Mar 172011
 

Don’t be afraid. The scariest thing about Chelly’s is the interior decorating.

Interior

Interior

Isn’t this place dreadful inside? When reader JaySoy suggested it a year or two back, I had never really noticed it, nestled on the end of a haggard strip mall around the corner from Swagger at 85th and Wornall. The shopping center is anchored by the excellent neighborhood bar, Walsh’s Corner Cocktails which apparently has a cheeseburger I need to try.

A cheeseburger you don’t need to try is at Chelly’s, because Chelly’s is a Mexican restaurant. Mexican restaurants don’t need burgers. If anyone feels strongly to the contrary, feel free to tell me how great Chelly’s burgers are in the comments.

That being said, I did enjoy my meal in this curious little place much more than I anticipated. It is a familiar and popular genre of restaurant: slightly Americanized Mexican fare with a broad appeal but not the utterly gross kind. They serve up hearty plates of food along with mass-produced Mexican beers and perfectly good unnaturally green margaritas. Think Mi Ranchito, Dos Reales, Los Corrals and the like.

I was pleasantly surprised by a delicious pork tamale covered with a red chile sauce that they seem overly fond of. Tacos get the traditional corn tortilla, onion and cilantro treatment. I had carne asada and chicken and the meats, from what I remember, are just fine. These tacos aren’t going to knock your socks off but sometimes you just need a fix.

Tamale and tacos

The menu advertises an accompaniment called the “Mexican flag,” which I assume is the centrally located piles of green guacamole, sour cream, onions and tomatoes on each plate.

Combo

As you can see, Chelly’s serves whole pinto beans rather than the more common refried variety and though I prefer the latter when they are good these are perfectly tasty and a refreshing chance of pace.

Waldo is not a particularly good locale for Mexican food, with the supremely mediocre anglocized Cantina del Ray and Taco Factory up north. Paparico’s is the newest addition to Waldo’s Mexican family which has very favorable reviews around town, with a notable exception. So in this climate, Chelly’s succeeds, even though it may not be up to the highest standards.

Chelly's Cafe on Urbanspoon

Feb 222011
 

Taco Factory set up shop early this year in the old Sweet Guy spot in the heart of Waldo near 75th and Wornall. I was honestly prepared to never set foot in this place. Everything I had heard and read about Taco Factory made it sound like a middle of the road, cheapish whitey taco place that caters to boring people and drunks.

It turns out I was completely right, but I did enjoy my meal to a reasonable degree. The interior is brightly lit and brightly colored. Like a fast food joint, you order at a counter and pick up your order when your number appears on a monitor mounted high in the dining room.

Interior

I haven’t seen the number method deployed in this manner before, and I far prefer it to obnoxious shouting via loudspeaker or food runners shouting people’s names in the dining room.

Interior

The menu is reminiscent of popular fast food chains like Chipotle or Pancheros but I think the quality and flavor are a bit superior at Taco Factory. The shredded beef was succulent and delicious, despite a distinct over-reliance on salt. And the tempura battered fish was great; I would go back just for that.

Unfortunately, there are no corn tortillas to be had, only premade flour ones. They may be softened slightly on a grill, but are a little dense and chewy by the time you take the first bite. Each taco is attractively, if inauthentically adorned with shredded lettuce, red cabbage, feta cheese crumbles, some pale tomato and a generous handful of some tepid “Mexican shredded cheese mix” – probably Monterey Jack and Cheddar.

Tacos

Don’t bother with the rice and beans. The rice is over-seasoned and has the consistency of minute-rice. The beans are too salty and seem to come from a can.

The entree salads are large and attractively presented in metal bowls with multi-colored fried tortilla strips. The finely shredded chicken was likely cooked in-house and was well-seasoned and pleasant in texture. The salad dressing has the appearance of having come from a Sysco gallon jug, but you may prefer the judicious use of salsa instead. You have the choice of hot or mild salsa but I was unable to detect any heat whatsoever in either one.

