Jun 082012
 

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You don’t visit a restaurant like The Big Biscuit because you are a healthy, reasonable human being. You go because you crave only the most traditional, American, brown-colored foods in existence. You go because familiarity assuages the feelings of encroaching culinary strangeness that increasingly ebb out of the television and radio without warning. You go because you want to know what you are talking about when you open the menu, or because your mom wants a “regular” breakfast, or because you are very, very old.

Yes they have a regular breakfast all day here at the Big Biscuit. However, this is a lunch blog, and while people will tell you that it’s OK to eat pancakes and eggs for any meal of the day, I simply don’t agree. If I go out for lunch, I want lunch — sandwiches, soups, entree salads, burgers, sausages, pizza slices, tacos — all the delicious foods that hold a unique and important position in the lunch pantheon and really nowhere else. You go ahead and order breakfast at the Big Biscuit if you want, just don’t expect me to talk about it here.

How about chicken fried steak? That’s a lunch dish. As is a pork tenderloin sandwich. They prepare both of these items with a fair amount of skill and very little inspiration at the Big Biscuit. The meat is tender, the breading is salty and the accoutrements come from a Sysco truck. And really that’s fine.

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I suspect that the bacon-laden green beans come from a can but I can’t really tell. They are cooked so thoroughly into submission as to bear almost no resemblance to the storied legume in its natural state. The mashed potatoes taste faintly of margarine which severely tempered my enthusiasm for them.

One afternoon I ordered an open-face hot beef sandwich and was somewhat alarmed by the color and consistency of the gravy. I think it’s fair to say that they aren’t roasting bones for a dark and hearty veal stock back in the kitchen of this strip-mall joint, which leads me to believe this gravy is concocted using less than traditional methods.

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However I ate it, and I ate it all. It was alright. The beef was sliced deli meat and the bread was spongy, enriched Texas-toast style white bread. Someone without teeth could have handled it pretty well.

Here’s the thing: don’t go to the Big Biscuit if you are a gastronomic enthusiast. Go because you are stuck in Shawnee, Kansas and feel like eating patty melt. It’s fine to stop by a place like this once in a while to get a fix, and you will probably enjoy it somewhat.

The decor matches the food perfectly. It’s boring, clean, uninteresting and somewhat comfortable.

The staff is exceedingly well-trained and the service is quite swift and efficient for the lunch hour. I’ve heard that this place gets busy during prime weekend brunching hours and that service can suffer as a result. Here’s an idea: don’t go out to eat when the free world of eating amateurs is also going out to eat. Brunch is a silly meal. If you would like to start “Kansas City Brunch Spots” feel free, I don’t have any plans.

Anyhow, the biscuits are actually pretty good here, which is to say, they chose their name wisely. If only other restaurants similarly advertised what they do best.

New Arby's Logo

The Big Biscuit on Urbanspoon

Mar 112010
 

The State of Kansas seized the assets of Paleteria Chihuahua in March 2011 due to non-payment of taxes. Read more ยป (PDF)

This is a cool little place, one that I expect to become a tad more popular as the warmer weather rolls in.

La Chihuahua

Up at 77th and Quivira in Shawnee lies a fairly sizable strip mall that houses several Mexican-oriented businesses. If memory serves, there is Fronteras Restaurant, a meat market (carniceria), a place where you wire money to/from Mexico, and this little tucked away ice cream and lunch spot called La Chihuahua. It is also known as “Paleteria Chihuahua” due to its focus on frozen fruit bars known as paletas. A quick Web search indicates that there is another location in KCK which I have never visited.

But I wouldn’t be writing about La Chihuahua if it wasn’t also a genuine lunch spot. A big thanks to JH and Teague for mentioning it on the Suggestions post and pointing out the presence of darn good Mexican food in addition to frozen desserts.

La Chihuahua is a far cry from divey, semi-sanitary holes in the wall you may be familiar with among the better taco joints. The place is well-lit, colorful and extremely clean.

La Chihuahua

A large menu board behind the register features photos of many of their menu items, but the real lunch action appears in the menus on each table. There you will see offerings like tacos, burritos, menudo, tamales, flautas, soups, and even shrimp cocktail.

La Chihuahua

La Chihuahua

The torta (a Mexican sandwich in simplistic terms) is featured pretty prominently. You can get your choice of meats on a regular torta for $6.50 or opt for one of the specialties for $7.50. I couldn’t pass up El Cubano which promised four kinds of meat — carne asada, carnitas, pastor, and ham (jamon) topped with avocado, tomato and shredded lettuce. It came out looking mighty tasty.

La Chihuahua

But there was one ingredient I hadn’t anticipated: Mayonnaise.

NNooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooO!

La Chihuahua

After some hyperventilating and a few calming, psychological excercises, I scraped most of it off with one of those weird, puffed corn thingies on my plate and got on with my lunch.

Surprisingly, El Cubano doesn’t taste like a heart attack. I have never been a fan of tortas; I far prefer corn tortillas as a Mexican meat delivery system. But this bread was soft, with a decent crust and did not become overly mushy like other tortas I’ve had. This is a large sandwich and should satisfies the piggiest appetites among us without making you feel like dying.

