Jan 052011
 

Exterior

Todd Schulte, proprietor of the esteemed Columbus Park cafe, Happy Gillis, has opened a special little spot in the West Bottoms that may just surpass his first venture in terms of style, menu and flavors. Housed in an extensively rehabbed gas station painted a jaunty shade of red, this place was put together carefully and tastefully. While not my personal aesthetic, I love the way this place looks on the inside; it’s perfect for the neighborhood. The interior contains a wonderful mix of vintage and modern items. Beautiful old cafe tables, chairs, light fixtures, salt shakers and bud vases complement clean, white china, a sleek bar and the cotton towels that serve as napkins. Design-wise it lies somewhere between Victorian splendor and old West tavern.

A banquette along the back wall provides a space seemingly well suited to sipping drinks and nibbling on a little something. Interestingly, the menu is not well-suited to this use but I imagine that may change when the weather warms up and word gets out about this place.

Interior

The West Bottoms is truly one of Kansas City’s most unique environs, and I think Schulte and company were smart for snapping up one of the few remaining commercial spaces on Genessee street. Anchored by the R Bar a few doors down, the block offers the old school charm of the Golden Ox and the somewhat more lowbrow offerings of Grandma’s Bar & Grill which has apparently filled a the void left by Connie’s Genessee Inn. Apart from a few businesses and the Livestock exchange, most of the street has been subsumed by Kemper Arena in one way or another. Despite the weirdness of the area, I think it has a real shot at becoming a distinct dining and nightlife destination.

Out the window

Only time will tell who precisely flocks to Genessee Royale, but right now it appears the be a prime spot for casual business lunches. During my visit, more than a couple tables had folks holding court over notebooks, papers and laptops while digesting their food. The crowd tended toward the middle aged and well-heeled, but frankly, who else would be eating lunch at 2 p.m. on a weekday? Who else, except me that is (I’m not quite middle aged yet!)

The menu itself is quite simple and relatively affordable despite the smallish portions. Lunch entrees aren’t loaded up with filling side dishes like french fries but rather accompanied by a handful of subtly dressed greens or a tablespooon or two of homemade potato salad. Lunch items run between $6 and $9. To my mind they are perfectly sized portions but some hungry diners may want to consider one of Genessee Royale’s excellent soups to start. Oddly the menu offers no appetizers or a la cart side dishes at all. I think they would benefit from a few small plates, particularly if they want to be any kind of hangout. Right now, the hours are not conducive for such use, as they only stay open until 4 p.m. Nonetheless, you can order a small selection of alcoholic beverages here: champagne cocktails, bloody marys, a few wines and (if memory serves) a couple of Boulevard products.

The food is clearly put together with a lot of care. The burger is excellent: freshly prepared, very well seasoned and juicy, with nice Bibb lettuce, compound butter and an English muffin bun. While the muffin was a tad dense and chewy as a hamburger bun, it was still a great English muffin.

Burger

I also tried their version of biscuits and gravy which comes with a deliciously tender, fried chicken breast and a fried egg. While more cooked than the sunnyside up that was advertised, I loved the whole combo, almost enough to make me appreciate brunch. This is a perfect brunch dish.

Fried Chicken and Egg biscuit

Their take on French Onion Soup ($7) was likewise inspired. The broth was rich without the characteristic dark, saltiness that plagues steakhouse versions of the stuff. Instead the soup played up the sweetness of the sauteed onion, offsetting it with a shelf of melted Gruyere and a homemade crouton.

Onion Soup

While the place is pretty lean and mean, I personally like that they are not biting off more than they can chew from the get-go. Rather the Royale serves as a more refined version of a luncheonette, a place where one wouldn’t expect a wide-ranging menu but can still get a unique meal at a good price. Genessee Royale wouldn’t be out of place in Brookside or Prairie Village in some ways, but the interesting context of the West Bottoms makes it a very appealing alternative for those living and working in the center city.

Genessee Royale Bistro on Urbanspoon

Feb 082010
 

I can’t believe it has taken me so long to visit this place.

