It just occurred to me that this January marks the 5th anniversary of Kansas City Lunch Spots. I know I haven’t been the most consistent updater and tend to take long breaks between flurries of posts, but I genuinely appreciate the attention and support of my readers since 2007. I take pride in having been one of the most attentive food bloggers in the area since KC Lunch Spots was started.
I started this site out of sheer boredom, disappointed in the selection of downtown lunch spots. Happily the urban core has seen an expansion of food venues for better or worse and I’ve since focused more of my efforts on Johnson County, a fascinating but frustrating place to eat, which happens to be where I work these days.
Rest assured that I have no inclination to stop posting about any locale. The intervening years have seen me reporting on a variety of food-related topics but at the heart of it, I want to focus on the unpretentious, easy midday meal. This is why I generally don’t accept invitations to try new dinner menus at restaurants on the Plaza or offers to sample the new lunch fare at joe-sample chain restaurant (believe me, if you have a food blog, you will get offers). I like places that lend themselves particularly well to the life of the regular, working person.
Greetings folks. I have migrated Kansas City Lunch Spots from Blogger over to a self-hosted WordPress installation. I should have done this a long time ago. Old links to specific reviews will no longer work and the feed URL will be different if you used the blogger feed. If you subscribe to the blog in a feed reader check your subscriptions and change to http://feeds.feedburner.com/kclunchspots/IgnZ if necessary
The site looks a lot better and will be easier to manage and navigate. Rest assured, despite the fact that I haven’t been good about posting consistently this year, I do have lots of reviews waiting in the wings. Thank you everyone for your support.
Hi all, Just a quick announcement to let you know that I will be contributing to KC Free Press as a food and restaurant writer. This is a new media venture in town and I’m pretty excited to have been included. Check out my first story, “Eat Great Late,” which features photographs by long time photo blogger Catherine VandeVelde.
I will still be doing my thing here at KC Lunch Spots, business as usual.
Back in the late 90s I spent 4 years I’ll never get back working in the catering business. Despite all the similarities to traditional restaurant work, there are some significant differences. Catering is all about facade, from the clip-on bow ties and the fake flower displays to the cream colored table skirts and paper doilies. Caterers create kitchens, dining rooms, bars and buffets wherever they have to, often in the most preposterous of spaces. They have to worry about how something will transport across town and hold up in a chafing dish for two hours. They deal in thousands of dollars per transaction rather than dozens. They deal with preparation time on the scale of weeks and days rather than minutes.
By and large catered food is also a hell of a lot less interesting than restaurant food. Menu items tend to be either bland or safe in order to appeal to mass tastes. It’s not worth the risk of granny thinking it’s weird. When I was catering, I had a boss that knew about food from a business rather than culinary perspective. Once when we were coming up with a new menu, he asked me if I could “fit the word ‘reduction’ in there somewhere” because it sounded “classy.” I’m sure he had no clue what a reduction was. This was a guy who pronounced the T-H in “thyme.”
I could go on and on about this, but I won’t. So I’ll get to the point. Sometimes caterers dabble in the restaurant business and vice versa. Some do it well, others make me suspicious. Cafes and storefronts are often afterthought for caterers used to throwing huge events for 20 or 30 thousand bucks a pop. A few months back, a local service called Executive Catering moved its operation to the corner strip mall locale recently occupied by Cafe Song. They dubbed the place 75, likely because of its proximity to 75th street. Frequent KC Lunch Spots visitor JH brought it to my attention in the comments of the Oak 63 post, and even reported back from his first visit.
JH wasn’t blown away by the experience and I can see where he is coming from. Yet another JoCo sandwich/salad place that tries to squeeze more than $10 out of you at lunch hour. But as much as I hate to admit it, I think 75 is doing a great job with the food.
The menu consists of a small variety of carefully conceived sandwiches and salads. The menu items are not exactly inventive, but it sure as hell ain’t old school deli fare. I have sampled the chipotle pork loin sandwich, the chicken salad sandwich, the cobb salad and the pear and blue cheese salad. The menu treads that fine line between safe and delicious. It is the same territory covered by the Classic Cup, the confusingly similar Classic Cookie, Farm to Market Cafe (under new ownership and much improved) and The Mixx
Most things at 75 run about 8 bucks, but amazingly you can get half a sandwich and salad for basically the same price. I highly recommend this option since the salads can be just as good. The greens and other ingredients are thrown together and dressed in a large bowl much like they do it at The Mixx.