Salad

Receipt

A highly publicized Happy Hour from 3-5pm advertises $1 Bud Lite draws and $2 margaritas. The signage is sponsored by none other than Pepe Lopez tequila which, along with the bottles of Hiram Walker triple sec I saw behind the counter probably creates a hell of a cheap-ass wallop in a margarita. By the way, what’s up with happy hours that end at 5pm? Happy Hour used to be a way to compete for after-work business, hasn’t this gotten a little out of hand?

Basically, Taco Factory is a fast food restaurant well-poised to succeed in Waldo, home to some of the city’s oldest and most mediocre restaurants. It is also aptly-named, since every ingredient in the place probably came out of a factory of some sort. It will appeal to college students, people who can’t get in to Waldo Pizza, and drunk people (it’s open very late at night). I’d love to tell you more about their hours and their menu choices, but Taco Factory doesn’t have a website.

Taco Factory on Urbanspoon

Swagger: 8431 Wornall Rd – CLOSED

 Posted by at 10:47 am
Aug 112009
 

Swagger has inhabited a nondescript little storefront on South Wornall Road for about a year but I had no idea it was there until it started to get a little media coverage around town. Swagger sits at the northernmost end of the strip mall across from Price Chopper that houses Mike’s liquors. The narrow stretch of asphalt between the entrance and Wornall appears designed for parking, but it’s used as a frontage road, sidewalk and idling area all at once. Since it’s a little awkward, you may opt to cruise down the alley and park in back. Swagger has a well marked rear entrance (insert joke here).

Let’s get one thing straight: Swagger is a bar. I popped in early one afternoon to find a typical crowd of middle aged singles and good-natured drunks. There was a small group playing pool and a few folks nursing post lunch beers at the bar. Despite the warmth and brightness of the day, it was dark inside. A video jukebox played tired tributes to classic rock artists like Eric Clapton and Three Dog Night. At any given time, half the bar is out back smoking cigarettes.

With that caveat out of the way let’s get another thing straight: Swagger is much more than a bar. It features 42 beers on tap, seven of them boulevard beers including the lovely Tank 7. Check out the whole list here.

The menu is really something to behold. I’m gaining weight just thinking about it. It appeals to bright and bold flavor palates with higher concept versions of burgers, chicken sandwiches, wings and barbecue staples. It’s the kind of food that appeals to a grittier, down to earth crowd with adventurous sensibilities. Take the Dead Texan:

Two texas toast grilled cheese sandwiches with a 1/3 lb burger, 1 egg, 3 bacon, lettuce, tomato, onion, jalepenos and peppercorn mayo in between

This is fine dining for bikers and metalheads and they do it well. The ingredients are high quality and treated with care. For instance they cut their own steaks, hand-bread their onion rings and use only freshly ground beef for their burgers. I wanted to try their hand cut and pounded pork tenderloin when I visited but they were out of it that day. So I opted for the Suribachi burger, a concept so absurd that I had to try it.

The process goes thusly: First they take a sizable angus beef patty and cook it. Then they dip it in tempura batter and deep fry it. It is then placed on a bun topped with pepperjack chese, spicy Asian mustard, wasabi cole slaw and hot chili sauce. It looks a little something like this:

Swagger

The photo doesn’t do justice to the size of the thing. Everyone at the bar gasped when it came out, joking that I’d never be able to get my mouth around the thing. I made a valiant effort with the eyes of the bar upon me and succeeded in getting a respectable bite of the burger.

And it was fantastic. I would have liked the beef to have been more rare–this would have catapulted it into the pantheon of fabulous local sandwiches–but the overall effect was tremendous, and quite unlike a typical burger. The tempura batter is an absolutely inspired choice. It was super crispy and light, adding an explosively salty crunch that knocked my socks off. Yes it was spicy, but not as much as I could have handled. The wasabi cut through more than the other ingredients but I really like the cole slaw as a topping.

The onion rings were simply perfect. I ate them all.