Mural

On November 1, 2007 a gentleman with the online moniker “kansas karl” left a comment on my Suggestions page indicating I try Woodswether Cafe promising “burgers as big as your head.” My Twitter colleague @sjwaters made a similar recommendation on the spreadsheet where I keep track of these things saying great things about the reuben. Y’all know how much I like reubens right? Then late last week I received an email from a reader wondering why I hadn’t ever posted about it.

So we have three different people, using three different forms of communication, recommending Woodswether Cafe to me in no uncertain terms.

So I decided to head up for lunch this past Saturday. Apparently I wasn’t the only one with that idea since it was pretty packed. The proximity of a few vintage/thrift/reclaimed stuff shops certainly could have accounted for some of the traffic, but a lot of the dudes in this place were just regular pudgy KC white guys with Chiefs jackets and gray hair, unlikely patrons of such businesses. That said, Woodswether has quite a diverse clientèle. I sat near a family that was obviously “slumming” from Brookside or Prairie Village. These people were turning their heads, looking up and down the whole time, soaking up the ambiance with little smiles on their faces. This is a place that kids will like, and I saw a few there. A group of teenagers was taping stuff to a wall advertised as the “Woodswether Hall of Fame.”

I heard they close at 2 p.m. so I had to hurry my hungover ass up there. These hours make sense when you open the doors at 5:30 a.m. They are actually pretty common hours for industrial areas since you get to feed workers both going to and coming from work. And you get the regular lunch crowd. Upon entering I encountered a big sign that indicated that, starting this month, they would be open on Fridays and Saturdays until 8pm. The sign also promised that “adult beverages will be available.” I knew this was going to be my kind of place.

This place features hand cut fries with the skin on, diner classics like french dips, cheeseburgers and reubens, and dishes it out in a truly original environment. Jerry’s is basically an old bar with drop ceilings, cheap diner tables and a series of booths seemingly pilfered from awful chain restaurants throughout the 1980s. The floor is a nifty red and white checkered pattern and the walls are perfunctorily decorated with interesting little touches.

Woodswether Cafe

The service was a little spotty on my visit because the place was very crowded–nearly every table in the joint was taken, and the bus boy was likely out back smoking cigs and texting most of the time. But the server could not have been more friendly. She apologized for the wait (which was significant but not outrageous) and delivered our drinks and food as quickly as possible.

Okay so I’ve written 6 or 7 paragraphs without mentioning food. Well this should make up for it

Reuben

To quote Walt Bodine, “yeeeaaahhh.”

This is a really delicious, solid and large reuben sandwich. Since the ignominious demise of the New York Deli, this is the best one going in town. Fantastic light rye with plenty of caraway seed, good sauerkraut and a dressing that did not assault me with its mayonaisity. But this is actually an atypical reuben. It has a combination of both pastrami and corned beef, both of which are of exceedingly good quality. The menu does not give descriptions of their foodstuffs so this came as a surprise, but the evidence was right there in front of me and I liked it.

Skip the onion rings which were unremarkable and opt for the hand-cut, skin-on french fries. They have really good potato flavor (owing undoubtedly to the skins) and a decent crunch for homemade fries.

French Dip

The French Dip pictured above was a tad dry, but I liked the au jus quite a bit which alleviates that problem. Strangely they use a lowbrow kind of processed cheese on the sandwich. It did not bother me immensely but a good swiss would really improve it a great deal.

The menu is full of home cooking. Breakfast food is not my favorite (I’m a lunch blogger right?) but the plates I saw going past me looked mighty appetizing. The pancakes are huge, hanging over the edge of the plate. Signs around the dining area advertise fried frogs legs, catfish and shrimp available every day. Lunch fare includes pork tenderloins, Philly cheesesteaks and Italian steaks. I’ve actually never had an Italian steak–is this a KC thing? I need someone to educate me.

Apparently this restaurant came under new management sometime last year. It is frequently referred to as “Jerry’s Woodswether Cafe” but mostly I just see “Woodswether Cafe.” I’m not sure of the official name, or if it dropped poor Jerry after it changed hands. Also the mural outside spells it “Woodsweather,” so confusion abounds. What the hell is a woodswether anyway? Regardless, this is a gem of the West Bottoms. Good home cooking, a cool atmosphere, a great reuben and a full bar. Sign me up.

Woodswether Cafe on Urbanspoon