Despite the torta-focus, I really like the tacos at La Chihuahua. You can get any number of meat preparations: carne asada (grilled steak), al pastor (marinated pork), barbacoa (slow-cooked beef), pollo (chicken), buche (apparently pig’s esophagus?), lengua (tongue), deshebrada (shredded beef) and carnitas (slow-cooked pork in lard). My favorite was the deshebrada which is a stringy, pot-roast-like style of beef–highly flavorful and moist. I found the asada somewhat gristly in parts but it was not tough and had a nice, salty flavor.

La Chihuahua

As you can see, the tacos are small and come served on steamed corn tortillas with a topping of finely chopped cabbage, scallions, white onion and cilantro. A portion of four will set you back $6. These are not life-changing tacos but quite delicious nonetheless. It is highly doubtful you can do any better in the area.

I did sample one of their aguas fresca–basically an uncarbonated fruit or otherwise flavored drink. Flavors include pineapple, lime, tamarind, mango, horchata (rice) and strawberry, which I sampled and enjoyed on one visit.

Customers of La Chihuahua, as you might expect are largely Mexican but not exclusively so. They don’t do a high volume business even at the height of the lunch hour. Order your food at the counter and they will bring it out to you at your table. Don’t expect the staff to know much English. There are a couple of women who understand it well and a couple who don’t. Nonetheless, it’s not rocket science to order your lunch; you are all adults here.

I am very glad that AWESOME DLC TIPSTERS turned me on to La Chihuahua. I look forward to trying more items on the menu and have utmost confidence that they will be well-prepared and tasty.

Paleteria Chihuahua on Urbanspoon

Jun 062009
 

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No one can easily remember the name of this place or exactly where it is located, probably because it seems so generic. I mean “Two Amigos?” That’s not the most catchy name.

Moreover the restaurant is situated in an old Taco Bell building, not exactly the connection you would want potential customers to make, even though the building is kind of cool. Two Amigos also features this less than progressive logo of two lazy Mexicans sleeping under a tree a la Speedy Gonzales cartoons.

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For these reasons Two Amigos has been hidden in plain sight for a couple years.

Have you ever been to the Red Balloon, perhaps the greatest karaoke bar in the Kansas City metropolitan area? Sometimes on the weekends, it gets quite crowded and the parking lot fills up. But it’s not a big deal since there is a parking lot just next door. You just have to step up a little embankment and boom, you are right at the bar. That parking lot next door? That’s Two Amigos. I had parked there several times before realizing that this was the Mexican place people had mentioned to me.

As you can see this place advertises “Real Mexican food,” and having visited a couple times, I think they deliver the goods.

Walk right in and take a gander at the huge menu above the counter. Everything is there: classics like enchiladas, tacos and burritos, hearty soups like menudo and posole, full entree plates, seafood cocktails, three kinds of tamales and a refrigerator full of jarritos, half-liter bottles of Coca-Cola and several kinds of Mexican beer. The menu board runs the length of the counter; items are punctuated with taped-on pieces of paper or handwritten translations. Some items are highlighted with signs taped up by the register.

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I have had a bunch of tacos here which allowed me to try a lot of their meats. I sampled the carnitas, carne asada, lengua (tongue), cabeza (cow head meat), fish and the chicken. Only the lengua rubbed me the wrong way (hehe), mostly because of its spongy texture, but that’s just my personal preferences at work. The cabeza was much as I expected, hearty, fatty and delicious with a pot-roast like consistency. The fish tacos do not receive the cabbage slaw treatment that they do at other places. In other words they are prepared much like the other tacos with onions, cilantro and a touch of shredded iceberg lettuce, the latter topping being the only differentiation between the fish tacos and other kinds.

The tamales are very simply prepared as, I would argue, they should be. I prefer them handed to me in a corn husk unadorned by any superfluous sauces, cheeses or toppings.

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With judicious use of a good salsa, this tamale is just about perfect the way it is. These did not disappoint, though the filling was a little on the dry side.

What puts Two Amigos head and shoulders above other Mexican establishments are their salsas. They offer five kinds: blazing hot habanero, a hot salsa verde (green tomatillo), a medium-spicy red salsa made from guajillo chiles, a medium tomato-chipotle salsa and a thin, pureed avocado sauce. But of course quality always trumps quantity and Two Amigos sauces represent both.

Salsas

My favorite is the red chile salsa but I found that the avocado stuff really rounded out the fish tacos nicely. Their huaraches are excellent as well, though a little smaller than I’ve seen elsewhere. They are only available as a platter: 2 huaraches, rice and beans for $11, which is a tad pricey for Mexican, but probably fair.

Huaraches

There is also a little condiment station with iced cucumber slices, whole radishes, limes and roasted jalapenos. After a bite of a habanero salsa-adorned taco, I immediately understood the appeal of the cold cucumber.

