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

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

Oct 212009
 

FAT CITY REPORTS THAT MATCHSTICK HAS CLOSED AS OF DEC.3

The circumstances surrounding my visit to Matchstick BBQ are not ideal for blog posting, but I’m going to chime in anyway. You see, I swung by after a lengthy physical examination at KU Med for which I had to fast. I ate nothing all day until about 12:30 when I staggered into Matchstick looking for a big sloppy pulled pork sandwich and some fries.

This dining area is very small but very pleasant, holding six tables, three booths as well as some seating at a small bar.

matchstick_bar

The place is punctuated by some interesting items of decor such as a scythe, an old wooden tabletop pinball game, the ubiquitous cow skull and an apparently real English telephone booth. And gentlemen, while you pee, you can consider what is either genuine advertisement or a questionable piece of fine art.

matchstick_bathroomThis is a sit-down joint, which wasn’t immediately clear when I entered. The waitress greeted me and told me to have a seat. She was in the middle of taking orders from another table and didn’t get me a menu for about 10 minutes.

Matchstick is clearly much more than a simple BBQ place. The menu contains a variety of meat-tastic offerings such as the ‘Jamestown Hero:’

Pulled Pork and smoked bacon topped with our famous creamy and crispy cole slaw on a bun. $6.99

Here’s a pic of the Jamestown hero from their facebook page.

When my server finally got to me I opted for the very reasonable lunch special: pulled pork and side for 5.99. It’s hard to beat that at a BBQ spot. Interestingly the waitress offered me a choice of bread: hoagie roll, bun or texas toast. I opted for the texas toast since it’s the closest thing I can think of to plain white bread which is my preference. I got some fries with it, but could have opted for beans, potato salad, cole slaw or cheesy corn bake. The waitress forgot to put the order in to the kitchen for a few more minutes so this whole thing took a little longer than it should have, especially since I was one of two tables by the time I got my food.

But that’s where the complaints stop. The sandwich came out looking pretty good.

matchstick_plate

The texas toast was buttered and grilled which I should have expected. I found it to be a little too greasy but still pleasant. As you can see this pork is pretty finely shredded which is not my normal preference, but this was very tasty. It had a distinctly mild smoke flavor which undoubtedly comes from their advertised use of fruit woods (as opposed to hickory which is quite a bit more pungent.)

But I would eat shoe leather if it came with Matchstick’s sauce.

The sauce does not have that distinctive twang of Gates but it a bit spicier. The heat dances around your mouth like tiny, delicious angels of flavorocity. It has sweetness, but without the cloying syrupyness that plagues others. Maybe it was just my extreme hunger, but I was ready to declare it my favorite sauce in the city.

Alright virgins obsessive barbecue enthusiasts, this is where you proceed to berate the shit out of me.

I have only been to Matchstick once and there is more than enough to bring me back. Breakfast for starters, looks very promising, as do the sandwiches. They also have onion rings for $5.99 so they must be the best damn rings in town.

It bears mentioning that there are no ribs here (at least not that I could find on the menu), just beef, ham, turkey, sausage and pulled pork. They are also without a liquor license for the moment; a full bar should be in place by Halloween. 39th street is not known for its barbecue, so I think this place fills a niche. Once they get booze and can stay open late (they are promising live entertainment) I can see this becoming a cozy little hangout. Let’s just hope, with all the restaurant competition and the poor economy, that it doesn’t get lost in the shuffle.

Matchstick BBQ on Urbanspoon

LC’s Bar-B-Q: 5800 Blue Pkwy

 Posted by at 10:14 am
Aug 142009
 

Everyone who likes to talk about local food and restaurant stuff should be reading and participating in the LTH Forum. A number of funny, articulate and knowledgeable folks are writing about KC restaurants of all kinds. I have heard about a few places for the first time there, and next to twitter it’s the best place to get up to the minute news about the local restaurant scene. A recent BBQ excursion arranged by the site’s founder Aaron Deacon took a large group of out-of-towners around to Arthur Bryant’s, Oklahoma Joe’s, Woodyard and LC’s Bar-B-Q. This got me thinking about paying another long overdue visit to LC’s.

LC's Bar-B-Q

LC’s consistently appears on those ubiquitous and subjective lists of Kansas City’s best barbecue joints. For reasons unbeknown to me I haven’t been out to LC’s in ages which, for a food lover like me is just about inexcusable. Good, popular barbecue is not something I can eat every day but I make it a point to get to Bryant’s, Gates, Oklahoma Joe’s and innumerable inferior places a couple times a year. Why not LC’s?