Other places masquerade as dive bars in order to promote some popular idea about their menu (the Foundry). Either that or it’s an owner’s lame attempt to recapture the excitement of a misspent youth now that he has a wife and kids. Swagger is the real deal. I don’t think they care that the core clientele (for the time being anyway) is made up of bud light swilling bar patrons. They are really doing their own thing when conventional wisdom would have them completely change the tenor of the business from its days as a simple neighborhood bar.

I’m not sure if they have table service (though I would assume so) since I sat at the bar, but I’m sure you won’t experience the typical hostess/server/bartender division of labor. As a result, I’m not sure it’s a great place to take granny to Sunday dinner but it is a good option for those looking for an excellent meal and a few drinks any night of the week.

Swagger on Urbanspoon

The Classic Cookie: 409 W. Gregory

 Posted by at 4:04 am
May 052009
 

Classic CookieI think this is the shortest lunch I have ever eaten in Kansas City. I rolled up to Classic Cookie on the north end of Waldo at about 11:30. I knew it was a small space and wanted to get there before any noon rush. I’m glad I did.

The small but pleasant dining area was mostly full when I arrived, including a long table of 6 or 8 folks. Smartly the Classic Cookie has small four-top tables that can be pulled together or pushed apart to accommodate groups of varying sizes. That being said, this is not a good place to have lunch with a large group. The place is simply too small and it gets very full at the height of lunch hour, as I was soon to discover.

I know this is a popular spot for breakfast/brunch but have never been because the idea of waiting to eat while hungover has never appealed to me. Nonetheless I was surprised at the steady stream of folks that continued to walk through the door throughout my meal. By the time I got my food, the wait for a table was up to 20 minutes.

Some people opted to wait by the front door, creating a somewhat awkward environment in which they were obviously impatient and watching everyone else eat. Some folks waited on the bench outside because it was a nice day. Others decided to leave and go elsewhere (probably the Mexican place on the corner). I have no idea why you would show up to a tiny restaurant with three other people at noon on a weekday and expect to be seated right away.

This place does have a nice vibe and I can see why people like it. It is casual and decidedly non-corporate feeling. The small size really contributes to the atmosphere which is bustling, energetic and fairly loud. The staff persons are extremely talented, conversational and friendly. I had a menu within a minute of sitting down, my order taken quickly, food that arrived within 10 minutes and my check just as I was finishing.

Classic Cookie

While I waited for my food to come out of the kitchen, my server brought a basket of cookies and mini-muffins to my table. There were about 3 cookies and 2 muffins, which seemed like overkill for one guy, but I made a valiant effort. The cookies are good, but nothing mind-blowing. I had a peanut butter, a chocolate chip and an oatmeal (I think). I can’t remember the muffin varieties, probably because I’m not a huge fan of muffins in general.

I had a half chicken salad sandwich with a garden salad for 6.25. The salad contained the ubiquitous mesclun greens and croutons with a fine balsamic vinaigrette. I would have liked more things in the salad since I don’t really care for croutons, but I survived.

Classic Cookie

The chicken salad was pretty dry, without much seasoning. It was all white meat, but was otherwise unremarkable. Now, those who read this blog know that I have an intense dislike for mayonnaise. But yes I do eat the occasional chicken salad or tuna salad sandwich. These items are not nearly as chock full o’ mayo as they once were at most restaurants worth their salt, so typically I can stomach them and even succumb to the periodic craving for them as I did at the Classic Cookie.

My bill came to 8 dollars and change–quite reasonable for a full service lunch. A 15% tip would come out to about $1.30. Now, in my estimation any tip under $2 is bullshit, I don’t care what the conventions of tipping tell us. I was also eating in a very small restaurant as a solo diner. My table could have been occupied by four people and I think it makes sense to throw percentages to the wind and tip at least $3, especially when the service is this good.

Classic Cookie in short is a great little neighborhood joint that serves very

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.

Read more:

Kokoro Maki House on Urbanspoon

Yelp