does a nice lunch trade too, though most people, as expected, clamor for the outdoor seating. This is only problematic on sunny days, since there are far fewer umbrellas than tables. You can’t always count on being in the shade, which is pretty important for the fair skinned, the bald, and the generally weak-natured. The patio manages to be a nice place to eat, for it could easily feel like you’re eating in a parking lot. Or a monkey cage.

The food will take a bit longer than a 1/2 hour lunch break allows for so keep that in mind–or at least prepare a decent excuse for your lateness before you leave. Prices are about what you would expect from a place like this: A drink and a sandwich will set you back about $10-12 with tip. For the wildly irresponsible among us, Harry’s also offers a full bar and permits smoking. But even inside the place never struck me as particularly smoky during the lunch hour.

And best of all, Baby Cakes is right next door so after lunch you can grab some dessert to enjoy on the walk back to work.

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Winslow’s BBQ: City Market

 Posted by at 10:38 pm
May 252007
 

Imagine my surprise when I discovered this place was actually good. See, that’s the nice thing about KC, a place like the City Market can have some crusty gems, even though it’s basically a tourist trap. No, not the best bbq is the city, but a hell of a lot better than you would expect. Winslows offers a nice selection of the usual fare, chicken, ribs, and sandwiches of the usual varieties. The have a number of good sides as well. Their sauce is pretty boring, sweetish and thick, quite unlike the incredibly outrageous, overly spiced and utterly delicious Arthur Bryant’s classic sauce or the balanced smokiness of Gates’ noble condiment. But they do a nice job on sandwiches at least, and they also offer them in large, medium and smalls.

Typical of bbq, the prices are higher than average grab and go lunch fare, but right in line with every other place in town. They also have a moderately seedy bar on one side where you can order a cold pale ale with your beef sandwich, an absolute necessity, particularly when a weekly staff meeting awaits your return to work.

Most people know Winslow’s as the place with all the outdoor seating. This is a really nice feature in the summer of course. Those of us consigned to cubicles in windowless nether regions of office buildings definitely need a daily injection of vitamin D whenever we can get it.

This place isn;t crowded at lunch time either, which is starting to become a theme for City market establishments. They must make all their money on Saturdays. It also raises the appeal quite a bit for me, because I don;t like people very much. Especially not when they are waiting in front of me taking a long time to order a freakin sandwich.

I’m also finding that the quickest way to eat lunch out is to go to a place with counter service, not waitstaff. When i am late getting back, it is without fail because I was waiting for some clueless server to bring my check, rather than waiting in line or actually waiting for my food.

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