Part of the reason for my oversight is the physical and psychological location of the restaurant. Situated out on Blue Parkway, LC’s does not sit on prime real estate. The drive from KC central takes one through a strange part of the east side that seems semi-rural and partially abandoned, leading to a sense that it is very far away. But it’s really not. From the Plaza it will take you ten minutes. Seriously, for less time than the length of an average Yes song you can take yourself out for some of the best barbecue in the area.

LC's Bar-B-Q

Yes, some of the best in the area. I think it’s that good even though I haven’t eaten there as many times as your average barbecue enthusiast.

This last visit was all about the burnt ends, people. While many menu items are very good, this is what most folks mention when talking about LC’s. The first time you try the burnt ends you will get that slack-jawed, eyes-closed expression normally associated with the best kinds of sexual gratification. I don’t think I ever truly understood burnt ends until I had these.

A modest fee of $8.95 will get you a huge portion of these tender beef nuggets that explode with delicious flavors of smoke, spices and rendered fat. Arriving doused liberally with LC’s very good tangy sauce, the beef has a highly complex texture. It melts in your mouth like pot roast but isn’t stringy. Chewy pieces of bark punctuate each piece. There is a fair amount of fat but it doesn’t overwhelm and doesn’t need to be picked out.

LC's Bar-B-Q

The burnt ends at LC’s are truly a revelation. But let me caution that they are extremely rich and flavorful. I think only a crazy person could stomach an entire portion, though I’m sure it’s been done. If you want to be productive later in the day, you might want to opt for the half smoked chicken or a ham sandwich.

LC's Bar-B-Q

I ate probably less than half of my burnt ends and probably would have felt sick having much more. It didn’t help that I had a giant basket of french fries to deal with also.

LC's Bar-B-Q

The fries will set you back a very steep $3.45 but can easily be shared among a table of folks. As you can see, these are thick cut taters, almost like steak fries. I don’t normally care for fries of this size and these were no exception. I found about half the order to be slightly undercooked, giving a few of them that heavy, boiled potato-like consistency inside. They were nonetheless a nice starchy accompaniment to the meat, especially since the white bread quickly turned to mush.

I definitely want to give a shout-out to the beef sandwich here as well since it is my favorite brisket in the city. As always you get a huge portion in a white bread sandwich cut into delectable towering meat triangles. The beef is the best combination of tenderness and flavor that I’ve found. I had the ribs on one of my previous visits and found them a little overcooked and still too fatty, but this was probably three years ago. I certainly would not hesitate to try them again.

Every review of LC’s you read will talk about what a dive it is, but it’s actually a little cozier than I remember. I eat in sketchier places every week. There is a little ice cream freezer as you walk in, a couple lighted menu boards and a lot of taxidermied birds and fish. I don’t think the appearance of the space should even be an issue. In fact, I think Arthur Bryant’s is more of a dump and most Gates locations just look like Wendy’s with a weird design aesthetic. Really the most annoying thing about LC’s is the loud TV that always seems to be blaring some preposterous daytime program, like that game show with Howie Mandel.

Out of curiosity I searched for the health department inspection results on LC’s to see if the “dive-ish” qualities affected food safety. Interestingly I could not locate anything on the City of KCMO Health Department site. So an opportunity to be a smart-ass was lost. Alas.

The service is pretty good. The folks behind the counter certainly lack the attitude of Bryant’s employees and the hangdog incompetence of Gates workers. It is, however a much smaller operation that either of those two places. The only glitch during my last visit was the absence of pickles on my tray which I had asked for. No big thing, the cashier just gave the cook a dirty look and brought them out to me. (Yes, you have to ask for pickles here.)

I’d like to encourage everyone who loves barbecue to make a trip out to LC’s sometime soon. It’s right on the way to Kauffman Stadium if you take the back way. What could be better before (or after) a ballgame? Sure, it’s location is a tad odd, and maybe the neighborhood ain’t much but I think LC’s is on the Kansas City Must-Go list.


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Kokoro Maki House: 340 W 75th St

 Posted by at 1:41 am
Dec 312008
 

I love counter service lunch spots. They are almost universally faster than full service restaurants, they tend to be more informal, and the food can still be excellent. But let me begin by stating what I think should be a self evident truth:

Ordering sushi from a counter, paying and then waiting for it to be delivered is just wrong.

No one waits on you, no one fills up the water glass, and you are not at the sushi bar chatting with anyone. You are just waiting. It is purely a capitalist exchange of goods for money.

Kokoro Maki House

Kokoro Maki House is way more lunch-oriented than any of the other sushi places I can think of. The menu is small and a lot of the sushi is served a la carte. But counter service prevails here, and it can be very difficult to choose what you want to order. Sushi involves lots of hard decision making and I always feel rushed at Kokoro, especially when there are people in line behind me. When getting sushi there I always feel like I miscalculated the amount I really need. Moreover, if you want something else after eating your food, you have to go up to the counter and order it, pay, then wait for it. I call bullshit on that. Sushi is a splurge food for me. I want to be waited on, and that’s that.