My Cobb had a delicious homemade dressing but alas, way too much of it. I demonstrated my frustration by eating every bit anyway.
Each sandwich comes with a side of delicious homemade potato chips that they call “cafe chips.” Don’t bother with the pasta salad or cole slaw.
There are an assortment of large cupcakes by the register that seem to be very popular with other customers. I meant to try one but I just can’t stomach a slab of cake and frosting after a midday meal. If it was a cookie I’d be all over it. Anyhow, there are a lot of varieties; I bet they are good.
Eating lunch at 75 cafe doesn’t feel like being at a wedding reception or corporate conference thank God, but some elements of catering are clearly evident. For instance all the soda comes in cans and is laid out on a buffet, along with a plastic bowl full of ice and a few rows of glasses. This is a classic catering set-up. Interestingly, when you buy a drink, you can have as many cans as you want, sort of an equivalent of free refills.
I’m not a huge fan of the way the ordering is set-up. You order and pay at the register, then take a number to your table to wait for your food. Fine, but the menu is located on the wall off to the side of the register where the cooks are assembling meals. This gives the impression that you order from the cooks and pay at the register on the end. Not a huge deal unless it’s busy, then the line gets confusing.
Another thing, the text on the menu is way too small. They should put paper menus farther down the counter so people can decide on what they want before getting to the register. For some reason I really dislike menus mounted up on walls like that. It is ubiquitous practice, but I would rather look over a menu in my hand.
The guy who runs this place is a dynamo and a chatterbox. You can hear his voice nonstop from the moment you enter to the time you leave. Add to that the steady diet of smooth jazz that always plays and it sounds like somebody’s getting lunch to go. Strangely, he did not annoy me nearly as much as I expected. He is just very enthusiastic about his business, confident in what he serves and clearly loves dealing with the public. I still dislike smooth jazz, but at least it’s not John Mayer or something.
Each time I visited 75 I was not excited to go. Something about the location and the decor just seems kind of sterile. But once I received and ate my food, I was quite happy. Fortunately, 75 seems to be attracting a good lunchtime crowd which is remarkable considering they have only been open a few months (the owner seems to have a lot of friends who eat there too). Folks who work in the Shawnee/Lenexa/northern OP area should consider putting this place on the lunch rotation. They may be caterers but they haven’t overextended themselves and have managed to put together a very nice little lunch spot.
I spend a lot of time on restaurant websites as you can imagine. There seem to be two genres of restaurant sites: one flashy, the other amateurish. By flashy I mean literally created with Flash, as well as the assumption that the first thing people want to see is a “loading” status bar when they visit the site. I want information, not eye candy. I want interior URLs I can link to and text I can copy and paste.
Amateurish sites are probably created by restaurant owners or friends of the owners rather than professional firms. They have their own set of problems particularly when they are wrought with web 1.0 craziness like Governor Stumpy’s original site (tip o’ the cap to @sjwaters & c_giffin).
So, what should the restaurant home page have on it?
The address (preferably with a link to a map), the hours and a link to the menu. Please. For cryin’ out loud.
It’s amazing how many sites bury their hours under ‘About Us’ or ‘Contact.’ This information is fundafuckinmental to whether or not people will show up. And people are stupid and pressed for time.
And in a metro area where Parkville and Lee’s Summit can all be referred to as ‘Kansas City,’ it is pretty important to know where a place is located before anything else. In fact, I’d venture to say that for lunch, location is the single most important determining factor in making a choice of restaurant. So, yeah, let’s just bury the goddamn address under ‘More Info’ or something. Or the footer.
But what I really want to talk about are menus on restaurant websites. It is extremely common to see menus available solely as PDF documents. Despite its ubiquity, PDF is not a web-friendly format and is better suited to documents that will be printed out or saved by the user. As someone who has dealt extensively with the public using technology, many people simply avoid PDFs as a rule of thmub. Others still are confused by them when they get hung up loading or when Adobe wants to update.
As the inarguable results of my methodologically sound poll suggest, menus are the number one thing people want to see on a restaurant site. If your business is food, that food needs to be front and center. Restaurants need to provide menu right on their web pages. In HTML. Linked from the front page.