There is a huge Quick Trip next door to Two Amigos, so it must get quite a bit of exposure and traffic. Unfortunately it never seems to be very busy. For instance I found it somewhat depressing to see two guys cutting across the Two Amigos parking lot carrying QT sandwiches and bags of Doritos. I just can’t fathom making that choice.

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The interior is almost unchanged from its days as a Taco Bell. I’m pretty sure that the booths, the counter, the trash areas and even the orange cafeteria trays are left over from that period. It’s funny to realize how much smaller fast food restaurants used to be. A couple of old televisions are mounted in each corner, usually only one is turned on, playing Spanish language programming loud enough for the owner to hear at the counter.

They even still operate the drive-through, made evident by a couple of yard signs in front of the building. One time I actually saw the owner wearing a headset over her black knitted hairnet.

The prices here are fair, and comparable to other similar restaurants. Plan on spending six or seven bucks, and more if you want to sample a lot of items. And bottled soda will set you back more than fountain pop. Tacos are all about 1.85 each, and the combination plates are in the neighborhood of $7.50, depending on what you get.

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For the cost conscious, the burritos cost $4.95 and approach infant-like proportions.

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So I encourage everyone to check out Two Amigos. If you aren’t sure what to order, try something new. They will happily put together any combination you desire. I for one will be visiting Two Amigos with regularity from now on. There is just too much on the menu that I have to try.

Two Amigos on Urbanspoon

Mar 092009
 

Daniel’s BBQ closed up almost as soon as it opened, the space is currently oc

Daniel's BBQWell, here’s some good news for my friends and avid readers out in Shawnee: Margarita’s on Johnson Drive near Quivira has recently turned into Daniels Bar-B-Q, a highly respectable joint that, based on one visit by yours truly, seems like a winner for either lunch or dinner.

I first heard about this place via Fat City a month or so ago. Then I forgot about it and was happy to “discover” it last week having no recollection that Owen beat me to the punch by a long shot.

Daniel’s sits in a strange little strip mall, occupying the weirdest space in the building. When I opened the front door, I did NOT expect to see a rather sizable staircase extending down in front of me. While other stores in the strip lie at street level, Daniel’s is down in the basement. Well, sort of. Once you enter you realize that the slope of the land outside actually puts a good portion of the place above ground, windows and everything.

This is a place with at least 3 or 4 levels. There is a sunken dining area, a raised bar, and the aforementioned south dining room which sits halfway up the stairs. With all the steps, this place would be a nightmare for wheelchair users and stumbly, drunk people.

All in all, it’s kind of a cool room, just the right mix of dingy and comfortable. The funniest aspects are the remnants of its life as a Mexican restaurant. A faux-road sign attached the wall at one end of the bar reads “Corona Street.” And one end of the dining area is decorated with this stunning, southwestern mural:

Daniel's BBQ

This is a table service joint and despite the odd entry, I was greeted immediately and given a choice of where to sit. After I sat down and received my Pepsi, the waitress took the calculated risk of informing me that I had a sizable piece of the straw wrapper stuck to the bridge of my nose. This, I very much appreciated.

They have the usual BBQ offerings with the addition of bar food staples like wings and burgers. But the place smelled enough of smoked meat that I opted for one of their “long bun” sandwiches with fries–a good deal at $5.99. They offer three sauces: Regular, Hot and Competition sauce.

The regular sauce, as is often the case, is the best of the lot. It’s a little sweet but has a nice tang and is hotter than one would expect. This is one of the better traditional sauces around. The competition sauce is a molasses-laden, dark, sweet sauce which I did not care for at all.

Daniel's BBQ
The pulled pork had excellent smoke flavor and a dry rub that really came through after cooking. The texture was a little dry, but fans of burnt ends will enjoy it. The beef was also very good, but was sliced way too thinly for my taste. My major problem was with the little sub rolls they serve the sandwiches on. I would much prefer white bread or even a nice soft bun. These long rolls are more conducive to Italian sandwiches at the airport. The fries are typical crinkle cut taters, not likely homemade. They did cook them nice and crispy which is all too rare.

Daniel's BBQ

Daniel’s website also advertises that they are accommodating to gluten-free diets. If you know anyone with celiac disease or just a general intolerance to gluten, you know that this is a major selling point. The meat, sauces, fries and beans are guaranteed gluten free, but more importantly they plan to offer gluten free beer and baked goods.

The service was simply outstanding. I never felt lacking for anything. My server brought my check over just as I was finishing up. “I know you are probably on lunch,” she said. Yes, someone who gets it. Likewise she refilled my drink without me having to ask. In general she was genuine, pleasant and really goods at her job.

The closest BBQ joint to Daniel’s is probably Bates City Shawnee BBQ on Quivira. RJ’s is not too far away either. I think Daniel’s can roll with either one of them. The beef is better than Bates, and the pork may very well be if you like the drier texture (I do). The original sauce is far better than RJ’s odd, sweet concoction, though the atmosphere can’t really compete with the little roadhouse ambiance.

All in all, this is a welcome addition to the suburban KC barbecue landscape.

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Daniel's Bar-B-Q and Catering on Urbanspooncupied by Char House