So recently I stopped back into Kokoro and saw something I had not noticed before: Korean dishes on the menu. Much like Cho-Ga Kokoro offers lunch boxes with a Korean entree and various accouterments including rice, dumplings, 2 pieces of maki, and a salad.

Kokoro Maki House

I know, I know these boxes are not authentic Korean, but damn it was delicious! The bulgogi was perfectly cooked, piping hot and the dumplings were little deep fried nuggets of delight. My partner’s Bi Bim Bop and accompanying kim chee looked damn good too. The pickled daikon was my favorite of the three. She claimed it was one of the best dishes of Bi Bim Bop she has ever tasted.

Kokoro Maki House

What’s more, they seem to care about presentation at Kokoro. Details like the little foil square beneath the dumplings, black sesame seeds atop the rice, and nori strips on the Bi Bim Bop indicate that these are folks who care about what they serve.

I have had the sushi here as well, and found it very good and affordable. But it has been at least a year since I tried it, so I can’t really say much more about it with any confidence.

The food does take a while to come out, even when they are not busy. This is perhaps the biggest drawback. What service they do have is fine, although the teenager at the counter was not particularly helpful and seemed more interested in texting than taking care of us. But generally I give teenagers a pass; their lives are annoying enough without some half-assed food blogger complaining about how they do their jobs.

These are great little affordable Korean lunch specials right in the heart of Waldo. For those who need the Korean fix without venturing into Johnson County, look no further than Kokoro.

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Aug 192008
 

There are three places in Kansas City called Smokestack and this is the only one I’ve been to. There’s one in the northland, one in South KC and this one in Not-As-Far South KC on Wornall road. Anyone know if these are the same operation or just have the same name?

Smokestack is not the best BBQ in the city but it is rather good, and there is something really appealing about the place. It’s not a dive by any stretch but it is very old fashioned. If I recall correctly, it is carpeted and the walls are wood paneled. The “entryway” is defined by a handyman’s wall made from unpainted lattice. My favorite part? The walls are covered with huge, blown-up family portraits taken circa 1973. God I really need to get my camera back, sorry folks, it was stolen by an Oregonian caterer last month. So I’ll have to steal photos from the Smokestack web site.

Looks good, eh?

There is table service at Smokestack, which blows my mind every time I witness it at a BBQ joint. But here, it really fits. This is an old school family run business and I’d say most of the folks running the show are on the older side. I think Smokestack is intended to be a place for “regular folks” to have a nice meal out in KC. In other words, just go with it. They are great servers, all business, no bullshit, big hair.

They aren’t much for presentation at this place, but they certainly give you a nice portion of smoked meat. They have everything you could possibly want in a Kansas City BBQ joint and offer a number of combinations for folks like me who just can’t decide what to try. Like most places they push the ribs in a lot of their combos, probably because they cost more than most other things. I also think ribs are a little more forgiving to the novice cook. I’ve smoked some good ribs in my day but have yet to make a brisket that’s worthy of my mailing address. Oh, have I mentioned that I don’t think the ribs are all that great at Smokestack? They are the “fall off the bone” variety which always reminds me of pot roast rather than BBQ. I like tender meat that still has some integrity and adheres to the bone. These are on the fatty side as well. They remind me of those at the Woodyard.

The beans however, are particularly good. On the sweet side for sure very sweet but tomatoey, with nice chunks of smoked pork in them. The standard side portion is 4 oz, however, which is basically useless. Do yourself a favor and get the large side or you’ll wind up with a veritable shot glass of a souffle cup full of beans. Speaking of beans, they have really good ones at McGonigles when they are out selling BBQ.

The beef and pork are both very good. They have steak fries here which I just don’t get. They don’t have to fry fresh potatoes to make me happy, but I really dislike the mealy, heavy, limp-dick quality that pre-made steak fries usually have. I always find myself eating the smaller, crispier nuggets.

Prices are fine. You’ll eat your ass off for 10-12 bucks, including tip.
There are a couple other BBQ spots that you could choose from in the general vicinity. That place Jake’s up a ways on Wornall appears to be closed and replaced with something terrible. BB’s is not far, same with the aforementioned McGonigles. But Smokestack is a nice easy stop if you work in Waldo, or are out buying random crap at Goodwill across the street (which is what I was doing).

So, it’s a decent place, probably much better for lunch than dinner Why? Well it has to do with my biggest complaint: No beer.

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