Yes, it will take more effort and skill to update a website continually, but the Web is not a static medium. If restaurants think they can develop a site and leave it alone, they are doing it wrong. The Web is probably the biggest way people find out about places to eat. There is no shortage of review sites like Urbanspoon and Yelp, not mention blogging dumbasses with opinions like myself. The job of a website is to serve the needs of someone who might only spend 2 seconds on your site. A restaurant’s website is its public face, like it or not. It should be fast, inviting, efficient and clean, just like the restaurant itself.
Hey y’all this is post number 100 for me here at KC Lunch Spots. I feel some small sense of accomplishment because I post a lot more infrequently than other bloggers. And frankly back when I started I didn’t really expect anyone to come and read this thing. Basically it’s also my 2 year anniversary since I started January 1, 2007
So kudos and thanks to all of you, especially to my very first commenters Sassywho and the illustrious Meesha, known then only by the cryptic moniker, “Mike.” Scott from KC Perky helped me out with a lot of suggestions in the early days as well. I’d be remiss not to mention Tony who linked me twice using the exact same joke about “eating out.” Awesome!
I’ve gone from short, cautious snippets to more full fledged review-type posts in recent months. And I’ve made plenty of mistakes along the way. If anything it has made me more appreciative of the work that real journalists have to do when writing about restaurants. It is very easy to forget details or just simply get the facts wrong. That why I’m a blogger, I can just chalk up my bullshittery to the sketchiness of the medium.
Anyhow, I just wanted to burn a post here thanking everyone who reads, those of you who comment, and most of all, you crazy people who actually take some stock in what I think. I know things aren’t perfect around here, but you guys make me want to keep trying.
A recent tweet from Pensive Girl got me thinking about food safety, of all things. She wanted to eat lunch at a well-regarded Indian restaurant in town, but had heard rumors about food safety misdeeds. This is a complicated issue for anyone interested in good food. There is a lot of misinformation out there, but there are also a lot of dirty little secrets.
If you have heard rumors about improper food handling, these are the places to check. If you have a legitimate complaint, these are the places to register your complaint officially.
Interestingly, a lot of good food is inherently risky–rare steaks and sushi come to mind–but there is also a sense in which little homespun lunch spots cannot or do not keep up with the dizzying array of food and beverage regulations set forth by the local health department. It bears to keep in mind that some degree of minor failure may be tolerable.
In Los Angeles and some other cities they have a grading system for health inspection results. Establishments are required to place a placard in the front of the restaurant clearly displaying their grades. You can search a database to check out LA health inspection results and the resulting grade given. People I know who have lived in LA, however, tell me that the best restaurants are always B’s, not A’s.
Much lower than a B, however, and I think you would have a little PR problem on your hands.
Why would B’s be better? I don’t really know, other than the fact the large chains probably get A’s routinely because they have systems and procedures in place for food handling, while smaller joints don’t always have the wherewithal to establish such concrete measures. Sanitation is typically monitored by managers and executive chefs, luxuries that corner burger shops cannot always afford. But certainly some restaurants are a mess and deserve public scrutiny for missteps, particularly repeated missteps.
Years ago, I took a food safety and sanitation course in Chicago because of my job as the manager of a catering company. It really is fascinating stuff, and it affected the way I prepare and order food to this day. Here are some things I learned:
Soup is one of the most commonly mishandled foods because it takes so long to cool down. If you take leftover hot soup, cover it and refrigerate it, the center will not reach an acceptable temperature for many, many hours. Add to that the widespread practice of mixing old with new soup and you have a real problem going on. Lesson? Don’t eat soup from a sketchy restaurant. Proper handling involves cooling it down on the counter in a shallow pan, then refrigerating it.
Pizza is one of the safest foods to eat at a restaurant because it is generally fully cooked. Sure, a dirty, half-baked, dred-locked hippie puts the toppings on, but that 500 degree oven cooks the crap out of anything transferred from his bacteria-laden fingers.
There is really no such thing as “stomach flu.” It’s usually some form of foodborne illness.
Matching these scary but avoidable realities are the misconceptions. People get very paranoid about food safety, and often declare personal boycotts on restaurants that “got them sick.” My understanding is that the incubation periods for the most common forms of foodborne illness run from 1-2 days. So it’s usually the food that you ate yesterday or the day before that got you sick, not what you had for lunch. Also, misconceptions abound about ethnic restaurants, particularly Asian ones. Please resist the urge to label a practice as dangerous just because it is unfamiliar.
In general always take complaints about restaurants with a grain of salt. And if you have doubts or worries, check the inspection results. If a place has the same scary violation over and over again, something is wrong. Sure, you may eat there anyway, but at least you know what you’re getting into.
A few Saturdays ago when the weather was a little warmer, my lady friend and I decided to get out of the house and take a long walk. I had stayed up somewhat late the night before and was feeling a little fuzzy. My breakfast had consisted of a small bowl of Good Friendstm cereal, three cups of coffee and half a xanax. I thought some exercise would do me some good, so we headed out the door in the general direction of Loose Park. We never made it.
You see, an obstacle was in our way: the dreaded French bistro Aixois. I’ve posted about this very good restaurant before. Even though it has its annoyances, we simply could not pass up the sunny patio and the promise of something good to eat. It is a very good choice for lunch or dinner, but as we passed by 55th and Brookside at about 3pm, I wasn’t sure if Aixois would even be open. A lot of these places close between lunch and dinner.
Imagine my delight at discovering the Aixois afternoon menu!
That’s right, six days a week you can get a nice sampling of small plates that range from sandwiches to cheese plates to mussels from 2:30 to 5:30pm.
Not lunch, not dinner = perfect.
Oh did I mention that there is an afternoon drink menu too?
Yeah it’s 9 bucks but that Aixois Rouge is something special. I’m going to be making a few of those this Thanksgiving, I promise.
So we sat there and had some alcoholic beverages, a great salad and perhaps the best shrimp cocktail I’ve ever had.
Then we took the long way home, because actual exercise would have just ruined a perfectly delightful afternoon.
Although this blog tends to be about the midweek working-person’s meal, one shouldn’t overlook the necessity of the weekend drunkard’s lunch. Part of it was the spontaneity, part of it was the sheer genius of the idea, but this was one of the really good restaurant experiences I’ve had in Kansas City.
First of all, Chimpo you can stop reading right now.
I love a good basket of deep fried nuggets or a bacon-topped sandwich as much as the next person. Indeed my favorite foods tend to be of the death-inducing variety. But sometimes overly fatty foods can be a little…overbearing for lunch. We all have moments when our conscience or our constitutions can only handle so much. Maybe the weather or your mood doesn’t lend itself to creamy sauces or overly rich foods. Maybe you want to stay awake through the rest of the workday. Whatever.
I for one try to eat healthily for many lunches. Though I’m no stranger to overindulgence in any area of life, I do like smaller portions for my mid-day meals. And I think salad, fresh vegetables and tofu taste good, just like cheeseburgers, pizza and BBQ ribs. My favorite dishes of all are those that are decent for you without even trying, like Vietnamese rice noodle bowls, bison burgers, and smoked turkey.
I know there are places that specialize in vegetarian/vegan cuisine like Eden Alley and Cafe Seed. But I’m looking for more under the radar stuff. I’m sure there are healthy-ish dishes at lunch spots all across the metro. So, dear reader, I ask you this:
What are your favorite healthy dishes to eat when you go out to lunch? And where do you order them?
Tienda Casa Paloma: I’m afraid that this place is starting to disappoint me. I visit for lunch about once a month and have decided that most things on the menu are just average. I ordered the chiles rellenos last week and they were ice cold in the middle. Now, I won’t get all uppity about the fact that these were clearly pre-made–they were inexpensive and I can;t expect a relatively complicated dish of this sort to be made from scratch. But the primary ingredient is cheese. It’a cheese-filled poblano pepper. It needs to be hot and melted. I took my plate to the counter and asked to have it warmed up. Two minutes (in the microwave) later she brought it back out: Still not hot. I figured life was too short, ate what I could and took my leave. I’ve also found the carne asada to be somewhat flavorless and tough. I won’t even mention that crazy yellow cheese sauce that I witnessed at an impromptu blogger lunch earlier this year.
Bates City BBQ: This place continues to impress. Never had a bad meal and the service is outstanding.
I ate lunch at Cancun Fiesta Fresh yesterday and am happy to report that it still serves up some of the best quick and simple Mexican food in midtown. This place has been in business for well over a year and I hope it establishes itself as a Westport institution. Now if they could only get a liquor license…
Red Dragon House downtown is undoubtedly the fastest place to get a freshly prepared hot meal on the face of the earth. While the food can be pedestrian, I’ve found the Hunan Chicken to be quite reliable. Here’s a tip: Skip the mediocre soups that come with the lunch special and they will give you extra rice (which you’ll need).